Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Q&A with Charity Alyse



Charity Alyse is the author of the new young adult novel Other Side of the Tracks. She lives in New Jersey.


Q: You write that the idea for Other Side of the Tracks first appeared as you were walking on your college campus. How did that initial idea turn into this book, and how did you create your characters Capri, Justin, and Zach?


A: That is correct! I’d just walked out of my afternoon Creative Writing Children’s Stories course. The campus was bathed in its usual February snow and ice and I remember everyone complaining about how miserable it was.


I never thought so. With my piping hot white peppermint mocha burning warmth into my palms, I couldn’t complain about the cold nipping at my cheeks and nose. With how beautiful the old and haunted buildings were on campus, it always felt very romantic-esque.


Still, I felt so alone. I didn’t have many friends and I think that’s where a lot of the inspiration for Other Side of the Tracks was birthed from. 


My professor gave our class a 10-page assignment to write a story targeted for the young adult audience about anything. I walked across campus trying to figure out if I’d write something new or submit something I’d already had on my laptop. (I was knee deep in assignments for other classes and didn’t know if I’d have time to do another.)


I was feeling down during that time about all of the protesting due to racism on the news and my mom said this, “When life gives you lemons, write book!” I laughed at it when she said it but thought I could try to place my feelings into the short story assignment. I thought maybe it would help me feel less lonely. 


Immediately, as I was walking across campus I got an image of a Black girl in my mind who was standing far off from her peers in an icy football field. They were huddled together crying, mourning the loss of a fellow student who was killed by a police officer.


I immediately went to the library and found the spot furthest from everyone. I took out a pencil and paper and started asking myself questions about this girl. Why was she alone? She has very little friends and feels guilty about mourning a boy she’d never spoken to. How did the boy die? He was killed by a police officer who worked on the white side of town and she also feels guilty because she’s in love with someone from that town. Someone she’s forbidden to see. 


From that point, the character of the love interest was born named Zach. A boy who feels more connected with the Black culture than his own. The girl, who eventually got the name Capri, had an older brother who was best friends with the boy who passed. What happens when he finds out his sister is in love with a boy from the town who killed his best friend? How does he manage the stress when his girlfriend is pregnant?

Things just went from there. My class read the story and they were in tears. We’d started having conversations about social equality, teen pregnancy, BLM, and so many of them were so invested into this story as if it were real life. I was blown away. My professor pushed me to expand the world and turn it into a novel. I wrote for nine months and had a finished product that I titled Other Side of the Tracks.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Through the characters’ distinct and lingering alternating perspectives, this emotionally raw volume juggles interracial dynamics and themes of appropriation, identity, and systemic racism.” What do you think of that description?


A: When I read this review, I was so happy that Publishers Weekly described OSOTT this way. It is a novel told from three points of view, so it gives the reader a chance to empathize with each character. Within the alternating perspectives, it does tackle raw subjects like those listed above. It can be heavy at times but there is humor and romance sprinkled in which mellows it out a bit. 


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Because it started off as a 10-page story, I knew the ending, which helped a lot. It was complicated working to expand what felt already so finished. Taking the story and working to stretch is wasn’t easy by any means but it was worth it. It allowed me to get to know each character better along with their history and home life.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: My hope is that readers learn to embrace the world around them, to love their families deeper, stretch their hands to the needy around them, and provide hugs for those who are mourning whether we know who they lost or not.


I also hope that readers gain empathy for those around them and the rougher neighborhoods they walk or drive through with muttered prayers of safety on their lips.


Lastly, I hope readers discover their dreams aren’t as far as they believe and that all things are possible if they push hard for what they believe in. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on another YA contemporary and thriller mixed based on a short story by one of my favorite Black authors of the Harlem Renaissance.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Other Side of the Tracks is a book worth taking a chance on and perfect for bookclubs, classrooms, and reading groups! It’s also available on audio with three amazing narrators and a #booktok anticipated release! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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