Written by: Sheri Harrigan
Eartha Watts-Hicks is the founder of Earthatone Enterprises and Earthatone Books, an imprint of Earthatone Enterprises, LLC. She has designed and published titles for herself and others, including Miriam Kelly Ferguson. She has also lead self publishing workshops, writing, and publicity workshops for the New York City Parks Department, the National Writers Union, Project Enterprise, and other not for profits. Eartha Watts-Hicks is author of Love Changes, as well as a songwriter, music publisher, and member of ASCAP. A writing fellow of the Center for Black Literature and the North Country Institute, in June of 2013, Eartha Watts-Hicks received the Just R.E.A.D. ‘literary game changers’ Award by the NYCHA branch of the NAACP and was named a 2013 NAACP ambassador for literacy. Love Changes is available on Amazon.com, BN.com, Esspresson.net, Ondemandbooks.com, NYU Bookstore, Sisters Uptown Bookstore, select Barnes & Noble locations, The New York Public Library System, and is also available in Kindle. Eartha Watts-Hicks was featured in the New York Amsterdam News, FAN Magazine, January Magazine, Harlem World Magazine, NAACP Radio, and the Mothership Connection Show on Time Warner Cable Television Channel 57. She has also been accepted to present Love Changes at the Author’s Pavilion of this year’s Congressional Black Caucus.
I had the pleasure to speak to Eartha about her book. Her book was recommended to me in a book group. Once I started reading the book, Love Changes, I couldn’t put it down. Eartha did a great job as a new author breaking into the business. I truly admire an author who is professional and takes their craft as seriously as I do.
I present you all Ms. Eartha Watts-Hicks
Sheri: Tell me a little about yourself and your literary background?
Eartha: To start from the very beginning, I took my first writing classes when I was about eleven years old. I studied poetry and journal writing. I started writing songs (a long-time hobby) when I was around thirteen, so my brain almost automatically cues in to rhyme patterns. In 2001, I started writing Love Changes, believing that I could “teach myself” how to write fiction by checking out library books and complete said novel in three months time. That didn’t happen. Three years later, I took my first writing workshop at the Frederic Douglas Creative Arts Center here in New York. I completed my first draft a little over a year later. The merit of the first draft won me acceptance into quite a few competitive writing programs and in some cases, I was awarded scholarships. These organizations were instrumental in helping me to develop as a writer. I am now a fiction fellow through the Center for Black Literature, a past Hurston/Wright Foundation workshop participant, and a member of the Harlem Writers Guild. I recently won the award for literary in fiction from the N.Y.C.H.A. branch of the NAACP and was named NAACP literacy ambassador.
Sheri: What are your goals for your writing career?
Eartha: My initial goal was to write “positive” books. But I’ve learned that in aiming for “positive,” my work takes on so many layers. There are elements to it that are spiritual, developmental, professional, how-to tips and tricks, mathematical, musical, poetic, as I try to emulate who “we’ were in my generation—brown, brilliant, aspiring, proud, despite our insecurities. And I laid it all out as best I could.
Sheri: What have you written?
Eartha: My debut novel is entitled Love Changes. I have a song catalogue. My song, “Baby You’re the Only One 4 Me” is actually from the Love Changes companion soundtrack. I also blog all over, mostly for Harlem World Magazine.
Sheri: What are you working on now?
Eartha: I am now working on the sequel Chocolate Love, as well as a couple of other titles. And I have a collection of poems, short stories, anecdotes, and reflections that I have been growing.
Sheri: Why did you decide to become an author?
Eartha: I had aspirations of being a songwriter. Trying to break into that business was no easy endeavor (to be interpreted as an almost impossible ordeal). Writing and self-publishing was my way of taking control and making things happen.
Sheri: Why do you write?
Eartha: I write because I love to write. I have a strange sense of humor, so there were many times I just had to jot my golden nuggets of observation down to remember them. Writing is second nature to me, as well as my “feel good” space. It is my hobby, passion, expression, and for me, it’s an absolute necessity.
Sheri: Do you write full-time or part-time?
Eartha: That is hard to say definitively, because even when I am not putting pen to pad or fingers to keyboard, my wheels are still spinning.
Sheri: Where do your ideas come from?
Eartha: Everywhere, art, music, work, life, people, human nature, the sky. I try to capture everything beautiful, typical and/or atypical. Anything that tickles my fancy gets scribbled.
Sheri: What is the hardest thing about writing for you?
Eartha: For me, that would be the intimidating blank screen. And trying to forge ahead without peeking at what was already written.
Sheri: What was/is the hardest thing about writing your newest book?
Eartha: Chocolate Love is written in the first person from the Romell character’s perspective. Romell is a twenty-six year old, ambitious, ladies man, who is extremely flirtatious and has a preference for “exotic” women. This story takes place in the mid-nineties. My struggle has been writing in male voice, keeping him true to who he is, without my female self censoring and passing judgment. I, as the writer, have to allow him to be and grow through his mistakes. Whereas, me-the-woman and “black woman” would have told him about himself. My struggle has also been writing this story that takes place in 1995, maintaining a real sense of nostalgia while keeping it “fresh” but not dated or clichéd.
Sheri: How long on does it take you to write a book?
Eartha: I am still not sure. Love Changes took me over 10 years to write and finally publish. Since 2005, I had had editors and literary professional urging me, encouraging me, and even scolding me to find an agent and publish it NOW. At the time, it still felt like it needed work to me, like it needed to be sharpened. I wasn’t ready to let it go.
Sheri: How do you deal with writer’s block?
Eartha: I try everything and if that doesn’t work, I find something new. I read books on the craft, listen to music, do something my characters would do, everything. I even use charts to help me visualize.
Sheri: Do you read much? Who are your favorite authors?
Eartha: I used to be an avid reader. I now dissect and study books. My favorite fiction authors now are Bernice McFadden, Zora Neal Hurston, Jamaica Kincaid, Chris Abani, Dorothy Allison, Marsha Hunt for her title “Joy,” Omar Tyree, E. Lynn Harris, Travis Hunter, Terri McMillan, and so many others.
Sheri: What book/s are you reading at present?
Eartha: I am currently reading Profit with Purpose by Teneshia Jackson Warner. It is a very good book on marketing.
Sheri: Shout out your editor! Who edited your book and how did you select him/her?
Eartha: My editor is Grace F. Edwards. I was in her novel writing workshop when she agreed to take me on. She has been creative writing professor at several institutions and she is African American. She helped me maintain the essence of my characters, and make the content grammatically correct, without sacrificing voice. That was important to me. My characters are educated but originally from the projects. Ms. Edwards was wonderful in helping to keep them true to life without being stiff. I must also shout out my copy editors, Monica West and Femi Lewis Usanga.
Sheri: Shout out your graphic designer! Who designed your book cover/s?
Eartha: I design my own book covers and interior layout. The sketch work was drawn by an artist I met here in Manhattan named Aleksey Moroz. I manipulated the images myself.
Sheri: Are you self-published or signed to a publisher?
Eartha: I am self-published.
Sheri: What do you do to market your books?
Eartha: I market on social media, through readings and events, vending, radio, print media, blogs, guest blogging, email campaigns. I try every day I can, when I have the time and energy to do so.
Sheri: What are your thoughts on reviews?
Eartha: Having gone through the workshop experience for so long, my attitude had been the worst feedback is none at all. So, I can critique a work backwards and forwards. It is different with reviews. I do not like giving reviews, unless I really enjoy a book. As a creative, I know how personal our work is to us and how much focus it takes to see it through.
Sheri: Which social network works best for your marketing?
Eartha: I like Facebook but I am waiting for the numbers to come in to actually see what working best for me.
Sheri: In what formats is your book available?
Eartha: Love Changes is available as a paperback and Kindle.
Sheri: What advice would you give to new and upcoming writers?
Eartha: I would tell aspiring writer to keep studying the craft, by reading books like Bird by Bird and Walking on Alligators, and just write it before you try to fix it. Get the whole story out of you and then go back and edit.
Sheri: How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Eartha: They can find me on my website, http://www.earthatone.com. I am on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/earthawattshicks.lovechanges and on Twitter and Instagram @Earthatone