1. Tell us, what led you to write STAND THE STORM? It was a story that I wanted to tell. This is the story of enslaved individuals who build a cohesive, productive, protective family in the face of the horrible realities of the slave system.
2. What genre is it? historical fiction
3. What is STAND THE STORM about? STAND THE STORM is the story of Sewing Annie and her son, Gabriel who build upon their own traditions of needlework. Along with sister, Ellen and Gabriel’s wife, Mary, they manage to purchase their own freedom and build a self-sustaining business in Washington, D.C. in the mid-nineteenth century.
4. Are any of the characters you or someone you know? The short answer would be “no.” But when I write fiction I do feel as though the characters are in some sense composites of people that I know or have known. Of course, in their relationships they do echo relationships in my own life.
Introduce us to your characters and what do you like most about them? I’ll introduce them. Even the characters I don’t like. ;-) The characters at the heart of STAND THE STORM are Annie Coates, Gabriel Coates, Ellen Coates and Gabriel’s wife, Mary. They comprise the courageous, industrious family who purchase their own freedom and establish a thriving business in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. in the years leading up to the Civil War. Jonathan and Aaron Ridley are the white, slave-owning antagonists in STAND THE STORM. Rev. William Higgins, Daniel Joshua and the young girl, Delia are the supporting cast of the novel. Sewing Annie is born enslaved on a plantation in southern Maryland. She is trained as a needleworker. She trains her son to the work and he works alongside her until he is hired out to work in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Annie’s daughter, Ellen, is also hired out and has experiences that change her circumstances. Gabriel marries a woman who has self-emancipated and struggles to stay free. They manage to purchase their freedom though they are cheated, jailed and denigrated. Gabriel fights with U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
6. You have another book coming out also, MAROON, let’s chat about that - In fact, it’s still being written so is not yet ready to come out.
7. What were the easiest and the hardest parts to write? The hardest part of writing MAROON is the sexual violence. I find it difficult to write about because it is difficult to think about. It’s hard for me to have characters do morally reprehensible things. For me allowing the characters to be flawed is a test of personal courage -- maturity as a writer.
8. Has writing MAROON, given you any AHHH HAAA moments? Yes. I read over material written several weeks ago and am pleasantly surprised to see what I know. I always like the moment of reviewing and thinking “who wrote this?” I particularly like it when washing dishes or driving or cooking or swimming that I get a snatch of conversation from one of my characters. Sometimes I hear myself saying the words out loud as if they are coming from another person. I like this deep involvement.
9. Has a fan, ever realized a point in your book, that you failed to realize? I don’t recall.
10. Has your journey been what you expected? Yes -- in a way. I believe in creative visualization. I think about goals and dream about them actively and work out strategies to achieve them. I’m not rigid in outlining my novels. I do know how to implement my system though. The suspense is that things don’t progress exactly the way they are imagined -- in life or in novels. They take a more circuitous route and that is the fun part of living. I like the “who would have thought we’d be here” moments.
11. How many books have you written? I’ve written three and a half books. Two have been published. One is in a drawer. I’m working on a manuscript now.
12. Not calling any of your babies ugly, but which was your favorite? “Not calling any of your babies ugly” - LOL LIke any good mother I will say I love them all equally - but I love them for different reasons. RIVER, CROSS MY HEART is where my publishing career began. It was a very successful book and very personal. STAND THE STORM is a more mature, writerly effort for me. I love the characters very much. The one in the drawer is autobiographical and is waiting and mellowing. MAROON has my attention now.
As a writer, what has been your epiphany? My young son’s death in 1989 was an event that compelled me to write regularly -- to accomplish a project. I began keeping chronological notebooks. This practice -- priming my pumps -- helped me to organize as a writer.
14. Have you ever written anything that left a bad taste in your mouth? Yeah. I won’t identify it. Sure. We all have a bad game -- even LeBron.
What else do you have brewing? I’m working on another novel. I’m calling it MAROON. It has a 19th century setting like STAND THE STORM though most of it takes place in a different geographical area. The characters are a community of escaped slaves and their descendants, Indians and Europeans.
16. Who are some of your favorite authors? Ernest J Gaines, Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice McDermott, Walter Moseley, Jean Toomer, Ann Petry, James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Toni Cade Bambara, Cheryl Clarke, Dorothy Allison, Isabel Allende, Georges Amado, August Wilson, Tennessee Williams, Edwidge Danticat - these are my most major favs. I have many, many more whom I’m merely nuts about.
17. Why do you write? I write, first and foremost, because I read. I have always read -- since my parents first taught me.
What makes your book stand out and entice a reader pick it up? Subject matter I hope.
19. Where do you get ideas? Where you receive motivation? I do a lot of reading -- non-fiction histories. I also visit historic houses and am fond of walking tours. I like to look at old objects, especially work tools. I enjoy imagining the people who use them.
20. What do you do while writing? Music etc? Yes, I listen to music. I rise early and put on my ear phones and listen to contemplative music - without lyrics.
21. When you finished writing STAND THE STORM ? How did you celebrate? My husband and I went to an Indian restaurant in NYC.
22. Which of your books was the most difficult to write? RIVER, CROSS MY HEART was most difficult for me to write because I was learning the ropes with this effort. I feel I had learned many “techniques” by the time I was working on STAND THE STORM. I think I’ve learned a few things through the process of working on STAND THE STORM - so that MAROON will be a better book. That’s what I’m aiming for.
Which of your books has bought the most responses from readers? That would be RIVER, CROSS M HEART. I got a lot of reader feedback because of the Oprah Book Club selection. I’ve been gratified that book clubs have been especially supportive of RIVER.
24. Do you read you? Yes. I’m particularly pleased when I read something that delights and surprising me in my own work.
25. Thus far what has been your greatest reward? That my parents were able to share the excitement of having my books published.
26. What are a few things you’ve done to promote your work? I’ve done quite a few radio interviews to promote RIVER, CROSS MY HEART and STAND THE STORM. I do readings, school visits, lectures, book club visits.
28. What advice do you have for aspiring authors? Get organized and go for it. Not all time spent writing is time actually putting words to medium -- much of the time thinking, wool-gathering -- is writing, too.
29. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Still alive and writing more. Writing is a mature person’s game.
30. What do you want people to know about you? I’m a keen observer and a reliable recorder.
31. What are your future plans? Any new books? Upcoming book signings? Other literary events. My immediate plan is to finish MAROON and get it published. I want to develop a collection of short stories.
32.If you could have been a co-author, with any writer living or dead who would it be? Lorraine Hansberry
33. What do you do for fun? Read
**Other than the Bible
1. One book that changed your life: THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD - by Zora Neale Hurston
2. One book that you've read more than once: ADA OR ARDOR: A FAMILY CHRONICLE by Vladimir Nabokov
3. One book you'd want on a deserted island - CANE by Jean Toomer
4. One book that made you laugh: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA by Philip Roth
5. One book that made you cry: THE STREET by Ann Petry (also THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA by Philip Roth)
6. One book that you wish had been written: BELOVED by Toni Morrison
7. One book you loved to hate THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolfe
8. One book that you are currently reading: BLACK GIRL/WHITE GIRL by Joyce Carol Oates
9. One book that you've been meaning to read: ONE DROP, MY FATHER’S HIDDEN LIFE - A STORY OF RACE AND FAMILY SECRETS by Bliss Broyard
10. One book you've been meaning to finish: THE BONDWOMAN’S NARRATIVE by Hannah Crafts
11. One guilty pleasure: LADY CHATTERLY’S LOVER by D. H. Lawrence
12. What’s your theme song? I’M PULLING THROUGH
What is your Book and Contact information?
Hachette Book Group USA
Cynthia Cannell Agency
Breena Clarke’s debut novel, “River, Cross My Heart,” was an October 1999 Oprah Book Club selection. Ms. Clarke, a native of Washington, D.C., is the recipient of the 1999 award for fiction by the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association and the Alex Award, given by the Young Adult Library Services Association.
Breena, who has survived the death of her only child, writes with depth and clarity about grief. Her work is marked by compassion and magnificent use of language. Fascinated by the vast array of small and insignificant objects that contain finely detailed denigrating images of African-Americans, Breena is a passionate collector of Black Memorabilia.
A graduate of Howard University, Breena Clarke is co-author with Glenda Dickerson of “Remembering Aunt Jemima: A Menstrual Show,” which is anthologized in Contemporary Plays by Women of Color and Colored Contradictions, An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Plays. Her short fiction is included in Black Silk, A Collection of African American Erotica, and Street Lights: Illuminating Tales of the Urban Black Experience. Her recollections of Washington, D.C. are included in “Growing Up In Washington, D.C., An Oral History,” published by The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
Breena credits having learned to swim nine years ago with changing her life. After completing a course of classes at New York’s Asphalt Green Aqua Center, she has become a member of an aqua aerobics class, swims three times a week and practices Qi Gong.
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