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Interview with Claudette Bard, author of Negro Island Light and Negro Island Light: The Road Home

Author’s Bio: Claudette Lewis Bard’s love for writing began in her first year of college. Thanks to an English 101 professor who gave her the following advice when it came to writing: dig deep, put those thoughts into words and put them on paper. From that advice, she learned how to express herself through writing. But it wasn’t until years later, after taking creative writing courses, writing short stories for herself, writing a non-fiction narrative (that chronicled the lives of several elderly relatives) and much encouragement from her husband, Ed, Claudette decided to publish her first novel in 2016 entitled Negro Island Light. Its sequel, Negro Island Light: The Road Home followed in 2018.

Claudette holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Baltimore. She is a member of both the Black Writers’ Guild of Maryland and Baltimore’s Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (BAAHGS)/Agnes Kane Callum Chapter. She is a banker by profession. 

DL: What inspired you to write your book?
CB: In the summer of 2015, my husband and I had just returned from a vacation in Maine, where we attended the Maine Lobster Festival. While visiting Camden, Maine, we stopped by the library and in a display case, I saw a presentation about an island in Camden Bay called Negro Island. Needless to say, that name piqued my curiosity and I wanted to know more. After asking the librarian and doing some research, I uncovered an incredible story: it was of a white boat captain back in the 1700s, who was sailing into Camden Bay. He had an African cook on board and asked the cook if there was any place he’d like to live, where would it be? The African pointed to a small island in which the boat was passing and said he’d like to live there. That small gesture prompted the town’s people to name it Negro Island.

A lighthouse was subsequently built and it was called Negro Island Light. Unable to find the African cook’s name, I thought to myself, he has descendants. The idea of a fictional account about a woman who descended from the African cook rolled around in my head once we returned to Baltimore. I began writing the story about Eugenia Watts and how she is connected to this island and to this town. Camden, Maine is one of the most beautiful towns I have ever seen, with its marina full of boats, a river running through the town and mountains making up the horizon. It was the perfect backdrop for a romance, in which the main character finds. My husband, who has been a photographer for over 40 years, took stunning pictures of the island and the lighthouse, which made a perfect book cover. 

DL: Describe your writing process. Do you use an outline or let it flow organically?
CB: I use an outline. I have several small writing books and hand-write an outline. My nephew gave me these books for Christmas a couple of years ago. They come in handy if I’m in my car and get an idea. I outline the beginning, middle and have an ending in place although things frequently change along the way. I develop the characters—age, race, body image, marital status, personalities and other vital statistics.   

DL: What do you think makes a good story?
CB: I think the basics such as a good plot make a good story. What challenges do the characters face? Who/what are the antagonists? Stories should be wrapped up before the novel ends. There should be surprises, mysteries, etc.  The first chapter should draw the reader in and make them want more.

DL: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
CB: As a child, I must admit, I wasn’t much of a reader, although my mother’s love for the written word influenced me then and still does. She encouraged my siblings and I to read and we made frequent trips to the library. One author who influenced me as an adult is Harper Lee and the fact that her first book, To Kill A Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer Prize. Of course, the entire book was brilliantly written, coming from a child’s point of view about a very disturbing subject.

DL: If you were hosting a dinner party, which three authors would be your dream guests?
CB: They would be the following:

A.    Nicholas Sparks—I hate to be sexist but when I first started reading his books, I thought, “How can a man write such romantic stuff?” His description of his characters, how he slowly peels away the traits of an individual to where you want to know more about them and the romance that is brought out is incredible.

B.     Lalita Tademy—In Cane River, she writes about several generations of her African-American family before and after the Civil War, with particular emphasis on the women. Since I am a genealogist, it made me want to know more about my ancestors and the struggles they withstood.   

C.     Maya Angelo—In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I loved the way she would describe a scene or incident. It was so unorthodox and she used words I would never think of using. Yet, after reading the description, you know just what she was trying to convey. Her use of words absolutely floored me!  

DL: What are the keys to success in marketing your books?
CB: I market my books in the following ways:

A.    Facebook page—I have a Facebook page solely for the purpose of marketing my books. I have used some of the tools Facebook offers to get the word out.

B.     Book readings at local libraries—flyers printed (with the help of my husband, who is head of marketing), announcements in local publications.

C.     Soliciting in person to have my book placed in the circulation at local libraries.

D.    Book readings for book clubs.

E.     Books are for sale on Amazon. 

F.      Flea markets.

DL: What tips would you give aspiring writers?
CB: I would recommend they do the following:

A.    Join a writer’s group such as the Black Writers’ Guild of Maryland.

B.     Educate yourself about the differences between self-publishing vs. traditional publishers.

C.     Educate yourself about “vanity publishers.”

D.    Save your money.

E.     Take creative writing classes.

F.      Read-read-read, especially books/authors who write about the same subject in which you are interested.

G.    Write—It sounds like a cliché but everyone has a story and you never know who may be influenced by what you have to say.

H.    Writing a book is a team effort. You will need the following: beta-readers, a good editor, an understanding of book construction, how to market your book, starting a business, etc.

DL: How about sharing an excerpt from one of your books?
CB: The following is an excerpt from Negro Island Light

Eugenia Watts has always heard stories that she has a connection to the beautiful, picturesque town of Camden, Maine, and an island once named Negro Island. She now has the time to explore these stories because in the summer of 2015, she has been laid off from her marketing job at a Washington, D.C. bank where she had been employed for over 20 years. She takes a much-needed vacation to the summer cottage her deceased parents bought in Camden. She wants to clear her mind, relax and take a break. Upon her arrival, at the urging of one of her neighbors, she goes to a local restaurant that boosts the best chowder in town. The following is her first encounter with Scott, a piano-playing restaurant owner. 
                                                            *****   
     “How’s the chowder?” said a male voice, startling Eugenia. She looked up to see a bearded, dark-haired man who stood in front of her, so tall that she had to tilt her head back a bit to see his handsome face. His nearly shoulder-length, dark brown hair was a bit tussled as it fell around his face. He wore glasses, brown herringbone patterned with plastic frames, kind of a round shape. She noticed his bright brown eyes behind the glasses seemed to sparkle, or maybe that was the effect of the wine. He had a pleasant, warm, comforting smile that created crow’s feet in the corner of his eyes. 

     “It’s really great,” Eugenia answered, smiling back at him. 

     “Hi, I’m Scott Mackey, part owner of this fine establishment,” he bragged. 

     “It’s nice to meet you, Scott.  Are you the piano man?” 

     “Guilty as charged,” he answered. “My two partners and I bought this restaurant a few years ago.  Always wanted to be a lounge singer, probably was one in my former life. So, I made good use of those piano lessons I took as a kid and I entertain the patrons.” He then paused.  “I’ve never seen you here before. Are you here for the Lobster Fest?” 

     “Yes, kind of. I’m Eugenia Watts. My dad owns a cabin right over there.” She pointed towards the marina. “Just came up for a couple of weeks for vacation.”  Eugenia didn’t want to go into the gory details of the layoff. 

     “Oh, my God, are you related to Chuck Watts? I see a slight resemblance.”

     “Yes, guilty as charge. I’m his daughter.”

     “It is so great to meet you! I’m sorry to hear of his passing. Great guy!”

     “Thank you. He came here?” 

     “Oh, yes, well, since I’ve been here which has been a little more than three years. Yes, he loved the chowder.”

     Eugenia looked out of the window for a second and Scott noticed the expression changed on her face, with the reminder of her father’s passing. 

     “Well, I’m going to make my rounds. That’s what any good restaurant owner does, right?”  Eugenia looked up at him and smiled. “It was such a pleasure meeting you, Eugenia. That’s a pretty name.”
                                                            *****
As Eugenia continued her meal, she was made aware of Scott once again.  

                                                            *****
     Eugenia was eating the delicious calamari salad and heard the piano again. As she researched a company that interested her, her attention turned to the song that was playing and she recognized the tune as an instrumental version of “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. She began to think about some of the words. The song tells of a man and a woman getting ready to leave to attend a party. The man compliments the woman on how beautiful she looks, while she is applying her makeup and brushing her hair. Okay, this can’t be happening, thought Eugenia. If I wasn’t a sensible, level headed woman, I’d think he was playing this song for me. Nah. This is crazy!  

                                                            *****
Needless to say, the song was for her.

DL: What’s on the horizon for you?
CB: I have the following things on the horizon:

A.    People who have read both books would like a sequel. Others stated they wanted a prequel—either about the main character or her ancestor. I haven’t decided if I’m doing either.

B.     I’m really inspired by Cane River and would like to do a historical fiction novel based on my mother’s stories about my great grandmother. It would tell of her struggle to keep ownership of property as an African-American woman in 1930s Maryland.

C.     Further promotion of my books.

DL: Where can readers learn more about you and your books? 
CB: They can learn more here:




It’s been a pleasure having you here with us today. I know my readers will enjoy getting to know and your work.


Comments

  1. Thank you Dee for featuring Claudette in your blog. Her husband Ed. lol

    ReplyDelete

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