On Monday, December 10, 2007 Conversations Book Club--- Mississippi's largest book club and literary organization---ended the year with its 68th conference call discussion, with one of the year's most influential bestselling authors: Wahida Clark.
The woman who has pen four bestselling novels (beginning with THUGS AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM) left her 6-month stay at a halfway house on Friday, December 7, 2007, after an 8 1/2 year prison sentence---and her first event was with The Best Book Club at Waldenbooks Metrocenter in Jackson, Mississippi.
She is a remarkable woman, grounded by her knowledge of who she is and what she represents. Wahida is first wife and mother, but she excels as a businesswoman in all she does. The writing career that has taken the literary world by storm only began in 2002 or 2003, yet you would think by the accolades she has received that she has been in the game for over a decade.
What led her to writing while in prison? Her answer was simple: "My husband was locked up, I was locked up and we needed money. People don't realize it, but it takes money to live even in prison, and I also needed money for my family on the outside." While in prison she worked in the law library, normally by herself, and she would do a great deal of reading during that time. It was during one of these occasions that she was reading XXL Magazine and read about an author who also had their beginning while incarcerated. "I said to myself that if he could do it then I could as well."
There was a literary agent who was also in prison that decided to teach a course on writing, and Wahida signed on. She wrote on legal pads and let others read it for input. They devoured the pages and were always asking for more. I asked her if she ever worried about not being able to make it in the business. "I knew I would get published," she said confidently. "My work was going to see the light of day."
At that point we had to reflect on the career that she has which is still foreign to her. "I have only been out a few days. I've never done a booksigning or met with fans. This (the interview with Conversations) is the first thing I have done. To me it is like I am just getting started."
Who inspired her before she wrote what became THUGS AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM? "I read everything from Donald Goines, Iceberg Slim to James Patterson." When asked who she was initially writing for, she answered that it was the hood market. "My husband told me that if I was going to do this that I had to do my research. He told me what was popular: thugs, drugs and pimping."
Not long after writing her book, Wahida happened to read "Married Men" by Carl Weber. She noticed that he was getting praise from critics and writers alike so she decided to reach out to him. "I wrote him and told him that I had just finished writing a book and wanted to know what I should do next. He asked me to send him my manuscript. It was from there that he submitted the book to Black Print Publishing. They told me it was too big so I would have to cut it down. The publisher ended up splitting the book, and that manuscript became THUGS AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM and EVERY THUG NEEDS A LADY."
Wahida told us that she can still remember the first time she saw her name on the cover of a book. "I was in Lexington, Kentucky and it was mail call. Some of the ladies on lock down with me had ordered some copies, and they had come in a big envelope with about seven or eight books in there. It was like 'Wow, this is my book.'"
Little did she know that readers all over the world were wowed by her as well.
After her relationship ended with Black Print, Wahida---with the help of her literary agent----was signed to a deal with Dafina, an imprint of Kensington. Ironically, becoming a label mate of Carl Weber, the author who helped her get started in the industry. Her other titles include PAYBACK IS A MUTHA and THUG MATRIMONY.
Today Wahida's focus is not only her own career as an author, but helping others as well. She has begun her own literary agency to groom new authors, and she is now signed with Warner Books. I mentioned to her that in one interview she said that her writing is meant to entertain. She stood behind that, but added that her agent likes the fact that there are consequences to the things that her characters do. "Once I start writing and get in their heads, they take on a life of their own sometimes. If you get a message from what I write," she said, "then that's wonderful."
A workaholic in every sense of the word, Wahida is working on the 4th book in the THUGS series as well as what she calls her "crossover" book. "I want to get some of those James Patterson" dollars," she told us with a laugh. Also in the works is an anthology with author Kiki Swanson and her novel PAYBACK WITH YOUR LIFE. Robin Garder, a member of the book club asked Wahida if she had thought about writing her autobiography. "People have asked me that," she answered, "but I honestly hadn't thought about it."
With everything that she has been through in the last decade, Wahida related that she can't even look at her jail time as a bad thing. "I can't say it was a negative. Without it there is no way I would've written a book."
When asked what authors have been on her reading list, she told the group that they are diverse as the rest of her life: James Patterson, Guy Johnson, Maya Angelou, Omar Tyree, Dean Koontz and Nikki Turner. Ironically, it was Turner who gave Clark the title of "Queen of Thug Love Fiction." I asked her was there any pressure with titles such as that or "bestseller." Wahida's answer was short and to the point. "I really don't think about that, not as long as I can back it up. It's flattering, but it just means that I have to stay on top of my game everyday."
As we wrapped up the discussion, Wahida was asked what advice would she give those who say they have a story in them. "I would tell them to write. I have had people tell me that they have five books in their head. What I tell them is they need to put them down on paper, because they aren't doing you or anyone else any good while they are just in your head. Do your research and make sure it is the best it can be."
And what did Wahida have to say to her growing legion of fans? The bestselling author actually became emotional before answering. "Thank you so much for your support. Thank you to everyone who wrote me, telling me how much they enjoyed the books. It meant so much for me to get that encouragement."
The future is bright for the author who had no intention of being a writer, but whose literary star is one of the brightest on the market at this time. She has a fan base that at this point is hard to fathom, and has made an impact that will probably take some time to wrap herself around.
One thing that is clear at this point, however, is that Wahida Clark is a fighter in every sense of the world. She is not one to allow her circumstances to define her, but the lives she has introduced us to through her characters will remain with us for years to come.