It was refreshing to sit down and speak with Niobia Bryant regarding her past ventures and her latest release, Message from a Mistress. Through witty repertoire and honest humility, this award-winning author gave me an enjoyable glimpse into her great mind in a very short period of time.
She excitedly invites her fans to find her on Facebook and Twitter as she does respond to all messages. I, for one, look forward to reading this release as well as future works of literature from Niobia Bryant.
Parlé Magazine: Do you have a particular message that you’d like to share with your readers through this new release, Message from a Mistress?
Niobia Bryant: Just that I’m really, really excited about it. It’s getting a lot of buzz and attention. After ten years of writing, I’m really excited that it seems as though people are just as excited about this project as I am. I really want people to get into it, to enjoy it, and to give me their honest opinion. I am the type of writer that I don’t mind a bad review as long as it’s a critical one and not just one that says “Oh, I hated it”-okay, tell me why. I always feel like writing is a learning process and I’m continuously looking to better myself because I want to bring the readers the best that I can. So, I’m really excited and also the book is based on a movie that I really love, based in the 1940’s, you know, one of those old black and white movies where everybody was dressed to nines all the time and the movie was called A Letter to Three Wives. The premise was these three friends that get this message from another friend saying basically I’m running away with your husband, he’s my man now. But, she doesn’t tell the three friends what husband it is that betrayed them. So, they have to put up with this all day, was it me, was it you, and there are a lot of flashbacks and there are a lot of secrets of the wives, you know, their own secrets are revealed as they sit there and try to figure out which one of us is about to lose our marriage? What’s interesting is that all of their marriages are not worth keeping. So, it’s a lot of different elements and I’m really, really excited about it.
Parlé: Like you said, there are a lot of flashbacks included, so much so that some may view it as excessive. What are your thoughts on that?
Niobia: Well, in kind of keeping to the original concept where everything happens in a day, it really was a technique that I had to use. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve used flashbacks in previous books, but not as much as in this one. In taking the elements out of the movie that I loved, one of the things that was interesting to me and made it believable was that it all went down in a day. There’s not too many times that a woman can’t get in contact with her husband over a week. You know he may be, in this case they went deep sea fishing or whatever, and they couldn’t reach them, so it was plausible. But if I had done it where the husbands were gone for a week, and didn’t call home (laughs) it wouldn’t have been believable at all. And one of the things that the reader has always told me over the years is that they like the realism.
Parlé: Your characters are very relateable and very well developed.
Niobia: Three Times a Lady was the book that taught me that that’s what readers wanted. The fact that the heroine got up and washed…and it seemed simple, but I remember the readers emailing me like, “yeah-why do they act like, you know, you just laying up in it…and I don’t mean to sound vulgar, but that’s true. And that was my second book, back in 2001. So, I was like, you know what? They see what I see and they believe what I believe. Because I’m a reader, way before I was a writer. And I just want to make it as close to reality as I can. So, I had to do the flashbacks. And I know people are going to get me for it, but I had to use that technique to bring in the back story and bring in the history without sending these men away for a week and them not being able to reach them.
Parlé: So, we know that this book is loosely based on A Letter to Three Wives, and the Hoodwives series is loosely based on Desperate Housewives, but what other entities give you inspiration? And you can’t use family!
Niobia: I’d like to say it comes from head (laughs), but that’s not true. You have to keep it real, we all see things on the internet or reading the newspaper, some type of blog site and it can be something very minimal that makes me say, wow, what if this had happened? And one of the good things in being a writer and having an audience that listens to you, or some type of audience that cares to read what you write, I can take that and really develop a story around it. You are influenced to some degree by the things around you and it’s exciting to take that and shape and mold it the way that you want to. And, really with Message from a Mistress, even though I love a Letter to Three Wives, basically I was saying, what if those were sisters? What if they had secrets of their own? It was fun.
Parlé: I know that you write in four different genres, do you have a favorite?
Niobia: Nah, I’m going to treat them like babies, treat them like children and say no, I don’t have a favorite, each one has something that endears them to me. I love the romance, because it’s what started me out. I love the idea of realistic love. I always tell people it’s nice to have the fantasy, it’s nice to have the prince, the rich man that can fly you to Paris, but what I found really, really exciting is presenting a regular hero. Listen: you don’t have to wait for some African prince or some wealthy man to sweep you off of your feet. It’s the guy standing next to you on the bus stop, he can give that. You may not go out of town, but he can romance you, bring you flowers. And, I kinda prefer that women look for that romance in everyday life. Don’t put yourself on hold waiting for that fantasy. It would be great for the prince on the white horse and all of that, but maybe look a little closer to those around you. You can find this really great sweeping love story, right in your every day life. And I love the mainstream and urban because there’s nothing you can’t touch on, nothing taboo. With the romance, there’s a lot of restrictions and guidelines: things you can’t discuss, have to use condoms, so with the others, I just feel more of a freedom when I’m writing. But, I love ’em all, they’re my babies.
Parlé: You know, I have to ask you-how did you come up with the name, Meesha Mink?
Niobia: (Laughs) It was just so hood! I felt that it encompassed everything. We were making such a drastic change from romance. And I did have two mainstream books out before then, but really from romance to urban and we had to come up with a pseudonym, and we needed separate names, because it was myself and Adrian Bird who also writes a lot of romance. What name would really encompass… I’m bringing you straight hood. When you buy Meesha Mink books, this is not mainstream, this is not romance, and Mink came to me first and I added the Meesha. (laughs) you, know, it just was fun and I was running through some names, and I was like, I like that! I wanted something that was hood. And it was a little ghetto fabulous, because you have the Meesha and the Mink.
Parlé: You said that you are an avid reader, so at what point did you decide to take it to another level and write?
Niobia: It’s different to write and get published. I’ve always written. I remember being in elementary school and writing horror stories when I was supposed to be paying attention. Another classmate and I would pass them around. I always knew that I wanted to write. When did I know that I wanted to get published? You know what? No one has ever asked me that. (laughs) I did promise myself when I was old enough that I would see my name in print by the time I was 30. And I did it, I’m really proud of myself. I started by submitting stories to those true confessional magazines. Then I went into romance and then I branched out. I honestly don’t know when that particular moment was. I just liked to write for the sake of writing. I just got enjoyment from creating stories. When we were in high school, we would catch public transportation to the university and we’d be in the back and I’d just start telling these lies, these elaborate stories that were just lies. And people would sit there, I mean they would sit there and listen to me. And I was lying and they knew it but even then, I guess that was the spirit of me wanting to be creative. I noticed grandma listening, and some old dude turned around, and here’s another lady…and they didn’t tell us to hush, they were listening to me! So, I really feel like this is my destiny and I’m really happy to be doing what I love.
Parlé: Do you have any advice that you would give to aspiring writers?
Niobia: Definitely to work on the craft, read the type of books that you want to write. Learn every aspect of the business. I always tell people that I am constantly enrolled in Publishing 101, so I try to learn as much as I can when I can. And I want people to learn to be a little more proactive in their careers. Don’t always look for the easy road. When I first started writing, I lived in a small town in North Carolina that had less than 1000 people, we didn’t have internet or a computer, so I wrote my first book by hand. When I decided I wanted to turn it in, I would catch a ride to the library, get on the internet and find out what to do to get a book published. Now I have this knowledge and no one can take it from me.
Parlé: What is your favorite book and why?
Niobia: Mama Day! by Gloria Naylor because they really combine literary fiction with commercial fiction. It’s really a wonderful combination of both because at times you can read some literary fiction that will lose you. Not all, but some will lose you. There’s stuff you know you’re supposed to be getting and you’re not getting! Sometimes, you be scratching yo’ head! So, what I like about Gloria Naylor, I don’t know, with Mama Day, maybe because it was a small southern town and basically it’s just her writing style and spirit in telling stories. They’re really smart, entertaining, well developed characters.
Parlé: Looking over your career in the past ten years, with all of the success that you’ve had, books you’ve published, and awards you’ve won, is there anything that you’d change?
Niobia: First off, I would have followed my first instinct more. I feel like I have good instincts in the industry. Some of the very first mainstream books that I wrote, even before it was published, had an urban vibe to it, because I grew up in Newark. I was so focused on romance, which was going so well, that I really didn’t go into that like I should have. I’m really happy about the romance and I’m happy about the success that I’ve had, but at that time, I would have thought about my instinct. Sometimes, I doubted myself when I should have and I probably would have been even further along in my career if I wouldn’t have. I love my romance and my fan base, but it really started an explosion particularly with Meesha Mink and the support that they gave us. I would encourage anyone, especially if you know you have good instincts, to use them.
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