01 August, 2022

#Interview with Lauren Wilson, #Author of Afro-Bougie Blues - #Fiction #ShortStory

Lauren Wilson has been writing poetry and prose off and on for over 40 years, beginning with a series of poems to commemorate a cousin who passed away at age 19. She finds inspiration for her stories from a muse, an inner voice that propels her to put thoughts and emotions into words. When she isn’t writing, she uses her engineering background to work as a safety consultant, assessing machines and robotics in preparation for sale to European companies. Lauren is married to Howard Wilson; they have one dog, Petey and live in Brooklyn, MD – south of Baltimore. Lauren and Howard also have five precious nieces who provide much fulfillment and joy. In her spare time, Lauren is working on a labor of love – a 5 story miniature apartment building, filled with African-American art. She has been a proud member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. since 2004.

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Interview with Author Lauren Wilson

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer/ a storyteller?

I started writing poetry when I was 17. The death of a close cousin who was only 19 inspired me, and I found myself constantly writing poems for a few years. When the urge left, I was quite saddened, but eventually got used to it. Then in the 1990’s, I lived with a writer, and started thinking about writing my own book. It just never happened until now.

What inspires you to write?

I have a Muse, and she comes periodically. Sometimes every few months, sometimes once in a year. When she comes, I drop everything and write, until the story or stories are out. Then I get all excited to share my story… and then the Muse disappears, and I am heartbroken, not knowing when she will come again. Scientifically, I am bipolar, and the Muse may be a result of a manic phase. But she is truly real to me; I love her. And I haven’t seen her for a few years. It’s actually quite awkward if she comes when I’m busy at work, because she consumes me and fills me with the story. I cannot think of anything else. My work schedule right now is quite hectic, and I don’t know what I would happen if she came right now… but I know I would make time for her. She is that important to me.

How did you come up with the idea for your current story?

Each story got its start from something I experienced, or saw happen to others, or considered. But then it would take on a life of its own, and I would just follow it to the end. I have had an abortion, I have known alcoholics, I have a touch of queer in me, I am overweight and have tried veganism, I have had my parents die, I have asked my father about love and sex. I am light-skinned. But the stories themselves are pure fiction. Except for Waking Dad. The story of how my sisters and I celebrated my father’s passing is completely true.

Are there some stories tucked away in some drawer that was written before and never saw the light of the day?

That first book, from the 1990’s, is still in there. It is the story of a man who fathered a child he didn’t know about while he was in college. And the kid shows up on his doorstep 19 years later. The kid was born and raised in the Bible Belt and is 100% working-class Christian conservative. The man is bougie liberal. They clash over everything; they can’t stand each other. But the kid wants a father, and the man wants to do the right thing. The man has a woman friend. She has never had children, but she is quite wise and gives him her support, because she loves him, even though his feelings for her are platonic. At any rate, that’s the gist of it. It has LOTS of potential for “episodes”, and growth and resolution. And it pops into my head every once in a blue moon. I *might* write it someday.

Did any of your characters inherit some of your own quirks?

I’m not sure that I would say “quirks”, but I can think of three kernels. Alexis never thought she did something wrong when she had an abortion and that is my reality as well. But she is always conscious that she will be judged by it.  Being light-skinned and middle-class has always made me feel different, like Gwen, and I have always felt that I needed to prove myself. I have tried losing weight and being vegan while married someone who was not, but BeBe followed through, and I did not. 

Do you read? Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing style?

You know, the craziest thing about my reading is that I tend to read genres that have nothing to do with what I write. I started reading when I was three – I could recognize the word “the” and I went from there. My father turned me on to sci-fi when I was very young, especially Isaac Asimov. I later found Octavia Butler and I’ve read almost everything she’s written. I love historical mysteries set in England,  I love campy supernatural fantasies, and anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, the master of the epic historical novel. At the same time, I have loved exploring African-American short stories. I will always remember one - I don’t remember the author - about an elderly couple who go on a drive… off a bridge. They have no money, no children, no prospects and they don’t want to leave each other. So, they make a decision to do this together.  That story has stayed with me for over 30 years, and it is the example of a story about ordinary people with an ordinary problem, and how they face it. And I guess that’s the kind of story that I have tried to write. Two other authors did inspire me. I have one story that I think of as my “Terry McMillan” story, drawn from “Waiting to Exhale”. Terry McMillan wrote the first “girlfriend” book, and many have tried to copy it.  The husband in the book “Mama Day” by Gloria Naylor gave his life for his wife, and that kind of deep love inspired some of my positive male characters, who are just great men, even though they are ordinary. 

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?

If you’re writing because there is something in you and you just have to get it out, and you’re not trying to make money, make sure you have a day job. Writing doesn’t pay and most writers are not successful. If you want a wonderful group of people to critique your book, go to www.thenextbigwriter.com. They were a godsend for me. If you have the time, do as much of the work on the book yourself to cut down on costs – Amazon KDP makes a lot of this relatively easy, but if you hope to turn a profit - after you have put together the absolute best possible book, free of errors, and something that really brings joy to a reader, invest in a good marketing specialist. Read reviews, do research, get the best. Trying to market a book yourself is lots of trial, lots of error, lots of spent money and lots of chasing rainbows. It’s not worth it. Get help.

If you were to be stranded on the famous deserted island, what three things would you carry?

I would really want my husband to be with me, but he’s not a thing, so he probably doesn’t count. When I first saw this question, I thought: take something to read - a no-brainer. Not clothes, not food, (maybe flares and a blanket to be practical). If there was electricity, I would take my fully loaded Kindle, but the darned things lose a charge VERY quickly. If there was no electricity, I would take three anthologies, that I thought I could read over and over again. It would be hard to choose between “Black Voices” and “The New Negro”.  If there was one book that contained all three of Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy”, I would take that. And one copy of one of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “Sword and Sorceress” books.  But then, after I gave it more thought, I realized that I might, instead, take a really long-lasting pen, and a huge journal book. And I would spend my days writing. I would still bring the Octavia Butler Trilogy. I have read it three times now, and it never gets old.

How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite place to go and unwind?

Besides reading, writing, surfing on Facebook and playing on-line spades, I have an amazing dollhouse. This is my sixth dollhouse and I have had dollhouses off and on since I was 13.  This one is 5 stories high and designed to be an apartment building. On the ground floor is a foyer, an office, a laundry room, and a bathroom. On the next three floors are apartments on each side. On the top floor the two sides are combined into a single apartment. There are back stairs and a central elevator. I have dozens of miniaturized images of black art, and frames for them. I put them in each room. I have a collection of Black dolls that I have gathered over the years. Right now, I have a grand time picking out furniture, wallpaper and fabric for bedspreads, and upholstered furniture. Most of the rooms, except the living rooms, are furnished – I need to make the couches. I stretch it out and anticipate that it will take 5-10 years to complete. No idea what I will do when I finish it. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Can you share with us something off your bucket list?

Funny, there’s not much to my bucket list – publishing Afro-Bougie Blues was on it. There are three countries in Africa that I want to visit: Morocco  and Senegal because they are French speaking countries and Uganda, because I’ve heard that it is beautiful. I was in Paris once and realized that I only really know about the English-speaking African nations, because that’s what English-speaking newspapers cover. So, I’m trying to broaden my horizons. And once upon a time, my French was pretty good, so I may as well put it to use.

Tell us three fun facts about yourself.

I got married when I was 39, and I now have been married for 19 years. Every day it amazes me. My husband and I have been through a lot, but right now, it’s smooth sailing and I’m loving it.
At the same time, I’m still in touch with most of my old beaus. Facebook makes that possible. I find that I care about them in a sisterly way. I want the best for them, and they want the best for me.
I went to engineering school when I was seventeen. The ratio of women to men was 1:12, and out of 1200 students, there were eight black women. I had never been surrounded by geeky people before and I LOVED IT! I joined every club, took every opportunity, did everything imaginable. And flunked out.  A very wise black engineering manager where I was working convinced me to go back. It was very hard, because my foundation was weak. I had cut classes *a lot*, but I did it. I graduated from college in 1987, went on to grad school, and have worked as an engineer ever since.

What do you have in store next for your readers?

Everybody wants More Afro-Bougie Blues. But my Muse has not come, and I don’t trust my writing without her. I have taken a shot at two stories. One about two men who want to get married, one about how COVID affects a man with a restaurant.  There are two stories that didn’t make it into this book. One is about an overweight comedian trying to find love. The other is about two parents who want their son to move out. Those two require a LOT of work. I cannot imagine putting out a book with less than 12 stories, so it may be years before it happens. We’ll see.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with your readers?

I would love for Afro-Bougie Blues to be a best-seller. But I find myself wondering why. Why is it so important to me? It would be nice to break even. Vanity publishing is expensive. But it really is more than that. Because, even more than selling the books, it warms my heart to read positive reviews. It means my book, my stories, are connecting with people, touching people, giving them an “Oh, I see how that could happen” experience, or a “Now that you put it that way, it makes sense.” experience.  Or a “Yay, she did it!” experience.  Readers, I want that for you. I want you to read this book and think these thoughts and come away with a glimpse at a perspective you might not have ever considered, but now that it’s put in front of you, you can see it as a possibility.  And I want you to find yourself empathizing with people going through things you haven’t experienced, and only vaguely know about.  I want the people in these stories to touch you, and let you see that everyone has “blues”, and there’s no right or wrong way to deal with them. They just “are”, and people make the best of things so that they can come out on the other side. If you can have that experience with my book, I will be happy. 

Facing the troubles money can't solve. Afro-Bougie Blues is a collection of twelve original, engaging, and occasionally edgy short stories that dig into the souls of ordinary black women and men meeting life’s challenges with courage and care. A newlywed considers her past abortion after having a miscarriage. An Army veteran subdues his war memories with alcohol. A woman who loses weight watches her marriage crumble around her. A single father reflects on his pre-teen daughter’s complicated questions about love. A married woman falls in love with a jazz singer. Watch as the protagonists find their way, find love, or find themselves amid the chaos. Explore the world of Afro-Bougie Blues. An extraordinary assortment of stories awaits you. Dig in.

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