Whatever your vacation plans are this summer, you’re going to want to take author Sadeqa Johnson’s new summer romance novel Love in a Carry-on Bag with you. This juicy page-turner follows the love affair of New-York-based PR manager Erica Shaw and her D.C.-based jazz musician beau Warren Prince – both as passionate about their careers as they are about each other. But when money, the distance, family and temptations threaten to unravel their seemingly unshakeable bond, the couple learns whether their love can survive their baggage.
To find out more about the inspiration behind the book, EBONY caught up with the first-time novelist, Ms. Johnson.
EBONY: You describe your book as having a Love Jones feel to it. Though there is a strong element of Nina and Darius’ undeniable passion between your two characters, Erica and Warren, there is also a much deeper connection that goes beyond lust between your characters. There’s a real willingness to sacrifice themselves for one another. So what would you say real love is?
SADEQA JOHNSON: I love the aspect of sacrifice that you mentioned. That’s what love is. My husband and I are about to hit our ten year anniversary and we also survived a long distance relationship like the Erica and Warren in my book where you feel like you can't wait to be together. But when you are together, you only have 72 hours so you focus on making it count. And when you’re in it for the long-haul, that means putting yourself on hold sometimes and focusing on your partner. I helped my husband get his business of the ground and he helped me get my business off the ground. We know how to put the other person first for the good of what we’re trying to achieve together.
EBONY: It definitely seems like a lot of your book is based on your own life. Beyond the long-distance relationship, Erica is a successful public relations manager at a top publishing company like you were. Warren is a trumpet player and you’ve admitted to dating a trumpet player in college. How much of the book is autobiographical?
SJ: I did date a trumpet player in college. I love musicians and the way they feel about their work. But I feel like Warren is a compilation of a bunch of men I've dated over the years. I admit I have a little e-crush on Warren. He’s a great guy!
So, I would say the foundation of the book comes from things I know personally, like Erica’s struggles with her mother. Publishers always say you have to start with something that you know. But as far as the specific scenarios and the scenes, that was more the character becoming a conduit. I had to follow [Erica’s] lead. So while the foundation of what I used is true, I was very conscientious of letting the characters come in and do their thing and let them tell me where the story should go.
EBONY: You've described how difficult it was for you to get a publisher for this book even with all of your years of experience and connections within the publishing industry. But just like the characters in your book, you just forged ahead and followed your passion. You’ve created your own publishing company 12th Street Press and you’re publishing this book independently. Where does that persistent spirit come from?
SJ: I totally didn't decide to [publish my first book independently], but the industry just kept saying “no.” They’d say the story isn’t interesting enough, go back to the drawing board. I think it was difficult because when I started shopping the book, the industry people were getting six figure deals every time I turned around. But then with Borders [bookstore] crashing, it was difficult and I had a really prominent book agent and it was even difficult for her to shop the book. Celebrity books were big because publishers felt they had this built-in fan base, so there was less of a risk. There wasn't a lot of space for brand new authors in this economy.
Really, I got to the point where it was necessity to publish myself if I wanted it done. I wanted to be picked by Harper Collins, that was the goal, and when that didn't happen I had to make a decision. My husband said, “Why are you waiting for publishing companies to validate you? You're ready now, so publish now.”
I’d worked in publishing and PR for years, so I knew the game. I know how to be sales and marketing and publicity — every single thing I needed. I got an editor, a publicist, a distributor and everything fell into place. Then it was just me who had to say “yes.”
Now I’m out here working every weekend, we’re in bookstores and online. I was just in Hampton [Virginia] and I was in Boston. I'm worn out but I'm moving.
EBONY: One of the ways you’re able to keep moving and keep peace when things get chaotic is through meditation and you even teach a free class on it in your neighborhood. What are the main things you focus on when you meditate? Describe that process for us.
SJ: I meditate for twenty minutes in the morning and evening, and it basically gives me the peace that my soul is craving and makes my life more stable. I practice transcendental meditation. I practice silence. I go and ask myself three questions: “Who am I? What is my purpose and how can I serve?” I try to quiet my mind and chase extra thoughts away.
When I’m leading a group meditation, we sit together and let try not to think anything and just connect with my inner self without feeling that negative energy that negative shift. The idea is almost like in church, when two or more people are listening for God’s answer, you offset ten thousand people who aren’t. The answers come back later. But just watch how your life changes after meditation. My intuition is stronger. I don’t have to go looking for stuff anymore. Whatever I need, I know we will cross paths. And peace is just there. I don’t spread other people’s anger, I don’t even tell people about a a little negative experience I had with a customer service representative, I deflect it and absorb positive energy.
Even when negative things happen, there’s this peace to knowing you are exactly where you're supposed to be at this moment. This moment is perfect.
That’s such a great gift for me to give back to my community; just me being at peace can offset so much negativity.
It’s so unfortunate that I had to go outside of my community for yoga or meditation because it's not what we're accustomed to teach African American women. But it’s so beautiful and joyous to me that I gladly teach it for free and hope more people in our community open themselves up to this.
EBONY: That is so inspiring. So have you heard the answer to your question “what is my purpose?” What do you hope to achieve through your book, your publishing company, teaching meditation and your future projects?
SJ: With the book, I don’t want people to walk away thinking they wasted their time and money. I want them to enjoy it and relate to it and be anxious to read my next book. I want them to walk away feeling like they've discovered something about themselves.
And just overall, I hope to encourage people to just be open to more good than you have ever experienced and just realize that everything is really possible you just have to open your mind and live right and just be patient as the dream unfolds.