Maxine Thompson

THE EBONY TREE
Is Unveiled at the
Book Expo of America in L.A.

On Sunday, May 2, 1999, The Ebony Tree made its long-awaited arrival on the literary scene at the Book Expo of America, which was held in Los Angeles, Calfornia! This interview is the earlier interview between Dr. Rosie Milligan, Publisher of Milligan Books, and Maxine E. Thompson. The Ebony Tree was reprinted under Milligan Books.


Dr. Rosie Milligan: What inspired you to write The Ebony Tree?

Maxine E. Thompson: This book started with an image in my short story, “Valley of The Shadow.” The story was about a dark-skinned sister with a Creole half-sister. (This story won an honorable mention in Ebony’s first writing contest in 1989.) The image was of an espaliered tree along a drive way. This image reminded me of Black Women who had bound up their spirits. To me, this was similar to the way they say people used to bind up a little Chinese girl’s feet.



Dr. Rosie Milligan: How long did it take for you to write The Ebony Tree?”

Maxine E. Thompson: It was written over a period of years through the creative process. In the short story, “Valley of the Shadow,” Willa, the dark-skinned sister, has an epiphany and says to herself, “I am reclaiming lost saffron shores of the River Nile of my soul.” From that short story, I wrote the poem, “The Ebony Tree,” in 1989.

From 1992 until I wrote the book in 1995, I was haunted by an image of a woman walking down the street with her 5 children in tow, pregnant, and worried about getting her husband out of the bar. About a year after my mother’s death in late 1993, I was able to sit down and write the first draft of The Ebony Tree in 3 months.



Dr. Rosie Milligan: What was your motivation for writing this story?

Maxine E. Thompson: March is Women's Month. I feel like there were many unsung heroes whose day-to-day lives shaped our destinies just as much as the famous women did. At the time, I also felt like the passing of women like my mother, who didn’t have big degrees, but had a lot of heart, should not go unrecorded. It was kind of a testifying, a way of saying that “I was here. I counted. My life was not in vain. Look at the writing I inspired in my children from my dreams alone.”



Dr. Rosie Milligan: So you first self-published this book in 1995. How did you go about printing your book?

Maxine E. Thompson: I wrote the first handwritten version in my phone book in 1992. In 1995, I typed my book on a word processor then converted it into a friend’s computer. Later, I went to Kinko’s to have it printed. Subsequently, I went to a bindery to have the early copies bound.




Dr. Rosie Milligan: How did you find out about Milligan Books?

Maxine E. Thompson: In 1997, I wrote my second novel, No Pockets in a Shroud. This novel led to me getting a publicist and an agent in late 1998. An Internet friend (who had met you in Memphis, Tennessee at the writer’s conference) referred me to Milligan Books.



Dr. Milligan: What advice would you give to new writers?

Maxine E. Thompson: Never give up. I wrote my first horrible novel at sixteen. It was a story of my experience as the first black student to integrate an all white school in Traverse City Michigan in 1967. Although it was a good story, I did not have the wisdom yet to render it as literature. I did more telling than showing. Later, when my youngest son was an infant, I began to write poetry from 1981. In 1988, I tackled the short story form and tried to rewrite my first novel. Within 6 months, I won $1,000 from Ebony magazine for my short story. Shortly thereafter, I had several short stories published in a college quarterly. In 1992, I joined a writer’s group during a time when I was working double shifts as a social worker, and had little time to write. In this way, I stayed connected with writing. After a 5 year hiatus, I wrote my first novel, The Ebony Tree.

As you see, writing is a process similar to life. You grow along the way. I also recommend reading as many of the classics as you can. When we study what the Masters of fiction accomplished through their writing in the past 100 years, then we are able to understand how mankind, at the basic core, has always faced the same problems. We have always been plagued by the search for meaning....Trying to understand the universe and our place in it as human beings. Thus, we want our writings to be works that people will study 100 years hence as they seek out those same answers.



*Maxine Thompson writes a monthly column on Self-Publishing at www.careermag.com. She also has an article, "Burn Out or Divine Discontent," on www.lawomanmagazine.com She currently has a short story, "Dance of The DNA," published on www.moondance.org. She has many articles published on Ideamarketers.com