My new novel is called "Solemn," and it's about a girl in Mississippi whose homeland of a mobile home park becomes this wonderland of illusions, tragedy and mystery as she grows up. I was interested in how perfectly good children come to do very bad things, as well as exploring young girlhood as I had not done in my two prior novels. For the new book I want to finish soon, the story is entitled "Speaking of Summer." The story follows a woman in New York City as she investigates her twin sister's death, and she discovers a lot about herself and her past in the process.
What is your writing process?
When I wake up in the morning or afternoon, depending on how late I was up working, I turn on my computer. I keep it open all day and type on it during most waking hours in between a normal life of a few tv and game shows I like, cooking, cleaning, shopping, errands and occasional invitations. As with any work-from-home job or entrepreneurial endeavor, it is harder to communicate to others I am actually really busy even though I appear to have every day off. So if I am feeling a lot of pressure or interruptions, I will either go away or disconnect my phone for a few days or weeks to get back on track.
When did you first start writing?
I was a kid when I first started making story books and kept on as I grew up, in various forms on typewriters back then. I first started creative writing seriously, and as I would have trained for any career, when I was an English major at University of Chicago. I took playwriting, screenwriting, and any book subjects I could. I helped bring in black authors. I edited the black student newspaper and wrote for other papers. I began showing my literature professors stories I cringe at now. I worked after graduation like I was supposed to, and had a lot going for myself. However, I sensed it was something else I was supposed to be doing. I moved to New York City when I was 24 to pursue my M.F.A. in Creative Writing at The New School.
Who are your favorite authors?
I will limit it to the four I list on Goodreads: Edgar Allan Poe, Ann Rule, Toni Morrison and Sappire.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
I have too many favorite books, but I typically most remember work that really goes there, shows me a writer was not afraid. The ones which immediately come to mind for me in that category are: "Sula" by Toni Morrison, "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion, "PUSH" by Sapphire and "Drown" by Junot Diaz.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The joy of it comes and goes. It's like a new love or new baby, all that excitement when it's all perfect. In the beginning, a story or novel is nothing but joy. I have this new thing only I can create because I'm the only one who has all of its little parts to give. So it's like a new person or baby we think about all the time without trying, often at expense of everyone and everything else. But at some point, that thing has to grow on and up. Nobody can maintain themselves as a fantasy for another person to love, and no child can limit to what its family or parents want to make it into. No story can do all a mere human being thinks it will and can.
So, there's a period in writing long work where I'm seeing this thing for what it really is, and finding out it was not put here for me to tell it what to do, but for it to tell me what it wants to do. It has faults, flaws, mistakes, handicaps, disabilities and characteristics I do not like. It's very hard and tiring then. I think it's why nearly everyone on the planet says they want to write a book, but never produce anything to see. You have to be willing to do what relationship-oriented people do after the first flush of a romance, or families do in those hectic adolescent and young adulthood periods. You will be disobeyed, challenged, strained, and disappointed.
But after so many pages, usually 250 to 300 for me, before I cut, it's joy again. The relationship to it is strong. I've stepped back and seen, "Oh, okay, so this is what you really are. This is what you want to be." And so like couples who continue or families with middle-aged children in now-smooth relationships where there was once friction or even distance, it's all about appreciating what was built up and playing inside it, just giving more moments and time to it. I have enough depth and body to the work to go back where I need to and weight it or cut it, and continue how the story wants to. I look forward to it again and really love to be with it.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I watch a lot of movies almost to a fault of getting writing done, old favorites mostly but I do love discovering new ones. I read a lot, with books around the house and in my bags all the time. Other than that I like to cook at home, do yoga at home, go out to see plays and hear live music, and fit in playing my favorite game shows while I work.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in a small mostly working class, factory, farming town in the Midwest an hour from Chicago but a world away: Kankakee, Illinois. It was a small place of close and real relationships, no fleeting or brisk associations. I learned a lot about character and the infinite possibilities for it very young, as well as how to work very hard for everything. I am the eldest child of four who grew up with two young parents. In many ways we were sheltered in what now feels like the unreality of family down the blocks and unlocked doors and knowing everybody's name or history. But because I was good at school and talents I got more freedom to do things I wanted to, and make things happen on my own. That is really the core of writing.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Other than those of the Bible, which I began to read and become familiar with very early through family and Catholic school, the first story I remember scaring me to death was Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat," which I read when I was about 9 in a hardback volume of his works the previous owners had left gathering dust in the new home my family bought.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes! I had many attempts at stories in my little years, but the first one that became a book was called "Daddy's Promise" when I was in the second grade. It was about a father who always made his little girl promises he did not keep, until one day she promised him something and did not deliver so he got to see how it felt. It was made in school, bound in fabric, entered into the Illinois Young Authors Competition, given an honorable mention and rests on my mother's bookshelf headboard to this day I think.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read anything I can get my hands on, even the ingredients on packages in the store.
Describe your desk
Goodness...right now my laptop with its wireless keyboard I like so I don't have to replace laptops often, a wireless mouse for the same reason, an empty salad bowl I need to wash, an empty mug for my green tea, the hard drive to my desktop computer with its keyboard and screen resting on a stand beside me, a stack of mail behind my computer, books in the corner I look through, a couple large candle pots with burned incense sticks stuck in the wax, a canister of pens and highlighters atop a thesaurus, that cardboard carton from McDonalds when you buy more than one drink, and my padded headphones.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
What are you working on next?
Right now I am working at a novel I am calling "Speaking of Summer," about a woman investigating her twin sister's murder and exploring her own past life in the process. I have a few stories to finish as well as a play I am working on about pole dancers. That one came to me when my sister dropped me off at the Atlanta bus station across the street from their infamous Magic City.
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