Saturday, September 30, 2017

Be Inspired By This Interview With Southeast Queens NY Raised Award-Winning Bestselling Author Margaret Johnson-Hodge

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By Kamau Austin with Margaret Johnson-Hodge

Southeast Queens raised Margaret Johnson-Hodge, is another example of the successful, creative, and talented persons from our area.  In addition to having great social activists like Roy Wilkens, sports stars like Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis, jazz greats like Count Basie, Lena Horne, and John Coltrane, and many hip hop artists and business moguls like LL Cool J, Russel Simmons, and Daymond John, we can add a great highly regarded author like Margaret Johnson-Hodge to the list.

Margaret, is the author of eleven published novels, contributor to three anthologies, including the highly successful “Proverbs of the People,” and author of a chapbook. She also will be releasing two additional books “promised” (Young Adult) and “Penny Candy Dreams” (Contemporary Fiction) in 2017.

She has received national acclaim and garnered rave reviews from USA Today, The Dallas Morning Star, Midwest Book Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, The Library Journal, The Quarterly Black Review, Essence Magazine, and Ebony Magazine.

Her works were considered by Showtime and Hallmark for book-to-movie options. Her novels have been used as part of the English curriculum at University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, where she was guest author, and was invited by Harvard University to submit a short story for their literary magazine.

I had the honor of being granted an interview with the busy and multi-talented award winning author recently.  Her life speaks volumes about her love of writing and aplomb for telling a great story. Checkout her interview below...

Award Winning and Highly Acclaimed
Prolific Author Margaret Johnson-Hodge

An Interview with Margaret Johnson-Hodge
Kamau: Can you tell us a little about your background and where you grew up? 

Margaret: I grew in Jamaica, Queens. Baisley Park was my playground. A quarter-of-a-mile trip down Rockaway Boulevard, to get Carvel Ice Cream, on a summer’s night was a treat.  Playing handball at Woodrow Wilson, was how I spent my youth. I attended Jamaica High, and then went on to Queens College. My growing up years was all things Jamaica.

Kamau: What is the name of your company?

Margaret: I don’t have a ‘company,’ per se, just me – Award Winning National Bestselling Author Margaret Johnson-Hodge. I write novels, give writing workshops and mentor aspiring writers, one-on-one.

Kamau: What made you want to become an author?

Margaret: I’ve always had a love of reading. At four, I started reading the Long Island Press (now defunct.) I would sit in my father’s wing back chair and would "read" it from front to back.

Of course I didn’t know most of the words printed on the paper, but I was curious about the world around me. Then it was picture books and eventually books without pictures! I enjoyed finding out about different people, places, and situations, and so I was always ‘borrowing’ whatever books I found in my home.

Around the age of 12, Maya Angelou came out with “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” and I said that if, as a Black Woman, she went through all she went through and grew up to become this amazing writer, maybe I could become a writer too. So, I sat down at the kitchen table to the electronic typewriter, my mother had purchased for my oldest sister, and I started writing my first novel.

I kept working on it and 28 years later, St. Martin’s Press published it. Yes, I was determined! I often share this story in my writing workshops and everyone’s mouth falls open. Some people would have dropped the dream, but I knew nothing beat a failure but a try, so I just kept on writing until I became published.

Kamau: Do you have any role models that inspired you as an author or influenced you in life?

Margaret: Maya Angelou, whom I had the pleasure of meeting while working at Macy’s on 34th Street back in the seventies. James Baldwin, who I started reading about the age of 12, even though his subject matter was a little too racy for my young mind.

Bernice L. McFadden, an extraordinary writer out of Brooklyn, NY, who just won the NAACP Award for Outstanding Fiction for her novel “The Book of Harlan” and whom I’m blessed to call my friend.

My grandmother, whom I was named after, my mother, who passed a few years ago, and my mentor Brenda Connor Bey Miller (also Queens born and raised, who passed away a few years ago.) Brenda told me that I had a real talent when I didn’t believe I did, and pushed me to pursue my writing dreams when I was too afraid to try. It’s because of her and my long-time friend Vanessa Benton, that I got my first book contract with St. Martin’s Press back in the 90’s.

Kamau: What were some of your biggest challenges in becoming an author?

Margaret: The main thing was believing I had stories inside of me worth sharing (getting published.) The other was pressing ahead with the dream when few people around thought I could do it, or had the skillset to write a good book.

I will say that my biggest supporters and cheerleaders was my husband (may he rest in peace).  He told me I could quit my job and become a full-time writer, even though I didn’t have a book contract, a literary agent or anything at the time—just the dream of getting published one day.

The other was my mother, who stepped up and supported me when I decided I wanted to become an independent author and publish my own works.  She just called me up one day and said: I’m going to give you $7000 to start your own publishing company. 

Now, mind you, my mother wasn’t rich by any means. She was retired and living on Social Security, but she believed in me enough to make that sacrifice.

I paid her back as soon as I could. But like I said, she supported my goal to walk away from mainstream publishing and strike out on my own.

Kamau: What is the name of your latest title and can you tell us a little about it?

Margaret: I’m releasing two books this year: “Promised” and its sequel “Penny Candy Dreams.” It started out as just one book, but turned into two.

"Promised" (my first young adult novel) is the story of ten-year-old Paige Andrea Montgomery. 1966 when the novel opens and taking place in Jamaica, Queens, NY, it’s her tenth summer, and she’s out of school enjoying all the freedom summer vacation can offer. One day, something dire happens in her life, changing how she sees herself. It shatters her world and shakes up her belief systems, bringing on unexpected realities and deep-rooted pain. Clinging to an innate hope that she’s always known, Paige makes a promise to herself that she will be okay, no matter what comes her way.

“Penny Candy Dreams” is the sequel to “Promised.” A teenager as the story opens, Paige’s world has been a Merry-Go-Round of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, full of old wounds in need of healing and new joys in need of finding. She’s learned early to put one foot in front of the other, pressing on no matter what. Sometimes she aces it, sometimes she doesn’t. A long ago promise she’s carried like a found pebble nestled deep inside a summer jean pocket has carried her through, but will it be enough as she enters the next stages of her life—adulthood?

Kamau: Can you give us a synopsis of some of your earlier book titles?

Margaret: Absolutely. All of my stories take place in New York and the majority take place in and around Jamaica, Queens:

“The Real Deal” (1998) – A Sista from Harlem finds herself falling for a White boy from Malibu.

“A New Day” (1999) – A single mother struggles to accept that a good man isn’t hard to find.

“Warm Hands” (2000) – You can’t truly embrace love from someone else if you don’t love yourself.

“Butterscotch Blues” (2000) – Can love survive when he’s HIV positive and you’re not?

“Some Sunday” (2001) – The love of your life has passed away from AIDS. Does life really go on?

“True Lies” (2002) – He loves you. You love him, but he has a Baby-Mamma who won’t go away.

“A Journey To Here” (2003) – How holding onto the past hurts your future.

“This Time” (2005) – Trying to find happiness after being without it for so long.

“Red Light Green Light” (2008) – What happens when drug addiction and the events of 9/11 collides.

“In Search of Tennessee Sunshine” (2010) – The will to go one when the love of your life has died.

“Tumbled” (2013) – Just when you think your life is set, situations trip you up, hard.

Based on my titles and their synopsis, it would be easy to assume that I write romance. I just want to say that that is far from the truth. I write ‘real life’ in all its ugly, beautiful, miserable and joyful wonder.

Publishers Weekly, Booklist and other reviewers have described my works as ‘visceral,’ ‘brutally honest’ and ‘refreshing,’ My novels deal with subjects such as drug addition, HIV, abortion, infidelity, physical and emotional violence, racism, sexism, grief, depression and poverty—definitely not the romance genre!

Kamau: Do you have any book signings or events you will be appearing at in the near future?

Margaret: My Book Release Party Celebration Extravaganza on Saturday, October 21, 2017 and everyone’s invited!

The evening kicks off with my One-Woman show “A New York State of Mind: An Evening With Margaret Johnson-Hodge.”

A cocktail and hor d'oeuvre book party reception for “Promised” and “Penny Candy Dreams” immediately follows after my performance and it all takes place at a gorgeous century-old live-performance theatre on Marietta Square, in Marietta, Georgia.

Now for my NY folks who’d want to make the trip, there are plenty of lovely hotels near the venue! Come and join me on October 21st.

 I’d love to see you there! Information about my event can be found on my website:

I’ve dusted off my 30-year-old ‘Character’ dance shoes just for this event. Yes, it’s that serious and yes, I used to be a dancer in my former life—before marriage and children.

I attended Bernice Johnson Dancing School from the late 60’s through the 70’s, and then went on to dance with Jazzy Dancers (out of the former dance club The Renaissance) and then I went on to study under Audrey Lawrence—another Jamaica, Queens Native. So, I’m ready to do my thing on stage and it’s going to be an amazing celebratory event.

Kamau: Where can readers purchase your books?

Margaret: My two newest books “Promised” and “Penny Candy Dreams” are being sold exclusively at my online book store - It will be the only place you can purchase them and are on sale now. I also have quite a few of my back titles for sale there too.

In closing, I just want to say that though I’m south now, Jamaica, Queens, NY will always be my heart. All of my novels take place in and around the area, and I will always call it home. Jamaica, Queens NY made me who I am today and I’m proud to call myself a Native. Thanks for giving me the chance to share with my journey with my hometown.

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