Interview

Writers Asking Writers Questions | P. Curry & D.A. Alston

BY: P. CURRY


So, first things first, what motivated you to become a writer?

A: I've  always written, but it was mostly poetry at first, thanks to my teacher introducing me to poets like Nikki Giovanni. I think the transition happened after I was just given an idea and I ran with it. That idea turned into my first novel. And I've been loving it ever since.

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Who are some of your influences, literary or otherwise?

A: Obviously, Nikki Giovanni like I said earlier. I also love Rudy Francisco. But when it comes to novels, I would have to say Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent series. She is around my age - her success and the way she started has always been motivating for me. As well as JK Rowling and her whole process. But the first books I remember fully diving into were the Cheetah Girls series, and that was all thanks to Deborah Gregory.

 

How did you get on board with Vital Narrative?

A: I always tell people my journey to getting published was nothing but a God thing. When I first started writing The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad, I wasn't even necessarily looking for a publisher. I honestly thought I would just self-publish at first. That all changed when I was talked to a friend of mine about my idea for a story, and it just so happened he was starting a publishing company and the relationship blossomed into what it is now.

 

What was the inspiration behind your Royal Elite Squad series?

A: Originally, the Royal Elite Squad was supposed to be a coloring book. One of my first loves was drawing and arts and, around that time, people were pressuring me to create a coloring book. So one day, when I was at IHOP, I began drawing the idea for this superhero coloring book on the back of their place mats . And then I thought ‘maybe it should have a storyline to go with it.’ That night I ended up mapping out seven books! A lot of it is influenced by young women and other people I know in real life. I've been blessed to know real life superheroes, so I used this book as an avenue to tell their extraordinary stories.

 (photograph by Ken Wolter)

(photograph by Ken Wolter)

 

You appear to be very passionate about both children and diverse representation. Are those two major factors behind your work?

A: Most definitely! I've been teaching and working with children for the past ten years and I love it. They were my biggest supporters during this whole journey when it came to writing this book. We will sit in class some days and just bounce ideas off each other - I would ask what they thought about this character or even just ask them ‘is this realistic?’ It really helped my writing process. I also learned a lot of them didn't read for the same reason I didn't as a child: because there weren't a lot of books that reminded them of themselves. I wanted to use Royal Elite Squad to show children themselves in another light.

 

Are you interested in having your book series hit the big screen or little screen one day?

A: Oh yes! I would love for it to become a Hulu series, which branches off into a movie. I want paraphernalia, I want dolls, T-shirts, movie soundtracks - the whole shebang! I just want it to end up being everywhere. And it will be!

 

What do you think the future holds for The Royal Elite Squad?

A: Greatness! It's only going to higher - no one can tell me otherwise. This is a story that needs to be told and I am blessed to be the one who gets to tell it. I want to be a beacon of hope for young men and women - for them to know that they are super and elite in their own right. They may not necessarily have a superpower, but who they are is their power. Everyone needs to be reminded of that sometimes.

 

As a writer, I feel like story ideas are swirling around in my mind all the time. Do you share that experience?

A: I am a natural dreamer, so I am always dreaming of new ideas, new opportunities, new stories and new ways to make things happen. But I'm also a planner, so if I plan it in my head, it's going to happen. As soon as something pops in my head, I usually write it down and tell my core group about it to get their opinion, and go from there.

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I notice that you are a very spiritual person. Does your spirituality influence your writing in any way?

A: Yes, I believe so. I truly believe my process to becoming a published author was nothing but God. And I say that, because everything happened so smoothly. I know so many authors that tell me their stories and how they went through the publishing process - and there’s so much angst and disappointment. By the grace of God, mine wasn't like that. Everything lined up so smoothly. From creating my story to finding Vital Narrative Press to finding an amazing graphic artist to do the artwork for my book - I'm just so thankful.

 

As a teacher, do you ever get any ideas or inspiration in the classroom?

A: Always! Kids are hilarious and they inspire me daily, from their mannerisms to how they react to certain situations to their funny nuances. My book is geared toward a younger audience, so I'm grateful to be surrounded by them all day, so I can really get an authentic representation of them.

 

What are some other goals you have in mind for your writing career?

A: Besides having an original series or movie on Hulu, I want to become a best-seller. I want to be able to travel the world, talking about my book. But honestly, the moments that I love and will never get tired of, are when people come to me and tell me how much my book meant to them or how they loved seeing someone who looks like them on the cover. Or Hearing that I'm telling their kind of story correctly. Or how good it made them feel to read The Royal Elite Squad. Honestly, that is thanks enough.


You can purchase The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad by D.A. Alston here.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Gregory Hedgepeth & Danielle Elaine

BY: GREGORY HEDGEPETH


What is the first book that made you cry?

A: I believe the first book that made me cry was Kite Runner. I remember most vividly how that book took me through so many emotions. I loved it. I still do and recommend it. It was a lot for me. Very eye opening. I find pain so poetic.

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What is your writing kryptonite?

A: My writing kryptonite would definitely be deadlines. Even deadlines I give myself, I can never seem to keep. I’ve learned a lot about myself lately, and one thing that keeps coming up is fear. I’ve been running from myself, and doing “the work” for so long out of fear. Now, my challenge is pushing past the fear, running straight to the things I’ve been running from and commit to myself and that work.

 

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

A: Sadly, I’m not friends with any other authors. I have friends who are creatives in other ways, we keep each other motivated by being honest with one another about our work, and ideas. We are honest about our kryptonites. Being vulnerable is truly an inspiring gift. People always ask me for advice when they want to start writing, and I always say just write. Get the words out and worry about perfect later. I live by this and Im always asking my friends to double check and edit things for me. Some writers I am inspired by push me to stretch my creativity, take my writing form, depth and vulnerability in my writing to another level. I just want to make a last impact on at least one person. I want at least one person to read my work and feel something.

 

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

A: If I could tell my younger writing self anything, it would be start now. I would tell myself don’t wait, and there is nothing to fear, however I don’t think my story would be as good if I hadn’t made some of the mistakes I made to get where I am today.

 

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

A: Publishing my first two books independently did not change my writing process, only my desire to solely do it alone. Independent marketing is hard. That saying about family and friends joining the bandwagon last is very true.

 

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

A: LOL!!! Far too many!

 

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

A: Yes, my novel details many experiences people would never believe. I am excited to see what people will decipher as true and fiction.

 

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

A: I would give up anything to become a better writer. I would give up fear and definitely procrastination. I’m not sure what the timeline for most writers is like, but I always feel like I’m off.

 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

A: The most difficult part of my artistic process would be consistency and balance. Once I start writing, I take off and I’m on a roll. That’s a place I’d like to live in daily, even when I am not actively creating. Life has been such a rollercoaster, trying to pursue my passion, be a good mom, and find stability as an adult, I tend to get bogged down by it all which makes it difficult to get artsy at the end of the day.

 

Does your family support your career as a writer?

A: Yes and no. It’s the typical scenario: when I’m doing good they are all for it - but when I’m not, I need to “grow up”, “be realistic” etc.

 

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

A: Yes, I believe in writer’s block, I had it for a very long time. I think it is a subconscious unwillingness to produce for whatever reason that may vary person to person. There have been many times I wanted so badly to write, but for one reason or another I just couldn’t find the words.

 

Writing can be an emotionally draining and stressful pursuit. Any tips for aspiring writers?

A: My only advice is just get the words out. Don’t worry about writing rules and being perfect. That will come later. If you just get your words out, as you think and feel them, the process becomes less daunting. Also, there’s never a need to compare yourself. You would not have been given the gift or inspired creatively if you were not meant to write. You’d have the desire to do something else if there wasn't room at the writers table for you too. Don't compare yourself to others, and don't critique yourself until it’s time to edit.

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When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A: There was never an “aha!” moment - it was just something I always felt and knew about myself. I have always written, because I felt stifled communicating my emotions any other way. I had always wanted to be a published author, but never took my writing careers serious until I found out I was pregnant and decided to be a mom. I knew I couldn’t tell my daughter she could be and do anything, and have her believe me without having anything to show for my own dreams manifesting.

 

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?

A: I have two projects in the works: one major and one a little less major (but not minor, lol). The latter is Fire Affirmations for Dope Women in Transition, a compilation of affirmations I have written over time, to preach to myself in hard times to push through and inspire myself. It’s for women and moms of all kinds creating space for us to be light with ourselves, to be vulnerable, to push through and execute our vision in spite of things seemingly crumbling around us. The major MAJOR project I’ve been working on for years now is A Minister’s Child, which may end up being titled Spratt Street. It is a novel based on my life and the wild things I’ve experienced. There will be tons of truth and many exaggerations as well. A Minister’s Child is an obvious title, because that is what I am. Spratt Street is part of the street address of the shelter I stayed in recently. I was there almost a year, way longer than I intended - but as you can imagine, there were some characters in there!

 

What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

A: The most surprising thing is how much I’ve been through, how much I’ve endured. My resilience and strength. When you’re going through tough time after tough time after tough time, you kind of keep your head down until you clear each rough patch. To look back at it all on a macro level while writing make it profound to see that I am still intact, peaceful, and happy after it all.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Yvette Luevano & gsoell

BY: YVETTE LUEVANO


How long have you been writing and when did you really start calling yourself a writer?

A: I've always written but inconsistently (which is basically everything in my life). It's really based on what I feel like I "need" to write. Do I need to write a poem? Do I need to write an essay for school? Do I need to write a journal entry about this feeling or event? I'm always writing but sometimes it's less artistic and more practical. And, to be honest, it seems so far-fetched to call myself a writer that I don't. Maybe when I have a published book in my hand, I'll actually accept the title.

 

How did you get into poetry?

A: I was really inspired after my vacation last year in the psych ward and needed to write something and to write it well. I had been laboring under the illusion that I couldn't write poetry for years but my prose never got to a level I felt confident in. I decided to try poetry again and it fucking clicked.

 

Your work touches on themes of identity, language, mental health, sexuality. Would you say that your personal life informs your work? To what extent does it influence your writing?

A: My personal life is my work and the foundation of my writing. Small Nights Gospel is entirely autobiographical. I'm hoping to evolve from that style in the near future.

 

What does the creative process look like for you? Do you have a set routine or mood that you need to get into in order to write?

A: My creative process is a mess because I'm a mess. I need to be able to process my emotions or thoughts to be able to write and, as someone with severe depression, that can be difficult. My best strategy is to seize the moments where I have the balance and energy to harness my words. I always have a small notebook because I like the tactile feeling of writing and that fuels the creative process as well.

 

Tell me about your favorite place to read and write.

A: Is it super basic to say that I like to write in Starbucks? I have a really specific order that I get almost everyday (venti iced coffee with vanilla and soy) and when I go in the mornings, it feels like my life is just together. I also like to read and write in bed. I have this really expensive and luxurious bed because I literally do everything important in it. I earned my Master's degree in that bed and wrote most of my book in that bed.

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Who do you love to read? Which poets excite you the most?

A: I have to confess, I don't read poetry enough to have a favorite author (I'm so ashamed omg). However, Neil Gaiman is my favorite author because his writing is so beautiful and poetry-like. If I could live in his writing, I would. The best I can do is aspire to his level.

 

What do you love to do outside of writing?

A: I love playing with my dogs. I adopted two Chihuahuas and I'm obsessed with them and we're best friends. On a more pretentious note, I also love to read and visit breweries.

 

What images or ideas do you keep coming back to in your work?

A: I play with images of birds and the ocean a few times in my current book. I feel like the auras and energy around these images are worth unpacking, even in minor ways.

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How do you feel you have grown as a writer?

A: I found my niche. I really sucked ass at prose. It actually wasn't that bad but most of my writing was static and expressionless. I found a genre in which my brevity and creativity could flow more naturally. I also think being honest in my writing, being unembarrassed by perceived vulgarity, and understanding who I am (good and bad) helped my writing grow.

 

When you write, do you have a particular audience in mind? Who do you write for?

A: I write for people who don't know what the fuck they're doing. Because I'm that person. I have no idea where I'm going and I have no idea how the fuck I'm getting there but I'm getting there and it's going to be a triumph when I arrive.

 

The idea that an artist must suffer for their work is one of our most damaging cultural myths. Self-care is important, especially in these difficult times. What is your favorite way to be kind to yourself?

A: My self-care is more practical because my mental health is so wacky and extremely inconsistent. It often takes the form of paying bills, making appointments, packing lunch for work, etc. It can also just be a low-stakes activity like reading a book or watching something on Netflix.

 

 

Small Nights Gospel will be released January 18.

Writers Asking Writers Questions | Darlene P. Campos & P. Curry

BY: DARLENE P. CAMPOS


DARLENE: You have a book that's about to be released - what emotions are you feeling?

P. CURRY: A wide range of them. Part of it is sheer disbelief; I really can’t believe this is finally happening. I’m also feeling a bit overwhelmed as now that I’m about to be published, I’m really not sure how to go about actually pushing and marketing my book. I even have a few questions in the back of my mind that are scaring me. Like….is this thing going to crash and burn? Is it even ready yet? Will people love it? Will people hate it? Could it become a bestseller? Could it be “discovered” and turned into a worldwide phenomenon? There really is no way to know.

Going beyond all of that, I am very happy and excited. For years I’ve been telling people I’m a writer but up until now haven’t really had anything to show for it. It truly means the world to me to finally have a book on the way. I know I still have a long way to go before I get to the point I wanna be at in my writing career, but this is a definite step in the right direction that I feel will open many doors of opportunity for me.

 

If you were hungry and couldn't cook for yourself, which character in your new book would make the best chef? 

 A: Well this is random, LOL, but it would likely be Demeter. One major element of this character is how she loves cooking. In particular, her cooking is everything to her. She stands at the stove with a smile, concealing the turmoil which goes on within. I suggest you read my book if you wish to know the whole story behind that. Just saying.

 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? 

A: You know, I’ve attempted many different things. Cooking. Art. Photography. Graphic Design. Barbering. And a few others. Now, mind you, I did and still do enjoy all of these things, but only as hobbies. I’ve briefly worked in all of these fields and it was like, the minute it became a job, I either lost interest or realized I just wasn’t cut out for it. And yet, the whole time I was doing all of that, writing showed itself to be my true talent time and time again.

 That being said, foolishly enough, it was a talent which I ignored for the longest time. Going all the way back to elementary school, teachers, family members and various others would shower me with praise over my writing and I just shrugged it off each time. In particular, I remember one English teacher in high school who routinely pushed me to get into poetry competitions, join fiction writing programs and even recommended me for a summer writing course with a prestigious author (I can’t remember who it was). Each time he asked, I just said no thanks. And yes, I now HIGHLY regret blowing all of that off.

 I continued to be “eh” about writing until my second year of college. This was when two very pivotal incidents happened. The first was when I walked in late to my U.S. History class towards the end of the semester, only for the professor to be all “Well there he is!” It was then everyone cheered for me and upon asking what happened, she proceeds to tell me that, in her thirty-plus years of teaching, my final essay was the best paper she had ever read. The second was when another teacher accused me of plagiarizing my paper. I was called into the English Department and everything just so she and the department head could check over my sources to make sure I didn’t copy anything, only for the two of them to be stunned when they saw I didn’t plagiarize a single thing. Suffice to say, it was then when I finally realized I should probably take the writing thing more seriously.

 

What's your usual writing routine like?

A: I’m not sure I could say I have one. At least not a healthy one. Beyond being my profession of choice (even though it’s not paying the bills yet), writing is also my escape. Given that my day job is in a field that’s not at all related to writing, at the end of each day, I’m pretty much hyperventilating over the fact that I’ve spent my entire day not writing. So the minute I get home I immediately get on my computer and start typing my fingers off.

Granted, I’ll admit this may have had something to do with pressure. After all, I was really eager to get either Calliope of Atalan or something else I was working on published and/or noticed. I may develop a healthier routine now that I don’t have that dark cloud hanging over my head. In particular, I greatly enjoy spending time at cafes. Something about coffee, music and a baked treat really gets my creative juices flowing.

 

If you could go on a writer's retreat with any author, who would it be?

There’s quite a few actually. Harry Potter is one of my all-time favorites as well as having some influence on Calliope of Atalan so of course I’d love to spend time J.K. Rowling. Another book I drew inspiration from was Akata Witch, so Nnedi Okorafor would be another choice.

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Let's talk movies! Who is your favorite screenwriter and why?

A: You know, this is a bit of a tough one for me to answer given that when it comes to movies, who’s acting, who’s directing and/or who’s producing all take priority to me over who’s writing. The writing process for a film or TV show is much different than it is for a novel. With a book, the writer is also the actor, the director and the producer. It’s up to them to tell the story, give a convincing performance, create the image and keep the idea and presentation of it under control.

With film and television, the writer only has to tell the story. Not to say this makes them less important of course, but there’s a distinct difference. I’ve seen numerous films and shows which had a good story that was ruined by terrible acting, cinematography and/or production. On the other side of that coin, there’s also a lot of films and shows out there with horrible stories but the acting, cinematography and/or production are fantastic enough to mislead the audience into thinking it’s a good story.

I still have a lot of admiration for screenwriters, so I’m in no way trying to speak down on them here, but I feel that when it comes to good screenwriting, the actors, directors and producers are just as important in bringing that vision to life. After all, if Calliope of Atalan were ever to be adapted into a movie and/or television series one day, I wouldn’t want just anyone to direct, produce and/or act in it.

 

If you had the chance to write an episode for any TV show, past or current, which show would it be?

A: I would love to write an episode of Black Mirror. I really gravitated towards that series in particular because I frequently find myself feeling disturbed and/or uncomfortable with a lot of modern technological advancement, so it’s good to know I’m not at all alone there, lol. One recent digital innovation I’ve felt particularly disturbed with is the whole “Alexa” thing, so if I was given an offer to write a script for a horrific satire of that item, I’d jump on it in a second.

 

Are any of your characters based on real people?

A: Yes, quite a few of them actually. I have a lot of experience with women who have been through a lot in life and yet resort to taking out their anger and depression on others; Demeter in particular draws influence from that. Upon rereading and revising, I noticed that I subconsciously drew from my own high school experience when writing a lot of the teenaged characters that Calliope interacts with throughout the novel, and I’m not sure if I can say that’s a good thing or not. Pan is essentially a walking satire of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, especially in the black community, so I know more than a few individuals who are just like him. Brutus on the other hand is a combination of just about every “fuckboy” type I’ve ever met in my life, lol.

 

What's a goal you hope to attain in your writing career?

A: I have a long list of goals, but one of the most important ones is to have some sort of impact, especially in regards to representation. As a minority myself, I’ve grown quite tired of being limited to certain outlets in order to see faces that look like mine. I’ve always been drawn to works that fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction, and until very recently it was quite rare to have well-rounded, three-dimensional and sufficiently humanized depictions of not only black people, but also non-black POC, members of the LGBTQ+ community, religious minorities, people with disabilities, people of size and neurodivergent individuals as well in such works. And really just in general.

In recent years, we have been moving in the right direction. In the arenas of fantasy, science fiction, superhero/comic-related material, horror, supernatural, alternate history and what have you, I’ve seen a marked improvement across the board. But there’s always work to do. I want to be a soldier in this revolution.

 

Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?

Honestly, start small. To elaborate: I began work on Calliope of Atalan: The American Dream in 2014. Very early in the process, I would momentarily post excerpts of it on my old Tumblr, and managed to come in contact with Greg and the Vital Narrative through sheer dumb luck. He liked what he saw, words were exchanged, and I was signed to the roster the next day.

Now, personally, I think I just got VERY lucky here. I had no idea what I was doing, and had I never spoken with Greg, I’m pretty sure that the moment I finished my first draft I would have just naively submitted the manuscript to Penguin or something, only to give up after getting my rejection letter, even though I already knew full well they only publish like five percent of the books submitted to them.

Instead, I was found by an independent publisher who liked what he saw and was willing to give me a chance. The editing and revision of my novel was a long and arduous process that lasted for nearly three years, but after all this time I can honestly say it was worth it. Had I sent my novel to a major publisher, they likely wouldn’t have said a thing about why it was rejected. Greg and Sacha both took the time to painstakingly review it so I would know exactly what to fix. I ended up actually learning even more about writing in the process. Even if it may take some more time for me to reach a wider audience, I am truly thankful for this experience and to be apart of this team.

Long story short, don’t sleep on the independent and small-name publishers. With Vital Narrative, I found a team that was more than willing to thoroughly and personably work with me on my project. Much better than having to deal with a team of editors from afar who would either reject me without a word and/or drastically change things in my work without my consent. Besides, just being published alone is valuable experience, even if you don’t become J.K. Rowling overnight.

Darlene Campos Discusses Struggle With Anxiety and Depression In New Interview

BY: STAFF

 
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Darlene Campos was recently interviewed by Let's Fox About It Media and revealed her personal struggles with anxiety and depression and also hopes to feature a character with the same issues in a future publication.


I [just] finished reading ‘I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER’ by Erika L. Sánchez. The protagonist, Julia, has depression and anxiety and it was so refreshing to see a main character with these traits. I connected to the book a lot, and I aim to do the same with future characters. Mental illnesses shouldn’t be taboo. They’re a real and important subject to address and literature is a great way to do this.

You can read the rest of the interview here and purchase her second novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, here.

Darlene Campos Reveals Interviewing Over 60 People for 'Summer Camp'

BY: STAFF

 
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Darlene Campos recently spoke with Book Riot about Summer Camp Is Cancelled and revealed interviewing at least sixty people in preparation for her second novel.


I did have to do tons of research on children who are deaf, the 1990s, and Catholicism. This research consisted of reading several books, articles, watching informative YouTube videos, and conducting interviews. I interviewed over 40 people who were either devout Catholics or lapsed Catholics. Additionally, I interviewed over 20 people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Jessica Flores’ YouTube channel was a BIG help with research on deafness, too. Reading books and articles an watching videos are a great way to conduct research, but interviewing people is my favorite part because I get real, personal responses.
— Darlene Campos

You can read the rest of the interview here and purchase Summer Camp Is Cancelled here.

Authors Interviewing Authors | Darlene & D.A.

BY: D.A. ALSTON

 
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DA: Your second novel is about to be released to the public - what does that mean to you?

DC: It feels surreal to have a second book! Ever since I was a kid, I just wanted to have a book published. Having two out soon feels like my dream of being a published novelist is still going strong.

DA: As a creative sometimes we go through the highs and lows. How do you maneuver through the constant worldwinds of life and still create?

DC: That’s a great question. The thing about life is that it can be thwarted at any time. We have a daily routine, but sudden changes come up when we least expect it. It’s important to remain level headed during a whirlwind to make good decisions. However, it’s also okay to have a breakdown every once in a while. Writing is an awesome way to jot feelings down and just let it all out.  Being a novelist with a publishing house contract means projects still need to get done, so even when my life is extremely stressful, I have to keep on writing. A plus side about writing is that you can make your own world where everything goes your way – I think that is why I’ve always used writing as a coping mechanism.


I’ve always used writing as a coping mechanism.
— Darlene P. Campos
 

DA: What has been one of your highlights of your writing career thus far?

DC: A lot has happened in my career ever since my first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, came out last year. I’ve had interviews, won an award, landed a spot on a literary radio show, etc. But out of all these cool accomplishments, the best moment was when a reader reached out to me on Twitter to tell me, “Behind Mount Rushmore is my new favorite book.” That moment overshadows everything else.  

DA: If you weren't writing, what do you think you would be doing?

DC: I’d be wishing I was a writer! I can’t imagine being anything else.

DA: With this second book, what do you help people gain from it?

DC: I really hope the perspective on those who are deaf changes for readers after they encounter this book. There’s this huge, skewed idea that those with different abilities can’t do anything and that’s completely NOT the case. My day job is in education and I’ve worked with students who deaf, blind, etc. and their work has always been equal to or better than students without these different abilities. My father has been deaf in one ear since childhood and he’s a doctor. That’s the most important lesson of the book - just because someone is differently abled, it doesn’t mean that person is lesser abled in any way.

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DA: What's a normal writing session like for you? How do you prepare? What usually happens?

DC: When I’m not distracted by the internet (hah!), my writing is pretty productive. For novels, I usually start by outlining the characters rather than the plot. It helps to know what a character is like, because I can figure out how the character would act in a certain situation. That makes the plot a bit easier to write. For example, readers familiar with Behind Mount Rushmore can guess very well how Jay Eagle Thunderclap would act if he locked his keys in his truck, because they already know his colorful personality.


My biggest goal is to quit my day job and write full time.
— Darlene P. Campos
 

DA: This book is geared towards young adults. What books were influential for you at that age?

DC: There were many, but the ones I can remember off the top of my head: Buried Onions by Gary Soto (an author who is very important in Summer Camp Is Cancelled by the way), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and pretty much everything in R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series.


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DA: What was the most difficult part about writing this book?

DC: The hardest part was the research on Catholicism. I’m not Catholic nor was I raised Catholic, so my knowledge of Catholicism was basically nothing when I started writing. However, I interviewed several practicing, lapsed, and former Catholics who provided me with tons and tons of knowledge. I visited Catholic churches, read lots of books and watched many videos starring priests sharing their knowledge. By the time I finished researching, I felt like I could probably be confirmed as a Catholic myself!

DA: What are some of your goals for your writing career?

DC: For now, my biggest goal is to quit my day job and write full time. I know it’s super hard to get to this point, but a lot of writers have gotten there and I’m sure I can as well if I work hard enough to expand my career. Another goal is to have a movie produced. I’ve already written one film script, so I have a story set for whoever wants to pick it up.

DA: As a woman of color, how important is it to tell stories from your point of view?

DC: To be honest, I feel that all stories are important and I don’t think that my point of view is any more or less important than another person’s point of view. It’s true that certain people have greater credibility for certain subjects, though, yet everyone has a right to their opinions and feelings, even if we don’t agree. I’m sure there are some screwed up people out there who think my perspective on certain subjects doesn’t count or doesn’t matter only because I’m a woman, a minority and/or both. And whoever those people are, I have just three words for them: go to hell.


Darlene P. Campos's second novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, is available now for pre-order and will release on August 3rd. Her first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, can be purchased here. You can purchase D.A. Alston's first novel, The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad, by clicking here.

 

Our Voces Features Darlene Campos For Hispanic Heritage Month

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Through October 15, Our Voces will be featuring posts for Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting Latinx and Hispanic kid lit authors. This past week they interviewed Darlene Campos to get her thoughts on various things. In the article, Campos spoke on the first time she saw herself represented in literature.


‘The House on Mango Street’ by Sandra Cisneros! I read it for the first time when I was 13 years old and I could relate to the characters and the story line so well... For the first time ever in my school assigned readings, the main character was a Latina, just like me.
— Darlene Campos

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Campos also spoke on her first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, her next project, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, and also, her hopeful future for Latinx books.


I want today’s Latinx kiddos to see themselves in main characters and be inspired to write their own stories to share with the world. I’d especially like to see graphic novels starring Latinx characters.
— Darlene Campos

You read the full article here. Campos will also be giving donating 100% of her royalties to ongoing hurricane relief through October 15.

122 Rejections For 'Behind Mount Rushmore' Tells A Story of Perseverance for Darlene Campos

BY: GH

 

Every time our authors do an interview, we learn something interesting about them. Posted today at Tuscon Tales, a children's and young adult literature publication showcasing new and established writers, Darlene Campos revealed that 'Behind Mount Rushmore' was rejected 122 times.


Sometimes I was up until 2 or 3 a.m. just sending out queries. Fortunately, I had publishing credits to show off in my query letter, but I still received 122 rejections for Behind Mount Rushmore.
— Darlene Campos

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But she continued to submit her book for publication and encourages other writers to do the same.


Writing is not easy and publishing a novel is definitely not any easier. There will be times when you feel like you’re not a good writer and you shouldn’t even try anymore, but this is not true! Rejection letters show you’re trying. Wear them like a badge of honor. Keep on writing and keep on querying even when you don’t feel the drive to keep on. Even when everyone you know tells you that you can’t, show them you can.
— Darlene Campos

She also recognized the importance of pushing diverse stories involving diverse characters, which was a main driver that led to publishing with Vital Narrative.


The press I’m with focuses on diverse books by diverse writers which was definitely a big help because we turned out to have the same goals: more diverse books for readers.
— Darlene Campos

Campos also gave insight on the research she completed for the book, her inspirations for characters and revealed some information about her next novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled.

Read the entire interview here. Darlene is donating 100% of royalties to Hurricane Harvey Relief in her hometown of Houston this month. You can support here.

 

Authors Interviewing Authors | Cheryl & Tony

BY: CHERYL DYER

 

This interview was originally posted on ChicagoNow.


Tony Bowers and I met through social media, a common interest in writing, and mutual friends, but our greatest link is that we both grew up on Chicago’s infamous 79th Street. The Nine was the stomping ground of my hot-comb-candy-store-Reebok years, so when Tony Bowers’ collection of short stories, On The Nine, first debuted I not only had to read it, but I also had to meet the brother who captured the gritty landscape in a way that made me miss the people and places that grew me up. 

Today, I’m interviewing Tony for the #AuthorsInterviewingAuthors series for Vital Narrative Press. In it he talks about growing up around 79th Street, the current state of things in Chicago, his upcoming work, and even Lil' Chano from 79th.    


CD: So what part of 79th Street do you hail from?

TB: Originally we are talking Grand Crossing, so east of Cottage Grove. We started out on 78th and then moved to 79th and Ingleside. Then, we moved further east to 79th and Clyde.

CD: Oh, okay. I’m from way over East. I’m from 79th & Muskegon – east of everything, east of Jeffery, east of Yates. What was life like for you then?

TB: It was pretty typical. I mean, it was the inner city, so there was some rough spots, but mainly we are talking about 79th Street over there by the East of the Ryan [Motel], so there would be fights and everything that I would see, but it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I had a typical childhood. I didn’t get into any trouble. My father used to send me to the store with notes for cigarettes or my mom would send me up to 79th Street to get my father out of the pool hall across the street from East of the Ryan. We used to get chicken wings from this place called Captain’s Table. So it was typical stuff. Nothing out of the ordinary.

I lived up the street from Grand Crossing Park, so I spent a lot of time outside playing baseball and football with my friends, riding our bikes. I thought the park was so beautiful. It really impacted me because I didn’t feel as if living in the city meant anything negative.

Another favorite spot for me was on 79th and King Drive, the Whitney Young Library. I would go there every Saturday, spend two or three hours in the stacks reading books or going to the audio-visual room listening to old records. It started there, this love of writing. It was so special when I got a chance to read from On The Nine there last year.

Another favorite thing was the Rhodes Theater. We would go there and watch the same movies over and over again on Saturday afternoons.

CD: Nice. I remember the Rhodes Theater. They used to get the movies all late! My sister and I used to have a joke, “Everything comes to the Rhodes... eventually!” So, in writing the collection did you learn anything about yourself? Your craft? Were there new realizations about people and places that served as inspiration?

TB: I did discover that my mommy and daddy issues were deeper than I thought. Writing the collection helped me finally release. On the craft side, I learned how important pacing is. I like easy and fluid reads that move. I like to start out stories with the action in flux. As far as realizations, it’s always new. When I write about real places or with real folks in mind, I always see them in new lights.

CD: So, if you had to choose, is there one piece from the collection that you would say really captures the essence of life On the Nine?

TB: I would say “Darcy’s Garden.” It shows the mix of 79th and life in Chicago, I believe. A tragedy happens, and through dealing with that, something beautiful and positive happens.  There is a contrast. Beautiful flowers and middle class homes and broken concrete and loud city buses that spew black soot. Warmth and kindness and spent bullet casings. That to me is Chicago. The contrast. That's life. Look at the title of the first story, "Peppermint and Gunpowder." I think these ideas of gradation are throughout the collection, but come together in the last story.

CD: What are your thoughts about the state of things in Chicago today?

TB: It’s challenging, but it has always been so. I never want to be a revisionist and say everything was perfect back in the day. It is just further down the road now. The same issues exist. I love my city and I am not going to turn my back on it. I feel that as we go, so will the rest of the country. As we deal with poverty, lack of quality education and access to jobs in the inner city, then that will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the nation, but we have an uphill battle.

CD: How do we tackle it? Is there an easy answer that we’re overlooking? How can we heal our city?

TB: No easy answer. But I believe it starts with us as individuals on many fronts. We need those day to day interactions, but we need to take control of the political process, then force the system to deal with the real issues. Like, why is it that the only time there is real investment is when the majority population gets interested in a community? We have TIF funds building DePaul University, a $100 million stadium, while Roseland looks like a wasteland. Englewood has gotten a facelift, but only after it was identified as desirable by those with money and power. We need to handle this. We have put up with the hypocrisy for so long, it has come to a head. That’s why I believe things seem so bad right now.

CD: What do you think of our little brother, Lil' Chano from 79th? (Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper donated $1 million to Chicago Public Schools).

TB: I love his spirit. The fact that he put up his own money as a gesture was amazing. That’s what I mean when I say individuals have to step up where they can. But, we then have to organize and have a platform where we are seeking real results. We have to get rid of Rauner. We have to hold Rahm accountable. Too much passing the buck.

CD: True indeed.

TB: For generations, politicians robbed this city and made our tax dollars their own, like a piggy bank. We should be able to do all the things we need without raising taxes on grocery bags and pop. It's bullshit.

CD: What’s up next for you creatively?

TB: I am working on a novel, A Dollar Short.

CD: Where does A Dollar Short take us? What’s it about?

TB: Transformation. Can a person really change? This brother Jimmy is having a hard time with that. He has lost the love of his life and never lived up to his potential because of his destructive ways. He understands he must change, but it’s kicking his ass.

CD: Looking forward to it. Does it take place in any familiar places?

TB: Minneapolis and all over Chicago. 79th Street will definitely be all up in it.


A tragedy happens, and through dealing with that, something beautiful and positive happens.  There is a contrast. Beautiful flowers and middle class homes and broken concrete and loud city buses that spew black soot. Warmth and kindness and spent bullet casings. That, to me, is Chicago.
— Tony Bowers

CD: So, as you are writing this new novel, do you have a certain process you observe? A playlist? Libations? Day writer? Night writer? Favorite writing space?

TB: I try to be fluid. I write when I can. It’s hard during the semesters [since I'm also a college professor], but I still get it in. It can be day or night. I like Robert Glasper on the stereo. As far as libations, it depends on the time of day. I’m a brown liquor dude, so Crown Royal at 10 A.M. doesn’t work too well [Laughs].

CD: So, last question. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tony B from 79th is having a party. You can invite five of your celebrity friends (actors, singers/rappers, athletes, writers, etc). Tell me who’s invited.

TB: Denzel, Ava Duvernay, Nas, Jesse Williams and Toni Morrison. They have created or spoken words that have really moved the needle on the issues we spoke of earlier. They seem to tell it like it is. I love the merge of creativity and social justice. Deep wisdom from them all. I would also want Baldwin, Obama, Geoffrey Canada and Angela Davis there too, but you said five.


For more information about Tony Bowers’ debut short story collection, On The Nine, published by Vital Narrative Press.

 

Authors Interviewing Authors | D.A. & T.J.

BY: T.J. LOVE

 

TJ: Let's start with your origins. Where are you from originally?

DA: I hail from sunny San Diego. But now I reside in Atlanta.

TJ: Word. How'd you end up on the other side of the country?

DA: Well, my grandfather started a church in California. It grew and became very popular in the city, but then he told us that God told him to move to Georgia to start a church there. Mind you we had zero family there. But we stepped out on faith and God blessed us. Five buildings later, we're doing well and now own a movie theater also.

TJ: That's really dope. Getting y'all Wizard Kelly on. I've been there though - moving across the country on faith. It's definitely harrowing. How has that influenced your work?

DA: Well, I rely on my family a lot and my faith is such a huge part of who I am, in general. I try to stay pretty balanced and center myself in the midst of the craziness. So most of my work normally has that same underlying tone towards having faith.

TJ: I feel that. I feel like you don't see a lot of that in Black writing. How does your faith shape you as a person? Why has it been so important to you?

DA: As a person, it has gotten me through some of the hardest points in my life. It has helped me smile when I wanted to cry. It pushed me forward when I wanted to give up. It covered me when I wanted to go wild. It's just always been a positive force in my life.

TJ: I feel that. So that being said, let me ask you something - a lot of pro-black 'woke' folk are claiming that Christianity is the religion of the oppressor. Where do you think this idea comes from and does this affect you as a Christian at all?

DA: Honestly, I don't concern myself with ideologies and claims from other people. I know what God means to me and what He's personally done for me in my life. That's all I stand on. I'm not living for the approval of anyone else.


I don’t concern myself with ideologies and claims from other people... I’m not living for the approval of anyone else.
— D.A. Alston

TJ: I hear you. I love people with principles. So talk to me about The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad. What was the inspiration for that?

DA: Well, it didn't even start off as a book idea. I was sitting at IHOP with my mother. And, because I also draw, we've been talking about creating a coloring book for years. On this particular day, I was like 'Maybe I'll finally do that.' So I'm talking the idea over with her and I was like 'What if I do superheroes that are all women?' 'All with different nationalities?' Then, I was like 'What if I put a storyline to it?' And it just snowballed into the creation that it is now.

TJ: That's really unique - almost sounds like your own personal superhero origin story. Representation is a beautiful thing, especially in a world where the main protagonists have always been beefed-up white dudes. So what's next for D.A. Alston?

DA: Representation is major. For women and people of color. Currently, I'm working on the second installment of The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad. I just really started writing it and I'm really excited. I'm just trying to focus and knock this out. I also have a few speaking engagements coming soon. The ultimate goal is to get a table at DragonCon to present my book.


Representation is major.
— D.A. Alston

TJ: Things seem to be coming together for you - a theme of us at VN. What's DragonCon?

DA: That's why I love our team. DragonCon is the Atlanta version of Comic-Con. It's the epitome of a lituation.

TJ: 'Lituation' just made me feel mad old. So it's basically a gathering of my fellow geeks cosplaying as their favorite superheroes? How dope would it be one day to see Royal Elite Squad cosplayers?

DA: That's the goal though! Seeing people dressing up as characters from my book. That's the dream.

TJ: Baby steps, right? First DragonCon, then the world. I'm rooting for you.

DA: Thank you sir. I'm excited.

TJ: Of course. Keep making us proud and keep us updated.


T.J.'s first book of poetry, Speaking In Tongues: Love In Five Languages, can be purchased here. You can purchase The Unlikely Tale of the Royal Elite Squad by D.A. Alston by clicking here.

 

Authors Interviewing Authors | Garvey & A.A.

BY: A.A. REDD

 

All art is about identity in some way, because no art can be shaped without contact with the self.  No pocket of the creative world can be utterly without ego— but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing. Self-awareness can be a double-edged sword, but it’s one that’s necessary to wield if an artist is interested in growth and change. No one knows that better than Garvey Hemisphere, who works harder than almost anyone I’ve ever met to actualize his goals and dreams.

Reading his work gives you a vivid glimpse of the prolific writer and CEO himself. From the pages of his telescopic, genre-defying Misconceptions about Sunrises to the evocative, incandescent wordplay of his Dirty Dozen poetry series, Hemisphere has proven himself to be a literary force to be reckoned with. Outside of his own writing, he encourages his team at Vital Narrative to realize the full potential of our ideas with relentless spirit and enthusiasm.  One thing becomes clear when speaking to him: this is a person who not only knows who they are, but knows the trick of self-guided evolution. Hemisphere talks inspiration, self-expression, and the women in his life whose input matters most to him in this enlightening and uplifting interview.

 

AA:  What's the most surprising thing you've learned as you put out more work?

GH: There's so much work involved in promotion! There's always a never-ending task list of things that you want your readers to know about so they can get excited.  Also, you're only as good as your last project. If you don't engage your readers consistently, it's very easy for them to forget and move on to the next thing. And, the more you write, the more chances you're willing to take with your writing.

AA: Has your growth as a writer changed any of your plans for publishing (are you leaning toward another genre, looking to put more out, etc.)?

GH: I've been writing in multiple genres ever since I was a kid; poems, spoken word for the stage, short stories, novels, screenplays for short films, and features. The only difference are the technical aspects, but the creativity remains consistent from genre to genre—if you allow it. I've never wanted a certain genre to pigeonhole my goals. That's what stagnates your growth as a writer, in my opinion.


I’ve never wanted a certain genre to pigeonhole my goals.
— Garvey Hemisphere
 

AA: What drives your thirst for growth as an artist?

GH: It's uncontrollable. It's completely out of my hands. My brain is constantly running with ideas and little things here and there to improve. I'm obsessed with putting out things that I feel will express how I feel about a certain topic without literally coming out and saying it. Knowing that there are people out there who will relate and enjoy what I bring to the table also drives the need for growth. Some people feel it's necessary to keep giving the same thing over and over so that the fans will always remain happy, but I think giving them something new much more appreciated—and a lot more interesting.

AA: Stephen King recommends designating a certain reader as your audience and writing to them. How do you approach thinking about your readers as you write? Do you think it's better to not think of them at all?

GH: It's impossible not to think of the reader at all. I mean, we write literally for readers. That's not to say that I worry how readers will feel about everything. At the end of the day, I just want them to get lost in my work and feel a connection to it. I think that's the most you can really expect from a reader. I certainly don't designate a certain reader as my audience because it feels too much like I'm letting someone else dictate what I should write. I always hope my girl likes it because I want her to feel like all the late nights I spend obsessing over my projects were worth it. But that's about it. I've never tried to identify a reader profile or anything. I guess if Stephen King says it works, I should probably consider it though because he's sold like a trillion books at this point.

AA: Whose work has shaped you most as an artist?

GH: Every artist I've been exposed to has shaped me in some form or fashion, but because I dabble in so many different genres and on so many different platforms, I don't think anyone is doing it better than Donald Glover right now. Atlanta was a smash-hit; Awaken My Love was such an interesting take on music when he's known for doing rap; and his stuff on Community and in other media has always been on point. It's like you always know to expect something fresh from him and even if you don't know all the details going in, you know it's going to be a dope experience from him.

Another artist is Phonte Coleman from Little Brother. We're both North Carolina natives and he also dabbles in a few different areas— comedy, rapping, singing, etc. It's so dope to see how people can just do what feels right to them and make it happen, even if it's not what they're mainly known for.

Writing-wise, Toni Morrison's quote "if there is a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, you must be the one to write it" is a mantra I've held tight to for years. It gets all the excuses out the way and makes way for something groundbreaking and the last thing I want to do is do what everyone else is doing.

AA: What are you proudest of in terms of your writing?

GH: Completing Misconceptions About Sunrises is honestly one of the most amazing things I've ever accomplished. Just knowing where I was as I was writing and all that I had gone through - getting that book done and out to the public is still amazing to me. Having my mom tell people that I'm an author and have several books for sale is definitely a proud moment for me as well. I've always wanted her to be proud of me and I finally feel like she is. And also, just having people ask for my thoughts and opinions when it comes to THEIR writing. That means a lot because it means they respect what I've accomplished thus far.


Having my mom tell people that I’m an author and have several books for sale is definitely a proud moment for me as well. I’ve always wanted her to be proud of me and I finally feel like she is.
— Garvey Hemisphere
 

AA: How do you know when you're done with a piece of writing?

GH: It's hard to put into words, but basically when I feel like adding or subtracting a single word would take away from everything that's written. I have a tendency to over-edit and, sometimes, things are just better left alone.

AA: Do you think some ideas are too weird to execute?

GH: Not at all. Too many people have this need for their art to be understood. Sometimes an idea just needs to be presented and whoever gets it, gets it. If you don't get it, it just means you aren't the audience for it.

AA: What gets you most excited about your future projects? Anticipated reactions, the process itself, something else?

GH: Seeing the final product is honestly the most exciting part. Just seeing an idea go from something I wrote on a piece of paper to becoming a working manuscript, going through edits and all that is great. But the most exciting part is when the book is all finished and your name is on the cover and people are clamoring for it. Nothing beats that. Also seeing how people respond once it's out. Good or bad, I love it all as long as you read it and felt something.


A.A.'s first book of poetry, A Body Held Still By Fear & Loathing, can be purchased here. You can purchase Garvey Hemisphere's entire backlog (Misconceptions About Sunrises, The Year That Answered and A Collection Of Echoes) by clicking here.

 

Authors Interviewing Authors | Tony & T.J.

BY: TONY BOWERS

 

The Habitual Wordsmith T.J. Love knows how to create words that evoke real emotion. I consider this to be a superpower. This amazing ability is what the world has always needed, so I was excited to spend time chopping it up with my literary brother. I have been a fan of T.J’s even before his provocative poetry collection (Speaking in Tongues: Love in Five Languages from Vital Narrative Press). From his bombastic Sound Cloud recordings to his impromptu Facebook musings, this brother knows how to move the needle.

 

TB: How long have you been writing and performing poetry?

TJ: I've been writing pretty much all my life but started performing when I was 17.

TB: So you got years in the game. I started writing back when I was 9. My first love was Langston Hughes. He inspired me to write. Who was your first love of poetry?

TJ: Word, Langston was there. Paul Laurence Dunbar, too. If I had to pick a first love though, man... as a kid, probably Maya Angelou. She was always so evocative and had such depth in simple lines. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was such an intimate read and gave so much insight into her life, it deepened my appreciation for her and her work. As I got older, I definitely dug Ainsley Burrows as my first spoken word love.

 

TB: We need that inspiration to guide us. Who are your current poetry/literary crushes?

TJ: I've really been digging on Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote Hamilton and the songs from Moana, but he's so damn lyrical and his wordplay is heads and shoulders beyond anything I've ever seen before. Like I'm obsessed with the Hamilton soundtrack, how effortlessly he spins these lyrical tales through hip-hop and musical theatre. It's so dope. Warsan Shire is another one. I'm trying to familiarize myself with her work more. She echoes of that simplistic beauty I found in Maya all those years ago.

TB: That's interesting your connection to Miranda and musicals - are there any non-literary art forms that inspire you? Abstract art does it for me.

TJ: I love abstract art. I've always been a fan of art that doesn't have a set particular message, open interpretation stuff. I usually try to say something in my work, yet I want my readers/listeners to extrapolate from it what they will and it always inspires me to have conversations of their reasoning and rationale. I also dig still life photography. Like I've walked the Brooklyn Bridge a million times, but the perfectly captured image of it will get me emotional because it reminds me of home.

 

TB: Amen. Spoken like a true artist. What's your next challenge?

TJ: Right now I'm in a rotation of hosts for an open mic session out here in Phoenix called Cultiv8n Culture and that's been really dope, something new and exciting. I was just on a radio show out here called 'Off The Cuff' on RadioSupa.com where I spoke about Speaking In Tongues and my upbringing in life and in poetry. I also was just featured on Indiana hip-hop artist Con Rome's mixtape. Individually, my next project is to finish my ninth spoken word album. I have the pieces written, I just have to record them. Outside of that, just visualizing my next book. But that won't be till next year and with the Womens' Initiative coming up in 2019, I've got a little time.

TB: Wow. You got a full plate. That's what's up. Last question.... which do you prefer spoken or written poetry and why?

TJ: Damn, that's a great question. I gotta take both honestly. I know, I suck for that but they are both equally important to me. Some people are audio intensive. Some are visual. One without the other is deprivation. Spoken word has an attraction because delivery and cadence are fifty percent of the entertainment value, while written poetry has to have a certain visual aesthetic, whether in word choice or placement or structure, in order to be universally appealing. There are certain niches for both so they are both powerful in their own rights.

TB: No, that's great. Both is a great answer. Great break down of the why. I appreciate your time. Great and thoughtful answers. Thanks Brother. Keep slanging them words.

TJ: No doubt man thanks for the time. Will do, most def.


You can purchase Tony's first book, On The Nine, by clicking here. You can order Speaking in Tongues: Love in Five Languages by The Habitual Wordsmith TJ Love by clicking here.

Darlene Campos Spent Six Years Researching For 'Behind Mount Rushmore'

BY: STAFF

 

We sat down with Darlene Campos to discuss her book, some of its characters and the significance of the title, Behind Mount Rushmore.


Explain the significance of the title.

A: I remember learning about Mount Rushmore when I was in fifth grade. I learned it was in South Dakota, specifically in the Black Hills, and of course I learned about the faces that make Mount Rushmore – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. However, it wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I learned about Pine Ridge Indian Reservation from one of my history professors. He showed us a presentation about the reservation and told us about the poverty, the alcoholism, the teacher turnover rate, etc. Until then, I had no idea Pine Ridge Indian Reservation even existed. How could this be possible when Pine Ridge is located, in my professor’s words, “just behind Mount Rushmore?” Since many have heard about Mount Rushmore, I knew using its name in the title would make the book stand out. The word “behind” lets the reader know the book is focusing not on Mount Rushmore, but what’s going on behind it.

 

What made you choose a Native American reservation as the main setting of the story?

A: I must admit that before taking the history class I mentioned above, I knew very little about Native Americans. This was quite a shame because I have a large percentage of South American indigenous roots in my family. I feel like I should have known at least a little something about indigenous people, especially the indigenous people of Ecuador, which is where my parents are from. Anyway, all I knew about the Native population of the United States was basic information I learned in elementary school: They helped the pilgrims. They grew corn. Squanto spoke English. They live on reservations. When my professor gave us that first presentation, my interest in the Native community sparked. I started learning more about Pine Ridge and more about the Lakota tribe in general. After this history class was over, I took a Native American literature class the following semester and I was frustrated because we were assigned nothing but old Westerns. The texts were very outdated and stereotypical. My professor claimed there wasn't literature featuring contemporary Native Americans and I thought, "Well, you're obviously not looking hard enough." At the advice of a creative writing professor, I became inspired to write my own book after reading the works of Sherman Alexie, Vic Glover, Adrian C. Louis, Mary Crow Dog, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Louise Erdrich. My literature professor was wrong – there were lots of contemporary novels featuring Native people available.

There are many elements I find appealing about the Native community such as close-knit family life, traditions, and humor. These are elements I enjoy with my own family, so it was lovely to see the similarities. While writing this book, I read several novels with contemporary Native American characters written by Native authors and some by non-Native authors. In 2012, I had the opportunity to have lunch with Sherman Alexie, thanks to my college. He told me as long as I made sure my writing was good, I should be okay as a writer. I also attended numerous pow wows and spoke with Native Americans about their day to day lives. This was the most fun in my opinion. You can read all the books in the world, but the best learning experience is immersion. 

In total, I spent about six years researching to make sure I didn't stereotype or misrepresent the Native community in the United States. As a minority myself, I know how much it hurts to be stereotyped, so I definitely didn't want to write one of those outdated Westerns my professor assigned. It’s a tricky thing to write about a culture you didn’t grow up in, but with sufficient research from the right sources, it can be done. I DO NOT recommend writing outside your culture without researching first – you’re going to mess up badly, trust me.

 

In this political climate where immigration continues to be a hot-button issue, how important was it to discuss the mistreatment of Native Americans throughout their history and into present day?

A: The treatment of the Native Americans in the United States has a long history of despair, betrayal, and genocide. After going through massive tragedies like Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, and the Kingsley Cave Massacre, the Natives who survived had to endure boarding schools where they were forbidden to be in touch with their culture. They weren’t allowed to speak their Native language, allowed to practice their religion, and do anything which stemmed from their upbringing. Some Native children were very young when they were forced into boarding schools and when they returned home, they did not remember how to speak their Native language and could not communicate with their family members anymore. Then, you bring in more injustice such as the fact that Natives were not even considered citizens of their land and could not vote until 1924. Their voting rights were not extended to all 50 states until 1965. They did not have full freedom of speech and expression protection until 1968. They could not practice their Native language in schools until 1990. On top of all of this legislation, they had to (and still do) deal with racism, misrepresentation, and stereotypes in the media. Right now, they are protesting the Dakota Pipeline - in 2017! When will enough be enough? The biggest issue is how they are and have been disrespected and nearly destroyed in their own home. Imagine not only being disrespected, but having everything taken from you and huge numbers of your relatives murdered and your culture nearly obliterated. The Natives in the United States are strong – no matter the odds they have faced, they are still here today. History has a habit of repeating itself. I say we repeat the good parts of history and leave the bad parts behind. But, the only way to do this is by educating this generation and the next.

 

What in particular do you want readers to take from your characters and their interactions with others? Is there anything you hope resonates beyond just the characters themselves?

A: The main purpose of writing Behind Mount Rushmore was to show readers that Natives are still here – they are so much more than the old Western movies you see on TV. More so, I wanted to show the positive. As I said earlier, my heritage is Ecuadorian. I can’t express how irritated it makes me when I see a travel show go to Ecuador and they only show the slums and the crime. They don’t show families eating and laughing together. They don’t show the rich history of the cities. Yes, there is poverty in Behind Mount Rushmore. There is also death. There is racism. But above all of these instances, there is love, friendship, and humor. As for going beyond the characters, I want the reader to see Native people as people first – not as a stereotype, not as exotic, not as weird, just as people. When we start to see other populations as people equal to us, this is when we are able to change our perspectives from negative to positive.

 

Are these characters based on people you know?

A: Some traits are based on people I know. Nimo’s father says a few lines my mom has said in real life. The humor in the story is heavily based on my mother, too. My parents divorced when I was 14 and my household became a single-parent household virtually overnight. There were times when food was scarce and there were many sleepless nights due to there not being much money in the bank. These were hard times. There’s a part in the book when Nimo says he has to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time because it’s a cheap meal. I had to do this at one point myself and let me tell you – as much as I love peanut butter, I HATED peanut butter during that time. However, we survived with humor. I remember one evening years ago when I was sitting at home with my mom and we were talking about something, I don’t remember what. We laughed and laughed throughout the conversation and then she said, “The devil must be so mad at us. We don’t have much money, he wants us to be sad, but we’re here laughing.” Since I survived with humor, it was easy to place humor into Nimo’s life. The medical aspects of the story are based on my father who is a physician. I grew up seeing himself in a white lab coat and hearing him talk about surgeries. He’d talk about his co-doctors and new innovations happening in the medicine field. The medical world is very close to my heart – I knew I had to include it somewhere in the book.

 

Discuss how Nimo interacts with those closest to him such as his family and friends? How do these interactions enrich his character and theirs?

A: Nimo’s a shy kid – he lives on a huge reservation, yet he doesn’t really have many friends. When it comes to friends, he listens. He might not express everything he’s thinking out loud, but he has open ears to anyone who talks to him, even the infamous Ray Firebird! In regards to his family, he’s more comfortable opening up to them, especially to his father. When Nimo talks to his father, he not only learns about his father, but his father in turn learns about him. The same happens when Nimo speaks to his mother. Just by talking to their son, Nimo’s parents build a strong relationship with him. Since his parents are deeply involved in his life, Nimo grows to appreciate and love his parents even more. Now, if it wasn’t for John David, Nimo’s best friend, who knows where Nimo would be? Nimo’s very hesitant, too. He needs John David’s metaphorical pushes to succeed. In turn, John David has Nimo as his closest source of trust. I feel that all the characters need each other in some form, even the ones who don’t get along.

 

Many themes are touched on regarding sexuality, race, income disparity and others. What made you choose these constructs over others and how do they all intersect?

A: I chose these issues specifically because I believe they are issues which deserve greater awareness and reading a book with characters a reader connects to is a way to accomplish this. Income disparity is a big issue because there’s this idea that the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough, they want handouts, they’re entitled, etc. It’s the same with a lot of other issues. I’ve heard people say the LGBT community should ‘just snap out of it.’ I’ve even heard some people say racism is over and that it ended with the Civil Rights Movement. This is just plain ignorance. In fact, the last time someone called me a racial slur to my face was in 2015. These issues need attention and education so we can fix them. Once you learn about people who are different than you on a personal level, it becomes harder to hate and easier to love. When we generalize people, it’s so easy to think, “Yes, those people are dangerous” or “Yes, those people are wrong and we are right.” The truth is we are all equal and we can all connect to each other. It’s just a matter of putting love over hate.

 

Who was your favorite character to write and why?

A: The answer, hands-down, is Jay Eagle Thunderclap AKA “Ate,” Nimo’s dad. Years ago, in the first drafts, Nimo was a baby and the story was told from an omniscient narrator. The narrator shared the day to day lives of the Thunderclap couple and their baby son. However, Jay Eagle was not the same person he is now. In fact, he was booooooooooooooring. Instead of cracking jokes and having his devil-may-care attitude, he would sit around on his porch and share vague words of wisdom with everyone who passed by. Eventually, I thought, “Wow, you are so boring. I either need to kill you off or massively change you.” Thankfully, I’m not George R.R. Martin. So, I decided to keep Jay Eagle and drastically change his character to who he is now. I can’t imagine Jay Eagle not being in Behind Mount Rushmore. Here’s a word of advice to aspiring writers – if you think your character is boring, your reader will think the same. Back when I was submitting the standalone chapters to journals, most of them said “We love this story! The dad is amazing!”

A close second favorite character is Ray Firebird. You know that person who always interrupts you when you’re busy? The one you pretend NOT to see when you run across them? That’s Ray Firebird. We all know Ray Firebird. If you don’t, you are Ray Firebird.

 

Do you see yourself in Nimo at all? If so, how so?

A: Yes, definitely. He’s fairly shy and doesn’t open up easily just like me. He only confides in a small circle of people. And, of course, he’s an aspiring writer. He has a best friend he deeply cares for and I did, too, back in the day. I don’t know what she’s up to now, but I wish her the best. The relationship he has with his mother is about the same as the one I have with mine. His relationship with his father is where we differ greatly. I’m not saying I had a terrible father. My father was and still is a very hardworking man. He came from an impoverished family of ten children, but he dreamed of being a doctor someday and he made his dream come true with his strong determination. I admire him for never giving up despite the situation. As a kid, I had everything I needed like clothes, food, a place to live, and I got to go on trips to Europe every year for my father’s medical conferences. Having a doctor for a father is not easy. My father was almost never home and he didn’t know much about me, not even the grade I was in. He didn’t know the names of my best friends or the names of my teachers. After my parents divorced, I didn’t talk to him or see him for several months. He wanted me to follow in his medical footsteps even though I told him many times that I wanted to be a writer. Nimo has a solid, loving relationship with his father. The reason why I did this is because it’s my imagination of what a good father-child relationship is like. I wish my father was like Jay Eagle, but life is what it is. Nimo is definitely a lot worse off financially as a young child than I was, but there is no amount of money that can buy you a close relationship with your parents. Nimo’s riches lie with his family.

 

If there's one thing you want the reader to take away from reading your book, what is it?

A: Laugh every single day – make the devil mad at you.

Authors Interviewing Authors | Cheryl & Darlene

BY: DARLENE CAMPOS

 

DC: What inspired you to write your first book?

CD: Well, my first book is still in the works. It’s collection of short stories so I was inspired to write this book by a lot of things. A lot of the stories are about personal awakenings, that coming of age that happens at various ages and phases of life. I wanted to communicate these epiphanies. 

DC: Are you working on anything right now?

CD: I am currently still working on the collection. I am workshopping a few of the stories at the Chicago Writers Studio. I also write a blog called “Who’s Invited?” that is featured on ChicagoNow, Chicago Tribune’s blog site.

 

DC: Do you have a writing playlist? Who are your favorite musical artists to listen to while you write?

CD: I don't have a writing playlist. I actually prefer quiet when I write, I'd spend too much time singing along with the songs and not enough time writing. I will however immerse myself in music that creates a mood and puts me in a headspace. I’ll listen to it during times when I'm not writing. I'll listen to it in the car, in the shower, on a run, etc. 

DC: Do you have a writing drink/food of choice?

CD: I love iced lemon water in a bulbous red wine glass. 

DC: If you could have dinner with any of the characters in your first book, who would it be and why?

CD: None of them! They have been living in my head so long that I need a break from them. But I think I would like to take Jordan from “The Melting of Armor” out for lunch.

DC: If you could build a piece of IKEA furniture with any one of your characters, who would it be?

CD: I prefer doing it myself unless my husband is around. He has all the fancy tools.

ikea.jpg
 

DC: Do you outline your works first or do you just start writing away?

CD: Depends. If there’s something that I just have to get out, I’ll just write. But generally, I outline the stories first to see where the story is going and to try make sure that it gets there, but of course things change so much from outline to finished work. 

DC: If you had the chance to visit with your favorite writer, how would you spend your day with them? Alive or dead? 

CD: Dead - I'd sit and talk with Zora Neale Hurston, laugh with Langston Hughes. Alive - I'd have coffee/tea with Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. 

DC: Stephen King once said you have to kill your darlings - how many darlings have you killed so far? How do you decide who lives and who dies?

CD: I haven't kept track of the death toll, but as a hardcore Game of Thrones fan, I do understand the concept! The characters that meet their demise on the page do so because it is their time, whether I like it or not.

T.J. Love Once Tried To Spit For Jay-Z

BY: Q. VERGARA

Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, T.J. Love brings much more to the table than the Speaking In Tongues: Languages of Love poetry book he released on January 6, 2017. As we spoke, he made it very clear how versatile he is for all things literature. He also touched on a variety of subjects like how his grandma influenced his way of writing through math, his ninth spoken word album, and how he marched himself into Universal Records to meet Jay-Z.

Q: So tell us about your Speaking In Tongues project.

T: It's my very first publication. I've had work published online or in print for an anthology back in high school, but this is my very first standalone collection of poetry published and I'm pretty hype about it honestly. Speaking In Tongues is based on the premise of The Five Love Languages concepts of how people express love and need their love expressed, based on what their personality is. I need 'Quality Time' and 'Physical Touch.' Those are definitely my love languages and why there is a bit of a slant towards Physical Touch.

Q: Oh wow, it sounds like there's more to this collection than meets the eye. So when you wrote the first poem to this collection, were you aware of the direction or did everything kind of just happen and fit together?

T: I wanted there to be an underlying theme and my poetry tends to cover a lot of ground, from political to introspective, and obviously, love. I wanted there to be cohesion, so I decided that I would tie my work together with the love languages because to me it made sense. I was, in a way, exploring my own love languages and how I needed to receive love, and past relationships and stuff like that, in gathering all this work together. So it was definitely pre-planned.

Q: Oh wow, I feel like that's even more brilliant because it shows this meticulous planning while still being able to explore such an unpredictable topic. Now I'm familiar with some of your political poems which are poignantly written. How would you describe your style of writing? And further more, do you find yourself having to drastically change gears going back and forth between topics? Or is it, more or less, all coming from the same place so it's hand in hand? How did you develop that versatility?

T: Thank you for that. It's definitely appreciated. My writing style is something I'd like to think as unique. My grandmother used to say that math only has one finite way of reaching a solution. So I always subconsciously internalized that and made my poetry the complete opposite: let me arrive at this destination in a million ways. In infinite ways. Whatever you take from it is what I was trying to say. I try to write in an abstract way without being oversaturated and talking OVER your head as opposed to at you. Whatever is extrapolated is the goal. I know what I was writing, but the result for you can have a universe of possibilities. I do love wordplay, hence the Wordsmith moniker. I love taking ordinary concepts and twisting them into different meanings and appearances to create a whole new point that you, hopefully, never considered before. I see myself writing from the same place honestly. Whether it's a need to be heard by a lover, an ex, a politician, a social construct, it's a need to be heard. That stems from growing up feeling stifled and subdued, being convinced that I didn't have a voice and using my poetry as my outlet. So I guess that's where the versatility comes from, one place of still feeling the need to be heard, to communicate things that even as an adult, I still feel like I can't do verbally.

Q: That's so incredibly amazing. Is poetry your “go-to” form of writing or just what you've been focused on as of late? Do you write short stories or anything?

T: It's funny, people have asked me that so much, I might have to start writing them. Other than a college flash fiction assignment, I haven't written a short story since I was a kid, but I used to write them all the time. I would make my own Sonic The Hedgehog comic books and then create my own bastardized versions of characters. Instead of Sonic, I had Rapid Rabbit. Instead of Batman, I had Ratman and Acrobatman, instead of Spiderman I had Silverman, who had mercury for blood. [Laughs] I lived life very high above copyright laws as a kid. So poetry is definitely the main writing form for me.

Q: Do you think you can still find your old comic books? I bet they'll bring back some amazing memories and maybe a few chuckles. My old stories always make me laugh because of my naivety or logic from that age. So, you have a whole year of opportunities in front of you. Any projects you already have lined up for 2017?

T: Oh nah, those comics are completely dissipated into the ether. All I have now are my memories, like Rose at the end of Titanic. I wish I did though. Whenever I look at old stuff, it makes me cringe though, so that would be a Netflix-esque emotional rollercoaster. As far as 2017 is concerned, the book released January 6th. I'm working on my ninth spoken word album, or my first one, depending on which angle you're viewing it from. This one will have original production as opposed to the acapella or sampled beats on my previous albums. Once I get hooked up with some of my producer friends, "Analog Man x Digital Age" will finally see the light of day. Also I've been asked to feature on my buddy's mixtape, so keep your ear out for Con Rome. Then it's off to visualize the next book.

Q: Ok wait wait wait, hold on... so what all do you do creatively? You do spoken word? So you have albums with different tracks and what not? Tell me more about this. I feel so blindsided by this new information.

T: Yes ma'am! I have eight spoken word albums, available for free download on my purevolume account. It's super outdated, but they're all there.

Q: Oh wow. Can people expect to see you performing live? How long have you been doing spoken word? How did you get into that?

T: If they live in the Phoenix area, yes. I haven't performed since the summer, but I intend to get back to my open mic regimen in 2017. I've been performing since I was 17, so about 11 years or so now. Definitely a process with that, for sure. I went from a stage fright-ridden, spit my verses too fast because I was nervous to a less stage fright-ridden chill dude who can finesse his way through an intro with a cocksure Brooklyn accent. I started out of pure luck honestly. My former mentor saw that I used to rap and said I should try performing my poetry, which I had no idea was a thing. He read me some of his work and I was floored and immediately became enamored with it.

Q: Wait hold on... You used to rap?

T: [Laughs] Way back in the day.

Q: I refuse to acknowledge your badassery until I get all the facts. How old were you? Why did you stop?

T: I still freestyle from time to time.

Q: You are honestly full of surprises.

T: I don't know when I officially started. It was always something I did for fun as a kid, but I guess the seeds were planted freshman year of high school. My friends and I used to joke on each other in battle rap form. That's where I first explored my love for wordplay. It's how I combated bullying and made it into my own weapon. After my adversaries became allies, we formed a little rap group and shot music videos and stuff. The pinnacle of that was my buddy and I taking our "artists' package" to Universal in Midtown Manhattan where Roc-A-Fella Records was and shopping ourselves for an audience with Jay-Z. It was unannounced and kind of a "piss in the wind, see what sticks" kind of thing. Of course, we got the old "Mr. Carter was out of the country" message from the nice receptionist lady who kindly dashed our teenage dreams. What's funny is that if all the tools, like social media and being able to DIY everything, was available then like it is now, I have no doubt in my mind we could've been the next Rae Sremmurd, but ummmm... better. That was like 2004 though [Laughs].

Q: That's such a great story. I bet when you blow up, you and Jay Z will sit down and you can tell him he played himself.

T: We didn't know how to market and project ourselves. We were literally just like "Yooooo we are dope as fuck, Roc-A-Fella would be stupid not to sign us!"

Q: It's really amazing what marketing can do. 

T: Being able to extend yourself to people's comfort levels is something a lot of poets are unable to accomplish, so you have VERY FEW mainstream spoken word artists. People like Saul Williams, Floetry and Warsan Shire have somehow cracked the code, but even they are pigeonholed into niche markets. Warsan Shire only blew up on a more universal level this year because of her work for Beyonce.

Q: It's funny you mention Floetry because they're my shit. I love those two women.

T: Same. They were my first unconscious introduction to spoken word. And Marsha Ambrosius has parlayed her time in Floetry into a successful solo career. But I think it would be incredible if a more mainstream market for spoken word artists opened up.

Q: Do you hope to launch into a mainstream spoken word career?

T: Honestly, nah. Maybe in my younger days if there was a bigger demand for spoken word art then. But now, there's a lot that goes into it that I'm not completely down to commit myself to, like memorizing my work and performing it a million times at different venues. I'd rather hit up an open mic, ply my craft, get some snaps and claps and sit my self-accomplished ass down.

Q: That's a great way to put it. You're definitely a hidden gem I wish I was put on to sooner.

T: Story of my life [Laughs]. Nah, thank you.

As we wrapped up the interview, it felt as though I was saying goodbye to an old friend. Our entire conversation felt like a reunion of sorts as we reminisced on memories that were brand new to me. You can purchase T.J. Love's first collection of poetry Speaking in Tongues: Love In Five Languages here.


Q. Vergara is a foul-mouthed author and editor that vicariously takes pleasure in the success of her Vital Narrative team. She’s been with Vital Narrative since December 2014 and has enjoyed the opportunity to meet new and upcoming authors while being given the opportunity to take sneak peaks at their work. She claims it to be inspiring. She’s excited to conduct more interviews in the future.

Garvey Hemisphere Discusses The Final Installment Of The Dirty Dozen

BY: STAFF

Q: Why did it take so long to drop Volume 3?

I entered a relationship back in 2014, and as you can probably imagine, this can be sensitive subject matter. She never made it seem like it was a problem, but obviously I wanted to make sure that I considered her feelings. Her friends read the series and I obviously didn't want to make things strange between us. But she's been a great sport and understands the artistry involved. Besides that, I've been hard at work on other endeavors and trying to focus on one project at a time. Unfortunately, it caused Volume 3 to fall by the wayside. But I had so many people hitting me up asking when it was coming, it felt necessary to drop it before the year was out.

 

Q: What do you hope the fans get out of it?

I've never made it known, but Volume 1 was all about things I had done - that book is like 99% factual. Volume 2 was more of a play on fantasies I had or things I just hadn't had a chance to do at the time. With Volume 3, it's mostly about the taboos. All the things we either want to do or already do, but don't discuss openly. That's how a poem like "Your Best Friend" comes about where a guy is basically having a conversation with his girl about how much he wants to have sex with her closest friend. Or "Valerie" where a man has to decide between staying faithful or sleeping with his boss to keep his job. And throughout Volume 3, you'll see lots of things that are kind of surprising that you may not expect to see or hear someone say. But I think that's the fun of the series. So if you liked 1 and 2, you'll really love Volume 3.

 

Q: You mentioned your significant other and how her friends deal with a project like The Dirty Dozen. How do your own friends and family deal with it?

For the most part, they've all handled it pretty well [chuckles]. At first I wouldn't even mention it because I have a pretty Christian family and to have a book all about graphic acts of sex can obviously cause a conflict. But a lot of them have read it and enjoyed it, so that's all that matters to me. I mean, we're all adults at the end of the day. But it's not like we discuss it at the dinner table or anything. As far as my friends go, they're all cool with it. They know the type of deviant I can be.

 

Q: Tell us about the anthology project dropping in February.

The Dirty Dozen books have always been pretty slim on content since they're just 12 poems and only about 30-40 pages. For years, people have always told me they wanted a complete collection and it seemed easiest to just combine them all in one book and that's what the anthology is all about. Just to add a little sauce, I also included three short stories and some additional pictures from the shoot by my good friend Phylicia Taylor (of Phynomenal Photography). If you check my IG (@garveyhemisphere) you'll see how much work went into it. I also have to thank the three ladies involved in all the promo. They all did an amazing job. I'd be remiss if I didn't include them as well. In addition to that, we've got something cooking up for everyone who preorders the anthology. It'll be right around Valentine's Day and it's sure to provoke all five senses. Trust, you're going to want to pre-order if you can.

 

Q: Is this the end of the series?

I'm about 99% sure that it's complete. It's not the end of me writing erotica and certainly not the end of me writing poetry, but I think in this particular format, it's probably at its end. I've had a lot of fun creating this series and the fact that it turned into three volumes, and now an anthology, far exceeds the expectations I had for it back in 2013. If this ends up being the end of the series, I am more than happy with that.

 

Q: What's next for Garvey Hemisphere?

The anthology drops on February 3. After that, I'll be working on Smudge, my first spoken word album. We're going to start recording that at the top of the new year and it'll likely be out by the spring. Besides that, I'm working on my second novel, A Very Strange Fascination With Violence. It's something completely different from anything else I've ever done, but I really think people will love it. I'm also working on a podcast and a few web series. I'll have more information on that in the coming weeks. Be on the lookout.


The Dirty Dozen: Volume Three is available now on Amazon Kindle.

Alverne Ball Discusses His New Novel & Why He Doesn't Believe In Writer's Block

BY: STAFF

Q: Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both. Writing prose is an exhilarating passion that gets my adrenaline pumping. It's like riding a natural high. But just like all stimulants, one must come down from the high - and when that occurs, a physical and mental exhaustion sets in. 

 

Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?  

I thought about writing under Alverne De'Jesus or A.D. Ball once upon a time. But I wanted people that may have known me to see that I had written a novel with the hope that my accomplishment would give them strength and possibly hope for a better tomorrow.

 

Q: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I have a long list of acquaintances such as Flannery O'Conner, Garth Ennis, Tony Bowers, Charles Johnson, Alexander Dumas, Michael Connelly, Charlie Newton and Walter Mosley, just to name a few. These writers and many more have had a massive influence on my writing because I've learned a thing or two about grammar, scene structure, point-of-view versus viewpoint and characterization. But the most important thing I've learned from these writers is that you have to sit down in the chair and write until you reach the end. Then you have to rewrite with that same vigor, but while looking to make the work even stronger than the previous draft.

 

Q: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I don't think it's changed my process since I tend to write the first draft of my novels long hand and in notebooks. I find the notebook process to be my most clearest and authentic idea about the book before outside influences such as editors, pop culture and worldly influence find their way into my manuscript. What publishing did was light an already eternal flame under my ass even more. And now I'm already looking forward to writing the third and fourth novels in what I hope to be a continual series of cases for Detective Frank Calhoun.

 

Q: What does literary success look like to you?

My idea of literary success would be having a writer, editor or reader from the literary world read my work and review it with a critical eye. If such a person can take the time to read my work and give it an honest opinion of its merits, then I've done my job and I've succeeded where many have tried.

 

Q: How do you select the names of your characters?

Most names of characters comes from people that I know. I use these names to enshrine an individual in my pages, so that deep down (whether they know it or not) they'll never be forgotten. Some character's names just tend to find me and I find myself asking who the hell is this person and how did I get their name?

 

Q: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

To a degree, yes. It's more of a wink and nod to a place or person that I may have grown up with. That place or person is a monument in the community and even though the monument may diminish over time, it does not diminish the people who continue to live there.

 

Q: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Having to type up all of my handwritten manuscripts. This can take hours, maybe even days, depending on how far I've dived into a chapter before coming up for air.

 

Q: Do you believe in writer’s block?

No. As a writer, we are always writing whether we know it or not. Ideas are always generating and the story is always unfolding around us. As writers, it's our job to keep our eyes and ears open, to look for situations that may present themselves for story ideas or even complete stories. I was listening to NPR some months ago and as the story was being reported about this heinous murder, suddenly the plot for the fourth Frank Calhoun crime novel hit me over the head. It presented a well-established story that opened up a secondary plot for the third novel. So I'm already talking about third and forth novels, even though I've just published my first novel and am fast at work on writing the second novel.


Only The Holy Remain will release on November 18.

D.A. Alston Breaks Superhero Stereotypes With Her First YA Novel

BY: STAFF

Q: What made you choose to make the girls so diverse?

I feel like in literature, and the media in general, there is such a lack of diversity. I made it a point to break stereotypes with these girls and that's honestly my favorite thing about the book. I love that they are so different because it makes the story that much more interesting. 

RES Back Cover Final.png
 

Q: Why was it important to include so many different cultures?

I really wanted everyone reading to feel like they were a part of the story. I wanted them to see these girls who are very different and be able to say "Oh i have a little piece of Adeema" or "Libby Gray reminds me of myself." And I believe I accomplished the goal I set out to do. 

 

Q: What did you learn writing in this book?

A lot of things culturally and language-wise when it came to the characters specifically Kenzie and Adeema. Both of these young ladies have very different upbringings, so I had to really research some things. When it came to Adeema, I did quite a bit of research on Arabic culture and Islam/Muslim and when to use each term. There was just so much I didn't know, but I was happy to learn.

 

Q: Do you plan to add more and/or different cultures or simply build on what you have going forward with the series?

BOTH! I'm incredibly excited to dig into each character more and really explore their individual cultures. I definitely look forward to adding more culturally diverse characters as well.

 

Q: What's next for Adeema, Janais, Libby Gray and Kenzie?

If i told you that it would ruin the surprise - just know that you need to buckle up for an amazing ride.


The Unlikely Tale Of The Royal Elite Squad is available now on Amazon, Kindle, B&N and Vital Narrative.

Meet The Man Behind D.A. Alston's Incredible Book Cover

BY: STAFF

Tell us about your background.

I was born in 1989 in Chicago and still live there to this day. When I was 9 years old, I started drawing and taking art seriously. My personal work is inspired by my life experiences, the city of Chicago and pop culture. I have experience in drawing, painting, airbrushing, animation, and graphic design. I've won awards in my art and design career as an individual and collaborative since high school. Last year, I participated in group and judged art exhibitions in the city. 

 

What was your goal with the cover for Royal Elite Squad?

Before I explain that, I want to thank D.A. Alston and Vital Narrative for allowing me to create the cover for this book. I'm beyond grateful to create for them now and in the future.

My goal for the cover was to create the vision that D.A. Alston had. I actually created two front covers. The first one featured the four girls hanging out in front of their school's park bench. They were spaced out and doing their own thing, but were still shown as a close bunch of friends. The second one, which became the actual cover, is a silhouette of the four girls in their superhero costumes with the city of Atlanta. That one was the easiest one to complete because of the simplicity and I love how it draws you in.

Do you feel like you accomplished that goal?

Yes, I think I achieved that goal. Funny story, when I sent in the second cover with the silhouette of the main characters, D.A.'s mom actually thought it was better than the original, which is funny because it took me less than two hours to make after sketching the silhouettes on paper. The original cover took me over three weeks because of all the details of the characters and background. Sometimes, its best to keep it simple. Shoutout to her mom.

 

Describe your creative process.

Once I have an idea or subject that I'm interested in, I will make rough sketches until I am satisfied with it. Depending on the end goal, I either choose to make it a digital or a traditional piece of art. If it's digital, I use my graphic tablet and Adobe Illustrator to create my digital art and illustrations. If I choosing traditional art, I'm working with my ink and markers on Bristol Board. I'm currently expanding from paper to canvas as I plan on painting again. I've had the itch to do more since live painting at Qfest 2016 by the Expo Collective.

 

How do you get unstuck creatively when you can't quite figure out how you want to do something?

I usually just take a break and come back to it with fresh eyes. One of my graphic design teachers told me that you shouldn't be stuck at your desk or on a canvas for a long period of time trying to fix something that will only take five minutes to correct. So, I usually just walk around the downtown, watch TV, listen to smooth jazz or read a book. Then, I'll come back and see what changes I can make with a fresh mind and a fresh set of eyes.

 

What are some of the biggest mistakes you've made as a graphic designer?

Taking on projects that I didn't connect with. After college, I just wanted to build my portfolio and resume so I could apply for a graphic design jobs. So, I posted on Craigslist in order to do that. If you're starting out as a young designer, don't go that route. Most of the projects were flyers for shows and parties. I wish I hadn't done some of the projects just because they didn't connect with my morals or my values. Plus, there's the "exposure" gimmick that people use to get young and naive graphic designers to complete work for free. What good is exposure when it's not directed to your target audience? But that's a whole other story.

 

How have you learned from those mistakes?

For one, I know not to accept any and every project request that comes my way. I try to make sure it reflects my brand's values. This past summer, I took a three-day course called the Exchange by the Expo Collective to learn how to build my brand as a creative. The three courses were for branding, involving and connecting community through art and entrepreneurship. During the course, they explained why you have to choose who you work with wisely and think about how it will reflect you and your brand. Since then, I've been more aware of what projects I will and will not take on. I've turned down more a lot more projects this year than I have in previous years. 

 

How do you handle criticism?

As long as it's constructive and genuine, I can take it. In college, my Portfolio II teacher was a woman named Katie. She was an incredible teacher, but at the same time, she was brutally honest and would rip your portfolio to shreds if it wasn't on point. I used to be super sensitive about my work (and I still am to a certain point). However, taking that class helped me grow thicker skin when being critiqued. 

 

What's your next project?

Besides working on the Royal Elite Squad series, I'm currently revamping my brand so it can be cohesive and ready by next year. I'm also working with YouMedia on another art and design workshop for teens. I did my first one in May and it was an wonderful experience. I'm also the Creative Director for my high school ten-year reunion (John Marshall Metro High c/o 2007). I'll be creating the branding, the shirts, banners and everything else. I can't wait! When I have the free time in between projects, I'll be working on my fine art that I've been creating. I'm hoping to to be a part of some really great art shows in the future.


Here are a few sites where you can find Jonathan's work:

jonathancarradine.tumblr.com
Behance.net/JonathanCarradine
Instagram.com/Jonathan.Carradine