Wendy Coakley-Thompson, Ph.D
Wendy Coakley-Thompson was born to West Indian
parents in Brooklyn, New York. She was raised in idyllic Nassau,
Bahamas. In 1984, Coakley-Thompson
returned stateside to attend Montclair State College (now University),
where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Theater
(Broadcasting). Later, Coakley-Thompson received a Masters degree
in Communication Arts from William Paterson College, also now
Living in New Jersey, she contributed articles
to The East Coast Rocker, Private Eye, and Downtown magazines
in New Jersey. She also wrote articles for Elan and In Print,
fashion and lifestyle magazines in Nassau, Bahamas. She has interviewed
luminaries from Betsey Johnson to singer Johnny Kemp, a Bahamian
who achieved international stardom with his hit song "Just
In 1999, Coakley-Thompson earned a Ph.D. in Education
from Syracuse University's Instructional Design, Development,
and Evaluation (IDDE) department. Her dissertation is entitled
The Use of Popular Media in Multicultural Education: Stressing
Implications for the Black/Non-Black Biracial North American
Student. Having a biracial grandmother and coming from such a
racially diverse West Indian family and culture has driven Coakley-Thompson
to explore race relations, interracial marriage, and colorism
in her scholarly and mainstream fiction writings. She also discusses
the sometimes painful dichotomy of being a patriotic first generation
American who also experiences the simultaneous inextricable pull
of the old country. Coakley-Thompson lives in northern Virginia.
She is also an occasional commentator for Morning Edition and
Metro Connection on WAMU, a Washington D.C. National Public Radio
affiliate. She has also been an adjunct professor at Strayer
University and Marymount University in northern Virginia. Back
to Life is her first novel.
Pageonelit.com: Where did
you grow up and was reading and writing a part of your life?
Who were your earliest influences and why?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: I
was born in Brooklyn, NY. When I was three, my parents moved
to Nassau, Bahamas. I didnt really fit in there. When I
was a kid in Nassau, there was such a shortage of media. There
were only two radio stations; both government-owned. We used
to get TV signals from Miami, but the slightest hiccup in the weather, and all wed
be able to see is snow. Additionally, I attended Catholic school
from K-12, which was very strict. Adding to that, my parents
divorced when I was six. So, scenic route to the point, books
were pure escapism. I get and give mixed reviews on my original
tastes in reading material Sidney Sheldon, Mills and Boons
(the British version of Harlequin). I think I liked them because
they were exciting and opened up a world to me, living on an
island thats 7x21 miles. Everyone seemed to travel the
world and have exciting relationships. I, on the other hand,
was this sheltered Catholic school girl in a country with the
land mass of Minnesota, you know?
I started writing when I was 11. Because of my
early choices in books, my early efforts were decidedly over-the-top,
contrived, highly melodramatic. Full of throbbing manhoods and
heaving bosoms and all the clichés. Thats all I
knew about sex at the time. What a difference 20+ years makes!
Pageonelit.com: Why do you
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: The
easy answer, again, would be escapism. At its simplest, I love
creating an alternate universe where theres some karmic
balance to characters existence. I think thats the
reason why my fiction tends to be character-driven, like, heres
what makes a character tick, and, given those personality traits,
how would this character react in a specific context. Writing
also helps me to exorcise my own demons, to work out some of
the worse parts of me right there in black and white. I can put
it out there, but at a safe distance so I can deal with it. Its
a type of therapy, really.
Pageonelit.com: BACK TO
LIFE is your first novel -- Where did this story come from? Why
did you write this book? Explain the title and how it relates
to the story.
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: Back
to Life is my first published novel. The context is real. In
1989, a gang of Italians menaced three Black teens in Bensonhurst
section of Brooklyn, NY, and a Black teenager named Yusuf Hawkins
was shot to death. The story is set in Montclair, NJ, where I
spent most of my life in the US. Much of life in Montclair is
represented as I know it. Montclair is a college town less than
20 miles outside of Manhattan. The town buzzes when school is
in session. SCNJ is loosely based on Montclair State University,
where I went to college. The book also represents one
aspect of the bridge and tunnel existence. Thats
what people from Manhattan called people who have to take the
bridges and tunnels from Jersey and the outer boroughs into The
City (i.e., Manhattan). It also looks at certain aspects of Italian-American
culture, and explores the misperception of folks from Jersey
as low-budget New Yorkers.
At the time the Yusuf Hawkins shooting, I was engaged
to an Italian-American and living in New Jersey. I wanted to
explore some of the resultant issues and also wanted to vent
about how anything that happens in New York affects northern
New Jersey, and not in the best way either.
The title Back to Life comes from a song of the
same name by 90s British R&B groups Soul II Soul. The
first line is Back to Life/back to reality/back to the
here and now. I interpreted that to mean that this is life.
This is the reality. Live in the here and now. The main characters
in the book have had to disabuse themselves of their perceptions
of what kind of life they should have and are forced to live
in a racially-charged here and now.
Pageonelit.com: You tackle
several social issues in BACK TO LIFE -- Is there one in particular
that inspired you more than another while writing the story?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: Definitely
the interracial issue. Having been in an interracial relationship,
I wanted to explore that issue. Not just the male/female interracial
relationships either. I asked myself whats the breaking
point for friendships between the blacks and whites.
Pageonelit.com: You are
an occasional commentator for WAMU, a Washington D.C. National
Public Radio affiliate -- Tell us about your radio experience.
What have been some of your most recent commentaries?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: I
was a broadcasting major at Montclair State. My sister, Krissy
Luv, is a radio personality in Nassau, Bahamas. I used to co-host
her talk show on Fridays about five years ago. My most recent
experiences with WAMU, our D.C. NPR affiliate, have been great.
I do monthly commentaries on a show called Metro Connection.
My most recent commentaries have been about what Ive learned
from my dog and the underlying price of feminism. You can hear
them in the Current Archives of Metro Connection at www.WAMU.org.
Theyre another form of therapy for me. I seem to have chosen
careers where I can get stuff off my chest, and get paid at the
Pageonelit.com: Now that
you are an experienced published author - What advice can you
offer for those writers who are working on their first novel?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: When
writers are asked that question, they usually say
Write what you know. Or Read a lot. Both
answers are valid. I would suggest potential writers pick up
a copy of Stephen Kings On Writing Well. That
book changed how I approached writing. The best advice that I
can offer is to be persistent, no matter how many people dont
get it. Dont listen to people if you know in your heart
that your work is good. There is always an audience for what
youre trying to say.
Pageonelit.com: What has
been your feedback from readers? What do they say to you about
their interpretations of your books?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: Feedback
has generally been favorable, though my older readers have asked
whether I need to curse so much! Also, not that its a chick
book, but my black women readers tend to identify with Lisas
(one of the main characters) overt financial struggles and her
troubles with her less-than-ideal husband.
Pageonelit.com: Who are
your favorite writers and why?
It depends. Its situational. My tastes in reading are eclectic.
Pageonelit.com: What's next?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: Ill
be spending the rest of the year getting the word out and letting
people know about me and my book. Ill also be working on
my next novel, and also doing some scholarly writing, as well
as some nonfiction. Watch my web site (www.wendycoakley-thompson.com)
to keep apprised.
Pageonelit.com: What was
the last book you read?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: Studio
Sex, by Karin Marklund. Very interesting book, translated from
Swedish to English. Interesting parallels, like the country girl
moving to the big bad city, only this big city with all the vices
Pageonelit.com: Do you have
any hobbies? What are they? How do they enhance your writing?
Wendy Coakley-Thompson: Travel, movies,
and music are the top three. And of course,
reading. Reading definitely helps with plot development, setting
the atmosphere or the time frame of a scene. Music also heavily
influenced me when I was writing Back to Life.