Not only do you get to read about four freshmen in high school, but you get to learn Black history at the same time!
Every story has a backstory, the initial spark, reason behind the writing of a work; what is FRESHMAN FOCUS’ backstory?
For whatever reason, the names Kendra and Lamar kept playing around in my head the week or so prior to me taking out a pencil at a teachers’ meeting and writing the first words to Freshman Focus. I didn’t have a Kendra or Lamar in my classroom at the time. At the time I wrote the first words in November 2002, I didn’t know what Kendra and Lamar were like as people and their connection to each other, but I soon found out. Those first words started out as chapter one, but then I went back to the first day of school and bridged the gap. Those first words later became chapter ten of Freshman Focus. I added Destiny in that chapter as a spoof on a student I had who would just randomly announce things like her birthday that was months away and movies that were coming out. I spiced Destiny up and made her rich and obnoxious. Steven’s role was just to ask what convene meant in that same chapter. I put them all together, added twenty-six more chapters and came up with what is now Freshman Focus.
Talk to us about your writing journey for FRESHMAN FOCUS – how long did it take you to write the novel?
I say that it took a full three months to write Freshman Focus. I started writing in November 2002, did little bits here and there, but starting in March 2003, I wrote full time while I looked for a job. I finished the final words on June 5, 2003, after an episode of Soul Food went off.
Once the novel was finished, how long did it take you to decide to self-publish and then to actually publish?
I finished writing in 2003 and put together a query letter to solicit an agent as the Writer’s Manual recommends doing. I had a few rejections and didn’t really feel discouraged about that route to publication until 2004. As far back as June 2003, people were telling me to self-publish, but I didn’t have the money. Various people, including my mom, would send me information about different ways to publish, different companies, and none of them ever really felt right for me. In 2005, I received financial help from a sorority sister and a dear friend who believed in Freshman Focus and supported my quest to self-publish. Later that year, I was invited to contribute my writing to an anthology for those impacted by Hurricane Katrina and Rita. The process for that seemed so seamless that I looked up the company that was publishing the anthology and it felt right to me, so I went with them in the fall of 2006.
What’s your story’s soundtrack – what did you listen to while writing FRESHMAN FOCUS?
I am a music lover, and when I started writing this, I recall listening to Jill Scott’s Who Is Jill Scott CD, Vivian Green’s Love Story CD, Angie Stone’s Mahogany Soul CD a lot, and I am sure some Heather Headley was playing since “He Is” was released around that time period. But when I actually got into the groove of writing and needed inspiration, I listened to more gospel music like Kirk Franklin and Yolanda Adams along with other artists.
What is one thing you hope readers will take from FRESHMAN FOCUS?
This might sound like it is a cliché, but I want them to finish reading Freshman Focus and realize more fully that anything is possible. I want them to know that you can start out in life on one path, like me as a teacher, and take a detour, like me and end up as a writer. I want them to know it is okay if what you planned to happen in life doesn’t work out. I want people to take something from what happens to Kendra, Destiny, Lamar, and Steven and apply it to their own lives. Since the book has been published, I have had so many people relate to Lamar’s storyline as he deals with the loss of his father. When readers finish reading Freshman Focus, I want readers to understand that I told the story in those pages to connect with my readers. I want them to look forward to what happens next in the series.
Not only are you an author, but you are also a self-published author. Tell us a bit about the journey to self-publish. What has been some of the positive and negative attributes to the venture?
The journey was rocky and filled with setbacks. There were times before I accepted my destiny to self-publish that I wanted to just give up and let Freshman Focus remain a Microsoft Word document, but I would get nudges from my mother, friends and family, the characters themselves not to let the dream die.
The best thing about self-publishing is that I take primary ownership for the success and/or failure of Freshman Focus. I am very fortunate to have my mother at my side to help me promote the book. She gives me ideas and ways to get my name out there as do several other friends and family members. With self-publishing, ultimately I get the final say so about the story line as well as the cover art. I don’t have to change things that I don’t want changed.
On the same token, that can also be a negative not to have an editor or agent to give suggestions on how to strengthen the story and characters. But I had several people read Freshman Focus and asked them for their feedback which I took into consideration.
For me, self-publishing is about being proud of what I have written and showing readers, prospective agents and publishing companies that I really believe in the merit of the story and its place within the publishing world. Ultimately, I am thankful that I did self-publish Freshman Focus because it allowed me to really work hard to get the story told and out there for others to read. There truly is a purpose for my journey in life, as Carla, and as a self-published author.
As a novelist, are you an outliner, or are you someone that likes to jump right in to a story and see what happens?
Honestly, I am a little of both. I’ve never outlined an entire book before though. As I write, I follow the flow of my thoughts and what strikes me as I write. There are times when I outline what I think will happen in the next set of chapters, but then as I write, an idea jumps in my head and I go with it to see how the characters react to that new idea, action, conflict.
Do you struggle through writer’s block? If you do, how do you get yourself through those obstacles in the road?
Absolutely! For me, I take myself away from the book to get over the hurdle of writer’s block. For me, that usually means I go on a reading binge and check out several books from the library and spend a weekend nestled in other authors’ writings. Sometimes what I label as writer’s block is really laziness and procrastination. When that happens, I have to encourage myself to get on the computer and write at least one sentence.
What inspires you to write?
I used to be a teacher and had many students who didn’t like to read which used to frighten and shock me all at once. I taught English so imagine trying to force students who didn’t like to read anything to read To Kill A Mockingbird – it was a nightmare. But for some students, the traditional texts did not work for them. I introduced one student to The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah and she didn’t want to read it. I had to make a deal with her which she finally accepted. And it worked because the next day I saw her walking down the hall with her head deep inside that book. From her, it traveled around my classroom. My copy of The Coldest Winter Ever is now damaged, but I don’t mind because I saw what it did for many of my students and their friends. Some of their parents even read the book which is huge to me! A few other books, including Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper, really captured many of my students’ interests and they saw that I knew how to recommend a good book or two. I never set out to be a writer, but seeing the power of the written word for those students settled in my spirit.
Even though I am no longer a teacher, I know there are still students who don’t like to read and for some of them Freshman Focus might be the book that will spark that kinship with books.
There are those who believe that good writers are also well read. What are you currently reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love to read! Right now I am reading Red River by Lalita Tademy and Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares. My list of favorite authors is pretty lengthy, but it includes Bebe Moore Campbell, Eric Jerome Dickey, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Diane McKinney Whetstone, Bernice McFadden, Sharon Draper, Ann Brashares, Judy Blume, Sophie Kinsella, and Paula Danziger. I grew up reading Judy Blume and Paula Danziger and am humbled to be in their cohort as a writer.
Word Association. What comes to mind when you see the following words:
BLACK HISTORY: Majestic
HIGH SCHOOL: Warrensville
FRIENDSHIP: precious gift
SISTERHOOD: deeper friendship
FRESHMAN FOCUS: my baby
What are you currently working on?
I am finishing the sequel to Freshman Focus which is still untitled. I am in the last stretch of writing the book. This one has been fun to write because I started it when Freshman Focus was still sitting in my computer longing to be a real book that people could purchase. I didn’t touch it for over a year, but once I did it was fun to pick this back up and reunite with Kendra, Lamar, Destiny, and Steven.
I am also working on another book which will be my first for adults entitled It’s Only a Test. I started this book in 2005. It was originally supposed to be a short story about forgiveness inspired in part by a former relationship, but since I am always open to where my thoughts take me, it grew. The story still deals with forgiveness but so much more than that. I don’t know how it will end, but I trust that it will be a good story that someone out there can relate to.
If you’ve read FRESHMAN FOCUS…or WILL read it, let Carla know what you think with an e-mail at Carla@CarlaSarratt.com.