While romance fiction is widely loved and enjoyed by women authors and readers, fewer men have embraced the genre, some writing under pseudonyms to conceal their real identities and better appeal to female audiences. Keith Thomas Walker fought past his misperceptions about the genre and his fear of propagating stereotypical tropes to find his voice, write meaningful, relatable romance stories about diverse characters dealing with harsh realities–and eventually land his first book deal. Like other bestselling authors who have tackled multifaceted characters and subjects in romance sub-genres–Eric Jerome Dickey, E. Lynn Harris, Colin Channer, and J.J. Murray–Keith successfully launched his career after several fits and starts. Over time, he grew a steady following of devoted readers by delivering fresh perspectives on love and relationships and appealing to a desire for complex heroes and heroines embroiled in page-turning drama until they found some form of a happily ever after. Keith stopped by Diverse Romance to share his journey into the world of romance and some of the highs, lows, and lessons of his career.

Tell us about your journey to become a published author.

It’s been a long road.  I started off writing poetry and short stories in grade school.  When my teachers began to take interest in me and encourage my writing, I gave it my all as early as the fifth grade.  I continued through high school, winning nearly every short story or essay contest thrown at me, and I finally wrote my first novel when I got to college.  It got rejected by everyone!  Lol.  I actually got discouraged and gave up writing for nearly a decade.  But I started again with a romance novel.  That was Fixin’ Tyrone.  It got picked up immediately, published in 2009, and I’ve been publishing books ever since

How did you come to write in the romance genre, a genre driven by female readers and writers? Which romance sub-genres (suspense, urban, contemporary) do you prefer and why?

Initially I didn’t want to write romance novels.  When I first started writing, the idea of having a topless guy on the cover of one of my books was not appealing!  Lol.  I laugh because my first published novel has a topless guy on the cover.  When I wrote my first book (Fixin’ Tyrone), I wanted a love story, but I also wanted to broach topics that were important to me, such as a black man’s struggle with going to prison, avoiding the recidivism rate when he gets out and putting his life back together.  It was important to me that he reestablished a relationship with his children and avoid the pitfalls many freed inmates faced.  When I realized I could put all of these things in a romance novel, I was sold.
Tell us about your romance novels (One on One and/or The Realest Ever)?
One on One is one of my faves. It’s a bout a football player who was forced into early retirement due to an injury. After a couple of reckless years, during which he blew the little football money he had and lost his wife, Marquis falls back on coaching high school for income.  He wants to coach football, of course, but ends up with a girl’s basketball team. Hilarity ensues, and romance with one of the players’ parents follows. Marquis grows a lot during his first year teaching and learns that girls aren’t horrible athletes, as he believes in the beginning.
The Realest Ever is my best-selling novel. I take the formula of childhood friends exploring their feelings for each other as adults to a new level.  I think the thing that stands out the most with Donovan and Kyra’s relationship is his devotion to her since they were in grade school.  Kyra comes from a very bad home, and Donovan’s two-parent household is a refuge for her. The things Donovan does to try to save his friend are heart-wrenching.  By the time they get to high school, Donovan and Kyra realize there’s more to each other than friendship, but before they can act on it, an incident forces Kyra to move out of state, and they don’t speak for 15 years. When Kyra returns to Overbrook Meadows as an adult, her life is still in disarray, and of course Donovan is there to help her. Only now, there are no obstacles between the romance they avoided when they were younger.
You write a couple of series across multiple genres which isn’t an easy feat. Tell us about them.  

I have a few series.  In the Brick House series, I wanted a strong heroine.  Korah is the owner of a constructing and contracting company.  She’s the matriarch of her family.  I normally don’t write about “”rich”” characters, but I made an exception here.  Brick is the owner of a competing company called Brick House.  He’s strong, cocky and as determined as Korah.  Their chemistry is not immediate!

I also have the Finley High series.  These books are written for ages 12-18.  The first one, Prom Night at Finley High, deals with teenage pregnancy.  The second book, Fast Girls at Finley High, focuses on peer-pressure, drug use and other adolescent pitfalls.  The last one, Bullies at Finley High, is, as the title suggests, about bullies.  All of these books are timely and important reads.

My most recent series is Backslide.  Kole is gritty, streetwise and dangerous.  His  love interest, Dana, wants to steer him clear of his old lifestyle, but circumstances compel him to return.  Their chemistry is dynamic and fiery, right from the start.” Backslide 2 is my latest release.  As mentioned in the previous question, Kole is trying his best to go the straight and narrow, but when a good friend is murdered, he is drawn back in to a criminal organization he once headed.  When his enemies target the woman he loves, Kole becomes even more unhinged.  There is a lot of diversity in Backslide 2.  In this story, Kole’s group is mostly comprised of African Americans.  He seeks helps from a Hispanic gang and is shocked to discover his true enemy is a white power gang.  To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into any further details, but this is a great read, as is the first Backslide.

Give five words that best describe this book. What message do you hope readers get?

Compelling, intriguing, sexy, enlightening, action-packed

Give us one or two of your favorite lines from your current book.

“I ain’t never been of the Martin Luther King, let’s hold hands and sing kumbaya while they throw bricks at us, mind state.  When it came to stuff like that, I would’ve been rolling with Malcolm.”

Tell us about your writing space and your daily routine.

I take my writing space whenever and wherever I can. On a plane, at a restaurant, in the break room at work, at the dining table or in my bed.  I’m not particular.

Whats one of your favorite reviews/comments youve ever received about your writing (on this book or any other)? Who did it come from and how did it impact you?

In one of my reviews for the first Backslide, a reader described Kole as “the new Easy Rawlins.”  That was major, because Walter Mosley is one of my favorite authors, especially his Easy Rawlins series.  To have one of my characters compared to him is huge.  I think, possibly because of that review, I ramped up Kole’s mystery-solving in the second Backslide.

Whats your biggest struggle as a writer (or what was your worst critique)? And how do/did you handle it?

My biggest struggle is editing.  I don’t like to do it, would much rather spend my time writing new material.  I can write when I’m a little sleepy or even with a beer in hand, but when I edit, I must be fully awake and alert and without interruption.  And I REALLY don’t like it when my editor wants me to make major revisions.  But I always listen to her and the books come out much better.  There’s no easy way to handle my editing issues, other than getting plenty of sleep ahead of time and knocking it out without procrastinating.

What has been the high point of your career, so far?

I’ve won a lot of awards, all of which are high points, but getting the rights back for my first seven book is the HIGHEST point of my writing career.  I signed those contracts in 2009-2012.  Normally the rights would’ve reverted back to me when the books went out of print, but that didn’t happen.  It took a lot of hard work, patience and legal wrangling to get my rights back, but I finally got them a few months ago.  I’m ecstatic about that!

What was the low point of your career? And how did you handle it?

The low point would be the 5 and a half years I fought to get my book rights back.  Those were dark and depressing times.

Give us the name of a diverse author youve read that you would highly recommend to readers.

Beverly Jenkins

Whats next on your writing journey?

I’m going to write more!  I’m currently working on Threesome 2, and then I’m going to write Election Day for Decades of African American Romance.  And then I’ll get back to some of the books I recently received my rights back for.  I have to re-release them, which calls for more editing, revisions and formatting.  I normally don’t like that stuff, but I haven’t read these books in so long, I honestly don’t mind.

What’s your favorite book on the writing craft or your favorite piece of advice to writers?

My favorite piece of advice to writers is WRITE.  Every day, if possible.  No painter, drummer, ball player or whatever becomes great because they do it every now and then.  They do it relentlessly, probably since they were kids.  You have to write more to get better at it.  Reading a lot helps, too.

Catch Keith online at:

“http://www.keithwalkerbooks.com/

https://www.facebook.com/keith.t.walker?ref=name

https://www.instagram.com/keithwalkerbooks/

https://twitter.com/kwalkerbooks”

Check out Keith’s current and upcoming romance releases in the Contemporary and Urban Romance sections on this site!