Where The Blessings Reside: Charity Alyse
Our Bookly Father,
Who art in charge of Querytracker
Hallowed would be thy speed
Thy "yes" will come
Thy will be done in my inbox
As it is in the one with googly-eyed emoji publishing news
Give us this day to click refresh
And forgive our obsession
As we forgive those that doubted us (not really, but let's keep it forgiving)
And lead us not into bitterness and dejection
But deliver us from ghosting
For thine is the read
The response, The answer
for ever and ever
A hope, a wish, and a prayer! Keep on reading to learn all about Charity Elyse's, writing journey, her writing tips, and her debut novel: OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS!
1. Welp, the first question is the one all in the writing community love to know! What’s the story of your writing journey?
Elnora! First, I want to thank you for having me.
My writing journey was not an easy one. I always say that being an author isn’t for the faint of heart. I was in kindergarten the first time I heard that I’d never be a writer. I used to write retellings of fairytales with Black characters at the center. Cinderella had micro braids and Prince Charming had dreadlocks! My kindergarten teacher didn’t take to kindly to these stories and told me that no one would ever read them, that I’d never be an author.
I took it to heart and stopped writing for a very long time. In my fifth-grade year, I became homeschooled, and writing became my best friend. So did reading. I’d go through three books in one week, my favorite being A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I was lost in the worlds inside the stories I devoured. I had no other choice but to write my own. Except this time, there weren’t any Black characters in them. I never wrote about anyone who looked like me. Over the next few years and into high school, I started uploading my stories to a website called Quizlet (kind of like Wattpad) my stories did really well there and my dream of being a writer started again.
Everything changed in college. It was during the time when Black Lives Matter really started gaining media traction. There weren’t many books written on the subject, The Hate U Give hadn’t even come out yet. I felt unable to share how the murders of unarmed Black men affected me, even though it really scared me. I went to a predominately white institution in southern, NJ and there weren’t many people interested in joining the fight against police brutality as an ally. On campus, I felt mute but at home, it was a different story.
The semester that Other Side of the Tracks was written, I enrolled myself in an African American Literature course and a Creative Writing Children’s Stories course. In the afternoon, I got to write about anything I wanted. In the mornings, I learned of so many Black writers like Langston Hughes and Ralph Ellison who wrote unapologetically about the Black experience in their time. I ached to do the same but I was still afraid. When my professor assigned us a 10-page writing assignment for the creative writing class …I put my emotions on the page.
I wrote about a racially divided town separated by train tracks and what happened when a Black boy was killed by a white police officer on the opposite side of the tracks. Like the divided town in the novel, I felt divided. I was raised around all white people and was always one of the few Black people in the room which meant I was the center of a lot of jokes. At home, I could didn’t have to be quiet about my blackness, in public I barely spoke.
Writing the ten-page story about my inner division caused me to feel freer and braver. The entire class loved the story. Some even cried. My professor encouraged me to turn it into a novel, even if I needed to take a semester off to do it (my mom didn’t let me take the semester off lol!).
Things went completely full circle after that. My kindergarten teacher told me I’d never be a writer, my professor encouraged me to pursue it as a career. I spent the next nine months crafting what is now Other Side of the Tracks. My professor taught me how to query and helped me craft a query letter. Over 200+ rejections passed before I signed with my agent. We went on sub for about two more months, went to auction, signed the deal, and two years later--here we are!
2. As expected, media and other news streams often focus on “unicorn” publication stories. You have shared that your path to your debut was now one of those. In an industry that can be painfully subjective, what advice would you give authors to stay encouraged when seeking their yes? What about when they get their yes but need another yes for a final yes?
Yes! I always say that I received over 200+ rejections before getting a book deal for Other Side of the Tracks. I don’t want to gloss over how grueling and saddening those moments were for me. I felt like a failure half the time, querying every single agent I could think of. When I started seeing books released with the same subject matter as OSOTT, I thought something was wrong with the story, the characters, and the setting. I started to believe my story didn’t matter.
So, authors, I understand your pain. It’s so very hard to write a book let alone query it. It’s like pouring your soul out in a cup and giving it to someone to judge and taste. (That sounds dreadfully disgusting, I know but it’s the only way I can describe it, haha!) If you believe in your story enough to push past the no’s, you’ll get your yes. View rejection as redirection and DON’T QUIT YOUR DAYDREAM!
I’d also tell them to find someone to vent to or something to pour themselves into. I’m a Christian, so for me, it was the Bible and prayer. I found so many encouraging scriptures and listened to upbeat and encouraging music. I prayed OSOTT would find the right agent and editor and I think my prayers worked! I also confided a lot in my mom. She’s so encouraging!
3. You have an extensive background in social activism and civil rights work. How are these incorporated into your writing? In what ways are these topics and issues relevant to the youth featured in your novels?
I wouldn’t say it’s as extensive as I’d like it to be, but I do believe strongly in social activism and social change. I’ve read countless books and articles to better educate myself on how certain people groups experience economic and social disparities merely because of the color of their skin. I poured a lot of what I learned and my own personal experience into the pages of OSOTT.
The two towns in the novel are Hamilton and Bayside. Hamilton is the all-Black town and was given to a group of enslaved people after the close of the civil war by the citizens of the all-White town called Bayside. The ex-enslaved left the south to find liberty in the north. Instead, what they found was a place they had to build up on their own. To this day it is obvious that Hamilton wasn’t set up to thrive. Bayside, on the other hand, is a town with privilege, from the homes to the school football uniforms, to the textbooks.
The three main characters in the novel share their experience living in these two opposite towns. Zach, Capri, and Justin are all affected by their privilege and their lack of privilege. It shapes both who they are and who they become. I think that’s so true with the youth of today. I am pursuing my Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Therapy, so I strongly believe in the nature vs. nurture theory. Where and how one is raised has a lot to do with who they become. It’s a sad but true fact that one can’t raise someone to believe anything is possible if their environment never showed them that this is true. My hope in writing OSOTT is to promote empathy in privileged readers both White and Black so they’ll reach out to the “other side” in their own lives and help spark a change.
4. Congratulations on your engagement! Wedding planning is so much fun. You are also obtaining your master’s degree and in the middle of launching your debut! How do you manage to “compartmentalize” different aspects of your life while also being productive enough to pursue your publishing obligations?
Thank you so much! I’ll say that my main strategy is to take my time. I’m enjoying this time of engagement. We’re not rushing into planning a wedding just yet...though we have been touring venues. ;) When it comes to my Master’s program, I’m only taking two classes this semester and have a couple of semesters to go. I’m drafting on the side as well. So, slooow and steady wins the race! And lots of good books and hot tea!
5. Tik-Tok is definitely something you’ve mastered. With this being said, there’s been much…discussion about its role in author and book marketing and how much authors should be expected to engage with it. What are your thoughts on this? Do you enjoy it or see it more as a necessary evil/annoyance?
Thank you! Tik-Tok is SO much fun!
For a lot of authors, taking on the social media giant while drafting their books can be both stressful and overwhelming. I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND.
When thinking of how I wanted to promote OSOTT, I saw that Tik-Tok was helping a lot of authors. I was very hesitant at first and watched from afar. Finally, I downloaded it. I wanted to be on a social media platform that didn’t feel like “work” and Tik-Tok was that for me. It felt so much freer than the other platforms. I also didn’t feel the need to just talk about OSOTT. I also talk about other things that I love like books, writing, and Black History.
When authors ask me questions about my social media or social media in general, I always tell them to join a platform that makes them happy. Authors don’t need to be stressed writing their books. If they don’t find a platform that fits them and feel stressed even thinking about social media, I don’t think it’s necessary. There are other creative ways to promote a book. I’ve seen a lot of authors opt out of social media altogether and their books still do really well! ☺
6. Writing contemporary often means creating extra intriguing characters as the plot relies a tad bit more on the character’s life, wants, and needs than other genres. What are your tips on doing this?
Contemporary stories are super character lead!
I’ve seen this in a lot of classics as well. For example, in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, not much happens with the setting or world. The main character grows over the course of the novel. She is the tree planted in Brooklyn, while the world around her changes. It’s such a beautiful story because of that.
I spent a lot of time reading books by authors like Betty Smith. I also read books by a lot of the older Black authors like Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison. I gleaned from their books to establish characters that change over the course of the novel, even if the setting/world never did. My advice would be to read, read, read!
Also, take a look inside of yourself and how you’ve changed over the course of your life, even if you never moved setting. What changed you? What grew you into who you are today? Many of us would answer that it’s the people around us. I think that is a good starting point to develop a great contemporary.
7. What is your writerly form of self-care?
Hot Girl Walks! Haha, I channel my inner Anne Shirley Cuthbert and go on so many walks!!! Nature refreshes me and gives me the restart I need when I start to feel overwhelmed. I also love watching Gilmore Girlms or Call the Midwife.
Ok, now it’s time for the ‘fun’ questions!
8. Your work is being adapted for HBO Max Original Movie. Your leads are….
Oooh! This is fun! Okay, Capri would be played by Yara Shahidi, Justin would be Niles Fitch and Zach Timothee Chalamet. There’s a character named Easy Mae Collins that owns the record shop in Hamilton where Capri works. I’d love for him to be played by Samuel L. Jackson! Ah! It would be a dream come true!
9. Unpopular book or writing opinion?
Hardcovers without the jacket are WAY more beautiful. They carry a classic look.
10. The clothing item that can make any outfit pop (check out her fashion shoots on Instagram!) is_______________
Dark wash skinny jeans
A leather jacket
A neutral-colored cardigan shrug
A brightly-colored skirt/jumper paired with a black or white shirt
My go-to is a neutral-colored cardigan. They are SO cozy! Thank you so much! This was so much fun!
Short bio: Charity Alyse earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature at Rowan University and is currently working toward a master’s degree in clinical mental health therapy. Other Side of the Tracks is her first novel. Alyse lives in New Jersey.
You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @Charity_Alyse and CharityAlyse.com
Website link: https://www.charityalyse.com/