Featuring Bury Me When I’m Dead by Cheryl A. Head
Bury Me When I’m Dead
Originally from Detroit, Cheryl A. Head now lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where she navigated a successful career as a writer, television producer, filmmaker, broadcast executive, and media funder. Her debut novel, Long Way Home: A World War II Novel, was a 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist in both the African American Literature and Historical Fiction categories. When not writing fiction, she’s a passionate blogger, and she regularly consults on a wide range of diversity issues.
If you were to stand up in front of a room full of strangers and introduce yourself, what would you say?
I’m a second-career writer, but I’ve been a storyteller all my life. I wrote a lot of poetry, even as a very young girl. I had non-fiction work published while in college, and I became a news writer early in my media career. I worked as a radio and TV reporter and producer in Detroit, where I was born, and moved to Washington, DC to continue my work in public broadcasting at the national level. That work gave me vast opportunities to travel, work with highly creative people, and hone my own creativity.
What authors and books have had the most profound influence on you as a writer? As a reader?
As a reader, I’d have to say a lot of poetry moves me. And, sometimes I read poetry to get my writing juices flowing. Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Christina G. Rossetti. I once read a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Victorian poet) about growing old that, even as a very young woman, broke my heart. I don’t even remember the name of the poem, only how it made me feel. “Incident” a short poem by Harlem Renaissance writer Countee Cullen, is so relevant today that I read it at least once a year. As a writer, I’m inspired by the writers who find inspiration in diversity and whose characters are capable of great empathy: Walter Mosely, Gloria Naylor, Edward P. Jones, Penny Mickelbury, Octavia Butler, Alexander McCall Smith. I was profoundly moved by the novel House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III. And, of course, Katherine Forrest’s novels changed my life. Oh, and here’s a shameful insight about me: Toni Morrison is too deep for me. I applaud her and her work, but I can’t get through it. I guess I’m too shallow.
When did you first, without hesitation, call yourself a writer?
Because of my media background, I guess I thought of myself more of a producer rather than writer for much of my career, because even though I was writing my own stories, I was also organizing the resources to get the stories told. In some ways that has made it easier for me to work as an indie fiction writer. So, I think I’d have to say 2009. That’s when I took an early retirement from my corporate day job to write.
Is writing a job, or a vocation?
On the spectrum of vocation to job, it is definitely closer to being a job, although I’m not dependent upon my writing to pay my bills, thank god. But, as a matter of effort and importance, writing is definitely work and not a hobby. I guess I’ll never see writing as a job. More as a duty to tell stories about human connection.
Describe your writing style in 10 words or fewer.
Terse. Observational. Humorous. Thought-provoking.
What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I love coming up with titles. Also, I write a lot of story beginnings. I write those all the time. I’ll see a person, or get a question stuck in my head, or hear someone speaking, or even walking, and I get an idea for a story. That’s my favorite part of the process. But once you have the idea, it has to follow a trajectory and have a resolution. Damn, that’s hard work. I’d be great if my job was writing the first act of three-act plays.
When you hear from your readers, what do they most often say?
I hear from readers that they like my characters and say the characters often stay with them after they’ve finished reading the book. Maybe that’s because I like the characters and it comes through in my writing. Even my antagonists usually have some likable or relatable quality. Readers also tell me I can write strong action scenes, and weave a scene with compactness.
One of the most challenging things an author faces is getting their books into the hands of readers. If a potential reader asks, “Why should I read your book?” What answer would you give?
My answer is: I like to tell stories you haven’t heard before, or at least ones in which ideas are linked in ways you don’t expect. In my first book, Long Way Home: A World War II Novel, the story is about the everyday lives of black soldiers during World War II. My characters, including an African-American woman soldier, were like the majority of “negro” soldiers in WWII-far away from the front lines of the war, serving in a segregated army where they were more tolerated than accepted.
In my second novel, Bury Me When I’m Dead, being published by Bywater Books, I have a character who says about a tricky family secret, “What good is morality without compassion?”
Those are the kinds of linkages I like to offer.
What one question do you wish someone would ask about your writing, but no one has? What would your answer be?
I wish Oprah would call me and say: I’ve read your first novel, and I’d like to produce a film adaptation. Would you consider that? My answer would be, “Oprah, I’ve been waiting for your call.”