Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
I’m Janelle Gray. I’m a creative with a tendency to write through a social justice/human rights lens. I tell stories via novels, short stories, short films, and plays.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
My personal experiences are what have sparked my published works.
Looking at the novel, the real-life story isn’t super far from the fiction. My father and I went on a Civil Rights Pilgrimage with Southern Methodist University, and it changed my life. I grew up being hyper aware of Black History and the American Civil Rights Movement. I’ve always been the kid who knew more about this subject than the average person. But my time on the SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage showed me that my arrogance about my own knowledge had limited my continued education. As I went on this tour, I journaled my responses. That journal became the inspiration of the story of a woman stunted into complacency by her own hubris. Echoes of the Struggle is the story of Daniela Joseph finding her way out of silence.
The novel sparked conversation the inspired me to start a blog and later a podcast to give others the platform to refuse their own silence. Some of the personal stories submitted to the blog can now be found in Unity, Equality, and Accountability. For students in school and in life wanting to find productive ways to have conversations about the past, Echoes of the Struggle Tour Guide was created replete with video, articles, and additional reading to provide a springboard for conscious healing conversation through learning.
How do you deal with creative block?
This is a hard one. For me, a block comes from so many ideas I can’t decide what to do — nothing connects or makes sense. Meditating is usually what calms my thoughts. That and a good drink and time on a patio with good friends (but let’s be honest here, is there any problem that a drink and patio time with good friends can’t solve?)
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
The biggest mistake any writer can make is not listening to their characters. There have been times that I’ve wanted to say something so badly that I got in the way of my characters. If you do that, your piece can become overly preachy and inauthentic. If you’re true to your characters, their voices will say what they need to say.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I’m absolutely horrible at this. I always call my Uncle Clarence. He gives me the goods.
Tip: Find you an Uncle Clarence. You’re welcome.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I have to remind myself that everyone isn’t going to like every story. Some people may like none of them. But at the end of the day, if you’re telling the stories you want to tell, then you’re doing it right.
Honestly, that was big talk. I’m like every other creative who second guesses themselves. I just survive it and take it as constructive criticism. Smile, say “thank you,” and write the next story.
How has your creation process improved over time?
Over time, I’ve learned to trust myself, my observations, and my process. I credit an unending dedication to reading and my graduate school program at Harvard Extension School with helping me identify my voice and giving me the confidence to adapt it in order to tell the stories my characters wish to share.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
Okay, I may be beating this over the head a bit here, but I serve my characters. This is a new lesson that I’m still in the process of learning; and it’s becoming more evident in my new works. But I feel if I serve my characters, I’ll serve my readers. Readers stay because they’re interested in the characters. So, if I create characters who are true to themselves in the moment I depict them, their complexities will be all the more compelling.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
Lots of coffee and more chai. Seriously, my main trick isn’t really a trick at all. I find inspiration all around me. The way someone stares at their wallet on the floor before finally picking it up opens the door to the type of day they’ve had, and why that’s completely pushed them to the brink, and why they’re even at the store in the first place. A single act by a single person throws me down a rabbit hole of possibilities. That’s where my stories come from.
What are your plans for future books?
While I’m primarily focused on film and tv at the moment, there’s a short story collection that needs some heavy edits, and I’m hoping to release that in a year. Honestly, I don’t know. Whatever character yells the loudest next, wins.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
“I have no quirks,” she said, with a coy smile and a wink.