Today I am pleased to welcome Joiya Morrison-Efemini to I & R. Joiya is a wife, former attorney and current stay-at-home mom of four fantastic kiddos. Joiya began writing off and on in 2012 after she realized that returning to a law career wasn't conducive to happily raising four kids. In 2017 her first publication, a collection of short stories, The Notes They Played, was released. And, in 2019, her first novel, The Impossible, was published. Today, she is going to talk to us about her latest book Petrified Flowers.
Where and when and how did the writing life begin for you?
I grew up in a home where speakers resounded in smooth jazz and R&B music. My dad’s bookshelves were well stocked with all the poets of the great Harlem Renaissance. We went to an A.M.E. Zion church and belted out old African spirituals and hymns. Every song I heard and every book within my reach was replete with the pride, agony and fortitude of the Black experience in America, and the miracle of God’s redemptive love. My parents filled our home with artwork portraying beautiful people who all looked like me. My large extended family was a cocoon that shaped my identity as a Black girl and insulated me against an outside world that was very white and didn’t always believe my Blackness was beautiful. As a child, writing was a way for me to blend experience, thought, music, and art into words. I still have poems, books and short stories I penned way back then, and through my college years.
I didn’t make a decision to write for a living until I resigned from my role as child advocate attorney to stay home full-time with my children. There are no set hours in mothering. Writing is something I love to do, and it fits in between the spaces of my commitment as wife and mother. I can pick up where I left off, and drop it when someone needs me. For this season in my life, writing is the perfect profession. But my gift and desire come from God. I believe it was always meant to be this way.
How has the journey to this point been? Can you give us a basic rundown?
My journey to publication has been such a blessing. I began writing and submitting my work pretty much as soon as I resigned from my job. But, it was seven years before an editor finally bit. And when she approached me, it seemed she wanted me to change everything about my story – point of view, genre, audience. With a lot of hesitation, I took her advice and my children’s book about a piano became a story for everyone, written in verse. With that, my career finally blossomed. That story became a book of short stories, entitled The Notes They Played.
The plan was for me to continue to write for that publishing house, with that specific editor. But, they filed bankruptcy and I was back to square one for me. I had a book that had been professionally edited, with no publisher. I was unwilling to go through the submission/rejection route, and chose instead to use a hybrid publisher. But, I never got the sense that they were truly invested in my book, The Impossible.
So, when it was time to publish Petrified Flowers, I prayed fervently for an editor and a publisher that truly believed in the work. And, I prayed for direction from God regarding my acceptance of a contract. Then, took a deep breath and began submitting. When I heard from Anaiah a few months later, I was hesitant, but hopeful. I asked a lot of questions and I prayed a lot.
My contract with Anaiah has been an answer to fervent prayer. My editor, Lisa Dunn, was a true champion for this book! And every single person I have worked with has been genuinely invested in the success of Petrified Flowers and my development as a writer. It is my desire and prayer to work with Anaiah on every future endeavor.
What an awesome story! What's been the hardest part of your writing/publishing experience so far? And the most enjoyable?
The joy is in the writing and editing; in falling in love with the characters, or disliking them, and still trying my best to do them justice, to be true to them and to allow their personalities to chart their courses, not my own preferences.
The hardest part is always the weeks and months following submissions or book release. I begin to question and second-guess all the confidence I previously had in the work. I feel most exposed to the world, and worry that maybe what I’ve written isn’t worth reading, and everyone will know.
Would you go back and change anything?
I bypassed the whole submission process with The Impossible, and opted for a hybrid publishing experience. I wish I had believed in myself enough, and taken the possible risk of years of rejection to secure a tradition publisher, and editors who were truly invested in the book. For me, traditional publishing is the only avenue going forward.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time or 10? What are your plans for the future?
One thing this global pandemic has forced me to finally understand, with social distancing and the pause on life as usual, is that I am not in control. I cannot plan my life. Period. God-willing, in five years my eldest will be in college and the other kids will all be teenagers. Three teenagers in the house. Eeeek! I would like to think that I will have a book published at least every other year.
In ten years, my husband and I will, prayerfully, have an empty nest and children to visit all over the country, and maybe the world. I hope to still be writing stories from my soul and running with my girlfriends.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to new writers just starting out?
May I give two? Pray! Each time before you start writing, and while you are plotting your story. Intentionally seek diversity – of ideas and cultures. Seek friendships with people that don’t look like you on the outside.
And some quickfire preference questions for fun...
Ketchup or Mayo? Unfortunately for my hips, mayo.
Night or Day? Day! I’m an early riser.
Inside or Outside? Outside.
Dogs or Cats? Dogs (please don’t tell my sweet cat).
Twitter or Facebook? Facebook.
Ebook or Paperback? Paperback.
Sun or Rain? Sunshine and rain, because of rainbows.
Keyboard or Pencil & Notebook? Grudgingly, keyboard, but only because it’s environmentally friendly, and it saves time.
Comedy or Drama? Drama, with tissues.
Chips or Chocolate? Chocolate. Again with the hips.
Thank you Joiya, it was a delight meeting you! You can touch base with Joiya through her website at www.joiyamewrites.com.
In a fractured world, Flowers bud in the deluge of God’s favor.
Tragedy uproots Iris and her sisters, all named after flowers, from the solid ground of middle-class life and plants them, unsupervised, in the rocky terrain of low-income housing. In a world where rain falls only on the privileged, Liam, a student who attends the elite private school directly across the street, proves refreshing as a summer gale, gushing joy into the sisters' lives. Further nurtured by Ma Moore, a church elder who sprinkles the Flower sisters with spiritual wisdom, Iris embraces her Heavenly Father with steadfast urgency.
But when a student takes a hopeless leap from the school roof, Iris withers under the scorching realization that everything she thought she knew about privilege—and God—lies crippled. Petrified Flowers is the anthem of one African-American girl straddling three worlds. It is a song of hope, a triumph of faith, and a resounding refrain of the Father’s eternal love.