Monday, November 21, 2016

Authors To Watch: Sam Reed, author of 'Fair to Hope'

Sam Reed is a born and bred southern girl who grew up reading Toni Morrison, Archie Comics, Christopher Pike, Octavia Butler, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King. When she’s not thinking of what to write, she is napping or eating, going to church, wishing she could sing, trying to perfect her Grandma’s biscuit recipe, watching A Different World reruns, sitting in the sun—or reading a book.


Velma had lived two lives: her first as a former foster kid, and her second as an unlikely recruit into a secret order that satisfied her need for retribution. Her fifteen-year-old self had given up on hope, but
after three years with the Taram, she’d found her life’s purpose.

That is, until she is surprisingly named Kachina, the fabled chosen empowered to fight the last battle for the fate of the world. Having to kill someone she loves was never part of the bargain, even if it means saving everyone else from damnation.

Building a normal life free from the pull of the Taram—seems like the only answer to her prayers. Except her best friend, the other Kachina, is coming. The legend is clear that one of them must die.

Velma will have to weigh the cost of her life against a world that’s constantly betrayed her and quite literally decide if she’ll be damned in dying, taking the whole world with her.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Samantha but nobody ever calls me that, I’ve always gone by Sam. I’m 38 years old, I’m a proud southern girl born in Pulaksi, Virginia (don’t feel bad, nobody has ever heard of it), but I’ve lived in Maryland, Washington D.C., Chicago & New York. I’m a horror movie and book fanatic, I’ll take sour/salty over sweet any day (salt is probably an obsession, I drink olive juice and pour extra salt in my bags of potato chips…it’s a problem, I know.) I went to Williams College and for the longest time thought I was going to be a Clinical Psychologist, (though the psych degree does come in handy for writing characters), I also have a baking and pastry degree, and spent a part of my life making custom wedding cakes, which was a job that I adored. But books were my first love and I’ve always wanted to be a writer. It just took me 30 some years to believe in myself enough to make it happen. 

When did you begin writing?

Oh man, I’ve been writing almost for as long as I can remember. Snippets of things, poems and short stories. I’m pretty sure I got started writing by reading. Books were the things that made me feel the most okay. Internally, I felt like a strange kid, I don’t know if I actually was one, but I often felt on the outskirts of things. Words on pages that I could hold were the places where I saw reflections of myself - characters I could relate to, situations I could be invested in and my reactions were my own - meaning however I felt while reading, was ok. So then, for me, writing became a natural outlet, I felt safe on paper, I felt like the truest me on paper, so writing was where I got to learn myself. First, it was just journals, and then, probably again, because of the reading, my crazy imagination started leaking through and it became about telling stories, trying to make sense of things I didn’t understand by giving them fantastical foundations, by writing characters who were strong where I was weak and who lived and saw and grew in the ways I wanted to, or even the re-telling of things, reworking the past into something that if it was negative, would no longer have any power over me, and if it was positive, that could be made gloriously larger, worth sharing and celebrating. So I guess, if boiled down to the basics, for me, writing started by not just falling in love with words, but in realizing I could trust the world words allowed me to live in and create.

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?

Aww man, if only I had a process, that would probably help, lol. I feel like most writers are probably better at answering this question, that they have a set time and location and certain rituals that help them get into their sort of writing zone, but I don’t have any of that. My first reason for that is an unconventional schedule, since I’ve been acting as a caregiver for my mom, but the truth is, even if I had no obligations, I still probably wouldn’t have a process. What I do is squirrel time away when I can and then just sit down and start writing. Sometimes I have an idea that got sparked in my head and I’m trying to work it out, but mostly it’s me sitting in a coffee shop or on my porch or kitchen table, staring out the window and then putting my fingers on the keyboard and letting them fly. I have tons of these ‘starts’ on my computer, some are garbage (but I still can’t get rid of them), some of them have something and I know that I can develop it further - those are the ones I hope I can turn into a book.

Can you tell us about your most recent release?

Sure, Fair to Hope is  a diverse YA urban fantasy about two groups secretly waring for control of souls. Velma (my main girl) has to decide if she’ll save everybody from damnation by killing her best friend before he kills her. I wanted to write this book because it was the kind of book I was hungry for when I was a young girl, sort of searching for representations of myself and the world I lived in, in the books I read. I’ve also always been a fan of anything involving the supernatural/fantastical to any degree, but I wanted to see if I was able to do something different. To create a world where things were happening behind the scenes that had real consequences for real people, and the folks controlling this, the ones choosing to do this thing were just like me and you, they weren’t werewolves or vampires or witches, they didn’t have some special thing as part of their DNA or experience that made them capable – some thing that you (as the reader) could never have and so could never walk in their shoes. These people would be people who would just make a choice, and that choice would have the ability to reverberate around the world. And I wanted these people to look like me, like the world I live in, where the main characters and not just one character, or a side-kick character, were people of color. It can seem like such a little thing, but it’s not, at least it wasn’t for me. When I was growing up, the girls to love in books were blond and blue eyed, or raven haired with fair skin, and all the book-boyfriends were about the same. When and if I found myself on the page, at best, it lasted for a handful of sentences. And these were stories I loved, and would re-read and re-read. In many ways those books built me, but didn’t reflect me, and I wanted to be able to create something that would allow that not to be the case for anyone who picked up my book. It’s diverse not just because Velma is a black girl and Josh is a black boy, but because the people she interacts with, in substantial ways span the spectrum. If it’s not obvious by this long winded answer, that was extremely important to me.  

Which authors have inspired your writing?

My mom, she was a writer but let it go when she had kids in order to provide for us. But she had notebooks of short stories and poems and reading them was confidence for me, because they were good, and I would think, some of that lady is in my DNA - so I should be able to do that too. And then all the writers who I felt like were amazing at showing the subtle savagery of people coupled with our unbelievable ability to rally and hope and show up - folks like Stephen King, and Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Dean Koontz, Christopher Pike (his young adult books for me growing up were epic, always such strong female characters that had very little to do with a girl navigating a life around a boy, which was prevalent and still is in some sense, that ‘relationship’ defines you - you weren’t okay until you met him, you won’t be okay without him, that is so short-sighted for not just girls but boys too - relationships are beautiful, love is a blessing, but love yourself first), George Orwell, Zora Neale Hurston, Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass. In high school I read 1984 and The Invisible Man and was struck by being pulled along by the hand towards the evolution of something…does that make sense? Watching this thing unfold, often tragically, and being so invested that it becomes more than a story, it becomes something that shapes how you view life in general. Beloved did that for me as well, Stephen King’s IT was the first book to truly scare me, and I grew up on horror movies so it was unexpectedly exhilarating, everything by Toni Morrison, literally everything, shaped how I categorized myself as a black woman, but perhaps no novel more than Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, I read it as a young southern teenager who’d just moved to the ‘big city’ and it gave me all these new definitions of love and security and self awareness, vulnerability, strength, carelessness and hope. Though my favorites list is always revolving, that book stays in my top 3. My favorite setting is the South, it’s in my blood, I love the slowness and the sly calculation of the people and the observations, the food, the heat, heat can be a character in and of itself, when it’s hot enough, people are inclined to do crazy things! And food too, what a person eats, how they eat, the memories surrounding what they use to nourish themselves can be one of the most telling character traits.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

Be one. That seems like easy throw-away advice, but it’s the truth. Just be one. Commit to it like you would anything else. You’ll see things that say write everyday, and that’s good advice, because as a concept being a writer is romantic and artsy but that makes it easy to forget that it is also a job, one that requires some dedication and routine, you must write to be an author, you must write enough words to make a book, and most likely you’ll have to be able to do that over and over again. That said, I don’t write everyday, sometimes I can’t, the words just won’t come, and so I don’t beat myself up about that, I take it as a day of inspiration, I look around me, I pay attention, I watch people, I think things out and now when I get back in front of the page, that bank of ‘prompts’ will help the words come…and when they do, it’s usually a long winded tumble of things that need to be edited and rearranged and completely reworked and that’s ok, the most important thing is to just get it out - get the words out, then as you start to work with them and mold them into a story they’ll work with you, it’ll be a partnership and that’s when the magic happens.

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