Shanna Miles on Writing Black Love and Her YA Romance "For All Time"
Shanna Miles has been a reader as long as she can remember, describing stories as her "happy place" through childhood and into adulthood. When it comes to writing, she said, a special memory is writing a picture book for her cousin when she was younger.
"I couldn’t have been older than seven," Miles said. "It was about bunnies. I served as illustrator as well. That particular skill did not develop as I got older. I can’t really draw to save my life now. I wish I could, though."
As for why she writes now, Miles said that she tells the stories she would like to read.
"I love to extrapolate," she said. "What if this? What if that? I just love stories and I daydream quite a bit. My dreams are extremely vivid so a lot of my story ideas come from dreams. My mind is kind of always churning and moving in all kinds of directions. It’s nice to have somewhere for all that creative energy to live. Now I can share it."
Miles' upcoming YA romance, For All Time, is a time-twisty story of Black love through the centuries. The main characters, Tamar and Fayard, have been falling in love with each other in countless lives, snippets of which we get to read in the book. Every time, though, something goes wrong. Will they be able to figure out what it takes to live (and love) each other once and for all?
"There really are precious few love stories on the shelves between two Black kids," Miles said. "To be able to give kids a really swoony love story that they can see themselves in is just so precious to me. I didn’t have any when I was growing up. Not one. And even now publishing is just beginning to give us these stories."
For All Time was born out of a combination of Miles' love for historical fiction and her desire to write a love story between two Black teenagers.
She said she found herself writing snippets of the same characters' love story in various eras and places throughout history, including San Francisco in the 60s during the Black Panther's era, and Paris during the French Revolution.
"After playing around a bit I began to wonder how I could make those snippets into a single book and For All Time was born," Miles said.
The title, For All Time, a phrase that I absolutely adore and which I think is so meaningful especially after reading the book, was born out of a conversation Miles had with her editor, Krista Vitola, and was originally based on the song "For All We Know" by Donny Hathaway.
The book is structurally very interesting — Miles actually takes us on a journey through history, hopping around to various countries, continents, and historical periods and showing us Fay and Tamar's love stories as they develop. As a writer, I tend to be very linear with my timelines, so I was super intrigued to know more about Miles' craft.
She said research was an essential part of her writing journey.
"Get comfortable with your old college online databases," she advised. "Dig into old maps and diaries and newspapers. You’ll start to notice through-lines. Maybe it’s an old train station or church that has existed in the same place for hundreds of years or you can place your characters in front of a church in each skip. You’ll need to make a connection."
Miles added that in For All Time, her characters are reincarnated but they have connections to themselves and each other in each lifetime.
"Tamar is a musician," she said. "She plays the cello in 1920’s Philadelphia and the kora in the 14th century and a city destroying drum machine on a space colony in the future."
(Aside: yes, there are scenes in the book set in the future and somehow I didn't know that was going to happen and they were amazing?? I loved this book.)
Obviously, I recommend For All Time if you're looking for a great book — it releases Tuesday, Sept. 28, so you've still got some time to pre-order it! But I had to ask Miles if she has any recommendations herself.
"You have got to pick up Lamar Giles’ Not So Pure and Simple," she said. "It’s a hilarious story about a kid who joins a purity club at church to try and get with a girl he has a crush on. It’s about toxic masculinity and unrequited love, and slut shaming and the Black church all wrapped in an uproarious package. It does not disappoint. 10 out of 10."
Not So Pure and Simple is a YA that's been on my shelf for far too long, and one I'm anxious to get to! Miles also recommended a memoir.
"My other recommendation is Just as I Am: A Memoir, Cicely Tyson’s biography," Miles added. "She passed on to the realm of the ancestors recently and there is something really reassuring about reading the life story of someone who lived nine decades. She had fits and starts, she made mistakes and even at 40 and 50 she still had so much left to do. It can give you the perspective that you need in publishing. You’re not over the hill at 30 if you haven’t reached a milestone and you still have so much dreaming left to do at 55."
Those words meant a lot to me, an aspiring author pushing 30 who often feels like my time is up.
Finally, Miles encouraged everyone to support their local libraries. Which reminded me to request her book at the Brooklyn Public Library. If you can't preorder For All Time, you should definitely consider requesting it at your library. It's well worth the read!