Karen Sloan-Brown, Ed.D., grew up Philadelphia, a middle child in a family of six children. Despite dreaming of being a writer or a lawyer and being a practical person, after high school Karen attended Tennessee State University in Nashville as a Chemistry major. After graduating, she married her first love, began a career in biomedical research, and had three daughters. Her life was typical until the tragic loss of a child threw her world into a tailspin. Trying to get recover and get her life back on track, she went back to school and earned a master’s degree and then her doctorate degree. It was during that time that her love of writing was reignited.
In 2009, after the election of Barack Obama, she was inspired to write a black history book. Several readers recommended that she write a fictional history book, and that opened the flood gates and the words poured out. Her upbringing as the daughter of a civil rights activist and minister has been a major influence in her writing. She is the author of A Reflection: What a Difference a Day Makes, What About 100 Years? and several novels.
BPM: Please, share something our readers wouldn’t know about you.
If I could get over my stage fright, I would try to do stand-up comedy.
BPM: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Resilient, peaceful, and determined.
BPM: Is writing your full-time career? How much time do you spend writing?
I consider writing as my full-time career and my passion, but I have a full-time job as well. I write every day. On the weekends I spend most of the days writing.
BPM: Tell us about your first published book. What was the journey like?
My first published book was a black history book called “A Reflection: What A Difference A Day Makes, What about 100 Years.” It was inspired by the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black president. I had just finished writing my dissertation but the research for that project was more than I had ever done before. I learned so much, and I found out that finally I was doing what I was born to do.
BPM: Introduce us to you most recent work. Available on Nook and Kindle?
My recent project, the three-book series, “The Designated Ones: From Jerusalem to Ethiopia,” “The Struggle: From Kenya to Jamaica,” and “The Last Tribe of Levi: Richmond, Virginia,” took my research to a whole other level. It made the 100-year project seem so easy.” It follows a line of men of God for more than 3000 years until the lineage ends with a woman of God. The books give history across continents and the trials of this family. The first book is being converted to an e-book. The others will be done soon as well.
BPM: Can you share with us something about the book that isn’t in the blurb?
The premise for the books is being able to triumph after tragedy. It is biblical and historical, but restoration is the theme that flows through all the books.
BPM: Give us some insight into your main characters or speakers. What makes each one so special?
There are so many characters over the generations of the story, each having their own struggle. The book begins and ends with Priscilla the first woman in the lineage to preach the Word. She struggles with her ambition, balancing her family responsibilities, and then the grief for the decisions she made.
BPM: Does one of the characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?
I feel a bond with Priscilla’s mother. She is the steady person through whatever happened. That person you can count on. She is strongly grounded and is the support for all if her family. I can relate.
BPM: Did you learn anything personal from writing the book?
I discovered that I continue to deal with the tragic losses in my own family. When I finished the book, I felt self-conscious about the death of a character, as if I was writing too much sorrow. Then I had to realize that is a part of life as well as the joys we experience.
BPM: Is there a special place/space/state that you find inspiration in?
It’s easier to write in places where I have lived. Nashville and Philadelphia are the settings for a lot of my writing. Although, with historical fiction I’ve ended up writing in places all around the world. It also takes a lot more research.
BPM: When developing a new book, what comes first, the plot or characters?
It varies. Sometimes the story is written about a subject, and other times your write around a character and their circumstances. In either case, there is a message you want to get across.
BPM: What did you enjoy most about writing and developing characters for this book?
With the range of history there were so many things to write about and so many characters. It was satisfying to write about black people on so many different levels, from kings and queens, priests and pastors, slaves and successful, over so many generations. It gave me a sense of purpose to add so much history to the story.
BPM: Is writing easy for you? Do you feel lonely being a writer during the creative process?
Some days the writing flows effortlessly and you can fly through the pages and then there are days when you can’t organize your thoughts into words you are happy with, and you’re happy to put down a few sentences. I never feel lonely during the process because my family can see I’m writing and they still feel free interrupt me, talk to me, and pull away from my computer. I take it in stride though and have been able to be pretty productive without shutting myself away.
BPM: Tell us a little about your creative process. Do you use a computer or write the story by hand?
For the most part I use a computer, but I jot down notes on paper when they come to me and I’m not at the computer. I keep paper in my purse, on my night stand, and on the kitchen table.
BPM: When you’re writing an emotionally draining scene how do you get in the mood?
I have to imagine that I am the character and I am going through the scene. Like an actor, for a moment you have to become that person.
BPM: Writing can be an emotionally draining pursuit. Any tips self-care for creative folks?
Always take time to relax and have fun. Creativity isn’t a race against time. Take breaks to enjoy your family and your life.
BPM: How do you deal with emotional impact of a book as you are writing the story?
You feel the emotions in your own writing if it reflects real life. I make myself laugh and cry. The most important thing is that I be honest in my writing, be true to the characters and don’t white wash the story.
BPM: How much planning goes into writing a book in general? How long does it take to complete one of your books?
It depends on the subject. If it requires a lot of research that adds time to it. If it’s a complicated story, it may have to have an outline. I’ve written a book in three months; my last project took more than two years.
BPM: How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?
I don’t do much world building. I write my stories within factual situations. I try to blend fiction with as many facts and actual history as possible, like the style of Forrest Gump.
BPM: What period of life or topics do you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
I write mostly about adult life, grown men and women.
BPM: How do you feel when someone disagrees with something you have written?
We all have our own perspectives. That’s not a problem. I write about a wide range of things. I’m sure I have something they can relate to.
BPM: Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
The role of black people in the Bible is under-represented. The role of black people in organized religion is under-represented. The positive black man and black woman and their history are under-represented in stories, written and on the screen. I wanted to bring the connection of black people to the Bible to the forefront. I consciously write to bring the stories of real black people and their experiences to balance some of the negative images.
BPM: Share one specific point in your book that resonated with your present situation or journey.
That would be restoration. The example of experience difficulties, even tragedy, and fighting back from it. As Maya Angelou said, “And still I rise.”
BPM: What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?
The greatest challenge writing this book was trying to write in so many different millenniums, different cultures, and being maintaining some authenticity. The research at time was overwhelming, and so many times I doubted I would finish this project.
BPM: Can you share some stories of people you met while researching this book?
The idea of this project was born at my uncle’s funeral. His wife’s priest stood up and said, “I think you all are the last tribe of Levi.” He had noticed that so many people in our family were ministers, preachers, and evangelists. A few days later I googled the tribe of Levi and saw a reference to a tribe of people in Kenya and Zimbabwe. They are called the Lemba people. I saw more references to Hebrews in Jamaica and the United States. I thought it might be interesting to write a story that followed the migration of these men of God from Jerusalem to the United States. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this took place over 3000 years.
BPM: How has writing impacted your life?
Finding my passion has made my life more satisfying and fulfilling. It has given me a renewed purpose after my children were grown. Putting my thoughts and ideas to words had given me peace.
BPM: What does literary success look like to you?
That would be finding the audience that loves my writing. My dream is seeing one of my books brought to the little or big screen.
BPM: What are the 3 most effective tools for sharing your books with the world?
I’m not sure about that. Getting my books out to be read has been my greatest challenge.
BPM: Do you write multiple books for a series? Do you have any series planned?
My latest project is a series and I have previous written another book series called “The Fortunes of Blues and Blessings” and A New Season: Fortunes of Blues and Blessing Book Two.”
BPM: Do you find it more challenges to write the FIRST book in a series or to write the subsequent novels?
For me, the first book in a series is the hardest to write. That’s where you have to develop the story and the characters. The second book flows a lot easier. The ending is a challenge as well because it’s hard to know where to end a longer story.
BPM: What advice would you give aspiring writers that would help them finish a project when so many ideas are running together?
I would remind them that it’s not necessary to put all of their ingredients in one entrée. They can save some of them for another project. Don’t feel obligated to produce your greatest masterpiece when you’re writing, just tell your story. Write it down and then polish it after you’re done. Your greatest book is the one you haven’t started yet.
BPM: Do you have anything special for readers that you’ll focus on this year?
Promoting my latest project is enough for me to focus on right now.
BPM: What projects are you working on at the present?
I’m working on the biography of Edmonia Lewis.
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?
They go to my web page karensloanbrown.com