Sunday, 19 February 2012

Words with... Katrina Byrd

With thanks to Katrina Byrd and her groovy feather boa for this interview

What is your day job or are you lucky enough to write for a living?
One of the first things I was told when I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a writer was, “DON”T quit your day job!!” Well, I did quit my day job. I made the decision to do so mainly because, as I was making the decision to pursue my dreams, I was also learning a lot more about myself and how I do things. I have always been a hard worker. Always coming up with creative ideas and programs, etc. Always working, even when I was off work. I have a strong sense of loyalty to my work. For this reason, I felt I needed to quit my day job and pursue my dreams.

What books have you written so far?
So far I have written three small self-published books – Justice is Blind, One HOT Minute and Byrds of a Feather. One HOT Minute and Byrds of a Feather were released on January 6.
I am also a playwright and I’ve had several of my short plays performed locally. My most recent play was CPR Training. It is a play about diversity and tolerance. It was performed at University Medical Center’s annual Martin Luther King’s Service on January 18.

What works in progress do you have?
I am working on another book titled Portrait of a Woman, which will be released on March 11. Portrait of a Woman is a collection of short vignettes, monologues, essays, poems and short fiction, all centred around the female experience. On March 11, at Lumpkins’ BBQ, excerpts from Portrait of a Woman will be read by local actors. This reading is sponsored in part by Lumpkins’ BBQ, Mississippi Arts Commission, Cynthia Stuart and The Millsaps Principals’ Institute.
Annie Mae Jumps the Broom is another piece I’m working on. It is a collaboration between myself and Diane Williams. Diane wrote the book and I’m using it to write the play. I am quite excited about this piece. It is a story set during slavery. The goal of the piece is to illuminate the idea that the human spirit can prevail through love, strength, faith, hard work and survival skills. The piece will explore African American survival mechanisms that fortified African Americans during slavery and aided them in achieving their freedom. One of the main traditions featured in this piece is the African American tradition of jumping the broom. The story is centred around Annie Mae and Buster, a young couple who decide to get married – Jump the Broom. Their union not only changes them, but everyone around them.
I am also working on a novel titled The Unwanted Child. Essie Mae, a young, blind teen finds her mother lying dead in the kitchen of their small apartment in Detroit. It’s not until she is sent to Mississippi to live with an aunt she’d never met that her mother’s killer realises that Essie Mae was home during the murder. Essie Mae’s life is turned upside down by the cruel treatment from her aunt, the recent murders in the small community in Mississippi and her own betrayal of her cousin, Paula. The situation is aggravated when the body count in the small Mississippi Community continues to rise and Essie Mae’s mother’s murderer gets closer. Will Essie Mae make amends with her cousin Paula and flee the wrath of the killer? Or will Essie Mae crumble under the cruelness of Aunt Rena Bell, a formidable woman with influence in the small Mississippi Community? I guess I need to finish the novel so that we’ll find out!
I am also working on a children’s book titled Rufus the Roofer. This is a collaborative effort with Michelle Campbell, artist and illustrator. Rufus, a German Shepherd, runs a roofing shop in the small community of Huffington. Rufus’ main job is to repair the roofs of the doghouses in the community; though sometimes he is called upon to rescue little, curious, baby pups who climb the roofs of their homes and are unable or too scared to come down. But, lately, Rufus’ customer list has doubled in size. According to the Tails Tell Tales Times, many kitty cat families have moved into the area. Rufus decides to hire a partner to assist him with his roof building, but what he doesn’t realise about his new partner will change his life, his standing in the community and his business practices.
How long did it take you to write your book/s?
Well, that varies. One HOT Minute, which is a collection of flash fiction, took about a couple of months while Portrait of a Woman has taken a few years. So this is kind of a hard question to give a definite answer. I guess I would have to say each book has its own time schedule.

Do you write linear, or jump back and forth? Do you plan or write by the seat of your pants?
Girl, I am all over the map. LOL!! I write by the seat of my pants, I plan and sometimes I just flounce my boa and, voila, a wonderful story appears. LOL!! Honestly, I like to have structure, but I don’t like to be so structured that there’s no room for spontaneity. My first rule of thumb is to get an idea on paper. So, if the idea is girl eats cake, then that’s what I write, ‘Girl eats cake’. Once it is on paper I can then go back and edit or flesh it out some. ‘Danielle, a young teen from a broken home finds refuge from the chaos by sitting on the stoop outside her apartment eating cake.’ For me, if I don’t let the idea flow out and be written on paper, I block everything else and the original idea can’t come out. I hear so many people say, ‘I have a wonderful idea in my head, but when I write it I can’t get it to sound right’. This is because we try to edit first, then write, instead of writing what’s in your head, then editing.
I also like doing an outline after I’ve written the first draft. It helps me to kind of tame the story if you will. So it helps me give it some direction.
Why do you write?
WOW!! That’s a pretty tough question. It’s almost like asking me why do I breathe? LOL!! When I was a child I wrote to deal with being teased and bullied by my classmates. Then I started writing because it was fun and a way for me to express my humour and creativity. As I grew into adulthood, and experienced and witnessed some of the horrors of society, I started writing for social change. Today, in this moment, I write for me.

How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first piece at seven years old. It was a gripping drama titled Tony the Turkey. As Tony, a Thanksgiving turkey cooked to perfection, sat on the table next to the candied yams, cornbread dressing and turnip greens, he contemplates where fate will take him next.

Where and when do you write? Do you have set times?
For the most part I write at my computer, which is situated near a large window in my den. On a clear spring day I can see beautiful birds dashing from tree to tree, occasionally swooping down and lighting on the bird feeder near the deck.

Which character from your books do you like most / are most like?
My favourite character is Justice Robertson. Justice is the leading character in my short story Justice is Blind. Justice is an intelligent, skilled, African American woman who is a former police detective. She has overcome discrimination, injustice and domestic abuse. She’s been shot twice – once in the head and once in the behind. The shot to the head was during a domestic altercation with her husband. He would’ve been ex-husband, but she shot him before she had a chance to divorce him! He’s now resting comfortably in the Pine Grove Cemetery. Justice is fearless, confident and she believes in equality for all. She believes in speaking her mind and doing what is fair, even if it means jeopardising her own safety. She thinks quick on her feet and she fights like a GIRL!!

What/who inspired you to write and still inspires you?

As a child I loved stories. My mom listened to gospel and my dad listened to the blues. Both genres are soaked with memorable stories. I also loved the Disney Stories. My parents bought me a set of the Disney stories in audio format. I used to love listening to those stories. I loved the dialogue and the sound affects.
When I became an adult I didn’t write as much. Fourteen years ago I met a friend named Dora. One day she read one of my stories. I was so surprised by her enthusiasm. She encouraged me to continue to write. She encouraged me to attend Millsaps College, which has writing on the curriculum. While at Millsaps there were several professors – Kathi Griffin, Paula Garette, Robert McElvaine, just to name a few – who also inspired me to continue writing. I am also inspired by the many wonderful literary, visual and theatre artists in my community.

What do you think is the ideal recipe for a good novel or story?
A great story arc, real characters that you care for as they make it through tough situations, and wonderful description that makes you feel like you’re right there in the moment with the characters.  
Fave things: animal? food? drink? film? colour? band? song?
My favourite food is eggplant. My favourite drink is Guinness extra stout with a shot of Evan Williams Black Label. I don’t get to have this often, but when I do all is right with the world. My favourite film is Blessed is the Match, The life and death of Hannah Senesh. My favourite song? Boy that’s a tough one. I love so many songs for so many different reasons. I just like too many to name.

You’re walking in the forest and you bump into an alien librarian from Mars. He wants five book recommendations from you…
Okay, so I’m strutting in the forest with my three-inch green heels and matching plush green boa when I bump into an alien librarian from Mars. After he helps me get my green hair unit back on my head, he asks me for some book recommendations. “Well, honey,” I say as I make myself comfortable on a fallen tree trunk, “I would recommend The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Rose Madder by Stephen King, Run by Ann Patchett, Blood for Molasses: A Mississippi Massacre by Rick Ward and Think of England by Alice Elliot Dark.” Then I lean in and say, “Hey, Mr Alien Librarian Man, do the women on Mars strut boas like this?”

Which book do you wish you had written?
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kinsolver!! What an awesome book!! Great characters!! Awesome setting!! Amazing story arc.

Which three authors would you like to take to the pub?
Stephen King, Navada Barr, Katherine Stockett, Alice Walker, Alexander Brown, Erica Spindler. I guess that’s more than three. Maybe I could go to the pub twice?

Are you published or self-published? What is your experience?
I self-published for the first time about a few weeks ago. I have three self-published books on – Justice is Blind, Byrds of a Feather and One HOT Minute.

How do you find the marketing experience? Any advice for other writers?
Well, I’m just getting started with marketing so I’ve been taking it kind of slow. My advice to others would be to take advantage of a variety of marketing tools. So many people think that if you have no budget then good marketing isn’t an option, but I have found social media to be an excellent marketing tool. I would also encourage others to join groups like Indie Exchange and Book Junkies. Being in these communities of writers and readers has really been a great help to me!
Do you have a blog? What do you blog about?
I do have a blog!! I blog about a variety of things. I blog about cooking, acting, writing, my experiences… the list is endless.

What other hobbies do you have?
I like to knit, work in the garden, make handmade candles, dance and, of course, flounce my boa!!!

What would you like to achieve in the next five years?
In the next five years I would like to have my novel, Unwanted Child, finished. I would also like to have more writing workshops developed and I would like to start a line of greeting cards.

If you won the Lotto or a major publishing contract, what would you do with that dosh?
I would buy some land with a stocked catfish pond and a log cabin. I would also like to travel and, of course, I’d like to buy some new feather boas.
Complete one of these stories in 100 words or less…
One day Charlotte decided she was going to change the world one feather at a time. So she bought herself a lime-green, plush feather boa, a lime-green hair unit and six-inch lime-green heels.
On a warm, sunny morning, Charlotte stepped from her apartment adorned in her new lime-green ensemble. As she moved confidently down the street on her quest to change the world, people stared and some laughed. One conservatively dressed woman standing near a tall office building stepped forward and blocked Charlotte’s path. Then she said, “You look like a fool.”
In that moment, that one defining, humiliating, degrading moment, Charlotte felt ugly, unsure of herself. She bowed her head as she began slipping the boa from her neck. She was uncomfortable with the idea of changing herself, her way of dress. She liked her boa. She carefully draped the boa over one arm as she turned to go home to change into a more conservative outfit. Before she took a step, she turned to the woman who stood with a scowl on her face and asked, “Why?”
The woman placed her hands on her non-existent hips and said, “Because anyone who wears loud colours is a fool.”
In one instant Charlotte draped her boa about her shoulders and made eye contact with the thin, hard-faced woman and said, “I like bright colours and I will wear what I want.” Then she strutted away, confident that being herself was vital to changing the world.

Book links:

Byrds of a Feather, One HOT Minute and Justice is Blind on Amazon

Byrds of a Feather, One HOT Minute and Justice is Blind on Barnes and Noble


  1. Oh, it's lovely to meet you Ms. Byrd. To follow your dreams whole hardheartedly is to truly believe in yourself. You are an inspiration.

  2. Those are some great questions and answers, and the new projects sound wonderful - especially The Unwanted Child. Keep up the great work and keep pursuing those dreams! :)

  3. Thanks for checking in and reading. Go Katrina ! :))


Thanks for commenting - have a kitty cool day! :)