If you were to try to build a solid relationship with your first, teenage love, do you think it would work now that you’re both adults? That’s the question author Tia Williams tackles in her latest book ‘Seven Days in June.’
Williams, the Brooklyn-based author and journalist, enjoyed much success with the release of her last novel ‘The Perfect Find,’ which has been adapted into a Netflix film starring Gabrielle Union and Keith Powers.
While ‘The Perfect Find’ was described as a beach read, Williams’ latest work deals with weightier topics like a fractured mother-daughter relationship, addiction and chronic pain.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Williams recently about her latest novel. See what she had to say in the interview below.
MadameNoire: What inspired the idea for this book?
Tia Williams: I was watching Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, as one does. And I got to the end of it and obviously, Romeo and Juliet die. And I had this thought, ‘What if they hadn’t died?’ What if they went their separate ways and grew up? They shared this teenage connection, didn’t talk and then met again when they were functioning grown ups? What would that be like? Do soul mates have an expiration date? Would it be the same? Would they remember everything the same? Were they victims of timing? Would it work this time?
We all have these passionate moments as teenagers and you look back and you’re like, ‘Was that something or was I just hormonal?’ So I wanted to deal with a second chance love story and see what I could make of it. So I think I built a case for Eva and Shane being soulmates and not just being teenage fixations.
MN: Why was it important for you to include the aspect of chronic pain in this novel? I know you personally suffer from migraines. Why did you decide to detail this in this story?
Tia: Just like Eva, I’ve dealt with them since I was a little girl. I’m in pain everyday. I wake up in pain everyday. And it’s really affected every aspect of my life. It’s touched every relationship I’ve had, whether platonic or someone I’m dating. It’s something that’s always there. And I can’t escape it. I’ve always wanted to write about it but it’s kind of a painful thing to unpack. Also, in the genre I write in, there’s nothing sexy, funny or light about a chronic illness. And so I was always like, ‘Where does this fit in?’
Because it’s so loud in my personal life, it’s impossible to get around it completely so I’ve always had moments in different novels where someone is rubbing their temples because their head is hurting. There’ve been these little pieces. But I’ve never tackled it in the way that I’m writing a character that has the disease on the same level that I do. It was a challenge for me to work this very real, pretty sad element of a character into a book and still have it be fun and real.
MN: I also think there’s something interesting about talking about a Black woman who is in pain, when so often our pain—whether psychological, emotional and physical—is just ignored.
Tia: Oh yeah! Totally. And mine was forever. The migraine thing is tough anyway because mostly women have it. And women in general aren’t really believed in the medical profession and then Black women are definitely not believed. Doctors will say things like, ‘You’re just stressed out.’ ‘Maybe you should go for a walk, have some water.’
My friend recently took her daughter, who is 15, to a neurologist because she’s been suffering from these blackout migraines. And the neurologist told her she should loosen the straps on her backpack.
There’s definitely an element of that as well. So I wanted to talk about being a Black woman walking around with this stuff. And she was self-medicating for so long because she didn’t have any help.
MN: In your process, what do you find more difficult? Is it the writing itself, the marketing, the waiting for the reception from readers?
Tia: Actually none of those things. It’s finding the time to write. It’s so hard. I have a full time job. I have 12-year-old daughter. I’ve been married for five months but before that I was a single mom doing all of this and with a chronic illness. Finding the perfect time to do it and it has to be a time where my pain is managed. Now we’re talking about 2-3 times a week that I can sit down and write. And there’s so much pressure to get as much done as I can in those windows because my health is so unpredictable, who knows when it’s going to strike again.
Then also as a mom, your time is not really your own. So it’s finding time. If I had unlimited time, if I didn’t have a job, if my head never hurt, I would be on my thirteenth novel.
MN: Why did you say you believed you would never finish this novel?
Tia: Did I say I believed I would never finish this novel?
MN: You posted something you wrote in 2017…
Tia: Oh! Because it was terrible. That’s easy. I don’t know if you’ve ever written long form fiction before but more often than not you gas yourself out, like, ‘Was there more I wanted to write?’ How does the rest of this go? There’s different types of writers. They’re called pantszers which is short for flying by the seat of your pants. A pantszer doesn’t have an online. They just sit h and go. I am not a pantszer, I’m an outliner. But even when you outline, you can’t account for everything that’s going to happen and there’s going to be blank spaces in between all of your plot points. And you’re looking around like, ‘Who’s going to tell me what goes here?’
You get those points and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is stupid. I should just stop. There’s no way I can move forward. I don’t have a thought in my head. Everything I’m writing has been written before. There is nothing new here. I’m a cliché. Why did I ever start writing?’
If you follow any fiction writers on any social media platform you will see the same language pop up, ever 3-4 months. ‘Why did I ever pick up a pen?!’ It’s hard! It’s hard because you’re not doing it for anyone else. You’re doing it for yourself and you have to be the boss and the taskmaster and if you’re tired or struggling or have writer’s block, it’s very hard to stay on top of your schedule to meet your goals.
MN: A lot of people are calling this your second book but you’ve written books before The Perfect Find. What would you say you’ve learned about yourself as a writer?
Tia: Yeah, I’m annoyed by that second book thing. This is my sixth book. I wrote a lot of YA so that’s probably where that comes from. But this is my third adult novel. Anyway, I think the thing that I’ve learned the most is that I don’t always have to write exactly about what I know. Until this book, I didn’t have to research anything ever because all of the characters came from different experiences I’ve had in my life. But this was the first one where I truly had completely made up people.
The skeleton of Eva comes from me: Black, Brooklyn, author, with a 12-year-old daughter, living in Park Slope, with a Creole mother and migraines. That’s all me. But her very traumatic past, her very problematic mother, their matrilineal identity—all of that is totally made up.
Shane is totally made up, with some inspiration by my husband. But in terms of the backstory and the addiction problems, I had to research all of that. So I’ve learned that you can step outside of what you know as long as your research is thorough enough.
MN: How do you know when your research is thorough enough?
Tia: Because you’ve done enough that you’ve absorbed it all so when you sit down to write it comes out of you like you always knew it.
MN: Do you feel like there’s a lack of respect for romance authors? Have you experienced that in your own career?
Tia: Yeah! It’s annoying. It’s weird because the romance category, I don’t really fit in. It’s really contemporary fiction with a love story. The romance category is very rigid in terms of what makes up the genre and if you don’t have a happy ending, it isn’t a romance. There’s all these different rules, which is interesting.
But yeah, it’s annoying. I hear it all the time like, ‘Wow, I was really surprised at how well written this was.’ Or ‘How three dimensional your characters are.’ ‘I got swept away in the story and I usually hate romance.’ And I’m like, You know what, you don’t hate it then. And people think that—it’s like the Nathaniel Hawthorne quote, “Easy reading is damned hard writing.’ And it’s true. Just because it goes down easy doesn’t mean it isn’t excruciating to write. It takes a lot to make a story that palatable.
Seven Days in June is out now and available for purchase, wherever books are sold.