What was your inspiration for this novel? How did your background influence this novel?

This novel started out as a screenplay. Because I kept several of the chapters in the screenplay format, I’m calling it a “novelplay”. I had been carrying around this story in my head for over twenty years. Diamond, the young lady in the novel, went through many changes over the years. So did Camden, New Jersey. During these changes, I got older and a lot wiser. I decided to use Diamond as a voice for those who are growing up in Camden today. Many will leave and never come back. Many don’t know the history of the city. Hopefully, readers will visualize and feel the pain of the old and young in the city, and why we can’t turn our backs on the children in the city. I have fond memories of growing up in Camden. I also had role models. What the children are seeing on the front pages of the newspapers today is horrible. They need to see a better way of life. It’s going to take a lot to happen for the city to come back.

Did you research the era before you set out writing? If so, what sources did you consult?

I talked to many residents over the years, especially those who were around during the sixties, and seventies. All are still hopeful. I first sat with Riletta L. Cream, who was fierce as my high school principal. She has always represented excellence. She is definitely one of my role models, which helped me set the tone for Nana Jones. Camden County Clerk Joseph Ripa gave me a tour of “old Camden” right in his office. He also walked me underground City Hall and showed me things I had never known. It was quite challenging to incorporate the old Camden with the new. (Mrs. Corinne Bradley-Powers’ perception of the changes in the city was helpful too.)

Did you feel a connection between yourself and Nana Jones—as a woman or a mother?

Nana Jones’s character has the qualities of many matriarchs that I have come across in my lifetime – both of my grandmothers, my mother and mother in law, my friends’ grandmothers, my teachers and high school principal, and even Mary Kay Ash, Oprah Winfrey, etc. I could go on and on. All of these women wanted/want to see children succeed. The memories that I relied most upon were those of my grandmothers. What I’ve learned so far is that, as you get older and wiser, there is nothing more important than leaving a legacy. It is very important live each day so that in the end, you can peacefully say, “I’m ready.” Nana Jones reminds me of this every time I hear someone say her name.

Did the current economic climate influence your novel at all?

The coffee shop that Nana Jones owns needs to be sold so she can retire. Over the years, many companies have left the city and the buildings were boarded up or torn down. Many of the residents are poor. Nana Jones does her best to help them out. In doing so, she finds herself in financial trouble. She doesn’t believe that banks will give anyone a loan to buy her shop. But, that’s only one reason she does not want to sell the shop.

Did you intend for this book to address the political issues in Camden?

This book is about the children in the city. I have several little cousins who lost their lives to gun violence. Although I talk about other issues in the city, I tried to stay focused on the children. “V” is a boy who never utters a word, but his actions speak volumes. “Daddy” is another boy who has much to say. Should we choose which one to help? Absolutely not. My greatest hope is that people who have left the city will reach back and connect with all of the children. But, they won’t do it without protection. That’s a political issue. My book touches on that issue very lightly.

Were there any setbacks?

There are always setbacks when you are planning to do something out of your comfort zone. Expect to have them and always learn from your mistakes. Surround yourself with people who will push you over the hump with lots of encouragement. I’m blessed that I have family, friends, co-workers, students, etc. who keep me going. When I saw a contest that featured almost the same logline as mine (from the same company that critiqued my screenplay a year ago), I was upset. Then, I looked at it as my welcome to Hollywood. My supportive circle of influence kept me going. My husband is also a key player and my biggest fan. I also look at sites of Mary Kay National Sales Directors almost daily for inspiration. (I was a director with the company for many years.)

Who are your favorite authors?

I don’t have a favorite author. I love movies. Books are tough for me. If I feel that the characters are slow to act, I immediately turn to the back to see the outcome. My intent was not to become an author, but a screenwriter. So, when I started writing this book, I looked on my shelves for books to dissect, just as I do when I write screenplays. There were many to choose from, but John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill” was the one that I referred to the most. He tells good stories.

Do you have any plans for another book? If so, what will it be about?

As you can or will see, several of the chapters are in the screenplay format. I took a chance with this, and then I read a contest asking for screenplays to be turned into novels. I felt like it was sort of a confirmation for me. I have plans to turn several of my other screenplay ideas into novelplays as well. Although I’d been working on the screenplay since 2002, the actual book took me about seven months. All of my novels will have a disease that has affected one of my loved ones in some way just like “Wish I(s)”, which deals with strokes? Both of my grandmothers died from complications of having strokes.

Why did you choose a self publishing company over a traditional one?

I had already spent many years rewriting the screenplay. I didn’t want to spend more years banging on the doors of traditional companies, only to be rejected. I chose Abbott Press because they returned my call first and was very professional. I still own the rights and have a hand in everything that goes into seeing that my vision is not lost.

To what extent is your fiction autobiographical?

I made up the characters. There situations were made up. The shop was made up. I did pull from some of my experiences as a “marching panther” and my memories of some of the buildings. If I had to choose one character that was my voice, it would be Nurse Debbie.

What is your overall goal for this book?

There are many goals, but to raise money to make the movie is the biggest one so far.

Is there a follow up to this novel? People want to know what happens to the remaining characters.

Hum…. I can’t answer that right now.

Do you have any advice to offer first time novelists?

I would tell them to stay true to who they are. Some people wanted me to get very political and point fingers at people for the current state of the city, but that was not the purpose of my book. I’m glad that I stayed on course. Also, if you see your idea out there, don’t stop writing. No idea is really a new idea. It’s just tweaked a little bit. Make it your own and tell it with lots of enthusiasm. Learn to paint the picture.