THIS IS AN ONLINE EXCLUSIVE WITH CONVERSATIONS MAGAZINE
Francis, you have had a long run as a well loved and respected author. I'm curious with over 30 titles in print now what a typical day for Francis Ray consists of.
I still work as a School Nurse Practitioner for a large school district, so a typical weekday begins with my day job. Once I'm home and family time with dinner is over, I go to my office. Depending on deadlines, I'll either answer email or go straight to work on my current book. I'm usually in bed between 11-12pm. If I have a book out, I'm probably doing book signing on the weekend or some type of marketing. Thanks goodness for the summers because I'm off and can get more writing done.
The book that I read ANY RICH MAN WILL DO fits so well into what we see in the world today. Your inspiration, does it come from events you hear about or just issues that are close to your heart?
Inspiration for my books comes from just living, something on TV or possibly a newspaper article. In writing ANY RICH MAN WILL DO, the main character, Bad Girl Jana, was the inspiration. In the last scene which she appeared in the prequel, LIKE THE FIRST TIME, she was humiliated, embarrassed when she learned she couldn't get any man because of how beautiful she was, how sexy her body or how well she wore designer clothes. It was an eye opener for both of us. I thought if she could cry, then perhaps there was hope that Jana could learn to change her philosophy that ANY RICH MAN WILL DO. A newspaper article on luxe linen gave me the idea for the business of a woman who would befriend Jana.
We are celebrating the beauty of women in the worlds of business and entertainment. When you began your writing career who were some of the women you looked up to and respected? As time has gone on, who are some of the newer authors that have emerged that got your attention?
Because I read romance some of the authors' names you probably aren't familiar with like Ann Maxwell, Jayne Ann Krentz and Nora Roberts. I enjoyed these authors because they created real-life people with flaws that I could identify with. No matter how tempting, they always remained monogamous and morally upright. But I yearned to see African-American characters take center stage and began to write. Later I added J. California Cooper, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Eric J. Dickey, Diane McKinney-Whetstone, and Yolonda Joe. Of course in romance there was Beverly Jenkins, Bette Ford, and Donna Hill. A new author I enjoy is Pamela Williams. I want happy endings when I read and when I write.
Do you have an opinion as to how you think women are mainly depicted in books, music videos and movies?
I think in books and in movies women are depicted realistically, some good, some bad. However, in music videos the majority seem to be about degrading the woman and sex. Unfortunately, the vast number of these videos are with African-American artists. I must admit I haven't watched one all the way through in years. I've caught glimpses when someone is flipping channels. However, from what I've seen and what I have heard, I don't want to listen or look longer.
Have you been surprised about how your books have been received, and would you mind relating an experience you had with a reader?
I thank God and remain thankful and humbled by the way my books have been received. I get a lot of mail saying my books started them reading again or gives them hope that the right man is out there. After THE TURNING POINT/TROUBLE DON'T LAST ALWAYS which dealt with a woman fleeing domestic violence, there were many letters of experiences with an abusive mate or about a relative that didn't survive. Knowing Texas, my home state, has the highest incidence of murders in domestic violence, I started The Turning Point Legal Fund to assist women. In writing you never know how you're going to touch a person's life.
Can you remember when you first made the National Bestsellers List? What was that experience like for you and what type of validation did you feel with that distinction?
My first national bestsellers list was Blackboard which was printed in Essence magazine. I remember going to Black Images Book Bazaar, a wonderful, supportive book store in Dallas, and having the co-owner, Emma Rodgers, showing me the listing. FOREVER YOURS, the co-launch title for Arabesque, was #5. I felt breathless and just stared. Emma laughed. FOREVER YOURS went on to #1. FOREVER YOURS also made the top 20 romances of 1994 Library Journal. You feel like a writer when you make the list, but also scared, wondering if you can make the list again.
Was there ever a time when you felt like the career of an author was not going to work for you? What kept you going?
With every book I wonder if there is another book inside me. Writing is very difficult for me, but I continue because I want to show that African-Americans are good people. Yes, we have flaws, we aren't perfect, but who is.
I am an admitted control freak, Francis. That is what led me to self-publish and to continue to do so. I like to be involved in every aspect of the projects that bare my name. Has it been a difficult process for you to let go and trust others? What about the cover designs. They always tell such a story. Do you have any input in that department?
Ah, the cover. I admit I'm not very good at telling the editor what I want, but I can certainly voice my opinion when I think it's wrong. There have been several covers that I haven't liked. Sometimes I'm asked, other times I'm not. I think my best cover is I KNOW WHO HOLDS TOMORROW with the new cover of THE TURNING POINT retitled TROUBLE DON'T LAST ALWAYS, a close second. Not having control doesn't bother me. I trust my editor/publisher to know more than I do.
Book clubs have become the way to really explore an author's body of work as well as learn about the person who wrote the book. If a book club was going to select their first Francis Ray novel to consider, which would you recommend for them and why?
Book clubs are wonderful. For a first read I'm recommend I KNOW WHO HOLDS TOMORROW or TROUBLE DON'T LAST ALWAYS. IKWHT because of the decision the heroine must face when, moments before her husband dies he confesses he had an illegitimate child and begs wife to take care of the infant. TDLA because of the growing relationship between a neurosurgeon who is blind and angry, and a frightened, abused woman who has to care for him. However, a lot of book clubs are reading ANY RICH MAN WILL DO about a woman without friends, money, or family because of her chosen lifestyle.
Francis, once you write a book, how long do you wait to get feedback on it and tell us how you always seem to come up with titles that are memorable?
Once I turn a book into my editor, I always send a note asking her to let me know what she thought. As I said, writing is difficult for me so I worry. Feedback usually takes two very long weeks. My romance titles are my own and usually come from the situation. I just finished book#4 of the Graysons of New Mexico series. The series is set in Santa Fe with the mother, a Muscogee/Creek Native American, plotting to marry off her five children. Their African-American father, an airline pilot, died when his plane crashed years before. Ruth knows what real love is like and wants the same for her 5 children who are dragging there feet. All the children are set against falling in love. The titles reflect this - UNTIL THERE WAS YOU, YOU AND NO OTHER, DREAMING OF YOU, IRRESISTIBLE YOU, and ONLY YOU. ANY RICH MAN WILL DO title was so Jana. Coming in February is IN ANOTHER MAN'S BED, a sort of play on words because the women making this statement plan never to find themselves in another man's bed.
What's next for you in the literary world? Are there any surprises that maybe long-time readers of yours might not expect?
Next is writing ONLY YOU and the next book in the Invincible Women Series (LIKE THE FIRST TIME/ANY RICH MAN WILL DO/IN ANOTHER MAN'S BED) which is tentatively titled, MAKE ME. Once those are finished I'd like to work on a romance series or a Christian fiction series. However, I write so slow I might have to delay the project due to contractual obligation.
Thank you again for this time, Francis. Please tell our readers where they can go online to find out more about you as well as your past and upcoming projects.
Thank you for the interview. Readers please visit my web site or Yahoo group. www.francisray.com