Q&A With Asha Lemmie
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Q&A With Asha Lemmie
Another Q&A to start off the week is with New York Times Bestselling author of historical fiction Asha Lemmie. Asha is the author of Fifty Words For Rain & coming out on December 5th 2023 is the novel The Wildest Sun.
Q: Asha can you tell us a little bit about what your second novel, The Wildest Sun, is about?
A: Sure! The Wildest Sun is historical coming of age story for a later stage in life. It centers around a young woman named Delphine, who is born and raised in Paris. Her mother, Sylvie, once a prominent socialite, suffragette, and aspiring poet, has fallen into severe alcoholism and depression. Delphine spends most of her childhood taking care of her mother and dreaming of the man her mother assures her to be her absentee father—one Ernest Hemingway. Delphine really folds this idea of a famous father into her identity and decides to become a writer herself, hoping that will win his approval. Without giving anything a way, a change in circumstances spurs Delphine’s decision to leave Paris right around the close of WWII and embark on the quest to find Hemingway and prove her worth to him.
Her journey takes her from Harlem, to Havana, to Key West. Throughout the novel Delphine searches for identity, validation, and redemption. I think her growth will resonate with a lot of readers. It’s not easy to learn to say “this is me, I like me, take it or leave it” but that is exactly what we all have to do at some point.
Q: When did you realize that writing was your gift and calling? What made you choose to write historical fiction specifically?
A: I’ve always been a big reader and I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. I wrote a story in kindergarten and my teacher was floored. She encouraged my parents to put me in writing classes and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’m drawn to historical fiction specifically because history has always been a passion of mine. I love learning about the foundations of the world we live in today. There are so many lessons in the past. I think we should all listen more. I focus on the history of the marginalized especially—women, people of color—because I don’t ever want anyone to forget that even while facing significant limitations, these people played a huge part. I don’t want them to be forgotten.
Q: I read somewhere that Fifty Words For Rain was being made into a movie. Have they started casting and filming yet?
A: Hollywood is even slower than publishing believe it or not! Sadly I don’t have any more news to share on that front. We shall see.
Q: If you are writing a new novel now would you reveal any details about it? Does Hollywood have the rights to your second novel The Wildest Sun? Hollywood is long overdue in the creative department.
A: I’m inclined to agree. We are just about to put the rights to The Wildest Sun on the market, so we’ll see what comes of that! I am working on a new novel and I don’t mind sharing that it’s a sequel to Fifty Words For Rain. But it’s still very much in the planning stages. I have no timeline to offer on that.
Q: How did you come up with the concept for Fifty Words For Rain & The Wildest Sun?
A: This is such a complex question for me to answer. My inspiration always come from a myriad of different places. There’s no one “eureka” moment.
Fifty Words For Rain was inspired by my feelings of isolation and desire to explore a non-European historical fiction. Nori’s journey is unique but I think a lot of her emotional struggles are so relatable for a lot of young women. I wanted to create a character who blossoms in isolation. She’s resilient but gentle, smart but shy. I grew to really care about her. It was meaningful for me to a create a brown, mixed race female protagonist.
The Wildest Sun was inspired by my love of literature and my own personal struggles with seeking purpose and redemption. Delphine is ambitious, flawed, clever, tough but vulnerable. She’s a bold, perhaps difficult woman. She’s going to rub some people the wrong way and it was a big step for me as an author to be totally fine with that.
For both Nori and Delphine, though they are so very different, I truly love who they become in the end. They’re standing in the best version of themselves. They’re not proud of everything they’ve done in their lives but they’re proud of who they are and where they’re going.
Q: You divide your time between New York, London & Kyoto? What is it like living in all three places? Would you tell me your favorite things and places to see and do in Kyoto, London & New York?
A: Pre-pandemic I was quite the little jetsetter and while I still travel frequently, I’m a full-time graduate student right now so I don’t have the flexibility that I used to. I’m mostly limited to places I can get to in six hours or less and that make sense to stay for a week to ten days or so. Sadly, that takes Japan off the list. I miss it and I’d like to go back soon. I’m going to London next summer and I can’t wait.
My favorite thing to do in all three of those places is eat. I’m a huge foodie. I like to taste things, be amazed, and then try to up my cooking skills to recreate it. I also love to visit historical sites, museums, temples, cathedrals etc. I like to feel a sense of the past. I like to feel the ghosts in the room with me.
New York and London also have amazing performing arts scenes and I love taking full advantage of that. Opera, ballet, yes please.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write great historical fiction? If you struggle with writers block, what advice do you give aspiring authors on how to deal with it?
A: My biggest advice is to center in on your own personal vision. The market changes, opinions vary, but what remains semi-constant is your own “why?”
Why do you want to tell this story? Why is this the right time, the right place, the right protagonist to carry that message? Even as you are making changes and going through acquiring an agent, a publisher etc., hopefully that why will help you remain true to your vision. The goal is never to tell a story that everyone will understand or enjoy. The goal is to tell the best version of the story that you want to tell.
My writer’s block is usually triggered by imposter syndrome. Feelings of self-doubt tend to be a real creativity killer. So I try to remove the external pressures. I try to focus on learning something new with every draft. That way it never feels hopeless.
Q: What is your advice to new authors on how to deal with negative reviews, online trolls and family and friends who may not support their writing goals?
A: Negative reviews are just an inevitable part of the game. You will never be everyone’s cup of tea and the thing about the internet is that everyone—including every village idiot–gets an opinion. Reviews are for readers. I recommend not reading them as authors. You did your best. It’s out of your hands. You aren’t your books’ defense attorney. Let it be.
Online trolls, especially, are best ignored. They want to feel important online because they’re usually missing that in real life. They feed on negativity but I like to leave them to fester in it. Quite frankly, these people are irrelevant to me. They’re not paying my bills. They’re not working for the New York Times or anything like that. They’re entitled to their opinions but I’m entitled not to care.
Not everyone, even people who care about you, is going to understand you or what you feel called to do. I just had to accept that. I did not always get a lot of support from people in my life. But I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me.
You get one life. Raise your voice.