Cute, Sensitive, Funny: Creating A Happily Ever After, a guest post by India Hill Brown
I love romance because, to qualify as a romance, a story HAS to end in a happily ever after. As a reader, it’s comforting; because no matter how bad or anxiety inducing the story gets, I know that somehow, the author will tie it up in a bow at the end. As a writer, I love playing with the parameters, pushing the edge of a story as far as it can go, making the reader believe that maybe the protagonist won’t get their happily ever after? The structure of it, is freeing in a sense.
I’m a sucker for a good happily ever after. I believe that most people deserve one, and deserve to see people like themselves have one. Which is one of the reasons I wrote Rhythm & Muse, to fill a void that I wasn’t finding at the time. A black, teenage boy finding his.
I have the privilege of loving and being loved by lots of Black males in my life: my husband, my two baby boys, my brother, cousins, lots of uncles, my father, and the list goes on. They are all distinctively different from one another, and I have witnessed these differences in personalities and ways of life so vividly in person but never on the page. At the time I began reading YA romance, I realized that lots of the Black males in these stories were written one way, and their stories were truthful, but also heartbreaking.
I remember specifically one day, a trend was going around for people to describe their ideal YA book boyfriend: the characteristics described were all very similar – cute, sensitive, funny. But I couldn’t help but notice that none of the ideal boys pictured were Black. It made me wonder- maybe they didn’t see Black boys as cute, funny, or sensitive? Maybe they didn’t even personally know any Black boys. I made a mental note of this and put it away for when I started working on the character of Darren Armstrong for Rhythm & Muse.
Rhythm & Muse follows Darren Armstrong, a daydreamer and former singer who is crushing on the popular podcast host of Dillie D in the Place to Be, Dillie Dawson. Justin, Darren’s well-meaning but pushy best-friend, tells Darren he needs to stop daydreaming and just ask Delia out, but Darren refuses. How could the real-life result of that be better than what he’s planned in his head? One day, after an impromptu studio session with Darren, Justin, and Jerrod, one of Darren’s songs reaches Delia’s ears, anonymously. The song, which is also a declaration of love to Dillie, gains popularity. Darren has to decide will he take ownership of the song, while in turn taking ownership of the popularity, his former love for singing, and his feelings for Dillie, or let it all fall to the wayside.
Darren, his father, and his friends, Jerrod and Justin, are all males, all loving, all distinctively different from one another, just like the ones in my life. Some funny, some overprotective, some passionate. I can’t explain why it was so important for me to see these men reflected on these pages. Maybe because, it could show the world that there are Black males out there contrasted to what is portrayed in the media. Maybe because, I know, that in spite of it all, there are Black males having fun with their friends, making music, enjoying hobbies, and falling in love. Maybe because at the time of writing this novel, I’d been pregnant and given birth to two boys that I knew would want to see themselves reflected in Mommy’s books one day.
I, like Darren, remember growing up with a soundtrack of 90s R&B playing in the background. Anything from Boyz II Men to Usher. I remember hearing how well and how hard they would sing with so much passion about the girl of their dreams. I wanted my novel to capture that, to capture the fun, lightheartedness of Black male best friendships ala 90s kids sitcoms, Keenan and Kel and My Brother and Me. To capture that beautiful essence of Black girls being loved out loud.
It started out with a blue Moleskine, a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, in 2018. From there, it became sitting in various studio sessions, trying to get the feel of what it means when you find a melody that sticks. It took learning song structure and sitting down with my musician husband to nail down the correct terminology. It took pushing my characters in ways that I’d want to see them grow. As a writer, you want to keep your characters safe. But that would defeat one of the true purposes of this story.
Because, aside from being a romance novel, Rhythm & Muse is largely a story about family, friends, music, and most importantly, stepping out of your head and out of your comfort zone. Darren is so comfortable in his head, he tries to narrate every possible scenario there and experience life there. Throughout this novel, he realizes that the imperfect moments, the moments that you never could’ve imagined yourself, are sometimes the best ones. He realizes these moments can’t happen inside your head, that you can’t just watch your life happen, or think about it happening, but you have to experience it for yourself. Through the adrenaline, the potential embarrassments, and mistakes, can be something beautiful. That your comfort zone is only comfortable for a little while before it starts to keep you from something even better.
I wanted this book to be something that makes you smile when you finish the last page and reach for on a day where you want to feel happy.
I truly hope that you love Rhythm & Muse. I hope you fall in love with Dillie, Darren, his parents, and his friends in the same way that I did. I hope that this book brings you comfort and laughs, and feels like home, or the home of a best friend.
Meet the author
India Hill Brown is the author of the NAACP Image Award Nominated middle grade novel The Forgotten Girl, and The Girl in the Lake. She graduated from Claflin University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications and a Concentration in Print Journalism. She lives in Elgin, SC, with her husband and two sons. Rhythm & Muse is her first young adult novel. Visit India online at indiahillbrown.com.
About Rhythm and Muse
Cinderella meets Cyrano in this pitch-perfect YA rom-com that is a celebration of Black joy, first crushes, and putting your heart on the line for love.
Darren Johnson lives in his head. There, he can pine for his crush—total dream girl, Delia Dawson—in peace, away from the unsolicited opinions of his talkative family and showboat friends. When Delia announces a theme song contest for her popular podcast, Dillie D in the Place to Be, Darren’s friends—convinced he’ll never make a move—submit one of his secret side projects for consideration.
After the anonymous romantic verse catches Dillie’s ear, she sets out to uncover the mystery singer behind the track. Now Darren must decide: Is he ready to step out of the shadows and take the lead in his own life?
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/30/2023
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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