- You've had quite the interesting and varied career. You went to school for journalism, but then ended up in the film and theater industry. After that you began teaching high school and counseling ex-convicts. But that doesn't include your work in the advertising industry and working with none other than Spike Lee! What made you want to venture into publishing?
I’ve been really lucky to meet people along the way who’ve helped me work in several different fields. But truth be told, I’ve always wanted to write literature. In college I turned away from Journalism after having a long talk with a professor I respected. So, I focused on advertising because it was one of the only ways to make money by writing back then. Junior year I went to downtown Milwaukee and passed out my resume to several advertising agencies. I landed an internship at a small agency called Andrews/Mautner.
One day, the beloved creative director, Mike Mathis, showed me an article where Madison Ave. Ad agencies were hiring people off the street to bring different voices into the business. So, that summer I went home to NYC, and made a plan. I couldn’t get an interview because I was inexperienced, so I found a way into a big agency, Young&Rubicam, by pretending to deliver a pizza to the head recruiter. I was so nervous. But she appreciated the moxie and ended up giving me an assignment. I passed it, and just before I graduated they offered me a job. From there, I tried a lot of different things before working on my manuscript at Grubstreet in Boston. They made me a better writer and helped me get the opportunity to present my work to agents.
- As an independent bookstore owner, I come into contact with many independent authors and so I realize that their journey is not always an easy one in terms of going from idea to book in hand. For those folks, can you please talk about your experience with GrubStreet (a non-profit creative writing center located in Boston, Massachusetts) and how you went from graduating from their program to landing a literary agent?
Grubstreet is awesome. One day, after moving to Boston for my wife’s job, I ran into an old friend from New York who recommended me for Grubstreet’s Novel incubator program. It’s a one year intensive where you workshop your manuscript with nine other people under the tutelage of Michelle Hoover, who is a fantastic. A classmate called her the “novel whisperer.” The Novel Incubator is like an MFA program, but unlike MFA’s you work on your book intensively-- not just literary theory. My manuscript got much better over that year. At the end of the course, my class and I were given the opportunity to meet big time agents and editors at the Muse and the Marketplace Conference, the number one writing conference in America, which Grubstreet hosts. It’s hard to ask for more.
- Franklin went through so much, from having his dream in his grasp to feeling like he'd lost everything. What advice would you have given Franklin?
That’s a tough one. Can we go back to the last question?
- Through my research I see that you landed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster. Does that mean we will be reading more about Franklin?
I just turned in my first draft of book #2 to my awesome editor, Caitlyn Dlouhy, and she would hate it if I gave anything away. But I will say the second book is also a tense, page-turning, Jamaican stomach knotter.
- In my review of "Your Corner Dark" I highly recommended it for those who might be considered reluctant readers because it's an engaging story that moves at a good pace, and it's relatable on many different levels. I also like the fact that for your debut novel you chose to enter the YA space and have a young Black man as the main character. So with all of that being said...considering your personal and professional experience, what advice would you give to parents who say their child doesn't like to read? Particularly boys.
There are so many factors that go into having a successful life: connections, talent, and determination to name a few. However, reading is one of the most underrated factors. When you read you gain self-awareness and a valuable form of life experience. Boys will need those qualities to become emotionally strong--and young men will need to be--because life will test them, especially from an emotional standpoint.
- Who are some diverse authors that you look up to?
James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Jose Luis Borges, Jayson Reynolds
- What is one book you think everyone should read in their life (other than yours of course!)?
Moby Dick (one of the best books on race),
Anything by Toni Morrison,
The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin could not tell a lie if he tried),
Middlemarch (George Eliot really blended plot and character masterfully),
Bernard Malamud’s collection of short stories, (Malamud had such an understanding of humanity),
The Wise Men (Nonfiction: about the people who made America’s post WW2 policy),
A Brief History of Seven Killings (James tells this story with enough first person points of view to fill ten books),
Don Quixote (Because it’s hilarious).