Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Interview with Author Breanne McIvor

Welcome Back, Booklovers! The God of Good Looks was one of my best reads so far this year and one I can't help but keep recommending. So of course I had to reach out to author Breanne McIvor and I'm happy she agreed to this interview.

What inspired you to write The God of Good Looks?

The God of Good Looks started life as a commission from the Bocas Lit Fest and the Caribbean Literary Heritage Project called “Inspired by the Archives”. I was commissioned to explore local literary archives and write a piece inspired by something I’d read. I eventually stumbled upon Derek Walcott’s personal notebook, where he conducts a self-interview that begins:


W: Why have you succumbed to this self-interview?


W: For the money.

I was instantly enamored and those became my first lines. I imagined my narrator as being an aspiring writer, like Walcott once was, with his razor sharp wit and literary ambitions. 

I don’t think I consciously decided to set the novel in the Trinidadian beauty industry. However, at the time I was working as a professional makeup artist and that world was all around me. Some of the sheen of working in beauty had worn off by then, and I was beginning to question most aspects of my job. Was I helping my clients to be the best, most confident version of themselves or was I just reinforcing harmful stereotypes and conveying that none of us are good enough as we are and we need makeup to make us ‘better’? A lot of my complex attitudes to beauty made it onto the page and my characters grapple with a lot of the issues that I struggled with. 


Just like your character Bianca, you left Trinidad to attend university abroad before returning home. How has having lived abroad affected your outlook on the country?

I think that distance from any place helps you to see it in a way you couldn’t when it defined all aspects of your life. When I was living at home, there were so many things I unconsciously accepted. Some part of my brain said, “that’s just how it is” and I didn’t really feel as if change was possible. For example, Trinidad and Tobago has the sixth highest crime rate in the world, and I grew up inundated with stories about murders, kidnappings, and robberies. A strange car idling outside your house was a reason to pull all the curtains and peer out until they left. In the UK, I moved into a room that didn’t have burglar proof bars and at first I felt so unsafe because I thought someone could just break the window and come in. As I began to feel safe in my new room, I realized how much of my life was shaped by the opposite, the threat of crime and violence. I also began to ask what led my home country to that point and if there would ever be a time when I could live at home and really feel safe. 

Of course, I also missed home. Every time I had to leave Trinidad to go back to the UK, I would go through immigration and then lock myself in a tiny airport bathroom and cry. Missing something that you once took for granted changes how you interpret that thing. For example, I never really reflected on the laid back, mellow Caribbean culture until I lived somewhere with such a different attitude to life. I love the Trini blend of Carnival creativity, and vibrancy, but also the peace that can come from a life where you can always slow down and literally stop to smell the flowers and feed the hummingbirds. I realized that I never wanted to lose those slow moments and get so bogged down with the rat race or this need for success that I don’t have that sort of peace. 

So, I guess living abroad sharpened my view of Trinidad in a way that would never have been possible if I’d only ever lived at home. It did make me more critical of the parts of my country that make life painful. But I don’t think I’m cynical about it; I just want change. And my life in the UK also made me love my country in a more conscious way. Now that I’ve moved back home, I celebrate so many things I used to take for granted.


As a Caribbean author do you feel there’s an expectation about what type of subjects you should write about?

Yes! I think that a lot of Caribbean writers around my age grew up with the Windrush generation of writers and Nobel Prize winners like Walcott and V.S. Naipaul, as the model of how to be a writer. That generation of writers wrote the books that we still study in schools. So, at home, there was this belief that a good writer focuses on ‘serious’ subjects. I was writing about things that some people consider to be deeply unserious – makeup, modeling, and a beauty magazine – but I was also reflecting on the harsher realities of Trinidad: the shadow of colonialism, the pressure placed on women in a patriarchal society, and crime. I hadn’t seen a book like this come out of Trinidad and so there was a part of me that was nervous about how it would be received at home.

 Only when I started searching for an agent internationally, did I realize that some people were surprised that Trinidad had such a booming beauty industry. I was even advised that I should lean more into the ‘sun, sea, and sand’ image of the Caribbean since readers would be more familiar with that setting. I really, passionately believe that Caribbean writing doesn’t need to be altered for international audiences and I want to do more on the page than perpetuate stereotypes that only tell a small fragment of our story. Luckily, I found an agent and publishers who loved the book partly because it showed a different face of Trinidad and I’ve since met international readers who told me that their idea of the Caribbean was changed by reading this book.


When writing for an international audience how do you balance explaining aspects of the culture they may be unfamiliar with while still trying to satisfy your local readers?

I trust my readers a lot. I don’t think international readers need me to explain everything to them like this book is a class called Trinidad 101. I’ve read books set in locales that are entirely unfamiliar to me, but the writing immersed me in the new world and I came away feeling like I had visited that place in my mind. As a writer, I love describing scenery, music, and food, and I think that my writing foregrounds the social fabric of Trinidad; hopefully that will help international readers to feel like they’re getting to know my country. But I also think there is a certain universality to the themes in this book that transcends the Trinidadian experience.  

Maybe because I didn’t write this novel trying to explain Trinidad to an international audience, I never really had to think about how to balance the reading experience for international and local readers. However, since the book came out, many local readers have reached out to me online to tell me how lovely it was to see their lives reflected on the page. I really wanted to portray my country authentically and hold the complexities of our lived reality in my words and I’m always happy when readers think I’ve done that.


Was there anything that surprised you during your experience launching The God of Good Looks?

 I was very much an outsider to publishing. So my entire experience launching The God of Good Looks was like one surprise after another. I was blown away by how much work goes into a book behind the scenes, from everything to designing the perfect cover to the marketing and publicity aspect of launching a book.

I also surprised myself by actually sticking to my resolution to not check the reviews and ratings on Good Reads. I told myself not to go on Good Reads. But I’d told myself that when my collection of short stories, Where There Are Monsters, came out in 2019 and I’d still find myself on Good Reads checking to see what readers were saying. This time, I told myself that I had no control over how the book was received once it was out there in the world and I surprised myself by believing that and not giving the star ratings any thought.


What was your experience like writing during the pandemic?

Like many people, my life was upended by the pandemic. My parents were also negatively affected and I suddenly had to help my family out in ways that I never had to before. My life was a dumpster fire, but writing was a refuge. I always looked forward to the end of the day when I could switch off the outside for a little while and live in the world I’d created for my characters.  

Are you a planner or a panster?

 I’m a bit of both. I usually plan out where my story is going to go. However, I’ve never been the author with detailed plot maps and notebooks delineating my story structure. I make a lot of discoveries as I’m writing. There’s a special joy in having a character surprise you and realizing that somewhere in the murkiness of your brain, this character became untethered from your plan and became someone wilder and better than you imagined.   

In my first draft of The God of Good Looks, the ending was tragically awful. My characters had become so different from the people I envisaged when I started writing, and I tried to force them into this rigid, predetermined denouement. Eventually, I scrapped that ending and tried something new. I was really flying by the seat of my pants at that point; I had no idea how it would work out or if it would be any good, but it felt much more true to the structure of the story and the spirit of the characters.


What’s your best advice for someone writing their first book?

I think that it’s important for a first time author to be able to find time and space to write. We’re inundated with so much noise, from our day jobs, to social media, to news stories which recount the many ways our planet is burning (sometimes literally). And we’re all so busy. It can be easy to postpone writing because, unless you’re a celebrity writing a tell all, there’s no one out there clamoring for your book. Maybe the only person who cares about your book is you. Or, even if other people do care, they may not understand what you need to be able to get words on the page. So you’ll need to carve out your writing time and find a space that works for you. It may be hard to keep your writing time sacred if there are a lot of other demands on you – and there may be days, or weeks, or months when you don’t write – but you need to find a way to get yourself back to the page.      

Any upcoming projects you’re able to talk about?

I’m currently working on my next novel. It started off as a short story but I quickly became so invested in the characters that I couldn’t let them go after five thousand words. My first drafts are always pretty abominable, but I hope that this one will be in good shape by the time I’m done with it. Fingers crossed! 


You can follow Breanne on Instagram @breemcivor and Twitter @breemcivor

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Shadow Coven by S. Isabelle

Welcome Back, Booklovers! Shadow Coven is the sequel to last year's The Witchery, a novel I had mixed feelings about. However I liked Iris and Thalia's stories enough to see it through and I'm a sucker for a witchy fantasy. I received an arc from Scholastic in exchange for an honest review.

Thalia's conservative Christian pastor father is hunting her down and she suspects killing other witches in the process. Trent is uncovering some secrets about his mother and himself. Iris and Matthew are contact by death himself to do his bidding. Logan is still trying to come into her powers. Jailah is doing an internship with the Witchery Council that leads to her learning some classified information.

One of my biggest critiques with The Witchery was about giving the six main characters their own povs. Because there were so many of them every character didn't seem to get equal attention and it made their storylines feel more drawn out. At first this book felt loosely connecting with each character going through their own personal battles. Jailah and Trent did have more of a presence and purpose this time which I appreciated. However I still wasn't convinced about Logan's presence as a pov character when she mainly seemed to be present to use her whiteness to get into spaces the other girls could not. Matthew's storyline is still so intertwined with Iris' that I wasn't solely convinced we needed his pov either. But this book had more of what I wanted to see in book 1 with characters being fleshed out better.

The book reads like a teen fantasy show but I can't help but think balancing a large cast like this would've been easier in a graphic novel. It took a little bit of time for me to get into this especially since it starts at the end of the school year. In book one, I felt the world's knowledge of witchery wasn't clear enough and it's explained in more detail here. At a time when Florida schools are regularly featured in the news surrounding discussions of what students are permitted to learn it's easy to see the parallels here with Mesmortes, the school the coven attends. 

I did end up switch to the audiobook a little after the midway mark which is also where the book started to pick up the pacing and momentum. Accents aside the narration was great. I'm someone who usually doesn't like to listen to fantasy because I find it hard to keep interested and understand what's happening. But S. Isabelle manages to make this book engaging without feeling convoluted despite the various plots happening at once.  

Monday, September 18, 2023

Full Moon Over Freedom by Angelina M. Lopez

Welcome Back, Booklovers! Full Moon over Freedom promised small town romance, big families, and brujas. 

Gillian Armstead-Bancroft aka the Pride of the East Side has returned to Freedom, Kansas. She's seen as the golden child of their small town because she left, got her masters, and married a rich white man. Now she's back and attempting to reclaim her power after a divorce from her emotionally abusive husband who could care less about their children, especially her autistic son. This bruja's magic is attempting to break the curse on her magic. While back in town she reunites with Nicky Mendoza, her childhood friend who she had a summer fling with back during her early college days.

This is a very steamy read which is something Angelina Lopez does very well. This was further aided by an audiobook narrator who clearly understood the assignment. And Nicky and Gillian have great chemistry that makes you want to keep listening.

Nicky and Gillian are both half Mexican American and Anglo American and are working on a project together that helps honor the town's Mexican American community. I enjoyed the backstory created for this town and the interactions with Gillian's family members.

Nicky is dealing with some guilt over his brother's addiction issues which was an interesting development. However once we start getting into flashbacks it started loosing my attention towards the end. Admittedly he wasn't as fleshed out of a character as Gillian and I didn't get a clear picture of his adult dynamic with his brother. He also briefly lies about being engaged to push Gillian away and that part made no sense.

There's still plenty to enjoy with touches of magical realism woven throughout this sweet second chance story.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Curlfriends by Sharee Miller

Welcome Back, Booklovers! Graphic novels do such a great job telling stories that just wouldn't read the same in prose form. And sometimes they're the best option for series with an ensemble cast. And Curlfriends promises to be the start of a fun new series. I received an arc from Little Brown Young Reader.

Charlie is new in town and starting school 3 weeks into the school year. As if middle school wasn't hard enough. This year she's determined to make new friends and reinvent herself as the cool girl, she even has the new wardrobe to match. But her first day doesn't go as planned and she fears she may be running out of chances to prove herself.

We don't often get to see Black military brats so I was happy to see that in Charlie. Being new to a school is hard enough, especially if you're new in town and have never gotten to stay in one place for too long. I liked how Charlie was able to have an open conversation with her father about how she felt like an outsider in town while he seemed to know everyone. But we also see her struggling to connect with him because she's not used to him being around. Those scenes were very well done. 

The girls feel like real tween girls. They're into fashion, boba, and they're discovering first crushes. And it's refreshing to see more light hearted stories like this featuring Black girls dealing with real issues girls go through. This was a great kickoff to a new series.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Brooms by Jasmine Walls and Teo Duvall

Welcome Back, Booklovers! Brooms only came on my radar over the past few months but I liked how unique it sounded and I enjoy historical fantasy stories. I find them a great way to touch on a little bit of history with the fun an excitement of the fantastic. I was able to read an early finished copy courtesy of Levine Querido. 

This is set in an alternate history in 1930s Mississippi, where magic is outlawed for Black and Native American people. This graphic novel follows a cast of characters who each get into illegal broom racing as a means to be able to escape to a better life. 

Sisters Emma and Mattie are Black and Choctaw who have to hide their magic to avoid being put into a residential school and potential stripped of their powers. Luella who is Mexican and Choctaw has already been stripped of her powers after an incident at one of the schools and is doing her best to protect Emma and Mattie. Cheng Kwan is Chinese American and just wants to be able to embrace her identity. Billie Mae is Black and deals with chronic pain. Loretta is Black and disabled after a stroke. And last Billie Mae is Black and dealing with chronic pain.

It's a very straightforward plot as this band of witches takes on a set of rivals from a white magic school. I liked the small touches in the artwork like Emma's sign language however the emotions on the faces of different characters weren't always clearly illustrated. With the wide range of identities and disabilities you can tell the authors are very intentional about the message they want to portray. I didn't always feel immersed in the setting however it was a fast-paced enjoyable read.

About Me

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Lover of food and lore. I'm always looking to get lost in my next adventure between the pages.