This week On The Same Page is honored to interview versatile writer, Tananarive Due. Her most recent book, The Living Blood deals with the theme of eternal life. She is also the author of The Black Rose, My Soul To Keep, and The Between.M.T.: The number one question readers want to know is who is Tananarive Due and how do you come up with your plot twists?
T.D.: I am a novelist and writer best known for my supernatural suspense novels, THE BETWEEN (HarperCollins, 1995), MY SOUL TO KEEP (HarperCollins, 1997) and THE LIVING BLOOD (Pocket Books, 2001). I've always written for my own amusement, so it's hard to say where my "plot twists" come from -- I just write about ideas that fascinate me, and I watch how my characters confront great adversity.
T.D.: I spent ten years as a reporter for THE MIAMI HERALD, which was a great training ground in terms of learning how to keep to the point and write on a deadline. My parents are also civil rights activists, so my family background has definitely given me an interest in the history and social ideas that creep into my work. I am more an entertainer than a historian or sociologist, but I always hope to infuse my work with ideas that will make my readers think about the world they live in -- or the world we MIGHT live in if circumstances were different.
T.D.: It's getting harder and harder to characterize my work because I do many different things. I've written supernatural suspense novels, I've written a historical novel, and now I'm writing a nonfiction memoir. More and more often, I just categorize myself as an "African-American writer." And since I always hope my work will have universal appeal, there are many times I think of myself only as a writer, period.
T.D.: I think details are critical in both fiction and nonfiction. Either way, writers should use details to convince the readers that they have absolute authority over their subject matter. They should be able to describe a place or events with utter realism. That way, the readers are not yanked out of the story -- they BELIEVE what is happening in the book. If the readers don't believe in the story, the plot is meaningless.
T.D.: I treat my writing like any other job. I get up in the morning, go upstairs to my office (my husband's office is upstairs, too), work until lunchtime, take a break, then work until the evening. Some of my time is spent writing, some is spent answering email from readers or other writers, some is spent conducting interviews, or asking my editors questions. But I do try to write to a daily page quota, especially when I'm under deadline. My current page quota is five pages per day on weekdays. (That's generally about 100 pages a month, which is a good clip for a book).
T.D.: My influences are probably too numerous to name, but my current favorite writers are Stephen King, Octavia E. Butler and Toni Morrison. I've learned a great deal from the work of all three of them.
T.D.: Beginning a new novel is definitely the biggest challenge -- getting to know the characters, learning to believe in the world, building up the emotional energy to sustain me for the next 500 or so pages. Once I have the solid foundation beneath my feet, writing fiction is almost more like watching a movie than actually writing. I allow my characters to make their way through the story. THE LIVING BLOOD was very difficult at the end because it was so complex, but that's the first time I've ever had trouble writing an ending.
T.D.: I am a writer who believes very strongly in having a pronounced point-of-view in my work. To me, character and story are inextricable. In THE LIVING BLOOD, I tried to stretch myself in terms of presenting more points-of-view than ever before, from very different walks of life. THE BETWEEN had a single point-of-view, and MY SOUL TO KEEP basically had only two (with brief exceptions). I try not to cram too many points-of-view in any given piece because it becomes more and more difficult to convince the readers that all of these people are REAL. Also, they might start to sound too much alike.
T.D.: I wrote MY SOUL TO KEEP out of my own personal fears of loss. (THE BETWEEN was written out of my fears of death). I wondered what it would be like to live for hundreds of years and lose everything and everyone we cared about. How would that change our psychological makeup? So the theme of both books, really, is a lesson on overcoming loss -- how to adapt to a new life, a new set of circumstances, and triumph over them. All of my books go back to the idea of overcoming adversity, really.
T.D.: I never would have written THE BLACK ROSE if the Alex Haley Estate had not contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write a novel about Madam C.J. Walker based on Haley's research. (He had planned to write a novel about her, but he died in 1992 before he had the chance). The research was provided to me by the Haley Estate: about a dozen boxes of books, interviews, timelines, company records, newspaper articles, copies of photographs, etc. Haley's chief researcher during his lifetime was A'Lelia Perry Bundles, who published a nonfiction biography of Madam Walker earlier this year, ON HER OWN GROUND. (Her research includes new information that was not available to me while I was writing THE BLACK ROSE, so it's interesting to read both). My website is http://www.tananarivedue.com/