Where did you get your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc come from?
Nia: I get asked this all the time and keep thinking I need to come up with a better answer. But honestly, I’m not sure.
My best guess is that my love of books comes from my father. Growing up, our house was always filled with books and I remember him joining a book service that sent leather-bound versions of all the “classics” like War & Peace, Wuthering Heights … books like that. They were beautiful volumes to look at, and were kept in the bookcases in his study. Sometimes I went in there just to sort of handle and touch those books that seemed too formidable to read. As I got older, I read most of them. And at the same time, my father had this practice of always buying the books that were in the top three to five of the NY Times Bestsellers List, so I started reading those as well.
As far as writing, it’s something I’ve always done. I’m not sure where the urge to do that came from, because it I think it may even have predated my love of reading. I think I loved books even before I loved the act of reading, weird as that sounds. And I remember drawing and writing, just to create my own books. And that’s one of my earliest memories, like probably around the time I was about four.
Any author(s) that you feel influenced your writing?
Nia: I think Stephen King is definitely one. He is the king of the backstory. I think even if you don’t like horror fiction, you have to respect how painstakingly he creates a backstory for characters who may last only two paragraphs before they’re killed in some gruesome way. I loved that about his writing and try to pay a lot of attention to backstory for every character I write because backstory makes every character a whole “person” and consequential, and that has the effect of making the story itself more consequential. I think another influence, little known writer is Elinor Lipman. Her characters have quirks, and her books are often about very ordinary occurrences happening to extraordinary people and how their quirks influence how they respond to those occurrences. I also think Terry MacMillan is an influence, laregely because of the way she at one point seemed to be the only Black writer writing about Black people I recognized and related to—professional, driven, accomplished and often a little messed up emotionally for one reason or another, or struggling with the way their Blackness sometimes complicates things that ought not be complicated, like forming a family, developing healthy relationships and the like. And there are tons of other writers I think influenced and continue to influence me. Too many to name.
What inspires you?
Nia: People. People and their stories. I like having conversations with people about their lives. Cab drivers are particularly fertile ground. They’re often from other countries and have very involved, very interesting stories about how they came to be driving a cab. It’s not uncommon to have cab driver who tell me, ‘I was a doctor in my country’ or the like. And the fact that they’re often from other countries means they see this context, this country (America) and its people with unvarnished clarity. They’re sometimes not as invested in lying to themselves about who and what American society is. I love asking cab drivers about race for instance, because I think in the U.S. we’ve lost all perspective on that. I also talk to them about politics a lot. And no matter who, I like talking to people about their families and upbringing and you’d be shocked how much people share, like they’ve been waiting forever to be asked some of these things. Sometimes they share things they don’t realize they’re sharing, like the words they choose to describe a sibling or a parent can be very illuminating. So yeah, people, and all their various complications are my biggest inspiration.
What are your top 3 favorite boo