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it Writers Asking Writers Questions and turned it into a six-week series involving established authors as well as new, unpublished writers.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.
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.