Teen Press Corps Member, Ivy, interviews L.L. McKinney, author of A Blade So Black
Ivy: Why did you want to be a writer?
L.L. McKinney: I don’t really remember deciding I wanted to be a writer. I just was. When I was little, my parents and my family encouraged it. I had teachers who encouraged it. So, I just always kind of have been [a writer] until my ninth grade year in high school. I had an English teacher who told my parents that writing was a distraction for me, and I should stop. And even though my parents didn’t really believe the teacher, because I’d had issues with teachers in the past who didn’t really like that I read faster than the rest of the class. And you’d think that would be something to be celebrated. But no, they said that she should tone down the writing so that she doesn’t have anything to say. Because again, I was a black girl in the school. It was a sort of prestigious school. And so I was like, fine. I just stopped writing entirely until college. And then I wanted to write professionally. I always have been talking about, I’m going to write a book, but I decided to take a crack at it after reading a book that I was like, ‘Well, if they can do that, I can do it.’ There was no point where I wasn’t a writer or didn’t think of myself as a writer. I just started to take it, quote-unquote, seriously, about 10 years ago.
I: Where do you find inspiration for your books?
L.L.: Random places. Like for [A Blade So Black], for Alice, I was sitting on my parent’s couch and I was watching a Supernatural rerun and they were talking about Buffy and they said something about the Alice in Wonderland movie. And I was like, ‘okay!’ So those sort of collided in my head and off I went. There’s another book that I was really obsessed with, The Book of Revelations, which has like dragons and monsters and I guess the apocalypse or whatever. I went to church still, but I have a crossroads with certain aspects of Christianity because there are things that people do that Christ just would not approve of. But, I was really into the book of Revelation. So I wrote a book about sins walking around looking like people and, you know, things of that nature.
I: Why did you want to write A Blade So Black in particular?
L.L.: Well, all the books that I wrote, trying to get published up until A Blade so Black, were all about white boys. Because I thought, that’s what you had to write in order to get published, because that’s all I read. And with Alice, I don’t know… I had gotten deeper into publishing and had come face to face with a lot of the racism that exists in publishing, as it exists everywhere. And so I was just like, “No!” I think when I was like, ‘Yeah, this is gonna be a whole thing!’ because for me I’ll start a book and then I’ll leave it, I’ll come back to it years later. And so when I decided to focus on A Blade So Black, my sister was pregnant with my first niece, and I was like, ‘She’s not gonna grow up not seeing these stories on shelves the way that I do.’ So that’s why I focused on [A Blade So Black].
I: Are there any parts of your book that are inspired by your real life or characters?
L.L.: Well, yeah. Alice is a black girl who likes things that aren’t considered traditionally quote, unquote, black. She likes rock music, and she likes anime, she likes to cosplay. And so, like me, she’s called Oreo because she’s ‘black on the outside white on the inside’, or ‘Wannabe White Girl’, or things like that. And that happened to me. It happens to her as well. And there are instances I just pulled from, interactions with her mom mirror the interactions that me and my sisters have with mine.
I: Why Alice in Wonderland?
L.L.: I really enjoy that story. Because it’s so weird. It’s the same with every book that you know. Two people read a book, and will walk away and completely different ideas. But with Alice in Wonderland, it takes that and it dials it up to like, 100, because it’s nonsense. And I love that about it. And it also, as a cheat, made writing things easier because people were like, “Okay, so why does this happen?” “Because it’s Wonderland,” and that works. I’ve always really liked the story. I always really liked different iterations of the story how strange and amazing it is. I just really liked it.
I: If you had to have someone write the book of your own life, who would it be?
L.L.: I would probably say either Angie Thomas or Nic Stone, just because there’s so much in both of their books where it’s like, I know that I know that person, I know like there’s staples of black life and the black community that are just in those books, that are there unapologetically and it’s beautiful. And I don’t know just because my life is not you know, magic and dragons or zombies or whatever, but if my book could be written as a fantasy, I would probably want Dhonielle Clayton or Justina Ireland to do it. But, for real life, it’s going to be Nic and Angie. Possibly co-authoring, that would be amazing for me. And I’m sure like them co-authoring would be amazing for everyone.