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Interview: Imani Josey’s coming of age book ‘The Blazing Star’

Imani Josey has been writing since she was a young girl, in fact the inspiration for her latest book ‘The Blazing Star’ began from a story she wrote at only 10 years old. She hopes that the book will be a source of self discovery for readers as they witness the growth of the characters. We watch Portia and Alex, the main characters, grow and develop their relationships as they find themselves on their journey throughout ancient Egypt. We were lucky enough to interview her on this latest piece of work and learn a bit more about her story and just what is to come next for the captivating author.

1. What inspired you to begin writing ‘The Blazing Star’ series?

You could say that the series has been on my mind in one way or another since I was a child. The Blazing Star is a much better rendition of the first book (if you could call it a book… it was 60 pages of craziness) that I wrote when I ten-years-old. I actually still have a copy somewhere. The story was about three friends who journeyed to an alternate dimension and discovered they were faerie princesses. It was very much something a preteen in the 90’s would write.

I decided to really dive into my writing around 2011 and the fantasy genre is a great form of escapism, which is what I needed at that time. I found a terrible job after grad school (underpaid, over-skilled, underwhelmed), and had to take my mind elsewhere. It was then that I decided that the bones of that old faerie princess story were actually decent, and would fit well with a YA adventure swirling in my head. Add a dash of historical fiction and ancient Egyptian mythology, and five years later, here we are.

2. There’s a quote that you posted on your IG a while back: “rock bottom has built way more champions than privilege” and you even shared the beginning of some rejection letters, which is very intimate! When do you feel like you hit your rock bottom and how did you overcome it?

I’m very big on transparency in my writing career, which means showing the entire picture of the process. That saying resonated with me because I’ve been through a lot during my journey, and every moment (good or bed) has shaped me. My experiences have made me who I am, and I would never trade any of them. My social media has probably made the last ten years look way easier than they actually were. There were plenty of where I just didn’t know what I was going to do. I was faced with all of the challenges of becoming an adult… how was I going to pay for school, or hell, my rent? Those sorts of things. But there is definitely merit in adversity. It makes us tougher, stronger, and forces us to grow and evolve. Facing challenges and learning how to overcome them builds confidence. It lets you know that if you ever face a challenge again, it won’t crush you.

3. As an African-American woman, what challenges have you faced in your journey that strengthened your resolve and led you to be the leader you are today?

That could be a book in itself, especially because I feel like I’ve lived nine lives sometimes. Let’s stick with writing. There were plenty of challenges that I faced bringing The Blazing Star to life as an African-American woman. I wanted to go the traditional route with The Blazing Star (i.e, have it taken on by a big house like Penguin, etc.) as most writers set out to do. You think of yourself like Shakespeare writing beside a candle, with a jar of ink and a quill. You imagine sending off your masterpiece, being accepted by an agent, editor, and a big house, and as George R.R. Martin says in his interviews, they park dump trucks full of money outside of your door. And then you really get into it, and see that every path is different. I started writing The Blazing Star five years ago. It took two years to write, one year to edit, one to query agents traditionally, and then one year of production with Wise Ink to go independently. The decision wasn’t a quick or easy decision to make, but I went with my gut and stepped out on faith. I had a lot of agent interest in the book that didn’t materialize, but I still believed in the story. It wasn’t (and still isn’t!) easy, but I’m proud of what we’ve created (my family, team, and myself). I was excited to have as much control over the book as I did being indie (raises Virgo-control freak hand), and I loved being involved in every step and process. I’m ecstatic about what we’ve created.
I will definitely thank the indie industry for providing additional opportunities for black women writers to publish. I think the indie market is a game-changer for black women. Firstly, African-American women are a huge audience, as we buy and consume a great amount of books, and we read in a wide variety of genres. Many Black women authors have gotten held up in the traditional process by gatekeepers that are unfamiliar with colloquialisms and other cultural experiences that African-American authors put in their work. Going indie does allow a direct-to-consumer advantage, allowing us to tell our stories, our way, to the people who want to hear them.

4. What do you hope readers get from the first book of your series?

The Blazing Star is about self-discovery, but it’s also about sisterhood. I hope the readers will appreciate those themes most. I gravitate towards sisterhood in my writing as I’m one of three girls. I had Portia and Alex (Portia is the protagonist of this story, and Alex is her genius twin) in my head for awhile before I started writing, but when I realized they were sisters, the words started to come. It was like, Oh, I get this relationship. I also like exploring sibling relationships because in many YA stories, the protagonist is an orphan or any only child, or is much older than their siblings, making them much like a substitute parent. I found this interesting because so many people have siblings and outside of one’s parents, sibling relationships are the first relationships you navigate. No one knows you like your siblings. My older sister told me literally yesterday, “You’re the longest relationship I’ve ever had.”

5. What can we expect in the forthcoming installments of the series?

Each book will be about self-actualization at its core. Readers should look out for the growth of the girls, and enjoy how they maneuver their relationships with each other, with their mentors, and with romantic interests. We’ll also be traveling through Egypt, going to the Nile Delta in the second book and learning more about the Hyksos, and what it means to be a client kingdom. Also, there will be a lot more of the character Sikara because everyone loves Sikara.

6. As a writer what are your goals or upcoming projects you are looking forward to completing in the upcoming year?

I was fortunate to have a short story selected for Crossed Genres’ Hidden Youth anthology in late 2016. The short story I wrote for the publication is a paranormal romance called “North,” based on my great-grandparents.

I also had a short story about pageantry published by the Young Adult Review Network (YARN) early this year entitled “Crowned.”

I’m also working on the second book of The Blazing Star series, which just began the editing process. I’ll have more information on the title and the release date shortly.

7. If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Yikes! It would probably be to relax, and not to try to control everything, because it’s impossible in publishing as well as in life. I knew a fair amount about publishing before I jumped in, as I was a print journalism major in college and come from a family of journalists, authors, and words people. If anything, I wish I had come into it with more of an open mind. Unfortunately, when you go into an arena after seeing someone do what you want to do successfully, you think that your experience is going to be like theirs. Ha! No! My grandfather is a historian, and wrote an important book on black history that have been widely praised. I write YA fantasy. To say our journeys have been different would be understating it. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been rewarding and worth it, and that I still can’t draw on the strength of those who came before me. Keep an open mind, new authors. Have faith and drink coffee (or hot chocolate in my case).

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Be sure to pick up a copy of her book ‘The Blazing Star’ which is available on Amazon, Google Play, Barnes & Nobles, and several other online retailers.

Kofi

Kofi

Kofi is a culture enthusiast who enjoys creating content in many forms. Whether it be written editorial, on air personality work, or short film production, he aims to become the face and name you trust for all your favorite media. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @ForeverKofi

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