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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Acting White

Acting White. It’s what some African-Americans call a person who speaks articulately with good diction, aspires to achieve academically or is well-educated. It’s something some people have called me for just being myself. Since I was a teenager It’s always puzzled me how African-Americans often associate a person’s intelligence with the color of their skin.

My most recent experience with this cultural trend was when I took my PC Repair class a few months ago. I was talking to one of my classmates when another interjected “He talks like a white man.” I didn’t take offense to it; Even when I was in High School, at college or the many jobs I’ve worked people have been surprised by my articulation and strong diction. Like it was unexpected for an African-American male to express any semblance of intelligence.

I have often been laughed at by some and mocked by others for my intelligence and good diction, however I haven’t once thought of changing my speech pattern to reflect what is perceived as “black”. While my peers may have thought my speech was peculiar, I never saw speaking well and being intelligent it as just a “white” thing. I always thought intelligence reflected positively a person’s character; a sign of patience, understanding compassion, and reason. Those were character traits to me that every person should try to aspire to have.

Some of the people who have inspired me and my writing didn’t consider expressing their intelligence or speaking well a white thing either. I don’t believe Malcolm X was seen as “acting white” when he spoke articulately back in the 1960s. Neither was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And I enjoy hearing African-American actors like Salli Richardson, Keith David, Charles Dutton, and Denzel Washington perform because of the near perfect diction in their performances.

From what I’ve learned about the African-American experience Education has always been a “Black” thing. Throughout history, from the Ancient Egyptians who were masters in Astronomy, science, engineering and math to artists like Juan De Pareja, writers like Phyllis Wheatley, or inventors like Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver to educators like Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune Barack Obama, African-Americans have always pursued excellence in education.

Even my slave ancestors aspired to learn because they saw education as a way to improve their economic and social condition. After many southern states like Virginia passed laws against teaching slaves how to read and write, many still persevered towards gaining literacy because they saw it as an opportunity to empower themselves. From the 1800s up until almost recently, being an educated intelligent black person who spoke well was considered a good thing. It wasn’t considered “acting white”.

So I’m wondering where did this “acting white” thing come from over the last fifteen or twenty years? As I see it, what people called “Acting Black” as it’s seen in mainstream America to me doesn’t seem like a representation of “Black” but a perpetuation of longstanding racist stereotypes. These “real black” images presented to the African-American community seem more like a repackaging of the degrading images of the black buck, the coon, the black harlot, Tragic Mulatto, jigaboo, and the mammy to me.

What’s more ironic to me is that many of the wealthy rappers, ballplayers thugz and other assorted people who perpetuate the degrading images of “acting black” are the same ones sending their children to high-priced private schools to learn how to speak well and become intelligent, while promoting to the black masses a message of ignorance.

So on this issue of race and identity I often wonder who really is “acting white” and who is “keeping it real”. Are the African-Americans who aspire to speak well and express their intelligence “keeping it real” because they follow a centuries long history of education that has been part of the black community, or are the African-Americans who identify with “street” culture “acting white” because they promote and perpetuate a stereotypical image of African-American life that makes Middle America comfortable.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Black Culture or Thug Culture- A struggle for idenitity in the African-American Community

“All that is necessary for evil to win is for good people to do nothing.”

There’s a crisis in the Black community. One that is tearing apart the fabric of African-American society. However, the cause of this crisis isn’t poverty. It’ not the proliferation of guns, drugs or crime. It’s not the lyrics in hip-hop music. The real crisis in the African-American community has to do with culture and values. Thug culture seeks to supplant African-American culture as the main identity of the Black community. And all good Black people have to do for this evil to win is sit back and do nothing.

The Black community must understand: One man’s gangsta is another man’s fascist.

Like the “Good German Jews” before us, many African-Americans throughout the country are sitting passively while the fascist menace of thug culture insidiously imposes its values on the overall Black community. In Black neighborhoods, This propaganda proliferates its message by hijacking our art, literature and leaders, as gangsta rap, street lit, and their spokespersons gun-toting rappers, diamond wearing entertainment moguls and ball players glamorize crime, guns and ignorance as “keeping it real” or the only way blacks have a “true” identity in America.

Like Adolf Hitler and his SS soldiers, these thugs portray themselves as the “true blacks” and their perpetuation of old white racist stereotypes as the only way to be “black”. These Aryans of the black community exploit the media promoting false ideals like “hustling”, being a “gangsta” “Stop snitching” “Ride or Die,” “Pimping” and being a whore as the truth while denouncing the ideals of education, hard work and business ownership established over four hundred years by blacks such as Crispus Attucks, Harriet Tubman, Sojurner Truth, Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Mary Mcleod Bethune, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and countless others as “acting white”.

It’s a message taught on the streets, in schools, on Televisions and in the prisons and even in some homes. Those who are educated or who aspire to be educated about the truth are being murdered or driven out of the community just as doctors, lawyers college professors, teachers and intellectuals were driven out of Germany and the territories it occupied during the war while the thugs teach their message: A message of hate-Self hate.

One man’s colors are another man’s Swastika.

One man’s gangsta is a white man’s coon.

Unfortunately, like the “Good German” Jews who went along with things they knew were wrong many Older Blacks and black leaders sit back and passively watch as Black youth imbibe the fascist propaganda of a self-destructive set of ideals thinking it’s just “trendy” or “hip”. Others are just too scared of reprisal from these junior fascists to teach the truth to the next generation.

I realize those thugs and gangstas who are “keeping it real” in the Black community by are just like the “Good Germans” who became Nazi soldiers. They are “only following orders” of superiors. It wasn’t excused at the Nuremberg trials. It can’t be excused by Black America now.

Why am I writing this? I realize I can’t sit back and do anything. I cannot stay silent any longer.
I cannot be a “Good Black”.

I must do something to make sure evil does not win.

Having experienced the violence and terror during crack epidemic of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s here in New York City as a result of some members of my generation being taught these false messages of thug culture, I won’t be a Good Black Person. I understand in order for this evil to succeed again in destroying my community and corrupting another generation with its warped values is for the countless masses of hardworking black people to sit back and do nothing just as the Jews did in Germany while Hitler’s regime came to power.

I understand that Like Hitler and his Nazi regime, these thugs and gangstas will destroy everything around them in the black community in their quest for power. Just like the South Bronx I grew up in as a child in the late 70’s early 80’s was destroyed by in the power struggle for turf, African-American neighborhoods all over the country will be turned into war zones the equivalent of Poland, England, Austria-Hungary and Russia during World War II.

And just like the Nazis, those fascists who practice the thug culture make up about less than .05 percent of the black community the same way Hitler’s regime were only a small part of the German population. However, because the silent majority of “good Germans did nothing 100 percent of Europe was destroyed by the Second World War. The inactivity of all Blacks on this issue of race and identity in the 21st century will eventually lead to the total extermination of the African-American race in the United States.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Isis T-Shirt plans

My question to everyone:

Would you buy this image on a T-Shirt?

For years I’ve wanted to offer a T-shirt based on the cover of my first book Isis. I always thought the ankh symbol I designed for the cover was interesting enough that it would appeal to casual buyers in addition to people who have read the book.

At the Harlem Book Fair this summer, the cover of Isis attracted the attention of to casual buyers- many female. Their positive reactions encouraged me to ponder seriously pursuing a merchandising venture.

I want to offer the shirt in the following styles that would appeal to ladies: standard T-shirt, fitted, T-shirt, tank top, and spaghetti strap tank top. My goal is to use the Isis shirts to target a female audience (she is a female fantasy character) of fantasy fans and casual buyers. My hopes are that the shirt would get people interested in learning more about the book. Maybe even get some book sales.

From what I’ve seen at my trips to comic cons and trade shows, there are a lot of female fantasy/comic/sci-fi fans out there. Unfortunately companies aren’t’ offering merchandised to women and girls and the ones that do are offering sporadic merchandise. Usually Most comic and fantasy based products like T-shirts are usually designed for men. However, I know that there are ladies enjoy this merchandise too and I’d like to try to create my products for those customers.

I’m exploring my options and may experiment with offering products at a POD print company like Cafe Press or Spreadshirt. I’d love to hear from people regarding their experiences with their products before I think of offering products from there.

I’m working on cleaning up the Isis symbol in Photoshop right now and I’m writing up a slogan. I’d love to have a product up in time for Christmas. Just want to know if there are any customers interested in buying it.

Shawn's Books & PC repair

Get your Books and PC Repair here!

Yesterday, I took my Comptia A+ 220-602 and got a score of 834 out of 900. Two weeks ago I took my 220-601 and got a score of 836 out of 900. So in addition to being an experienced freelance novelist and screenwriter, I’m now A+ Certified Computer technician. I’m officially able to fix and build PCs.

I’m thinking about doing a weekly Q&A where people send me questions about PC problems on my blog and I’d try to answer them. I figure it’d be a great way to combine my two skills- writing and Computers.

So if anyone has any PC related questions, feel free to drop them in the comments section of this blog.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Writing Query letters

If you're writing a book or thinking about writing one, you'll probably want to publish it. If you decide to publish it with one of the publishing houses, you have to know how to contact editors and literary agents in order to sell them on your project. How do you let them know about your project? NOT with a phone call. Publishing industry professionals HATE that. They prefer you send them a query letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope or nowadays an e-mail.

What is a query letter? A query letter is a short one-page single-spaced letter introducing you and your book project to editors and literary agents. In short it’s your calling card, a sample of what you write and how well you write it.

A query letter gives these professionals an idea of what your writing is like. Spelling, punctuation and grammar must be perfect. It’s best to have someone proofread the letter before submitting it to publishers and literary agents.

So what does a query letter consist of? Every good query letter consists of eight basic elements:

1. Heading

2. Hook

3. Title

4. Premise

5. Audience

6. Biography

7. Closing

8. Self addressed stamped envelope (SASE)

I’ll break these parts down into seven sections so everyone can understand them.

1. Heading

The heading is a very basic part of the query letter, however most authors make most of their mistakes in this section. The query letter is the first impression professionals have of you and your writing. If it’s sloppy and poorly written, editors and agents will think your manuscript is sloppy and poorly written.

The heading section of a query letter must follow business letter formatting. It always must consist the following parts:

Your Name
Your Address
Your City, State and Zip Code
Your Phone Number
Your E-mail Address
(Drop down about two spaces)
Today’s date

(Drop down two more spaces)
The Editor or agent’s name
The name of the literary agency/publishing house
The address of the literary agency publishing house
The agency’s city, state and zip code

(Drop Down about two spaces)
Dear Mr./Ms Agent/Editor’s name:

In the heading section it’s very important to address your query letter to a specific person! Agents and Editors receive hundreds of these letters a week. The query letters addressed to “The Editors”, “Dear Agent”, “Dear Sir/madam” or “Gentlemen” go into the “slush pile”. Letters in the “slush pile” are unread and simply sent back with a form letter rejecting the material. This isn’t what you want. You’re spending time and money on this; the least you want out of it is your letter read and evaluated by a professional.

In addition, throughout the letter make good use of “white space “ on the page by using Times Roman or Courier fonts on a 12-point setting. The employees reading these are reading dozens of letters at a time. If they have to strain their eyes to read your letter on an 8 or 9-point font, they’ll reject it without even reading it.

2. The hook

The second part of the query letter is the “hook”. What’s a hook? A short series of 2-3 sentences that capture’s the reader’s attention and gets them interested in reading about the premise of your story.

Usually a hook is very short, about two or three sentences that describe the plot of the story just enough to get the viewer’s attention. A good example of a hook is what you see on a movie poster or on the back of a DVD or Videotape case. If you go to the video store and read the back of the package you’ll notice they use a few short lines on the top of the front or back of the case in bright bold letters just to catch your attention. Why? Research shows that if a product can capture someone’s attention to the point where they’ll pick it up of a shelf or take a second look ninety percent of the time they’ll buy it.

Using what I learned studying movie posters and DVD cases, I created this passage to hook readers in the query letter for my last manuscript, The Cassandra Cookbook:

A pinch of Hard Work.
A dash of Determination.
A recipe for Success.

If you notice, the primary focus of the hook are the verbs! You want to be very selective about the words you use in this paragraph because it’s the one that’s going to get the attention of the editor/agent. Notice the words I used are positive and how they all focus on a series of actions and they tell a story quickly in dramatic fashion:

A pinch of Hard Work.
A dash of Determination.
A recipe for Success.

What does the reader see in the hook? Hard work+ Determination=Success.

3. Title
From the hook, most readers see something can relate to and identify with in their own lives. Most people work hard at their jobs and they’re determined to succeed at them. From the hook, the reader has a sense of what the story is about and is intrigued to learn more. This is where you reveal the title of your book:


From seeing the title, the reader is asking questions. If you can get the reader to ask questions, chances are they’ll be looking for answers. From this hook and title the reader is asking themselves questions like:

A cookbook that reveals a recipe for success?
What type of success is it?
How can I achieve that success by reading this book?
How does the reader learn more about the story? By reading the premise.

4. Premise
The premise is where the writer explains the story of their book in one or two short paragraphs. The first paragraph details the conflict, while the second explains the resolution. The key to a good query letter is not how much you write, but how well you write. Like screenwriting, the author has to tell the story using the fewest amounts of words in this section.

Most people study the backs of other books as a model for this section, but I advise against it. Instead, I use the back of a DVD case or videotape case to model my writing after. The storytelling used in the copy of these video synopses is more attention grabbing than their literary counterparts. Why? Book jackets tell a story. DVD cases sell a story.

What’s the difference between telling a story and selling a story? Why? Because when you tell a story you’re explaining all the key details in the plot summary. The reader reacts by coming up with answers to the premise as they read it. When you sell the story you give the reader just enough details about the plot to whet their appetite. They react by asking themselves more questions. When people are asking questions about your story, they’ll want answers. That gets them compelled to read more about the premise of your story and learn what it’s about.

A. The conflict
The first part of the premise establishes the plot and the conflicts. This part of the premise partially answers five basic questions for the reader:
Who is the main character?
What do they want?
Why do they want it?
What are the obstacles in the way of them achieving this goal?
Where is the story set?
When is the story taking place?

I’ll give you an example with the premise of The Cassandra Cookbook below:

Cassandra Lee’s lifelong dream is to take over the Downtown Brooklyn bakery with her name on it when her parents retired. Her dream turns into a nightmare near the eve of her wedding when she learns that corporate giant ITC Foods has other plans for the store and her low down down low fiancĂ© Gerald is caught in the arms of another man.

In the first part of this synopsis we get a sense of the main character, Cassandra Lee and her conflict. In that synopsis, the reader has the following questions answered:

Who is the main character? Cassandra Lee
What do they want? To take over the bakery with her name on it.
Why do they want it? Because her parents are retiring.
What are the obstacles in the way of them achieving this goal? ITC Foods other plans for the store.
Where is the story set? Downtown Brooklyn New York.
When is the story taking place? Today.
B. Resolution

The second part of the premise details how the conflict will be resolved. Here three key questions will be answered:

How does the main character plan to overcome the obstacle?
Who will help the main character over come the obstacle?
What will be the final resolution of the story?

Here’s the second paragraph detailing the resolution of The Cassandra Cookbook:

Cassandra perseveres, acting as her parents’ agent working with ITC rep Simon James to complete the deal. As their professional relationship gets personal, Simon reveals a secret about the deal that devastates Cassandra. Sending Cassandra over the edge, Simon must come up with a plan to heal her broken heart and make her dreams come true.

From this paragraph we have several questions answered:

How does the main character plan to overcome the obstacle? By persevering and acting as her parents’ agent.
Who will help the main character over come the obstacle? ITC Rep Simon James.
What will be the final resolution of the story? Cassandra’s dream coming true.

In the second paragraph of the premise, don’t answer all the questions completely. Keep the reader aksing more questions! Make them want to read more of your story! You want the editor agent reading your letter to request a synopsis, some sample chapters or even the whole manuscript.

5. Audience

This section of the letter is the dealmaker. Publishers and agents are primarily in the book business to make money. They want to know how they can sell your manuscript to the public. If you have a specific audience you want to sell to, detail who your readers are and explain why they’ll want to read your story over one written by another author. Discuss what readers will learn reading your story and how what they read in your book will benefit them.

It’s best to keep the marketing section sweet and short. State who your audience is and what they’ll get out of reading your book.

Here’s an example of the Marketing section I used for the Cassandra Cookbook:

The Cassandra Cookbook will appeal to a large audience of women readers who will identify with the main character. Cassandra Lee's humorous story of perseverance professionally and personally would be inspiring to many women with careers or who are about to start one.

6. Biography

In the biography section, state who you are. Discuss your education and what professional publishing credits you have. Magazines, newspapers, newsletters, zines, and blogs; they all count as credits if people have read them. Detail any awards you’ve won in writing contests. If you don’t have any publishing credits, discuss your personal experiences and how they inspired you to write this book. Just keep it short.

I’ll give you an example of a professional biography by detailing my own below:

Shawn James is the author of the novel ISIS. He has also written articles for The Visionary: News of Morrisania, and the STRIVE Network News newsletter. A graduate of Monroe College he’s been writing for over ten years.

7. Closing

In the closing of your letter tell the reader your manuscript is complete. Tell them how long it is (word count) and let them know that if they want to request extra materials like sample chapters, a synopsis or a complete manuscript they can contact you by using the enclosed Self-addressed stamped envelope inside your package or by writing you via the e-mail address. I like to type the e-mail address again in addition to that spot so people can contact me that way. The last sentence of the closing paragraph should thank the reader for taking the time to read your letter.
My typical closing:

The completed 87,000-word manuscript is available upon request by using the enclosed SASE or by emailing me at I look forward to your speedy response. Thank you for your time and consideration.

(Down two spaces)
(Down Three spaces

Shawn James

8. THE SASE (self addressed stamped envelope)

Before sealing up your query letter in the envelope, always include a self-addressed stamped envelope in the package. Always make sure it has enough postage to get all your materials back! In the publishing industry NO SASE=NO RESPONSE!

Now that we’ve dissected a query letter let’s look at the seven components together. Below is the query letter for the Cassandra Cookbook in its entirety:

Shawn James
Shawn James’ address
Shawn’s zip code
Shawn’s Phone number
Shawn’s E-mail

Today's date

Agent’s name
Agency ‘s title
Agency address
Agency Zip Code

Dear Ms. Agent:

A pinch of hard work.
A dash of determination.
A recipe for success.


Cassandra Lee’s lifelong dream is to take over the Downtown Brooklyn bakery with her name on it when her parents retired. Her dream turns into a nightmare near the eve of her wedding when she learns that corporate giant ITC Foods has other plans for the store and her low down down low fiancĂ© Gerald is caught in the arms of another man.

Cassandra perseveres, acting as her parents’ agent working with ITC rep Simon James to complete the deal. As their professional relationship gets personal, Simon reveals a secret about the deal that devastates Cassandra. Sending Cassandra over the edge, Simon must come up with a plan to heal her broken heart and make her dreams come true.

The Cassandra Cookbook will appeal to a large audience of women readers who will identify with the main character. Cassandra Lee's humorous story of perseverance professionally and personally would be inspiring to many women with careers or who are about to start one.

Shawn James is the author of the novel ISIS. He has also written articles for The Visionary: News of Morrisania, and the STRIVE Network News newsletter. A graduate of Monroe College he’s been writing for over ten years.

The completed 87,000-word manuscript is available upon request by emailing me at I look forward to your speedy response. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Shawn James

Note: Each story requires a different approach to hooks and premises to sell it. This is just the way I like to write my queries and I wanted to give readers who want to be writers an example of how they could go about it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You Are What You Read

You are what you read.

Just like the food people eat has a long-term effect on their body’s physical health, the literature a person reads has a n effect on their state of mind. The thoughts and ideas in what people can read can influence them to act and behave in a positive or a negative way.

I’ve watched how literature has changed people’s view of the world. For some it has enabled them work towards making changes to improve their lives. For others it has made them see things from a very cold and cynical perspective. And for even more it has caused them to see everything in a negative light. Like the food readers, eat, literature has an effect on their long-term health. People are inspired by what they read and this can motivate them to take action in their lives for the better or for the worse.

The literature people read says a lot about them and the direction we want to go in their lives. Good books help expand a reader’s perspective of the world and expose them to different experiences that allow them to grow. Bad books like junk food are entertaining enough to make readers feel good but don’t give readers the information they need to move forward in their lives.

The results of this mental nutrition are:

A reader who reads a lot of good books will strong mind. They’ll be able to take the information they’ve read and apply it in their lives. These books are like health food, the effects strengthen the thinking process and make a person mentally sharp.

A reader who reads a lot of bad books will entertain but won’t get any information they can apply in their lives. These types of books are more like empty mental calories. This mental junk food slows down the thinking process and makes it harder for people to function.

Good and Bad books come in both fiction and Nonfiction, and are across the genres.

My advice to readers: Read a lot of good books, but use the bad ones sparingly. It’s okay to read every now and again, but please don’t make it a regular habit.

You are what you read. Food for thought.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Interview with Tea Bags and Good Books Book Club

You can check out the interview here.

Category: Writing and Poetry

We are Pouring Tea with The Cassandra Cookbook Author Shawn James and we are adding some lemon in this water for taste to get our members the answers they have been waiting for.

Yes, we have the juicy details right here on My Space just for our reader’s and fan’s. We ask this Author a lot of questions, by opening the doorway to this Author’s world we get your questions answered, so please join us! Sit down and pour yourself a cup of tea while TBGB’s Book Club welcomes you into the doorway of Mr. Shawn James.

TBGB: Tell us about Shawn James the Writer.

SJ: Shawn James is an easy going guy, who spends most of his time writing stories, novels and screenplays. He works seven hours a day, six days a week, with breaks scheduled in between; for errands, meals and sleep. When he has a day job, he works six hours a day, six days a week, after work on his writing. His mission over the past fifteen years is to create positive stories about the experiences of African-Americans; that will inspire readers to take action towards changing their lives for the better.

TBGB: Now, Tell us about Mr. James the Author.

SJ: Shawn James the author is a hardworking businessman; whom works tenaciously towards promoting his self- published books about the positive experiences of African-Americans. He networks with book clubs, book stores, bloggers and anyone who will read or buy his work.

TBGB: How did you become a Fiction Novelist?

SJ: I have been writing stories since I was nine years old. I started out wanting to copy the art in my brother's comic books. But I couldn't draw so well so I decided to use words and pictures. Professionally, I've been writing novels since I graduated college in 1994. It was a great way to relax.

TBGB: How has becoming a writer changed you if any in your life today?

SJ: I spend a lot more time in front of a computer than I should.

TBGB: What has inspired you to write The Cassandra Cookbook?

SJ: I wanted to create a positive story about the experiences of African-Americans in the workplace.

TBGB: What about the novel did you want the reader to identify with?

SJ: I want the reader to identify with the experiences the characters have in the story. It's easy for many of us to be like Simon and get so caught up with facts, figures, policies and procedures that we forget about the valuable people that give a company its true worth. It's also easy to be like Cassandra and be so wrapped up in their works that they lose their identity and sense of self worth that they sell all their talents and skills short.

TBGB: Is there anything about writing this book you didn't like?

SJ: I really enjoyed writing this book. In fact it was so much fun working on this book that I lost 30 pounds!

TBGB: Our member's had some interesting questions about the cover of this book, who is the Artist? And what made you decide on a drawing for the cover?

SJ: I'm the artist who drew the cover. Before I write, I sketch out what my characters look like so I can have a point of reference when I'm writing their descriptions. Since I couldn't afford a cover artist, I thought that sketch would best tell the story of the Cassandra cookbook.

TBGB: I believe the character on the cover is holding a bouquet of flowers and appear to be of masculine form and the book is about something totally different did you find it difficult to come up with a cover theme to match your story line?

SJ: Errr.... That's not a bouquet of flowers. That's supposed to be a chocolate muffin with a candle in it, and that masculine form is Ms. Cassandra Lee. From what you're telling me, I really stink as an artist. Really, really stink as an artist. I have got to get a pro for that next cover.

TBGB: Our bag.

TBGB: (Laughing our butts off.)

TBGB: I bet you get alot of questions concerning the cover of this book does any one question stick out the most as silly or ridiculous or is all of the questions about the same?

SJ: I don't get that many questions about the cover, because people are so excited about the plot and storyline that they pay very little attention to the cover. But I'm gonna have to revisit that cover and replace it one day.

TBGB: We really enjoyed reading this novel; please tell us about why you decided to put so many twist and turns in this storyline?

SJ: The twists and turns in the story came about organically. Some of them like the scandals and corporate backstabbing were inspired by things I saw transpire on many of the jobs I had in real life.

TBGB: This novel seems to have some bearings on today's economic situations how does this now play in advertising your book?

SJ: I wanted to detail the elements of success in the business world. While I was doing research on numerous corporations I quickly learned that many of them started as simple mom-and pop operations or small one-person businesses. Many were started during economic downturns. As I learned the secret ingredients these companies used to expand themselves, I began developing a promotional campaign detailing Cassandra's recipe for success. In Cassandra's story are tips and advice the reader can use to advance their own career.

TBGB: Wow, this IS awesome!

TBGB: How does your family and friends support you with your writing?

SJ: My family supports me 100% In fact; my brother and sister helped me with my table at the Harlem Book Fair this year. Monroe College published an article about my books in their Alumni newsletter.

TBGB: Please see further details relating on this newsletter by visiting Monroe College website to see if you can request an archive issue or back copy relating to Mr. James.

TBGB: Now, some of our member's want to know are you single?

SJ: I'm single and I'm available.

TBGB: Now I will pass this on to the 3 members’ who wanted to know. Smile.

TBGB: Where do you promote yourself the most in book stores or through book clubs?

SJ: I do most of my promotional work online. This is how I've contacted many of the Black Book Clubs and many Black Book Stores. I've also done some networking with book vendors on the street, but the web is the primary way I promote my work.

TBGB: Do you believe Authors have to promote themselves or do you believe the publishing company should do it?

SJ: Authors have to promote their own books; it’s the only way the public is going to know about them. At the publishing house, the advertising budget is small and the few promotional dollars are spent on the Best-Selling Authors. Everyone else, especially first time authors have to hustle to get the word out about their books.

TBGB: How is writing books for publishing companies different then musicians singing songs for record companies?

SJ: As far as I know in book publishing an author signs a contract giving the publisher permission to print the book in North America. They're paid an advance on the first print run of 5000-7000 copies. If those sell well, the author begins earning royalties of ten percent of the list price on sold copies. I don't really know how it works in the music industry but I think the songwriter gets paid royalties on songs they write and publish. This is why registering copyright is so important, as it on public record who owns the song.

TBGB: Wow, Readers please pay attention on how an Author gets paid. Book Clubs especially. We can help by advertising the feature Book-of-the-Month on our websites.

TBGB: If you were to give advice to a struggling Author what would you say?

SJ: Hang in there this is going to be a rough ride. Grow a very, very thick skin. Get used to hearing “No” more than “Yes”. Get used to hearing “No” than your “Own Name”. Listen to criticism, because it can only help your writing get better. Don't quit your day job! and save money. Save lots and lots of money.

TBGB: What are some of the new projects you are working on and what are some of the projects you have already out?

SJ: My first novel, Isis is available at online bookstores right now. It's an action packed fantasy story that utilizes Egyptian mythology and African-American history to tell the story of Isis, the daughter of the Egyptian god Osiris who after a horrible tragedy has to reconcile with her family.

In addition to Isis, I have two unpublished projects I'm planning on releasing.

All About Marilyn is an original screenplay about a typecast 1990's teen star that at the age of 34 must reinvent her so she can move forward in her personal and professional life. I was reading about the numerous struggles black actresses like Jurnee Smollett to Halle Berry have to face in trying to find work.

My next novel, The Temptation of John Haynes is a Christian, fantasy novel about a man whose soul Lucifer seeks to take by making him a CEO of a major corporation. If the beautiful she-demon he places there as John's assistant can get him to compromise his personal and spiritual beliefs he'll make her a member of his elite cadre of demons.

Both of these projects are on hold until I find another full-time job. I'm hoping I can find some work soon because I really want to share these stories with readers.

TBGB: Yeah and we would like to really read them!

TBGB: How do you feel about book clubs swapping online for books?

SJ: Not a fan of it. It takes royalties away from authors.

TBGB: I know a few of our member’s were guilty of doing this from websites like, etc. and they are STRONGLY advised not to do so, it violates our membership rules. We ARE here to support our Authors. Our President is very strict on this rule. (To any Authors who have dealt with this from our book club please bring to the Club President attention.) We know none of us is perfect but MISTAKES can be corrected to build a stronger bond with our supporting Authors.

TBGB: Do you think book clubs help Authors with sales and promoting?

SJ: Definitely. If it wasn't for book clubs like TB&GB no one would know about my books. Without Black Book Clubs there'd be no way for most authors to get the word out about our books.

TBGB: Well, thank you Mr. James for the compliment.

TBGB: What can we do to improve the relationship between Authors and Book Club?

SJ: You guys are great, some of the best communication, and support. Everyone is friendly courteous and professional. Other book clubs could learn a thing or two from you!

TBGB: Well, thank you again our Club President will appreciate that. We will pass it on to all our members.

TBGB: Is there anything you would like your fans to know?

SJ: In addition to writing novels, I'm writing screenplays. I've entered some screenplay contests, and I'm working developing scripts for a TV series.

TBGB: Well, we wish you all the luck on that we really do.

TBGB: Is there anything you could tell us exclusively?

SJ: Cassandra Lee's story is actually inspired by the story of the real life Sara Lee Bakery, which the owner named after his daughter. He later sold the bakery and the name went on to become an international brand that manufactures everything from cheesecake to handbags!

TBGB: Wow that is good to know.

TBGB: If you could change one thing about the book we just read what would it be and why? Or are you completely satisfied with The Cassandra Cookbook?

SJ: I would definitely correct all those typos I missed. I really would change the cover as well.

TBGB: Laughing, I think overall this is really a good book. We really enjoyed reading this book. It brought some good topics to the table. We will recommend reading this novel to everyone.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tea Bags and Good Books Book Club Review of The Cassandra Cookbook

Thanking the members of The Tea Bags and Good Books Book club for supporting me and takinig the time to read my book. They're all great people.

Category: Writing and Poetry
Title of the Book: The Cassandra Cookbook by Shawn James

Publishing Company: Virtualbookworm

ISBN: 978 1602642294

Member Reviewer: Anicia Walker, Lisa Valadez and Chris Michael

Book Read: June Book Read

Book Rating: 3 Tea Bags and a enjoyable story

The Cassandra Cookbook is based on a character by the name of Cassadra Lee. She is a hard working individual with some big time goals of her own. She bakes up her own recipes for success. Wanting to own her parent's business located in downtown Brooklyn, she also is in the middle of planning on getting married with in days of taken over her dream job to the man of her dreams of course. She muli-tasks while keeping a level head, what else could she ask for?

She has worked very hard on her Culinary Degree to help with her parent's bakery that has been in the family ever since Cassandra was a baby. Now, that her parent's are looking to retire in the near future here is her chance to put her Degree to work, why else did she get it? Well is wasnt for to hang on the wall in a small cramp office for a home for dustmites that's for sure.

While Cassandra is called to the bakery which seem like a last minute business meeting a request by her parents. Cassandra is all to thrill, she assumes this is the big day. The day her parents will turn over the keys and she becomes the boss. She had several ideas on those new pasry donuts, the ones she dreamed of baking herself she had even included whip cream cheese as a filling. Hmmm, tasty.

However, her dreams turns into a nightmare as her parents expose the truth as to why they called Cassandra into this private family affair. She is given a hard cookie to swallow, she cant bare to hear that her parent's had plans and ideas of their own.

Who told them to start thinking about all these bigs ideas without including her! Her mother and father reveals plans on selling the bakery to a big corporate gaint once they become retire! What! She cant believe this, how did she miss this? Didnt her parents see how much she love the bakery as a child? Maybe they have been tasting to much sugar this morning!

Now devastated she goes home to find comfort in the arms of her fiance who is at home finding comfort in the arms of another man! Just days before the wedding could anything else go wrong?!

Cassandra finally is convinced life has sold her an uneven oven she can't bake in without getting lumps in the middle. What to do next? She must somehow try to get her life back on track but how?

Soon things start to turn around for Ms. Lee. She becomes the representative assigned to handle her family affairs and find some answers to her questions. She start dealings with a handsome stranger, named Simon.

Well how do Cassandra turn her apples into pies? You can find out more once you pick up this great fiction novel.

A very good book read for this group, we were not to thrill about the cover it almost turned us away from the read as well as the typo errors which made it difficult to get back on story line but when we got caught up with this tasty morsal it became a good book to eat oops I mean a good book to read.

We enjoyed Mr. James imagination into betrayal and Corporate giant power and as we continue to read, we wanted Ms. Lee to become a success in the end.

We found this novel both entertaining and enlightening we hope you can enjoy this book as well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cassandra Cookbook Author Notes

This short chapter was supposed to be in the back of The Cassandra Cookbook , but never made it to the published novel due to page count restrictions. For anyone who wants to know the reasons why I wrote the book, this final chapter would explain everything.


A pinch of hard work. A dash of determination. The recipe for this story is very simple: Shawn James tries to create a sweet commercial fiction novel infused with tasteful bits of dark comedy. The end result of the project came out far better than I expected.

I’m not a commercial fiction writer; I’m just a guy who uses African-American fiction to explore concepts and ideas African-Americans don’t usually read about in the hopes of opening up Black people to new ideas. In my first two books, The Changing Soul and Isis, I explored the psychological effects of the ghetto and Egyptian mythology as it related to the African-American family. Having completed both a contemporary African-American novel and a fantasy novel, I was looking for a new challenge. So I decided to write one of those entertaining commercial novels I often read between writing books. With my combined decade of writing experience and reading experience I felt I was ready to try creating a story in the genre.....

The movies Strictly Business, The Apartment, and Clockwatchers and the Simpsons episode “Homer’s Enemy” were major inspirations for this project. I loved the dark satirical comedy Clockwatchers used to make comments about the workplace and how human beings interacted within it. I always got a laugh out of the clever social comments early episodes of the Simpsons made about life in America. Strictly Business was a movie I simply enjoyed watching; the performances were good and its heart was in the right place. The Apartment was an old film that had a tremendous impact on my writing and the development of this novel. After watching Billy Wilder’s great film I realized the workplace had a tremendous impact on the human condition. Watching these movies gave me ideas for a humorous novel that made social comments on the African-American experience in the workplace.

I started writing up a draft of a book called Integrity Sucks. It was a simple straightforward story about the African-American workplace with lots of commercial appeal. I copied the storytelling model of all the movies I had watched to the letter. Following that storytelling formula was my biggest mistake. Most of those movies I watched often showed the workplace from a White perspective. The White view of the workplace was often jaded and cynical; the total opposite of the point of view I experienced in the African-American world of work.

I wanted my story to say something about the human condition within the African-American experience, not be a re-hash of white stories with black characters in it. So I started thinking about my own experiences in the world of work. From what I observed in the workplace, most African-Americans aren’t angry or a bitter about their jobs. African-Americans often see employment as an opportunity for growth and change. To blacks work is a place where poor men and women often oppressed by racism and discrimination have an opportunity to find their true value and actualize their untapped potential.

Focusing on the positive experiences of the African-American workplace I began re-writing Integrity Sucks into The Cassandra Cookbook. The new story I planned would be the recipe for Cassandra Lee’s success working on a licensing deal with ITC Foods. Basically a recipe is a process of combining raw ingredients together through a series of steps to get a certain finished result. Depending upon the experience of the person, combining these raw ingredients together causes them to change chemically, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. While Cassandra had experience in the area of baking and customer service, she was inexperienced in the area of licensing. She has to combine her experience with Simon who is inexperienced with people but experienced with the business of marketing. As these two raw talents work together, romantic chemistry swirls around them. This causes them to change, some sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. However, as she and Simon learn from each other’s experiences they achieve their goals. Simon is promoted to ITC’s baked goods Product Manager and Cassandra expands her business into the Cassandra Brand name.

On the surface of the book would be about a business deal to expand the business of two companies; however the deeper story would be about the personal growth of the people working on the deal. Throughout the story the main characters learn what people are worth. On the quest to preserve the integrity of her family’s business, Cassandra learns how valuable she is. Working towards his promotion, Simon learns what makes the products his company produces valuable are the people behind them. It’s only when he discovers Cassandra’s value as a person, is he able to complete the deal.

With my plot and theme in place, I researched successful business people and their companies so the fictional black owned businesses of ITC Foods and the Cassandra Bakery could be as realistic as possible to readers. ITC Foods was inspired by the Parks Sausage Company, one of the oldest black owned food distributors in the U.S. Established in the 1950s it makes all types of sausage and meat products. The story of the Sara Lee Bakery was the inspiration for the Cassandra Bakery. In the 1950’s the owner of the Sara Lee bakery actually named the store after his daughter and sold it to a corporation. If he only knew his daughter’s name would become synonymous with a worldwide conglomerate that produces everything from cheesecake to handbags!

With the ingredients for writing the cookbook in place I got to work developing Cassandra’s recipe for success. I had a lot of fun writing this story, more fun than I had working on any other novel in my fiction writing career. I looked forward to sitting in front of the computer every day during the two years it took to write Simon and Cassandra’s story. I hope you learned something from reading it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thoughts on Attending the 2009 Harlem Book Fair

I attended the Harlem Book Fair yesterday to promote my books Isis and The Cassandra Cookbook. It was the biggest mistake of my writing career. Five months of planning and organizing for this event, Four Hundred Dollars spent on supplies and books and I only sold one book. Am I disappointed about the sales? Yeah I am. But I’m more disappointed about what the black community is calling literature now.

There was a Street lit table right next to mine. Those guys writing about gangstas, pimps, drug dealers hoes, hood rats and any other racist stereotype did brisk business with people snapping books up all day. I was deeply saddened; At the fair, it looks like black readers have come back to embrace the racist stereotypes so many fought and died for over a century to dispel with open arms. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Lorriane Hanesberry, Dorothy Dandridge, Thurgood Marshall and Michael Jackson are probably all looking down at the Black Masses in disgust and disappointment.

I spent six hours in the hot sun practically ignored by the black reading audience I’ve been wanting to write for since I was 16. My mission back then was to write positive stories about the Black experience. Stories about overcoming the odds, facing adversity and growing into a better person who improved the quality of life for their community. It seems no one wants to read those kinds of stories anymore. In the aftermath of the Harlem Book Fair I have to wonder if the community is committed to change or if its scared of it.

In the aftermath of Electing the First African-American President I wonder if there is any hope for the African-American reader. Instead of taking that step forward with Obama, most young brorhers and sisters on the streets are taking ten steps back when it comes to what they read. I have to wonder: Is the self-image of Black men so poor that all most think they can aspire to is drug dealing, pot smoking, pimping, and being a thug? When did Black women look in the mirror and start seeing a prostitute or a madam? Is the Black Community’s self-esteem so low that it doesn’t see itself as capable of anything but being a criminal?

A long time ago I came to the understanding that what one feeds the mind comes out of the body. As a person thinks, they will act. If the popular black literature is about drugs, crime and all sorts of debauchery today then I shudder to think what will come out of the Black Community in the next 20 years.

Friday, July 10, 2009


You can meet Shawn James at:


SATURDAY July 18, 2009


FROM 11AM to 5.P.M.


Shawn will be autographing copies of his books THE CASSANDRA COOKBOOK and ISIS answering questions about writing, print-on-demand publishing and other writing related stuff. Check out sample chapters of his books at
Buy a book and get a free autograph!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Isis Chapter 1

I'm finally posting the first three Chapters of my first novel Isis, a fantasy story that combines Egyptian mythology, and African-American History into an action-packed adventure. I wrote this back in 1999; when I was only 26, it was the second novel I completed and the first I self-published in 2002 . I wasn't the greatest editor back then, so if there are any grammatical mistakes, please be understanding about it. I'm posting these chapters so readers can compare and contrast my earlier writing style to that of my recent novel The Cassandra Cookbook.

copyright(C) 2002 Shawn James

Chapter 1

The blue flames of the lake of fire light my way as I descend into the dark pit of Hell. The sweet smell of brimstone and the harmonic wails of tortured souls put a smile on my face. I miss this place. As a herald I spend most of my time on Earth collecting the souls of the damned and torturing the souls of the righteous. It's a job I enjoy and wish to return to. If I had to stay in that palace one more day I think I would have snapped. There's only so much torment a soul can take.

I cross the lake of fire walking across a bridge of dead men's bones. As I approach the cave of the crocodiles, the great serpent Lord Seth slithers out to greet me. He's anxious to hear what I have to tell him. Ever since the elder gods banished him here, I have been his eyes and ears to the outside world. Without me all he'd know is darkness. Lucky for him, a lot happened during my visit to Heliopolis. Disguised as a servant, I was able to acquire some
valuable information. This time we will finally destroy the gods.

It's been a long time since I've made someone suffer. I take a seat in his throne, cross my legs, and smile at him. He gets back at me by being polite. That's just cruel.

“Greetings E'steem. Have you brought me more souls to torment?”

“I have something better than souls master.”

“What could be better than a soul?”

“Information. I've been in the palace of the gods.”

“There's no way you can enter the palace of Heliopolis-”

“There are ways. Remember my father went into Heliopolis.”

“Your father was slain by Osiris.”

“Do you want to hear what I've learned or do you want to discuss ancient history?”
He scowls at me. “What have you learned?” He barks.

“There has been a trial among the gods. The daughter of Osiris has been banished to the Island of Solitude for crimes against the gods.”

“You lie, I have no niece. My brother's only children are his bastard sons.”

“Oh but you do have a niece. This is the child of Osiris and a Nubian slave whom he sired as concubine. Her name is Isis, the same as her stepmother.”

“I watched my brother for centuries. I would have known if had left Heliopolis.”

“Perhaps not. He might have disguised himself to elude you.”

“What were the charges against her?” Seth digresses.

“She let hatred enter her heart. She betrayed the gods and went to worship another god.”

“I'm sure she was cleared on the latter charge. Osiris would have to punish ten thousand generations of Egyptians for not worshipping the gods.”

“Osiris didn't judge his daughter. Ra and the elder gods passed judgment on her. Remember, Osiris can't try a member of his own family. And you know Ra' s sentences are always harsher than Osiris'.”

“Hold on. If she has let evil into her heart why isn't she here?”

“She hasn't embraced the evil inside her as part of herself as you did. There's still hope that she can be redeemed.”

“Just like the elder gods to show mercy on one of Osiris' bastards. If she were my child she'd be rotting here.”

“What you have told me is of no use to me.” Seth continues. “So my brother has another bastard. I cannot harm a hair on his head.”

“That's where you're wrong.”

“How? I can't leave this place to extract vengeance upon-”

“You can harm Osiris in a way far worse than slicing him to pieces. Now that Osiris is aware of his daughter he will surely want a relationship with the child.”

“True, nobility was always my brother's greatest flaw.”

“Think about it. There are two sides of her family she can embrace. She's halfway here.”

He thinks abut it. “Yes, you're right. Perhaps I can harm my brother this way.”

Seth smiles in anticipation of the execution of my scheme.

“Go ahead with your plan E'steem. Go ahead and bring me the soul of Isis.”