Sunday, April 27, 2008

[Interview] Shani Greene-Dowdell

Shani Greene-Dowdell lives in Opelika, Alabama with her three children and husband. She has always been fascinated by creative writing and started writing poetry as a young girl.

Her debut novel, Keepin' It Tight was released in May 2007.

The novel was inspired by African American fiction and its message of self-love and black love. Through the novel, Shani Dowdell seeks to weigh in on race and relationships and the temptation and deception that tears so many marriages apart.

In this interview, she spoke about her writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I am a reader first, so whenever I would read a great article or a good book, I would think, "I wish I could be a writer for this magazine. I wish I could write a book like this. I have a story to tell..." But I never answered my internal voices. I pushed them to the side and kept druging it out on my 9 to 5, and taking care of my children.

As a young girl, I saw myself doing great things with my life and I was always told that I could be or do whatever I wanted in life; however, it was not until 2004 when I took a close look at my life and knew there was more to Shani than working a 9 to 5 and taking care of home, even though I enjoy both imensely. With my children older and me more focused on on making my dreams come true, I started writing my first novel.


How would you describe the genre in which you do most of your writing?

Romance and drama.

Who is your target audience?

Anyone who can relate to issues women go through in relationships.

My first novel, Keepin' It Tight, addresses how a black woman feels when her marriage is threatened by a woman of a different race. If your spouse is unfaithful it shouldn’t matter the race of the woman he/she cheated with, but the book challenges the idea that society is colorblind.

What motivated you to start writing in this genre?

I am a sucker for a love story. I love to see the struggles a couple goes through and then the resolution.

Who would you say has influenced you the most?

In the beginning it was authors Darrien Lee and Jacquelyn Thomas by reading their works. Since I have become friends with Naiomi Pitre I have been influenced by her work.

What does this 'pushing the envelope' and 'staying true to one's self' involve?

Writing about subjects that are taboo or that may not be welcomed by the masses. For example, when I first presented the storyline for Keepin' It Tight to an internet group that I belong to, a couple of my white friends were offended that the woman who was trying to sabatoge the marriage of the main black characters in Keepin' It Tight was white. Their response was that race didn't matter...and my response to them is then why does it matter that the woman is white? I consider pushing the envelope writing about topics that will incite debate and will involve some issues that will not be popular with everyone.

Staying true to one's self is simple...if as a writer you have a message that you want to get out there, do not change it just because it is unpopular because at the end of the day it's your name on the by line. I struggled with this in the beginning because I have Christian upbringing, yet I like to write erotica and romance that involves premarital sex. My book is not preachy, but it does have Christian undertones; I think found a nice blend of my sensual and religious sides.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

How others will perceive my work and judge my character based on it. I have a bad habit of not wanting to ruffle any feathers, but it's entirely impossible to be true to yourself and your characters when you are worrying about how one audience or another will react to it. It is impossible to please all of the people all of the time, so I've learned to just write for me.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

They have caused me to seek the paper and pen to express how I feel, and to speak up for those who will not. Of course, I write from things I have seen, heard, and in a few instances things I have experienced. I learn something new everyday as a result my writing prospers.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Being self-published, there will always be challenges, but the beauty is overcoming them. I would say the biggest challenge I face now is breaking into this business on a low budget.

How do you deal with these challenges?

I stay prayed up and ready for the next challenge. I have found inexpensive methods of promotion i.e., newsletters, raffles, internet, and I rely heavily on word of mouth.

How many books have you written so far?

My self-published debut novel, Keepin' It Tight. In this story Lela James finds love and loses it when she catches her fiancĂ© cheating on her with a white woman. Then when she picks up the pieces, moves on and finds the man of her dreams, his white colleague, Amanda, becomes the next thorn in her side. Lela is not going to let another woman walk off with her man, but Amanda is a piece of work and when she finishes shattering Lela’s world it will take a miracle to pick up the pieces.

Do you write everyday?

I am working on my second novel entitled Secrets of a Kept Woman, at least 3-4 days a week. I'm a blog addict, so I do write blogs on myspace and/or comment daily in my friends blogs.

How long did it take you to write your latest book?

It took me a year and four months to write the book. It's self published through lulu.com.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find most difficult?

I wrote one scene that was similar to when my son was resuscitated from a near drowing at a waterpark when he was four. The scene was similar, but not exact to the events of that day and I have a hard time reading that chapter because it brings that day vividly back to me. I wrote it so that maybe it will bring awareness to the importance of water safety, and if it touches one person then it was worth sharing the experience.

Which did you enjoy most?

Building the relationship with Lela and her best friend Tonya. We moved a lot when I was a child, so I was not blessed with a sistah-girl BFF as a young girl. I built their relationship on bits and pieces of memories that I have from my friends at different points of my childhood.

What will your next book be about?

Secrets Of a Kept Woman is a street fiction novel. In Secrets of a Kept Woman, Layla Wilson is married to the biggest drug dealer in town. Their lifestyle is lavish, but the flames are all but dead in their relationship. Titus married Layla because of her beauty and innocence and he treats her like a trophy. All of that is fine and good to Layla, but she is in dyer need of attention, love and affection -- SEX. One day when their gardener, Antonio, shows up for work to do some routine pool maintenance work, the attraction he and Layla have for each other can't be denied. Once Layla gets a taste of Antonio, there is no turning back, BUT the secrets of a kept woman can be deadly if revealed.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I haven't even tipped the iceburg on what I see myself accomplishing as a writer, but for right now it is typing the last letter in my first manuscript. That was a good feeling.

How did you get there?

Hard work, persistence, and determination.

*This conversation with Shani Greene-Dowdell took place between February 22 and June 9, 2007

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