Somehow, the milestones in best- selling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s life and career are lining up at the same serendipitous moment. On her 50th birthday, the NAACP Image Award winner will be celebrating the release of her 50th novel, More to Life, which happens to be the much-anticipated sequel to her first book, My Brother’s Keeper. That debut novel—self-published 20 years ago and later picked up by a traditional house—also coincides with the 20th anniversary of Billingsley’s publisher, Dafina Books. Founded by Kensington Publishing in 2000, Dafina is the leading publisher of commercial narratives written by African-American authors.
Billingsley’s success stems from the fact that she understands and relates to her reader. “I love that women of all races love my books,” Billingsley says. “And while my stories can resonate with anyone, it gives me pride to serve as a voice for African-American women.”
Although Billingsley is a renowned journalist, former television news anchor, and motivational speaker, as well as a bestselling author, she would rather not be referred to as exceptional. Billingsley says she feels more like an “ordinary woman who goes that extra step to realize her dreams. That’s what these milestones mean to me. It’s a culmination of my dreams and indicative of what going that extra step can do for you.”
That’s also the powerful message of More to Life, the emotional tale of Aja, a 45-year-old woman with what appears to be an enviable life: a successful and devoted husband, two well-adjusted college-aged kids, and a tight group of girlfriends. But Aja is also haunted by a difficult past and feels trapped by her dependent family. She finds herself stuck in the present, unable to fulfill her aspirations to become an artist—that is, until she decides to take her life down a completely different road. But there are still plenty of unforeseen twists and turns that threaten to throw her off course.
More to Life was inspired by Billingsley’s recent real-life experiences as a struggling divorcée coming out of a 22-year marriage. “There is so much of me in Aja,” Billingsley says. “So often well- meaning loved ones steer us down the ‘safe’ paths, and we allow our creative dreams to be stifled. Unlike Aja, though, I managed to finally do both my dreams of writing and having a family. But I had to work hard not to get lost in their dreams and allow mine to take a backseat.”
Billingsley hopes readers will take away another encouraging message, as well. “It’s never too late to start over,” she says. “Whether you’re changing course because of divorce, death, or retirement, or simply dealing with a midlife crisis, it’s never too late to follow your passion.”
Given her recent career milestones, the timing also seemed right for the Houston-based author to revisit the popular characters introduced in My Brother’s Keeper. “They’ve stayed with me,” Billingsley says. “Not just because they were fan favorites, but because they were the first characters I gave birth to. So, as I reflected on the past 20 years—and where I am in life at this moment—it seemed like the natural choice.” And it wasn’t hard for Billingsley to get back into the mind-set of Aja and family. “I’ve grown in the time since I created them,” she says, “so it was easy to reflect their growth, as well.”
After 50 novels and 20 years in the publishing industry, Billingsley has learned more about herself, her craft, her readers, and the business of writing, while keeping her sense of humor. Instead of saving for the long haul, “I’d sell some books, go buy some shoes,” she says, laughing. “But other than that, I don’t have many regrets in my publishing career. Even my mistakes were never looked at as failures but rather as lessons.”