On Conversations: Interview with #AAMbookclub #Author & #Playwright Alretha Thomas

It is a treat today to introduce you to Alretha Thomas, playwright and author.  Sit back with a cup of coffee or your favorite tea and enjoy learning more about Alretha Thomas. ~Lisa
An author and playwright, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. Award winning plays and wanting to help her community, Alretha’s background is as diverse as her personality. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class – that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. Continuing in high school, her numerous original oratorical conquests on the Speech Team led her to a journalism concentration at USC.
Upon graduating, Alretha soon realized that her interest in journalism was not heartfelt. While at the taping of a live sitcom, the producer noticed her and encouraged her hand at modeling. Modeling didn’t mean much to her, but it did lead her to acting and a NAACP Theatre Award Nomination (1993) for BEST ACTRESS. Alretha left acting and began to write full time. Her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces—the community response was overwhelming.
This led to full length plays outside of the church. In 2002, The Stella Adler Theater presented A Shrine to Junior. The play was nominated for an NAACP Theatre Award and in 2004, Alretha’s play, Civil Rites, was the recipient of an NAACP Theatre Award. Her play Grandpa’s Truth ran at the Inglewood Playhouse in Inglewood, California in 2006, and was extended more than once by popular demand. Not only did radio station KJLH support by recommending this production to its listeners, but notables like the Mayor of Inglewood, Roosevelt Dorn, and music legends like Freda Payne and Stevie Wonder had critical acclaim for Grandpa’s Truth. This wonderful piece was featured on Channel 5 (KTLA News) by Entertainment Reporter, Sam Rubin. Additionally, in 2007, Alretha’s play, Sacrificing Simone had a successful run at Stage 52 in Los Angeles and was called “an inspirational crowd pleaser” by the Los Angeles Times and in 2009, Alretha’s ground breaking One, Woman Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient Denise Dowse, garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences.
In between plays, Alretha’s first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Representing her book, Alretha has been the guest on many radio shows and television shows including San Francisco Public Affairs show Bay Sunday with Barbara Rodgers on KTLA Channel 5. In 2011, Alretha launched her second novel Dancing Her Deams Away, and it was also well received. Her third novel, Married in the Nick of Nine, is taking readers and reviewers across the country by storm. Alretha is currently preparing for the release of sequel to Married in the Nick of Nine. The Baby in the Window will launch in 2013.
Get to know Alretha:
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
A: If you look up miracle in the dictionary, you’ll see my smiling face staring back at you. Nineteen years ago, if you had told me I’d be participating in an interview with AAMBC regarding my third novel Married in the Nick of Nine, I would have directed you to the nearest lost and found so you could hopefully locate your mind. There’s no way a young, black girl raised in a San Francisco housing project, with a sickly mother on welfare, and an abusive jailbird father could become a writer. There’s no way that girl, who finds her mother’s lifeless body on the living room sofa, at the age of fourteen, could even think about writing, let alone graduate second in her high school and get a scholarship to USC. There’s no way that girl, who becomes anorexic, bulimic, and falls prey to drugs and alcohol, could have any hopes of becoming a writer. Well, miracles do happen and with determination and faith in God, I was able to overcome my obstacles and fulfill my fifth grade teacher’s prophecy, that one day I’ll be a published writer.
Q: You refer to your books as your babies. Tell us how “Married in the Nick of Nine” was conceived and born.
A: In early 2011, I began putting together a skeletal outline for a story about a young, smart, and successful woman who was determined to meet, fall in love with, and marry “The One” within nine months. Around the time I was writing the book, I was launching Dancing Her Dreams Away, so after writing about thirty-five pages, I put Married in the Nick of Nine on the shelf. Dancing Her Dreams Away launched June 2011, and I was laid off my corporate job of twelve years in September 2011!
The Friday of the week I was laid off, I decided to query agents regarding Married in the Nick of Nine, just to see if anyone would be interested. Usually I have to query about three-hundred agents before I get a handful of responses, so I didn’t expect to get any replies, let alone any positive ones. So I submitted one query letter to one agent. To my amazement, the agent requested the entire manuscript. I was filled with glee and dread because there was no manuscript. I barely had forty pages. But this was an opportunity of a lifetime, so like Bradley Cooper in Limitless, I started writing. He had NZT and I had faith. I stayed up writing the book for four days straight, and by the following Monday I received an email from the agent asking if the manuscript had gotten lost in cyberspace. I told her I would get it to her the following day. So four days after the manuscript request, and one week after being laid off, I had completed Married in the Nick of Nine. Long story short, I submitted the book, got great feedback, but no cigar. After countless revisions, more submissions, requests, and rejections, I decided to once again self-publish! And I’m glad I did. Just think if I hadn’t submitted that one query letter, Married in the Nick of Nine would still be on the shelf.

Q: Which characters in “Married in the Nick of Nine” are you most like?
A: Wow! That’s a great question. I’m actually a combination of a few of them. I was very similar to Cyn in my twenties. I liked to party and like Cyn, I drank a little too much. I became more like Cassandra, in my late thirties. That’s when I got focused. There are aspects of both characters that I admire. I love Cyn’s free spirit and her tendency to say what’s on her mind. I love Cassandra’s determination and I admire how she managed to stay on point with her goals. She finished high school, went onto college, and now has a great career. I veered off the path during my journey, but thank God, I eventually got it together. By the way, I have a BIG crush on Nick! LOL!
Q: Is the life of a writer as you imagined it to be?
A: I never imagined what a writer’s life would be like. I’ve always envisioned what I wanted my life to be like as a writer. My dream is to be well off, free from the 9-5 grind, writing books, plays, having my books optioned for movies, and being a part of those movies as a producer. I saw myself being a part of every aspect of the movie making process, from casting to the red carpet premiere. I also saw myself being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Entertainment tonight, and all the other entertainment shows. Am I there yet? No. But I’m having a ball getting there. LOL!
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A: There are hundreds. Top of my list is the BIBLE. Others that stand out the most are as follows: The late Bebe Moore’ Campbell’s, “What You Owe Me” and “Brothers and Sisters.” “Angela’s Ashes” by the late Frank McCourt. Terry McMillan’s, “Waiting to Exhale,” “Disappearing Acts,” “The Interruption of Everything,” and “A Day Late and A Dollar Short.” Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone” and “I know This Much Is True.” “RL’s Dream,” by Walter Mosley, and all of Kimberla Roby Lawson’s books. Classics like “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. Too many more to list!
Q: If you could go back and change one day, what would it be?
A: It would be the day my mother died and yes, the reasons are obvious. I know she’s within me, and I believe she’s aware of my life. I actually had a very vivid dream wherein she appeared to me and she was very happy. She smiled and she said, “I heard you wrote a book.” This was around the time my debut novel came out. The dream was so real. I took one look at her and burst into tears. I was overwhelmed seeing her and I cried expressing the pain that I had experienced in my life not having her around. She hugged me and I woke up. I jumped up and ran screaming through the house. “My mother came to me! My mother came to me.” My husband, who was already up, reached out to me, and I collapsed into his arms.
Q:What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Synopsis: Cassandra Whitmore is facing yet another Valentine’s Day alone. Her love life is as dry as the Sharpie pen she uses to mark an even more dreadful day on her calendar—her upcoming 30th birthday. Driven by the maddening ticking of her biological clock, Cassandra is determined to meet, fall in love with, and marry “The One” within nine months.
When Cassandra accompanies her cousin to a night club, her Type-A quest to meet a man is quickly rewarded by a stranger’s velvety, baritone voice asking if he might occupy the seat next to her. He’s Nicolas Harte, whose good looks leave Cassandra speechless, but not for long. After mustering enough courage to strike up a conversation, she learns Nicolas is everything she wants in a man—smart, successful, and available. There’s only one catch: He’s “GU” (geographically undesirable). Nonetheless, Cassandra falls in love with Nicolas and makes the uncharacteristic decision to move from Los Angeles to New York to be with him. But Cassandra gets a rude awakening when she discovers there’s something rotten in the Big Apple.

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On Conversations: Interview with #Author Scott Fitzgerald Gray

It is my pleasure to introduce you to author Scott Fitzgerald Gray today.  Grab a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy getting to know Scott and his work.


Scott Fitzgerald Gray has been flogging his imagination professionally since deciding he wanted to be a writer and abandoning any hope of a real career in about the fourth grade. That was the year that speculative fiction and fantasy kindled his voracious appetite for literary escapism and a love of roleplaying gaming that still drives his questionable creativity. In addition to his fantasy and speculative fiction writing, Scott has written for feature film and television, was a finalist for the Jim Burt Screenwriting Prize from the Writers’ Guild of Canada, and currently consults and story edits on projects ranging from overly obscure indie-Canadian fare to Neill Blomkamp’s somewhat less-obscure "District 9" and the upcoming "Elysium".

More info on Scott and his work (some of it even occasionally truthful) can be found by reading between the lines at www.insaneangel.com.

Tell us a little about your current project?

My newest novel is a kind of semi-autobiographical high-school coming-of-age speculative-fiction techno-thriller romance (I know; that old story again) called "We Can Be Heroes". [Link: http://insaneangel.com/insaneangel/Fiction/Books/WeCanBeHeroes.html] The origins and genesis of the book go back a long way, insofar as its current form originally started out as a screenplay treatment that never properly came together. It’s a bit of an ode to high-school friendships, and my quaint small-town Canadian upbringing, and some of the speculative fiction that inspired me as a nascent writer, and a life-long love of roleplaying games.

"We Can Be Heroes" was a bit of a departure from the epic- and high-fantasy tales I’ve been mostly writing the past few years, and so the writing of it felt very fresh, which is always good.

Having worked in both screenwriting and fiction, what are your thoughts on both forms as they compare from a writer’s perspective?

I find that being a fiction writer is more satisfying on absolutely every level than being a screenwriter, which is a big part of the reason that I haven’t done any real screenwriting in a quite a few years now. (I still do a fair bit of work in film, but mostly as a story editor and script consultant working on other people’s projects.) Now, this balance of satisfaction obviously varies a lot depending on whether you’re a screenwriter whose ultimate aspiration is to write and direct or write and produce, more fully exploring the creative and business sides of the art. For me, I just like to write, and though I love the collaborative nature of film storytelling, I just got to a point where I had too many stories to tell (including We Can Be Heroes) whose scope started to push beyond what I felt comfortable doing as a screenwriter.

What’s your background as a writer, and what’s your take on school and workshop learning versus being self-taught?

I did a fair bit of study in creative writing in college and university, but have rather mixed feelings about it. At the end of the day, becoming a better writer is almost always a matter of consuming others’ words and generating your own words as fast and as thoroughly as humanly possible. The more you read, the more you write, the better your writing will get, always.

Having said that, though, I think workshops are actually a great and necessary process. The problem is, workshops don’t function the way most writers (and a lot of instructors) think they do. In a workshop, the feedback you get from other people is much less important than the feedback you give to other people — because the point of workshopping is to learn how to spot problems in your own work as easily as you can spot problems in other people’s. When we read someone else’s story, it’s easy to say, “This was great, but I felt like these plot points didn’t quite connect, and this character’s decision seemed forced, et al.” But when we look at our own work, we’re often too close to it to recognize those same root-level issues, because we can’t separate the perfect story in our head from the execution of that story on the page.

Are workshops the only way, or even the best way, to develop that kind of aesthetic separation?

Not at all, no. Anything you can do to create a kind of objective distance between yourself and your work will do the trick. As beginning writers, this is often the toughest thing to do because we tend to start with a single project or idea that we work to death, afraid to ever look away from it in our attempts to make it perfect. The problem is, when we’re that close, we often can’t see what needs to be fixed, so we need to learn how to make ourselves look away.

Often, the best thing you can do in aid of making a story as good as it can be is to work on something else at the same time. Put Project A aside if you have any sense that it’s not quite coming together, because working on Project B will give you the distance you need to recognize why it’s not coming together. When you finish a first draft, put it away for a week, or a month, or six months while you start a first draft of something brand new. If you feel yourself getting bogged down working on your novel, shut it down for a while and write some short fiction. Ideally, you want to be able to pick up something you’ve written and look it with completely objective eyes. If you’re ever rewriting or editing and you have the sudden feeling of not being able to remember writing what’s in front of you, you’re there.

Does working on multiple projects make it easier or more difficult to maintain a writing schedule? And what does your own schedule look like?

In my experience, much easier, because knowing that setting something aside is an essential part of your process means never having to suffer the angst of so-called writer’s block. If you’re stuck on something, you work on something else. It’s that simple. If you get stuck on the new thing, try going back to the first thing, or seek out even newer ideas to beat into shape.

My own schedule involves writing every day, because bitter experience has shown me that this is the best way for me to keep writing. Writing every day — on any project, any level, any number of words — creates a kind of continuity to the creativity. Force yourself to write a hundred words as you crawl into bed at the end of the worst day imaginable, and when you sit down to write on the next better day, your connection to those hundred words will get you going. Having written yesterday makes it easy to sit down and write today, even as not having written yesterday makes it that much harder to get going again. And when fate and circumstance conspire to make that single yesterday into a week of not writing — or a month, or longer — turning a dry spell into a creative rut gets way too easy.

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