Nandi Taylor grew up devouring sci-fi and fantasy novels, and from a young age wrote books of her own. Her books are an expression of what she always wanted more of growing up—diverse protagonists in speculative settings. Common themes she writes about are growth, courage, and finding one’s place in the world. Nandi’s debut novel Given is out now!
What is your book about?
Given is the story of Yenni Ajani, a princess of the Yirba tribe. Her father is wasting away from a mysterious illness so she travels to the northern empire of Cresh to seek a cure, as there are rumors that the same illness is hitting people there. She enrolls in their top magic academy in the hope of learning something that will save her father, but while in Cresh she encounters culture shock, prejudice, and a brash, shape-shifting dragon named Weysh. Weysh claims Yenni is his “Given” or destined soul-mate, and that goes about as well for him as you would expect. Given is fantasy-romance, but it’s also a story about growth and the consequences of hubris and ignorance.
What was your inspiration for your book?
I’ve always loved books that have the perfect balance of fantasy and romance, an immersive world and emotional drama to escape in. That was hard enough to find, but a book like that with Black characters, or based on African magic and traditions rather than European mythology was non-existent. So I decided to write what I wanted to read.
Writing this book was also a form of therapy. It was a means of working through some difficult things that were happening at the time I was writing it. I was living in Tokyo, and while it was one of the best experiences of my life, it also came with its share of microaggressions, many of which show up in the book through Yenni’s experiences as a foreigner abroad. I also heavily interrogate my annoyance around the cultural appropriation I saw growing up (and today, if I’m honest). It’s a uniquely frustrating experience to have your hair/food/language mocked as weird one week and repurposed as trendy the next.
What are the kinds of stories you want to write?
At the end of the day I strive to write stories that make people feel good. Now that can be because they make readers feel represented, seen and understood, because they’re entertained and spellbound by the world and plot, or because they’re inspired by the characters. Ideally, it’s all three. But if readers come out of my books feeling better than when they went in, I’ve done my job.
How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?
I’m fortunate enough to be able to take a break from my day job, but when I worked full-time I’d get up a few hours early with the goal of getting in at least 500 words. These days I need to balance writing with book promotion, which in some ways is harder! But it helps to have structure, writing in the morning, promotion in the evening, etc.
Any advice for up and coming writers?
Consistency is key. Whatever your goal as a writer, whether to be traditionally published or to make a living full-time from self-published books, the common denominator is the words on the page. You can’t be a writer without writing. There will be times when it seems like success is ridiculously far away, and periods where you write nothing at all, but the fact is every word you write adds to the bridge that will get you where you’re trying to go. Even on the days when it feels like pulling teeth, even if all you can do some days is 10 words, as long as you’re writing you’re winning. Because then when the opportunity comes to turn your dreams into reality (and as long as you keep going it will) you’ll be ready.