As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up? When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
As a kid I wanted to be many things. I had a doctor phase, a teacher phase. At some point, I wanted to be a singer. I think my astronomer phase lasted the longest. I was obsessed with the sky and loved how sophisticated I sounded when other kids said nurse or policeman. I don't think there was a time I had an 'I want to be a writer' epiphany. Books have always been a part of my life. My mom is a teacher. She filled our house with books and encouraged reading and writing so much that I hardly ever did anything outside of school, TV and occasionally arts & crafts. I don't know why she was shocked to find out I hadn't learned how to jump rope or catch a ball!
If I were to pinpoint a specific shift from my love for consuming stories to creating them, it would have to be 5th grade. My English teacher got a few of us to start writing free verse poetry and the blank page was so full of possibility that it gave me a rush. Then the love just grew.
When did you write your first story and how old were you?
I couldn't possibly remember that. But I wrote my first manuscript of 52 poems when I was 14. I tried desperately to get them published. Looking back, I'm glad I failed. I can't bear to look at them now! I outgrow my writing really quickly. I have to avoid everything I wrote before turning 19, otherwise I'll have a cringe attack.
How long does it take you to write a short story?
That depends on how it comes to me. Sometimes an idea will come to me and I'll have to sit with it for a while. I really depend on my emotions to get that first draft out so if it needs time, a lot of the writing goes on in my head before I can put it down. This might take about a week if my self-doubt doesn't activate. Other times, the story will just pour out of me and I'll knock it out in a few hours with my heart pounding. I wish I could turn this on and off at will.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I got my first real job this year working 8 hours a day. I've had to postpone writing sessions, squeeze them into car rides to and from work, use nights, weekends, lunch breaks! I try to get in as much writing as I can in a week, and I make sure to read every day, even if it's just a small poem or an article online. It brings me joy.
Is it different working on an anthology than writing on your own?
I love anthologies! I enjoy learning from other writers, and the way different stories work together to send a certain message is beautiful. I think writing with others helps me write better on my own because it teaches me to be more intentional with various elements of storytelling. Where I would usually make a decision just "because it feels right", I now have to consider what it means and why I want to tell the story that way. Writing alone, though, is obviously more freeing. It's good to write both ways.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I talk out loud. I giggle. I gasp when I surprise myself. It's as if I have another 'me' hanging out with me while I write. I don't know if that's interesting. A lot of writers might do it. I think we just need to entertain ourselves and converse alone to get the story out.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your stories?
Everywhere. There's a primary school near my workplace. I wrote a poem after I heard the kids praying at the afternoon assembly. I wrote a story about loss after being inspired by a music video of a Danish alternative pop band. One of my favorite stories came to me after I saw some working girls huddled around a dumpster fire during a late night drive. I wrote about cultural rituals when my sister got married and the groom's family had to keep a watchful eye to make sure we wouldn't run away with her! Anything that interests or amuses me has the potential for a story.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love languages. I'm learning French, German and Swahili right now. No, I'm not keeping up! But I get really excited when I find little secrets in grammar or sentence structure, especially when they're comparable with my mother-tongue.
I'm also learning how to play the flute. I want to skip all the theory and just play jazz like a master! But slow progress is still progress, I'll get there eventually.
I wish I could throw in a sport or something, but I'm a couch potato. I binge shows and I have solo dance parties in my room.
What does your family think of your writing?
My siblings have said they like how passionate I sound when I talk about it. They're usually the first people I let read my work. My mom smiles at me a lot when I tell her anything about my writing. I think she's proud of her handywork, and that's a gift. My dad suggests I should write his biography, which in all honesty would be awesome. He's been to I'm-not-sure-how-many countries in Africa and his life is full of wonderful stories.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your story?
That love can manifest in confusing ways, and the individual/internal experience will inevitably create a language barrier between people giving and receiving love. We should be more open to direct communication, especially in cultures like mine where love is primarily about action and not necessarily about verbal affirmation.
Do you have any advice on how to be a better short story writer?
Read or listen to good stories. And write often. I think that's the foundation. Don't waste time with stories that don't move you. When I'm more established, I'll have better advice!
How many stories/books have you written? Which is your favorite?
No books yet. But I can't count the stories. Mostly because a lot of them are lost in old scrapbooks. I have some of them in files on my laptop.
My favorite so far would have to be the one I mentioned earlier, that was inspired by working girls huddled around a dumpster fire late at night. I found a beautiful unity in that scene, something that's probably rare in their world. I've submitted it to probably 6 journals so far and every time they reject it, they tell me how great it is.
Have you written any full-length books or do you have plans to? If so, what are they?
I got 25 chapters through my first novel before I realized I hated it. I got through about 14 chapters of my second novel and it's been stalled for almost two years. Whenever I stop writing it's because I'm worried I have nothing important to say or that I haven't lived enough to be interesting. I'll try again with my second novel. Or maybe I'll wait until I've had my first heartbreak. We'll see. The first novel is dead, though!
What do you think makes a good story?
This one's difficult. It might be different things for different people. For me, it's feeling. I love analyzing literary devices and everything that makes a story critically good, but at the end of the day I want to stop reading because I need to take a breath, because my emotions are up to my throat.