How long have you been writing?
My first memory is of a poem for which I won a prize when I was about seven or eight. My father had helped me with it, so I felt guilty about the award, and I resolved then that I would always write my own material! Maybe that was a good thing, because it propelled me to prove myself as a writer and I became a very good student in my English classes. I started keeping a journal at about twelve and the writing hasn't stopped.
How old were you when you first published?
I was the editor of my school magazine at age 17, and I introduced photographs to the publication for the first time. My editorial in that publication would have been the first time, I guess.
Where did the urge to write come from?
Perhaps I came into the world with a past life as a writer, because writing has always been as natural as breathing to me. Writing has never been work for me, but more like mental play. It's how I relax, how I have fun. I approach my writing every day with a bit of guilt. No one should start their workday with so much anticipation and excitement!
Which do you enjoy writing most - fiction or non-fiction?
My non-fiction work was just that -- work. The first book, Business is Good, was commissioned, and I learned a lot about writing a historical book, doing the research, interviewing people, examining old photographs. The second book, Sexcess: The New Gender Rules at Work, was meant to enhance my partner's and my communications consulting business. Although there were times when I enjoyed working with it, the fact was it was a work book. Fiction is by far my favorite genre. It expands me, teaches me, challenges me, and takes me to places I've never been.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Years ago I had a dream, and at the end of the dream I was told that the dream I just had was the plot of my novel. I had been thinking that I would like to write a novel next, but I didn't have any ideas for a plot. I got up, wrote down the dream in my journal, and went back to sleep. Two years later I started the novel, using the same plot, sitting in a bookstore, while I was on vacation and trying to survive the hottest summer in New York in 50 years. One thing led to another, and the writing led me to creative writing classes, then to completing the first novel.
How did you get that first novel published?
Interesting question. I attended a workshop in New York three summers later, where I got an opportunity to pitch my novel to several editors. None of them was interested in the novel I then had, but one of the editors made some very helpful suggestions that I took to heart. I rewrote my novel with a new hero and concept, and turned the idea into a series of amateur detective novels. As a firm believer in creative visualization, I also kept visualizing getting published effortlessly, despite the fact that I was hearing from other authors how difficult it was to get published. I refused to get despondent, even though it was now four years and counting since I'd started my book. Five months later, I pitched the new format and series concept to another editor, this time at Simon and Schuster, and they signed me.
How do you come up with the characters in your books?
Everything that a writer writes, it's been said, is autobiographical. These are all people I've met at different points in my life. Some I met in Jamaica, some in Trinidad, some in the Virgin Islands, others in the United States or in Europe. My work as a journalist, my stint with a charity in the ghettoes of Jamaica, my life among the middle class, my travels to other countries serve as grist for the mill. When I meet people, whether I'm working or socializing or just going about life, I'm doing research, even when I don't realize it! I base my characters on real-life people. The character of Shad, for example, is drawn from a young man in the rural parts of Jamaica who looks just like Shad and is a wonderful wood carver. Eric, on the other hand, is based on many people, especially a friend of mine who died violently while his restaurant/bar was being robbed.
You write about many negative aspects about Jamaica, what are your feelings towards the island?
I love Jamaica passionately. It's hard not to do so. All of my childhood, all of the people I loved, all of my early memories are of the island that I still think is one of the most naturally beautiful places in the world. The people, the scenery, the music, the buoyant energy, make it unique. But it is an enigmatic, complex culture, and there are some things that motivate me to write about the duality of my native country.