“Drive Tonight” by Brooklyn James (Jolie Blonde Album)
6 Things You Don’t Know About Me:
As an author/singer-songwriter, you created an original soundtrack for your debut novel, The Boots My Mother Gave Me. [The sequel is Soul Sister, The Boots My Mother Gave Me Book 2] Since the book was published, you’ve used your platform to serve as a guest speaker, focusing on awareness and prevention of domestic violence and suicide. Can you share a reader’s story of how your book impacted their life for the better?
One that stands out in my mind is a young woman who drove three hours to a signing, dogeared copy of Boots in tow, and shared with me her similar experience of growing up in a home with an abusive father. There were hugs and tears—two strangers made instant confidants by tribulation—and even a relieved smile as she said “I never considered that it wasn’t my fault…until I read your book.”
It wasn’t until I wrote a birth memoir—Born in the Bed You Were Made: One Family’s Journey from Cesarean to Home Birth—ten years removed from Boots that I truly began to understand the importance of documenting, writing as a creative means to make sense of one’s life experiences. Boots was a New Year’s resolution, a promise to myself that I would work through the baggage of an abusive childhood. I had no idea the impact my journaling-turned-novel would have on my life, let alone the lives of those who read the book. During my birth journey I became the reader vs the writer. Found purpose, healing, and empowerment in courageous and enlightening birth experiences of others. And the light bulb went off: This is why we share stories.
Fast-forward to a different young woman who drove an hour and a half, her dogeared copy of Born in tow, and shared with me her similar and dissatisfying first birth experience. Like me, she was searching for purpose, healing, and empowerment in preparation for her next conception and birth. It made my month when she later messaged me—complete with birthing pool pic—that she, hubby, and firstborn son welcomed a healthy baby girl, under the care of a competent and compassionate midwife, in the comfort of their own home.Sharing your Young Adult book, Just Shelby, with high schoolers. What are the top five books you’d recommend to adults, who aren’t avid book fans, but want to be?
With so many wonderful books how does one narrow any list down to five? But I’ll take a crack at it. And curse myself later for not including this one or that one!
I immediately want to say Crawdads (Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens) but with a three-year run as a NYT bestseller does it really need to be on yet another list. There is The Four Horsemen by indie author Laura Thalassa; a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series I downloaded based on title alone. The four books with their scorching covers did get redundant and proved short on plot, but they were hands down entertaining and thought-provoking and…oh, the steam—blush. Then there are classics, such as To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, 1984 by George Orwell, and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte that I reread from time to time, comparing what I get out of them now to what I found in them as a high school literature student.
Or I could recommend my latest restoration endeavor, which involves reading the International Harvester Scout Service Manual 1961-1971; it’s thicker than a phone book, for those of us who remember those!
But to properly answer the question for those who are aren’t avid book fans but want to be, I humbly recommend the following:
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – this young adult novel inspired me to try my pen at YA, resulting in Just Shelby, another mix of mediums for me in weaving music throughout a book. E & P is set in the mid-80s, two underdogs pulled together by a Walkman and a mixtape. A story that is as tender as it is tough, as poignant as it is funny, as hopeful as it is heartbreaking.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – known affectionately as ACOTAR by fans, this high fantasy series kicked off my reading love affair with the genre. The books are rather long, but they have everything a reader could want…action, romance, suspense, substantial world-building and plot, and a captivating ensemble cast, guaranteed to keep you reading through the series.
The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph M. Marshall III – a Jocko podcast led me to this incredibly compelling biographical gem, which I am rereading in paperback because there are some books I simply must have in my hands. An historian whose first language is Lakota, Marshall relies on respectful and vivid Native American oral tradition in delivering this impactful “hero story,” where the legend of Crazy Horse and his Lakota community will stick with you all day long.
Bridgerton: The Duke and I by Julia Quinn – I’ve not watched the Netflix series that gave new life to this series of books first introduced in 2000, nor have I read further than Book 1, but, oh, how I relished The Duke and I! An escapist read, sheer entertainment, it was a joy. An unapologetic historical romance in the vein of a modern-day Jane Austen, not only very well written and moving at intervals, it is laugh-out-loud funny.
The Glass Castle & Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls – couldn’t resist a twofer. A glimpse into our American past, Walls delivers a story of triumph against all odds, as she fearlessly chronicles with gifted storytelling and a heaping helping of grit a moving tale of unconditional love in a dysfunctional family, despite its profound flaws. I discovered and devoured both of these books shortly after writing and releasing Boots and found myself transfixed in familiar and complicated emotions.
Currently working on a fantasy script – will you be writing songs for it too?
Up until my fantastic mother-in-law recommended to me a few fantastic fantasy series in the fall of 2020—pulling me out of my very own covid reading slump—I mostly enjoyed books that read true-to-life in some capacity. Reading to learn, to relate, to take away golden nuggets of wisdom that I could apply in my day-to-day life.
Fantasy was a breath of fresh air, reading simply for pleasure and entertainment, not to mention the oft fantastical arcs and plots found in the genre. Therein lies the appeal and the challenge of trying my pen at fantasy. Character-driven, slower-paced stories drove me, both in reading and writing, where the plot was frankly secondary. The plethora of fantasy I have read over the past few years has really turned me on to plot and its importance in writing an unputdownable book.
While this endeavor into penning fantasy scripts has certainly inspired my songwriting at intervals, I do not see original singles or a soundtrack accompanying the fantasy novels I intend to publish. Perhaps because I hear “fantasy music” as being more ambient—large, rolling instrumental scores—whereas the music I inherently write is pretty simplistic, usually starting with an acoustic guitar and then adding a few bells and whistles in production. But you bring up a good question, Donna. Could it be that I would fair well to consider production akin to plot!
If you could write a book with any author, who would you choose and why?
George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) is well-known for his “slow writing” and his outline-free “gardener” style of writing: “Gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it.” Flexibly and organically the gardener grows his story as he writes. For instance, Martin has said that GOT grew from a spontaneous vision—a beheading and some dire wolf pups found in the snow. I too am a gardener, never write from an outline. Spontaneous visions—a scene here, a character there—rack my writer’s brain until I sit down and at least toy with where those visions could lead. And I am a painfully slow writer. With those three basics in common, perhaps we could work quite naturally together.
A master plotter, Martin picks and pokes at readers’ emotions with fatal consequences. He just dares to “go there” with brutal honesty and unpredictability. It’s not every author who can inspire a reader to throw a book at the wall only to rush across the room to gather it up and smooth out the pages, lest she miss any, because the growth in reading it is greater than the discomfort. It’s like Martin lives through the eyes of each superbly crafted and complex character, their motivations so clear—not only does the reader root for protagonists they can’t help but empathize with antagonists. A roller-coaster ride of love-hate may not be healthy but it sure is entertaining!
And I appreciate how candid Martin is about having good writing days as well as bad writing days: “Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.” Martin endured twenty years, and millions of published words, barely surviving off his work before he reached the NYT bestselling author list. How’s that for perseverance.
“Sometimes the life you end up living is better than the one you pictured yourself in.” [Harley LeBeau, The Boots My Mother Gave Me] Moonlighting occasionally in voice-over and film. After school musical theater workshop for your daughter’s class. How do you balance career and life demands?
Akin to plot in reading, for the longest time love was secondary to me in life. Given my childhood experience in watching my mother’s identity and ambitions crumble under the weight of my father’s destructive words and actions, I was convinced that the surest way to wreck my own character development was to anchor myself to love and home and family. Even in first drafting Boots I assumed Harley would ride off into the sunset in Charlene the Chevelle, blissfully unattached and onto her next adventure. But the “garden” said otherwise, grew a different branch—as Martin says.
Blissfully attached and a thrilled mama of two, I can only look back at my determinedly footloose and fancy-free self and say “look at all you could’ve missed.”
And who was it that said “You can have it all, but not all at once.” An eternal optimist, I loathe to agree. But find that, in regard to this question and in this chapter of my life, perhaps I do. Before love and marriage and children, career was the priority, and it was firing on all cylinders. Now love and marriage and children are the priority…and I reckon you can see where I’m going with this.
I continue to draft novels, moonlight in film and voice-over, and partake in Songwriting Sundays at Wonderland Studios, ATX, where we release and pitch original singles. However, I do none of the three as consistently nor effectively as I did before having a family. Speaking engagements and live music gigs are pretty much nonexistent these days because something did in fact have to give. Yet I have gained in my flourishing motherhood. One example, as Donna mentioned, was initiating, and heading up my daughter’s elementary musical theater workshop. Sure, the practices and preparation took away from writing time. Even so it gave me as much or more pleasure as writing to enter my child’s world outside the home, and the world of her promising classmates, in giving back to the community and the school that enriches their lives.
Thus, I no longer look at career-life as a balance, exactly. But rather as peaks and valleys. There is a time for everything, a season for everything. The previous season of my life was jam-packed with career success. The current season, with a delectable hubby and two scrumptious children, is outstanding in its life success. And one might argue its “career” success because motherhood is indeed a career. A vital, underrated, and underpaid career at that! But it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. And I aim to soak up all it has to offer.
Therefore, I like to think that I am on a bit of an extended writing career hiatus. Although I am still creating, writing daily and releasing occasionally, persevering, waiting for the next peak. Perhaps when my children are a bit older, a bit more independent, when priorities shift once more, and the season is ripe for me to push hard in that writing direction.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given, career or life?
Let your faith be bigger than your fear. Get out of your comfort zone. Try. Fail. Learn. Try again. Grow.
Can you share 12 songs that have influenced your life and career?
“Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash
Is the first song I ever remember hearing at four years of age. And how could I forget it with that quintessential boom-chicka-boom rhythm made famous by the Man in Black. This song, and many others by Johnny, written with just “three chords and the truth” is confirmation that simplicity is extraordinary. Yet not quite so “simple” to achieve. In life and career, the times I have successfully cut out the clutter, stayed out of my own way, refrained from overthinking—that’s when the magic moments happen.
“No Surrender” by Bruce Springsteen
Was my favorite song off the Born in the U.S.A. album. My eldest sister tacked the poster from the album cover onto our bedroom wall, the one with The Boss in a white t-shirt and tattered blue jeans with the bill of the red baseball cap tucked in his back pocket. A slice of Americana, the entire album was gold, but “No Surrender” raised the hairs all up along my eight-year-old spine. What a way to tackle any situation, life or career—No retreat, baby, no surrender.
“You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” by Meat Loaf
Blew my teenage mind! My sister—are you noticing a pattern here—got her hands on the 1977 debut album, Bat Out of Hell, at a yard sale. From there I got my ears on it and, oh, were they intrigued. I had never heard anything like it. Apparently neither had Clive Davis, and many other record company executives, who rejected the project that would become one of the best-selling albums in history! Nearly fifty years later, Meat Loaf’s music stands the test of time. In retrospect the album was a fantasy, listened to rather than read: “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses.” In life and career, Meat Loaf is an inspiration to follow your instinct/vision, to dare to be different, to take chances, to believe in yourself—even in the face of rejection.
“If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow
With its great hook, kick-ass vocals, and cool lyrics is a song I can listen to over and over again, and a song I enjoyed covering at live gigs. On the cusp of adulthood (i.e., made the 800-mile trek to Nashville after high school graduation, got a job and an apartment, survived and paid bills, lol) I couldn’t have known then that Sheryl Crow would be an inspiration to me in her “late-bloomer career,” in her early thirties before she “made it big.” My first novel and album (Boots) wouldn’t come for me until my early thirties. Something that baffles me to this day in the entertainment industry—are we really over the hill at thirty? Like we have nothing of quality to offer thereafter. I didn’t even know who I was or wanted to be until then! The road to success, in career and in life, is long and/or later in blooming for some of us, and that is perfectly okay…and all the sweeter.
“Traveller” by Chris Stapleton
Although not released until I was in my thirties, could’ve been the theme of my twenties. Free from the constraints of a dysfunctional childhood, I took my freedom and ran with it…or chased my tail…moving from city to city (Nashville to Austin to LA, and everywhere in between), meeting lifelong friends, and racking up adventures. I dabbled in music and acting but lacked true focus and commitment. Before any roots could grow, I grew impatient, and “couldn’t tell you, honey, I don’t know, where I’m goin’ but I’ve got to go…oh, I’m a traveller.” Yet, in life and in career, I needed the journey to find myself.
“You Ain’t Woman Enough”
or any trailblazing song by Loretta Lynn
Would eventually influence the independent trek I set out on. I treasure the freedom independence affords and learned the hard way the discipline freedom requires. When one aims for an “indie” career or life, attempting to create one’s own path, one is free of traditional constraints. Yet such freedom comes at the cost of security with no one-plus-one-equals formula. If I was going to have any success, any impact, I was going to have to buckle down, stay put longer than six months, network, pay some dues. It was with repetition and practice, discipline and determination, hard work and perseverance, and a heaping helping of courage that I would find myself prepared as the opportunity for Boots came.
“Can’t Get It Right” by Brooklyn James
A shameless plug here, CGIR was the first single/video release from Boots. The Austin Chronicle, Margaret Moser reviewed, “James’ soundtrack to her novel, The Boots My Mother Gave Me, does more than give a clever feminist twist to the title. Her songs serve as chapters themselves, underlining James’ deft ability as a storyteller and songwriter.” From co-writing the song in LA in 2005, where it gained some traction in VO5s Red Hot Rising Stars Campaign, featured in Cosmopolitan and Elle, and magazines of the like, and a few local commercials, to tying it into the book and leading with it on the debut album in 2010, things were shaping up. Persistence was paying off; I was finally getting it right.
“Home” by Phillip Phillips
Gives me goosebumps every single time, just thinking about the journey. Wrapping up two years of touring with both Boots novel and soundtrack, I had been idle in Austin long enough, of course, and was planning a move back to LA. But the universe had other plans, a life opportunity, should I be courageous enough to take it. So over dinner and when he popped the question, the songwriter in me asked before answering, “When you think of us, see our life play out in your mind, what song do you hear?” Taken by surprise, he thought a moment, quite deliberately, and then answered with a cute rendition, “Hold on to me as we go…know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Taking me by surprise, how could he—the guy who’d rather listen to a podcast than music in our opposites attract scenario—know that was the perfect reply, the only reply in my mind worthy of a “yes.” And when we kissed our way back to the truck, high on the feeling, and turned over the key…what were the chances that Home played on the radio.
“The Mother” by Brandi Carlile
Although released a few years after we welcomed our bebes, says for this mama of two everything that needs to be said about motherhood and career-life balance: “… they can keep their treasure and their ties to the machine, cause I am the mother of Evangeline.” To this day when I get frustrated that I’m not writing/creating fast enough, that there aren’t enough hours in the day for career and motherhood, all I have to do is play this song. Can’t listen to it without tears flooding my eyes and gratitude flooding my heart—a sign that my priorities are exactly where they need to be in this particular season of life.
“Fire Away” by Chris Stapleton
Is so good that “the traveller” deserves two distinct entries on this humble list. Marriage, cohabiting, sharing a life—for all its joy and wonder—ain’t easy! Aside from the poignant video to the song, which lends itself to mental health awareness, I am merely interpreting the lyrics as the struggle that comes with commitment and truly loving another unconditionally: “Take your best shot. Show me what you got. Honey, I’m not afraid.” Once I stopped running from my past, stood in surrender and trust in a present and a future worth fighting for, it became quite apparent that I would do well to pack light and love heavy. Not only at home and in life but in career, there will be tough times. Times when it would be all too easy to throw our hands up in the air. That’s when we double down, recommit ourselves to the crazy beautiful journey, foster the love in it and the love of it, and keep on firing away.
“Sleep on the Floor”
and others in the same vein by The Lumineers
Are my go-to for inspiration when drafting novels. For the life of me I cannot listen while writing; my brain just doesn’t allow it. But I listen prior to writing or even simply for scenes or ideas to pop up here and there. I love minimalism and The Lumineers are masters of it. They get such a big sound out of the basics, perpetual peaks and valleys, each song its own epic tale. And the space, the sheer ether, in their music—light yet dark, cool yet warm, barren yet full—conjures up for me natural images of conflict, which is the defining characteristic of plot.
“He Gives Me Strength” by Lauren Moscato
“The Honor Song” by Lakota Natives
“Sa Ta Na Ma” by Tina Turner et al.
and various spiritual songs of the like fill my soul
When I’m feeling tapped out or lost, in life or career, I turn to these songs to tap into that divine energy. A reminder to take responsibility for the energy I am bringing into my space and into the space of those around me. I am a human being after all, not a human doing. My primary purpose is a state of being, from which all other success blossoms.
This was so much fun, Donna. Thank you kindly for the opportunity! Love and light and all good things to you and the 612 community ♥ @brooklynjamesauthor
Brooklyn James is an author/singer-songwriter who savors any opportunity to blend books with music. Her first novel, The Boots My Mother Gave Me, has an original music soundtrack, making for a unique Audible experience. Out of Boots grew a platform where it was Brooklyn’s honor to serve as a guest speaker with a focus on awareness and prevention of domestic violence and suicide.
Her latest speaking engagements centered around accessibility, rights, and choice in birth, as well as writing workshops on how to put pen to paper composing one’s own birth story with the release of her birth memoir, Born in the Bed You Were Made: One Family’s Journey from Cesarean to Home Birth.
Just Shelby gifted both the challenge and the thrill of this author’s primary exploration into the Young Adult genre. She cherishes feedback from reader reviews, if you should be so inclined.
Moonlighting occasionally in voice-over and film, Brooklyn played a Paramedic in a Weezer video, met Harry Connick Jr. as an extra on the set of When Angels Sing, appeared in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood for all of a nanosecond, and was a stand-in and stunt double for Mira Sorvino on Jerry Bruckheimer’s Trooper pilot for TNT. Although reading, dancing, working out, and a good glass of kombucha get her pretty excited, she finds most thrilling the privilege of being a mother to two illuminating little souls and a wife to the one big soul from whom they get their light.
Brooklyn holds an M.A. in Communication, and a B.S. in both Nursing and Animal Science.