Friday, October 12, 2018

Interview with writer Alretha Thomas

Mystery author Alretha Thomas helps me wrap up the week by chatting about her new novel, The Women on Retford Drive.

Shortly after graduating from USC with a degree in journalism, Alretha soon realized her interest in her major was not heartfelt. Instead of writing news stories, she wanted to write plays and books. Several years later, her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre piecesthe community response was overwhelming. This led to plays outside of the church, including Alretha’s One Woman, Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient, Denise Dowse. The production garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences.

In between plays, Alretha’s first novel, Daughter Denied, was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Representing her book and plays, Alretha has been the guest on many radio shows and television shows including San Francisco Public Affairs show Bay Sunday with Barbara Rodgers on CBS affiliate, KPIX. She was also interviewed by KTLA News Entertainment Reporter, Sam Rubin. In 2011, Alretha launched her second novel, Dancing Her Dreams Away, and it was also well received. Her third novel, Married in the Nick of Nine spawned a four-book series that was acquired by Soul Mate Publishing in January 2014. In August 2014, Alretha was awarded the Jessie Redmon Fauset Literary Award for her indie novel, Four Ladies Only. In 2016, Alretha created the Detective Rachel Storme Mystery Series: Justice for Jessica, Losing Lauren and A Penny for Her Heart. Additionally, in 2016, Alretha returned to acting and is now writing and acting full time. Her theatrical agent is Shawn Brogan of The Brogan Agency. In 2018, Alretha’s Dancing Hills Mystery Series debuted. The Women on Retford Drive is the first book in that series.

Welcome, Alretha. Please tell us about your current release.
Julia Pritchard, an aging sitcom star making a comeback, and her stepdaughter, Blythe Pritchard, an aspiring attorney, form a pact to start fresh and pursue their dreams. But their plans go awry when Keith Pritchard, Julia’s soon-to-be ex-husband and Blythe’s father, goes missing and is presumed dead, the day they plan to move out of his mansion. 

The women are filled with bittersweet emotions when they consider the idea that Keith, a tycoon and functional alcoholic, could be out of their lives for good. Moreover, they fear the police will name them as persons of interest because of the abuse they suffered at Keith’s hands. Julia believes Keith hasn’t met with foul play but orchestrated his own disappearance, hoping the women will be blamed. However, Blythe believes her father is dead. When the police reveal a damning piece of evidence, which could result in one of them being charged with Keith’s possible murder, they join forces to find out what happened to him. Did one of the women go off script and kill Keith, or is another agenda at play, unbeknownst to the women and the police, that’s far more sinister?

What inspired you to write this book?
I write from the inside out. All of my stories form within me. It’s almost like I’m channeling people and situations from other times or dimensions. I know that sounds a little out of the box, but it’s true. A story about a mother and stepdaughter who together fight a common enemy just filled my spirit one day. After I created the characters, the entire story crystalized, and I was able to sit down and create an outline and proceed from there.

Excerpt from The Women on Retford Drive:
Chapter 1                                                                                                                                               Julia
He saw me.
Flashing red-and-blue lights appear in my rearview mirror, and my heart sinks. Oh no, not now. Please don’t pull me over. Please. I need to get home. Why didn’t I stop? I should have stopped. Exasperated with myself and now fully alert, I look ahead for a place to park. The tree-lined street in the small business district is jam-packed with vehicles. I spot a public parking lot and slowly pull in, with the cop riding my bumper. I park in the first available space and he blocks me in.
I pull the visor down to shield myself from the June sun beating down on me through the windshield of my Mercedes, wondering what he’s doing. Sweat dripping down my chest and back, I tug on my blouse that’s glued to me like a second skin, then place my wet hands on the steering wheel, my gaze shifting to the dashboard clock, its numbers screaming at me. I have to meet the movers in thirty minutes. If I miss them, I’ll have no one to blame but myself. My stomach flips when the officer heads my way.
Brawny with a mop of dark hair, he peers down at me and says, “Ma’am, have you been drinking?”
Momentarily stumped, I pause, thinking to myself that it’s barely 10:00 a.m.—too early to drink. “No, I haven’t had anything to drink, I promise.”
“I’ve been following you since you left that nursing home. You were weaving in and out of lanes, and you just blew through a stop sign.”
“I am so sorry, officer. I’ve been up all night with my mother at the nursing home. She has Alzheimer’s. Please forgive me.” I offer him an apologetic smile.
But his eyes are void of sympathy. “I’m going to need your license, registration, and proof of insurance.”
Crestfallen, I gather the documents and hand them to him. He rifles through the paperwork, then pauses. His eyes dart from my face to the license and back again, as if I’m wanted in four states. I swallow hard. What’s wrong? Then he gives me an unexpected smile. “Julia Pritchard … Ah … You played the mother of those triplets on that sitcom. My kids were addicted to that show. You still acting?”
I hold back tears of anxiety. “No, but I’m trying to make a comeback.” The show was canceled a decade ago, but it’s still in syndication. I’m rarely recognized. With an ailing mother, a stalled career, and a life-changing move, the last thing I need is a traffic citation. I pray he feels the same.
A moment later he hands me my papers. “I hope that works out for you. Anyway, get some rest and be careful,” he says, eyeing the bruise on my forehead. “And good luck with your mother.”
A wave of relief washes over me, and I smile wildly. “Thanks so much for understanding, officer. I really, really appreciate this.”
He nods, hops on his motorcycle, and moves from behind my car. I take off—not too fast—full of gratitude, hoping the movers haven’t left. When I visit my mother Sophie at the nursing home, it’s hard to say goodbye. I hate leaving her there because they’re always short-staffed, and they don’t know how to handle her when she has her periodic fits. Now that I’m leaving my soon-to-be ex-husband, Keith, she’ll be able to live with me and my stepdaughter Blythe in our new apartment. The thought alone gives me an adrenaline rush.


What exciting story are you working on next?
It depends on what happens next. Currently, literary agents are reading what is actually the second standalone novel in my Dancing Hills Mystery Series. The Women on Retford Drive is the first book in the series. If that book gets represented and sold, then it will no longer be a part of the Dancing Hills Mystery series. My next project will most likely be writing a second book for my new publisher. After I’ve fulfilled my contractual obligation, I’ll write a book to follow The Women on Retford Drive. While all that’s going on, I have adapted The Women on Retford Drive to stage. Yep, I’ve written the stage play version. I’m looking for a producer. I’d love to see it go up in June 2019.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After my first book Daughter Denied came out in 2008 and strangers were buying my book and posting reviews. That was amazing.

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?
In 2016, I retired from Corporate America. Since that time, I’ve been writing fulltime and it’s amazing. Before I leave the house, I have devotion in my prayer room. It consists of singing, prayer, writing a Dear God letter, and meditation, not necessarily in that order. I start the work day off by checking my email and all my social media websites. I answer all requests and get to work, depending on what tasks are at hand. I may query an agent regarding a current work or edit a work in progress. I’m also acting fulltime, so I may have an audition I have to prepare for. Last month was very busy because I had a huge book launch event, and I coordinated the entire event. So I had to deal with catering, invites, securing the room, casting actors who performed scenes at the event, while at the same time editing and auditioning. I thank God that I was able to get it all done.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have to be very comfortable when I write. Thus, I write in very loose-fitting clothing. Usually my blue sundress my husband bought me or my ripped up blue robe. I guess it’s something about blue. Lol. I also must have my desk fan blasting. I have about a half dozen little stuff animals and toys that I keep to the right of me. I think they’re my good luck charms. I also love listening to music, especially music that fits the mood and tone of what I’m writing.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My fifth-grade teacher gave the class a short story assignment. I got an idea to write a story about a bag boy in a supermarket who falls in love with a young customer. I guess you could say that was my first romance story. The following day our teacher congratulated the entire class on our work. However, she said there was one story that stood out. And that story was mine. I nearly fell out of my chair. I couldn’t believe it. She read it aloud and the class was riveted. While I was watching the expressions on the faces of my peers, I knew in that moment I wanted to be a writer for life.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking precious time out of your life to read and review my books. It means the world to me.


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