Although Jayne Allen has been writing all of her life, it wasn’t until 2016 when she adopted a pseudonym that she finally felt comfortable publishing her debut novel, Black Girls Must Die Exhausted. Now, Jaunique Sealey (the woman behind Jayne Allen) serves as Vice President of Strategy & Community for Zibby Books and her novel is Target’s October Book Club pick. Jaunique and Zibby talk about the importance of creating complex characters, why they both like drafting individual scenes first and stitching them together after, and how Jaunique found time in her busy career to write such a beautiful and necessary story.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jayne. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jayne Allen: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: This is so exciting. Your book was amazing. You have such a backstory. I inhaled the whole thing. It’s called Black Girls Must Die Exhausted. It’s part of three, right?

Jayne: Yeah, it’s a planned trilogy.

Zibby: Tell listeners what this part one is about and how this whole series came to be.

Jayne: This is Tabby Walker’s story. She’s thirty-three years old. She finds out that she has premature ovarian failure. We meet her on her worst day, at her most vulnerable. She thought her life was going according to plan. She had it all figured out, job of her dreams. She’s a local reporter in LA, a coveted position. She has the boyfriend that she thinks she wants to be with, a partner that she wants to have. She just thinks she’s doing it. Then she has this news all of a sudden that just kind of tears everything apart. She has to reconfigure her whole life from there. In the process, she finds out that she’s been living a word. I think so many of us kind of sleepwalk. We think we’ve done our checklist. We’ve got it figured out. We don’t really realize that in the midst of all this, there’s a word we’re living. This is this woman at this young age of thirty-three, her opportunity to figure out, oh, my gosh, the word I’ve been living is exhausted.

That’s not the word that she wants for herself. We go through this story. I’m so excited that it’s a trilogy because I really get to spend time with her and in her life and meeting her friends and family as she tries to reconstruct or redefine that word for herself and really find happiness. There’s a lot of layers in that, in her story, being a professional woman, being a contemporary woman in the contemporary relationship space, also, the layer of race. She’s a Black woman living the experience of Blackness in America. Her grandmother is a white woman who’s her closest relative. She has a complex family dynamic. It’s just an opportunity to examine relationships and this woman’s journey of defining herself in the midst of everyday life challenges. The exciting part of this story was to find the magic and the courage and almost that fantastic hero’s journey in the context of an everyday life.

Zibby: Wow. You wrote all three at once?

Jayne: I didn’t. I let them kind of evolve individually. I’m now currently, as we’re releasing this first book, writing book three. I’ve written the last words of book three already. I know where it winds up. I’m so excited. In this journey, this is where she first sets off on her adventure to redefine her life and sets off in this undefined space. I knew that it would be a trilogy, a three-part journey. It’s great to have that space to let the story just breath and evolve. You get to really get to know her. She’s got really colorful friends and family.

Zibby: I feel like I already know her really well. I’m like, what’s going to happen to everybody in the next couple? You do it kind of slowly and not very obviously. You just scatter in all the facts as we go about her dad and how her — now I never know what to give away.

Jayne: You can give away the first part of it.

Zibby: Okay. How her dad had left her mom, but her dad’s mother was white. Then her mother was Black, but then the dad leaves the Black mother to then have a second family with a white mother. That, of course, makes the daughter feel highly conflicted about everything, and the mother. Oh, my gosh, you have all this stuff. You have cop relationship issues built in and promotion issues and affirmative action-ish type jaunts.

Jayne: Questions that come up.

Zibby: Why is this happening? And infertility. It’s like you fit everything in, and yet it was so paced. It still came off as a fun read, almost, even though it had such deep issues.

Jayne: That’s life, right? I wanted it to feel like you just met the best friend that you never knew you had and to have this vulnerability with a person that you haven’t earned yet. As a reader, that’s what we get. That was what I wanted to give the reader, this friendship and vulnerability with the protagonist, Tabby, that you really haven’t earned, but you get it. Then you get to have the experiences of the lessons that she learns and this voyeuristic, bird’s eye view as her life has all these sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes “what just happened?” moments. You get to learn along with Tabby. I wanted to write that because that was what I wanted to read. That would be a book that I would finish. That was what I wanted to give readers.

Zibby: That’s all you can do as an author. There’s no other way to do it. You have to amuse yourself or make yourself laugh. It’s possible nobody ever reads what you write. If you’re not amusing yourself, forget it.

Jayne: Oh, my gosh, when I was writing, I could not wait to finish. Sometimes I would read back what I wrote in a day. There were scenes I couldn’t wait to write. There’s a scene where Tabby, who’s Black, and her grandmother, who’s white, talk to each other about, what does it feel like to be the ?

Zibby: Yes, I wanted to bring that up. I’m glad you mentioned that.

Jayne: That was the hardest scene. I couldn’t wait to write that scene. I knew the characters. I knew their voice. To put them in that moment and to see what they were going to say, I’ve never seen that in life, so I just wanted to see what that was going to be. I couldn’t wait to read it. I couldn’t wait to write it just so I could read it. That’s what writing it felt like for me. It was challenging, but it was fun.

Zibby: The heartbreaking part, really, about that scene was when the grandmother is crying because Tabby asks her, how would you feel if you had gone through life Black? She was like, first of all, I probably wouldn’t even still be here. Second of all, no, I don’t think I would choose that for myself.

Jayne: She says it to her granddaughter.

Zibby: That’s a lot. That’s heavy.

Jayne: It was a deep scene to write and to really try to put myself in those characters. Even thinking about it as an author, you can’t answer that for everybody. It had to just be really, really true for those characters. It’s such a deep question. We don’t have a lot of reference points for it in our everyday lives. It was such a beautiful space to watch them interact from. I love both of them so much even though they don’t exist.

Zibby: Me too. I’m glad you even used the word scene because that’s how it came across. It was a very visual book. Here I am in the car with her. Here I am at work as she’s just getting in there and looking a little frazzled. Here I am at the hair salon with her friend. Everything had such a sense of place. You could just see it, which I love because that’s the key to immersion. It’s putting yourself in her shoes, literally.

Jayne: Thank you. I tried to do that. I do think in terms of scenes. I write in terms of scenes. I have an outline. Then I think about the scenes that this person’s going to go through that make up the story. I just think that way. I’m glad it came through.

Zibby: I just wrote this memoir. It’s coming out next July. Literally, with my editor at the beginning, I was like, “I have to do this in scenes. That’s the only way I can think about it.” It’s crazy, right?

Jayne: Yeah, you understand.

Zibby: Then literally yesterday, this friend of my husband’s was asking me, he’s like, “Wow, a whole book, doesn’t that seem overwhelming?” I’m like, “Well, you have to break it down. What if you had a hundred scenes? What if you had sixty scenes? You could write a scene, and then you just keep doing that.”

Jayne: That’s exactly what I do. Then I sew it together like a quilt.

Zibby: The good thing is, too, is that sometimes a lot of books, even the more literary, they play with time so much, so it’s a scene. You don’t even have to stitch. You just throw them like little frisbees and see where they land.

Jayne: Exactly. That’s the fun part.

Zibby: It’s so funny. I couldn’t tell if I was rooting for Tabby and Marc. I just couldn’t tell. I’m like, do I want them to end up together? Do I not want them? Did you have a view on this?

Jayne: Yes and no. I really just wanted to be authentic. I think we don’t often see these complex male characters who also are struggling with who they are and how they want to show up in a relationship or being challenged with how they are showing up and having that unpacked for the reader. I think a lot of times, we just get this leading male who’s supposed to be this romantic interest, but it’s so complicated. In life, it’s so complicated. It was really fun. I didn’t know where it was going to go. For that relationship, I just wanted to be authentic. I knew readers were going to have an opinion one way or another. I’m rooting for Marc just as a human being. Be a better man.

Zibby: Yes, especially when you showed us his backstory and why he’s having commitment issues. Then you empathize. You’re like, okay, well, but still.

Jayne: Yeah, but still.

Zibby: Now that I know there are two more books, I’m like, maybe he reappears. You never know.

Jayne: Look, there’s always hope.

Zibby: You’re controlling the entire narrative. We’re hoping for this guy.

Jayne: I love character development. That’s my favorite thing. I really try to stitch in the texture of reality. I try to give them autonomy even though I’m, I guess, the puppeteer, but I don’t want to feel like the puppeteer. I want my characters to be so strongly developed that they can literally dictate who they are in a scene or in a narrative. I’m setting the scene. I’m putting them into positions in the story, but I do feel like my characters are setting their own direction. It’s their words. It’s their persona. For Marc, I don’t know where he’s going to go. I want him to be a better man. We’re going to see. We’ll see where he goes.

Zibby: I feel like one of the themes was infidelity and whether or not you can stay committed. From the friends, from the family, it kept popping up. I was like, are you playing with this? Are you working through, how do we feel about it? What causes this? What are the impacts and all of that? I just felt like that was another pervasive…

Jayne: That’s interesting. I feel like as a writer, your characters can’t learn lessons that you as a writer haven’t already learned. You can put them on a journey. Then maybe you guys learn together. You watch this character go into this space. I think where we are right now in society, even, we’re reconfiguring and examining everything. Relationships, they’re not as defined. They’re not as absolute as they used to be. Maybe that is a theme. I tried to make it a novel about contemporary times and the issues that women — in particular, Tabby’s the vehicle for this — face, questions we do have to answer, especially as we look for fulfillment. That’s a human compulsion. We want to have fulfilment. What does that look like? That was also why I wanted to have her grandmother and then Miss Gretchen, that older generational perspective. I think it’s important. We don’t see it a lot in novels about younger women. I wanted to add that layer because I do think as we try to figure out fulfilment, life is finite. What’s going to matter? That fact that it’s finite makes the things in it matter.

Zibby: You’re preaching to the choir. This is amazing. Yes. When you get that sense in fiction, everything becomes crystalized. Everything is sharpened. It’s like you’re taking it off portrait mode or something and going right into the —

Jayne: — Yeah, it matters.

Zibby: Wait, so we were talking earlier, first of all, that Jayne is not your real name. I don’t even know who you are. No, I’m kidding. I know you have a different name. What is it?

Jayne: Jaunique.

Zibby: Jaunique. Why do you use a pen name?

Jayne: This was my first fiction foray. I was petrified, to be honest. I just was petrified in all respects. I was petrified in moving forward with a novel. I’d never written fiction before. I was petrified calling it Black Girls Must Die Exhausted. I was like, oh, my god, it’s so provocative, but I felt like it needed to be done. The only way I could do it — at the time, I was working in a very demanding position.

Zibby: We’re going to go back to your career here because I still don’t understand how this even came up.

Jayne: I just didn’t want to let fear govern what I was going to do. When I first came to LA, I took a few acting classes. I took improv. I took an acting class. I was working as a lawyer. I wanted to get more connected to myself, and so I did this. In one of the classes, the instructor told me — Richard Lawson is his name — “Sometimes you have to change your name.” A lot of times, actors will have screen names and whatnot. That gives them the courage to go forth and take these roles and be somebody that they have to to get it done. I just had that in the back of my mind. When I was afraid about doing Black Girls Must Die Exhausted, I just remembered that sometimes you have to change your name, and so I did. I gave myself a name that was close to mine. People call me J. Jayne is a name that, it feels me. Allen is my middle name. It’s my grandmother’s first name. That’s where I got that concept from. Jayne Allen is a version of me. It allowed me to move forward in spite of being afraid.

Zibby: I love it. We were talking about your background. You went to Duke and Harvard Law School. You started in the music industry. Next thing you know, you’re working with Lady Gaga and Prince and Stevie Wonder. Ridiculous. Then you ended up at Universal Music Group. Where did the writing piece come in?

Jayne: You know what? I’ve always written. You don’t know what’s your calling or your passion because we’re not conditioned to pay attention to ourselves. I know from even being a kid, in my spare moments, I would write. When I was in law school and I was bored in class, I would write song lyrics. I’d be writing. I always write. If I have something I need to figure out, I’ll write a list. I’ve always been writing. Even when I was working in the music industry, which felt like my dream career, in meetings, I would write. In my office, I would write.

Zibby: Remind me never to be in a meeting with you. You will be writing a short story on the side. Now I know. Be forewarned, everybody.

Jayne: If you see me writing, I’m probably writing.

Zibby: I’m not taking notes.

Jayne: I’m not taking notes. I know, I shouldn’t tell people, but yes. At some point, I started paying attention. I didn’t believe I could do it. It hadn’t been presented to me in that way. I hadn’t been focused on it. It just wouldn’t go away in spite of all this. I thought I was living my dream, and I did. I lived several dreams. This wouldn’t go away. Finally, I was like, okay, I’m going to do it. For Black Girls, what really made it happen was that I saw a need. I wanted to make a change. I wanted to do something meaningful. It was the best gift I could offer of myself. I always thought that people put the best part of themselves in books. That’s how I always viewed it. That was the best gift I could give.

Zibby: Were you still working at Universal Music Group?

Jayne: No, I had moved on to — I was working in a startup. It was very demanding. It was 150,000 miles a year of travel and eighty-hour weeks and all kinds of stuff. I started thinking, gosh, I don’t have time to read. I was like, if I’m going to write a book, I want it to be something that I would read even in spite of this feeling of not having time. It has to be meaningful. It has to be entertaining in a way that is really going to make you invest and enjoy, but also not like you lost hours at the end of it, that you gained something. That’s why I say I want it to stick to your bones. You gain a lesson out of it that gives you a better way of understanding the life that we’re all living. That’s what I was hoping for. With my work, that’s what I’m going to keep doing, trying to answer tough questions and explore the society and life that we’re living.

Zibby: Are you still at the startup?

Jayne: No.

Zibby: You left. So you do this full time?

Jayne: Yes, I do this full time.

Zibby: Awesome. When you wrote it, did you squeeze it in around everything else, like in the mornings and late at night and all that? Weekends?

Jayne: I wrote at three o’clock in the morning. It would wake me up. I’d be so excited to write a scene. I couldn’t wait to see what it was going to look like at the end. It would be hard for me to sleep past three AM. I’d write after work maybe starting at nine or ten o’clock until, literally, I’d fall asleep with my computer. My eyes would close. Then I would sleep just long enough that my eyes didn’t hurt. I would wake up at three. I couldn’t wait to get up.

Zibby: So you got like four hours of sleep?

Jayne: During that time, I did. I just kept a schedule. I try to write, I look at it as one to two scenes a day, sometimes three if I was off schedule. One to two scenes a day and just plotting along consistently, I got my drafting done. I didn’t even know I could do it, but I did it. It was just exhilarating. I had an outline, so the outline helped pull me through. I knew what I was writing toward. I knew what it was going to be, more or less. It kept me engaged.

Zibby: Did you show anybody? You didn’t have a deal at first, right? You have to write it.

Jayne: No, I didn’t have a deal until — I had to self-publish at the beginning.

Zibby: You know, I was going to say that, but I was like, I must have remembered that wrong. It said in one except somewhere that originally, it was self-published, but I was like, that can’t be because it’s coming out.

Jayne: It’s a long story. I originally finished the manuscript.

Zibby: When is this now?

Jayne: This is 2018. I came up with the idea in 2016 amidst a very vitriolic environment. As a woman and as a Black woman, in layers. There’s a lot to carry and experience. I wanted to write a story that was going to examine the layers of experience and celebrate that we still have joy in spite of all of this. I wrote it. I gave the manuscript to my friends and family, my close friend, my friends from law school, my dad who definitely is not trying to finish a book. He’s really, really busy and wouldn’t necessarily read women’s contemporary fiction, but it was his feedback that made me — he’s like, “This is really good.” He doesn’t mince words.

Zibby: He’s the doctor?

Jayne: Yes. He made realize, okay, maybe I should try to approach agents and see what’s going to happen. When I first did that, the feedback I got overwhelmingly was they felt like Tabby Walker wasn’t going to be relatable and wasn’t relatable. I was like, oh, my gosh, what do you mean? Of course, she’s — I didn’t want that to be the last word. I thought the only way that this wouldn’t be the last word is if I just put it out and give it to readers because I knew readers were ready for this, and readers of all backgrounds. I knew it. I just believed it. I think of it as doing a trust fall into crowd surfing into what wound up being basically Laker stadium. In the self-published version, it sold almost twenty thousand copies on its own.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. Good for you. That’s awesome.

Jayne: While I was doing it part time. It was such a validation knowing that, yes, the market’s ready for this. Readers are ready for this. It was that trust fall into hands holding up this project and pushing it forward. Eventually, it came to HarperCollins. They were like, “Yes, we believe in this.” The Harper Perennial team, they’ve been amazing. “We want to amplify this. We want to get it into the hands of everybody who should read this.” That’s been this incredible journey.

Zibby: It gives me chills. That gives me goosebumps. That’s so exciting.

Jayne: It’s been such an incredible journey. The beautiful part is that it’s been — readers, we’re doing something different together. It’s a community effort. We’re making a change. This is very different. It doesn’t usually happen that a book like this or even a book that’s been previously published is now getting the amplification on a large, traditional platform. I’m just really excited about that part of the story even beyond the book.

Zibby: Wow, that is so cool. This whole thing is just the coolest. I’m so excited. Then talk a little bit about all of your involvement helping other authors and with all the stuff you’re giving back, even how to write review — that is so smart — on your website. Not just, “Would you please write a review?” but “Here’s how you do it. Go off and do it now.” All of your involvement, tell me about that piece.

Jayne: I write with the reader in mind. I have a marketing background. What that means to me is just being an empath, just thinking about other people first. I think, even as a writer, what is the reader experience going to be? I think, okay, if I’m going to ask somebody to write a review, why would a person not write a review? Maybe they’re just intimidated or they don’t know how. I’ve never written a review before. But I really need you to do it, so let me help you do it. It helps you, and it helps me. For change, I want there to be diversity in publishing, more diversity. I think to myself, what’s the problem? Why are there not as many writers? I’ve referenced my own experience. I can understand. It’s a chilling kind of experience. If you don’t have the wherewithal — thankfully, I knew how to do marketing enough to get my book out and have it find its own audience to make its way to where it is now, but a lot of people don’t have that. I realized, if I really want change, I have to participate more. I can’t just write books and sit back and be like, okay. I have to really do the work. I teach people marketing. I teach other authors marketing. I teach writing as much as I can. I’m trying to help build out the base of people telling their stories so that now there’s more stories for us to pick from as readers. I just think that’s my job as a citizen in this literary space, to help amplify voices of other people who wouldn’t necessarily rise above the fray and encourage others to tell their story and let them know, there’s an avenue for you. It’s worth it. That’s just part of it to me. That’s what I want to see happen.

Zibby: Wow, we have so much to discuss. We’re going to have to take this offline. This is very exciting. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors aside from the perseverance that you were alluding to with finding the right avenue and everything?

Jayne: I would say, number one, take your ideas seriously. It’s not some happenstance that it happened to you. It’s for you. If somebody had told me that and I really believed them, I think I would’ve started writing earlier. I had so many ideas. I just thought, oh, that’s wasting time. It’s daydreaming. It’s not real, but it is. Those ideas are real. It’s up to you to make them real. They have a journey of their own. Trust those ideas. Follow through on them. The other thing I would say is get somebody to read your work who loves it. That encouragement will keep you going.

Zibby: Interesting. Also, tell everybody how you got the title.

Jayne: In the time I got the idea for the book, I had to think about, what was the truth in 2016? Y’all remember that. We thought it couldn’t get worse, then 2020 happened. 2016, I was thinking, how do I really feel? I had to ask myself, what was the truth and reality that I was feeling? The word that just kept coming up was exhausted. What I wanted to do was take that word on a journey and start it as an acknowledgment and then celebration and then a call to inspiration, so really change the meaning of the word. I feel like in the book, hopefully, that word and the phrase “Black girls must die exhausted” is an examination of life. It changes. The meaning changes as you go through the book. It ends on a very, hopefully, inspirational note.

Zibby: Wow, it’s so exciting. Last question, what are some books you like to read when you do find the time?

Jayne: I love contemporary fiction, but I’ve been reading a lot of other books from other authors now. That’s part of the author job that I’m learning. I’m such a newbie to this. I’ve read some really cool things. I read, it’s a book called What Passes as Love. It’s by Trisha R. Thomas. It’s a historical fiction novel about a woman who was born a slave, but she winds up passing as a white woman in her life. The journey of her life, it totally changes. She’s got this dual perspective that’s amazing. There’s a person that was born with her, a man who was born with her, Bo. When she was born a slave, they were childhood friends. He winds up following her in her journey. They reconnect later in life, but now she’s a white woman and he’s still a slave. It’s really good. I don’t normally read historical fiction, but I was like —

Zibby: — Whoa, that sounds like a movie. It should be a movie.

Jayne: Oh, yeah, I’m sure it will be. That’s coming out, I think, in November. I am reading The Soulmate Equation by Christina Lauren. That’s my contemporary fiction book. I just read Seven Days in June.

Zibby: Oh, yeah, Tia Williams.

Jayne: Oh, my god, I love that book. I love complex romances. That’s a whole nother story of why in my personal life. I love stories of complex romance. That was excellent.

Zibby: I loved her. She was on the podcast too. I saw that she recommended your book for Reese and everything. You were on Instagram.

Jayne: I was so excited. She’s been amazing. We met in book-land. She’s awesome. I love her work, so I’m like, this is great.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Congratulations. Can’t wait for parts two and three. Is this going to be a movie? Have you had it optioned yet?

Jayne: I’m praying. I do want that. There have been some conversations, but nothing yet.

Zibby: I have a good feeling about it.

Jayne: You do?

Zibby: Yeah.

Jayne: Good. Me too. Thank you.

Zibby: Thanks so much for coming on.

Jayne: Thanks for having me.

Zibby: So exciting. Okay, now we can talk about all the other stuff.



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