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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

FEATURED AUTHORS: Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon

Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon met ten years ago while working together in publishing and became fast friends. Thrilled by the thought of collaborating on a book that imagined the childhood of an iconoclast of American letters, this novel has been a dream project for both authors. Zora’s life as both a field anthropologist and writer spoke particularly to Bond and Simon’s backgrounds.

T.R. Simon has an M.A. in anthropology, while Victoria Bond holds an M.F.A. in creative writing.

Zora and Me

Although a book for children, this is not a simple tale. Told from the perspective of Zora’s best friend Carrie, the first volume sees the two girls confront racial duplicity in a struggle to hold on to their innocence and protect their hometown. Many considered Eatonville, the first incorporated African-American town in the nation, a Black Floridian Eden. The town has its integrity tested, and ultimately its existence, when a young turpentine worker is found decapitated by the railroad tracks. His death coincides with Zora’s imaginary creation of a gator king that lurks in the nearby marshes waiting to steal human souls. As the two girls unravel the mystery of the gator king, they also stumble onto a complicated triangle fueled by lies, secrets and envy. They themselves become the key that unlocks the mystery, and the unlikely saviors of Eatonville; in the process, Zora learns that home is not only where you’re from but what you carry inside of yourself.

How did you start out your writing career?

VB: I think there are many starts to a writing career but not all of them lead to a substantial life in publication. For me, my interest in writing began in childhood when I was introduced to poetry. Yet another aspect of my writing career began when I was in college and began to take my talents as a writer and student more seriously. And the part of my career that led me to work on Zora and Me began in 2001 when I met my co-author Tanya Simon at my first formal publishing job. So, again, there are many starts to an endeavor like writing. What is truly mysterious about it though is where those many beginnings will lead, and if the internal rewards/journey will resemble at all how any writer’s life manifests externally.

TS: My writing career started in fits and starts. I’ve worked in publishing for the last 15 years so I’m very used to editing the writing of others. Over the last 5 years I’ve started writing more seriously—first for myself and then in collaboration with Victoria. I can still feel paralyzed by the blank page, but collaborating has given me the confidence to be more experimental. I don’t, for instance, think I could have finished a work of fiction on my own. It would have been too daunting.

What did you learn while writing this book?

VB: I learned that I can be a collaborator. I learned that my sense of home is central to who I am as a person and writer. I also learned about the generative power of the friendship I share with Tanya as well as the one depicted between Carrie and Zora in the book.

TS: I’ve learned that I am by nature a collaborator; it’s the process I enjoy most in writing. I also learned that creating characters is a lovely kind of friendship in which you’re always reminding yourself of the people you love as you bring their essence to your own characters. I came to love Zora herself more than I had previously, and that was already quite a lot!

What did you hope to accomplish with this book?

VB: I think we both wanted to expose younger readers to Zora Neale Hurston. I think we also wanted to create a portrait of an artist as a young black girl that is both heroic and sweet. Zora is a genius, but she’s also a daughter, a best friend and a town treasure. I hope that our readers see themselves in Zora. And as a result, begin to see some avenues in their own futures in terms of their professional and intellectual development that might not have been easy to previously imagine.

TS: I wanted us to give young readers a story of unviolated black childhood. I wanted to share a love of nature, a curiosity about the intricate working of people and the complicated bonds they form. Most of all, as Vicky said, we both wanted to inspire young readers of all races to discover the works of Zora Neale Hurston.

Is the “writer’s life” what you thought it would be?

VB: Yes and no. I had never imagined collaborating before I met Tanya, so that’s been one of the unexpected treats. But I also didn’t really know how selfish a life it ultimately is. At least for me, my writing thrives when I’m effectively shutting the world out. I live in New York City and when things are going well I feel as if I’m living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think I had any idea of how isolating it was really going to be.

TS: Yes. I’ve worked with writers for years, so I know how hard and lonely it can be. Even in collaboration there are whole chunks of time when you’re just with yourself, facing down the page, and grappling with the truth of who you are so you can really understand the lives of others and depict them convincingly. I’ve always been self-reflective and a bit solitary, so that part of writing suits me. However, I’m also desperate for feedback and I love talking about ideas, so collaborating with Vicky really gave me the best of both worlds.

Which five characters (can be from books, movies, or tv shows) would you invite over for dinner and why?

VB: Sula Peace, Jane Eyre, Buynum from August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Denver and Baby Suggs from Beloved. I would love to pick the brains of these characters about healing and moving on and independence. Except for Sula, all were experts of giving of themselves without losing themselves. This is a tutorial I desperately need.

TS: Wolverine, Robbie from Atonement, Son from Tar Baby, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Leo Proudhammer from Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone. All fascinating men who’ve undergone radical power shifts only to suffer the pain of profound loss as the price of deeper awareness.

What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?

VB: That more than anything writing takes time, lots of it. That every question I have contemplated some other author has answered, and in most cases better than I could ever dream of doing. And though that is the case, there’s no reason I shouldn’t strive to add a few answers of my own to the universe’s mix.

TS: Not to worry so much, to embrace every minute of the journey, and to recognize when I’m forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?

VB: The do: be a slave to routine. The don’t: waiting for inspiration.

TS: Do write every day. Don’t demand perfection.

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

VB: That it is a lonely strange endeavor to tell a story. That the stories we tell give something to writers, but they take something from us as well. For me, each project that I work on chips away at my personal savings account of fears.

TS: That writing isn’t about putting words on the page. That storytelling an elaborate game of chess where every move is strategic.

What was the best advice you’d ever gotten about the publishing industry? The worst?

VB: I’m actually not sure. What I can say is that all of the advice, for good and bad, shouldn’t stop anyone from writing and trying to get published.

TS: Best: Write because you feel compelled to, not because you’re focused on “selling it.” Worst: Advances define your worth.

What is something readers would be surprised you do?

VB: I collect taxidermy and other dead animal paraphernalia bordering on the macabre: ostrich eggs, teeth, claws, that sort of thing.

TS: I watch Annie Hall once a year religiously.

If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?

VB: Having had some distance from it, I think I’m actually the most like the character Mr. Pendir in Zora and Me. He’s a lonely visual artist that has made for his home in secret pieces that explore and replicate what he finds comforting and fascinating in the natural world. These days I feel most like myself when I’m working on random arts & crafts projects, irrespective of the results.

TS: Jadine from Tar Baby. Only I’d have the good sense to choose Son.

Our theme for this month is Children Books. Can you recommend three books for children?

VB: Please forgive me, but all three are by the same author. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Volumes I & II and Feed by M.T. Anderson. All three of these books are different kinds of compendiums on the subject of freedom and what we owe our society, whether that debt be defined in civil or consumer terms. I can’t think of more thought provoking reading given the economic and technologically driven times we live in.

TS: Caddie Woodlawn, Octavian Nothing, and Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac.

Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?

VB: I know for sure that I feel better about myself and my place in the world when I’m making stuff.

TS: I know for sure that I love the truth at any price.

Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?

VB: It’s about the death of Zora’s mother coupled with Carrie’s entry into a love triangle.

How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)

VB: Readers can email us by using the contact prompt on our site zoraandme.com.

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1 comment:

LaShaunda said...

Victoria and Tanya,

Thank you so much for being our featured author today. I'm so excited to see you're doing a series with this book. I will be getting a copy for my kids. I'm always looking for new authors to introduce them to, especially who feature characters that look like them.

Many blessings to you

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