Persia is the author of acclaimed historical crime novels and short stories. Perennial book club favorites, her books are fast-moving, sometimes dark, and always surprising. Readers of her 1920s novels know they’re in for a fast-paced trip through one of the most fascinating periods in U.S. history, the Jazz Age. In designing her stories, and developing her characters, Persia draws upon her theatrical training as well as her journalistic experience.
She has written for The Associated Press in Arkansas; Washington, DC; and New York. She has also written for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Inc., (RFE) in Munich, worked as a freelance book editor, and done cultural reporting and voice work for European publications.
For more information, contact her via PersiaWalker.com or Facebook.com/AuthorPersiaWalker.
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. However, when I was growing up, I was told that it was impossible for a black person to have a career at it, to make a living doing it. So, I always put my writing urges on a shelf or gave other work — “practical” work — the priority. What do I most love about being a writer? Writing helps one to self-heal. It can also help others. What about it frustrates me the most? I’m a bit of a perfectionist and so I’m never quite satisfied with the finished product.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
I write both contemporary and historical crime fiction, but most of my more recent work has been historical. I have a series set in the 1920s, the Lanie Price series. It features a black society reporter who not only reports on parties but covers crimes committed among Harlem’s elite. The books are fun, light reads. They grew out of my fascination with the Harlem Renaissance. You can find out more about them at my website: PersiaWalker.com, at my Amazon author’s page http://amazon.com/author/persiawalker, and of course, by joining my mailing list http://eepurl.com/hmdO7n.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
Lanie Price is kind of my alter-ego, the journalist I would’ve loved to be: smart, sexy, gutsy. She’s part me on my better days and part Geraldyn Dismond (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerri_Major), a very beautiful and glamorous Harlem society journalist of the 1920s. What inspires me? True cases–news reports from the 1920, as well as the literature of the Harlem Renaissance, and academic studies of the time. Mostly, it’s just me, wondering what it would’ve been like to view a particular problem through the lens of the people who lived during that time.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
I have a schedule, but that doesn’t mean I follow it. I have a full-time job that takes a lot of my time and mental energy. As a result, I’ve found that it’s much easier for me to stay on track with the writing, both in terms of consistently working and consistency in the storytelling itself, when I at least do a step outline. That helps me iron out plot problems ahead of time. I generally write quite fast. It’s the preparation, the research, that takes time. I’ve just released another Lanie Price novel. It’s called BACKDROP TO MURDER and it’s about Lanie’s investigation into the double murder of a photographer and Cotton Club dancer.
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
Anxious People – my son recommended it to me!
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
To be honest, I’m quite happy to find myself writing at all. For me, that is a significant achievement. My day job for the past ten years has been immensely rewarding but nearly all-consuming. It has taken me to great places overseas and enabled me to fulfill dreams of traveling, learning new languages, and experiencing new cultures. So, I’m very grateful for it. At the same time, the job has made it hard to find time to write. There have been other lifetime issues, too: raising two children as a single parent, dealing with illness. So, when I’m able to get words on the page, I’m ecstatic. I’m grateful. As for the future, I expect to be able to write full-time within a couple of years. I would like to finish the manuscripts I’ve been lugging around but didn’t have time or energy to finish. That being said, I do feel really confident about where I am.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
A long time ago, a friend told me that rejection or refusal is just the universe’s way of asking you, “How badly do you want this?” So, I tend to view setbacks or disappointments as opportunities for reassessment. Is this something I really want? How much energy and time do I have to put into it? Was the criticism from someone I trust or the rejection driven by a factor that had nothing to do with me or my work?
My response to questions about coping with rejection used to always be the same: “Don’t give up.” (I think that’s my response to everything in life, though. I tend to be a very persistent person.) But not giving up is insufficient advice. Choose a goal: one that is specific, measurable, achievable, and repeatable. Give yourself a deadline. Then figure out how to meet it. Always view the process as a learning experience. Never giving up doesn’t mean butting your head against the same wall. It means being flexible and creative. In other words, if one tactic doesn’t work, try another. If one contact doesn’t work, try another. If one technique doesn’t work, try another. And find friends, other writers who have had the same experiences and can offer not only comfort but insight. Writing doesn’t have to be the isolated practice it used to be. Thanks to the Internet, we can always find a community willing to share advice and encouragement. We just need to be willing to reach out for it.
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
My career as an author has given me perspective on being both traditionally published and independently published. Speaking very generally, when you’re traditionally published, writing takes up to 80 percent of your time and promotion 20 percent. But when you’re an indie, the percentages can sometimes feel like 50-50, or even 40-60, with the larger part of your time being spent on promotion. That’s hard for someone like me, who considers herself a writer first and foremost. They call for different skills, involving two different parts of the brain. I will say, however, that the business side of being a writer is a learnable skill that anyone can acquire with patience and persistence. It’s not rocket science. Furthermore, there’s an entire ecosystem now built for indie authors, something that has only existed in the last dozen years. So, it does require a lot of work in the beginning, but once you get the ball rolling and you’ve established your platform, it becomes easier to manage. The most important first step is to start viewing yourself as starting a business and your books as your product. Once you’ve made the adjustment in attitude, the whole process becomes much more enjoyable, creative, and rewarding.
9) So many writers say that they hate reading their own work. Do you ever enjoy reading your own work back to yourself after it’s out there for the rest of the world?
Sure. It’s always nice to see how much I’ve grown. Sometimes, it even serves as inspiration for new ideas.
10) Do you believe that there is ever a point in life where it’s too late for an aspiring writer to become successful in this industry? Do you feel a late start would hinder their chances?
Generally I’d never say it’s too late.
First, define “success.” Success is different for everyone. For some, it’s just the completion of a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. For others, it’s the completion of a very specific story, the ability to hold the finished product in the hand, a specific number of sales, a certain level of income from their work, being accepted by a specific publisher, or the winning of an award.
What is a late start? In the olden days, people used to say that only people in their forties and onward actually had something worth saying. I never agreed with that. I honestly don’t see age as a factor when it comes to having something to say or even with achieving one’s goals. It’s so up to the individual. Set your goals for yourself. Don’t let others set them for you.
11) I feel like writing is a remarkable tool to help people not only express themselves, but also to cope emotionally and mentally. I know for me I write to be and feel more authentic. What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
All very good questions, but I’m not sure how to answer them. Every single one of us is unique. Uniqueness is one of those inescapable parts of the human condition. So, I don’t worry about it. I know I couldn’t be anyone else if I tried. I do think, however, that the real struggle is to become more at ease with your own voice, and to get to know yourself, how you think, what themes or situations you find yourself constantly returning to.