Beverly Jenkins joins us to talk about her latest book Breathless and the series in progress. Of course, we talk about history and the stories that inspire her, especially the unsung, undiscovered, or forgotten women behind major figures in history. We also discuss the communities of women throughout history that worked to help one another, and about her next book – which we really want to read already.
TRIGGER WARNING: we discuss some violent images from the recently released photography collection from Cornell at 17:04 to 17:38. I’ll warn you in the middle to skip ahead when it’s time.
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
In our archives, there’s more to enjoy, including:
- Our reviews of Beverly Jenkins’ books, including her latest, Breathless
- A previous podcast interview with her
- The podcast episodes we mentioned in this conversation: interviews with Alisha Rai and Lauren Willig
We also discussed a recent Guardian article about characters and readers, information about Lozen, and the collection of photographs of African American life from Cornell – please be cautious if graphic images upset you.
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This Episode's Music
This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “Bambous.” You can find Caravan Palace and their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. You can find Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello, and welcome to episode number 237 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and with me today is Beverly Jenkins! Pretty much everything I say between now and the part where Beverly starts talking should be as short as possible because there should be as little ob-, obstacle between you and me and listening to Bev Jenkins, because she’s brilliant! We’re going to talk about her latest book, Breathless, which I loved and you should read. We talk about her series in progress, and of course we talk about history, the stories that inspire her, especially the unsung, undiscovered, and forgotten women often behind major figures in history. We talk about the communities of women throughout history that worked to help each other and about her neck book, next book, which I really want to read.
Now, important information for you: we discuss some violent images from a recently released photography collection at Cornell, and I will warn you, if you are worried about descriptions of violent imagery, especially images affecting children, I will interrupt our conversation to warn you that if that is going to be something that is triggering or upsetting, you can skip ahead thirty seconds. I want you to feel safe, especially when you’re listening to this podcast.
The music you are listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater, and I will have information at the end of the show, and I will have links to all of the books that we discuss and all of the music and the different things that she mentions all over the Internet in the podcast entry at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast.
And now, without any further delay, on with the podcast with Beverly Jenkins!
Sarah: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this!
Beverly Jenkins: You are very welcome. You know I love speaking with you, so –
Beverly: – and Smart Bitches, so –
Sarah: Oh, thank you! We’re all big fans of yours too. So you have been traveling all over for the release of this book. Where have you, where have you been?
Beverly: I haven’t been a lot of places. I’ve been to LA –
Beverly: – and I’m on my way to, I got a local signing this week. On my way to South Caro-, University of South Carolina at the end of the month.
Sarah: Ooh, when are you going to be there? In, in March?
Beverly: Nope! Twenty-sixth; I fly in on Sunday; the event is Monday; I fly home on Tuesday. Well, I’ll be in Chicago in March, and then the next weekend – I’ll be in Chicago the 18th of March, and the 25th of March I’ll be in Dallas.
Sarah: Wow! I am not going there. Are you going to RT this year?
Beverly: No, not going – yeah! Going to RT; not going to RWA, but going to RT.
Sarah: So how was your event at The Ripped Bodice? Did you have a good time?
Beverly: I love that place! Oh, my God, have you been out there yet?
Sarah: I have not, and I just ask everybody about it ‘cause I haven’t been yet.
Beverly: Oh, God, the store is gorgeous! Leah and Bea are just lovely. The dog is cool.
Beverly: Fritz, Fitz, Fitz! Fitz –
Beverly: Yeah, Fitzwilliam –
Beverly: Fit, fit, Fitz. Had a great, great, great, great time. It was really awesome. We had a packed house both nights. Hopefully sold a lot of books. I had a fabulous time.
Sarah: I saw some pictures, and there were a lot of people at that signing. That must be so lovely to see so many people in the room.
Beverly: Well, you know, sometimes it’s, it’s, it’s like the, Sade’s lyrics, someday chicken, next day feathers?
Beverly: And sometimes, sometimes you go to a signing and, you know, you’ve got, like, three people in the room and, but, you know, you, you can never tell, but it’s always wonderful when you get a full house, so.
Sarah: I did a signing once for my first book, and there was torrential rain, and people were saying, you know, stay off the roads; it’s so dangerous.
Beverly: Oh, my!
Sarah: One person came, but she had come early because of the rain. She was moving away. She wanted to meet me, and I was like, that’s fine, I’ll talk to one person, and then the librarians felt so bad that they kept taking their breaks and coming in and out? [Laughs]
Sarah: So I had, like, six in-and-out librarians and one reader, and it was a really memorable, good event because I felt like I had really, you know, talked to a lot of people.
Beverly: Yeah, see, it’s – you know, and, and no matter how many people show up, you always have a good time.
Beverly: Even with that one or three or five, but, you know, it’s always wonderful to have standing room only too, so –
Sarah: Oh, that always feels good. When you have a line at a signing? Like, whoo, I have a line!
Beverly: Yep. Yeah, yeah, it’s good.
Sarah: So your latest book gave me all the warm feels; thank you!
Beverly: Mm, you’re very welcome! I saw the B, and I saw the, the little bitty, little bit of stuff that you were like, hmm! And that’s okay! That’s okay!
Beverly: You know, I’m always, always looking for constructive criticism and constructive issues, and I enjoyed the book. I’m getting ready to do her sister, who’s going to have an interesting, interesting encounter with this man that she thinks she’s going to fall madly in love with, and he’s going to fall madly in love with her, so –
Sarah: And she’s –
Beverly: – you know, life comes at you quickly. [Laughs]
Sarah: And she’s going to be a mail-order bride, so she’s moving all the way north.
Beverly: All the way north to Wyoming, and on a wish and a prayer, so – we will see.
Sarah: Was that very common?
Beverly: Well, you know, mail-order brides were common! They came in from England; they came in from all over the country. I had the, when I did Topaz, we moved women from Chicago to the plains of Kansas, so –
Sarah: And Destiny’s Embrace? She went from Philadelphia to –
Beverly: Mm-hmm, to Cali- –
Together: – California.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah. People don’t think that there were African-American mail-order brides, but there were. In fact, I was at a signing for, it must have been Topaz, as, you know, a thousand years ago, and an older African-American woman came up to me, and she said, my grandmother was a mail-order bride, so –
Beverly: Yeah, so, you know, it’s, people don’t think that, you know, African-Americans sometimes have the same experiences that the major society does, but –
Sarah: Right, and, and you all know each other.
Beverly: Oh, yeah, we all know each other, we, we, and we all look alike! [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh, I’ve heard that! I’ve heard that that might be true.
Sarah: It is not my experience!
Beverly: You’d be surprised how many people mistake me for Brenda Jackson. So –
Sarah: What?! Uh, okay, okay.
Beverly: Well, it’s the, it’s the initials.
Beverly: At least that’s what I’m going to call it.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely.
Sarah: Okay. So you –
Sarah: – you read your reviews! I’m really surprised! I know a lot of authors who don’t read their reviews. Does that bother you at all, to read what people say?
Beverly: Nope, nope. Nope, not at all. I like knowing what people’s reactions are, whether they’re good, bad, or indifferent.
Beverly: Sometimes they do give me things to think about.
Beverly: But, yeah, I read – you know, but I’m like everybody else: if it’s a bad review, I’m like, okay, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
Sarah: That’s a really healthy place to be, but I’ve always said that if you are a writer and you’re super anxious and you don’t want to read your reviews, then, for one thing, don’t read your reviews, but –
Beverly: Then don’t, yeah!
Sarah: – but the solution is write another book, because the more books you have written, the less –
Sarah: – what one person says about one of all –
Sarah: – those books is going to bother you.
Sarah: It’s not going to bother you at all!
Beverly: You know, and I’m confident in myself and confident enough in my writing that I can read the reviews, you know. And one review was really, really interesting because she said – and I just loved her for it – she loved the book, but she said she had never read any of my work before because she couldn’t see how an African-American couple in the nineteenth century could have an HEA. Because of the times and the lack of history that, you know, she had learned growing up –
Beverly: – she just thought it wouldn’t be possible or something that she would want to read, which was something that I knew, but to have somebody actually say it –
Beverly: – it’s awesome! So she said now, you know, she understands how I work, and she’s going to back and read everything, so, you know, I wish, and there are a lot of people out there, both black and white, who let that barrier sort of make ‘em step back and say, mmm, I don’t know if I want to read this, because it might not, you know, meet my expectations of what a traditional romance would be.
Sarah: And how can there be a happy ending when there’s so much misery?
Beverly: Yeah, when there’s slavery and there’s, you know, lynching and, and all of that. So for her to step out of her comfort zone and to actually read it and to love it is, is, is a great thing.
Sarah: And does that happen with all of your books?
Beverly: It does! I mean, and, and it was one of the biggest barriers when I first started. Not only with white women, but with black women too! Because they were like, okay, number one, we don’t read romance, and number two, how is this relevant in our lives, considering the lives that we led in the nineteenth century? So the books have done, over the years, a lot to dispel that myth, but there’re still quite a few people out there on both sides of the, of the aisle who are like, mmm, maybe, maybe not. So, and that’s okay.
Sarah: And it also reveals the, the limited history. Like, if all you know about this particular group is misery and –
Sarah: – degradation and death, then –
Sarah: – well, of course there can’t be a happy ending.
Beverly: Course not! Course not. You know, and that is one of the things that I always rail about is that, you know, that’s the majority culture and what they teach us and what Hollywood, you know, as opposed to, to focusing maybe one of those nine, one of those, one ten, one time out of ten –
Beverly: – on what actually happened in everyday lives.
Beverly: You know, we fell in love, we had kids, we had birthday parties. We, you know, a normal life, normal values, that kind of thing.
Sarah: One of the things that I loved about Breathless and that made it such a comfort read for me was that there were so many moments with small groups of women basically getting things done.
Beverly: Mm-hmm, yeah.
Sarah: Like, they were, they were, they were going to, they were going to cook, they were going to go back in to cook more, because everybody ate all the food, and what was that about?
Sarah: And they were –
Sarah: – and they’re talking about how the, the older women of the town where they live sent gifts to the sisters –
Sarah: – when they were in school. All these little communities of women helping each other move forward –
Sarah: – and it was, it was such a beautiful portrayal of how women basically get everything done together.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah! I mean, you can’t, you can’t have a community without your women.
Beverly: I mean, and, and that was why the state of Wyoming let women vote before, you know, the rest of the country –
Beverly: – so that they could have these women come out and start these communities and, and, you know, and grow the state. But you know, that goes back to, and we have, I, you and I’ve talked about that before that, that Dorothy Sterling thing about the, why nineteenth-century Black women were so successful.
Beverly: And one of the, one of the gifts, as she calls it, was their commitment to community, so, you know, that’s just another offset, offshoot of that.
Sarah: I’ve often noticed when I travel to different parts of the world where, when you live in a place where the land is actively trying to kill you?
Sarah: The culture that results has a lot less BS involved.
Sarah: There’s a, there’s a lot more reality and lot more practical, okay, I might really dislike you, but if I leave you here you’re going to die, ‘cause the land’s trying to kill you. And I mean –
Sarah: – that could be, like, the, the desert or the Southwest or Alaska or Australia, wherever. I also think that that community, when you are a minority and when there is constantly a threat against you in one way or another –
Sarah: – means that even when you don’t like somebody, you’re going to take care of them.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah. You know, and, and that’s been the thread, I think, for, for African-American communities. You know, and not to say that everybody in the community was a good, upstanding person, you know, ‘cause we had our –
Beverly: – we had our, our, our share of swindlers and conmen and, you know, all of that, but –
Sarah: There were some people in Breathless that were awful!
Beverly: Oh, God, I know, I know.
Sarah: And I love that one guy died of stupid. You killed somebody with stupid!
Sarah: Oh, my gosh, I couldn’t put that in the review, but you killed a man with stupid, and I loved it!
Beverly: Oh, yeah. Yeah, you know, he was, everybody said they, they, one of the, the ladies on my site, we had club Tuesday night, and she said, Miss Bev, I love the way you deal with your villains. She said, you know, you, you have this very, very creative way of, you know, you just don’t kill ‘em, you ju-, you kill ‘em!
Sarah: Oh, yeah, you kill ‘em with lots of stupid! [Laughs]
Beverly: He died of stupid, yeah. And it was a good thing, ‘cause he needed to.
Sarah: Oh, yes.
Beverly: He needed to.
Sarah: So when you’re doing your research, I’m, I’m imagining that you encounter a lot of communities of women historically in large and small groups.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: And these, and these organizations tend to, they, they, they show up at a moment where things are needed, and then they move on or spread out into other things. Not a lot of them still exist –
Sarah: – and some of them do. What were some of the organizations that you were representing in this book?
Beverly: Well, I was representing, I think one of the earliest groups was a, a, a group coming, that came out of Philadelphia called the Daughters of Africa?
Beverly: They were a group of washerwomen in Philly back in the 1850s, I think, who came together as sort of a, a, I want to say an early insurance company kind of thing? Where they would take whatever they had leftover from their salaries, you know, their little pennies and –
Beverly: – and nickels and stuff, and they would pay for burials, and they would pay for doctors’ appointments for people in the community that could not pay for themselves.
Beverly: So you had groups like this all over the country. The early sororities, the church women groups. Black women have always tried to cooperate because we had to –
Beverly: – in order to keep the community vibrant and, and, and alive, so, so they represent – you know, and, and I’m always doing that kind of a thing –
Beverly: – because it was so common. It was so common.
Sarah: Does it ever feel like the amount of history that you can represent that isn’t appearing anywhere else is just overwhelming?
Beverly: Um –
Beverly: Damn it.
Beverly: When you get to be a certain age, right, a, a woman of a certain age, people start calling you at nine in the morning trying to sell you stuff?
Sarah: Oh, my gosh, yes.
Beverly: They want to sell you life bracelets, they want to sell you knee braces, they want to –
Sarah: That button you hang on your neck in case you fall down?
Beverly: Yeah, yeah, and it’s like, go away, every morning, so I don’t answer my phone. What was our question?
Sarah: Are you ever –
Beverly: Oh, the history! Overwhelming – sometimes it is. Sometimes, mostly the painful parts?
Beverly: Last night, because I’m, was up so late last night, Cornell University just released, I think it’s the Lowentheil or Lowenstein Collection of African-American photographs that they have, and they just released it digitally, and there were, like, forty pages. So I was up last night just going and just happened to stumble across it, and I’m looking at these pictures, and a lot of them were, you know, great pictures of just people in their everyday lives –
Sarah: I had mentioned in the intro that there was a section where we describe some graphic images, and in order to make everybody feel safe, I want to let you know that if that will disturb you, you want to hit, when I am done talking and we go back to the interview, you want to hit your thirty-second skip button on your playback app or just skip ahead thirty seconds from this point, okay? Back to the interview.
Beverly: – and there were some that were lynchings, and then they had one –
Sarah: Ooh, oh!
Beverly: – that I, there was one with a, an alligator, probably as large as my house, eating a little boy!
Sarah: Oh, God!
Beverly: So that kind of stuff, you know, you look at it and you go, oh, Lord. That kind of stuff is overwhelming, and to see – people brought their children to lynching and their wives and their lunches.
Beverly: Luckily, there were only four out of the thirty-six pages, four pictures out of the thirty-six pages with, with, with those disturbing images, but the more I know about the journey, I think the better I can tell the story?
Beverly: In a way that you learn it, but I do the crying, as I said before, and I –
Sarah: Yes, you do the crying for the readers.
Beverly: I do the crying for the readers, so – but finding out about Lozen was just awesome! Oh, my gosh!
Sarah: I had no idea. Thank you for Lozen! I, I was like, oh, well, hang on, and I had to, like, go put my book down and go to the computer and like, I, what, who is this?
Beverly: There she was!
Sarah: I had never heard a thing about Lozen. Oh, my gosh.
Sarah: And there’re pictures of her!
Sarah: And she looks like she, she could kick anyone’s ass anytime!
Beverly: Right, right, right! There were only a couple pictures. I’ve got a, I’m doing a, a blog post for somebody next month. I’ve got this cool –
Sarah: [Laughs] Somewhere on the Internet, I don’t know.
Beverly: – somebody who never leaves the house, you know.
Beverly: I’m going to do a, a, a blog post about her next month, so I’m going to hopefully learn a lot of very, very interesting stuff. But she’s amazing! I mean –
Sarah: She’s incredible!
Beverly: Yeah! So you have all these unsung women and all these unsung, you know, people in history, and it’s great to be able to, to spread that history around, because, you know, once you know about them, they’re sort of alive again, so –
Beverly: – she’s getting ready to be alive again because of a [sings] romance novel! So, you know?
Sarah: In a way, when you rediscover somebody who was lost in history –
Sarah: – they are alive again?
Sarah: And you can tell someone about them?
Sarah: It’s only a small responsibility you’re carrying, you know, not a big one. Don’t worry about it; it’s little.
Beverly: Just, just, just a little bit of my ministry, you know?
Sarah: Right, yep! When you’re writing, have you – forgive me for not knowing the answer to this question; I’m a little embarrassed that I don’t know this off the top of my head, but have you written any historicals with the, with some of the sororities in them?
Beverly: No, because the sororities started after 1900.
Sarah: Ah, so that’s outside your time period.
Beverly: Well, it used to be. Now that you can, now you can put, you know, the early twentieth century in historicals, so, you know, we can move towards that way. I am not, I have not done anything based on any of the, not a, not a story set –
Beverly: – in the historical Black colleges, but the stories are out there, especially –
Sarah: They are.
Beverly: – especially with Hampton, because Hampton in Virginia had not only African-Americans but Native Americans, and you had, you know, the love stories between that. There’s a great movie – and of course I cannot think of the name. I’ll have to give you –
Sarah: Oh, of course not!
Beverly: – and find it and, and send it to you –
Sarah: That’s fine!
Beverly: – of a, of a love story between a couple of those students, so lots more places to, to set stories and lot more histories to explore.
Sarah: I, I told you I went to a women’s college in South Carolina –
Sarah: – and in a lot of ways it was, a, a large part of this population, it was a suitcase school. Like, Friday at three o’clock, they went home; Sunday they came back.
Sarah: Did the laundry, went home for the weekend, and I was nine and a half hours from home, so I was not going home.
Sarah: But I remember certain Saturdays every month was the first time I’d ever seen – it was pink and green; was it Appa, Alpha Kappa Alpha?
Beverly: Alpha Kappa Alpha –
Together: – yes.
Beverly: Alp-, Alpha.
Sarah: I love how I don’t remember, like, letters, but I remember the colors. I had never seen anything like this. Like, fifty, sixty cars – and it was a very small school – rolled –
Sarah: – into the parking lot. Massive party! We’re all going out! And then, whoosh, they were gone, and I had never seen anything like that before? It was incredible!
Beverly: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, they, it’s them, it’s Delta Sigma Theta –
Beverly: – Zeta Phi Beta, Sigma Gamma Rho are the four main largest sororities, and they do incredible work, did incredible work with the community back then and, and still do incredible work now with charities and, and literacy and, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s an awesome thing!
Sarah: It is an awesome thing.
Beverly: It’s just another way for, for Black women to, to assert their, you know, selves in, in keeping the community together.
Sarah: I do have a vernacular question for you that I wrote down on the side. One of the things I noticed the characters were saying or they would, they would say openly: well, we have to work and help the race. The race is – is that a, was that a historically common term?
Beverly: Yeah! Mm-hmm, yeah. I mean, if you look at the old newspapers and the old history books and, and all of that, we were referred to as, as the race. Raising up the race or, you know, danger to the race, and so, yeah, so I incorporate that with, with my stuff, and I’ve been asked that a couple times too, so you’re not the only one who’s asked that question. So don’t –
Sarah: Good; I don’t feel so dumb.
Beverly: No, it’s not dumb. It’s just, I mean, if you don’t know something, you don’t know something! It doesn’t make you dumb or ignorant.
Sarah: I’ve also found that the older I get, the more comfortable I am with saying, I have no idea; can you tell me?
Sarah: Being able to be like, I have no idea, scares the dickens out of my kids ‘cause I’m like, I don’t know. Mom, how can you not know? ‘Cause I don’t know! Sorry!
Beverly: Yeah, yeah! I mean, and it’s, it’s dumb to think that you would know –
Beverly: – everything.
Sarah: Nope. I know nothing.
Beverly: It’s – that’s why you have Google, you know?
Sarah: And, and romance novels; don’t forget about those.
Beverly: Oh, yes, yes, yes.
Beverly: That’s one of the things my kids would, would always, they would ask me questions, and whether I knew the answer or not, I would always tell them, go look it up!
Beverly: You know, my daughter still talks about that today. She says, my mom was like, go look it up! You know, ‘cause it’s, sometimes you learn more if you actively incorporate it, as opposed to having somebody tell you?
Beverly: So, yeah.
Sarah: I like to torture my children by telling them about these dark days before Google, before you had a computer in your hand, in your pocket. You had to go to the library, and you had to go to this big drawer thing with lots of little cards in it, and you had to write down the titles. Then you had to go into a little shelf and find them and then hunt in the stack, and then you had to dig through, and you had to keep looking, and sometimes you missed it and you had to start over, and they’re just like, oh, my gosh! How did you get anything done?!
Beverly: No, and the encyclopedia salesmen that used to come to your door, I don’t know –
Sarah: Oh, God! [Laughs]
Beverly: – you know, and try and sell you encyclopedias.
Sarah: We just moved, and the, the w-, my husband wanted to move this shelf that came, the shelf that came with the encyclopedias that his parents bought. He’s like, no, it’s a free shelf! And I’m like, it’s terrible; we’re throwing it away! [Laughs]
Beverly: Yeah, I’ve got one in my basement with my Encyclopedia Brittanicas on it now.
Sarah: Right? [Laughs]
Beverly: Yeah. And for a while –
Sarah: And now –
Beverly: Yeah! For a while I kept running back downstairs. I’m, why are you doing this? ‘Cause that –
Beverly: ‘Cause you’re so, and, and plus working in libraries all my life –
Sarah: Oh, right.
Beverly: – it’s natural to just, to look for the book, so, so they’re down there gathering dust. And you know, you don’t want to throw ‘em away.
Beverly: I mean, what am I going to do with a full set of encyclopedias? The libraries don’t want ‘em.
Beverly: So I don’t know. I –
Sarah: Arts and crafts?
Beverly: [Laughs] I don’t know! What – ?
Sarah: World’s biggest, biggest papier mâché sculpture!
Beverly: Right, or something, you know? Make a snow cone or something out of it or something; I don’t know.
Sarah: And now, with, with, even just with social media, history just comes to find you!
Beverly: Right, it does.
Sarah: You know, you’re going to bump into a photography collection from Cornell.
Beverly: Right! Yeah!
Sarah: And you don’t even have to put on pants.
Beverly: No, I, no! I didn’t even have to get out of bed!
Beverly: You know, so – and that’s the beauty of, of the technology these days, for those of us who, who do search for information is, you know, like you said, it’s right there! I mean, I’m stumbling through Twitter last night at two in the morning, and I look up and it’s five o’clock –
Beverly: – ‘cause I’ve been looking at old photographs for three hours, you know? So – but you never know when you’re going to need it –
Beverly: – or when you’re going to use it –
Beverly: – so it’s, it’s always a blessing when I run across stuff like that.
Sarah: And is, are there moments where you’re, where’s, where you encounter something and you’re like, oh, well, there’s my book?
Beverly: Yeah, that’s –
Sarah: See you in about six weeks.
Beverly: That’s how Eddy came about.
Sarah: Mm-hmm, ‘cause she was, you told me when our last conversation, she was walking across the desert with a –
Beverly: Cook stove on her –
Sarah: – with a stove on her head – I was going to say an oven, but that wasn’t the right word.
Beverly: Yeah, it was a cook stove, you know, and I still, with all the research that I was able to do online and offline, I could never find out what kind of a stove it was, so I just used a brazier, like a little Hibachi we used to have in college, so – but, yeah, you never know what you’re going to run into while you’re looking for something else.
Sarah: And history’s a big tangle –
Sarah: – so you just pull one thread and you don’t know where you’re going to end up.
Beverly: Oh, you can be in, down the rabbit hole for hours, you know.
Beverly: And, and then you go, okay, why would, what was I looking for in the beginning, you know?
Sarah: Because now I’ve got a recipe for, like, five casseroles that, which is good!
Sarah: I’m not hungry now.
Beverly: Yep. Right, you run across recipes too. I got a ton of those! But, yeah –
Sarah: When I, when I, when I had the site redesigned the last time, my, my one mission statement was, I need a better rabbit hole –
Sarah: – ‘cause there’s so much information on the site. I’m like, all right, I need people to find tempting rabbit holes to dive into the site and stay there for, you know, hours.
Sarah: I’m selfish. Hours. Hours and hours. That was what I wanted.
Beverly: Yes, yes!
Sarah: ‘Cause when I go down the rabbit hole, I find the best stuff!
Beverly: Oh, I know, I know! And, you know, like I say, you look up and it’s dark?
Sarah: [Laughs] It’s, it’s Thursday.
Beverly: It’s the next day, but I love it! I absolutely love it, because, like I say, you never know when you’re going to need it, and there’s no such thing as learning too much.
Sarah: No! Isn’t that nice? Brains are great that way.
Beverly: They really are; they really are.
Sarah: So you’re working on the next book in the series.
Beverly: Mm-hmm. Working on Miss Regan.
Sarah: So is it Ray-gin?
Beverly: Ree-gin, Ray-gin.
Sarah: My sister-in-law is Ree-gin –
Sarah: But I had a friend when we lived in New Jersey who spelled it the same way and it was Ray-gin, so I, I go with, I’m fine with both.
Beverly: Yeah, they asked me, they said, is it Ree-gin or Ray-gin for the woman who was doing the audio, and I think we settled on Ree-gin, so. I pulled her name out of a cast of characters from Shakespeare, so. ‘Cause originally I wanted, her mom was going to be an actress, and then she had other ideas, so we went with what her mom actually turned out to be in that first book.
Sarah: Her mom is awful.
Beverly: Oh, you know what? Tsk. Yeah! She’s awful.
Sarah: She’s terrible.
Beverly: And the ladies, they, I, I love them dearly, and they have been just so trying to come up with reasons why she’s awful.
Sarah: ‘Cause she’s awful.
Beverly: And I have to tell, I have to tell them that she’s awful!
Sarah: She’s just bad.
Beverly: There’s, there’s no rhyme. She’s purely selfish. She found a way out of the life, and I said if Eddy hadn’t been there she probably would have abandoned those girls.
Beverly: Or maybe sold ‘em.
Beverly: So they were like, well, you know, maybe she, she sent them there because, you know, it was, it was the best thing for her to do for them. I said, no!
Sarah: They were not her concern.
Beverly: No, they were not. And some people are that way.
Sarah: I have to say, I had a lot of respect for the fact that in the book she is not redeemed.
Beverly: No, she’s not going to –
Sarah: It’s not like she has this, oh, I’m so sorry, I had this and this and this, and now you understand. It was like, nope, she’s horrible, selfish, and she doesn’t want to face her past.
Beverly: Right, right! And there’s going to be no redemption for that.
Beverly: You know, I saw, saw on one of the, the reviews on Amazon, and this woman was going on and on about the book and, you know, she says, you know, that’s just going to be a plot device and blah-blah-blah. It was like, oh, honey, you have no idea. [Laughs]
Beverly: Nope, nope-nope-nope. I mean, she’s chosen her life, and she is who she is.
Sarah: Yep. But there, there are people like that.
Beverly: There are!
Sarah: There are.
Beverly: And why should I sugarcoat that?
Sarah: Nope. You’re not sugarcoating anything else.
Beverly: No! Not because, you know, well, it’s a romance novel. It’s, you know, it’s, let’s deal unrealistically with, with people who are realistic in their own way.
Beverly: So, no, she’s a bitch, and she’s going to stay a bitch, so.
Sarah: She’s horrible. Horrible, horrible!
Beverly: She really is. She is; she is.
Sarah: And her actions affect all the other women in different ways.
Beverly: Yeah. Everybody’s –
Sarah: One of my favorite aspects about this book was sort of the found family.
Sarah: They live with their aunt, and they, they have other women in the community who are, like, mothers and sisters to them, and they have this large and small group of found family. The actual family connection, aside from Eddy, is just –
Sarah: – it’s, it’s not a connection at all. It’s not real.
Beverly: Yeah. No, yeah. She, she is who she is.
Beverly: And, and then people were like, you know, everybody wants babies. I don’t know what this, what this fascination is with babies.
Sarah: [Laughs] I –
Beverly: Does everybody think they want Lily in, in, in the Blessing se- – well, Lily’s forty-five years old. She is not going to have a baby! And –
Sarah: Not if she likes sleeping. If she likes sleeping, she should not have a baby.
Beverly: She likes to be with kids, three boys now! Anyway. Away from Lily. But they wanted to know, well, how come Rhine and Eddy didn’t have babies? And I’m like, they have two girls! They don’t need babies! You don’t babies in this, in the book just – I said, then I’d have to write the scenes, and then that would affect what I’m doing. No babies!
Sarah: I remember hearing Nora Roberts before one of her Q&As, like, why does everyone ask me when Eve and Roarke are going to have a baby? [Laughs]
Beverly: Exactly! I know! Where, where were we? RWA in Dallas, I think. And there was a bunch of us standing there and, and Nora came over, and that was what somebody said!
Beverly: You know, when, and Eve was like – and I keep calling Nora Eve –
Beverly: – Nora said, Nora said, no babies! And I looked at her, I said, Beverly Jenkins votes no babies either. Oh, my God! You people get up, get, get, go away! Sit! Take a seat! Find a stadium; take a seat. No! No babies. But everybody wants babies, and I’m like, no.
Sarah: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t get it either. I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
Beverly: Eve and Roarke don’t need babies!
Sarah: Oh, God, they’re a little busy! It’d be a dangerous baby!
Beverly: He’s, he’s running the world, and she’s saving the world. They don’t have time for babies.
Sarah: Yeah. So what kind of questions have you been getting about this book?
Beverly: About Breathless? What –
Sarah: Aside from babies.
Beverly: Aside from babies. One of the questions that I have asked when I did book club was whether Trent – uh, Trent – Kent – [laughs] –
Beverly: – was a worthy – the ladies call them worthy – Beverly Jenkins heroes.
Sarah: Oh, that’s a hard question! For you to ask yourself?
Beverly: Yeah, well, you know, I, I asked them. I always ask them the hard questions, and then when people ask me I take their answers.
Sarah: Oh, that’s very crafty. Well played, ma’am.
Beverly: Yes, yes, yes, yes! I don’t know everything!
Sarah: [Laughs] And she’s got craftiness on your side!
Beverly: Oh, and I’ve got a bunch of women who are a lot smarter than me in my life. And they said, yeah. They said, you know, he was very patient with her. He let, he wasn’t – how do I want to put it? He was patient with her. He did not, he didn’t let who she was diminish who he thought he was, so there was no kind of, well, I’m the man, and I’m going to tell you what to do, and you’re going to do this, and – he was like, okay, she already knows what she wants out of life, so let me support that. And they thought that was very, very worthy of him. And the way he courted her, you know, they, they really loved that softness, and the book was not overly sexy. They liked that softness. With her, I asked them, I said, well, did her past make her, did you not like her because of who she was and because she was a little prickly? And they were like, no, you know, her past, Miss J, you know, her mom left her a mess, and, and having the love and, and care of Eddy and, and Rhine helped her sort of get over that, even though she still had vestiges of it, you know, in her life and being afraid of men and, and all of that, so – so those are some of the questions that I anticipate that I will get, because these ladies are so brilliant and so smart, and they’ve got great answers to my questions.
Sarah: What I liked about Kent was that his answer to all of Portia’s problems was not or –
Sarah: – it was and.
Sarah: It wasn’t, okay, you can either be a successful, independent businesswoman or you can get married and have a family and be fulfilled in that way.
Sarah: For him, it was, you can do both! Like, both –
Sarah: – totally a thing you can do. Like, we can tot-, and, and, like, I will build you a place on our new home –
Beverly: Yeah! And –
Sarah: – and I will add.
Sarah: It was all and with him. And –
Sarah: – and also, he was so accepting of her, her reticence and her – okay, I understand that you are this way and that you are scared of men, and I will give you time and space to know that I will not hurt you.
Sarah: He was never demanding that he be an exception to her rules. He was like, how ‘bout we add on to your rules?
Sarah: That, I loved that about him because he understood and accepted her. I also loved that – and this is such a silly thing to love, but they talked like grownups?
Sarah: Like, they, they, if there’s a problem you talk about it? And he –
Sarah: – oh, yeah, and I was in prison ‘cause I banged the wrong guy’s wife.
Sarah: [Confused noises] What?!
Beverly: And she was like, wait a minute, whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa.
Sarah: Time out.
Beverly: Yeah, time out. Sorry, what? Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Sarah: And her attitude was, well, why did you do that, and is that a thing you still do? No, nope, nope, nope, nope.
Sarah: Learned my lesson, let me tell you! Nope, not happening again. His, his entire approach to her was, I, I accept all of these things about you, and. He, he was all and, which is a really weird way to describe somebody, but I can’t come up with anything better. He was always going to enhance –
Sarah: – and say, yes, and we can also do this. If you would like this, we’ll have this and that and that and that and that, because we can do all of the things.
Beverly: Yeah. And taught her to cook!
Sarah: Oh, God, that was so funny. All these women making, like, ninety-five thousand pounds of fried chicken, and she’s in there like, can I help? Nope, nope-nope-nope, Portia. No. No, you better go. Go that – no.
Beverly: Go sit on a blanket. [Laughs]
Sarah: No, no, cooking for – you stay here. No cooking for you.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah. You know, and he wakes up and smells smoke, and he’s like, oh, God, she’s cooking. You know, trying to burn the house down. You know, they see him when he walks in and he sees the kitchen in such, you know, a disaster and, and, you know, he just, he just –
Beverly: Yeah, well, and, and she’s, well, you know, if anything happened to you, I’d starve to death!
Beverly: And that’s my whole point: I’m supposed to be able to cook! You know, so, yeah.
Sarah: And she was, she was comfortable with rejecting the traditional gender expectations, except when it came to him, because she wanted to care for him, and she didn’t know how!
Beverly: Right, yeah. And, and he was okay with that.
Sarah: Yeah! He’s, like, well, there’s nothing wrong with you.
Sarah: Whereas all of the other disgusting men who were courting her were like, okay, well, when, when we’re together, you won’t do this anymore.
Beverly: Right, right.
Sarah: You’re going to change because of me.
Beverly: Yeah. I’m going to mansplain your life.
Sarah: Oh, Lord.
Sarah: Some of those guys were just walking, walking definition of mansplaining.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah!
Sarah: Oh, God.
Beverly: But I –
Sarah: And it’s so sad, it’s so sad that those people are so familiar. Like, I know that guy.
Beverly: I know, though they still exist.
Sarah: I know that guy too. I know that guy over there. Yep.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But she was not having, you know, not having any of it.
Beverly: And, you know, called her uppity and, you know, all kinds of, you know, more mansplaining about, you know –
Beverly: – what she needed to be and who she was going to be, and she was like, no, I’m not doing that.
Sarah: I did a podcast with Alisha Rai, and she talked a lot about dating and contemporary dating with apps everything, and she says, I meet guys, and I’m like, oh, I’ve read you.
Sarah: And I know what I have to do fix you, too. Do I really want to invest this? I don’t think I want to do this.
Beverly: [Laughs] Oh –
Sarah: I think we’re just going to end this date with coffee, and it’s been nice. Bye.
Beverly: Right. See you later; take a seat. I’m going.
Sarah: I’ve, I’ve read you, and I’ve read you, and – and she was like, ladies, do not date the New Adult hero. Just no.
Sarah: And it’s so funny ‘cause I’m reading all these men trying to court Portia, and I was like, oh, I’ve met him! Ugh!
Beverly: Yeah, yeah. No, we don’t want him.
Beverly: You know, and, and they were so, you know, he had the one who was so shy, couldn’t even talk, and –
Sarah: And yet she set him up with a woman who was perfect for him!
Beverly: Yes. Yes. Yes! She was being kind.
Sarah: Yes, there is someone for you. There is someone that’s going to, that, that’s a better match than me.
Beverly: Yeah, and it’s not me, but it could be her!
Beverly: You know, so.
Sarah: And you contrast that with her mother; her mother would have just collected admirers and kept them all going because she would have fed on that admiration.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! So, it’s been a great series. We’ll see what happens with Regan next.
Sarah: I am, I am so curious, and I don’t want to ask too much, but I’m like, oh, can you tell us anything about it? Anything? Anything at all?
Beverly: All I can tell you is that when she gets there?
Sarah: It’s going to be words in the book? [Laughs]
Beverly: It’s, it’s, he’s not going to be – the situation is not going to be what she thinks it is. He is a doctor. [Laughs] One of the ladies said, is he going to be a conman and then he’s going to get her out there? And I’m like, no, no, no. He’s really going to be a doctor, but, but he’s, his heart belonged to somebody else, so.
Beverly: Yeah, he’s got a, a – I can tell you this ‘cause I’ve told the ladies – and this may change, but this is sort of the premise that I’m working on: he’s, his wife died, died in childbirth; he’s got a six-year-old daughter. He just wants somebody to raise his, his, his child. His child needs a mom, and he has no plans to love Regan at all.
Beverly: ‘Cause his heart is still with the lady in the grave. So she’s going to find this out when she gets there, and it’s going to be like, oh. My. Goodness. Really? So, we’re going to watch her burn off all that ice and give her HEA, but it’s not going to be easy.
Sarah: Because his letters did not represent that. His letters –
Sarah: – made it seem like he was open to having a relationship, and he –
Beverly: Yeah, and the letters were written by somebody else, and I haven’t figured that out yet.
Beverly: With his approval. And somebody, one of the ladies Tuesday night said, well, maybe it was the daughter and a gay uncle!
Beverly: And I’m like, what?! [Laughs] They said, Bev, you need a gay uncle! And I’m like, oh, my God! You ladies are a hoot! Or it could be an aunt.
Beverly: I haven’t decided whether he, I don’t know where – and I don’t know him well enough yet to know parents and all of that, so it could have been his mom, it could have been – so we’ll, you know, the, the, the writing muse will expose all of this once I get into the story, but, ‘cause right now it’s like, I always tell people when you start a book, it’s sort of like you’re wandering around in the wilderness like the Israelites, you know. You don’t –
Beverly: – know where the hell you’re going.
Beverly: And you know, and then all of a sudden the, the pillar of cloud, the, the pillar, you know, the pillar of fire appears and you start –
Beverly: and then you know where you are, but –
Beverly: – right now, I’m just, me and Moses are just wandering around – [laughs] – trying to figure out what route to take, so we’ll see.
Sarah: Do you have a similar process for getting to know your characters as you write them? Does it happen similarly each time, or do they just sort of evolve in different ways influenced by history or how you’re feeling or how the story is going?
Beverly: They, I, I always think of them sitting in the corner of my office laughing at me.
Beverly: Because they know the story and I don’t, and it’s like, let’s keep this from her. Let’s keep this from her.
Beverly: Let’s, oh, okay, we’ll give her this part.
Beverly: You know, when I finished the Blessing series – I just finished book eight, just did the copy edits last night, so it’s, it’s, it’s gone – but during the draft that I turned in, I had no idea where Mal was. He had left and, you know, it’s a bunch of crazy stuff going on, and the night that I finished that book, it was three in the morning, I’m stumbling into the bathroom to get some water, and then they said, this is where he is! And I’m like, oh, shit!
Beverly: How come you didn’t tell me this two weeks ago?! [Laughs]
Sarah: Come on! I was sleeping!
Beverly: I know, so they always, I always envision them as, you know, ‘cause I tell them, they’re, I have a green, I tell people I have a green room in my head –
Beverly: – and all of my characters are in the green room in my head, and I always envision them sitting in there laughing at me because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing –
Beverly: – and they feed me little pieces here and there and – but eventually they do tell me what, what the story is and who they are and how I can get out of this, this pickle that I’ve written myself into because they’ve led me there, so, yeah. Kind of crazy.
Sarah: No! Actually, I, I don’t think that sounds crazy at all. I’ve done enough author interviews to realize how many different ways there are to approach characters?
Sarah: I remember Lauren Willig telling me that she had had an idea for a character, just somebody sitting by a fire in the, in the darkness in the middle of nowhere, and a woman just walks up to the fire. She didn’t know who that was, and she didn’t know who he was, and then, like, five books later she’s like, oh! That’s so-and-so! And that’s –
Sarah: – the other guy! And that’s why they’re there! And she’s like –
Sarah: – so my imagination gave me that, like, you know, years ago, but –
Sarah: – that was where I needed to be heading towards with this series, and I just didn’t know it.
Beverly: Exactly, yeah, it’s –
Sarah: Brains, man.
Beverly: – it’s an odd, wonderful life, and only people like you and other writers, you know, understand this, the craziness that, that – [laughs] – that is our lives. The days of our lives! You know, it, it’s, it’s – but it’s awesome! I love it. I absolutely love it.
Sarah: Somebody sent me a, a reader named Elizabeth sent me a link to a Guardian article that was about some psychol-, psychology research that showed that there are some books and some people for whom when they read a book, the characters live in their brains long afterward. That the character –
Sarah: – will be narrating their life as they walk around, or the character’s voice will stick in their head, and I was thinking, there is no writer who hears their characters in their mind that is surprised by this in the least. [Laughs]
Beverly: No! Not at all, and, and not surprised by that because when I had book club on Tuesday night, I had one lady who quoted a character from another book to answer the question that was on the thread.
Beverly: And I’m like, I am so scared of you all. Oh, my goodness!
Beverly: I think you are quoting Kathleen, Katherine Wildhorse –
Sarah: Oh, my gosh.
Beverly: – from, from Topaz to deal with this question about Portia. So, yeah, they live in their heads! That’s why I had to write Rhine’s book, because they’ve been, they’ve been carrying him in their heads for ten years, and everywhere I go, like I said, I called them the Rhine Whiners. He lived for them. You know, he was alive, so I totally understand the Guardian thing, totally understand.
Sarah: Yep. So my, my question that I always ask is what, what, if you’ve read anything that you want to tell anybody about, if there are any books that you’ve read or enjoyed that you want to make sure people know about.
Beverly: I am, I, I, I’ve got so many things on my TBR. I’m reading the – oh, God, what is the guy’s name? Aaron- – hold on, let me get my Kindle.
Sarah: Okay, go ahead.
Beverly: Okay. Harry Potter meets Harry Dresden?
Sarah: Ye-e-es? This sounds interesting!
Beverly: It is great. It’s Ben Aaronovitch.
Beverly: It’s the Peter Grant series.
Sarah: Ooh, how’re you liking it?
Beverly: I am loving it. I’m on book, I’m getting ready to start book three.
Beverly: So I love that. What else am I reading?
Sarah: Would you recommend it for romance readers?
Beverly: Yeah. Yeah, I think so, because we read a little bit of everything.
Sarah: We do.
Beverly: I mean, it’s not a, a romance? There’s a teeny bit in there, and you wonder what’s going to happen, because he’s got a, a couple few women that he’s dealing with, so I like that. I’m also reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Crazy [Changing] World with the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
Sarah: It is a crazy world, so that seems like a good idea.
Beverly: Yeah, and, and they are two silly men.
Sarah: They are very –
Beverly: Oh, my –
Sarah: Oh, my gosh, the Dalai Lama is so silly.
Beverly: They are so silly, and together they’re just, it’s, it’s just a hoot. Even while you’re, you’re learning to, to get yourself together peaceful-wise and joy and all of that, so. So I’ve got, when I fly to South Carolina I’m going to try and read Alyssa’s book. I’ve got, I’ve, it’s been calling me with Nora’s, J. D. Robb’s new book; I’ve got that waiting. So I’ve got sooo much stuff to read. I need, like, six years of, of unlimited wealth so that I can sit back and just read. [Laughs]
Sarah: I hear that!
Beverly: Don’t get to read as often as I, as I used to, and I know most writers can tell you the same thing: we’re too busy writing! We don’t get a chance to, just to, to, to fill the, the reading need that we all have.
Sarah: Yes. You have a lot of writers who don’t read in the same genre they’re writing in?
Sarah: So you have to go in and out of the different genres to find a place to go.
Beverly: Yeah, yeah. I, I don’t read a lot of romance, ‘cause, you know, and, and it was something that somebody said on Twitter last night is that, you know, you can’t turn your internal editor off, so I read fantasy, as you know, and I don’t have to bring out the red pens or anything when I’m reading that. I can just enjoy it, so.
Sarah: Yep. I understand!
Beverly: It’s a great thing, yeah.
Sarah: Well, thank you. And thank you for, for Breathless; it was, like, the perfect comfort read that I needed most when I read it, and I’m really very grateful for that.
Beverly: Well, you’re very, very welcome. You guys keep, keep reading and buying, and I’ll keep writing.
Sarah: I think this is a good plan!
Beverly: I think so too.
Sarah: Let’s do that!
Sarah: And that is all for this week’s episode. I want to thank Beverly Jenkins for hanging out with me and for sharing so much information about all of the things that she incorporates into her books. You can find links to all of her new books and her older books, including Breathless, which you should totally read, at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast and at iTunes.com/DBSA, where we have our own iTunes page!
And! The next few episodes in March do not have a sponsor, so if you are thinking you would like to sponsor an episode, definitely get in touch with me! I would love to have you!
And of course, if you would like to support the show, please have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. Your contributions make an enormous difference, and the different reward levels include the genuine, handcrafted, locally sourced, and artisan-crafted compliments from yours truly, all heartfelt, all genuine, all 100% created by me and Executive Sound Engineer Orville, who is currently trying to push the sound box off the desk.
Dude, seriously, I’m busy here! Man, you go away for, like, one day and the cats are like, nonononono, you do, all you do is pet us right now; that’s your only job.
The music you’re listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater. You can find her on Twitter @SassyOutwater. This is Caravan Palace. This track is called “Bambous,” and you can find it on their double album, which includes both Caravan Palace and Panic. You can find that on iTunes, at Amazon, and you can find Caravan Palace on Facebook and their website!
We’ll be back next week with more and interesting things about romance and the women who read and write it, because that’s how we do things here. And in the meantime, on behalf of Beverly Jenkins, all of my feline sound engineers, and all of us here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have an excellent weekend, and we will see you next week.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.