…That life is like a book, there is always another chapter. No story ever truly ends. In life, it is the same, adversity and achievement. It’s not whether or not you’ll face adversity or achievement. It’s how you’ll leverage them to write the next chapter of your life.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nea Anna Simone. Nea Ann is a multi-award winning, nationally recognized writer of Literary Fiction. Her books are sold in over 20 countries. Acknowledged as “An Original Voice of Fiction” by Borders Bookstore with her debut novel Reaching Back, heralded as intelligent and profound, dark, disturbing, and heartbreaking. The family saga of four generations was continued in the New York Times Bestseller ReBorn, which was followed by the tumultuous and suspenseful end to the trilogy The Substance of Things.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Ihave always been a voracious reader. Even as a child, I carry 2 books with me. One to read when I got bored and a backup in case I finished the first. This habit carried over to adulthood. I would find an author I loved and read everything they’d write. After a while I’d reach a point where sometimes I’d become disappointed by the writer and think “I could write a better story” or “ending” but I never actually tried nor did I ever tell anyone.
It wasn’t until several years later when I lost my Dad at the same time as I was going through divorce and raising three children alone that a phone call from a dear friend changed the trajectory of my life.. My friend Dana called me, we didn’t talk often and when we did we’d pick up like we spoke everyday. After talking for much longer than we normally did, I asked her if everything was alright with her family. She said they were fine, but that she had been praying that morning and that God had given her a message for me. Caught off guard, all I could think was I don’t want any more bad news. Finally I asked how she knew it was a message from God. She responded, “because I have tried to do everything I could think of not to call you and tell you this, but each time I try to ignore it I can’t so I decided to get it out of the way.” I told her to give me the message as long as she was okay with me ignoring it. She said she didn’t care what I did as long as she got it off her chest. Without further ado Dana said, “God wants you to write.” Stunned, I asked what was I supposed to write about thinking it had to do with my divorce or a cathartic outpouring to rid myself of my loss. She said, I don’t know but He said just write and everything else would be laid out for you. There was complete silence as I let her words sink in and I revealed how it had been a desire that I kept putting off. I told her, okay, I’ll try. If it works and I can write fine. If it doesn’t at least I tried and you gave me the message.
That evening after putting my children to bed, I turned on my computer and wrote the first 35 pages of Reaching Back. The amazing part is that when the publishers accepted the book, the editor did not delete or correct any content in the first 35 pages nor did they change the title. I truly believe this is my path, my gift.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
After writing ReBorn I began getting invitations to speak to Jewish book clubs. After a meeting with one such club in Atlanta, I later learned that the members had continued to discuss the story and tell friends. One of the people that heard about ReBorn through word of mouth contacted me. She stated that had just finished ReBorn and wanted to meet when she visited her daughter in Los Angeles. We arranged a date and time to have lunch and she arrived with her husband. At lunch she told me how deeply moved she had been when she read the book. At the time she was in her late 70’s and explained that the book reminded her of the stories she had heard from family members who lived in the RhinelandPlatz. She wondered at my heritage and what made me write the story. I told her I had received an email from a friend entitled “Lest We Forget” and it made me begin to research that part of history beyond what is traditionally taught and I learned of the Rhineland Bastards and Hitler’s deep hatred for them. I then began to think ‘What IF” which is the first step to any story I write. I was inspired to write a story based on our shared humanity and experiences. I believe that there is a shared connection that if allowed exposes the human experience in a way that it is easily understood and felt despite our cultural and ethnic differences.
We spent 3 hours together over lunch. Although we arrived as strangers connected by a common thread we departed as friends that continues today. When The Substance of Things was released, she was one of the first readers to call me to discuss.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When Reaching Back became a national bestseller I was frequently booked to do readings and book signings. After my first year, I pretty much thought I had been asked every question that could be asked about the story. When I was invited by a very large book club to attend their meeting for a discussion, I gladly accepted. After introducing me, a group of the members performed a reenactment of their favorite scene from the book. I was extremely flattered and expected to go into a reading or discussion. Instead, they brought out a flow chart of the family tree for discussion. Now I was in the middle of writing ReBorn and while I remembered the characters. It was not with the same clarity as when it was new. While they were in the middle of discussing who each character was and how they were related, I had to go back to the book to confirm. At first they looked stunned and then I explained that I had so many characters floating around in my head I couldn’t keep count. I told them I felt like I’d just walked into a pop quiz and forgot to study. At that everyone laughed and we went into a discussion.
I learned to always ask for an agenda or itinerary for each book club meeting so I could prepare. I also learned that it is better to be candid and not pretend to have an answer. Consequently I’ve been invited back several times and the 100 plus members follow me on social media and keep in touch one way or another.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I have written my first novel Reach Back into a screenplay to be produced as a feature film in 2020 and am working on adapting ReBorn into a screenplay entitled The Tailors Son. I’m also finishing a novel entitled The Quilt. I am very excited about the opportunity to adapt my books to screen.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Perseverance is an undeniable trait in the journey from having a good idea to actually turning that idea into a book. I have encountered so many people over the years who tell me that they’re going to write a book, because boy do they have a story to tell. I always encourage them to do that and let me know when it is finished, so I can support them. I can count on one hand the number who have actually followed through.
Discipline does not mean that I write every day for a predetermined amount of time. That does not work for me, non-writing activities spark creativity and opens my mind to tell a story. Long walks each day are a form of discipline for me. I always say I get more writing done during a walk than I would by forcing myself to stare at a screen and hope something comes out.
I’d also like to add that we’re all different and what works for me may not work for someone else. There is no wrong way if it’s right for you.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
Yes, in ReBorn the story of Cameroon Schaeffer Fournier aka Cam is a Rhineland Bastard and the last descendant in a line of tailors. Born in RhienlandPlafz, Germany, to an African father sent from France to patrol the French German border, the elder Fournier marries Berta Schaeffer, a beautiful Jewish girl and settles as the village tailor. At 17, Cam already fearful for the safety of his mother, learns that Hitler’s new target is the Rhineland Bastards, children like Cam and his twin sisters born of mixed heritage. When the SS soldiers arrive, Cam visits his pregnant German girlfriend promising to return as soon as he warns his family of the Nazi invasion. Instead he is captured by Nazi soldiers and forced to witnesses the annihilation of his family. After his capture, Cam is brought to Ernest Roehm, the leader of the Nazi paramilitary wing and widely known as a sexual sadist and deviant.
Taken to Auschwitz, Roehm elects to keep Cam with his regiment as entertainment. After months of incomprehensible abuse and humiliation, they send him to clean the torture chambers. Emaciated and expected to die, he is thrown out like trash without sterilization because he had been one of Roehm’s lapdogs. Escaping Nazi, Germany to London, Cam finds work as a tailor’s apprentice on Saville Row. Left with a small inheritance when the owner dies, he sails to America. Settling in Los Angeles, he opens Fournier & Sons Haberdashery and experiences a new type of racism. When Cam recognizes one of the Nazis who killed his family he begins to set the stage for revenge.
I loved writing Cam, he embodied so many wonderful traits kind, creative , sensitive, loyal, vindictive, villainous. I believe in creating three dimensional characters. No one is all good or all bad they are a product of their experiences Cam was both darkness and light.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
That life is like a book, there is always another chapter. No story ever truly ends. In life, it is the same, adversity and achievement. It’s not whether or not you’ll face adversity or achievement. It’s how you’ll leverage them to write the next chapter of your life.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
As I mentioned, I started writing after the untimely death of my father and in the midst of divorce as a form of entertainment and release. I did not write with the goal of being published. I was a newly single parent with three small children and feeling completely overwhelmed by life. I could not schedule a time to write, I had to write in between my children’s schedule. So I would often start writing at night after they were asleep, at their practices, sitting in the car waiting to pick them up. I enjoyed the story I was writing, it had the same effect on me as if I were reading a good book. I couldn’t put it down. I was amazed at how the characters came to life and took on a persona that continually unveiled itself.
I would recommend that aspiring writers tell a story that they’d not like to read. In short, be authentic and write for yourself. I think the biggest mistake a writer can make is to try and mirror another writer. Listen to your voice. Listen to the words that are coming and follow the flow. Do it everyday. I am always writing, even when it looks like I’m doing something else. I see a story in almost everything. Writing is the ultimate freedom if you allow the words and thoughts to flow. Just focus on writing and not who’ll read it.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
I have truly read the gamut. But I love literary fiction — Richard Wright, James Baldwin, J. California Cooper, because they draw me into the space and time. I can feel their joy, love, fear and pain. When I finish, I remember the characters as though they were friends or relatives. I also devour Stephen King and Dean Koontz for similar reasons. I also enjoy early Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon. They pull me into the What IF and I am never disappointed.
If as a writer I am able to impart these emotions onto my readers, then I have done my job.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
I think my writing is entertaining, but also forces the reader to examine belief systems and to view a segment of society through new lens that supersede historic beliefs, stereotypes or perceptions. I also believe that the reader cannot assume that because they start off liking the character that they will finish with the attitude. Like life, some people start off great until you really get to know them and sometimes the ones you think are not so great surprise you.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Write a story that you would like to read. Be authentically you and tell a story that You would remember. We’ve all had our favorite stories and the consistent thread is that they were told authentically.
The greatest compliment is to be asked; is it true? Did this really happen to you? When the honest answer is No, it’s just a story, then mission accomplished!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1.You do not write a book starting Chapter 1, Page 1. — I had no experience as a writer, so when I began writing Reaching Back, I wrote it like I read from the beginning to the end. I later learned about storyboarding. However, I still tend to write in a linear fashion.
2. Write every day and reread what you’ve written every two weeks. — The importance of letting your writing ‘get cold’ cannot be overstated. What may feel like a stroke of genius or a flow of consciousness may read completely differently when you no longer remember the words. Your brain cannot identify errors on anything that you’ve just written.
3. Don’t be afraid to share your writing. — Share with people you trust and wait. Take your emotions out of it, If they don’t have time to read that’s okay. If they do give them the respect of listening to their feedback not defending your work.
4. All opinions are NOT good opinions — Be able to discern if you need to take advice or guidance based on someone’s feedback, I know it may seem to contradict #4, but in fact it just makes you listen carefully and consider if it applies. For instance I gave Reaching BAck to someone who was hypercritical of my writing but offered a great suggestion. I needed to have the main character telling her story from a journal to span the four generations. I took the advice on the journal and kept my voice. It was great advice as long as I knew which part to keep and which to discard.
5. Don’t be afraid to scrap a sentence, paragraph or chapter — Sometimes the first idea is in its infancy and a rewrite improves or changes the entire narrative in positive and unexpected ways. As I mentioned above, when I accepted a friend’s suggestion it meant I had to go back in and rewrite several chapters to make the story congruent.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would start a movement to create housing for the homeless and transitional population utilizing pre-fabricated shipping containers to create multi-family dwellings and intown urban gardens to revitalize and reinvigorate underserved people and communities.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!
Thank you, it’s been my pleasure!