denene milner

*As a writer Denene Millner has reached the pinnacle of success in her profession. As a journalist, she has contributed to numerous magazines that include, Essence (where she is a contributing editor), Ebony, Heart & Soul, Entertainment Weekly, Money and others.

While as an author, she has authored or co-authored an astonishing 19 books that includes Steve Harvey’s phenomenally successful advice book, “Think Like A Lady, Act Like A Man,” (which was turned into a major movie that grossed over 100 million dollars at the box office.)

As if that’s not enough, Millner is also a media entrepreneur whose award-winning website, MyBrownBaby.com, is one of the most popular parenting destinations on the internet. With the release of her novelization of the highly-anticipated film, “Sparkle,” just hitting stores, Millner recently gave the Robertson Treatment exclusive insight about her remarkable career as a wordsmith.

How did you make the transition from journalist to author?
My becoming an author was not planned; I got my first book deal in 1997 based off of a story I penned for the features section at the New York Daily News, where I’d been toiling as a political and entertainment journalist. The story was about a popular relationship book called, “The Rules”; basically, I wrote a piece that said the authors advice would never work for black women because black men would never go for them. A book editor saw that story and called me to ask if I would be interested in writing a black version of “The Rules,” and within a few hours, I had an agent and a book deal. I had no intention of writing books; I just wanted to be the best writer I could be in my job at The News. But God had other plans. I’m so glad He did!

What’s it like working on your own projects, versus collaborating with a celebrity?
I love helping others tell their stories. Co-writing, ghostwriting and providing editorial direction is simply an extension of what I’ve done my entire journalistic career: I report on, interview, follow and study my subject (in this case, the co-author) and then gather my notes and write a story based on the research and my subject’s words. It’s an amazing journey, both for my various co-authors and me; we all learn a lot about each other and ourselves in the process. Of course, when I co-author or ghostwrite a book, I don’t necessarily get credit for the work, which is fine. It is not my job to shine on someone else’s project; it is to help them tell their story and bask in the glow of their thoughts. Still, there’s something special about having control over the storytelling and, when the project is over, to see solely my name on the cover—as the sole author. It means that I can step forward and take a bow for a job well done, confident that every word was written exactly as I wanted them to be, born of my own thoughts and convictions. That’s the most special thing of all.

Talk about the experience of having one of your books turned into a big grossing Hollywood film?
Well, I assume that this question pertains to Act Like a Lady, Think Like A Man, which was turned into a feature film this past Spring and enjoyed huge success. I’m so very proud of the work; it really is quite amazing to know that a hugely successful film is based on words from a book that I helped to write. Similarly, I got chills when I went to the Christmas Day opening of Dreamgirls, and watched the unfolding of that story through the magical performances of Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce and Jamie Foxx; I’d written the novelization for the movie—a story I weaved from the screenplay—and it was overwhelming to know that because of my work on the book, I, too, get to have a place in the history of that film. I just know that when Sparkle makes it to theaters on August 17th, I’ll be front and center with my family, cheering on the star turns of Whitney Houston and Jordin Sparks, and overwhelmed with joy over the fact that as this film goes down in history, so will my contribution to it. It’s very exciting!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered as a writer?
The biggest challenge of being a writer these days is sustaining yourself in an industry that really has changed the model in terms of the skill level required and the payment you get for your work. Nowadays, because of the incredible amount of free information available on the internet, companies no longer want to or can afford to pay writers their worth. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me, with a straight face, to write for them for free or for pennies; it doesn’t matter that I’ve written 20 books, that I’ve been a journalist for nearly two decades, that I enjoy a high-profile freelance career or that I’m a respected blogger with a decent following. In this market, sometimes it feels as if the gatekeepers think I am no more different, no more worthy of respect, than a 20-year-old journalistic newbie who has only a half of an online byline to her credit. Writing is my life; I have a profound respect for journalism and the written word. My craft. And frankly, I wish more people would respect what journalists like me have to offer. Too often, it feels like we are a dying breed.

Tell us about your award-winning blog?
Ah—MyBrownBaby.com. That’s my baby! MyBrownBaby.com is a website on which a handful of contributors and I examine parenting through the African-American experience. I started MyBrownBaby on a whim in September 2008 back when the Barack Obama vs. John McCain presidential election was in full gear and the pregnancy of Sarah Palin’s teen daughter, Bristol, was setting the news cycles on fire. My first post questioned how the pregnancy of lil’ Miss Bristol would have been viewed if she were, oh, say, a black teenager—a conversation that was being had by black moms everywhere, but was virtually ignored in every news story/blog post/TV analysis from here to Wasilla. Our observations are funny, irreverent, intelligent and make readers think about the days news and how it affects the way we parent our babies. Most importantly, MyBrownBaby gives a voice to black parents, who all-too-often are ignored in the national parenting debate. I’m proud to say that MyBrownBaby is one of the rare websites where the opinions of African American parents and parents of black children matter, and are heard, respected and revered for their intelligence, authenticity and strength. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What’s next for you professionally?
I’m certainly looking forward to the release of Sparkle, my latest book, which is out on August 7. It marks my 20th contribution to literature, and I’m so very excited about that. I also am working on my next book, an autobiography of a world-renowned singer who has an incredibly rich story to tell.  Beyond that, I’ll continue to speak directly to black moms on MyBrownBaby.com, and I might even dabble a bit in screenplays. Whatever I find myself doing, I know I’ll be grateful for the work and hopeful that my words will leave an indelible mark on black culture.

 

AUTOMOTIVE SPIN

Excited is the only word to describe how I felt when the Nissan Leaf was delivered to my door. As the world’s first electric car, the Leaf is an inspirational ride before you even get behind its wheel. Like something out of “The Jetsons,” the Leaf is a completely functional, environmentally sound ride. I was looking forward to my test drive.

Wow Factor:    In addition to its obvious environmental benefits, the Leaf offers impressive acceleration and interior space that’s a grade above other vehicles in its class.  However, there is no getting around the fact that you don’t have to buy gas makes this ride the ultimate “wow” vehicle!

Ride:   Powered by a 80 kilo watt electric motor, with a  1-speed direct transmission, the Leaf demonstrated a strong ability to handle a variety of road conditions.  Another big plus is its navigation system, which utilizes the latest technology to get you where you going efficiently.

Comfort:  The Leaf’s interior space is roomy and both front and rear seats are wide and offer adequate back support. I was impressed with its touch-screen controls, which were accessible and easy to read.  The ability to pre-heat or cool the seats (both front and rear), as well as the steering wheel and exterior windows, are all advantages that I predict will take this ride to the very top of the class.

Spin Control:  Although its $35,000 purchase price might be a bit high for a compact ride, when you factor in the Federal income tax credits ($7,500), plus other rebates, (depending on your market), the ride is more than affordable. Also, did I mention that you don’t have to buy gas?! Drivers should expect to see a lot of these on the road very soon.

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