Strolling down the corridor leading to Nia Forrester’s office, Love Belvin observes the artwork mounted on the walls. The framed oil paintings are of well-known feminists such as Rosa May Billinghurst, Bertha Harris, and Ruth Simpson—all unfamiliar figures to Love, yet she has an idea of their significance at Nia’s place. Love stops at the one of Lorna Terry, wondering if it’s an authentic Basso. She then makes her way into Nia’s office and greets her warmly.
“Thanks for having me, Nia,” Love beams. “Your place is nice! I love the art in your hall.”
“Thanks,” Nia returns and gestures for Love to take a seat across from her.
Before she lowers herself onto the sofa, Love places a bottle on the coffee table between them.
“I come, bearing gifts,” Love says as she pushes the bottle of Mauve towards the center of the table.
As Love reclines in her seat, she wonders if Nia will opt to indulge or pass, thinking it will give more insight to the enigma of Nia Forrester.
“Thanks!” Nia gushes. “You really didn’t have to, Love.”
“Psssh!” Love waves Nia off, seemingly humbly. “I did!”
Of course I didn’t: A.D. Jacobs did. I can’t afford that stuff! Love thinks to herself as Nia raises the bottle and observes it.
“That’s funny! I have a little something for you, too,” Nia chuckles as she takes to her desk.
She returns in seconds with a bottle and places it on the table. Love maintains her smile as she reaches for it and scans the label. It’s a bottle of George Henri Jayar Grand Cru Echezeaux Cote de Nuit.
“Nia, I’m not sure if I can accept this. This is… Wow!” Love is uncharacteristically at a loss for words as she holds the bottle, awestruck. “You shouldn’t have gone out of your way!”
Nia graciously smiles. “No trouble at all.”
Girl, please! Chris Scaife sent that over for Mother’s Day. Can you say “re-gift?” Nia muses to herself.
“Let’s get started, shall we?” Nia exhales.
“Sure. Please!” Love’s sputters, eager to chat.
Nia: When did you first know you were a writer? Do you remember the first thing you wrote? How long have you been writing?
Love: I didn’t realize I could actually be a writer until about a year before we published. I’ve known that I’m a storyteller since I was a kid. Writing is the technical aspect of what I’ve begun to get my stories out there. Writing is what I’m still learning. It is what I’m improving on with each book we put out.
I started writing Love’s Improbable Possibility (aka L.I.P.), a titleless “book”, back in 2002, right after undergrad. So, I’d been writing this “story” for twelve years. It was something I said I would do while in college because I was so drawn to fictional romance novels. People are often surprised when I share this project was intended to be a standalone novel about a young girl from an urban setting with major trust issues, finding redemption through love.
I wrote this “book” for years; sometimes a paragraph a session, sometimes several pages a session. It was something I did at my leisure as my life evolved and progressed, which in my opinion, is clear in the development of the writing style of the series. As Rayna matures and evolves, so does my writing style. It wasn’t until I decided on the technical portion of the craft that I realized I had more than one book (in fact, over three at the time of the Beta reading) that needed tweaking and a nice closing. So, the L.I.P. series consists of four books: Love Lost, Love UnExpected, Love UnCharted, and Love Redeemed.
L.I.P. was my first project. However, since putting Love Lost out, I’ve started several other projects that I’m itching to complete (and now I am). Love Redeemed took me through a myriad of emotions and socially isolated me. I was completely depleted after publishing it. I was ready to end the series and was absolutely relieved at the way L.I.P.’ers (fans of the series) received the conclusion.
Nia: What types of books are on your bookshelves at home? Tell us some of the authors that move you.
Love: Contemporary romances and a few self-help Christian books are the only genres on my shelves. I’m not one of those authors who read everything. I’m very narrow in my literary pursuits. And occasionally, when a relative recommends a spiritual book, I’ll take it on. Some of those spiritual reads I share in Love UnExpected while Rayna is on this quest to heal this “ache” in her that she doesn’t quite understand, yet knows without a doubt is there.
On the contemporary romance side, I really dig S.H. Kolee. I’ve said before, her characters are reserved on the surface, but deeply scarred within. Although they aren’t explosive (like mine), you feel their wounds and experience hidden pain. I’ve been left feeling affected after several of her works.
In undergrad, I consumed lots of Eric Jerome Dickey. I couldn’t get enough of his stories. He’s funny and dramatic. I remember being holed up in my dorm room the entire winter break, reading his books, easily getting over a recent breakup. LOL!
I’ve not read everything by her, but Sylvia Day’s flow is extremely artful. She pulls you into the emotional ride with her characters by eloquently articulating their expressions of highs and lows. I aspire to that skill.
These are just three, but I’ve read lots of great works recently. I enjoy reading. I don’t go into a read with high expectations. I don’t go in trying to write the story for the author. I’m only anticipating being taken on a ride and I want to experience the emotions of characters firsthand. Not all of that is up to the author; my imagination is in course during this ride, too. So, I’ve taken on lots of good books by peers. It’s a nice break for me.
Funny thing is I don’t like be asked to read something. Nope. I like to explore without obligations. I’m weird like that with my reads. I’ve come across great books that way. Conversely, I’m quick to demand someone to read a book that I’ve enjoyed, though. #Hypocrite
Nia: What’s your writing process? Do you plot and outline, or fly by the seat of your pants?
Love: So, my writing process…
See, the way my head is set up is (in my Kevin Hart voice), in my mind, I have this therapy practice, and like in the movie “Ghost”, there are couples fighting for time on my couch. And I let them…fight. Their story has to be compelling to me. It has to move me and strike me as unique and relatable. I’ll know this by them not allowing me to sleep, or my mind to venture to other characters for too long.
I always tell them, “You have to give me something stick-worthy… with depth and length; I’m writing a novel here, not an article.” If they can “haunt” me down like that, they have my attention and make it to my workstation.
***I am being totally honest here. I never said I’m sane; just that I’m a storyteller.***
So, with these characters, come stories. More specific, a structure of work is presented that includes their dilemma, but that’s it. I did an outline for Love Redeemed because I needed to make sure I closed each storyline, as it was a conclusion. However, for the most part, I let the characters take me away. It’s their story after all. At the end of the day, I package it and make it flow, but it’s theirs to share with me and I articulate it for the world.
An example of letting characters go without “guidance” is the way Azmir reacted to catching Brian Thompson kissing Rayna in Love UnCharted. I was curious to see how the “thug”…or “b-boy” in him would react given he was reputable with his fists. But…what turned out to be explosive was his response to Rayna once he got her alone. I’d no idea he’d respond in the manner he did. I read that scene at least two dozen times prior to publication with my jaw hanging each time. I even choked back a cry for Rayna. That wasn’t in mind back in Love Lost or Love UnExpected. It was me allowing this character to take over in that moment. I didn’t ask myself, “What would Love do?” I totally allowed Azmir to be true to his nature. And boy, was I blown away by his reaction (no pun intended)!
Nia: What made you pick romance as a genre? But first, do you think of yourself as a romance writer?
Love: I have no clue what draws me to explosive relationships between extremely flawed men and women. Is it romance? What constitutes the romance category in 2014? I don’t know. Quite honestly, I don’t believe Love Lost is a romance novel, per se. It’s more of a coming of age story or women’s literature perhaps. I don’t know.
I can only start with the phenomenon of love and take you on a ride from there, and that’s what Love Belvin intends to do with all future projects. I’ve always been captivated by stories of tried relationships. I’ve always been interested in what developed these people into the partners—or lack thereof—they present as in these relationships.
These “love” stories that come across my “couch” in my “therapy practice” aren’t pretty and nicely packaged. They will be gritty, raw, frustrating and hopefully relatable. Some romances I’ve come across as a reader have all amenable characters and convenient dilemmas. I don’t think the type of stories that attract me have these characteristics. Both Azmir Jacobs and Rayna Brimm are blemished people. Azmir just isn’t as emotionally fragile as Rayna is. He presents as the more stable partner of the duo.
So, I don’t have an answer for why I’m so drawn to the romance genre. It is truly all that captures my attention.
Nia: If you didn’t write this genre what is another you might write (or do you write another genre)?
Love: None, which is why I have my own definition of my category of writing. I’m not entertained by mystery, historical writings, fantasy or paranormal. I enjoy exploring real-time, flawed romantic relationships foremost, and extraneous/secondary relationships aside from it that influences that romantic relationship. My style is not that deep. Very singular. And I’m completely fine with this.
I write about things in the parameters of a relationship that I feel is key or intriguing, such as the first perception of the hero or heroine. Rayna was immediately attracted to Azmir the first time she saw in him in Love Lost. She claims to have felt physical sensations, even while upset. Azmir simply saw an attractive (and angry) woman. Then I love hearing dual stories as to when they first met. Again, in Love Lost, Azmir sees this beautiful woman who rolled her eyes at him, yet you never heard Rayna say any such thing. It’s little things like that that intrigues me.
In my personal life, I enjoy analyzing relationships and the small factoids that make up their stories. You can only do this in the romance genre. Or perhaps in a psychology text book, but then you wouldn’t get the hot sex that accompanies it. At least, I don’t recall that type of entertainment in text books during my academic years.
Nia: Your Love’s Improbable Possibility series has a definite flavor that makes it stand apart from many other books in the romance genre. If I’m a complete newbie to the LIP series, what would you say to ‘sell’ it to me?
Love: I think L.I.P. has lots going on between the four covers. There are several elements to it; there’s romance, an urban undercurrent, and a touch of spirituality. Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that this combo is too much for some. I knew it would be before we published, which is why I never sent the manuscript to a publishing company. It’s also why I passed on a few editors—before they got the opportunity to read it. I didn’t want anyone changing my voice or characters; just look for inconsistencies and clean it up. I’m still critiquing, even with L.I.P. I’ve learned so much.
I’ve gotten lots of flak about the series; it’s too long, it starts off too urban, it takes too long before you get to the real romance (something I’m inclined to agree with), Rayna’s too weak after getting involved with Azmir, etc. The grievances go on and on. And while I’ve listened and considered them all, I only internalized what made me stay true to these two people. Often folks didn’t or don’t get where I was going with the story and lose interest. The funniest is observing readers pumping their fists at Love Lost because of the urban feel and absolutely detest Love UnCharted, clearly realizing this isn’t an urban/street lit read.
Love’s Improbable Possibility is not a story; it’s a journey. It’s not a read with a speedy solution. You’re experiencing the emotional growth of a wounded girl as she journeys into womanhood. There are life lessons you experience with her: abandonment; bad sex partners, horrible decisions in borrowing money, surprise pregnancies, ill-responses in her romantic relationships, and self-acceptance among other things. This isn’t a quick read: again, it’s a journey. What I enjoy about it is experiencing so many elements like drama and pop-culture. I’ve blended several historical/popular events and figures in L.I.P.
I’ve taken a risk with letting L.I.P. lead my literary works. So many have put down Love Lost and written me off as an urban writer. They never stuck with it to see that I’m actually not. Interesting thing is, up until last fall, out of all the projects on my workstation, none had an ounce of urban to them. I don’t prefer urban/street lit reads anymore. I simply stayed true to Rayna and Azmir’s essence in this particular series.
Nia: People seem to have fallen head over heels in love with Azmir and Rayna, the couple that you follow in the Love’s Improbable Possibility series. What do you think is the secret of their success?
Love: Not everyone. There is no universal love for Love (or L.I.P.), but man, has the support from readers aka L.I.P.’ers (fans of the series) been great! When closing the series with Love Redeemed, I had them on my back, so to speak. All others fell by the wayside.
I’ve received strong regards about L.I.P. from reviewers. Even those who claimed to not have exactly hated it have expressed strong reactions to these two characters. Many complained of Rayna’s inability to simply let Azmir in emotionally. They thought he was God’s gift—rich, handsome, powerful, intelligent—who wouldn’t fall for this man? Well, a woman who has been burnt by folks time and time again. She didn’t want Azmir’s money. Remember, Rayna accepted money from Sebastian in Love Lost and he turned out to be a manipulating debtor. Initially, Rayna wasn’t comfortable with giving Azmir lead in bed. Why would she when she’d never been with a man whose interest went beyond her body? She wanted control to ensure she’d enjoy the ride—no pun intended. Also, Azmir kisses another woman and Rayna has a hard time accepting that. Why wouldn’t she when she’d just begun to drop all guards regarding this man—and seemingly involuntarily?
As the author, I didn’t agree with many of Rayna’s decisions and emotions throughout the series, but I could discern them, which was key in conveying her story. Azmir isn’t a simple man. I think from his perspective, he’d been offering Rayna something he was settled on, which was a life with him. However, he had Rayna living with him in Love UnExpected and didn’t give the poor girl a simple title of girlfriend. You can’t do that to an emotionally fragile woman like Rayna Brimm. Also, we learn in Love Redeemed what happened to his plan of trying to keep an entire illegal life from her—even married her without disclosing this pertinent information.
I think a lot of people are drawn to Azmir. He’s has this incredible duality that isn’t easy to pull off. He’s an extremely successful corporate businessman with deep ties to a powerful and lucrative underworld. I was sure to stay away from many details of this underworld for purposes of keeping away from the urban genre, and also because quite frankly, I’m not interested in the drug trade. I was able to protect Azmir’s “good guy” image this way, which makes him swoon-worthy. We all get frustrated with Rayna, but for some reason appreciate Azmir.
***tosses hand in the air***
So, as far as success, I believe neither Rayna nor Azmir holds back emotionally. They are an explosive and expressive pair. Whether or not you agree with the sentiment, you feel their passion on this journey. I agree with reviewers who say you feel somewhat exhausted after putting the series down. This is because you are exposed to the highs and lows of their dynamics.
I’ve gotten from several L.I.P.’ers that the way Azmir “chases” Rayna after each time she leaves him makes them feel the possibility of true love. The type of love that will have a man in pursuit of you in spite of your flaws. What woman wouldn’t want that? I know I do! And I also believe it’s possible.
Also, Azmir brings a lot of that pop-culture to L.I.P. It’s much of who he is or was prior to meeting Rayna. What’s crazy is hearing from L.I.P.’ers that they’ve Google’d names, even Azmir’s, to see who’s fictitious and who’s real.
Lastly, I believe the ones who have taken to the series really like the length of the journey. Some folks don’t need series and continuations of one set of characters. And there are others, like me, who appreciate it so longs as I take to the couple. The tricky thing about following a series as a reader is finally saying goodbye. It’s hard to come down when you’ve committed so much time to these folks. But for those who don’t like length and depth of a story, L.I.P. isn’t for you, and I’m okay with that. I have more in my arsenal.
Nia: In general, what is your favorite kind of hero to write about? Your favorite kind of heroine? Tell us which of those traits you called upon for Azmir and Rayna.
Love: Oh, I’m attracted to formidable, introverted, and secretly passionate men who are powerful in whatever they do. I believe that’s typical in romance novels and where this “Alpha-male” phrase derives from. This is what I consume. I enjoy men who can teach a woman something about life and mostly about herself. I enjoy heroes whose walls can only be torn down by the right heroine.
Azmir is said to be very guarded by his ex-girlfriend of six years. An ex who wanted children by him and who wanted to cohabitate with him. For reasons stated throughout the series, Azmir never desired these things with her. However, he constantly lets his guard down for Rayna, who shuns his offerings almost all the time. He practically begged her to live with him within months of knowing her—wanted a child with her in the same timeframe. Azmir is reputed as a calculating man who makes very little mistakes. We see in Love UnCharted that Rayna had secrets that he never thought to look into until she’s forced to disclose a few. Rayna—or Love—had Azmir totally out of character and these are the type of events that attract me to characters, in or out of my own works.
As far as heroines: I enjoy women who are nothing like me emotionally. I feel everything, which is what I believe is crucial in my ability to tell a story. I’m attracted to head-strong women who guard their hearts (not necessarily as much as Rayna Brimm though). I like women who can withstand being showered with lavish gifts and money. Women who can function in solitude and not very emotionally dependent. I prefer heroines who have accomplishments before and outside the hero.
People admire that Rayna is an educated woman who committed herself to school and a solid career. They believe her troubled past drove her academic and professional success. I believe Rayna found herself on a path that was easy for her and saw it through because she saw no better option. I don’t believe her actions were premeditated, just available opportunities that she took on. I like tough, knucklehead women! Until they meet their match and land directly on their arses…the right man.
***rubbing hands together, excited at the prospect***
Nia: I happen to think that every writer has a ‘message’ or theme that they infuse into their books. For me, one of the things I explore is perfect love between imperfect people. What are some of your favorite themes?
Love: Mine isn’t that dissimilar to yours. I will include that my “message” has a suggestion of spirituality—agape love, or godly love. I don’t believe these “damaged” people can achieve total redemption through romantic love—Eros. I like to explore how spiritual development and/or realization can assist in the success of a healthy, flourishing romantic relationship between men and women. Even explore some mania love, too! I’m kidding! (No, I’m not. Azmir showed some mania love in Love UnCharted).
Nia: And finally, the question I know your fans want me to ask: what’s next for Love Belvin? Do you want to break any news about your work in progress?
Love: As L.I.P.’ers know, I’m currently working on Love’s Inconvenient Truth. The projected release date is early October. It’s going to be different from L.I.P. More specifically, it’s a standalone and is a singularly-narrated story from the heroine, Elle. The hero, Jackson, was introduced in the last installment of L.I.P., Love Redeemed. I just hope fans of L.I.P. will allow Jackson his own lane. Azmir Jacobs is clearly my ideal man in almost every sense. Jackson, for one particular reason, is not one that I’m known to go for. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly enjoying exploring him.
***Love licks her lips from salivation***
For those L.I.P.’ers who are still coming down from the series, I’ve caught up with Rayna and Azmir (unfortunately, not together). They’ve both agreed to a sit down with my on my blog. Rayna will be with me Thursday, May 15th and Azmir will be visiting the following week. You can check them out by accessing my blog via my website.
Also, there have been talks on my team about catching up with Azmir and Rayna via a novella sometime in 2014. I have mixed feelings about it, but am considering it. More information will be announced once I’m in a better place with Elle and Jackson, who have been waiting patiently for over a year and are now on my couch. Stay tuned.
I still have an opportunity to sweep up those who have put Love Lost down, believing I’m an urban writer, and those who simply didn’t take to Azmir and Rayna in L.I.P. I’m cool with this. I’m determined. #ImGonnaMakeYouLoveMe
Nia: How can folks reach you?
Love: I’m available in all the places below.
Thanks for sitting down and chatting with me, Love Belvin!