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Saturday, September 22, 2007

R.I.P Dell Inspiron 2500

A Posthumous Eulogy for my dearly departed laptop computer. I'm writing this from a library computer

Around Late June early July, My six year old Dell Inspiron Laptop bit the dust and went to the cyber graveyard. A fried motherboard was the cause of death.

Good times I had with that computer. Lots of Good times Writing novels, screenplays, short stories, movie reviews and blog posts, DVDs on Saturday night and Mp3s.

Due to the loss of my computer I’m out of the writing game for a while. Cooling my heels until I can save up money for a replacement unit. How Long? Not Long. I hope to be back soon ,making posts and promoting POD books.

R.I.P Dell Inspiron 2500 You will be missed.

Now if someone would give me some info on how to get the information off the hard drive it would be greatly appreciated....

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Isis going out of print on July 1, 2007

I have recieved word from my publisher that on July 1, 2007 my book Isis will be going out of print after a five-year run. Anyone who wishes to pick up a copy before it's pulled from the Ingram distribution system can purchase one at the following websites:

Barnes and

Or directly from the publisher at

Synopsis (From the back cover:

A lost goddess.

A heritage found.

A greater destiny to be achieved.

In the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, Isis the long-lost daughter of Osiris, has committed a heinous crime. Because she didn't receive guidance from her father, the elder gods show mercy on the young goddess by stripping her of her powers and imprisoning her on an uncharted island in the South Pacific.
Osiris and Isis reunite with his long-lost child to begin the difficult process of establishing a familial relationship. Hoping to guide Isis towards the greater destiny she's supposed to fulfill, her parents begin teaching her the ways of the gods. However, Seth's herald E'steem lurks in the shadows offering the young goddess freedom for a price. Caught in the middle of a never-ending war between the gods, Isis must choose to either return to the troubled world she knows all too well, or take a journey down an unknown path where faith is her only guide.

Biography (as of 2007):

Shawn James is a graduate of Monroe College with an AOS in Business Administration and over twelve years of writing experience. He has written articles for The Visionary: News of Morrisania, and the STRIVE Network News newsletter in addition to two community resource directories for the national nonprft employment service. Motivated by his strong interest in Egyptian Mythology and improving his community, he decided to write a novel where the legendary gods explored many of the issues African-American families faced in modern times.

I'd like to thank everyone who bought the book for their support over these past five years. I've learned a lot about the publishing business since then and I'm working hard towards getting a new title out there as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Has Russell Simmons Lost his mind?

I just was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show where Black leadership discussed the whole Imus controversy. In defending the misogyny and sexism in modern day Hip-Hop, Rap mogul Russell Simmons made the following statement: “Rappers did more for race relations than the current Black Leadership has done in years.” This statement to me was more offensive than Imus calling The Rutgers team “nappy headed hos.” It shows how much Mr. Simmons and his hip-hop associates are out of touch with the Black community.

Granted I have my issues with Black political activists and pundits, but Simmons’ statement about Rappers and race relations is pure hubris. If it weren’t for Black leadership working on race relations over the past forty years there wouldn’t be a Rap industry these past twenty-five years. In the context of things, if it weren’t for all the protesting by Black leaders like Jesse Jackson and the late Shirley Chisholm for affirmative action programs, there wouldn’t be any Black employees in TV, radio, movies or the recording industry. Without those Black executives, managers, writers, directors, and producers working behind the scenes over the years Rappers wouldn’t have access to the worldwide audiences they exploit today.

What Mr. Simmons has forgotten is Black leadership isn’t just the NAACP or Al Sharpton. Black leadership is the network of Brothers and Sisters who helped him establish the forum for Rap music twenty-five years ago. His ungrateful statement was a slap in the face to everyone who worked hard over two decades to turn rap music from a local “thang” into a multibillion-dollar international industry.

Black leaders are reporters for Black-owned newspapers like the Amsterdam News who covered the early days of hip-hop when papers like the Times and the New York Daily News didn’t have time. They were people like Gil Noble and Bill McCreary who granted interviews on their local TV shows when most mainstream talk shows blew them off.

Black leaders are the publishers of magazines like Right on!, Word Up! and Black Beat that offered ad space for Rap albums and granted promotional interviews and reviews when mainstream magazines like Rolling Stone and Spin tossed tapes from rap record labels in the trash. Before the Source, these magazines were the Source for information on Rap and Hip-Hop.

Black leaders are businesspeople like Shikulu Shange who own small independent record stores like the Record Shack and the owners of the now defunct Rainbow Records in Harlem that distributed and sold Rap albums when the big chains like Tower and Sam Goody at the time wouldn’t think of stocking Rap records on their shelves.

Black leaders are the Program Directors small independent Black owned radio stations like WBLS and WRKS back in the day that gave Rap albums airplay when top rated mainstream stations like Z100 and WPLJ were playing top 40 exclusively.
Black leaders are people like VJ Ralph McDaniels who created and produced Video Music Box for PBS here in New York. Without his show, Rap videos wouldn’t have had any exposure in a major media market during the 80’s. Outside of Manhattan there was no MTV or BET; the outer boroughs weren’t even wired for cable.

Black leaders are producers like Don Cornelius whose Soul Train gave Rap stars a place to perform in front of a national TV audience back in the 80’s when they couldn’t get their videos played on broadcast shows like Friday Night Videos and New York Tracks.

Black leaders are struggling directors Spike Lee, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend who put Rap songs on their low-budget movie soundtracks and gave regional artists national exposure.

Seems like Black leadership has done a lot for race relations that Mr. Simmons takes for granted. The hard work of all the faceless Black employees working together towards expanding media markets for Black audiences over the years took a lot of planning, organization, courage, tenacity and risk. Each of these individuals understood they were links in a greater chain that protected and supported the whole Black community. Each knew their work was important towards maintaining the network that provides Blacks with a forum Mr. Simmons and his hip-hop associates currently exploit. Without the network of black leaders working hard in the background to keep the dialogue open about race relations in the business world, he wouldn’t be in the foreground to manage a multi-million dollar empire like Phat Farm.

Mr. Simmons needs to take a look back and do some self-reflection. He needs to take a look at Krush Groove, the low-budget feature that detailed his struggle to the top. The movie details how the mainstream producers and big-shot executives that he defends today so vigorously wouldn’t give him a break twenty-five years ago. In the film and in real life those same executives said this “Rap” thing wouldn’t sell back then. They told America it was just a passing “fad”. I remember reading stories of how most hip-hop producers back then had to beg, borrow, and steal to afford the studio time. When aspiring rap stars performed in hot sweaty clubs, house parties, and auditoriums. When producers promoted their rap stars by distributing flyers in Black-owned barbershops and hair salons. When they promoted new album releases by sticking flyers to lampposts and mailboxes in Black neighborhoods.

I don’t know whom Russell Simmons and his hip-hop associates define as Black leadership, but all those people meet the definition of a Black leader to me.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Separate is equal in the African-American section of the Bookstore.

Separate is equal in the African-American section of the Bookstore.

Recently I heard some Black leaders complaining about the African-American section of the bookstore. They stated having a separate shelf space for African-American titles is a form of discrimination. Some called for an integration of the African-American section titles with all the other mainstream titles. In this case, I have to disagree with Black leadership. When it comes to the sales of Black books, separate and equal are good business practices for all.

Last year publishers produced over 172,500 new titles. This is down from 185,000 new titles published the previous year. From a customer’s perspective, searching for a single title in a bookstore during a lunch break can be frustrating. Even with the help of an experienced sales clerk, it can be difficult for a customer to find that one title in some of the smaller bookstores let alone the multileveled superstores. Bookstore managers know time is money, and each second a customer can’t find a product on a shelf the clock is ticking on a sale.

So managers of small bookstores and large chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders separated the African-American section from the mainstream literature. This was to help customers find titles faster and get their purchases processed. Managers understood that most customers didn’t have the time to search the shelves. Customers wanted to make their purchases quickly.

So is it racist for retailers to separate books by African-American authors from the rest of the mainstream titles? No. The African-American section is extremely profitable for publishers and bookstores. It moves titles off the shelves and into reader’s hands. Finding a title in the African-American section is a lot easier for a first time customer than searching the entire store by the author’s last name first.

Those who call for the integration of the African-American section of the bookstore don’t understand the retail side of the publishing business. Most bookstores, even the big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders operate on a razor thin profit margin. Ninety percent of all new titles published in the calendar year will not sell enough copies to make a profit for the publisher or the bookstore. Retailers welcome any change in the sales floor that allows them to target niche audiences of customers. For them, separate sections for Black literature equals more profits overall.

I’ll give you two examples of the why a separate African-American book section is equal: Here in New York there were two Barnes and Noble stores. One was in the Manhattan Mall. Another was on 34th and Seventh. When both stores had their African-American Fiction and non-fiction titles separated from the “mainstream” titles they had lots of foot traffic and lots of sales. I’d watch as Black women frequently made their purchases from the African-American section. However when management of both stores integrated the African American authors in each store with the other mainstream titles last name first, I noticed foot traffic at the store dropped off dramatically and sales plummeted. Why? It just took too much time for customers to find a title.
In each case of title integration I saw, it was a disaster. First the Barnes and Nobles on 34th and Seventh closed. Then the store in the Manhattan Mall closed. A few years later A Barnes and Noble opened on 38th and Fifth. This store also integrated its African-American titles with the mainstream ones. It closed within two years.

While these bookstores were closing, street vendors all over the city were selling African-American titles exclusively. To the chagrin of brick-and mortar retailers, they had titles by African-American authors on their tables ready for purchase. On top of it they offered discounts in some cases the equal of retailers. Because customers could quickly make their purchases, many readers of African-American literature now do business exclusively with book vendors and not bookstores.

So while integrating Black authors with mainstream titles might be politically correct, it’s just not profitable. Separate shelf space equals access to mainstream bookstores for African American authors and equals more sales of books to readers.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Book to Screenplay, Screenplay to book-Chicken or the Egg?

Recently I got through completing my first Screenplay from scratch. It was a book idea I thought wasn’t strong enough for a full novel. But guess what? I find myself writing that novel right now. Which leaves me to ask the question: Which comes first: The novel or the screenplay? The Screenplay or the novel? Is this a case of the chicken or the egg for writers?

In the past I’ve often worked like this: I’d write the manuscript first and try to adapt a screenplay out of the story later. Something I did for fun. It was hard work, trimming off details from the book so I could tell the exact same story using the fewest amounts of words in the screenplay. Condensing a 50-80,000-word story into a compact 90-120-page script that captured the spirit of the original manuscript was often a challenge. I often found myself going crazy in front of the computer some nights.

This time I’m working in reverse adapting a screenplay into a novel. My challenge now is finding a way to recreate the same picture by adding more details rather than taking away from them. The goal here is to stay true to the spirit of the story without adding so many details that it dilutes and distorts the picture presented in the screenplay.

Lately I’ve been asking myself a question. Which comes first? The screenplay or the novel? The novel or the screenplay? I guess that depends what storytelling medium the writer feels comfortable with. And the context of the content. Most movies have a novelization published of the script (Available in most bookstores) and some books have adaptations of their stories made into screenplays. (Available in most libraries) It’s fun to check both out and compare and contrast the differences between the two versions.

Over the short course of this “reverse adaptation” project I’ve learned a fun math fact. On average the chapter of a book uses 1500-2000 words to describe the action in the story. A scene in a screenplay usually uses 250-400 words to describe that exact same scene. That’s a 5:1 ratio!

This means every five to six pages of action in a chapter book leads up to one page of a screenplay. Since one page of a screenplay leads to one minute of screen time, that means every five to six pages of a chapter book (the kind I write) leads up to one minute of a movie!
Okay I’m having too much fun. I hate algebra. Let me rephrase that. I really hate algebra. When I find myself applying algebraic concepts to writing something is wrong.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hey America! I just wrote a screenplay from scratch!

Or at least I tried to.

I had this idea for a story about a thirtysomething former teen starlet festering in my head for over a year. Despite plotting an outline and sketching it up, I could never get it to work as a novel. The story just wasn’t strong enough for a full-length book. But the idea just kept coming back to me over and over again. I had to get it on paper. Since it wasn’t working as a book I opted to write the next best thing: The screenplay.

I’ve dabbled with screenwriting in the past, but nothing serious. An adaptation of Isis, and some other stories I’ve written. But this is the first time I’ve written a screenplay from scratch. The project was an attempt to see if I could write an original story within the extremely rigid format of the Writer’s Guild of America. To my surprise the finished script turned out better than I expected.

From a format standpoint I was able to get the story to fit within the WGA standards. The script is a good length fitting within the standard 90-120 pages allotted for a drama. (112 to be exact) I was also able to follow most of the rules for things like dialogue, and scene descriptions. It’s frustrating fitting a story within those parameters, but I’m getting used to it.

From a storytelling standpoint I was able to tell my story effectively. In most of my novels I use the character’s eyes like a movie camera to describe the action to the reader. So it was easy to adapt that “camera” style I use in my storytelling to the screenplay format. Even though I was writing in a Third person narrative, everyone sees what the “camera” sees. I know my descriptions are a little longish, and the dialogue’s a little rough, but it’s my first script. The more I learn the better I’ll get at screenwriting.

What’s even more of a surprise to me is how solid my writing is in this style. The spirit of my distinct style is in every page. The script still has all the irony, depth and humanity of one of my novels. From first page to last, the reader knows it’s a “Shawn James” story.

I’m very pleased with my first original screenplay came out. Now I’m just going to print it out and throw it in a box. For me, this isn’t the time to go out pitching scripts to agents. There’s a lot more for me to learn about writing. The more new projects I pursue, the better I’ll get at it.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

African American Fiction - A Cesspool at the Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago I walked into a Borders bookstore on 34th and Broadway. I was looking for DVDs, but I wound up taking a look at the African-American Fiction section to see what the market was currently producing. What I saw on the shelf turned my stomach. I had to look out the window to make sure I was still in Borders and not a Times Square sex shop.

The entire African-American section was nothing but “Erotica”, and “Gangsta” titles with overtly sexual themes. Most of the cover art featured half-naked and naked people in sexually titillating poses. As I flipped through some titles I became even more disappointed about how poorly written they were. Poor grammar, poor sentence structure, typos, and no semblance of a plot. It just was one graphic sex scene after another. Characters had no personalities or distinguishable traits. It was just one graphic sex scene after another.

I wouldn’t have felt too bad if these titles were self-published or Print-On-Demand; I know from experience there isn’t much one person working alone can do about quality. However big name publishers like Three Rivers Press (A subsidiary of Random House) and Kensington books have the staff to produce a professional quality book for their readers. I wondered if there was any copyediting or proofreading done at all on these titles. I also wondered if their editors had any sense of taste or style when it came to buying manuscripts for African-American audiences. The Black community is in SERIOUS trouble if these are the best manuscripts literary agents are submitting to publishers.

I left the store buying nothing and asking myself more questions: What happened to the broad pool of talented authors of the 90’s. People like Connie Briscoe, Bebe Campbell Moore (Lord rest her soul) Terry McMillan, and Sista Soulja? What happened to plots in Black fiction? What happened to themes in Black fiction? What happened to storytelling in Black Fiction? What happened to grammar in Black fiction? What happened to Vocabulary in Black fiction? What happened to the writers who wanted to give readers a unique perspective about the Black experience? What happened to the diversity on the Black fiction shelf? How did African-American Fiction turn from general reading audiences into XXX adults only? Why is every Black fiction title lately so sexually explicit?

I can’t give money to authors and publishers who are doing harm to my community. What publishers are currently producing as African-American fiction is unacceptable from a creative, educational and a professional standpoint. When publishers clean up the cesspool in the African-American Fiction section, I’ll start buying Black books again.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The N Word- A Counterpoint

There has been a call by Black leaders to have the word Nigger stricken from dictionaries and from everyday public use. They say it’s hate language used to promote the devaluation and degradation of Black people. I say their actions water down the dialogue on race and are tantamount to censorship.

Instead of calling for a ban on the word Nigger, Brothers and Sisters need to learn why we still call ourselves Niggers. If the older Black leaders would to teach the younger Black masses more about their history and culture everyone would learn the word has more than one definition and a strange set of grammatical rules that change from generation to generation. Today, it’s a racial slur when applied by Whites, Arabs, and Asians who use the word to speak about Blacks. However, the use of the word Nigger by Blacks when speaking to other Blacks isn’t a racial slur. Hispanics have also use the word casually without offending Blacks for decades.

Throughout history, Blacks have learned Nigger wasn’t a dirty word. It was actually one of the first words Slaves learned in the American English language. It was so casually used in the Old South slaves learned the word Nigger before they learned their own name. Politicians used it to describe slaves. Overseers used it to describe slaves. Slave masters used it to describe slaves. White neighbors used it to describe slaves. So most slaves used it to describe themselves.

Due to the lack of formal education for many field slaves and even some slave masters, the vocabulary of our early community was limited. Many slaves often used the word nigger along with other profanities to substitute for words they didn’t know. Over time this racial slur was incorporated into the language as a common word by poor blacks. Each generation of unconsciously taught it to another in their casual dialogue. Follow the dialogue of Blacks throughout history and you’ll see nigger is used as a multipurpose word. It’s a noun, a verb, a pronoun, an adjective and an adverb for those with poor language skills. Ironically, some educated and wealthy blacks used it to describe an uneducated or ignorant Black person.

To take Nigger out of the vocabulary of the racial dialogue is a case of see no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil by Black leadership. It doesn’t explain why so many Blacks still use this racial slur so casually in their language. The root causes of the misuse of this racial slur have to do more with education and class within Black culture, not race. Those issues are a lot harder to address. A press conference about banning the word Nigger is a lot easier for Black leaders to soundbite in a speech than a serious discussion of more complex issues in the black community.

Think about it: A superficial ban of the word Nigger also doesn’t do anything to change the national forum on race. Just because Black people actively make an effort to not use a word doesn’t change the feelings of prejudice people of other races have learned regarding Blacks. Ban the word Nigger and the racists will just express their prejudice through another racial slur. Throughout history racists have used a variety of words to insult Blacks. Words like Buck, Spook, Coon, Lawn Jockey, Boy, Buffalo, Jigaboo, Negro, Buckwheat, Sambo, Monkey, Watermelon Boy, Ape, Beast, Bojangles, Darkie; these racist colloquialisms vary from region to region in the United States. Should we ban these words as well from the American vocabulary?

Any censorship of the word Nigger diverts away from any substantive dialogue about the legacy of racism and opens a can of worms regarding the First Amendment. Like it or not, the word is a part of the American language. Nigger isn’t a dirty word. It’s a part of a painful part of American history Black people are afraid to face.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year, Same Old projects.

For two years I spent most of my time writing and revising manuscripts two novels, The Cassandra Cookbook and The Temptation of John Haynes. In spite of positive comments from literary agents about the premise, the writing and the storytelling, neither got an offer of representation after over 500 submissions for both. With 2006 coming to a close I’m looking forward to going into the 2007 fresh. I’m going to print these two manuscripts, stick them in a white cardboard box and move on.

Creatively, I believe both books are where they should be. After doing a year of revisions on both, there isn’t much else I can do to polish them any further. Maybe when I save up $750 for each book I’ll publish both of them both Print-on-Demand like I did Isis. This time, I’ll even buy a few extra copies and distribute them to Monroe College Alumni. Contact some Book clubs and send them a few copies to review. Contact some neighborhood Black and Latino Newspapers and offer them a review copy. I’ll even offer some to local bookstores for free and offer returnability on unsold copies.
For 2007, I want to pursue a new book project. I’ve been running some ideas through my head for new stories. I’m pondering doing a romance novel, another Black fantasy novel, and another contemporary Black fiction novel. I may even trying my hand at erotica or do a screenplay from scratch. Counts on how I’m feeling.