April 23, 2013

Chewing the fat with...author Michelle Monkou

Authors Michelle Monkou and Marcia King-Gamble have teamed up to write a series about Carnival celebrations all over the world.  Whether you call it Carnival, the Mardi Gras, the bacchanal, or something else, the pre-Lenten celebration is held all over the world, with some of the most festive and famous held in Brazil, Trinidad, and New Orleans, with varying degrees of indulgence, from harmless frivolity to debauchery that would rival that shown in a Cecil B. DeMille movie.

I recently chatted with Michelle about the series, which began with one of her contributions, Carnival Temptress, released last month. And be sure to see the Special Announcement at the end of this post!

Bettye:  Welcome, Michelle!  I have to tell you that Black Orpheus (1959) is one of my favorite movies.  Tell us about this new series.  How many books will there be, approximate publication dates or span of publication, and which settings will they take place in?

Michelle:  I consider myself a rabid movie buff, but (ducking head in sand) I had never heard of Black Orpheus. After your comment, I read up on this movie and wow, what a history it has. I also can’t believe that I haven’t seen it or heard of this play (and I had to read a lot of plays for my English undergrad major).  So, Bettye, you have given me homework—LOL.

Carnival Temptress is a Carnival-themed novella under the series name—The Revelers. The story’s creation started out as a steamy romance, but quickly had a suspense/thriller thread that not only wove through this story, but will weave through the entire series (well, so far; with my author-mind, you just never know). The first in my series was released in March with four in the total set: June, August, and October publication months. The plan is then to bundle them into one volume with possibly a bonus story, in time for the holidaysan  ambitious plan given all my other commitments.  My series started in Trinidad—the granddaddy to all Caribbean Carnivals, followed by Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Bridgetown, Barbados; Notting Hill, England, and the bonus city hasn’t been determined.

Bettye:  I hear they get down in Bahia, but of course that's still Brazil, so you might want to consider something different for your bonus city.  You'll never believe this, but as I prepare this chat for publication who should pop up on my MP3 player but Cassandra Wilson singing A Day in the Life of a Fool (the theme from the aforementioned Black Orpheus); the studio version, not the live one I linked to.

Anyway, the concept of collaboration is a fascinating one for me (I plan on doing one next year).  Whose idea was this series?  How did it come about?  Did you and Marcia use the same cover designer to achieve a a similar look?  The same editor?

Michelle: Marcia King-Gamble and I both share a common heritage of the West Indies. My birth mom is Jamaican who has lived in England since she was an adolescent and my adoptive parents are Guyanese-born.  I was born in England, but grew up in Guyana and finished the rest of that growing in the U.S. While I used to wave my Guyanese flag at Carnival events, I guess I need to have a tiny Jamaican patch on my clothing, too—LOL.  

Marcia and I have wanted to work together for many years. Life and commitments usually delayed any significant push until we kicked around this idea and it took hold. You couldn’t possibly live in the Caribbean and not have experienced Carnival.  I have never participated in it or if I did, I was a teeny child and can’t remember Guyana’s Mashramani. But I do remember sitting on the verandah watching the bands go past and the thrill and fear (I don’t like the stilt-walkers).  I’m proud of the richness of the Caribbean culture, its worldwide contributions to the world’s economy, and its talented and gifted people. I also wanted to set the Caribbean on the pedestal of romantic settings. And that it is just as important a setting as any other European or American settings commonly used in romance stories.

My story set in Trinidad was decided to be the first. Again, Trinidad has the biggest Caribbean Carnival and a lengthy colorful history.  I have friends who participate annually in the Carnival and leave their day jobs in the U.S. to head back “home” to celebrate for that week. They were my eyes and ears to get the real experience. I lived vicariously through them. Thanks, Michelle “Trinibaby” Buckmire, a Carnival reveler to her core.

Marcia and I decided to use the same cover artist to keep that unified look, and it was easier to communicate and toss around ideas with one person. Author Christy Carlye did a fantastic job.

As far as editing, Marcia and I went to our individual resources. Our voices and styles are different—a good thing. Readers will not get a regurgitation of story or style.

Bettye: Marcia is a peach. She was the very first of my fellow writers to reach out to me when I was first published, a kindness I never forgot. I hope to work with her one day as well.

Tell us specifically about Carnival Temptress (uh-oh, there's Cassandra Wilson again, singing a cover of the James Taylor tune Only A Dream In Rio, but hers has a real Brazilian beat to it...can you tell she's one of my favorites?).

Michelle: Carnival Temptress, The Revelers series novella, takes you to the wonderful, sunny island of Trinidad to enjoy Carnival. Micha Lindsey and her friends are heading to the annual festivities that promise to make them forget their worries and heartbreaks. Out of a job, and out of a relationship, Micha is ready to have Carnival work its magic on her. What she didn’t expect was for sexy, brooding Amar Jaikaran, her youthful crush, to be the one with the magic touch.

Amar Jaikaran feels invaded by his sister and her friends who noisily barge into his life. From the first day, he’s appreciative of Micha’s transformation from the giggly teen who he remembered to this stunning, curvaceous beauty. Separately, they have experienced their share of pain and loss. Would a few days of tossing aside inhibitions and celebrating life’s pleasures heal their wounds and steer them toward each other to fall in love? Note: This eBook contains steamy scenes and graphic language.

Bettye: Ah, the freedom of being on vacation! My sister took an island vacation over 40 years ago and eventually married the man she met there. In my single days I had some nice flings when visiting my sister and brother-in-law, but I digress...

You published this series independently, and you are also indie publishing backlist titles while remaining traditionally published.  What do you like best and least about indie publishing?

Michelle: I went the indie route because I didn’t have a choice. Shrinking and/or constant advances, stagnant or decreasing distribution, and lack of career movement in the traditional publishing whether at my doing or the publisher’s forced me to look at other options.

Almost twelve years ago, when I got published, I didn’t come with the plan to be fitted with several labels: black writer, black romance writer, romance writer, contemporary romance writer. I had a desire to write various kinds of books. The idea of branding by the reader or more so by the publisher meant that someone had to anoint me to come into the circle of the published, then for me to conform and enjoy the view, or that, after a tap on the head, I can now write other stories or take the ascent on the slippery career ladder.

For better or worse, I’ve stepped onto the diving board, taken a deep breath, and doing a swan dive into indie publishing. My spirit to write whatever I want may result in a romance book that continues any one of my Harlequin Kimani series; an erotic romance about a modern-day Indian princess and a Greek tycoon (1st draft done), a horror novel (believe it or not, I wrote horror before romance), an epic style historical about a Moor (my first work that I tried to get published. I think I still have the bruises on my nose where the doors slammed, hard and fast). As far as the box of my current author life goes, it has been opened, and good luck to anyone trying to put me back in.

Now, for traditional publishing, I’m still under contract with a new series—the Meadows family—under Harlequin’s Kimani imprint. It is definitely less of a headache to have on board the editor, cover artist and salesperson.  Having work in print and eBooks with the traditional publisher covers bases and helps with keeping my name out there.  Now, more than ever, I have options.

Bettye: Tell me about it! I love the freedom of indie publishing. I do feel that being a hybrid, with a foothold on both traditional and indie, is best for the reasons you state, but I've pretty much ruled out a future in traditional publishing (actually, I don't think it's possible for someone like me whose publisher cut me loose...both of them). 

Tell us, what's next for Michelle Monkou?

Michelle: I have spent many years on the board of a national romance writing organization and immediately before that I was on the board of a local writing chapter. I have had my sleeves rolled up for a long time. All those hours of commitment were done out of selflessness. But it also took the focus off of me and my career.  Now it’s time to take what I’ve learned and what I already know and go inward.

I recently posted on social media that I was practicing saying no to various requests. It’s not out of self-importance, but out of survival. I was the go-to person, the honey-do person without the “honey.” Now I’m focusing on my career with aggressive goals for the indie side and very pointed strategic goals for the traditional side. That takes focus and time that I can’t share readily with completing other tasks. Hence, my new inclination to say, thank you, but I have to say no.

So stay tuned, because short of illness and/or death, I’m not done.

Bettye: Good for you! You were up there with my friend Deatri King-Bey as a candidate for the title of "hardest-working woman in publishing." I can readily understand why you have to put a little more emphasis on your own personal goals. 

How can readers stay in touch with your goings-on?

Michelle: I have the usual social media available to keep track of my career and some aspects of my life:
Twitter: @MichelleMonkou

Bettye: Anything else you’d like to say to your readers?

Michelle: Thank you for taking a chance with the first book you read by me. If you still are hanging in there for the long haul, thank you even more. I hope that I have managed to be an auto buy. Your support is always appreciated, and I will ask that when you’ve read a book to post an honest review to assist others who may be picking up my book for the first time.  You, readers, are an important part of this equation in my writing life and contentment.

And to you, Bettye, thank you for this opportunity and for your support.  Wishing you continued success with your writing life and books.

Bettye: Thanks for coming by and chewing the fat, Michelle!

Readers, for an excerpt of Carnival Temptress, please click here.  Enjoy!

Carnival Temptress (e-novella) available for Kindle and Nook; 99 cents.

Special Announcement:  The second book in the Revelers Series, Marcia King-Gamble's Seducing Circe, is now available!  Not only that, but Marcia and Michelle are hosting an online launch party tonight (April 23rd) from 7:30-9:30PM Eastern Time at Marcia's Facebook Page. There'll be fun and prizes, so do stop by. And Lord, don't stop the carnival! 


'Cilla said...

I love this.. can't wait to read the next book in the series :-) Thank Bettye :-)

Anonymous said...

Great interview, Bettye. Much success with this new project, Michelle. Sounds fun. Will be sure to check it out.--Reon

Michelle Monkou said...

Thanks 'Cilla. And Wayne Jordan already said that I had to get his island-Barbados right. PRESSURE. LOL

Michelle Monkou said...

Thanks, Reon. They are designed to be quick reads.