Hi everyone! Today I’m introducing fellow Shewrites member, Michele Berger on her first ever interview on my blog. She has a new novella coming out, so let’s show her some love.
What is the book about?
What if a visit to the salon could kill you? What if a hair product harbored a deadly virus? My sci-fi novella, Reenu-You chronicles five women in the 1990s who find themselves yoked together coping with the spread of a mysterious virus. Reenu-You allows me to play with several topics: the social and political meanings of hair, female friendships and viruses.
The story follows two main characters, Kat and Constancia. Kat, an out of work ski instructor, just wants to pack up her dead mother’s things, leave New York City and return to Aspen. Constancia, a talented but troubled young woman, just wants to start her first semester of college.
They both use a new hair product called “Reenu-You”. Within days, along with other women of color, they find themselves covered in purple scab-like legions— a rash that pulses, oozes, and spreads in spiral patterns. Kat and Constancia find themselves at the epicenter of a mysterious virus spreading throughout the city. Is it corporate malfeasance or an orchestrated plot to kill minority women?
Kat and Constancia are forced to confront their deepest fears to save themselves and others.
When did you start writing the book?
The seed for this idea began way back in the mid-1990s!
How long did it take you to write it?
I got the initial draft down quickly and then as the years went on a novel developed around the novella. As I worked on the novel, I continually developed Kat and Constancia’s stories. About three years ago, I did a major revision and decided to pull the novella from the sprawling novel. The women in Reenu-You were always at the heart of the story.
Where did you get the idea from? What was the source of inspiration behind your book?
I got the seed of the idea from watching the drama of the ‘Rio’ scandal unfold.
In the early 1990s The World Rio Corporation released a product known as Rio, billed as a natural hair relaxer, marketed almost exclusively to Black women, and as an option to traditional relaxers. This was a very well promoted product with slick and enticing infomercials. Rio promised an easy and healthy alternative to other products on the market. Soon though women began reporting horrible reactions to Rio including itchy scalps, oozing blisters and significant hair loss. A class action lawsuit revealed that there was nothing natural, at all, about Rio. Rio actually contained a number of highly acidic chemicals!
I’ve always been interested in the politics of hair, Black hair culture and viruses, so the Rio scandal provided a perfect runway to imagine ‘what if’.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
I’m pretty obsessed with pugs and can easily fall down the rabbit hole watching pug videos. One of my other favorite ways to relax is playing games with friends. At least twice a month I get together with a group of friends that love to play a variety of board games.
If Reenu-You was turned into a movie, who would you like to play which character? Why?
This is such a fun question! For Kat, I can see several possible actors including Alicia Keys, Gabrielle Union, Samantha Mumba and Nesta Cooper. I think all of them could embody Kat’s intensity and sometime cynical outlook.
Any advice that you would like to give to other writers?
It takes commitment, dedication and the ability to persist long enough to get good enough at your craft. Years ago, my writing teacher, shifted my perspective on submitting one’s work and coping with rejection. She declared that as part of claiming the mantle of a writer, one should strive to gather at least 99 rejections. I sat in her workshop feeling pretty smug thinking that surely with all the years that I have been trying to get published I reached that number, no problem. Later, when I reviewed my submission file, I was shocked to realize that I wasn’t even half way close to 99 rejections! This revelation spurred me on submit my work, in a serious and organized way.
I have probably gathered over 400 rejection slips over the last decade or so (more if I start from 1997 when I first started sending out work!), before getting widely published. Some people have acquired more rejections, some less. It took that long to 1) figure out what I love to write 2) write it well enough that an editor wants to publish it and/or pay me.
Embrace the cycle of submission, rejection, rewrite, and (occasional) acceptance. Submitting your work helps you understand markets and can build rapport with editors. Editors may not accept the piece you submitted but may encourage you to submit something else. Submit your work consistently. Try to have 3-5 pieces circulating at all times. Think of your effort as a component of your writing apprenticeship.