Tag Archives: novelist

BerniceLMcFadden_Eric Payne_slider

How to Survive 74 Rejections: an Interview with Bernice McFadden

National Bestselling author Bernice McFadden has written ten critically-acclaimed, award-winning bestselling novels, including the contemporary classics “Sugar” and “Glorious.” Her novel, “The Warmest December,” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and was lauded as “searing and expertly imagined” by Nobel Laureate, Toni Morrison. A Brooklyn native and resident, Bernice’s latest novel is “Gathering of Waters,” a story that conjures the time, setting and heartbreak of the murder of Emmett Till. You can meet Bernice at this year’s Crossroads by registering here: CrossroadsWriters.splashthat.com

To learn more, please visit her website: www.bernicemcfadden.com.

You can also follow her on Twitter: @queenazsa

 

Q & A TIME – YOU’RE IN FOR A TREAT…
Bernice McFadden with fellow Akashic author Adam Mansbach at Crossroads 2012.

Bernice McFadden with fellow Akashic author Adam Mansbach at Crossroads 2012.

 

KATHY: If I’ve counted correctly, you’ve published 10 books as Bernice L. McFadden, plus you’ve got a piece in an anthology due out in December. You’ve also published 5 books under a pseudonym. That’s 16 books in 13 years. Sounds like you’re a disciplined writer. Can you describe your writing routine?

BERNICE: I just read your question out loud and was a little surprised. Wow, yes it has been sixteen books in thirteen years. Well fifteen novels and one novella. I’m amazed.

I don’t consider myself a disciplined writer. I think of myself as an emotional writer. I write when I’m feeling very sad or conflicted or extremely joyous. And I do not write everyday, at least not physically. The story is a constant in my head. I’m always thinking about the characters and their journey.

 

KATHY: In addition to creative writing, you’ve studied poetry and journalism. Do you write short stories and poems? Or any non-fiction?

BERNICE: I’ve written a few poems. Writing poetry is something I promised myself I would start doing more of. I started out as a short story writer. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would become a novelist! Way back when I first began to pursue publication all I had were short stories, but no one wanted to publish them. I’ve written non-fiction for The Washington Post and Crisis Magazine.

 

KATHY: Your first book, the award-winning novel, “Sugar,” was published in late 2000. It received 74 rejections before Dutton acquired it. What kept you going between rejection number 1 and rejection number 74?

BERNICE: “Sugar” was published In January of 2000. I call it my Millenium Baby. What kept me going was my faith in my gift that God had blessed me with. I couldn’t accept the fact that I had given so much of myself to these characters and their story for it to sit in a dusty desk drawer. That coupled with the promise I made to myself when I was nine years old, which was: I am going to be a published a writer when I grow up!

And besides, rejection builds character and resilience.

 

KATHY: Your second book, “The Warmest December,” also garnered awards and acclaim, including a nomination in 2001 for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. What did that feel like and did the accolades make it easier or harder to sit and write book number three?

BERNICE: The Warmest December was the most difficult book I’ve ever written and that was for two reasons.

  1. It was a fictional account of my childhood
  2. The Sophomore Curse

For those who don’t know, the sophomore curse in the literary world is when your debut novel does exceptionally well and readers and critics alike expect more the same magic in your second offering – but BAM! It’s a flop because the writer was freaked out by the good fortune of the first and tried to write above and beyond his or hers own genius. Or something thing like that!

Honestly, I appreciated and was humbled by the accolades that poured in for TWD… but my greatest joy about that book was the glowing blurb I received from Toni Morrison. She is my absolute favorite writer and I continue to remain in awe of her work. Having Ms. Morrison in my corner, made it easy for me to continue writing without thinking about who was going to read my work or even like my work – because as far as I was concerned, if Ms. Morrison appreciated my work then all was well in my world.

 

KATHY: Fast forward twelve years. That list of honors and awards for your books is long and distinguished – Washington Post Best Fiction, multiple short-listings for the Hurston Wright Legacy Award (fiction). While you’re likely proud of all of them, are there any awards that are particularly meaningful to you?

BERNICE: All of the honors and awards I’ve received mean the world to me. I know how difficult it is to be recognized in this world of Art and Letters – I consider myself one of the lucky ones, so I am grateful.

 

KATHY: You write literary fiction as Bernice L. McFadden. You also write racy, humor as Geneva Holliday. What are the pros and cons of writing in two different genres, with two distinctly different voices?

BERNICE: I don’t think there is a con to it. Not everyone can write in two, three or five different voices. I’m blessed to have that ability and because of it I can engage a variety of different audiences.

 

KATHY: Your latest novel, “Gathering of Waters,” weaves a tapestry using fiction and American history. Was it daunting to re-imagine a real-life famous event – in this case, the tragic story of young Emmett Till?

BERNICE: Not at all. Historical Fiction comes naturally to me because I love history and love fiction and so to be able to meld the two, excites me. I love reimaging people, places and things that helped to shape the world we live in.

 

KATHY: Several of your novels – “Nowhere Is a Place,” “Glorious,” and “Gathering of Waters,” for example – have ties or setting in the South. As a storyteller, what draws you back to a particular setting?

BERNICE: I think I’m drawn to the Southern culture because that’s where my maternal family hails from and those are the people that I spent the most time with when I was a child. I think I honed my storytelling skills from my grandparents, great aunts and uncles. Also, I feel I owe my ancestors a debt and so happily honor their lives in my work.

 

KATHY: You’re a repeat presenter at Macon’s Crossroads Writers Conference. (It’s no secret that we love and admire you!) Can you share a highlight from last year’s conference?

BERNICE: I had a wonderful time at the conference. I met a lot of intriguing, warm and wonderful people. And was thrilled to be able to spend some time in a town filled with so much history, a town that my great-great grandparents called home after they were freed from the bondages of slavery. It doesn’t get any better than that!

 

KATHY: What are you looking forward to at this year’s Crossroads?

BERNICE: I’m looking forward to more of the same and of course the sweet tea!

 

KATHY: What projects have you been working on this past year?

BERNICE: Well, I’m working on a novel with a male main character. This is a first for me. So I’m excited about exploring this new territory.

 

KATHY: Last question: Here’s the opening lines from David McCord’s poem Books Fall Open: “Books fall open, you fall in, delighted where you’ve never been…” What’s the first book you remember falling in love with?

BERNICE: I think the first book I actually fell in love with was, “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker.

 

Kathy writes and publishes as Cate Noble and Lauren Bach

Terminally Cheerful: an interview with Kathy Holzapfel

Kathy writes and publishes as Cate Noble and Lauren Bach

Crossroads: Why do you write?

Kathy: Compulsion. I am published, but midlist. Wanting to write in different genre for larger audience.

C: How’d you get started and where do you think you are in relation to your goal?

K: I started writing seriously (translation: actively seeking publication) in my early twenties. I’d grown weary of mysteries and a friend gave me a romance novel to read. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a combination of those two genres. I’m largely self-taught (translation: I single-handedly invented half of those rookie mistakes all new writers are warned to avoid) so my journey felt long and arduous. (translation: it took twenty years of trying/quitting/whining/trying again before my first novel was published in 2001.)

My initial goal was simply to sell a book. That goal morphed to selling another and another. But somewhere around book seven, my drive switched back to growing as a writer, which means moving beyond my familiar genre of romantic suspense. I’m still in the midst of that new goal, so it’s hard to judge where I am…but most days it feels pretty awesome.

C: You really seem supportive of other writers and organizations, and we’re just curious where that comes from.

K: Part of it’s just my nature. I’ve been told I’m one of those terminally cheerful people who others want to strangle when they’re down in the dumps and enjoying a good wallow. I want to haul you out of the mud and feed you cookies and give you pep talks and ask if you’ve tried this or that, while simultaneously checking my bag of tricks and remedies for something that will inspire you. (I’m also a Life Strategies Coach and passionate about personal development and creativty.)

But most of that drive comes from remembering the pain and loneliness of chasing my writing dream for years and years with no support – or worse, with belittlement. When I finally took a creative writing class at a local college, the instructor said he thought I had what it took to be published one day. I was so shaken I couldn’t drive, but I will always remember how it felt to be encouraged. When I finally went to my first writers’ conference in the mid 80s, I felt reborn. I believe that only a writer can truly understand another writer’s joy and frustration.

C:  Who are your biggest influences? What have you learned from them? What have you learned NOT to do from them?

K: My best influences have been a handful of big name, contemporary authors – like Nora Roberts, Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown, et al – who’ve been actively writing and hitting the bestsellers lists with consistently great stories. These are writers with 20-plus-year careers that I could study; people who could serve as ”virtual” role models. Even though I’d never met them, I could read their backlist and see how their writing evolved. I could read the scores of interviews published over the years and glean advice from them. And I could dissect their novels and examine the storytelling elements they used.

What I’ve learned NOT to do is to think that once you’re published, you’ve made it. That you don’t have to continue growing as a writer.

C: What are your roadblocks?

K: Too much isolation from other writers – writers with common goals. I just relocated to Georgia a year ago and underestimated the impact of being so rural. I have been in a “mastermind” type group before, with like-minded, serious writers, and only now realize how valuable that was. Hearing “pros” talk inspires me.

C: Is there anything at the conference that you’re especially excited about experiencing? Is there anything you want to ask our guest presenters?

K: Both of Saturday’s Talk Blocks have amazing panelists. If something strange happens – say, the ballroom doors becoming locked and barred, forcing everyone to stay put for an extra hour – don’t look at me.

I want to know if Chuck Wendig wrote outrageously back in grade school and high school. (Was he born that way?) And I’d like to know Sarah Domet’s take on character-driven novels versus plot-driven ones.

C: Why did you register for the conference?

K: Wanted to commit to being there, which was really more a commitment to myself as a writer.