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Writers Asking Writers Questions | P. Curry & Darlene P. Campos
 

BY P. CURRY

 

A few years ago, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a fellow writer. Last year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a five-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.


The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.


So first things first, tell me a little bit about your upcoming novel, Heaven Isn’t Me?

A: I wrote the first draft in two months, from August to October 2018. Unlike with my two previous novels, I didn’t just rely on my laptop to write the draft – I wrote 85% of the first draft on my phone! Whenever I had a free moment, even if it was just five minutes, I’d whip out my phone and use the Google Docs app to write. Writing on my phone worked wonders in getting this book done quickly. I easily wrote 1,000 words a day using this method.

Heaven Isn’t Me follows fourteen-year-old Elysian Lecaro as she faces a diagnosis with anxiety disorder and tries to solve two mysteries: a) who shot her friends in a recent drive-by shooting and b) who kidnapped Gladys Richardson, her best friend’s older sister?

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Were you in any way inspired by your own struggles with anxiety for this project?

A: Yes, yes, and yes. Elysian and I share some characteristics, though she is much bolder and braver than I am. When I was her age, I had anxious thoughts, but I didn’t realize they weren’t normal until I was older. For example, whenever a school dance came around, I was 100% convinced that if I didn’t find a date, I was destined to be alone for the rest of my life. It sounds ridiculous now (especially since I’ve been married for over a year and I’ve been with my husband for seven years!), but back then, I really believed it.

I had other thoughts like I would fail high school and never graduate, even though I was on honor roll and I ended up graduating a year early because I was so ahead in my studies. I remember my friends telling me, “Darlene, we love you, but sometimes you worry too much.” And they were right. So, in my first semester of college, I talked to a counselor and after several weeks of sessions, she told me I had anxiety, but not to fear since there were ways to address these irrational thoughts of the future, such as thinking of all the good outcomes of an issue first.

Because of my experience with anxiety as a teen, I knew I had to write a book with a character like Elysian to show teens of today that there is hope and healing for them. There is a lot of pressure on teens as they grow up. They’re trying to make good grades, they have crushes, they want to fit in, they’re getting ready for the next steps of their lives – so of course they’re going to worry about themselves and their future. They are not alone and they don’t have to feel ashamed of their anxious thoughts.

 

Mind sharing who and/or what some of your influences are?

A: Oscar Wilde, Sandra Cisneros, Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Brown, Lorrie Moore, Edgar Allan Poe, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, John Green, ZZ Packer, Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth McCracken, RJ Palacio, Stuart Dybek, Jeannette Walls, and Carrie Fountain. There are others I’m likely forgetting. I went on vacation with my husband to Washington D.C. in June and we drove about an hour away to Baltimore where we visited Edgar Allan Poe’s house. His house is VERY small and the stairwells are so narrow, I’m surprised I was able to climb the steps. At the top of the house, there’s an even narrower stairwell that leads to Poe’s bedroom which includes his quill pen and his writing desk. I cried the second when I saw these items – I couldn’t believe I was looking at the exact spot where Poe wrote his legendary works. The moment felt like a pilgrimage. While Poe is known for his horror stories, I’m a huge fan of his poetry. Poe’s poem “For Annie” is one of my favorite poems ever.  

Likewise, I went on a weekend trip to San Antonio a few years ago and stayed in the historical (and supposedly haunted) Menger Hotel. Oscar Wilde stayed there back in 1882. The Menger has a special plaque with his name on the door of the room where he slept during his stay. The room is available for booking, but last time I checked, it was $300 a night. Anyway, right before I checked out of my room, I found his room and took a selfie with the plaque. I didn’t experience anything paranormal at the Menger, but I seriously hoped Oscar Wilde’s ghost would visit me so I could ask him for writing advice. Unfortunately, he didn’t haunt me.

 

I’ve noticed that you’ve been doing extensive research on the Holocaust and Jewish history and culture. Are you applying this knowledge to a future work?

A: Yes, but since I’m currently sending this manuscript out to agents and publishing houses, I don’t want to say too much about it.

It’s based on true accounts from Holocaust survivors I interviewed plus accounts I learned from the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of other Holocaust survivors I couldn’t interview since they have passed away. I used the accounts along with my own fiction-thinking brain to create this novel.

That’s all I will say for now.

 

Any other ideas you have in mind for future works?

A: I’m revising my fifth novel right now, which I also wrote in two months (April to June of this year) by writing most of it on my phone. It’s about a fifteen-year-old boy named Matthew who wants to be a doctor, but since his mother doesn’t earn much money, he’s busting himself to get a good scholarship. He can sing well, and his friends tell him about a singing scholarship, which is great, except he has horrible stage fright AND he needs to write his own song for his audition, which isn’t his strength. Will Matthew finally get a scholarship for his medical school fund? Will he bomb his audition? Will he audition at all? Who knows? 

The title right now is Matthew The Riot, but is subject to change. Fun fact: it’s also a semi-sequel of my fourth novel.

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I find it admirable how you always do such extensive research on whatever it is you’re writing about, especially in regards to different cultures. What motivates you to always be so in-depth with your research?

A: Simple – I LOVE to dive right into my research. I can read a thousand books, watch a thousand videos, and interview a thousand people, but it is not the same as experiencing what I’m researching. When I was writing my second novel, Summer Camp is Cancelled, the protagonist, Lyndon, is Catholic and I knew close to nothing about Catholicism. So, I went to Mass several times, learned prayers, songs, and talked to priests. I read books and watched documentaries and other informative videos (shout out to Father Mike on the Ascension Presents YouTube channel!). I also interviewed over forty practicing Catholics, but the best part about learning was being present in Mass, because I experienced Catholicism firsthand. I even went to a two-hour long Christmas Midnight Mass because Lyndon attends a Christmas Midnight Mass in the novel.

Additionally, SCIC has a character named Melody and she is deaf, and Lyndon’s father is deaf in one ear (just like my father). I interviewed people who are deaf to shape these characters and I read books and watched videos, too, but I also spent days with earplugs on to experience the silence. For Lyndon’s father, I spent days with one earplug. By diving into my research, I feel that I can properly capture who my characters are without making them seem like stereotypes or unrealistic. I worry about improperly representing characters outside of my own realm, which is why I want to be as accurate as possible so I do not hurt anyone’s feelings with misrepresentation.

 

What are some of your long-term career goals?

A: My ultimate dream is to earn enough money to give to charity and those who need my help without having to think twice about it. Ever hear about those anonymous millionaires who donate tons of money to nonprofits? I want to be one of those millionaires. Need surgery? I’ll write you a check, so you won’t have medical debt. You need your car repaired? Here’s $25,000 for you to buy a new car. Homeless animals at the local shelter need food? Here’s $50,000, get them dessert, too.

Okay, I’m getting carried away by my dreams, but wouldn’t that life be the best?



 

Would you be open to a film or TV adaptation of one your books in the future?

A: Of course! But they have to let me write the screenplay. If not, the deal is off.

 

Let’s say, you were banned from writing! What path would you take from there?

A: If I didn’t write, I’m not sure what I would do with my time. The longest I can go without writing is a few weeks and then I feel the withdrawal and get back into it. So, if I were banned from writing, I would write anyway, even if it could get me arrested. Then I’d write in prison, too.

Photography is another passion of mine, but it’s nowhere to close to writing. I also love to box and swim for exercise. I would easily give up my camera, punching bag and boxing gloves, and all my swim gear rather than my pen and paper.

 

Since you aren’t actually banned from writing, is there anything else you’d like to do with your craft besides penning novels?

A: I wish I could do something different, but novels are my specialty. I have had poems published in various literary journals in the past, but I can tell you with full certainty that I am not a poet.

I also wish I could write songs. My great-grandfather, Alcides Martinez, was a musician, songwriter, and a poet. He wrote songs which are still covered by Ecuadorian artists today. However, I sadly did not inherit his abilities.

Novels are it for me!

A Golden Age For Publishing
 

BY GREGORY HEDGEPETH

 

One of our main initiatives for the year is to showcase the accomplishments of women of color in the publishing industry. While women dominate the industry across all departments, including editorial, production, sales and management, these are mostly white women. People of color are few and far between in the industry. Four percent of workers are Asian and Hispanic, respectively, while only two percent of workers are Black or African American.

While it comes as no surprise that the industry is driven largely by white women, I had no idea the disparity was so immense until I began researching for our initiative. A few weeks ago, I had a few questions for Tahara Saron of BlackGold Publishing, a Black-owned, woman-owned publishing company out of Newport News, Virginia, and she took time out of her incredibly busy schedule to give me insight into why she started BlackGold, how she conquers work-life balance as well as the most difficult part of running her business. 

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I’ve always been incredibly impressed with your work at BlackGold. Why did you decide to start a publishing company?

I actually started BlackGold Publishing shortly after a personal experience with the prejudice that so often plagues this industry. I had a major publishing house, upon review of my manuscript, tell me that my work was too “ethnic.” I realized then that I needed to create a safe space for myself as well as for other black creatives in the area — where they could freely express themselves both culturally and creatively. The serious lack of representation and diversity, both within the spheres of production/marketing, staffing and mainstream releases, will never sit right with me. It’s within my hopes that, alongside the other Black-owned publishing houses statewide, BlackGold Publishing will do its part to change the narrative.

 
 

I’m sure that story resonates for many authors and company leaders within the industry, myself and Vital Narrative included. How do you decide which books to publish or authors to pursue?

We have the traditional review process as most publishing houses. Once a manuscript has been sent in for consideration, it is sent straight to our editorial board. They analyze key elements such as marketability, story arc, character development, structure, style and tone to convene on a final decision before sending it back to me for approval. They are very good at vetting out raw talent, and for that, I’m extremely grateful. On the other hand, I am typically a lot less structured LOL I hardly say no to any one seeking publication, within reason, of course. But if it’s plausible to work with you and build with you in any way, more times than not, I’ll do my best to accommodate the author.

 

It’s great to know that you’re willing to work and build with authors. I think that’s an element that is missing with a lot of publishing companies. How do you find the balance between your family and your business, which must take up a tremendous amount of time?

You know, this is a great question… one that I’m asked quite often. Truth is though, I can’t even tell you how I have survived some of these days, because quite frankly, it gets really, really hard. What I’ve realized though, is that for me, it’s been less about perfecting a balance so to speak and more about not giving up on myself. There is no such thing as a universal strategy to stability, trust me I’ve looked. But if you focus your efforts on not letting anyone down, including yourself, through determination and tenacity, you can do anything you put your mind to.

 

It’s commendable for you to be so determined and put your focus into yourself and the people around you in order to succeed. What’s the most difficult part of running your business?

The most difficult part about running BlackGold would be, still, dealing with the oppressive forces that remain behind the scenes in this industry. We’ve been hung up on, redirected in wild goose chases, called a “negro company” and disrespected in a plethora of other offensive, manipulative ways. But it doesn’t stop us. As an independent company, I expect our journey to not always be reflective of that which is in our hearts. The bad experiences only fuel our passions ten times stronger and have led to breakthroughs and unbelievable opportunities. We won’t be stopped.

 
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Persevering through the forces working against you is the key to making in this industry I love that you already have the mindset that you won’t be stopped. What do you hope to accomplish over the next several years?

We are currently shifting into a more distribution-heavy publishing style, working on contracts with Scholastic as well as scoping out our first major factory. It’s all surreal to me. The growth has been phenomenal, but we are excited and grateful to see what the future holds.

 

I can’t wait to see what comes next for you and BlackGold. I’ve been very impressed with everything I’ve seen from you all thus far. Do you have any final thoughts?

I’d like to close on a note of encouragement for any minority creatives out there looking to take their work to the next level — be unafraid. Be vehemently unafraid of the power and talent you possess. Audre Lorde, one of my favorite authors and activists, said it best: “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” I encourage you all to find your power and to find your voice. Our expression is all we have, so don’t be afraid to do so.


We are currently servicing a diverse group of authors and clientele thanks to our amazing service members and staff! Absolutely everyone here on the BlackGold Publishing team believe’s in quality service and putting our clients first. We also pride ourselves in being 100% inclusive - providing continuous representation and opportunities for writers of all walks of life.

Gregory Hedgepeth is the editor-in-chief of Vital Narrative Press. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Feel free to follow on all three. Or maybe just two. Yeah, two’s probably good — he’s not that interesting. Gregory Hedgepeth is also the author of MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SUNRISES, THE YEAR THAT ANSWERED and A COLLECTION OF ECHOES. BUY THAT SHIT.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Danielle Elaine & Yvette Luevano
 

BY DANIELLE ELAINE

 

Last year, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a fellow writer. This year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a five-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.


The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.


How old were you when you first started writing?

A: I've been writing for most of my life. As soon as I learned to read, I started writing and drawing and stapling together books I'd made out of construction paper, imitating the picture books my mom got me from the library. I liked writing short stories for assignments throughout grade school and in high school, I started taking creative writing classes, learning about poetry. In college, I knew I wanted to pursue writing and I sort of fell into a few poetry courses and just fell in love with it. I've been chasing poems ever since.

 

What was the pivotal moment or time in your life when you decided to take yourself serious as a writer?

A: I guess when I was 21, 22 and started submitting my poems for publication. After going through a few workshops at UC Riverside and getting a poem published for the first time in The Packinghouse Review, the whole ‘being a writer’ thing felt a little more real. Writing wasn't just a personal, private thing anymore. I knew if it was going to mean anything, it had to be accessible to others, an audience outside of myself.

 
 

What has been the hardest thing about writing for you?

A: Revision is the hardest. Actually working up the nerve to show my work, in its various stages of completion, to other people is very, very hard for me. Terrifying and embarrassing, but also humbling and necessary.

 

Where do you find yourself when you are most inspired to write (a place, a mood, etc.)?

A: I need a lot of time alone and I often have trouble sleeping, so I end up doing most of my writing at night when the house is quiet. I'm not necessarily more inspired at night, I just have more time for quiet contemplation when it’s well past midnight and I'm not caught up in whatever needs to be done during the day. There's no work, no errands, no commute, everyone is asleep, the phone doesn't ring. I just sit with a cup of tea and listen to some music and I read and I write. In the morning, I try to figure out if it's any good.

 

Who are some other writers, authors, poets you are inspired by or admire?

A: I love Lorca. I could never hope to write anything like Federico Garcia, but he's very near and dear to my heart. I read Hart Crane, Larry Levis and Adrienne Rich as examples of absolute mastery. I read Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch for pleasure, I love their styles but I've kind of accepted I can never write like them. I wish I could be funny. I was really into Sharon Olds in high school, she probably shaped a lot of my early attempts at poetry. Michelle Lin and Kazumi Chin both came out with stunning debut collections last year. We studied at UC Riverside together years ago. I keep revisiting their books and I feel honored to know such radical, visionary poets.

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Is there any particular work that made a lasting impression on you (written by yourself or others)?

A: Power Politics by Margaret Atwood. Saadi Yousef's "America, America." Gary Young's prose poems.

 

How does who you are as a writer now compare to whom you’d like to be as a writer?

A: I think - I hope, at least - I've gotten better as a writer. I'm not so hung up on imitating or recreating an existing poem I like. The poem should determine the form, not the other way around. A poem doesn't have to be a big grand declaration. Poems can be small and intimate, but still impactful. Some poems just take time, perspective. I still have a long way to go. I never know where I'm going when I start writing a poem. I'm always unsure of how to end them.



 

If you have children or plan to, what is the impression or legacy you’d like your work to leave on them?

A: I can't say for sure whether I want to have kids or not, so I really don't know what I'd want my legacy to be for them. I just want to leave an impression of kindness.

 

What is the impression or legacy you’d like your work to leave on the world?

A: If I am to be remembered by my work at all, I hope my voice resonates with people completely unlike me. While I may draw from my own experiences in my writing, I don't want my work to be read as an autobiography. I'm aiming to transcribe both the ordinary and the universal.

 

Do you feel a sense of responsibility in your work as a female writer, or female creative, in general?

A: The personal is political. I can only strive to write from my own perspective. I can't pretend that growing up and moving through this world as a woman hasn't impacted my life, for better or worse. It would be irresponsible of me to write or create anything that wasn't true to my own lived experience. 

 

What fears have you outgrown on your journey as a writer? What are some current fears you look forward to releasing?

A: I'm not sure if I've actually outgrown any fears as a writer. The perennial ones are all still there: fear of repeating myself, fear of not having anything meaningful to say, fear of being derivative, fear of being misread, fear of stagnating, fear that my writing is actually garbage. A new one has popped up over the years: the fear that I may leave my best work unfinished.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | P. Curry & D.A. Alston
 

BY P. CURRY

 

Last year, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a writer. This year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a five-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.


The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.


So, first things first, what motivated you to become a writer?

A: I've  always written, but it was mostly poetry at first, thanks to my teacher introducing me to poets like Nikki Giovanni. I think the transition happened after I was just given an idea and I ran with it. That idea turned into my first novel. And I've been loving it ever since.

THE UNLIKELY TALE OF THE ROYAL ELITE SQUAD by D.A. Alston
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THE UNLIKELY TALE OF THE ROYAL ELITE SQUAD by D.A. Alston
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116 pp. The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad is a Young Adult novel that follows four young girls as they embark on an exciting new journey after an accident occurs at their school.

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Who are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?

A: Obviously, Nikki Giovanni like I said earlier. I also love Rudy Francisco. But when it comes to novels, I would have to say Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent series. She is around my age - her success and the way she started has always been motivating for me. As well as JK Rowling and her whole process. But the first books I remember fully diving into were the Cheetah Girls series, and that was all thanks to Deborah Gregory.

 

How did you get on board with Vital Narrative?

A: I always tell people my journey to getting published was nothing but a God thing. When I first started writing The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad, I wasn't even necessarily looking for a publisher. I honestly thought I would just self-publish at first. That all changed when I was talked to a friend of mine about my idea for a story, and it just so happened he was starting a publishing company and the relationship blossomed into what it is now.

 

What was the inspiration behind your Royal Elite Squad series?

A: Originally, the Royal Elite Squad was supposed to be a coloring book. One of my first loves was drawing and arts and, around that time, people were pressuring me to create a coloring book. So one day, when I was at IHOP, I began drawing the idea for this superhero coloring book on the back of their place mats . And then I thought ‘maybe it should have a storyline to go with it.’ That night I ended up mapping out seven books! A lot of it is influenced by young women and other people I know in real life. I've been blessed to know real life superheroes, so I used this book as an avenue to tell their extraordinary stories.

(photograph by Ken Wolter)

(photograph by Ken Wolter)

 

You appear to be very passionate about both children and diverse representation. Are those two major factors behind your work?

A: Most definitely! I've been teaching and working with children for the past ten years and I love it. They were my biggest supporters during this whole journey when it came to writing this book. We will sit in class some days and just bounce ideas off each other - I would ask what they thought about this character or even just ask them ‘is this realistic?’ It really helped my writing process. I also learned a lot of them didn't read for the same reason I didn't as a child: because there weren't a lot of books that reminded them of themselves. I wanted to use Royal Elite Squad to show children themselves in another light.

 

Are you interested in having your book series hit the big screen or little screen one day?

A: Oh yes! I would love for it to become a Hulu series, which branches off into a movie. I want paraphernalia, I want dolls, T-shirts, movie soundtracks - the whole shebang! I just want it to end up being everywhere. And it will be!

 

What do you think the future holds for the heroes of the Royal Elite Squad?

A: Greatness! It's only going to higher - no one can tell me otherwise. This is a story that needs to be told and I am blessed to be the one who gets to tell it. I want to be a beacon of hope for young men and women - for them to know that they are super and elite in their own right. They may not necessarily have a superpower, but who they are is their power. Everyone needs to be reminded of that sometimes.

 

As a writer, I feel like story ideas are swirling around in my mind all the time. Do you share that experience?

A: I am a natural dreamer, so I am always dreaming of new ideas, new opportunities, new stories and new ways to make things happen. But I'm also a planner, so if I plan it in my head, it's going to happen. As soon as something pops in my head, I usually write it down and tell my core group about it to get their opinion, and go from there.

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I notice that you are a very spiritual person. Does your spirituality influence your writing in any way?

A: Yes, I believe so. I truly believe my process to becoming a published author was nothing but God. And I say that, because everything happened so smoothly. I know so many authors that tell me their stories and how they went through the publishing process - and there’s so much angst and disappointment. By the grace of God, mine wasn't like that. Everything lined up so smoothly. From creating my story to finding Vital Narrative Press to finding an amazing graphic artist to do the artwork for my book - I'm just so thankful.

 

As a teacher, do you ever get any ideas or inspiration in the classroom?

A: Always! Kids are hilarious and they inspire me daily, from their mannerisms to how they react to certain situations to their funny nuances. My book is geared toward a younger audience, so I'm grateful to be surrounded by them all day, so I can really get an authentic representation of them.

 

What are some other goals you have in mind for your writing career?

A: Besides having an original series or movie on Hulu, I want to become a best-seller. I want to be able to travel the world, talking about my book. But honestly, the moments that I love and will never get tired of, are when people come to me and tell me how much my book meant to them or how they loved seeing someone who looks like them on the cover. Or Hearing that I'm telling their kind of story correctly. Or how good it made them feel to read The Royal Elite Squad. Honestly, that is thanks enough.


You can purchase The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad by D.A. Alston here.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Gregory Hedgepeth & Danielle Elaine
 

BY GREGORY HEDGEPETH

 

Last year, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a writer. This year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a six-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.


The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.


What is the first book that made you cry?

A: I believe the first book that made me cry was Kite Runner. I remember most vividly how that book took me through so many emotions. I loved it. I still do and recommend it. It was a lot for me. Very eye opening. I find pain so poetic.

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What is your writing kryptonite?

A: My writing kryptonite would definitely be deadlines. Even deadlines I give myself, I can never seem to keep. I’ve learned a lot about myself lately, and one thing that keeps coming up is fear. I’ve been running from myself, and doing “the work” for so long out of fear. Now, my challenge is pushing past the fear, running straight to the things I’ve been running from and commit to myself and that work.

 

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

A: Sadly, I’m not friends with any other authors. I have friends who are creatives in other ways, we keep each other motivated by being honest with one another about our work, and ideas. We are honest about our kryptonites. Being vulnerable is truly an inspiring gift. People always ask me for advice when they want to start writing, and I always say just write. Get the words out and worry about perfect later. I live by this and Im always asking my friends to double check and edit things for me. Some writers I am inspired by push me to stretch my creativity, take my writing form, depth and vulnerability in my writing to another level. I just want to make a last impact on at least one person. I want at least one person to read my work and feel something.

 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

A: If I could tell my younger writing self anything, it would be start now. I would tell myself don’t wait, and there is nothing to fear, however I don’t think my story would be as good if I hadn’t made some of the mistakes I made to get where I am today.

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

A: Publishing my first two books independently did not change my writing process, only my desire to solely do it alone. Independent marketing is hard. That saying about family and friends joining the bandwagon last is very true.

 

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

A: LOL!!! Far too many!

 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

A: Yes, my novel details many experiences people would never believe. I am excited to see what people will decipher as true and fiction.

 

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

A: I would give up anything to become a better writer. I would give up fear and definitely procrastination. I’m not sure what the timeline for most writers is like, but I always feel like I’m off.

 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

A: The most difficult part of my artistic process would be consistency and balance. Once I start writing, I take off and I’m on a roll. That’s a place I’d like to live in daily, even when I am not actively creating. Life has been such a rollercoaster, trying to pursue my passion, be a good mom, and find stability as an adult, I tend to get bogged down by it all which makes it difficult to get artsy at the end of the day.

 

Does your family support your career as a writer?

A: Yes and no. It’s the typical scenario: when I’m doing good they are all for it - but when I’m not, I need to “grow up”, “be realistic” etc.

 

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

A: Yes, I believe in writer’s block, I had it for a very long time. I think it is a subconscious unwillingness to produce for whatever reason that may vary person to person. There have been many times I wanted so badly to write, but for one reason or another I just couldn’t find the words.

 

Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring writers?

A: My only advice is just get the words out. Don’t worry about writing rules and being perfect. That will come later. If you just get your words out, as you think and feel them, the process becomes less daunting. Also, there’s never a need to compare yourself. You would not have been given the gift or inspired creatively if you were not meant to write. You’d have the desire to do something else if there wasn't room at the writers table for you too. Don't compare yourself to others, and don't critique yourself until it’s time to edit.

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When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A: There was never an “aha!” moment - it was just something I always felt and knew about myself. I have always written, because I felt stifled communicating my emotions any other way. I had always wanted to be a published author, but never took my writing careers serious until I found out I was pregnant and decided to be a mom. I knew I couldn’t tell my daughter she could be and do anything, and have her believe me without having anything to show for my own dreams manifesting.

 

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

A: I have two projects in the works: one major and one a little less major (but not minor, lol). The latter is Fire Affirmations for Dope Women in Transition, a compilation of affirmations I have written over time, to preach to myself in hard times to push through and inspire myself. It’s for women and moms of all kinds creating space for us to be light with ourselves, to be vulnerable, to push through and execute our vision in spite of things seemingly crumbling around us. The major MAJOR project I’ve been working on for years now is A Minister’s Child, which may end up being titled Spratt Street. It is a novel based on my life and the wild things I’ve experienced. There will be tons of truth and many exaggerations as well. A Minister’s Child is an obvious title, because that is what I am. Spratt Street is part of the street address of the shelter I stayed in recently. I was there almost a year, way longer than I intended - but as you can imagine, there were some characters in there!

 

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

A: The most surprising thing is how much I’ve been through, how much I’ve endured. My resilience and strength. When you’re going through tough time after tough time after tough time, you kind of keep your head down until you clear each rough patch. To look back at it all on a macro level while writing make it profound to see that I am still intact, peaceful, and happy after it all.


Gregory Hedgepeth is the editor-in-chief of Vital Narrative Press. You can follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Feel free to follow on all three. Or maybe just two. Yeah, two’s probably good — he’s not that interesting. Gregory Hedgepeth is also the author of MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT SUNRISES, THE YEAR THAT ANSWERED and A COLLECTION OF ECHOES. BUY THAT SHIT.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Yvette Luevano & gsoell
 

BY YVETTE LUEVANO

 

Last year, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a writer. This year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a six-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.


The previous interviews from our WAWQ series are linked below.


How long have you been writing and when did you really start calling yourself a writer?

A: I've always written but inconsistently (which is basically everything in my life). It's really based on what I feel like I "need" to write. Do I need to write a poem? Do I need to write an essay for school? Do I need to write a journal entry about this feeling or event? I'm always writing but sometimes it's less artistic and more practical. And, to be honest, it seems so far-fetched to call myself a writer that I don't. Maybe when I have a published book in my hand, I'll actually accept the title.

 

How did you get into poetry?

A: I was really inspired after my vacation last year in the psych ward and needed to write something and to write it well. I had been laboring under the illusion that I couldn't write poetry for years but my prose never got to a level I felt confident in. I decided to try poetry again and it fucking clicked.

 

Your work touches on themes of identity, language, mental health, sexuality. Would you say that your personal life informs your work? To what extent does it influence your writing?

A: My personal life is my work and the foundation of my writing. Small Nights Gospel is entirely autobiographical. I'm hoping to evolve from that style in the near future.

 

What does the creative process look like for you? Do you have a set routine or mood that you need to get into in order to write?

A: My creative process is a mess because I'm a mess. I need to be able to process my emotions or thoughts to be able to write and, as someone with severe depression, that can be difficult. My best strategy is to seize the moments where I have the balance and energy to harness my words. I always have a small notebook because I like the tactile feeling of writing and that fuels the creative process as well.

 

Tell me about your favorite place to read and write.

A: Is it super basic to say that I like to write in Starbucks? I have a really specific order that I get almost everyday (venti iced coffee with vanilla and soy) and when I go in the mornings, it feels like my life is just together. I also like to read and write in bed. I have this really expensive and luxurious bed because I literally do everything important in it. I earned my Master's degree in that bed and wrote most of my book in that bed.

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Who do you love to read? Which poets excite you the most?

A: I have to confess, I don't read poetry enough to have a favorite author (I'm so ashamed omg). However, Neil Gaiman is my favorite author because his writing is so beautiful and poetry-like. If I could live in his writing, I would. The best I can do is aspire to his level.

 

What do you love to do outside of writing?

A: I love playing with my dogs. I adopted two Chihuahuas and I'm obsessed with them and we're best friends. On a more pretentious note, I also love to read and visit breweries.

 

What images or ideas do you keep coming back to in your work?

A: I play with images of birds and the ocean a few times in my current book. I feel like the auras and energy around these images are worth unpacking, even in minor ways.

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How do you feel you have grown as a writer?

A: I found my niche. I really sucked ass at prose. It actually wasn't that bad but most of my writing was static and expressionless. I found a genre in which my brevity and creativity could flow more naturally. I also think being honest in my writing, being unembarrassed by perceived vulgarity, and understanding who I am (good and bad) helped my writing grow.

 

When you write, do you have a particular audience in mind? Who do you write for?

A: I write for people who don't know what the fuck they're doing. Because I'm that person. I have no idea where I'm going and I have no idea how the fuck I'm getting there but I'm getting there and it's going to be a triumph when I arrive.

 

The idea that an artist must suffer for their work is one of our most damaging cultural myths. Self-care is important, especially in these difficult times. What is your favorite way to be kind to yourself?

A: My self-care is more practical because my mental health is so wacky and extremely inconsistent. It often takes the form of paying bills, making appointments, packing lunch for work, etc. It can also just be a low-stakes activity like reading a book or watching something on Netflix.

 

 

Small Nights Gospel will be released January 18.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Darlene P. Campos & P. Curry

BY: DARLENE P. CAMPOS


Last year, we created of series of in-house interviews called Authors Interviewing Authors, where our roster traded conversations in an attempt to get to know one another as well as provide some intimate insights into the life of a writer. This year, we expanded on our series, aptly renaming it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a six-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers. 


DARLENE: You have a book that's about to be released - what emotions are you feeling?

P. CURRY: A wide range of them. Part of it is sheer disbelief; I really can’t believe this is finally happening. I’m also feeling a bit overwhelmed as now that I’m about to be published, I’m really not sure how to go about actually pushing and marketing my book. I even have a few questions in the back of my mind that are scaring me. Like….is this thing going to crash and burn? Is it even ready yet? Will people love it? Will people hate it? Could it become a bestseller? Could it be “discovered” and turned into a worldwide phenomenon? There really is no way to know.

Going beyond all of that, I am very happy and excited. For years I’ve been telling people I’m a writer but up until now haven’t really had anything to show for it. It truly means the world to me to finally have a book on the way. I know I still have a long way to go before I get to the point I wanna be at in my writing career, but this is a definite step in the right direction that I feel will open many doors of opportunity for me.

 

If you were hungry and couldn't cook for yourself, which character in your new book would make the best chef? 

 A: Well this is random, LOL, but it would likely be Demeter. One major element of this character is how she loves cooking. In particular, her cooking is everything to her. She stands at the stove with a smile, concealing the turmoil which goes on within. I suggest you read my book if you wish to know the whole story behind that. Just saying.

 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

A: You know, I’ve attempted many different things. Cooking. Art. Photography. Graphic Design. Barbering. And a few others. Now, mind you, I did and still do enjoy all of these things, but only as hobbies. I’ve briefly worked in all of these fields and it was like, the minute it became a job, I either lost interest or realized I just wasn’t cut out for it. And yet, the whole time I was doing all of that, writing showed itself to be my true talent time and time again.

 That being said, foolishly enough, it was a talent which I ignored for the longest time. Going all the way back to elementary school, teachers, family members and various others would shower me with praise over my writing and I just shrugged it off each time. In particular, I remember one English teacher in high school who routinely pushed me to get into poetry competitions, join fiction writing programs and even recommended me for a summer writing course with a prestigious author (I can’t remember who it was). Each time he asked, I just said no thanks. And yes, I now HIGHLY regret blowing all of that off.

 I continued to be “eh” about writing until my second year of college. This was when two very pivotal incidents happened. The first was when I walked in late to my U.S. History class towards the end of the semester, only for the professor to be all “Well there he is!” It was then everyone cheered for me and upon asking what happened, she proceeds to tell me that, in her thirty-plus years of teaching, my final essay was the best paper she had ever read. The second was when another teacher accused me of plagiarizing my paper. I was called into the English Department and everything just so she and the department head could check over my sources to make sure I didn’t copy anything, only for the two of them to be stunned when they saw I didn’t plagiarize a single thing. Suffice to say, it was then when I finally realized I should probably take the writing thing more seriously.

 

What's your usual writing routine like?

A: I’m not sure I could say I have one. At least not a healthy one. Beyond being my profession of choice (even though it’s not paying the bills yet), writing is also my escape. Given that my day job is in a field that’s not at all related to writing, at the end of each day, I’m pretty much hyperventilating over the fact that I’ve spent my entire day not writing. So the minute I get home I immediately get on my computer and start typing my fingers off.

Granted, I’ll admit this may have had something to do with pressure. After all, I was really eager to get either Calliope of Atalan or something else I was working on published and/or noticed. I may develop a healthier routine now that I don’t have that dark cloud hanging over my head. In particular, I greatly enjoy spending time at cafes. Something about coffee, music and a baked treat really gets my creative juices flowing.

 

If you could go on a writer's retreat with any author, who would it be?

There’s quite a few actually. Harry Potter is one of my all-time favorites as well as having some influence on Calliope of Atalan so of course I’d love to spend time J.K. Rowling. Another book I drew inspiration from was Akata Witch, so Nnedi Okorafor would be another choice.

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Let's talk movies! Who is your favorite screenwriter and why?

A: You know, this is a bit of a tough one for me to answer given that when it comes to movies, who’s acting, who’s directing and/or who’s producing all take priority to me over who’s writing. The writing process for a film or TV show is much different than it is for a novel. With a book, the writer is also the actor, the director and the producer. It’s up to them to tell the story, give a convincing performance, create the image and keep the idea and presentation of it under control.

With film and television, the writer only has to tell the story. Not to say this makes them less important of course, but there’s a distinct difference. I’ve seen numerous films and shows which had a good story that was ruined by terrible acting, cinematography and/or production. On the other side of that coin, there’s also a lot of films and shows out there with horrible stories but the acting, cinematography and/or production are fantastic enough to mislead the audience into thinking it’s a good story.

I still have a lot of admiration for screenwriters, so I’m in no way trying to speak down on them here, but I feel that when it comes to good screenwriting, the actors, directors and producers are just as important in bringing that vision to life. After all, if Calliope of Atalan were ever to be adapted into a movie and/or television series one day, I wouldn’t want just anyone to direct, produce and/or act in it.

 

If you had the chance to write an episode for any TV show, past or current, which show would it be?

A: I would love to write an episode of Black Mirror. I really gravitated towards that series in particular because I frequently find myself feeling disturbed and/or uncomfortable with a lot of modern technological advancement, so it’s good to know I’m not at all alone there, lol. One recent digital innovation I’ve felt particularly disturbed with is the whole “Alexa” thing, so if I was given an offer to write a script for a horrific satire of that item, I’d jump on it in a second.

 

Are any of your characters based on real people?

A: Yes, quite a few of them actually. I have a lot of experience with women who have been through a lot in life and yet resort to taking out their anger and depression on others; Demeter in particular draws influence from that. Upon rereading and revising, I noticed that I subconsciously drew from my own high school experience when writing a lot of the teenaged characters that Calliope interacts with throughout the novel, and I’m not sure if I can say that’s a good thing or not. Pan is essentially a walking satire of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, especially in the black community, so I know more than a few individuals who are just like him. Brutus on the other hand is a combination of just about every “fuckboy” type I’ve ever met in my life, lol.

 

What's a goal you hope to attain in your writing career?

A: I have a long list of goals, but one of the most important ones is to have some sort of impact, especially in regards to representation. As a minority myself, I’ve grown quite tired of being limited to certain outlets in order to see faces that look like mine. I’ve always been drawn to works that fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction, and until very recently it was quite rare to have well-rounded, three-dimensional and sufficiently humanized depictions of not only black people, but also non-black POC, members of the LGBTQ+ community, religious minorities, people with disabilities, people of size and neurodivergent individuals as well in such works. And really just in general.

In recent years, we have been moving in the right direction. In the arenas of fantasy, science fiction, superhero/comic-related material, horror, supernatural, alternate history and what have you, I’ve seen a marked improvement across the board. But there’s always work to do. I want to be a soldier in this revolution.

 

Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?

Honestly, start small. To elaborate: I began work on Calliope of Atalan: The American Dream in 2014. Very early in the process, I would momentarily post excerpts of it on my old Tumblr, and managed to come in contact with Greg and the Vital Narrative through sheer dumb luck. He liked what he saw, words were exchanged, and I was signed to the roster the next day.

Now, personally, I think I just got VERY lucky here. I had no idea what I was doing, and had I never spoken with Greg, I’m pretty sure that the moment I finished my first draft I would have just naively submitted the manuscript to Penguin or something, only to give up after getting my rejection letter, even though I already knew full well they only publish like five percent of the books submitted to them.

Instead, I was found by an independent publisher who liked what he saw and was willing to give me a chance. The editing and revision of my novel was a long and arduous process that lasted for nearly three years, but after all this time I can honestly say it was worth it. Had I sent my novel to a major publisher, they likely wouldn’t have said a thing about why it was rejected. Greg and Sacha both took the time to painstakingly review it so I would know exactly what to fix. I ended up actually learning even more about writing in the process. Even if it may take some more time for me to reach a wider audience, I am truly thankful for this experience and to be apart of this team.

Long story short, don’t sleep on the independent and small-name publishers. With Vital Narrative, I found a team that was more than willing to thoroughly and personably work with me on my project. Much better than having to deal with a team of editors from afar who would either reject me without a word and/or drastically change things in my work without my consent. Besides, just being published alone is valuable experience, even if you don’t become J.K. Rowling overnight.

Darlene Campos Discusses Struggle With Anxiety and Depression In New Interview

BY: STAFF

 
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Darlene Campos was recently interviewed by Let's Fox About It Media and revealed her personal struggles with anxiety and depression and also hopes to feature a character with the same issues in a future publication.


I [just] finished reading ‘I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER’ by Erika L. Sánchez. The protagonist, Julia, has depression and anxiety and it was so refreshing to see a main character with these traits. I connected to the book a lot, and I aim to do the same with future characters. Mental illnesses shouldn’t be taboo. They’re a real and important subject to address and literature is a great way to do this.

You can read the rest of the interview here and purchase her second novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, here.

Darlene Campos Reveals Interviewing Over 60 People for 'Summer Camp'

BY: STAFF

 
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Darlene Campos recently spoke with Book Riot about Summer Camp Is Cancelled and revealed interviewing at least sixty people in preparation for her second novel.


I did have to do tons of research on children who are deaf, the 1990s, and Catholicism. This research consisted of reading several books, articles, watching informative YouTube videos, and conducting interviews. I interviewed over 40 people who were either devout Catholics or lapsed Catholics. Additionally, I interviewed over 20 people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Jessica Flores’ YouTube channel was a BIG help with research on deafness, too. Reading books and articles an watching videos are a great way to conduct research, but interviewing people is my favorite part because I get real, personal responses.
— Darlene Campos

You can read the rest of the interview here and purchase Summer Camp Is Cancelled here.

Authors Interviewing Authors | Darlene & D.A.

BY: D.A. ALSTON

 
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DA: Your second novel is about to be released to the public - what does that mean to you?

DC: It feels surreal to have a second book! Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to have a book published. Having two out soon feels like my dream of being a published novelist is still going strong.

DA: As a creative sometimes we go through the highs and lows. How do you maneuver through the constant worldwinds of life and still create?

DC: That’s a great question. The thing about life is that it can be thwarted at any time. We have a daily routine, but sudden changes come up when we least expect it. It’s important to remain level headed during a whirlwind to make good decisions. However, it’s also okay to have a breakdown every once in a while. Writing is an awesome way to jot feelings down and just let it all out.  Being a novelist with a publishing house contract means projects still need to get done, so even when my life is extremely stressful, I have to keep on writing. A plus side about writing is that you can make your own world where everything goes your way – I think that is why I’ve always used writing as a coping mechanism.


I’ve always used writing as a coping mechanism.
— Darlene P. Campos
 

DA: What has been one of your highlights of your writing career thus far?

DC: A lot has happened in my career ever since my first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, came out last year. I’ve had interviews, won an award, landed a spot on a literary radio show, etc. But out of all these cool accomplishments, the best moment was when a reader reached out to me on Twitter to tell me, “Behind Mount Rushmore is my new favorite book.” That moment overshadows everything else.  

DA: If you weren't writing, what do you think you would be doing?

DC: I’d be wishing I was a writer! I can’t imagine being anything else.

DA: With this second book, what do you help people gain from it?

DC: I really hope the perspective on those who are deaf changes for readers after they encounter this book. There’s this huge, skewed idea that those with different abilities can’t do anything and that’s completely NOT the case. My day job is in education and I’ve worked with students who deaf, blind, etc. and their work has always been equal to or better than students without these different abilities. My father has been deaf in one ear since childhood and he’s a doctor. That’s the most important lesson of the book - just because someone is differently abled, it doesn’t mean that person is lesser abled in any way.

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DA: What's a normal writing session like for you? How do you prepare? What usually happens?

DC: When I’m not distracted by the internet (hah!), my writing is pretty productive. For novels, I usually start by outlining the characters rather than the plot. It helps to know what a character is like, because I can figure out how the character would act in a certain situation. That makes the plot a bit easier to write. For example, readers familiar with Behind Mount Rushmore can guess very well how Jay Eagle Thunderclap would act if he locked his keys in his truck, because they already know his colorful personality.


My biggest goal is to quit my day job and write full time.
— Darlene P. Campos
 

DA: This book is geared towards young adults. What books were influential for you at that age?

DC: There were many, but the ones I can remember off the top of my head: Buried Onions by Gary Soto (an author who is very important in Summer Camp Is Cancelled by the way), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and pretty much everything in R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series.


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DA: What was the most difficult part about writing this book?

DC: The hardest part was the research on Catholicism. I’m not Catholic nor was I raised Catholic, so my knowledge of Catholicism was basically nothing when I started writing. However, I interviewed several practicing, lapsed, and former Catholics who provided me with tons and tons of knowledge. I visited Catholic churches, read lots of books and watched many videos starring priests sharing their knowledge. By the time I finished researching, I felt like I could probably be confirmed as a Catholic myself!

DA: What are some of your goals for your writing career?

DC: For now, my biggest goal is to quit my day job and write full time. I know it’s super hard to get to this point, but a lot of writers have gotten there and I’m sure I can as well if I work hard enough to expand my career. Another goal is to have a movie produced. I’ve already written one film script, so I have a story set for whoever wants to pick it up.

DA: As a woman of color, how important is it to tell stories from your point of view?

DC: To be honest, I feel that all stories are important and I don’t think that my point of view is any more or less important than another person’s point of view. It’s true that certain people have greater credibility for certain subjects, though, yet everyone has a right to their opinions and feelings, even if we don’t agree. I’m sure there are some screwed up people out there who think my perspective on certain subjects doesn’t count or doesn’t matter only because I’m a woman, a minority and/or both. And whoever those people are, I have just three words for them: go to hell.


Darlene P. Campos's second novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, is available now for pre-order and will release on August 3rd. Her first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, can be purchased here. You can purchase D.A. Alston's first novel, The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad, by clicking here.