By Maggie Apostolis
Was writing a lifelong dream or something you sort of fell upon?
Writing has always been a mixture of both. As a kid, I enjoyed writing and to this day still remember the first story I was ever proud of. I always had multiple ideas for storylines, and I loved to read. I read non-stop. Flash forward ten years, I’m in college and I decide to write down some of my ideas. I tell my wife—then girlfriend—about a few of these ideas and try to flesh out a few stories. I had not yet taken any writing classes, so I didn’t get far. Maybe two chapters or so. Flash forward ten more years, and I am 32 years old. My ideas for various books start popping up again so my wife buys me a book called, The Snowflake Method. This book helped me to outline my entire first book idea. I then found the story grid podcast which pushed me to start writing it and finally I was gifted a writing class by a bestselling author, Amanda Eyre Ward. The class ensured that you finished your novel in nine months. I finished in seven.
When did you first get involved with writing?
After the writing class, I joined Twitter, and everything took off from there. The writing community is absolutely amazing, and as I added friends, my knowledge began to increase. I learned everything I know about querying, pitch parties, synopses, and the publishing world from interacting with folks on Twitter.
Did school/education have a positive or negative impact on your writing?
Sadly, school all the way through my freshman year of college had a negative impact on my writing. I remember it was the only class I could never get an A in. I was told by teachers that I didn’t understand poetry or that my analysis of a piece or writing was wrong. For years, I knew I loved reading but hated English Class. Then, in my third year of college, I took an English Composition class with a wonderful professor and absolutely loved everything about it. I loved breaking down pieces of art and looking for symbolism everywhere. I loved the study of the craft and being able to incorporate the world around me into my writing. After that, I understood how important the teacher/professor was in my journey.
Who is your favorite author?
Ta-Nehisi Coates is currently my favorite author. I say currently because I am always evolving and adapting. His work has probably had the most impact on me in the past 5 years. I also love the trajectory of his career. After writing non-fiction, he switched over to fiction, then did an entire Black Panther comic book run, now he is posed to make movies including a new Superman movie. I would love to reach his level of being able to choose whatever project you want but that desire is a distance second to being able to write beautiful prose the way he does. He has a way with words that is just simply amazing.
Who or what is your biggest influence when it comes to the work you produce?
The kids I taught in school. I was a middle school/high school teacher and coach for 12 years. I still work with kids now and I believe in our future generations. I write so that they can see themselves in literature. I write so that they have stories they can relate to. I write so that kids who don’t look like me, can get a robust catalog of work.
What do you want to see change about the literary world?
I would love to see the literary world become more inclusive of all people. The absolute minimum is for every area of publishing to have numbers that reflect the demographics of the United States. In 2021, there should be no reason why only 1% of editors, 4% of agents and a dismal 5% of all authors are Black. This type of change requires a major overall of how things are done. Publishing companies and literary agencies have to do a little extra legwork. It may be going into 4-year and 2-year colleges that have underrepresented people groups and finding their talent there. It may take partnering with HBCUs and giving internships and entry level jobs to recent grads but there is talent out there who can make a difference.
I would also love for white publishing executives to take chances on Black authors who have the range, voice, and heart to make it work even if it’s not a style, background, or story they are familiar with. The market for these books may be there but if no one takes a chance we’ll never know.
If you reader could know one fun fact about you or one of your character’s, what would you want to share?
In Chasing Lincoln, one of the main characters, Kyla, is modeled after a former student of mine. She would constantly hear racist comments like, she is pretty for a dark-skinned girl. The comments even came from some adults! I would shut it down every chance I get but when I needed my first female main character, I knew I wanted a dark-skinned girl who was not going to be harassed for her dark skin. Instead, it would be celebrated. I pulled the opposite of people who write in characters for people they hate.
How have you witnessed your work change over the years as a writer?
Absolutely. This is one of the things I am most proud of. It has changed so much from the beginning, but the largest leaps are coming now. Between book one and two, I started to dig deep into craft. After editing book two, editing book three is completely different. I expect to get better as a writer as time goes on.
The most interesting part was figuring out what I wanted to write and nailing that down and then expanding from there. I figured out that I wanted to write for underrepresented kids, especially Black boys and girls and as I continue to take on new genres, I’m confident that I can expand my range while staying true to my vision.
How do you cope with writer’s block?
I switch things up. The biggest weapon I have against writer's block is a consistent time to write. I’m up every morning by 5:15am and sit at my writing desk by 5:30am. If drafting isn’t working, I’ll edit. If I don’t feel like editing, I’ll do some research into a new idea or story. One of those has always worked. In a worst-case scenario, I’ll watch a movie or get into a series. I’ve gotten so many ideas from TV shows.
Where is your favorite place to write?
My office. I am used to the set up and it gets the juices flowing. I would love to write on a train ride across America on a luxury train car. That’s a dream.
Wrap up question that I like to ask all writers; what is the one piece of advice you want to offer to aspiring authors and writers?
Perseverance is the key. When you get stuck, research another method, find another angle, reach out to a friend and if you don’t have any writing friends, reach out to me.
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