Authors Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon: Their Journey with Zora

Monday, 07 November 2011 05:09 Written by  Tiffani Alexander

Zora and Me takes the reader through an historical fiction–like journey into the childhood of the famous Renaissance era author Zora Neale Hurston who wrote the classic, Their Eyes Are Watching God.

While a work of fiction, the novel is based in fact, with historic details about Zora’s hometown of Eatonville, Fl., her family and friends filling its pages. However, the story of a young Zora attempting to solve the murder of her friend in their “all-black” town, and causing quite a stir among her neighbors as she does so, comes from the creative minds of authors and friends Victoria Bond and Tanya McKinnon (T. R. Simon).

The ladies, who’ve been friends for 10 years, sat down with me to discuss how the idea for the book came about, what’s happened since, their advice for new authors and what’s to come.

GlossMagazineOnline (GMO): How did you ladies meet?

Tanya: We were working in an office together, in publishing.

GMO: Can you tell me a little bit about your individual backgrounds and how they eventually brought you two together on this project?

Victoria: Actually working with Tanya was my first job out of school –– I graduated in 2001. And from there I had a wild collection of jobs. I worked at a school for the blind. I did a little bit of modeling, I did stand up comedy and I also went into a MFA program where I studied poetry.

GMO: That’s quite a mixture.

Victoria: Yeah, after that job I just got loose [Laughs].

GMO: I’m sure that’s informing you’re writing –– we’ll get back to that! How about you Tanya?

Tanya: I went to Tufts University and after that I worked in publishing in Boston. Then I left the country for a while and came back, went to graduate school and then found myself back in publishing.

GMO: With your backgrounds, it's not too surprising you would go on to write a book someday. But what made you decide to actually do it, and why a book about the childhood of Zora Neal Hurston?

Tanya: Well, we had always kicked around the idea of doing something together. Our ideas had been kind of wild before, not really something you could settle down and complete. So, when I was pregnant with my daughter and they told me she was a girl I got really excited. I thought of all the things I would share with her – all the books I loved. Then, I wanted to write a book about a girl character that I loved as child called Caddie Woodlawn, but I wanted her to be black like me. As I was thinking that through, the idea of Zora just kind of jumped into my mind. And I was thinking, Zora had that childhood. And I wondered what it would be like to write a book about young Zora Neal Hurston. So I finished that thought, called her up and said, “Oh my God, I have an idea!”

Victoria: You didn’t tell me what it was. You lured me in. It was suspense. Then, you got me over to your house and then she sprung the idea on me. And I thought this is very interesting. I think at that point, we were ripe for collaboration. Writing on my own, I had discovered things that I was interested in and at that point it was pretty clear to me that I wanted to write something with kids. I think that was the thing: I said, Oh, maybe I can do something with kids. And then I was like, Oh, I can do it with Tonya –– oh, and it can be about Zora Neal Hurston!

GMO: Tell me about the process of writing the book together. Did you write a chapter and then she wrote a chapter? How did that work?

Victoria: One way I describe it is I feel like I’m a miner. So, I put on a mask … and I have some kind of pick ax, and I’m digging at the earth, which is just my mind and what I know and what I don’t know. And I pull the precious metals and the gems, and they’re not looking so precious and they’re not looking so shiny. They’re misshapen, they’re ugly. That’s basically the draft of the manuscript that I then hand over to Tanya. And Tanya’s a sculptor and she’ll chip a little here, chip a little there, think about it, take it out into the light and say, "Does it have enough facets and is the light catching all the faces of the gem?" So I feel like I’m a miner and Tanya’s a jeweler.

GMO: So Victoria you come up with the big ideas and Tanya refines them?

Victoria: No actually. I think Tanya has the ideas.

Tanya: We usually talk and then we’re draftsmen with different skills. Vicky will say, if the novel is pool, we’re going to play this game of pool together. But Vicky takes the first shot and scatters the balls. Then I have to get the balls into the holes on the next shot. It’s not a pool game until we both play. [Laughs]

GMO: I got it, that makes sense. Okay, so writing a novel about another writer, a writer who was so iconic for that matter and then making that novel fiction––was that a daunting task at all? How did you go about making sure that you were true to who Zora was and the childhood that she experienced, while also creating characters and an entire story around that?

Tanya: Well, early on Vicky did a lot of voice exercises. We were trying to find our way in the novel, we had precisely that question. The one thing we knew was that we didn’t want to write as Zora because it felt pretentious. It just felt wrong. How do we write about Zora, without being Zora? Then Vicky did one of her exercises from the point of view of a best friend, and I’m not sure who, but one of us said––Sherlock Holmes and Watson. It’s Watson who writes about Sherlock Holmes.

So, Carrie became our vantage point for Zora, she embodied the love we have. The admiration and the respect that we have for Zora we put it into Zora’s best friend and the childhood that we invented.

Victoria: On the depiction of Zora in our book: Zora, in one of her short stories called “Drenched in Light,” which is based on her own childhood and her relationship to her grandmother. In thinking about our Zora, we never wanted to stray from how she thought of herself or how she depicted herself as a child.

GMO: I know you’ve won awards for Zora and Me. Can you tell me about the feedback you’ve received on the novel? Has anyone said, “You nailed it, you totally got it right?” or “This isn’t accurate, this isn’t what the town was actually like?”

Victoria: We had some really heartwarming feedback from one of Zora’s direct heirs Lucy Hurston, who is the daughter of Zora’s youngest sibling in our book, Evert. She told us that one thing that we got right was Zora’s relationship to her mother. I think we both felt good about that.

Tanya: It made us cry when she told us that.

Victoria: The other thing that has been funny about the book is that I think people assume that we had a strong relationship to Florida and that maybe we had been then a lot before we started writing. So, it’s been nice to hear that we got Florida right.

Tanya: It’s a work of fiction, but we really tried to ground it in her autobiography. So Joe Clark is Joe Clark. Her parents are her parents. Her siblings are her siblings. As much as possible we tried to invest the story with the real characteristics of Eatonville as they were described. Our story is invented, but it’s rooted in the facts of her life. It won a “Coretta Scott King’s John Steptoe Ward for New Talent” and it was nominated for an Edger….

GMO: That leads me to my next question. Zora and Me is the only novel not written by your heroine, Zora Neal Hurston, endorsed by her trust. This is your debut novel. What was the first thing that went through your head when you found out about that endorsement?

Tanya: I said, “What?!” [Laughs] Our editor called me, and she goes: “Well.” And I go: “Why are you calling? Well what?” And she said: “Have you gotten the call yet?” And I said: “What are you talking about?” And she goes: “Don’t you know?” I said: “No, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” And she goes: “You won the John Steptoe Award!” Literally, it took me completely by surprise. Then I started texting you, “Vicky! Vicky!”

Victoria: Yeah. I didn’t receive anyone’s call. I think that’s the funny thing about the writing life. We started working on this in 2007. You know, you work on stuff and then you get distanced from it. So you know people are like “Hey!” And you’re like “Hi. This has been hanging around in my life.”

Tanya: I’m in the middle of book two. [Laughs]

GMO: What message do you hope that young readers will take away from Zora and Me?

Tanya: To be endlessly curious. To be a lover of life and life’s adventures. To aim high. To use your imagination. To love nature. Zora really grew up in a world where nature and the wonder of the outside world played a large part in shaping her and I think she brought that to New York with her in the Harlem Renaissance.

Friendship, particularly for black women, is such an important part of our lives. And I think there are a lot of false steps that people take later, because they try to escape who they are and where they came from. Zora is really testimony to how you can have an endless source of creativity in yourself if you just dare to be who you are.

Victoria: The relationship to home. I hope that our young readers, for good and for bad, think about where they come from as a springboard for who they become.

GMO: If Zora could tell you what she thinks about Zora and Me, what do you think she’d say?

Tanya: I know what I hope she’d say. I hope she would say, “Hey, Not bad. I’m OK with this. I don’t mind this representation of myself.”

GMO: What advice do you have for up-and-coming authors who are trying to get heir debut novel published?

Tanya: Don’t give up. Don’t stop and stay true to yourself. Also, writing is not a static craft, it’s one that you learn, and that you keep learning and that you keep getting better at. The only thing that can make you better is practice: reading, writing, reading and writing. Also, artistic stamina is needed.

Victoria: Also, when are you not up-and-coming? I think that’s the great thing about writing is that you’re always starting new. It’s always starting over. So I would say don’t be afraid of that. Don’t be afraid of the start overs.

GMO: Any advice in particular for fiction writers? What one attribute should they possess?

Tanya: Imagination and fearlessness. Like Vicky always says, you have to go inside and mine.

Victoria: Yeah, you have to look at the “Oh my God!” –– You have to look at these ugly pieces of yourself.

Tanya: Or you can’t convey someone else’s experiences. If you’re shying away from yourself, you can’t get into the head of somebody else. In a way, fiction writing makes you a lot less judgmental because you really walk in other people’s shoes.

GMO: What’s next? Are you going to write more about Zora?

Victoria: Yeah, this is a trilogy. Right now, we’re working on the second book and there will be a third book to come.

To find out more about Victoria, Tanya and Zora, visit


Tiffani Alexander

Tiffani Alexander

Publisher and Editor in Chief of (GMO), Tiffani Alexander came to Chicago in the fall of 2004 to pursue her Master's degree in Arts, Entertainment & Media Management at Columbia College Chicago. Tiffani earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of
 Maryland, College Park. She has worked for both Cygnus Business Media and Maher Publishing before embarking on her dream to start her own magazine. In addition to publishing GMO bi-monthly, Tiffani freelances and works as an editor on a legal journal in Washington, DC.


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