5 Questions for . . . Lori Johnson

Today I'm chewing the fat with talented new novelist Lori Johnson. Lori's debut novel, After The Dance, is fresh off the presses (April 2008) and appears under Kensington's Dafina line. Even though she currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina and grew up an "Air Force brat," Lori has always considered Memphis, TN (her birthplace and where the majority of her kinfolk reside) home. Her stories and essays have appeared in a number of journals, magazines and newspapers, including Upscale Magazine, Memphis Magazine, The Commercial Appeal, The Tri-State Defender, The Emrys Journal, The Best of Memphis Anthology 2003 and Obsidian II: Black Literature In Review.

Here we go:

Bettye: Welcome, Lori! Tell us about your new book.

Lori Johnson: After The Dance is a romantic comedy told from both the male and female perspectives. In the story, thirty-four year old Faye Abrahams, a chain-smoking, cynical, single pharmacist, describes her attempts to keep from falling for Carl Tucker, her charming, next-door neighbor, who is also a financially strapped, divorced father of three. On the flipside, forty-two year old Carl shares his repeated efforts to uncover the "real" Faye, win her affection and prove he's a better catch than her old beau--the now successful, "born-again" celebrity chef, Venard (aka "Scoobie") Payne.

Bettye: I must say that I read an excerpt on your website and found it highly entertaining and amusing as well. I was nodding my head in agreement with Faye's thoughts and chuckling throughout at the humor. It's written in a down-to-earth first person style that feels so honest (in regard to the characters' thoughts) and automatically makes me feel closer to the characters. Which brings me to my next question: What are your feelings of the state of African-American chick lit?

Lori Johnson: In all honesty, Bettye, I'm not at all qualified to answer that question. I'm not a regular reader of chick-lit (of any kind) or even romance, for that matter. Even though I am well aware there are those who do and will label my novel as chick-lit, romance and even urban-let, I don't think it's truly a proper fit in any of those categories. I view After The Dance as mainstream African American fiction or a contemporary, humorous love story, if you will. But I'm not opposed to others describing it as any of the aforementioned, if it tickles their fancy.

Bettye: It immediately reminded me of chick lit, or maybe I should say the genre formerly known as chick lit, which I've heard is now called "light women's fiction." (Yeah, another label.) I always felt this genre was under-represented in African-American books, and it's refreshing to see it. However readers want to categorize it, it's a good book that shouldn't be missed!

What's the last DVD you rented? The last theatrical release you saw? What'd you think of them?

Lori Johnson: I can't remember the last time I rented a DVD. Renting them requires making a commitment to watch and return them before their due date. Since I know that's not happening (LOL), I typically buy DVDs and let them collect dust for days, weeks, sometimes months before I get around to watching them. The last theatrical production I saw was Meet The Browns. Even though the "Brown" character got on my nerves a bit, overall, I found the movie enjoyable. Actually, I thought the acting and the storyline made it a much better film than Tyler Perry's last one -- Why Did I Get Married?

Bettye: I know what you mean about renting DVDs -- or maybe I should say bringing them back -- or maybe I should say not bringing them back! The last time I rented a dollar-a-night movie I held it for six days . . . not such a bargain after all.

After The Dance shares its title with a popular R&B/jazz composition. Which is your favorite version: the original by Marvin Gaye or the covers by Fourplay or El DeBarge (or anyone else I might have forgotten about)?

Lori Johnson: I'm a huge fan of Marvin Gaye's music. His version of the song was the only one I had in mind when I gave the book its title. Also, in bestowing the title (After The Dance) on my novel I was attempting to, one, play off the notion that a relationship is a dance of sorts and two, bring attention to the fact that something pivotal occurs after each of the story's four slow dances.

Bettye: Nice connection between the song and your plot. I've gotta tell you, much as I love Marvin Gaye, my favorite version is by El.

Lori, where do you see yourself in five years in regard to your writing?

Lori Johnson: My plans include fine-tuning my writing skills and producing more mainstream, contemporary fiction in the same vein as After The Dance. In addition, I hope to one day publish a collection of short stories and a collection of creative non-fiction. In any and everything I write, I plan to continue shining a light on the Southern, African-American experience and Memphis, in particular.

Bettye: I think you're off to a great start, and I wish you continued success. It's been five questions, Lori, but is there anything else you'd like readers to know?

Lori Johnson: Even though I've published a number of short stories, essays, articles, and now a novel, my background is not in Creative Writing, the Fine Arts or even Journalism, it's in Anthropology. Not unlike Zora Neale Hurston, another Black woman/writer/anthropologist, I think my love of folkways, folk speech and folk symbolism is largely what distinguishes my work from that of other African-American writers of contemporary fiction.

Thanks for inviting me to stop by and chew the fat with you, Bettye! Readers are welcome to visit my web site or my blog, Lori's Old School Mix.

Bettye: Thanks, Lori!


Anonymous said...

Good interview, Bettye. Lori your book definitely sounds like something I need to check out. I LOVE funny relationship stories. My roots, kinfolk (parents) and heart are in the Bluff City, too.
Reon :-)

shelia said...

I look forward to reading the book. Good interview.

Patricia W. said...

Nice interview, ladies. Although Lori doesn't categorize her book as chick-lit, I know what you meant Bettye. The AA voice is definitely missing there.

And Lori's blog is funny. But I'm resisting... (My name is Patricia and I'm addicted to blogs.)

Lori said...

@Reon, small world (smile). Okay, here's my Memphis test for ya. Where do you go in Memphis when you're craving barbecue? (LOL)
Just teasing.

When you've finished reading, don't forget to share your thoughts with me.

A blog addiction isn't so bad. I'd dare say it bets hitting either the bottle or the pipe (smile).

Sharon J. said...

Great interview. I'm looking forward to reading "After the Dance." I should be able to soon. The semester is coming to an end. Bettye's titles look like they would make good reading, too.

bettye griffin said...

Thanks for posting, Sharon! And by all means, do read Lori's book and some of mine, too!