An Author Interview with Anjuelle Floyd
Today it is a great privilege for me to be able to welcome the author Anjuelle Floyd to my blog. As well as being a well known author of books, Anjuelle Floyd is also a voice to the world of Internet Radio! Anjuelle host’s a BlogTalk Radio discussion show with artists, entrepreneurs and authors, that broaden our understanding of the creative process, address the importance of family, and highlights the impact of books in our lives. The radio show is called 'Book Talk, Creativity & Family Matters'.
Anjuelle Floyd is a wife of twenty-eight years, mother of three, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in mother-daughter relations and dream work. As a graduate of Duke University, she received her MA in Counseling Psychology from the California Institute of Integral San Francisco. She has attended the Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology Berkeley, California, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, Port Townsend, Washington. She has also received certificates of participation from 'The Hurston-Wright Writers’ Week' and 'The Voices of Our Nations Writing Workshops'.
A student of Process Painting for the last decade, Anjuelle has participated in The Art of Living Black Exhibitions 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 held at the Richmond Art Center, Richmond, California.
Anjuelle facilitates writing groups and provides individual consultation of fiction projects. She also gives talks on the 'Need for Family' and the 'Writing Process as a Path towards Self-discovery and Healing'.
TSR: A very warm welcome to you Anjuelle, and can I thank-you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
AF: Thank you so much, Calum, for having prepared this wonderful interview.
TSR: Anjuelle, can I begin by first asking what do you like best about California and what are your fondest memories of growing up in this part of the world?
AF: I actually grew up in North Carolina, attended the University of North Carolina, where I met my husband on my first day at college, and graduated with the Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Yet from the moment we arrived here California felt like home. It is the place where I have ultimately found my passion—writing fiction—and come home to myself.
My life has been varied in that I have lived in so many places.
Growing up in North Carolina provided me a lot of freedom to think and be with myself. I grew up on a 300-acre farm that my paternal grandfather had purchased 2 years after my father’s birth. Often I would accompany my father into corn and tobacco fields. I also roamed the woods with my dog, Benji.
My time in North Carolina gave me an experience of being with older individuals who bestowed much wisdom simply by being in their presence. I was extremely close with my maternal grandmother. Unfortunately my paternal grandmother died 5 months after my birth. My maternal grandmother lived five months from my home on the farm. My mother was an elementary school teacher. My father was a farmer. Until I reached five years of age I spent weeks during the school year with my grandmother. My mother would bring me home for the weekends.
My grandmother graduated finishing school at the turn of the century. She had been trained to teach. But instead of going out and teaching she married and began a family. She had a great love of reading.
In the summers I would spend various weeks with my grandmother. Granny’s home was really a kind of second home. She lived until I was 21 years old and wonderfully before dying, she met my husband. Life moved slowly, at its own pace, in North Carolina. My maternal grandmother had this small bookshelf--it was big to me--lined with books. I used to sit on the carpet going through those books. Those books spanned many genres. She also subscribed to Jet and Ebony Magazines. I spent many days and afternoons reading those books and magazines.
This was all great preparation for writing. My grandmother also told me stories about her family, most of whom were deceased. She gave me a great love of family, family connections and stories.
I married in 1982 when I graduated with a Bachelor of Health Science Degree with a certificate in Medical Technology. I then moved to Boston, Massachusetts where I worked in a HLA Lab, typing organs for transplantation, and then a Blood Bank while my husband studied medicine.
I remained in Boston for nearly a decade while my husband did a surgical internship and then entered a residency for urology. I gave birth to our first child while in Boston. It was then that I also made the decision to become a stay-at-home mother.
Growing up in the Southern United States also gave me an interest in understanding human individuals and myself. It also fostered what I now realize is a deep interest in psychology. When I became a stay-at-home mother in Boston, I began to read Freud and Jung.
Moving to Oakland in Northern California in 1991, a bed-rock of self-introspection in America, enlivened my interest in studying psychology, but I also have this spiritual side. Attending the California Institute of Integral Studies, founded by Haridas Chaudhuri, provided me with the opportunity to study psychology along with taking courses in Eastern Philosophy. It was during this time that I studied Old Testament Literature at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California.
It is here in California that at the outset of my second pregnancy I entered graduated school studying psychology. I graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies in 1995, with a MA in Psychology. In 1999, two months after the birth of our third and last child I became licensed to practice Marriage and Family Therapy.
By this time I had begun writing fiction. In 2000 I wrote my second novel in two weeks and realized that crafting novels was something I not only enjoyed doing, but as an outgrowth of having studied psychology and become a psychotherapist, also formed a major part of my personal healing.
TSR: Do you think books that you read during your childhood may have influenced your current writing in any way?
AF: Yes, most definitely. I loved reading Nancy Drew Mysteries that revealed my love for wanting to figure things out. Reading mysteries helps you to learn plot. I still love reading mysteries, particularly Victorian mysteries. I spent this past year reading the first 5 novels of Anne Perry’s William Monk Mysteries. I love the way Anne Perry interweaves authorial narrations with character dialogue. Her physical descriptions of characters reveal much of the character’s personality.
TSR: What made you decide to study psychology and follow the path to qualify and work as a licensed psychotherapist?
AF: I’ve always held a deep interest in wanting to understand why people do what they do? Again, growing up in the southern United States gives way to quietly observing individuals. I also developed a great capacity for listening. Growing up in the southern United States combined with African roots lends one the capacity to move slower, seek to understand that which cannot be seen, but felt, and to recognize the invisible ties that bind us to each other, and ourselves.
TSR: You have also studied Philosophy and Theology! By also studying these particular subjects, do you think it may have had an influence in the development of your thinking and writing style in any way?
AF: Oh most certainly. The most important aspect of studying philosophy and theology along with earning my Masters in Psychology was the development of a great respect for all that binds the heart, mind and soul, or rather the psyche, and how as a psychotherapist you cannot ignore the soul when working with a client.
An individual’s soul has nothing to do with their religion or lack thereof. In fact, Hinduism teachers the atheist is the most devout. It’s about what a person feels, what binds her or him to others and what she or he feels bind her or him to their own self. How do they envision their immortality? Or do they truly belief the physical death brings an end to everything for them?
Listening to clients’ thoughts about these and other aspects of life, enable you to help them decide what they truly want to do with their life, how best to achieve their wishes and desires and most importantly, how to address their life challenges, something that no human being escapes. And of course the ultimate challenge we all face is the great transition of Death.
TSR: What are your thoughts in relation to the use of 'therapeutic writing' with some individual's in the latter stages in their recovery from mental health problems?
AF: Writing is a great practice for coping with mental illness. I struggle from depression, and clearly my writing, along with taking my medication and my 3 decades of psychotherapy have brought me to where I am today. My practice of writing, for it is a spiritual practice, has taken me places where I could not have travelled without it. Crafting characters, developing dilemmas that challenge their heart and soul, force me to look inward and examine myself.
Every novel or story I write is a journey, one that is external--the literal act of writing the story and revising it to a point of completion where I feel I have given my personal best--and an internal one where through self-examination I flesh out not simply my characters’ personalities, but how they will navigate the obstacle before them--plot.
TSR: Did you always want to become a writer?
AF: I have always written stories. But I never really thought anyone would want to read them. I enjoyed reading what I had written as a child, but I was afraid others would find it stupid. In this way it has taken time to take seriously myself and what I write, even when I returned to writing as an adult 15 years ago.
I enjoy my stories, but it is hard to see where others might find them helpful. In this matter I focus on craft, trying to write clear sentences and paragraphs that have a clear flow of thought, and dramatic scenes that possess an emotional arc. Focus on revision and craft helps me deal with my intensely critical self or rather my pernickety internal editor.
TSR: Do you have a set writing routine when you are working on a novel?
AF: My routine is to write one novel a year. I usually do this in the fall around October and November. I am usually finished in December. I lay aside the rough draft of that novel and then start on revising the novel I have written from the previous year.
I take a novel through several revisions. I wrote my latest novel, ‘The House’ in January 2007, laid it aside and returned to it in fall of 2008. From October 2008 to May 2010 I took it through 3-4 revisions.
When I am writing a novel I try to write something each day. Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo that asks that you write 1600 words a day. I’m finding that can be a bit much to expect from yourself. This year I have started my novel at the outset of October with a goal of 800 words a day. That’s about 4 pages a day. I should have the rough draft finished by mid-December.
When I’m revising a novel, I print out the entire novel, and read each page while making edits as I go. I usually read about 50 to 100 pages and then take those pages with my notations made in red, blue, green or purple ink and go and insert changes based on my notes, onto the computer draft.
TSR: Where do you write best?
AF: I write at the desktop computer on the desk in our study. Everyone knows this is my place. I wrote at this desk before entering the Creative Writing Program at Goddard College where I earned my MFA.
Goddard’s program was long distance. Except for 10-day residencies we spent on campus at the outset of the 4 semesters of the program, we, the students conducted all other writing and work at home. This was great for finding a way to interweave your work as a writer/author with your life as a wife, mother, psychotherapist and/or your other responsibilities.
On graduating I did not have to find a way to re-establish myself and my routine for writing. I simply came home from Port Townsend, Washington and continued writing as I done throughout the 2 years.
TSR: Working as a therapist can be very demanding, as is writing novels to publishing deadlines. Do you have any hobbies or other interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from the demands of your professional life and writing?
AF: It’s important to have a writing routine. Writers write and I have found that it is best, or rather we revise and craft our best writing when adhering to some sort of continual schedule. This does not mean we have to write every day. But writers who want to write more than one book need to develop a routine that holds consistency. For some this means writing something every day. Others may find that writing every weekend works best for them. And of course you don’t and cannot keep up the routine, whatever it is without unexpected interruptions and/or scheduled breaks.
Writers need vacations, and time away from the computer. We also need to read. One of my great past times is reading. One of the most beautiful by-products of earning my MFA in Writing was not simply having the time to focus on my writing, but the experience of developing my ability to read as a writer and developing a consistent routine of reading. Before earning my MFA I always erred to the side of writing. If given the choice of writing or reading, I always went with the former. Now I choose the later. Reading replenishes my imagination.
Playing the cello and piano, and painting do that also. Engaging in the cello, piano and paint brush also allows me to work through difficult spots in crafting a story without thinking heavily upon the matter. So much of writing fiction involves learning to work with the unconscious. Developing a routine and engaging with other creative arts assists our development as literary artists while helping us take a writing project deeper, and to far reaches we cannot access simply by writing.
TSR: Can you tell us a bit about your current book of short stories, called ‘Keeper of Secrets – Translations of an Incident’?
AF: Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident is a collection of interconnected short stories, what some would term a linked novel. The common denominator is a restaurant incident that when viewed by the protagonists of the first and second short stories, travels to others who either hear about the incident from the protagonists of the 1st and 2nd stories or those that the protagonists of those first two stories know or with whom they are acquainted.
The protagonist of each story views or interprets the incident through the lens of the dilemma they are presently facing. And yet that dilemma stands connected to an unresolved loss, tied to an internal conflict delivered back to them in the form of having witnessed or heard about the incident. Their translation of what the incident means to them opens a road of deliverance that when travelling or deciding to travel on it, brings redemption, grace and transformation.
Those interested in ‘Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident’ can sample the first story at: http://www.freado.com/book/6176/dancing-siva-from-keeper-of-secretstranslations-of-an-incident
TSR: ‘What was the inspiration behind the writing of your new book ‘The House’?
AF: Interestingly I wrote The House while taking a class entitled ‘Story Basics’. Having earned my MFA in Creative Writing, I was scheduled to teach the class in a Masters level writing program. My experience as a student in the class served as training for me to teach it.
The main primer for the class, ‘Story Basics’, is Writing for Story by Jon Franklin, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Essayist. In Writing for Story, Franklin addresses the importance of career writers learning to develop an outline or blueprint for writing their fiction.
Upon graduating from my MFA program, I began exploring various ways and methods for planning out my stories and novels, but that also left enough undiscovered territory that I gained even more excitement to write the story. I wanted to develop or find an outline that fueled my desire to write, not take it away with planning to point of leaving no mystery. The Franklin Outline as explained in Writing for Story did that for me.
A requirement of the class is to use Franklin’s Outline or some variation thereof to plan a story or novel and then write the story or beginning of the novel, about 10,000 words. I had intended to write a short story. Having written 10,000 words by the end of the first of 15 weeks evidenced the outline worked for me.
Creating characters has always been easy. Developing a way to keep the story moving and not bogged down in dispensing information about a protagonist’s personality has presented my greatest challenge. Plotting stories is where my growth points lay, most specifically deciding where and when to dispense what knowledge, as deemed by the action, interaction and conflict at hand.
The Franklin Outline cleared the path for me to write by giving me a road map, while leaving the territory untouched. Following the blueprint I created for my story, I simply wrote plot--action, what was happening, the cause-and-effect movement of the narrative.
Unlike with other stories I had written, I uncovered or rather realized the personalities of my characters along the way as I wrote. This is much like what readers experience when reading a good story. The writer does not throw at readers everything about characters all at once. Rather she or he drops breadcrumbs as demanded by the action in scenes. The action in scenes is essentially plot.
Since writing ‘The House’, I have modified my method for sketching stories and novels, but Job Franklin’s Method of outlining a work of fiction sits at the heart of how I plan. The Franklin outline helps me chart where the story is destined, and yet I have no idea the roads that the story will take in getting there--i.e. discovery. This makes writing less stressful and fun and ultimately allows me to write more deeply of the places action and experiences my protagonist undergoes along the journey.
Those interested in learning more about ‘The House’ can sample opening pages at: http://www.freado.com/book/6208/the-house
TSR: Have you any other books in the making at the moment?
AF: Oh yes. I’m in the middle of the 8th revision of a novel I wrote in 2001, entitled ‘Seasons ‘and I have begun writing my novel, yet untitled, for this year 2010.
I aim to write a novel each year during the fall. On completion of that first draft, I lay it aside and begin revising the novel I wrote either the previous year or as in this case the one I wrote in 2001. ‘Seasons’ chronicles for one year the plight of a woman who has lost her sight and how her efforts to help a man dying of AIDS assists her in adjusting to her blindness and gaining a new perspective and insight on her husband and herself.
TSR: Do you think that you professional background has helped or hindered you in writing comfortably about the dynamics, emotions and sometimes problems, that can be found within some close personal relationships?
AF: I write about marriages, and families, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, the emotional threads that bind them and the nuances of interactions that drive emotional tension both externally and internally.
I recently read an author assert, “An unresolved internal conflict sits at the bottom of ever story or novel. Plot,” he added, “--is but a demonstration in scenes of the external actions the protagonist undergoes to resolve that conflict.” I would agree, and simply add to his statement that the writer undergoes a parallel process of resolving an inner conflict when writing and then revising said story.
The first and foremost conflict is that of writing the rough draft of the story and that uphill climb of revising and editing the novel or story until we reach knowing that we have given our personal best, both in craft and skill to the work and soul, heart and emotion.
To bring a story or novel to full completion the author must reach a place of truthfulness within. This goes beyond adhering to craft. And yet a sincere and stern focus on craft can take us into emotionally riveting places that we otherwise could not enter.
Essentially a writer has to know when we have reached that place of emotional authenticity in writing a novel. How much of the story have we ignored or edited out for comfort’s sake? Or how much were willing to take the time needed to go where the story was asking that we travel? At this point in the writing it becomes a matter of are we writing to meet a deadline or ourselves.
This is the wonderful aspect about self-publishing. I can take as long as I need emotionally to write the most authentic story or novel I can. Recently developments in Internet and computer technology have allowed us to print and bind books or create electronic copies of novels in seconds. And yet the human imagination cannot be rushed. In fact these recent developments allow, if not force us as writers, to give more time to the creation and refining of our work. As a result of the Internet, readers are now becoming more savvy; their consciousness is broadening by leaps and bounds. What once held their, your and our attention as readers, no longer engages us.
We are evolving both physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Writers must bear this in mind. And here again is why we must take the time to read widely and deeply, both as writers and as readers, wanting to nourish our minds, hearts, and souls.
TSR: What genre would you say that your books fit into?
AF: Women’s Fiction; Spiritual, Psychological, Family, Marriage.
TSR: Is it an impossible task, or can you give any advice to new writers, as they struggle to try to achieve a work life balance when working, bringing up a family, writing and also possibly trying to promote their books as well?
AF: Stephen King writes in his memoir, “On Writing” that the most important thing a writer can have is a stable family. He then explains how his wife has provided that for him, both emotionally and practically, in seeing to the running of home, engaging plumbers to take care leaky faucets, having the cars serviced, addressing the day-to-day responsibilities that must be met by any household.
My husband has provided that for me. I have not had to worry about how to make a salary from my writing in order for me to write, and yet I am a fulltime wife and mother. The two have jobs--and they are jobs-- have required much of me. And my passion for marriage and family, have seeded my love for writing. Marriage and family are what I write about. Committed relationship with my husband, the bonds with my children, my determination to live out my love for all four of them, has provided fertile terrain on which for me, to examine the nature of human family interactions.
For me, God is relationship. And we engage with God most fervently by either interacting with or avoiding family, those from whom we have descended and lived beside in our growth towards adulthood. We are who we are both because of and despite our families. Most, if not all internal conflicts arise from unresolved family dilemmas, tensions with those whom we lived during our childhood years. This is Freudian. Our observations of others and our own personal experiences evidence and bear witness to this.
I find balance between my roles as wife and mother, writer/author and promoter/entrepreneur, by remembering what is most sacred and sustains me--my spirituality, my relationship with God from whom all good things, people and experiences arise most of which is my faith and my family.
My writing would not be what it is without my husband and our children. It is through them and my engagement with them, and how much I value my relationships with them, that I write. My husband is my muse. Without him I dare say I would not be writing. I might have some stories inside me, but the passion and compulsion to write and refine them for public consumption would not exist.
TSR: What is your favourite book and why?
AF: Oh, I have several favorite books but the one that stands out from some time back is A Sin of Color by Sunetra Gupta. I also have to say that The Inheritance of Loss by Kirin Desai comes in at a tight second.
These two books explore aspects of life for which words most often provide insufficient demonstration and explanation. Sunetra Gupta and Kirin Desai craft scenes containing action, dialogue and setting that show long distances the heart and soul travels within myriad interactions with those we most love and least understand. In short, they explore alienation at its deepest core, the disconnect that most often lies between family members, unspoken and many times unacknowledged, but all the more present and palpable--and how we are made better or worse or left unchanged by these experiences.
TSR: Are you currently reading any books at the moment, and if so what are they?
AF: I am presently reading The Disorder of Longing by Natasha Baunman, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, and In Sickness and in Health by Maxine Billings.
TSR: From what you have shared with us today, it can be clearly seen that you are kept very busy within your life but enjoy it to the full! To conclude this interview can you finally tell us what simple things in life make you smile?
AF: I love sharing a meal with my husband at the end of the day, hearing about the drama and special moments of caring patience. Surgeons are so focused. Hearing about what he has experienced I ask a lot of questions in that I am a psychotherapist. Often his responses make me laugh.
The wife of one of my husband’s fellow residents in surgery was a social worker. When our husbands were in the thick of their training such that we never saw them--they spent every other night in the hospital--she said two things that have stuck with me. “We [the wives] cry of these guys, get sick for them, hold all the emotions the nature of their work inhibits them from doing.
Of the nature of their work she said, “The idea of surgery is crazy. You make an incision, cut someone open, to make them better.” I have since that time learned that while many internal medicine physicians (male) marry other (female) physicians, surgeons (male) tend to marry psychotherapists, social workers, and psychiatrists.
TSR: Anjuelle, it has been a great pleasure for me to work with you on this interview for my literary site. I would like to thank-you once again for taking the time to speak to us in such depth today.
AF: And thank you. I always like doing these type of interviews. Answering your questions provokes me once more, to turn inward and look at myself, something that a writer can never do too much.
Peace and Blessings.
If anyone would like to discover more details about Anjuelle Floyd and her writing, Anjuelle’s website can be accessed by clicking on the following hyperlink: