Taylor Darks is a 21-year old African-American from Cincinnati, Ohio. In this interview, she explains her journey with being an author in college while also balancing being a collegiate athlete.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio. I played a lot of sports as I got older. I played three varsity sports. I went to this school called Walnut Hills, a public school that was very diverse, so it shaped a lot of my experiences. It gave me a different outlook on things. I actually took my first Sociology class at Walnut and hated it, but now it’s my major, so it’s kind of funny.
I was that kid that read a lot in high school and middle school especially when Twilight came out. I don't get to read as much as I normally would. I haven't gotten to read in a long time since college basketball started. So it has been like 4 years since I actually read a book unless it was for a class. I do have a book collection on Amazon I can't wait to get to though!
Tell me about the books you have written so far?
My first book was Caged: A Poetic Collection of the African American Experience. I published it a year ago in Fall 2017. It was like my first baby, as soon as I got it in the mail it was great. It is doing pretty well and is being used as part of the Sociology curriculum, so that was a big win for me as an author.
I did my book Wash Day within that same school year. I love children’s books. I didn't write Wash day to be funny, but kids think it’s hilarious! I don't know if it’s the pictures, but they seem to love it. Everyone loves it, but I don’t know if I’m ready to promote it as much as my other work yet.
The Fluffy Adventures of FroMo is a children’s novel series. I would say it’s for ages 6-12. It’s all about hair. I’m really big on natural hair, especially with little girls. The villains, gadgets, superpowers are all hair inspired. It’s something that I made sure to change when I was writing it. I wanted the character to be super relatable. We often see superheroes who are “super genius”, or super this and super that, and that’s cool, but I wanted a black little girl who isn’t anything more than herself and still saves the day.
When did you start writing?
I realized that I liked poetry in the 9th grade. I took one English class and my teacher had us write one poem that I was really proud of. From there, I started creative writing in 10th grade where my teacher had us reading black authors, which I had never done before. He wasn’t black himself, but it still changed a lot for me, and I’m sure a lot of other people in the class. My goal was to write like my favorite author Toni Morrison.
I don’t at all though. I’m very straightforward with my writing, when I’m making a point, you know what the point is and don’t have to guess. Where with Morrison it could mean a hundred different things and your perspective determines how you interpret it. You can go back and read her books and it will expose something different every time.
My favorite quote by her is “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.” I try to write where I feel there are gaps.
I don’t see a lot of black children’s novels. I’ve seen babies and young adults, so I’m filling the gap with The Fluffy Adventures of FroMo.
Take me through the process of publishing a book.
The first step is to finish your manuscript and know where you’re going with the book. A lot of people, including myself, like to jump the gun. I love covers. I’m so obsessed with covers that if I could just design covers and the book could just appear behind it, that would be great for me.
I use CreateSpace, which is now called AmazonDirect. You send your stuff in and they give you all the parameters, the word document, what size it needs to be, cover template, etc. You just have to go get it done. The first time you do it is going to be hard. But now that I’m on my third book, it’s not that big of a deal for me anymore.
Once the manuscript is done, something I would begin working on marketing. Then, I would start playing around with the art.
There are self-publishing companies like Melanin Origins, where you pay them and they get it all done for you, but in terms of writing, editing and putting chapters together, I do all that myself. I find my own artists for my books every time. They have all been different. There has been a different artist for Caged, Wash Day, and the Fluffy Adventures of FroMo. They all have different styles and I like different feels for different things.
How did you go about getting the word about your books out there?
Word of mouth seems to work really great for me. I set up various promotions on social media, get people to repost it and it ends up being very effective.
You have to talk to people. I had one of my professors read some of the poems, and she understood it, and it fits well with her class, so she offered to add it to her curriculum!
Physically going to different places and talking there has also been effective for me. I got my book in the Underground Railroad in Cincinnati, Ohio by talking to people. Emails are good, but if I can I go and talk to people in person because I usually get more of a positive reaction.
Why is your author name T.D Darks, as opposed to using your full name?
People ask me that a lot! The real reason is because of past athletic compliances, I was told that I couldn't put my name on my books. That’s where “T.D Darks” comes in because you don’t know exactly who it is and a lot of people don’t realize that it’s me. I’m referred to as “the girl with the book” a lot because people have no idea what my name is!
I do plan on writing a book about my athletic social activism experiences for sure.
What is the balance like being an athlete, college student, an author, and so involved in other extracurriculars?
There is no balance. I’ll be working on stuff for FroMo until like 2 am, and will suddenly realize that I have homework assignments I haven’t touched yet. Finding those priorities are really important. I literally have reminders in my phone not to look at the FroMo stuff sometimes, so that I can focus on the other stuff that needs to be done.
I wrote Caged while on the road for basketball. I’m not as involved with my organizations as I would like to be just because I’m always out of town and can be gone for like 6 days at a time for games.
With my school work, I just have to make sure it gets done.
Did you face any rejection while trying to get your work published? If so, how did you deal with it?
Amazon Direct doesn't necessarily reject you for your content, they reject you if your work does not meet their criteria. Like you can’t publish less than a certain amount of pages, your cover has to be a certain size, etc.
I haven't done traditional publishing yet and I could say because I’m scared. I just feel like my books are unapologetically black and that’s difficult to get a publisher to pick up. Usually, traditional publishers are looking for something that will sell a lot like romance novels. So the fact that I’ve taken a superhero novel, made it all-black, it’s about black hair, so it has this political sense to it because black hair is political. I think getting stuff like that published would be difficult.
Plus, the process can take like 18 months and I’m not patient. If I want something done, I will get it done.
What is your writing process like, how long does it take you?
It’s sporadic. I’m not one of those writers who can write for three months then come back with a finished book. I don’t have a process, especially since my schedule is all over the place.
I didn’t think of myself as a writer for a long time because yes I write, but a writer seems like a person who is dedicated and does it all the time. The more books I publish, the more ideas that come up for other books. I thought Caged was going to be my only book, but that definitely wasn’t the case.
I have no set process. If I’m on a mental flow, I just have to get it all out at that moment. Children’s books aren't very difficult for me to write. They really don't take a long time. For me, it’s the other books. I have novels I started two years ago that still aren’t finished.
My novels are a lot more intricate and complicated, so they can take more time.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career as an author so far?
Definitely Caged: A Poetic Collection of the African American Experience getting used for a class. That was a big deal.
What advice would you give to authors out there who are aspiring to get their stories published?
I would say to get it out there. I find that a lot of people on college campuses especially, wait. They say “I’ll do it after I graduate” or postpone it. That’s a good idea you could be doing now. There’s a lot of people and connections on college campuses. Taking your time is also important. Know when to take your time and know when it’s time to get things done.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
I’ll probably still be in the FSU Ph.D. program (Sociology with a concentration in Race and Inequality). I have more books I want to write, and more places I want to talk to. Being an author who is also an athlete opens the door for different kinds of conversations for people.
How can individuals who are interested in talking to you get in contact?
Email - TBDARKS.Caged@gmail.com
Instagram - tb_darks
Is there anything else you would like to add that you think we left out, or could possibly help others?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help because you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m on my third book and I still don’t know what I’m doing. One of my biggest cheerleaders was my athletic academic advisor, who was actually writing a book at the same time as me. You’d be surprised who wants to help you succeed. Keep looking and you will find people who genuinely want to see you succeed.