The first movement that I would start would be based upon treating others as you would have them treat you. Now that’s hard to do, and I have to admit that I’m not always successful in achieving that goal, but I believe that if everyone truly treated someone, everyone, strangers and loved ones, the way that they would like to be treated, there would be no war, or violence or hate. Because who wants someone to be violent towards them, or hate them? If we all saw ourselves in everyone else, the world would be transformed.
I had the pleasure to interview Lisa Jones Gentry, the author of FORBIDDEN LOVE. Lisa Jones Gentry is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. As a writer, screenwriter and television executive producer in Hollywood, Lisa has produced more than one hundred hours of television programming and garnered NAACP Image Award and Literary Critics Award nominations for her novel, A Dead Man Speaks.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I had moved to LA to break into the “business” as a producer (not having a real idea of what that actually meant!), but I’d worked at CBS in NY as Broadcast Counsel and after three years of negotiating pilot deals for TV series and reading loads of scripts to make sure that there were no legal issues, I thought I can do this, I bet I can do this. Well of course it’s never as easy as it seems and shortly after I quit my job at CBS and moved to LA, I met a guy who like me was a lawyer but also wanted to get out of practicing law and break into the biz. We had an idea for a screenplay, and he suggested that we write a treatment. I knew that it was really hard to sell a treatment so I said, we should a write a script! I’ve heard about this book called “Making a Good Script Great” and I hear it takes a few months, neither of us has a job, so let’s go for it…So we wrote our first script. And as luck would have it, when we finished it, we got an agent from one of the major agencies to sign us and then got a deal at Paramount. And then it kind of went from there… By then I’d been bitten by the “writing bug” and after four years as a full-time screenwriter and producer, I decided to write a novel, my first book. It was a supernatural murder mystery called “A Dead Man Speaks,” it took 6 months to write and 7 years to get published! But eventually I was nominated for an Image Award and a Literary Critics award and I’ve never stopped writing….
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Probably the most interesting story was when I had taken a hiatus from the “business” and was working as the acting COO of a hotel company owned by an extremely successful Middle Eastern business man. Often meetings with his senior team, where I was usually the only woman, would start in the evening around 9PM and then we’d sometimes be seated on low chairs or cushions on the floor while being served tea and discussing multi-million dollar deals. It was somewhat surrealistic.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think the funniest thing that happened is when my screenwriting partner and I had our first meeting at a studio as the writers, we were really excited and since both of us had come out of practicing law where of course you wear business attire to meetings, we were all “suited up.” But when we walked into the meeting with the studio development exec, he was wearing shorts and flip flops and looked at us like who are these “guys”! I really felt like a fish out of water and what I learned was to know your audience.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
In addition to the excitement of our nationwide book promotional tour for “Forbidden Love,” I’m also finishing up the long awaited sequel to my novel “A Dead Man Speaks,” the story of an uber successful African American investment banker Clive January, who had it all, a beautiful wife, a gorgeous mistress and then is shot in the back and killed by an unknown assailant. In the book his spirit works with Detective Bob, the white detective, who is psychic to solve the crime, but Clive realizes that he can’t move on until he is able to love and forgive his murderer. In the sequel, called “Dead Men Never Lie,” the themes of love and forgiveness are re-visited, but this time set against the early hip hop world in NYC in the nineties. We see Clive return and again his ghost works with Detective Bob to solve this new crime. This sequel is something that I’ve been working on in between other projects and I’m in the home stretch and looking forward to finishing that up and getting it out to my readers who enjoyed “A Dead Man Speaks.”
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
One of the things that I think is the most compelling about “Forbidden Love” is the span of history that it covers, literally from 1905 when Joe Steele’s birth father, Father William Grau was born in Cleveland to when Joe’s birth mother, Sister Sophie Legocki, died in 2007. During that period, pivotal global historical events provide the backdrop for what is such a personal and emotional story. One of the many interesting stories that are shared in the book takes place in Paris, France. This has a special connection for me, because I lived in Paris with my family for four years, so I identified in particular with this vignette. Because of Father Grau’s race (he was African American) no Catholic seminary in the US would accept him, although he’d easily passed all of the entrance exams. Finally, a white priest in North Dakota took pity on him and wrote the Vatican asking if they would accept him to study as a priest. They agreed and he moved to Rome in 1930 to study at the Vatican.
While he was a young seminarian he would occasionally go to Paris. You can imagine the excitement of a young black man from Cleveland Ohio, suddenly in the world’s most beautiful city. On one occasion he stumbled into the famed “Bricktop” which was THE nightclub in Paris in the thirties. It was owned by a black American woman, named “Bricktop” who had flaming red hair and freckles. On this occasion, she noticed him, standing awkwardly in the doorway.Taking a liking to him, she ushered him into this world of jazz and champagne and pre-WWII Paris. He’s immediately drawn to a group of young black men, about his age who also happened to be US expats, some students, others musicians. No one of course knew that he was studying to be a Priest, and he didn’t share it, but the conversation that they had, ended up defining the trajectory of his life and giving it the purpose and definition that he’d been seeking. I won’t tell you more, you’ll have to read the book to find out the rest!
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
The major empowering lesson that I’d like readers to take away from “Forbidden Love,” is to have the courage to love, regardless of society, or family or friends, love is universal. Love cannot be denied regardless of how improbable the flowering of love in certain circumstances may seem. If a black Catholic Priest and a white Polish American nun in the segregated fifties had the courage to love each other fully and completely as they did, surely we all can learn something about the power and majesty of love.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
The people in history who inspire me the most are those individuals who seemingly have everything — -either money, position, education, family or all of these, and yet choose to take the road that would be most difficult that will require them to make tremendous sacrifices that they could otherwise have avoided by just continuing to live their lives. An example would be Nelson Mandela, who as a black lawyer in South Africa, was clearly one of the privileged elite in black society, yet he chose to put his own happiness on hold and instead to fight for a cause that was bigger than him. Similarly Ida B. Wells, who crusaded against lynching at the turn of the century could have lived a comfortable life as an educated African American woman, yet she chose to fight for the rights of those who had been crushed by injustice. Charlotte B. Forten, the daughter of a free and highly successful black business man in Philadelphia in the 1860s chose to go South after the Civil War and teach the newly freed slaves. Because of her father’s position, she could have lived a life of comfort and relative ease, yet she chose to take the path of service to others above self. Those are the qualities that I admire most in historical and contemporary figures.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Octavia Butler’s work inspires me greatly, with her novel “Kindred,” being one of my favorites. I particularly admire the way she is able to deftly weave the supernatural, time travel and science fiction into her work in a way that enables the books to transcend multiple genres. I also draw inspiration from some of Thomas Carter’s books such as the “Ocean of Emperor Park,” where he tells stories that are not often seen in contemporary literature. In terms of the classics, my favorite genre is Russian literature and in particular Dostoyevsky. I loved his sweeping panoramic novels like “Crime and Punishment” that not only give you a feel for that period of history but also are so beautifully and lyrically written. I also love the Bronte sisters with “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre” being two of my favorite books. All of these books allow you to lose yourself in another time and place. I believe that good writing should transport you out of your own space into a place in your mind where you can live the triumphs and tragedies of the characters and for a moment, suspend who you are and parachute into different lives. For me, the essence of good writing is that ability to break the “third wall” of your consciousness and become a part of someone else’s journey. That’s what I aspire to do when I write, whether it’s a screenplay or a novel, I want the reader or the viewer, to become so totally entwined in the experience of my characters that they cry when they cry, they laugh when they laugh, and if they die, the reader experiences a loss so profound it is as if he or she sees their own death, through this character.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I tend to write thematically and most often in my writing the theme centers on love, in “Forbidden Love” the theme is the right to love, in some of my other work, it’s the power of love and forgiveness. So, my hope is that my writing can impact the way people view love, not just as something that “happens” but rather as a force and a power in and of itself that can create miracles and knock down walls of hate and prejudice, transforming our reality.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Just Write. I’ve often been asked at book signings, particularly for my first book since it was fiction, how did you start writing? I tell people that if you want to become an author, particularly fiction, write one page a day for one year. And at the end of that year you’ll have a book with 365 pages. The book’s not going to be perfect and the essence of writing is definitely re-writing, but at the end of that year, you’ll have your first manuscript. So, I tell people, resist the urge to not write a page until it’s “perfect” because it’s never going to be perfect. But you can’t be a writer, if you don’t write. So Just Write.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. J
I would say two things. The first movement that I would start would be based upon treating others as you would have them treat you. Now that’s hard to do, and I have to admit that I’m not always successful in achieving that goal, but I believe that if everyone truly treated someone, everyone, strangers and loved ones, the way that they would like to be treated, there would be no war, or violence or hate. Because who wants someone to be violent towards them, or hate them? If we all saw ourselves in everyone else, the world would be transformed.
The second movement (I know that you only asked for one!) but this one is equally important to me, is a movement that would ensure a quality education for everyone where the students are inspired to rise to whatever heights they choose, where there is equal access to the latest in technology and books and art and music and sports.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Have Faith: For some of the same reasons as above. There has to be a belief in something bigger than yourself to transcend the often randomness and seeming capriciousness of life.
2. Enjoy the Journey: Often I missed the journey because I was so focused on the end goal, and you miss a lot along the way.
3. Take Time to Breathe: Nothing is ever as it seems, sometimes you just need to breathe to get a better perspective.
4. Happiness doesn’t always come from checking the right boxes: You have to learn to see beyond the boxes and understand that just because A=B, and B=C, doesn’t mean that A always equals C, trust yourself.
5. Believe in Yourself: Because especially in the entertainment business it can be such an emotional roller coaster with high highs and very low lows, that you have to keep your
own belief in self unshakable.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I think that one of the people that I’d love to have a private breakfast or lunch with is LeBron James. I admire him because he has been able to extend his fame on the court to television and film and build a real powerhouse business in entertainment that not only allows him to control his own brand and to monetize it, but also to be a mover and shaker and create stories and images that will impact the world and the way we see ourselves. To me that is the essence of a power broker, someone who can leap frog their fame into other industries and thus have a broad global impact. I’d love to have a breakfast or lunch with LeBron to get an idea of the direction that he’s going with his media business and where he sees it in the future.
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