Recently, I was introduced to the work of Jacqueline Luckett by my friend Carleen Brice, who thought I'd enjoy Jackie's novels. Carleen was so right. I polished off Passing Love quickly and knew I'd want to have Jackie as our guest here at What Women Write as soon as possible. She graciously agreed and is with us today and next week in an in-depth, two-part interview. You will soon understand why this is subtitled "part le first!" (Hint … there will be talk of France!)
Searching for Tina Turner (2010, Grand Central Publishing) was Luckett's first novel. Her second novel, Passing Love, released in January 2012, also from Grand Central Publishing.
She is an avid reader and lover of books, an excellent cook, aspiring photographer, and world traveler. She lives in Northern California and, though she loves all of the friends there, she takes frequent breaks to fly off to foreign destinations. For more information, and to read her blog, you can visit www.jacquelineluckett.com.
Nicole-Marie Handy has loved all things French since she was a child. After the death of her best friend, determined to get out of her rut, she goes to Paris, leaving behind a marriage proposal. While there, Nicole chances upon an old photo of her father-lovingly inscribed, in his hand, to a woman Nicole has never heard of. What starts as a vacation quickly becomes an investigation into his relationship to this mystery woman. Moving back and forth in time between the sparkling Paris of today and the jazz-fueled city filled with expatriates in the 1950s, Passing Love is the story of two women dealing with lost love, secrets, and betrayal...and how the City of Light may hold all of the answers.
Publisher's Weekly said Passing Love is "a dreamy and lyrical paean to all things French…"
The main characters in Passing Love have different approaches to life. Nicole deferred her dream of going to Paris out of fear. While, on the other hand, Ruby doesn’t hesitate to do what it takes to get her where she wants to be (some readers have told me that she should’ve been afraid). I wrote these characters in the hope that readers would understand allow fiction to inspire real life. Here’s the lesson I want us all to learn: It’s not as important how long it takes to get to the dream, as it is to fulfill the dream. I’m hoping that both Nicole and Ruby inspire my readers to act.
Thank you so much for visiting us here at What Women Write, Jackie. First, tell us about your love affair with Paris, music, and the other things that inspired Passing Love. Why these things?
Paris is the most visited city in the world. Although I’ve met a few people who weren’t impressed with or excited about Paris (and I can’t believe it), most who’ve had the chance to visit know what a special place it is. Just ask if someone’s ever been to Paris and watch the glaze come over their eyes.
Much like my character, Nicole, in Passing Love, I love Paris. I admit to being in love with it long before I ever visited. Thinking back to high school, studying French probably started my fascination. I’m not sure if it was Paris that preoccupied my thinking, but it was certainly the thought, the dream of speaking French in France. Whatever, I knew that I would visit there one day.
My first trip was short and sweet. I bounced from hotel to hotel and made the mistake of trying to see and do too much. My recollections from that first visit are more like impressions than memories. I learned that Paris should be taken in small doses or slowly in much the same way one does a good book that tells a complicated story. There’s so much to see: from the street fashions to traditional tourist sights. The smallest detour or wrong turn can often result in the most wonderful discovery—that’s what I wanted Nicole to experience and part of the reason why she ends up in a thrift shop filled with collectibles. Since my first trip, I’ve made it a point to visit for longer periods of time whenever I can. Longer trips give me opportunity to meander and linger. I can forget schedules and must-see memorials, museums (though I do love the Musée D’Orsay), and shops and just enjoy the city.
There were three elements I wanted to write about in Passing Love: characters who lived ordinary lives, characters who challenged the ordinary and a place where they could all come together. I wanted my characters, those in the present story and the story that takes place in the past, to be in a city for the first time and to be in awe of its wonders.
Paris was perfect because of the tradition and history, beauty and whimsy available to its visitors and expats. There’s the centuries old history, the undeniable aura of romance, the ability to be safely anonymous, and the music. There were many Americans—Josephine Baker, Bricktop, Langston Hughes, to name a few—who came to Paris between the two World Wars. Many African American artists and musicians returned after World War II. They found cultural, literary, and racial freedom on many levels. Most times, that freedom was new. I wanted Ruby and Arnett to experience what it was like, as two Southerners, to be in Paris.
What themes do you find yourself returning to again and again in your writing, whether through your novels or other genres? Why do you think these themes resonate so much with you?
Searching for Tina Turner, my first novel, is the story of a woman who goes on a journey, literally and figuratively. What comes through for the main character, Lena, is the inspiration and lesson of Tina Turner’s personal story: that everything we need to move forward in our lives is already within us. Reinvention, self-awareness, and self-fulfillment are themes that run through this novel, as well as Passing Love. I also address fear and what can be done to conquer it. We can all afford to be fearful, but no one can afford to let fear keep us from doing what we want or need to do.
I want to encourage my readers to avoid deferring their dreams. Too often life and responsibilities get in the way or provide convenient excuses. The reasons are legitimate. Money, work schedules, family, and personal obligations don’t always allow the majority of people (often many of those are women) to explore or experience new places or situations. Then there are instances when moving forward is stifled by fear. Call fear by any other name—responsibility or denial of desires, but it works in the same way and we stay stuck.
You came to writing later in life. I can relate. Some days, I wish I had started writing “seriously” fresh out of college or earlier, but I’m not sure it would have worked. What inspired you to begin writing (or begin writing again)? How has the experience of being a late bloomer, for lack of a better description, figured into your writing?
For as far back as I can remember, my parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins gathered together on Friday nights. As the oldest of the cousins, once I became a teenager, I was chief babysitter. We made tents, had talent shows, and watched TV, but as the night went on I kept my cousins from misbehaving with my stories. I also wrote stories and poems for the children’s page in a local newspaper.
The love of writing has always been a part of me, but I never pursued it in high school or college. To this day, I am unsure why, but coming from a family where I was the first to attend college, writing didn't seem to be a career option. Instead, I became an avid reader.
I triple-dared myself around 1999 to, as my father used to say, “put up or shut up.” Either start writing or forget the idea. I took a writing class and released the stories that had been simmering inside of me for so long. I’d written business letters and proposals during my corporate career, but I was looking for the chance to use my imagination and my love of language. I enrolled in a creative writing class and the challenge I gave myself opened up a whole new world. Sharing my work with fellow writers was difficult and, to some extent, impersonal. They all seemed to be younger, wiser and cutting-edge. I felt vulnerable whenever they offered their feedback, both because of my maturity (alright, my age) and my lack of experience.
It took courage (and conquering that fear I spoke of in my answer to second question) for me to continue. Not the courage to break away from corporate America, but to explore my passion and to share my work. Eventually, I realized that my experience (yes, age) gave me a kind of edge over my younger colleagues—simply because I’d had more of them. My life experiences allowed me to compare past and present, as well as the long-term effects of our actions. I love writing about characters who’ve been around for a while and the effects of their choices. If it’s true that writers should write what we know, I know about life from both sides of fifty. That wisdom influences my writing and my characters—oh, they still have doubts, but they have the ability to call on a variety of circumstances to try to work through them.
I would’ve loved to start writing earlier in my life, but at this point, I’m thankful for having discovered my passion, for living my dream and knowing that readers are enjoying my work.
I'm thankful you did, too, as I very much enjoyed Passing Love and look forward to reading more from you. I've been exploring your blog in preparation for this interview. Last year, I noticed, you wrote that after not journaling for years, you thought you'd try it again for one year. I used to journal all the time as a young girl, especially as a teenager, and have found it more difficult the older I grow, for reasons I haven’t quite fingered. Were you able to follow through? What can you share about that experience that either enriched or changed your process or productivity as a writer?
I might have blogged that I kept diaries when I was younger. But, even then, I didn't make daily entries. When I think back on that time, I believed I didn't have anything to say. I was focused on what happened—what I did or ate or watched on TV—instead of what I dreamed or wished or feIt. In a few of those entries I tried to write about being skinny or not having a boyfriend or being a bit lonely in the world. I managed to journal but, for the most part, I kept those feelings in my head. Even now, when I look at my diaries (yes, I still have them) I can recall exactly what had happened to spur an entry.
A couple of weeks ago (so much for daily entries once again), I looked at my journal on, it turned out, the same date that I’d started over a year ago. My intention was to see if my commitment would be different from my teenage years.
I stuck to the commitment to write in my journal, but only occasionally—I’d say (generously) once a week. There’s always the possibility I’d do better if I put myself on a schedule, and that might work. The good news is that I worked a lot on PASSING LOVE during that time and perhaps that’s where I used some of the emotional energy that might have gone into a journal—and that’s a “good thing” because it gave my characters the authenticity that makes them real.
And yes, I can verify that your characters absolutely felt authentic. I won't give any spoilers here, but I will say that one scene in particular in Passing Love nearly brought me to my knees, I was so emotionally connected to the characters and the event. (Ask me later, Jackie, and I'll tell you which one — though maybe you can guess.)
Jackie, thanks so much for being our guest here at What Women Write! Readers, thanks for dropping by. We will pick up next week with our interview with Jackie, part le second! We'll hear more from her about fear — specifically, the fear and self-doubt that seems almost universal to writers. Also, we'll talk about a subject dear to the heart of Carleen Brice, who introduced me to Jackie, and who not only writes fabulous books herself, but runs a blog called White Readers Meet Black Authors. We'll also learn what's up next for Jacqueline Luckett.
Until next week!
(UPDATE: TO READ PART LE SECOND, click HERE!)
(UPDATE: TO READ PART LE SECOND, click HERE!)