Friday, March 18, 2011

Interview with Anjuelle Floyd, author of "The House"

Anjuelle Floyd is the author of Keeper of Secrets…Translations of an Incident, a collection of interconnected short stories, and a novel, The House, published in October 2010. She is a wife of twenty-eight years, mother of three, and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in mother-daughter relations and dream work.

A graduate of Duke University, she received her MA in Counseling Psychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and she has attended the Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley, California. Anjuelle received a MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, Port Townsend, Washington. She has also received certificates of participation from The Hurston-Wright Writers’ Week and The Voices of Our Nations Writing Workshops.

A student of Process Painting for the last decade, Anjuelle has participated in The Art of Living Black Exhibitions 2004-2011 held at the Richmond Art Center in California. Anjuelle facilitates writing groups and provides individual consultation of fiction projects. She also gives talks on The Need for Family, The Writing Process as a Path Toward Self-Discovery and Healing. Anjuelle hosts Book Talk, Creativity and Family Matters, a blog talk radio show at

Tell us about The House. What was your inspiration behind this book?

I wrote The House as a result of taking a writing class entitled, Story Basics. Having earned my MFA in Creative Writing I was scheduled to teach the class in a masters level writing programs. My experience as a student in the class served as training for me to teach it.

The main primer for the class, Story Basics, is Writing for Story by Jon Franklin, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Essayist. In Writing for Story, Franklin addresses the importance of career writers learning to develop an outline or blueprint for writing their fiction.

Upon graduating my MFA program I began exploring various ways and methods for planning out my stories and novels, but that also left enough undiscovered territory that I gained even more excitement to write the story. I wanted to develop or find an outline that fueled my desire to write, not take it away with planning to point of leaving no mystery.

The Franklin Outline as explained in Writing For Story did that for me. A requirement of the class is to use Franklin’s Outline or some variation thereof to plan a story or novel and then write the story or beginning of the novel, about 10,000 words. I had intended to write a short story. Focusing on craft allowed me to enter that gray area of life that I love to explore.

What have you learned through writing this book?

I learned much about the art and skill of crafting novels during the process of The House. My first publication, Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident, is a collection of short stories. The short stories served as my thesis in earning my MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College.

Unlike with Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident, that was traditionally published, I formed my own company and published The House. I wore both the hat of the artist and writer and the cap of the publisher, entrepreneur. I worked with the graphic artist who developed my cover, I worked with the editor who helped me revise The House, I started my website, and began writing and posting blogs on a consistent basis. I opened accounts at Facebook, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc. I joined Twitter and began tweeting, though I am yet to understand how it works. Then again writing requires the author to become comfortable with hanging out in the unknown.

I hired a person to format my book. And I purchased a computer program that would allow me to begin learning how to lay out a book for print. Much like the central character of The House, Anna, I became a businesswoman along with being an artist. I have learned that the two fit quite nicely hand-in-hand.

I also learned that while recent developments in computer and Internet technology allow us as publishers to print a book in a matter of 30 minutes or less, the human creativity which sits at the very center of crafting a story works on a time that is all its own. The human imagination cannot be rushed. Stories take time. Every story holds the parallel plots--that of the protagonist in the story, and the writer crafting the story. Both are intricately bound, one no more important than the other.

For our stories to move and transform readers, nudge and shift their perspectives and consciousness the words we write must affect and change us. In short I learned patience and perseverance. “Bird by bird,” as Annie Lamott says. Chop wood. Carry water. Plant flowers along the way, as a Jesuit priest urged, “One daffodil at a time.”

How did you get started writing?
Studying psychology and becoming a licensed and practicing psychotherapist has given me a strong background for developing characters. That I also studied various spiritualities and religions gave me the understanding of how a person’s spirituality and religious beliefs, or lack thereof, reveal another important aspect of personality and character that provides the basis for plot.

My postgraduate internship took me to the counseling center at a local college. By the end of the fall semester, Thanksgiving, I knew I needed to take some time off. I had been in school for four years straight. My children were ages 8-years-old and 5-years-old. I was tired.

On returning to work after Thanksgiving, I announced I would be ending my internship when the college closed for Christmas break. The director of the counseling center was very upset. He acted like a jilted lover, a lonely and bereft husband. His behavior was quite strange.

In an effort to gain some clarity as to what was going in my relationship with the director I sought an astrology reading from my former astrology teacher. The astrologer explained that I had been married to the director in a past life and that my choosing to leave the center was a replay of my having left him in a past life. A day or two later, in early December, I sat down to write an essay about the experience of my choosing to leave -- a way of clearing my head. I’d been to the hair salon and returned home with a splitting headache, not normally the case when I’d visited my hair stylist.

The situation at the college was weighing on me. I went to the computer with an intent to write about the situation, clear my head. I set my fingers onto the computer keys with plans to write an essay. Instead and began writing the opening pages to a novel, set in 1892. Astonished, I kept writing mainly to see what was going to happen next. This continued for four years.

I left the college counseling center but continued writing. A year later I began another internship at a correctional facility. I also joined a collective where I built a private practice internship.

During this time I learned of the practice of process painting. I continued working as a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, while writing on my novel, and painting. The novel I began, Subtle Incantations, which I now realize is a trilogy, is set in 1892, and chronicles the life of Lilah Montgomery Bearden, who while married to a Britishman and living in England, falls in love with the surgeon who saves her life from a gunshot wound. Born in 1865 while the Battle of Antietam was taking place, Lilah was the daughter of African American slaves.

On gaining licensure in 1999, three months after giving birth to our third child, I began painting more often, 2-3 3-hour sessions each week. During July of 2000 I wrote my second novel in 2 weeks. I have been told this is a common pattern. A writer will work on their first novel for several years and then write a second one in half or much less the time. My second novel is entitled The Road to Ibadan.
In 2001 I attended the Hurston-Wright Writers’ Week. I returned in the summer of 2002, but after I had also attended The Voices of Our Nations (VONA) writing workshops here in San Francisco. From 2001-2004 I studied under Clive Matson, a local poet, and writer who facilitates weekly writing groups. Three years ago, a local paper, The Express, voted Clive as the Bay Area’s Best Writing Teacher. Having earned a MFA in Writing from Columbia, Clive received the 2003 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles National Literary Award for An Eye for An Eye Makes the Whole World Blind, an anthology of 911 poems that he and the late Allen Cohen compiled.

In the summer of 2004 I entered Goddard College MFA Program in Creative Writing. Upon graduation in 2006, Three Muses Press, an imprint of Ink and Paper Group, published what had been my MFA thesis, and is entitled, Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident, a collection of 8 interconnected short stories. My novel, The House, debuted in October 2010

What is your writing process like?

While I am an abstract painter I have never used any of my work in my writings. I write my stories on a desktop computer at the desk in our study. Everyone knows this is my place. Interestingly enough I sketch my outlines, in a spiral notebook. I am forever buying spiral notebooks. I especially like the thick ones with 200 pages when I am beginning a story. With 200 pages I can not only refine my outline, I can make notes about scenes, how I want to change, them. I have the space to even sketch some scenes that I then type in full presentation on the computer. Once I’ve made a preliminary
outline according to Jon Franklin’s plan, I then brainstorm about scenes. This inevitably leads to writing out 60-66 scenes in order or occurrence and stating in 1-2 sentences what takes place in each scene and ultimate climax.

Novels either come together or crumble during the middle. And middle of a book is the hardest to write. And since plot is not my strong suit, I give a lot of attention to organizing and list out the domino effect of cause-and-effect actions my protagonist takes to address their dilemma once they have reached the point in the story where she or he cannot turn back. This point usually signals the end of the beginning and the start of the middle.

Nothing is set in stone, but each day when I sit down to write I have a map. And yet a map is not the terrain. So many things can and do happen when I actually write out the scene. This is the fun part, when discoveries are made and I experience aha moments. Planning and outlining my stories allows me the freedom to just write a scene without worry of getting off track. This allows my imagination to play even more and takes my stories to greater depths.

My routine is to write one novel a year. I usually do this in the fall around October and November. I am usually finished in December. I lay aside the rough draft of that novel and then start on revising the novel I have written from the previous year. I take a novel through several revisions. I wrote The House in January 2007, laid it aside and returned to it in fall of 2008. From October 2008 to May 2010 I took through 3-4 revisions. When I am writing a novel I try to write something each day. Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo that asks that you write 1600 words a day.

I’m finding that can be a bit much to expect from yourself. This year I have started my novel at the outset of October with a goal of 800 words a day. That’s about 4 pages a day. I should have the rough draft finished by mid-December. When I’m revising novel I print out the entire novel, and read each page while making edits as I go. I usually read about 50 to 100 pages and then take those pages with my notations made in red, blue, green or purple and go and insert changes based on my notes
onto the computer draft.

How do you get ideas for what you write?

As a psychotherapist I naturally love observing people in the world. I am also drawn to introspection. And then there is my family and most of all my spirituality which is intricately connected to and that forms the cornerstone of my interactions with my family.

Islam teaches that we, particularly as mothers, serve God by and when we are caring for our families. Hinduism says, “Blessed is the householder.” It sees the years we spend caring for our families as a time of spiritual development. The ashram serves as our home. Through giving ourselves over to our families, we take on the opportunity to access and become aware of facets of ourselves that without the presence and relationships with our children we would otherwise ignore or never realize.

I have met so many people in my work as a stay at home mother. Interactions with teachers, parents of my children’s fellow schoolmates, have taught me so much about psychology, long after I earned my MA in Psychology and attained licensure to practice. Our children ages 23, 18, and 11 share a much about their lives with us. My husband and are very fortunate in that the depths of our relationships and interactions with our children has grown as they have drawn near adulthood.

With all this I have many people to observe, many people to mirror facets of myself yet discovered and revealed. The intersection of my inner experience with those I encounter through my work as a wife, mother and psychotherapist raise and uncover many conflicts common to families and individuals. Those conflicts with which I identify and stir my fascination inspire me to write.

Barbara Kingsolver said that ever story or novel seeks to answer a question. Psychotherapists are forever asking questions, encouraging and facilitating our clients to probe the plumb their imaginations for ways to access their true nature, and strength, in an effort to address their life conflicts.

As I observe the life of others while mindful of what I bring to each encounter more questions arise. And let us not forget, children are forever asking questions. Sometimes it is in response or our attempts to address the inquisitions of my children that I descend to even more questions. When this happens either through interaction with my children or simply myself, the thought, “What if...” takes hold in my mind. From there comes an idea, a map of possibilities, the sum of which won’t let me go. If it sticks around long enough, this gnawing and pondering, wondering and thinking some a story usually forms in my head. The next thing I do is sketch a light outline, one that clarifies my ideas for the story and helps me figure out whether I have enough to write a story.

What is your biggest advice for other young people reaching for their dreams?

Listen to your heart.
Follow your passion.
Lay down a plan.
Plant one daffodil at a time.
Once they’ve blossomed stop and smell them.
Chop wood. Carry water.

What are some of your favorite books?
  • A Sin of Color by Sunetra Gupta
  • Black Boy: American Hunger by Richard Wright
  • Passing and Quicksand by Nella Larsen
  • Bangalore Stories: The Red Carpet by Lavanya Sankaran
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kirin Desai
  • The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
  • The Doctor and The Diva by Adrienne McDonnell
  • The William Monk Series by Anne Perry
  • Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you, Dallas, for this interview opportunity, and for your patience in getting it to you. Life is forever crazy with us writers. And sometimes we have to stop and attend to family. It is always because of them that we write. I appreciate all the support from reviewers, people who have purchased copies of The House, and fans.

I will be doing a series of Facebook, Twitter and Book Chats in April 2011. Visit and sign up for my blog to get the dates.

Imagination is the key to freedom. The artist’s job is to cultivate and nurture her or his imagination and that of others. Peace and Blessings.

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