There are certain authors that just captivate you with their writing so much that you feel every single emotion pouring from the pages. And in the world of romance, when most of the time characters are straight white men and women with that one certain body type, there isn’t exactly much representation for people who do not look like that. And let’s be honest, there is a large chunk of the population that doesn’t fit that mould. Their stories deserve to be told too. And this young Black romance author has set out to do exactly that – represent the underrepresented in the world of love. Talia Hibbert’s characters are not those stereotypical MC’s that you’re used to seeing. They’re people of colour, plus-sized, fighting disabilities and getting their happy endings they so rightfully deserve thanks to her beautiful writing.
Talia started writing and self-publishing her books when she was just 21 years old. And now, at the age of 24 she’s a USA Today best-selling author of 17 books, who struck gold with her hit Brown Sisters series. And the latest installment of that series features a Black heroine on the spectrum. We had the pleasure of sitting down to have a chat with her about what it means to her to write nonconventional main characters, her upcoming works, the struggles she’s faced being a Black creative in the industry and breaking the stigma surrounding neuroatypical people.
Q. What made you want to write books?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Like when I was growing up and people asked me what I wanted to do, I always said I want to write! I think it’s just because I read so much, it always seemed natural, then, to make a job out of books.
Q. How did the Brown Sisters series come about?
It was entirely built around Chloe. I knew that I wanted to write a chronically ill heroine in a rom-com. And as I built around that, it kind of followed that she was going to be the oldest child. And then I was wondering, well, who are the younger children? And that is how the series came about.
Q. Your main characters are “unconventional” in the sense that they don’t fit the stereotype of typical MC’s. What made you decide to write characters that don’t fit in or often don’t get the representation they deserve?
I’ve just always wanted to write underrepresented characters because that was what I – as a reader – was hungry for more of. I haven’t always felt super represented. And when I did find books where I was represented, or even books where maybe I wasn’t personally the focus but I could recognise people from my own life who weren’t always represented, meant a lot to me. And I wanted to add to that and recreate that feeling with my own books.
Q. Are any of your characters inspired by you or people you know?
Not really. I think sometimes you get kind of bits of inspiration from people you know or even your own life. But it’s never a full personality, it’s kind of like, “Oh I remember this one person who kind of has this really weird habit that would be funny in a book, so I’ll give it to this character.” Or, like in the case of Chloe (from Get a Life, Chloe Brown), she has fibromyalgia, and I have fibromyalgia. So it was helpful for me to use some of my own experiences for writing hers. But we’re not the same character, that would be a bit weird.
Q. What inspires you to write?
So many different things! I think my main inspiration is, really – because I’m super into romance and that is literally all I read, and also write obviously – I’m just super soft for people in love! And that really is the main inspiration behind everything I write.
Q. Some authors may have a special time or place to write, do you have one?
I have an office now but for most of my career I was writing in my room. But anywhere I write, I like to keep things plain and simple. For example, the wall in front of my desk has nothing on it. It’s completely plain. I try to keep things tidy – well not tidy, I guess – but not so interesting, so I can concentrate.
Q. How do you deal with writer’s block?
Whenever I have writer’s block, I’ve noticed that it’s not because I can’t write fundamentally, it’s because something feels wrong. So, usually I’m too tired or I’m under too much pressure or I’m hungry or there’s other things that I need to do. So when I get a writer’s block, it is like a sign to get my life in order and once I do, I’ll be in a good place to write again.
Q. How important was it for you to break the stigma around neuro-atypical people, especially seeing as you are on the spectrum as well?
I feel like… it’s just my whole perspective on diverse representation in general. I’m kind of sick of seeing what should be a reflection of myself or people I know, and just being like, “This isn’t even remotely right.” Obviously everyone’s different and everyone has different experiences, but this isn’t right at all. So I feel like if I can put out my own experience then I am adding to the literature that people like me can read one day and be like, “Oh, this does ring true! Even if it’s not me, it rings true.” So that’s kind of what I’m hoping to do.
Q. As a Black creative, have you faced any struggles in the industry?
I think the whole reason I started self-publishing is because I assumed that none of the big publishing houses would want to buy my books. And on the one hand that is definitely changing, mostly because there have been so many people working so hard for so long to shift the market inch by inch. And I feel really lucky, timing-wise, to be writing in a time when so much of that work has already been done and I’m able to come in a much easier place. But the fact is that Black authors are still really underrepresented and I definitely still feel the weight of that. For example, right now, interracial romance is a very big boom but Black romance, for example, isn’t being picked up as much. And the implications of that are pretty obvious and I definitely feel the weight of that.
And then there have been times where I’ve seen people talk about my books in a way that…obviously people are entitled to their own opinions, but then I see opinions that are obviously informed by offensive stereotypes. For example, one of my heroines is described as really attractive, people find her really beautiful. But then I heard someone say, “Well, she looks like this so she’s not really beautiful.” And the things that they listed as reasons for her not being beautiful were basically just her being Black and her being plus-sized. And I was just like…cool! *awkward thumbs up*
So there’s things like that but there is a really great community around me and really great readers who are kind of removed from that negativity and who really support what they want to see in the world – which is more diversity. So I suppose I have the privilege to be able to just focus on that and let the rest fade into the background.
Q. You self-published your first 9 books, how did you manage to do it?
Well, it was kind of on my radar because I had been reading a lot of self-published authors. And it took me a long time to figure out that they were self-published and what that meant but once I figured it out I was like, “Oh! So…anyone…can do this? Because I’m anyone, and I’d like to do this.” I knew that I wanted to try my best and make a job out of it because at that point I was coming to realise that if I didn’t find a job where I can work for myself and be flexible, I was really going to struggle because of the disabilities that I have and people just not wanting to employ me. So I really just researched as much as I could and it was just trial and error, working really hard, testing things. And every time I failed I was like, “Okay, change it, do it again.” And that is how I learned as I went, and things got better every time.
Q. In your past books you’ve incorporated the political and social movement of Brexit. And with the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement today, do you see yourself incorporating those aspects into your book?
It’s difficult because for me, writing Black people experiencing happy endings has always been a bit of an escape from [the] reality of how difficult living as a Black person can be. And in the book where I talked about Brexit, the heroine is a political campaigner and she is a Black woman, so with that came a certain kind of harassment that I touched upon. But at the same time, I wrote about that specifically to show her being protected from it and insulated from it. I know that some people write stories where they address these things head-on. And I enjoy that as a reader but the kind of stories that I’m drawn to are where it’s a much more insulated perspective. Where the characters are kind of protected from that. Not necessarily by the people in the book but by the world of the book itself. I feel like my book doesn’t exist in this world. It exists in a similar world where everyone is slightly more accepting towards people like me…just slightly.
Q. What can we expect from the third Brown Sisters book – Act Your Age, Eve Brown?
Well, it’s enemies to lovers. He runs a bed and breakfast, she wants to work there. She’s trying to get her life together and be responsible. He says no, but when she accidentally hits him with her car, and he gets injured, he has no other choice but to let her help him run the bed and breakfast because he doesn’t have anyone else to help him do so. It’s very much opposites attract. He’s very uptight and rigid, she’s chaotic and free-willed. And they have to find a way to be around each other, respect each other and so on and so forth…
Q. The final installment of the Brown Sisters series comes out next year, do you have any other writing plans after that?
I’m really feeling paranormal and fantasy world – especially now that the world is messier than usual. I think [in] 2021 I’m going to be exploring that world. I also have a Christmas romance that came out on November 16th called “Wrapped Up In You“! It’s about childhood friends who have been in love with each other for a very long time. But because of the circumstances of their lives they’ve been avoiding it. He is now a famous actor and she has been married and divorced. And they always see each other during Christmas because they are close family friends. And this Christmas, he goes, “Enough is enough I’m gonna tell her how I feel.” But it’s tricky.
“You can’t just casually date someone you’ve known forever.”
“I’m not trying to casually date you. I’m trying to seriously date you.”
I wrote a book about a himbo trying to win over his sceptical, divorced best friend at Christmas & it’s out now!
— Talia Hibbert – Updates Only (@TaliaHibbert) November 17, 2020
Q. What do you hope your readers feel when they read your books?
I want my readers to feel comforted and safe, but also kind of giddy with how fun something is and it makes you giggle. Even if nothing’s funny you’re giggling at the situations or conversations. I just want people to feel happy.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who is an aspiring writer or wants to self publish?
I would say read anything and everything you can get your hands on that’s relevant to you from reading the books in your genre that you want to emulate. Read non-fiction books by authors who have kind of detailed their tried and tested methods and failures so you don’t have to experience half of the growing pains. So definitely read up before you do anything, and that’s good because most of them read a lot anyway.
Featured image: Entertainment Weekly