Derek Mola, a recent graduate of Emerson College and employee at Omar’s World of Comics, is releasing a book titled “Anansi’s Web.” Mola sat down with the LexObserver to answer questions about the concept, his inspiration for writing, and intention behind the novel.
Q: Can you give a brief overview of your new book? What is it about, and who is the target audience?
A: “Anansi’s Web,” releasing on January 22nd, is a collection of 10 short folklore and fantasy stories about different characters and creatures throughout the world. Anansi is a spider, trickster deity, who is also the god of stories in African folklore. In the book, a young boy named Kweku goes to Anansi and asks him to tell him some new stories out of boredom. Anansi tells him 10 new stories, and those are the stories featured in the book. Stories of dragons in Chinese mythology, the magical Djinn from Middle Eastern folklore, or Jackalopes from our own American legends. My target audience is as young as 15 years old, high school age, and as old as 18 and up. I believe the stories have a wide appeal, and that anyone could find enjoyment in these stories.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
A: What inspired me to write this book was “The Illustrated Man” by Ray Bradbury. It was the book that inspired me to write all the way back in high school. It’s a collection of short science fiction stories, told through the lens of the Illustrated Man — a man whose body is filled with tattoos, and each tattoo is one of the different stories told throughout the book. I decided I wanted to write something similar to “The Illustrated Man,” but instead of science fiction, it would be folklore and mythology. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories of our ancestors, they were the stories that kept us going, that motivated, that scared us, and were a source of knowledge for the things that we could not understand. As far as authors that influenced me, obviously Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert W. Chamber, Mike Mignola, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore just to name a few.
Q: Tell us a little more about the characters in your book. How much is based on folklore, and how much is from your own imagination?
A: Most of the characters in the book are either based on people in my life or based on characters in folklore. Anansi obviously is a real god in African folklore, and creatures like the Jackalope, the Kelpie, and the Djinn are also real creatures in folklore or mythology. Then there are characters like the Sin Eater, which was a real profession in the 1800s, where someone would come in and metaphorically eat the sin away from someone who passed away. In the story, “The Last Sin Eater,” the character is based on a real man who was the last recorded sin eater in Wales. Then there are the characters of Lillian, Joseph, Rose, and Zoel, who appear in the story “Sweet Bloods.” They are based on my grandparents, and that story is very much a love letter to my family.
Q: The artwork in a book is a crucial element. Can you describe the artwork and how it complements your story?
A: The artwork on the cover was done by illustrator Luisa Galstyan. She is an incredible artist and such a pleasure to work with. I really wanted to convey how important Anansi was to the book other than the title alone. He is the god of stories, so in a way, these are his stories more so than mine. So I had Luisa create this beautiful cover based on African artwork, and have the spider on its web in the center. He is a spider god, after all, so it only makes sense. I think it is a beautiful cover that I know will grab people’s attention.
Q: Can you share your creative process? How long did it take to create the book?
A: This book was a labor of love and took me about 2 years of writing to complete all 10 stories. I read a lot, and I also have ADHD. So that means my mind is constantly thinking of new ideas. Usually, when I’m getting ready to sit down and write a story, I’ll read some material that is related to what I want to write to get the gears turning. I’ll also listen to some music that I think matches the tone of the story, and then it’s just a matter of sitting down and actually putting the words on the page. Which, most of the time, is easier said than done. I have to force myself to sit down and write some words, no matter how terrible those words may seem at first. And boy, there was a lot of rewriting on this book.
I am an Emerson Graduate, I graduated in 2020 with a degree in Visual Media Production (a fancy way of saying film major). My focus was on directing and writing screenplays. Unfortunately, I graduated during the pandemic so there was no work in the film industry for quite some time. After a year of trying, I decided to take a break from film and that’s when I got back into writing short stories. I am an introvert by nature and generally don’t do well in high-stress situations. It makes so much more sense for me to be an author. But I would not be the writer I am today without my film degree. When you’re working in a visual medium, you can’t tell people what’s happening, you have to show them. And that skill of show, not tell, has been invaluable to my writing. My life took a weird detour, but I believe it was all part of the journey that led me to write this book. I am proud of these stories, I put my heart and soul into them, and I think people are really going to enjoy them.
Q: What message or theme are you trying to convey through your book?
A: I think the message I’m trying to convey through the book is the power and the magic of stories. Stories can motivate us and inspire us, they can help us escape through hard times, and they can remind us of the harsh realities of the world. It’s how we relate to other people — everyday we ask someone, “How was your day?” and they tell us the story of their day. It’s ingrained in us, this natural desire to tell stories. And I think I just wanted to express my love for stories through the lens of mythology and folklore. Like I said, I love the old stories, as they were how our ancestors related to one another. Before science and philosophy, before our greater understanding of the world, there were those original stories.
Q: Do you have any plans for local events or promotions of your book?
A: At the moment nothing is set in stone. When the book is released on January 22nd, it will be available for purchase on Amazon as a print or E-book, and copies will be displayed at Omar’s World of Comics for purchase. I plan to do a book signing at Omar’s when the book is released, as well as get in contact with local bookstores in Lexington and the Lexington Library.
I would like to end by saying thank you to the Lexington Observer for interviewing me, thank the staff at Omar’s World of Comics for being so supportive, and thank you to all of my friends and family for having my back all of these years.