A Conversation With Actress and Writer Tanya Wright

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Actress & Author Tanya Wright Talks Novel, Butterfly Rising & More

My first thought upon meeting Tanya Wright at the 2010 Brooklyn Book Festival was “She’s beautiful.” My second thought, “I know this girl.” If you don’t know her by name, maybe you know her as Deputy Kenya Jones on “True Blood.” If not there, then surely you’ve seen her on “24”. You might even know her as LaMuzindah in 2001’s “The Brothers,” but most recently, she completed her debut fiction novel, “Butterfly Rising”, and also wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the inspirational movie slated for release as a feature film. It’s a story of friendship, loss, and redemption. In a candid conversation, she spoke about her book, her upcoming movie, her inspirations behind both, and her future endeavors.

Parlé Magazine:
I’ve heard a lot about your book as well as the movie. I’m so excited. The story line is captivating. When can we expect the release of the movie?
Tanya Wright: The movie will be out next year. We’re talking to distributors now. But right now I want to get the book out in the world so people can get to know these characters. There are things you can do in a book that you just can’t do in a 90 minute movie.

Parlé: Now did you write the book first and then do the movie?
Tanya Wright: No, I did the movie first planning for it to just be a movie. I wanted to expand it and make it multidimensional. It’s a means to tell the story in two different forms and I was inspired to write the book as a result of that thinking.

Parlé: Does the book differ a lot from the movie?
Tanya Wright: It doesn’t differ a lot. Butterfly Rising is about two women who take a road trip to meet a mythical medicine man named Lazarus of the Butterflies and the movie focuses on the road trip while the book spans the whole life of these two women.

Parlé: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got the idea for this project and how it all came about?
Tanya Wright: The genesis of the idea came from Aretha Franklin songs. (laughs) I was listening to Aretha Franklin songs about different women and about women’s love, women’s joy, women’s pain. All things that a woman goes through when she loves a man, when she experiences loss. Great, great, timeless music… and I thought about what if you put together all those songs into the life of one woman and in my mind, it’s one woman broken up into two different women, Rose Johnson, and Lilah Belle. Also I was inspired by the death of my brother. Lazarus was the main character in the book and the movie, and in the Bible, in the story of Mary and Martha, Lazarus is the brother who rises from the dead, so, in that, I was inspired by the death of my own brother.

Parlé: This seems to me that it could be bittersweet. Being that you were inspired from the death of your brother, would you say this experience is sweet because you have this great new project, but does it at all remind you of your brother.
Tanya Wright: No, not really. The book is not about my brother specifically, but instead, the book is really about the change or journey that one goes through when you experience loss. And that’s why the four stages of the butterfly, the egg, the cocoon, the caterpillar and the final stage is the butterfly, so it sort of mimics the stages that I went through. The metamorphosis that happened in me as a result of my brother’s death.

Parlé: Ok. In the book, what was the relationship between Lilah and her brother? Was it a close one?
Tanya Wright: Yes, it was a very close one.

Parlé: Ok. I know I can’t get you to give away the story. How have you managed to balance this project with all of your other work? I know you do True Blood and you’re working on other projects as well?
Tanya Wright: What I experienced as a result of this project was complete creative fulfillment. It wasn’t hard to balance. In fact, it seemed to me the thing that was missing from my life. It was the first time as a creative person where I felt like all pistons were really firing.

Parlé: Do you like the writing aspect more or the acting?
Tanya Wright: There is nothing I like more or better. They are very different. They work together. They work separately. I get asked that all the time but it’s like how do you pick your favorite child? You don’t. You love them all for different reasons.

Butterfly Rising book cover

Parlé: Now this is your first novel. Can we foresee more?
Tanya Wright: Oh definitely. I already have an idea for a second novel.

Parlé: From coming up with the idea, to putting it on paper and having everything come to fruition, it’s a journey. Did you learn anything or take away anything from that journey?
Tanya Wright: I think you have to write it quickly and that’s what I tell a lot of writers because sometimes you write something and then go back and change it and edit this and that and they never move forward. I never look back as I write. I am full steam ahead and I get to the end. Period. Without looking back one time. Because you know if you look back, you turn into a pillar of salt. So as far as the first draft is concerned, you want to write until the train is out of the station and its going to its destination and its making no stops, no pauses, no edits, no nothing until you get to the end. And what I do is I leave it alone for a while. Maybe it’s a month, maybe it’s a week, umm, maybe it’s a year, and then I come back to it with a fresh eye and then start the rewrite.

Parlé: Now how different is the character Rose from you?
Tanya Wright: I think that the truth is of all the characters in the novel, Rose, and Lilah, and Honeychild, and even some of the male characters, I am all of these people and I am none of these people.

Parlé: I hear your dog is in the movie. How did that come about?
Tanya Wright: (Laughs) I had a stunt dog. An actor dog. There is a pivotal scene in the movie where the dog has to be very ferocious for the scene to work. It’s integral for the dog to be ferocious and almost gets to the point where he’s going to kill these two characters Timothy and John. The dog I hired was too nice. It wouldn’t bark and I needed it to be done on cue and I didn’t have a lot of time and I needed to get it done and in rehearsal it was clear that this dog was not going to perform this action, this very vital action, this very pivotal scene and important part of the movie, so I had to let that dog go and I decided to use my dog. Now there was a [production assistant] on set that my dog did not like. At all. So whenever we had to film the scene of this dog being ferocious, we put the PA in back of the camera and on cue, my dog, Macarena, barked like she was going to kill this person so….I got what I needed.

Parlé: Now the dog’s name is Baby Girl in the movie. How do you come up with the names for your characters? I think it all gives the book a feel. You mentioned some of the other characters, Lilah, Honeychild…
Tanya Wright: Every writer has their own process but I don’t think you tell [your reader] who [the characters] are. You tell them what their names are and what their lives are like.

Parlé: I like it. It gives the reader a picture of the characters without you telling us outright. Now it seems this book is very spiritual. Are you yourself very spiritual?
Tanya Wright: I would consider myself a spiritual person?

Parlé: What’s next? Are you doing a book tour?
Tanya Wright: Yes, I’m just starting. The book has only been out for four weeks. I’m going to do a book tour probably next summer. Right now I’m concentrating my efforts on the northeast, New York, Philadelphia. But there will be signings and tours and readings and all that stuff.

Parlé: For someone who doesn’t know who you are, how can we explain your body of work? What would you like us to say?
Tanya Wright: I think I would like to be known as a kind of Renaissance woman. I don’t know that I would be satisfied just with acting or quite frankly just writing. I like to make opportunities for other people. Myself, I think that as African-Americans there are many, many, many stories to tell that are just as interesting and textured as any other group of people and we should be telling them. I’m an artist who appreciates people.

The novel, “Butterfly Rising” is available on Amazon.com.


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