TABOO TREE (FAMILY SAGA, FICTION) BY ALTONYA WASHINGTON
(Reprinted with permission from Black Pearls Blog)
Rivalries, secret romances and scandals fed the feud between the Gwaltneys and Augustines for decades. The two families shared an uneasy co-existence, until terrible tragedy touched the Gwaltneys. Years later, the two eldest Augustine children, chose to chart their family history. In doing so, they made a devastating discovery. Their family shared more than hatred with the Gwaltneys. They shared blood. The kids decided to cover the explosive revelation. The decision would have consequences none of them could have foreseen.
“Did ya’ll come across something in your research that upset you?”
BPM: What made you want to become a writer? I penned my first story in the summer of 1994. I decided to become a writer the summer after I graduated college. I attended the HBCU Winston Salem State University. I believe it was that experience that made me look at the romance novels I’d enjoyed since age 13, with a more critical eye. I still enjoyed the stories, but I craved seeing characters that looked like me. As the great Toni Morrison says “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it”. These words have been a driving force behind so many of the stories I’ve created.
BPM: How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? I believe I’ve learned how to write the story my characters are showing me instead of the ones I want them to act out. I listen to them more which has enabled me to create some pretty unforgettable people.
BPM: Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice? I don’t know if I’d say spiritual, but it is therapeutic. There’s a feeling I get when I’m writing that just soothes me. Whatever is going on around me or in my life, writing creates this…bubble that protects me from all the angst. Then, it rejuvenates and inspires to give me the strength to go and face the angst.
BPM: How has writing impacted your life? It’s made my house a cluttered mess! I write everything in longhand so you can imagine the notebooks I’ve got piled. Seriously, it’s not that bad-I try not to let my ‘hobby’ put my home in too much of an uproar. To be honest, writing has ‘impacted’ my life in beautiful ways. I continually evolve as a more thoughtful person, more observant, more detail-oriented and definitely more focused!
BPM: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
There are so many I’s to dot and T’s to cross! I’m not just talking about inside the pages of the book either! This is especially true when the work is an indie project. Everything rests on your shoulders and you have to make sure the product is as satisfying inside as it is on the outside. I’ve learned that it goes beyond selecting the perfect cover image and font size for the title. The platforms used to create the work, proofing the work and proofing it again and again…there are so many levels of quality control. Still, the end result makes it all worth it.
I’ve learned that my characters’ personalities deeply impact the way I craft a story. There are times when I need a scene to play out in such a way and I find that I have to have another character handle that issue because the character I intend to have in that scene just won’t fit because of who I’ve created them to be. A certain way of handling things just won’t work for a particular character unless I tweak the way the scene plays out to fit them.
BPM: Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years? Five years…Wow…lots of changes. I pray they will be wonderful ones. My best guy will be in college I hope. I’ll be a free woman with even more time to write-yaaaay!! My biggest personal goal though, is to be writing full time. I hope to make this a reality before 5 years, but definitely by then.
BPM: How do you find or make time to write? I HAVE to write. It’s like a vitamin. I don’t feel quite right until I have it in my system. Unless I’m out for the day with my best guy, there are few places I go without having work with me. I’m usually up by 5am, and start writing after my morning workout before I head off to the day job. On the weekends, I usually sit down to write 2-3 times a day and put in 2-3 hours per session.
BPM: How did you choose the genre you write in? I think the romance genre chose me. I have been an avid reader all my life. From the children’s classics like The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Secret Garden and more to the teen dramas like the Sweet Valley High series and the Flowers in the Attic series by VC Andrews, I was a fan of them all. Romance however was the only one that sparked my desire to write.
BPM: Tell us about your most recent work? Taboo Tree is actually a very old title. I published it in 2012, but I actually wrote it several years earlier closer to 2000. The story actually woke me one night and had such an impact, I started drafting the premise right there in the dark. I still remember scribbling away on the first thing I could find to write on so I wouldn’t forget any aspect of what it would entail. The title really says it all. This is the story of two families who have squabbled for decades-they’ve squabbled and many of them have fallen in love. We come into our story at a time when it will be revealed that these characters not only share a love/hate history, they also share blood.
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters or the speakers. What makes each one so special? That’s difficult. Taboo Tree has several main characters. If you don’t like to read stories with lots of characters, this may not be the story for you. Each of the ‘main’ cast, play tremendous roles in the story and what they bring to the storyline makes the eventual outcome even more devastating. Everyone has a part to play. There are characters who are truly in love, others who despise one another and those who tolerate others for the greater good. There are some really hateful, unlikeable people in this story and some who are so wonderful, you will cry for them as they deal with the impact of certain revelations.
BPM: What was your hardest scene to write, the opening or the close? The scenes where truths are revealed about the connection the families share. How those revelations impact the couples who are truly in love, were scenes that were really hard to get through.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey. Thankfully, NO part of this book resonated with my present situation on journey. It was a journey however to craft this title to put myself in the necessary headspace. As I said earlier, the story has lots of characters who are all important to the situations that arise. It was difficult to put myself into the minds of those people and to put certain heinous thoughts into words-it gives a scary insight into what it takes to be that ruthless in real life.
BPM: Is there a specific place/space/state that you find inspiration in? I can write pretty much anywhere, but being at home on a rainy day continues to be my absolute favorite time, space, place to create. A gray, rainy day with the lamps on, a mug of hot tea and the kettle simmering on the stove means Tonya is somewhere in comfy clothes writing and smiling.
BPM: Are there certain characters you would like to go back to, or is there a theme or idea you’d love to work with? Well I just adore all the characters in my Ramsey/Tesano series and I’ll probably write stories featuring them for as long as I’m able to write. My Sleeping Giants characters are becoming especially satisfying as are a few others I’ve yet to introduce to the reading public. As for recurring themes, the ‘mad scientist’ element has been drawing me in deeper and deeper. I’m having quite a bit of fun exploring that in my romantic suspense titles lately.
BPM: Do you want each book to stand on its own or do you prefer to write series? I enjoy both. I make a conscious decision before starting a new project on whether I intend for it to be a standalone or a series. I enjoy series which allow me to plant those little seeds that I can watch spring up during the course of the books-as with the Ramsey/Tesano saga. I enjoy the standalones as well. Standalones give readers the closure they want without the fear of a cliffhanger. Now, I’m hooked on creating standalones within a series- which follow a particular theme. These are stories that a reader can pick up from anywhere in the lineup and not feel the need to read the other titles in order to enjoy the story in hand. I’m having great fun exploring this in my new Sleeping Giants interracial romantic suspense series.
BPM: Does writing energize or exhaust you? Writing energizes me all the way! I don’t write when I’m exhausted-I never try to push past it because I don’t feel it produces my best work. If I’m not feeling energized, I recognize that I need a fresh brain. I refuel (with sleep) before going back to the drawing board.
BPM: Do you believe in writer’s block? I believe in exhaustion. I really believe that’s what hinders so many writers and they misdiagnose it as a block. Not saying it doesn’t exist, only I think a writer should first examine their fuel gauge.
BPM: Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? I’m not so sure anymore. I once said I’d never write about a couple having to deal with infidelity. I write romance and I don’t see how that could be crafted as romantic but I’ve been having some ideas lately that may require me to revisit the idea and we’ll see…
BPM: Do you try to deliver to readers what they want or let the characters guide your writing? I think what readers want is a good story. I try to provide one with every project. It doesn’t work for me not to listen to my characters-getting into their heads, discovering who they are and presenting those layers to my readers is one of the great joys I get out of writing. My readers expect a dynamic plot but they also want to experience that connection to the people (the characters) who live the story.
BPM: Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Not really, but for me love scenes depend on the kind of scene it is. For instance, with an ‘almost’ love scene, I can pretty much write that anywhere-they’re fun, quick, sexy scenes in route to the rest of the plot and can be used to advance the story in an incidental way. For the ‘all the way’ love scenes, I prefer to write those at a time and place where I know I won’t be interrupted. If you’ve read my work, you know that sometimes those scenes can go on for a bit. I write from beginning to end with those and strive to make them as intense as a scene of dialogue. It’s important for writers to understand that love scenes are part of the plot as well and really begin from the first moment the characters meet in the story. They should not be written simply as sex tossed in for good measure, but have a true connection to the work.
BPM: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? Best money I ever spent as a writer was back in 2001 when I attended the Romance Slam Jam Literary Conference in Orlando, FL. I was a new mom, money was VERY tight and I even think I missed the registration deadline but I was living in Orlando and able to reach out to Mrs. Brenda Woodbury, who was the local contact person for the event. She worked magic to get me there. Aside from a few magazine short stories, I had nothing in the way of a major publication. Attending that event was like being admitted to another world -a fantastic one I had only dreamed about. Once I started writing, I pretty much shied away from reading romance-not wanting anyone else’s voice to intrude on my own. So…until 2001, I had no idea African American Romance existed at such a level. One reason I started writing was because I couldn’t find the books I wanted. In SC of the 1980s & 90s, I could NOT find such stories on the shelves. The BEST part about Slam Jam, were the readers-energetic, intelligent, curious women with insatiable reading appetites. They made me believe that my voice had a place and an audience in this new and dynamic world.
BPM: Have you written any other books that are not published? Oh yeah! I’ve got two at the rough draft stage that I just haven’t pushed into final draft mode and several more that I’ve done outlines for, but haven’t had the time to move any further with. We won’t discuss all the stuff still rattling around in my head.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present? Now THAT’S a loaded question! I’m working on so much-or I should say so many things are coming down the pipeline. Folks tend to get on me about my work taking so long to release, but it’s hard for me to work on more than one book at a time. I admire people who can. I enjoy giving my all to one world at a time. I’d say it works pretty well for me, there’s a lot on the horizon.
BPM: What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you? I’m good with any method- FB, Twitter, Instagram. I absolutely LOVE emails from my readers, though many often drop me a line via FB Messenger when they have a quick question. It’s a great pick-me-up when I see a message from a reader.