The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘Walter Mosley

I’m so excited to introduce readers to newly minted novelist Jessica Yinka Thomas. Her novel How Not To Save the World is a social justice thriller. Jessica Yinka Thomas is a novelist with a background in mechanical engineering and social entrepreneurship. As managing director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, she has authored several award-winning academic articles. Jessica has also worked as a designer of interactive educational toys, as the director of a social enterprise business plan competition and as a program manager for a community development nonprofit. How Not to Save the World is her first novel.

Jessica’s writing highlights her twin passions for technological innovation and for creating significant social change through entrepreneurial ventures. Growing up in West Africa and traveling around the world has provided her with a rich background from which to draw in her writing.

Her main character, Remi Austin is a fundraiser for the African Peace Collaborative (APC), a conflict resolution nonprofit founded by her late mother. Frustrated by her inability to raise funds and faced with the imminent closure of the APC, Remi turns to a life of crime to keep her nonprofit afloat. From Sydney, to Tokyo, Geneva and Cape Town, Remi transforms from a fundraiser too shy to speak during staff meetings into a daring international art thief who must stop a war from breaking out and figure out how to save herself from a life behind bars.

I think Jessica has single-handedly invented a new genre—the social justice thriller.

I came to know Jessica through The Creative Tickle, my coaching practice. She was finishing her novel when we worked together. She focused on time management issues and juggling her many commitments including job responsibilities, creative writing and new motherhood. I’m thrilled to see her work in print and that she is making her writing dreams come true.

1) Where did the idea for your novel come from?

 I started out writing nonfiction travel stories as I traveled around the world in my twenties. I read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron while traveling across Australia and wrote in big letters at the close of the book, I WILL WRITE A NOVEL. That was 13 years ago. Since then I’ve taken my inspiration from the world around me and from the parts of life that I love. I weave my travel experiences into my writing, my passion for technological innovation and my personal vision for creating large scale social and environmental change.  The story in How Not to Save the World evolved from a desire to create a compelling story that would include all of those elements. That kept me going for 8 years!

2) What does your writing practice look like?

 Juggling a day job, a family, a social life in addition to writing is a delightful challenge. I have to be very strategic about fitting in my writing. Recently I’ve had the flexibility to scale back my day job to half time. So these days I can usually commit at least 2 hours to marketing and promoting my first novel and two hours to working on the second novel. Part of my marketing strategy includes getting book clubs to read the novel. This has actually provided fantastic feedback for me as a writer and as I work towards completing the sequel. The time I commit to writing, I don’t have a special place. I’ll often write on my lap using my laptop on my living room couch or the local library if I’m going to put in several hours. Much of the writing process for the sequel involves idea generation. The woman who runs my fitness class is probably frustrated that I will often pick up my iPhone in between sets and make notes about dialogue, character development, settings, etc. She probably thinks I’m texting my friends, but it does help my productivity and keeps my mind distracted during the bicep curls.

3) What (or who) inspires you to write and why?

I’m inspired to write because I see storytelling as a compelling mode to engage people in big ideas. My hope is that everyone who reads my work will think about how they can find their personal path to leaving this world better than the way they found it. I also just love writing. I’ve never had a moment of writer’s block. The page is the one place I can funnel all of the ideas swirling around in my head. With a generous amount of editing, those ideas can be transformed into a story and even a novel, or two or three.

4) What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

Write every day! Even if it’s only 5 minutes on the computer or 30 seconds on your iPhone. This Year Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley was an inspiration to me and that was one of the core concepts.

5) Will we see more of your main character? What’s your next writing project?

Absolutely, we will see more of Remi Austin. I have laid out a plan for a 3 book series with How Not to Save the World as the first Remi Austin Adventure. I’m hard at work on the second, tentatively titled How Not to Make Friends. I’m shooting to release it in September 2012.

6) Who is one writer that you’d love to know was reading your work?

My father. He is an economist and would never define himself as a writer although I have a shelf full of his academic publications. He has committed his life to demonstrating how technology can be a powerful tool for social change. His work has changed many thousands of lives for the better. He is my writing role model in many ways. I would love to know that he was reading my work. He has read the first novel and I hope he feels compelled to keep reading.

Find out more about Jessica and where to buy her thriller!

Jessica Yinka Thomas

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At the close of the summer, I’ve been rummaging through several journals containing writing from the past year. At the end of a writing workshop last December, my instructor gave us a stimulating prompt. The prompt was: ‘The writer I was meant to be’ and we had ten minutes to free write about it. I wrote the following:

“The writer I was meant to be writes with the courage and sophistication of James Baldwin
-the irresistible beauty of Gish Jen
-the depth of Ursula Le Guin
-the creativity of Ntozake Shange
-the honesty of Alice Walker
-the fearlessness of Walter Mosley
-the precision of Sheri S.Tepper
-the humor of Jonathan Lethem

The writer I was meant to be encompasses the qualities of writers I admire above. It [a writing career] takes craft, training, persistence and subtlety. I’m still working on it! I’ve written probably under a 100 beautiful pitch perfect sentences in my fiction (even though I have written a lot!). Hmm, maybe a new goal for 2011?”

In the ensuing discussion, everyone shared remarkable insights about the distance between the ‘writer that they were meant to be’ and ‘the writer they were’ at that moment. We bemoaned and laughed about this distance and congratulated ourselves for what we had already accomplished. After I left the workshop, I thought about that ‘100 beautiful sentences’ line. I made an intention for 2011. I wanted to generate a lot of writing, but also aim to craft more beautiful sentences. I felt this was a worthy goal. I haven’t gone through all of my writing this year and evaluated how many beautiful sentences I’ve crafted. But, I know that holding this intention during the last ten months has helped me pay more attention to the quality as well as quantity of my writing. And, I’ve found myself writing more poems, a pleasant surprise, and enjoying using language in fresh ways. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon Stanley Fish’s provocative and helpful How to Write a Sentence (and How to Read One). It is a spirited meditation on sentence craft. I highly recommend it.

So, as fall approaches and we turn naturally inward, I pose to you these free writes: ‘The writer I was meant to be…’.Try that for ten minutes and then try ‘The writer I am right now at this moment’ for ten minutes. Compare the two lists and reflect on patterns, similarities, differences, challenges and opportunities.

And, finally have you written 100 beautiful sentences this year? Is that an interesting or worthy goal for you? To answer this question might mean making some time to pour over your journal entries, blog posts and other writings. I see you curled up in comfortable warm clothing, as the leaves are turning outside, with a cup of soup near by and lavishing attention on your prose.

These exercises might seed something in you that ripens later this year or in 2012.

I’d love to hear your reflections.
Photo Credit: Ismoyo’s Vintage Playground


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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