Hope you guys have been enjoying the Let’s Get Lit online fest so far! Natalia did an amazing job hosting Latinx authors week and now it’s time for my turn around the tour for Black authors week, so be sure to check back here for updates during this week.
I had the honor to interview these amazing Black authors, C.C Uzoh, Blair Cousins, Kalynn Bayron, Nandi Taylor, and L. Penelope! If you haven’t already, check out the Black authors showcase to see all their newest releases and bios.
Me: Please introduce yourself and briefly explain what your book is about!
C.C Uzoh: I am C.C. Uzoh. My book is about a naïve mother who goes against her king after her son is killed in a ritual that the king was meant to ensure stayed abolished.
Blair Cousins: Hi! My name is Blair Cousins, I’m an indie author that writes mainly adult sci-fi/fantasy novels. I also write some middle grade and short stories. My newest book, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN, follows Ester, a young woman, who dreams of becoming a hero by joining her planet’s military after she witnessed the slaughter of her family when she was young. It is the first book of a trilogy about a terrible secret that ties the fates of two families together.
Kalynn Bayron: My name is Kalynn Bayron and I am the author of the YA Fantasy CINDERELLA IS DEAD.
The elevator pitch for CINDERELLA IS DEAD is “Queer Black girls team up to overthrow the patriarchy in the former kingdom of Cinderella”.
It is the story of 16 year old Sophia Grimmins who is living in the former kingdom of Cinderella. Cinderella has been dead for 200 years but her story has become the backbone of society. Young women are required to know the tale and recite its passages from memory. It is used to encourage them to be subservient, to distrust other women, to perpetuate dangerous societal norms, and to remind them that Cinderella would have been nothing had Prince Charming not plucked her from a life of obscurity.
Sophia is in love with her best friend, doubtful that the Cinderella story is real, and feeling trapped as the annual ball, now a mandatory event, approaches. She has a choice to make; go along and deny everything she knows to be true about herself or attempt to take a stand. Her choices lead her on a perilous journey to uncover hidden legacies of resistance and truths so shocking they threaten to shake the kingdom of Mersailles to its very foundations.
It’s a story about the power of questioning the status quo, of being willing to risk everything for a shot at freedom, and of understanding that we are enough, just as we are.
Nandi Taylor: I’m Nandi, a writer of afro-Caribbean descent from Toronto. My debut novel GIVEN is the story of Yenni-Ajani, a princess of the Yirba tribe. Her father is wasting away from a mysterious illness so she travels to the northern empire of Cresh to seek a cure, as there are rumors that the same illness is hitting people there. She enrolls in their top magic academy in the hope of learning something that will save her father, but while in Cresh she encounters culture shock, prejudice, and a brash, shape-shifting dragon named Weysh. Weysh claims Yenni is his “Given” or destined soul-mate, and that goes about as well for him as you would expect. Given is fantasy-romance, but it’s also a story about growth and the consequences of hubris and ignorance.
Leslye Penelope: Hello, I’m Leslye and I write fantasy and paranormal romance. My epic fantasy series is the Earthsinger Chronicles and the first book is SONG OF BLOOD & STONE. It’s the story of a young woman torn between two lands; she’s biracial and has a magic called Earthsong in a country where the power is hated and feared. When she saves the life of a captive spy, it’s the start of a journey to awaken a sleeping goddess and save two countries from a devastating war.
Me: What inspired you to become a writer?
C.C: I have quite a retentive memory and this, combined with my overactive imagination and creative drive, give me inspiration. I am also inspired by people’s stories and my desire to engage, encourage, enlighten, and give readers an experience.
Blair: I’m not sure what got me into writing. As early as I can remember I was always working on something, be it a short story or comic, but the thing that made me consider writing as a serious career was Nanowrimo. After completing it for the second time, with what would become my middle book, I realized writing was something I could do professionally.
Kalynn: More than anything, reading inspired me to become a writer. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was younger. A story that kept me up at night or made me laugh or cry was the best feeling. Storytelling is a part of my culture and my writing is an extension of that.
Nandi: Growing up (and now) I was always very introverted. I was always in the background, but writing seemed to get me noticed. Whenever I received praise or awards in school it was for writing. It’s the only thing I could see myself doing for the rest of my life.
Leslye: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, every since I could hold a pen, like I write in my bio. My mother was a teacher and she taught me to read at a very early age, so reading was always a huge part of my life. I think it was only natural for me to feel the urge to become an author and create books just like the ones which inspired me so much.
Growing up, I wrote short stories and poetry. In middle school, I was published in an anthology of young writers and then I went on to become editor of my high school literary magazine. I worked on literary magazines in college and eventually co-founded my own independent lit mag as an adult.
For a long time writing was just as much of an escape as reading. It was a way for me to work out how I felt about things and express myself. I always used to say that writing is what kept me sane during tough times. The drive to tell stories is similar to the drive to consume them as a reader and they’re both necessary parts of my life.
Me: Who’s your favorite Black author?
C.C: Chinua Achebe. I grew up reading ‘Things Fall Apart’ and ‘Arrow of God’.
Blair: I will admit I am not as well-read as I would like to be, but I really enjoy reading Angie Thomas and Tracey Baptiste, both authors write exceptional stories that I highly recommend.
Kalynn: I have so many but when it comes down to it, it has to be either Toni Morrison or Zora Neale Hurston. Their collective works changed my life.
Nandi: Even though she doesn’t write speculative fiction like me, I’d say Toni Morrison for her ability to capture the nuances of the black experience. I first read the Bluest Eye in high school, and it was the first book where I was reading a character that closely resembled me, and I remember being shocked and relieved to see a character like me centered in media.
Leslye: This is kind of an impossible question as I don’t think I could pick a favorite. I’ll say that I was extremely inspired by authors like Gloria Naylor, Tananarive Due, Zora Neale Hurston and Octavia Butler.
Me: Alright, a fun question, if you were stranded on a desert island with one of your characters, who would you pick and why?
C.C: Nkem, Odera, Somto. Odera is strong; Nkem is homely; and Somto is knowledgeable and fun to be around.
Blair: I would have to pick Wildgrass, from THE DISTANCE BETWEEN. He has been a character in my mind for a very long time and I would love to meet him.
Kalynn: Sophia. Hands down. She’s resourceful, smart, and willing to take risks that (mostly) pay off. She’d see the situation and be like, “This isn’t gonna work. We gotta figure something else out.” She’d get us home, no problem.
Nandi: I would pick Weysh because he’s a dragon-shifter and he could fly us off the Island. If for some reason we couldn’t fly away, Harth because he’s also a dragon so he could hunt, but he has this great sarcastic sense of humour and he’s always cheerful.
Leslye: I would want to be stranded on a desert island with Darvyn who is the hero of the second book in my series, Whispers of Shadow & Flame. He is smart, resourceful, and has Earthsong magic, which would make things like growing crops or a garden in the sand possible. He doesn’t need a match to start a fire and can basically pull drinkable water out of the humidity in the air. He also has healing abilities and is good under pressure which are great qualities to have in someone you are stranded with for a long period of time.
Me: What are your favorite books?
C.C: Angels and Demons (Dan Brown); Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe).
Blair: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, is my all-time favorite. But here are a few stories that really stuck with me:
Tail of the Moon by Rinko Ueda
We Are Legion (We are Bob) by Dennis E Taylor
Clockwork by Philip Pullman
Poppy by AVI
Kalynn: I have so many! I can’t pick one and I read across all genres and age categories so this is about to be a long list. Beloved, Tell My Horse, Interview with the Vampire, The Shining, House of Leaves, The Belles, The Hate U Give, The Fifth Season, Wilder Girls, Wow No Thank You, How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, The Kill Club, Between the World and Me, Circe, With the Fire On High, Just South of Home. There are so many more but these are some of my faves.
Nandi: I’m a huge fan of the Belles series by Dhonielle Clayton because I love the juxtaposition of that colorful, beautiful world with the horror of the story, and I’ll read pretty much anything Laini Taylor writes because I love the way she waves metaphor into her books. Other than that, I love fairy and folk tales and I’d say they’re the foundation for my career as a fantasy writer.
Leslye: Here are some, in no particular order, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay, Namesake by Kate Stradling, Mama Day by Gloria Naylor.
Me: What made you want to write in your current genre?
C.C: My imagination tends to run wild and writing in the fiction genre allows me make use of my creativity to the fullest potential.
Blair: I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy. I love stories about strange impossible things, taking place in different worlds. Most of my novels are sci-fi/fantasy, while my short stories tend to hover close to the horror genre, despite me being a fraidy cat.
Kalynn: I love fantasy and read so much of it but I rarely encountered anyone who looked like me in a role that wasn’t secondary and one-dimensional or composed solely of racist tropes and lazy stereotypes. I decided to write from that place of wanting to see better representation in fantasy. Also, fantasy allows us to escape, and there are times when we really need to do that, but it can also allow us to understand the world we live in and our relationships with the people in it. That’s a powerful tool, especially for Black women who sit at the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or socioeconomic status.
Nandi: I’ve always been drawn to the magic, beauty and escapism of fantasy—again probably because of all those fairy tales and Disney movies I ate up as a kid. These days I love that it allows me to live, even through imagination, in a world that otherwise couldn’t exist. I like flexing my creative muscle to the limit creating new animals, new cultures and fantastical places. I’m also committed to bringing more diversity to fantasy in terms of race, sexual orientation and ability, as that was sorely lacking in the fantasy I read growing up.
Leslye: I write fantasy and I’ve always loved speculative fiction as a whole. I grew up watching shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales From the Darkside and I loved how they used supernatural and fantasy elements to give commentary and critiques about our world. It really struck me that fantasy allows us to think about issues that might be uncomfortable if they were framed in our current world. But when you extrapolate them into a fantasy world or society with different kinds of people and different powers, then it’s more palatable to talk about topics that otherwise might come across as being preachy.
Me: Another fun question, if your main character had a Twitter account, what would their bio read?
Poor mother who shouldn’t have lost her son but will do all she can to ensure that no other boy dies needlessly.
Looking for my place – Ranger hopeful – 18#AdumGirl #GalaxiaSTAN
Kalynn: Sophie’s bio would read:
Womanist. Maker of terrible gruel. Not a fan of fairy tales. She/her
Yenni-Ajani (please don’t call her “Yenni” unless you know her very well) loves runelore, tracking, magical beasts, and flying her field sphinx, Ofa. She’s on a sacred journey to impress her gods, thereby winning their favor so they will heal her sick father. She cannot and she will not fail.
@jasminda – Goats rule everything around me. Not here for your foolishness. Probably stuck in a book. #GreenThumbAndFingersToo
Me: Do you feel like your book is the kind you wanted to read when you were younger?
C.C: I know that a couple of authors have said something along the lines of “… write the book you want to read”. (Toni Morrison and Carol Shields). My book is the kind everyone should read in the sense that I believe it is different from what is out there. I write for my readers, not myself, hence why I am open to constructive criticism of my work.
Blair: I believe so, when I was young I read a lot of manga, so if this story was a manga I would probably read the heck out of it.
Kalynn: Absolutely. I wanted to see Black girls in ball gowns on the covers of books. I wanted to see us as main characters, as the heroes, as chosen ones. Now, I get to write these stories and add my voice to a growing list of authors who center Black women.
Nandi: Absolutely. The book started on Wattpad, and I live for the comments from Black teens who are geeking out because they’ve never seen African mythology in fantasy, or a dark-skinned, very obviously Black woman as the love interest. I think a large part of enjoying fantasy writing is imagining yourself in the world, and I often found it difficult to do that when the worlds never included anyone who reflected me.
Leslye: My book is definitely the kind of book that I wish was available when I was younger. That’s one of the reasons why it was so important to me to have my characters be Black and represent the types of people who often don’t get to be in fantasy stories with magic and adventure and who get to fall in love. I think every book that I write is something that I was craving at a certain point in my life, and I’m happy to be able to tell these kinds of stories and have people read them.
Me: What do you hope readers, especially from your community, take away from your book or your experiences as an author?
C.C: Every life matters. Humans are born equal. Love is important. We must fight for those things against which there are no laws such as peace, kindness, patience etc.
Blair: Firstly, I hope they will have a fun time reading it. I always aim to write entertaining stories. Secondly, I want my more Black people to see themselves in all kinds of stories and know that sci-fi is very much a genre they belong in.
Kalynn: I want my readers to feel seen. I want them to understand that their stories, real and imagined, are worth telling, worth sharing. I also want to show people who may not share my marginalizations or those of my characters, that we belong in these stories.
Nandi: First and foremost I want people to enjoy what they read, to leave the book feeling like they blew off some steam and had a good experience. However, though the book is fantasy-romance it deals with some deeper themes such as the damage from cultural appropriation and the inherent bias our society carries in favor of anything Eurocentric. So I hope that people who read the book examine some of their inherent beliefs about race and culture based on Yenni experiences.
Leslye: I hope that readers have a lot of fun with my books and get transported on a great adventure. I hope black readers are able to see characters who look like them dealing with and overcoming adversity, having amazing love affairs, and being badass.
As for my author experience, even though my path to publication is not the normal one in that I started out self-published, I hope that aspiring black authors can find inspiration and hope from me and know that it is possible to tell your story on your terms and be able to find an audience for it.
Me: Do you have any advice for any aspiring authors out there?
C.C: There are no universal rules in writing. Just write.
Blair: Keep writing, even if people poke fun at you, even if nothing becomes of it, keeping writing because it’s your passion and you deserve to enjoy this little bit of happiness.
Kalynn: I would say be patient, publishing is a marathon not a sprint. Take any opportunity you can to improve your craft. Read broadly and often. Don’t give up. Persistence is so important because you will absolutely encounter obstacles that make you feel like giving up. Don’t. Keep pushing, keep writing, especially if you’re part of an underrepresented group because we need your stories and there is a place for them. Don’t ever let anybody tell you different.
Nandi: Take it one day at a time. Nothing happens overnight and if you want to have a career as a writer you’ll have to build it brick by brick, day by day. But if you stay committed and focused it will happen. Just keep writing.
Leslye: My advice for aspiring authors is to find a community. I’d written for a long time but I wasn’t able to finish my first novel until I found a writing group. Having an accountability partner is the main reason that I crossed that finish line with that first book, and my writing community has helped me in innumerable ways throughout my career. I think it’s the single most important tool in a writer’s toolbox. So whether that means finding an online space or in person classes or a conference or live workshop to go to (when we’re able to do that again) make that effort to find other people who can support you through the hard times and celebrate with you in the good times.
And that’s it for today! I had so much fun interviewing these amazing authors and I do hope you check out the Authors Showcase page this week to check out all their incredible works. There are more interviews coming your way so stay tuned!!