Friday, March 21, 2008


Me, as a child: someone who could have been locked up indefinitely in a mental ward… thanks go to my parents for not doing it. I’m a recluse…. Me professionally: Before I was a writer I was a psychotherapist, stress management trainer and hypnotherapist… and yes, the only people I cannot hypnotize are people who have mental deficiency – I left this profession to go live in a cave, but alas I had a car accident and while healing began to write. And here I am now… a quasi writer of sorts. Me personally: I prefer never venturing out of my house. I love laughing but jokes need to still be rooted in logic. I’m a dog lover after years of being terrified of them. I have a husband, one of many, two daughters and two grandchildren. Other than God, family and friends are, and always have been, the most important thing in my life… oh, except that time sex took precedence… wait I might have that mixed up. Anyway I am a Southerner, even though, I don’t care for many southern foods. My favorite food is chocolate layer cake. And I do abide fools easily –otherwise I’d have to run from myself. My favorite books to read are thrillers, not the serial killer kind but good old fashioned espionage. I love martial arts (practiced a while back) and have seen every martial arts movie that’s ever been released in the US. One of my favorite all times movies was a Spaghetti flick titled “The Stranger.” Now my favorite movie is Taladegha Nights with Will Farrell… I’ve seen it probably 200 times. I know most of the lines now to that and the indy film, Kinky Boots.

Tell us about your current book?

Currently I have two new middle school books:

“Shadows on Society Hill,” American Girl’s doll Addy’s first mystery, set in 1866 in Philadelphia. This book introduces Civil War spies, spycraft and a few other phenomenon that haven’t been explored in children’s books. (JUST NOMINATED FOR AN EDGAR AWARD)

“Freedom Train,” is about the train that traveled to 322 cities carrying the US’s most precious documents in 1947-48. This book deals with racism, classism, war, patriotism and the parallel Universe of poverty. Only this time the rich boy in the story is Black… YIPEE -- finally.

For adults I still have “What a Woman’s Gotta Do” (available from Random House in paperback) If you like “thrillers, science, physics and the cosmogony of other peoples, particularly African cosmogony, you’ll like this book. As one reader complains “so many twist and turns and you don’t know what is happening until the very end.” Yes, it’s that kind of book… along with a strong kick-butt kind of woman.

What would you like your readers to take away from your books?

I want them to take away knowledge, learn something they didn’t know before or begin to think in new ways about old information. My work always deals with the theme of justice and I rarely have ambivalence – the very reason so many children today don’t think of slavery as “all bad.” Why?????? Read the literature….

In almost every instance the line or the intimation appears that there were “many decent slave owners.” REALLY????

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

I’m an all night writer. I usually go to bed around 4am and get up at 10:30am. Can’t write this tidbit in interviews enough because almost every morning someone calls me before 10am.

What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?

I don’t really love any aspect of writing, it’s torture to me really. I find myself swearing to give it up daily. I am never satisfied, always wishing I had more knowledge, more skills, more whatever it takes to become a “great” writer that I do not possess. And a picture book, let’s just say it’s the one thing that makes me cry and tear my hair out. Now if you ask what I hate the most – it would have to be that after all this time I still don’t feel like I’m a much better writer than I did when I started this path. But as I have struggled, trying to place finger to key, I have followed Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice: “Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?” And always my answer is a resounding YES.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

That in the end the only person who cares that “you wrote a book” is the reader who loves your work. Not all your family or friends will be excited and glad for you… and almost every one you meet will say, “I’m going to -- or I am writing a book too,” without even caring that you wrote one… except the confirmation that if “this ditsy broad could write one I sure as heck could do it too.” Oh yes, and unless you can say you’re a “Bestselling New York Times or Essence author,” you’ll be as adrift as Roger Dangerfield or Moms Mabley in today’s celebrity driven environment. And for sure, that an advance is just that… and they’ll take their good time getting it to you.

What’s the most interesting change in your life as a result of being a published author?

Hmmm. Some of my family that didn’t really ever talk to me, talk to me more… YIPEE! Oh wait, some librarians understand that I might keep the library book out longer… other’s don’t get it though and scold me harshly. I love librarians either way. Most staff in a bookstore could care less if I “wrote a book.” And now, when I say I’m a writer and people smugly sneer, “Are you published?” I can say, “yes,” before they respond so politely, “I’m sorry but I’ve never heard of you.”

How much marketing do you do?


What have you found that particularly works well for you?

Prayer I suspect, luck could but hasn’t, and if I was more inclined, being able to “sell” my own greatness—which turns me off completely. I’ve only tried the prayer and that didn’t work yet for me. As for “selling,” I have always hated selling anything… that’s why my family had tons of Girl Scout Cookies to eat. I don’t want to be a salesperson, or a marketing/ advertising wiz but I know that it will help you if you are willing to do that. I don’t knock it, just can’t do it. I think in my mind there is only one thing a writer needs to do, that is to develop your craft, which will allow you to write a solidly plotted or constructed book, with meaningful characters and you’re half way there. One thing is for sure though, I would be doing a lot better right now as an African American writer if I had had the good sense to be a pimp & a ho-drug-dealing-murderer-c-sucking hiphop moguling- scank video dancing--thieving-slut. But alas I missed that train.

What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?

That it is hurtful and disrespectful if you ask me to help you get published and you’ve not even bothered to read a book I’ve written. They’re in most libraries for crying out loud. Wait, did you say non-writers…. They still ask me too. Somehow there’s a large group of people now, who think getting published has little to do with writing. And they’d be right considering the trends in publishing these days. If someone ask me if I think they will be able to get published, now I usually say, “Great chance if you’re a super sales person or have a gimmick, think being a drug addict and getting your teeth yanked out in rehab without Novocain.” Ouch! Here’s the thing, one day I wish to write a book that will make “the man,” want to hunt me down and kill me… so far, I’ve just pissed people off. My father used to tell me that writers were passionate beings bringing light so others could see the world clearly. I hope we all aspire to become that “writer.”

Name your top five favorite writing books.

The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman

The Career Novelist, Donald Maass (hope it’s
been updated)

Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass

Don’t Murder Your Mystery, Chris Roerden

A Dash of Style, the Art and Mastery of Punctuation, Noah Lukeman

Bonus: Stephen King, On Writing;

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont and anything that bell hooks writes about writing

What do you do to make time for yourself?

Invent and develop new products, watch movies endlessly, listen to Betty Lavette sing over and over again

This month our theme is Writing for Children. Why did you choose to write for children?

I have always loved the transitory nature of children’s literature, from the fairy tales that spoke to the class injustice of their times to the revelation that children know dark things too. Once I decided to pursue writing professionally my plan was simple, break into writing in magazines and newspapers, study, go to as many workshop and university programs as I could find, read every writing book, until I had honed my writing skills. Then I felt I would be ready to tackle the difficult task of writing for children. I thought that it would be helpful to have my extensive knowledge of subliminal seduction but as it turns out writing for children has been and continues to be my nemesis. It is when I feel my most inadequate as a writer and my most vulnerable as a human. Children bring me large slices of humility when I consider what they must do to navigate our world. And the only thing I can offer is a little illumination in as honest and forthright story as I can write. My heart, spirit and soul reside in children’s literature and one day I hope to improve my skills so that even I am satisfied with the tale I must tell. In the meantime, as I grow as a writer, I feel blessed to know that children are a thousand times more forgiving than others on the planet so when I have mis-stepped, fallen short or missed the mark, they will forgive me.

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