Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed psychologist and author Talitha DeVilliers about her work, what inspires her, and the creative process behind her new book, Tangled Roots Grow In Darkness.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a psychologist with a background in working with children with developmental disorders. More recently I’ve worked with veterans as well. I come from a family that travelled often as a I grew up, so I developed a sense of curiosity and adventure that has never left me. I’d love to see as much of the world as I possibly can. In my spare time, I love to read, write, watch NBA and college football games, and play board games.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I can remember wanting to write books back in middle school. I always wanted to be a writer and have spent free time writing creatively as long as I can remember.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I always wrote for the fun of it as a creative outlet. I had some months free between finishing my graduate school coursework and dissertation and beginning my internship. I took that time to start writing my first full-length novel. That was back in 2013. I’ve done more novel writing since then, but “Tangled Roots Grow in Darkness” is the first that I’ve seen through to publication.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took about a year. I wrote the first couple of drafts over the three months that I was out of work due to the COVID-19 shutdown. Given the jobs I had at the time, I was very busy when I went back to work, so things slowed down. Over the next 8 months or so, I gradually went through a few more drafts. Over the next 3-4 months after that, I went through line editing, got a book cover designed, and navigated self-publishing until it was released in June 2021 for ereaders and in August for paperback.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Tangled Roots Grow In Darkness?
While I went through the first few drafts, I found myself having difficulty seeing the forest for the trees, so it helped a little bit to go back to work and take a step back. However, once I went back to work, I had a hard time finding time to revisit the novel and work on it. It somehow worked out, though!
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
My story as a whole was actually inspired after I read a YA book series that I thoroughly enjoyed but that left me somewhat disappointed by the way the primary love story was concluded. I decided to write a YA romance myself. The protagonist wasn’t inspired by anyone in particular, but I had in mind from the start a young girl who was really an innocent and naïve fish out of water.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
I’m a psychologist, so the antagonists in my stories are often personal demons. In “Tangled Roots Grow in Darkness”, I don’t have a distinct villain that is present throughout the story, but there are a couple of characters whose malevolence ends up being highly impactful in the lives of several characters.
What is the inciting incident of Tangled Roots Grow In Darkness?
The novel’s main character is Cory Perle. She’s a poverty-stricken young woman who has to take care of her uncle who can no longer work. At the outset of the story, she loses her job and cannot find another in the poor town where she lives. The inciting incident occurs when her kindly neighbor presents an opportunity for her to work in the nation’s capital city, which requires her to leave her uncle and feign education and experience in her new post.
What is the main conflict of Tangled Roots Grow In Darkness?
This is a coming-of-age novel, so each main character has a personal struggle to contend with. For the main character, she faces a new city and a new job she is unprepared for, as she must provide for herself and her uncle. Her new life in a dangerous city brings with it unforeseen adversities, and she is tasked with having to cope with these challenges and find herself in the process.
Did you plot Tangled Roots Grow In Darkness in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I wrote freely, which is what I’ve always done. I had the beginning and ending in mind to start, but the middle fleshed itself out as I went. A lot more was added, removed, or changed through the various drafts.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Tangled Roots Grow In Darkness need?
My mother helped a lot with editing initial drafts, as it’s easy to miss things when you read them the same way a hundred times. Eventually, I did get line editing done. It was helpful to see where the editor made remarks, such as requesting certain clarifications. I was pleased to find that there weren’t too many story remarks. A lot of the grammar edits turned out to be personal preference kinds of suggestions too. I was pleased to see there were no significant changes needed but only some small things to fine tune it.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I would suggest reading a lot of material in the genre you want to write. Get a feel for how popular books in those genres are paced and unfold. Also know your audience.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m always writing different stories at the same time, and I jump between them depending on my mood. The one I’m most focused on now is a contemporary YA fiction novel. As a psychologist, I’m attracted to stories of tragedy and resilience, which is a theme of “Tangled Roots Grow in Darkness”. I’m continuing with that in this next novel as well. It’s a coming-of-age story about a high school girl whose brother is killed in a car accident, and she ends up discovering family secrets she never would have known had tragedy not struck her family.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Absolutely! I’m not one to give up on a goal simply because it takes a long time to accomplish. It took me much longer to get started writing professionally than I thought it would, but it has definitely been worth it!