W.D. Foster-Graham is a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota. A graduate of Luther College, he received a B.A. in psychology, and he was an original member of the 3-time Grammy-Award winning ensemble, Sounds of Blackness. He has also been recognized by the International Society of Poets as one of its "Best New Poets of 2003." A 5-time published author, his passion for writing was inspired by his father, who read voraciously.
1. Tell us about the featured book. What is it about, and why did you choose to write this story?
Never Give Up: A Christopher Family Novel is a family saga about Earl James Berry, patriarch of the Berry family and lifelong friend to Elijah Edwards. Like Eli, Earl is a man of character, honor, and integrity, highly respected, well loved. Through his connections to the powerful Edwards family, doors of opportunity opened for Earl. Although he did not come from old money, he made a name for himself as well as becoming another role model and success story in the community.
As one of the first African-American district attorneys in Hennepin County, he racked up a success rate in convictions that took him to a seat on the bench for criminal court cases. He has had a long and distinguished career in the field of law and justice, and the reputation of being a tough but fair judge. All of his children have married well and are successful in their own right. Family and being rooted in faith have always seen them through, until a fateful day of what should have been a time of celebration comes…
As his life hangs by a thread, we see his life and legacy through the eyes of his wife, his six children and one of his grandchildren, and wonder if a “gift” passed down through the generations will help to solve a mystery.
The time is 2012; the place, Minneapolis.
This is the fifth novel in my Christopher Family Novel series. Like the previous four novels (which are designed to be read in sequence), it is historical fiction, but it is also a whodunit. In writing the novels I wanted to read, I wrote about a wealthy, powerful, African-American family and their friends, where being LGBT is simply a fact of life. In contrast to the typical African-American character in fiction being a criminal or a police officer when it comes to law and order, Earl James Berry is a judge.
Since so many novels about African-Americans are based in cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and D.C., it was time for my hometown of Minneapolis to be represented (FYI, Prince and I attended the same high school). Finally, I listened to that voice within saying, “You can write a whodunit. Just use your own unique voice and style.”
2. Tell us a little about your writing process. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
My novels to date have been historical fiction, and as an African-American, the first people I talked to were the elders in my large, extended family and family friends. They were an invaluable source of information about life in the 1940s and the 1950s, since Never Give Up spans the time period 1946-2012. Local historical societies gave me a sense of “the lay of the land” back then in Minnesota, as well as archives from the Minnesota Historical Society. My own life experiences growing up here added to my background information. Of course, in certain professions, I interviewed those in the know.
As for the length of time spent researching, it largely depends on the time period I’m writing about, the professions of the characters, and the topic of the novel.
3. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
The most critical part of my process is creating the psychological profiles of my characters—the strengths, the shortcomings, the idiosyncrasies, what makes him/her/they tick. Once I have them down, it is easy to keep on track as I write. When my characters take on a life of their own, I know my profiles are locked down. Trust and believe, I am indeed grateful for that psychology degree I received from college.
4. How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
First, it has taken me less time to write a novel. Second, on the subsequent books in my series, I took a page from Agatha Christie and wrote the beginning and the ending first. From there, I made a general outline and wrote my novels the way a movie is shot--out of sequence. For me, it all works out in the end.
5. Are there any writers or authors who have influenced your writing? If not, who are some of your favorite writers?
Authors who have inspired me, because they dared to take the risks, are E. Lynn Harris, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. Toni Morrison said, “If there is a book you wish to read, and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.” Other favorites include Gloria Naylor and romance novelist Brenda Jackson. As a fellow African-American LGBT author, in addition to E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy would be on my list.
6. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I currently have two male/male romance novels to be added to my Christopher Family Novel series: The Right to Be and To Thine Own Self.
7. What does literary success look like to you?
As one who loves the library (it was virtually my second home growing up), success is seeing my work gracing the shelves of public libraries. Success is having the people who were there for me from the beginning to share it with. Success is having a reader tell me, after reading my work, “I know someone like that,” “I have a relative/coworker like that character,” or “That happened to me.” Success is making a positive difference for somebody else through support of other authors, particularly local African-American authors who are already underrepresented. Success involves paying it forward.
8. What inspired you to start writing?
My passion for writing came from my father, who was a voracious reader. I was writing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil (and as a man of a certain age, that’s quite a while!). He was my Number One fan and my biggest critic. He has since gone on to glory, but he always had my back, which is the reason he is one of the people my novels are dedicated to.
9. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
A good writer is a good reader, and (yes, I own it) I love to immerse myself in romance novels. I love getting in my car and taking a drive through the countryside, or a nature walk. In this season of COVID, I get to indulge in my favorite classic movies of old Hollywood, of which my library card keeps me supplied with. And of course, time with my family.
10. Do you have a website or social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) where readers can learn more about your work?
You can check out my website, wfostergrahamauthor.com
My Twitter handle: @WDFosterGraham1
In addition, I have an Amazon Author Page.