An author, playwright, producer and director, Alretha Thomas is making her name through her pen. Award winning plays and wanting to help her community, Alretha’s background is as diverse as her personality. She started at the age of ten, when her 5th grade teacher picked and read her short story assignment in front of the class – that simple, loving act empowered a new writer. Continuing in high school, her numerous original oratorical conquests on the Speech Team led her to a journalism concentration at the University of Southern California. Upon graduating, Alretha soon realized that her interest in journalism was not heartfelt. While at the taping of a live sitcom, the producer noticed her and encouraged her hand at modeling. Modeling didn’t mean much to her, but it did lead her to acting and a NAACP Theatre Award Nomination (1993) for BEST ACTRESS. She feels that this acting stint gave her more fuel to write, and particularly, a better understanding of character development.
Alretha left acting and began to write full time. Her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces – the community response was overwhelming. This led to full length plays outside of the church including Alretha’s play, Sacrificing Simone (2007) which had a successful run at Stage 52 in Los Angeles and was called “an inspirational crowd pleaser” by the Los Angeles Times and her most recent work, the ground breaking OneWoman, Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by Denise Dowse, which garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences. In between plays, Alretha’s first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008.
You can find out more about her and her book at http://www.Dancingherdreamsaway.com.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Alretha. Can you tell us what your latest book, Dancing Her Dreams Away, is all about?
A: Dancing Her Dreams Away is about a young aspiring actress named Shelia King who’s raised by her grandmother. Not having the love of a mother or father has left a hole in her heart, and Shelia is determined to fill that emptiness by becoming a star. Her dreams seem like they are about to be realized when she meets the handsome, rich, and powerful producer, Gregory Livingston III. But unbeknownst to Shelia, Gregory also has a dream, a dream that could become Shelia’s worst nightmare.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: Shelia King is a 1985, 21-year-old. I stress the year, because I believe there’s a difference between a 21-year-old today and a 21-year-old a quarter of a century ago. Young people are exposed to so much more now. In 1985, there was no World Wide Web, nor were there any social sites such as Facebook, Myspace, or Twitter. There were no Blogs or celebrity gossip sites, and the only cable television news station was CNN. Shelia is an aspiring actress living during this time, has very little street experience, and is desperate to become “somebody.”
Nana is Shelia’s maternal grandmother. She’s a small-minded, religious woman, and raised Shelia after her mother died. Nana’s dream is for Shelia to become a successful reporter and talk show host like “Opie Winey.”
Gregory, Livingston III is rich, suave, powerful, and handsome. He’s a business man with a trust fund and a hidden agenda who’s dabbling in the movie industry. He’s searching for the perfect actress to play the lead in his new movie and Shelia fits the bill.
Edwina is Shelia’s ghetto fabulous best friend. Edwina’s dream is to become a fashion designer. At present, she works in a topless bar. She’s no nonsense, street wise, and like big sister to Shelia.
Heinz is the owner of the Flamingo club where Shelia works. He’s gruff around the edges, but has big heart and a crush on Shelia.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: Every character in Dancing Her Dreams Away is based solely on my imagination with the exception of Shelia. Shelia and I have a lot in common. Twenty-five years ago, I was an aspiring actress, and I took a job at a dance club, so I could be free to audition during the day. Like Shelia, I had little to no-self esteem and my drive to become an actress was fueled by a need to fill a deep hole within.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: I definitely have to have a plot in mind before forging ahead with writing my novel. Along the way, invariably I discover new things and take different paths to the end, but the overall structure of the novel stays intact.
Q: Your book is set in Los Angeles. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: I chose Los Angeles, becauseHollywoodis inLos Angeles, and the focus of the story is about a girl who wants to make it big in Hollywood. Moreover, I have spent the last thirty-six years living inLos Angelesand know my way around. It’s important that the descriptions of the city in the book are accurate and being a resident ensures that.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: Yes. There are four major settings in Dancing Her Dreams Away. The Flamingo Club, Greg’s world, i.e., his mansions and the movie set, the streets, and if I tell you the fourth setting, I would be giving away too much of the story.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: Gregory is apologizing to Shelia for “inadvertently” leaving the video camera on while they’re making love. She accepts his apology and the role in his new movie Dancing Her Dreams Away.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: I know it’s rude to stare, but Edwina’s pasties would make Stevie Wonder do a double take. Shaped like a penis, they’re decorated with glitter and an assortment of fake diamonds, rubies and pearls, topped off with a patch of foam. I lean back on her sofa while she shimmies, shakes, and gyrates. To be a big girl, Edwina is comfy in her own skin — sometimes too comfortable.
“How I look?”
I try to keep a straight face as I take in all that is Edwina. Double D’s, fifty-two inch hips, and butt for days. If she had been the muse for the Commodores when they wrote Brick House, they would have called the song, Ten Brick Houses. “Don’t hurt nobody,” I say.
“Girl, I made so many tips last night, I was covered in money. It’s only gonna be a minute before I’m able to enroll in design school. I tell you, leavin’ Flamingo was the best thing I coulda done. This topless shit is where it’s at.”
I give her the look.
“Don’t trip. I know it’s not for you.” She snatches a robe off her bedpost, throws it on, and attempts to tie it closed. Her outie belly button peeps out every time she makes the slightest movement.
“I’m not tripping, and I have never judged you. I just want you to be happy.”
She sits next to me and puts her arm around my shoulder. “I am happy. What I wanna know, is you happy?”
“I’ll be happy when I land a good part.”
“How’d the cattle call go?”
“Everybody and their mama was there. Girl, I had been in line for about thirty minutes when this woman comes out with a bullhorn and announces that everybody behind this one actress could leave, because they had too many people. And of course, I was behind that actress.”
“That’s jacked up.” Edwina pops up and pulls a lollipop from her robe pocket.
It’s getting so bad Stan is looking at parts with nudity.”
“What kind of nudity?”
“Topless and I’m not trying to go there.” I fold my arms over my chest for reinforcement.
“I don’t know why not. You have nice breast. They’re small, but nice.”
“You know my grandmother would have a fit.”
“You need to stop trippin’ on your granny. Don’t you wanna make it as an actress?”
“Of course I do.”
“But you don’t want it bad enough,” she says, pointing the lollipop at me.
“I do, but I don’t wanna sell my soul.”
“That sound like some bull your grandmother would say.”
Those are my grandmother’s words, and they haunt me like a hungry ghost wanting to devour my dreams.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Alretha. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you and it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.