Lorene Stunson Hill is the author of the fiction novel, "To Dance With Ugly People". The Kindle version of her book became the No.1 Bestseller in the African-American Women's Fiction Category in the United Kingdom. Lorene wrote her novel while surviving the challenges of homelessness, and raising her newborn grandson. She agreed to share her personal story with Indiana Voice Journal.
IVJ: There are many causes and misconceptions about homelessness. In today's economy, people from all walks of life can, and do, fall off the grid and wind up on the street. Tell us about some of the challenges you faced while writing "To Dance With Ugly People".
LSH: It is true that many people are only one paycheck away from homelessness. I was laid off from work due to having hip replacement surgery. While trying to recover, my unemployment benefits ran out and I was unable to obtain rehabilitation therapy for my hip. It wasn't long before I realized I couldn't pay the rent, utilities, car insurance, car payments, or buy food. I felt like my mind was scattered and my life was quickly falling apart. It was hard to concentrate. I sold everything I owned except for my car, a few outfits, one pen, and a notebook which I kept in my purse. I slept in the car in front of the Health Department, moving it here and there every so often to avoid being caught with my grandson, and risk having him taken away from me. We washed and made use of public restrooms wherever we could. I was now three months behind on the car payments. My Post Office Box was about to expire; and my newborn grandson was sleeping on the backseat. Luckily, I had a $400 a month pension check that had just started coming in from a prior job I worked at for 25 years.
At that point "To Dance With Ugly People" had a title, character names, and a "building up" from an intense sense of abandonment, loneliness, and pain in my heart. These feelings and emotions I expressed in my notebook at that time, were used later in different areas of my book.
I drove to the Post Office to close out my P.O. Box, and there lay my first Social Security Disability Check. It wasn't a fortune but it got us into the nearby "Putnam Hotel" where residents paid weekly and could stay forever if they wanted.
IVJ: And some of them actually did stay forever. The Putnam is famous for being haunted. You stated in your bio that writing your novel brought you into an awareness of a higher power working in your life. Perhaps protecting you? Guiding you? Can you tell us a little about that?
LSH: Yes, the Putnam was an old relic of a hotel, famous for being haunted. We moved into room 313, which was supposedly known for being the most haunted room in the hotel. I didn't know that when I moved in though. The Putnam was a revolving door for many people. Many of the residents were "placed" there by Social Services, and many were unfortunately, heavy drug users. There was a lot of commotion most of the time. Ghost and paranormal crews were lined up and down the hallways with their movie cameras. Residents fighting, cops outside...I stayed locked in my room, stepping out only once in a while for food and supplies. None of the commotion really bothered me though. I felt safe.
Writing the book was my escape. I felt a divine awareness. My grandson was now nearly a year old and was running around in diapers while I wrote. Whenever I would suffer writer's block, I would pray for guidance. Then, during the night the next idea or the answers to my questions just seemed to pop into my head. I knew no ghost or person would ever dare bother me. I felt protected. There was a lot of pain and experiences in my life that left me strewn and unsettled, but writing brought it all out of me, and left me feeling strong and cohesive again. I lived at the hotel for three years and I never saw a ghost or anything.
IVJ: How did you come up with the title of your book?
LSH: I met an older wise woman 30 years ago whose clever way of telling me to live right and be careful was, "Don't dance with ugly people." That statement resonated with a roar in my heart, so when I thought about writing a book, "To Dance With Ugly People" was born. My title reflects that my protagonist did not follow this woman's advice.
IVJ: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
LSH: Women's fiction readers. Young adults twenty and up. I think any age, race, or sex that is interested in an angst read and that is mature enough to deal with some of the issues and pain involved would enjoy it. This book is gripping and displays an unusual life experience. A journey of despair, hope, and ultimately, life. The good is sensitively written, the bad as the reality of my characters life, and the ugly as the things we hope will never happen to us.
IVJ: Is there a certain type of scene that is harder for you to write than others?
LSH: Violence. Getting inside of violence and feeling the necessity of getting inside of it is hard for me.
IVJ: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
LSH: Chancelor (Chance) Wiley. I am in love with Chance. When I was 24 I saw "Claudine" with Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones. I fell in love with James Earl Jones! I loved how he stepped in and rescued Diahann Carroll from the life she was living. I wrote Chance into 'To Dance With Ugly People' with a vision of James Earl Jones saving my Diahann Carroll (Dani Marie Dobson Ransom).
IVJ: What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
LSH: To write well. I can only write what I know. The framework for your story is life. People, places, things. You fill in that frame with imagination...who, what, when, where, why, and what if? You have to get inside the mind, the emotions of your characters, the atmosphere of a place to do them justice. Just write it. Then read it. Then re-write and re-read it. Then write it again.
IVJ: If you had one last dance to share with someone of your choosing...who would it be?
LSH: My Father - Willard Bernard Stunson
IVJ: Can you give us a brief synopsis of your new book?
LSH: 'To Dance With Ugly People' depicts the life of an African-American from infant to childhood, teenager to adult. It tells the harrowing story of Dani Ransom's travels down several dark paths. She experiences the ravages of drug abuse, suffers psychological cruelty, and the fanatical abusive love of her husband Dane. Experience Dani Ransom “Living on the Edge,” understand the narcissist hold of Dane on Dani. Witness the chaos of Dani Ransom’s mind. Troubled by man versus woman, she makes many wrong decisions. Exhausted by the collapse of every aspect of her life, can she save herself and overcome the shadows of darkness that follow her? Divorced, she finally finds the love of her life, her greatest muse. An older man, Chance Wiley. But even when she strives to travel the right path, fate steps in. Haunted by her own personal ghosts she can't live life to its fullest. Is fate everywhere we are, involved in everything we do and not just the end result? What do you think?
~Lorene Stunson Hill
You may purchase "To Dance With Ugly People" by clicking on the following website link: