When people ask what it is I do for a living, I always define myself, in order of importance, as a husband, a father, and a children book author. My family is thee most important thing to me. My three little guys (Ezra, Solomon, and Silas) and my amazingly gorgeous wife (Tinka) inspire me, motivate me, and give my life purpose. Being a family man is the most important responsibility that a man can have.
Professionally, I craft stories and create beautiful African-American characters for children of all nationalities. But specifically, I think that it is my God given responsibility to use my abilities to paint Black life in the most beautiful way, with the most vibrant words for our children.
My titles, The Ruby and the Booker Boys series (Scholastic), The Making of Dr. Truelove (Simon Pulse) and the forthcoming middle grade novel We Could Be Brothers (Scholastic Press-November 1st 2010) coincide with Natural Chica's message of loving your natural, beautiful, nappy self. In particular, the dynamic, talented, lovely protagonist of my popular Scholastic series, Ruby Marigold Booker, is all natural; cornrowed-kinky faux hawk and all. Ruby and her mother are totally natural from head to toe. I appreciate, love, respect and am in daily awe of the magnificence of my wife's make up free, immaculate, chocolate skin, and long, gorgeous locks.
As an artist, I think that its imperative to highlight the natural beauty of Black women. As a Black man, I know that it is equally imperative to lift Black women and their natural, beautiful, magnificent selves up on the highest pedestal possible, where they've always belonged.
1. When and how did your passion for writing develop?
My passion for writing developed at age ten. But even before then, like most writers, I was an avid reader. As a class assignment one day in the fifth grade I just tried my hand at writing a story as interesting as the books I would get lost in. I havent put the pen down or pushed away from the keyboard yet.
2. What do you believe makes your "voice" unique as a writer?
I made it a point to listen to, absorb, and study other writers and poets like Derek Walcott, Walter Dean Myers, Edwidge Danticat, Langston Hughes, J. D. Salinger, even Chuck Palahniuk. We are all, as writers, an amalgamation of those that came before us, our experiences, and our imaginations all jumbled up. And hopefully, you'll develop a voice, specialize in various techniques and styles that one day other writers will want to study. I try to focus on dialog and sculpt conversations between characters as tangible, audible, fragrant, and palatable as possible.
3. Can you explain to us your unique experience at Hallmark and the transition that followed afterwards?
Working at Hallmark cards was like being in grad school for me. Here I was at the largest greeting card company in the world with a BA in Marketing with the most talented group of people I've ever been around, and only personal writing experience and a stint as a college newspaper columnist underneath my belt (The Jackson State University Blue and White Flash). It was intimidating initially but I learned so much about developing my own voice and most importantly about revision from my three years there.
When I left Hallmark and relocated to New Orleans I found out very quickly that there were not a lot of jobs available for people that used to write greeting cards for a living. Those years in New Orleans grew me up as a man really fast; I worked multiple jobs from landscaping to secretary just to bring money home at the end of the week in order to take care of my family and support my wife during her medical residency.We had our second son (Solomon) while we were there, and were one of the fortunate ones to escape unscathed from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
4. What inspired you to start writing books for children? Can you tell us how the idea for the Ruby & the Booker Boys series began and the process leading up to having the first book published?
I used to say that I just kind of fell into children books, but there’s no such thing. God has a plan for each and every one of us. All of my experiences as a columnist, poet, greeting card writer, husband and father lead to this point. I want to tell stories about Black love, create complete families with both parents, educated, progressive characters. It may seem idealized to some, but it gives children something to aspire to become. I want to tell stories of hope.
I tried for a couple of years to land a deal for The Booker Boys (Ruby was just a sub character), but a series about three little African American boys just wasn’t in demand at that time. So I put the series on the shelf. In 2006 my agent (the lovely Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency) suggested that I pull the Booker Boys back out, but this time make the little sister the star. I dusted the original four manuscripts off and rewrote them for the new star Ruby Marigold Booker. It took us a year but we finally landed a four book deal with Scholastic! In the Summer of 2008 the first book in the series, Brand New School, Brave New ruby debuted. There are now four books available in the series with four additional books waiting in the wings.
5. From some of the book reviews, it seems that Ruby is quite a unique character. When you were developing this character, what message were you aiming to convey to the children reading these books.
I wrote the series through the eyes of my nieces, daughters of a few of my very close friends, and really every little Black girl that I've ever known. Sure I subscribed to American Girl Magazine, started watching the girlie shows on Disney, but it really wasn't a stretch for me. The series is more so about the family, but I've been around Black women my whole life. I'm crazy about Black women. Love you all to death. Respect, care for, admire, and every single positive glowing adjective you can think of, is how I feel about Black women.
6. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with aspiring writers looking to get their work published?
Read, Read, and Read. Read authors of every genre; any aspiring author has to develop their own voice. Read literary journals and magazines. Keep a journal, personal or creative and write in it EVERY day.
Seek out literary agents that represent work similiar to yours. Pinpoint the genre you want to write in, Google your favorite authors or authors that you favorably compare to, and find their websites. Most of them have their literary agents posted on the contact page. Find out what that agents submission requirements are and go for what you know!
I want to thank Natural Chica for giving me an opportunity to speak directly to, my most valuable audience---African-American women ; the caretakers and purveyors of education and literature in the lives of our children: mothers, sisters, aunts, God mothers, grandmothers, educators of African American children,etc.
Please ask your many loyal fans/followers, and every person that they know to help me with a massive effort to keep this series going for years to come. To make sure that happens, please 1) purchase books #3 (The Slumber Party Payback) and #4 (Ruby Flips For Attention), either online or in a bookstore. The books may or may not be in the store. Please ask the person at the desk to order them, and demand that they remain availbale. If you order from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble (bn.com) please leave a review. 2) If you have a Facebook account, in the search field, just type in Ruby and the Booker Boys to find the fan page. Join the fan page and suggest it to your friends.
peace and blessings,