Today, I am SO EXCITED to share an interview with my friend and fellow author, Sharon Morgan. Sharon is someone I know I can count on to tell it to me straight because she loves and respects me. So you’re in for a bit of Sharon’s beloved straight-talking today, and her advice about how she gets her writing done is priceless. Enjoy.
1.Tell us about your book.
Gather at the Table is the story of two everyday people – one black, one white – who are on a mission to overcome the trauma of America’s legacy of slavery and the lingering effects of present-day racism. Our goal is to inspire a national dialogue about the legacies of slavery and racism and offer practical guidance for individuals and groups who want to heal themselves and America. The book is available in libraries and wherever books are sold, including Amazon.com.
2. What stories, themes, motivations do you find yourself drawn to in your work and in the works you read?
My favorite reads are books by African American authors because they resonate with my cultural background and personal experience. For my own work, I am committed to writing from that same perspective. I write what I KNOW.
I also enjoy history books, historical novels, and science fiction, written by writers of all races. I like compelling characters in any time period who endure, succumb to, or overcome challenges.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing?
READ and do other innocuous things that have nothing (but everything) to do with writing. Writers spend far more time collecting information and thoughts that we can translate onto the page in our own words than actually writing the words down.
4. What made you believe you could write a book? How did you dispel doubt as you wrote?
I always knew I could write a book. The problem was finding the time to DO it. Once I transformed into a full-time writer, it became a lot harder than I thought. Now that I have the TIME, it is about summoning the DISCIPLINE to WRITE every day.
5. Describe the first 2-3 steps of your process in writing your book.
First, we decided on our goal = to write a meaningful book about our chosen topic that would inspire people to CHANGE. We then set off on a physical journey with no idea where it would end up. Once we realized that the model we were “living” actually worked, we developed an outline and started the writing process to document our experience.
6. How do you balance what will sell with what you want to say?
My professional orientation (before becoming a full-time writer) was totally focused on selling. That carries over into my writing today. I have a hard time writing anything that does not have a clear goal. That does not mean “selling” a product, but “selling” an idea… an experience…. or an insight about human behavior by telling a story that engages the reader.
I would LOVE to write a book that sells a million copies and makes me financially independent, but I am not sure that will ever happen unless I hit a “magic sweet spot” that resonates with book lovers. I am too committed to social responsibility to write “trash.”
7. Which is more difficult – drafting or revising? Why?
They are equally difficult. When drafting, you are looking at an empty page and have to summon the courage to write something… anything…. to get the ball rolling. Revising is challenging in a different way because there is always something you want to say more or better.
8. What is your favorite part about being a writer?
Being able to express my inner thoughts in a coherent way. Realizing that my words have meaning to others.
9. What is your least favorite part about being a writer?
Realizing that, because my words have meaning to others, they entail a responsibility to do my best in communicating what I truly mean.
10. When you write, who do you imagine as your reader?
Other people who are like me but may not have the ability to communicate in the way that I do.
11. What are a few of your favorite books of all time?
There are SO MANY, it is hard to cull them down. Here are 5 of my top 100:
- The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
- Native Son, Richard Wright
- The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
- Lord of the Flies, William Golding
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy
12. How did you learn to write?
It just came naturally. Even as a child, I had a hard time communicating my inner thoughts verbally. It is far easier to gather my thoughts and present them in a logical, compelling way via the written word. I used to think (before computers) that the words came into my brain like a flash of lightening, traveled down my arm, through my hand, and onto the page via a writing instrument.
13. What are some things that get in the way of your writing? How do you move them out of the way?
Fear. Procrastination. Desire for excellence.
I push my demons away with extreme acts of commitment. I sit my ass down and force myself to WRITE… something, anything…. just to get rolling. Once I get a “roll,” it is hard to stop.
14. What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
15. If you could inhabit the setting of one book, where would you live and why?
Margaret Walker’s Jubilee because I am FASCINATED by the historical reality and continuing influence of slavery on American society. This book resonates especially because it mirrors my own family’s ancestral experiences:
Jubilee is the semi-fictional account of Vyry Brown, based on the life of author Margaret Walker’s grandmother, Margaret Duggans Ware Brown. Vyry Brown is a mixed-race slave — the unacknowledged daughter of her master — who is born on the Dutton plantation in Georgia. The novel follows her experiences from early childhood to adult life.
16. What’s your philosophy and practice about reading reviews of your work?
I read ALL of them. I have only had one REALLY bad review (for my first book). But, it was in the New York Times, so, if nothing else, it motivated sales and helped make the book something of a classic.
Sharon Leslie Morgan is a woman of many talents: writer, genealogist, chef, and multicultural marketing expert. A native of Chicago, she lived abroad for many years in the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. She is the co-author of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade (Beacon Press, 2012). Her first book, My Daddy is a Cool Dude (The Dial Press, 1975) was nominated for a Caldecott Medal. She is also the co-author of Real Women Cook: Building Healthy Communities with Recipes that Stir the Soul. Her current endeavor is finding a publisher for Paris in a Pot, a memoir (with recipes) about her adventures as a restaurateur in Paris, France. She is also deeply engaged in nurturing Our Black Ancestry, an online portal for African American genealogical research.