Candice Lola: On Writing, Discipline, and Inspiration

Two months ago, I was lucky enough to attend Black Girls Gather in Chicago. It was a beautiful event with brilliant black women sharing their feelings and experiences. Throughout the event, I spied an energetic black girl sitting simultaneously in the center of it all and tucked in a corner. Her shocking pink hair alerted the room to her boldness and the fact that she didn’t half-ass anything.

Turns out she is a writer. Of course she is. And of course I had to chat with her. Candice Lola chats with me about reading and writing, inspiration and discipline.

ON READING

What are you reading right now?

I have a lot of half read books on my shelf. Sandra Cisneros is the writer who initially inspired my style and so I browse The House on Mango Street often. I reread At The Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid all the time. I am also reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, a few books by C.S. Lewis.

Favorite book of 2017?

I’m not usually on top of newly published books, although that is something that I am working on. My favorite more recent book is The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. I am a huge fan of hers, plus her writing is hilarious and relatable. Whenever I consume any of her work I feel like I’ve been given permission to be myself as a black girl that is messy, awkward, and extra all at once. Her work reminds me that I have a place.

Top 5 fave books of all time?

A Small Place x Jamaica Kincaid

The House on Mango Street x Sandra Cisneros

Animal Crackers x Hannah Tinti

The Magician’s Nephew x C.S. Lewis

At the Bottom of the River x Jamaica Kincaid

Who do you read when you want to be inspired?

My go-to is anything by Jamaica Kincaid. She has a very raw way of facing oppression and yet her symbolism is so poignant and effortless. Cisneros is who initially inspired me but Kincaid is who most influences my style. When I read her I can almost feel the emotional highs and lows that inspired the piece. I aspire to be as powerful a writer as her someday.

ON WRITING

Tell me about yourself: your writing, your life outside of writing (if you have one), how long you’ve been at it?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I used to write poetry exclusively, mainly because it’s a lot easier for me to end a poem. My stories used to go on and on and on, which is ironic because I’m a flash fiction writer. I was 7 when I wrote first my first poem. I don’t remember a single thing about it other than it was published in Bits of Lit, an elementary school publication. I was so proud of myself! From then on I wrote privately until two years ago, when my career at the time had me so stressed that I was barely sleeping. That’s when I made the decision to follow my passion full-time, a decision that I haven’t regretted since.

I do occasionally have a life outside of writing. I’m mostly a homebody, but I co-host a radio show once a week called “Blurd Dot Radio,” where my co-hosts and I goof around and talk about black nerd stuff until about 2 in the morning. I love attending different events on the Chicago arts scene, I love cooking for my friends, and I love annoying my tiny dog, who is definitely considering breaking up with me.

Describe your writing process. Do you have have an ideal work environment?

I am a vampire. I’m up all night; it’s when I do my best work. I love to think about the entire world being quiet enough for me to hear my thoughts, if that makes sense. Ideally I’ll be in my living room after about 1 am, with some uninteresting tv playing in the background to keep me focused. I also really like co-working. I have a writing partner that I link up with once a week. We review each other’s work and make notes and edits, we share resources, and we encourage each other.

Do you find that your stories have a common theme/topic? Is that purposeful?

Every single one of my stories is an allegory for a social commentary. In my personal life, I am very outspoken about politics and social justice, so it makes sense that it seeps into my work. At first it was not intentional, I just wrote stories that I felt inspired to write. After a while, though, I started to notice that all of my inspiration would come after meditating on a social justice issue or societal construct. I’d think something like “I wonder how I can conceptualize celebrity” or “the perceived power of sexiness,” things along those lines. After realizing that the social climate was my muse, I began to think about these things more intentionally.

Do you believe that writers have/need a muse that sits on their desk and bathes them inspiration? Or do you believe in the blood, sweat, and tears theory of writing?

I have never been lucky enough to have a physical muse, but I think good writing has an element of both inspiration and sweat.  When I start a story I am usually inspired, but pushing through to the end of that first draft is all sweat. If I am in a situation where I need to produce a lot (like when I first started writing and was uploading stories to my blog every week) I work to find inspiration. I find that when I go into a work with all discipline and no inspiration, my stories are rigid, wordy, and harder to get through. I have noticed that the more I write, the less inspired I have to be in order to produce good work because I am getting to know my writing style, and so I don’t have to be in some disconnected state of mind in order to access it.

Who is your favorite character that you’ve ever written? Why?

The main character of my story “Holes” is very close to my heart. He is based on someone that I used to know who I came across on social media sort of randomly one day. While every other person from my past has had surprising turns to their life journey, he turned out exactly as I thought he would. His story explores the “socially obedient,” and his character sacrifices a whole lot in order to remain that way. By the time he realizes that he has basically lost himself, he is too late to revive. It’s a sad story. The ending isn’t happy, but it’s true to life and very simple. It’s the simplest tragedy I have ever written. That character represents the majority of my life until I decided to embrace my passion of writing. Writing him felt like standing against a measuring stick and finding that I had grown way past it without even realizing it.

Is your writing inspired by real life or is it entirely fictional?

My writing is almost completely inspired by real life. People who know me and my writing very well can usually pick out parallels to situations or comparisons to people I know. There are a few stories that are so influenced by a particular person that I’ve actually sent the story to the person afterwards.

What are your long-term goals when it comes to your writing?

I really want to author a lasting body of work. I want to write books full of the kinds of stories that I like to tell. I want to create discussions around the way the world interacts with different kinds of people, and I want to make work that will constantly push new perspectives.

Where can we find your stories?

When I’m not involved in other projects, I post new stories pretty regularly to my blog CandiceLola.com. I also write creative essays for the Huffington Post and I occasionally publish on other platforms. More information about that can be found on my blog.

I also write microstories for Twitter account @Petersises once a week.

My social media is @Candice_Lola pretty much across platforms, except for Facebook, which is Candi.Lola.