Behind the Book: Interview with Oakland Author, Meikko Sheiree

We all love a good book but what does it take to publish one? Oakland author, Meikko Sheiree talks about her writing and publishing journey with her debut novel, Situationship.

I celebrate Black literature all year round but I wanted to learn more about the current landscape of the literary scene in Oakland through the eyes of other contemporary Black writers. So for Black History Month, I decided to spotlight author, Meikko Sheiree, and her debut novel, Situationship.

After attending Meikko's book launch and reading at Kinfolx, I purchased a copy and began reading. The romance was spicy and messy and alluring. Situationship breaks the expectations of a typical romance novel by reflecting the realistic experiences of modern dating and the fragility of love.

I was equally inspired by her literary craftsmanship as I was by her perseverance. As a fellow writer, I know it's not easy to get published and paid. And as an Oaklander, I realize how robust the literary community is here, but I also know that's not the end of the story. So I invited Meikko to interview for OPL to illuminate the reality of being a writer in Oakland.

The first thing I asked was, "How does it feel to be a published author?"

"It feels amazing because you finally did the thing that everyone in grad school was stressing about." Meikko goes on to say, "A lot of days it feels surreal because of the imposter syndrome. But thankfully I’m surrounded by a lot of dope people who celebrate me and this book and keep me grounded. They remind me that publishing a book is a really big freaking deal, and it’s been a beautiful journey to get here. I’m growing into being comfortable being proud of myself. I really did that!”

Notably, Meikko also said that "in total, it took about 18 months" of querying to get her book represented. Querying is the process of emailing or submitting a literary manuscript to literary agents in hopes of finding representation for a contract. This is just one step in the process of traditional publishing today.

Meikko started querying in 2019, before she graduated from her Creative Writing MFA program at Mills College (now known as Mills at Northeastern University). At that time, she had received five rejections. Discouraged, she looked to her professor, Kirsten Saxton, for guidance. “She [Saxton] said, 'How many rejections did you get? Did you get 100? Aya [de León] got over 100 rejections. Do you think you’re better and don’t have to go through the same rejection process as everyone else?' I kept that close to the chest because she was right. I’m not entitled to different treatment. And I sent it out to 50 plus people before I got a contract."

Rejections are, unfortunately, a part of the experience of being a writer, but rejections may have become more frequent during the lockdown portion of the COVID-19 pandemic. "The lockdown gave people time to finish their novels so a lot of rejections where just because agencies literally could not accept new manuscripts. (...) I had to step back from querying and let the block cool off!"

Next, I asked, "What kind of resources and tools did you utilize to help refine your craft and complete your novel?

Meikko reminisced on her time at Mills College, "I really appreciated how professors talked about writing characters. In one exercise, the professor asked us to pretend to have an interview with your character and write down all the questions you'd ask them. Those kind of exercises really helped me to develop my writing of unique characters."

She wrote most of her novel during her MFA program and said she learned how difficult it was to write in dual point of view (POV) during workshops. This approach to novel writing entails switching between two different perspectives throughout the novel to illuminate aspects of the narrative that would not be evident or observable in just one perspective. (Popular examples of books with multiple point of views are Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and books authored by Willow Winters.)

While the Creative Writing program at Mills College seemed to be an integral part of the completion of Situationship, it wasn't the only benefit of attending. "Mills gave me a really great Black writing community that are still my go-to people five years later," she said. Post graduation, Meikko enjoys going to colleague Darius Simpson's monthly writing workshop called When the Smoke Comes held at Kinfolx coffee shop and wine bar.

At the end of the interview, Miekko Sheiree signed up for her first ever Oakland Public Library card!

Situationship is on order and will be available to read at OPL very soon! Place a hold.


(Written by Library Assistant & Social Media Strategist, Aliyah Muhammad)