LaShonda DeVaughn, Urban Warrior and Underdog Success Story
by Robin L. Martinez
From its earliest beginnings, the United States has rallied around and idolized those who found a way to overcome less than ideal circumstances. Our history is rife with stories of individuals who used ingenuity, pure grit, and not a little chutzpah to make something out of nothing, to grab the American Dream and make it reality.
Mother, writer, entrepreneur, warrior, LaShonda DeVaughn has achieved the pinnacle of success and self-actualization even though her start in life gave her little with which to work. Her personal and professional triumphs stand as testimony to her tenacity and power of spirit. “No matter where you come from, your family and your loyalty will be tested. You either survive or you fold,” she says, encapsulating the quintessential trait of those who can spin straw into gold.
A veteran of Boston’s troubled streets, DeVaughn watched as her mother, a hard-working single parent, sacrificed meals so that her children could eat. From this introduction to poverty she learned the lessons of frugality and household management that would prove essential to her later when she began her own business. Living in the decaying neighborhood of Dorchester, DeVaughn also stood as an unwilling witness to street and gang violence. Both her teenage sweetheart and her beloved younger brother lost their lives to the streets at tragically young ages. These early heartbreaks would leave indelible impressions on DeVaughn and her writing.
Similar living conditions and hardships have consumed millions of people, suffocating them with despair and killing whatever gifts they possessed. But in a high school creative writing class, DeVaughn found a way to fight her own desolation and give voice to the anguish and ingenuity of the urban jungle in which she was raised.
“…my teacher used to always display my stories to the class as an example of how to be descriptive as opposed to just telling your story.” DeVaughn used her knack for description to pen some of the most moving and honest urban tales in print. Her first full-length novel, A Hood Chick’s Story mined DeVaughn’s own conflicted past for its gritty, no-nonsense tale of Tiara James. Like DeVaughn, Tiara endures personal tragedy and loss. At some point, Tiara, like her creator, has to make the choice to either be defined by tragedy or empowered by it. The novel did so well that it spawned two sequels.
DeVaughn’s more recent works continue to tackle issues that plague young women today: Does love or money make life complete? What do you do when your life falls apart and those you trusted most flee the rubble? She also delves into complicated issues like infidelity, domestic abuse, sexual freedom, and drug addiction. While her work focuses on urban living and Black American issues, DeVaughn works hard to make her work relatable to a variety of people. “All of the characters in my novels are survivors and I can put money on the fact that you know at least one person who is living or has been through some of the situations I write about. All of my stories are deep and it’s for a reason, I purposely try to touch people to the point where they are thinking about my books long after they have read them.”
Keying in to current trends and issues, DeVaughn’s story “The Skeletons in My Closet” and its sequel I’d Rather Be Single Pt. 2 investigates the lifestyle behind such popular shows as Basketball Wives and the many Housewives series. The supposed glamor of dating or marrying a celebrity is exposed in DeVaughn’s characteristic gritty style. “I showed women that all that glitters isn’t gold. Especially when cheating is involved, jealousy and family issues clash,” she said when asked about the inspiration for Tyra and Rosslyn’s story.
Not content to sit only in the writer’s chair, DeVaughn owns her own imprint, LSDV Productions. The publishing company helps launch the careers of other up-and-coming writers such as Tracee Boyd, Mimi Renee, Tysha, Kaie Golson, and India all of whom also focus on urban tales.
Wading through the difficulties of starting a publishing company – forming an LLC, ensuring contracts were in order, and working with attorneys to get all the details in place – DeVaughn has never lost sight of her love of writing and publishing. It is that love that has driven her to perfect her business skills in order to offer her readers and authors the best experience possible. “I do it for my readers, for the underdogs and for everyone who thinks about giving up when the odds are against them. If I could make it, so can you!”
One of DeVaughn’s goals as a writer and publisher is to widen the reach of urban authors and stories. “The toughest criticism [I get] would be from readers who dismiss urban fiction. Often at booksignings [sic] you get avid urban fiction readers or you’ll get readers who vow against reading urban tales. As a writer and a publisher, you’re also a sales person so you have to explain why the consumer should read your story. You’d be surprised how many non-urban fiction readers fall in love with my books, especially A Hood Chick’s Story.”
DeVaughn has not shied away from doing the grunt work involved with marketing her own books and the books of other urban writers. When she first entered the business in 2007, she had to go state to state and personally pitch her books to retailers, convincing them that her work had a place on their shelves. She even did book signings on the street, handing out copies of A Hood Chick’s Story and promotional flyers to anyone who passed by. “Six years later, I’m a National Best Selling Author and I’ve NEVER been signed to a major [publisher]. It was all hustle and grind that got me to where I am today. I thank my past for that.”
As a savvy businesswoman, DeVaughn has steered LSDV Productions into multimedia platforms and formats. Most of LSDV Productions titles are available as eBooks for Kindles or Nooks and a film version of DeVaughn’s popular novel If All Men Cheat, All Women Should Too! is in preproduction.
Another facet of publishing that DeVaughn has been deeply involved in is the cover design of LSDV’s books. Since A Hood Chick’s Story, DeVaughn has been the model for all of her novels’ covers as well as many of the anthologies in which her short stories are featured. “When I first wrote A Hood Chick’s Story I felt like I was the only person that would be able to display the kind of pain that the character in my story had hidden behind her eyes… After that, I kept that movement going. It’s exciting getting into the character of the women in my stories and portraying them on the covers. Plus it’s cheaper than paying models for something that I can do myself!”
From tremendous pain to the heights of success, LaShonda DeVaughn has run the gamut of human experiences in her short life. She has reinvented herself from “hood chick” to heroine. She acts as a touchstone for others who seek to leave behind destructive influences and make positive differences in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. But, most of all, LaShonda DeVaughn offers damn good stories that are fresh, relatable, and entertaining. Look out for more excitement and innovation from this up-and-coming underdog!