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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Meet bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley
NAACP Image Award winner will be in Charlotte area July 31
 
Published Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:00 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

PHOTO COURTESY RESHONDA TATE BILLINGSLEY
National bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley will sign copies of her latest novel, "What's Done in the Dark" at Barnes & Noble in Pineville July 31 at 7 p.m.

Friendship, betrayal, trust and redemption are all elements of ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s new novel “What’s Done in the Dark.” It’s a story about a woman who cheats on her husband with her best friend’s husband.

Billingsley, a Houston-based nationally bestselling author and NAACP Image Award winner, will be in the Charlotte area July 31 to sign copies of her latest book at Barnes & Noble in Pineville.

In the following Q&A, she dishes on how her family members feel when their personal situations show up in her novels, the message behind her juicy stories and having one of her books made into a BET movie.

TCP: Where do you find inspiration for your characters and stories? Is it just pure imagination or do you get ideas from your real life.

RTB: It’s a combination. There is a joke in my family: “Don’t say anything around ReShonda unless you want it in a book.” (Laughter). Because I do take my inspiration from day-to-day happenings, real-life things that are going on and some good gossip that they tell me. And then I let my imagination take over from there.

TCP: Has anyone ever gotten upset about a character or situation in one of your books being based on their life?

RTB: I’ve been lucky. Nobody has gotten upset. Everybody thinks it’s them. I don’t admit to anything. I’m like, “I write fiction, and I have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s kind of funny with my family because they try to do the guessing game like, “I know that’s Aunt Martha or I know that’s so and so…”

TCP: When you write, do you just write to entertain your readers, or is there a message or overall meaning behind your stories?

RTB: I always have some type of message. I do write to entertain, but I want them to walk away with something. So I deal with issues of forgiveness, of redemption, and so those two [purposes] are intertwined.

TCP: Speaking of redemption and forgiveness, your latest novel, “What’s Done in the Dark,” is about a woman who cheats on her husband with her best friend’s husband. What’s the message behind this tale?

RTB: It’s about how one bad decision can affect the rest of your life. She’s a good person that made one bad decision, and it’s really altered the course of her life. I wouldn’t write a book that’s just about cheating because I don’t think that anybody just cheats for the sake of it. There is a motivation behind most of what people do, and as a writer, my job is to explore that motivation.

TCP: As you explore more about your characters, does it cause you to self-reflect and learn new things about yourself?

RTB: Absolutely. As I was writing about forgiveness, I had to take a look at my own life. I’m going through some things with my mother. She has taken ill, and my sister and I are her caregivers. We don’t have the support system that we used to have, and I was bitter about it for some time. So writing about forgiveness helps me heal and take a look at myself and that I need to forgive all those friends and family members that I felt should have been there for her.

TCP: Your next book, “Amos,” which will be released in December, tells the story of a family dealing with having a loved one affected by Alzheimer’s disease. With the illness of your mother, did writing that storyline hit close to home in any way?

RTB: It definitely did. When I first started writing, my mother wasn’t sick, and she fell ill during the course of it. Just seeing the deterioration of this strong person that you know and love has a [profound affect on you]… I channeled some of that – some of the feelings I had going in there.

TCP: One of your most popular characters, Rachel Jackson, is going to be the star of a new BET movie to be released next year summer titled “Let the Church Say Amen.” What can you tell us about this project?

RTB: Regina King directed “Let the Church Say Amen.” Queen Latifah’s [production company] Flavor Unit [Entertainment] is among the producers… It’s so pleasant in that regard because it’s an author’s dream to see their work come alive on the screen. I was so pleased with the final product now that it’s wrapped up. To see the production and have the actors you know and love come up to you and say they hope they are doing your character justice and are committed to telling your story feels great.

We did the premiere at TD Jakes’ MegaFest, and we had standing room only. We had to turn people away. It was just a phenomenal experience. So the movie is done, but Hollywood is slow, so it won’t release until next year.

TCP: Who are some of the cast members in this film?

RTB: Steve Harris, who played in “Private Practice” and “Tyler Perry’s Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” plays Simon the pastor. Naturi Naughton plays Rachel. Hosea Sanchez, Malik from “The Game,” is in it as well. Yaya DaCosta from “America’s Top Model,” who’s now an actor, is in it… I also make a cameo, and I’m very excited about that. One of the big surprises for me was Lela Rochon playing the first lady. She does a phenomenal job.

As I was watching them on the screen, all I could say is “Wow.” It’s like I wrote these characters for these people. They were perfect.

TCP: Whether it’s in print or on film, what do you think are the elements of a good story?

RTB: It’s one that engages the reader in a way that they are invested in the characters. For example, I went to a book signing once where they were discussing my characters. My mother leaned in to me and said, “They do realize that these people aren’t real, don’t they?” The way that they were talking about these characters showed they were invested in them and wanted to know what happens with them. To me, that’s a sign that I’m doing my job.

TCP: That said, what takes a story from good to great?

RTB: I think one of the areas where a lot of writers fail, and where I’m constantly improving myself, is in that motivation. Nobody is all good or all bad. If someone is bad, there is a reason why they are that way. As a writer, you have to explore that reason. That makes the character more likeable.

In “What’s Done in the Dark,” this woman is sleeping with her best friend’s husband. Well, on the surface that sounds like the most low-down type of person you can find. But the challenge as a writer is showing the other side of her and how she really is a good person who made a bad decision.

TCP: Who are your favorite authors?

RTB: I’m an avid reader. I love reading fabulous writers. I like Daniel Black and Victoria Christopher Murray. I love reading contemporary authors. I also love discovering new authors. I love finding a self-published book and reading a brand new author.

TCP: What advice do you have for other avid readers who are always looking to discover new authors and books to read?

RTB: Word of mouth is great because there are so many people out there writing. Anybody who thinks they can have a book are now getting books. I definitely suggest word of mouth. I started a publishing company recently with Victoria Christopher Murray called Brown Girls Publishing Company, and we have some awesome books there with fresh voices. We wanted to give readers a place to go for quality fiction.

TCP: What’s the last book you read?

RTB: It was actually one of the books we published through Brown Girls Publishing. It’s called “Complicated” by a new author, Portia Cosby. It’s just an absolute page-turner.

TCP: What else do you want readers to know about you or your work?

RTB: Most people ask me, how I’m able to do it all. I have three children. I tour with “What’s Done in the Dark.” I run a publishing company, and I’m constantly churning out books. This is my 36th book. And it’s because I believe that every minute you spend talking about what you don’t have time to do could be spent doing it. 

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