If you don't know, you gon' learn today. Joi-Marie McKenzie is the homie. Her website, TheFabEmpire.com is integral to anybody trying to navigate the goings on of Washington, DC, Baltimore, NYC, Atlanta, etc., especially during Washington, DC's annual Black prom, the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference. Joi-Marie let's you know the low down on it all. On top of being a person in the absolute know, she's added author to her resume! Today marks the release of her debut book, The Engagement Game, a book I've had the pleasure of previewing in advance. And I love it. And I'll even go out on a limb and say that you will too. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to Joi-Marie a bit about her book.
So without further ado, here's a chit-chat with a writing ass chick we love, Joi-Marie McKenzie.
P: So, Joi-Marie McKenzie, as a writing ass chick we love around VSB, we know who you are, and lots of folks (especially in DC) know who you are, but for those that might not have the pleasure of being so acquainted (yet), tells us a bit about yourself.
JMM: Well, I'm from Baltimore — born and raised. I eventually graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park and was introduced and fell in love with D.C. nightlife. That led me to create a blog, The Fab Empire (which is how we met!). And I can't believe that The Fab Empire is almost 10 years old. But anyway, I eventually moved to New York thanks in part to the success of my blog and attaining a degree at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. That led me to my job as an entertainment and lifestyle writer at ABC News. And now I can add author to my resume, which is a dream come true.
P: Well since you mentioned it, let's go on ahead and jump right into it. You authored the book, The Engagement Game, a period memoir of sorts about your dating life and the quest for "the ring." First things first, let me say how much I'm enjoying this book. And I mean that from the heart. You wrote a book that name-checks SO many aspects of my twenties and thirties that I feel like I was in many of those places with you. For that, I thank you. It made it that much more of an interesting, and fun, read for me. So let's start at the beginning; why did you write this book? And for whom did you write this book?
JMM: I honestly didn't know I was writing a book when I started. I've always kept a diary since I was 8 years old and it's been a way for me to vent my frustrations or celebrate my joys. So I was literally watching "Say Yes to the Dress" on another Friday night — frustrated in my five year relationship that seemed to be stalling — and I just got up to write at my desk. What came out was 20 pages. I ended up sending those pages to my mom for feedback, as I often do because she's a writer as well, and she's like,
'You're right, this could be a book.' She sent it to one editor for feedback and that editor ended up wanting to buy it and publish it. So God is super good.
I wrote this book for me, and for women like me who feel like they're living in stuck spaces. So often we can always point to our man, or our family, or our friends, or the dog — and blame them for why we're not getting what we want out of life. This book reminds me, and I hope it reminds women (and men for that matter) that oftentimes if we switch the lens around, we'll find that the only person to remove us from that stuck space is ourselves.
P: That is definitely an "ain't God good" story! So let's talk about the actual book. We've got engagement chicken, which I ALSO googled and found the Glamour article. We've got reflections. We've got Adam and Cody and Chinedu, etc. did you ever worry about including some of those relationships in the book? Even if you did change the names?
JMM: Right! I find that the men who've read this book are fascinated with Engagement Chicken! So that's hilarious. But no, I was very intentional about only telling my story — and not the stories of these men whose lives have intertwined with mine. And I tried really hard not to write it like a typical memoir, where often people paint themselves as the angel and their ex is the villain. Or paint myself as the victim. So basically I told on myself. People who've read it said at times they don't know who to root for, and that excites me because relationships are messy. And it's usually not just one persons fault that it didn't work out.
P: You know, that's a good point. I didn't find myself looking at any of the men with aggressive side-eyes at all. It was the story of young Black folks who typically go through very similar things at this point in their lives. And yes, engagement chicken is GOING to set off all the alarms for every man who comes across it.
In telling your story and sharing your own truth, did you learn anything about yourself or come to any epiphanies about who you are in relationships? Or even more deeply, who you are when not in a relationship?
JMM: I had several epiphanies, but I think the main one for me is that I realized that I didn't love myself as much as I thought I did. Because if I did I wouldn't have changed and shape-shifted so easily for a person that I loved (you know, play The Engagement Game). I changed willingly and gladly; I didn't even fight for myself to exist. And so I learned that despite my faults, I am enough. And I had a problem with seeing myself through the lens of men so I placed my value in if they deemed me worthy, or girlfriend material, or wife material. That's dangerous. So now, even if no one else tells me I'm worthy, I don't really need them to, because I know it in my bones.
And what an amazing question — if I learned more about myself when I'm single. Absolutely! And it goes back to, again, not needing that "person" to tell myself or tell others that I'm good. I am good whether they come or if they go. It's powerful to know that not one person has the ability to shake my core happiness — and it took me 29 years to get that.
P: Alright, let's get a fun question in here. There's a lot of humor in this book, probably intentionally and unintentionally. What was the most fun part about writing it?
JMM: Reliving experiences like my girls trip to Istanbul, Turkey. To actually vacation there was one thing, but then to sort of trace my steps again in the book-writing process was fun. Because that trip was so surreal. We got to enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences like meeting the owner of Suada, which is essentially an island in the middle of the Bosphorus River, and take his private boat to another nightclub he owned, Reina. Like, stuff like that doesn't happen to girls from Baltimore. And it's so funny because someone recently asked me, 'Did that really happen?' I'm like yessss. It's a memoir. It happened. And I'm especially glad I wrote about that experience because Reina has been in the news recently after a gunman opened fire inside. That was really heartbreaking to hear, especially when the owner was so lovely and so hospitable to us.
P: That actually sounds dope. I've always felt like one of the dope parts about being the writer of the crew was that I was documenting the shared history of all my friends. Alright, let's start to wind this up; I can really go on for days. What do you want people to take away from your story?
JMM: A lot of the book plays with the idea of shame and how it will make you hide parts of yourself and shape-shift to get people to like you, and it will tell women to be ashamed because you're still single or because you want to be married and so that means you're desperate. And so I hope this book helps people identify how shame is affecting their own lives, and then free themselves of it. Remember, if you have to change who you are to get it, it's not really yours.
Ultimately I want to remind people, especially women, with this book that they are the authority of their own lives. If they're frustrated, if they feel stuck in their relationships, on their jobs, with their dreams and their goals that they have the power to get exactly what they want. Turn inward, clarify what it is that you want and then have courage to act.
P: You better preach, sister girl! I really like that direction. We all need a reminder about personal agency on occasion. And if it's wrapped into a great story about, well, all the better. Consider how well this book and story are put together, I'm sure people will get at least that much, plus some. I've held you here long enough, so let's wrap this up and let people know where they can pre-order the book, find you, etc. Tell everybody what they need to know so they can go out and get, get, get it! Also, is there anything else you want people to know about you, your book, or, I don't know, about anything? The floor is yours.
JMM: You can buy the memoir wherever books are sold, or go to my website JoiMarie.com. Also, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts — well, only the good ones. (I'm a writer and I'm sensitive about my shhh!)
Yes, one more thing about the book: It also includes some of my celebrity interviews from my time at ABC News. So I take readers behind the scenes on my interviews with Spike Lee, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Hudson and Jill Scott, which is my favorite.
That's it! Thanks so much for this.
P: No problem! Thank you for being a writing ass chick that we love, and thanks for sharing your story with us here at VSB! Good luck with the book. I look forward to hearing and reading all the good things!