Tamika Christy, ROUX

Tamika Christy, ROUX

In this special episode of the podcast (a live event at Zibby’s Bookshop!), Gabi Conti interviews award-winning author Tamika Christy about ROUX, a stunning and challenging novel about three generations of an African American family, and the traumas, secrets, and battles they endure. Tamika discusses her book’s themes, from family dynamics to healing, and then describes her writing process, mainly focusing on character development and maintaining authenticity. After sharing her thoughts on potential adaptations of her book, she answers questions from the audience.


Gabi Conti: Hello. Hi, everyone. Welcome to Zibby’s. I’m Gabi Conti. I am so excited to be here with Tamika Christy. Her new book, Roux, you can preorder it now.

Tamika Christy: Yes, please.

Gabi: It’s so good. This is my advance copy that I got to read. I love it so much. I also read her book, Never Too Soon, but we’ll focus this conversation on Roux so everyone watching at home and here can find out about it and definitely get that preorder. When does it come out again?

Tamika: January 9th.

Gabi: January 9th. You could order it now for the holidays. Then it’ll be an exciting surprise that comes in the mail after the holidays.

Tamika: That’s always a good choice.

Gabi: Before Roux, you did Never Too Soon and Any Time Soon. Those were focused on Anaya and her journey and her World series. If you’re familiar with those books, those are more of lighter beach-ier reads, right?

Tamika: Yes.

Gabi: Now with Roux, we have something a little deeper. We talk about family dynamics, mothers and daughters. I’m so curious, what inspired you to come up with this book?

Tamika: All three of my books are about complicated relationships, family dynamics, and just discovering that inner child and finding a way to heal. The first two books, I worked full time. I’ve always enjoyed writing, and so they just — not just. The first one was a short story, and it became a novel. I think I told you this. I didn’t think it was the greatest. I called myself redeeming myself with the second novel. It went deeper into the characters and the dynamics of the family. When I started the third book, I thought, you know, I really want to challenge myself to write something more literary. I really want to dig deep into this. I stuck with my passion of writing about family and complicated relationships and healing, but I did take a more literary approach. I did keep the humor in there because life is hard. When you’re tackling some of these hard issues, it is easy when you can come, every fifteen or twenty minutes, upon a laugh. I kept some of the lightheartedness in there, but I do continue to explore some of the deep relationships and the journey of healing.

Gabi: It’s so good. It’s told through three different perspectives, all under the Chavís family. We have Manon, Emersyn, and Odester. They all tell their stories from different time periods. Why did you choose those three family members to be the voices of this story?

Tamika: Those three characters, I developed them because they were the most impacted by their moms and their relationships with family. A lot of times as women, we go through different things in our relationship with our children, with our image, and we don’t realize a lot of it comes from childhood. It’s Manon . It’s French Creole.

Gabi: Oh, Manon. Sorry.

Tamika: Her mom, very overachieving, always appropriate, a member of everything, all the elite society. You see this woman grow up to be a socialite. She didn’t finish all of her dreams. She didn’t accomplish the things that she wanted to. She was holding in these deep secrets. All of it was based on this overachieving, this thing that her mom and her family put inside of her that she couldn’t get rid of. Odester is the middle child. She had an undiagnosed learning disorder. I hope the readers will pick up on that.

Gabi: I picked up on that.

Tamika: She was undiagnosed because it was in the sixties, overlooked. The other sisters were smarter, prettier in her eyes because they were fair skinned. You see the dynamic of her going into a relationship early. She’s a teenage mom. Then she starts dibbling and dabbling into these different things in life. You hear through her lens why. I don’t feel loved. I don’t feel pretty. Everybody cares about my sisters more than me. She starts to self-soothe with drugs and relationships. Emersyn, she’s the fourth generation. She doesn’t know her family. She’s California. She wants to know her history. Everything for her has been prep school and this school and this society. She goes back home because she’s trying to figure out who she is. Her mom is saying these people are dysfunctional. All these different things are going on and happening. She’s like, no, they’re not perfect, but they’re family. You see the eyes through somebody who is like, “Oh, my god, these people are incredible. They cook. They get together. I don’t care what they do,” and somebody who says, “These people are overbearing. They want me to be something that I’m not. They only care about image.” I picked those three characters for those specific reasons so you can see the different dynamics: same family, same lineage, and the different outcomes for all three of them.

Gabi: It’s interesting. Then Odester and Manon have that similar link where Manon’s mom is Odester’s sister, who she could never live up to. It’s kind of like they share that — I guess bond, trauma.

Tamika: It is. It’s trauma.

Gabi: Trauma bonding, we hear about that a lot, and also family trauma. That came up on The Kardashians this year.

Tamika: Oh, I didn’t see that.

Gabi: Oh, yeah, where Kourtney Kardashian was trying to say, this is why we’re all messed up, because we have all this family trauma. I feel like that’s becoming a thing that we’re talking about more. It used to be something that we’d brush aside as, oh, our crazy family, as opposed to looking into, actually, no, those are traumatic relationships.

Tamika: Exactly. I know I associated trauma with just different kinds of abuse or if there’s no food, but that is not true. Having a parent who is pushing you to overachieve is trauma. I’m listening to Dr. Nicole Lepera’s book right now, How to Be the Love You Seek. It’s so good. It helps you learn about all these different things that happen when you’re young and the woman that you become. That’s what I was bringing out in this novel. You’ll see how Emersyn, she falls under her mom, who left, and so she’s hyper-independent. She doesn’t want to be bothered. Then you see Odester, who was overlooked and always cooking and cleaning and how she clung to this relationship to the first man who really looked at her. Then Manon, she’s disconnected because she’s better than everybody else. She’s expected to be a certain way. There’s an air about her. She doesn’t have time. They all come together, and they realize, we’re all perfectly imperfect. We can work through this. We can all be okay. That’s the beauty of writing about families and relationships because we all have something. No matter where we come from, there’s always something, but it’s okay. We can find a way to get through it. That’s what I try to bring out in my novels.

Gabi: I love that. It definitely comes off. I haven’t finished the book because I did just recently get it. So far, what I’m reading, it comes off as that. I can’t wait to read more. You guys are in for a treat in January when it comes out. It’s going to be amazing. With that, your writing process, where did the idea for Roux come from? When you started writing it, what came first? Was it figuring out this family, or was it the stories?

Tamika: It was figuring out the characters. I really do go deep into my characters. Even though my first two novels are lighter on the heart and the head, I still go deep into characters’ habits, quirks, fears. I go deep into those things. With this one, I want to do the characters first. That’s my writing process. Then I bring it all together. I wanted Roux to be the title because in this family, cooking is a huge thing. The women in this novel cook a lot. I don’t know if you’ve ever had gumbo. Gumbo in Louisiana — the book is set in Opelousas. Roux is the base. Roux is the base of the gumbo. You put all of these different things in there. If you don’t know roux, if you’re looking at a recipe, you’re like, oh, my god, this doesn’t make sense, all these different things. I feel like that’s what relates to family. You have all of these different people. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense, but when you put it all together and you simmer it, it comes out to be perfect. It tastes really good. I think that’s the same thing that happens in this family. There’s all these crazy dynamics that are going on, but when they get together, there’s all this crazy love and support that they have for each other.

Gabi: That definitely did show. I love that. Now I know what roux is.

Tamika: Yes. It’s gumbo roux.

Gabi: I’m Italian American, so like the secret sauce and what you put in. Every family has a different — what makes their tomato sauce.

Tamika: I talk about that. In Louisiana, we do a seafood gumbo. My family is from Baton Rouge. The book is set in Opelousas. When I moved to California, people make gumbo here, and they put chicken in it. I was like, don’t put chicken in gumbo. Yes, there’s a secret sauce, but then people make it in different ways. Same as families.

Gabi: I love that. All three of your books have been fiction, but there are some ties — actually, this would be a question for you. How do you connect to your work? How much of your fiction is inspired by your own reality?

Tamika: A lot of it is inspired by real life. My mom passed, and all of her siblings. I have eleven first cousins. Most of us don’t have any parents. If you can imagine us from the ages of — I think the span was maybe nineteen to thirty years old. We’re all helping each other trying to figure out life and marriage and divorce and school and kids. We’re all learning ourselves without having a matriarch. It’s chaotic. A lot of experiences and trauma and things that happened were real for me. I was thirty-two or thirty-three, and I became this de facto matriarch. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to make a lot of decisions. Everything that came along with that, it lends to me writing in my stories about how we grow and learn and figure out. No matter what we do, no matter what kind of mistakes we make, it is okay. It’s okay.

Gabi: With Anaya in Never Too Soon and Any Time Soon, that’s her journey. She takes over the role as matriarch and kind of ends up seemingly missing out on a lot of what people in their twenties and thirties are normally going through because she’s so focused on keeping the family together.

Tamika: Exactly. It happens to a lot of us, whether we realize it or not. You can become a matriarch when your mom or you have aunts who are still living. It just depends on relationship. It depends on maturity. It depends on different things. It happens. I know several people who have become like the matriarch in their family, and they still have a real matriarch in the family. It helps you grow and develop. It gives you this level of understanding of life that you just wouldn’t get normally. You get a peace and a sense of self. Okay, this is going to work out. No matter what happens, it’s going to work out. As long as nothing is broken and you don’t die, you will figure it out. You can work it out. I do lend a lot of personal things that have happened into my stories.

Gabi: I love that. Have you ever gotten, I guess backlash is the wrong word, but anyone from your real life being like, oh, I can’t believe you put that in there?

Tamika: I’m the one, I’ll be at the family events with my phone. If I have my phone, I’m probably taking notes. I do. I will. If it’s something interesting enough, I will put it in there. I don’t know if you got to this in Never Too Soon, but there is a scene where Sophie — she’s a serial dater. She goes on this date with this guy. They are ordering enchiladas. The waitress says, “Do you want cheese enchiladas?” He’s like, “I thought all enchiladas had cheese.” That was a true story that my aunt told me almost verbatim. When she told me that, I said, “I’m putting this in my book.”

Gabi: Well, they do all have cheese, but the cheese enchilada doesn’t have meat. That’s the difference.

Tamika: Then the blanched vegetables — he’s reading. He’s like, “Oh, you bleach your vegetables?”

Gabi: That is a true story too?

Tamika: It’s a true story, yeah. He thought it was bleached vegetables, but it was blanched. I got all that from her.

Gabi: Oh, my goodness. A big part of what you do in addition to being an author is that you want to inspire other aspiring authors to write as well. I know you’re currently teaching right now. You also have this amazing notebook out that helps people write their story. Can you tell people a little bit more about that?

Tamika: Yes, it is a writing journal. When I first started writing, I worked full time. I thought of it more as a hobby. I didn’t know that I would actually become a published author. There were all these tools and things that I didn’t know that took me years to learn. I started organizing my thoughts and organizing different things. I developed a writing journal for authors. It covers from the gamut, from the inspiration process, just from something you gleaned through the day, whether it’s a smell and a cute outfit that you saw. It covers family dynamics, what Thanksgiving dinner is like, the last big fight your family had. It goes all the way through event planning, launching your book, the business side of writing a book where you have to think about budget and money. It just covers everything that I wish I had known when I first started writing. It also allows you to take notes and think about what your writing process is going to be and what you’re going to write about and character development and setting your plot. It covers all of it. I actually use it every day. I’m using it now for my book launch. I have this in there. It’s a really good tool.

Gabi: Where can people get that?

Tamika: Amazon.

Gabi: Amazon, okay.

Tamika: Your Story Matters is the authors’ guide and journal.

Gabi: You can get that there. Then all your books are on your website and Amazon, all the links, right?

Tamika: Yes, Amazon, Barnes & Noble.

Gabi: You can get Never Too Soon here at Zibby’s.

Tamika: Yes.

Gabi: I’m guessing this too when it comes out.

Tamika: Yes, when it comes out.

Gabi: Also, Roux when it comes out, at Zibby’s right here in Santa Monica off Montana. I’m curious, what was the biggest lesson for you when you started to write your book? What is something that you wish you knew? You were just saying that when you did Never Too Soon, you were like, oh, I wished I could kind of get a second shot at writing it. That’s kind of what Never Too Soon was for you. What was that aha moment? What was that realization?

Tamika: I think it was the editing process, feeling like I had enough of a voice to say no. With Any Time Soon, there were a lot of cuts in the book. I didn’t feel confident enough to say, no, this is how we talk. No, this is the way it’s supposed to be. I let it pass. I gained a little more confidence in Never Too Soon. Then with Roux, I had a stronger voice because I really wanted to tell this story. I really wanted these characters to shine in their way, in their personality, and in their Southern lingo. I was fine with the question marks. The editor, she was like, “I don’t know what this means.” I’m like, “Fine. I’ll tell you what it means, and we’re going to keep it there.”

Gabi: Good. I’m happy you did that. I’m happy you stood your ground on that.

Tamika: It’s a big deal, having your words and being creative in your novels. Everybody is not going to get it and understand, but you still want it to come across. You want to be authentic in your story. You want to be true to your characters.

Gabi: How do you go from writing a lighter book like these books to going to Roux? Was that hard getting the publisher to be on board with trusting you to write a different type of book?

Tamika: A little bit. It was because that was my jam. I could write a good chick lit. You could read it on the beach. It was fun. This time, it was very different. They did trust me. They loved it. My readers have been asking for the third book in Anaya’s World series. I’ve been trying to get back to it. I was reading a little bit the other day. I was like, oh, my gosh, this is not light. It’s more literary. It’s interesting making that shift and trying to see if I can get back to where I started.

Gabi: Are there any easter eggs to Anaya or any nods in Roux, or do you just keep those world completely separate?

Tamika: They’re completely separate.

Gabi: Did you ever think about doing that?

Tamika: Not for this. I wanted this family to be completely separate. They’re from Opelousas. They have different issues. Emersyn’s family, they’re completely Bay Area. They’re Gen X and Gen Z. Completely different lifestyles.

Gabi: Are you considering doing a third version of the Anaya World series?

Tamika: Yes. I’m trying to work on that, but it’s just hard for me to get back into that light writing.

Gabi: Of course, coming from this.

Tamika: I have started, yes. I think I owe it to my readers because they’ve been asking. I am going to do a third book in Anaya’s World series.

Gabi: I love that. Reading Roux — this is true with all your writing. The characters jump off the page. You feel like you are kind of eavesdropping a conversation. They feel so real. The stories are so beautifully told. Have you ever considered — or maybe, let’s manifest this — adapting it into film and television? If so, what would that dream be for you in terms of cast or direction?

Tamika: That would be amazing. I don’t write for screen, but that would be absolutely amazing. I have heard that about my novels and my characters. The dialogue is very personal. The characters, they’re very relatable. When you read the book, you’ll say, I know her. I know him. They’re very relatable. That would be great. If I did it, I could see it being more of a series because there’s always more to tell. You can always dig deeper. Even reading the book when I was going through the final edits, I’m like, oh, my gosh, I can develop this more. There is always more to add. That would be great.

Gabi: I was thinking kind of like This Is Us in terms of structure because of how it jumps from different time periods and different perspectives of different characters. I feel like to find a way to get it to .

Tamika: I loved that show and just the complexity of it and figuring out and watching — I don’t know if you’ve gotten to this, with Odester and the issues that she had with her addiction and how that manifested. It went down even to her own daughter. You don’t realize a lot of times what we’re doing and what we’re saying and the impact that it has on our children or the things that our parents did and said and the impact that it has on us. A lot of times, we don’t realize it until we’re a lot older. It would be good to be able to show those three generations in a way that continues. You see how they continue to evolve because people do evolve. Odester, at the end — well, I won’t tell you what happened at the end.

Gabi: Not just for me. For everyone. They can’t even buy it yet. They can’t read it yet.

Tamika: They continue to evolve. All of my characters do. They come from a place of, oh, my god, this is awful, to, okay, this is not so bad. I can still find a way to be grateful and thankful even in the midst of this chaos.

Gabi: I love that. I want to open it up to — we have some people here. If anyone has any questions… I wish we could see if people had questions online. No? Not yet. Yes?

Female Voice: I’m curious. You seem like a person that has a lot of ideas when it comes to storytelling. How do you pick which genre you’re going to write in or what type of book it’s going to be? Is it going to be mystery? How do you choose what you’re going to write?

Tamika: I stick to fiction. I usually stick to relationships and family and a lot of personal journey and growth. I stick in there not only because of my own years and years of therapy and growth, but because it is important to me as I’m developing. I always know that I’m going to stay in that area. The tricky part for me is storyline, is figuring out where I’m going to take them and how. In Any Time Soon, there are three best friends. One of them, she works as a prostitute. A lot of people don’t know that. Digging into that storyline, that was hard for me to go into that and to develop that character, but it’s a real part of life. Characters and the genre part is easy for me. It’s almost a given, but it’s how to tell those stories through the storylines. What’s the best way to get that story across to the reader?

Female Voice: Follow-up question. Do you know the ending of your stories before you write them?

Tamika: No, I’m not one of those writers. I’m not even going to pretend. They say you should know the ending of your story before you — no, I don’t. A lot of times, I’ll tell you, when I’m sitting down and writing, we’re in it together. My characters and I, we’re figuring it out together. We’re rolling through. I step into my therapist mode. We work through together. As I’m writing the story, I’m figuring it out along the way.

Female Voice: When you start writing, do you write with the intent, how you’re going to start it, the middle of it? Do you write with that intent, or do you just write and then go back and figure out where this is going to start and pick up?

Tamika: Usually when I start, I have an idea, and the intent comes along the way. With Odester, I knew that she was sort of the black sheep of the family. I knew that she was going to have this issue with reading and learning. As I worked with her and developed her, that’s when the relationship and the drug abuse — that came along. Then I realized, okay, since we’re talking about relationships and families and mothers and daughters, I’m going to circle back, and this is what’s going to be a part of what’s happening with her daughter.

Female Voice: How did you decide to start it in 2019?

Tamika: Random. That’s just random.

Gabi: The years that you chose for Roux, those were just random?

Tamika: For Roux, I wanted it to be modern. I wanted it to be up to date, but I did not want to cover anything COVID. That’s why I chose 2019 instead of 2020 or 2023. A lot of things wouldn’t have made sense, like different events, with different things that the characters did. I didn’t want to cover masks. That’s why I start at 2019. I kept it there and before.

Gabi: When did you start writing Roux? When did the first idea come? Now we know, obviously.

Tamika: I started writing it, I want to say in 2020 during when I was home all day working from home.

Gabi: So it was a nice escape. That’s why you’re like, I don’t want to remember this.

Tamika: I didn’t want to do that. No, I didn’t want to cover that at all.

Gabi: I hear you on that.

Female Voice: four hundred pages. Do you have some kind of feel that it has to be four hundred pages? What happens if you get stuck on page two hundred? Do you take a break?

Tamika: No, I don’t have restrictions on the pages. I keep going until I feel like the characters are complete and they’ve learned and figured things out and my readers have learned and figured things out. I keep going until then. Up until now, I haven’t had any issue with the page numbers.

Gabi: Is that what you imagined the page count to be when you had initially pitched the book?

Tamika: Nope, I had no idea. There was a point where I thought I was done with the book. I went through the first round of editing. She’s like, “This relationship, that person, this thing.” I was like, okay, you want me to go deep? You asked for it.

Gabi: That was going to be my next question. How do you know when the book is done? How do you know when the story is done? That was your question?

Female Voice: How did you know?

Gabi: I don’t know.

Female Voice: I was just wondering stories are endless. They never stop.

Tamika: No, they don’t. When I get to a place where my characters feel like, okay, , if my characters feel like that, then the book is done for me. Of course, after you do this, you’re going to get up, and then something else is going to happen. It is never-ending, but you do have to find a place to pause. I found a really good place to pause where there is just enough angst so people are like, this is not completely done, but oh, okay. You’re not on the edge of your seat with, man, that’s terrible. Man, what happened? But, oh, okay, I’d like to know more.

Gabi: You said pause. We were talking about if you were to make it a series, you love that you could tell more. Would you ever do a part two of Roux?

Tamika: Absolutely. I love them. When I start writing my characters, I really get connected to them. I like them a lot. I like all of them. I like Odester. I’d really like to see what happens with her, like if she ever goes to school. I think about them in that way, very, very personal, very connected to them. I could see myself writing a second book.

Gabi: If you did a second book, would you still have the same three characters telling the story? Would you maybe have any of the family members, anyone else on that tree telling the story?

Tamika: You know, that’s interesting because when I started, I had four perspectives.

Gabi: Oh, that was my next —

Tamika: — Yes, I had four perspectives.

Gabi: Who got cut?

Tamika: Phillis, Emersyn’s mom. I cut her. Then I thought about doing the aunt, Earline, but I didn’t do her. If I did a sequel, I would definitely keep Odester. I would definitely keep Manon because she’s so complicated, especially with all of her issues in therapy. I would probably add in one of the aunts and take Emersyn out.

Gabi: Interesting.

Female Voice: I know how I feel when I finish a book. I have mixed feelings. Then I go through sadness because I miss my book. I miss the characters. It’s like, why did I rush to finish it? I have mixed feelings. How do you feel when you finish a book? Do you need a long break? I can’t imagine how you feel after writing so long and trying to edit it so many times.

Tamika: I feel the same way.

Female Voice: You do?

Tamika: Yeah. When I’m writing, everything is a part of the writing process. Whatever I’m seeing when I’m out, if I hear a conversation, if I hear an interesting name, I still have a chance to change a name. When it’s all said and done and it’s final after those final edits, I’m just like, okay. There’s a little bit of anxiety. You feel anxious. Then there’s a little bit of sadness because you’re like, gosh, I’m not going to see them for a while. There is a little bit of sadness.

Gabi: Any other questions? Is there anything that you wanted to touch upon that I didn’t ask?

Tamika: No, I think that’s it. Make sure to preorder the book. It comes out January 9th. I’m really excited about this book. I’m so proud of it and just me changing my style of writing into something more literary. I’m excited. I did get my first review the other day because I sent out some advance reader copies.

Gabi: What was the review?

Tamika: Oh, my gosh. She was like, “I finished this book in two days. I could not stop. I love them.” She was like, “We need to have a prayer meeting for Odester.” I was like, yeah, we need to have that. She has a lot of issues.

Gabi: I love it. Definitely, make sure, everyone, preorder Roux now. It’s a perfect gift for yourself or for friends. You could always send it to them. Right now, you can still buy, at Zibby’s, Never Too Soon.

Female Voice: One last thing if you don’t mind. You said on Amazon you have this planner.

Gabi: Oh, the book.

Tamika: Yes, the planner.

Female Voice: Your Story Matters?

Tamika: Yes, Your Story Matters.

Female Voice: Is it under your name?

Tamika: Tamika Christy.

Gabi: That’s also a great holiday gift that you can order now and have in time for the holidays. Amazing. Tamika, thank you. This was so fun. Thanks so much.

Tamika: Thank you. Thank you, guys.

Tamika Christy, ROUX

ROUX by Tamika Christy

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