L.M: Other than poems which never make it from my notebook into the public, I have never written anything of this magnitude. I started writing Silent Conspiracy back in '94. I was about half way through a mystery by an author I admired. I put the book down because the story just wasn't doing it for me. I thought, 'At the very least I can write this well' So I sat down in front of my computer and began pounding out the general outline for Silent Conspiracy. Naturally it went through several revisions during the four years it took to bring it to market.
L.M.: Yes, it was one of the many fun pieces to this project. I grew up after the 'Blackbottom', 'Paradise Valley' days of Detroit's Black renaissance. So the opportunity to actually interview and talk with people from that era was both enlightening and rewarding. I learned a lot more about Detroit and the struggles of African Americans to carve out their niche, than any history book could have told me.
L.M.: Personal interest, love and curiosity. I fell in love with mysteries when I was a kid and have stayed with them since that time. I love the 'human puzzle' and exploring the motives of why people do what they do. Plus, I realized, at that time, that there weren't a lot of African Americans writing in the mystery genre. Since then I have discovered that there are more than people realize, but not enough. I liked the idea of a private investigator from Detroit becoming embroiled in a mystery. The genre is experiencing increasing popularity. I think once the 'romance/relationship' trends start to level off, African American readers will look around for other 'voices'. I hope they'll go after the mystery genre with equal interest.
L.M.: None of us can mention influence without saying Walter Mosley's name. The first time I read 'Devil In A Blue Dress', I knew the possibilities were wide open. Walter Mosley has been a big influence. Chester Himes was always there for me since I'd read all his works, but I believed his popularity was a 'fluke' of the industry. In other words, I didn't think the publishing industry would look beyond Chester Himes. Now, people like Hugh Holten, Gar Anthony Haywood, Robert Greer, Gary Phillips, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Paula Woods, Barbara Neely, Judith Smith-Levin, Eleanor Taylor Bland, Mike Phillips and others have helped to reshape the mystery genre and influence my writing. I anxiously look forward to their books.
L.M.: All my characters are a mixture of people I know directly, have met or viewed from a far. I always find those one or two things about people that strike me as fascinating. I make note of those characteristics and use them in the characters I create.
L.M.: I experienced the personal difficulty that comes with being an author and trying to promote your work. Though I had some successes, I was constantly amazed how, even in the Detroit market, door after door is slammed in your face because you don't have a recognizable name. It's the classic paradox of being told that you weren't hired because you have no work experience and you saying, 'and how else will I get experience if you don't hire me? So, after finishing an interview at WPON, the station manager approached me and asked if I'd be interested in doing a show that spotlights authors. I gave it some thought and immediately recognized that I could create an opportunity for authors to have a chance in the Detroit market. So far the show has been its own local success. However, I am looking to take the show into syndication, so if any of your readers know of someone who knows someone, who'd be willing to give my show 'Book Beat' some kind of audition, have them contact me at GaBROCK@aol.com I will be happy to send a copy of one of my hour long shows. I sincerely want to help other authors increase their visibility. I think I can do it through my radio program. What I need are interested listeners from around the country.
L.M.: I used a small publisher in Ann Arbor to help get my book edited, printed and into the mainstream. I started with 5,000 copies and am now down to under 500. Not bad, considering I had to do all the marketing. I had a lot of help along the way, tons of support from reading groups around the country (Special Thoughts Reading Group in LA, Book Brothers in Nashville, Busaro Nayo in Philadelphia, Hotlanta in Atlanta, Sister/Friend in Ann Arbor and Reader's Choice in Detroit to name a few) and support from numerous African American Booksellers. For example, for your readers in the LA area, Zahra's Books-N-Things in Inglewood currently has copies of my book. I decided to jump out there on my own because I knew working through an agent and then to a large publisher was going to be a 'challenge' in patience. This way, I know more things about marketing and promotion through simple trial and error than I would have known had I waited.
L.M.: Start with the basics. Try to get your book in the hands of anyone associated with small, local newspapers, magazines, on-line services etc.. Forget the larger newspapers, unless you personally know someone, it's a tossup as to whether or not they'll even look at your book. I say this because for many self-published authors, you will have to give away many books, so you might as well be strategic about the process. Target Barnes and Noble, Borders and other chain stores locally and regionally. They are always looking to support local writers so don't be afraid to go in and ask for the Community Relations Coordinator. Keep in mind, that once you've gone through all your friends and associates to buy your book, you will have some lonely book signing sessions. That's okay, because it's all about exposure. Look to the Internet as an avenue. Also, shoot for speaking engagements wherever possible. Usually people are motivated to buy once they've met you. Libraries are a prime source of support, so go in and start meeting librarians. They have a fabulous network and have always proven to be helpful. Find your African American booksellers and make sure you meet with them. They will promote your book in ways mainstream book stores can't.
L.M.: There's a lot I'd like to say. But, essentially, I want them to know that writing a book is the pursuit of a dream. Like any dream, it exists because it reflects a part of you that yearns to stretch beyond your boundaries. Go for the dream ladies and gentleman. A dream is just a goal with an action plan. I can't imagine how empty I'd feel if I hadn't gone on to try and make this happen. As I put the finishing touches on the second draft of my second Lincoln Keller mystery, I know it was the right thing to do. I know that if I can't convince an agent or major publisher that I'm onto something, I will self-publish again. I have built a following among African American, mainstream and mystery readers. Now I have only but to continue on this path. Release the writer in you, but march with some business savvy. You will love the trip.