"Book clubs: Substitute Me one will give you so much to talk, laugh and argue about, you might want to schedule two meetings to discuss it. Days after finishing it, I'm still debating who the villain is. Lori Tharps has written a timely, engaging page-turner that every working mom in America should read!"
Carleen Brice, author of Children of the Waters
Below is my Q&A with Lori, which hopefully gives you more of a taste about what her book is like. If you'd like more of an idea listen to blogger Evelyn N. Alfred read a snippet (and then follow her advice and go to your local bookstore and buy it).
White Readers Meet Black Authors: What's Substitute Me about?
Lori Tharps: This is a story about a young, career-driven woman who is about to go back to work so she hires a full-time nanny for her infant son. The woman happens to be white and the nanny happens to be black. The story takes place in modern-day brooklyn and simply documents the lives of both women and the people in their lives. In essence, the story tries to show what can happen when one woman hires another woman to perform her most intimate tasks -- caring for her child, home and ultimately her husband. Throw in some issues of race and class and you've got a really packed domestic drama.
WRMBA: There was an article in the NY Times recently about nanny fiction (a new genre?). How would you compare your book to The Help or The Nanny Diaries (which I know are two completely different types of books)?
LT: I actually have been using both of those titles to contextualize my book. Like The Nanny Diaries, Substitute Me takes place in modern day New York where nanny culture is quite common and it is just expected that most working women -- and many women of leisure-- will employ a nanny. On the other hand, the issue of black women working as domestics for white women also plays a role in my book, as it does in The Help. Just because the year is 1999 and not 1959 doesn't mean that the tinderbox of racial tensions doesn't exist between employer and employee, and I try to show that in my story.
WRMBA: Like me, you started with nonfiction. What do you think is different about writing fiction? does one form come easier to you?
LT: The thing I love about writing fiction is that if a quote doesn't sound right, I can just change it to make it sound better without having to go back out and doing more reporting. But I still think that old cliche, 'truth is stranger than fiction' is true in that I can't make up a better story than what's happening in the world right in front of me. I feel blessed that I can do both.
WRMBA: On your website you talk about changing minds. What's your goal(s) as a writer? Do you set out to educate? Entertain? Illuminate?
LT: Can I say all three? Really. I don't think I'm talented enough yet to write the book that will change the world...and damn it The Secret has already been written...but I hope that with the stories I share, be they true or invented, they will be entertaining enough that people will want to read them, and by the time they finish they'll have changed their thinking in some way or learned something about the human condition. And it doesn't have to be a big change, just one little a-ha moment would be good enough.
WRMBA: Who's the audience for your novel?
LT: Women. All women, regardless of ethnic background. If I had to pick the category for Substitute Me, I'd say women's fiction. I honestly don't think many men would pick this book for themselves, although my husband did enjoy it very much. But then again, he kind of had to.
WRMBA: What's next for you? More fiction or back to nonfiction?
LT: I am actually working on a YA novel right now about a biracial girl whose mother forces her to give up her dream of being a ballerina. And then because I make my living as a journalism professor, my next book will definitely be non-fiction.
WRMBA: What's the best book (or whose the best writer) that not enough people know about?
LT: This is going to sound a little strange because I think anybody with a Twitter account and/or a television knows the writer Toure. He's known as a cultural critic/journalist, but I swear one of the best books I've ever read was his novel, Soul City. It's like totally Gabriel Garcia Marquez magical realism but replace magical black people for the magical Hispanic people and set the action in Soul City instead of an anonymous Latin American city. That book is so fresh and so unique and so freaking funny and insightful I can't believe Toure hasn't written more fiction. I met him recently and told him to get on it! I hope he takes my advice.
Thanks for having me.
WRMBA: Happy Pub Day, Lori! Here's a link to Lori's tour schedule (so far), if you want to see if she'll be in your area.