Monday, May 03, 2010

Interview with Trisha Thomas

Hey Trisha. Thanks so much for taking time to answer my very intrusive questions, but I'm sure readers will appreciate your responses.

Q. Readers are always interested in who we are outside of being a writer. Tell us about Trisha, the woman.

Creativity is the first thing that comes to mind. If you ask any of my close friends to describe me, that’s the first word they’d use. My house looks like a big art gallery from my own work. Huge canvases on every wall. I hope to have a showing one-day. Then there’s the gardening which helps me meditate. My husband has caught me talking to the tomato plants and can’t help but ask, “does that really work?” Absolutely. We’re all living things. How would you feel if no one ever talked to you? I’m also considered the comedienne of my group. Always looking for the humor in any situation. Sometimes that’s interpreted as not taking things seriously. But it’s quite the obvious. I see things direct and extremely clear. Too clear sometimes. When you have that perspective it’s best to take things easy or you’d be in a constant state of flux.

Q. The writing bug hits us at different times in our lives. When did you first get bitten and what was the first outcome?

Ever since I could read and write, I have been telling stories. I use to draw out pictures and tape them together, roll them from one end to the other on discarded paper towel centers, cut out the bottom of a box and have my own movie reel. My mother was basically my only audience member, but she loved them, that was good enough for me.

Q. You're name has become synonymous with the "Nappily" series. How did the concept come to you?

No one really knows my name. I’ve read blogs when they say they love the series, or love Venus, but the name of the author eludes them. I’m so okay with that. I think we all want to be appreciated for our body of work. I think even the papparazi swarmed Reality Stars eventually want to be known for something, not just their name and what kind of designer bag they were carrying.

Q. When you started "Nappily" was it your intention to make a series out of it or did it evolve?

I wasn’t anticipating writing a series of books. I wanted to answer the question: Why are we so obsessed with our hair? Why, especially women of color are we willing to pay just about any amount of money to be what we’re not? The reason the question even came up was because my daughter came home crying after being called ‘nappy head’ at school. I was floored. I couldn’t believe after twenty some odd years, the good hair- bad hair war was still going on from when I was growing up. And was it really going to go on for another twenty, thirty, or fifty years? I started paying attention to all the subtle and not so subtle messages. The TV commercials always touted going from frizzy to straight. Even the main talkshows that were supposed to be empowering women focused on taking a woman’s natural hair and straightening it to make her new and beautiful as if that was the only way to feel good about yourself. They never showed straight, over-processed, and damaged, hair being cut to reveal a better look with natural tresses. When would we be happy with our hair? That’s pretty much how the journey began.

Q. I understand that Nappily Ever After was optioned by Halle Berry? Is that right? Where are things now?

The film has been in development for the last seven years. I know that sounds long, but I have the same agent as Dennis Lehane (Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island, Mystic River) and he reassures me, it takes that long, or longer, to be patient and go about the business of writing. I do just that. I try not to focus on the film. Although the good news is that Halle’s production company bought the full rights to the entire series so we’re hoping it will be more than just one movie, an HBO or a Showtime series would be nice.

Q. How many books are in the series and do you plan more of them?

Un-Nappily In Love is the sixth book in the series and will be released in a few weeks. Venus is about to experience The Big One, something I remembered from elementary school. Meaning an earthquake, not the other Big “O” one. LOL! Growing up in California, I think we prepared for earthquakes more than we learned our ABC’s. When Venus is faced with her biggest challenge, I couldn’t help but remember all those years of training and the Big One stuck in my head. Not until I was much older did I realize there’s no way of being prepared for the Big One. When the foundation you’re standing on is crumbling underneath your feet, and the walls around you are shaking, you pretty much have the instinct to run, seek cover, and pray for it to be over.

After it’s over, you survey the damage and rebuild. This is the metaphor for what Jake and Venus are about to experience in Un’Nappily In Love. They’re about to be shaken to their core.

Q. You are a full-time writer. If you had your choice of any other profession what would it be?

I’ve been a teacher, a gown designer, accountant, and marketing consultant for a couple of big food manufacturers (listed not in any order) I’ve experienced the gamut of careers. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business and Economics. I was on the fast track for so long. When I made myself stop and take notice that I was on the wrong track, I asked myself what are you running from? I was afraid of failing at the one thing I actually loved. It didn’t make any sense. Eventually I started two or three novels and they were all commercial and stale. I went to a writer’s conference and the keynote was so real and honest. She lived in the Appalachians and had this sweet southern accent. She said, “Write what you know, that’s it. No other big secret.” I left there with tears in my eyes because I’d been writing about murder and mayhem, honestly, something I knew nothing about. But when my daughter came home crying about her hair. It lit a flame. I remembered all the hurt of growing up, the little black girl with the thick untamed hair. Growing up and being taught, nothing in life will come to you with nappy hair. It’s like being branded underneath your clothes. Hoping no one ever sees what’s really there. Nobody knows the pain and stress we endure worrying about our hair. We run around doing what needs to be done to fit in accordingly. I simply put those memories in Nappily Ever After.

Q. How have you seen the publishing industry change since you got into the business?

I love knowing there’s a freedom there that wasn’t there ten years ago when I started. Self-publishing of books and now E-books gives you the option to not waiting for the approval of the powers-that-be in the industry. I still have the publishing contract, but I can also self-publish. I never considered that as an option ten years ago. I can step off the grid and do something new and risky. It’s an exciting time. Anyone can put their work out there and find a market.

Q. Social networking has "taken over the world" so to speak. How do you utilize the networking tools available to you?

I flow with the times. I think it’s wonderful to talk to so many people at the same time. Especially since most writers are hermits during the year or so it takes to write a book. Then suddenly you’re supposed to put on your stilettos and get out there and show your stuff. Much easier to communicate through networking.

Q. In a sentence, tell us what kind of writer you are?

I’m an involuntary writer. I’m writing every minute of the day. I can be out to dinner and I’m seeing the entire dialogue of the couple next to me.

Q. Do you feel at any time that you have boxed yourself in or have been boxed in simply by the success of the series?

Hell no! I feel lucky to have found a voice that my readers will listen to. There’s one particular reader in Montgomery, Alabama who I see when I tour. She sneers at me after every booksigning, “I’m not reading another Nappily…that’s it. What was Venus thinking?” The next time I come, she’s front and center (no names- Tara) She’s my perfect example. Once you read one, you’re hooked. I certainly wish I could get more people hooked. That would be golden. But I’m so grateful for the readers I have. I’ll take them being snagged by the series over hype any day.

Q. What's your favorite past time?

Cooking. More specifically, baking. I always have homemade cookies in my purse. Always.

Q. If someone were to walk into your house right now, what would totally surprise them?

Nothing. It’s as artsy and eclectic as you would guess. My house was featured on HGTV a few years ago and the producer kept telling me how much she loved it because it was all about us, my family, me as an artist. Everything screamed, The Thomas Family lives here. I have framed art from my kids when they were very young up to high school. I never let a single piece of their hard work go unappreciated. I could care less if my son drew me with three heads, it was going up.

Q. What is your greatest strength? Your greatest weakness?

My greatest strength, laughter. My weakness, I have a bad memory. I forget to be mad. My husband always quotes the Al Pacino character in Scarface in his best Cuban accent…”that’s okay, you’ll love me in the morning.”

Q. If you had the chance to sit down with someone and pick their brain, who would it be and why?

Probably my great-great-great grandmother. I feel like I have missing pieces sometimes. I’d like to get the full-story.

Q. What is one of your quirkiest habits?

I guess the one that stands out is talking to my plants. Better than talking to myself. My kids don’t listen to me. And if start a sentence with, “I was thinking…” my husband exits the room.

Q. What was the single most exciting thing that has happened to you as a writer?

Reaching the ten-year mark as a published author. I thank God everyday.

Q. Okay, give us an inside look at Un-Nappily In Love!

Finally! I love this story, probably more than all the others I’ve written before. Do authors always say that? Anyway, I really mean it. I haven’t had this much excitement over a book since the first one. Venus cutting off her hair in the first book was the first real decision she’d every made based on what she needed and not on someone else’s expectations or societal fears. In the newest installment, she does something else not generally accepted in our society, but because of the love for her husband and his integrity as a father, she steps out and does something bigger than herself, totally relying on faith. I love this story.

Q. Where can readers find out more about you?

I’m everywhere. Punch in those three little words and find out. My mother gets so appalled when we go out and she tells whomever…”this is my daughter. She wrote the book called Nappily Ever After. Have you heard of it?” When they give her the polite smile and shake of their head, ‘no,’ she’s devastated. “How could they never have heard of your book? What are they…living under a rock?” I try to consol her. “Mom, they just haven’t seen the movie yet. When they do, it’ll be a different story.” But in reality, it kind of stings. People use the term Nappily Ever After synonymously with going natural, and accepting themselves through the transition from a relaxer, when the term wasn’t used at all until I wrote the book more than 12 years ago and first published by Random House ten years ago. Now it’s like saying Xerox when you want a copy, when in fact Xerox is the name of a business machine company. Everyone uses the term whether we actually use the product or not, trademarks be damned! Black women use the term whether they’ve read the book or not. It just rings true and right. Surely its a good thing. Whether I’m in the thank you column or not, I want women to accept their natural beauty and teach their daughters to love themselves from the root of their hair to the soles of their feet. If not now, when? It just seems so basic to me to be nappily ever after, and yet I know how truly difficult it is. It took me till I was forty to get there.


Carleen Brice said...

Great interview!

Anonymous said...

Great interview!!