With the loss of literary great Toni Morrison, the world looks to many great authors who can create inspiring works as she has – talented authors like Ardre Orie. She is an author, playwright, ghostwriter, and Black creative who has worked with many high profile clients and told many moving stories. Taji Mag got to speak with her about her career and her inspiration for writing.
“Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.” – Zora Neale Hurston
Dapper Dr Feel ( DDF): When did you write your first book?
Ardre Orie (AO): I wrote my first book at the age of 10 when I was in elementary school. At this age, I was one of those students that talked a lot and my teachers were thinking maybe we need to give her something else to do. My teachers gave me a special assignment, the opportunity to create something, anything from drawing, painting, etc.
DDF: What was your book about?
AO: I decided to write a book about women in my neighborhood and how they were examples of excellence. I thought they would be great role models to the young women in my community.
I completed the book and then got it published. Next, I hosted a book signing, I invited the press/media, and I had a big article in the newspaper. It was pretty amazing because I had no idea that is what I would be doing as a career 30 years later in life.
DDF: What was the next book you wrote? How did you develop it?
AO: The second time I wrote a book, I resigned from my job as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Florida. After that I relocated to Atlanta with my family. I made the decision to take a leap of faith into entrepreneurship.
As I pursued this goal, I had not gone to school for entrepreneurship and it was a learning curve for me. I started a non-profit organization where we taught entrepreneurship and leadership skills to young ladies. We were servicing 500 families of women and children.
“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think.” – Lorraine Hansberry
DDF: When did your non-profit start and what was your next move?
AO: 2009 is when the non-profit started, the economy was not doing well as this was during the recession. I thought to myself, I really need to be selling something, to really make a profit. I had all these women and girls and, with that, I decided to create a cosmetic line. It consisted of lip gloss and lipstick. I knew I had an audience that loved that, so I started to make the products. This placed me in the makeup, beauty, film, and entertainment industry in Atlanta. At this time, Black Hollywood was forming in the area.
DDF: What made you come up with a cosmetic line?
AO: I started to notice that there were a lot of women that were concerned with self-esteem and I wanted to be able to get this message out about these products. The name of my products were called I Love Me, but I didn’t have the budget to advertise the company traditionally, so that had me look at what I had in my hand and what I had available to me, and that was the ability to write. So I decided to write a book that only showcased women and their different stories, but it would also serve as a marketing tool for this cosmetic line to promote it. That is how the book evolved, it was out of a need to market a product, to market a message, to market a brand that I was creating.
DDF: You had a unique way of advertising the book, tell me about that?
AO: While developing the book, I enlisted 21 women and teens. I hosted a casting call. I got the women to come to Atlanta to have a makeover, particpate in a photoshoot, then I interviewed them and I turned around and wrote the book and their stories as if I was them. This was my introduction to ghostwriting. I remember what I did for my book when I was 10. I studied the industry after that book; it was successful. I had a signing at Barnes and Noble and then I started to receive calls for writing.
DDF: When did you start seeing yourself as a ghost writer?
AO: One of the first clients was from VH1. They had a show coming out and they wanted to know if a book could be made in a short amount of time. The book did well and so did the show. I started to receive more calls after that via word of mouth from VH1, MTV, We TV, Centric, etc. This is when I started to understand that I had found my niche as a ghostwriter.
DDF: How do you approach your work as a ghostwriter?
AO: As my career as a ghostwriter progressed along the way, I developed my processes and how I approach situations. The most important thing is that I grew up in a home with a counselor – my mother was a counselor for 35 years. It was through her, I learned how to listen very well. I learned to not only listen to the words but to also the delivery, the emotion attached to those words, and the yearning of their souls.
DDF: How are the working relationships with you and your clients during a project?
AO: The reason why my clients say “That’s what I was trying to say but I didn’t know how to verbalize it!” is because I try to listen deeply within them. Like what motivates them, what drives them, I am trying to understand their pain, trying to understand the things that make them truly happy, how they find true joy, the things that cause them pain along their journey. I try to pay attention to things that just deal with words. I approach all projects like that no matter if my client is a man, woman, child, etc. There is no difference in the process, but each person’s story is different.
DDF: How did you get your second book published?
AO: When I went to publish my second book, I was doing research and I looking up companies to help me get published. The first quote I got was for $10,000 and this included me doing the writing myself. I was like oh my gosh, I just walked away from a career that took me ten years to build. I am married and have children and that amount of money is nothing just sitting around for me to spend for that kind of project. In that moment, I thought that I would never become an author even though I know that I can write, I have a story to tell, and I know that this project can help other people. That was very disheartening to me, it caused me to do a lot of research about the industry. In doing that, I found a second company that cost $6,000, which was still a stretch, but I made the decision to make an investment in myself because if I don’t make an investment in myself, then how can I expect anyone else to do the same?
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.” – Zora Neale Hurston
DDF: What is the origin of your publication company 13th and Joan?
AO: After I started to learn more about the industry, I soon started writing theatrical productions and screenplays because my creative juices were starting to flow. All this content flowing from me and I realized that I could create this content and it wouldn’t cost me a dime to create. It was the same thing in elementary school. It was then that I decided I needed a company that is about the promotion media, especially for stories of color.
We publish everybody, 13th and Joan does not discriminate when it comes to the content we produce, but I just realized there is no home for people of color to tell it with some sauce on it. We believe that our books use correct grammar, sentence structure, and that our projects are in alignment with the industry standard for well-edited books, but we want to be able to add flavor to our books. We provide stories that mainstream told us that there is no market for.
My research is what lead me to understand that there was not a black-owned publishing company. Some of these companies that do exist, have been in existence for over 95 years. If you trace back 95 years, you can clearly explain why we weren’t having our own publishing companies.
“A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.” – Zora Neale Hurston,
DDF: Out of all the books you have written, which is your favorite?
AO: I have so many favorite books that I have written but there is one that touched me. The author was so in love with the finished product that he wanted to add my name as a co-author of the book. The author’s name is Thomas McClary (Rock and Soul: Thomas McClary Founder of The Commodores). Lionel Richie, also one of the founders of the Commodores, was discovered by McClary. Richie was playing an instrument and not singing, McClary is the one who encouraged Richie to sing. They founded this group at Tuskegee University and they were Motown royalty. He also was the first person to integrate schools in Lake County Florida. We had to do over 60 years of research for the book. Through that, I learned a lot about history.
DDF: Why is this book so special?
AO: It is very special to me because we were able to tell his life story, achievements, and all he had to overcome as a Black man during a difficult time. I am proud to give the story to any Black boy or man to show them what they are capable of.