Interview Questions for Maria Thompson Corley
1) First off, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you find yourself drawn to the world of writing?
I always liked to write. When I was young, I was much more secure expressing myself in writing than in speech. Not that I never spoke, but I was always more self-revelatory in writing. I would write my parents notes, sometimes, instead of speaking to them about things that bothered me. I wrote my first novel at 14 (no worries—I have no intention of inflicting it on anyone!). My first published novel was Choices, which I wrote on a whim. I had the rather confident attitude that I could come up with something as good as a lot of the books I was reading, so I sent my manuscript to Ballantine and received a letter back from an editor. She said her list was full, but recommended that I get in touch with someone at Kensington, since they were starting a line of books aimed at African American women. I was kind of in the right place at the right time.
That was in 1996! My book was published as a romance, and my follow up didn’t fit the genre, since I had a prominent gay character who was in a relationship. I didn’t want to get rid of him, deciding instead to focus on being a pianist (I have Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from Juilliard, and have played since I was 4). I had married by then, and my daughter was born in 1997, followed in 1999 by my son, who is on the autism spectrum. It took me a while to get back to writing, with all of that on my plate. When my marriage broke up, I found writing very cathartic, and I can truly say that the written word has turned out to be as much a part of me as music.
I’ve even started writing a bit of poetry. One poem was published by New York Literary Magazine, having come in second in a contest, and I presented one about my son, the first one I’d written since middle school, at the National Autism Conference last summer. We’ll see where that goes. I have ambitions of writing a few more and trying to set them to music. Some of my songs and solo/choral arrangements have been performed nationally and, in one case, internationally, and one choral piece was published by Walton. That said, I can’t do everything. Can I? Either way, I feel like an emerging composer. We’ll see.
2) What inspired you to write Letting Go?
The inspiration was a who, not a what. My mother suggested that I write something a bit closer to home, shall we say. As mentioned in my acknowledgments, she isn’t a big fan of the four-letter words and occasional sex, but she is a huge supporter of everything I do. I am so blessed to have been given wonderful parents.
What’s fun about the book is that people who know me can see similarities to my life, but most of the book is fiction. Which is which? You’ll have to guess (hint: I made up the first chapter. That said, I definitely want to be present at the auditions for casting Devonte Jones).
3) What message or theme do you hope to convey to your readers when they read this book?
I hope readers will look at love, in all its manifestations, through fresh eyes. While people call my book a romance, to me, the cliché is true—the greatest love of all is between you and yourself.
4) If you could sit down for a cup of coffee with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you say to them/ask them?
Tough question! I think I’d sit down with Langston, ideally with him supplying the coffee and another treat of his choice, hopefully something he’d made himself (selfish reasons! I love good coffee and treats!). I’d ask him if he had any regrets about the way his path went, as in, if he wished he’d done some things sooner, or felt they happened at the right time.
The thing is, I think we all do the best we can with what we have, even if what we’re doing is destructive. We have to get better, internally, to do better.
5) When writing Letting Go, what was more important to you: plot development or character development?
Hopefully, both! That said, I love to get into people’s heads, and to create imaginary friends or foes) for the reader. Humans are endlessly complex, and thus (at least to me), endlessly fascinating.
6) What social media site would you say has been the most helpful developing your readership?
I’m not sure! I’d say a toss-up between Facebook and Twitter. Then again, I basically use only Facebook and Twitter, so…
7) What’s one piece of advice you would give to new authors out there?
Be an educated, ruthlessly critical author. Learn the grammar, read books and articles by respected writers, analyze the way they use words. Strive to write good sentences, so that your ideas truly come to life. Find beta readers who are honest and skilled in the craft (I know this isn’t always easy), and then listen to them. Opinion is just that, but I at least try to consider every suggestion, so that if I don’t take it, the reason isn’t my own defensiveness or insecurity. That said, I’m so used to critique, these days, I have a very thick skin.
8) What are your future plans? Any new books in the works?
I just finished a revision of the New Adult book I mentioned earlier, with the gay character. When my beta readers have weighed in, I’ll revise some more and see where that goes. After that (or while I wait for my betas), I hope to write a book from the point of view of a very famous animal. I have barely started (last summer). I know that will be shorter, but also harder because I have to stick to the historical facts. Oh yeah, and because I’m choosing to write from the point of view of an animal!