René Penn

Aspiring author writing about the journey.

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Seven Black Authors Who Write Historical Romance

I am currently writing a historical romance novel, which means that I love to read historical romance novels, too. One day, I went to the Google machine in search of historical romance novels with black or African American characters—or historical romance novels written by black authors. The list is small. (Sad face.) Here’s what I found, in case you’re also looking for books in this niche market.


Beverly Jenkins

  • Ms. Beverly is like the Aretha Franklin of black historical romance. With about 50 books sold, she definitely deserves R-E-S-P-E-C-T. And like Aretha, she’s left an imprint on individuals of all cultural backgrounds. In 2017, she was awarded the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award by the Romance Writers of America.

Kianna Alexander

  • Ms. Alexander writes historical (let’s talk about California in the 1880s), as well as contemporary romance. And she shouts out the Twitter hashtags #WeNeedDiverseRomance and #WOCinRomance, which are both worth checking out.

Roberta Gayle

  • Ms. Gayle’s books must be amazing, because her novel Sunrise and Shadows is on sale on for $2,003.98. (Huh?) Well, at least the shipping is free.

Patricia Vaughn

  • The novel Murmur of Rain, by Patricia Vaughn, is about a musician set in Paris in the 1890s. Oh la la…

Gay G. Gunn

  • One of Gunn’s novels, Nowhere to Run, captures a love story during slavery times in America.

AlTonya Washington

  • Ms. Washington is best known for her contemporary and erotica novels, but she has also penned two historical novels. She received Romantic Times Magazine’s Reviewers Choice Award in 2012.

Alyssa Cole

  • Let Us Dream was nominated for Best Romance Novella by the Romance Writers of America (RITA’s Award nominee). Besides historical romance, Ms. Cole also writes contemporary romance and sci-fi.

What do you think of the novelists on this list? Please help me expand it. Which authors have I missed?


Photo by Henri Meilhac on Unsplash


At the Middle of a WIP? ¡Vamos!

I recently caught a great moment on TV, during a tennis match with Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, when Nadal sliced the ball right past Kyrgios to win the game. Nadal pumped his fist and yelled something, something electrifying. Our TV was on mute, so I couldn’t quite make it out. But I could see the reaction pulse around him. The crowd was going crazy. Some people jumped to their feet. The camera cut to a guy in the front row–a coach, maybe–and Vamoshe jabbed a finger in the air. I could read his lips, “That’s right!”

I asked my husband, an avid tennis fan, to tell me what happened. What did Nadal say to get everybody so fired up? “He said, ¡Vamos! It’s Spanish for ‘Let’s go!'”

As I reach the midpoint of my WIP, a novel, I need to channel Nadal’s energy. The midpoint is a common place where writers may have a slump in momentum, which may reflect in the story, too. “Sagging in the middle” or “middle sag” it’s sometimes called. It’s also the point where your character should go from being reactive to being proactive–reactionary to action.

In both instances, both the writer and the main character have to pump their fist and yell, “¡Vamos!”

  • For the main character: bring her to the point where she asks herself: What kind of person am I becoming? Or what are the odds for success or failure? The rest of the way, she should work toward redeeming herself or bringing the odds in her favor (with roadblocks along the way, of course).
  • For yourself, the writer: if the momentum is waning, it may mean that the story needs a dash of cayenne pepper. Consider twists in an upcoming plot point to spice things up. We need to give ourselves something to be excited about when we sit down to write.

Have you gone through the WIP middle sag? How do you stay fired up?


Why Aspiring Authors Are Really MathWriterMeticians

Aspiring Author + Word Count Fixation =  MathWriterMetician. I’m coining this term, because we writers are obsessed with numbers and math, whether we want to believe it or not.


I find myself crunching numbers almost daily. That’s how I track my WIP. I can’t help myself. One number buzzes around me at all times like an eye floater: 80,000. The coveted word count goal. Everything revolves around it.

  • I always want to know my current word count.

Since I’m writing my first draft by hand, I constantly add up how many words are on each new page. I’ve become very well acquainted with the calculator app on my mobile phone. You can also use Scrivener to track your word count and progress.

  • I have my mind on the end goal: 80,000 words.

Since 80,000 words seems to be the ideal word count for a manuscript, by agent and editor standards, I use that as my guide. I subtract my current word count from the magic number of 80,000. That way, I know how many words I have to go until I reach my goal.

  • But that’s not enough. I’ve gotta crunch the percentage, too.

I’ll divide my current word count by 80,000. I use division to get to the percentage. Right now, I’m 43.92% done with my draft. But if anyone asks, it’s quite possible that I’ll round up to 45%. (Shh…don’t tell anybody.)

  • I calculate how many words I write in a week or day, on average.

I’ll divide the word count I have left by the amount of words I write on average to determine how many weeks it’ll take me to get to 80,000. And if I want to be done faster, I’ll calculate how many more words I have to write per day to meet the new schedule. Famous authors run the gamut for average words written per day.

  • I can go on and on…

Obsessed, I say. Are you a MathWriterMetician, too?

Photo from Pexel:



What Has Possessed Me to Write My Novel in Longhand?

What the heck possessed me to stop typing my novel and to start writing it longhand, instead? Especially since I have short hands with small fingers.


A couple of years ago, I had dinner with bestselling author Michelle Gable. (Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Actually, she was a keynote speaker at an event where me and about 250 other conference attendees were listening to her speech during dinner.) And she mentioned that she wrote her book, A Paris Apartment, by hand—like pen to paper, pencil to notebook. I was stunned; I may have even dropped my fork. She explained that:

  • It works better-on-the-go

It’s more discreet and portable than a laptop. Makes sense. Lugging around a 13″ laptop can be tiring and clunky. And a tablet isn’t very writer-friendly, as far as the keyboard goes.

I noodled this approach, and decided to carry around a pen and journal-sized notebook to continue my WIP. I have to say that I’ve been writing that way since. Here are some other reasons why:

  • I did it as a kid

When I was 10-years old, writing my first fiction stories, there were no computers. There was a typewriter that you used for special occasions, and you loathed when those occasions occurred, because the typewriter was a baffling piece of equipment that required lots of patience and white-out. I had no choice, really, but to write my stories by hand. girl-kids-training-school-159782There’s something nostalgic about carrying on the same creative process I enjoyed so much as a kid.

  • I get out of my own way

When I’m working on the computer, I can’t disconnect the editor-part of myself. That part is a cynical, judgmental, crotchety lady. And she can be a bit of a killjoy when I hit a good writing flow. The less of her while I’m in brain-dump mode, the better.

  • I wonder if it falls into the “working with your hands leads to better creativity” category

I’ve heard this theory. Working with your hands can spur and engage your imagination, because it stimulates the part of your brain that’s associated with creativity. I don’t know if writing longhand can be included in the category of working with your hands, but it’s definitely a better writing experience for me than typing on a keyboard. It’s as if there’s a clearer path from what my brain is thinking to what actually appears on the paper, as opposed to brain to keyboard to computer screen.

What about you? Have you tried writing your manuscript by hand?

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Who Are Your Author Peers?

I first learned about this concept–“author peers” or “peer authors”–about two years ago. It’s been a game-changer for me, and certainly an ongoing educational process. But this whole writing thing kinda is anyway, isn’t it?


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

First, let me explain what I mean by author peers. If you were published, author peers would be writers whose books are within the same category as yours. It’s the “these authors write books like what I’m writing” group.

Here are reasons why it’s good to identify your author peers, whether you’re a published author or not.

  • It solidifies what you like to read, and therefore what you may like to write

This is how I pinpointed my interested in writing regency-era historical romance. I also researched how these novels are set up to see how I can adopt similar tactics in my own work.

  • It helps with your query letter (or during a conversation with your aunt)

By mentioning who your author peers are in a query letter, you immediately clue in an agent to what your writing style is like. Using an author’s name to describe your style can ground a person a lot faster than a four-sentence description.

  • It helps you identify your target demographic

You can trim a lot of guess-work by simply researching the reader’s demographics of your peer authors. Is their audience male? Mostly Millennials? Do they chomp on short, fast-paced chapters or languish in long, verbose descriptive bits? If your author peers attract a specific type of reader who love a certain writing style, your work may likely achieve success in that genre by adopting similar concepts.

  • It provides inspiration

Once upon a time, your peer authors were unpublished, too, waiting for the chips to fall their way. Eventually, it happened; they got published. If they did it, why can’t we?


Photo by Zac Durant on Unsplash

  • It gets you thinking like a published author

I’m obviously not published yet, but it doesn’t mean I can’t think like it, right? I personally think there’s something healthy about visualizing one’s name in the scrolling section of reviews that reads, “If you love this author, you’ll also like <insert your name here>.”

What did I miss? Why else is it good to identify peer authors?