Interview with Daphne Kapsali

I first met the incomparable author, Daphne Kapsali about a year ago through her groundbreaking debut work, 100 days of solitude. Since that time, she has written two more novels, you can’t name an unfinished thing, and This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world and embarked on a fundraising campaign aimed a bringing her debut effort to a wider audience. Daphne was gracious enough to be my very first interview on my blog, and boy did we have fun.

 

How long have you actually considered yourself a writer in a professional sense and was there a defining moment or a gradual process that gave you that distinction?

 

I think it was both a process and several moments along the way. I have always identified as writer, in a vague sense, but in the past it mostly took the form of “Yes, I’m working in this crappy bar, but I’m a writer, don’t you know” – it was my “one day”, my excuse and my safety net, all at once. And this despite having studied Creative Writing for both my BA and MA. I think the real shift began a couple of years ago, when I left my job and life in London and took myself off to a small Greek island called Sifnos, to write full-time and explore whether I actually had it in me to be a professional writer.

 

Defining moments have included seeing my book on Amazon for the first time, receiving reader reviews, and being contacted, randomly, by people who’ve read my book and want to tell me that they liked it. Those are the moments when you go “wow, this is actually real!”. I now sometimes even manage, when asked what I do, to mutter “I’m a writer”. But tentatively.

 

 

You have so far published 3 novels, “you can’t name an unfinished thing,” “This Reluctant Yogi: everyday adventures in the yoga world (next on my hit list),” and the piece de resistance, “100 days of solitude.” These 3 books were published in a span of six months. How did you accomplish such a feat?

 

Haha, you make me sound like Stephen King! The truth is, I’m not one of those prolific writers who produce several titles a year, and my publishing history to date is a bit of a fluke. The most accurate answer is: ideal writing conditions. 100 days of solitude was written over 100 days, between September and December 2014, while I was doing my “reclusive author” thing in Sifnos. I was living alone, on a small island off-season, and my time was entirely dedicated to writing: I produced one piece a day, for 100 consecutive days. Unfinished came straight after that, and was written in just over three months while I was still living in Sifnos. This Reluctant Yogi actually predates both of them: it was adapted from a blog with the same name that I’d been writing in the months preceding my move to Sifnos. And, after having published 100 days and Unfinished and gotten the gist of self-publishing, I thought “hey, I’ve got some more material, and I haven’t published anything for a month or so – let’s get this thing out”.

 

What is it that drew you to the genres of contemporary, memoir, and creative nonfiction? Do you see yourself writing in another genre in the future?

 

It’s funny: I always had this idea that I was a novelist, a fiction writer, but ever since writing 100 days, I’ve had to seriously reconsider. I don’t really do plot, and I don’t think I have the sort of imagination that I associate with fiction writers. My talent, if I can call it that, seems to lie in “essays on living and being alive” (as I recently tried to describe it on one of my blogs): pieces inspired by actual events, current or past, things I’ve seen and things I’ve thought about, that develop into essays exploring themes that make up our experience of the way we live now. With fictionalised bits thrown in. For example, in 100 days, you’ll often see me conversing with characters such as Antagonist, City Girl, Sifnos Chick and The Writer, who represent different parts of my personality. I can assure you these incidents didn’t actually take place – but they’re not strictly fiction, either. This style of writing seems to work best for me, as it allows me to convey ideas and messages with a clarity and immediacy that I think would be lost if I tried to disguise them as fiction.

 

The process of writing 100 days was when, as they say, I found “my voice”. Having said that, Unfinished is a straight-up novel, though entirely character-driven, and with very little in the way of plot! It was a book I needed to write, and I wrote it, but I can’t honestly say if I’ll be venturing back into novel-writing in the future, or letting go of that idea and sticking to what I’m good at.

 

What motivates you to write and what has been a stumbling block that you have overcome or are overcoming?

 

At the risk of sounding very cheesy, it’s innate, even primal. It’s a need, as well as a desire. I never feel quite right when I’m not writing; when I do finish a piece, I feel grounded, at peace, like I know where I am in the world. It’s almost like writing justifies my presence here, like it proves that I exist. In addition to that, as I grow, I come across small insights and understandings that help me be a happier and more positive presence in this life – mine and other people’s – and writing allows me to share them. Not in any kind of teachy way, but more like “hey, look what I found, isn’t it cool?”.

 

What I stumble on is insecurity, which is also innate. It’s the voice that says “who do you think you are?”, the fear that you’ll run out of things to say, that you’ll never write anything worth reading again. I think we’re all plagued by this, to an extent, and it’s our challenge, as writers, to just write through it. And hope for the best!

 

What are you views on the different avenues of publishing i.e. self-publishing, indie-publishing, hybrid publishing, traditional publishing etc.?

 

I’m a big advocate of doing what you want, in any way you can, and it’s a great time for this. With the advent and recent growth of self- and indie publishing, it’s no longer a question of if you get published, but how. Securing a traditional publisher is as hard (or perhaps even harder) as it’s ever been, but we now have other options, and it’s entirely possible to be successful following these alternative routes. The obvious drawback to traditional vs indie or self-published is the difference in resources, financial and otherwise, to reach your potential readers, although it is also true, in most cases, that no matter what route you take, marketing is largely driven by the authors themselves, anyway. Traditional lends credibility; indie and self-publishing allows you, perhaps, more creative freedom. There are pros and cons to any choice you make, and I think it’s down to individual authors to make their choice work for them.

What upsets me is that self-publishing (and some of the indies) often produces bad work, and that taints the rest of us. If we are ever to “legitimise” indie and self-published titles to the point where they can compete with traditional ones, we need to establish and maintain certain standards of quality and that means, at the very least, work that is – almost – technically perfect. There is absolutely no excuse for bad grammar, bad syntax, spelling errors and typos. Talent may not be available to all of us, but proofreading and editing services are.

 

What are some of your favorite novels and authors and why?

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, Small Island by Andrea Levy, and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I can’t say why, exactly, but these are the books that have stayed with me the most. And the entire Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. I can read and re-read those until the end of days.

 

 

I know for a fact that – like most of us independent authors – you are also acting as your own PR and marketing team. How are you finding that process? Were you prepared for it when you began your journey as an author? What would you tell other independent authors who find this side of things intimidating and/or undignified?

 

I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I did have an inkling that getting a book published would then involve getting it front of readers, but I wasn’t at all prepared how it would take over my life. It was a shock, because I went from reclusive author to social media slave in the space of a day and I’ve been there, chained to my computer, every day since. I found it hard, and I still do, because I’m quite reserved by nature, and attention makes me uncomfortable – let alone finding new, creative ways to talk myself up in public, which is basically what doing your own marketing entails.

 

The way I get through it, and the way I’d advise any new author to go about it, is by doing it my own way, being genuine and never straying too far from who I am. I’ve obviously researched marketing techniques, and I apply some to the extent that they serve my books and personality, but I never use “formulas” and approaches that make me sound like someone else and feel icky. I think that’s how you maintain your dignity and your integrity, and how you create real connections with readers. And yes, it is intimidating in the beginning, competing with millions of titles for attention and not even knowing where to start in this crazy world of social media marketing. But just start, and make your way through it slowly. Look around; connect with other writers and ask what they’re doing. It will soon begin to make sense.

Having said that, I’ve recently come to accept that doing it all on your own (thinking that you can!) is not only impossible but also potentially damaging to your books. I’ve handled my own marketing for over a year, but I’m now looking into paying for professional services that can bring my work to readers that I cannot reach myself. I think it deserves that, and it’s an investment worth making.

 

You are currently running a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to help bring your novel, 100 days of solitude, to a wider audience. Can you tell us more about the campaign, and why we should support it?

 

The campaign is called “100 days for everyone”, which stands for everyone’s right to do what they love and live a life that makes sense to them. It’s inspired by 100 days of solitude, and the insights I stumbled upon during the process of writing it, insights that apply to pretty much everyone and have already motivated hundreds of readers to make positive changes in their own lives. Hundreds, but it could be thousands, or millions, if only I could reach them: this is a book that deserves to be read as widely as possible, not because I wrote it and I’m in any way special, but because I’m not, and writing it actually changed my life for the better. It is a raw account of that journey that everyone can relate to, and it’s the accidental factor, the lack of any sort of agenda, that makes it different, and valuable to its readers.

 

But it needs more readers, more than my own limited resources and networks can stretch to, and this links back to what I said before: not trying to do it all on your own. Giving this book its best chance means making some serious investments in professional advertising and marketing and that, in the most part, is what my campaign is raising funds for.

 

Why should you support it? I can’t really tell you that. People’s motivations are as individual and as diverse as the people themselves. But if there is anything in the idea that we all deserve the chance to be our best, happiest selves, to live rather than survive, and to bring our unique skills and talents into the world that appeals you, that’s a good starting point. It should at least get you as far as visiting the project page of Kickstarter.

 

What can we expect from you next?

 

I’m working on a new writing project, similar in style to 100 days of solitude – but it’s not, as people have suggested, “another 100 days” as such. It’s just days and thoughts and words, put together in the hope of creating something bigger, something meaningful. My working title at the moment is “In praise of being selfish”. You can follow it’s development as I’m writing it on my new blog, 100daysofsolitude.com.

 

Tell us something different and unique about Daphne Kapsali that you haven’t said in any other interview?

 

I am addicted to crisps (or chips, in US-speak). I’m serious. It’s a problem. I like them quite thick-cut, and dry, and never flavoured: I’m a purist and will only eat the salted ones. Just in case anyone wants to send me some.

 

Please do check out Daphne’s 100 days of solitude and the Kickstarter campaign that will bring it to a wider audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re a reader or writer, what genre or even career you’re into, Daphne’s work is for all. As she says, everyone has the right to do what they love and live a life that makes sense to them. Let’s make this one happen.

 

 

Education Revolution

Education is under attack not just in my hometown of Detroit but around the world. JDW WIA

I’ve dedicated the whole of my adult life to teaching kids how to not just be productive adults but adults that excel.

 

 

 

Whether it’s been academics, athletics, or the arts I’ve been there and continue to be on the front line. From coaching multiple sports to teaching vocals and musical instruments, I’ve committed myself in a big way.

 

Now armed with an MA (soon to be MFA) in creative writing, 17 years experience as a public school educator, and the distinction: published author, I stand ready to take that commitment and the kids I teach to the next level.

Help me help our kids learn to love reading and writing by clicking this link  The IA Series Kickstarter and backing our Kickstarter campaign.

Be a part of the next education revolution!


My Goods on Goodreads

As the author of the IA series, I’ve had some success on social media,
and people often ask me for tips. Well here’s the skinny.

I use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter equally, but it’s my firm and
religious belief that Goodreads is the past, present, future, and end
all be all for authors, especially new and/or self-published authors.

I say new because there are a lot of new traditionally published
authors out there who think they’ve crossed into the promised land but
will ultimately find themselves wading in the fire and brimstone of
literary hell.

You have to promote yourself and there is no better way
to do it than on Goodreads.

It should be academic that a social media site that has as its focus, readers, and to a lesser extent authors, should be your first point of attack as an author.

That being said. I’m not the only user to have found the Goodreads site to be less than user friendly and the learning curve staggering. Don’t let that deter you. Goodreads is still a necessary evil. Here’s a few easy tips on how to tame this social media literary monster.

Friends

Friends

 

A man that has friends must show himself friendly (Proverbs
18:24) Actively seek friends on Goodreads every day, i.e. make friend
requests daily. Try not to skip a day because there is a limit. Reach
your limit every day (total limit of 5000). For maximum effect choose
your friends strategically. If you want only readers, send friend
request to only readers. Keep in mind, readers are great, but there’s
definitely something to be said for developing friendships with
like-minded authors on Goodreads, so be balanced and versatile in your
search. When you’re thinking about selecting friends also consider
genre. If you write sci-fi/YA like me, you want to seek friends with
similar interests. Find this feature in the dropdown menu in the upper
right-hand corner of the homepage next to your little circle profile
pic.

Giveaways 

Giveaway

Try and run continuous monthly giveaways, even if you’re
only giving away one book a month.

What readers don’t want free books?

Add to that, a percentage of those who win (albeit small) will read and post reviews, but all most all entries add you to their shelf (it’s the default setting) when they enter, and this generates a buzz about your book. That’s a good thing. Find this feature under the “Explore” dropdown menu (3rd one down) of the homepage.

Reviews 

rate

Try to read and review as many books as you can. Why? First
of all it’s called Goodreads, not Goodwrites, and you want to become a
part of the community. Good writers read more than they write so this
is a no-brainer. Exchanging reviews is a way to get reviews, but make
sure you’re not getting scammed and that you’re reading something you
think you’ll like. Also make sure you’re posting honest reviews. After
you finish reading a book and select “Read” underneath the book, a box
will appear asking you to rate and review the book. Just do it.

Groups

Groups

This is an excellent way to be active and part of the
community. Start with one group in your genre and participate as a
reader first. Be a part of the conversation and discussion. Be
patient. Whatever you do, don’t suggest your book. Create a signature
with your book and book info that you use when you send direct
messages to your friends or respond to friend requests. Get close to a
member or two and have them suggest your book as the monthly read. My
book was the book of the month in the Blerd book club, and I gave a
talk about the IA series on Sunday January 17, 2016.

Check out the video of the Blerd book club discussion on my Goodreads page.

Find the “Groups” feature dead center at the top of the home page.

Lists/Listopia

Listopia

One of the things I’ve recently discovered is lists.
Have one or more of your friends vote for you in appropriate Listopia
lists i.e. Sci-fi, Romance, Young Adult, etc. The importance of
growing your friends and being a part of the community on Goodreads
becomes clear here. This will increase your buzz on the site as well.
Find this feature under the “Listopia” dropdown menu (2nd one down) of
the homepage.

This is just an overview, but dig in and get started on Goodreads by
claiming your author page.

What are you waiting on?

Why I Write What I Write

So, I was a varsity boys’ basketball coach in Detroit a few years back. We were at an out-of-town tournament and were having a healthy lunch at Mickey Dees. I was all excited about the final installment (well, I thought it was the final installment) of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith coming out and expressed my giddiness to my guys to which one replied, “Don’t nobody wanna see that junk.” The rest of the team concurred, and I was devastated. After further inquiry, I realized that my guys had not seen any of the Sci-fi movies I had grown up on and were not the least bit interested in the genre, citing, “it wasn’t real.” Where was their imagination? I began to see this lack of imagination, not just on the court, but in their life goals and aspirations.

A few years later, when I became a teacher, I began to observe the books my students, students of color, were reading. The vast majority were about the streets, drugs, gangs, violence, and teen pregnancy, and this literature was celebrated as being “real” and “relatable” to kids growing up in the city. I took issue with this because I was one of those kids that grew up in the city and although I witnessed some of those things, my life was richer than that. I also knew that in order to rise higher, my imagination had to be even richer. So I write to that end. I write for the boys I used to coach and the ones that came after.

I write for Antonio Drew Van who told me “I had been hoping to find a “Harry Potter” type book and series where the main character is African American and I believe IA: Initiate fills that. Additionally, I look for “Super Hero” type books where the superhero is also African American. My grandson delights in these characters on TV with European features, white skin, and flowing blond hair who don’t look like them. I have to interrupt that.”

I write for Dianna Scowera, reviewer for Readers’ Favorite who said, “If today’s kids have a need for a superhero their own age, Winston has more than succeeded in supplying it with his IA series. I don’t think there are enough African American superheroes in the comic book world and Naz could surely take the lead to fill that large gap. I’ll wait for the day I’m at another comic con to see the kids running by my table dressed up like Naz and think of you ;)”

I write for the boys in my “boys read” program who say the books out there just don’t interest them. I write for the students I teach every day who need role models to aspire to. I write for all the people out there who say there aren’t enough people of color as protagonist in mainstream stories. But most of all I write for me because at one time or another, I have been all of those people.

The Force is Strong with This One!

How fitting it was for D.J. Bodden to choose this as the title for his review.  I am a big fan of the Star Wars movies and I’m looking forward to watching the newest addition to this legendary series with my family when it opens this week.

The reviews for the IA series are beginning to come in, and I am excited and humbled to say that the feedback has been outstanding!

I am proud to post two of the latest reviews, one for the first book in the series IA: Initiate, from a Top 500 Reviewer on Amazon and one for the sequel IA: B.O.S.S., from D.J. Bodden author of The Black Year series.

Read and believe!

The Characters Actually Breathe, They Are So Real

What? Another young adult thriller filled with supernatural elements? NOT EVEN CLOSE! John Darryl Winston is carving a name for himself for contemporary young adult fantasy filled with realistic characters and fantastic dialogue! IA: Initiate the foundation for his IA series is a fine blend of genres that will have even the most reluctant readers gravitating to his work. Whether you are a young adult fancier or not, this is great creative work that flows at a comfortable pace, no breakneck speeds, no trudging along at a snail’s pace, and thank you, Mr. Winston, no info dumps!
Set in a less than choice part of town, thirteen-year-old Naz has appointed himself as his younger sister, Meri’s protector. Gangs rule the streets and everyone not with them is fair game. When Naz becomes the victim of bullying, he makes an incredible discovery that will lead him down a path he never knew existed. To survive in the world he lives in, he must embrace the unbelievable and do it quick. But how can he not think he is going a little crazy when he hears voices and is walking in his sleep? Does he need therapy to overcome brutal evens in his life or are they just a part of the building blocks of the man he is to become?

It’s Naz and Meri against the world, two young individuals, family by blood, but bound by love. Siblings gotta love ‘em, in a world too harsh to feel safe in, these two are a force to be reckoned with.
John Darryl Winston has created wonderful role models for young adults, as their dialogue shows their emotions. What could be better than dimensional characters and detailed scenes to bring it all together and make a story breathe? Believe in the unbelievable and revel in the talent of John Darryl Winston. To the top of the hidden gem pile for this one!

~Dianne~ Top 500 Amazon Reviewer

 

The Force Is Strong With This One

IA: B.O.S.S. picks up where IA: Initiate left off, and answers a lot of the questions I had in the first one. The writing is smooth and well edited, and the characters still feel very distinct – both from each other and from standard YA denizens. That’s the IA series’ charm, you see: the challenges are mostly the same, there are bad people in the world and someone should do something about it. But the point of view of the characters is so different they come at the problem diagonally, never quite doing what you’d expect.
The best analogy I can give you is that you walk into a room covered in broken pieces ceramic, steel, and glass. As you watch, the dust gathers, the bits tumble and pool and cluster, and an android comes together, first a leg, then a skeleton, then synthetic flesh. Its eyes glow, and it hums a song. It’s not quite human, and it has a few extra pieces that might be decorative or deadly, and you’re not sure if the result will be wondrous or horrible. That’s Naz, the main character.
The story itself is well executed and paced; it’s like seeing Anakin Skywalker grow up in a bad urban neighborhood instead of a desert planet, with dubious mentors. By the end, we’re still on that backwater world, one foot on the boarding ramp of a ship, and the galactic republic awaits. It left me satisfied but still curious, and I look forward to seeing where Mr. Winston will take it from here.
~D.J. Bodden~ Goodreads Reviewer

Book Release News – IA: B.O.S.S. Now Available For Preorder!

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Embrace the Darkness with Naz Andersen on Black Friday

After days and nights of blood, sweat, and tears, IA: B.O.S.S. is finally here.

This is my very heart and soul friends, family, and followers.

If you’ve ever wondered who I am, who I really am, preorder, receive, and read my novel. And even if you didn’t wonder, buy it to support. Buy it for the young readers that have no hero, or superhero of color to aspire to.

The reviews are in. Readers and critics alike agree; the IA series is a movie series in the making.

The ebook will be released November 27th, Black Friday. Fitting, as the events in the novel occur on or around Black Friday. So preorder IA: B.O.S.S. today for $0.99. Click here to order.

The price goes up on release day, so don’t miss out on being a part of an exciting new YA series. Witness the birth of a superhero for all, for the price of a cheeseburger from McDonald’s!

“Continuing the saga of our young hero, Winston reinforces that we may stumble, fall, even backslide, but if we’re patient, if we dig deep enough, our abilities are there. IA: B.O.S.S. is a glorious ride of striving for strength, confidence, and retaining the humanity within.”  Paul Atreides, Theater Critic for the Las Vegas Review-Journal

Read the first chapter here, and believe.

 

In The Past …

 

High and hidden in the San Juan Mountains, a black Crown Victoria with tinted windows parks behind a black Suburban in front of a rustic cabin. Two men in dark suits exit the car and approach the front door confidently, but cautiously. A sharp, mid-day breeze whips through the monstrous pines guarding the cabin causing the suit jackets of the men to flare. They are armed.

“Remember, no harm must come to the boy,” says the stockier of the two men as he pulls a tranquilizer gun from his holster.

“What about Dr. Andersen?” whispers the taller man as they stop at the cabin door.

“Our instructions are clear; no harm must come to the boy.”

The taller man nods as he pulls a Glock from his holster then knocks on the door in an official manner. They wait several seconds, but there is no response. He knocks again and this time calls out.

“Dr. Andersen, we need to talk to you.”

There is still no response. He steps back several feet with both hands on his Glock, shoulder height. He means to break the door down, but before he can advance, his partner stops him with a hand gesture.

The shorter man reaches down and grabs the doorknob to find the door unlocked. He slowly opens the door. The taller man returns to his original position next to his partner. Both men ready their weapons as they slowly enter the cabin. They look at each other in confusion as they find a tranquil scene.

Hair wild atop his head, Dr. Cornelius Andersen, known to his few friends as Cory, is playing chess with his ten-year-old son, Naz. Both seem oblivious to the two men entering the cabin.

The men nervously train their weapons on the father and son: the shorter man with his tranquilizer gun pointed at Naz and the other with his Glock pointed at Cory.

Unmoved, Cory and Naz continue their game as if they are the only two in the room.

“D-Dr. Andersen,” stammers the shorter man. “I must insist that you and your son come with us.”

“Your move,” says Cory to Naz.

“Fine, then you leave us no choice, sir.” The shorter man looks at his partner and nods.

Before the shorter man can fire his weapon, the two men are distracted by what sounds like footsteps on the roof. When they look up, two separate laser beams come from projectors high in the ceiling aimed toward Cory and Naz. The taller man reaches up to block one of the beams. Cory and half of the chessboard disappear.

The man smiles in amusement and awe, his hand still high in the air above his head.

“It’s a trick,” says the shorter man, realizing the image of Cory and Naz is a hologram.

“Your move,” the recorded voice of Cory repeats although the image of Cory is no longer there.

 

Meanwhile, outside, Cory and Naz scramble down the roof of the front of the cabin. Cory hangs from the edge of the cabin, releases, and lands on the ground while Naz, a miniature version of Cory in every way, prefers to dismount the roof with a back somersault. Naz looks at his father with a smile for approval, but Cory shakes his head and, with a sense of urgency, motions for Naz to hurry.

 

The taller man moves his hand away from the beam causing Cory’s image and the other half of the chessboard reappear.

Footsteps sound from behind them and the two men turn as Cory and Naz run toward the black Suburban.

The shorter man runs after them. “Stop!”

Naz looks at Cory, who nods.

“Now,” yells the taller man.

The shorter man fires a black tranquilizer dart at Naz. Naz clenches his fists and watches the dart intently as it slows and comes to a complete stop midair between the shorter man and himself. Naz again looks at Cory, who shakes his head. The dart spins around one hundred eighty degrees to point back at the shorter man.

“No,” says Cory to Naz calmly.

Naz quickly opens both his hands causing the dart to return to full velocity, impaling itself in the stocky man’s beefy thigh. He slumps to the ground, unconscious. Before his partner can return fire in Cory’s direction, Naz snaps his right arm over his head. The man’s Glock flies high into air behind the cabin. The man stands frozen in fear and amazement as he looks back and forth between his unconscious partner and Naz.

“Let’s go,” Cory says to Naz as he smiles at the man.

They get into the Suburban and drive down the mountain.

Interview with Cristen Iris

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I’ve met so many cool and interesting people through social media.  One such person is Cristen Iris, author, editor and founder of Blue Mantis Press.  I had the pleasure of interviewing with her this summer and I am excited to  share the interview with you today.
Interview with Cristen Iris –

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to John D. Winston, the author of IA: Initiate, a YA novel and the first in a series of books. John and I met on Twitter several months ago. There was something about him that intrigued me. I checked him out on Facebook, read his tweets, and we exchanged messages. I was compelled to read his book.

Now, let me say first that I was not a YA fan. I associated YA with the Twilight saga, which in fairness I never read, but I did have a tween-age girl at the time it came out-I believed I had suffered enough. Before you send me hate mail, I did read Ms. Meyer’s tome, The Host. It was excellent, but at over six hundred pages, not your typical YA novel, which brings me back to John.

My communication with John helped me see that his book wasn’t a typical YA book either.
I purchased a copy and read it. I was right. It’s not what I had labeled a “typical YA novel.” Most refreshing for me was that it wasn’t a love story. After reading it I sent John an email. His response blew my mind and cracked open my shriveled little heart.

I’ve asked him a few leading questions because I want John to share with you what he shared with me.

1. What was your motivation for writing IA:Initiate?

I guess at the end of the day I expand on what I see on the big screen. That’s what usually does it for me. I have a place in my heart for the origin story. I was never a fan of Superman or comic book heroes in general until I saw the movie with Christopher Reeve and learned the origin of it all. That did it for me. I love a robust, Star Wars-like tale with a flawed hero or heroine that achieves in the end against overwhelming odds, cliché, I know. My stories always start from that vantage point and then the muse takes over and a spark is ignited.

Two instances stand out working with youth that fanned the flame that started from that initial impetus. The first was coaching a boys’ varsity basketball team where not one player was interested in seeing Revenge of the Sith: Blasphemy! The second was during a Boys Read program I was piloting in the school I taught in at the time. These boys had no interest in stories with heroes like Harry Potter, in print or on the big screen and a pattern began to emerge for me. It wasn’t that these kids lacked imagination. I think, on a subconscious level, these kids, like myself once upon a time, stopped relating to these characters, all of them, since none looked like them. It’s a very subtle, but powerful image … or lack of.

In the case of the IA series, simply put, I wanted to write a mainstream story on a grand scale with a protagonist of color that everyone would relate to. I want to balance or bring some equilibrium to that spectrum, if you will.

I contacted a reader on Goodreads who had written one of the many positive reviews IA: Initiate had received, to thank her and ask her why she had chosen my book over the countless others out there, and she replied:

“I often read first what I want my twin grandsons to read. I had been hoping to find a “Harry Potter” type book and series where the main character is African American and I believe ‘IA: Initiate’ fills that. Additionally, I look for “Super Hero” type books for them where the super hero is also African American. My grandsons delight in these characters on TV with European features, white skin and flowing Blond hair who don’t look like them.”

It was as if the words I had written in the subtle science fiction of IA: Initiate had spoken to her in the exact terms of my intent, and it was as if she had read my mind.

For whom did you write it?

At the end of the day I wrote the IA: Series for myself because I once was one of those kids who hated reading because there was nothing in it for me, no dream to later fantasize about, no hero I could pretend to be like and save the pretty girl trapped in the burning school building with my keen intellect or superhuman abilities. So I didn’t read, I wouldn’t read, and when I write now, I know that if I’m true to the part of me that used to be, the part of me that still dreams, that part that soars high above the clouds in his dreams, then I’m writing for the boy I used to be that still lives inside me, the boys and girls I teach every day. I wrote the IA Series for the dreamer who believes they have more inside them and that should be everyone.
2. How long did it take you to finish your first book in the series?

It took me approximately ten months to finish the first draft of IA: Initiate, which I eventually ended up cutting in half to be two books. I had no idea where to begin so I went on a 5-day cruise all by my not-so-lonesome and pulled the first three chapters from the waters of the Western Caribbean. I finished all but the last two chapters in my fortress of solitude back at home in the Exclave of Detroit. Those last two pesky tear-jerking chapters were a bit of a challenge, and I took a trip to the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City where I put my emotions in check and wrapped up my first rough tome.

3. What did you do to develop your craft?

To develop my craft I began to read anything I could get my hands on, and I mean anything. During that time no one ever saw me without a book or tablet in my hands: Riordan, Rowling, Collins, Meyer, King etc. You name it, and I was reading it. At the same time, I was reading any craft book I could find. One of my go to books at the time was and still is Stephen King’s, On Writing. I also took many workshops on Writers Digest.com and connected with other writers via social media. Ultimately I applied and was accepted into the MA Creative Writing Program at Wilkes University where I was able to be involved with a second-to-none writing community of professional published writers. I’ve since graduated and been accepted into their MFA program where my thesis is, you guessed it, Multiculturalism in Mainstream literature, yay, a topic my mentor at Wilkes is encouraging me to expand into a workshop and eventually a course.

4. Your response to my suggestion that young adult readers might prefer that the book open with a fight scene is what set you apart in my mind. Will you give readers your critique on contemporary YA?
(You said that you weren’t going to insult the intelligence of your readers by assuming that they didn’t have the attention span or commitment to stick with a story that wasn’t action packed from the start. I believe you used the term “literary YA” to describe what you wanted to write.)

Did I say that, Cristen, about not wanting to insult my reader’s intelligence? Yikes! Better be careful what I put out there, huh? But it’s true. I’ve read a lot of YA and middle grade in the last four years, but I’ve also, as I said earlier, read a lot of everything else. C.S. Lewis said it best. “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

I think that’s true now today more than ever with social media and what teenagers, even preteens are exposed to. I’m not advocating sex, drugs, or inappropriate language or other adult themes in youth literature, but when you look at the success of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, we see in both cases, evil acts, deaths, bullying, and peer pressure, but at the same time redemption and a brighter day is on the way as well, and children need to see this repeatedly because it is often played out in the real world more or less.

This concept of more also applies in a literary sense, keeping the bar steady instead of lowering it and compromising the work i.e. adding arbitrary action scenes for the sake of keeping the reader’s attention when a good story like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, or IA: Initiate achieves this with no action in the initial pages, but rather sets the story up as it should. Hey … maybe we’re on to something. And I like the sound of that: literary YA. Hmmm …

So you see, I was right. There is something special about Mr. John D. Winston and his work.

But I was also wrong. His story is a love story. It’s about his love for a group of kids who needed him to inspire them. It’s about his love of literature and his commitment to helping young readers, readers who have been ignored by mainstream writers and publishers, develop a meaningful relationship with books.

I was wrong about another thing too. There is no such thing as a “typical YA novel.” I’ve read a number of them since, including Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, and have gotten to know several more YA authors. The YA genre deserves much more respect and attention than I originally gave it.

YA authors are in a unique position to tackle difficult problems and to serve as mirrors and mentors for their intended audiences.

They can also challenge the status quo and expectations of older readers. Some, like Alexie, do so in a more direct way, using the written word to bring understanding and appreciation while others, like John, entertain and inspire the reader with the words and allow the blank spaces, the unwritten words, to invite the reader to embrace the broader concepts contained within the pages of their books.

I sincerely hope that some of those blank spaces came into sharper focus for you as a result of this interview. And for those of you who, like me, underestimated the value of the young adult genre for adult readers, I hope that your mind was blow and your heart opened.

You can find John on Twitter and on Facebook.
His first book IA:Initiate is available on Amazon.com.
Stay tuned for updates regarding the second book in the IA series, AI: B.O.S.S.. which will be released soon.

Bonus Question –

John, will you share your thoughts on genre with this audience? I suppose the more philosophical question is, in your opinion, when do labels help and when do they hurt?
(One of the things that stuck with me about what you said was that you didn’t want to be relegated to the African American section of the bookstore. That comment made me think about how institutional racism and publishing relate. I’ve been ruminating on your comments for months. What you said is very, very important. My hope is that this interview will honor the commitment you’ve made to your audience and to your craft. I hope that it encourages people to read IA: Initiate and to look forward to the remaining books in the series. But I also hope that it speaks to readers on a deep, personal level, and that it ripples through our industry and changes the status quo.)

That’s a terrific question, Cristen, and a tough one to tackle. For me, the subject of genre, multiculturalism (M), and diversity (D) becomes the great paradox. When we talk about those buzz words of M and D what are we truly talking about? Are we talking about more diverse books i.e. books about Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc., and their respective cultures (This diversity could also address or include sexual orientation, physically or mentally impaired populations and the like.) or are we talking about diversity within books. There is clearly a need for both, but I argue for the latter.

It is my hope and desire to be included in the bigger picture, not singled out which tends to isolate and segregate. If I see an Asian American section in Barnes & Noble, I’m going to assume those books were not written for me. I was recently in a Barnes & Noble store in the heart of Detroit and decided to inquire where my book would go on their shelves. I was directed to the African American section where I did not find one sci-fi book. I took a trip over to the YA section where I could not find one Black author. There is something incredibly wrong with that picture. I tend to favor the melting pot over the mosaic, and the characters in IA are diverse and accurately reflect this sentiment.

Labels help when we’re talking about fiction, non-fiction, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, etc, but tend to perpetuate racism when it is used to categorize and separate literature on that basis alone. I firmly believe that people as a whole do not care what race their heroes are and they prove it every day at the box office (and during election cycles in the voting booth). Publishers, agents, booksellers, and authors need to trust that as well and begin to move in the appropriate direction. IA: Initiate is a great move in that direction.

Cristen Iris
2015

My/Your Writing Space

So when we talk about the writing space, what exactly do we mean? 

Generally we would be talking about the room itself, the chair  and 
desk from which we navigate our creative ship and  hopefully the 
four walls that surround us. We’d also be talking about what we’d 
put on those walls, and the physical tools of the trade we’d use to 
record our work: pencil, pen, paper, computer, vocal recorder, etc. 
Let me start by saying this should not be taken lightly. 
This is your writing home, so care should be taken to make it as 
comfortable and creatively conducive for what you have in mind; creating
your baby or babies, not with your significant other, but with the 
muse, when it sees fit to grace you with its presence. 
 
Let’s make this simple. 
That chair’s gotta be comfy, ‘cause your bottom’s 
gonna spend a lot of time in it. I like a swivel chair that reclines a 
bit, has adjustable height and wheels to roll about. Variety is 
important to me in this most important piece. 

Then the desk. 
I read in a craft book, and some of my creative writing professors 
concurred that your desk should always be wooden, something about 
the organic nature of wood and creativity. I don’t know that to be true, but 
I got me a sweet, inexpensive wooden desk from Target that just happens 
to be my favorite color: black. 

You should listen to your mentors, professors, and in general the ones 
that came before us. They did something right to get where they are. 
 
How ‘bout those boring blank walls. 
I have drawings of some of my characters from the stories I’m working on. 
Guru.com has some incredible artists for reasonable rates … cheap! 
I have my gold and platinum record awards on the wall from my music days. 
They have nothing to do with writing but they make me feel good and that’s 
important. Find things that make you feel good and put ‘em up! 
I have a caricature of myself on the wall. It makes me laugh. 

We all know what laughter does … put ‘em up. 

Ooh, if you can do adjustable lights with different colors, do it. 
There’s nothing like setting the mood and being able to manipulate that 
mood. You may need to change the mood when you run into that block. Yikes!
 
What are you writing with? 
Pencil, pens, paper? Make sure you have enough paper, ink, and a 
sharpener. I heard the same for pencils, pens, and paper that I did 
about that wooden desk, the organic thing, but I predominantly use my 
computer now, and my most inspired work has come from the tips of my 
fingers to a keypad.
 
Here’s one for ya-- a thermostat. 
Changing the temperature in a room can change the mood, 
and again mood matters. 

I mentioned four walls at the start for a reason. 
You need to be able to isolate yourself with a locked door and the ability to 
cut yourself off from the outside world including phone calls, text messages, 
the internet/social media and the like. 

                                                           Ouch! I know, right?
 
Then round it off, or better yet square it away with a 
library/bookshelf with your favorite books in it and a few not-so favorites. 
Don’t forget craft books. They're important, too. 

Writing’s a creative act, duh! 
So get creative with some incense if that’s your fancy, some music, 
maybe Jazz or classical or whatever, not distracting, but to again, set a mood. 
 
And when you have to take the space mobile, as I do more often than not, 
have a small pad and pencil that fits in your pocket or purse (not the 
front pocket guys). A voice recorder which comes standard on most 
smarter-than-us phones is perfect for the mobile writing space, 
especially when you’re actually driving. (Please don't write and drive.)

The point is, your writing space is personal, no two spaces will be the same.
Create a space that is comfortable, inspiring and conducive to the creative 
process. Make your space work for you so that you can work in your space. 

Happy writing.

My second novel, IA: B.O.S.S. and the Writer’s Life

OK, so I’m putting the finishing touches on IA: B.O.S.S., a middle grade sci-fi novel and part two of the IA series. It makes sense to talk about writing or “the writer’s life” in real time, in the real world, not theory. Well, first let’s have some fun. Since I’m currently writing in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, here’s my fantasy, the writer’s life I envision:

I write for living, and make a whole lot of money doing it, so I get up when I want to, which is early because I’m a morning person. Here’s the schedule.

• 6:00 – 6:30 Short workout like Rocky in the first Rocky movie, music and all, right?
• 6:30 – 7:00 Clean up and eat breakfast not too big or little, but definitely healthy to start the day.
• 7:00 – 8:00 Connect with some of my many fans and followers, and I have a lot of ‘em. Remember, dream big.
• 8:00 – 9:00 Read something, anything to warm up the creative muscles, get the juices flowing.
• 9:00 – 11:00 Write! I just happen to be working on IA: Union, the third in the IA series and the muse is definitely on my side today.
• 11:00 – 11:30 Lunch, my biggest meal of the day, also healthy. A healthy body produces a healthy mind conducive for creativity.
• 11:30 – 2:30 18 holes of golf. Nothing like staying physically connected with nature.
• 2:30 – 3:00 Nap or meditation. One usually leads to the other for me. Ha!
• 3:00 – 4:00 Read. Preferably something in the genre that I’m working in. I’ve been meaning to get into “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. There’s no time like the present.
• 4:00 – 5:00 Writing/editing! remember it’s what I do for a living in the world I’ve just built for myself. I’m writing “Union” if the muse has returned, editing B.O.S.S. if not.
• 5:00 – 6:00 Reading some more of “Kindred”. I’m really getting into this one.
• 6:00 – 6:30 Dinner and nothing but dinner. Like Yoda, my favorite philosopher said, “Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph.”
• 6:30 – 8:30 Watch a film for enjoyment and a snack. Remember, it’s all about storytelling in any form. I think I’ll go with “Avatar” tonight for the umpteenth time.
• 8:30 – 9:00 Meditation: nurturing that soul again, you know?
• 9:00 – 9:30 This one’s hard to put down.
• 9:30 – 11:00 Recency Writing: Primacy Recency effect says we remember the first and last items in a list. I apply that to the first and last things I do in a day: Write, and it works for me.
• 11:00 Bedtime whether I like it or not.

Now for my reality:

• 5:00 – 5:30 Struggle to wake up and eat
• 5:30 – 6:15 Commute my daughter to school and get to work.
• 6:30 – 7:30 Prepare to teach, grade papers, make copies of assignments, lesson plan, work on my homework, fantasize about writing, tweet, post on Instagram, Facebook, and/or Goodreads maybe.
• 7:40 – 11:40 Teach, yay!
• 11:40 – 12:40 Lunch and find a room in my building where I will not be disturbed by anyone so I can write or revise. Sometimes that’s my Grand Cherokee.
• 12:40 – 2:40 Teach, yay, not so much.
• 2:40 – 3:00 Dismiss students, yay again.
• 3:00 – 3:30 Commute to pick up my daughter, fighting to stay awake as the bright sun has become my sleeping pill.
• 4:00 – 11:00 This depends on a multitude of possibilities my daughter has in store for me, from going to the library to basketball or tennis practice/games/matches or guitar or piano lessons/performances etc. This will determine whether I can read, write, or tackle social media in the close quarters of my Cherokee, a deserted high school corridor, or a preferred library. Meals are optional and erratic at best.

john n marq
• 11:00 Bedtime, usually not to happy about what I’ve accomplished and dreading the next 5am wake up call.

The point is, the fantasy is not likely. So what is your writing life like? How can you plan to fit the essentials of reading, writing, and nurturing the mind, body, and soul in your hectic day-to-day? Of course, no plan or list will look the same, but it should contain the essentials and depending on your goals a few of the extras, like time for social media, the lifeblood of the self-published author.