Maxine Billings Interview

Maxine has enjoyed reading and writing as far back as she can remember. During her summer vacations from school, she participated in the reading programs at the local library and spent most of her time reading. She also likes to write poetry.

What inspired you to write?
In the late 1990s, my cousin Jacquelin Thomas became a published author. I was so inspired by her stories and style of writing that in 1999 I began writing my first manuscript and finished it in 2000.

Did the inspiration to write come to you suddenly, or had you been thinking about it some time?
It came to me suddenly after I started reading Jacquelin's books. Although I've loved writing and reading since as far back as I can remember, it was never my desire or goal to pursue a career in writing.

During my summer vacations from school, I participated in the reading programs at the local library and spent most of my time reading. I used to also like to write poetry. In the tenth grade, one of my poems was published in a school anthology.

I liked writing so much that I always wrote more on writing assignments than what the teacher required. One of my cousins used to tease me profusely because I always wrote so much when he only wrote what the class was told and got the same grade as me, an A. When he found out that I had become a published author, he said he was glad all that writing I used to do finally paid off. LOL!!!

How did you tell your story? In other words, did you use an outline, or just write your story from start to finish?
It's really hard for me to write an outline of my story because I never know exactly how I want it to go until I'm actually writing it. So although I generally have a very good idea of what I want the story to be about, I usually just write it. This may sound crazy to non-writers, but as I write the story, the characters dictate to me what to write. Sometimes I may want them to do one thing, but they won't let me because that is not within the scope of their characters. :)

Did you receive any encouragement from family and friends, or did you work on your book alone?
I received no encouragement from anyone except me, myself, and I. :) That is because I told no one of my endeavor. Once I completed my manuscript in 2000, I finally told my cousin Jacquelin, and she was so supportive and has been ever since.

Once I finally told my family, they were also extremely supportive. Some of my friends were supportive. But a lot of them were not, and that hurt, but the ones who were supportive helped me (as hard as it was) to endure it.

What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
Without a doubt, editing!!! LOL!!! I hate editing!!! In my first novel, I tended to over-reflect when writing the story. I recall my editor at the time with BET Books telling me not to reflect so much, so I had a lot of editing to do. I got so distraught because I made myself go through the manuscript so many times that by the time I was done, I was sick of the story! LOL!!!

What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing your book?
Making my characters come to life on the theater stage of not just mine but also my readers' minds' eyes! Writing is art. My readers are my characters' audience for which they perform. And just like us real humans, they sometimes do and say things that make you mad, laugh, and cry. When my readers share with me how they got into my stories and felt like the characters were real and that they knew them, that is icing on the cake!!!

Did you experience any personal transformation after the book was published?
I did feel extremely happy and excited the first time I walked into a book store and saw my books displayed for sale on a table, and I could not believe I was a published author! However, I was still myself. By that I mean, I recall when I learned that I was getting a two-book contract with a major publishing company, BET Books, I continually asked God to help keep me humble. I come from a very humble background and, regardless of whatever I accomplish, never want to think that I am better than anyone else. Even though I love it when people share with me how much they enjoy my books, I tell them and everyone else that I am still just "Maxine." God has given each and every one of us individually some type of gift(s). However, that does not make us better than the other. We can all shine together!!!

What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity?
Writer's block! You never know when it's going to strike. At least, I don't. But when it does, I've learned not to try to force myself to write. I've discovered that all I need to do to get the creative juices flowing again is to allow myself to take a break for however long it takes, and before long, I'm back in writing mode!

What strategies do you use to deal with criticism?
I don't compare myself to other writers or anyone else for that matter. We are all individuals. Some people will like my stories. Others will not. Regardless, my number one reason for writing is because I simply love and enjoy it. If in the process, other people enjoy my stories, too, well, that's extra icing on the cake. :)

Have you received any accolades for your books?
I have not received any awards. However, my debut novel, A MEASURE OF FAITH, which was released in April, 2004, ranked #3 on Cush City's list of fiction bestsellers. Cush City is an eCommerce site that features African-American products.

My second novel, A TEST OF FAITH was released in April, 2005 and is the novel for which I was selected as a featured author at the 2005 ESSENCE MUSIC FESTIVAL at its 11th anniversary. Although I was not able to attend the event, I still considered it an honor to be invited.

THICKER THAN WATER is an anthology collection of short stories written by two other authors and myself. Released in October, 2005, it was an Essence bestseller. The name of my story in this collection is A HEALING OF THE HEARTS.

Are you working on a new book? What are you up to nowadays?
Before my mother passed in May of 2016, she and I were working on writing her autobiography HIS EYES ARE ON THE SPARROWS. Thankfully, before she became terminally ill, she had been able to complete her cassette tape recordings of her life story. However, before I was able to complete the manuscript and publish the book, she passed. I have not yet been able emotionally and mentally to pick back up where I left off to finish it. I do still hope to do so one day.

Also, I have been working on and off on CHANGES, my sequel to A MEASURE OF FAITH. In it, Robert and Lynn finally have the empty nest they knew would one day be theirs, but along with it are coming a whole lot of changes that neither of them had expected nor prepared for. And neither of them seems willing to yield to the changes that are taking place. In order to salvage what's left of their marriage, they must learn to see things from the other's perspective.

Although I still love writing, for the most part, I am focusing more so on my nature photography. I am greatly inspired by natural creation and find a tremendous sense of fulfillment and accomplishment from my photos. I currently have five online stores that sell various products that have my images on them.

Do you have any author appearances coming up? Any giveaways or contests?
I currently do not have any author appearances scheduled. I am still hosting two book contests on Goodreads which is a free Web site for book lovers. One is titled PAULA'S WEEKEND GETAWAY based on my most current book DESPERATE HEARTS. The other, TAYLOR'S FIRST DANCE, relates to the prequel to DESPERATE HEARTS which is ONE OF A KIND.

The first person to correctly answer the questions will win an assortment of prizes. Here are links to both contests:

https://www.goodreads.com/quizzes/52832-paula-s-weekend-getaway

https://www.goodreads.com/quizzes/52849-taylor-s-first-dance

Tell us more about yourself...where did you grow up and what is your favorite/worst childhood memory?
I was born and raised in the small town of Villa Rica, GA, about 40 miles west of Atlanta, GA.

Without going into specifics, I have a lot of bad childhood memories. My parents divorced when we children were very young. My father had issues, and none of us were ever close to him. It wasn't until shortly before he passed over 31 years ago that he and I finally seemed to be on our way to establishing a father/daughter relationship.

One of my favorite childhood memories are of whenever I visited my maternal grandmother, I would eat peanut butter and apple jelly sandwiches! That was a real treat for me because we could not afford to eat them at home. We barely had enough food to eat, but my mama always made a way!!! :) :) :)

Do you have a favorite quote?
A good name is to be chosen rather than great wealth. (Prov. 22:1)

What is your favorite show on TV?
Bonanza!!! I love the Cartwrights!!! I watch them most everyday on TV Land. I love them because they are a good, decent, law-abiding family. However, they're still imperfect which the show sometimes reflects in their shenanigans and sibling rivalry and friction.

Favorite movie?
I don't really have a favorite movie. However, one of my favorites is "Diary Of A Mad Black Woman" by Tyler Perry. I love wholesome, real-life stories that teach morals and values. In this movie, two of the lessons I get from it are are: (1) be careful how we treat people because we never know when we may need them one day and (2) relationships between two unmarried people of the opposite sex can be happy and beautiful without sex.

Favorite book?
I don't really have a favorite book either. But my top pick would be the Bible. Although I grew up in a religious household, I never read the Bible. It wasn't until I was grown, married and had started a family of my own that I began reading and studying it. I've learned that it is full of so many precious gems, and striving to live by its teachings everyday, has made me a better person and also has made my life happier.

Who would you want to meet if you could? Dead or alive.
Oh, to meet Jesus, the son of God, would be incredibly awesome!!! Sometimes I think about ones from Bible times who were blessed to see him, touch him, talk with him, and walk with him. That must have been the best experience of their lives!!!

Is there a talent you wish you had?
Wish I could hold a tune! LOL!

What’s something about you that would surprise us?
I'm a homebody. :) I love to go on road trips with my husband and family and intermingle occasionally with other family and friends. However, for the most part, I'd rather be home. :)

Describe yourself in 3 words!
Compassionate. Outgoing. Conversational.