Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love the hustle. I work full-time and write novels every once in a while (Shameless Plug ALERT: my next one that drops on July 7th!). In addition to all of that, I’m always here for fellow girlbosses getting their dreams. The author/marketing guru in my Spotlight this week is no exception!
When writer Mahlena-Rae Johnson isn’t spouting hustle tips via her encouragement blog, she’s dipping her toe in the world of romantic prose. Her journey into naughty fiction began with her 2007 short story Worry About The Explosions. Read on as Mahlena talks about the books that influenced her writing, he foray into television writing, and why it’s important for writers to find their tribe.
In a few sentences, tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Mahlena and I’m here to say/I write about culture in a humorous way!
In my dayjob, I work as an Admissions Coach and Test Prep Instructor. I help students apply to university and graduate school programs. In my side hustle, I’m developing a new website called I Have A Dream Board. On the site, we provide professional women with coaching services on how to achieve their personal goals and take control of their lives. In the moments between my jobs, I write projects that are just for me (for now).
What do you love most about the craft of writing?
I love creating characters, especially colorful ones. I develop who my characters are and where they have come from before advancing the plot. With larger projects, I like to work with a cast of characters and explore how they interact with each other. I’m more of a conversation and relationship writer than an action writer – though my stories can be rich with incident.
Tell us about your last project.
In 2016, I published my third book, a reference manual called Last Minute Guide to Apply For College. My last creative project was a sci-fi dramedy screenplay called You Think You Know, which is about a sustainable community leader who has an affair during her pregnancy. I’m currently working on a television series/movie project call PTA Rumble, which is about the intersecting lives of parents at a charter school.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
It took me a while. Not after I started my first blog in 2006. Not after I published my first book in 2007. Not after I sold my first books to strangers in 2008. It wasn’t until after I was working at a television network and people I met at mixers were more excited to hear about my book than who I worked for. That’s when I realized that my writing was significant. it was the first time I considered myself a writer.
What drew you to writing romance/erotica?
It was the first short story I wrote in 2007 called Worry about the Explosions. I created it as a spec sample to show to a writing executive at the company we both worked at. The story featured two characters from the novel I was writing at the time, Steve the Penguin. I hadn’t planned to write romance/erotica. I simply thought to myself, “What would happen during the first time that these characters had sex?” Also, the author Zane and the world of self-publishing were trending in pop culture, so I figured I could try it too.
Which book(s) have influenced your writing style the most?
When I started writing, I was influenced by the Gossip Girl young adult book series, Pamela Ribon’s novels and website, and The Dirty Girls Social Club by Alisa Valdes. I also grew up watching too much TV and reading lots of The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. TV and movies, particularly comedies, have greatly influenced my thought process. My first novel served an Easter Egg hunt for fellow pop culture enthusiasts to find all of the entertainment references.
Share a piece of your work that showcases your writing style best.
From “Worry about the Explosions”:
I started undoing his clothes, and he started taking off mine. When we got down to only my panties and his boxers, I secured my plastic sheet onto the mattress, and put my beach towel on top of it. Thanks to my penchant for quality linens, the wetness protection ensemble fit pretty well.
I climbed up and sat cross-legged on the thick terrycloth. “So how does this work?”
Mike chuckled. “Like I’m the expert on sexual relations.”
“You’re the one who’s had various partners,” I pointed out.
“Two,” he reminded me, holding up his fingers. “That does not make me Hugh Hefner. You’re the cyber queen, Bianca. You tell me how it’s supposed to be done.”
“That’s all imaginary, not real life.” I curled up into a ball, burying my face in my knees. “You know you’re my first boyfriend ever. Stop making me remind you I’ve never done anything with anyone before.”
Mike crawled over and peeled me open like an orange. He slid one of his hands over my stomach, the other down my leg. “No, you’ve never done anything except seduce me over the phone for months.” He kissed my neck. “Making me touch myself while you did the same thing.
I swear my heart stopped for one second. I pulled him closer to me, making him climb on top, pressing his bare chest on mine. He kissed me deeply. I wrapped my legs around his back. We had gone this far before, many times. But this time, I knew we wouldn’t stop.
My hands roamed knowingly over his body. I could feel his hardness grow in his shorts. I guided him to feel the heat between my legs.
“Are you ready, Bianca?” he whispered in my ear, his hand massaging the inside of my thighs.
I wanted to say something clever, something to make him laugh, like I always did. But at that moment, the only sound I could utter was, “Yes.”
Mike lifted his body up and gazed at me, his fingers caressing my cheek. “I love you, Bianca. I only want to make you happy.”
I wanted to scream, I know, you idiot. Just do me! Instead, I looked into his hazel eyes, gave him what I hoped was a convincing smile, and said, “I love you, too.”
~I love creating characters, especially colorful ones.~
Name three of your best writing tips.
- Schedule a time to write. Not everyone has the luxury to write full time or whenever they want. Make it ten minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, whatever you can do. Write it down, put in in your calendar, and create a habit.
- Read often. Be a writer that reads so that you can grow.
- Find your tribe. If you aren’t white, male, cisgendered, and straight—all at the same time—then you probably were not taught about writing and literature and media through creators or stories that reflect who you are. We have to find likeminded people to remind us that our stories—the stories that represent the majority of the world—are valuable. Seek out other writers, in person and online, who can show you how to create stories that don’t necessarily mimic the approved canon.
Dead or alive, name the writer you wish were your mentor and why.
Maya Angelou. Her wisdom continues to guide me through tough times and embolden me as a fellow black woman who is too smart for her own good.
What would you say is your own interesting writing quirk?
Almost every creative project that I write includes a dance sequence, either explicit or implied. I love dance!
Shout out an indie writer whose work you love.
Amie Stuart! She wrote a story called Peaches ‘n Cream in Zane’s Caramel Flava 2 and it was lots of fun.
Do you have any specific writing goals in your radar?
While I would like to complete my six-season outline for PTA Rumble this year, my long-term goal involves more than my own writing projects. In four years, I would like to create a conference, tentatively titled Camp Mr. J, for creative and driven women to build media-based business partnerships. I want to make a safe space for women to achieve success through the strength of our network. As various public speakers often incorrectly attribute to an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Thanks for joining us today. Readers, feel free to stalk this sexy author at the following links:
Website & Blog: Mahlena.com