An author and playwright, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. Award winning plays and wanting to help her community, Alretha’s background is as diverse as her personality. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class – that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. Continuing in high school, her numerous original oratorical conquests on the Speech Team led her to a journalism concentration at USC.
Upon graduating, Alretha soon realized that her interest in journalism was not heartfelt. While at the taping of a live sitcom, the producer noticed her and encouraged her hand at modeling. Modeling didn’t mean much to her, but it did lead her to acting and a NAACP Theatre Award Nomination (1993) for BEST ACTRESS. Alretha left acting and began to write full time. Her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces—the community response was overwhelming.
This led to full length plays outside of the church. In 2002, The Stella Adler Theater presented A Shrine to Junior.
The play was nominated for an NAACP Theatre Award and in 2004, Alretha’s play, Civil Rites, was the recipient of an NAACP Theatre Award. Her play Grandpa’s Truth ran at the Inglewood Playhouse in Inglewood, California in 2006, and was extended more than once by popular demand. Not only did radio station KJLH support by recommending this production to its listeners, but notables like the Mayor of Inglewood, Roosevelt Dorn, and music legends like Freda Payne and Stevie Wonder had critical acclaim for Grandpa’s Truth. This wonderful piece was featured on Channel 5 (KTLA News) by Entertainment Reporter, Sam Rubin. Additionally, in 2007, Alretha’s play, Sacrificing Simone had a successful run at Stage 52 in Los Angeles and was called “an inspirational crowd pleaser” by the Los Angeles Times and in 2009, Alretha’s ground breaking One, Woman Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient Denise Dowse, garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences.
In between plays, Alretha’s first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Representing her book, Alretha has been the guest on many radio shows and television shows including San Francisco Public Affairs show Bay Sunday with Barbara Rodgers on KTLA Channel 5. In 2011, Alretha launched her second novel Dancing Her Deams Away, and it was also well received. Her third novel, Married in the Nick of Nine, is taking readers and reviewers across the country by storm. Alretha is currently preparing for the release of sequel to Married in the Nick of Nine. The Baby in the Window will launch in 2013.
Get to know Alretha:
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
A: If you look up miracle in the dictionary, you’ll see my smiling face staring back at you. Nineteen years ago, if you had told me I’d be participating in an interview with AAMBC regarding my third novel Married in the Nick of Nine, I would have directed you to the nearest lost and found so you could hopefully locate your mind. There’s no way a young, black girl raised in a San Francisco housing project, with a sickly mother on welfare, and an abusive jailbird father could become a writer. There’s no way that girl, who finds her mother’s lifeless body on the living room sofa, at the age of fourteen, could even think about writing, let alone graduate second in her high school and get a scholarship to USC. There’s no way that girl, who becomes anorexic, bulimic, and falls prey to drugs and alcohol, could have any hopes of becoming a writer. Well, miracles do happen and with determination and faith in God, I was able to overcome my obstacles and fulfill my fifth grade teacher’s prophecy, that one day I’ll be a published writer.
Q: You refer to your books as your babies. Tell us how “Married in the Nick of Nine” was conceived and born.
A: In early 2011, I began putting together a skeletal outline for a story about a young, smart, and successful woman who was determined to meet, fall in love with, and marry “The One” within nine months. Around the time I was writing the book, I was launching Dancing Her Dreams Away, so after writing about thirty-five pages, I put Married in the Nick of Nine on the shelf. Dancing Her Dreams Away launched June 2011, and I was laid off my corporate job of twelve years in September 2011!
The Friday of the week I was laid off, I decided to query agents regarding Married in the Nick of Nine, just to see if anyone would be interested. Usually I have to query about three-hundred agents before I get a handful of responses, so I didn’t expect to get any replies, let alone any positive ones. So I submitted one query letter to one agent. To my amazement, the agent requested the entire manuscript. I was filled with glee and dread because there was no manuscript. I barely had forty pages. But this was an opportunity of a lifetime, so like Bradley Cooper in Limitless, I started writing.
He had NZT and I had faith. I stayed up writing the book for four days straight, and by the following Monday I received an email from the agent asking if the manuscript had gotten lost in cyberspace. I told her I would get it to her the following day. So four days after the manuscript request, and one week after being laid off, I had completed Married in the Nick of Nine. Long story short, I submitted the book, got great feedback, but no cigar. After countless revisions, more submissions, requests, and rejections, I decided to once again self-publish! And I’m glad I did. Just think if I hadn’t submitted that one query letter, Married in the Nick of Nine would still be on the shelf.
Q: Which characters in “Married in the Nick of Nine” are you most like?
A: Wow! That’s a great question. I’m actually a combination of a few of them. I was very similar to Cyn in my twenties. I liked to party and like Cyn, I drank a little too much. I became more like Cassandra, in my late thirties. That’s when I got focused. There are aspects of both characters that I admire. I love Cyn’s free spirit and her tendency to say what’s on her mind. I love Cassandra’s determination and I admire how she managed to stay on point with her goals. She finished high school, went onto college, and now has a great career. I veered off the path during my journey, but thank God, I eventually got it together. By the way, I have a BIG crush on Nick! LOL!
Q: Is the life of a writer as you imagined it to be?
A: I never imagined what a writer’s life would be like. I’ve always envisioned what I wanted my life to be like as a writer. My dream is to be well off, free from the 9-5 grind, writing books, plays, having my books optioned for movies, and being a part of those movies as a producer. I saw myself being a part of every aspect of the movie making process, from casting to the red carpet premiere. I also saw myself being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Entertainment tonight, and all the other entertainment shows. Am I there yet? No. But I’m having a ball getting there. LOL!
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
A: There are hundreds. Top of my list is the BIBLE. Others that stand out the most are as follows: The late Bebe Moore’ Campbell’s, “What You Owe Me” and “Brothers and Sisters.” “Angela’s Ashes” by the late Frank McCourt. Terry McMillan’s, “Waiting to Exhale,” “Disappearing Acts,” “The Interruption of Everything,” and “A Day Late and A Dollar Short.” Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone” and “I know This Much Is True.” “RL’s Dream,” by Walter Mosley, and all of Kimberla Roby Lawson’s books. Classics like “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison. Too many more to list!
Q: If you could go back and change one day, what would it be?
A: It would be the day my mother died and yes, the reasons are obvious. I know she’s within me, and I believe she’s aware of my life. I actually had a very vivid dream wherein she appeared to me and she was very happy. She smiled and she said, “I heard you wrote a book.” This was around the time my debut novel came out. The dream was so real. I took one look at her and burst into tears. I was overwhelmed seeing her and I cried expressing the pain that I had experienced in my life not having her around. She hugged me and I woke up. I jumped up and ran screaming through the house. “My mother came to me! My mother came to me.” My husband, who was already up, reached out to me, and I collapsed into his arms.
Q:What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
A: NEVER GIVE UP!
Cassandra Whitmore is facing yet another Valentine’s Day alone. Her love life is as dry as the Sharpie pen she uses to mark an even more dreadful day on her calendar—her upcoming 30th birthday. Driven by the maddening ticking of her biological clock, Cassandra is determined to meet, fall in love with, and marry “The One” within nine months.
When Cassandra accompanies her cousin to a night club, her Type-A quest to meet a man is quickly rewarded by a stranger’s velvety, baritone voice asking if he might occupy the seat next to her. He’s Nicolas Harte, whose good looks leave Cassandra speechless, but not for long.
After mustering enough courage to strike up a conversation, she learns Nicolas is everything she wants in a man—smart, successful, and available. There’s only one catch: He’s “GU” (geographically undesirable). Nonetheless, Cassandra falls in love with Nicolas and makes the uncharacteristic decision to move from Los Angeles to New York to be with him. But Cassandra gets a rude awakening when she discovers there’s something rotten in the Big Apple.
The Speakeasy is jumping; the line to get in is crazy. I don’t know how Cyn does it. I just don’t see what people find so enthralling about club life, but it must have something to offer or half the women in Los Angeles wouldn’t be standing in line shivering their butts off. Parked outside the club, I glance at the clock on my dashboard and see that it’s already ten o’clock. I could have sworn we were supposed to meet at nine. I would call Cyn, but I forgot my Blackberry at home, and I’m not about to use the pay phone at the corner gas station. I don’t know why I didn’t fill up earlier.
I could have spared myself the close encounter with that homeless man determined to wash my windows. Poor guy. I can hear my pastor now: ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ I know he’s probably gonna buy a couple of forty-ouncers with the five dollars I gave him, but I couldn’t help myself.
Okay it’s way past ten now. I guess Cyn got confused. I wish she would get here. After that disastrous date with Lawrence, I need a pick-me-up. And speaking of pick-ups, I can’t believe he expected me to pick up the tab. According to his mother, the only way to tell a woman’s not a gold-digger is if she pays on the first date. I don’t know why Lawrence signed up with the dating service. Clearly, he’s already married.
“Lord have mercy. You scared the mess out of me!” I scowl at Cyn, who just appeared outside my passenger door.
“Let me in.”
I unlock the door; she opens it and sits.
“Girl, you scared me.”
“Why are you so on edge? What’s up?”
“I guess I’m still reeling after that date I had with Lawrence, the mama’s boy.”
“I told you you’re wasting your money on that dating service. You need to ask for a refund. It’s been a year, you’ve been out with over a dozen guys, and it always ends up the same. What was that last one’s name?”
“Yeah, Richard. The one who asked for a loan after two weeks. And then there was Doug, the crackhead…”
“Former crackhead. When I met him he was clean and sober.”
“Right. Somebody put that crack pipe in his briefcase. And don’t let me forget Theodore, who wanted you to have a ménage a trois with his ex-girlfriend on your second date, or was that Phillip? No, that couldn’t have been Phillip, because he was gay.”
“I get the point!”
“Okay, so I won’t mention the four or five other guys who could have worked out if they had only worn the right color suit, lived in the right part of town, or had the right number of frequent flier miles.”
“Cyn, please! I get it.”
“Do you? I don’t know why you’re trying to get married anyway. You just don’t know how good you have it, living your own life with nobody to get on your last nerve. If it wasn’t for Shelby, I would have divorced David’s big, fat, funky butt a long time ago.”
“You don’t mean that. But even so, I’m not giving up.”
“You know what they say about people who keep doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results?”
“I’m not crazy. But never mind that—where have you been? We were supposed to meet at nine.”
“You said ten.”
“I did not!”
We exchange looks and take a moment to size each other up. “Never mind. Just forget it,” I finally say, by way of an apology.
“Girl, that purple cashmere top is kickin’ on you,” Cyn says, her way of accepting it.
“You look good, too. Looks like you’ve lost some more weight.”
“It’s the black, but thanks anyway. We’d better head in. I need a drink.”
“I dunno, Cyn. I’m not feeling that line.”
“Please, we’re not gonna stand in line. I have a hook-up.”
“Good. Then I think I’ll have a drink, too,”
“Little miss perfect is gonna have a drink?”
I ignore Cyn. We get out of my Lexus, and all heads turn when she slams the car door. A couple of women, wearing lace front wigs give us smug looks from the head of the line. Cyn and I exchange knowing glances as we approach the long, velvet ropes separating us from the competition. Now that I’m out, I wanna have a good time. Cyn’s right—I really need to loosen up. I’m gonna really try to be spontaneous tonight.
I laugh out loud at my own thoughts and follow Cyn closely as we brush past these ladies-in-waiting. I wiggle my nose at the scent of perfume and hairspray wafting through the air. I suck in my gut and hold my head high, all the while praying that Cyn truly does have a hook-up. I couldn’t bear to get to the front of the line and be kicked to the curb.
“Ouch. You stepped on my foot!”
“I’m sorry,” I say to a short girl in braids and hardly anything else.
“Come on, Cass!”
“I’m coming,” I say, trying to ignore the daggers and snickers coming our way. I stare at the back of Cyn’s head as she looks up at the six-foot-five gatekeeper with neck and arms the size of tree trunks.
“Hi, I’m Cynthia Townsend. Roberta and I work together.”
The bouncer crosses his bulging arms over a huge, barrel chest and sneers at us. “Roberta who?”
“Roberta Jenkins. She’s a social work—”
“Oh Robbie, okay. Sure, you right.” He points at me and asks, “She with you?”
Cyn looks over her shoulder. I guess to make sure it’s still me and not one of the haters we trampled en route to the head of the line. “Yeah, that’s my cousin.”
He parts the velvet rope, we high-five one another, and waltz into the club.