Author Belinda N. Mays is talking about her 7-year-old daughter, Adrielle.
“She loves to tell stories, sometimes too much so. Because when I ask her about her day and she starts telling me, I have to ask, ‘Is this fiction or is this nonfiction?’ The lines are very blurry with her!” the Roanoke woman says with a laugh.
Storytelling runs in Mays’ family. Mays credits her mother’s love of creating stories with her own interest in writing. Over the past two years, Mays, 36, has written and self-published two children’s books, My Amazing Dad (CreateSpace, $9.15) and 7 Days With Daddy (CreateSpace, $9.99).
A contest through her local Toastmasters Club in 2012 unlocked a new passion for this systems integrations business analyst at Lockheed Aeronautics in Fort Worth. Her creation and performance of a tall tale won the contest at the chapter level and led to competition at the district level.
“I came up with a tall tale called ‘My Amazing Dad’ about my dad, who was known as Mr. Fix-It when I was growing up,” she says. “He could fix anything. I noticed my daughter enjoyed hearing it. She knew every word! Then, my dad passed away in 2013.”
A patron of The Dock Bookshop in Fort Worth, Mays had been enjoying its Pens and Pancakes workshops when a seminar on self-publishing came up.
This is something that honors my father, and I wanted to have it published. So I stepped out on faith and did it.
Belinda N. Mays
“After my dad died, I was motivated,” she says. “[My Amazing Dad] is a great story, and I wanted to share it. This is something that honors my father, and I wanted to have it published. So I stepped out on faith and did it.”
Promoting the book through readings at local libraries allowed Mays to indulge her inner performer. She found she loved telling stories and watching people’s reactions. The urge to create a second book took hold, culminating a year-and-a-half later in Mays’ second children’s book, 7 Days With Daddy.
“I wanted to capture some of the shenanigans that [Adrielle] and my husband would do when I was out of town,” Mays explains. “They’d go out on a date. They’d go out to dinner.”
Mays also realized she had an opportunity to turn the tables on a conventional theme; in her life, Mom went on business trips and Dad stayed home.
At the same time, Mays noticed her daughter having difficulty understanding the time concepts of before and after, first and next. Contextually, these concepts — and the days of the week — fit easily into the book’s theme. Five months later, 7 Days With Daddy was published.
Finding inspiration in her own life experiences, Mays’ third book is already on her mind: a story about her mother, who has superpowers bestowed on her by an abundant head of hair.
It’s important to Mays to write about her reality. In college, a poem Mays wrote and performed titled “I’s Tired” won third place in a Poetry Slam featuring the poet Nikki Giovanni. Mays’ poem chronicled the journey of African-Americans from slavery to recognition but lamented the lack of true acceptance.
Today, she’s on a mission to advocate the art of storytelling, explore nontraditional roles and introduce African-American characters. Mays says she has heard that only 3 to 5 percent of books have African-American characters.
As the mother of two girls — and soon, a boy — Mays wants to give back to her community, to provide literature that her children can see themselves in, and to teach and entertain through humor and tribute.