Lunch with The Literary Ladies Book Club & Friends

On Saturday, March 1, 2014, I had the pleasure of attending the Lunch with the Literary Ladies Book Club & Friends event at Luciano’s Restaurant in Rahway, New Jersey. The event hosted some of the biggest names in African-American fiction and romance—Pat O’Gorge Walker, Tamika Newhouse, Rochelle Ayers, Donna Hill, Nanette Buchanan, ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray.

As noted in the program, we were promptly seated and served by 12:15 p.m. I was honored when Pat O’Gorge Walker took her place behind the podium. Walker shared with us that she had been with Kensington/Dafina Books her entire career. She held up her very first book—an insubstantial short story fastened by staples. We were surprised to find out that it is now going for $1500 online. She captivated us with an amusing speech followed by a reading from her novel, Sister Betty Says I Do.

When she opened the floor up to questions, I inquired as to where she drew her inspiration. Without blinking she said, “Church folk.” To reinforce this response, she shared a joke about a church woman having a fight with an usher at a funeral. The joke ended with the usher telling the woman she had better be careful because he was an Indian. The woman asked him what being an Indian had to do with anything. After he responded, the woman then said, “I heard of the Navajo tribe and the Warao tribe, but what tribe is Slapahoe?”

Tamika Newhouse wowed the audience with her moving speech. As the author of ten novels, publisher of over forty titles, creator of the African Americans on the Move Book Club (AAMBC) and the AAMBC Literary Awards, she told us her purpose was to contribute to authors obtaining accolades in their literary career. This will be evident when the AAMBC Literary Awards celebrates its seventh year with a black-tie event in Atlanta, GA.

An attendee asked Newhouse what was the motivation for her weight loss. She explained that following the death of her mother, it was a choice attributed to health and a quest for survival. She ended her speech on a spicy note, stating that in continuing her journey to great health, she would be taking a pole dancing class in the near future.

Next we were greeted by Rochelle Alers, who shared with us that December 2013 marked her twenty-fifth year as a published author. Once the thunderous applause died down, she went on to say that she published her first novel in 1988 with Starlight Romances.

With over seventy novels under her belt, she felt she came home as a writer when she wrote Haven Creek (A Cavanaugh Island Novel). To our pleasant surprise, the novel had been added to our gift bag. One line from Rochelle’s speech stayed with me when she questioned the morality of some African-Americans. “We are descendants of survivors,” she said. Her message was that we shouldn’t behave in a way that would taint or discredit the plight of our ancestors.

Donna Hill took the stage next and explained that when she started in 1989, there were only about five or six romance titles by black authors at the time. Hill started her career writing short stories for True Confessions magazine. Like Alers, she shared this year would mark her twenty-fifth year as a published author.

I was amazed to find out that Hill and I have quite a bit in common. “If I don’t have a deadline, I don’t produce,” she said. I am the same way. She kept the audience entertained as the main course was served, telling humorous stories about missing deadlines and how she cleverly obtained extensions. Her gem of the afternoon came when asked about the ease of writing romantic scenes. She quipped it’s not as easy as it seems—“…after seventy books, how many more ways can they do it?”

Nanette Buchanan was the baby of the bunch with seven titles to date. Her delivery was more reserved as she shared that she was a Sergeant at the Department of Corrections and has recently dealt with a number of suicides among captains. In the role of Honor Guard, she was responsible for talking to the families. She often questioned herself—wondering if there was anything she could have done to prevent their untimely deaths.

Buchanan told us that her life experiences were the inspiration for her novel, Scattered Pieces. We then had the privilege of listening to her read a heart-wrenching excerpt from the book concluding with the accidental overdose of the main character. Buchanan may be a novice when compared to Hill and Alers, but the caliber of her writing illustrated why time is not the only requirement for greatness. Her advice to women is to learn to heal from their involvements. “If you don’t close the relationship, you tend to make the same mistake over and over,” she said.

ReShonda Tate Billingsley and Victoria Christopher Murray closed out the event with a combined speech. With close to forty-eight titles between them, it was kismet when Simon & Schuster paired the two. Their debut novel was Sinners & Saints. The novel brought their favorite heroines together.

Their friendship and admiration for one another was apparent as they exchanged witticisms throughout their delivery. As they read from the pages of Fortune & Fame, their feigned rivalry transferred over to their fiction—Jasmine Cox Larson Bush and Rachel Jackson Adams became Murray and Billingsley’s alter egos, respectively.

The Literary Ladies Book Club hosted an amazing event. The venue was classy, the food was delicious, the honorees were inspiring and the event was executed to perfection. The lunch was definitely one of the best literary events to date, and I look forward to attending and hopefully contributing as a participant and/or sponsor at their future events.

Thank you ladies for allowing me to leave full—belly, mind, heart and spirit. KUDOS!

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