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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Interview with Author Bernice L. McFadden

National bestselling author, Bernice L. McFadden, probably didn't expect being laid off would lead to a rewarding career as a bestselling author. But it did. McFadden was laid off and unemployed for twelve months. She says this was a turning point in her life because during that year she dedicated herself to the art of writing. And even after she found another job, she kept on writing. Nine years, a depleted savings account, and three jobs after being laid off, and hundreds of query letters later, she sold her first novel, Sugar. The novel, which is about a woman with a shady past who moves to a small Arkansas town in the 1950s, became a national best-seller. Since then, Bernice L. McFadden has gone on to write eight novels and one novella. You can visit her blog, Naki and visit her website for more info. Her latest novel is titled, Gathering of Waters.

Ms. McFadden, would you classify your most recent works (Glorious, Gathering of Waters) as historical fiction? And why the change in genre from your other genres of work such as Loving Donovan, The Warmest December and Nowhere is A Place?

I've always tried to include some historical content in my novels, but it wasn't until I started writing Glorious that I realized how much I enjoyed creating fiction around fact. This realization was a blessing. It was also an "A-ha" moment for me. I knew I was put here to write - but was not sure of my purpose for writing. I now know that historical fiction is my purpose.

In your novel, Glorious, you cover a large time, 1910-1961, what was your reasoning behind that? And is the main character, Easter, in any reference to you as a writer?

I love backstory. Every character has a past and I think It's important to include as much of the past into the storyline. It makes for a well-rounded character and full-bodied story. I would say Easter does have a bit of me in her. We are both black, female writers trying to make a way in the white world.

Explain to the readers the significance of the pink boa and type writer on the book cover Glorious?

The pink boa represents the character Rain in the novel and the typewriter represents Easter.

Sugar began as a poem and then evolved into a short story before becoming a novel. Do you foresee a short story collection or anthology of poetry in the near future?

Funny you ask that question. I've been thinking about returning to the short form. I do have some short stories that I would like to write and publish.

How do you choose the setting in your novels? Such as Mississippi for Gathering of Waters, Arkansas for Sugar, Brooklyn for Loving Donovan, etc?

I don't chose the settings. I allow the story to form at it's on pace. As the plot, characters and come together, the "place" reveals itself and I go with it. If it's a location that I am unfamiliar with such as Arkansas and Mississippi, I research the area so that it will come across as authentic in the story.

Can you briefly explain Seg-Book-Gation and how can readers help eliminate it?

Seg-Book-Gation covers a number of things:
  1. The separation of books written by Af-Am authors from others in bookstores.
  2. The absence of Af-Am authors at major literary festivals.
  3. The absence of books written by Af-Am authors reviewed in major publications.
  4. The fact that many books written by Af-Am authors are marketed soley to the Af-Am reading audience. Which of course limits the sales potential of our books.
I just returned from the Literary Feast Book Festival in Broward County, Florida. It was a lovely event. I was however, the only African-American author there. Readers need to make their voices heard. Call up the organizers of these literary festivals and demand that they include Af-Am authors to the roster. If the bookstore they frequent happen to have a separate "black book section" - talk to the manager and ask that the titles also be carried in the general population of the book store. African-Americans are not a genre! If you happen to be a book blogger who is not Af-Am - ask the publishers to send you titles written by Af-Am authors, so that you can review them for your readers. Contact you favorite magazine and ask why it is they rarely review books written by Af-Am authors?

Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for her role as Minny in the film, The Help. You said you saw the film, and enjoyed it. But did not read the book because "African-American writers had tackled the same story numerous times - and those writers weren't given the opportunity to have their stories read by Ms. Ann and Mr. Charlie (white people). And when I say given the opportunity, I mean to say that their books were not marketed/promoted over that seam that has turned into a chasm in the literary community - known as the color line. " Do you still feel strongly about not reading it? And who's responsibility is it to change the "machine behind the book?"

I finally broke down and bought the book. I have not finished reading it. But I think Stockett is a strong writer. The book is certainly engaging. We have to create our own machine. If we get behind a book - the publisher will automatically follow. It's all about sales and numbers.

You also write racy, humorous fiction under the pseudonym, Geneva Holliday. What has your alter ego, Geneva Holliday, been up to?

Geneva Holliday is on an extended vacation. Last time I heard from her, she was hanging out on a beach in Bequia.

I recently saw a photo of actress Kimberly Elise reading a copy of Sugar and I instantly became excited just thinking of Kimberly playing the role of Sugar. There is speculation in the literary world that Sugar may finally come to the tv or the big screen? Is this true? Please say it is so.

Yes, Kimberly Elise has optioned the stage and film rights to Sugar. I have my fingers crossed that something magical and wonderful will come of this!

You have a short story, Keeper of Keys, available via Kindle on Amazon for .99 cents. What are your thoughts about books and stories set at a low price point, especially when so many traditionally published authors seem to have an aversion to selling eBooks at .99 cents?

It's difficult. People price their books low in order to gain attention and of course make some money. I priced Keeper of Keys for .99 because it's a novella - a long, short story. I hope that people will read it, enjoy it and then seek out and purchase my higher priced worked.

If you could recommend only one of your books to a reader unfamiliar with your work which book would you recommend? And why?

That's so hard!!! I guess I would recommend The Warmest December, to start with. Only because it's a contemporary story that closely mirrors my own life with my father. I think it's a great introduction to my work.

What are 3 things every aspiring writer should do and 3 things they should not do or avoid doing?

Aspiring writers should: Read, read, read!!!
Aspiring writers: Should not be dejected by rejection. They should not worry about what's trending in the literary market place. They should not feel that if they don't write every day - that they are not "real" writers. I write when I'm inspired and that may be once or twice a month.

What's the best advice you have ever been given?

Keep the faith - all will work out in the end.

What are you currently working on?

I'm thinking about writing a book about the holocaust.

What do you want readers to know about Bernice L. McFadden that they may not already know?

That in my later life, I'd like to open up an artist colony near a beautiful beach...

Thank you Ms. McFadden for sharing with us today. It is truly in a honor and a highlight for me.

To view an video of Ms. McFadden discussing her book, Glorious, watch the Youtube video below. 
She is also on Twitter and Facebook, so stop by and drop her a comment. :-)

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I am a writer, filmmaker, wife and a mom of five beautiful, intelligent, quirky kids. This blog is for writers, aspiring writers, filmmakers and movie lovers. Bringing you my favorite books, films and photos, as well as giveaways and updates on my journey. I'm currently in the process of producing my first short film from my collection of short stories titled, If I Had My Way. The first story to be filmed will be Tandarin Drive. My award winning book, If I Had My Way, is available now. You can purchase a copy at and You may contact me via email at:

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