Suzette D. Harrison, a native Californian, grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Her literary journey began when her poetry was published in her junior high school’s creative journal. While Suzette credits Gloria Naylor, Alex Haley, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison for inspiring her early in life, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings exemplified the life-changing power of African American literary voices to her. A wife and mother, Mrs. Harrison operates a small homebased cupcake business. She’s currently working on her next novel…in between batches of cupcakes. Visit Suzette at www.sdhbooks.com.
BPM: Could you tell us something about your most recent work?
SDH: My most recent release, Taffy, could be classified as Historical Fiction or Historical Romance. Both work just fine. Taffy is a step back in time as she takes place in 1935. Her story is that of a young woman who’s been made to bear family secrets and lies too long in her young life. Now, she’s done! Her one goal is freedom from a truly foul marriage to a man twice her age—a marriage her mother forced her into. Sounds simple? No, indeed! It’s 1935! In Taffy’s time dissolution of marriage was far from easy. Still, Taffy is determined to live a free woman’s life. So she leaves…only to find herself tangled up with long-lost love in the six-foot-five-inch form of Roam Ellis: the man Taffy meant to marry.
Taffy’s story is one of redemption, exoneration and restoration. It’s seasoned with murder, mayhem, and enough romance to spice the pages in between. Taffy is available in paperback and eBook on Amazon, Kindle, Kobo & Nook!
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters or speakers. What makes each one so special?
SDH: Let’s focus on the two central characters of any romantic plot: the heroine and the hero. As my heroine, Taffy is quite unique spiritually and physically. Spiritually, Taffy has the gift of clairvoyance. This gift is a legacy that graces select women in Taffy’s paternal line. These chosen women call her, the gift, Knowing. Yes, her; not it as this gift is very much tangible, physical even. Implausible? My response is a line from Taffy that I love: “if the Holy Spirit could transfigure into a dove certainly God’s Knowing could inhabit feminine form.”
Physically, Taffy doesn’t embody a “typical” heroine’s form. She’s five-ten, voluptuous (think Serena Williams-plus); grey-eyed, and chocolate-skinned. She’s not delicate, physically or inwardly. This twenty-three year-old young woman possesses an amazing depth of strength! And trust, she’ll need it to overcome the crazy obstacles of her life.
Now, Mr. Hero, Roam Ellis! He’s a Pullman porter, a pragmatist, an alpha male and a man’s man. But when it comes to Taffy, he’s tried, “wrapped, tied, and tangled.” She hurt him once. He’s determined, never twice. For all his size and prowess, this man is weak to Taffy’s “unsullied seduction” and Roam finds that fractured heart open to Taffy but again. A preacher’s son and descendant of operatives of the Underground Railroad, Roam is protective. When Taffy’s life in jeopardized, Roam’s willing to go “to jail if not hell” saving the only woman he’ll ever love.
BPM: What inspired you to sit down and actually start writing this book? Why now?
SDH: Actually, I first glimpsed the silhouette of Taffy’s story after the release of my first contemporary novel back in 2002. I say “silhouette” because Taffy “then” isn’t Taffy “now”. In fact, that shadow, or forerunner, had an entirely different name…and agenda: revenge! Taffy—her true story, character and needs—had to marinate a mighty long while until I was able to fully receive who and what she was. And as for inspiration, it was a matter of asking “why” and “what if” questions about a situation in my own paternal line.
BPM: What genre of books do you write? Did you pick this genre or did it select you?
SDH: My first two novels are Contemporary African-American Fiction. Taffy is my first voyage into African-American Historical Fiction/Romance. And, Miss Ella, I love this question! I wasn’t seeking a change, per se. I just wanted to tell the stories of my heart. So, change and A.A. Historical Fiction definitely chose me!
BPM: Where do your book ideas come from? Are your books plot-driven or character-driven?
SDH: Sometimes I have dream sequences that I write down so as not to lose or forget them. They sometimes morph or grow into book ideas. Often, I might overhear or engage in conversations that spark ideas. I can be watching T.V. and something I see sets my mind rolling and racing. Or…one of my favorites…is simply responding to a scene, a sequence of events, a conversation with a “Well, what if…?”. What if this outcome instead of that occurs? What if the true motivation is something other than what we see? What if she’s lying?! ‘What if’s’ set my imagination free.
And I think, thus far, my books are character-driven as if the whole story is all about them and their world and their wants or ways. And that’s fine by me. I try to listen to my characters so that they lead me to the plot. In understanding my characters, I’m better able to understand what would or could happen in their worlds.
BPM: Do story lines come easy for you? Do you feel lonely being a writer?
SDH: Lovely question! Some storylines occur more fluently than others. Some are robust and I can see the thread connecting the story from beginning to end; whereas, others come in glimpses and snatches and I have to wait for the totality to be revealed.
Unless you’re part of a project or a team, writing is an isolated endeavor. As an author, you don’t share a cubicle or sit across the aisle from and take lunch breaks with coworkers. Writing is autonomous and alone and, yes, it can be lonely. But then God has granted lovely jewels of companionship for me.
I’m blessed to be a member of online organizations such as See Ya on The Net, and Building Relationships around Books (founded by LaShaunda Hoffman, and Sharon Blount, respectively). These are wonderfully supportive virtual communities for writers and readers that enable connectivity. I’m also blessed with wonderful sister-writer-friends, online and in-person. Harlequin Romance author, Sheryl Lister, and I live in close proximity so we “take our lunch breaks” and try to meet face-to-face regularly.
BPM: What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
SDH: Oh, Lord, everything! Taffy taught me to be a better writer. It was hard, tedious, tear-inducing work. But she was worth it. I learned to listen to my characters and not force my agenda down their throats. I learned it was okay to be different, and not just follow the flow. I loved writing at odd hours—late at night, early morning—while my family was asleep. I loved the lightbulb moments where a scene or character’s backstory or motivation unfolded itself to me. Taffy was my labor of love, and I absolutely loved stepping back in time and imagining this world from Taffy’s eyes in the year 1935.
BPM: How long does it take to complete one of your books?
SDH: My contemporary novels were completed in three to six months. Taffy? Years! And years. And…years.
BPM: Do you have any suggestions on becoming a better writer? If so, what are they?
SDH: 1) Listen! Don’t wrestle with your characters or your storyline. Listen! Are you telling their story or yours? Give your characters permission to talk to you. And they will. 2) Create a conducive writing atmosphere for yourself. Music. Candles. Quiet. Whatever you want and need. 3) Relax and read. Tension and stress are anti-productive; reading connects you to power and production of writing. A book in hand is inspiring.
BPM: What period of your life do you find you write about most often?
SDH: So far, my characters have been young adults (20’s-30’s). I do, however, have two children’s storybooks in the works.
BPM: How do you feel when someone disagrees with something you have written?
SDH: It happens! Every book isn’t for everyone. Of course no artist likes to be criticized or misunderstood, but I try to see such moments as growth opportunities. Is there truth in the critique or disagreement? Was something helpful said? If so, then I can draw from it. Discourse is discourse. Even when a reader disagrees, we’re still engaged in talking about my writing.
BPM: Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
SDH: An underlying theme in Taffy is the power of women—in particular, African American females. Remember the context: Taffy occurs in 1935. That was two generations away from slavery and our rights weren’t fully established. African American women were highly underrepresented. Taffy paints a portrait of powerful, expressive women who dare to live, to breathe, to be.
BPM: How does your book relate to your present situation or journey?
SDH: Ms. Ella, I can’t possibly convey all the treasures Taffy has opened to me. Or the treasure that she is. I’m married. I’m in love. I have gorgeous children. Yet, I’m a woman striving and pressing to beautify my life in meaningfulways. As is Taffy. I’m learning to embrace the Spirit and His world more. So too, Taffy. My education is reflected in Taffy’s being decorated with history in that I hold an undergraduate degree in Black Studies. I’ve found commonalities between Taffy’s fictional and my real world family. It’s truly amazing! I’m connected to Taffy and Taffy to me.
BPM: Did you learn anything personal from writing your book?
SDH: Professionally, I learned to be a more expressive and free writer not assigning myself a role. Personally, as said before, I found real life treasures that I didn’t know existed until after Taffy’s release. I feel that the unearthing of those treasures are a direct result of my not just writing but releasing Taffy. Family history. Family gems. It was as if God said, “Okay, you did the work. Now enjoy the rewards.”
BPM: Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
SDH: Because my B.A. degree is in Black Studies, I was able to draw heavily from my undergrad studies. Research was minimal. What research I did, I was able to accomplish from the privacy of my home. I did, however, “meet” a fabulous book—Princes of the Road, by Dr. David Covin. It’s a novel and tribute to Pullman Porters. Reading it led to my making Dr. Covin’s acquaintance. Dr. Covin’s feedback and suggestions regarding Taffy proved invaluable. Princes also helped assure me that I was on the right track (pun intended) with Roam Ellis, Taffy’s forbidden love interest.
BPM: What were your goals and intentions in writing this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
SDH: My goal was to tell Taffy’s genuine, unadulterated story without mental or artistic censorship. I believe I did pretty good in listening to her voice so that she’s authentic, and not merely recycled or re-fabricated.
BPM: What does literary success look like to you?
SDH: Oh, Lord! It looks like running down the street with confetti poppers, passing out balloons and celebrating leaving my N.D.J. (Necessary Day Job) because readers are loving my writing and I’m earning a real living!
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
SDH: I’ve jumped back to my contemporary fiction and am working on a Dramedy (Drama/Comedy) I hope to release at the beginning of 2017.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
SDH: My pleasure! And by the way, I absolutely love connecting with readers. So please do connect with me.
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African-American Historical Fiction