BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – VALJEANNE JEFFERS

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?
As a young girl I wrote stories and poetry. But life got in the way, and I didn’t return to writing until I was in my forties. Discovering Octavia Butler was the catalyst for my taking the journey into writing fiction. For me, being a black writer means I have two responsibilies. I have to hold up a mirror to American society, to the world, to make folks think about the problems we’re facing, and offer solutions. I am the conscience of my nation. The second one is to write a story that grips my readers and holds on tight, one that gives them everything they want, and leaves them wanting more.
Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I write everyday, but I also work as a tutor/teacher. I have an MA in Psychology, which actually helps me with character development.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
I’m fortunate enough to be able to set my own work hours, so I can take off if I need to attend a CON or meet a deadline.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. I actually wrote a nonfiction book, The Story of Eve, which was never published (except as articles). But Speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, and science fiction) is my favorite genre. We stand in the midst of a Black SF/Fantasy Renaissance: black and brown folks are making huge strides in film, art, and writing. As a black female writer I am part of this movement, and writing is, in of itself, a form of political resistance.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
There are so many! I won’t try to list them all, but Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemison and Brandon Massey are huge influences, as well as: Tananarive Due, B. Sharise Moore, Quinton Veal, Balogun Ojetade, and Milton Davis.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
I listen to Blues, Jazz, R&B, Rock and everything in between. It just depends on what mood I’m in and what I’m writing. King Britt, for example, is my best inspiration when I’m creating a very visual and/or romantic scene.
How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?
It varies; anywhere from a year to two years. I took two years to finish Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child. But, I write stories while I’m working on novels, too.
What does your writing schedule look like and how many hours a day do you write?
I don’t have a set schedule, but when I’m writing (especially if I’m in the “zone”) I may go as long as six to eight hours.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes!
How many books have you written?
I have written ten books. This includes: The Story of Eve, my  Immortal and Mona: Livelong series (six books), Voyage of Dreams, Colony: Ascension: An Erotic Space Opera, and The Switch II: Clockwork (includes books I and II). I also co-edited, with Quinton Veal, Scierogenous: An Anthology of Erotic Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volumes I and II.
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
As I’ve said earlier, writing is a form of resistance. For black folks reading novels and stories in which they are heriones and heros is both uplifiting and empowering. As black writers, we are quintessential to this journey. No one can tell our stories the way we can. I’d like to share something I wrote several years ago, and it’s still relevant today. In the 21th century there are very still few characters like us, and out of this small pool many are post-modern “Step-and Fetchits” (stereotypes). This is why speculative fiction is so important. This genre helps us to see outside reality, to say: what if? It helps us to imagine and create spectacular, wondrous realms, step back and find the beauty and wisdom there, and then transform our own space. We need to dream, and we need our writers to help us to dream. Even if – especially if – these dreams are of fantastic, imaginary creatures and happenings. We need this because dreaming can be an escape. One should never underestimate the power of escape. Imagine a child living in squalor, and escaping into pages of a novel. Or a slave reading by lamplight and envisioning her freedom. Or a man working as a sharecropper, and at sunset telling his story with harmonica. We all need to escape, at least sometimes, into the worlds of those who dream like us, who understand us; who look like us. To paraphrase B.B. King, we need authors who get us where we live. Second of all dreaming helps us to change. If you can dream it, you can do it. You can move yourself and your corner of life forward.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
I love my Immortal series, but then I also love my Mona Livelong series. I am passionate about both.
What type of research do you conduct and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Nonfiction research typically takes longer (for me) than fiction research. But both can take hours or even weeks. When I wrote my essay for Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, I re-read Wild Seed, took notes, and watched interviews with Ms. Butler etc. It took me around a month to finish my research.
What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?
It varies. I use the same method I used to complete my MA, which is googling a resource, reading it and then using this resource to find other articles.
What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?
I have found devoted readers on facebook and twitter. But, for my community, going to SF/Fantasy Cons and  author signings works best.
How important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?
Collaboration and sharing resources is very important for our community to help us grow.
What does literary success look like to you?
I’m very well known, and I am humbled and honored by this. But I would like expand my audience and reach even more people. Eventually, I’d like to become a full time writer.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I dearly hope that my legacy will be that I am talented, humanistic author who cares about the black community and the globe, and one is who is not afraid address issues like homelessness, racism, sexism and climate change in her writing, but who can so in a beautifully written and exciting novel or story.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
 My co-editor Quinton Veal and I are working with Director Balogun Ojetade to bring my novel The Switch II: Clockwork to the screen, and possibly Scierogenous (as a series). I’m also releasing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child this year.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
Readers can visit me: www.vjeffersandqveal.com http://tehotep.wixsite.com/scierogenous and http://tehotep.wixsite.com/immortaliiiaudiobook  

Author’s Biography

Valjeanne Jeffers is a speculative fiction writer, a graduate of Spelman College, and a member of the Horror Writers Association, and the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. She is the author of ten books, including her Immortal and her Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective series. Valjeanne has been published in numerous anthologies including: Steamfunk!;The Ringing Ear; Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler; Fitting In; Sycorax’s Daughters; Black Magic Women, The Bright Empire, and Blerdrotica (in press).Readers can also preview or purchase her novels at: www.vjeffersandqveal.com.

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