Sharon Cullars is a young Chicagoan author. In 2002, she started her career by publishing Celia, a paranormal mystery, and in 2006 released Again. In addition to other books, she also released Gold Mountain (2010), which generated quite a buzz. It was a great pleasure to complete this interview with her on August 31st, 2010.
Sharon it is so wonderful to get to speak with you. Yours is the first book I ever downloaded onto my Droid Kindle; I've read it more times than I can count. But before we talk about Gold Mountain, tell us a few things about yourself.
I'm so glad to hear you liked Gold Mountain. It was a pleasure to research and write. As for describing myself, right now I'm a writer/author and sometimes 3D artist. My main bread-and-butter gig is writing articles for the web. In between, I do e-books for Loose-Id, which is my first excursion into writing electronic books. Right now, writing is all I do. I really need to get a life.
You're an author for Loose-Id; how did that get started? How's it working out for you?
Actually, author Roslyn Holcomb emailed me about a feeler Loose-Id had put out asking about subs for Black History month. I was hesitant at first because I had never written for an e-book publisher but the process has been smooth. I especially appreciate the professionalism I've encountered with the Loose-Id editors. They really keep you on your toes.
I love your style, love your humor, and I love how you capture the rhythm of your characters' daily lives. I adore how you consistently evoke the reader's senses. What are your writing influences? Who are your favorite authors? And what's your overall process?
I'm actually a lazy writer and have to force myself to write outside my muse. However, being contractually obligated does kind of inspire me. As for the process, I don't outline and I tend to flesh out the story as I type. I really couldn't tell you why I write the way I do. I also write poetry, and maybe that helps me with my prose.
As for favorite authors, I have quite a few. Among those I hold in the highest esteem is the late, great Octavia Butler. She is an original whom no one can touch. I also like Tananarive Due as an author because she showed African American writers that they can be successful writing "outside the box." She writes mainly supernatural and horror and they are very entertaining tales, especially her Living Blood series. Another author who has encouraged me through the years is horror writer Gary Braunbeck, whose tales expand beyond the genre as they reveal more about the demons within us than those without.
Let's talk about Gold Mountain. It caused a bit of a stir over on the Narrative (in a good way, of course). I read that you wrote this when your publisher called for something to honor Black History month. What made you go the Blasian route?
When Roz told me about the call for submissions and the editors asked for AA romances, I didn't know what I would write. I then remembered reading somewhere on the web that during the 19th century, several Asian males brought over to work the transcontinental railroad took African-American wives, some who were ex-slaves, some free. I thought that the story would offer an original perspective as it was both Blasian and interracial.
The reviews on Amazon all basically say the story is just too good and too short. I myself gasped when I realized it was over. Did the schedule influence the length of the book or was it exactly how you planned?
Yes, I was writing under a deadline, and to be honest, at times it was hard to get going because of real life issues. There were definitely points in the story where I struggled to move along. Again, I let my contractual obligations spur me instead of waiting for my inconstant muse.
I love your characterization of the leading characters. Leah and Quiang are an endearing pair; the reader really feels for them. How did you go about drafting these two?
They were simply born from my imagination. The one thing I wanted to avoid was writing an Asian character that was flat, one-dimensional and stereotypical. I wanted Quiang to be totally fleshed out and sympathetic, even though some of the life choices he made weren't the most moral. Research helped me out a lot with giving the characters backgrounds that defined them. I also tend to use visual placeholders for my characters as I'm writing them. In this case, I found pics of actors Daniel Henney and Freema Agyeman that helped me envision the characters.
Lawd, Daniel's fine. The reason I ask, by the way, is that one of the biggest criticisms of Asian/Asian American characters in America media is the asexual factor. Quiang, however, is very sexual; he brings his own set of tricks to bed. How did you go about writing this part of him?
Oh, that's an easy one. I simply thought of him as a fully sexual male. I don't buy into the media hype of one race of male being more sexually appealing than another. And as this is a romance, he was going to have to bring it.
One of the aspects of the story I really enjoyed was the language barrier and how you made a part of their romance. I felt touched by their communication. Was it difficult to work that out? How did you go about setting it up?
Thank goodness for online translators. I looked up several American-Chinese dictionaries to parse for the words I needed. Luckily, I found a page of Chinese love phrases that I took full advantage of.
I searched Loose ID for more Blasian novels; yours was the only one which came up. What do you think of that?
I hadn't realized that. I think what needs to happen is for more writers to submit manuscripts with Blasian characters. Loose-Id editors have stressed to me that nothing is forbidden. They just want good romance and erotica.
Will you continue to write more books in the Blasian genre? How do you feel about Gold Mountain's reception so far? Are you satisfied with the sales?
I never know what or who I'm going to write, but it is definitely a possibility. So far, sales have been less than optimal. I definitely would have liked for the book to have done better when it first came out. Unfortunately, some underground sites cut into sales to the point that I got very discouraged about continuing to write e-books. But I've had encouragement from fellow writers and readers, so I'm still hanging.
Speaking of books to come, what are you working on right now?
Currently, I'm working on a personal project I started a few years ago. It's a hybrid horror/romance tale that I hope will be published as a graphic novel. The protagonist is an Af-Am stuntwoman on the set of a horror movie taking place in the town of Apache Junction, Arizona. Her love interest is a Native American sheriff. They become closer as horrible deaths start to plaque the set. It's slow going as it is my personal project, but I hope to finish soon. Or one day. I sent out feelers to Loose-Id and they have expressed interest in doing an erotic graphic novel. I don't think there're many out there right now.
What advice do you have for other struggling writers of color, especially ones who try to think outside the box?
The first bit of advice I give to personal inquiries about becoming a writer is to just keep writing and to perfect your skills with how-to books, grammar books, and just reading good authors. However, the reality is that it is often harder for writers of color to get the same exposure and marketing that mainstream writers receive. However, life is full of obstacles, so I would tell any writer not to let those obstacles stand in their way. I also have to tell this to myself…often.
Oh...I understand that. Madam Cullars, thank you so very much for "stopping by".
Thanks for the great questions!