Out of all your books, which one resonates with you the most?
TA: I’m going to say Last Stop from Innocence. There’s a few different reasons. Before penning that, I’d only put glimpses of my experience of losing my own mother at 18 in my novel The Lonely Pole. But that book was so saturated with other stories and with Baby losing her mother in a completely different way, I didn’t get to go into depth with that emotion. In Last Stop I pulled from my own memories for Amore. And not just with her losing her mother - the plights, the not a girl, not yet a woman stage she was in, the insecurities. To date, I was my most vulnerable with that novel.
As an OG in the industry, what are your thoughts on the direction the literary world is going in? (i.e., e-Books, book clubs, etc.)
TA: Wow. Flattering. I never thought of myself as an OG but 12 years in, I will honorably take that. Thank you!
My thoughts…Change is inevitable. It’s natural and you can either adapt, stay your course and pray your following remains, or gracefully bow out. With some of the changes taking place specifically in my genre, I believe I choose to do all three depending on what we’re talking about. I love the bookclubs and the interaction it provides. Groups like yours have become a lifeline to many authors. People sharing good books others may not have heard of, new authors having a chance to connect with readers that is difficult to accomplish with selling sites and self-promotion alone. Also, E-books is something I’ve happily adapted with. Coming from the paperback era it was a lot more difficult to put out a book then. The pro? If you were going to invest that money in full cover designs, ISBNs, printing costs, storage, travel to stores and distributors and time negotiating your novel onto those tables - it meant you really wanted it…to put in all of that work, you had to really want it. We used to load up the trunk and drive from Maryland to Philly to Newark to the Bronx to Harlem, standing in the snow, stopping people on the street to sell. Now ebooks have made our jobs SO much easier. Happily adapted to that!
Things like expectations of books coming every two months and being pressured by the public on what to write, that’s a TA gracefully bow out situation. I don’t rush myself. I’ll give my everything from my heart to my guts when I write. But it won’t come a second before it’s perfect to me. That’s a stay my course and pray my readers stay with me one right there.
What would you tell a new author that no one has ever told you?
TA: Find your audience and focus on them. Know what makes you special.
Write what you love not what you think people will love.
Stay real and humble and don’t get sidetracked by anything outside of your goal.
Only compete with yourself.
Treat reviews like food - keep the good stuff for nutrition. Sh*t the rest out.
If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
TA: Dig deeper. I know a lot of people enjoy my earlier work but I’m hard on myself. I’ve learned along the way how to tap into experiences and conversations with different people from all over the world, all ages, and research in a way I was ignorant to before. I would tell my younger self take this good book you just wrote here and make it better. Oh, and also your hardheaded rebellion is going to pay off - keep doing it your way. Don’t fold. And don’t second-guess knowing your worth and your dignity, even if it costs you opportunities.
What inspired you to begin writing?
TA: Writing has always been the easiest thing for me. It’s the other stuff that was hard lol I don’t think one thing inspired me to start. But every day something inspires me to keep going. Love, lust, injustice, pain…life. I’m constantly inspired by life.
What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
TA: Wonderful question. I would say…writing where you can tell thought and soul were in the initial recipe. Whether it’s the creative wordplay or the developed characters. The ability to build suspense and sustain mystery while giving enough to keep a reader engaged. When a good writer really wants to tell a story, the authenticity of that true desire comes through. It’s not contrived of their favorite books by other authors or meticulously trendy. It’s real. And that makes it good.
Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
TA: Not really. I’ve done things in my life - loved people, lost people, married a man, had a wonderful daughter, beat cancer (new flex lol) and wrote and published some books. They are all just elements of me and I’m sure there will be more, even are more I’m not naming. We all have our paths and purposes and no one’s is greater or less than anyone else’s.
What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?
TA: Literary success is when you are achieving your own personal literary goals that you set for yourself. They can be the same as day one or be fluid and change each year. I remember when I put out my first novel in 2008, I said if one person that I don’t know reads my book, it’ll be crazy. If ten people do, I’ll lose it. I was a literary success when I achieved that first goal.
Accolades are nice, of course, sales and money are terrific. But I don’t let labels or awards or charts determine my “success”. If so, I would’ve lost out on so many proud moments. Last Stop from Innocence was my most successful novel to date. It wasn’t nominated for awards or raved about in magazines. But it was successful because I got that love from the readers; writing peers I admire came to me about connecting with it; some doors opened for me for new opportunities from it and of course, I felt successful when those numbers came back and I had reached a new goal. It’s personal and my advice, keep it that way. Don’t leave something as important as feeling successful in the hands of other’s standards.
What is your kryptonite as a writer?
TA: My kryptonite. As in what can weaken me in the writing sense. Hmm…
In a literal sense. Distractions? Television. Social media. If you notice, sometimes there are gaps where I’m inactive online. It’s because I need to buckle down and work.
What has helped or hindered you most when writing a book?
TA: Helped - when I see my characters vividly past their physical features. When I know their fears, desires, pasts, plights, etc., clearly, I am a creative faucet. I am so tired right now because I desperately wanted to sleep last night but my characters did not. So I was scribbling thoughts almost every odd hour.
Hindered - my busy mind. When I get more than one idea, sometimes I lose the magic temporarily. Then me being me, I have to wait until it returns to really write some good stuff.
Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
TA: Indirectly I’m sure. I never thought of being an author until I found myself becoming one. But before I was, I was a serious reader. I actually miss that level of reading. That reading with the untainted mind and when I had time. I grew up reading lots and lots of Stephen King. Flyy Girl was my first urban fiction book and I felt like I had discovered gold. True to the Game was the first book I read more than once. I fell in love with Dutch, first real book crush. White Lines made me feel like it was okay to be lengthy and dig deep and still be urban. Kwan’s wordplay astounded me. A&J’s tenacity was inspiring. Then I read other genres as well, people like Gillian Flynn and her dark, cunning delivery awed me. So many. So much.
Can you share with us if you’re currently working on anything?
TA: I am. I am. Very excited to be excited again. I have 3 novels started - one 200+ pages that’s getting shelved because the concept was so unique to me but I was informed it’s been done already. So it has to be adjusted. Immensely. I know there are many similar books out but this one is so distinct, I can’t go out like that lol so that one is away. The other two are about a quarter of the way done and I’ve never worked like this before - jumping all around. But I think I decided which I’m finishing first.
Where can readers find out more about you and your work?
TA: All titles are on Amazon. Some things can be googled - older articles and interviews. I’m 75% social on social media lol and of course…AH-MA-ZING bookclubs with readers like you guys who do things like this to let people who may not know #whoistakerraallen
Thank you so much luv. Happy New Year to all of you!