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Interview With Lisa Braxton, Author of THE TALKING DRUM
June 9th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

About The Talking Drum from Goodreads:

Displacement/gentrification has been happening for generations, yet few novels have been written with the themes of gentrification, which makes this book unusual.

It is 1971. The fictional city of Bellport, Massachusetts, is in decline with an urban redevelopment project on the horizon expected to transform this dying factory town into a thriving economic center. This planned transformation has a profound effect on the residents who live in Bellport as their own personal transformations take place.

Sydney Stallworth steps away from her fellowship and law studies at an elite university to support husband Malachi’s dream of opening a business in the heart of the black community of his hometown, Bellport.

For Omar Bassari, an immigrant from Senegal, Bellport is where he will establish his drumming career and the launching pad from which he will spread African culture across the world, while trying to hold onto his marriage.

Della Tolliver has built a fragile sanctuary in Bellport for herself, boyfriend Kwamé Rodriguez, and daughter Jasmine, a troubled child prone to nightmares and outbursts.

Tensions rise as the demolition date moves closer, plans for gentrification are laid out, and the pace of suspicious fires picks up. The residents find themselves at odds with a political system manipulating their lives and question the future of their relationships.

The Talking Drum explores intra-racial, class, and cross-cultural tensions, along with the meaning of community and belonging.

The novel delves into the profound impact gentrification has on people in many neighborhoods, and the way in which being uprooted affects the fabric of their families, friendships, and emotional well-being. The Talking Drum not only explores the immigrant experience, but how the immigrant/African American neighborhood interface leads to friction and tension, a theme also not explored much in current literature involving immigrants. 

The book is a springboard to an important discussion on race and class differences, the treatment of immigrants, as well as the government’s relationship to society. 

Buying Links: IndieBound | Amazon | B & N | Book Depository

Interview:

Question: Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

When I would read through passages of the novel, I would lose myself in the story and start laughing out loud or getting teary-eyed with emotion because I was enjoying it and forgetting momentarily that I was the writer.

Question: Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I’ve hidden a few secrets in The Talking Drum that close family members and friends will probably be able to identify. The character, Percy, a Vietnam veteran, owns a German shepherd named Bridgette. Percy is never seen without his dog and the two are regulars in the community. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, growing up we had a German shepherd in my household named Bridget. She was very protective of the entire family and my sister and I enjoyed years of her affection and willingness to play fetch and dance with us.

Also in the book is an upscale art gallery named Deborah’s. Deborah happens to be my best buddy from my college days. I’ve already told Deborah she’s in the book and I’d love to see her face when she gets to the page with the reference to her namesake. It is mentioned in the book that my main character Sydney has visited her cousin Jocelyn during the summers when she was growing up. The real-life Jocelyn is college buddy Deborah’s oldest daughter.

There is a mischievous cat in The Talking Drum by the name of Pumpkin. When I was writing scenes involving the cat, I asked my niece, Raven, to suggest a name. She gave me a list of possibilities, including Pumpkin, which I chose, because I felt it corresponded with Pumpkin’s orange, swirly coat. Pumpkin is owned by a husband and wife. She has bonded well with the husband, but simply tolerates the wife and sometimes scratches her. 

In my own life, my husband and I adopted a cat that I named Savannah. That feline was something else! She adored my husband, but tolerated me. When my husband would take naps on the couch, Savannah would perch on the back of the couch like a sentinel guarding a dignitary (I actually used that line in the book). She was quite jealous. If my husband went to hug me, Savannah would bite him on the arm to make him stop. She once stomped on our feet when we hugged standing up. Savannah dug her teeth into the both of us without provocation and drew blood a bunch of times. There’s more to the saga of Savannah, but I’ll save that for another time. It was cathartic expunging the terrorism we experienced with Savannah by writing about her as the cat Pumpkin.

Question: I loved this quote about your book from Stephanie Powell Watts. What does “home” mean to you?

Home is your sanctuary, the place you come to for comfort, stability, and solitude after tackling all of the challenges you face out there in the world. For some of the characters in The Talking Drum, their “home” was being uprooted, taken out from under them because of gentrification and because they didn’t own their home. They were renters. I put the word “home” in quotations because it really wasn’t their home. It was their temporary abode. Other characters are finding their home in the fictional city in the novel, moving into their home to start their adult lives. For them, their home will be a true “home” until they choose to move somewhere else, if they decide to do so.

Question: What did you want to grow up to be as a child? Has that child’s desire appeared in your work?

I wanted to grow up to be a writer. As I got a little older, I became interested in photography. I remember how proud I was when I earned my photography badge in the Girl Scouts. When I went to college my interest went in the direction of print and broadcast journalism and photo journalism. I spent a lot of hours volunteering on the college newspaper and the college radio station. By my senior year I only had time to squeeze in one photography class in which I learned photo composition and black and white development. If it had been feasible, I would have taken more courses and perhaps also pursued a career in photojournalism.

Readers of my novel will be introduced to my main character, Sydney, who has pursued a law degree, but is also interested in newspaper journalism and loves to take and develop her own pictures.

Bonus Round:

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn, other?

Rice cakes. Popcorn rice cakes are low in calorie and low in fat and they’re yummy.

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction?

Fiction and memoir are my favorites when I have spare time for reading. I love to lose myself in a good story, whether it’s fiction or real.

Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, punk, R&B, country, hip-hop, soul, music theater?

I like Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, R&B, country, and soul. And lately I’ve enjoyed a cappella that some of the college students have been performing for competitions. Those students are talented. They can make their voices sound like instruments.

About Lisa Braxton:

Lisa Braxton is an essayist, short story writer, and novelist. She earned her MFA in creative writing from Southern New Hampshire University, her Master of Science in Journalism Broadcasting from Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Media from Hampton University. Her debut novel, The Talking Drum, is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in spring 2020. She is a fellow of the Kimbilio Fiction Writers Program and a book reviewer for 2040 Review. Her stories and essays have appeared in Vermont Literary ReviewBlack Lives Have Always MatteredChicken Soup for the Soul and The Book of Hope. She received Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest magazine’s 84th and 86th annual writing contests in the inspirational essay category.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads


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