Monday, March 19, 2007

I'm always excited to interview authors on Mondays, but I'm particularly excited this morning. Even before I met Andrea King Collier at the Chicago Magazine Writers and Editors conference in 2004, I was already reading her essays. It seems she was in every magazine I read and she became one of my favorite essayists.
Today, Andrea talks about her new book and writing essays:

Tell us about your latest book.
The Black Woman’s Guide to Black Men’s Health published by Warner Wellness in Feb.

How did you pick this title, as a woman, wasn't it difficult to write a book about men's health?
I do a lot of health reporting. One of the things that always struck me is the poor health numbers for men of color. As the mother, wife and friend of black men, I was so concerned and wanted to do something to help impact their health. Women have a lot of influence in the health and lifestyle of their men. I thought it would be a wonderful experiment to get them focused on helping men become healthier.

It wasn’t difficult because I never tried to get into the heads of men on my own. I asked them what they thought. I also focused on how women could help. It is very much a woman’s book.

Tell us about "Still with me: A Daughter's Journey of Love and Loss," so many baby boomers are dealing with the death of their parents now. From my own experience, I know it is very painful, how did you find the strength to write this book. Was it healing for you? And how long did it take? The book is about my year as a caregiver for my mother who died of ovarian cancer. But I like to think that it is really is a love story. It was a labor of love, definitely. But time takes care of a lot of stuff. It was 10 years before I even talked about it. I think if I had tried to write about my mother’s illness and death in year one or two, it would have been a different book. And I might add that it wouldn’t have helped anybody—not even me. I needed distance to process it. I had to almost be older to tell it.

And no it wasn’t healing. I know you hear people say that. But for me, a lot of the pain and wounds of that kind of loss had healed over and when I started to explore all of it, it was like taking a seam ripper to it and popping all that stuff open. Short of having a contract to write it, I didn’t know why I was subjecting myself to that. It was later, as I met people who read it and who had been through it that I knew why I had been put in a spot to tell our story.

In my opinion, you're one of the most prolific contemporary essayists today. How did you become interested in essay? I did essay before I did anything else. It was the only way I knew how to tell a story. It was meditation, introspective work. It was calming and processing. And it gave me a chance to develop my voice. I would do nothing else if I could make a living at it.

So many writers want to write good essays, if you were to give them one piece of advice, what would it be? Always ask yourself what the essay is really about. The essay in its early stages goes here and there and everywhere. At the end of the day, the most memorable are the ones that are about a lot of things and one thing. You have to whip all that stuff into one thing. And the other thing is to figure out what your voice is. A writer who mimics John McPhee, or Jamaica Kincaid is just mimicking those she admires. But to come into your own voice as an essayist is an awesome thing.

How do you find story ideas? My ideas come from everywhere. I never have writers block. I just go out. I watch the news. I talk to my friends. I try on my pants that don’t fit. I burn a pot roast. I have a husband and kids and a messy house. I have everything I need to work with. I think I am an observer.

When is your best writing time? All the time.
Why? I am lucky. I can just turn it on. I do think I probably do more writing after 12 because I am better at taking care of research, answering emails and phone calls in the am. After 12 I don’t like to talk.

What is one writing quirk most people don't know about you? I love to do first drafts with a Sharpie. I love Sharpies and fountain pens. And I can’t stand for anybody to use my computer.

What is your next project? Working on first novel and another project that is being shopped.

Tell a little about your website and how it might help writers. There is a spot on my website ( called My Dear Writer Chicks. It is practical stuff. It is like checking in and having a cup of coffee and talking about all the things we like to talk about. Finding agents, dealing with editors, writer’s block, excuses, writer envy, voice, etc. It isn’t too serious. It is kind of fun—at least for me.


Blogger Yvonne Perry said...

Great interview. I like your style.

2:18 PM CDT  

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