As some of you know, I recently ventured into co-writing with my spouse, Lornett B. Vestal (founder of Evolving Man Project). Coming to retailers on June 1, 2021, Aya and the Alphas will be the final novel in the Faders and Alphas two-part series or duology. Lornett and I sat down to discuss our journey into the strange world of co-writing a duology and the process of closing the story.
Berneta: You once told me you never expected to become a writer. How does it feel to be sitting down to do an author interview about your second novel?
Lornett: Honestly, it feels a bit weird. I never thought much about writing fiction. History, philosophy, social and hard science, and non-fiction are my usual reads nowadays. But when I was a nerdy teenager, horror, sci-fi, and supernatural thrillers were my jam. I used to read John Saul, Dean Kootz, and Stephen King. But I never thought I would have my own sci-fi/fantasy book, let alone a series, one day. It’s pretty cool.
I know you’ve always dreamed of being a writer, Berneta. How does it feel to be living that dream?
Berneta: I’m trying not to psyche myself out, but it feels surreal to see three of my own books on my bookshelf. I put so much into each of them, and now I’m focused on writing more and better understanding my writing process.
Speaking of the writing process, let’s talk about the process of writing the short story prequels to this final book in the Faders and Alphas duology. I wrote the first short story serial about Mauricio, a character from the first novel. You wrote this one, Eden’s Paradise, about Valerie, a character who is mentioned in the forthcoming final novel. What was your experience writing Eden’s Paradise?
Lornett: It was long. I started working on it last summer, after my final edit of Aya and the Alphas. The pandemic lockdowns were very good for writing. But I shelved it for several months. I was strongly encouraged by you to finish it. So I did, and it’s been getting positive responses so far from folks on Twitter and on my Evolving Man Project website. It was my first short story.
It was tough, too, because I had a whole novella planned out, but you told me to trim the fat. Writing short stories helps you learn brevity and how to tell a story in a more straightforward way. But full-length novels allow you to explore more of the mindset of the characters and their motivations.
Berneta: Yeah, you had a very long story planned, weaving in a couple of the new core characters from Aya and the Alphas. But I’m glad you decided to focus on Valerie. How did you develop Valerie, and how did it change or influence the story in the final novel?
Lornett: With Valerie, I wanted to create a character who was very suspicious of people and their motives. I also wanted to provide a window into this character who’s the mother of our title character, Aya, in the second book. Valerie cares about friends and family more than anything, but she doesn’t take any shit either. Although I was worried about creating a carbon copy of Eve, Valerie turned out to be a very different woman…tougher than Eve in some ways and more fragile in other ways.
Valerie is only mentioned a couple of times in Aya and the Alphas, so I had a lot of freedom to explore her.
Berneta: I think you did a great job of distinguishing her from Eve! There are things Valerie does in Eden’s Paradise that Eve likely would never do unless she had no other choice. For starters, Eve would’ve gotten the hell away from that ranch right after that weird garden episode when she sees that everyone is wearing white robes. I can already imagine Eve shaking her head and making a pop culture reference like “I’m not much of a Hitchcock fan,” as she makes her way to the exit. Eve would’ve run not walked out of there, but Valerie stays. I think that’s a big difference…Valerie is more naturally disposed to fighting rather than fleeing.
That said, Eve fights when necessary. We see that in the first book, Eve and the Faders. We also see that in this second book, Aya and the Alphas.
About Aya and the Alphas, let’s discuss the process of writing this novel. Yes, we co-wrote it, but just as I wrote the initial draft of the first book in the duology, you wrote the initial draft of this final book in the duology. What inspired you to write this novel?
Lornett: I wanted to put a fantasy/sci-fi twist on the idea of a child from poverty rising out of obscurity and becoming one of the most powerful people on the planet. A child living in my hometown, Chicago. Or in the slums of Brazil or India. How much potential is never realized in these kids and teens just because they are born poor or into a historically oppressed group? Perhaps I put a bit of my own upbringing into Aya’s character.
Berneta: You also have a lot of nieces, and you’ve said on more than one occasion that you wanted to write a story that showcases girls and women like them being magical and heroic. Aya and the Alphas focuses on two generations of magical and powerful Black women and girls: Eve Cooper and a teenage girl named Aya Wright, who happens to be Valerie’s daughter. What is Valerie’s importance to Aya and the Alphas?
Lornett: Valerie’s story jumpstarts Aya’s story. I don’t think Aya’s story would have unfolded the way it did, were it not for what happens to Valerie in Eden’s Paradise. It shapes who Aya becomes and even influences Eve’s decisions in Aya and the Alphas.
Berneta: Do you think readers are missing anything if they skip Eden’s Paradise and head straight to Aya and the Alphas?
Lornett: They’ll miss out on how the world in Aya and the Alphas was molded in the time that passed since the events of Eve and the Faders. Both short stories, Eden’s Paradise and Harmony Project, lay the groundwork for a world–with dystopian and even cyberpunk elements–where all the rules have changed and societies are grappling with a new type of powerful human being. So readers can skip the short stories, of course, but they’ll be missing out on all the fun and chaos of what led to the events in Aya and the Alphas!
Berneta: I agree. For me, writing Harmony Project was almost as fun as writing the two novels. Being able to show the roots of the main villain in Aya and the Alphas, and being able to show how our core characters in Eve and the Faders carried on with their lives was exhilarating. To me, it helped flesh out the universe. Creating this universe has been quite an experience! I’m curious…what were the pros and cons of co-writing for you?
Lornett: Bouncing ideas off each other and filling in logical gaps was very beneficial. You pointed out plotholes I overlooked, and I highlighted inconsistencies you hadn’t noticed.
Berneta: That was the toughest part for me about writing a series–making it all cohesive and coherent. But I guess we’re writing fantasy and sci-fi, so it’s not all going to make sense.
Lornett: Sci-fi and fantasy require readers to suspend disbelief and let the imagination run wild. But there’s a limit, right? All stories have plotholes, but you have to determine which ones are acceptable and…
Berneta: And which ones prevent the reader from suspending disbelief and immersing themselves in the story. Absolutely.
Lornett: Exactly. So it was helpful to have a writing partner to help tease out those issues.
But the difficult co-writing moments involved having to compromise on the world and how certain characters’ personalities would show up in the story. For instance, I usually go for more comedic characters, but my first villain got too comic bookish. So you grounded some of the characters to make them fit with the general tone of the series.
Ultimately, co-writing required a lot of give and take, like any meaningful relationship or partnership.
Berneta: What are some things you learned that you’re taking to your solo work-in-progress now?
Lornett: Writing books isn’t an easy process at all. I wrote the first draft of Aya and the Alphas six years ago. We are finally at the finish line. Things have changed drastically since the first draft, but the essence of the story remained the same through it all. I like that we were able to combine our ideas and create this universe.
I know moving forward, the first draft is a piece of coal, and a lot of pressure must be applied to turn it into a diamond. I’ve also learned how to create more balanced characters, and I’ve become a better writer since the first time I sat down to write anything.
Berneta: I’m just curious…would you ever consider writing a collection of short stories? Do you think writing a short story collection would be more or less difficult than writing a novel?
Lornett: Brevity isn’t my thing, so a series of short stories would be more challenging than writing another novel. It’s not out of the question, but don’t hold your breath for me to produce something like that.
Berneta: I love brevity, but even I find short story writing a bit more challenging. That said, I hope to put out a short story collection someday. For now, I’m happy with the short story serials you and I have written for this Faders and Alphas duology. Is there anything else you want people to know about the duology, or about Aya and the Alphas?
Lornett: Read it, reread it, and reread it again! Share it with friends, family, and everyone in between. This isn’t a kid’s book. It includes very adult themes set in a sci-fi fantasy world. There’s humor, romance, loss, suspense, betrayal, and a lot of action, all of which makes a great story. A diverse set of unique and, at times, colorful characters provide life to the story. Plus, Eve’s story gets a much-deserved conclusion!
Berneta: And now on to solo writing projects we go!
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