As a child I longed to see people like me in the fantasy books I treasured, doing fantastical things and going on magical adventures. So I was thrilled when, as I was working on a forthcoming three-part blog series titled, “Do Brown Kids Go to Outer Space? A Search for Multicultural Kids in Fantasy and Science-Fiction,” I came across author Wendy Raven McNair and her fantasy trilogy featuring African-American protagonists. I immediately went to her website and found out all I could about the author and her books, Awake and Asleep. I downloaded her book and poured over her world of African-American super-beings.
I caught up with Wendy to chat about self-publishing, ethnicity in books and what inspired her to write.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a writer.
I grew up in the projects of Houston, and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, an accomplishment I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. I never travelled outside of Texas until I was an adult, and since then I’ve lived in Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, Massachusetts, and now reside in Georgia. Before I became a writer, I held many different positions: assistant teacher, manufacturing plant line technician, quality lab rep, office assistant, restaurant hostess, and bank teller just to name a few. My newborn daughter inspired me to pursue being a writer because I wanted to teach her by example to go after her dreams. Now, I’ve discovered that my life experiences are great resource material for my stories.
Can you tell us a bit about ASLEEP and AWAKE? How did you come up with the concept for the series?
Asleep is book one of a fantasy trilogy. Adisa Summers doesn’t know her boyfriend, Micah Alexander, can fly. In this opening story Adisa is introduced to the secret world of super beings as she’s falling in love with Micah, so it’s pretty intense right up to the very end.
Awake is book two of the trilogy. Adisa and Micah race against time to find a cure for Micah. When Adisa reconnects with the birth parents who abandoned her in a cotton field when she was only three, the shocking results threaten Micah and Adisa’s relationship, sanity, and even their lives.
My teen daughter inspired this trilogy. She loves fantasy stories, but my challenge was finding an age appropriate fantasy story with a lead character that reflected her, a teen and an African American girl. So I started the story knowing who the lead character would be. My initial fantasy idea was a superhero defender of the environment (my teen was learning about environmental issues), however the story was going nowhere. I did like the “superhero” idea, which evolved into super beings in the final story.
What’s your writing process? Where does your inspiration come from?
I’m a daydreamer, I always have been, so my writing process is simple. I daydream about my characters and write down what happens. I actually spend more time marketing, networking, and planning for or participating in literary events which all take away from my writing time and make up my typical day. For example, I’m taking time for this interview instead of writing, which is a great opportunity taking up some of my writing time. My ongoing struggle is to find balance between writing and all the other duties I perform as a self-published author. Usually I have to clear my calendar and just dedicate the whole day to writing.
What’s been the most surprising part of the writing/publishing process for you?
One thing it hasn’t been is boring! One surprising part has been the generosity of readers who are supportive and encouraging. Queries for my first published novel, Giant Slayers, received nothing but rejections. So I was thrilled to receive some positive agent responses to Asleep. But I decided to self publish since there are so many great alternatives available and reader response has been tremendous. However, I don’t have the money or resources a traditional publisher would provide, so I have to be a jack of all trades. It can be exhausting, but I get to do something I love, tell stories, so that keeps me motivated along with the positive feedback from readers.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What advice would you yourself give aspiring authors?
Keep writing! That’s the best advice I’ve ever been given. My advice to aspiring authors is to not give up. Exciting things are happening in the literary world that are giving authors more avenues to getting their work out to the public. The traditional publishing route can be very discouraging to aspiring writers but now print on demand and e-books are allowing these writers alternate routes to realizing their dream of getting their stories out to the public.
What was your favorite book when you were a teenager? What are you reading now?
One of my favorites was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I’m currently reading Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, the sequel to Parable of the Sower. Both authors are phenomenal writers and insightful storytellers.
What’s next for you writing-wise (and otherwise!)?
I’m currently working on a media project related to the trilogy that I hope to have up in 2011. Readers can keep updated through my website and blog. I’m also working on Ascend, the final book of the trilogy. After that, I may write a trilogy from Micah’s perspective. By telling this story through Adisa, much of Micah’s story is left untold, so exploring his side of things would be very revealing and a completely different story from Adisa’s version. So I believe it would hold many surprising revelations for readers. I’ll also be touring to promote the books.
Do you believe in being part of a “bloc” of writers? Are critique groups and writing communities helpful to you?
Ideally, yes, I believe a writing community could be very beneficial. Unfortunately, I haven’t found one that fits into how I work so I haven’t had the opportunity to experience it while writing my novels.
Thank you so much to Wendy Raven McNair for swinging by TeenWritersBloc.com to chat. Check out her website and books. They’d make great stocking stuffers!