If you've ever read a book by Electa Rome Parks, you already know that her novels tackle some pretty heavy subjects ’ issues like domestic abuse, betrayal, and broken relationships. So fans of Parks may be surprised to hear what's new with this promising author: namely that the latest work of fiction she's completing is decidedly lighter fare.
Parks, a formerly self-published writer, has just inked a second book deal with New American Library, a division of Penguin, to publish her fourth novel, called Ladies Night Out. Due to hit bookshelves in hardcover in 2006, Ladies Night Out is ’99% complete,’ according to Parks. The story focuses on four high-profile, single, African-American women who are best friends. ’They have a monthly ladies night out where they leave their stress behind. So it's a really fun, sexy novel,’ Parks reveals. In other words, something that's quite different than what readers may have come to expect of Parks based on her debut novel, The Ties That Bind or its sequel, Loose Ends.
Not that Parks, who might best be called ’The Queen of Real,’ isn't still keeping it real and talking about issues that matter. Her popularity with reading groups and book club members is stronger than ever, precisely because she has a knack for tapping into topics that resonate with female readers. Her third book, for instance, is a touching, yet realistic look at the complicated (translation: dysfunctional) relationship between an ailing woman, Miss Betty, and her 30-year-old daughter, Mercedes Jackson. The two mix like oil and water when Mercedes must return to her roots in a small, southern Georgia town to take care of her mother. And the result is that Parks' third book, Almost doesn't Count, is complete with all the drama you might expect when two grown women share a household ’ as well as a few misdeeds and secrets that will stun you.
Almost doesn't Count , which just dropped in the beginning of August, has been named a main book selection for the month of September by the influential Black Expressions Book Club. That distinction comes on the heels of The Ties That Bind being named a Black Expressions alternate selection, and Loose Ends getting picked up as a main selection by the book club at the end of last year.
Obviously, Parks' writing is striking a chord with her fan base. One reviewer on Amazon.com who gave Almost doesn't Count a five-star review gushed: ’What I love about Ms. Parks' books is the way that she addresses issues that affect ’real’ people; issues that people otherwise don't like to talk about.’
Parks agrees. ’My readers definitely know me for the drama,’ she explains, adding that her novels are typically ’very fast-paced, relationship based, include one topical issue -- and they’re pretty racy.’
INSIGHTS INTO THE PUBLISHING WORLD
For her part, Parks is eager to share not just her love of storytelling with her fans, but also her journey through the world of publishing with other aspiring and fellow writers.
She realizes that in many ways she's been fortunate. She rarely suffers from writers block, she has a husband who supports her dream of continuing as a full-time author, and even when it comes time to dealing with editors, it's been relatively smooth sailing.
’I've been pretty lucky, based on the horror stories I've heard from other authors. I've never so far had to do any major re-writes, or to switch this and change that,’ she says.
Still, that doesn't mean making a living as a writer is all peaches and cream.
’I'm learning that the publishing industry is a very slow industry,’ says Parks, who formerly worked for Bank of America before being downsized two years ago. ’Like clockwork I got paid the 15th and 30th of each month,’ at Bank of America, ’so it's hard to get used to living on advance money and royalties and waiting for the next deal to come through,’ she acknowledges. She even admits that two years and a month after signing her first book deal, she's living off her advance money and has ’not made any royalty money.’
’And that is stretching it,’ she says with a laugh.
Had things been different, Parks says she would have stayed in the traditional job market a little longer ’ before deciding to pursue her writing full-time. Why? She says she would have waited until she had three or four books on the market and a steady stream of royalties coming in the door.
But anyone who has even a five minute conversation with Parks will realize that she's not complaining. In fact, she feels she's doing her life's mission ’ sometimes to a fault. Parks notes that there have been many weeks upon weeks when she was glued to her computer screen, working on a novel, only to be oblivious to the outside world.
STRIVING TO LIVE A BALANCED LIFE
She got a wake up call, though, from her 5th grade daughter Brianna, who one day let her mother know in no uncertain terms that Parks, like many dedicated writers, needed to work on achieving more work-family balance.
Parks recalls one evening when, at 6:30 or 7:00 at night, her daughter asked with exasperation: ’Are you still on that computer?’
’I could see the frustration on her face,’ Parks says. ’So I made a commitment that day that I would still do the 9 to 5, but at 6 o’clock I would cut the compute off because it was like I was obsessed. I was constantly on the computer.’
Even now, Parks sometimes finds herself backsliding and working late ’ then she reminds herself to turn off the computer and put her writing work in proper perspective.
’This is important to me,’ Parks says, ’but my family definitely comes first.’
’This industry is like corporate America: the bottom line is the dollar,’ Parks adds. ’So the stresses are still there, you're constantly trying to come up with something to keep the momentum going and the buzz going. Every week new authors are coming out. I can see how you can really burn out really fast. So at some point you have to get your priorities straight, because you can easily spend 24 hours on book stuff, and spend no time with your family.’
At one point, Parks remembers, she would ’wake up thinking about the book and go to bed thinking about it. I couldn't have a conversation without talking about marketing and promotion.’ Not anymore. She still works hard -- doing print and radio interviews, chatting online with readers and trying to keep her name out there via her web site (www.electaromeparks.com) ’ but she refuses to sacrifice her family in the process.
At this point, Parks says she’d be more than happy to pen one novel a year, keep her visibility high, and become a household name within five years. She aspires to develop into an author with a dedicated following, someone who has ’people on line getting their books or pre-ordering on the name alone, like Terry McMillan or Eric Jerome Dickey,’ she says.
ADVICE FOR OTHER AUTHORS
Parks also shares a few pearls of wisdom with other writers. In particular, she believes there are three things anyone wishing to become a successful author must do.
’The main thing is: you have to believe in yourself,’ Parks says. While having doubts is a part of human nature, and Parks admits to sometimes grappling with her own internal doubts about her work, ultimately, she urges authors to ’believe in your talent and your gift.’
’I don't care what others say or how many rejection letters you might receive,’ she adds, ’if you believe in yourself, (success) is going to happen.’
Parks also advises authors to avoid getting caught up in petty dramas about your work.
’There are some downsides to this industry,’ she warns. ’Most people are supportive, especially in Atlanta, but there's also a lot of jealously and backstabbing. I don't get caught up in the gossip mill. I don't start rumors or get involved in the ’he said, she said’ type of thing. My theory is: stay focused.’
And finally, Parks believes it's critical for authors to actively network with other writers and people in the industry. ’Attend literary events, join some newsgroups and interact with book clubs,’ she suggests, noting that it's critical to ’write down your goals; state where you want to be two or five years from now, so you can start making your dreams happen.’
Parks should know. She's living proof that dreams do come true.
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