Before we start the chat, I’d like to share a book description for Dancing Her Dreams Away.
A life without dreams is hardly worth living, but a dream of a lifetime is to die for.
Shelia King, a fun-loving grandma’s girl, needs to keep her days open for auditions in the hope of landing a role that will catapult her to stardom. With the threat of eviction looming, she scrambles to find a night job and convinces the owner of a hostess club to hire her. Now she’s a dance-partner-for-hire by night and struggling thespian by day. When her agent pitches a topless role, fearing her grandmother’s disapproval, Shelia declines. But after setbacks and considerable thought, she agrees to meet the producer. Gregory Livingston III is rich, suave, ridiculously fine, and the panacea for Shelia’s career woes. At first sight she shapes plans to win the role and his heart. She gets both and works hard to give an Oscar worthy performance. However, when the movie wraps, nothing can prepare her for the startling revelations about Greg’s past and the aftermath of a dream gone awry.
1. Alretha, I’m delighted that you’re joining us today. Your new book, Dancing Her Dreams Away, sounds like a truly magical tale of dreams, romance, and the obstacles along the way. Is your MC based on people you have met?
It’s wonderful to be here, and I truly appreciate your interest in “Dancing Her Dreams Away.” Laurel, it’s interesting that you use the word magical. The book is actually a little more like the other “M” word — mysterious. And yes, it is about dreams and there’s definitely romance, but in an edgy sort of way. The book is loosely inspired by a time in my life when I was pursuing an acting career, so I guess I would have to say Shelia and I have a lot in common. Some of the other core characters, such as her girlfriend Edwina, her grandmother Beatrice, the club owner, Heinz and the producer, Gregory, are fictional. However, there are people that I have encountered over the years who have similarities with the aforementioned characters.
2. Did you have the plot in mind first, or did it evolve from the character you created?
“Dancing Her Dreams Away,” had an unusual evolution. I actually had planned to write the sequel to my debut novel, “Daughter Denied.” By the way, I’m not sure why I come up with these titles that feature double “D’s.” LOL. The sequel to “Daughter Denied” was going to be named “Daughter Denied Again” and I finished the novel early last year. It numbered over 300 pages. Unfortunately, after getting feedback and giving it an objective look, it was a mess. It had no heart and structurally it was just off and unsalvageable. I had written the novel from my head and not my heart. It was painful, but I trashed it and almost gave up on writing. But the dream would not die, if you will, and I took some time to reassess my writing endeavors. I decided to take a stab at another book and committed myself to writing something that I could connect to. I reflected on my life and realized I have had some very interesting experiences. One of which, was the time I was pursuing acting and I needed a night job. So like the character in my book, I got a job as a dance hostess in a taxi-dancing club. They still exist and were very popular in the 20’s and 30’s. It’s a place where men pay by the minute to dance and talk with women. There’s no nudity, touching, or alcohol. At least not on the premises. LOL. Like the character, I was only 22-years-old and like the character I was desperate to be this famous actress, because I needed something to complete me, validate me. Growing up in an abusive situation, I had no self-esteem and like Shelia, in “Dancing Her Dreams Away,” I thought being a famous actress would complete me. Because I could tap into those feelings, I decided that would be the book I would write. A book about a young woman who has no sense of her real self, determined to become a famous actress, and her determination coupled with her desperation, makes her vulnerable to situations that could possibly be life-threatening.
3. What an amazing background for your book! In order to create the perfect story, though, you surely require a special place in which to create. Do you have a special (or favorite) writing space?
I don’t really have a special or favorite place I like to write. My husband and I share a home computer that’s located in our dining room and that’s where I do my writing. He calls it my second home and whenever he wants to bring something to my attention; he’ll leave it on the keyboard, knowing I will see it. LOL. We talk about our dream house and I plan to have a writing room that will become my special writing place!
4. We all need inspiration in order to create. Who, or what, has inspired you the most in your life?
I have to say my mother. I miss her dearly. She died at the age of 36 and I was only 14. It was the most devastating thing that has happened to my siblings and me. My mother practically raised all six of us alone and she loved each of us dearly. I’m sure you can imagine how difficult it had to have been for her as a single woman, with health problems, to raise six children without very little resources. She sewed, made pies, and bread from scratch. I remember her playing jacks with us and she was extraordinarily beautiful. She was determined to do the best she could with what she had, and I always think about that as I continue my journey to becoming a bestselling author. When I want to give up because of the rejection, I think about my mother who fought under the worst of circumstances to love and raise her children.
5. What are some of your favorite books?
There are hundreds. The ones that stand out the most are as follows: The late Bebe Moore’ Campbell’s, “What You Owe Me” and “Brothers and Sisters.” “Angela’s Ashes” by the late Frank McCourt. Terry McMillan’s, “Waiting to Exhale,” “Disappearing Acts,” “The Interruption of Everything,” and “A Day Late and A Dollar Short.” Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone” and “I know This Much Is True.” RL’s Dream,” by Walter Mosley…there are so many and let me not forget a book I read a year or so ago that I truly loved, “Embrace the Whirlwind” by Laurel-Rain Snow.
6. I read and loved your first book, Daughter Denied. Your character felt so real that she seemed like someone I might have known. Did she spring from people you have met or known, or from situations you have experienced?
Thank you for mentioning “Daughter Denied.” Tina, the little girl in the book, is definitely inspired by the child in me. She and I grew up under similar circumstances. The other characters are purely fictional. After the book came out, many of my relatives wanted to know who was who. My sister said to me, “I don’t’ remember all those parties,” and I replied, “You don’t remember them, because they never happened. It’s FICTION!” LOL.
7. Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”?
I would have to say I’m a combination of the two. I definitely need to know where my story is going, but the direction I take to get there invariably changes along the way. I always start out with a story idea and an ending and I do sketch out an outline, but once I start writing, I let my characters take over and they often tell the story, and do a better job than I can! Thank goodness for the computer age. It’s neat when you’re writing and you come to a place in the story where you want to write something or have the character say a particular thing, but you need to set it up, so you go back in the story and do the set up. Writing is so fluid. For example, in “Dancing Her Dreams Away,” I have Shelia’s grandmother react to the producer and the way she reacts seems to be out of character, so I go back in the story and have her reveal something about herself that makes her reaction to the producer make sense. Writing is like putting together this massive puzzle and all the pieces have to fit. It’s definitely a high for me.
8. I see that you also write screenplays. How is the novel-writing process different from screenwriting? Which do you prefer?
Laurel, I have attempted to write a screenplay. It’s very difficult and people go to school for years to learn how to write screenplays. A screenplay has a very specific formula that must be followed for it to be successful. With a book, you have more creative freedom and you can get more into detail. I am still learning about screening writing and novel writing for that matter. There’s always something to learn. I do prefer writing novels and plays.
9. What can you share about your journey to publication?
It has been very challenging. It was my hope to get an agent and a publishing deal for “Dancing Her Dreams Away,” but after almost 300 rejections, I decided to self-publish. Out of those 300, only one agent actually read the book and not the entire book. The other agents passed on reading any part of the book for a variety of reasons. Some weren’t taking on new clients; some didn’t connect to the story idea, etc. It’s very difficult to sum the story up in a one-page query letter and give the right impression of the book. It’s not what it seems. All I have to say is that these agents have missed out on a gem. Based on feedback from readers thus far, it’s going to be a bestseller. It’s a page-turner and quite different than anything that’s out there right now. The one agent in New York who did like the story concept called me on Valentine’s Day 2011. He said he liked the concept and asked me to send him the first 70 pages. He called me back that same night, said he was on page 25 and that he was enjoying himself immensely. He then asked for me to send him the entire book. After a week and a half I found out he didn’t want to move forward. He had let an associate read the book and she assessed it without completing the read, and was totally off point. He sent me her report and it was obvious she had made prejudgments about the book. The agent said he didn’t agree with everything she said. I know there were things in the novel they were afraid of, afraid to approach a publisher with. That’s why I’m glad I set out on my own. I can be true to my work and myself without watering down the story.
10. Which marketing strategies work best for you?
Today’s social networking technology is a writer’s best friend, i.e., “Cyber marketing.” I utilize Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Goodreads, MingleCity, and other internet sites. I also reach out to the fan base that I have acquired over the years as a result of the many plays that I have had produced. I also connect with book clubs across the country. Book clubs are an author’s lifeblood. At present, my book is being reviewed by more than a dozen book clubs across the country. I’m waiting for the reviews to hit and if good, I’m trusting and praying they will be good, I’ll use them to market the book. Guerrilla marketing is another favorite thing to do and basically that’s beating the pavement. I pass out postcards at malls, bookstores, acting schools, barber shops, hair salons, you name it. One weekend a friend and I passed out postcards at a barber shop and did a scene from the book for the barbers and the customers. I love promoting my baby! It’s so much fun. I also do book fairs, speaking events and other events wherein, I can sell and talk about my book.
11. What can you share about the place you live? We love to “travel.”
I live in Covina, California. It’s a small suburb about 20 miles east of Los Angeles. It’s lovely there with a great view of the mountains with lots of trees and peace and quiet! A great place for a writer to live.
12. We love pets. Do you have any, and if so, what would you like to share about them?
My husband and I both love dogs, but we’re away from home for long hours, sometimes up to fourteen hours. So we don’t have one. I’m hoping when I’m able to write full time I’ll be able to have a dog. In the mean, between, we have lots and lots of stuffed animals — two bears named Virgil and Red. A rabbit named Blue Bunny, A turtle named Ninja, a dog named Big Jaws, and a lion named Lionaversary, just to name a few. LOL.
Alretha, thanks so much for sharing your unique journey with us. I hope you’ll come back and visit us regularly!
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