About the Author
W.D. Foster-Graham is a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A graduate of Luther College, he received a B.A. in psychology, with a minor in Black studies. He is an original member of the 3-time Grammy Award-winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness. He has been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its “Best New Poets of 2003.”
A 5-time published author, his passion for writing was inspired by his father, who read voraciously. His tastes in writing run to historical fiction, family sagas, and romance, seasoned with his own brand of African-American flavor—at the end of the day, it’s all about the love. He shamelessly admits to a love of romance novels, whodunits, and classic movies of old Hollywood. He also received inspiration from the late novelist E. Lynn Harris, who believed that an author should write the novels he/she wants to read.
Retired from the field of teaching, he loves travel on the open road and time with his husband and son when not in writer’s mode.
What was the defining event that made you start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil/pen. I can’t not write. I was in my late 30s, however, before I tackled writing a novel. My motivation: as a Black gay man, I wanted to read novels featuring main characters who looked like me. I had the choice of either complaining about it or writing it myself. I chose the latter.
What makes your writing unique compared to others in the genre?
In addition to my cultural heritage and flavor, I also bring my offbeat sense of humor, which I inherited from my father.
What’s the story behind your book title?
It is the family motto of my main character, and it is also one of the most important lessons I learned as an independent author.
What’s the basic plot of your book or series?
My Christopher Family Novel series centers around the lives of a wealthy, powerful, large, extended African-American family, be they historical, mystery, or romance, starting with the linchpin character of the series, self-made billionaire Allan Beckley Christopher.
My upcoming novel in the series, Never Give Up, is a historical fiction/whodunit, featuring Judge Earl James Berry, lifelong friend of a Christopher family member. On the night of Barack Obama’s reelection as president, Judge Berry is shot in front of his mansion. Who wants him dead, and why?
Which scene from your book do you like best and why?
Never Give Up has several that I like, so I’ll name one of them: the events surrounding the death of Judge Berry’s brother in 1960. This is the event that alters the course of his life and his career.
What are you working on now?
I am currently in the polishing and rewriting stage of two male/male romance novels in my series: The Right To Be and To Thine Own Self. The Right to Be is more of a coming-of-age romance, while To Thine Own Self features a couple who is 30-plus.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I disagree with the term “aspiring writer.” Once you write, you are a writer. Traps? Assuming that there is only one way to write, one writing style, and only one avenue to get published. At the end of the day, it’s important to do what works best for you.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Toni Morrison said, “If there is a story you wish to read, and it hasn’t been written, then you must be the one to write it.” Contrary to the notion of scarcity, there is an abundance of readers who want to read original stories I write, with my unique voice. It’s up to me to connect with them.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I think of this in terms of the Law of Attraction: if the writer in question doesn’t, neither will their readers.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
My books are all part of the series, with each book connecting with the previous one. They are designed to be read in sequence.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
I would share this quote from Aretha Franklin: “Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing.” Also, my current motto as an author: believe in dreams and never give up.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
After the first book was published, I noticed that subsequent books took less time to write. The most notable change in my writing process was a page I took from Agatha Christie: I write the beginning and the ending first.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
It was in finding an editor who had a strong sense of cultural sensitivity and respect for cultures different from their own. In an industry where the editors are predominately white, as a Black author, this is imperative.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Simple. Whenever my father said he was going to do something, it happened. That’s power.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
Yes, I own it. I’m a cat lover!
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
When I wrote Mark My Words (the first novel in my series), Black men in fiction were portrayed as 1) down and out 2) broke, busted, and disgusted 3) unemployed 4) incarcerated 5) on drugs or 6) dead. I knew that wasn’t the whole truth. Hence my character, Allan Beckley Christopher, is a composite of the Black men of my father’s generation that I know personally or through history, highly successful, respected, innovative men of values and honor. When, after reading it, my father put his stamp on it, I knew I was on the right track.
What does literary success look like to you?
Growing up, my second home was the public library. Seeing my work on those shelves spells success. Also, having readers tell me that my characters remind them of people they know, or represent something they have experienced personally, is another mark of success.
What’s the best way to market your books?
Being an independent author, in my community, I embody three of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Kujichagulia (Self Determination), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), and Kuumba (Creativity). Since this is my business as well as my passion, marketing is a creative process. These days, there are many ways to market: word of mouth, social media, speaking engagements, radio appearances, blogs, networking, etc. It still comes down to what works best for the individual, but you must be willing to put yourself out there.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
It would be capturing the nuances that come with the opposite sex. Since I’ve written female characters in my series, I check in with my female “listening ears” to keep me on point, as well as reading novels written by women. One of the highest compliments I received on this subject was from a sistah who read an excerpt of one of my female characters. She said, “It doesn’t read like a man wrote it.”
How many hours a day do you write?
My peak writing period is from mid-afternoon to early evening, when my home is quiet and the cats are napping.
What period of your life do you find you write about most often? (child, teenager, young adult)
Hmmm. I was a teenager of the ‘60s, young adult of the ‘70s. In my series, many of the family members are Baby Boomers, so through their eyes, you would read quite a bit about that time period in my stories, as well as events in Black history relevant to the characters.
How do you select the names of your characters?
A lot depends on the time period I’m writing about, making sure the name is appropriate to the times as well as the culture.
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
In Never Give Up, one of the minor characters is based on myself as a young man.
What was your hardest scene to write?
In the first novel of my series, Mark My Words, one of my main characters is in labor with her first child, circa 1948. Being male, for obvious reasons, I have no experience in this area. Hence, I enlisted the aid of my female coworkers at the time—I wound up with enough material to cover ALL my female characters, and then some. It took some time to write that scene and the emotions that went with it. I then showed it to the women at work, and I received their stamp of approval.
What is your favorite childhood book?
Even though it was on TV every year, my favorite childhood book is The Wizard of Oz.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
For me, it’s at the beginning; creating the psychological profiles of my characters. What makes them tick? What are their idiosyncrasies, shortcomings, strengths? How do they respond in a given situation? It was a blessing to have a B.A. in psychology to get me through this part of the process; once it’s written down, I can always go back to it to stay on track. I know I’ve nailed it when my characters take on lives of their own.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
My father had my back as a writer from the beginning, hence he is one of the people I dedicate my books to. Because he was a voracious reader, I became one, which spurred my desire to write. He passed away before my first book launch, but the rest of my family of origin was there, which meant a lot. Yes, I will write no matter what, but it’s better having your family behind you.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I wouldn’t change anything. This journey is part of an ongoing process/learning curve, and the events in my life as a writer/author happened as they were meant to.
Favourite food: Lasagna
Favourite drink: Cranberry juice
Silliest saying: “It wasn’t the fall that killed him; it was that sudden stop.”
Best holiday spot: A cabin in northern Minnesota
Favourite song at the moment: Any songs by Aretha Franklin
With writing, are you a plotter or (seat-of-your) pantser? Actually, I’m some of both
Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: I’m a Baby Boomer, hence Star Trek
Best superpower: Flying
Number one thing to do on your bucket list: Take a trip to London
How would you address the underrepresentation of authors of color in the publishing industry?
This is an ongoing issue, which has been discussed on Twitter by Black authors and other authors of color, and a motivating factor in my becoming an independent author. Sadly, traditional publishing hasn’t been kind to authors from marginalized segments of the population overall, particularly new authors. I would say this:
To first-time authors of color: the late African-American author and publisher Mike Warren said it best: wherever possible, publish it yourself. You may want to go the traditional publishing route, which is your choice, but remember that it isn’t the only game in town; there are so many options for you to get published now. At the end of the day, this is your work, your unique voice, your creative control. Network with like-minded authors; they can be a source of support and inspiration. We are only limited by our thinking—you have readers out there who are just waiting to read your books. Above all, speak out. In my family, we have a saying: “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” If we don’t tell our stories, if we don’t share our stories, who will? And this quote from Aretha Franklin bears repeating: “Be your own artist, and always be confident in what you’re doing.”
To white readers and writers: Step out of your comfort zone. Take the opportunity to read books written by authors of color. Show your support by purchasing our books, spreading the word, writing a review; your actions speak volumes. If you are a writer writing about a character/culture different from your own, do everything in your power to show respect for that character and culture, including intense research.
Given that the editors and agents in the publishing industry are predominantly white, there is a great need for more people of color in those capacities. That being said, e.g., if you are a white editor working with a Black author, cultural sensitivity is crucial; in the matters and nuances that are cultural, your client is the expert. Be intentional in your support of authors of color, on your website and in your actions.
What we think about and feel about, we bring about.
Amazon: Author page