Reading a novel by Valencia Williams is like turning the pages on the lives of your family and friends. With her memorable cast of characters and hard-hitting scenarios gives little wonder as to why her fans have flocked to her books. Yet just as intriguing as the stories she pieces together, is the life that she lives herself. In this CONVERSATIONS exclusive we talk about the woman she has become and the journey that led her there.
Valencia, your first book THE HOTTEST SUMMER EVER KNOWN was self-published and became an Essence Bestseller. Coming from where you had at the time of writing the book, how did you feel about the response? It was an overwhelming response. Based on the way people took to the book THE COLDEST WINTER EVER, I felt as though people would be open to it. In a sense I was riding on its success to get my own message out, and the reward was that it got black people to reading.
Take me back to the beginning. I read on your website www.valenciawilliams.com that your creativity came from your mother. When did you realize you were creative? I have to really give my mother her props. My motherís passion for writing is what inspired me. She used it to get through losing a child and dealing with a husband that was unfaithful. I saw the way that writing was a form of therapy for her, and it became the same for me. Rather than use drugs as my escape to deal with my problems in my life, I chose to turn to writing.
Self-publishing has become the way for a great deal of authors to share their voice with the world. After writing THE HOTTEST SUMMER EVER KNOWN, how did you make the decision on how to market and distribute it?
Even as a child I was vocal. I have been fortunate to have the gift of gab and a way of talking to other people about what I am doing. I guess you can say that I have forced my book on people, just because of relationships I have formed over the years with people I see on the streets, that are involved in the media. Whatever I had to do in order to get my book into peopleís hands I was willing to work in order to get it done.
I want to explore the self-publishing a bit more. To be successful at it you really have to be involved in the marketing, promoting and advertising. Did you realize everything that was involved and how did you discipline yourself in order to handle it all? I like to stay busy. When I have what is considered a slow time I can get depressed. The financial aspect was hard for me just because I couldnít keep up with the growing demand for my book. I began to approach people to help me. Not surprisingly, some felt like the book wouldnít do well because they said black people donít read. It was during this time that I met (husband and wife business owners) Kim and Sheryl Jones.
(The Jonesí are active entrepreneurs that have their hands in various businesses and endeavors. They met Valencia Williams at an event where she was doing a book-signing. Sheryl was familiar with THE HOTTEST SUMMER because of itís presence on the Essence Bestsellers list. She and her husband appreciated the concept of what Valencia was doing and were touched by her sincerity. All three parties see the encounter as divine intervention and trust each otherís instincts. Kim Jones says that the success of their relationship has to do with the wise adage: if you donít ask, you canít receive.)
Your debut novel touches on some serious issues, but the ones that stick out to me are family ties, trust and the price of irresponsible behavior. Why were these important for you to address and were you concerned about how they would be received?
Itís amazing how people reacted by just hearing about the book before it hit the shelves. I was actually contacted by an associate of Jada Pinkett-Smithís publicist concerning the book because they were intrigued by my attempting to do it. Everyone has thought it was courageous to address the issues that I did, especially following the success of THE COLDEST WINTER. I have realized, though, that we as black people have a problem with addressing the issues I raise in THE HOTTEST SUMMER. I wanted to educate others about the dangers of not talking about subjects such as HIV and AIDS. We need to get down to the basics. People fear whether or not they have it, more than the actual disease. I want people to be informed so they will get tested.
These issues really have no color lines. All people experience sibling rivalry and jealousy in the household or among friends. Trust issues are all around us. I have learned that these are things that exist and need to be talked about so they can be overcome.
Two years later you return with your second novel, VINDICTIVE WO-MEN. Before I ask you about the inspiration for the book I want to know were you afraid of the supposed sophomore jinx? I am a movie fiend. Different movies that involve different short stories are my favorite. With VINDICTIVE WO-MEN I wanted to take people on a rollercoaster ride, and from the beginning I knew I would be turning it into a movie.
When you think about sequels to movies, some time they can be predictable, or not live up to the expectations of the ones before them. With my second book, I did want to make sure that I didnít fall into the trap of not giving my readers what they had come to expect from me. But it is a chance you have to take. I will say that once you have an audience, your chances are good that they will stick by you, even if you take a different patch.
(An interesting fact that Valencia shared with us was that while writing THE HOTTEST SUMMER EVER KNOWN she let thirty people read it, seeing if they could figure out the direction she was going with her story. If they could, then she change it.)
With Vindictive Wo-Men just recently making its debut, what are your plans to promote it this year?
The main thing I am looking forward to with VINDICTIVE WO-MEN is my movie. Everybody has an audience and their own niche. Again, I am glad that I have given my readers something different. We are involved in a casting call right now for our readers which is another way to market the book. Readers are encouraged to contact us with their four favorite stories that they would like to see brought to life. From that we will pick one. Itís a great gift for my fans, because I will be using my reading audience as the cast.
I'm curious about your thoughts when it comes to the way women are portrayed in the media as well as in music videos and books. Especially women of color. How do you feel it affects the perception of women especially for our young people? I think itís dangerous. Women are portrayed as though they canít be trusted. We arenít being looked at as someone who want to be trusted or respected. Then you have to look at the other side. Everyone has controversy. Controversy sells. I donít think itís gong to change. We just have to do all we canóbut in the end it is up to young women to make their own decisions. Whether itís stripping or being a video vixen. Itís all about survival. We have to find our mission, thought, and pursue it.
What do you think those like yourself who have some influence through your craft can do to offset negative perceptions such as these, as well as bring attention to issues you feel strongly about?
Having the platform that I do does allow me to help others. I work strongly with high schools about what goes into writing a book. I want them to have a new look on life. I want it to be personal for them and to touch bases on different issues.
Valencia, what advice do you have for aspiring authors or anyone who has an interest in the arts? Just write the story. Donít worry about how it sounds. Write what you did that day. Donít worry about the order. Itís like a soap opera. Deal with the rest after the story is done.
Keep your focus. If itís not a bestseller to the world, make it one for yourself. The process should be more for you than anyone else.
Thank you for your time. Is there any final words you have for our readers? Some donít appreciate life, and thatís why they donít show any respect for theirs or anyone elseís. The only thing promised in life is death, and treat every day as if its your last.
More can be found about Valencia Williams by visiting www.valenciawilliams.com. She can be reached at hottestsummerever(at)hotmail.com.