Novelist Letitia writes on romance and race
At 15, Letitia Washington started writing “steamy” romance novels.
Although the stories were mainly for her friends’ entertainment, she used a pen name, Brooklyn Knight, to give them a legitimate ring.
“Everyone knew it was me,” she said. It was silly. At that age, I didn’t know anything about [sex] really — I let my mother read my manuscripts.”
Today, she is proud to claim four published romance novels, all written with Brooklyn Knight as her nom de plume.
“I keep it because it’s a cool name,” the 38-year-old said.
Trois, her latest novel, hit shelves here last week.
It is the third in a series of books she’s written about Dylan Hamilton, a white businessman, and his relationship with Laila Renaud, an ambitious, black intern at his company.
“My girl Laila gives Dylan a run for his money,” said Ms Washington. “Her thing is, ‘I’m a successful black woman. I don’t need a leg up. I can do this on my own.’”
The couple get married in Trois only to have Laila kidnapped on their honeymoon.
Ms Washington’s books fall under a romance subgenre called ‘Black Woman, White Man’.
“A lot of people ask me why I write BWWM,” she said. “I didn’t start out to do that. I think it just was who my characters were.”
As Troy Washington, her husband of 13 years, is black; Ms Washington thinks she might be subconsciously channelling emotions she felt in her 20s when she dated a white man from Germany.
“There were clearly cultural challenges there,” she said. “I was super self-conscious.
“There was stuff I hadn’t processed related to race relations.
“I lived in Ecuador when I was 17. I experienced a lot of racial stuff. That was my first time ever experiencing racism.
“I was shocked. I didn’t even realise it was racist until I stepped back and said, ‘Did that just happen?’
“Later, I guess I became a bit self-conscious. I ended up breaking up with the German guy. He said, ‘Are you racist? What is going on?’”
She describes her writing as very character driven.
After spending hours detailing their love lives, her characters start to feel very real to her.
“I can see what they’re doing in my head as I’m typing,” she said. I’ll be driving and say, ‘So Dylan, what are we doing today?’”
Her first book, The Maid’s Daughter, came out in July. An historical romance, it also falls in the BWWM category.
It is set in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1952, a period of high racial tension in the American south.
“It is about a couple called Naomi and William,” she said. “Naomi is the maid’s daughter.
She comes to William’s house with her mother when they are 5.”
The pair are raised “like brother and sister”. However, at the age of 16, William confesses his love for Naomi.
They “embark on a secret relationship” which ends only when his mother finds out about it. “They stay separated for 40 years until they are reunited by chance when William hires Naomi to nurse his dying wife,” Ms Washington said.
The Berkeley Institute counsellor writes in her spare time. She decided to self-publish after years of trying, unsuccessfully, to go the traditional route.
Today, she has no regrets as it allows her to control every aspect of a book’s production.
It helps that she has a team behind her, including an editor and illustrator and beta readers.
As a result, people often say they are surprised by how professional her books look.
“It is because I have taken the time to produce a product that would rival something in a Barnes & Noble bookshop,” she said.
She wrote Trois in just four weeks. “It was because of the pressure,” she said. “People were demanding the next book.”
Wanting to share some of her secrets, she started an online course, 16 Weeks to Publish.
“I am taking people who want to write a book from the idea stage to actually holding their book in their hands,” she said. “It is an intense course and I have ten students so far. I can write a novel in four weeks, but if you are not used to it is very difficult.”
• Letitia Washington will sign copies of Trois at Brown & Co on Saturday from 12pm until 3pm. The book is available there and at People’s Pharmacy. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.brooklynknightauthor.com
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