Author Interview: Bethany C. Morrow, author of A Chorus Rises, A Song Below Water novel | Teen Ink

Author Interview: Bethany C. Morrow, author of A Chorus Rises, A Song Below Water novel MAG

June 7, 2021
By lynh SILVER, New York, New York
lynh SILVER, New York, New York
9 articles 9 photos 0 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Do not go gentle in that good night." -Dylan Thomas

1.) What inspired you to write this book?

"I was inspired to write Naema’s story by the misogynoirist reactions I immediately saw toward her character in A Song Below Water. It reminded me that one of the dangers of being a Black girl in this world is the world’s own inability to celebrate, love, and protect more than one Black girl at a time; and Naema’s self-possessed-ness and confident belief in her worth made her a wonderful protagonist for a story about a world changing its mind about you, and a reminder that no one gets to decide our value."

2.) How did you come up with Naema’s character?

"I don’t remember! I knew there was going to be another magical Black girl in ASBW, but I really might have come up with her on the spot when I was writing the first choir scene in ASBW, and she showed up later with an excuse about Eloko/school business. Sometimes a character will spontaneously appear, and then I’ll find out who they are by the reactions of others or by something they say."

3.) When you were first writing this book, what did you want the message to be?

"I think the idea of having a message in a book doesn’t jive with me as much as saying I had an intention in writing it. So I may just be splitting hairs, but I always feel like framing it as a message has more to do with taking pains to hold the readers’ hands and walk them through that message, regardless whether the plot or characterizations suffer for it or not. Which is not something I’ll do. More, I have something very specific in mind, and I can’t put the story on the page without that conviction getting onto the page, too. And I trust that someone will see what it is, but I’m certain not everyone will. But I don’t worry about 'everyone.'”

4.) How long did it take you to write this book?

"I’m not sure! I usually can figure it out because I track writing day numbers, for posterity, but I can’t find anything in my Excel document! I know I was writing this book while leading up to the release of ASBW, and I don’t think it’s ever taken more than a couple of months to draft a novel — but drafting is just getting the story on the page for the first time. There’s always revision rounds with my agent and/or editor."

5.) What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

"I think the most difficult part of writing this particular book was getting people to understand the necessity of writing this book. Moving the discourse of inclusion and Black femme liberation past the 101 or pre-101 remedial level it’s been in for time immemorial. Because the truth is the power dominant culture isn’t ready for that discussion, and sometimes you have to move past it."

6.) How did you develop Courtney’s character?

"I have a cousin who immediately comes to mind when I think of writing Naema and Courtney’s interaction, and I had so much fun discovering Courtney’s own layered, textured identity. His particular snark, his softness, his care and genuine reverence for family."

7.) How did you develop the plot?

"It was sadly easy. I thought of how the world only makes room to love one Black girl at a time, how it pits marginalized people against each other, and how often fetishization and tokenism is a cover for the worst kind of people."

8.) What is your favorite book that you have written?

"Oh, that’s hard! I will always adore Mem, my first adult release, because I feel like it was the perfect introduction to me as an artist. I’m so proud of what I did in A Chorus Rises. I’m *obsessed* with So Many Beginnings, which is a remix of (the concept of) Little Women, and involves an excavation of American history we’re not taught, and is a perfect representation of cradling Black Americans in my heart and indicting this society and its curation of a false history."

9.) How did you come up with the title “A Chorus Rises?”

"I did not! My dear, lovely friend, fellow author, Amy Suiter Clarke came up with the title!"

10.) Which character in this book is your favorite?

"I cannot choose between Naema and Courtney, and you can’t make me!"

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