Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Q&A with Riss M. Neilson


Photo by Jadin Gagnon



Riss M. Neilson is the author of the new novel A Love Like the Sun. Her other books include the young adult novel Deep in Providence. She is from Providence, Rhode Island.


Q: In your author’s note from A Love Like the Sun, you write that the inspiration for your character Laniah’s health issues come from your own health journey. Can you say more about this?


A: Hi Deborah! Thank you so much for this question. Six months after my chronic kidney disease diagnosis, Laniah’s story poured out of me. I was struggling with depression and what my diagnosis meant for my life as a mother, a friend, and as someone who still wanted a big romantic love.


Suddenly, I didn’t know how to navigate having that or even dating with a chronic illness. Will the person that loves me find me harder to love now? Should I push them away first, to protect them and myself too? If I start dating new people, do I tell them straight away about my diagnosis? How much of myself do I have to disclose over a first coffee date?


It truly changed my life in a lot of ways while I had to remember that I was still deserving of romantic love. And much like Laniah, I spent years at my primary care doctor’s office with concerns when I wasn’t feeling well, and he’d say it might help if I lose weight and send me home with a diet sheet and anxiety meds.


This happened for years until I asked for my medical records and self-diagnosed my C.K.D. Weeks later, I was properly diagnosed by a nephrologist, and I had to make the choice on whether I’d file a medical malpractice suit against my primary care doctor.


I know so many women, especially Black women, face similar challenges navigating the health care system, and sometimes it’ll be a matter of life and death.


Laniah’s story is so close to my heart. I hope it finds readers who need it, and it’s important for me to say this: please advocate for yourself, be as brave as you can be, fight hard to find a care team you think you can trust like I eventually did.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Laniah and your characater Issac?


A: I like to think of the dynamic between them in fun ways like: when the sun kisses your skin for the first time that day, finding something that gives you that warm feeling of nostalgia, love and hiphop and music that feels good in the soul, slow dancing with someone that makes your heart beat fast, but wanting to play fight and laugh and crack jokes with them too.


I think, given the shared history, Laniah and Issac are fiercely protective and caring for one another, and because of this their love is a slow burn. When they finally get to release the achy tension between them in the bedroom, that protection and care is in those steamy moments too.

Q: The writer Shirlene Obuobi said of the book, “Sexy, heartwarming and soulfully human, Riss M. Neilson's stunning adult debut is an homage to home, family, love, and the fears that hold us back from our destiny.” What do you think of that description?

A: I know A Love Like the Sun is a romance, but this description touches on all the important themes in the novel. The relationship between Laniah and her mom, and her relationship with her late father play a huge role in how she moves around in the world, especially regarding love. I think Shirlene calling it “soulfully human” touches on the deep emotional core of this book.


As far as her finding it sexy: I do too. I’m not sure it can stack up to a dark romance, but the spicy scenes are explicit and the tension that builds throughout the book is personally sexy to me.


And I really love the last line because I believe in soulmates, and I wrote Laniah and Issac as such. They found that in one another at 13, but life happened, and fear kept them from fighting for that love for so long.


Q: You’ve written for young adults before--why did you decide to write a novel for adults, and was your writing process any different?


A: Honestly, I was supposed to be writing my second young adult novel when A Love Like the Sun poured out of me during Nanowrimo, so it wasn’t a conscious decision to switch to adult at the time.


I really love writing for both, and I don’t know that my process is that different because my young adult characters are often mature and dealing with heavy things.


But what is different for my adult books is learning to focus more on the romance when inside I have the urge to dissect and explore every single relationship in the book, even if it’s just with a neighbor, haha. It has been a teaching experience for me, for sure.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished a draft of my second adult romance. I can’t say much about it, but think adversaries to lovers, lighthearted and playful, and maybe a little spooky. ;)


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’d like to take space here to share some links should readers be interested in more A Love Like the Sun vibes :)


Pinterest board: https://pin.it/4oT8xW8l0


And a mashup playlist of Laniah and Issac’s favorite songs: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4xO5MAmHLLi1ZcPAjuVFhQ?si=NlFMVBLbQzuLpCuOSzlQcA&pi=u-b83FxK87Squa


Thank you so much for this interview, and if you’re reading it, thank you for spending time with me!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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