It’s funny, I’m not really sure, either. I never really realized I was writing romance, but my novels all have a strong central love story with a happy ending, and that meets the parameters of the genre! The publishing industry defines literary books as being primarily character-driven, as opposed to plot, but so many genre novels have brilliant characterizations.
I’ve seen you say on Instagram, “Write what tickles you.” What tickled you in writing SDIJ?
Audre, my protagonist’s 12-year-old daughter. She’s precocious and wise beyond her years, and often she’s smarter than every grown-up in the room. It was so much fun to write her, primarily because she was based on my own precious tween. I loved writing the dialogue between Eva and Audre, because I took so much from my real-life single-mom experiences with my daughter.
Can we talk about writing sex? So many people, I think, don’t go there because it is terribly hard to do well. How do you approach it? And what are the best sex scenes you’ve read?
Writing sex scenes is a delicate thing. It can go so wrong, so fast! I have three sex-scene rules. First of all, it has to move the plot forward in some way. Unless your book is erotica, it shouldn’t just be sex for sex’s sake. The scene should reveal something new about the characters or escalate the narrative tension. Secondly, avoid using old-school bodice-ripper phrases like “throbbing manhood” or “dewy mound.” Thirdly, be realistic. Your characters should fumble a little, laugh, get it wrong. The messy stuff is super sexy. The best sex scene I’ve ever read was in an old Sandra Brown novel called Slow Heat in Heaven, which also might be the best title ever. The scene involved a Cajun bad boy, a Waspy good girl, and an explosive enemies-to-lovers vibe. I encourage everyone to go read this book immediately.
Once SDIJ became a bestseller, your earlier book, The Perfect Find, got a glossier cover and a rerelease. Does it have anything to do with publishing finally, belatedly, waking up a little more to Black and BIPOC authors?
The publishing industry starting to wake up has a lot to do with it. But The Perfect Find also got a glossy cover do-over to coincide with the movie version, coming to Netflix in the spring! It’s starring Gabrielle Union, and I’m still pinching myself.
Speaking of which: the thrilling TV adaptation of SDIJ. What’s the latest? How involved will you be, and do you have dream casting thoughts for Eva and Shane?
I’m going to be one of the executive producers. We’re in very early stages of production, so nothing to share yet, but I couldn’t be more excited to help bring this book to the screen. I’ll keep you posted.
This interview has been edited and condensed.