Monique D. Mensah is an award winning novelist with an innate love for the written word. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in business management, she went on to pen her first novel, WHO IS HE TO YOU. Shortly after, she founded Kisa Publishing and published her debut novel, launching a fulfilling career as a critically acclaimed author. Through a loyal fan base and a strong word-of-mouth following, Monique’s titles have topped the Amazon Kindle bestseller lists for several months. She has been featured on the Michael Baisden Show and has won numerous awards, including the 2010 Best Books awards for African-American Fiction. Monique resides in Southfield, MI, with her daughter, where she works full-time at a private university. She is also the principal and founder of Make Your Mark Editing Services. She is currently working on a new, thrilling novel for anxious readers and book clubs nationwide.
How did you start out your writing career?
I had two false starts: one when I was about ten and again when I was 13, but I officially started my writing career in 2007 when I began writing my first novel, Who Is He To You. I was working in the mortgage industry, making a decent living and providing a fairly comfortable life for my daughter and me, but I felt trapped and unfulfilled. I couldn’t pinpoint the reason why, but I was just unhappy. I was complaining to my best friend one day about how unhappy I was, and she said the simplest thing, “Why don’t you just write a book?” She was one of the few people I had shared my dream with. I’d been daydreaming about being an author since I was eight years old, and she brought everything into perspective for me with those seven words. I started writing my debut that weekend. After finishing and shopping around for an agent, I decided to self-publish in 2009 through my independent publishing company, Kisa Publishing. Now, I’m working on my fourth book.
What did you learn while writing this book?
I learned that I can always get better. I saw growth in my writing from book one to book two, and then again from book two to three. Smoke Screen showed me that I have the potential to be better than I ever imagined I could be. I remember going back and reading what I wrote, after finishing the first chapter and thinking, Wow! I wrote that? That’s pretty good! It made me hungry for more. It made me read more and research my craft more; so I could feed this growing and improving talent. I learned that I can outdo myself, and I’ll try to do just that with each book.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
I wrote Smoke Screen based mostly on reader demand. It’s a sequel (ten years later) to my first book, Who Is He To You. When I wrote WIHTY, I had no intention of penning a sequel. It’s a complete story, and I had nowhere else for the characters to go, but the readers wanted to know about Simone. What happened to Simone? I decided that if I was going to write a sequel, it would be more than just a continuation of the previous title. It would have its own story, completely independent from WIHTY; so I started Smoke Screen. In writing this book, I believe that I satisfied those expecting a sequel while providing a fresh new story so readers wouldn’t get bored with the same characters. Smoke Screen is a who-done-it, a suspenseful tale about a female serial killer, and it’s the readers’ job to find out which of her favorite characters from Who Is He To You is the killer.
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
The Man Eater was an absolute blast to write. She’s a serial killer, killing the men that she sleeps with. But before she ends his life with a ten-inch blade, she takes the most expensive brand of cigarette and brands his most intimate area with her seal of approval. The Man Eater is smart, witty, sarcastic, and crazier than a bat. She uses Bible verses to justify her actions, and she has an interesting outlook on life. With the Man Eater, I got to be a completely different person, outside of the flawed everyday woman I usually write about. With her, I could say and do whatever the hell I wanted, and it was perfectly okay because she was a loony serial killer! Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
I think I was most surprised by how much of an impact my writing has had on some readers. I’ve had people confessing some of their most painful and intimate secrets after reading Who Is He To You. What I didn’t realize before publishing my work is that I automatically became an “expert” on the topics I wrote about, and I had to prepare myself for that role. I began to speak on self-esteem, self-image, and abusive relationships at events, when I thought I was just writing this stuff for entertainment. I never knew that I would touch so many lives, but I’m glad that I did.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
Believe it or not, I don’t care for the actual process of writing. I find it difficult to buckle down and actually articulate my crazy and jumbled ideas into a 300-page manuscript that will capture and maintain readers’ attention. Trying to balance the duties of promoting my current works with writing my new book only makes time management and writing that much harder.
I absolutely love reading what I’ve written and saying to myself, “I wrote that?!” It always renews my faith in myself. I do have times when I feel insecure, and going back and reading my stuff, proving to myself just what I’m capable of, always reignites my fire. I also love getting feedback from readers. It’s so cool to get another person’s aspect on my stories, especially when they’ve gotten something out of it that even I didn’t see when I wrote it.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
I wish I had done more research on editing when I first started my career. Had I known hiring a proofreader after editing was a best practice, I certainly would have used it. I also would have chosen a better copyeditor for my work. I wish I had known sooner that the self-publishing stigma is quickly diminishing. I sat on my first novel for a year and a half after trying to get an agent and get published by a major publishing house before I actually started the self-publishing process. Agents and publishers are now picking up self-published authors who have proved that they can be successful on their own. Had I known that, I would have gotten started in 2007 rather than 2009. I also wish I had known how supportive and embracing the black literary community is. I was so afraid to come out and approach other authors, afraid to ask questions and speak up because I thought that I would be considered a nuisance, and some authors may feel that way, but the majority of authors that I’ve met in my journey have been helpful, warm, and embracing. I had no reason to be afraid.
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
DO read as much as you can to soak up the craft. Read often, and in different genres than your own. Trust me, it shows! It gives you versatility and range to appeal to a wider audience. It just makes you an all-around better writer, and who doesn’t want that?
DON’T try to write just to follow a trend or imitate someone else’s voice. That shows too. Readers can tell when you’re not being sincere. They can tell when you’re trying to be someone that you’re not. If it doesn’t come to you naturally or passionately, don’t do it. Learn from other authors, but take what you’ve read and make it your own. Develop your own voice, and use it to make your mark in the literary world.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I wish that some non-writers would understand that this is not a get rich quick scheme, that the writers and authors, who are serious about this, do this because it’s their passion. We love it. It’s an art and a form of expression and, although “getting rich” would be nice, it’s not the driving force. Understand that this is something that we take seriously, and although some of us may make it look easy, it’s not. If anybody could do it, it wouldn’t be a respected art and occupation.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I read a lot, as I believe every serious writer should. I have a nine-year-old daughter, and I love hanging out with her. Some of our favorite things to do are going out to eat, to the movies, or getting mani/pedis at the spa. I like the theatre. I love a good play. But I also enjoy time to myself. That could mean sitting at home on the couch, watching reality TV with a glass of wine.
What do you do to interact with your readers?
I’m very active on Facebook, and encourage readers to join my personal page as well as my fan page. I want them to get to know the real me beyond just being an author. I’m a real person, with real opinions, and life experiences, and I think letting my readers in on that gives us a deeper connection. I also send out newsletters, I respond to all emails and messages. I just try to make myself as accessible as possible for my readers, because I understand that they are not just buying into my work, they’re buying into me. Plus, it’s the least I could do to show my appreciation for their support.
Our theme for this month is BUSINESS OF WRITING. What were you surprised by about the business side of writing?
I didn’t have too many surprises because I did a lot of research before my first book came out. I would say, the only thing that still shocks me is how difficult it is to balance book promotion and book writing. I’m still struggling with that. Pile that on with a full-time job and a kid, and you’ve got one crazy, hectic life.
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
I know “for sure” that I will continue to be successful. This is something that I believed before I had published my first book. I will be successful. I believe that I’ve been blessed with a talent and it’s my responsibility to share it with the world. It’s my purpose, and as long as I’m fulfilling my purpose, I will be successful. I’ve only been doing this for a little over two years, and so far my theory is proving me correct. I have a long way to go on this journey; but I feel as if I’m on the right track, and it’s all because I know for sure that I will be successful.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
Nemesis, due Summer 2012, is about an 18-year-old girl who has just killed her mother. That’s about all I can tell you without giving the story away. I’m still writing; so I haven’t worked out the quick and catchy synopsis. I’ll end up rambling on and on, and telling the whole story. But I can guarantee that it will have a lot of the same drama, suspense, and twists that my books are known for.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
I’m all over the place. Email me at Monique@MoniqueDMensah.com. Visit my website to read the first chapters of all three of my novels, watch trailers, and purchase autographed copies at http://www.moniquedmensah.com/ . I’m on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/MoniqueDMensah, Twitter: www.Twitter.com/MoniqueDMensah, and I have a new project that I’ve just launched with six other authors of different genres, Pound Seven Presents . . . And the Plot Thickens. We’re writing one story together, but the catch is, we haven’t discussed the plot between us; so none of knows what’s next. We will watch the story unfold with the readers as we reveal a new chapter of the story every week at http://www.pound7.com/. It’s fresh fun, and FREE!
Lauren, Ryan, and Simone meet again after the tragedy that brought them together ten years ago. A serial killer is on the loose, murdering men and leaving her mark, and each of these women has a motive to kill. Simone, an advocate for sexually abused teens, has begun to heal her wounds, but she is still trying to reclaim her life, and an unexpected love interest only complicates things further. Ryan is willing to do whatever it takes to become a mother. But with a shameful ten-year secret bubbling to the surface, she may lose her husband—and her mind—in the process. Lauren, one of Detroit’s most prominent defense attorneys, redefines justice and seeks a way out of the career that has left her feeling trapped and torn. She can’t set her moral standards aside for a $400,000 salary, winning acquittals for the demonstratively guilty. But how far will she go to rid Detroit of its criminal filth?
As Lauren, Ryan, and Simone’s lives collide yet again, forcing them to deal with the tragedies of their pasts, the three women regretfully learn that no one is safe behind the thin shield of a Smoke Screen.
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