An Interview with Award-Winning Author Bernice L. McFadden

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Bernice L. McFadden takes a break from penning award-winning novels to tells us about her literary journey. Bernice is the author of nine critically acclaimed novels including Sugar, The Warmest December, Gathering of Waters (one of The New York Times Editors’ Choice Books of 2012), and Glorious, which was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and was a contender for the NAACP Image Award. She is a three-time Hurston/Wright Legacy Award finalist, as well as the recipient of multiple awards from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). She resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her latest novel is The Book of Harlan.

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Before the Book

My home life was very tumultuous. And I spent a lot of time in the library. That was a safe haven for me… I sought refuge in books and in writing… I knew I wanted to be a writer since I was about nine. I would steal my mother’s Jackie Collins books and mimic them. That was kind of like erotica. My mother would read this and be horrified. {Bernice laughs}

Enter the Agent

When I was about twenty-five I started submitting on a regular basis. I submitted Suga for over ten years and got over seventy-five rejection letters…. I didn’t give up because this was what I really wanted. I sent my first agent a query letter on February 9, Alice Walker’s birthday. A magical day for me… When I got an agent it took him two weeks to get me a two book deal.

Favorite Book You've Written

I love them all differently. If I had to pick I would say Sugar because it was my first. The Warmest December is also a favorite because it was about my family… Tony Morrison wrote a blurb for it, so that was a big thrill.

Describe Your Writing Process

I write and research at the same time… I’ll read things I that I find inspiring… I read a lot of poetry. I like lyrical passages. I spend a lot of time walking because a lot of the writing goes on in my head before I put it on paper. Today I walked so far I didn’t know where the hell I was. It’s a lot of research, a lot of reading and a lot of walking.

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Knowing When a Novel is Finished

At the begging of my writing process I feel like I have people coming to visit. Like one or two people. When I am really engrossed in the writing my house is full… All I’m doing is recording what I hear. As I get close to the end my house starts to empty out. It feels melancholy and lonely without the character’s voices.

Least Favorite POV

They are all fine with me. It depends on the story… I do love playing with second person.

Hardest Sentence, First or Last

…The first sentence. It’s always tough getting started. Even though I’ve been doing this for eighteen years when I sit down to start a new project I’m a novice again. I’m unsure.

Advice for Writers

People feel that rejection is a horrible thing. Rejection can be life sustaining if you look at it as fuel for the fire. You should think, “I’ll show you.” It’s your dream and you should have it. Your time will come… Learn, acquire the skill. Your time will come.

Next Up

The Book of Harlan has been as optioned for film. I have a book coming out called Praise God for the Butterflies. I am currently writing a memoir called And God Made Woman and I am being featured in an upcoming issue of the AAMBC Journal.

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J.D. Myall is a self-proclaimed literary lunatic, crazy about reading and writing is like breathing to her. Myall earned her BS in criminal justice from West Chester University, and has worked as a counselor for crime victims, addicts and the mentally ill. She is currently co-writing Crimson Reign, an exploration of race and class tucked neatly inside a feminist fairy-tale for the modern age. For more info go to www.jdmyallbooks.com

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