Novelist Sandra Kitt is using the premise of winning the lottery to launch a new series. I recently spoke with her about the first book in the series, Winner Takes All.
Tell me about your latest book.
Winner Takes All, the first book in a trilogy, will be released in April 2021. The title of the trilogy is The Millionaires Club. The premise of the trilogy is about people who’ve come into an enormous amount of sudden wealth that they did not earn, and all the joys and headaches that come with having so much disposable money. While all recipients immediately have a list of what they want to buy for themselves, or give to family, there’s also the unexpected appearance of people they barely know asking for money…loans or gifts…and the surprising frivolous lawsuits without merit, especially in the case of Winner Takes All, our hero is faced with.
The hero, already a successful sports broadcaster, wins a Mega Million lottery ticket in New York. The announcement, made from the mayor’s office, reintroduces him to the heroine, a former high school classmate, who is sympathetic to the problems he faces. Almost, former girlfriends and colleagues immediately appear with claims…or threats of additional problems for the hero…if he doesn’t agree to their demands. There is also a subplot of a second chance at love involving the heroine’s parents, and a twist near the end to further complicate the hero and heroine’s lives.
What inspired you to write it?
I was asked to create a trilogy for my publisher, Sourcebooks. The editor loved the idea of characters acquiring sudden enormous wealth and deciding that, other than crazy spending on themselves, they could use some of their wealth to help other people or organizations in need of financial aid. I had to come up with not only the ways in which people get unearned wealth, such as a lottery win, but also the ways in which they can give back to society. Trying to figure out both was challenging but exciting.
When did you fall in love with the written word?
I fell in love with the written word when I was about six or seven, had already learned to read, and fell in love with books and reading. I got my own library card at that time. I was a voracious reader, and my tiny local library was really my second home. It was the family joke that if my parents couldn’t find me it only meant I was at the library. I would easily go through eight to 10 books a week, and I kept that up until I started junior high school when I was 12. What I really loved about reading was my ability to turn the written words into a virtual movie of the stories, in my head! Everything in a book played out in my imagination as a movie. I was the observer, the audience, in my very own private screening room.
Once I got to junior high (middle school) I found myself with more class and homework then I had in elementary school. I continued to read a lot, but not as many as 10 books in a week. I was never able to sustain that again. I especially loved reading in bed at night when I was supposed to have gone to sleep. I kept the book under my pillow. When I woke up, the book was the first thing I reached for, managing to squeeze in some time before I had to get ready for school. I spent a lot of my free time when I wasn’t in school or hanging out with friends, reading. I even had a favorite chair in the living room where I loved to sit and read, with a cup of hot tea. It was really a kind of private ritual. Basically, I was never without a book. Wherever I went I had a book with me to read whenever I could find the time.
What’s the best part of being an author?
I love the excitement I feel when I come up with what I hope is a fresh idea that I hadn’t seen written or published before. That’s how I came up with the very first book I ever wrote. That particular story took 15 years to get published but, The Color of Love, is arguably the first interracial love story, and my most acclaimed book. But at the time I wrote it and tried to get it published, I got a lot of “the industry is not ready for this kind of story” or “we wouldn’t know how to market it, or who the audience would be.” Ridiculous.
Almost all of my books are “what if” or “suppose” type stories in which I present an idea that maybe no one else had thought of before. I loved thinking I may have been the first to come up with some unique stories. As a writer, I also love exploring ideas about the near future of the country (what ifs, again)…not politically but how love changes because of the way the population and mores are changing, right down to how we define who’s an American. Immigration, interracial relationships, the history of race and the ongoing mark its left on the country, a few hundred years of biracial citizens, and other societal changes are what interest me. All these areas contain the possibility for stories that have never been told. I personally love not writing what anyone else is writing. That challenges me as a writer. Can I write something different, and will the reader believe the story? One of the best parts of being a writer is feeling that I’m giving a reader a different experience, maybe teaching something as well as being entertaining.
I really write for myself, first of all. I have to be engaged with the story and love the characters. Then I hope readers will be excited about my stories as well and come on board the reading journey.
What’s the hardest part of being an author?
For me there is a two-part answer to the question of the hardest part of being an author. The first, obviously, is working hard to write the best, most compelling and “fresh” story that I can. It’s said that there are no original ideas, and that there are only seven basic themes that writers traditionally draw on. I am always trying to beat the odds and come up with a new “twist” or angle on an old idea that no one has explored before. There is also the writing work for making sure the story has a strong opening to grab a reader’s attention, and hold it throughout the story. Creating believable characters that the reader will want to root for, and a setting that’s interesting. There’s creative tension and conflict in the story so that a reader is never sure what’s going to happen from chapter to chapter, or even what the end will be. It takes a lot of thought to work out all the connections, keep the action moving, and provide an ending that’s satisfying and makes sense. It’s very hard work because I’m always juggling all these elements of a story in my head!
Once I start writing a book I live with the characters in my head until the book is done. They talk to me, and I get dialogue and fully developed scenes as possibilities for the story. I’ve now gotten into the habit of making sure I always have pen and paper with me so that when those moments of interior story development happen, I can make notes!
I’ve written and published more than 40 books, novellas, short stories…even two film scripts, and a script for a recorded public presentation at a museum. It doesn’t get any easier just because I’ve written so much! I’m constantly working to up my game. And I find myself working harder not to repeat myself. I don’t want any of my books to start to read the same or, horrors, have a reader contact me with the observation that one book I’ve written sounds just like another book I’ve written.
The second thing I find hard…and getting harder…is dealing with the business end of being an author. Of course, there’s making sure you have a fair and equitable contract, as well as working with editors or publishers that really believe in your work. I don’t particularly like writing to a specific audience or a trend. I think of myself more as a writer and not just a Black writer, who writes stories that I want anyone to read. It’s much harder work, but I like to think my stories will or can appeal to a wide audience.
I honestly do not enjoy the promotion marketing part of publishing. Years ago, when I first began writing, the industry had a more structured platform. It was the publisher’s job to promote its authors. We are now in an era where the Internet and all its digital capabilities have allowed publishers to pass a lot of the promo work onto the writer. To me that sort of means a writer is now a kind of “mini’ publishing business. We’re expected to do a lot more beyond just working hard to write a good book.
I have been extremely fortunate in having publishers that share in most of the promo work, and an agent who “has my back” and champions my efforts. And I’ve found other wonderful professionals through organizations I belong to or word of mouth that I can call on to help with some the marketing end.
What books have you read lately and loved?
First of all, when I’m actively working on a book, I almost never have time to read anything. I especially will not read books in the same genre or subject matter that I’m currently writing about. I think this might be true of many fiction writers. You don’t want anything you read to unconsciously influence your own current project. But there’s a double whammy to this rule, in that a writer should/must be keeping up with what’s out in the market and, in particular, what readers are reading, and want to read. This is where I confess that I also don’t, and have never, written to a reader’s expectations. I know they have their own ideas about characters and what should happen to them in an author’s books. And I think a lot of writers actually get communications from readers telling them exactly that. I think it’s a great compliment to a writer that their readers are so engaged in the stories, so believe the characters, that they want to ‘help’ the writer work out what the next book(s) should be. But I’m not inclined to follow reader’s advice.
This is a very long prologue to saying, here are a few titles that I’ve read recently:
Awkward Black Girl—Issa Rae. She started as a wildly popular digital writer that had her online blogcast show spin off into an equally wildly popular cable show. The fifth and last season ended recently. I knew nothing about the artist, but was fascinated by her premise of being an awkward Black girl, something I recognize from my own adolescent and teen years. Her book is a memoir…very funny, and instructive as to how teens of her generation behavior. Relatable, but different than my own.
The Vanishing Half—Brit Bennett. A novel set in the 60’s in both Louisiana and Los Angeles, about twin girls from a separately established southern community in which all the residents are “very high yellow,” light enough in many cases to pass for white. We’re talking twins here who separate, live divergent lives, make life changing decisions, and come back together again with haunting, inevitable heartbreaking complications. No reveals here. The book should be read.
The RBG Workout—Bryant Johnson. I should mention that if I can find time to read at all I’m very likely to read nonfiction. And this one is simple, fun, and reinforces my efforts to maintain an exercise routine. I can take it with me when I travel, and follow the routines anywhere. The stylized illustrations are amusing, showing a stern Ruth Bader Ginsburg in exercise attire.
What book(s) are you most excited to read next?
I have to stop here and confess that I do feel a curiosity and obligation to read more of the recent stuff about race, inequality, [black lives matter], police brutality, American systematic racism, etc. but it’s really too emotionally exhausting. I’ve read They Can’t Kill All of Us by a Black journalist who began covering the rise of blatant police “murder” of unarmed black men, women and, in a few cases, children with complete impunity. I’ve read Ta Nahisi Coates’ poignant “letter” to his son about being Black in America. These writings tear at me, and I can only read so much of the “truth.” I’m not fond of constantly reading books about the Black condition and experiences in America’s past, especially since we’re largely still living it. I need a break from that. On my short to-read list I have Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the late Steve Jobs’ daughter; Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage by Joanna Nylund. A small but intriguing book I found on a trip to Alaska. Sisu (pronounced SEE-SU) means “to have courage.” The book refers to a mix of resilience, grit, tenacity, and perseverance…a guiding ethos in life. It’s to remind myself to keep up these qualities that contribute to a positive quality of life in general.
What’s next for you?
I’ve begun the third book in my trilogy. It’s a little over a year away from being published. After that, I’m not sure what’s next. I have a partially written story that’s a spinoff of my earlier novel The Color of Love, and I’m developing a fictional version of my family history, that is quite interesting and unique. I want to spend a little time just leaving myself open and available to other ideas that might come to me. I’m also thinking of revisiting a number of children’s stories I wrote while an undergraduate, to see if they hold up and are still relevant. Or, I might write new stories for kids.
Do you have anything you’d like to add?
I think I’ve been very fortunate in my writing career. Yes, of course it could have been “bigger,” but it’s been more than I’d expected, and afforded me a chance to make many friends within the industry and to be involved on many levels. I particularly loved the 15 years I was an adjunct in fiction writing at a college in New Jersey. I loved teaching.
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To learn more about artist/novelist Sandra Kitt, visit her website or connect with her on social media.
Email: [email protected]