Andrea Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and writing teacher who has written The Slaves Have Names: Ancestors of my Home about the people who were enslaved on the plantation where she was raised and about her journey to get to know them. She and her husband live and thrive at God’s Whisper Farm at the edge of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. You can read more of her work at her website—http://www.andilit.com.
· Who are your literary influences or inspiration?
I could go on and on here, but I’ll just list a few—Marilynne Robinson, Kathleen Norris, Tracy Kidder, Octavia Butler, A.S. Byatt, JoAnn Beard, and so many more.
· What have people most liked or found most meaningful/funny/creative/ challenging about your book?
In The Slaves Have Names, readers have taken hope, I think, in finding the stories of enslaved people because those stories are so rare. We have a few slave narratives, which everyone who REALLY wants to know about the experience and history of slavery should read, but we really don’t have much beyond that. So several readers have told me they appreciated hearing what I could find about the people enslaved at the plantation where I was raised and also my attempts to imagine their lives when the facts gave out.
· Why do you write?
It’s something that many writers have said, of course, but I write to know what I think, to understand why I feel the way I do, to clarify my own experiences. I also write because I don’t know how not to.
· As a result of publishing your book, what have you learned about yourself and/or the writing process?
Oh goodness, I’ve learned lots of things. I realize I was impatient with getting The Slaves Have Names out. I could have taken more time to edit, to get the cover just right (although I love the cover my husband designed), to get the marketing plan in place a bit more. But I’m usually one to act fast and then deal with the consequences—good or—so this is no different.
I’ve also learned that despite the fact that I KNOW that my book cannot appeal to all people, I am still quite disheartened by bad reviews. So I”m learning to not read those unless I’m in a good head and heart space.
· Where do your characters come from? Since I write largely about the history and legacy of slavery, my characters often are historical people whom I am trying to uncover. Or in the case of the YA novel I’m editing now, most of the characters are loosely based on people I know or have researched. But for one—Moses—he walked into my imagination a fully-formed person; still, though, he is much like I imagine my 3x great-grandfather James Henry Cumbo being.
· What does your writing space look like?… like do you have a crazy mess of a desk full of notes and post its? Or is it a quaint chair at a coffee shop?
I have just moved into my new office, which was the summer kitchen here at our 210-year-old Virginia farm. I sit where the cookstove was, and my desk is placed where I imagine the enslaved woman who cooked in this kitchen stood. I have three windows and the original door still hands directly across from my chair. It’s made up of five vertical boards and three wide boards to hold it together. The original latch is still there. It’s a peaceful, rich space, and I treasure it and all the stories it carries in itself.
· What’s the hardest part of writing or publishing?
For me, getting to the page is the hardest. I will exude a tremendous amount of energy to avoid getting started. I haven’t quite figured out why that is yet, but I find that when I actually start, the writing is not that hard. Editing is hard but drafting comes pretty easy for me . . . if I can just get myself to start.
· What writing mistakes do you find yourself making most often?
Well, I keep forgetting that starting is hard, so there’s that. I also tend to rush the editing, and that’s never good. I’m trying to rectify those habits of mine. In terms of mistakes in the writing, I still can’t get “its” and “it’s” right as I draft, and the right uses of “lie,” “lay,” “laid,” etc still baffle me. That’s why I hire an editor. 🙂
· How would you like your books to change the world?
What a great question! I would like for my books to help people see that they can look at the history and legacy of slavery with open eyes and open hearts and find healing and magic there. We are so afraid of this history, so ashamed, too. But until we will see it, we cannot heal from it. So I hope my books help people see.
· Where would your dream book signing occur?
I want to say that I’d love to sign books at Powell’s or the Strand bookstores, and of course, I would be so honored. But what comes to mind now is a dock overlooking some body of water—maybe a lake here in Virginia—with people sipping something delightful, eating locally-grown and rich snacks, and enjoying an evening together while I signed.