When you were my age (11), did you like to read? I loved to read, especially books I had no business reading due to their mature themes. Of course I read a lot of age- appropriate material, too.
What is a book that made an impact on you? The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which I read at age 11. That book infused in me a sense of pride and inspired me to challenge hypocrites, speak up for those afraid to do so, and advocate for social justice.
What are the parallels between Roberta’s world and what we’re experiencing today? Echoes from the early to mid-1970s reverberate today. When I was a young teen, I stood a little taller because a few years prior Shirley Chisholm ran for president. It didn’t matter that she had no chance of winning. She personified the America Dream. Today, Kamala Harris is a serious vice presidential contender and she’s inspiring Black and brown girls around the globe to stand taller and dream bigger. In the 70s, we had the Black Power Movement; today there is Black Lives Matter. In the 1970s, I became a young teen in the shadow of Watergate, a time when a president abused his powers and lied about it. Today, we have a president who frequently lies and was impeached. As a student, I called Thomas Jefferson a hypocrite while owning slaves and signing the Declaration of Independence. Today, young people not only work to dismantle American mythology, they tear down monuments to it.
What are some key takeaways you hope readers walk away with? My story is rich with themes, but two are very important to me. I want readers, especially young readers, to embrace the power of forgiveness, which allows them to heal. I also want young people to find their voices and speak up, especially for others who are afraid to. Know that the truth matters and defend it. Seek facts, think critically and ask questions. Sometimes you’ll be afraid. That’s OK.
What other authors (especially new or lesser known) do you think kids should be reading? Stephen Smith is an indie author who lives in the Richmond area like I do. He writes middle grade stories featuring brothers embarking on adventures with a twist of history.
What advice do you have for a kid who wants to be an author? Read widely, including topics you may think you’re not interested in. Doing so will expand your vocabulary, deepen your story sense, and help you understand structure. Reading also helps build empathy, which makes you a better writer as you bring characters to life. Also, write often. Try different types of writing to see what you enjoy. Challenge yourself to write a poem, essay and short story.
As an author, do you hear from your readers? What do you like about that? One of my best moments so far involved a reader who loved my character so much she wrote to say she hopes I’m doing a sequel. Such praise makes me want to dance on the moon. I write characters that I hope live on the page. Any requests for a sequel means they do.
If you could portal into any book (yours or another person’s), what book would it be? I LOVED Nancy Drew novels as a girl. I read her entire mystery series and imagined myself as a courageous sleuth, just one in living color. It would be fun to enter The Secret of the Old Clock, the first volume, and leave Nancy a note about how much she inspired me as a writer, which is why I think my next book may be a thriller.