Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Interview with YA author Sang Kromah

Author Sang Kromah joins me today to chat about her new young adult fantasy, Djinn.

Sang Kromah is a Liberian-American author and digital storyteller who provides a digital space for women and girls to create their own narrative with Project GirlSpire. After receiving her master's degree in communication arts from New York Institute of Technology, she's landed her skills to ambitious projects like Nick Kristof's "Half the Sky Documentary" and much more, but her passion project is the female-led library project she's starting in Liberia, Project READ.

Welcome, Sang. Please tell us about your current release.
Some believe that at birth, we’re each born with a guardian attached to us, watching from afar, but never seen. Truth is, there are certain people, special people, born of this world and of the other, who need that extra protection. They go their entire lives, unaware of the other world, and unaware of the existence of their own personal watcher, watching from afar. But what happens when fate takes a turn for the worse, and The One who needs the aid of a watcher most can’t be found to be protected? This is where Djinn begins…

Bijou Fitzroy is strange. With the unwanted gift of being an empath, she has spent her entire life as a sheltered recluse, homeschooled by her secretive and overprotective grandmother, who never allows them to stay in one place long enough for Bijou to settle and make friends. When Bijou and her grandmother move to Sykesville and she starts to attend the local high school, Bijou’s world begins to crumble. Town locals begin to disappear and the creatures from her nightmares begin to take shape in her reality. She finds herself at the center of a war she never knew was being fought all around her.

What inspired you to write this book?
When I was a kid, my parents would tell me stories about djinn. In Liberian, these stories are very popular, but one particular story always stuck with me about a girl named Femeni that escaped what should have been certain death at the hands of a notorious djinn. For years, I re-wrote different versions of that story, wondering if Femeni ever had any more encounters with the djinn, what happened to her, and what if she had a daughter of her own? I hounded my dad with questions about the story’s origin. He couldn’t give me much other than the Arabian and Islamic origins of the djinn, so I created my own legend, based on tradition and lore.

What exciting story are you working on next?
Currently, I’m working on the follow-up to Djinn. It’s called Folon, which means the past in the Mandingo language. It picks up where Djinn leaves off. The first book was about Bijou finding out who she is and who she’s meant to be and Folon is more about Bijou finding out more about where she comes from and how it shapes her present and her future. There’s more magic and the rules of the djinn change, so I’m very excited about that.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was a storyteller well before I was literate. My parents spent their evenings telling me stories from their native country, Liberia, so I started taking those stories and telling them to my younger brother when he came along. As I would tell those stories, I would change portions and soon enough, they were brand new stories. By first grade, I was writing those stories down and told my mother I wanted to be a writer. My mother made sure I proved it. We traveled a lot and my mother would make me write a story about every place we went. Soon, it was no longer an assigned task, I carried a notebook with me, no matter where I went, and like Harriet, the Spy, I would write down EVERYTHING. I was so annoying. I would stare at people to get their physical descriptions and quirks perfect, and I almost got punched because of it in the fourth grade. I would spy on my parent’s conversations and add exaggerated bits and pieces to my stories. Like I said, I was an annoying and precocious kid.

By the seventh grade, I actually considered myself a writer. My Language Arts teacher Ms. Norville, would give me the last 5-10 minutes of class on Fridays to tell my stories to the class, and that really boosted my confidence.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I wish. I’m a communications specialist and I spent nearly seven years in the non-profit sector. I specialize in media management, content management, and public relations. I also do a lot of editorial work as well. No matter what kind of contract I have, I always write at night. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without writing. It’s like breathing for me.

Outside of these endeavors, I created a digital space for and by girls and women, Project GirlSpire. It’s a place where we create the narrative, so our thoughts and messages don’t get lost in translation.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I can’t write without having ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ or ‘Gilmore Girls’ or music on in the background. My writing playlists are very eclectic. They range from Radiohead to Zero 7 to Salif Keita to System of a Down. I should probably include insomnia to this list because I often go days without sleep when I’m completing a manuscript. I get a little crazy when I’m writing, particularly about the djinn. I know to most people that read this, it’s nothing but fiction, but I come from a culture, where it’s believed that the djinn are as real as the people next door. So, while researching, interviewing people, and writing, I began having nightmares and paranoia started to set in. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I occasionally sleep with the lights on because of some of the things I was told.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As I explained earlier, I always wanted to be an author, but I would have other sporadic interests as well. For the longest time, I wanted to join the circus or the carnival and run away with them. If it had been the circus, I would have been a contortionist and if it had been a carnival, I would have been a fortune teller. By elementary school, I was determined to be a librarian because that’s where I spent most of my time. I love libraries, which is why I’m working to build one in Liberia. I have a master’s in communications, but I’m going on to study library science, and specializing in young-adult services.


Thank you for being here today, Sang!

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