When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve known I’ve wanted to become a writer since I was a little girl. I remember writing short stories from the time I could hold a pencil. My passion for writing got really deep in elementary and high school. I grew up feeling really insecure with low-confidence and self esteem, but found happiness and peace when writing in my journal. In those moments, my imagination would run wild and as my love for writing grew, I realized that this could be a career path for me. I followed my heart and it led me to the start of an awesome career as a journalist in 2010 and around this same time is when I began writing my novel too. I’m always pushing myself to explore new avenues of writing. I believe writers have a huge impact on the world. If it weren’t for writers, some of our favorite television shows, movies, songs, and books would not have been created. For me it has never been about making money, I want to leave a legacy; a catalogue of exceptional work that will outlive me. 

This story is grounded in the reality of what it is to be a teenager in today’s instant-access generation. In what ways do you relate?
I am extremely passionate about this piece of work and my inspiration stems from my own personal life experiences. During my writing process I allowed myself to be vulnerable and speak my truth. I feel like Aaliyah is a part of me. I have many reasons for writing this novel and one of them was to begin the healing process so I could finally let go of baggage I’ve been holding onto for many years. Writing has been so therapeutic and has allowed me to be okay with feeling vulnerable. With that being said, I’ve also gained the courage to open up to my mother and tell her the things that I’ve been too scared to say. But now that I have, we are so much stronger because of it. Aaliyah is a teenager, yes, but we can all see a bit of ourselves in her story. She is searching for acceptance, love and her purpose. Even at such a tender age, her life encompasses so much growth and maturity. We grow up with her. We root for her and wish for her, what we also desire for ourselves. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
I created Everything I Couldn’t Tell My Mother, first and foremost, to help build a stronger relationship with my mother; one filled with passion, love and vulnerability. I also wrote it to start the healing process of a series of experiences I endured in my past that I have been trying to mentally and emotionally overcome for many years. One of the most surprising things I’ve learned in creating this book is that I can be anything and everything I want to be. I wanted to write a book, I did it. I wanted to open up to my mother, I did it. I wanted to begin my healing process, I am. This journey has been both challenging and emotional, but well worth it.

Do you have any special writing rituals?
This is going to sound crazy but when writing this book I wrote anywhere from 6-12 hours at a time, with small breaks of course. I was so disciplined out of fear of not accomplishing a goal that was so important to me. I write my best work very early in the morning before the rest of the world rises. There are times when I stare at a blank screen or write a chapter that I’m not happy with, but I just keep going. But before I even started, I created an outline so that I had a vague idea what direction I’d take the story. But just like you, I was also surprised with my ending. Writing can take your everywhere and back and I love submerging myself in that process.

What do you want people to know about your main character, Aaliyah?
I want people to know that Aaliyah is the little girl inside us all who is searching for a sense of purpose, passion and wants to be accepted and loved. Her story is one of strength and courage and what is most admirable about this character is that she is relatable. Whether it’s her unfortunate circumstances, the longing for her mother’s love, the search for fulfillment, her insecurities or those moments of innocence when she lets her hair down and enjoys the simple pleasures life has to offer, I think we all can take something away from this unforgettable story.

What advice do you have for writers who want to follow in your footsteps?
Allow passion to be your guide because it will never lead you astray. It’s really that simple. I also suggest that you always strive to become a better writer by studying the footprints of others and consistently working on your craft. If you are a writer, then write (and read a lot too). It’s the only way to enhance your skills. Ultimately, your journey will be a unique one filled with many challenges but if you trust your instincts and always believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. Just keep going. It took me 4 years to write my novel and finally arrive to this point in my career. For others, it may take 1 or 10 years. But I stayed in my lane and I didn’t watch what anyone else was doing. There’s an awesome quote my friend once told me, “Those who are certain of the outcome, can wait, and wait without anxiety.” I try to use this approach in everything I do.