David Barclay Moore is a Coretta Scott King and John Steptoe Award-winning author whose novel, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, has been optioned for film. Actor Michael B. Jordan (of Black Panther and Creed) and Endeavor Content will bring it to life on screen in Jordan’s directorial debut.Moore will write the script and serve as executive producer.
Random House imprint Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers published the novel, which hit shelves in September 2017. The novel tells the story of an African American youth frazzled in the aftermath of his brother’s death. He tries to navigate through the projects in Harlem, assisted by his dreams and the power of Legos.
Here we talk to Moore about writing, publishing and the film adaptation of his must-read novel, The Stars Beneath Our Feet.
What was your life like, pre-book?
I am a filmmaker. I have been a filmmaker for years. I made documentary films and worked in communications, specifically for nonprofit organizations. [I worked at] Geoffrey Canada’s anti-poverty organization.
Tell me about your publishing journey. How did you begin writing, and how did you break into the industry?
I researched. I sent out cold query letters, got some responses asking for more. I really bonded with my agent Steven Malk at Writers House at that time. He asked if he could represent me. Since then, I have continued to write, and lots of manuscripts are being sent out and considered. With this particular manuscript [The Stars Beneath Our Feet], we got a lot of interest, and it went to auction.
You have cultivated an amazing voice. What advice would you give new writers to help them develop their own unique voice?
Listen to voices. Observe and watch people. See how they behave and how people talk. It helps, at times, with my writing. I’m curious and nosey.
Is there a book that inspired you to be a writer or that has a particular influence on the characters you create today?
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I grew up in Missouri. As a kid, we would visit where [Twain] grew up, in Hannibal. As I got older, Huckleberry Finn was one of a few books that made a big impression on me. I like the use of vernacular a lot in Huckleberry Finn, among other things. My book, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, is told in a first-person vernacular. That’s one of the things the two books share.
Some writers hear their characters’ voices as they create. Does that happen to you?
I do. It’s a kind of method acting, I guess… The voices for the characters pour forth, and I feel like I am channeling them. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when I am on, I am on.
Is there anything you wish you could do differently?
I wish that I had researched the Caribbean accents a little bit more for the book.
Do you have a mirror book? A book that made you feel as if you saw your reflection on the page?
I’m a little hesitant to say it… A Room with a View by E. M. Forster. It’s a story and a reflection of characters that was very different from my own history and reality. For some reason, I don’t know why, I identified a lot with the protagonist Lucy Honeychurch.
How do you know if a story idea is going to solidify into a good book?
I think a lot about it. I have a million ideas. I’m constantly writing down ideas. Not all of them will be developed into a short story, a novel or a script idea. Ideas that resonate with me, that bubble up constantly, and that I keep thinking about… those are usually the ones that get developed.
Hardest sentence to write: first or last?
What is more important: plot, character or setting?
The stories and characters have equal power. They are two sides of the same coin. When I am writing, if I am having trouble with characterization, then I need to look at my plot [and vice versa].
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Revise. Revise. Revise. The hardest part about writing is getting a bunch of words down in a file on your computer. 100,000 words down is just the start. You have to polish that gem and go over it and over it and over it. A lot of people think they are finished, halfway through. There is more to it. You have to keep editing and get feedback; before you send it to anybody, it has to be the absolute best it can be. Revise till you’re sick of it, and then revise some more. Get a really great team behind you. Writing, a lot of times, is a team effort… A lot of it is luck, but you have to be prepared when that luck pops up.
How do you know when a novel is finished?
When my editor tells me it’s finished.
Best advice you have heard on writing.
The advice Ossy Davis gave me. He said to start a writers’ group of my peers. It’s funny because the reason he said that, partially, was because I asked him to read one of my screenplays. He said, “What you need to do is get together with your friends. That’s what I did, in the 1940s.” I realized he was probably brushing me off because he had better things to do than read a college kid’s terrible screenplay. However, what he said was very valuable. When I was in college at Howard University, I started a writing group called YAWA (Young African Writers Association). I met a lot of great writers—that group was very important to them and to me, as well.
People often say that publishing lacks diversity and that it is hard for minorities to get published. With the success of people like yourself, Nic Stone and Angie Thomas, do you think publishing is becoming more inclusive?
It is definitely becoming more inclusive. It is definitely not inclusive enough… The more diverse people that we have behind the scenes, than you will see more an even greater increase in the diverse books that are published.
What has novel writing taught you?
I know, now, that I can write a novel. When I was younger, that seemed like an impossible task. I wrote short stories.
Do you remember the moment you found out the film rights were going to be acquired for The Stars Beneath Our Feet? And how did you respond?
It was a really long process. I’ve known it was gonna be made into a movie since the summer. I didn’t talk about it, because we didn’t close the deal; things weren’t finalized until recently. I had a really great conversation with Michael B. Jordan. He understood it. [Jordan] was very passionate about the book. He really identifies with Lolly [The protagonist in The Stars Beneath Our Feet]. A lot of the stuff my character goes through in the novel, that world is very familiar to [Jordan] from his own childhood. I wasn’t aware of that.
[Jordan] is a great guy. A hardworking guy. A perfectionist. Even though he hasn’t directed a feature before, I feel very comfortable with him. He grew up on a film set. He has a great reservoir of talent that he can draw from if he gets stuck somewhere, or has a question. He has great directors and film people he can talk to, if he so desires.
How much involvement will you have in the creation of the movie?
A bit. It’s Michael B. Jordan’s film, his debut as a director, but I am writing the screenplay, and I am also executive producer. In our conversations, he expressed an interest in me being very involved.
What is up next for you?
I’m writing another middle-grade novel. It should be out in spring of 2019. I am writing a Superman graphic novel for DC. I have written 20 pages for the screen adaptation for The Stars Beneath Our Feet film. I have to finish that so the cameras can roll.
How can people connect with you?
Thanks, David. Your writing and publishing journey offers us a great example of the benefits of determination and hard work. Congratulations on your well-earned success.
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