Monday, March 05, 2018

Interview of Lonita Cook

Interview of Lonita Cook by Xánath Caraza

The Chronicles of Cyn: Awaken the Sleeper by Lonita Cook fills the reader with aromas, polychromatic images, sounds while traveling from the psychological inner world of Cyn to the physical landscape of her journey as a Goddess vampire through time.  With “dark skin as a starless night”, this female vampire longs for what will not return and for what is lost forever.  Her internal and external journey pushes her to reflect on universal questions such as love, art, the concept of beauty, nature, and God.  With an exquisite writing style, Cook invites the reader to travel along with Cyn who at the present time is somewhere in the Midwest, hungry and thirsty for liquid carmine love.           
—Xánath Caraza

Who is Lonita Cook? 

I am a mother, dutiful daughter, writer of fiction and for performance, and I am an arts activist. The stories that explore the fantastic and magical have always been the stories that resonate most with me, so that’s what I like to bring to my work. Trying to explore an Afrikan and/or Black gaze is also central to my creativity. I am an Afro-optimist.

The weird part is I am largely influenced by one 1980’s movie: David Lynch’s Dune (adaptation from the Frank Herbert series). It is my all-time favorite movie. So, exploring themes like faith, loss, salvation, and power against non-traditional backdrops is something that excites me.

As a child, who first introduced you to reading? 

My mother was my first and best teacher. She taught me to read before I was two. It was a passion for her, both reading and teaching. I don’t remember the process of learning, but I do remember sharing words and concepts and new worlds and imagination. That was my favorite. It taught me that those moments are worth bonding over.

How did you first become a writer? 

Writing wasn’t what I did first. I am a trained actor. I studied at a New York conservatory. It was there that I realized that acting was just a hobby, not the adventure I’d want to commit my flesh, heart, mind and soul to. So, it took me a few years to even ask the question: what is it that I am passionate about?

“They” say, the things we do for free, would do even if we never got paid, are probably closest to our passion. I had always been writing. I will always write. Though I was never good at it. I like to communicate. I like to listen. I like to hear.

Theater was my sanctuary back then. I love the theater. Naturally, I thought if I’m going to write, I must write for actors and honor all my friends, contribute to their needs, which I understood well.

In college, I was the president of the University Theater Association and co-founded an on-campus group, The Conjure Theater Troupe. I had written a play and submitted it to our student advisor. He read it. His only note was: I could give you notes, but I’ll say this instead. I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one sitting. But, it’s not really appropriate for the stage. Have you ever considered writing a book?

I was so mad at him. I was young. I wanted to be August Wilson, Susan Lori Parks, Moliere. I read plays. I admired playwrights. Outside of class, it had been a long while since I’d read any books!

Years drifted by. I believed I was a playwright. I was a playwright who was supposed to be writing novels? So, I wrote nothing.

Right before I turned thirty I became inspired by a particular hardship to explore writing a novel. I wrote fifteen pages and asked a few people to take a look. ALL of them said about the same thing: I don’t know who these people are, I don’t know where they are, and I have no clue why they’re doing what they’re doing. I’m not even sure I know what they’re doing.

The oddest thing happened... Someone recommended “Fountainhead”. I had never even heard of Ayn Rand. But I read it. It was exactly the example I needed of how to write description and detail and how to personalize it, make it character. That is why you’ll find my book what current readers might call overwritten.

Toni Morrison followed, then Dan Brown and a revisit to James Baldwin. But I was still missing the important part. Genre. I was writing about vampires and relationships and powers. People started handing me all manner of romance and erotica. Ah. That was an education.

And Twilight. Oh, ho, ho. Twilight happened.

While I was dragging my feet, the industry changed. Self-publishing became a real and viable thing. Everything was new. People were pissed. Some were scrambling to define and drive this new vehicle forward.

I was in a writers group trying to learn how to write and fewer and fewer of our members wanted to be traditionally published. Like the rest of the world, I had to open to a new approach, a fresh set of rules. All this writing business for me has boiled down to exploration. I kind of want to see what will, what can happen. It’s scary out here, but it’s fun.

Do you have any favorite movie or book?

It’s strange, but I have favorite movies. Not so much favorite books. My all-time favorite book is one for which I remember few details. I don’t remember the title or the names of characters. But when I was in the second grade I read it over and over and over and over again. I remember the way it made me feel. Like I wish I could rescue the little girl protagonist. In that way, I learned to understand literature. I never would be able to rescue her. No matter how many times I read it, her story was always the same. I learned then that books are about the reader: How did I change?

What is a day of creative writing like for you?
I wish I could say that I have a routine. All the professionals do. They say they do. But, before I’m a writer, I’m a mother and a daughter who is responsible for the full-time care for my mother. They come first.

Pros say that if we really want it, we will carve out some time each and every day to do it.

Maybe that’s why it took ten years to complete this novel. That, and I had a lot to learn just to get to this basic stage.

But when I do write, I like to be both inside and outside, so I write in my car. Not always, but, that’s my favorite place.

When I first started, I’d write by hand and then edit as I typed. But, I’ve streamlined my process. I do outlines, write paragraphs here and there, dialogue they must say, images I must reveal, rough drafts. Usually, once I get that through-line I just sit down and write.

Currently, I write at least six times a week for at least 3-5 hours at a time. My children are older and they prefer I leave them alone mostly, so...hello more writing time.

When do you know when a poem is ready to be read? 

I never know. Gosh, I’m not sure any writer does. I think the writer has to listen to instinct and friends. Our readers, fellow writers, editors, etc tell us when it’s time. The writer can tinker forever. Instinct will say enough, but it never says it’s done.

Could you describe your activities as writer/journalist?

They say don’t develop vices as you write. I used to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. It’s almost like I needed a buffer to get me through to that world, that one that’s made up almost entirely of energy, the one we use to shape the life of our stories. It’s a strange place to be. But, I’ve since quit smoking and I do a little workout before I sit down to write-- some yoga or something and then a little mental activity... I am love, I am capable, I am ready.
I’m actually much stronger in the imagination this way. It doesn’t deplete me; it doesn’t best me.

Could you comment on your life as a cultural activist?

It took a long time to understand that no matter my circumstance I have something to give. Starting first with my children is important to me. I give them art. Music, singing, painting, drawing, writing. I give that to them. My hope is to teach them how to give it to others. To serve through art. Or, just to serve in their best way.

Volunteering is also important to how I serve the community. I gift a lot of my time to the Kansas City film industry and when I tithe, I do it to social organizations, not just congregations.

Compassion, loving-kindness and generosity are the cornerstone on which I build my arts activism. Service is for everyone.

But, I care about Black people and the ways we see ourselves, the cultural esteem we have. I’m interested in Black people being the standard for themselves. Resurrection first, liberation after. I have a heart for all people, but I am an Afro-optimist. If we let go of all the politics, all the modern history especially as defined by colonialization, all the categorizing, what do we look like? What is our flesh, what is our perspective, what is our contribution? These types of questions genuinely interest me and I try to explore it in my work.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I serve the board of Kansas International Film Festival. This work is important to me because it’s one of those rare opportunities where the benefit is balanced between myself, the community and the organization. There is so much to give and so many demographics I get to serve from this position. And I’m learning so much. I’m also a mentor with the Kansas City Women in Film & Television mentorship program. As I learn, I try to share.

What advice do you have for other writers?

Faith is key. Faith is biblical and we know what it says. But, we must also know that faith is an agreement. An agreement.

With All That Is.

Knowing what you want and what you are willing to give in exchange is important (the terms of the agreement). Putting your name on it through prayer, meditation, envisioning, and ACTION is signing a contract with the Divine Ever Presence. I call it God. You can call it as you will.

You will enter into many contracts over the course of your life. This one here, this agreement you make with God, is the greatest contract you will ever make.

It is an agreement. And faith is key.

Believe that you live in a world where you can have anything, anything you want.

If you want to write. Write. If you want to publish. Publish.

What do you want?

Put your name on it.

What else would you like to share?

Love. Hope. Adventure.

1 comment:

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