Over this past year being a Deb, I’ve shared the interview questions with several guest authors. Each time, one or two questions have caught my eye, and I’ve wondered how I would answer them. Now that it’s my turn to be a guest author, here’s my chance! As a continually hybrid writer, I’m remixing them with some fresh questions from the other Debs about UPTOWN THIEF…
Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
I am the biggest fan of Danzy Senna’s CAUCASIA. The book is paced like a thriller, but it’s written like literary fiction at the sentence level. CAUCASIA is the coming-of-age story of Birdie and Cole, multiracial sisters who have a white mother and black father. The novel is set in Boston, Massachusetts during the turbulent mid-1970s. When the activist family goes on the run, the black looking daughter goes with the black father, and the white-looking daughter passes for white with the mother. Senna takes on race and family and politics in the era in which I grew up, and was the first author I ever read who took on multi-racial politics in a voice I could identify with. The book is truly genius.
Can you talk about your experience with slam poetry and performance and how it has influenced your writing novels?
Two things stand out: poetry has taught me how to value each individual word and how to pay attention to detail. And spoken word has taught me to read my work aloud. I must have read UPTOWN THIEF aloud three or four times throughout the process. It slows me down enough to pay attention to each word and to take in the full meaning of the story. A draft isn’t done until I’ve read the whole thing aloud.
A chicken or the egg question: Did you come with the idea of the story, and it happened to have a political angle? Or did you decide you wanted to write a story with a political agenda and the novel grew from that??
I swim in social justice activism. Every book has a political agenda–or several. Each piece of the premise would fall into place and several political angles would be illuminated: I want to write something sexy…sex workers! I want to write an action genre…heist! Sex workers heisting money. Sex workers heisting money to save a clinic for their community….Robing Hood….And eventually the idea that they were heisting corrupt CEOs involved in sex trafficking took hold. Into that mix, I folded another dozen political agendas. Yet, they all felt effortless. If you pick a sex worker protagonist who’s running a health clinic during a bad economy in a gentrifying neighborhood who is helping young women with dangerous pimps and robbing corrupt CEOs to help pay the bills, the political implications begin to spin themselves.
You have a lot of sex scenes in your novel. What’s your approach to writing those, and how do you manage to avoid making them seem repetitious (which they never do)?
I try to make sure every sex scene has something new or unexpected. Otherwise, the scenes start to bore me. Just because the characters are having sex, doesn’t mean that the scene is inherently interesting. I like the sex scenes to reveal something new about the characters. If I can’t come up with something new or unexpected, I cut the scene.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
My biggest advice for all aspiring artists is this: work on your childhood issues about love and approval through other channels. This past week with my debut novel, I found myself irrationally waiting for something…a parade? a balloon drop? everyone in the supermarket to stop shopping and cheer for me? I think many of us pin hopes for love, approval or connection to our artistic careers. We hope for life-changing success or to become instantly well-regarded and influential. Nothing is wrong with these desires as long as we have the resilience to survive emotional roller coaster. I think for me, the critical thing has been doing a lot of work on the hard issues in my early life, so that when I feel strong emotions connected to my career, I can identify the difficult early childhood experiences in which they’re rooted. Otherwise, the twists and turns of my artistic career have way too much power. It’s been critical for me to be able to see that the current challenges in my career aren’t creating big feelings, they’re triggering big feelings from the past. Seen in this light, they are opportunities to clean up old hurts, by grieving what I didn’t get in the past, so I can enjoy the blessings of the present.