by Mary Jo
The Word Wenches have always taken a global view of the romance community of readers, writers, and publishers. As I like to say, the sun never sets on the Wench empire since we have authors from the US, the UK, and Australia, and I like to count Jo Beverley twice because of her many years in Canada. <G>
But there are English speaking authors in other countries as well, and one is my friend Alissa Baxter, a South African. Alissa started her writing career with traditional Regencies, which are still available as e-books at RegencyReads.com. I connected with Alissa and her mother, Tess Baxter, through our mutual love of Regencies, and we've been friends ever since.
Writers like to try new things, and Alissa became the first author to have a chicklit novel published by a South African publisher. I really enjoyed Send and Receive because it captured the essence of what it's like to be young, single--and South African. Young and single is universal--I liked the way every single guy the heroine meets is evaluated at least briefly as a potential mate before Angie finds The One. At the same time, I was intrigued by the South African setting and the cast of young people trying to find their place in the world.
Now Alissa has published The Blog Affair, a follow up to Send and Receive, and she's published with Ubuntu, a new African oriented e-imprint of Decadent Publishing. Given how dark much news is from Africa, I love the idea of positive, romantic stories about modern Africans. (I suspect that much of the popularity of Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency books is the positive, deeply affectionate portrait of Botswana and the passionate love his characters feel for their native land.)
I've invited Alissa here to talk a bit about the challenges and rewards of her particular writing path. Alissa, you've done a variety of jobs, including being a flight attendant for Emirates Airways! Please tell something about your checkered past!
AB: Hi Mary Jo! Thanks for welcoming me to the Word Wenches blog. A bit about me… I was born in a small town in South Africa, and grew up with my nose in a book on a poultry and cattle farm. After school and university, where I majored in Political Science and French, I published my first Regency novel, The Dashing Debutante.
I then travelled overseas and did an odd assortment of jobs in England while researching my second novel, Lord Fenmore’s Wager, which I wrote after I moved back to South Africa and settled in the coast city of Durban. Getting itchy feet, I relocated to Cape Town where I found a job as a publicity writer at a local television station. I wrote my Durban-set novel, Send and Receive, while I was living in Cape Town. 15 months later I moved to Johannesburg where I started working in the field of Corporate Communications. I wrote my Cape Town-set novel, The Blog Affair, after I moved to Johannesburg. I am married and have two little boys (under the age of two!) so I’m a very busy full-time mother at the moment!
MJP: How did you first come to fall in love with Regencies?
AB: At the age of eleven I discovered my mom’s collection of Georgette Heyer novels. The first Heyer novel I ever read was Sylvester and I was hooked on Georgette Heyer after that. I read and reread her novels, and fell totally in love with the Regency period and Heyer’s grey-eyed heroes.
MJP: My first Heyer was also Sylvester! A Heyer fan never forgets her first time. <G> What led you to writing contemporary settings?
AB: I was searching for a job in Cape Town and sent my CV to a local publisher as I was hoping to find work as an editor. When I signed off my letter to them, I included my website address. A Publishing Manager from the company wrote back to me and told me that she had read the extracts from my Regency novels on my website and that she liked my writing style. Although I didn’t have enough experience for the editing job, the Publishing Manager asked me if I would consider writing a contemporary chick-lit style novel for them. I told her I would try, and promptly sat down and wrote the first chapter of Send and Receive. She liked it and commissioned me to write the story which I completed in six and a half weeks.
MJP: Could you tell about your current release, The Blog Affair?
AB: The Blog Affair was such a fun book to write. Even though the South African setting may appear exotic, women across many cultures experiences very similar up and downs when it comes to dating. Anyone who’s been on the dating scene knows that there are sometimes so many frogs out there that it should be called a dating pond rather than a dating pool!
My main character, Emma Bradshaw, has a pattern for falling for unsuitable men and decides to start a blog about these so-called “serial datists” in order to make sense of her dating past.
Technology has changed the way we communicate with each other. On the one hand, social media is a very open platform where people often reveal intimate details of their lives. There is also a more secretive side to online communication, however, where people can post their innermost thoughts anonymously. This anonymous form of communication became the premise for my novel, and cyberspace is the place where Emma vents all her pent up feelings about the men she’s dated. However, when an anonymous male reader of her blog challenges her on her ideas about men, Emma realises she must confront her past before love can blossom again in her future.
Here's an excerpt from Emma's first blog for about dating, in which she explores her thoughts about men:
PENELOPE’S PANTRY...…A PLACE FOR YOU TO POINT OUT YOUR VIEW
The first time I ever met a serial datist, I was nineteen years old. At that age, I wasn’t capable of recognising the warning signs of this particular species of the human male. Needless to say, I got burned. Badly.
Serial datism is a concept I’ve been pondering recently. And it’s something I hope to examine in this blog. Any comments from readers are welcome, therefore, as I attempt to shed light on a variety of the dating male that has me completely bemused.
The best way to do this, I’ve decided, is to debate in an open forum—where I, and any other participants in the discussion, can flick on the switch, in a manner of speaking, and illuminate the matter.
I attract serial datists, and so it is perfectly fitting that I should introduce this topic into cyber space. But this doesn’t mean I’m an expert at identifying them. You see, the tricky thing about serial datists is that they aren’t easily defined.
They come in many shapes and sizes and forms, and they may even mutate! They can start off in one form and end up in quite another shape and size within a small space of time. And therein lies their danger.
MJP: I'd love to hear more about Ubuntu and its African oriented stories.
AB: Decadent Publishing/Bono Books launched an imprint recently called Ubuntu, which is devoted exclusively to African stories. Here is some information about Ubuntu from the Decadent website:
UBUNTU-STORIES OF AFRICAN ROMANCE
Africa... Land of the Serengeti, of wide savannas, where exotic wild animals like giraffes stroll through your backyard— *sound of a screeching turn-disk*
If this is your idea of modern Africa, you’d be way off the mark! Ubuntu (“I am what I am because of who we all are.”) embraces the notion of community, of roots, of spreading your arms open in welcome. Our stories from the Ubuntu line will reflect this philosophy, and take you to Africa to meet the people from that far-away, unknown-to-many land.
Take a peek at modern Africa. This is a world where, on the backdrop of the famine crisis in Darfur and Somalia, of political unrest in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Egypt, millions step into the global village and embrace the fast-paced life offered by technology and the Internet. Multinational companies have offices in many African capitals, opening the way for a slew of expatriates to settle in those countries, where the world’s biggest brand names like Hugo Boss and Lacoste are opening outlets.
With its rich history, Africa has native African clans and tribes, colonist white populations – British, French, and Afrikaners –Indian-origin people who emigrated as traders and/or indentured labor, Chinese people who came in as traders.
We want to see your stories set in any of these locations. Whether your characters are expats, foreigners on a visit, native Africans (of black, white, Indian, Chinese, Arab, etc, descent!), show us the true face of Africa as people experience it every day.
MJP: As I said above, I'm fascinated by this concept since I love stories that take me into new worlds. Alissa, what are your long term writing goals?
AB: I enjoy writing contemporary romance, but every now and then I long to write another Regency romance, which is my first love, after all. I’d like to continue to write in both genres, but at the moment I have my hands full with a baby and toddler, so there isn’t much time left over for writing. But I’ll get there!
Alissa, thank you for visiting Word Wenches! I hope the South African romance market continues to grow with great stories that can be loved world wide.
Thanks so much, Mary Jo! It’s been a pleasure being here.
MJP: Modern Africa is a complex and fascinating place, both ancient and modern. A video that reflects some of this complexity is this beautiful sung tribute to Nelson Mandela, one of the great men of our time.
And even though the magnificent wildlife isn't something you see from your car as you drive down a South African highway, I couldn't resist adding a couple of pictures I took when I visited South Africa several years ago. So blame me for the rhinos and leopards and zebras, not Ubuntu, which reflects the Africa of today.