Monday, November 19, 2007

Intimate Mondays With Gloria Mallette

1. What is a typical writing day like for you?

I don't know if I would call my writing day typical, but now that I must start my day at 5:30 a.m. to get my son ready for school and by 6:50 drive him to the school bus stop, I find that I have to exercise to get my mental energy pumping. When the weather is good, I go for a walk. Once I'm in my office, my work day begins by answering email which I don't like piling up on me. If I'm lucky, I can begin writing, but in this past year since I self-published my last book, Living, Breathing Lies, I spend more time dealing with the promotion and marketing aspect of publishing. There are days where I literarily spend hours on the internet registering with websites or responding to websites I am registered with that promote my book. By the end of the day, I usually have not gotten any writing done, but I am trying to refocus and get back to beginning my work day by writing, which is when I am most creative.

2. Do you need anything special to write? Quiet, music, a special place?

Actually, I do need something special to write---quiet. I have always had my own home office so I have a private space, but if my son or husband distracts me, I can't write a single word. In order to give myself over to my characters, I can't have disturbances around me. So I close my office door. Oh, and before I can write, I have to have a clean, organized office. To me, a cluttered work space is akin to a cluttered, uncreative mind.

3. What is the one thing about you that people would be surprised to know?

Oh, good one. I believe people, readers in particular, would be surprised to know that I never took a writing course in my life and that I dropped out of college. I am not proud that I dropped out of college because I am sure that many more opportunities might have come my way if I had a degree, but I am humbly proud that I have gotten as far as I have with God's blessing.

4. What is your writing process? How does a novel begin for you?

My writing process is simple at best. With each and every chapter, I sit in front of my computer staring at a blank page waiting for the first word to come. Once the first word comes, I am on my way. The chapter literarily writes itself.

A novel, for me, begins the second I hear something interesting. It could be something said on television, something I said, or something I overhear. From that comes the idea for a novel, but I must have a specific issue to address or the story won't flow. Therefore, I ask myself, "Why am I writing this story or what is it I want to say?"

5. Where did you grow up and do you think it has impacted/influenced your writing?

I was born in Alabama but I grew up in St. Albans, Queens, New York. My four siblings and I were raised by a paternal aunt who was by far not the nicest of people. The beauty of the outside of our house did not reveal the abuse that was going on on the inside of the house. I believe my childhood most definitely impact my writing. I have written a lot of family driven drama and have focused on older women who are strong and domineering as my aunt was.

Specifically, Esther in The Honey Well, Nola in Promises to Keep, and Stephanie in Living, Breathing Lies.

6. Do you have siblings? And if so where do you fit into the mix?

Fortuitously or maybe I should say unfortunately, I am the middle child of five. I fall smack dab in the middle. It is said that the middle child is never the spoiled child and I'm here to tell you, this is so true I have an older brother and sister, and I have a younger brother and sister. My older brother and sister were both born in the month of November a day apart, although they are two years apart in age. My younger brother and sister are both born in the month of July, a year apart---ten days separate their birthdays. Me? I was born in the month of May which I can't complain about, but even stranger, my two brothers have rhyming names and so do my two sisters. Me? I'm Gloria. And no, I don't think my southern parents planned our births or our names.

7. If you could choose a profession other than writing, what would it be?

Don't laugh here, but when I was younger my dream was to be either a singer or a fashion designed. Any spare moment I got, I was either singing or sketching. Along with my siblings, we sang as a group in church---I was the lead and soloist, and when I was around twenty-one, for a very brief period until I got sick, I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology. I no longer sketch, but I sing like a "pro" in my car every day. lol.

8. What is your definition of success?

I should preface here that I believe success is relative. For many, success has to do with how many zeros one have in his/her bank account, or where one lives, or what kind of car one drives. For me, I define success as living one's life comfortably---wherever that is, with plenty of food on the table, a dry roof overhead, clothes on one's back, a comfortable bed to lie in every night, and the blessing of good health to enjoy it all. By my definition, I am blessed each and every day I open my eyes.

9. Who did you share your first kiss with and when?

Oh, boy. First kiss. H'm. Keep in mind that I was a church girl, so I wasn't "fast." I guess I had to be around sixteen when I had my first serious kiss and I must say, I was barfed out. I liked this boy but when he stuck him tongue in my mouth, I was too through. I pushed him away and to this day, I wonder if Will remembers me. lol

10. If you could have dinner with someone living or dead, who would it be with and what would you want to know?

If I could, I would have dinner with James Baldwin. When I was but a teenager, I read Go Tell It on the Mountain and If Beale Street Could Talk. Both books had an impact on me, but Go Tell It on the Mountain moreso because of my own childhood. Even back then, I wondered if these two books were autobiographical. I've since read about Baldwin's life so I know he had a rough childhood because of his abusive step-father, but I would like to know about his inner struggle as he wrote about the social and psychological pressures he felt as he wrote about being black and homosexual at a time when society denigrated both groups.

11. Your favorite past time?

I love sitting on my enclosed deck looking across my backyard into the woods. It is so relaxing, it is surreal. It's like going on a retreat. My husband and I don't get any work done when we're sitting on the deck, but we certainly enjoy each other's company during this time.

12. What is your greatest fear?

My greatest fear is not living long enough to see my son into adulthood. I pray the pray that most parents pray, and that is asking God to grant me the years to raise my son.

13. What writers have influenced you and in what way?

Of course James Baldwin because his writings were so real. His writings taught me to shoot straight and not dance around issues I'm addressing in my books. Then there is Stephen King whose writings taught me to use my imagination and to let my characters write their stories, not mine. There is Barbara Cartland whose writings taught me to let my characters experience emotions that readers can identify with and feel through my writings. There are others, but at this moment, these three stand out.

14. What is one book that you would insist that everyone read? (other than your own) And why?

I would insist that everyone read Roots by Alex Haley because until we all have an understanding of the African American beginnings on this continent, we all can't possibly understand why racism is unjust, why the civil rights movement had to be born, and why our black men have a legacy of hate and shame.

15. Your favorite fictional character from someone else's book.

Not so much my favorite fictional character from someone else's book, but my more memorable character from someone else's book has to be Bigger Thomas from Native Son by Richard Wright. I have read Native Son three times from when I was a teenager. Bigger Thomas so disturbed me, I cried for him because of his innocence, his ignorance, and his fear, all of which drove him to make a crucial error which cost him his life.

16. Who is your favorite character from one of your novels?

My favorite character, who in fact was real, was Mozelle from Weeping Willows Dance. Mozelle was my grandmother, and until I sat down and talked to her about her life, I had no idea how strong, in body, in mind, and in faith she was. Mozelle, one of twelve children of a sharecropper, was an incredible woman who never learned to read in all of her 86 years, yet she built a house with her own two hands to put a roof over her childrens' heads. Her faith in God was unshakeable and until her dying day praised God for all the blessings he heaped upon her. I'll never forget her saying to me, "I never learned to read, but I have a granddaughter who is a writer."

17. What do you want readers to take away from your work--other than being entertained?

If it is but one reader out of thousands, I like for that reader to fully understand what I was saying. Each reader interprets different things from a single novel, but there are those who really get the message.

18. Your favorite saying?

You had to ask. I find myself saying all the time now, "Sometimes we're so smart, we're stupid." In other words, smart people sometimes do stupid things because they, at times, outsmart themselves.

19. Your favorite curse word?

Would you believe for years I didn't curse at all? Now I find myself saying, "S--t" all the time. Not good.

20 What is the best advice you've ever received?

For years when I couldn't get published by anyone, my husband told me to self-publish when I had no idea what self-publishing entailed. He said, no one was going to make my dreams come true but me. He was right. In 2000, I followed my husband's advice and voila, here I am today, in 2007, nine books later. I'm on my own again, but so much more enlightened by knowledge I've gained.

21. One thing that always pisses you off?

Let's not talk about crazy drivers who speed and tailgate, or grown women I see leaving public bathrooms without washing their hands. I could probably write a 300 page novel on these issues alone.

22. What are you currently working on and when can readers expect to see it?

I am currently working on my tenth novel, SASSY. Sassy is a romance writer who meets the man of her dreams. What Sassy doesn't realize, is that the man of her dreams may well be a serial killer of women. What Sassy comes to suspect and how she handles it is what this book is about. This book will have quite a bit of suspense and mystery. I am excited about Sassy because I will have my first symbolic cover since my self-published edition of Jades of Jade. I hope to publish Sassy in June of 2008.

23. Where do you see yourself in five years and how do you plan to get there?

Idealistically, I would like to still be writing but I'd like to be with a publisher who supports what I write with a promotion and marketing budget, something I've never had. However, if and until the winds shift in the publishing world for African American writers who are not writing what's "popular", there is nothing I can do but stay the course I've asked God to set my feet upon, and continue to self-publish to keep my name in front of the reading public.

24. If there was only one thing in the world that you could change what would it be?

If I could change one thing in this world, it would be to put an end to racism. Instead of becoming extinct, racism is alive and well and just as destructive socially as it was a hundred years ago. Although so much has changed, racism continues to rear its ugly head in every aspect of our lives including in the publishing world. Sometimes it's subtle, at times it's overt, but at all times it lurks just waiting to pounce.

25. If you had the chance to go back and do something over in your life, what would it be?

Other than finish college, if I could go back, I would publish myself much earlier than 2000, but I let editors who told me there was no market for my work dictate my path in life.

26. Now, tell us a bit about your current book on the shelves and why should readers buy it?

My ninth title, Living, Breathing Lies, recently placed as a winner in the USA Book News Best Book Award in African American Fiction. Living, Breathing Lies is the story of 29 year-old Nadirah Lewis who believes wholeheartedly that to breathe a lie is to live a lie. It was seventeen years before Nadirah uncovered the stunning lie she unwittingly live in her Aunt Stephanie's house, but it would take another vicious lie and a threat to Nadirah's career as a school teacher to infuse her with the energy to fight back. Yet, while the revelation of these lies give Nadirah the courage to find herself, she must also accept the fact that those same lies may well destroy the lives of those closest to her.

I am hoping that readers who are looking for a good story that will draw them in and hold them captive till the very last page will buy Living, Breathing Lies.

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