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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Tiffany Obeng. Author Shows Diverse Kids—and Parents—That Their Career Choices Are Limitless

Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Tiffany Obeng. Author Shows Diverse Kids—and Parents—That Their Career Choices Are Limitless

My ALLi author guest this episode is Tiffany Obeng, a children's book author from Houston, Texas, who also works in employment law. Through her job handling job-discrimination cases, she realized that black children like her own need to be aware of all the career choices they have. That's when she really started publishing her books with a mission.

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Listen to the Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Tiffany Obeng

On the Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast, @howard_lovy features Tiffany Obeng, who shows diverse kids—and parents—that their career choices are limitless. Click To Tweet

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Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Tiffany Obeng. About the Author

Tiffany Obeng is a native of Houston and currently resides in Houston with her husband (both Sam Houston State University alum), and son and daughter who are often the inspiration behind her children's picture books. Her books include popular kids' career books Andrew Learns about Lawyers and Andrew Learns about Engineers; season books Winnie Loves Winter and Spencer Knows Spring and honesty book Scout's Honor. Learn more at sugarcookiebooks.com or follow her on her socials @sugarcookiebooks.

About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and X.

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Read the Transcripts to the Inspirational Indie Author Interview: Tiffany Obeng

Howard Lovy: My guest this episode is Tiffany Obeng. A children's book author from Houston, Texas, who also works in employment law. Through her job handling discrimination cases, she realized that black children like her own need to be aware of all the career choices they have. That's when she really started publishing her books with a mission. I'll let Tiffany Obeng tell her story.

Tiffany Obeng: Hi, everyone. I am Tiffany Obeng, and I am a passionate workforce diversity advocate using diverse children's literature as the early elementary intervention tool to influence the school to talent pipeline and positively impact future workplace diversity and inclusion.

In three years, I've crafted 20 children's picture books that authentically feature Black children and families in spaces historically void of their representation, including children's literature and workplaces.

My books have landed on Yahoo Best Products lists, Book Riot, have been Amazon bestsellers a number of times and much more.

My commitment to inspiring, educating, and normalizing the experiences of black children and children of colour is a literary mission and a tangible commitment reflected in both my professional sphere as a lawyer and seasoned equal opportunity professional, and personal sphere as a black woman and a mother of a son and daughter.

I use my unique voice as an author and a multifaceted force driving positive change in literature and diversity, equity and inclusion practices.

Howard Lovy: Reading and writing has always been a part of Tiffany's life, even from a young age.

Tiffany Obeng: I grew up in Houston, Texas, or in a part of Houston, Texas, and I have always loved reading. I remember when other kids were outside playing, I would go outside and play as well, but I also enjoyed taking breaks to sit and read. I remember during school, they would have, drop everything and read, and I thought that was fantastic time; that was so much fun for me. So, reading has always been a pleasure of mine, a joy of mine. People always said I was really great at reading, and the same thing with writing, I've always had compliments on my ability to write and so reading and writing has always been something that people have said I was really great at, and so that made me believe I was great at it, and so that was something that I focused on.

Howard Lovy: But fate and her family had other plans for Tiffany.

Tiffany Obeng: I was told growing up that I would become a lawyer. My mom would say it often. Other family members would say it often. Teachers I encountered would say it often, and I did not know a lawyer in my real life until 11th grade. So, the only lawyers that I knew a little bit about as I grew up were the ones that we see on TV, but my mom, family and teachers constantly saying, you should be a lawyer or you're going to be a lawyer, is what got me going toward it.

All I knew about lawyers was that they read a lot, and they supposedly wrote, and they liked to “argue” and make a lot of money. So, I set on that path to fulfilling what I guess was my calling to becoming a lawyer. So, I learned along the way that lawyers were really smart and had to go to law school, which came after college, which came after grade school, and so I understood that I had to perform well in grade school to get into college, and then perform well in college to get into the best law schools. So, I kept my grades up and I stayed focused, and I performed well in reading, and writing and I considered them my favourite subjects, as I said. So, I just stayed focused on staying in the education pipeline, doing my best so I could get into could work as a lawyer.

Howard Lovy: Tiffany decided to specialize in employment discrimination law, which appealed to her on many levels.

Tiffany Obeng: I think it was the fact that it was something that connected with me and to learn that people, that workers or employees, had rights in their workplaces fascinated me because I hadn't thought about that.

I've had jobs as a child growing up, but I didn't know we actually had rights that protected us from discrimination, and so to learn that you should be able to access, or have the opportunity to access and work in the same places as others, regardless of how you look, I don't know, I think that just really amazed me to be a part of that.

Howard Lovy: Later, that mindset of inclusion will find its way into the children's book she would write.

Tiffany Obeng: In 2020 is when I published my first book, but about a couple of years before then, I had drafted a manuscript of what later became my very first book, Andrew Learns About Actors.

I did not know what type of writing I would ultimately pursue. I thought maybe I'd be a blogger. I thought maybe I'll write a memoir. I thought maybe I'll write a self-help book. But after I had my son and we both enjoyed reading and we both enjoyed TV, and just thinking about the things we enjoy, it made sense to me to become a children's book author. So, that's how I came into writing children's books.

Howard Lovy: At first, Tiffany wrote to honour her son and her parents, but later began to consciously depict Black characters in a number of different professions to fight a lack of diversity in children's literature.

Tiffany Obeng: Initially, when I wrote Andrew Learns About Actors, the first book, it was more of just a bucket list item and having a legacy for me and my son to share.

When I wrote the second book, Andrew Learns About Teachers, that was more for one, honouring my mom and my husband and all the educators in my family, because I have so many, and especially during COVID, because they were doing so much. It was so much they were required to do, and so much pivoting, and so I wanted to write that book for the purpose of exposing or introducing children to the idea that they too can be teachers, like teachers are an actual career, they're not just there talking to you, but also to honour and shed some light on the importance of teachers.

After I wrote Andrew Learns About Teachers, and now I'm getting into maybe having a “career as an author”, I'm coming across statistics about children's literature and how Black characters are severely underrepresented in children's literature, and then compound that with the social unrest.

Then I'm like, because at first, I was just writing from, Andrew learns about actors and Andrew learns about teachers, my son's name is Andrew, so it features my son. It wasn't a stance of any sort. It was just like, oh, this is my son, and this is his mom, and this is what we look like. But after the statistics, after the unrest, it just started making sense that I had the ability to do something, and so I decided that I was going to do something. So, that became my mission to focus on making sure representation is in literature and in workplaces.

Howard Lovy: And indie publishing seemed like the best choice for Tiffany.

Tiffany Obeng: When I started out in 2020, or before 2020, when I had my first little manuscript, I dabbled around in researching traditional publishing companies because I did not know that indie publishing was an option.

So, in 2020, I came across, I believe, a Facebook group, and they were talking about independent publishing or self-publishing, and I said, wait, what? We can do that.

So, I decided to learn as much as I could about independent publishing and figured that would be the best route for me as a no-name, just getting started, un-agented author.

So, that's how I started on the route of becoming an independent author. It just was a way to access the industry.

Howard Lovy: As for marketing, Tiffany largely lets her sales and word of mouth take care of that.

Tiffany Obeng: It is word of mouth. I have dabbled in ads, but I have not dabbled long enough to be great at them by far.

So, the Amazon bestsellers is Andrew Learns About Engineers, and that's a book that people really love, and it's highly recognized all the time. Yahoo Best Products list featured Spencer Knows Spring, which is my spring book for children, and that's on a lot of lists and it was just word of mouth.

So, once you get on one list, you just end up getting on more and more lists.

Book Riot they featured Scout's Honour, which is a kid's book about lying and honesty, and so I had ended up somehow in Houston local, like Houston magazines that recommended Scout's Honour.

I don't know if that's how it ended up on Book Riot, but yeah, I found that when your book is recognized by one outlet, especially if it's a substantive outlet, then it just spreads like wildfire.

Howard Lovy: Tiffany writes her books for children, but also has one eye on the parents.

Tiffany Obeng: What I love about writing the children career books particularly is being able to break down and explain careers, especially the more technical careers such as engineer, scientist, lawyer to children and their parents in a way that children can understand.

I know that being a lawyer has helped my ability to gather a lot of information and present it in a way that people can understand it. So, I use that skill to do my career books and all of my books really, but to do my career books. So, people are always like, how are you able to explain it so well in such a, because in children's books, you have such a finite space. So, it's like, how are you able to do that? It's really my legal skills that come in handy there.

I love that parents read the career books with their children, they learn something to like I've had parents who've read Andrew learns about scientists say, oh, I didn't know this type of scientists existed, because I explored different types of professionals within that field, and so to have the parents be like, oh, I learned something too. And then adding a component about the field pioneers. They go look them up and say, oh my gosh, this person, I never heard of them.

So, being able to shed light on the people who came before us and to introduce different types of avenues for a kid who may be interested but just not quite, that was very important for me, and it's been helpful I believe with engaging parents and their children.

Howard Lovy: Tiffany will continue writing books for children inspired by her son, but also sends a larger message.

Tiffany Obeng: To have books such as Black Boy Hair Joy, which I wrote, inspired by him, and also The Crown Act. The Crown Act is an act that's sweeping the nation. States are adopting it. Hopefully, all of them will adopt it, but it essentially protects Black people's hair in the way that your hair grows out your head or however you want to style it, and I know that sounds very simple, like, why would you even need a law about that? But we do.

So, one of the blind spots in my assessment of the Crown Act is not the Crown Act's fault, but people, when they think about Black hair and people, and the segment that's attacked for their hair or discriminated against for their hair, they most often think about Black women or Black girls, and I'm like, no, Black boys too, Black men too.

So, when my son was teased about his hair at school one time, I wrote Black Boy, Hair Joy to make sure that everybody knows, one, this is an issue for everyone, not just girls, not just women, everyone, and to also put out those images that you, Black boy, are worthy of respect, love, and joy, just like everyone else.

Howard Lovy: And she doesn't plan on slowing down when it comes to writing about career choices for children.

Tiffany Obeng: I am currently working on the sixth career book, which is Andrew Learns About Chefs, so that's been really nice to get into and research and learn more about. What I found interesting about Andrew Learns, I was researching for Andrew Learns About Chefs, is that black women have been known to be the domestic, cooking, since time, since American times, black women have been the ones in the kitchen. They've been the ones that cook and all those things. Then you expand it to women in general have been the main kitchen cookers or whatever, meal preparers, but when I went through to find some prominent historical or present chefs, I found most of them were men and white men.

So, I found that very interesting. I'm like, how do you suppose something that a woman dominates, ends up being dominated in the media by someone that doesn't look like them?

I found that interesting and I'm happy that I am moving forward with Andrew Learns About Chefs.

Howard Lovy: Tiffany's advice for others who want to become children's book authors, just make the time and do it.

Tiffany Obeng: Just start. I know a lot of people who talk to me when I'm at events or even on social media, they say, I want to be a children's book author, I just don't know what to do, or I don't know how to start, or I don't think I can write that well. I always say to them, we have so many assistive tools, and I'm not talking about AI, by far, but I'm saying that you need to get your manuscript down and then you have developmental editors, you have all different types of editors, and then you have the illustrators, and then you have other people in the community like mentors and coaches that can guide you. So, all you have to do is really just start.

Then I hear, I don't want to say excuses, but then I hear people say I don't have the time. I tell them, now with technology, you can write at any time. Unless I'm really pushing to put out a book, I'll write in the car, if I'm on the passenger side, obviously, but if something comes to my mind, I'll put it down in my notes and then I'll just build from that.

Then when I'm like, okay, I think I have enough meat to really make this and to fine tune this into a manuscript that's worth moving forward with. That's when I'll probably sit down and find a few hours at night after I put the kids down to write about it.

My husband, he supports that because he likes what I'm doing, he knows what I'm doing. I just tell them go ahead and get started.

Yes, it would be helpful if you had a writing degree, perhaps. You can always take workshops now. There's never too late to go to writing classes, never too late to take workshops. You can do it, time to move forward. Is it scary? Yes, it is. But we can't let fear stop us.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is a novelist, nonfiction author, developmental book editor, and journalist. He is also the news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can learn more about him at https://howardlovy.com/


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