I really enjoy the family dynamics in this story, and the way the speculative is used to give these dynamics that “larger than life” vibe, while still feeling very relatable and real. What was the initial inspiration for this story and how did the story develop?
I am a big mover. Typically, I go on walks or runs several times a week when the weather allows to feel more settled and grounded. I find on these walks that that is where my mind can play without inhibition. Years ago, I had been taking a walk in the neighborhood in the summertime and thinking about the notion of unplanned and unexpected visits from family and family friends. Many revisions later, it became “Cousins Season.”
There’s a whole lot of family in this story! Are there a few characters you relate to more, feelings and experiences you are tapping into?
In a way, I relate to all the characters I create in my stories—even the unpleasant ones. Most of all, I would say any character that has a meddling nature, like Baby Rashad who talks back to the older folks, is who I feel I was—am— most like. Oh, I was such a precocious child. And the youngest in my family, the patience my parents, brothers, aunties, and uncles all had with me!
Grandmomma Jojo as a character is wonderfully drawn. She is complex, navigating those intersections of being commanding and powerful, yet caught up in something she doesn’t necessarily like. She is also where past and future meet; she carries tales and traditions, while potentially being an instrument, or at least a catalyst, of change. What were the most challenging aspects of writing her, and what were the most fun aspects?
I can say at the beginning of crafting the character Grandmomma Jojo, I was trying my best to ground her in the amalgamation of narratives that resonated to me in the media and my own family. Unfortunately, my own grandmothers passed long before I was born, but I have been lucky to have many older women in my family that I have observed and learned much from.
I think the biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to make Grandmomma Jojo a character readers can empathize with, or at least understand. I am always nervous when I render a character so unlike myself that they may not be convincing, but it is the responsibility of writers to do the work.
The reader ultimately must decide if the writer is successful or not.
There’s a lot of wonderful writing on display here, and the story immediately grabbed me and pulled me in. What, for you, is the key to writing a strong narrative?
First of all, thank you for that compliment! I am in very good company with the stories and poems in Fantasy Magazine.
The key to writing a strong narrative is believing without a doubt that the story must be told and you are the one who must tell it. I remember attending the inaugural Well Read Black Girl conference years ago and Bernice McFadden spoke about that concept and that was a major game changer for me and how I believed in my writing.
Writing may not always feel good, but it should always feel compelling to writers. When I cannot convince myself to write a story well, I know there isn’t a chance I can convince my readers.
I revised the heck out of Cousins Season for years because I kept getting lovely rejections (shoutout to Fiyah!) that were close, but no chaser. I listened to their feedback and worked on my story to get it where I— and the editors who cared— believed it should be.
I feel lucky that it’s found a place in the pages of Fantasy Magazine.
One of the ongoing discussions in literature is about the use of dialect, regionalisms, code switching, slang, and so on. Language can ground a story in culture, as well as decenter the more typical mainstream narrative paradigms. What have been your feelings, thoughts, and experiences in terms of fiction which actually represents the way people speak?
Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God was a catalyst in my writing life. Writing is first and foremost a record, and I believe that though my characters are not real people, they should be grounded in certain realities that I see and hear every day.
When I write my stories, I see it as an opportunity to help add to the historical archives.
What, for you, is the heart of this story? What would you like to make sure readers know about it?
I want my readers, specifically Black women, to walk away from this story understanding that there are always choices in life. That they do not always have to choose what has been set out in front of them, that they can always say “No” and establish boundaries for themselves and it may be scary and it may be a big unknown, but it is their lives and no one has more right to their lives than they do.
What else are you working on, what do you have coming up which new readers should know about?
Earlier this year, I had the good fortune of being published in Pen + Brush No. 5. The theme of this most recent issue of Pen + Brush is in response to the “I Am” episode from Lovecraft Country. If anyone was as blown away by the Hippolyta episode as I was, go check it out!
In regards to new writing I’m cooking up, my goal this year is to finish up the handful of stories I had rrrroughly drafted last year to get them in shape for publication in the year ahead.
I believe that artists are always working on projects, whether or not we are literally working. When I am running, I am writing. When I am walking, I am writing. When I am forest bathing, I am writing.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions, Fantasy Magazine!
Spread the word!