Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't think this was the first story I ever read, but it is one that stayed with me. It was called Bettina's Secret and I read it way back in the early 1970s when I was in Catholic boarding school in Jamaica. Each month we could pick books to order from a book club and I chose Bettina's Secret. There was something about the quietness of that story and the discoveries Bettina made that fed my passion for reading.
How do you approach cover design?
I am not a designer and I like it that way. I am told my covers are distinctly me. I look for an image that I connect with and I build the cover layout, background theme and colors around this image. At some point I might use a fancier process but, honestly, I love the simplicity of Gunga Peas Books' covers.
What do you read for pleasure?
I love Caribbean and Latin American novels. Anything by Isabelle Allende works for me. I also read a lot of history books because there are always snippets that stay with me for future stories I want to write.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I use a Kindle and I read it on my iPad.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. My family lived on a sugar plantation and my sister and I went to Catholic boarding school. When we were home for the summers I would roam all over the plantation making up stories about the old buildings and factories I saw. I am passionate, just crazy passionate, about Jamaica and the Caribbean and the wider world of Latin America. I went back to college to get my Ph.D. because I wanted to write about my heritage with authority. Being Jamaican and being a historian of the Caribbean and Latin America governs most of my writing. I am excited to share my heritage and I do this through my stories.
When did you first start writing?
In boarding school we used to have to go to study hall after supper (or before - hard to remember now) and instead of doing homework some of my friends and I would write stories in a notebook. I would write a page and then pass it to the next girl and she would write a page and so on. We would try to end our pages at an impossible place to see if the next girl could keep the story going. I might have been 11 or 12.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Right now I am working on a story called The Handmaiden. It is for readers about 12-16 years-old. It is based on the Biblical character of Hagar. She was an Egyptian slave to Sarah the wife of Abraham. Sarah and Abraham are the stars of the Biblical story but I have always identified with Hagar. I just wondered what the story would have looked like from her perspective so I decided to let her speak. I am just loving the process of writing The Handmaiden. It is very different from the stories I have written before.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Some of the books I have written grew out of my family's experiences. I wanted to get those stories directly to the young people who I thought would really connect with them and publishing them myself seemed the best way to make that happen. I have three books published with a traditional publisher and I just felt very disconnected from the process. It seemed as though once I turned over the manuscript I relinquished all say over how the book would be presented. Through my characters I try to tell children and young people that they are special. In Tamika's Hair I address that issue of having kinky hair in a world where straight silky hair is valued. I wrote this because my daughter was teased about her hair in elementary school and I wanted her to see how awesome our kinky hair is.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
I love the process from idea to final edit. I love having an idea and plotting out the general story. I love seeing the story change as I write it. I love having a rough draft (and I do mean rough) and letting it sit to "percolate" for a while and I love that freshness of coming back to it after not having read it for a while. The tightening and honing that comes from editing is also something I totally enjoy. When I am not writing I am thinking about writing and counting the minutes until I can. I have published 16 e-books and I am in the process of publishing the longer titles as paperbacks.
What do your fans mean to you?
The best part of owning my own publishing company is the direct contact I have with fans. I love doing school visits where the kids have read the book and have some insightful questions for me. I love being able to connect with them and hear how they were impacted by something I wrote.
What are you working on next?
I have a nonfiction series - very short works - that each deal with a Caribbean topic. The Not-So-Sweet History of Caribbean Sugar talks about the rise of sugar and slavery in the Caribbean and Dancing on the Day of the Kings is about an African celebration of Epiphany in 19th-century Cuba. I have started the research for a third in this series and this one will be about the Haitian Revolution.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My kids. They are teenagers now and watching them become adults is inspiring. And my students. I teach 11th and 12th grade and every day they teach me something new.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love to sew. I am excited that summer is around the corner because I plan to make lots of fun summer dresses.
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