Monday, March 18, 2019

TBR: Malawi’s Sisters by Melanie S. Hatter

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?

Malawi’s Sisters” was inspired by the 2013 shooting death of Renisha McBride and tells the story of a black family thrown into the national dialogue on race when the youngest daughter is killed by a white man.

Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why?

I loved writing Ghana, but I was fascinated by Malcolm, Malawi’s father, whose voice became stronger as I moved forward with the book. (See note below about what surprised me.)

And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?

Bet, Malawi’s mother, definitely gave me the most trouble. I struggled with her because she wasn’t who I had originally thought she was. I kept trying to push her into the spoiled rich wife, which she is in many ways, but as I continued to write her scenes, I realized there was this hidden past with her father and brother that slowly revealed itself.   

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

The high, of course, was winning the inaugural Kimbilio National Fiction prize. Until then, I had been submitting to agents—more than 30—and getting rejections. Many didn’t respond at all, but quite a few included positive comments about my writing and the story, but it still was a rejection. A few said they couldn’t connect with the characters and one said they didn’t like my writing style. I was close to thinking I should scrap the whole thing—that I’d just wasted two years of writing. I’m so glad I listened to the little voice inside that told me I did have something worth pushing.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Stephen King in his book On Writing said, to be a writer you must read a lot and write a lot. It seems a bit trite, but I think it’s spot on. Reading is such an integral part of writing.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

Malcolm. I had originally thought this was a story about three women affected by Malawi’s death. When I started, I was more focused on the mother and two sisters, but Malcolm appeared and his voice became hard to ignore. So I ended up with several sections from his point of view and I realized he was as important to the story as the women.

How did you find the title of your book?

Titles are usually very hard for me, but this one came quite easily. The story was to be about Malawi’s sisters, Kenya and Ghana, though the book grew to include her parents’ voices, as well. As you read the story, the title develops a greater meaning, but I won’t give that away.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

There are many moments that involve food—food is such an important element to human relationships, but alas, I don’t have any particular recipes.




DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.