This blog was featured on 04/16/2020
An Interview with Yodassa Williams
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
April 2020
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
April 2020

As industry innovators, at She Writes Press and SparkPress, we not only understand that there is a need for broader and better representation of writers of color, but have implemented steps to work toward this goal. In 2018, we took a step towards inclusion by launching the STEP Contest. Each year, we are awarding a free publishing package to two authors of color; one on She Writes Press and one on SparkPress. 

Our winners from 2018 were Bobi Gentry Goodwin, who published Revelation on She Writes Press in Fall of 2019, and Yodassa Williams, who will publish The Goddess Twins on SparkPress in Spring 2020. Our 2019 contest had over 40 entrants, almost double that of the first year. The winners were Veena Rao (SWP, Purple Lotus, Fall 2020) and Robin Farmer (SP, Angel Dressed in Black, Spring 2021).

With the third annual STEP contest launching later this year, we wanted to highlight Yodassa Williams and her publishing journey.

How did you come across the STEP contest, and why did you decide to submit?

In 2018, I felt nearly done with my novel but gun-shy about releasing it to agents and publishers. At the AWP Tampa conference, I was told some sound advice: to find a publishing contest and make that date my release date for the novel. So I searched and found the She Writes Press STEP Contest and felt it was a good fit for my novel. I applied and started also querying agents around that time.

Tell us about the moment you found out you’d won.

Many months after applying, I received an email notifying me that my novel had made it to the top five of the contest! I was so geeked for the recognition that I had a worthy manuscript! And then I got an email explaining my novel had NOT won the 2019 competition, as they were seeking a women’s book and mine was definitely young adult. Okay, I thought, it is an honor to even be nominated . . . but the email concluded with a life-changing whopper: SparkPress, a YA imprint, was interested in my book and wanted to award it the 2020 STEP award! I reread the email about a million times in disbelief . . . I hadn’t won but I had won! Surreal is how that moment felt. Beyond belief.

How has STEP made publishing your debut novel possible?

This contest has made a dream I have held my whole life—to publish a novel—come true. I did not at all think I would win this contest! I am forever grateful for this opportunity to have my debut novel published and have the skills and backing of a publishing firm. Is this what it feels like to live your dreams?!

What has been one of the most exciting moments of your publishing journey?

Seeing and choosing the cover art was a point when I really felt the magic all come together. I had heard horror stories of authors getting forced into covers that don’t reflect their novel. I honestly had anxiety for the fight I assumed I would have to make about cover art reflecting the beautiful black characters and magical themes of this novel. But when I saw the cover art options the SparkPress team sent me, I nearly cried! The very first option is what I chose; it was perfect, like they had illustrated the inside of my heart. I had felt it before, but at this point I really felt overwhelming gratitude that my story was in hands of publishers who truly believed and supported the story like I hoped they would.

What has been surprising about the publishing process?

The most surprising thing about the publishing process is how many steps it takes to prepare a novel for launch. I thought my manuscript was complete when I sent it in to SparkPress, but thankfully they connected me an editor to fine-tune several points and improve the story. We went back and forth with the manuscript for a few rounds and I am eternally thankful for her input, as it definitely made the novel more thorough and a better read! The SparkPress editors also pushed me on my epilogue and prologue, which were not even a part of the novel when I submitted it to the contest. I now feel these parts really anchor the world of the story. I was not ready for the ways I would be pushed and challenged by the year-plus-long process, but I am so very grateful! I feel the SparkPress team has made me a better writer, and made The Goddess Twins an even more entertaining read.

How do you think that promoting the voices of diverse women helps on both a micro and macro scale?

I think it is very important to promote diverse voices, now more than ever. I feel passionate about sharing my voice and creative viewpoint, knowing that it is unique to the established publishing industry and adds to the landscape of authentic humanity being shown in all its ranges. I am femme, queer and black, and I am proud that my writing reflects this.

I’m also aware that opportunity and success breed more of the same, and strongly hope that through making my mark as best I can I am helping other writers from diverse perspectives find opportunity and success for themselves.

Have you started thinking about your next book? If so, what’s it about?

I have an exciting idea and outline for the sequel I would love to write to The Goddess Twins. This book would involve the twins battling new and old enemies, as well as meeting their relatives in Jamaica and seeing their powers evolve. I am eager to flesh out this book and hope readers are excited for the continuation of The Goddess Twins’ world and story!

In addition, I have been writing and performing creative non-fiction over the past years of my experiences as an attendee of Burning Man and member of that community. With six Burns survived, I have learned so much about myself and been altered on a complex spiritual level, so I want to compile my personal parables into a single location. Also, with the awareness that these types of experiences are privileged and not common, especially to people of color, I wanted to share the value of the experience, as well as tips and warnings, with other black femmes who may want to adventure in the Burning Man realm. I see it as part memoir of transformational travel, part guide to potential future Burners of color.

Which other SparkPress/She Writes Press books coming out in Spring 2020 are you looking forward to reading?

I am excited for Inside the Sun by Alexis Marie Chute, a YA fantasy I had the opportunity to review an advanced copy of. Readers are in for a treat. I don’t want to spoil anything, other than saying I had a hard time putting this book down after the first chapter!

How have you been embraced by our author community?

I feel grateful that a few other SparkPress authors have reached out through social media and have been welcoming to me and my book! Another author and I are trying to connect on our respective tours to do a crossover tour date. I look forward to meeting other authors in the community at the author retreat in May, literally days before my launch.

What inspired The Goddess Twins?

In 2006, I spent most of the summer in London with family my age that I had just found the year prior. That summer was one of the most influential times of my life, as my adventures with my cousins ignited my self-confidence and catapulted me out of my introvert shell. I left Ohio a mousy bookworm and came home six weeks later with a nose piercing and pink-hued hair tips! It was the spark I needed to start becoming a person who feels capable of manifesting her dreams.

This novel is also deeply personal in passages relating to the twins’ complex relationship with their mother, and each other as sisters. I feel blessed to have a very close relationship with my mother and sisters, and I feel it’s authentic to reflect how close relationships can sometimes be confusing, frustrating and even painful to the parties involved. Being human is complicated and love is complicated, and I hope this novel reflects some of the beauty of that complication, while also being entertaining.

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