You’re an actress. What made you decide to start writing?
I am so passionate about changing the narrative that seems to be the go to for people of color in film and TV! I was so tired of auditioning for stereotypical roles and shaking my head in confusion at the way some writers are writing black women that I decided if I really wanted change, I needed to BE the change I wished to see. That ultimately guided me to start taking my writing to the next level.
Why specifically write for young readers?
Because everything begins with our youth! They are the next generation and we will leave our beautiful planet to them to take care of. Also, young minds are so impressionable! It saddens me to see celebrities with such a large platform and so many fans who are young. And all they say and do and tweet revolves around their hair or their clothes or their expensive purses. It’s almost like they don’t understand these young minds are forming and they have this amazing opportunity to contribute to the world. I am so passionate about connecting to people and making a difference. I always say if I can help ONE person…even one…then I’m so happy.
Where did the idea for Tiffany Sly Lives Her Nowcome from?
My own personal experience with trauma. My daughter is on the spectrum of autism and I had to stop working to tend to her needs. No one can understand the pain of dealing with a child with a disability…unless of course you’re dealing with just that. And I’m a single parent! The trauma of losing my career and everything I’d work for along with the trauma of not knowing if I would be able to help her…it took a toll on me and I developed an anxiety disorder. I think if I had heard a message of “at some point life may break your heart…but you’ll be ok!” when I was young, it would have served me so well. I wanted to tackle trauma with a young audience. Let them know that sometimes they will lose. But we need to redefine that word. It’s like getting fourth place at an Olympic event. You can call that losing if you want…but to me it’s winning big!
Summarize your book in 10 words or less.
Coming of age story offering hope, love and laughter for all. (that’s eleven words! Sorry! Lol)
Tiffany suffers from an anxiety disorder. Why did you want to tackle that topic and how much research was involved?
Anxiety disorders are tough. In some ways it has similarities with autism. My daughter doesn’t appear to be “disabled.” Based on what society views as a disability, mind you. So people are hard on her. They expect her to be a certain way when she’s not able to be more than what she is. Anxiety is similar in that you don’t wear it. No one can tell. And yet if affects you in so many ways. And people can be so judgmental and unforgiving. I used to go to a park with a friend and would get tense and nervous when my daughter climbed ladders. Of course, imagining her plummeting to her death from a one-foot fall! And I do remember my friend’s eyerolls and annoyed mutterings of “She’s fine.” It made me feel so alone and misunderstood. I wanted to bring light to anxiety in hopes to educate about it. And there was definitely a substantial amount of research that went into creating Tiffany’s personality, but as a sufferer of anxiety, I used my own experiences as well.
I wanted Tiffany to be able to reject a religion without the book feeling religious or coming off as a YA about religion. I felt like if I made it a religion that’s not so well known and understood (like Jehovah’s Witnesses) readers could push it to the side to get to the heart of the story. This is not a book about religion. This is a book about what happens when you lose yourself and everything that you once were. And for many people, growing up and experiencing pain means abandoning many of the things that were “forced” or taught to you as a child.
In addition to religion and anxiety, you touch on other issues. How did you decide what to include/exclude?
Well autism and anxiety were both important to me because of my daughter and because of my experience with anxiety. And spirituality was important to me because I realize we are in a new age where people are abandoning religion in favor of a different concept of God. A more loving concept of God. I wanted to assist that movement.
Tiffany is a musician with specific tastes.Where did that come from? Are you musical?
I wanted to create a girl who was the anti-stereotype. Not all black girls are the same, so we shouldn’t write them that way. I wanted her to love a genre of music that people don’t necessarily associate with African Americans. I thought about classical but that was too much like me since I’m a classically trained musician. I got my B.F.A in music from Loyola Marymount University. So, I chose rock ‘n roll! Thankfully, my dear friend, Travis Lee Stephenson helped me with my research. He is a talented guitarist and performs in a band around LA. He gets a lot of credit for Tiffany’s love of music!
What are you working on now?
I just started outlining a YA fantasy (gulp) and I’m also working on edits for my second contemporary YA, THE VOICE IN MY HEAD, coming out next spring from HarlequinTEEN.
Is there a book from your own youth that still resonates with you today?
Maybe not a particular book. But there isn’t a day that goes by where a Langston Hughes poem doesn’t go through my head. Whenever I read I, too, am America…I get chills. And yep. I just got teary thinking about it.