I’m so happy to sit down with Avery Brooks today to talk about her time at the GCLS Writing Academy and her book, Other Girls. (Available at Bywater Books or Amazon.) I loved having Avery in class, so it’s even more exciting to be able to talk to her as a published writer.
I loved your class. You all seemed to connect on a deeper level with each other and your passion and excitement for the program spilled over to those of us who run the academy. So you can imagine I was absolutely thrilled to see the LezReview (https://lezreviewbooks.com/lex-list-best-lesbian-books-of-2019/) best books of the year had two students from your graduating class. Your book Other Girls is on here. I remember reading sections of it during your time at the academy and I thought it was good then. But the final product blew me away. It is such a great book. Did you complete this book that year?
Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say. Yes, I wrote the entire first draft during the time I was in the Writing Academy. I definitely revised the book afterward, but almost all of the important story components came during the WA.
And your mentor was Georgia Beers so that had to be awesome.
It was amazing! I remember being ecstatic when I found out Georgia was my mentor, which was quickly followed by abject terror and not wanting to disappoint her. She was very kind in her feedback on my writing. She shared advice she had been given and let me know when a line, scene, or aspect of a character didn’t work and why. It was really helpful and I learned a lot. I remember something I had written made her laugh, and that was pretty much my crowning moment. She was very supportive and encouraging, and continues to be so.
You went from having the incredible Georgia Beers as your mentor to publishing with the amazing publishing house, Bywater Books. What was that process like?
I pitched to them at the GCLS con after the Writing Academy ended, and they signed me. That was completely unexpected and amazing. I have a lot of respect for everyone at Bywater, so getting to be part of that family meant a lot to me. I worked closely with Ann McMan (Ed. Note. We are secretly in love with Ann McMan, famous author) over the coming year as I reworked my book and changed it from singular POV (Sam’s) to both Sam and Ash’s perspective. Being mentored by Ann was an incredible experience. She is brilliant and an amazingly talented writer, but also one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met. Working with Georgia and then Ann, and having them mentor me in writing really was a highlight of my career. Ann also designed the cover of Other Girls, which was such an honor.
Throughout the experience with Bywater, I learned a lot about the publication process. I was grateful to work with a publisher and editor who made the process as smooth as possible. The support from the other authors with Bywater has been really wonderful. Everyone has been incredibly kind and supportive. Writing a book can be really challenging and lonely, so having people to reach out to and who have your best interests at heart really is an important component to make it to the other side.
That’s so important. And Other Girls already has great reviews. What do you think draws people to this book?
An awesome cover! Just kidding. (Though I do love the cover.) My goal in writing this book and in writing any book is to write real characters who grapple with the hard stuff in life, and hopefully to help people who have gone through similar issues find some sense of belonging and community in seeing their story being represented. This book deals with many different types of trauma (domestic violence, bullying, loss of a partner). It’s not a light-hearted read and I knew that I was taking a gamble since it’s contemporary romance and many readers are wanting to escape reality. So, I wasn’t sure how it would be received. But it was important to me to show that people who have been through trauma and still deal with the effects of that can find their love story, too. And I hope that readers fall in love with the characters, humor, and story as well.
One of the tidbits of information that I loved finding out about you during your time at the Academy is that you have a PhD in Evolutionary Biology. How has that helped or hindered your creative writing?
That’s a good question. Well, it has helped in preparing me to tackle huge goals and finish them. When I was going through the revision process, I realized that my natural writing style is still academic to a degree (passive voice, etc.). So at least if I was going to get something wrong, it was because of my former training. On the other hand, having taught scientific writing and always being limited to that format in my own work, I was really excited to be able to write a sentence that didn’t need a citation. It was a really fun experience to pursue my creative side and let my imagination be the dominant force at work, but there are definitely several themes from my work as an evolutionary biologist that I want to pursue in my writing.
So you’re brilliant and talented. Is there anything you can’t do?
Oh there’s plenty, but I am always learning and trying to better myself. That curiosity is what led me to science and animal behavior. I’ve always wanted to play the piano and the guitar. Technically, I played the piano as a kid, but forgot everything, and I have not stuck with the guitar long enough to become good at it. My brother was always the musician in the family. Maybe one day. Plus, my dogs rarely do anything I say, so there’s that.
Back to your book. Drea is an awesome side character. Is she coming back in anything? Hint, hint.
I definitely fell in love with Drea a bit while writing Other Girls. I intentionally included several characters in the book with the goal of writing their stories in the future. So, yes, I am working on Drea’s story!
Are you working on that right now?
I’m working on a couple things right now, and Drea’s story is one of them. I’ll definitely keep you posted!
Other than Drea, one of the things I loved about Other Girls is how New Orleans came to life in the book. Was that particular setting important to you?
I wrote a blog about why I chose to set my debut novel in New Orleans and what the city means to me, which can be found on my website. But briefly, I lived there for a little over a year right after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I worked directly with birds that were affected by the oil spill, and then conducted my post-doctoral research there as well. It’s one of those places that leaves a mark on you. I definitely fell in love with the city and became a die-hard Saints fan as well. For me, there’s so much soul to New Orleans. It really has its own heartbeat. So, it was an easy choice as a setting for me to show my love for the city and have it be an additional character in the book, but also because it is a city that has been through so much, and my book is ultimately a story of redemption.
Back to the WA, do you keep in contact with any of your former classmates?
Absolutely! I speak fairly regularly to a number of them. I have a warm spot in my heart regarding that whole experience, and I know that I can reach out to any one of them and they will be helpful and supportive. It’s been great to see them at the GCLS con each year and work together to plan and be on panels together. I’m glad we got to share the WA experience and we’re all very supportive of each other.
What advice would you give someone who is considering joining the Writing Academy?
Do it! There really is nothing to lose and everything to gain. No matter what stage of your writing career you are in, from a complete beginner to having several books out, it will make you better. It will help with the fundamentals and improving your writing, but also being taught by award-winning authors, and especially being mentored 1-on-1 by an award-winning author is priceless. The relationships you build with your classmates and instructors was definitely one of my favorite aspects of the WA. When I was a student in the WA, I lived in a place with very little LGBTQ+ community, and having that instant network was really important for me. Plus, it was just really fun to discuss writing with other people who write wlw fiction.
I always have to ask this. What books are on your reading list right now?
That’s a fun question! I always seem to have more books than I actually have time to read, but The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl, Nottingham by Anna Burke, Say Her Name by Stefani Deoul, Galileo by Ann McMan, and High School by Tegan and Sara Quin. I have a bunch of lesfic books on my list actually. I need to catch up. I’m especially excited about Nottingham by Anna Burke.
We have the same tastes in books! And Anna Burke is also an academy grad. I am really looking forward to getting into Nottingham.
Anna is doing some really important things in her writing. She’s rewriting Robin Hood with a truly diverse cast of characters, including some kickass strong women. It’s long overdue. I’m excited to live in a world where that’s the kind of fairy tale girls get to read.
Is there anything else you want us to know about you?
People can follow me on social media if they’re interested to know more. I do want to say that I am very grateful that I found GCLS and the WA. It’s such a supportive organization and the con is my favorite event each year. Through the WA and the con, I’ve made some incredible friends, so I would encourage anyone to attend if they haven’t. And I’d like to thank everyone who has read Other Girls or supported it in any way. I truly appreciate it.
Thank you so much for talking with me today, Avery. If anyone is interested in connecting with Avery Brooks on social media, see the links below.
The GCLS Writing Academy is a yearlong intensive program for new or relatively new writers who have written at least part of a novel. In this course, students will learn the critical components of quality writing. The Writing Academy goes beyond craft of writing and takes students through all aspects of writing and publishing a novel.