Zetta Elliott

Read more about Zetta Elliott.

Interview By: Tamazon

Date: March 29, 2012

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Current Release: Ship of Souls

Describe your current release in two sentences?

Set in New York City, this unique blend of magical realism and history explores the quest for belonging, the power of friendship, and the value of loyalty. A mysterious bird leads D and his friends on a perilous journey that will take them from Brooklyn to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan, and into the very realm of the dead.

Please describe your writing environment.

I have a laptop but I *always* write at home--sometimes at my desk, but more often on the couch (with the TV on!). I live near the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Prospect Park (Brooklyn's smaller version of Central Park) and in a way, they're both part of my writing environment. I go out into my community, store up ideas, and then come back to my apartment to write.

What are you working on?

I'm a professor and I just presented at a conference in France on race, ethnicity, and publishing. So revising that paper for publication is at the top of my To Do list; next is an academic book proposal on African American speculative fiction for young readers; after that I have a chapter to write for an anthology on New York City and children's literature. Then, this summer, I hope to finish The Deep (companion novel to Ship of Souls) and Judah's Tale (the sequel to A Wish After Midnight).

What is your favorite TV show?

I watch PBS a *lot* and my favorite shows tend to be from the UK: Masterpiece, MI-5, Doc Martin.

What career fields have you worked in?

I worked retail as a teen before switching to a temp agency for office work. That's the only time I ever worked 9-5 because after that, I moved into the non-profit world. While in graduate school I taught part-time in after school programs, community centers, and museums. Then once I earned my PhD, I started to teach at the college level and I've done that for about seven years. It's hard to find a job that gives you enough time to write. I remember selling encyclopedias door to door one summer when I was in college--even the memory of that gig makes me ill. I knew I wanted to be around books, so I'm glad this academic life worked out!

Where do you want to travel?

I'd love to visit India, and I hope to live in London within the next few years. My father's family is from the Caribbean, and so my next trip is to Nevis. I plan to do some genealogical research while I'm there, and I also plan to write an adult novel (tentatively titled The Hummingbird's Tongue).

How do you mesh your personal and professional life?

It's hard! I'm lucky in the sense that I teach African American literature, film, and history and so the texts I teach are often closely related to the things I write about in my novels. But during the semester it's very hard to find time to write, and that makes me pretty cranky at times. I do have summer's off, though, and I also try to write during my 5-week winter break.

How was your road to publication? Have you every had to deal with rejection letters?

I got rejection letters for about a decade before I finally managed to publish my first book. It won a number of awards, but I still couldn't place my second book. Fortunately, Amazon started CreateSpace and that enabled me to self-publish. Then AmazonEncore acquired the rights to my first novel, A Wish After Midnight, and they published Ship of Souls as well. Only 3% of the 5000 books for kids published annually in the US are written by black authors, so there are a lot of doors that are closed to a writer like me.

What is the one thing you do not want to live without?

My computer! I'm left-handed and used to keep a journal but my handwriting is atrocious--I'm *so* glad I took typing in high school because I can type close to 90 words a minute now and can't imagine trying to write anything by hand. I finally bought a back-up drive for my laptop and can't imagine writing any other way.

What has been the best way for you to engage readers?

When I published my first picture book, my illustrator (Shadra Strickland) insisted that I start a blog. I reluctantly agreed and then started blogging almost every day! I now blog less, but see it as an archive---I post essays and statistics and interviews on my blog, and years later certain posts still get a lot of hits. I have a website, but I like the blog because I can manage the content myself, make necessary updates, and respond to comments. My blog is also linked to my Facebook account, so anyone following me there can stay up to date.

Thanks for giving me a chance to share my thoughts! It took a long time for me to get published, but the journey taught me a lot. My advice to aspiring authors? Keep writing. Have patience, be persistent, and stay productive!