Eartha Watts Hicks is author of Love Changes, and founder of Earthatone Enterprises and Earthatone Books, an imprint of Earthatone Enterprises, LLC. A writing fellow of the Center for Black Literature and the North Country Institute, she leads self-publishing workshops, writing, and publicity workshops for the New York Public Library, the New York City Parks Department, the National Writers Union, Project Enterprise, and other not for profits. She is an active member of the Harlem Writers Guild.
The Situation Room with Michelle Cuttino sat down with Eartha Watt Hicks to discuss her novel, Love Changes, and what’s next for this literary diva.
Michelle: Please tell us a little about yourself.
Eartha: I am originally from the South Bronx, and am now a mother of two. I started studying writing (poetry and journal writing) when I was eleven years old through a gifted summer program at Immaculate Conception Elementary School. That turned into a passion for songwriting during my teens. I started writing my debut novel in 2001, as a stay-at-home mom. I took writing workshops during the summer months, while my kids were off from school. I wanted both my kids to attend catholic school, so I really couldn’t afford to go to graduate school. Much of what I know, I learned by studying on my own and taking free classes at my neighborhood library or community center. I designed and published Love Changes myself in 2013.
Michelle: What made you sit down to start writing your first book?
Eartha: I wanted to create a Cinderella story for that “sassy little black girl from the projects.” I wanted to write a profound love story that covered many of the issues that challenge us in black relationships, but with a God-focused message I had before I started. I also wanted the novel to be taught on a high school and college level. When I was in my high school English class and learning about literature, the protagonists in those books never looked like me. In my dream of dreams, the songwriter in me wanted to also create a companion music soundtrack.
Michelle: In your opinion, what has been the hardest part about being a writer?
Eartha: Knowing when to disengage and let go of a story is the hardest part about being a writer. My passion is creating characters and crafting stories, and I always feel it’s never good enough. As long as we keep sitting down to it, we’ll keep picking it apart, always finding something about it that can be changed or improved. Knowing when to let go is definitely the hardest part. Also, knowing which work to focus on. So many ideas will come forth, but which do we write. I know writers who can write multiple stories at once. I can do that with short pieces, but when I craft a novel, I like to give it my full attention.
Michelle: I know you have a love of poetry. Who are some poets who inspired you, and why?
Eartha: I was inspired by Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou. Growing up, I was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe’s work. I started reading him at age nine. In school, I had studied Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and some others. For a while, I did not know black poets existed, because I wasn’t being taught about them in school. I first heard of Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou in Teena Marie’s song, “Square Biz.”I was ten years old, and that is when the possibility formed in my mind that I could be a poet myself. That led me to take a poetry writing class at age eleven.
Michelle: Your debut novel is titled Love Changes. Tell us what the book is about.
Eartha: Love Changes is the story of a twenty-six year old single mother who is struggling to juggle a baby, a job, a male best friend, her family, the father of her child (who’s not quite ready to be a husband), and his family.
Michelle: Your main character is Mia Love. Who is she, and why is her story so important?
Eartha: Mia is twenty-six year old. She is very smart, but makes quite a few unwise decisions, because she is so much in love with a man. She is trying to validate herself by what she does for him and others. She’s knocking herself out to be considered a “good woman.” Love Changes is almost every woman’s challenge and story. We have all been there. There is a certain phase in life when we think we have all the answers, and we do. Those answers, though, come from those who love us enough to be honest with us and help us to be our own solution. Mia’s story is as much a self-love story, as it is a love story.
Michelle: What has been the overall feedback for Love Changes thus far?
Eartha: So far, the response has been great! Readers tell me the characters “feel real.” They love the “Mommy” character. They love Dawn. But most of my women readers especially love Romell.
Michelle: What do you hope readers walk away with once they’ve read Love Changes?
Eartha: I hope older readers walk away from Love Changes reminiscing about how it felt to be in their twenties, and full of angst, but also, how fun the 90’s were. Younger readers, I hope they walk away with a stronger sense of self, an understanding that true love has to start from within, and I definitely hope they walk away with the knowledge that it is God who defines us.
Michelle: What are some of the topics covered in your self-publishing, writing, and publicity workshops?
Eartha: So far I have been working with those who are new to self-publishing, so I go straight in on how to copyright their manuscript, and how to format a book for Kindle & CreateSpace. In my Writing workshops, I cover three topics—act structure, characterization, and dialogue. In my publicity workshop, I break down the components of a press kit. For all workshops, there is a Q&A, where I try to answer their questions as honestly as I can. I’ll let attendees know what works for me and what hasn’t.
Michelle: What’s next for Eartha Watts Hicks?
Eartha: My pen has been for hire. So, I’ll be doing some editing, PR and copyrighting, as well as working with several community groups in the New York area. My imprint, Earthatone Books, has also released my collection of poetry and short stories called Graffiti Mural, and Weaver by Miriam Kelly Ferguson. In the near future, I am looking to release several different titles. And of course, I’ll be facilitating more workshops.
Michelle: How can our readers contact and/or follow you?
Ten years in the making, the debut novel by Eartha Watts Hicks infuses original poetry, song lyrics from 80’s and 90s popular music, and prose in the narrative of Mia Love, a twenty-six year old single mother. Mia Love quits college to support her live-in boy
friend, Spider. When she becomes pregnant, her mother, his mother, and Romell, her handsome and flirtatious best friend, all think she has made a bad decision. Now, Mia cares for both her newborn son and Spider. Tethered to a low wage job to pay the bills, she’s urging him make a commitment. Spider, himself underemployed, remains resistant. This causes tension between the two, with arguments getting more and more personal. Meanwhile, “good friend” Romell is offering a shoulder (and a lot more) to lean on. What ensues is a love triangle with a unique twist, two men vying for a lady with a baby. This heartwarming story of a young woman’s struggle to remain true to herself was edited by Grace F. Edwards. Love Changes received the 2013 “Literary Game Changers” award in the fiction category from the NYCHA branch of the NAACP, and was selected as The New York Amsterdam News’s recommended summer read for 2013. Eartha Watts Hicks was a featured panelist at the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus.