New small press provides home for local mystery writers

June 21, 1998
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

A new small press is publishing mysteries in Sacramento and its first trade paperback, "Maid in the Shade," is out now.

This is the first adult mystery novel by ReGeJe Press owner, literary agent and children's book author Jacqueline Turner Banks.

"Maid" received an advance review from Publishers Weekly, which captures its compelling style:

"A children's book author (Jackie Banks, 'Egg Drop Blues,' 1995, third in a series about twin African-American middle-school boys) tries her hand at adult fiction in this mystery debut.

"Ruby Gordon is a college-educated cleaning woman in Petite, Tenn. Ruby, a woman of substance (who also has a distinctive, appealing voice), is proud of her independence and her own home, which she shares with her sister, Emerald.

"Upon learning that her best friend, Jan Channey, is being stalked and harassed, she borrows money from her employer and immediately flies to Oakland to help. Afraid of nothing but bridges, Ruby confronts a local gang leader in his home and ends up cleaning his house in exchange for his protection of Jan's family. She takes on the Channey family's next-door neighbor and develops a plan to stop the stalker."

Ruby herself, a woman "possessed of a quirky good humor delightfully expressed," is the main attraction in this tale, says PW.

Banks is learning as she goes along, but with a review by the important PW, she's well on her way. And as someone who's been observing the increasingly unpredictable publishing world, Banks felt it was her best bet to create the small press and publish the books that she knows will sell. Blockbusters? No. Just the kind of books with a local flavor that people like to read.

"As a literary agent," says Banks, "it's becoming more and more evident that mainstream publishers have abandoned their mid-list. As much as I'd love to be compared to Toni Morrison, unless the comparison is being made about how my gray hair is coming in somewhat like hers, it won't happen. But I write the kind of stuff I love to read and most of it falls into the genre and mid-list categories."

And big publishers aren't interested in moderate sales or regional sellers. But that didn't stop Banks.

"I've never been the type to wait for somebody else to come up with a solution," she said. "And the reason I didn't stop with just publishing my own work is because my agency, Banks Communications, allows me the opportunity to read a lot of manuscripts that are very entertaining but will never be the blockbusters that mainstream publishing is looking for."

Upcoming titles by ReGeJe Press (the name represents the first two initials of her three children), to be published in trade paperback format, are "Polkadots" by Geri Spencer Hunter and "Murder by Prophecy" by Maggie Oliver Anderson. These titles will be available later this summer. Each sells for $13.

ReGeJe Press is specializing in a niche market by choosing mainly but not exclusively fiction of interest to African-Americans.

"If you look at my bookshelves and the bookshelves of my friends, you'll know that this doesn't mean the writer or even the characters have to be black, it leaves my lists wide open," says Banks, one of the founders of the Sacramento chapter of Sisters in Crime.

"The biggest problem with small presses is distribution," she adds. "With the cost of printing, advertising and everything else the small publisher isn't left a lot after distribution, but we can't survive without it. Even with a well-known distributor, don't expect to find many small-press titles in the super stores unless there's a lot of word-of-mouth about it."

But Banks loves the fact that she has total control over her products. For "Maid in the Shade," she used one of her own paintings as cover art.

All in all, Banks has her hands full.

"I'm not accepting any manuscripts right now," she says. Instead, she is interested in selling books.

Copies of "Maid in the Shade" can be obtained through local bookstores or directly from ReGeJe Press at (916) 681-5557.

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