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Popular N.C. writer still sells books at mini-mart

Thomasi McDonald

RALEIGH, N.C. — Tiphani Montgomery’s books, “The Millionaire Mistress” and its sequel “Still A Mistress: The Saga Continues,” can be found on the Internet and on the shelves of most national book chains. “The Millionaire Mistress” made Essence magazine’s best-seller list five times last year, reaching No. 1 in July.

But Montgomery can be found selling her books most weekdays in front of the Oakwood Mini Mart on Tarboro Street just east of downtown. For her, selling her book in front of a busy mini mart is just good business sense.

“The bookstore is the worst place in the world to sell your book,” she said. “The reason I have been successful is because I step out of the box.”

Montgomery, 26, sells her literary works across from the historically black St. Augustine’s College. There’s a busy day care and a strip of stores across the street always doing a brisk business with college students and neighborhood residents.

Still, it’s not the setting that comes to mind when one thinks of an author selling books. It’s a neighborhood where the good is often overshadowed by violence and the drug trade that happens in the crevices of the community.

The petite woman, distinctive in her red-framed glasses and accessories, like the long purple scarf with gold sequins she wore one recent Tuesday, is a fixture in the neighborhood. Hers is a no-nonsense, kid-sister demeanor as she sells her gritty, hip-hop fueled “urban fiction.”

When one saggy-pants guy, more interested in a date than a book, asked if he could buy “Still A Mistress” for three bucks, Montgomery shot back, “For a who?”

Montgomery’s page-turners have attracted passionate fans. Davida Johnson drove from North Raleigh to the Oakwood Mini Mart just before Thanksgiving, making her second attempt to buy Montgomery’s latest.

“Girl,” Johnson said to her, “did they tell you I was up here crying? I had went to Borders and spent all my money and then came here and didn’t have enough money for your new book.”

Then Johnson, with sufficient cash in hand, ran into the store for change.

Montgomery moved to Raleigh in 2002 to attend college, but soon focused instead on what she had been doing since she could remember: writing.

After taking her daughter, Jaedah Kiss, to school, she spends the day reading, checking e-mail and selling her books. She settles down to write each night between 9 and 10 p.m., making herself produce at least 1,000 words before she falls asleep.

Montgomery also works as a grant proposal writer and celebrity ghostwriter, though she declined to name the celebs.

“I don’t want to get sued,” she said.

Montgomery is published by Life Changing Books in Brandywine, Md. Her publicist, Nakea Murray, described her as “a publisher’s dream.”

“Tiphani has an outgoing spirit,” Murray said. “She’s a natural go-getter. If she stamps her name on something she’s going to make sure it gets into everyone’s hands.”

When Mini Mart owner Tisha Bryant first met Montgomery, she didn’t even realize she was a writer. She spotted Montgomery doing nails at a manicurist shop.

Last year, Bryant bought “The Millionaire Mistress” at the CIAA tournament in Charlotte. Soon after it was published, Bryant said Montgomery visited the store and asked about setting up a table to sell her books. Bryant readily agreed.

“I told her I thought it was a great idea,” Bryant said.

While growing up in Rochester, N.Y., Montgomery split time between her mother’s upscale home in the Pittsford section where houses sell for a half-million dollars, and her grandmother’s house on the rundown east side of town, with abandoned houses and crackheads dotting the cityscape.

Montgomery grew to love the eccentric, unpredictable area, and says the neighborhood taught her how to hustle and adapt.

“When I say hustle, I’m not talking about drugs,” she said. “That means selling whatever product you have persistently and relentlessly. That gives you an advantage.”

(The News and Observer of Raleigh, N.C.)