Monday, January 07, 2008

FEATURED AUTHORS: Virginia DeBerry - Donna Grant

With five novels to their credit, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, best friends for 25 years, have turned a friendship into the most successful and enduring writing collaboration in African American fiction.

Donna and Virginia first met as plus size models vying for the same assignments. They were both featured in catalogs, ads, magazines and made national television appearances. Their modeling careers led to the opportunity to launch Maxima, a fashion and lifestyle magazine for plus-size women, where Virginia was editor-in-chief and Donna the managing editor. When publication of Maxima ceased, Virginia and Donna decided to try writing a book together. The result, Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made (1997), was a critical success, an Essence magazine bestseller, as are all three of their books, and won the Merit Award for Fiction from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, as well as the 1998 Book of the Year Award from the Blackboard Bestseller List/African American Booksellers Conference-Book Expo America. More than that, it hit an emotional nerve with tens of thousands of readers from all over the world who continue to write to Virginia and Donna ten years after the book's publication. Far From the Tree (2000) became a New York Times bestseller, and Better Than I Know Myself (2004) received two Open Book Awards, and was included on the Best African American Fiction of 2004 lists of both Borders and WaldenBooks. Gotta Keep on Tryin', the long awaited sequel to 1997's Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, will be released in January 2008 and has already received glowing reviews.

Donna attended Barnard College and is a graduate of New York University . A Brooklyn native, she currently lives in the borough with her husband. Before becoming a novelist, she spent more than a decade as a plus size model, represented by the 12 + division of Ford Models. During that career, Donna was featured in catalogs and national ads, on the pages of such magazines as Essence, McCalls, Family Circle and Woman's Day, and made appearances on "Today," "Good Morning America ," and "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee."

Virginia, a former high school English teacher from Buffalo , New York , attended Fisk University and is a graduate of SUNY at Buffalo . After almost 10 years in the classroom, she moved to New York and started a successful career as a plus size model. She was frequently featured in catalogs, advertising, magazines and appeared on several television programs including "The Today Show." She retired from modeling after two years and became Vice President of BB/LW, an agency for plus size and petite models as well as a spokeswoman for Hanes hosiery. Virginia now lives in New Jersey .

Almost since Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made hit the shelves, readers have been asking for a sequel--something we never thought about after we completed that book. But 10 years worth of requests later--we decided to tackle the project. It was nerve wracking--but ultimately fulfilling to revisit the characters we'd put down so many years before. We thought long and hard about how to approach the story and concluded that the best way was to allow for time to have passed in Pat, Gayle and Marcus' lives too. So in Gotta Keep on Tryin' we pick them up six years after Tryin' ended and bring them forward to the present time.

What would you like your readers to take away from your book?

We want them to see that life and relationships are on a continuum. We are constantly growing and changing--hopefully for the better. That it's important to be engaged in the process--not to just let life happen to you, around you. And that whatever happens, we all have to keep on tryin'.

What inspired this story?

When we wrote Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, we had no idea how much readers would identify with Pat, Gayle and Marcus--their struggles and triumphs, but most of all their friendship. From the very beginning we got mail that asked about them and wanted to know how the saga continued.

Well, ten years have passed, which means a lot has gone on. Gayle's daughter, Vanessa, was a child when we left her. Now she is a young woman, with ideas about how to make her own bed.

Pat and Gayle had renewed their friendship and were on the verge of starting a business together when we left them. Ten years later, the business is a success, but has it taken a toll on their friendship? It is a question we are often asked personally, so it was interesting to explore the possibilities for discord and to see if it could be resolved.

Readers were happy for Pat and Marcus, felt they belonged together. What happens when you mix, marriage, busy careers, and one partner who wants children with one who is reluctant to take that plunge?

And what ever happened to Gayle's gambler husband, Ramsey? There was so much to explore, in addition to the new characters who come into all of their lives, that we felt it was finally time to visit these old friends.

What did you learn while writing this book?

That the process of writing a book doesn't get easier because you already know the characters!! But we also learned that the personalities we gave each of the characters in Tryin' remained the guides we followed as Pat, Gayle and Marcus continue on their journeys.

What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?

Donna: I love being in the trenches with the keyboard and the words. Some days it's really a struggle, but when the words are finally down and they really speak to me, that's the best!

The time between when I finish a book and when it is finally out there with readers is tough for me. I worry about whether there is something I should have done differently, could have done better. I don't think that feeling will ever go away. I have decided the apprehension is there to keep me sharp, so I embrace it as part of my process.

Virginia: And I'm just the opposite. I can't actually say I hate being in the trenches--but I'm much more a socially gregarious creature, so the long hours and long days inside, writing are difficult for me. And my favorite part is once the book is with the readers--that's when the communication really takes place--I and I look forward to hearing from readers--through mail, email on or guestbook--or reading the comments on

What are three things you wish you'd known before you reached where you are now?

We both sometimes wish we had gotten to writing earlier, but we've decided you have to live enough life to have stories to tell. So, we got here when the time was right. And generally we have found out what we need to know when we need to know it. We like leaving room for surprise, and room to grow. It keeps the journey fresh.

What should a new writer know about the publishing business?

That it is a business and they must be prepared to learn as much about the business of publishing as they have learned about their craft. The art is why we do what we do, but knowing the business is how we survive.

What do you do to make time for yourself?

That's a good question and we're still working on the balance. In the last 18 months we have written two books and a screenplay, for Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made. Along with 2 partners we are producing Tryin'--The Movie, which has been exciting, but also time consuming. Now, add family and friends and the unscheduled situations that have to be handled and there are a lot of balls in the air. Although we have worked many holidays, weekends and birthdays through the years, this year, for the first time, we actually spent Thanksgiving working--we took a break to grill some Thanksgiving steak. We did it so we can hopefully finish our next book before Christmas so we can spend it enjoying the season with our families, but there are always compromises.

How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

So many ways---


DeBerry& Grant
PO Box 5224
Kendall Park, NJ 08824


The Web ,,

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