Wanda M. Morris is a corporate attorney who has worked in the legal departments for several Fortune 100 companies. An accomplished presenter and leader, Morris has previously served as President of the Georgia Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel and is the founder of its Women's Initiative—an empowerment program for female in-house lawyers.
An alumna of the Yale Writers Workshop and Robert McKee’s Story Seminar, she is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Crime Writers of Color. Morris is married, the mother of three, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
In this post, Wanda discusses the real-life incident that inspired her new thriller novel, All Her Little Secrets, the characters that wouldn’t leave her mind, and more!
Name: Wanda M. Morris
Literary agent: Lori Galvin of Aevitas Creative Management
Book title: All Her Little Secrets
Publisher: William Morrow/HarperCollins
Release date: November 2, 2021
Elevator pitch for the book: A Black female lawyer gets caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous conspiracy following the death of her boss
What prompted you to write this book?
My experience working as a corporate lawyer spurred me to ask the question, “What if?” I’ve worked in toxic office environments that underestimated the value that women and people of color can bring to the workplace. I also worked for an organization where company management considered its employees “family.”
Someone in my department died unexpectedly. There was nothing sinister about the death, but I was mortified by how quickly everyone went back to business as usual after the person died. That incident stayed with me for a long time and served as the motivating idea for the theme of family that I explored in the book¾ specifically, who do we call family and why?
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I love talking about my journey to publication, although it was not an easy one. I hope it inspires and encourages other writers. Someone recently asked me how long it took me from first draft to publication and it occurred to me that it has been 13 years—which is fitting because I’ve always considered 13 to be my lucky number!
I started a draft of this book and then put it away for seven years, because I convinced myself that nobody would want to read about a 40-ish Black woman who worked with really awful people. I think people want an escape when they read a book and who would want to escape to the world I had created in this book?! But the characters in this book would not stay out of my head, whether I was stuck in traffic on my way to work or sitting in a meeting that dragged on much too long.
Then I had a health scare and I started to look at my life differently. As the late poet Mary Oliver wrote, what would I do with my “one wild and precious life?” I’ve always loved to write, so why not do what I loved to do.
I pulled out the manuscript. When I read it again, I knew it was pretty bad, but that was okay. All first drafts are bad. So, I went about making a bad manuscript better. I enrolled in online and in-person writing courses. I attended workshops and entered contests. And most importantly, I made friends with other writers and built a community of support through groups like Crime Writers of Color and Sisters in Crime.
I did everything I could to learn the craft. I received an exorbitant number of rejections in the years I queried this book, but I kept going. And while the structure of the novel changed over those years, the ideas in the novel never did. I’ve always wanted to write stories about being a Black woman in America.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
The biggest lesson I learned was to find your writing community tribe. I spent a lot of years writing in isolation, struggling to learn my craft without the wisdom and benefit of other writers. My advice: don’t do that.
Make friends with other writers, join writing groups. I’m a member of groups like Crime Writers of Color and Sisters in Crime. They have been an invaluable resource and support. The publishing industry can be tough. It helps to have friends who understand this business.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
The biggest surprise for me while writing this book was that I could do it. First, I had to rid myself of the self-doubt. I had to get out of my head and believe that I could be a writer. Then, I had to get beyond all the rejection I faced in trying to find an agent.
I came to understand that writing is a form of art and art is subjective. That means there’ll always be rejection by some people who do not appreciate your particular art. But there are others out there who are craving what you create.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope the book sparks conversation about what it means to be a woman, particularly a woman of color, in predominantly white spaces. I hope people talk about the so-called progress we’ve made in America and the reality that maybe it hasn’t got us as far as we’d like to think.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Write the stories that speak to you. The late Toni Morrison said it best when she advised writers to write the book you want to read.