Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed children’s book and fantasy author Tephra Miriam about her career and her writing. She told me about what inspires her and motivates her, the experience of creating her characters, and the advice she has to inspire others.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I consider myself to be all things creative! Writing is my passion, but I also love music, photography, film, animation, digital design, production, and so much more. I have my own consulting company and boutique agency that allows me to tell incredible stories across a wide variety of mediums. Thought leadership, giving back, and activism are also a big part of my life, and I’m always looking to challenge and inspire people.
Throughout my life, my journey has led me to tell stories in many different ways. As a Jamaican American growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, I was surrounded by stories. New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment and is a place filled with a rich cultural history of America’s native roots.
My creative path began with writing music, and my search for adventure led me on a journey that showed me the wide expanse of my own imagination and the value of curiosity. I moved to Chicago, Illinois, USA, when I was 18, and I spent 15 cold years there before moving to the Atlanta metro area. Over the years, I’ve learned that changing the world starts with changing ourselves and the way we think, live, and create.
As a product of 12 years of homeschooling, I started out at Harold Washington College in Chicago, Illinois, before transferring to DePaul University. At DePaul, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in People and Global Organizations and a Master of Arts degree in Applied Professional Studies, with a concentration in Fiction and Non-Fiction Media/Business Management. I graduated high school at 16 and started college when I was 22. I
took some time in between high school and college to pursue a career in music. After enrolling in my first college course, I remember being in awe of the first classroom I had ever been in when I walked into Harold Washington College in Chicago.
Even though I had done a tremendous amount of writing as a songwriter and had a good amount of short-form writing under my belt, I still didn’t have the confidence to tackle writing a full-length book. One night I had an extremely vivid dream of waking up in a bed in a small village because of someone trying to break into my room. I remember seeing this colossal purple and yellow polka-dotted clown tie, red clown shoes, and a meaty hand.
In my dream, I shoved over this big clown that was trying to break in, and I ran down a staircase and directly into a field of ice cream to a place called Clown Town. I basically dreamed the first chapter of my first book ‘Escape to Clown Town.’ One day I challenged myself to sit down and write just the first chapter, and from that point on, stories erupted from my soul.
After completing my Bachelor’s degree, I decided to take a stab at writing my first book in 2014. I wanted to learn more once I started, so I signed up for a Master’s program a few months after I started my book.
I took my time with the first one, so it took me five years to publish it, but I had my Master’s degree and quite a bit of mentoring under my belt by the time I got it out the door.
My latest book took three years. Sometimes stories take time to fully form and I’m a strong believer that timing is everything.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write A Monster Or A Microwave?
I love fun and whimsical writing that represents Black and Brown people, and I wanted to write a fun book that puts our community in a positive light. Many children’s books highlight negative stereotypes and only painful portrayals of people of color, and I wanted to offer a positive perspective.
I sent a copy of my children’s book to a friend that has a young daughter, and my friend told me that her daughter mentioned that she wants to be Zuwena’s friend (Zuwena is the little girl in my book). It brought me to tears because this is what we need to heal the world. Exposing children to diverse literature from when they’re babies is one of the fundamental keys to creating a truly inclusive society.
What were your biggest challenges with writing A Monster Or A Microwave?
I got some not-so-great advice that caused me to doubt my work, and I let this hold me back. Now I know how to filter out the wrong advice, and I also know that it’s essential to test your books in a broad and diverse pool of all ages and ethnicities. Rhyming stories are also complicated to write. It’s kind of like a puzzle, and you have to be very technical.
The last book that I published was my kid’s book, and the Protagonist is a six-year-old girl named Zuwena. I wanted to create a character that was just herself, imperfections and all. I was definitely free-spirited and imaginative like Zuwena was growing up. I was really inspired by the concept of freedom when I started this book, and I wanted to feature a child just being herself and on her own little journey where she learns something new and finds strength through the power of friendship.
In my fantasy fiction series, the Protagonist is an 18-year-old-girl named Duchess, and I was very much like her at that age. Dreamy, adventurous, and always wanting to have loads of fun.
The Antagonist in my children’s book is Zuwena’s favorite microwave that comes alive and develops a monstrous personality when she gets filled with goo. I’m a big Hello Kitty fan and have a Hello Kitty microwave that frequently gets very dirty. The idea for the book popped into my head after a minor food explosion happened in my own pink microwave.
The main Antagonist in ‘Escape to Clown Town’ is a fallen star by the name of Epsilon, and his character is one of the founding fathers of sorcery on planet Earth in the world I created. Epsilon changes tremendously throughout the story, and the reader gets to observe how Epsilon’s discontentment and bitterness launched him down his dark path.
What is the inciting incident of A Monster Or A Microwave?
The first time Zuwena sees Mrs. Microwave and all of the goo coming out of her mouth definitely hooks kids. When I do live readings, they often wonder what will happen to the microwave.
In Escape to Clown Town, the enormous clown breaking into Duchess’ home in a remote village definitely sparks reader interest. In the fantasy world that I created for Clown Town, the clowns are a sect of people that gained significant wealth and political power in the world. Clown Town is an epicenter for trade, and the clowns created their own currency. Clowns rarely left Clown Town, so the fact that a random clown is breaking into a small cottage in a remote village often makes readers curious as to why.
What is the main conflict of A Monster Or A Microwave?
The central conflict in a Monster or a Microwave is between Zuwena and Mrs. Mivcrowave. Zuwena has trouble understanding what happened to her friend, and the two square off towards the end of the book. Zuwena then finds the courage to ask for help from her new friend Mr. Bubble.
In ‘Escape to Clown Town,’ the main conflict is between the clowns and fallen stars versus the fairies and celestials that live in the heavens. Age-old wars and hatred fuel this conflict, and the story begins at a critical point in the second age of the 13 heavens.
Did you plot A Monster Or A Microwave in advance or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I wrote my children’s book pretty freely, but I generally plot out my books per my publishing schedule.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did A Monster Or A Microwave need?
I always hire an external editor for all my books, and it’s an absolute must. My first book went through at least two editors, and I also did some editing and ran it through editing software. My second book seemed to be far less swampy and was easier to edit. Some authors go through gobs of editors. Sometimes it takes time to find the right one. It could take five different editors to get your book where it needs to be, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s because of your writing. Complex texts need more eyes, and many pro publishers have editing teams that work on just one book.
The more you write, the better you’ll get.
Protect your work like a seed beginning to sprout.
Your voice is needed, and the world needs stories.
Never waste the gift of a story in your head.
If, at first, you don’t succeed, then just keep writing.
Successful people follow their passions. This is actually the key to living a happy life.
I have quite the list. I have an early reader called “The Sparkle Riot Crew and the Kid From Star Quad 9” coming out this fall, and I’m working on the third book in my fantasy fiction series called “The Legend of the Star Scrolls.” I’m also working on my first sci-fi novel called “The Fallen and the Unredeemed,” and I’m hoping to get another children’s book out this year called “I’m a Cat Not a Rat.” Teasers for all of these books are on my website.
Yes! I just finished my fourth book, and I’m going to publish it this fall. I also have a collection of other books and web episodes planned. Once I get to the editing part I’m always ready to start working on my next story.