Sunday, April 04, 2010
Intimate Monday with Author Bernice McFadden
Bernice McFadden is certainly one of my favorite writers, and I'm thrilled that she has taken some time to chat with me today. Welcome Bernice! Let's get started.
Q. I've been following your career for years, but many readers don't know how you got started. Tell us about your first deal and the arrival of Sugar.
In the late 80's Sugar came to me as a long, dark note. Her rhythm was so haunting I had to jot her down on paper, turning her music into a poem. Some years later, when she’d made my home her home, I heard her voice; saw her slender neck, and her open mouth as she threw her head back in laughter.
So I wrote her a short story. Even more years passed and this writing thing was inching up my spine and gnawing at my skin and Sugar was fully formed by then, standing in the middle of my living room, cigarette smoke a cloud above her head, her hand pressed firmly into her hip, those dark eyes looking deeply into my own – demanding more than thirty pages with the unlikely end.
And I obliged her.
In the early 90’s I began sending out SUGAR to editors and agents and I received 73 rejection letters over a nine-year period. In 1999 I finally acquired representation and a week later my agent secured a two-book deal. Sugar was published in 2000 to great reviews and received numerous awards.
Q. You also wrote a sequel to Sugar entitled This Bitter Earth. > When you wrote Sugar did you at that time plan for a sequel and if not, what prompted you to create This Bitter Earth?
The original manuscript for Sugar was about a hundred pages more than what was published. I placed the deleted sections into an envelope and into my desk drawer. I started writing my second novel, The Warmest December. I had no intention of writing a sequel to Sugar, but Sugar's story lingered with me as well as my readers. I knew there was more to Sugar's story and that more was shut away in my desk drawer. I guess the decision for a sequel was made for me.
Q. Your work could certainly be considered literary. Who are some > of your role models in the literary field?
Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, J. California Cooper and Gloria Naylor - just to name a few.
Q. What are some of your inspirations?
My family members and American History.
Q. What is a your writing process? How do you go about crafting your novels?
I write whenever the feeling hits me. Sometimes I don't write for weeks, even months. Other times I write non-stop for days at a time.
Q. Your latest novel Glorious is just hitting the stores. Tell us about Glorious!
Glorious is my first, full-fledged historical novel, much like E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime. Glorious set against the backdrops of the Jim Crow South, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights era.
The story opens on a hot, steamy July 4th in 1910 as “The Fight of the Century” comes to an end and Jack Johnson becomes the first ever African-American Heavy Weight Champion of the World. This event sets off a series of violent, racial eruptions around the country and in the small town of Waycross, Georgia, the life of a young Easter Venetta Bartlett is forever changed.
Glorious follows the life of Easter Venetta Bartlett, a fictional Harlem Renaissance writer whose tumultuous path to success, ruin, and revival offers a candid portrait of the American experience in all its beauty and cruelty.
It is a tale woven with historical events and figures of the time. Langston Hughes, Carl Van Vechten, A’Lelia Walker, Nancy Cunard, Marcus Garvey, Horace Liveright and many other historical characters make appearances through out the story.
Q. Glorious begins with a "what if" premise. What made you decide to begin your book this way?
I believe all stories begin with a "What If" - even if its not always verbalized in the context of the story.
Q. You have been very vocal and pro-active about what you have dubbed seg-book-gation. What is it and what are you doing to combat it?
Seg-Book-Gation is the marginalization of works by authors of color, but most specifically African-American authors. This practice of marketing Most African-American authors strictly to Af-Am audiences is demeaning and financially crippling. Because of Seg-book-Gation fewer and fewer Af-Am writers are being published, while white authors who write books about the Af-Am experience, are breaking sales records, winning awards and accolades while similar stories written by Af-Am writers go ignored.
Q. Why do you feel it is so important for Black Writers to be mainstreamed?
It's important for a number of reasons, in my opinion the two most critical reasons are:
We cannot allow another group of people to become the authority on OUR experiences. This was the case for generations and we as a people are still trying to rid ourselves of the stereotypes and myths white men and women writers levied on us.
Secondly, we are Americans writing about the American experience - that alone should make us mainstream. But publishing continues to treat us like foreigners in our own country.
Q. What can readers do to move this agenda forward?
BUY BOOKS! If you cannot afford to buy our books, order them through your local libraries. Support your independent bookstore. IF you read a good book, spread the word. Don't see the authors you love at Target, Walmart, Costco and other similar outlets? Write a letter letting them know that if they cannot support Af-Am authors - you cannot continue to spend your money with them.
Q. Will you be touring with Glorious and if so where can readers find you?
Yes, I will be touring. Readers can visit my website: www.bernicemcfadden.com to see when I will be in their areas.
Q. Are you working on anything now? Can you give us a hint?
Another historical novel about Emmett Till.
Q. Do you consider yourself a Black writer or a writer that happens to be Black?
I consider myself an American writer who happens to be Black and female!
Q. When you are not writing what are you reading? What books would > you highly recommend readers have in their library?
Lately, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction. I highly recommend When Harlem was in Vogue by David Levering Lewis.
Q. If you could sum up in a sentence or two what kind of writer you > are, the message that transcends all of your work, what would it be?
I write to breathe life back into memory!
Q. Where can readers find you?
Q Any closing thoughts?
Together we can make this country truly a post-racial society one book at a time!
Thank you so much. And congratulations on Glorious!