Interview: Amaya Radjani

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To say that fellow Amaya Radjani is one of my favorite people would be a vast understatement. In fact we constantly joke that we’re each other’s sibling from another maternal figure. When her latest novel, Tainted, was released, I knew I wanted to sit down with her and have a long chat on her new book, her creative process and all that other geeky writer stuff. I knew the Middle Child Press co-founder would have plenty to say and everything said would be nothing short of brilliant.

DRU:  First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Second of all, congrats on the new book Tainted. I’ve started reading and my God is it intense. Before we get to Tainted, let’s go back for a moment. Corruption, your debut novel. How did it feel having a title under your belt?

AR: It feels amazing; like I’ve sucker-punched a mountain or kicked a planet out of orbit.

DRU: Looking back on your journey from then to now, what stands out for you?

AR: Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote the book.  I re-read certain passages (usually near the end) and I tell myself that I sat down and I wrote it and I know I sat down and I wrote it, but it feels like someone else did.  In a way, that’s true, because when I’m under the control of the muse, I am not myself.  Or maybe I am who I truly am when I’m being directed and the person you’re talking to right now is the interloper.

What stands out for me is knowing that the book took a direction I didn’t plan and the muse abandoned me until I came to grips with certain things.  Once I did that, she returned and I finished the novel.  It was very cathartic and I knew that I laid certain demons to rest with Corruption.

DRU: Cathartic writing and laying demons to rest, I know exactly what you mean on that score. From Corruption to Tainted, how would you say your writing has evolved?

AR: My vision and scope have broadened.  I’ve become experimental with the arrangement and structure of my books.  I play with margins and fonts and spacings to emphasize mood, tone, flavor and atmosphere.   Books look the same once you get past the cover.  It’s the standard in publishing and that’s fine.  But I realized that I don’t have to follow those rules.  Owning my own publishing house frees me to do whatever the hell I want and with each passing day, I realize more and more how important that is to me.  I don’t have to conform to anyone’s standard; I just need to satisfy my muse.  And trust me; it ain’t easy satisfying that bitch.

DRU: Were there any lessons or experiences you learned from Corruption that you applied towards producing and promoting Tainted?

AR: I learned that I’m more likely to write my books in the early part of a calendar year and publish them in the latter half of the same year, and from there I developed a cycle as a way to keep track of my progress.  For Tainted, I learned how to make a book trailer, and it was a fun experience.  It helped me to visualize the book in a different light and focus on what I thought were the most significant aspects of the stories within.

DRU: So for your sophomore project, were there specific objectives you wanted to accomplish?

AR: Not particularly.  I just knew it would be different, but I didn’t know how much until things started coming together in the ways that they always seem to do.  But when I knew the book was done, I was satisfied that I did everything I needed to do.

DRU: Do you feel you accomplished said objectives?

AR: Yes.  I work and work until I hear the muse say “Stop.”  And I stop.  I have to be satisfied with everything at that point because touching the manuscript after I have been directed to stop will ruin it. I’ve made that mistake before and one time was all it took.

DRU: So shifting over to Tainted, tell us about this incredible book, who the players are and what’s at stake.

AR: It’s a definite deviation from Corruption, that’s for sure.  There are three poems, two stories, and one central set of characters.  There are pictures and bios of six stunning sistahs who represent the female protagonists, a rock band named Pink Cage.  The poems are songs written by members of the band, and the stories feature the women in different perspectives.

The first story, which is actually a trilogy, is about Sereyn, who is Pink Cage’s manager.  Sereyn is a woman who is having a majorly epic identity and midlife crisis.  Someone from her past, present and future comes to help her sort everything out.

The second story, “Mezzanine,” is the central story in Tainted; the reason why the book had to be written.  I say “had” because I did not have a choice.  When the muse dropped that sweet little psychotic bombshell on my head, it was with one directive: WRITE NOW!!! RIGHT NOW!!!

“Mezzanine” focuses on Pink Cage as a rock band and as a family; the sistahs of Pink Cage are actually sisters.  Kemme Thornton, aka “Charm Pink,” has embarked on a whirlwind rebound romance with Keith Marshall, a goofy-looking geek inventor and rollercoaster designer.  As far as Kemme is concerned, Keith is the perfect man and an even more perfect husband…until she stumbles upon his little secret, which forces her to face who she truly is.

DRU: What inspired this story?

AR: I mentioned in my The Next Big Thing blog hop interview that “Mezzanine” is the result of several things clashing at once: the badassery of Alexis Brown, frontwoman of the metal band Straight Line Stitch; the awesomeness that is Massive Attack, specifically, their album and track of the same name, Mezzanine, which I listened to about 200 times; and a renewed crush on a musician I loved as a little girl.  Everything marinated subconsciously and then one day, the muse shat the book on my head.  There is simply no other way to describe how it happened.

DRU: Now Tainted is a far different beast than Corruption. The most obvious is that its spec fic. But it’s also darker and more sexual. Was this a conscious choice or an edict from your Muse?

AR: I should point out that I personally don’t think that Tainted is speculative fiction, which is a term I hate, by the way.  Tainted’s got a sci-fi/supernatural component, but the majority of the book is contemporary.  But to answer your question, it was an edict from the muse.  She said go hard and that’s just what I did.

I am interested in readers’ reactions, especially to “Mezzanine.”  With that story, I went H.A.M.  I’m wondering if people will react the way I think they should.  Probably not, but I haven’t gotten any reviews as of yet, so…

DRU: In your opinion, what is Tainted bringing to the dance that is lacking in fiction?

AR: Ooooh…well…it’s kind of hard for me to be absolute about this, as I haven’t done much outside reading lately.  I can tell you this: everything in Tainted is connected; the poems, the pictures, the stories, the imagery…it all links and loops and forms one cohesive whole.  It has an all-Black cast, most of which are women.   These women are musicians, and they’re not your standard Black girl singing group.  I deliberately made them dark-skinned rockers who wear funky pink hair and bad-ass costumes because that’s not something I personally have seen.  There’s also the personnel component; I introduce you to the sisters of Pink Cage—Zora, Grace, Leseda, Kemme, Torii & Raz—via “chapter” breaks.  There is a chance that I will be visiting them again in the future, and readers may as well know who they are now.  Pink Cage is awesome.

With this book, I tried to explore the abnormal side of love, or love as it is perceived and received by minds less…*ahem,* fixed …by convention and normality.  I also wanted to examine the nature of identity—who we are versus how we are perceived and where and how that line blurs.  I can’t say with certainty that all of this is lacking in fiction, but I can definitely say I’ve never written anything like this before in my life…and I’ve written a lot of stuff.

DRU: So Middle Child Press seems to to be amping it up. You just released Tainted and your partner in crime Ankhesen Mie just released the Selo and Inya series. Was this random happenstance or part of a master plan to take over the world?

AR: Well, of course we plan to take over the world…but as far as the production of these projects, they were completely random.  Tainted wasn’t planned, and neither was Selo & Inya.  But Ankh and I feed off each other’s creativity; we inspire each other and we support each other.  That, my friend, is a blessing, one every true writer needs. I know you feel me on this.  So don’t be surprised if you see an increase in Ankh’s & my production this year.  We’re both writing serials now.

DRU: What’s next for you?

AR: Right now, I’m working on two separate serial projects: Nightingales & the Velimir novels.  I just finished the Nightingales pilot, CRASH!!!, and I’m currently drafting the first episode, cool airCRASH!!! will probably be published this summer, but I’m not 100% sure of this.  I can say with 100% certainty that it will be published this year, and if the muse is kind and God is able (which she can sometimes be and He is), cool air will be as well.

I’m also rewriting the first half of Blade Dancer, the first of the Velimir books.  It became necessary to wrest Sheila and K’avir completely away from anything remotely resembling their fanfiction origins, so they are going to get a completely new and different genesis.  This means restructuring the entire book and introducing new ideas and subplots.  I hope that their fans appreciate my efforts, but I’d like to assure them all that Sheila & K’avir themselves have not changed.

DRU: Any parting shots?

AR: To all of my new fans, followers and readers, and to those who have been with me since LJ and ff.net, thank you so much for your support.  I am honored and humbled for all the love I’ve received.  I hope that you continue to support and enjoy my future efforts, and feel free to visit me in the Dark anytime.

And to you, Denny, my friend and creative sibling…thank you for this wonderful opportunity.  Your support means EVERYTHING to me and I’m proud to know you.

DRU: Back atcha sis!  😉 

You can learn more about Amaya and her writing at the following websites:

http://www.amaya-radjani.com

http://amayashorties.blogspot.com

http://pinkelegance.blogspot.com

http://middlechildpress.blogspot.com

And Amaya’s books are available here and here

4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading

Hat tip to my beautiful and brilliant internet wife RVC Bard for tipping me to this excellent article. An article that brilliantly summed up everything I hated about reading during my high school and even college years.

And this is coming from a published author.

4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading

I can’t be the only one who feels like the schools pulled a sort of bait-and-switch job on us when it came to reading. When I was in elementary school, they went to a lot of trouble to make sure we thought reading was fun, with bookmobiles and read-a-thons and tons of fun books about mice and motorcycles and phantom tollbooths. I had confidence that I could go to the library and pull anything off the shelf except a Baby-Sitters Club book and I wouldn’t be disappointed.

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This is one of those books that you could judge by its cover.

That was the bait. In junior high and high school, they made the switch. I guess they heard about how drug dealers give you free doses of the good stuff until you are addicted, and then once you are hooked, they start cutting it with 50 percent baby powder or something. Actually, junkies notice when you do this. And kids notice when you swap their fun books for boring crap.

So one summer you are reading A Wrinkle in Time or Fantastic Mr. Fox or whatever, and then you show up for your first day of school and BAM, The Scarlet Letter. And get on that pronto, kid, because we are going to talk about metaphors and symbolism in Chapter 1 tomorrow. I opened these books thinking they would be great and rewarding, like the books I was used to, but it was like biting into a delicious-looking cake and finding a bear trap. After my face had been so destroyed by so many bear traps (to continue the metaphor) that the greatest reconstructive surgeon in the world could do nothing to save it, I stopped looking at books as wonderful presents I couldn’t wait to open and started looking at them with a sort of low-level PTSD.

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This is when the flashbacks start.

Let me be clear: I still love reading good books, but since experience has taught me that there’s about a 95 percent chance that a random (adult) book I pick up is going to be unenjoyable, I spend more time researching a book before I read it than I spent researching my house before I bought it. It’s crazy to have to be so scared and wary of something I used to look forward to so much.

I think this kind of experience is part of why only 50 percent of American adultshave read any novel, short story, poem or play in the past year, and only 54 percent have read any kind of book at all that wasn’t required. There was a bump up from 2002 to 2008, which they think was related to Oprah’s book club, or Harry Potter — you know, things reminiscent of the “Reading Is Fun” campaigns they targeted at kids, which I guess we need for adults now.

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I’m not sure if this is a farcical joke about a dumb reading campaign or a satire on the way they are actually marketing books to grown-ups these days.

And as a disclaimer, I know there’s going to be people out there who loved The Scarlet Letteror A Separate Peace or what have you and feel like they got a lot out of it, and teachers who manage to get kids really engaged in discussing literature, and that is cool, but I don’t think that’s the common experience. Here are the sorts of things I think are going on a lot more often:

#4. High School Required Reading Sucks

The Scarlet LetterWuthering HeightsGreat ExpectationsEthan FromeWaldenHeart of DarknessMadame BovaryThe Catcher in the Rye and The Sun Also Rises all suck. OK, that’s just my opinion, but the average high school student — hell, the average human being — will probably agree on a bunch of those at least.

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This cover is misleading because it is much more interesting than the book.

What really gets my goat is when people act like this is our problem. They say the reason we don’t like these books is because we don’t get it. Because we are stupid and like our stories spoon-fed to us with simple words. We hate to work our brains to think about deeper themes and ambiguity. We like our comfort zone, and we get confused and angry when asked to put ourselves in the shoes of people in different places and times.

They will say you are objectively wrong and the book is objectively good, and important. Maybe the piece of writing was a groundbreaker in covering a taboo subject, or maybe it introduced a new and important idea that influenced world events (Thoreau and civil disobedience), or is a great example of dramatic or situational irony or an unreliable narrator, or maybe it proves butt jokes are ancient and universal (Shakespeare).

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I remember he created a character named Bottom who had an “ass”‘ head. Not subtle.

A lot of these may be good reasons why you should read the book, but they shouldn’t be used to prove that the book is good. I’m not saying to strip all these books out of the curriculum or only make kids read things they enjoy. Life is hard and you have to do things you don’t like. When you grow up, you will have to read boring/wrong things and listen to boring/wrong people from time to time, and figure out how to pay attention and understand their point of view, and that is a skill you need to practice. But when just aboutevery single book on the reading list is something that makes the majority of your class go home and blog about how much they hate it, it starts to seem like aFahrenheit 451-style plot to destroy people’s interest in reading.

#3. You’re Not Allowed to Talk Smack About the Books

Even if you love literature and had a pretty good high school reading experience, you probably can agree that at least one book you were asked to read (in your opinion) sucked. There might be excessive exposition, laughable imagery, characters intended to be sympathetic who are grating or characters intended to be grating who are so grating that you can’t pay attention to the story (Holden Caulfield).

There are very few classrooms where you are encouraged to express this point of view, because I think a lot of teachers feel like if you admit to the book not being that great, then you open yourself up to the kids arguing that they shouldn’t have to read it. I don’t think it has to go there. I think teaching well-reasoned smack talk has a lot of value.

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And not just if you get into a kung fu fight at work.

The stated goal of teaching literature isn’t just to get kids familiar with famous books; it’s also supposed to teach kids how to discuss stories and write intelligently. You teach them how to find symbolism and metaphors and hero’s journeys and character arcs in an assigned book so that when they consume other media (other books, movies, long personal lies told by disturbed family members, etc.) in the future, they can point all those things out to explain why they’re good or bad.

And to be totally realistic, most of the practical application of this would go to movies, because more people watch and discuss movies (or TV shows) than read books these days. This seems bad at first, because there are a lot of terrible movies and TV shows out there today. But there’s a lot of very smart criticismand discussion of bad movies. I’ve mentioned Red Letter Media and their reviews before. You wouldn’t think there would be anything to learn from the vacuousStar Wars prequels, but apparently there’s a lot to point out about what specific elements of story and drama are missing, and a lot more intelligent observations to be pulled out of the movies than went into them, somehow.

So of course you don’t want to let the kids get away with writing an essay about an assigned book saying, “It sucks, it was boring, Heathcliff and Catherine were stupid and annoying,” even if you admit that Wuthering Heights is a piece of shit. But what if you let them write an essay that goes negative on the book as long as they make reasoned, intelligent points that show they understood the author’s intentions and the methods they used to achieve them, and then explain why they think the author failed at this?

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“I feel that Bronte was needlessly derivative in naming her main character after a cartoon cat.”

They can’t just say “The book was preachy” — they’ll have to say that a specific point was made “heavy-handedly,” cite a passage they find particularly ham-fisted and explain which words and phrases they feel butcher the idea of subtlety. They’ll have to explain why a certain chapter might have appealed to the author’s contemporary audience by showing an understanding of those readers and their situation, before explaining what’s changed in the intervening years to make that part of the story mawkish and cartoony. (Am I talking about Dickens? You decide.)

It’s a lot more motivating to write something you really believe. When you look for supporting points for your assigned essay on which character in The Great Gatsby best symbolizes the American Dream, you’ll probably be looking through your notes trying to figure out what your teacher wants you to say, and you’ll learn how to repeat things people want to hear. If you’re writing about why The Sun Also Rises sucks, your points will come from actual opinions you have and you’ll learn how to organize your own opinions and express them.

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Without using penis-shaped emoticons.

Even if the kids are wrong, like they say Shakespeare was a hack, being able to actually support that opinion with good points that show they really understand the material is pretty impressive. And the real world is full of murky issues (religion, politics, which character class is overpowered) where there’s no authoritative adult to come in and say which is the “right” opinion. They need to learn how to back their shit up themselves when nobody else is there to back them up and tell the class they got the right answer. People who don’t know how to articulate their reasoning just put down their stakes defensively and end up getting into a grown-up version of “Nuh-uh”/”Uh-huh.” And it’s not cute at that age.

#2. Anything Fun Is Too Shallow

Sometimes they let kids read one or two “fun” books (like the Hunger Gamesbooks or something) in a concession to try to keep them into reading. But they treat them like candy, a necessary evil that you should spend as little time on as possible. Maybe you give a book report, but otherwise they don’t want to waste time on that popular crap.

The argument is that fun and popular books are too shallow to get much out of. They’re not going to have as many themes, or new vocabulary words, or symbols, or unusual storytelling techniques as a classic novel. And that’s probably true in a lot of cases. The point they’re missing here is that most high school classes never even get close to digging out all the analyzable stuff from a book, because of time limits or limits of the students’ reading level. So imagine books as oil wells, full of tarry, black, flammable ideas to analyze. War and Peace has like a ton of light sweet crude going 5 miles deep and Jurassic Park is about, I don’t know, 10 feet deep.


Not to scale.

From my experience, even the average honors class only ends up drilling down about 9 feet. Tolstoy sure has a lot more to offer, but you’re never going to get to it.

Maybe that’s a good experience to have — to know that there are books that are totally going to make you feel out of your league and take a lot of time to fully grasp. But you should also have the experience of thoroughly analyzing most of the facets of a book to get an idea of all the parts you should be looking at, and just to have the satisfaction of mastering something. You can get a Cliffs Notes overview of a big, complex book, and then just totally dismantle a more lightweight book like you are rebuilding a ’57 Chevy.

By Buck, via Wikimedia Commons
That’s one of those cars people rebuild, right? I don’t know cars.

And when you’re discussing universal themes like good and evil, redemption, belief, and farts, or common techniques like symbolism, irony, and first- vs. third-person narrative, I think it’s a mistake to only look at them in classic literature. It creates an artificial barrier between classics and modern-day popular media so that a lot of people who learn those concepts while reading Shakespeare don’t think about applying them to Inception.

I think it would be kind of neat to have an assignment dealing with a character’s turn from good to evil where you compare how it’s done in Paradise LostAnimal FarmBreaking Bad, the Star Wars prequels and Warcraft III. Where was it most believable and why? How much of it was character-driven and how much of it was driven by outside circumstances or magic? And you’ll probably get to use the term “deus ex machina” somewhere in there. Literary!

You’d read Paradise Lost or Dorian Gray or whatever in class, and it’s up to you to find other things to compare them to. You only get one video game. (And if it’sDeus Ex, you’re not allowed to use the term “deus ex machina.”)

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I read in Reader’s Digest or something that some mom was shocked when her kid asked for this game because she thought he was saying “Day of Sex.” That is now the only thing I will call that game.

Instead of asking kids to accept the idea that some books are deep and some books are not because we say so, why not have them look at the “deep version” and the “shallow version” of the same plot? Hamlet and The Lion King or something. When they compare and contrast them, they’ll probably see for themselves what The Lion King is missing, even if they like it better. Of course they should also be allowed to say what they think Hamlet is missing, too (lions).

#1. Enjoy Reading? Preposterous!

There is a point in time where a lot of adults stop telling kids that reading is fun and start telling them that reading should be work. That if you’re not improving your mind and broadening your horizons, reading that book is just a waste of your time. And they have a lot of ideas about what kinds of books broaden kids’ minds.

By Anton Huttenlocher, via Wikimedia Commons
This is one of the few books that doesn’t make any lists.

One writer suggests that what kids really need is more contemporary foreign literature. The comments are full of different adults saying, “What kids really need to be reading is …” followed by their favorite book, or a list of books that teach about issues important to them (the adult). Like this guy feels the most important goal of reading should be to protect kids’ minds … from religion, I think? Or communism? The Skin book is kind of random.

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And this teacher feels like kids should not waste their summers reading The Hunger Games because they don’t gain much “verbal and world knowledge,” recommending The Red Badge of Courage and a bunch of nonfiction books about the horrors experienced by real people in other times and places, like Hiroshima, well-known as a great summer romp. These are really valuable books, and kids should have some idea about the world around them, but seriously, even in the summer, they can’t read a book just for fun?

She says: “Summer assignments should be about why we need to learn and why we need to talk about what we think.” Sure, that’s an important lesson that needs to be taught at some point, but when is there time for them to learn the other important lesson: Reading is something you can also do for fun, when you are taking a break from learning? You can’t just tell people that and hope they remember it when they graduate and finally have time for it. That’s something they need to learn by doing it and experiencing the fun.

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Like you shouldn’t play a video game about a day of sex; you should just go out and have one.

I was a really fast reader and had no life, so I probably had the time to read important, assigned books as well as fun things over the summer, but most of the other kids I knew didn’t read that fast and had a lot of activities, and, you know, friends or something. If you assigned them a book to read for the summer, that was probably going to be the only one they would have time to get to. They would see reading as a hateful devil that chases you relentlessly, even into your leisure months.

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Here is a painting of — I am not joking — the devil trying to get St. Augustine to read something.

I’m not saying people should stop teaching classics or make the entire curriculum out of Stephen King books, but at a certain point in a kid’s life, reading gets turned into all work and no play (which makes Jack uninteresting or something … I forget). You’ve got to really be pretty crazy about reading to come out on the other side still excited about the next book you’re about to open. (And you’ll probably lose that excitement after going through any literary fiction for adults these days, but that is another story.)

As for me, I haven’t given up on reading. I’m still looking for good books to read, but I’ve been burned so much by recommendations that I’ve instituted a new procedure for the approval of any new reading material. I will require at least five notarized affidavits from me-certified book evaluators who give the book at least 4 out of 5 stars in three major evaluation categories (pacing, character development and amount of dinosaurs, for example) before I will read it. Certification is a fairly straightforward process involving an application in which you list your favorite books and other media and a brief essay describing what you think I am looking for in a book. If your application is satisfactory, it will be followed by two phone interviews. Certification can be revoked at any time if evidence surfaces of you reading Fifty Shades of Grey or other disqualifying material unless you can submit witness statements from two independent evaluators testifying that you were only reading it so you could write jokes about it. This might sound like a great deal of trouble to recommend a book, but think about what’s at stake, man. I could be bored for several hours! Who wants that on their hands?

Black Girls Rule!!!!

Okay so my short, Monsters, has been shipped off as has my novella, West of Sunset. I’m currently typing another short story. While working, I was inspired to pen an upcoming short story piece featuring two extraordinary heroines.

The premise: True Blood’s Tara Thornton teams up with the Vampire Diaries’ Bonnie Bennett.

Oh yeah. I’m geeking out just thinking about it.

 

 

 

Monsters and Other Projects

Been busy writing like a madman. Just finished transcribing West of Sunset. Just need to do another round of edits and I’ll be shipping that off to a prospective publisher.

Also completed a short story, Monsters, and submitted that to a magazine.

Got another short story to work on for a quarterly and a few more projects after that.

Right now this pretty much sums up me these past few weeks:

Fallen For Trent

If you’re one of the three people on the planet who’s not familiar with Pauline Trent, then I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life. I really don’t. She’s a talented novelist and is every bit the extraordinary heroine as the ones she writes about in her books.

I recently sat down with Trent and caught up with her on a number of topics: writing, the publishing industry, as well as her latest novel, FALLEN HEART, the third installment of her popular Lambert Fall series.

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Into The Woods

So the past few weeks I’ve been really slammed. But it’s a good kind of busy so by no means am I complaining.

I just submitted a proposal to my publisher and an editor for an upcoming project I was recruited for.  At this time I can’t say anything about it, but I really want to because it’s really awesome. I can’t wait to show you all the finished product because I think you all will be just as stoked as I am. Okay I will drop one hint. It’s steampunk.

In other writing news, I’ve been working on a novella which I’m proud to announce I’ve finally found a name for it: West Of Sunset.  The story features young gay wizard detectives, vampire biker gangs and witchy heroines. It’s been a romp and I’m only at the halfway point. I’ve been working on it everyday and it’s coming along nicely. I can’t wait until it’s finished. More than that, I can’t wait until it’s published.

As you all know, I’ve got some upcoming appearances in the next few weeks and I’ve been preparing for that as well. I’ll be posting more on said appearances in the not-too-distant future.

And this past weekend, I had an impromptu photoshoot. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have some updated headshots. Below are the results of some of my fave pics.

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Gatekeepers

I think it’s safe to say that the internet has changed the landscape in society, our way of life, and specifically entertainment. Social media, websites, blogs, emails, we’re allowed to have global discussions that once upon a time would’ve been the stuff of sci-fi. For the publishing industry, e-books have been a game changer. While initially met with skepticism by many who believed it was only going to be a fad, e-books have been established as here to stay.

Between e-books and the internet, it’s allowed smaller presses and self-published authors to compete with the big boys and girls.

As the technology continues to improve and self-publishing becomes easier (at least in terms of formatting and producing an e-book), not to mention Amazon entering the mix and potentially dealing a blow to traditional publishers, there are many who are worried about the loss of the gatekeepers.

For those of you who are not in the publishing game, there’s this stigma that self-published authors have to put up with:

-If they’re self-published, it’s because they couldn’t get a “real publisher.”

-The authors are self-published because they aren’t up to par with “real authors.”

-Traditional publishing is “real” publishing because the editors and publishers serve as the gatekeepers to keep out inferior tripe.

Which is interesting because in music, theater, or other forms of art, the standard is that you work and produce your own stuff, build a name until you get the agent, the contract, the distribution deal, etc. But for many, being self-published is almost like being blacklisted. And while I believe that mindset is changing (thanks in part to the flux of the industry and the emergence of ebooks), it still exists.

While I went through an excellent publisher for Hollowstone, I got mad respects for my self-published brothers and sisters. I got mad respect for anyone who gets their hustle on and fight for what they love and makes it happen. The risk is that there is far more riding on the author’s shoulders and it’s all on them but it can be done. I’ve read some incredible self-published books that quite frankly don’t get the credit they deserve.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s merits and disadvantages to both being traditionally published and self-published and it ultimately depends on what the novelist is looking for. And this certainly isn’t a trad. publishing vs. self-publishing debate. There are authors who do both. In fact some of my friends, began as trad. published authors but after they built a name, learned the business, they decided to take the reins of publishing their work.

An aside, there’s been two or three writers (and I use the term loosely) who for years trashed self-published authors and suddenly within the last few years, they’ve been self-publishing themselves. Oh how the tides have changed.

The publishing industry is in a flux right now. It’s shifting. Whether the shift is bad or good, it’s anyone’s call. I’ve read some strong arguments across the board. But between the recession, said industry flux, the emerging technology of e-books, I think people are a lot more open to the idea of self-publishing.

But if everyone self-publishes, who will be the gatekeepers?

There’s another reason why people go the self-publishing route which I don’t think gets discussed enough (if at all): the rampant bigotry in the industry. We’ve seen what happens when authors try to put the gay in YA, we’ve seen the countless times when novel covers featuring protagonists of color are whitewashed like whoa. It’s the same gatekeepers who think that POC, queer and other marginalized stories aren’t “real stories” and that POC and queer authors aren’t “real authors.”

While there are a few marginalized presses out there who are fighting a good fight and doing some incredible work, that’s the problem, there are only a few and many of them have limited resources at best.

Sure there are a few queer and/or POC titles that beat the odds and get published but how many other wonderful books out there are we missing out on? We’ve witnessed the pushback that happens when we expect change in the industry.

Or the few “marginalized titles,” how many of those are written by non marginalized writers for a privileged audience?

How many authors have been told that queer, or POC-centric titles don’t sell or “we just released a book with a black character and we don’t want to publish two because OMG that might eat our sales”?

Again this isn’t a self-publishing vs. traditional publishing post. Again, there are merits to both. This is about why the gatekeepers haven’t always been on the side of the angels.

For many of us, the old way wasn’t working, so with the flux and the change, here’s hoping it leads to something better.

Recommended Reading:

http://muserising.com/?p=864

http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2012/01/self-publishing-sometimes-only-gate.html

 

Don’t Call It A Comeback

It’s Saturday night.

I’m typing this on my Macbook in my lcoal Starbucks which, as cliched as it is, has become one of my new haunts to get my writing on. The atmosphere is conducive to being creative. It also helps when a cute black girl sitting at another table smiles at me. And for that matter, a really hot blond. I swear, even if I wasn’t Denny, I’d wish I was. It’s been a crazy year, I knew releasing and promoting a book would be a tailspin, I’m still learning how much so.

Taking a break from editing my next novel, I thought I’d take the time to answer some questions from some loyal readers about Hollowstone, getting published, and being a writer. I’ll be sharing some tidbits as to how Hollowstone became a reality, some secrets about the characters, and how I did the impossible: publish a book.

If you haven’t read the book yet (AND WHY HAVEN’T YOU? IT’S LIKE THE GREATEST STORY EVER!!!!!), I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

Some of the answers may surprise you. Many of the responses will be insightful. In any event, I’ll try to keep it entertaining.

Well okay then.

1) HAS THE READER REACTION TO ANY OF THE CHARACTERS SURPRISED YOU?

Neely’s popularity has been a huge and pleasant surprise. It’s awesome because she’s one of my favorite characters. She’s beautiful, she’s strong, she’s quirky, bright, full of life but I wouldn’t have guessed that she would’ve gotten over with readers in the manner she has. Cal and Prof. Nolan, I expected and true to form, they are two of the most asked about characters but Neely is right up there with them. One reader made an excellent point, it’s rare that you have a bisexual character who a) is portrayed positively and with respect b) is one of the main characters c) kicks ass.

And while the dearth of ass-kicking bisexual and other queer characters is both tragic and unacceptable, I’m glad Neely has served as those things to so many readers and it was an honor to tell her story.

2) WAS IT DIFFICULT GETTING A NOVEL PUBLISHED WITH LGBTQ CHARACTERS?

Yeah it shut many doors having both queer and POC characters as the main protagonists and discussing their marginalizations in an unapologetic manner but I have no regrets and I stand by my decision. That’s all the more reason why I’ll always be eternally grateful to Parker Publishing. It was simply a non-issue. They were excited about the novel, all facets of it and there was never a discussion about straightening or whitewashing.

What I also find interesting is that blacks and POCs are often falsely accused of being exclusively homophobic unlike white society. Yet while many (read: white) publishers and agents are rejecting queer stories left and right, my black editor and my publishing company (whose main target demographic is women of color) welcomed my story with queer characters with the widest open arms.

So as far as that nonsense about POCs being more homophobic than whites, MYTH BUSTED!!!!!

3) WILL THERE BE A SEQUEL FOR HOLLOWSTONE?

You know, I toyed with the idea of a sequel and even a trilogy but I didn’t feel as strongly about continuing the story. As a writer, you always want to go out on a high note, I believe that Hollowstone does that. The story concluded in a unique manner and I provided sufficient closure to all of the players. To continue the story that I don’t feel as strongly about, I feel I’d be doing a disservice to Hollowstone.

All of that said, if a story does manifest where I can continue the saga in a brilliant manner, I would definitely be open to it.

And all of that said, don’t be surprised if a Hollowstone alumn makes a cameo in a future story.

4) WHICH CHARACTERS DO YOU PERSONALLY RELATE TO THE MOST?

Cassidy, hands down. Ryan and a bit of Neely.

5) WERE THERE ANY TOPICS/THEMES THAT WERE DIFFICULT TO TACKLE?

Um……..YEAH?!!!!!! I’ve consistently received comments from readers saying how difficult some of the subject matter and themes were to read. Understandably so. Hollowstone is a dark story, just like any self-respecting noir. But if you think it was difficult to read said themes and subject matter, imagine how it tough it was for me to write it. More than once, Hollowstone about drove me to drink.

More than that, many of the issues are based on real life situations so there’s also the added responsibility of tackling these issues honestly, correctly and with respect.

Which is why when I finished Hollowstone, my edict for my next novel was that it was going to be sweet and sugary and full of puppies and warm happy non-depressing goodness.

6) HOLLOWSTONE INCORPORATED A MULTITUDE OF ELEMENTS FROM VARIOUS GENRES. DO YOU THINK IT HELPED OR HARMED SELLING THE NOVEL?

Probably both. It’s definitely not a cookie cutter novel and while that probably shut some doors, I’m also proud of that as well. Hollowstone is its own novel and it’s not trying to follow or fad, it stays true to itself. It incorporates, noir, paranormal, southern Gothic, etc because it was genuine to the story, not because it was trying to fit a mold. And obviously it’s uniqueness isn’t doing too much harm, the book found a publisher and is doing really well.

7) IF HOLLOWSTONE WAS ADAPTED INTO A MOVIE, WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO DIRECT IT?

Joss Whedon or Bryan Singer. Hands down.

8 ) HAS THERE BEEN ANY SURPRISE AUDIENCE REACTIONS?

One thing that’s been interesting is reading the responses and the reactions of white and black readers. I’m just talking Americans here. Two groups, same book and based on the feedback and the reactions, you would think they were reading two completely different books. It amazes me how blacks picked up on many of the nuances, complexities of the characters (specifically with the POC and queer characters) which it seems many white readers missed altogether. A white buddy of mine made a valid point that for many white readers, they read novels and often tend to focus on people who look like them.  So when a considerable amount of time is focused on characters who qualify as the Other, they miss a lot of stuff altogether. As opposed to POCs who are accustomed to reading about white characters and white culture, so I think for many of them they were happy to see POC, queer and other marginalized characters given the spotlight for a change.

Also too, I’ve noticed that the mere concept of Noah, and for that matter Cassidy, has thoroughly skull-fucked so many white readers. Yes in the paranormal novel with ghosts, psychics and other supernatural elements, a mild-mannered straight-A black kid who plays the violin is some mythical creature and just too far fetched.

I don’t think people realize Noah and Cassidy aren’t exceptions to the rule. They are the standard in our culture. As blacks, we know how society perceives us, ignorant subhuman savages. We understand that we have to work twice as hard and be smarter, stronger, faster, superior, to garner a fraction of what we deserve. So no, Noah and Cassidy aren’t mythical unicorns or Mary Sues, like most black people, they’re just that damn good.

9) ANYTHING YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF WHILE WRITING HOLLOWSTONE?

For my stories, I’ve come to realize that strong powerful women are a must. That’s one of the things I love about noir is that it’s one of the few genres where the women are usually the dominant force in the stories. And not just the femme fatales but the “good girls” who also usually are pretty badass in their own right.

My editor and I were discussing how many powerful women are in Hollowstone. Neely obviously comes to mind but also Phyllis, Cassidy and Ruby. Even Abby later comes into her own.

I think one of my favorite scenes is when Noah has to go “rescue the girl.” And like an idiot, he walks into a trap and the girl has to save him.

10) ANY SECRETS OR TIDBITS OR CONFESSIONS?

Hmmm. Let me think.

Let me think, let me think. Oh I know. Noah began to get on my nerves while I wrote the novel. Noah was tricky because not only is he the eyes and the ears of the audience but he often serves as the story’s moral compass. More than once he began to get borderline sanctimonious (oh who am I kidding, he was beyond the border) and I knew it was time to take him down a few pegs. I also knew I was going to bring Cassidy into the fold and explore her character so that’s how that scene with the two of them at Wong’s Bookstore and the dance came about.

It also worked out because that became a theme for Noah. He continued to learn that not everything was black and white and clear cut. People are flawed, people have their hands forced and people are lost. What’s interesting when he finally learned that, even with his most bitter foe, he finally had the strength to solve the mystery and stop the story’s Big Bad.

11) I KNOW IT WAS IMPLIED, BUT PLEASE TELL ME RYAN GETS A HAPPY ENDING.

Ryan was a difficult character to write for many reasons. I didn’t want him to be dismissed as the gay tragedy trope, but in an age where gay students are being physically assaulted by teachers and students and are committing suicide, I knew his story was one worth telling. And one that needed to be told. Most people dismissed Ryan as the gay kid and I thought it was important when Noah shared Ryan’s past and explained everything he survived and just how truly gifted this young man was.

What’s tragic is that it took Ryan going to the level he did, to get any semblance of justice. It’s like he said in one scene about Eli having a good heart and we see where that got him. Ryan had to take extreme measures before anyone finally paid attention.

While Eli represented the gay story for countless teens, Ryan represented both the gay story and bullied kid who are often terrorized in school, I also felt it was important to show why people who are pushed too far will take their power back by any means necessary.

I believe Ryan gets the healing he needs to come to terms with his past and to move forward with his life. And I think one day he even gets lucky and finds someone else.

12) WHAT IS THE MOST BIZARRE FEEDBACK YOU’VE RECEIVED?

Oh let’s see. I had a couple of people claim that I didn’t know anything about the South because they lived in Eastern Tennessee for a few years and it was totally inconceivable that a prestigious school like Hollowstone could exist in a small southern town.

First of all, ignoring the fact that the town of Newton, TN is totally fictional, I proceeded to point out the real life schools and universities and other real locations which inspired the setting for Hollowstone.

I was then told by others that southerners don’t blatantly fly Confederate flags as depicted in the novel. I instructed them to go through Nashville on I-65 and en route to  100 Oaks Mall, they’ll pass a private school (whose mascot is the rebels) have a row of Confederate flags raised proudly.

There was another comment where this woman wrote this tirade about this corrupt official in the novel she went on about how I was being sexist because I was trying to convey that women in power can’t handle the responsibility and could easily be bought off and I’m such an ahparessive misogynist for showing that women in power are corrupt like this official. Interesting theory, only there was one problem. The corrupt official the woman was referencing WAS A MAN! He was repeatedly identified as A MAN! You can file that under why reading is fundamental.

Perhaps my favorite commentary came from another woman, a self-professed feminist and champion of LGBT rights who stated (and I shite thee not) that Neely failed as a bisexual character because she dates a guy in the novel. Yeah, I made that same WTF?!!! face that you’re making right now.

I would’ve dismissed these clowns as trolls but I honestly don’t think of them are that clever.

13)  NOLAN, DUDE WHAT THE HELL IS HIS STORY?

Nolan was primarily inspired by a mentor of mine from art school. My art professor, to sum him up is either the offspring of Miranda Priestly and Severus Snape or the lovechild of Montgomery Burns and Edna Mode.

My professor is an incredible man and I definitely wanted to pay homage to him with Nolan.

14) YOU MENTIONED THE PARALLELS BETWEEEN HOLLOWSTONE AND THE GREAT GATSBY. I GUESSED A FEW, COULD YOU LIST SOME OF THE OTHERS. 

Let’s see if I can remember all of the nods to Gatsby:

The first half of the book was practically a modern retelling for all intents and purposes.

Character wise: Cal-Jay Gatsby, Noah-Nick Carraway, Abigail-Daisy, Chris-Tom Buchanan, Brianna-Jordan Baker.

Actually Goddard’s name was another nod as it was the name of the author of the book The Rise of The Colored Empire that Tom ranted about in Gatsby.

At the rave where the two girls tell Noah and Brianna about Cal replacing the ripped dress, that was another nod.

The funeral scene was another nod.

And when we introduce Neely, she meets Noah while he’s reading the Great Gatsby in the cafeteria.

I already know I forgot a few.

15) THERE WAS DEFINITELY A ROMANTIC SPARK BETWEEN NOAH AND ABBY. IF CAL HADN’T BEEN IN THE PICTURE, WOULD THOSE TWO HAVE PAIRED UP?

I think if circumstances had been different and if Cal hadn’t been in the picture, I think Noah and Abby could’ve possibly have been an item. It’s interesting because the two characters are very similar in a lot of respects: they’re both spiritual, gentle and compassionate and they were both guiding and positive influences for Cal. Would they have been the One True Pairing, I doubt it.

I think it’s possible the two would’ve dated, the relationship would run its course and the two would’ve moved on. Or maybe they would’ve gotten married. I guess we’ll never know.

16)  WHICH CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON REAL LIFE PEOPLE YOU’VE KNOWN?

Ruby Scott was inspired by my grandmother, Nanna.

Cal was actually based on a few buddies from Atlanta. All of them are charming, charismatic lovable reprobates who kept getting us into all kinds of mischief and all kinds of fun.

Noah was based on three buddies from high school. One of them is a very gifted musician.

Mrs. Blake who had a brief role was based on my senior high school writing mentor.

Randy Tyler was actually based on a sophomore high school teacher and well as my martial arts sensei and Janette was inspired by my sensei’s wife.

Vaughn was inspired by my high school classmate and buddy Angus. Yes Angus, if you’re reading, you inspired one of my favorite characters and thank you.

Nolan was based on my art professor.

17) HOW WOULD YOU FEEL ABOUT FANFIC OF HOLLOWSTONE?

Um…..awkward?

18) WHAT ABOUT SLASH? 

I know who sent me these two questions. Oh you are funny. Re: slash, might as well! Everyone kept expecting Noah to come out of the closet and/or sleep with Cal. I can’t tell you how many times I had that discussion. I swear you would’ve thought Hollowstone was the story about the two gay guys on the mountain…..you know, Lord of the Rings.

19) YOU GAVE MILLER A LOT MORE DEPTH THAN EXPECTED. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON HIM?

Miller, for all intents and purposes, was a darker version of Cal and I think that’s why there was so much animosity between the two characters because they saw a lot of themselves in the other. They both had similar origins and I think Cal could’ve become a Miller if people like Abby and Noah weren’t in his life. I’ve mentioned before that part of the special bond between Noah and Cal is that the two learned from each other. Noah was Cal’s moral compass, his north star that kept him true and honest. He taught Cal compassion and the real meaning of family and friendship. I think from Cal, Noah learned about strength. He grew stronger and he discovered strength he always possessed. I think the same can be said for Abby and Cal as well.

20) AS A BLACK PERSON, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE SEGREGATION BETWEEN WHITE AND POC IN REGARDS TO YA GENRE? ALSO, DO YOU THINK THAT BLACK AUDIENCES ARE RESTRICTING THEMSELVES TO READING ONLY ONE GENRE? AND DO YOU THINK THAT MAINSTREAM WILL STOP BLEACHING CHARACTERS?

I don’t think black audiences are restricting themselves at all. I think the fact is the publishing industry has made it adamantly clear for the most part that they have no interest in diversity. Even though the POC markets are virtually untapped and have huge buying power that could help the industry which is frankly dying, they refuse to do so. And this goes for mainstream (read: white) media in general.

I think blacks and other POCs need to start getting more proactive in setting up our own publishing houses, our own media and producing our own work, for us, by us. Don’t get me wrong there are a few of us who are doing it, but we definitely need to step it up.

We have the buying power and the resources. It can be done. I for one can’t wait to see it.

21) HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE CHANGED BETWEEN THE TIME YOU DECIDED TO WRITE A NOVEL AND FINALLY SEEING IT PUBLISHED? HOW MUCH OF A LONG ROAD WAS IT? AND HOW MUCH DID THE EXPERIENCE AFFECT YOU? CAN YOU TELL A LITTLE ABOUT THE PROCESS OF HOW THE IDEA TOOK SHAPE IN YOUR MIND?

Fighting for a project you believe in when the rest of the world is telling you no, you quickly learn what you’re made of.  You do get support when the book is published, but while you’re writing and submitting, it takes a lot to finish the novel, edit, polish it, and submit it to publishers and agents with doubt and insecurity being a constant companion. Years can pass and rejections will pile on. And seeing as the publishing of this novel kept me from going into the Air Force, I’m pretty certain this was Fate’s way of telling me what my purpose is. I’m a storyteller, that’s what I am.

22)   HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT FINDING A GOOD PUBLISHER? I’M LOOKING TO PUBLISH A SUPERHERO BOOK, AND YET IT SEEMS AS THOUGH ALL THE SCI-FI PUBLISHERS ARE HARDCORE SCI-FI AND WON’T ACCEPT SUPERHEROES. I CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT YOU WENT THROUGH TO GET AN  URBAN FANTASY NOVEL RELEASED. IS IT BETTER TO JUST GO WITH A COMPANY THAT RELEASES ALL KINDS OF BOOKS OR GENRE SPECIFIC? AND…UMM….RECOMMENDATIONS?

When it came to researching and tracking down publishers and agents, I basically went into Sherlock Holmes/Veronica Mars mode.I purchased the Writer’s Market guide, researched markets and agents that I thought would be a great fit for Hollowstone and submitted to them. I would say don’t dismiss or discount smaller indie publishers. In the age of the internet, they can definitely make an impact.

23)  ADVICE FOR SUCCESSFUL WRITING, PLEASE! LIKE WHAT ARE THE TRAPS TO AVOID.

These two posts have some excellent steps to getting published imho.

http://dennisupkins.com/2011/07/19/my-20-steps-to-getting-published/

http://dennisupkins.com/2011/08/29/joss-whedons-top-10-writing-tips/

24)  WHEN WILL WE SEE YOUR NEXT STORY?

STOP PRESSURING ME! I CAN’T TAKE THIS PRESSURE! Actually I just finished Draft Zero of Empyrea and I’m about to go through the second round of revisions. After that I plan to start shopping the novel around.

Promoting Hollowstone has cut into editing time but I’m excited to get Empyrea done and get the novel out there as well.

25) AS A WRITER, WHAT WERE YOUR VICTORIES WITH THIS NOVEL?

As a writer, there are certain things that inform me when I’ve done my job. And the following has been a general consensus:

1) When someone says the couldn’t put the book down or they finished it in 2 days. That in itself informs me that I did my job as a storyteller. Because if I’ve hooked a reader from start to finish and keep them wanting to read, then I’ve done my job.

2) Positive portrays of black and queer characters.

3) Tackling some heavy social issues and reflecting the injustices many of us must endure.

4) People wanting to kill me because the surprise twists. When I’m tricking other writers and being told that was well-executed, I feel pretty accomplished. Now I understand why Joss Whedon enjoys it.

5) Finding out that people enjoyed my novel. That’s probably the biggest joy and that makes me want to work harder and step my game up for my next story.

26) WHO ARE YOUR LITERARY/WRITING INFLUENCES?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle immediately comes to mind. F. Scott Fitzgerald for obvious reasons, LOL! I’m a huge JK Rowling fan as well as fans of the late Dwayne McDuffie. Probably one of my biggest writing influences would be Joss Whedon who I believe has been a game changer as far as speculative media goes.

27) WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

Usually I’ll get a concept or an idea and I’ll brainstorm it for a bit, let the idea develop. It might range from a day to a couple of months, depends on the project. From there I begin jotting down notes of things I want to include. Then I compile an outline. And then do a very rough draft. Then I commence with the revisions/edits. And once I think it’s polished, I begin shopping around

28) TEAM CAL OR TEAM NOAH? WHERE DO YOU FALL?

Hmmmm. I don’t know. See for Cal, there are only two kind of women in the world. Abby and everyone else. And as someone pointed Noah got more than his share of play as well. Maybe because he knows how to work the Altar Boy angle.

Team Cal or Team Noah? I don’t know.

Cal is the guy you have the epic one night stand with that you’ll remember and cherish for the rest of your life.

Noah is the one you marry and settle down with. He’s that prince charming who’s stalwart and true.

The bad boy or the good boy. Convincing arguments could be made for either. What say the rest of you? Pick your poison.

29) HAVE YOU RE-READ HOLLOWSTONE SINCE IT’S BEEN RELEASED?

I’ve read it once. But truth be told, I’ve been busy working on other projects. I may read it in a year and see how I feel about the novel then.

30) WITH HOLLOWSTONE PUBLISHED, DO YOU HAVE ANY FINAL THOUGHTS ON THAT WORLD?

I think it was a story that needed to be told. It’s a story that I’m honored and humbled to share. I’m glad to finally share this world with other people, as this story has been in my head for the longest time. With the novel published, I finally have a sense of closure and I can move on to the next adventure.
But when it’s all said and done, I published a pretty cool book. And for that I’m thankful and proud.
I feel good. Golden even.