Authors like this make blogging so much fun! I am extremely excited to talk to you about Kromah’s upcoming book, Djinn.
“Hauntingly captivating. Perfect for fans of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer and all things myth and fantasy. I can’t wait to read the next one!” – GoodReads Reviewer
This Young Adult book is full of mystery and sure to catch your attention! I had the opportunity to talk with Sang Kromah about her upcoming book, Djinn, and ask her a few questions about being a writer.
When did you first discover you wanted to be a writer and why writing?
Honestly, I’ve always been a storyteller. Well before I could read or write, I was taking apart the traditional Liberian folklore my parents would tell me and reassembling them as stories of my own. When I became literate, I always had a notebook and a novel with me, reading and writing simultaneously. I remember telling my parents in the first grade that I was going to be a writer, so every time we’d travel (which was a lot), they’d make my younger brother and me write a story about that trip. After that, I would write down the things I’d see daily, and adding magical aspects to make reality seem a little more fantastical. In the seventh grade, I had the best Language Arts Teacher, Mrs. Norvell, who would allow me to read my stories to the class every Friday. After that year, I knew more than anything, I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world.
Tell us about your book and why you wrote it?
While most people were told fairytales of princesses losing slippers and beauties being awakened with kisses as children, I drifted off to sleep with stories of dwarfish baby snatchers, unearthly beauties, and looming shapeshifters, who granted twisted wishes. These were the tales my parents told me nightly from their native land of Liberia. Both of them had a knack for weaving dark and alluring characters of mystical beings, but there was one story that stood out to me about a strong-willed, mischievous girl named Femeni who escaped—what should have been sudden death at the hands of a notorious Djinn. After hearing the story, I always wondered what happened to Femeni, and did she have any other encounters with the Djinn? As I grew older, the questions became more complex; what was so special about Femeni that helped her escape the Djinn? What if Femeni had a child, would there be something special about that child as well? These questions and my obsession with ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ gave birth to my novel, Djinn.
This book has a very long history. As I would finish a chapter, I’d email it to my mom, and she would tear it apart, only to have me re-write it. I was angry with her at the time, but I’m grateful that she did, because my novel became something that I am so proud of.
After reading your book, it seems like this is the first in what looks to be a series.
There will definitely be more. I know exactly where I’m going with the story and I just completed my outline last night.
Can you tell me more about this series?
I feel like there’s no way to answer to this question without spoilers, but I can say the lore gets much deeper and since the truth is out, there’s no holding back.
I can tell you that this book takes place at the high school I went to, in the town that I grew up in, and although it’s fantasy, there are many real elements in this world I’ve created. (I’ll attach a photo of Main Street) (middle picture above) The bookstore (A Likely Story) (below) that Bijou, Sebastian, and Amina really exists, as well as the candle shop (Unwined) they visit.
Where do you see this series going and what can the readers look forward to next?
I see the story eventually leading back to where it all began for Bijou. Liberia.
What message or lasting thought do you hope your readers will take away from your book?
Stay true to who you are. This is something Bijou (my MC) struggles with when the story starts. She’s insecure and constantly doubting herself and comparing herself to others. Within a few minutes of meeting Sebastian Sinjin, she makes a comment about why he speaks the way he does. His response? “Why would I want to be like everyone else when I can be myself?”
(I’ll be honest readers, before I asked if i could do an author spotlight, I was given the book to read. And don’t worry, the review is coming!! But I know exactly where this quote is in the book because I highlighted this exact one! I love that the author also singled this quote out. We so often get stuck in the day to day grime of life and politics that we sometimes forget who we are. This is such a great quote and reminder!!)
This message was important to me, because I’ve never really been able to conform. As a kid, I was bullied and never truly fit in at school, so I went through a stage, where I didn’t think I was good enough. Even though I was born and raised in America, you could look at me and tell I wasn’t a typical American kid and my name was definitely foreign. Then on the other hand, I didn’t truly fit in with people from my parent’s country as well. I always seemed to be on the outside, looking in. What helped a lot was having parents and a younger brother, who believed in me and supported my endeavors so much that I became so sure of myself that I didn’t mind marching to the beat of my own drum or sitting alone at lunch.
By the time I made it to middle school, I knew exactly who I was and what I was capable of. As I’ve grown, I’ve seen that there are other kids who can relate to how I felt and what I went through, so even when I write fantasy, my stories and characters reflect those experiences, how to cope, and how to rise above it. It seems easy to try to conform, but the more time you take trying to fit in, the longer it takes to find yourself.
What author and/or what book has had the greatest impact on your life?
This probably sounds very cliché, but To Kill a Mockingbird is the first book that moved me to tears. I actually read it before my classmates, because my mom made me read it the summer after seventh grade. I think I read it in two days. I remember hiding to read it at night, because it was after my bedtime, and crying so hard during the trial.
In the fifth grade, I became obsessed with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps and Fear Street series. After reading Say Cheese and Die, I thought, I could definitely do this too. By that time, I was already used to writing every day, but I asked my mom to make sure I wrote a hundred words a day. I wrote my first book in middle school about vampire cheerleaders.
But if I’m talking about stories that have stuck with me, I’d have to say, just about Isabel Allende and Alice Hoffman. Both authors have the ability to weave magic into the lives of everyday people, transforming the mundane into something wondrously strange. That’s something I’ve always wanted to accomplish as a writer.
Can you offer any advice for beginning writers or those trying to get published?
Get used to hearing the word, “No!” I would be lying if I said that rejection has never hurt, but I’ve heard no so many times that I take it as a challenge, because all it takes is one “yes” to change your life. So I look at “no” as a message from the universe to keep going. I feel like that’s the only way you will ever get published. You have to develop thick skin, keep writing, and be persistent.
Besides your book, are there any other books you would recommend reading this Winter?
Currently, I’m really into witches (I’m lying. I’ve always been into witches) so I’m currently reading A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan. After that, I’m going to read A Discover of Witches by Deborah Harkness. But I’ve decided to re-read Alice Hoffman and Isabel Allende novels this year, and I suggest that if you love magical realism or witches that don’t have moles, you should do the same.
Published: March 20, 2018
Some believe that at birth, we’re each born with some sort of guardian attached to us, watching from afar, but never seen. But are they wrong? Truth is, there are certain people, special people, born of this world and of the other, who need that extra protection…that extra guidance. They go their entire lives, unaware of the other world, and unaware of the existence of their own personal watcher that watches from afar. But what happens when fate takes a turn for the worse, and The One who needs the aid of a watcher more than anyone before her can’t be found to be protected?
Bijou Fitzroy is strange. With the unwanted gift of being an empath, she has spent her entire life as a sheltered recluse, homeschooled by her secretive and overprotective grandmother, who never allows them to stay in one place long enough for Bijou to settle and make friends. When Bijou and her grandmother move to Sykesville and she starts to attend the local high school, Bijou’s world begins to crumble. Town locals begin to disappear and the creatures from her nightmares begin to take shape in her reality. She finds herself at the center of a war she never knew was being fought all around her.
Excerpt, Chapter One:
Imagine not being able to tell whether it’s you or the person beside you who’s schizophrenic. That’s the story of my life.
Most mental illnesses have thousands of web pages devoted to them online, but whenever I insert my symptoms into a search engine, I get pages upon pages of fanfiction.
The only word that describes my appearance is “peculiar.” Almond shaped eyes might be considered beautiful on some people, but my almond shaped eyes can’t decide whether they’re green, amber, or gray, so “frightening” becomes a more accurate description. The changing colors of irises may not sound scary, but my eyes are the size and shape of a little green man’s. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but this is what I see when I look in a mirror. Peculiar.
I’m not white. But I’m not black. Well, at least I don’t think I am. I’m somewhere in between. Maybe. I’ve asked these same questions about my background, but the topic of race has always been off-limits with my grandmother Gigi. So, on an EEO survey, I have to choose other.
Gigi has always made excuses for people’s confusion. Words like “exotic,” “unique,” and “special” are thrown around, but never “pretty,” “cute,” or “beautiful.” People tend to stare, but when I look back and attempt to make eye contact, they look away in fear. How do I know it’s fear? Because I can feel what they feel. It doesn’t happen with everyone, just with typical people. While most people see race or ethnicity when they first meet, it isn’t that simple for me. Through my eyes, there are two types of people in this world, and the color of their skin has no part to play in the matter. With the Typicals, their emotions rub off on me when they’re in close proximity. It’s even worse if they happen to make eye contact; I see things—sometimes truly horrible things. It’s like being in a room full of babies who are screaming at the top of their lungs for attention. Luckily for me, eye contact is as rare as my interactions with Typicals. When I do have to be around people, I have to keep my hands busy or I’ll go into shock.
And then you have the Others. They’re a little harder to explain. I can’t feel what they feel and, when I see them, I know exactly what they are. They’re ethereal. Some are beautiful, but there’s always a haunting element about their appearance and presence that makes people want to avoid them. You would think I’d prefer their company since I can’t read them, but they scare me.
When I was a kid, my grandmother would tell me I was imagining these things, that I had an overactive imagination, so I just stopped talking about them. Claims like those would land me in a psychiatric ward, so, to block out emotions, I began carrying a deck of playing cards with me everywhere I go. Now I constantly shuffle, distracting myself from all the emotions that are vying for my attention.
“Bijou Fitzroy!” My grandmother’s voice startles me out of my closet. “You harass me about going to school, and, now that I’ve agreed, you’re going to be late on your first day. Allez! Dépêche-toi!”
She always becomes more French when she’s yelling.
“Webster’s defines a door as a moveable piece of wood that people use to enter or leave a room, but if Miss Manners were here, she’d insist on you knocking on said door before entering my bedroom.”
My grandmother, Gigi, is not amused as she addresses me with a cold blue glare. The chilly look, combined with her crown made of a tightly wound blonde bun, brings the term “Ice Queen” to mind.
“If you can memorize the entire dictionary, you have no business going to high school in Hicksville, USA.” She comes toward me in that intimidating way of hers, the way the Victoria’s Secret angels fly down a runway. “We could scrap the whole high school idea, go back to homeschooling, and spend the day exploring Eldersburg.”
“We live in Sykesville, Gigi, and I’m going to school. You know, like normal kids do?” Since moving to Maryland, Gigi and I have been in a constant argument about this. Sykesville and Eldersburg are neighboring towns with smudged borders. They’re so smudged, in fact, that you can live in Sykesville while your next-door neighbor lives in Eldersburg. It really doesn’t matter because the towns share one zip code. “My problem is that I can’t find anything to wear.”
Gigi rushes into my closet and, five seconds later, emerges with skinny jeans, a cute top, a cardigan with elbow patches, and tan Oxfords to match.
“How did you do that? I’ve been in there for the last half hour and nothing.”
“It’s a gift,” she says, leaning against the wall, her impatience apparent. “Magic, really.”
Gigi isn’t like other grandmothers. Yes, she’s the mother of my mother, but other than that, she looks as regal and young as Grace Kelly in High Society, and dresses like her too. She hardly looks like anyone’s grandmother, which is why calling her grandma is forbidden, and hence the name Gigi. Hell, we don’t even look related. She’s pale and tall with bone-straight, long, blonde hair. I’m of a darker hue, about five-foot-seven, and although my hair is long, it’s so black and wild that I break combs and brushes on a weekly basis. So she’s Tracy Samantha Lord and I’m Holly Golightly’s ethnically ambiguous half-sister with the crazy curls. We look nothing alike.
“I really don’t understand the need to go to high school here,” she says as she follows me to my mirror with the only brush in the house that hasn’t lost the battle with my hair yet. “Jou Jou, you’re in the eleventh grade and it’s the middle of the school year. And besides, with your marks, you could get your degree now.” She’s right. I’ve been homeschooled my entire life. With a photographic memory, retention of information makes schoolwork simple, but I’m sixteen years old and I’ve never set foot in a school building, never had a friend.
I know why I’m supposed to respect her opinion about my education. She’s been a mother to me since my mom died during childbirth, and my father is an unknown entity. Parents should be respected, but our relationship is a strange one. To me, she’s Lilith Fitzroy, my vain grandmother who looks too young to be a grandmother. To the world, Gigi is the international bestselling paranormal romance author, Anastasia Powers. She writes under a pen name to conceal her identity from the world, and whenever some nosey journalist starts to get close to discovering who she really is, we pack up and move. This is why I’ve been homeschooled my entire life. This is why she’s not very comfortable with me making friends with random strangers, but all that changed last month when she bought a house in Maryland and decided to move us here. It’s a huge change from the big cities we’re used to. Imagine leaving Park Avenue for a home at the end of a cul de sac in a development where most of the houses look the same, the grass is measured, and people smile when they really want to spit at you. Sykesville may be a little too normal, but it’s home now, and I’m glad we’re here.
After Gigi gives up the fight of taming my curls, we leave for school.
On the way, she continues trying to convince me to go shopping instead of going to Liberty High School. “Last chance to change your mind.” Her tone is less than enthusiastic as she glares at my new peers with disgust. “Didn’t you say once that you wanted to write a book? I could talk to my agent, and we can make it happen.”
Just as I’m about to retort, a figure wearing a black hoodie and black jeans comes into view. He’s standing completely still, staring at me, as the crowd maneuvers around him. I close my eyes tight in disappointment, knowing that he’s found me once again.
“You’re not here. You’re not here. You’re not here,” I whisper to myself. When I reopen my eyes, he’s no longer there.
Maybe I’m imagining him, but this hooded figure has been following me for a long time.
“No! No! No!” Gigi interrupts. “You’re not doing this again. If you’re going to attend school with these people, no weirdness and no talking to yourself. The last thing we need is these people running us out of town or attempting to burn you at the stake because you start doing or saying things they don’t understand.”
She can be such a snob. She fails to realize how much I need this. I could get into any top-tier university, but when it comes down to the test of relating to my peers, I fail miserably. I have zero social skills, and I am sure I will be a laughingstock once I open my mouth. The girls will probably snicker and point, while the boys won’t bother looking at me at all. But I’m not too concerned about the boys.
There is one boy though, a boy I’ve always thought about. The disappointing part is that he only exists in my dreams, faceless like so many characters in dreams. Though I don’t know what he looks like, I think about him entirely too much. I know this makes me certifiable, but he’s the only friend I’ve ever had. He was my playmate as a kid and grew to be my protector, keeping me safe in my dream world.
I’m sure other homeschooled kids have friends and some semblance of a social life, but not me. Gigi is an overprotective hawk, watching my every move, keeping me busy with one activity or another. I have been taking martial arts, gymnastics and piano lessons for as long as I can remember, but none of these activities involves an outside individual. She’s always taught me, so it’s always just been us.
“I love you Gigi,” I say as I exit her red Jaguar F-type, “but I’ll write a book after I get some real-world experience.”
“You’re so special, Jou Jou, and my fear is you may be too special for small-town folks,” she murmurs. I’m sure her words are supposed to be comforting, but they put me on edge even more. I smile weakly as she pulls off.
Cursed is a more fitting description.
Cutting through the schoolyard chatter, a flood of emotions hits me like a bloodcurdling scream at the beginning of an Anastasia Powers novel. It’s sometimes hard to separate my own feelings from the influx of emotions that come from others. I pull out my cards and begin shuffling. It must look like I’m about to do some magic trick. I shuffle so fast I have no need to look at the cards as I survey the school from the entrance to the yard. It looks large for a small-town high school. I glance around as I try not to run through the crowd to the entrance. They all look so comfortable with each other. They’ve probably known each other since kindergarten and won’t welcome the arrival of a weirdo who will unbalance things.
I definitely don’t fit in.
“Check out the cards,” a blonde girl says as I walk by. She isn’t exactly one of the Others, but something’s not right about her. “Don’t we belong in a freak show!” The sarcasm in her voice is venomous.
Something about her makes me stop walking and shuffling completely.
“Tell me she doesn’t have a perm,” another girl says as they continue toward the school.
My heart beats wildly, but the moment she leaves, everything returns to normal. Or as close to normal as it gets for me.
I am becoming more agitated by the second, so I resume shuffling my cards and walk away. I’m relieved to enter the front office. It’s not as intimidating as the entrance of the school. The walls are a pale shade of blue and in dire need of a paint job.
Breathe, I tell myself as I walk toward the front desk, clearing my throat.
“Hello, I’m Bij—”
I am interrupted mid-sentence by a dirty look from a frail, spray-tanned receptionist with salt-and-pepper hair. She looks up from her romance novel as if I have disrupted the juiciest part, and she points in the direction of a tall boy I hadn’t noticed until now.
“Bijou Fitzroy. I’m aware.”
Normally, I would’ve been irritated about being interrupted for a second time, but I am distracted.
His lips are so full that I can only pray he has horrid teeth to make me feel better about my own appearance. He’s slender, muscular, and tall. A veil of dark lashes almost hides the intensity of his eyes. He looks as though he’s swallowed a piece of the sun, and its golden rays glow within his flawless skin. Though we don’t know each other, there is something familiar about him.
“Well, that’s kind of rude,” I say. “You know who I am, and I have no idea who you are.” His silence and unblinking stare make me nervous, so I keep yammering. “Okay, you have about five seconds to say something before I start believing you’ve been stalking me.”
He just stands there staring at me with deep-set, gray eyes—never blinking. I can’t help but stare as well. It takes me a moment to notice he’s making direct eye contact with me. No one ever does.
He tilts his head to the side like a dog ogling a shiny new object when a sudden look of mystification etches his dark brows, and he contorts as if something ghastly has appeared before him.
He looks sideways.
Have I somehow offended him?
He turns back. “My apologies. G’day, I’m Sebastian.”
G’day? Is this how high school students talk? It’s nothing like Pretty Little Liars.
He reaches out to shake my hand, not giving me more than a glance. I stop shuffling, stuffing my cards into my leather satchel to take his hand.
The touch of his hand sends a jolt of electricity through my body, and flashes of a familiar scene of someone drowning surges through my mind until he retracts his hand, putting an end to the vision.
It’s obvious he feels something as well.
The look of concern returns to his face, and then he quickly looks away.
“Just consider me your personal tour guide, eh? They want you to follow me ‘cause we have identical schedules, so where I lead, you’ll follow. No sooking and no whinging.”
The more he speaks, the more evident his accent becomes.
I nod, intimidated by his assertiveness, but I am intrigued.
“Right-o, let’s be on then.” He starts toward the door, expecting me to follow. “Hooroo, Mrs. Reaper,” he salutes the unfriendly receptionist, who actually smiles at him, exposing teeth smudged with red lipstick.
The halls are quiet as we make our way to first period.
“Liberty High,” he says. “Not a ripper. Small town, so lots of bogans, but it’s fair dinkum.”
“I don’t mean to be rude, but I didn’t understand half of what you said.”
He doesn’t stop walking. He doesn’t even look my way. He smiles as if my comment is right on time.
“Why don’t you just talk like everyone else?” The stupid question escapes before I have time to censor it.
“Why would I want to be like everyone else when I can be myself?” He holds the door open for me. “Being normal is highly overrated, ta.”
He looks at me point blank and winks.
Sang Kromah was born in Philly, raised in Sykesville, became confident as a writer in New York, but is Liberian at heart and by blood. As a child, Kromah would sit in the living room with her brother and listen to her parents recount the folklore of their native land of Liberia, absorbing in the words and falling in love simultaneously. Born a storyteller, Kromah would run away with the words, creating her own stories, telling them to her family and anyone else who would listen. The summer after receiving her Master’s degree in Communications from New York Institute of Technology, she decided she was going to do what she said she would as a little girl. She moved to Liberia and wrote the novel she was born to write, Djinn.
As a communications specialist, Kromah’s credits range from her work at Seventeen Magazine to UN Women and Half the Sky Documentary. As a model, she’s been featured in Essence Magazine, Jet Magazine, and more, but her greatest accomplishments are with Project READ, a female-run library initiative she started and Project GirlSpire, an online media site she started where girls and women empower each other through digital storytelling.
Keep an eye out for my review and don’t forget to comment below if you have already read the book or your thoughts on this author! Until next time, Happy Reading 🙂