Book & Movie Reviews, Interview

Author Interview with Desmond Hall, author of “Your Corner Dark”

Thank you to @HearOurVoicesBT and @simonteen for an advanced copy of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall and the chance to interview the author!

Synopsis

American Street meets Long Way Down in this searing and gritty debut novel that takes an unflinching look at the harsh realities of gang life in Jamaica and how far a teen is willing to go for family.

Cover of Your Corner Dark by Desmond Hall

Things can change in a second:

The second Frankie Green gets that scholarship letter, he has his ticket out of Jamaica.

The second his longtime crush, Leah, asks him on a date, he’s in trouble.

The second his father gets shot, suddenly nothing else matters.

And the second Frankie joins his uncle’s gang in exchange for paying for his father’s medical bills, there’s no going back…or is there?

As Frankie does things he never thought he’d be capable of, he’s forced to confront the truth of the family and future he was born into—and the ones he wants to build for himself.

Author Interview with Desmond Hall

Adira: Congratulations on your debut novel, Your Corner Dark, Mr. Hall! 

I saw in your talk with Madeline Dyer for 2020’s YA Thriller Con that one of the inspirations behind this novel came from the loss of your uncle in Jamaica. I’d first like to extend my condolences for this personal loss. I know as an artist, drawing on personal pain is sometimes a source of inspiration. But, how were you able to balance grieving while also going through the writing process of telling such a detailed story about gang culture, police brutality, and political intrigue without being sucked back into that headspace?

Desmond Hall: I really like what the great actor Francis McDormand said about her art. She felt she had to figuratively pick at her wounds to keep them fresh, so she’d be able to access her pain, and apply it to her work. She actually dreaded the closing of her psychological wounds. This is a type of method acting that I think applies to writing as well. 

A: So often, the way that many people get introduced to Jamaica is as a country that’s akin to “paradise.” In my course on Globalization and Transnationalism, we watched the documentary Life and Debt, which spoke about how often we as tourists are never seeing the “real” Jamaica or partaking in the actual culture when we come to this island to visit. This made me think of how when reading your novel, readers are introduced to another viewpoint of your homeland that lingers just under Jamaica’s surface in the form of gang culture. Why did you feel that this story was important to talk about as a Jamaican?

DH: Your Corner Dark is a specific story, but also a universal one. The book touches on police brutality, gang culture, defining masculinity, and political intrigue. Those topics are just as relevant here in the States. I’m just telling the truth that I know. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you mentioned that the title of your book is the Jamaican equivalent of the saying, “between a rock and a hard place.” In true fashion, Frankie is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, he is a student who aspires to be an engineer and create things that will ease the hardships of he and his neighbors’ lives. Yet, Frankie is also living in a world that wants to box him in and make him become a part of gang culture even though everyone around him acknowledges that Frankie is “too smart” to go down this path. How did you balance telling Frankie’s story between these two realities while making it believable? 

Author Photo of Desmond Hall

DH: I think one of the keys is Frankie’s interiority. We get to know how he experiences the angst of having a father who he feels doesn’t understand him. We understand Frankie’s fear and admiration for a dangerous and charismatic uncle. We sympathize with the evil acts he feels compelled to commit. We also get to feel his shame when he ventures into a social class above his rank, and gets intimidated by sushi.  

A: One of my favorite parts of Your Corner Dark is the usage of Jamaican patois, the “unofficial language of Jamaica.” For me, the richness of this dialect draws from hearing Jamaicans speak their language out loud, similar to how I feel about hearing African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) being spoken. This got me thinking about Nate Marshall’s poetry collection, Finna, where he mentions that AAVE isn’t necessarily a dialect that’s meant to be written down but is meant to be spoken. Did you find a similar issue come up with your characters as you shaped their dialogue?

DH: I’m not familiar with Mr. Marshall’s thoughts on the matter, but I do believe It’s important to note that a lot of Jamaicans speak the Queens English as well as patois (Patwah in Jamaica). We have a lot of fun with the language, verbally, and in written form. In fact, a lot of the newspapers run social commentary cartoons, and the characters often speak in a thick patwah. 

A: I mention this because, at one point in the story, when Frankie hears Leah “chat patois,” he is shocked because he says that some Jamaicans aren’t comfortable with speaking in patois. As a reader who is not an #OwnVoices reviewer, I was unsure if this was indicative of the class issue between Leah and Frankie, which is a topic that comes up several times, or if there was a variation of the dialect that Frankie, a person from the country would speak, versus Leah, who is from the city. 

The Jamaican upper middle class has a tendency to be very conservative, even to the extent of reviling Rastafarians, even though Rastas are featured in our tourism advertising. This disdain also extends to speaking patwah. It’s similar to how some Americans look at the southern drawl (Dolly Parton actually points this out!). Frankie is aware that Leah is from the upper middle class as most kids are in his fancy school, and he worries that Leah may harbor some of those upper middle class tendencies. 

A: In your talk with Dyer, you also mention that Your Corner Dark is your “love letter to Jamaica.” What is the one thing you want your readers to take away from this story?

DH: I want them to understand more the complexity of Jamaica. Seven days and six nights at the resort won’t show people the real Jamaica, even with excursions. 

A: Your background as a screenwriter really shines in this novel! As I was reading Frankie’s story, I was in awe of the fact that so much of the story’s content’s felt as if they are primed to be on the “big screen.” Have you thought of turning this book into a screenplay?

DH: It’s funny you ask because I’d originally written this story as a screenplay, and back in the day, it was a runner up in the IFP Screenwriting contest in NYC.

Over the last few months, we’ve been having meetings with a few TV producers, so we’ll see. 

A: You also mentioned that you moved from Jamaica to Jamaica, Queens in New York City. Does this shift in geographical location have any bearings on the types of stories you write about?

DH: I think all my experiences come into play when I write. I remember talking to the great screenwriter, Budd Schulburg. I asked him how he came up with that great line from the awesome movie, ON THE WATERFRONT. “…I coulda been a contender…instead of a bum.” He said he was in Gleason’s boxing gym, and overheard a palooka saying those words to his manager. Mr. Schulburg said he quickly jotted down the line because he knew he would use it in a script one day. That day didn’t come until many years later, but he knew to catalogue the encounter. Essentially, he was telling me to draw from all my experiences, and use anything relevant to help render the story I want to tell.  

A: What are some of your writing influences or authors you deem as “must-read?”

I’m moved by Richard Price, and how he imbues crime stories with so much humanity. I wish I could be as harshly real as James Baldwin or as deep as Toni Morrison. 

In the YA space, I love reading Jason Reynolds and Courtney Summers.

A: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

DH: 

-Grubstreet is a great writing school. 

-There’s a famous quote about how published authors are the ones who didn’t give up. 

-The SAVE THE CAT book(s) are quick and easy ways to add the power of story structure to your arsenal. If you want a more in depth way, take the Mckee Story Class, and buckle up. 

Thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity to interview you, Mr. Hall!

Author Bio

Desmond Hall was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and moved to Jamaica, Queens. He has worked as a high school biology and English teacher; counseled teenage ex-cons after their release from Rikers Island; and served as Spike Lee’s creative director at Spike DDB. Desmond has served on the board of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and the Advertising Council and judged the One Show, the American Advertising Awards, and the NYC Downtown Short Film Festival. He’s also been named one of Variety magazine’s Top 50 Creatives to Watch. Desmond lives outside of Boston with his wife and two daughters.

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Book & Movie Reviews, Reviews

A #BookReview of #AUniverseOfWishes, A #WeNeedDiverseBooks Anthology – #BookTour

Thanks to Terminal Tours, I was able to get an advanced readers copy of the fantasy-themed short story anthology, A Universe of Wishes: A We Need Diverse Books Anthology. This anthology was edited by Dhonielle Clayton and included authors like Samira Ahmed, Zoraida Córdova, Kwame Mbalia, Tochi Onyebuchi, and many more authors of colors.

In her editor’s letter, Clayton talks about growing up as a reader of color and not seeing herself in fantasy novels. This was something that I could relate to. While I always had stories, like The Logan Family Saga by Mildred D. Taylor or The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, to read if I wanted to see real-world images of myself in the 90s if I wanted to read a fantasy novel with African-American characters, my pickings were slim.

With the We Need Diverse campaign inception in 2014, the field of publishing has been opened up to the point where authors of color have been given the space to tell their own stories and even been granted acclaim for their work. Even though there is more work to be done in the industry, based on the annual statistics from the Children’s Cooperative Book Center (CCBC) and Lee & Low.

Reading through A Universe of Wishes, I was pleasantly surprised to read stories, like “Liberia” by Kwame Mbalia, where readers are shown a story of where the love of one’s family takes center stage. Having Mbalia speak to African-Americans’ collectivist nature and centering the magic of this cultural trait warmed my heart.

Likewise, reading “The Takeback Tango” by Rebecca Roanhorse, where a teen thief sets out to reclaim her planet’s artifacts, is reminiscent of my favorite scene from Black Panther with Kilmonger in the British Museum. Having Roanhorse show the power that comes from taking ownership over one’s heritage is what I love to see!

As a lover of Disney’s Tangled, “Longer Than the Threads of Time” by Zoraida Córdova was also a treat. However, like so many stories in this anthology, I wanted the stories to be so much longer. 

A Universe of Wishes holds all the magic a reader could want. Having authors of color flex their muscles and show creativity outside the normal realm of “suffering” that so many BIPOC writers are pigeonholed into to get their break in the publishing industry was refreshing.

If you enjoyed this anthology, I’d highly recommend looking into all the featured writers’ works and read Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton, which was one of my favorite short story collections of African-American folktales and fairy tales as a kid.

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Interview

Interview With An Author – Laura Taylor Namey #ACubanGirlsGuideToTeaAndTomorrow

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

2020 has been the year of “escapism” for me. Along with science-fiction and fantasy, romance has been the genre I’ve consumed the most of this year. Thanks to Hear Our Voices Tours, I got the chances to read A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey early.

Checkout the novel’s blurb and an interview with the author below!

Book Info:

For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.

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Interview with Laura Taylor Namey

II: Congratulations on publishing your second novel! What was the process like writing A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow

LTN: Thank you so much! Writing this book was like entering a time capsule of both my experience as a teen trying to figure out life and love, and my childhood growing up in a large Cuban family. I truly enjoyed the process and there is a part of me who would always like to be the drafter of this book, over and over again.

II: What is the inspiration behind A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow?

LTN: I’m the daughter of a Cuban immigrant and grew up in a huge, wonderful Cuban family. This story is my tribute to all of them, and all of the things I witnessed as a child. I took all of those themes, lessons, and the spirts of those who loved me best, and reimagined them into a modern story about legacy, loss, and love.

II: There is a strong sense of community that Lila constantly references within A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow. How would you define community and how did you use that definition to influence how you wrote the characters and setting in your novel?

LTN: I have always thought of community as a tight physical and metaphorical place of nurturing and belonging that we can call our own, within a much larger environment. It shapes us and our worldview. Community is what Lila is almost obsessively invested in at the start of my book. She feels her place and role as a teen Cuban baker and future owner in the West Dade area of Miami is so rooted and crucial to her success, it grows to inform much of her identity. This is why she is so opposed to going to England for the summer. Orion also has deep roots in his community within Winchester, England. He relies on the steadfast consistency of great friends and his small, tight knit network to help him cope with, and navigate the trauma and uncertainty plaguing his family. 

II: On your website, you have a mood board and write up about the inspiration behind Lila. However, I was wondering about the creation of Orion Maxwell. How did you decide to write about a character who is dealing with an ill parent but who remains resilient?

LTN: There are some special people in my life who have experienced what Orion is going through at home with his cherished mother, and I wanted to honor this as part of my story. The way Orion processes a different, but parallel form of loss stands in contrast to Lila’s response. I enjoyed their interplay as they discuss their losses and situations, and learn from one another. They tug each other’s emotional arcs forward (and maybe a bit sideways!) 

Also, while Lila’s loss is fresh and acute, Orion has had longer to adjust to his “new normal.” Orion has created a distinct method for living through his grief. It allows him to go on, but it also makes him extremely cautious as to where and how he gives his heart. Orion is looking for things that last. Permanence appeals to him––as his mother, and to an extent, a growing teenage sister––are slowly slipping away. Yet, he begins to fall for a certain Cuban baker who is only in England temporarily. She has big plans to return to in Miami. How does this work out or end up? I won’t spoil, but writing the building and changing relationship between Lila and Orion is my favorite thing I have written so far.

II: A major theme in your novel has to do with dealing with loss (e.g., of love, family, and to a degree, self). How do you get into this mindset for building characters that feel so much pain while keeping enough mental clarity as a writer to create such a wonderful story?

LTN: Truthfully, there were moments drafting this book where I became overcome by the emotion and memories I was harnessing to tell the story. While I was writing, two of the family members I heavily reference in the narrative passed away. This was incredibly tough. But I pressed on though the pain and tried to use it to make the storytelling real and raw and viscerally authentic.Lila suffers great loss in this story. And I did too, as its author. That, plus many of the experiences I still remember so clearly from my teenage years that greatly shaped my emotional upbringing came back strong. I didn’t realize how overwhelmed I’d be at some points. Much of this story was penned through streams of tears. But I also found it an incredibly cathartic and healing experience. It was as if I had this ink and paper center with which to reconcile my emotion––past and present. I ended up with a preserved tribute to some amazing people who loved me well. And to a teenage girl used to know––myself.

II: Lila calls Miami her “charm city.” Do you have a city that you feel is your charm city?

It’s a tie between London and Paris. I have left parts of me inside each city and I can’t wait until I can go back and find them again. 

II: In A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow, Lila’s family runs a panadería, and she makes a lot of delicious pastries as an offering to others and as comfort food for herself. Were any of the pastries she cooked based on your family’s recipes? Also, did you have a favorite recipe that you gave Lila to cook in the book?

LTN: All of the pastries and dishes in this book are foods that my family ate and cooked. My mom and tías are so skilled at adapting Cuban recipes and making them their own. As for a favorite, it’s kind of Cuban-cliche but it’s also real, so the fact that Lila chooses to cook arroz con pollo for a big dinner party for her new British friends has a lot of personal meaning. It’s the first dish that comes to mind from my childhood that makes me think of my mother as a consummate Cuban cook. 
 
II: There’s a constant conversation within the literary community about “own voices” and the way that we as readers engage with the text we are given when we are outside a novel’s targeted demographic. What I love about A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow is that when Lila is speaking Spanish, it does not go the traditional route of italicizing her speech to categorize these lines as “out of the norm,” but instead forces readers who may not speak Spanish to truly immerse themselves into Lila’s world and see the story fully from her point of view. Is there a greater role you wanted language to play in your novel? If so, how does having a bilingual character inform the dialogue of your novel?

Thank you! And early on I made the decision with my editor not to italicize, as this is an #ownvoices work and the Spanish language is an important part of both my and Lila’s heritage. This is not something I added to a story, it is a foundational element of the story. I wanted to showcase the way many Florida Cubans in particular use Spanglish and code switching. This is only a peek! Cuban Spanish has a distinct flow and “gate” to it. Cubans drop vowels at the end of words, and often run their speech together like they’re on a word slip-n-slide. I also have a couple of tías who speak at speed level 10,000. You have to really be paying attention to understand! These are all things I grew up listening to and absorbing. I couldn’t convey the whole effect of the speed and sound, but I tried to add a bit of the flavor of what Lila’s family sounds like. 

II: In A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow Lila is forced from her beloved Miami and planted in England, where life is the total opposite. How did you get into the head of this character to write about this type of journey?

In writing Lila’s journey, it was first and foremost important for me to establish a clear sense of place and purpose for her back in Miami. I really spent time fleshing this out, and creating my Lila as a fixture in her community of West Dade. I had to firmly ground her in Florida, and have that be real and pressing and believable before yanking her out of her comfort zone into a new place. Because if her home isn’t calling out to her so deeply, it doesn’t matter as much that she’s being forced to leave to recover and recoup. With that foundation in my head and in my pen, England blossomed with all of these fun and frustrating ways for Lila, and for me in writing her. It was fun to throw experiences at her and watch her adapt and change. It was a joy to surprise her. 

II: Do you have any books or authors that inspire you?

So, so many. But I’ll try to stick to two here. I love the voice and storytelling in Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun. And I adore another take on the Cuban-American experience in young adult––Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno.

II: What advice would you give to young writers looking to break into the publishing industry?

LTN: I say this every time but it never fails: read fifty books in your chosen genre and age level. Read for voice, pacing, narrative tricks, character development, and to get a general sense of the bounds and possibilities within the genre. Also, join the online writing community early on. Get used to sharing your writing as soon as possible and try to align yourself with like-minded peers who can walk with you during your publishing journey. Find your squad––you won’t be sorry!

Author Info:

Laura Taylor Namey is a Cuban-American Californian who can be found haunting her favorite coffee shops, drooling over leather jackets, and wishing she was in London or Paris. She lives in San Diego with her husband and two superstar children.

This former teacher writes young adult novels about quirky teens learning to navigate life and love. Her debut, The Library of Lost Things, published 10/08/19 from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins. Her #ownvoices sophomore project, A CUBAN GIRL’S GUIDE TO TEA AND TOMORROW is coming November 10, 2020 from Atheneum Simon and Schuster, with a third title to follow fall 2021.

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