Imani Josey, as told to Frances Moffett
“I’ve always known I was a storyteller. Before I could read or write, I’d make up elaborate stories when playing with dolls and stuffed animals — like, with plots and back-story. I married my stuffed mouse (appropriately named Mousie) to a teddy bear (Strawberry Bear), and their love story was a full romantic saga. In the mid-90s, my dad brought home our first computer, and I was introduced to Corel WordPerfect (I actually never used Microsoft Word until college). That’s when I realized I wasn’t just a storyteller, but a writer. I had to get my stories down. I wasn’t very skilled at typing when he first bought the computer, so he typed the stories while I dictated them.
I also grew up around journalists — I’m third generation, to be exact. My grandparents met while they were reporting at Ebony magazine in the 1950s, producing my mom, who also worked for the magazine for much of the 90s and 2000s. Everything I was exposed to was through the lens of storytelling. Everything I knew circled back to words.
I started blogging in 2009 when I was Miss Chicago for the Miss America Organization. Because I come from words people, my venture into pageantry was more of a WTF than my writing. I wanted to participate in pageants when I was a kid, but my mom was NOT about that life. Thus, when I got to Howard University and saw that pageants were a thing there, I renewed my interest. I was also trying to shake off my reputation of overwhelming shyness and saw it as a great place to start.
Through pageantry, I learned marketing organically, and creating a blog was one of my first steps toward connecting with my audience. I’m not, nor have I ever been, the kind of blogger who writes a post every day, so it took a while to find a groove. The ‘aha!’ came when I started interviewing fellow pageant girls. I had a ball! That blog morphed into my current blog and podcast Introvert Problems, which launched at the beginning of 2016. I chose this name because many writers are introverts and would see the humor in it. Introvert Problems are all the happenings of people trying to navigate their lives in a world that values extroversion. I learned to embrace my introversion when I realized that half of the population is made up of introverts and that we make great leaders. I mean, Beyonce is one. Yet when people say ‘introvert,’ they don’t think about their CEOs; they think about an inclination that needs to be fixed or adjusted. But all it really means is that you get your energy from within — like batteries — and that you find external stimuli rather exhausting. Introverts have a lot to contribute. Just let them go read, and don’t try to bug them when they’re in the zone.
My introversion helped me write my young adult (YA) book, “The Blazing Star.” You can have beta readers and editors, and you can workshop your piece, but if you don’t get that first draft out, you’re not going anywhere. The ability to be alone and focus on my characters helped me churn out thousands of words. It’s exhausting and spiritual work, and requires a lot of reflection.
Writing fantasy, though, is a great form of escapism, which is what I needed when I started the book. I found a terrible job after grad school (underpaid, over-skilled, underwhelmed) and had to take my mind elsewhere. The YA age range appealed to me because I was absorbing it at the time. YA generally means adolescence, which is a time when everything is new for your characters, and they are going on their first dates and getting sloppy first kisses. I channeled my need for adventure and magic and newness in the protagonist, Portia, and wrote whenever I could.
My biggest challenges in creating this work were learning to write a proper book and then actually getting it out there. I had to find the right editors. I had to make writer friends. I had to fend off my own ego during brutal critique sessions and remember I had (and still have) a lot to learn.
Once I was on my way artistically, financing the book was a challenge before I decided to go indie and after. I won’t lie to you — if you want a book to look like it could sit on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, the process is not cheap. I sold my car in the middle of my first round of line edits. I zapped my savings and made a lot of personal sacrifices. But when you have a dream that won’t let go — when it’s your passion — you see it through. Because if you don’t have your dreams, then what do you have?”
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