JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Monique D. Mensah, author of Smoke Screen
Lauren, Ryan, and Simone meet again after the tragedy that brought them together ten years ago. A serial killer is on the loose, and each of these women has a motive to kill.
Simone, a sexual abuse survivor and advocate for young girls, has begun to heal her wounds over the past ten years, but she is still trying to reclaim her life. Her mother, Jessica, thinks it’s unhealthy for Simone to immerse herself into a world of pain and jaded love when she has yet to fully heal herself.
Ryan is willing to do whatever it takes to become a mother, even if it means betrayal. With her biological clock screaming and a shameful ten-year secret bubbling to the surface, Ryan is determined to get what she wants, but 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, winning acquittal after acquittal for the demonstratively guilty. But how far will she go to rid Detroit of its criminal filth?
As these women’s lives collide yet again, forcing them to deal with the tragedies of their pasts, they all learn that no one is safe behind the thin shield of a Smoke Screen.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Smoke Screen?
Monique D. Mensah: Smoke Screen is a sequel of my first novel, Who Is He To You. It takes place ten years later, after the tragedy that pulled my characters together in the past. When I wrote Who Is He To You, I actually had no intention of writing a sequel. I like complete stories, and I felt a sense of finality when I finished my debut. However, my readers thought otherwise.
They wanted more of those characters. Specifically, they wanted to know what happened to the sympathetic main character, 14-year-old Simone. I, on the other hand, only resolved to writing a sequel when I was able to come up with a story that could stand on its own and have an original story line, independent of the fist novel.
So after putting some thought into it, I came up with the plot to Smoke Screen. If it had not been for my readers insistence, it would never have been written; so I have to say that my readers were my inspiration.
JP: What sets Smoke Screen apart from other books in the same genre?
MDM: I think that a lot of people have a fixed perception or expectation of African-American literature. A lot of that is due to what the major publishers are willing to put on the book shelves. Being self-published gives me the freedom to write whatever I want, without worrying about what the majors want, or what’s considered “hot” right now.
I don’t focus on the genre. I focus on the story, and then name the genre after it’s complete. With Smoke Screen and my other two novels, I offer something refreshing for readers, that proves that black authors can defy those perceptions and expectations.
I write intelligent novels, that make you think and sometimes self-evaluate. I tell a good story, that leaves you wondering “just what genre does that book fit into?” and then later claiming not to care about the genre, because a good book is just that–a good book.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to Smoke Screen getting out to the public?
MDM: I attribute my success to my dedication to making myself as visible as possible through the limited resources that I had. I’m self-published, so everything was on my dime, which can be rather expensive, but I made sure that I set aside a budget for marketing.
I took out ads with different sites that support black literature. I also entered contests, and national novel competitions. I posted on blog sites, and I made myself very accessible through social media outlets. I make sure to interact with my readers and potential readers; so they know that I appreciate their support.
This is my third novel, so my readers helped a lot in getting the word out, by telling their friends, fellow readers, and everyone in their networks. Word-of-mouth has been my most powerful marketing tool.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Smoke Screen?
MDM: I don’t really have a standard writing process. Some factors stay the same for each book that I write, and some change, depending on the plot. When thinking of the plot, I always come up with the ending first. I have a clear idea of where I want the story to go; so in writing the novel from the beginning, I’m just trying to justify the ending.
After writing a few chapters (maybe four or five) freestyle, I start to get a clearer picture of the intricacies of the plot, sub-plots, and characters; so I begin a chapter outline, just jotting down major occurrences for the next few chapters. I write those chapters and outline the next few, until I get to the end.
I don’t have a writing schedule (although I probably should). I pretty much just write when I feel like it. I do have a goal of putting out a new book every summer, so I try to meet that deadline, and so far I have been successful. I procrastinate a lot, and sometimes I just don’t feel like writing, so I don’t. For that reason, it took me about eight months to complete Smoke Screen. Had I practiced more discipline, I could have written it in three months. It’s something I’m working on.
JP: What’s next for Monique D. Mensah?
MDM: I am working on my fourth novel, NEMESIS, now, and I’m almost done with the first draft. As I mentioned, my goal is to have it out by this summer. It’s a little different from my first three, but I think it will be one that will show my growth as a writer. It will be the fourth installment in my series, the Malignant Mind Series. I have two more books to add to that series, and I’ll begin working on them immediately after NEMESIS is published. I’m also working on a novel with Brian W. Smith called PILLOW TALK, which will be released some time later this year as well. So look out for those two projects.
I’m living a dream that I’ve had since I was eight years old, and it’s the best feeling I’ve ever had. I plan to write until I can’t write anymore; so expect me to be around for a long time, because I have plenty more tricks up my sleeve.