Best-selling author shares story of her success at ‘Women’s Wednesdays'


Brenda Jackson was enjoying a successful career at State Farm when a friend invited her to a writer’s conference.

That invitation would change the course of Jackson’s life. For it was at the conference that she would meet Nora Roberts and have the opportunity to have a brief writing sample critiqued by the best-selling novelist.

“Nora read what I wrote and said, ‘This is good! Have you ever thought of writing?’” Jackson told an audience of local women at a recent She is Fierce “Women’s Wednesdays” networking event, held at Treasury on the Plaza in St. Augustine. “Those words inspired me so much I went home and told my husband, ‘I need to write.’”

Twenty-one years and 113 novels later, Jackson has established herself as a best-selling romance novelist, with 10 million copies in print. The author of “Possessed by Passion,” “The Rancher Returns” and “Delaney’s Desert Sheik” has also had two of her films adapted for the screen. A third film based on one of her books is currently in production, with Debbie Allen directing.

“If anyone had told me that I would be standing here as the first African American author to make the New York Times, USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly best seller lists,” she said, “I would not have believed them.”

Realizing a dream

A Jacksonville native, Jackson recalled amusing her eighth grade friends with original stories she wrote based on the Gidget and Moondoggie characters that were popular at the time. Like many people, however, Jackson put her love of writing on hold as she married her high school sweetheart, graduated from Jacksonville University, started her career at State Farm and had two children.

Following her encounter with Nora Roberts, Jackson began writing at night when she came home from work. Far from being tired after a day at the office, she said, writing relaxed her while giving her complete control over her character’s lives.

“In the management world, you can only get your people to do so much,” Jackson said. “(In my books) I would create people who listened to me. They did what I wanted them to do. And men who would never, ever, ever fall in love? Oh, they fell in love!”

Drawing upon her lifelong love of happy endings – and following Roberts’ advice to write a family saga that could offer opportunities for a book series – Jackson created the Madaris family and began telling the story of the Texas-based clan.

“I have a thing for cowboys!” Jackson confided to the audience.

After receiving numerous rejections for her first writing efforts, Jackson eventually secured a publishing deal and her writing career took off. Yet unlike many authors, she continued to work her day job.

“After BET made a movie based on one of my books, (co-workers) would say to me, ‘Why are you still here?’” she said. “But I felt there was still something more for me to do in the corporate world.”

Jackson continued to write six books a year while working full-time before securing a book deal with Harlequin – the premier romance publisher.

“God has a way of letting you know what your calling is,” she said, adding that she finally retired from State Farm after 37 years with the company.

Now, as she writes her 114th novel, Jackson credits much of her success to the strong partnership she enjoyed with her husband of 47 years, who died two years ago. But for would-be writers who may not have that type of supportive relationship?

“You have to propel yourself to do the thing you want to do,” said Jackson, who now counts among her most prized honors the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. “My question to all of you is, You got it. Now that you know you got it, what are you going to do with it?”