Hello everyone! And welcome back to my author interview series.
Today, I am interviewing Briseis S. Lily, member of Indie Eden Book Club and author of Of Hustle and Heart. Her novel tells the story of a girl named Zina who has to find a way to cope with, not just the normal emotional struggles that come with being a teenager, but also a lot of other financial and personal struggles she is too young to face. Let’s see what Briseis has to say about her book, and about her writing process.
Hi Briseis! Let’s start by finding out which question I might have left out. What is the one question that you wish people would ask you about your latest book? (And what is the answer?)
I think I’m open to most questions that anyone would ask, I’m curious to see and hear what people think about the stories I’m choosing to tell. For my latest book, Of Hustle and Heart—and the series as a whole, it’d be cool if people asked me about how relevant I think Zina’s story is and how it translates in terms of what young women go through in society. These books are written with the experiences and ideas of modern young women in mind and I’d like people to inquire about the vulnerability that Zina is forced to experience and in the ways she comes to terms with how it changes her.
I guess the question would be, “Do I think a massive amount of young girls and women are forced to experience life in a way they are not prepared for?”
To that, my answer is yes. This isn’t a new concept or occurrence and I thought that the conversation needed a refresher, women and young girls need to have this conversation about strength and vulnerability. I think you find one in the other. And truthfully, I’ve not seen a lot of stories like this written about people of color, in a real-world setting, that’s bothersome for me and I know I’m not alone. I wanted to explore it.
Also, I found it was someone’s opinion that they’d wished Zina’s [the lead character’s] strength would’ve held up longer in the story. I think back to 2014, when I first started writing for Zina—I felt then that there were a lot of women and young adult girls who might believe being vulnerable is a weakness. I use to believe this when I was younger, but it’s B.S.
You experience life and people in such a profound, deepening way in times of vulnerability —and it becomes life altering. Vulnerability is strength. Of Hustle and Heart is about drawing strength and creating yourself in times of effed-upness.
That’s a great way to think about it, and a very inspiring answer! Can you give us a short description of your book?
Of Hustle and Heart is about the emotional and financial struggles of a seventeen year old girl and how she copes and manages what her life is and what she wants it to be. It’s the first book in a series featuring the characters Zina Cochrane and Zacarias Moreno. Eventually she meets Zack, they become sort of friends- in passing as they lead separate lives from one another.
Your book is in the young adult/contemporary fiction genre. What drew you to this genre? Do you also like to read books in this genre?
I read Y.A and I mostly read contemporary work. Adult and Y.A. contemporary mostly. Really, I just like a good story. I can’t really remember how I started in this genre. I know I was working on a short-story for a short story competition for writer’s digest magazine. I chose the young adult- romance category, because I’d never tried or considered writing young-adult, I always wrote adult fiction. There were a lot of things happening that fueled my decision to write in this genre. I wanted to write a book that young adults could relate to and that young adults who are P.O.C. (people of color) could see themselves in.
I have been reading the book this week myself, and I can definitely say that it is relatable! Who is your target audience for this book? What do you think will appeal to them about Of Hustle and Heart?
You know, honestly, if you can’t relate to Zina and what she’s going through internally and economically, then you’re probably not my target audience. It seems like stories like Of Hustle and Heart are hard to find. The #ownvoices movement and the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ organization speaks a lot to this. When I wrote Of Hustle and Heart I had no idea any of those two things existed. I was completely unaware of it. I found them after I was published and trying to find the audience. I think my target audience is women ages 13- whatever.
There are women who might’ve been where Zina is in some way. Her particular lived experience might not be yours or mine, but we’ve all been young, confused, hurt, stressed—emotions on full-throttle, to me that’s a universal occurrence. I relate to her because she’s trying, despite the things happening to her and the people she loves, she’s struggling to maintain her independence. She’s 17, she doesn’t know what to do most of the time, but doing nothing isn’t an option for her. I think Zina’s vigilance in the way she approaches everything is super relatable. She’s a survivor.
I love books with strong female characters like that! Moving on to your writing process now, when you write a book, do you plan out everything beforehand, or do you let the story follow its own course?
I don’t really plan, not like, really. I do character development, I write some scenes and I focus on the relationships, developing those, before I start the manuscript. I focus on plotting after I feel good about the characters and the relationships they will develop. I do a lot of character development.
That’s a great idea. I always say that the characters are the most important part of the story, so I like that you make sure you know them really well before you get into the story itself.
Do you have any quirky writing habits?
I keep a small mirror on my desk so when I look up from my computer or notes I see, well—me. Seeing my face keeps my rooted and reminds me of what I believe in and what I’m about. Seeing my reflection, keeps me focused. It’s weird, but in a cool way, maybe?
That actually makes a lot of sense! I never would have thought of that. :) Do you have any writing tips for other writers?
Read a lot and read everything, that’s how I learned.
Write what’s important to you. Write to heal something or someone. And write a lot.
What would you say is the best way to market your book? With which method have you had the most success so far?
Heck if I know. I went to school for marketing but it seems a bit different when you’re marketing something you’re so attached to, something you created. Pretty sure there was a lot of bias, and clouded judgment going on in the beginning. I’ve grown and learned to separate my work from marketing efforts. You definitely can’t take failures personal. Its two different worlds, the business apart from the craft. When you’re the creative and the business it’s a weird thing to sort through. I had a difficult time with it at first I was too emotional about it.
Eventually you gotta separate the business from the creative but you can’t let the business get in front of the creative. As far as marketing goes, essentially the most important thing is getting your work in front of as many readers as possible, this is the goal and the challenge. Get on social media, engage, reach out, build a community, run promos, host giveaways, the list goes on and on.
That’s some really good advice. So, how did your book come to be published? What was your journey to publication like? Did you get a lot of rejection letters before you finally saw your name in print?
So, I went back and forth for a while trying to decide how I’d pursue publication. Indie or self-publishing was not something I wanted to pursue originally. I didn’t know much about it, but it felt like cheating—go traditional was always my belief. My sister pushed me to try it. I mean, she really would come and tell me about all of the authors she’d find through kindle who were self-publishing their work, she was a big believer in it, even though I was side-eyeing her every time she came with that. Eventually I told her I’d look into it. I like challenges, I kinda go the hard way, for some reason, and when I found out through research how challenging self-publishing really was, it excited me. I wanted to step up and see if I could get my book professionally done, and marketed on my own. Plus the industry has a history of not really offering books written by and featuring persons of color in mainstream stories, at least it doesn’t seem like it. So I decided I’d write as much as I want and publish my books under my own publishing company. It’s been really cool. It’s fun and hard as hell sometimes. I do everything 100 percent on my own—funding, writing, marketing, building, whatever needs to be done I do it. It’s satisfying when I think of all the stuff I’ve done. But I have a long way to go. Lots of books to write and stories to tell.
That’s great, you have a really inspiring story! Thank you for sitting down to do this interview with me, and I wish you the best of luck with your books!
About the Author:
Author Briseis S. Lily is a marketing and communications student, turned author living outside the Houston area. She is currently working on the second book in the ‘Of Heart’ series titled ‘Absolution of the Heart’ and publishing her first adult- contemporary novel, both releasing in 2018.
Find out more at briseislily.com.
About the Book:
When twenty-four-year-old Zacarias Moreno catches himself staring at the pensive hazel-skinned girl in the stairwell, he knows it’s inappropriate, yet he can’t help himself. But he’s not the only one looking.
Zina Cochrane’s life is about to get very complicated.
As her senior year at Albert Chesney High School in Houston, Texas, nears its end, Zina is ready to balance her schoolwork and social life with her attempts to hustle up some much-needed cash.
What she doesn’t count on, though, is the danger she’s about to find herself in—or the pain of the heart’s struggle to find true romance.