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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Celebrating 30 years as a Freelance Writer

 On October 10, 1983 at the age of ten I decided I wanted to be a writer. It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for 30 years now.

I started out writing a story called Mayor Fox’s Diamond Day. (Yeah, it’s a stupid title but I was 10 at the time.) From there I went on to make my own homemade comic/book hybrids using loose leaf paper and Elmer’s glue. My first hardcover was an accounting book I copied all my loose leaf stories into.

Fast forward 30 years later and now I’m publishing my own paperbacks and eBooks under the SJS DIRECT imprint.

I’ve come a long way in 30 years. How did I get here?

In my late teens I came to understand the value of Black people controlling their own image in the media. During the crack epidemic of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s I watched as the mainstream media presented crack cocaine not as a national issue affecting everyone in America, but as an inner-city issue for Black people. The Crackhead, usually a nappy headed Black male in raggedy clothes was presented as a terrifying boogeyman everyone needed to be scared of. And the Drug dealer was presented by the media as a savage, ruthless killer who enjoyed killing his own people in drive by shootings.  

Not many knew that the news media had just repackaged the Crackhead as the coon caricature in a brand new package. Nor did they understand that the dope dealers they saw in the news was just the Black Brute in a shiny new wrapper. I had no understanding of what a coon or a Brute was at 17, but I knew that these negative images needed to be countered. And seeing how Black people were being presented in a negative light, I dedicated myself at the age of 17 towards writing positive stories about the Black experience.

Seeing the constant niggerization of Black people during the Crack Epidemic in incidents like the Central Park jogger case, The Rodney King case, and the Brian Watkins case, I wanted to tell the stories of the Black people who were decent, hardworking people like myself and my family. Parents who worked jobs. Kids who went to school and got good grades. Kids who aspired to go to college and get jobs. Kids who never touched a drug or even thought of getting involved with the dope man and his crew. People I knew.

I grew up in a family dedicated towards academic excellence where education was considered a priority. I wanted to get the story of people like myself out there and share them with the other young brothers and sisters who could relate to the stories I wanted to tell.

Back in the 1990’s I originally planned to present my stories as comic books. It was my lifelong dream to be a comic book writer. Back then, I thought the best way to inspire young Black boys and girls was through giving them a comic book featuring African-American characters.

Unfortunately, that’s not what God Intended. The Comic book industry collapsed back in 1993, and after I graduated college in 1994, I found myself being forced to pursue a new dream when I was unable to find full-time work.

With the comic book industry in ruins and the job market a brick wall, I became a novelist instead. It took close to a decade for me to hone my skills as a writer and learn how to write a novel. It took close to a year after that to learn the process of how to submit a book to a publisher. And after I finished my first novel, I soon learned about the painful process of rejection.

I got a lot of Nos from the big publishers and literary agents in the 1ate 1990’s. Many liked my writing but couldn’t find a way to market it. At the time I was pushing The Changing Soul, a story for Black men in a time where books for Black women like Waiting to Exhale were dominating the Book market. And I was Pushing Isis, an African-American fantasy book in a time when Black speculative fiction was in its infancy.

But I still believed there was a market for positive stories about the Black experience. So when Print-on-demand publishing became affordable in 2002, I invested $200 of my last $600 from my savings into publishing Isis. It would have been John Haynes’ first story The Changing Soul, but that story had way too many glitches in it.

Turns out that was the best investment I made in my life. Isis wasn’t a blockbuster hit, but it did open a lot of doors for me. The royalties from that book, as small as they were gave me hope and kept me afloat during a long period of unemployment.

I kept writing and I kept honing my skills over the past decade learning how to write screenplays, teleplays, blogs, and non-fiction. By 2009, I was ready to start my own publishing imprint SJS DIRECT. In the past five years SJS DIRECT titles have gotten critical acclaim and books like A Recipe for $ucce$$, All About Marilyn, The Temptation of John Haynes, All About Nikki, The Isis series and The Thetas have found small audiences. I still don’t have that best-seller yet, but I believe if I keep persevering I soon will.

I don’t know what the next 30 years will bring for me. I’m hoping I have that breakthrough book. But what I’m really hoping is that brothers and sisters will get inspired by my writing and start embracing the more positive images of themselves. It would put a smile on my face if I were to see life in the Black community start imitating art I present in my writing.

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