Interview with Alretha Thomas, author of "Dancing Her Dreams Away"


An author, playwright, producer and director, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. Award winning plays and wanting to help her community, Alretha’s background is as diverse as her personality. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class – that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. Continuing in high school, her numerous original oratorical conquests on the Speech Team led her to a journalism concentration at the University of Southern California. Upon graduating, Alretha soon realized that her interest in journalism was not heartfelt. While at the taping of a live sitcom, the producer noticed her and encouraged her hand at modeling. Modeling didn’t mean much to her, but it did lead her to acting and a NAACP Theatre Award Nomination (1993) for BEST ACTRESS. She feels that this acting stint gave her more fuel to write, and particularly, a better understanding of character development.
Alretha left acting and began to write full time. Her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces – the community response was overwhelming. This led to full length plays outside of the church including Alretha’s play, Sacrificing Simone (2007) which had a successful run at Stage 52 in Los Angeles and was called “an inspirational crowd pleaser” by the Los Angeles Times and her most recent work, the ground breaking OneWoman, Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by Denise Dowse, which garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences. In between plays, Alretha’s first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008.
You can find out more about her and her book at http://www.Dancingherdreamsaway.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Alretha. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing? 

A: If you look up miracle in the dictionary, you’ll see my smiling face staring back at you. Eighteen years ago, if you had told me I’d be participating in an interview with The Writer’s Life regarding my second novel Dancing Her Dreams Away, I would have directed you to the nearest lost and found so you could hopefully locate your mind. There’s no way a young, black girl raised in a San Francisco housing project, with a sickly mother on welfare, and an abusive jailbird father could be a writer. There’s no way that girl, who finds her mother’s lifeless body on the living room sofa, at the age of fourteen, could even think about writing, let alone, graduate second in her high school and get a scholarship to U.S.C. There’s no way that girl, who becomes anorexic, bulimic, and addicted to drugs and alcohol, could have any hopes of becoming a writer. Well, miracles do happen, and with determination and faith in God, I was able to overcome my obstacles and fulfill my fifth grade teacher’s prophecy, that one day I’ll be a published writer.

Q: Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A: The readers who fell in love with my debut novel Daughter Denied, a book loosely based on my childhood, inspired me to write my second novel Dancing Her Dreams Away. Now, if you told them this, they would probably give you a blank stare, because they actually wanted me to write the sequel to Daughter Denied. I believe in giving my fans what they want, and I attempted to write the sequel, but the concept for the sequel was all in my head and there was nothing in my heart. I actually completed the sequel and titled it Daughter Denied Again. It was over 300 pages, but 300 pages of heartless prose. A writer's group that I belong to confirmed my suspicions, and I ended up trashing the entire book. I was devastated to say the least. I was beginning to feel like a one-book-wonder. I stepped back and meditated. Inside I knew there was a second novel just waiting to be born. Then it hit me. My new protagonist was not Tina, but Shelia. I reflected on the time in my life twenty-five years ago, when like my major character, I was pursuing an acting career. And like, Shelia, I needed a night job so I could audition during the day, so I got a job as a dance hostess in a taxi-dancing club. Taxi-dancing clubs, where men pay by the minute to dance and talk to pretty, young women, were very popular in the 20's and the 30's. There's no alcohol, drugs, nudity, or touching allowed. The clubs still exist in downtown Los Angeles, and I recently read that one of the clubs was busted for allowing prostitution. Back in the day, when I worked there, if the girls were involved in prostitution, it wasn't on the premises. Shelia is happy she lands the job, but when her acting career seems to be going nowhere, she fears she'll end up stuck at the club Dancing Her Dreams Away. So when her agent tells her about a part that would require her to go topless, she ignores her grandmother's teachings and auditions for the role. Shelia gets the part, falls for the producer, and he falls for her. Unbeknownst to Shelia, the producer also has a dream, but will his dream become Shelia’s worst nightmare?

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it? 

A: There are many scenes in Dancing Her Dreams Away that are inspired by my own experiences. As a result, I found myself tapping into memories and feelings that are not very pleasant to say the least. It was also difficult to write the scenes that depict Shelia being abused. As a woman, I felt guilty about putting a female character in peril, but I knew I had to be true to the story. Initially I held back and was careful about how far I would go, but then I realized the readers, when reading those sections of the book, would get a feeling that I was restraining myself. When I write, I have to write from my heart and soul, and I pour that energy into the book. I believe that readers can feel my energy and connect to it. If I'm bored, if I'm tired, or even hungry, that energy will seep into the heart of the book. So I willed myself to let go and let Shelia go through what she had to go through. Writing the aftermath of Shelia's experience with the producer was also very trying. I won't get into details about the aftermath, because I would spoil it for the readers. However, I went through a similar experience and it was difficult reliving certain incidents. I also had trepidation about revealing too much. What would people think? The way I describe the incidents is so real readers would surmise that I had firsthand knowledge about what Shelia goes through post the producer.

Q: Do you have a press kit and what do you include in it? Does this press kit appear online and, if so, can you provide a link to where we can see it?

A: Yes, I have a press consist that includes my photo, bio, a press release, and synopsis of “Dancing Her Dreams Away.” The same information can be found on my website. www.Dancingherdreamsaway.com.

Q: Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV? What are your upcoming plans for doing so? 

A: Like every proud mother, I love talking about “Dancing Her Dreams Away.” It’s my baby. I have spoken at luncheons, church events, large book club events, and have been featured on numerous Blogtalk Radio Shows. I am in the process of landing an interview on a Los Angeles public affairs radio show and am going to be a featured author at a book club meeting that will be taped to be included in a pilot for a Book Club Reality Show.

Q: Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one? 

A: At present, I do not have an agent, but am hoping with the success of Dancing Her Dreams Away, an agent may consider offering me representation.

Q: Did you, your agent or publisher prepare a media blitz before the book came out and would you like to tell us about it? 

A: My media blitz consisted of numerous press releases about the book and the subsequent book launch. Additionally, I have a trailer for Dancing Her Dreams Away. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ysl8PJVi5Ig

Q: Do you plan subsequent books? 

A: My next book is titled Married in the Nick of Nine. It’s about a woman who’s determined to meet and marry The One before her 30th birthday which is nine months away. She meets a guy named Nick and falls head over hills. Does it work out? I am at the beginning stages of this novel.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Alretha. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book? 

A: Dancing Her Dreams Away is available on Amazon.com. I can be reached at the following sites. www.Dancingherdreamsaway.com. http://www.facebook.com/people/Alretha-Thomas/1010659574 http://twitter.com/#!/DancingHerDream http://www.myspace.com/dancingherdreamsaway
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