Today I welcome onto the blog, author Kristine Simelda for an interview following the release of her newest book.
Check out the interview below and don’t forget to visit her links which will be listed at the end.
01) Your new book, Rise Up, Sista released this week on the 15th November, tell us a little about what this book is about.
Rise Up, Sista is a story about female friendship and the power of music to change individual lives and popular culture. Annabelle Sinclair, a British rocker, and Mercy Mae Williams, a Jamaican reggae artist, meet in London in 1963. It’s a heady era with new musical genres exploding on both sides of the Atlantic. Together with a cast of iconic performers, they set the popular music scene on fire for the next fifty years.
02) What inspired you to write this story?
Rise Up, Sista is dedicated to Nelly Stharre, a reggae artist from Dominica, the Eastern Caribbean island where I live. I knew her music well, but I didn’t know her personally. Sadly, she died along with her partner Trevy in a mysterious house fire in 2015, and there wasn’t much written about her before or since. Still, her vibe lives on in my head and in my heart.
Likewise, the British invasion of the American pop scene in the ‘60s played a huge role in shaping my teenage identity, and I hold that music near and dear. So I put the two beats together and wrote a book that has been waiting in the queue for 60 years!
03) What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
I’m familiar with most reggae musicians, but I had to do a lot of research on the dancehall music scene in Jamaica to make it authentic. I was shocked by what I found. Hateful homophobic lyrics and slack sexual behavior ran rampant until conscientious musicians like Mercy Mae and organizations like JFLAG stepped up and fought for reform in the ’80s.
However, antagonistic deejays are still human beings, so I had to portray all their various personas. The character of Ras Mo, a Jamaican duppy or ghost who speaks in dialect, was also difficult. But where would a book set in the Caribbean be without a little magic?
04) What part of the book was the most fun to write?
I loved revisiting the swingin’ sixties in London, following the lives and careers of British rockers as well as reggae music icons in Jamaica. But the most fun was actually writing the lyrics to the songs that my characters perform in the book! Trust me, I was right up there on the stage with them!
05) How long did this book take to write?
It took about five years from the first draft to shape Rise Up, Sista into the book it was destined to become. Because much of what I wrote was from the perspective of black Jamaicans, I had to be sure to get that part right. My goal was to portray characters from a culture different from my own with empathy and respect, especially Mercy Mae.
06) Your book features the power of music, so did you play music while you wrote — and, if so, share with us some of the songs you listened to.
Of course I played music, but not all the time. The peace and love vibe of Nelly Stharre never fails to grab me; her last Album was Soul Country. I also listened to music performed by bands and solo artists who inspired the other characters: Marianne Faithful, The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, along with a treasure trove of other British and Jamaican artists, old and new.
07) What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with this work?
1) The notion that there is such a thing as good and bad music or art or dance. Anything that comes from the heart and speaks to the heart is valid.
2) The idea that the sweet vibe of reggae music is subservient to the in-your-face insistence of rock and roll.
3) That women weren’t a driving force in pop music in times gone by.
4) That friendship is based on nationality or gender or race or class rather than a tie that binds kindred souls together for a lifetime.
08) How much research did you need to do for your book?
Plenty more than any other book I’ve written because the story follows the evolution of the British pop rock scene and the reggae vibe in Jamaica chronologically for 50 years. It was fun revisiting the Rock and Roll hall of fame, but I also did a lot of research on Jamaican music from mento to ska to reggae to dancehall.
I was unfamiliar with the political chaos that surrounded the campaigns of Prime Minister Michael Manley and fascinated by how he used music to influence voters.
09) Did you hit any obstacles while writing or researching this book?
Well, there was Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017 that destroyed my home as well as the early draft of Rise Up, Sista. I had no electricity or internet for almost a year afterwards. But Dominicans are resilient people, and we resolved to build back better.
Also, as an American writer, I had to be especially careful of the dreaded cultural appropriation with regards to Mercy and her family. Annabelle and her gang were easier, but I still had to be vigilant in terms of violating copyrights and intellectual property.
10) What do you love most about your two main characters; Mercy Mae Williams and Annabelle Sinclair?
Mercy Mae was inspired by Millie Small. Her hit song, “My Boy Lollipop,” sold millions of records worldwide, but she disappeared from the music scene and died in 2020. So I was free to write about her according to what I’ve learned from interacting with island people for the past 30 years, folks who are very loyal to their roots music. Mercy is bright, loyal, determined, independent, kind, and most of all very talented.
Readers might recognize the inspiration for the character of Annabelle Sinclair, a beautiful good/bad girl, loaded with talent as well as addictions of every sort. Oy, Annabelle! Will she ever get it right? But I love her because she’s just like me.
11) And finally, how did it feel when the book was finished and how did you celebrate when you completed it?
It felt great, like a dream come true. Since this is my first traditionally published book, I wasn’t sure what to expect from TouchPoint Press. I love writing, so I hoped they would handle most of the promotion, which is a challenge for me. Since I live a writer’s life on the edge of the rainforest, I celebrated the release of Rise Up, Sista by howling long and loud in harmony with my 5 dogs.
Kristine Simelda is an independent scholar of Caribbean culture. Herfocus has been to record cross-cultural experiences with empathy,engagement, and respectful appropriation. While Rise Up, Sista is her most recent publication, she has previously written three novels, anovella for Young Adults, and many pieces of published short fiction.
Rise Up, Sista
Set in the UK and Jamaica, Rise Up, Sista is a story about female friendship and the power of music to change individual lives andpopular culture that spans over fifty years. Mercy Mae Williams, aJamaican reggae artist, and Annabelle Sinclair, a British rocker, meet asyoung women in London in 1963. It’s a heady era—cultural revolutionand fresh musical genres explode on both sides of the Atlantic.
GENRE: Women’s Fiction | Women’sRights | Women in Music
PAGE COUNT: 323 pages
PUBLISHER: TouchPoint Press
Big thank you to Kristine, for joining me today on the blog. Wish her all the best with her new release and do take the time to check out her links above.