Tawanna Sullivan was raised in Baltimore with a solid foundation in the Baptist church and 80s horror movies. Her short stories have been featured in various anthologies, including Iridescence: Sensuous Shades of Lesbian Erotica, Dangerous Bargain and Forever Vacancy. The Closet Case is her first, full-length mystery novel. Currently living in New Jersey, she is working on her next mystery and finding new ways to make her wife laugh.
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?
Thank you for the invitation. I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been a reader. As a child, when I read stories that I loved and didn’t want them to end I’d add more to them. Essentially, I was writing fan fiction based on fairy tales. Then, I began coming up with my own plots and characters. Writing was the easiest way to express myself and my family encouraged it.
Writers’ block can be frustrating when I don’t realize that I’ve hit a wall. I’ll try to push through because I know writing isn’t always easy. Once I realize that the scene itself isn’t working, I take a step back, look at the previous scene and figure out how I’ve written myself into a corner.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
My first book, The Next Girl & Other Lesbian Tales, is a collection of previously published short stories. It has a little bit of everything – erotica, mystery, horror etc. These are stories that were originally published in anthologies like Best Lesbian Erotica and Purple Panties by Zane.
This summer, I launched the Girl Trouble Mystery series. It features three housemates – Shanice, Gina and Debra – who help each other out when they get pulled into murder mysteries. In book 1, The Closet Case, Shanice sets out to help her closeted, gospel-singing ex girlfriend and discovers the body of a Sunday School teacher. Readers can find out more about me or my books at: tawannasullivan.com.
3) What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on Debra’s story. Imagine a guy calls you accidentally. You have a new phone, it happens all the time so you think nothing of it. Then, Mr-Wrong-Number dies and his friend, a self-proclaimed amateur detective with local clout accuses you of murder. That’s the situation Debra finds herself in.
4) 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?
Thus far, it’s been writing and publishing The Closet Case. I see myself finishing that series and starting another. I have a few ideas percolating.
5) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career?
No one likes rejection but it helps to remember that everyone isn’t going to love or even “get” your writing. Every one has different tastes and that’s okay.
6) 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?
I love an outline but I’m not wedded to it. Or, it’s better to think of an outline as document that can grow and change as the story comes together.
The Closet Case started about as a short story at first. Though I finished the story, it didn’t quite feel right so I didn’t try to get it published. I tinkered with it off and on for a few years before I realized it wanted to be a novel.
7) 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?
Absolutely not. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was published in 2018; the author was 70 years old. It’s been on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction bestsellers list for 110 weeks.
On the other hand, I think a writer can get into a terrible spiral of self doubt if their metric for success is a bestsellers list. You must define what success means to you — too many factors outside of yourself (and your words) can affect the industry.
8) Are you an avid reader and have you always been? What’s the first book you ever read that really touched you emotionally and moved you? Who is your favorite author? What book are you currently reading?
I can’t remember the first book that touched me emotionally. I’ve always loved mysteries – starting with Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Also, my local library sold old horror comics. What I liked about those genres is that, even though bad things happened, good people won out eventually.
Currently, I’m reading Alberta Hunter: A Celebration of Blues by Frank C. Taylor. Earlier this year, I saw Jewel Gomez’s Leaving The Blues, a play about Alberta Hunter and that got me interested in learning more. Once I finish that, I have two more titles lined up: Agatha Christie’s The Killing At Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah and The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall.
9) How has the current state of the world affected your writing? Because writing is an isolated practice, do you find it easier to deal with quarantine? Has it stifled your creativity or has it made you even more driven to get things done?
For my regular 9 to 5, I’ve been working from home since March. While my creativity hasn’t been stifled, I find that I don’t want to stay in front of the computer after I finish work. When I worked in an office, I had a 90 minute break from looking at a monitor. So, I’ve been writing more longhand.
10) What are your thoughts about how the publishing industry as it is being represented today? Do you lean more towards traditional publishing or self-publishing as a preference? Does being a hybrid author interest you?
Both of my books are self published. Currently, the industry as a whole is talking about diversity and #ownvoices. It’s encouraging.
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?
That’s an interesting question. Creative writing amplifies my authentic self in the sense that what comes out on the page – the characters, ideas, etc. – originates from inside of me. Outside of the creative sphere, journaling helps me to let go of harmful feelings or deals that get bottled up inside. It’s a good idea to clear out the psychic, spiritual or emotional garbage that you can pick up during the day.