We are thrilled to welcome Joiya Morrison-Efemini and her upcoming book, Petrified Flowers.
- Tell us a bit about yourself. Include a couple of facts that not a lot of people know about you.
I’m a Christian wife, mother, avid reader, and marathoner. I grew up in Vestal, New York. I earned my undergraduate degree at Michigan State University, and my law degree at Emory University.
I love to watch scary movies and read scary books. Stephen King, especially, terrifies me. But, I can only read or watch bone-chilling books and movies during the day – with all the lights on and sitting on a couch that abuts a wall.
I’m an animal lover. Growing up I had parakeets, iguanas, rabbits, hermit crabs, and a dog. In college I had a chameleon, a hedgehog and a cat. Now we just have a cat and a dog.
- Tell us a bit about the book that will be published by Anaiah Press.
My family and I watched a documentary called Class Divide about a neighborhood in New York City, where an elite private school sits directly across the street from public housing. The documentary is gripping, insightful and tragic. It moved us all to tears.
Iris and her sisters, the main characters in “Petrified Flowers,” were conceived out of the questions I asked myself for weeks after watching Class Divide. “Petrified Flowers” follows six sisters as they navigate loss.
The story unfolds through the eyes of the eldest sister, Iris, who rides through life as a circumspect passenger, a visionary and realist both. She masterfully weaves her thoughts about race, socioeconomic status and Christianity into her story – one African American girl straddling three neighboring worlds, wishing for three legs. It’s a story of hope, and the unwavering faith of a child.
- When and why did you start writing?
Ask my extended family and they will tell you that I have been writing since grade school. My Dad, who has always been an avid reader, intentionally supplemented my mainstream public education with books by African Americans. Growing up, gospel music pervaded our house, but artists like Nina Simone and John Coltrane also crooned often. In my preteens my Dad introduced to me the poetry of Black America. The words of Countee Cullen, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes captivated me. Maya Angelou ignited my heart and I read everything by her. My love of poetry especially but all writing in general continued into high school and beyond. I filled several notebooks with poetry and then forced my closest cousin and some very close friends to write poems to add to my “anthology.” I still have copies of their poems today.
My true passion was writing. But, when it was time to think about a future career, my parents encouraged me to pursue what they thought would be a more stable profession. I took their advice and I don’t regret one moment of my undergraduate or law school studies. But, I never stopped writing. In 2010 I resigned from my job as a child advocate attorney after having my third child. And, in 2012, after the birth of my fourth, I put aside the idea of going back into law while my kids were young.
It just seemed natural to start writing more seriously. I’ve been writing short stories, poetry and novels ever since.
- Is this your first book? How many have you written? How many have you published?
“Petrified Flowers” is my third publication. I published a lyrical collection of short stories, entitled “The Notes They Played,” in 2017. And, in 2019, my first novel, “The Impossible,” was released. Like “Petrified Flowers,” both of my former publications are also written entirely in verse. They are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
- Tell us a bit about your journey to publication.
It was rough. I am well-versed in the myriad of ways literary agents and publishers can say, “No!”
Being a mom is the kind of “job” where you are often getting negative performance reviews. I went back into writing, partly, because I knew it was something I had a gift for. I missed the positive feedback my work environment afforded. But, there are hundreds of agents and publishers out there that didn’t bite. You’re not supposed to take it personally (“the literary world is so subjective”), but that’s really difficult. Writers put their hearts into their writing. I don’t consider myself a quitter, but there were many times that I just wanted to give up writing. My husband encouraged me over and over again to just keep writing. He asked me, “What do you have to lose?” And, he was right. Writing is something I thoroughly enjoy.
With my first book I was contacted by an editor who was a friend of a friend. She liked my work and she wanted to publish it. This was after three and a half years of rejections. So, you can imagine the jubilation. She was wonderful and I owe so much of the development of my writing and understanding of the publishing world to her. She published “The Notes They Played.” She also edited my novel, “The Impossible,” which I’d originally submitted to her as a fourteen-page short story. “I think you could pull a book out of this one.” She challenged me. So, I did.
But circumstances in her life and with her business caused her to have to change directions. I had this finished manuscript and no home for it. I chose what I thought would be an easier route than traditional publishing, with disappointing consequences. The hybrid publishing model was a starkly different experience for me.
When I started writing “Petrified Flowers,” I no longer had my editor and her brutally honest direction. But, I had just joined a local writing group. My girls, Anna Catanese and Jennifer Graham Kizer read every re-write, forced me to develop a character that I’d wanted on the sidelines, and asked me question after question to get me thinking about impact and perception. Their feedback was invaluable in developing “Petrified Flowers.” They have become two of my closest friends. I could not have written “Petrified Flowers” without them.
The unfortunate experience I had with hybrid publishing forced me to get back on the submission/rejection train. So, I have to say that, as with most adversity in life, that experience turned out to be a blessing. Now I’m a member of the Anaiah Press family. And, I could not be more thrilled!
- What are some of your favorite books / authors?
The Psalms uplift me and Proverbs gives me direction. The entire Bible is just a masterpiece; a how-to book on life.
Beyond that, I read about forty books a year (or, try to). And, yes, the books I read with my kids to count! I have read some extraordinary books in my life, I keep a running list on Goodreads now, of books I’ve read and books I want to read. Maya Angelou will always and forever be my favorite writer. But, I loved “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant, “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros. Kwame Alexander is a favorite, as well, especially when looking for wonderful reads for my adolescent sons. And, reading “Out of Dust” by Karen Hesse convinced me to try my hand at writing in verse.
- What are some of your favorite movies / TV shows?
My husband and I share a love for watching television together at night after the kids go to bed. Our taste in movies and television is very different, so when we can find something that we both really enjoy, it’s wonderful!
We were enthralled by the masterful storytelling of Game of Thrones. I, of course, read all of the books. We also really enjoyed the series Modern Love and The Man in the High Castle.
My all-time favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption.
- Where do you find inspiration for your books?
In the world around me. In people I meet or watch. I’m guilty of making up backstories for people, or finishing the script for people I’ll never see again. I put pieces of myself and my family and friends in everything I write, because then it’s familiar – the simple joy, the frustration and conflict, the love and forgiveness, the grace and sacrifice. It’s alive.
- Describe your perfect day of relaxation.
My very best days start with a morning run before anyone else in the house wakes up. I love having the time to fix a hearty breakfast for my family. And, afternoon hikes with the kids and the dog are pure bliss. As a family, we love to compete and right now, Connect Four is the game we can’t stop challenging one another with. At the end of a busy day, I curl up with a chai tea latte and a book from my mile-long to-read list.
- Where can readers learn more about you?
My website: www.joiyamewrites.com
Facebook: Joiya ME Writes