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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 a university.

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 Got Paid."

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 didn’t 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 we’d 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 that’s 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. That’s all I knew about sex at the time. What a difference 20+ years makes!

 

Pageonelit.com: Why do you write?

Wendy Coakley-Thompson: The easy answer, again, would be escapism. At its simplest, I love creating an alternate universe where there’s some karmic balance to characters’ existence. I think that’s the reason why my fiction tends to be character-driven, like, here’s 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. It’s 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. That’s 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 90’s 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 what’s 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 I’ve 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. They’re 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 same time!

 

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 King’s “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 don’t get it. Don’t listen to people if you know in your heart that your work is good. There is always an audience for what you’re 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 it’s a chick book, but my black women readers tend to identify with Lisa’s (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?

Wendy Coakley-Thompson: It depends. It’s situational. My tastes in reading are eclectic.

 

Pageonelit.com: What's next?

Wendy Coakley-Thompson: I’ll be spending the rest of the year getting the word out and letting people know about me and my book. I’ll 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 is Stockholm.

 

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.

 

 

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