Back in January 2012, I interviewed author Zhana for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the two hundred and thirty-eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction and multi-genre author Zhana. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Zhana. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Zhana: I've been writing since I was nine (more than 40 years now). I think it was because in my family, nobody ever talked about anything, and certainly nobody talked to me! I needed a way to record my thoughts and try to communicate with with other people. Plus I loved to read.
Morgen: That’s really sad, although it’s great that something positive came out of it. What genre do you generally write?
Zhana: I generally write non-fiction about overcoming your difficulties and achieving your goals. My focus is personal development, so I produce books about how to improve your life, based on the adult education teaching I used to do, along with other research I have conducted. Some of my books are specifically for people of African heritage; others are for a general readership. I write everything and have started to write more fiction.
Morgen: What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Zhana: Sojourn, an anthology about Black women in Britain, was my first book. It included fiction, nonfiction and poetry. I have had short stories and poetry published in a number of anthologies. I have subsequently written several books and ebooks including The Key to Everything, Write Your Book in Two Days and Shaking the Money Tree.
Morgen: I love the titles, the latter especially. :) Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Zhana: No, but I have met loads of people who told me they liked Sojourn. I meet them in all different kinds of situations including, for example, on meditation retreats.
Morgen: :) Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Zhana: Although Zhana is not my legal name, I use it in all situations, so it’s not exactly a pseudonym. So I really don’t know.
Morgen: A memorable name. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Zhana: I got my first publishing contract without an agent. But these days, yes, I think it's vital. And yet I still don't have one!
Morgen: “yet” :) You mentioned that your books are available as eBooks, do you read eBooks?
Zhana: I occasionally read ebooks. I publish ebooks myself, including Shaking the Money Tree and Write Your Book in Two Days. Ebook publishing is great because it's fast and cost-effective. Having said that, it can be challenging to keep up with the technology. I also publish Black writers and interviews with people of African heritage in a range of fields in my More Black Success series of ebooks.
Morgen: Having started writing at such a young age, can you remember your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Zhana: My first acceptance was probably a poem or short story. What I find thrilling now is when I get to interview someone for one of my forthcoming books or when I find someone whose work I want to publish.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Zhana: One of my first rejections was when a chapter of a novel, which had been published as a short story, was rejected when I later submitted the novel to the same publisher for consideration. I didn’t deal with it that well!
Morgen: The early ones are always hard, I think for most writers it gets easier as they get more determined. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Zhana: I am updating some of my ebooks including Shaking the Money Tree, which is about how to raise money through sponsorship for business, education and arts projects. I also have a few more projects on the go, but I don’t talk about my works in progress.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day?
Zhana: Yes, I pretty much write every day. Sometimes I write several blog posts in a day. Blogging really helps to develop the habit of writing daily. This is one of the things I mention in Write Your Book in Two Days. Writing daily helps you to develop your individual voice, your writing style and your confidence. My first book, meaning the first one I wrote entirely on my own, was Success Strategies, which is now called Success Strategies for Black People. I wrote it in one 24-hour period.
Morgen: Wow, that’s good going. It doesn’t sound like you suffer from it but what’s your opinion of writer’s block?
Zhana: I definitely have had painful experiences of writer's block in the past. That is one of the things that led me to write Write Your Book in Two Days – the desire to help others with this issue. In the book, I describe when I went on a full-time writing course and found that I could not write! That was awful. But I overcame it. I now find that my creativity flows, and stopping writing is more of a problem! But I am still challenged by getting back to fiction-writing. This is an ongoing process. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is one of the main methods I use tackle difficulties and obstacles, including writer’s block.
Morgen: That must have been incredibly frustrating having spent the money for the course but definitely onwards and upwards by the sound of it. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Zhana: My inspiration comes from everywhere. My own life, news stories. And my imagination.
Morgen: Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Zhana: I've done both. Plotting the story can be very stifling, so I prefer to have an idea and have thoughts about where I want it to go, but be open to change.
Morgen: A healthy mixture, I’m the same really. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Zhana: I write about what I feel passionate about. I also write about problems and difficulties that other people are facing. My aim in my writing is to help people to overcome their difficulties and change their lives. So any time I find a process or an approach that is valuable for people, I blog about it or write an article about it.
Morgen: You’re very generous. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Zhana: I sent a copy of Shaking the Money Tree to a colleague of mine and ended up completely changing the structure because of her feedback. I sometimes ask colleagues to review my books.
Morgen: A second opinion is often invaluable, often thinking as a reader would. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Zhana: My work is definitely more fully-formed, but I think it’s always important to do some editing, including getting an overview to make sure it all hangs together.
Morgen: How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Zhana: I practice Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and that is feeding into my writing more and more. I also do a lot of reading in the field of personal development. I am working on getting more feedback, particularly on my blogs.
Morgen: I was surprised at the low percentage of comments left compared with visitors to my blog (not that I’m complaining!) but I like to think they still went away informed and entertained. :) What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Zhana: I often have an idea for an article or blog buzzing around in my head when I wake up in the morning, and I am eager to get it down on paper as quickly as possible. With fiction, something may roll around in my mind for months before I decide to physically start writing it down. I need to have an angle first – I need to know what the point is of what I want to write. This is sometimes the case with nonfiction as well. Then I have an “aha!” moment. But I never really know what is going to come out until my pen touches the paper.
Morgen: And isn’t that great? That’s my favourite bit. :) Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Zhana: With nonfiction, I tend to write on the computer, as I am often planning to publish my work online. I have been known to scribble with pen and paper on the bus, though! With fiction, I prefer to write with paper and pen, which is more intimate.
Morgen: And uses a different part of the brain, apparently. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Zhana: When writing on the computer, I often have the TV on next to me.
Morgen: You’re more disciplined than me, I find myself gawping at the TV too easily (but then I don’t watch much of it, it’s Radio 2 or Classic FM for me). What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Zhana: My favourite is when my writing is flowing, when I have a good idea, point or perspective and I can communicate it well. My least favourite is lack of confidence, which still affects my fiction-writing to some extent. That is one of the major components of writer’s block.
Morgen: That’s such a shame, especially as you enjoy it so much. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Zhana: How much easier it gets. The more I do, the more it flows.
Morgen: It does, which is why I love things like NaNoWriMo as having a deadline gets me writing chunks. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Zhana: Read my book Write Your Book in Two Days. It gives lots of advice about how to get support for your writing process so that you keep going, keep improving and don’t give up!
Morgen: As the saying goes, “a successful writer is one who didn’t give up”. What do you like to read?
Zhana: I have always read science fiction and fantasy, which I love because there are no limits to where the imagination can go. The Belgariad and The Mallorean, two fantasy series by David Eddings, are funnier than the Lord of the Rings trilogy but just as gripping. And I recommend the late, great Isaac Asimov because of his imagination coupled with his humanity. I also really love the novels of the late Octavia Butler, an African American science fiction author. She combines her understanding of the Black experience with an enormous imagination and talent. Toni Morrison is probably my favourite literary author. Lately, I have been reading historical novels by Lisa See, a Chinese American novelist.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Zhana: When I’m not writing? Whatever do you mean?
Morgen: <laughs> Like me; live and breathe writing. :) Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Zhana: I have lots of recommendations and links on this Squidoo lens: http://www.squidoo.com/Best_Content_for_Your_Ebook.
My interview with novelist Lisa See is on this lens: http://www.squidoo.com/Why_Visualization_Does_Not_Work.
When I come across articles I find helpful, which I want to share with other writers, I sometimes post links to them on my blog: http://writers-secrets.blogspot.com.
Morgen: That sounds great. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Zhana: I am in the UK, which can be a bit of a hindrance when trying to connect with an African American audience, but the internet is a great help with this. Being in the UK makes it easier for me to connect with writers from Africa and the Caribbean.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Zhana: I am learning a lot from the Published Authors group on LinkedIn, and its Self-Publishing sub-group. I also belong to the Black Writers forum on LinkedIn. I have a writers’ forum here: http://writersresources.multiply.com
I also run my own forum for Black writers here: http://blackbooksstuff.multiply.com
Morgen: You do so much, is there anywhere else to go to find out about you and your work?
Zhana: My Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Zhana/e/B003U79JVQ/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
My ebooks on Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Zhana
My ebooks on e-junkie: http://www.e-junkie.com/Zhana21
My articles and blogs: http://www.zimbio.com/Personal+Development+-+Achieve+Fabulous+Success and http://www.zimbio.com/Black+Success
My interviews with Black writers: http://ancestralenergies.blogspot.com/2011/05/truth-about-black-writers-3.html and http://www.e-junkie.com/Zhana21/product/450313.php#More+Black+Success+Volume+9
My Facebook pages: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Positive-Change-and-Transformation/119751231431134?sk=wall
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shaking-the-Money-Tree/110209745734193?sk=wall and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writers-Secrets/108789369175091
This is some of my poetry: http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewPoetry.asp?AuthorID=6641
Morgen: My goodness. I see what you mean about doing nothing else… and I thought I was busy. :) What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Zhana: I have been reading science fiction since I was a child (i.e., for more than 40 years). But I do not recall anybody writing about the changes we have seen including the rise of the internet, social networking, smart phones or other information technology. The only thing I remember them predicting accurately was the video phone. So I really cannot say what the future may hold. Having said that, I can say with some confidence that technology is allowing writers to take back control, through self-publishing and ebook publishing. The sales of ebooks on Amazon are outstripping the sales of printed books. Traditional publishers MAY become obsolete. I think people, including writers, are losing knowledge of spelling, grammar and punctuation, which is a great shame. I expect this will continue.
Morgen: That’s a big topic on LinkedIn (as you’ve probably spotted) but I still maintain that reader reviews will lead the way with self-publishing… a writer can only have so many friends. :) Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Zhana: Thank you so much for interviewing me and for publishing these interviews. It can be very illuminating to read interviews with other writers.
Morgen: I love receiving them. It’s amazing, despite asking the same questions, how different that answers can be, and I’m still learning all the time. Is there a question you’d like to ask me? :)
Zhana: How, when and why did you start to publish these interviews? And what kind of feedback have you received about them?
Morgen: I started the blog at the end of March this year and a little while later was asked to do a couple of interviews and enjoyed them so I started asking on Twitter and Facebook if anyone would like to take part. This was mid-June this year and I’ve been getting enough in to run one a day (I did do two a day early on but then started the guest posts, spotlights etc). The feedback has been really good. I don’t think I’ve really had anything negative and the interviews seem to be popular because they’re not just Q&As but more of a “fireside chat” (as one reader commented). It takes about half and hour to an hour a day just to read them and slot my comments in but worth it, I think. Thank you Zhana. :)
I then invited Zhana to include an extract of her writing…
She had gone out on one date with him. Well, it wasn't really a date. He had offered to meet her at the party and drive her home, and she had accepted. But she had not expected him to follow her from room to room.
They chatted on the drive home and, as she got out of the car, he said, "Can I call you?". Remembering this later, she recalled he had made it sound like a threat. But she had said, "Yes".
He was a good man. If women could just see, if they would just give him a chance, they would see that he was a good man.
But they never did. A solid man with a steady paycheck, one who would always be there for her, trustworthy, reliable - that's what women always said they wanted. A man like him, one you could depend on.
He was so ready to love. So eager to give his heart. If only someone, if only one woman could see him for what he really was. See that he was ready to love her forever.
And so he phoned her. Two or three times a week. And she would take longer and longer to come to the phone, and end the conversation as quickly as possible.
He phoned her over and over again. Hoping. Just hoping. Really, really hoping to hear something in her voice that said, I'm glad you called. I enjoy hearing the sound of your voice. Really, really hoping she would smile and say, call me again real soon. But knowing she was pulling away from him like they always did.
Until the day she said, "Please don't call me again". And he heard the "click" as she hung up the phone.
That was how it started.
Zhana is a modern griot, writer, publisher and Transformational Growth Consultant. Author of Black Success Stories and Success Strategies for Black People, as well as The Key to Everything and Write Your Book in Two Days.
Zhana's books, courses and ebooks contain practical, effective methods to help you achieve your unlimited possibilities.
- If you have been working on something for a long time
- If you have tried different methods
- If you are feeling frustrated, fed up or disappointed with your results
Zhana frequently publishes online articles and blogs which feature practical, effective methods.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the questions. You complete them, I tweak them where appropriate (if necessary to reflect the blog ‘clean and light’ rating) and then they get posted. When that’s done, I email you with the link so you can share it with your corner of the literary world. And if you have a writing-related blog / podcast and would like to interview me… let me know. :) You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at Smashwords, Sony Reader Store, Barnes & Noble, iTunes Bookstore, Kobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.
Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them)
:) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are weekly episodes, usually released Monday mornings UK time, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.