Q & A: Danielle Santiago
Interview by Narzell Wise
Many people think you have only written one book. Can you please give us a rundown of all your work?
My full length novels are Little Ghetto Girl and Grindin. I also contributed stories to Cream (a novella) Street Love, and Fantasy. A lot of smaller stores didn’t stock my second novel, Grindin because it was released first in hardback. I’ve found that many small stores don’t stock some really big names in hardback because their customers don’t want to pay twenty-five dollars and elect to wait for the paperback. I truly feel that being published in hardback hurt my visibility in the small stores and on the streets.
What year did you first self-publish Little Ghetto Girl: A Harlem Story? How did you go from being self-published to being published by the Simon and Schuster imprint Atria?
I did the first print-run of Little Ghetto Girl in 2002, about a year or so later while in Charlotte, I went to Dynasty Books to see if they would carry my books. I met Brother James who at the time was starting his company, Two of a Kind Publishing. He was looking for a book to launch his company and he asked me for Little Ghetto Girl. Six months or so after we put the book out I hooked up with Vickie Stringer. I hired her as my agent and thirty days later I signed with Atria.
Your latest novel, Allure of the Game is the final installment of the Harlem Story series trilogy. The title sounds intriguing. How did you come up with it? Tell us about the book.
Actually, I came up with the title after listening to Jay-Z’s Black Album. When I first started working on the book (a long time ago), it was tentatively titled Rush Rush Get that Yayo. While writing, I was listening to the Black Album and when “Allure” came on it just did something to me. I mean that song just hit home the first time I heard it. Not only that, the story just happened to be along the same lines. Some readers have already read a portion of the book that was in the Street Love Anthology. In this book, I touch on how good the game can look from the outside, but in reality it is very ugly. This book brings all the main characters back from the first two novels in the Harlem Story series. It also introduces Arnessa, a young woman who is raising her teenage sister by herself. Arnessa deals drugs to support their household, but everything gets complicated when her younger sister, Cenise tries to step into the game and it backfires immediately.
Which name (if any) do you prefer to use when referring to this genre of literature with so many names?
If and when I do use a name, I usually use urban lit because I feel that the best description for most of the books are stories set in an urban area.
Why do you think authors and publishers always seem to get lumped into one box every time something controversial comes up?
They always refer to authors and publishers as one unit. My personal opinion is that the critics especially the negative ones, sometimes can’t separate the two because they feel like whatever the publisher puts out by the author that the publisher must be in agreement with it or share the same views. Which is not necessarily true. A publisher is in the business to make money and if the subject that the author is writing about has a market that publisher is going to put it out. In the case of publishers whose catalogs consist mostly of urban literature titles, they do catch more flack as one unit.
So how is life as an author after recently giving birth? Has it changed your perspective at all?
You know I wrote my first book when I was pregnant with my son, Kaden, who is about to turn nine in two months and finished it not long after giving birth to him. That was pretty easy and I was 22. This time, it’s been pretty difficult since giving birth to Madison only because she is very demanding and she just started to sleep through the night in the last two months. In the beginning, I had to sleep whenever she slept. Now that she’s on a schedule, I’m getting back into the rhythm. I’ve also had to learn to try to write a minimum number of pages a day so that I can get the work done. As far as my perspective, it hasn’t changed it but I do feel the need to go harder now that I have two kids. Not only that, but the fact that I have my own daughter now, I wanna show her more than anybody else how far a woman of color can go.
You seemed to have temporarily disappeared from the scene. Where have you been and what has kept you occupied? Do you think you will have to work harder to reintroduce yourself to readers and get your material back into the public eye?
Not long after Grindin’ was released, my husband was incarcerated in another state. So, for about a year and a half, I had to hold everything down for close to two years. During that time, one of my aunties died and it was just a very trying time. I didn’t travel a lot for signings nor did I get a lot of writing done. Even after my husband came home, I had to readjust to being a wife, a mother, and then a writer. None of those things are easy by themselves. So, I found myself compromising in each area of my life and for a while my writing lost out. I’m still working hard to get Grindin’ out there among readers. As far as my core readers, I don’t have to reintroduce myself because they have been here all along patiently waiting.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the writing and publishing business?
The biggest misconception is that you’re going to jump in and sell tens of thousands of books. I might be a little off on my numbers but I believe it’s something like, only five percent or less of first time books sale more than five thousand copies, while the other ninety-five percent sale less than 2,000 copies.
Tell us about your Mischievous Girl Foundation (MGF)? How did you decide to work with survivors of domestic violence and young girls from the inner city?
Growing up, I saw quite a few of my friends or acquaintances in abusive relationships or making all the wrong decisions simply because they didn’t have anyone to show them another way. After self-publishing my first book, I used to go around speaking at shelters for women who had been abused. These were places that were so secretive I had to go through background checks before my visit because the women’s lives were in danger. What struck me as odd is that these places were filled with mostly young girls, fifteen to early twenties and they all had children. It was so sad that I knew those were the people that I wanted to help get ahead. I also saw the work that Tonya Blount did with survivors of domestic violence and I thought it was wonderful. With all the things that I’ve had going on in my life, my foundation suffered too, but I’ve enlisted some very good people including Tonya Blount to help me revitalize MGF. I plan to begin speaking again, raising money, holding drives for clothes and school supplies.
Anything new or of interest for the readers that you want to share?
I’m working on Luxurious Inc. and I have a few other projects on the back burner. For everything else, they can follow me on Twitter or check out me out on Facebook.
Narzell Wise is an avid reader; she graduated from New York University with a degree in Journalism.
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