East Orange, NJ
2. Tell us your latest news?
Well, I’m planning a fundraiser for our non-profit organization, People Helping People, Inc., November 10th, 2012, God willing, at Rutgers University. We are celebrating the arts and awarding George Clinton and Master Kevin Thompson as well as other well deserved people with both humanitarian and Lifetime Achievement Awards.
3. When and why did you begin writing?
I was around seven years old. I don’t think I had a choice in the matter. I could fool myself and say, because I always received A’s in English or on essays, I went for what I was good at. But my family, professors, children and my students would argue that point. I have a passion for writing and reading good literature. I love to write articles, commentary, fiction and so on. It’s just a part of my make up. I often tease my students and friends by saying, “I don’t bleed blood—I bleed words.”
4. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I guess, like a carpenter, when I began to buy the tools I needed. Also, when I started searching for little pieces of paper and pens to jot down story ideas that came to me. I think when the teachers began complimenting me in school and encouraging me, it began to be fuel for the engine.
5. What inspired you to write your first book?
In 2002 I was struck with lupus. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me so, thinking I was dying, I began to reflect on my dreams. I was fine with my life, working in Human Resources for over 15yrs; made nice money working and freelancing as a consultant, but, none, NONE of those were a part of my dream. My dream was to be a successful writer like Danielle Steel and to travel the world doing speaking engagements for the youth, women, etc. and to sell screenplays and become a professor, eventually. I hadn’t achieved any of this and it was haunting me more than the threat of me dying from lupus. So, I decided I was going to complete a book, instead of my usual start a book and leave off a chapter or two away from completion. So, in essence, I guess lupus and the thought of dying, death—that inspired me to finish my first novel.
6. Do you have a specific writing style?
I can’t really say that I do. However the story idea comes to me is how I take off writing the story. For example, if a good plot idea comes to mind, I jot it down and begin discussing the characters that would carry such a plot out. If a character trait hits me, like a quiet, boring, nerdy 30something year old corporate businessman, who’s a closet case rapist or serial killer comes to mind, then I’ll began jotting down who he is, why he is, what motivates him, etc. and then usually a story like this will fall into place—begin writing itself or I’ll approach the other elements of fiction by jotting them down until the stories engine is running steady and the story begins to write itself.
For A Blessing and a Curse, my new novel, I wanted to do a different story than the first. The first novel, One Who Loves You More was about a gold digger in the hood. But, A Blessing and a Curse, I wanted this novel to be about someone in a higher class, but shares the same family issues, and has yet another unique issue, this issue is the main character, Malika, gets visions of the future of which she deems a blessing and a curse. So I began writing this novel considering the character and who she was, what she was and why. Then, to give her husband a voice, I came back to the novel and applied the same who, what, when, where, why and how to his life so that he would also be an intricate part of the novel.
In Red Dollar, my summer short story. This story was written from the plot element and was actually very easy to write, I finished it in one day.
7. How did you come up with the title?
I thought about the ability to see into the future, which led me to other stories I’ve read online where people have this ability as well as. I thought about Cassandra from Greek mythology, where she was given the ability to see into the future, some say by Apollo. But Apollo being in love with Cassandra became angry with her because she didn’t share the same feelings, so, he placed a curse on her where no one would believe her visions when she revealed them. I know in the African American community and southern community, regardless of color, people revere those who see in the future and/or respect their gift of foresight. So, when I thought about Cassandra and the others I’ve read about who get visions, I decided I didn’t want the main character’s visions to be revered or appreciated, but instead, sort of ignored, much like Cassandra, although the other characters will know there’s something to the idea of visions. In the visions becoming a big part of the conflict in the story, they in turn are not seen as a gift or blessing anymore, but instead would be considered quite the contrary, a curse. Using critical and analytical thinking about these things and a few more items helped me to come up with the title, A Blessing and a Curse.
It was ironic, however that before I chose the title, I Googled it and searched on Amazon and Barnes & Noble to see if there was another book with the title and I didn’t find even one. Today there are several books with the title and I’m like, really? Lol. Wow!
8. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. Communication is key, deal with your issues and know that life is always set for some turn or another, no matter how lovely your life may seem. Pray and try to have yourself as ready as possible for those twists and turns, because life can be a strange thing.
9. How much of the book is realistic?
Well, I believe the goings on in the novel are quite real. There are points where the books gets surreal, however. But when people are sick with fever, half dead or…they do see or experience certain, not so real things. An example is when my grandmother said, on the delivery table, when she gave birth to my aunt, she saw herself rise and she was looking down at the entire C-section. That was surreal, but it didn’t happen, as she couldn’t be in both places at the same time. But it was real to her nonetheless. A few things happen in the book that seem surreal, but none of them are that far gone that the readers can’t rationalize with, nor are they scary or creepy.
10. Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I’d have to say, Charles W. Chestnutt’s “The Wife of His Youth” because like most women, I’m a romantic. And in this book, here’s a very light skinned man who was a freed man who fled north to avoid his master selling him when he fell on hard times. His wife who was about 20 or so years older than he convinced him to run. Obeying her and fearful of slavery, he goes. 25 years later, and after slavery & civil war, she goes looking for her man. She searches all through the dirty south for him. He, learned to read and write and made something grand of himself up north. Now he’s revered in this town and was ready to propose to the lightest and prettiest woman in town and she’s expected to say yes where they will thereafter live in bliss. Who should come to town but his first wife, the ex-slave. But, she’s elderly now, older and wrinkled as Chestnutt puts it when he compared her to a prune or raisin, or something. She’s wearing homely clothing and even darker; not as beautiful as the woman he’s about to marry. He’s left with a decision to make. He remembers the love he had for his 1st wife, but he remembers that slave marriages weren’t counted as real and the new woman is waiting on him. But, he does the right thing and introduces her at the party as his wife and he stays married to her; happily ever after.
I LOVE THAT STORY!!!
I’m so in love with it. There’s dedication, integrity, ethics and so much more there in the picture with the main character choosing to continue on with his ex-slave wife. Not to mention, marriage during slavery didn’t count so he could’ve easily walked away or disregarded the marriage. But he did the right thing and the older woman stood there as she knew he would, because she said earlier in the book, once he saw her, he’d never do her wrong because he loved her so. That story slays me everytime. When I think of love and marriage, I think of dedication and integrity such as the main character’s and so I’d have to say this story influences my life regarding love.
12. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
J. California Cooper, Richard Wright and Alice Walker. I love their achievements. I love what they do in their books and how they do it. I love that people of all races and religions gave them a chance, entertained their books and loved what they’ve written.
13. What book are you reading now?
No time for reading, lol. Although, I did read an excerpt of Danielle Steel’s book “Big Girl” as I was curious. I couldn’t believe how captured I was by the excerpt alone. I’ve never read her books, but, it was totally not what I expected from Danielle Steel, if that makes sense.
14. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’m curious about a few author’s and wouldn’t mind reading them to see their writing style should I find the time, one author, Anna Black comes to mind. But, I barely have time to breathe.
15. What are your current projects?
In addition to my current novel, “A Blessing and a Curse” there are two short stories I’m putting out this summer, “Red Dollar” and, “Love at First Plight.” October 2012 my next novel, “Where Do We Go From Here” goes into publication.
16. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Sister Anita Ali, Master Kevin Thompson, many friends and friends of the family. There were a few book clubs that showed me love and support from the minute I published my first book, spreading the love for my first novel and my existence as an author: OOSA, Literary Ladies, Ladies, Ladies of the Round Table,
As The Pages Turn, Shared Thoughts book clubs; and Linda Davis at: DAVIS ELEGANT EVENTS, INC. There are other authors who have shown me love and offered good advice, such as Kimberla Lawson Roby, Nikki Turner, Wahida Clark, Al-Saadiq Banks and many others.
17. Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. As I mentioned initially in the interview, “I don’t bleed blood—I bleed words.” So, my path has been written, it is what it is. I’m a writer. You will see me writing novels, self-help, plays, screenplays, and so on, but you will see me making a living from writing. I’m a sincerely committed writer and a great investment to the right publisher.
18. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, not in, “A Blessing and a Curse,” however, many people love the character Vince, Hooch’s father, the ex-pimp. Not for the pimp, but for the ex-pimp, mature experience and coolness he still personifies, even in his change from bad to good. It’s so important for him to impose his life experience on the young to help them walk down a better path; he does this via his life story and things he’s seen in the streets. So the readers get to read a story within a story and I love doing that in my writing. I learned it from an African professor who taught that this form of writing is a device that many Africans use in their writing, and it’s so across the board among African authors that even those from different countries in the African continent use this in their writing. I love it. It’s a vehicle for me to give even more history, drama and background of my characters. Hooch’s father Vince is perfect for such a device. I wouldn’t change anything I did with him, but he does inspire a book of his own.
19. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Only that my grandmother sat me down to write a story I’d been trying to tell her and I’d made a habit of writing stories every since.
In October, 2012, my next novel, “Where Do We Go From Here” goes into publication. That novel is about a young girl who feels the grass is greener on the other side. She obtains a degree, gets a part-time teaching job and spends most of her check on a one bedroom apartment among the upper-crust, thinking she can only go up from there. But, what she finds on her journey is hardly what she beckoned for. When everything is said and done, Geeda, the main character, learns, not only does more money bring forth more problems, but, a whole different set of problems than people from the inner city are use to.
21. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Well, I get too detailed sometimes. I dunno why but, I seem to feel the readers are going to want to know all these details, and then I have to stop myself and say, “It’s not that deep! They don’t want to know that much,” lol. I use to be far worst. I learned to tone it down when my uncle told me one of my chapters took too long to get to the point or action—I ran to the computer and mowed 27 pages down to 6. I knew then I had to get a grip.
22. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It’s a cross between Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” and J. California’s,“Family.” Both authors in these stories removed me from where I was mentally at the time, mesmerized me and sent me on a mission. I was happy, mad, sad, relieved only to be mad again. They’re stories were very much near the realism genre which is my favorite genre and I’m hoping to bring realism and naturalism back as you will get stories like the two I just mentioned.
23. Do you travel much promoting your book(s)?
I have toned it down to seasonal traveling, with a few events in between, hosted by avid followers. They support me so I have to support them, even when I’m not touring. So, you’ll mainly see me do a pre-promotional tour, mainly radio interviews, both blog and broadcast radio to promote the book going into publication. Then, I do a post tour where I frequent events to do signings.
24. Who designed the covers?
In, “A Blessing and a Curse” I came up with the idea, however, my intern, Ms Graphics design herself, Orianne, created the book cover. I did the book cover for, “Red Dollar” however Orianne made the dollar bleed, lol. I hope it didn’t gross many readers out. I originally was just going to make the dollar have red on it, but then I thought, what if the red dollar bled.
25. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
In A Blessing and a Curse, it was just a little harder than normal because I had to switch a few paragraphs around and chapters. But what plagued my mind was that there was something missing, and I realized it was that some characters needed life. I mean, the characters were there, named, etc., but, that’s all they were. In some stories, it’s ok to have characters be the antagonist where the reader knows only their negative actions that are bothersome to the protagonist. But, in A Blessing and a Curse, Hooch, the antagonist, him not having life left a lot to be desired and it depressed me so much, I sat on the book a little longer until I could figure out who he actually was and why he was so negative. Once I got a grip on who he is and why he is the Grinch he is, other things that happen to men fell into place and it bought a li’l sunshine to the novel.
In Red Dollar, I think the hardest part is not getting over confident that the editing is on point and running to publish because it is a short story. Sometimes we get so excited we’re just ready to dive in.
26. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned to plan better when you’re writing a thriller, lol. I also learned a lot of people get visions of the future, like in A Blessing and a Curse and that many people have superstitions as in the short story, Red Dollar.
27. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes, “Master your craft, this way people will respect you, your work and will want to read what you have to say in your book, whether fiction or non-fiction. We all get excited about telling out stories, but, the more we know, the better we will write and the more our editors will love us.
28. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I write to entertain as well as to deliver a message, anecdote, or a remedy. I want to address the issues we all experience in life through both fiction and non-fiction. It’s not hard living in this world, but seems difficult to cope sometimes; often, the best of us wonder how we make it through. I heard someone say, “The problems of this world are too big to carry on my shoulders, so I don’t worry about the world.” She later said she’d made a mistake in saying that when the military sent her son across the globe to fight in a war. She realized the issues around the world do come back upon us all in some form or fashion. Everything that happens in this world involves everyone in this world. So, at the very least, we can pray for one another, world peace, prosperity, happiness and great health. But, we all have an obligation to contribute something to this world.
When I found out I had lupus in 2002, I made it my goal to contribute awareness and/or answers regarding the life events we face. I put forth this effort through my writing, publishing a communications newspaper—AMISTAD, non-profit organization, screenplays and plays. I merely pray you find I’ve continued this in my books.
I Thank DJ Gatsby Book Club for the interview and I look forward to meeting with you soon.