"Read My Lips" is the new initiative began in November 2006 to encourage reading and writing among those both young and old. We want to help feed a passion for the written and spoken word to help individuals continue to mold the future. Want to know how you can be featured? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601.896.5616.
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Monday, February 25, 2008
Theresa’s relationship with Michael began when she was twelve years old. She became "obsessed" with him and wrote him numerous letters until they met in Las Vegas for her sixteenth birthday! The obsession continued as they stayed in touch from that point on. Their worlds have continuously gone full circle always leading back to each other. They last saw each other four days before his arrest for these current child molestation charges as she introduced her own son Mychal (named after Michael) to him. Michael had his kids with him as well and was genuinely happy to see that Theresa's son was so well cared for! However, it was Theresa's son Todd that was the controversy behind the hit song Billie Jean. Her friendship with Michael was such that she confided in him about all aspects of her life. In detailing her situation about her baby's daddy....Michael wrote the song Billie Jean about her!
Her new book THE MAN IN THE WOODS is another fact-based novel that will keep readers enthralled. It was chosen as Conversations Book Club's "Book of the Month" for May 2008.
Our conversation explores the story and the woman whose true-live experience has made her a part of music history.
Theresa, thank you for taking out the time to talk to CONVERSATIONS about your life and your novel OBSESSIONS. I want to begin if we can at the beginning. Tell us about your earliest memories of your childhood.
Wow, my recollection of my early childhood actually goes back to before there was a Michael Jackson in the public eye. It was a lonely life for a young girl who was the middle child amongst four brothers. I was not a physically abused child but I was extremely neglected. At six years of age, I was taking the bus alone from the projects of Columbia Point to the city of Jamaica Plain to visit my grandmother. The significance of that memory is that I had to go through the infamous city of South Boston where I had to often dodge whites who would spit on me and throw rocks. I was constantly ducking down to avoid getting him by a rock aimed at the bus window. I had witnessed numerous traumatic scenes, which included a friend of ours getting smashed by an elevator and brought out in a green duffle body bag.
Mother spent most of her time with a variety of men. She was a single mother, having been divorced twice, with five kids. She had never relished the idea of having a daughter, which is why I was left to fend for myself at such a young age.
Because of things going on in your life at an early age, do you think you used music, books and writing as an escape? Yes, I used music and writing to escape quite a bit. Writing helps to heal the soul as well.
I read on your website www.obsessionsthebook.com that it was at the age of twelve that you felt drawn to one entertainer in particular. Would you tell us how their music affected you?
I was extremely drawn to the music of the Jackson Five and particularly that of Michael Jackson. I always felt he was singing directly to me. When Michael would sing I’ll Be There, I personally felt that he was telling me that he would be there for me. He made me feel like there was someone who actually loved me. I wanted him to be proud of me so the direction my life took was to make him proud.
Theresa, there are alot of young people that are infatuated with certain entertainers: having all their records, posters and any article that they appear in. What were some of the things you would do to get to know Michael Jackson better?
I wrote Michael Jackson constantly….Okay, I wrote him almost every single day and I kept track of the letters (smile). I didn’t write the normal fan letter. I wrote him about my life and everything that was going on it. I read everything that I could find about him. I would question some of the things that I read. But my letters were more geared towards telling him about my school grades, how my day would go and what I did in camp, etc. I learned how to get his home address under the freedom of information act because the post woman was tired of my sending him gifts to a P.O. Box. I never acted like a groupie and I never tried to have a sexual relationship with him.
When you began writing him, did you expect that he would actually respond? I never actually expected him to respond. There were letters I received from the fan club people with autographed pictures. That was discouraging, but somehow I still felt in my heart that he was reading my letters.
Reading letters from someone you admire it great, and a dream come true for so many. What was it like to finally meet him on your sixteenth birthday, and how did it happen?
Every day in school, I would write on the board, “Theresa Gonsalves loves Michael Jackson” and whoever was assigned to clean the boards after school would never erase it but would add a comment like….”but he doesn’t love her” or “he doesn’t even know her”…so I vowed to meet him by the time I turned sixteen. In July of 1974, I rode to New York to see the Jackson Five perform and even though I knew what hotel he was staying at I decided to go back to Boston instead of trying to be a groupie to meet him. When I arrived home the next morning, I called the hotel. Instead of asking for him, I asked for his road manager who was Reggie Wiggins at the time and they rang his room. He told me Michael was still asleep in the next room. I had their tour schedule in my hand and knew that they were going to be performing at the MGM on my birthday and I asked Mr. Wiggins if I fly to Las Vegas for my sixteenth birthday could I meet Michael Jackson and he said “Honey, if you fly from Boston to Las Vegas just to meet Michael Jackson, I will make sure you meet him.” With that said, I began saving money to make this trip. I wrote letters to the MGM’s President’s secretary who arranged my room and I also wrote letters to every Black mayor I could find throughout the country asking them to contribute $5.00 to my dream. They all wrote back wishing me success with my endeavors but all stated they were unable to contribute.
I worked a part time job after school and saved all my money sacrificing any new school clothes and I made sure that I had straight A’s in all my classes so I would be able to take a week off of school. In October of 1974, I called the Sahara Tahoe Hotel in Lake Tahoe where the Jackson’s were performing and at this time I did ask for Michael’s room and was shocked when they put me through. When I identified myself to him, he knew exactly who I was. I was in total shock as he recited the dates I was coming to meet him telling me I write it in every letter that I send him! So during the week of Nov 20-Nov 28, I was made their guest as we met for the first time.
How did the relationship between the two of you develop, and can you let us know how it affected the rest of your life?
The relationship developed into a friendship. I continued to write him and he continued reading my letters. I flew other places to hang out with him. I was invited to his home and when he was filming the Wiz, I spent two separate weeks in New York visiting him. Once I was going to fly to London just to meet him there! My relationship with him actually affected me in a good way. I became a strong woman, independent and it surely kept me out of trouble. In wanting him to be proud of me, I never did drugs. I have never smoked cigarettes. And, I can gladly comment that I have never been drunk in my life. On the other side of things, I also never learned how to have a real relationship with men.
Now, that we have set a foundation, Theresa, let's talk about your son Todd and the song "Billy Jean" and the controversy that followed. First of all, did you know he was going to be writing the song, and how did you feel when you first heard it?
I didn’t know that he was going to be writing the song. I wrote him letters about my situation. At this time I was 23 years old and of course involved with the wrong type of man. I was living also in Encino at the time so I would see Michael from time to time. I didn’t feel betrayed or anything when I heard the song. I didn’t feel honored. That situation exists with so many women, more so now than in the past, or perhaps it is being put out there more. I had been with this man for over a year and here he was claiming my kid wasn’t his. His song let me know he could understand what I was feeling, but that women often put men in that situation.
Since Michael Jackson has had his negative dealings with the press, were you afraid of how the cloud of curiosity would affect your own family?
No, I didn’t feel that his negative dealings would affect us. We are very open and outspoken. I named my second son Mychal after Michael Jackson but spelled after the ex-lover Mychal Thompson who was from the Bahamas. I named my son after Michael as an honor for how he affected my life. I have been asked my opinion often and I will say that I do not believe Michael to be a child molester. But I will also say that you never truly know what a person is capable of as you take a look at all of the ministers that have sexually abused children. Michael Jackson has always worried about children. I remember being with him in New York and I had bought him a gift which was a book on child abuse and we shared our feelings on that even way back then (around 1977). As for being asked would I let my child visit him…that answer still remains yes but I would not allow him to sleep in bed with him or any man for that matter.
I think I read on your website that in 1984 Star Magazine ran the story saying that you were the real Billie Jean. Star, though not without its credibility issues, has been known to get many stories right. Did you agonize over revealing your identity and how did that change your life from that point? What about your son? Were you afraid of how he would be viewed as he grew older?
I didn’t agonize over that. I asked Michael if he was okay with it and he was. It didn’t change my life much at all. Both my sons have grown up being Michael Jackson/Jackson Five fans. Their friends often wondered how such young boys were so into the Jackson Five and now they know. As of today, my son Todd is married with two beautiful children!
All of this has the makings of a great movie, so it is no surprised that you wrote the book OBSESSIONS. What I am curious about is why you call is a novel, and did that make it easier for you to not feel a responsibility to tell the world all the details of your relationship with Michael Jackson?
“OBSESSIONS” isn’t really about me and Michael Jackson. It is more about how my relationship with him actually led me to have an obsessive behavior towards men. I am not ashamed of my relationship or friendship with Michael Jackson and I shared with the world as long as it didn’t hurt either one of us. It was hard sharing my story of being obsessed with this man who happens to be my son’s father.
Can you tell us about the man who you were involved with that you felt like was trying to harm you?
This man that I was involved with was a very handsome charming man. I was with him for eighteen years and we have my son Mychal together. Underneath the charm however was a chameleon. He was leading three different lives (that I now know about…could have been more) and when I found out what he was truly about I felt that he had wasted numerous years of my life with him. I was truly obsessed with this man because I really didn’t know how to be any other way just as I was obsessed with Michael Jackson at a young age to the point that it directed my life.
One of the reasons I wanted to talk with you, Theresa, was because I read on your website that you wanted your story to help women to see that they can overcome adversities in their life. I am curious to know some of the responses you have gotten from others about your experiences.
I am actually amazed at the responses I have received from women who have read my book. Most have read it in two days. I have received phone calls from strangers telling me that they saw themselves in the pages of the book and that it helped them get out of their relationship. Sometimes it takes reading about the same behaviors in others to see it within ones self. If my book helped just one woman, I am happy that I wrote it. It is hard to put yourself out there. I am not ashamed of the things I can only change and go forward. I had one girl call me the first week it was out and told me it made her rethink her unhealthy relationship and she said she was going to keep it by her bed every time she was tempted to go back. I spoke to her a month ago and she is not back. I am glad my book gave her strength.
You have definitely had your share of success in the business world, but your life has not been without difficulty. I know you are currently battling a life-threatening illness. What has been your goal in life as you look forward to the future?
I actually am looking forward to my new book coming out “The Man in the Woods” another fact based story. With my illness, I choose not to be limited. I do my own research and I have a wonderful doctor who actually cares. But since being diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, the same illness that took the life of Walter Payton, I have taken on the motto of LIVE LIFE and that is what I intend to do everyday! I am also looking to try to reach out to other Black authors. While there are many, there aren’t that many who make it. That really bothers me. The literary world is still mainly a White based world. It is they who decide what gets read. Almost every well known Black author has had to self publish first. If Man in the Woods becomes a success, then I intend to take that success and use it for our advantage.
Tell us about the new book, Man In The Woods.
Right now, I am finishing my book Man in the Woods. It is a fact based story detailing the life of a family member who has been molesting little boys for over twenty five years. After trying to have him put away and learning that it was futile because I was not a victim, I take a psychological approach and take you back into the life and through the mind of a child molester. It is really very good and suspenseful.
After Man in the Woods, I am co-writing another book to help a sister get through her healing in life. And on the back burner I have a book called UTERUS FREE, a humorous take on hysterectomies.
Finally, when was the last time you spoke to Michael Jackson, and what has been his response to the book?
I haven’t actually spoken to Michael Jackson since he was arrested. I took my son to meet him for the first time. He seems to have put most people at a distance. I was trying to get in touch with him though because I want to let him know he is not alone. See with Michael, I have never been a “YES” person. I never treated him like a star. He needed to have real people in his life. Yes, I came to love him for who he was, but I love him more for what he did for my life. He was okay with my using the title as such and I know he received a copy of the book…I have not heard any comments from him.
Thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure. Is there any advice you want to leave our readers with?
In closing, I will say that parents should take a look at the stars today that their children idolize. Today’s entertainers would not be the savoir of any children. We should try to save our own children and not let them drift into the world of today’s entertainers, sports stars, etc. We need to teach them to have their own identities.
Conversations Book Club is pleased to welcome you to yet another busy literary week! Below you will find several ways in which you can support the reading community in Mississippi and "join the addiction" by getting hooked on books!
- Monday, February 25, 2008: "Nonfiction Conversations" Book Club meets at the Pearl Public Library (Pearl, MS) at 6p.m. to discuss the book "The Other Side of Me" by Bestselling author Sidney Sheldon. Admission free. Details, 601.932.2562 or email@example.com.
- Wednesday, February 27, 2008: "The C.U.T. Society" meets at the Richard Wright Library (515 W. McDowell Road * Jackson, MS) at 6p.m. to discuss the book "Grown & Gangsta" by Recording artist/author Jacki-O. The author will be joining the discussion LIVE via conference call---her first book disussion since the book's release! We will also discuss her upcoming visit to Mississippi and will be answering questions from those in attendance. Admission free. Details, 601.372.1621/ 601.664.8805 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Thursday, February 28, 2008: "Subway Conversations" Book Club meets at the Subway Restaurant (3000 HWY 80E * Pearl, MS) at 6p.m. to discuss the book "Death Around The Corner" by Corey "C-Murder" Miller. The author will be joining the discussion LIVE via conference call---and will be discussing his new publishing company, TRU Publishing, and his first auhor Jacki-O. Admission free. Details, 601.664.8805 or email@example.com.
- Friday, February 29, 2008: Conversations Book Club will hold a special meeting at the Pearl Public Library at 2p.m. to tape a live discussion with Bestselling author/MSNBC contributor Brian Alexander via conference call. He will be discussing his new book AMERICA UNZIPPED. Admission free. Details, 601.664.8805 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Friday, February 29-March 1, 2008: Conversations Book Club will host Bestselling author Harrine Freeman LIVE in her first visit to Mississippi. Look for details to be revealed at http://www.thebestbookclub.info.
- Sunday, March 2, 2008: "Inspirational Conversations" Book Club will hold the first of two meetings in March 2008. Join us at the Subway Restaurant in Pearl, MS (3000 HWY 80E) at 6p.m. to discuss Bestselling author Shelia E. Lipsey's "Into Each Life". Admission free. Details, 601.664.8805 or email@example.com.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
* Special guests for the "Passion 4 Fashion" Show at the Richard Wright Library include Playa Connected, performing their anthem HABIT.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Nothing is music to the ears of urban/street literature readers more than this announcement: Recording artist/Author Jacki-O will hosted by Tru Publishing and Conversations Book Club in events scheduled March 4-9, 2008! In what has been dubbed the "Grown & Gangsta Book Tour", Jacki-O will be involved in book discussions and meet and greets in Mississippi, Tennessee and Louisiana.
TUESDAY, MARCH 4, 2008
3-5p.m. --- Meet & Greet/Booksigning @ Margaret Walker Alexander (Jackson, MS) --- FREE
--- Meet & Greet/Booksigning @ Comfort Inn & Suites in North Jackson (MS) --- FREE
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 5, 2008
1-3P.M. --- Meet & Greet/Booksigning @ Northside Library (Jackson, MS) --- FREE
4-5p.m. --- Book discussion @ Pearl Public Library (Pearl, MS) --- FREE
6-7:30p.m. --- "Passion 4 Fashion Show" @ Pearl Public Library (Pearl, MS), featuring original designs by Gail Ambeau and Leon Collier (Krooked Ledda.) --- FREE
8:30p.m.--- "Grown & Gangsta" party @ Style & Class (Pickens, MS)--- $5 admission ($25 VIP includes 2 drinks and appetizers)
THURSDAY, MARCH 6, 2008
1-3p.m. --- Meet & Greet/ Book Signing @ Richard Wright Library (Jackson, MS) --- FREE
5:30-7p.m. --- "Passion 4 Fashion Show" @ Richard Wright Library (Jackson, MS), featuring original designs by Gail Ambeau and Leon Collier (Krooked Ledda) LIVE PERFORMANCES by Mississippi's own Jack Squad, Great Britt and D. J. Downsouth --- FREE
8:30-10P.M. --- Meet & Greet/Book Signing @ Subway Restaurant (Pearl, MS) --- FREE
FRIDAY, MARCH 7, 2008
Events in New Orleans,LA ---TBA
SATURDAY, MARCH 8, 2008
1-3p.m. --- Meet & Greet/Booksigning in Memphis, TN--- TBA
8:30p.m. --- "Grown & Sexy" Meet & Greet @ Comfort Inn & Suites (Pearl, MS)--- FREE
SUNDAY, MARCH 9, 2008
2-4p.m. ---Meet & Greet/Booksigning @ Quality Inn & Suites (2705 E. South Blvd. * Montgomery, AL) --- FREE
Tru Publishing, created by hiphop entrepreneuer Corey "C-Murder" Miller, specializes in urban fiction and promises to change the way that books are marketed and produced in the future. Tru is pleased to announce that its first relesae is GROWN & GANGSTA by Miami, Florida rapper Jacki-O.
Conversations Book Club President Cyrus A. Webb describes the book this way: "Jacki-O's GROWN & GANGSTA has everything you would expect from C-Murder's TRU Publishing: strong alliances, power couples & lessons that people of all backgrounds can easily relate to.GROWN & GANGSTA is the story of friendship---REAL friendship---that endures the hurt, highs and lows and success and proves itself time and again.
"The characters dance along the pages in perfect harmony, each lending credence and strength to one another while standing on their own as individuals. All of us will see ourselves or someone we know in one or more of the 6 main characters that we're introduced to, whether we like what we see or not.
"GROWN & GANGSTA is for the grown and sexy and reeks of sophisticated fiction that normally takes years to develop. TRU Publishing knocks this one out of the park with its debut release and Jacki-O maintains her sexy, street-cred persona with a novel that people will be talking about long after its closed shut."
During the above events, the book will be available for 30% off the retail price---making it only $10.00! GROWN & GANGSTA is available worldwide through Amazon.com or http://www.trupublishing.com. For more information about the "Grown & Gangsta Book Tour" visit http://www.thebestbookclub.info.
For details on any of the above, you can contact Robin Gardner at 601.664.8805 or Cyrus A. Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JOIN THE ADDICTION: Get hooked on books!
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
For details on any of the above, you can contact Robin Gardner at 601.664.8805 or Cyrus A. Webb at email@example.com. JOIN THE ADDICTION: Get hooked on books! http://www.thebestbookclub.info
Here is our conversation.
Thank you Maria for talking with Conversations. You have had a whirlwind 2007. Can you tell us what has been the highlight for you?
Completing Journey Into My Brother’s Soul.
Heightened commitment to living a more bliss-filled, extraordinary life.
Witnessing my daughters growth, happiness and success.
Commitment to being a more empowered woman, wife, entrepreneur.
Like many creative individuals we have talked with this year, you are a wife, mother and accomplished businesswoman. How do you balance such a hectic schedule without losing your joy?
I wake up every morning inspired and moved to take extraordinary action ----- to touch and enroll someone is a new, enlightened way. I balance my well-being by reminding myself of my core values --- 1. My Health/Vitality, 2 My Family, 3. My Freedom, 4) My Commitment to Community Empowerment, and asking myself daily --- what 3 extraordinary actions will I take today to bring me closer to my goals and commitments?
Let's take our readers back to your writing and your confidence with words. When did you find your voice as far as knowing what you wanted to do and going after it?
I first became aware of my “voice” was after writing an essay in college and receiving affirmation/praise…and an “A” from my professor. And, I simply described my favorite pair of trouser pants (this was in 1978). But the praise didn’t sink in until I received more affirmation/praise 20 or so year’s later about my talent. In the meantime, I wrote creatively because “who else was going to write my brochures, announcements, ads, etc?” I first started writing for pure enjoyment when I started writing my novel. Sill unfinished, but…that’s another story. Today, I know my words inspire and move people. For me, it’s taken the affirmation from others to truly embrace this talent of mine.
Support is always something that can make or break a person. Did you get the support from your close inner circle when you embarked on your writing career?
Yes and no. My college experience didn’t make cause me to explore writing more deeply. During most of my years of producing African American Women on Tour and raising children, I was too deeply entrenched in my “survival” state, that it never dawned on me, until I started my writing for my first self-published anthology. It wasn’t until 1999, that I actually say, “Okay, I’ve got skills.” It was around that time that I started writing my novel. However, I’m not been committed enough to complete it.
The "Journey" series is something that touches everyone and thanks to aggressive marketing, the books can be found everywhere from bookstores to Wal-Mart. What was the inspiration behind it?
The first self-published version was inspired by the stories that I’d heard during my AAWOT days…amazing stories from the women who attended. Why they were inspired/driven to attend, what they got when they got there, and what a difference AAWOT made on their lives. AAWOT literally saved a lot of lives, literally. That was my initial inspiration. Then sometime that I interpreted as “dark” happened between myself (as publisher) and her (as assistant editor) that I allowed to take me out of writing emotionally. When that dust settled, however still in my “survival” state, I need a source of income, and had this self-published version that was merely gathering dust on the shelve. Using that as my marketing tool, I called BET Books’ publisher. I knew her personally, and she said “yes” to a 3 book contract, hence Journey to Empowerment, Journey to a Blissful Life and Journey Into My Brother’s Soul…all three are collections of inspirational essays and poetry.
Did the series take on a life of its own, or did it develop the way you thought it would?
Good question. I’d say that it was a combination of both. Yes, Spirit was present. Yes, my actions made it happen.
And the latest installment, JOURNEY INTO MY BROTHER'S SOUL, how did you gather your contributers for the project?
I have this way of BEING virtually…I simply put it out there into the Universe, using the world wide web as my tool, and everything happens the way it’s destined to. The brothers came forth. It took a bit more work that the “sisters” books, likely because my email list is female-weighted. But, the brothers came forth and shared their stuff with tremendous love and openness.
One of the many things that really impresses me about you, Maria, is how active you are in promoting your projects. So many feel as though once they have released a new book that their work is done. Why have you felt it is so important to remain in touch with each aspect of the marketing?
I must be honest. While I use the internet, I’ve only done a fraction of what’s possible, because I’ve not position my books as my core business. So, to the contrary, I’ve truly not been in touch with each aspect of the marketing. There’s ample room for growth for me here.
With 2007 behind us, what can our readers expect from you in the new year?
I had a revelation regarding my writing just yesterday. I’m going to simply direct listeners to my website to take my survey, and you’ll see what I’m up to in 2008. www.mariadowdinspires.com.
Do you have any advice from those out there who have ideas for businesses or projects but haven't acted on it?
Plenty. However, we first have to understand where we are, and sometimes it takes coaching and seminars, and books to help us get there. Over the past 2 years, and especially in 2007, I invested in a lot of life coaching and seminars. Landmark Forum was one of the most important investments I’ve ever made in terms of understand ME and how I tick, what my blind spots have been. What lies I’ve been telling myself, and how I’ve been all up in my own way. My advice is to receiving coaching/get greater insight on getting the hell out of our own way, and accepting that we are whole, perfect and complete and can have extraordinary lives, do what brings us complete joy and have everything that matters most to us.
Thank you for you time, Maria. How can our readers learn more about you and the work you are doing?
www.mariadowdinspires.com 619-229-7766 firstname.lastname@example.org
L. A., we appreciate your taking out a few moments to talk with Conversations. How did you writing career begin?
The honor is all mine! Well, it all started with me writing romance or what was considered women’s fiction. I have been blessed to be a part of some exciting projects, including the books that were based on the SOUL FOOD series. The paranormal titles came later, so for me it has all been about developing a strategy to spread my brand.
Take us back to your life before being a bestseller. What were you like growing up?
I was your typical urban teen, somewhat of a tomboy. When I turned 8 or 9 something happened in me and I started looking at the world differently. After high school I majored in business and eventually became a Xerox sales rep.
So what led you to writing?
There were a lot of things going on during that time: I was getting a divorce and was unemployed. Essence Magazine was running a writing contest with a chance to win $2,000 for the winner. With all the things I was going through I thought that was an easy thing for me to do, so I started from there. As I was writing I would share it with my friends, and they encouraged me to keep writing because they were enjoying my story that much. Believe me, they had many a laugh at my expense. I found it to be therapeutic and cheap therapy for me at the time. I became so involved that it was nothing for me to write 25 pages a day.
What have been some of the notable highlights of your career?
With my writing so many different types of books, it affords me the chance to enjoy a variety of opportunities. At one time I was signed to five publishers. One of my biggest projects has been writing the prequel to the Scarface series. They were preparing to re-release the movie so it was a chance to once again expand my reading audience.
When it comes to you as a writer, I have only read the books you have released under L. A. Banks. Talk to me about being one of the few African American female authors who have been widely received in the horror/suspense genres.
There are some people who have a problem with the subject matter of my books that I write under L. A. Banks. I don’t approach the subject matter by glorifying the evil. In my books the good always triumphs. The truth is that I have a problem philosophically with vampires, and for that reason I wasn’t trying to deal with the subject like Anne Rice and others. It was my goal to show an African American female who was taking on the evil in the world. As a mother I wanted to show that evil does exist in the world—and that as imperfect people who have to do our part to combat it.
L. A., you have managed to stay so humble in spite of all of your success. What do you attribute that to?
(laughs) When you’re climbing you don’t see the success you are making. You’re just focused on the grind. Also, having a kid will keep you grounded and down to earth.
Now that you have been in the game for some time now, do you get anxious when you’re getting ready to release a new title.
Every time, Cyrus. I always have a sense of nervousness and tend to be a little paranoid. You can’t take anything for granted, not with the industry growing and changing the way that it does. The ability to do what I have been able to do is a gift. When you start believing your own press that is when you fall.
This is an interview you will find nowhere else...Her work has graced the covers of books by some of the most celebrated authors such as Brandon Massey, Evie Rhodes, Victor McGlothin, Janine A. Morris, Roz Bailey, Anita Bunkley, Gwynne Forster, Faye Snowden, Candice Dow and countless others. Meet Kristine Mills-Noble, creative director for Kensington Books. You might not know her name, however, the contribution she has given to the literary community through her work is undeniable.
How did she begin on her journey? When did she discover her desire to create? Conversations explores this and more with the woman behind the designs.
Kristine, thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. I have to tell you that to have this opportunity to converse with the woman who has graced so many book covers with her work is an incredible honor. Do you remember what it felt like when you first saw your work on a finished product?
I remember it very well. It was about 20 years ago and a young lady was sitting across from me on the New York City subway reading a book, I looked up and it was one of my covers. So I walked over to her and asked her how was the book. We started a conversation about the author and why she chose that book. To my surprise I was amazed to hear that she almost always buy a book based on the cover. At that point I began to realize how important cover design was to the success of a book. Most people still judge a book by its cover.
Where did it all start for you? At what age did you know that you were creative and wanted to pursue that path?
I guess it really started for me when I graduated from college. I did not study art in undergraduate because it was something that I never thought about. I had no idea what a graphic artist did. You see I grow up in a traditional hard working family. My parents always encouraged us to be a doctor, lawyer or something that you could get a "Good Job" doing. Art was never introduced to us as a way to make money or have a career. So after receiving a degree in Bio-chemistry I took a job in a lab doing research. I thought that I was going to DIE. I had a friend who saw that I was unhappy and knew that I was a closet artist and told me about a job in the art department at a publishing house who would pay for me to go to art school, 20 years later I am still at it.
Were there others around you that shared similar interests? Did they encourage you and what advice did they give when those close to you saw that you were serious about your work?
Growing up, I did not have people around me that had similar interest. My encouragement has always come from my mom. She did not understand how I was going to make a living doing this, but she told me to go for it. I have also been blessed in coming across some incredible art directors early in my career who pushed me and made me think outside of the limitations of a book cover.
I'm sure you would agree that human beings are extremely visual creatures. As a visual artist myself, Kristine, I dare say that your work has been instrumental in elevating the book sales---and thus careers---of a great number of authors through your eye-catching designs. Can you tell us what type of planning goes into deciding what will work with a particular book?
Lots and lots of planning goes into a book cover. The first step is to work with the editor to get a sense of the story and voice of the author. I often times will read the manuscript to get some ideas. I will then decide if this should be a photographic package or illustrated one. This will be determined after I get input from the author, the editor, the publisher, the sales team, the marketing team, and the buyer. So you see its not as easy as designing a cover that looks good, I have to keep everyone’s input in mind. I have to sit down and come up with something that is dramatic, eye-catching and meets its targeting audience in 5 seconds. That is all the time i have to make an impact. when a consumer is in a bookstore they are scanning the shelves for something that catches their eye.
Readers are quick to remember the author's name and not so familiar with the illustrators and cover designers. Have you gotten any feedback from the authors as to what their readers are saying about the covers.
You are right, the average person do not know who I am or remember my name. My kudos come when I see an author’s career began to take off. I get many thank you notes from authors and agents saying that they were very happy with the covers. I also know that I am doing something right when I see other publishing houses picking up my designs.
One author I have had the pleasure to interview several times is award-winning horror writer Brandon Massey. His covers, which you have designed since his second book DARK CORNER, are quite darker than your work for author Anita Bunkley's novel SILENT WAGER. Does it help you to know a great deal about each storyline before beginning your plans for the design?
It’s crucial to a package’s success that I have a “feel” for the story. Brandon and Anita are very different types of writers, so I would never package them similarly.
When you look back at the body of work you have acquired, why do you think you have become one of the memorable cover designers that are linked to contemporary fiction?
Once again, I think having the opportunity to work with some incredible talents who have always forced me never to take the easy way out, but to think of each project separate and apart from the rest. I could look back over my work and see so many different looks and styles. There are covers that I am very close to because they were more difficult to package then others. Making me really dig deep for the solution to the problem. An art director told me very early in my career that cover designers are problem solvers. Always come up with the most creative way to solve the problems.
Kristine, before I interview someone I try to do as much research as I can about that individual so I can be more knowledgeable about their past and accomplishments. I have to say, though, that it was hard to find any other interviews that you have done. Have you purposely tried to stay in the background, away from the limelight?
I enjoy working behind the scenes. My joy is in conceiving and creating a look for authors. As you mentioned earlier most people don’t remember the book designer. However in the book design world i have won many awards and have been interviewed by many trade people.
More than ever, young people are looking to graphic design as the vehicle they want to use as a career. What advice do you have for those who might be reading this and they are looking for guidance?
I would encourage young African Americans to consider going into graphic arts in publishing. Our numbers are quite small and we shouldn’t limit ourselves. Although people say “Don’t judge a book by its cover” that isn’t always true. The cover of a book is a huge selling tool and a signal to readers of what to expect. I would love to see more of us in the creative departments of book publishing.
Has there been a time that you thought this was not going to be the career for you? What motivated you not to give up?
As with anything there are going to be difficult times. Mines usually come when i have non art people telling art people how to create. What makes me not give up is that although there are times when I don’t always agree with the politics or policies of a corporation I love what I do. I love creating, and book covers are the best way to do that. Each story is different, each voice is different allowing me to challenge myself every day. The authors always help me not give up. They allow me to take that journey with them as they follow their own dreams.
Again, thank you for your hard work and positive example, Kristine. Any last words you have for our readers?
This is my mantra: ALWAYS GO THROUGH LIFE LOVING WHO YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU ARE DOING.
Here is our conversation.
• Deatri, on behalf of Conversations, thank you for taking out the time to speak with us and your fans. After I read your book BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, I knew that I had to talk with you about it. Before we get to the inspiration, let’s talk about you. When you sit down to write who is it mainly for, you or others?
Thank you for having me. I’m so glad you enjoyed BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I don’t write your typical romance (smile). In answer to your question, most of the time I write for myself. I often teasingly tell people I hear voices in my head, and if I don’t write their stories, they’ll drive me crazy. Other times I’m writing for a certain person or population.
• I hear many authors talk about writing like it is their voice to the world. Is it that for you, and was it easy to find your voice?
I’ve never thought of my writing as my voice to the world, but that works for me. By people reading my novels, I reach a larger audience….hmmm I’d best watch what I write, huh. (LOL) Just playing.
I have a very distinct writing voice that has pretty much always been with me. My teachers started pointing out my writing voice when I’d turn in my term papers. I could never just give the facts. I had a dramatic way of wording.
• The story in Beauty and the Beast is one that all of us can relate to, because we all know someone who is broken and in need of care. Tell us about your inspiration for the book.
My best friend has a degenerative bone disease and feels no man will ever love her because of how she looks physically. My husband has bi-polar disorder (manic depression). People have often associated him with being a beast because they don’t understand his illness.
• One of the things you mentioned in the book is that discussing mental illness is something that is still not too common in the African-American community. Why do you think that is?
In my opinion, many still feel shame or are embarrassed about mental illness. Many view it as a weakness or instead of realizing many mental illnesses are a chemical imbalances. And don’t get me started on seeing psychologist and psychiatrist. That’s for CRAZY PEOPLE. At least that’s how many see it.
• In BEAUTY AND THE BEAST I love the way you put strong characters in a setting of financial stability---something that is not seen too often in contemporary African-American fiction. How important was it for you to create people that showed a degree of success?
Well the people were successful financially, but unhappy. In this novel, because I was tackling the depression issue, I wanted to make them well off. I didn’t want readers to say Bruce was acting like a beast because he was having financial difficulties.
• Sticking with how your characters are portrayed, do you think that authors like yourself or pressured to compete with some of the books on the market that might seem to glorify or promote the grittiness of the streets?
I think some authors feel pressured when they see their royalty statements, but I don’t. I write mainly for me. I hope the readers enjoy my work. The more the merrier, but I don’t worry about what type of books are selling.
• I think every author wants their reader to leave with something. When it comes to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, what is it that you hope we glean from it?
If the readers come away with a better understanding of what true beauty is and aren’t are less timid about broaching the subject of mental illness, I’m happy. I think different people will get different things out of the novel. I placed questions at the end of the novel in hopes to spark discussions.
• Can you give us an idea of what will be next for you?
I moved over the summer, so I have three novels I need to submit to publishers. Two mainstreams and one fantasy romance. I’m also writing two other books. I’m still unpacking, so it may take me a while to actually start submitting again. I am also helping organize the 2008 Romance Slam Jam to be held in Chicago. I hope to see everyone there. http://www.romanceslamjamconference.com
• Thank you again, Deatri, for taking out the time to spend with us. How can our readers stay in touch with you and find out about your other projects?
And thank you, again. I have three other novels out, a newsletter, and am always writing articles. Please visit me at my website: http://www.deewrites.com or email me any time Deatri@deewrites.com.
Brenda, thank you for taking out time of your busy schedule to talk with us about your life and the new book. LAYING DOWN MY BURDENS is your latest book and your autobiography. Why did you decide it was time to tell your own story at this time?
Telling this story was something I’ve wanted to do since I started drafting it in 1992 but now was the time because I was tired of hiding behind my fictional characters and was finally ready to get my story out in the open. I also felt that everyone knew of my successes but wasn’t aware of why I strived so hard to get here. And most especially since domestic violence is still shrouded in darkness.
Having your name in print is nothing new to you, but I am curious if you feel that the attention is different now that the focus is on your own life and not characters that you created?
The attention and feedback is much, much different and no way could I have made this my debut piece. As an author you have to be prepared for feedback and criticism no matter how it comes and now that I’m answering questions about my life it can sometimes be a bit sensitive cause people like to probe deeper than the book even goes. But so far I’m rolling with it because it has become a healing process for me that was unexpected.
Tell us how you mentally prepared for the project and was there any fear with this project that hasn’t come with your novels?
There was definitely fear and hesitation as to how my children would react, who actually have been my biggest supporters and were the ones who told me that the reason why I was afraid to release the book was because the threat my ex-husband had put in over 10 years ago, “if you ever write I’ll kill you,” was still in my head.
And your fans? Did you worry how they would take a nonfiction book from you when they have gotten so used to your skills with fiction?
I was somewhat concerned but I felt they’d be open regardless and now that its out they truly have been supportive that is once they get past believing that that person was really me.
Brenda, for those who don’t know much about you can you tell us about yourself growing up. Was your journey that we see now something that you always knew would happen?
When I was in 8th grade I wrote lots of poetry and was an avid reader so when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up I remember telling my teacher that I’d write an autobiography but just didn’t know what kind of life I’d have to support it. Low and behold my desire to live on the edge provided me with that story. Not one that I’ve always been proud of but one that needed to be told.
October is recognized as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in our country. Do you think that we are giving a new look to problems of abuse in its many forms here?
I now realize that even though we hear about it in the news and know that women (and men) suffer and die from it there is still so much shame for the victim that it’s clouded in darkness. Part of mission is to shed some light on it.
And the African American community? Do you think as a people it is something that is talked about more or is it something that is still seen as taboo?
I think often we take it too lightly – it turns into barber and beauty shop talk like its no big deal i.e., “oh he was acting crazy last night,” “I had to get her butt in check, she know I don’t play.” When what they’re really saying is I was beaten last night and I beat my girlfriend last night.
Brenda, did you ever feel as though you had forgotten how to love yourself during the abuse?
Absolutely. It had gotten to the point where I loved my ex-husband more than I loved myself and I thought that if I loved him enough I could help him change. Wrong.
Where did the courage come from for you to share your story?
Actually I’m not really sure. Sometimes you just do things because you have to and since I’ve been blessed to survive then I didn’t have a choice.
During the abuse was there ever a time when you thought your story would be one that would be chronicled in a book?
I was positive, even if it was after I’d left this world.
What would you say to a woman or man that finds themselves in a situation where they have forgotten how to love themselves first?
Find your spiritual center, a God of your understanding and pray to him to show you how.
And to aspiring writers: what advice do you give to them about penning the story they have within them or feel like they have to tell?
I would tell them to start writing and don’t stop and surely don’t let anyone else stop them. And most importantly don’t let the publishing process get in there way. Focus on one thing at a time.
Thank you again for your time. Conversations wishes you nothing but continued success. How can our readers find out more about you or contact you with other questions?
www.phillywriter.com or email@example.com
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Saturday, February 16, 2008
TRU PUBLISHING and CONVERSATIONS BOOK CLUB are proud to announce their newest venture: GROWN & GANGSTA parties! These are specially-designed book discussions/gatherings centered around Tru's release GROWN & GANGSTA by their first author Florida rapper Jacki-O. The book centers around the friendship of six uniquely different individuals who find themselves running from the demons that threaten to destroy them all.
Our first meeting will be Saturday, February 23, 2008 @ the Quality Inn & Suites in Montgomery, Alabama. This is located at 2705 E. South Blvd.
For more information, contact Conversations Book Club at 601.896.5616 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Details can also be found by visiting http://www.truconversations.com.
An alliance that had been announced in January 2008 is now resounding online worldwide: Conversations Book Club and RAWSISTAZ.com have officially made their new partnership visible to all.
"Conversations with C. A. Webb" (http://www.rawsistaz.com/BMR-Conversations.htm) is now a syndicated feature on the http://www.RAWSISTAZ.com websites. It will continue the Conversations Book Club President's mission of introducing readers to authors---but will also give you a rare glimpse into the authors that are being featured. To really give the official kickoff of this new venture its "wow factor", Webb has begun the column with interviews from Bestselling authors Shelia E. Lipsey, Tina Brooks McKinney, Che Parker, Kimberla Lawson Roby and Dywane Birch. RAWSISTAZ (Reading and Writing Sistaz) is recognized worldwide for being committed to spreading quality reading among the African-American community. Conversations Book Club has transcended race and gender to form a formidable alliance with some of the biggest names in the industry. Together they will revolutionize the way you read---introducing you to authors you thought you knew and giving you the names of those who should be on your reading list! Congrats to the authors who are featured in the debut of this alliance. In March 2008, we will recognize five powerful women who during "Women's History Month" who are really giving the boys a run for their money in the literary industry. Who are they? STAY TUNED and find out! C'mon. What are you waiting for? JOIN THE ADDICTION: Get hooked on books! http://www.thebestbookclub.info
"Conversations with C. A. Webb" (http://www.rawsistaz.com/BMR-Conversations.htm) is now a syndicated feature on the http://www.RAWSISTAZ.com websites. It will continue the Conversations Book Club President's mission of introducing readers to authors---but will also give you a rare glimpse into the authors that are being featured.
To really give the official kickoff of this new venture its "wow factor", Webb has begun the column with interviews from Bestselling authors Shelia E. Lipsey, Tina Brooks McKinney, Che Parker, Kimberla Lawson Roby and Dywane Birch.
RAWSISTAZ (Reading and Writing Sistaz) is recognized worldwide for being committed to spreading quality reading among the African-American community. Conversations Book Club has transcended race and gender to form a formidable alliance with some of the biggest names in the industry. Together they will revolutionize the way you read---introducing you to authors you thought you knew and giving you the names of those who should be on your reading list!
Congrats to the authors who are featured in the debut of this alliance. In March 2008, we will recognize five powerful women who during "Women's History Month" who are really giving the boys a run for their money in the literary industry. Who are they? STAY TUNED and find out!
C'mon. What are you waiting for? JOIN THE ADDICTION: Get hooked on books! http://www.thebestbookclub.info
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
A Conversations' EXCLUSIVE: Ira Dorsey of "The Dayton Family"
The warning not to judge a book by its cover couldn't have known anything about Ira Dorsey,33, of Flint, Michigan when it was first spoken; but you would believe it was written with him in mind once you sit down to talk to him. As founder of the gangster rap group The
In the 90s he was respected in the industry, rapping about the world as he knew it and speaking at times from his own experiences. His sincerity and genuineness is unmistakable as he proves that true talent is not based on a catchy hook but the realness of someone who has known personally of the message he preaches over the airwaves and on stage.
Named for the neighborhood that gave them life--and took so many others---
Dark days, though, loomed ahead. Like others in the entertainment industry and beyond, Dorsey has had his share of legal woes and scathing reports in the media---but he has risen above it all to show that he is really in this game to stay. In 2005 his lyrical voice was silenced, creating a void for the realness and flow that only he seemed to be about to create. Now three years later he has emerged again, joining with Stanley Clark, President of the Mississippi-based For The People Productions marketing firm to not only bring his skills to the South but look for like-minded talent to spread what the Dayton Family is all about in 2008.
This is an exclusive interview you will find no where else, letting you behind the name of a man that many love, hate, respect and fear. As Chief of Staff of FTP and President of Conversations Book Club, my interview with Dorsey was not just to announce his return to music but the writing of his story as well. It is an honor for me to help tell this story, because I believe it will help many who might be in a similar situation. I want to give the world a good look at someone who has been counted out time and again, only to silence his critics with what has been the bases of his life since the beginning: His truth.
This is our conversation.
Ira, thank you for taking out the time to talk with us. I want to take you back to the beginning of your life in
I was a young guy, around 10 or 11, writing music, but it was in my early teens that I started to take it seriously. My uncle was a dj and I used to play his mixtapes. I was a Def Jam man, listening to everything from L.L. Cool J to A Tribe Called Qwest. It was real music back then. Some of the tapes I played so much that they broke.
Did you know at that time that you wanted to be an entertainer like the artists you were listening to?
Now then. My career at that time was in the streets. The music was a way of entertaining my neighborhood. You see, we were off
So when did you see that music could give you the career that the streets were providing you?
I met a guy named Shoestring who also rapped and we started going back and forth spitting rhymes. Someone told us that we needed to go to the studio. The first day I steeped in the booth I was hooked. I knew it right then. Once in the studio I didn't want to leave. Even if I didn't have a way to get there I would walk. That was what I wanted. It was Shoestring that also gave me the name Bootleg, because anything you wanted, I was able to get it somehow. It all continued from there.
I want to go back to what you said about working the streets. What initially brought you to that world?
You have to understand that I grew up without a father and was pretty much having to fiend for myself. I turned to the streets for guidance and leadership. I didn't know any better, so as I grew in the game I was leading others to do what I did. All of us were going astray.
Once the group the
It was all about getting the word out there. We were out there performing, and the people loved us. This was before we could afford to even have an album. There was one song at the time that we were really pushing, and I used my connections in the inner city to get the finances we needed to fuel the movement we had created. We had 10,000 cds sold in three days or so.
When you compare the two worlds---the streets and the music industry---are you surprised at how alike they are?
Not at all. It is about who has the best product and who markets themselves and their product the best. There is really nothing different about them, just a different product. I had to work at getting my music out there just like I had to work at getting my respect on the streets.
Ira, I found the lyrics to your song "
Definitely. If you talk with anyone in
Let's talk about the line that says "Puts bullets in a brother at a club to ignorent." One thing that has been connected with hiphop is the violence it seems to portray. How have your experiences been influenced by what seems like senseless violence?
I can talk about that because the life I was living at the time put me dead in the middle of it. I was ignorant. The violence couldn't be too far from us because the violence was us. It's just that simple. That's why I can tell them what happens out there. I have learned the power of being free. I have widened the range of the things I'm involved in. I know you can't make money, music or any real moves when you are locked up or dead.
As you can imagine, Ira, there is alot that can be found online. That is where I found those lyrics. Something else that I found about you in my research was not as flattering. A poster to an online bulletin board said this: "
I would say that you are smarter than that to believe I would do something like that. Believe me, if that was true I wouldn't be here talking with you right not, and that's real. I wouldn't be here. You know, it's like anything else. I don't deal with just anybody, so people are always trying to figure out who I am. To know me you have to be in my inner circle. Those that aren't have to create their own Ira Dorsey. Anything that could jeopardize my freedom you better believe that I wouldn't be out there living it or rapping about it.
You mentioned rapping about things that may or may not be a part of the artist. We are told by some that it is our job to realize that the entertainment industry is just that: entertainment. I'm wondering if you think there is a thin line between what is real and what isn't in the music business.
There is a very thin line between what a rapper says and what a rapper does. Some even cross over the line and get caught up. For me, some try to tie me too close to the music I make. I might say something on a beat, but that doesn't mean I really do that. I'm a messenger of the streets. I write about what I know and what I see. That's what I do.
It has been three years since your last release. The independent album, FAST LIFE, sold over 60,000 units on its own. Do you think the industry has changed alot since you were on the scene?
Definitely. It's not the same game. It's not about painting a picture anymore. It's about a catchy hook and beat. That's not me. I'm going to entertain you, but I'm gonna continue to put my heart in everything I do.
You and I were connected by
The South is where it should've been all the time, to be honest with you. That is where our fan base really is. Lots of love from the South. We are always well received there. Look, this move was more than about entertainment. This is business. For me, it's like an athlete. I'm in the fourth quarter of the game, and if I'm going to do something it has to be now.
I know the people in the South that have been looking to break into the industry will be glad to hear that. What are you looking for when it comes adding to the family?
They have to come with it. I want them to have a strong work ethic, be serious about their business and understand that I'm trying to do this write. If you are on the fence about whether to do what is right or wrong, then I can't deal with you. Most of all, you have to have genuine talent. I want people to come with us and be so good that it makes me step my game up. Some labels don't want people among them that are better than them. That's not me. I want you to grow bigger than me. Give me all you got.
Ira, I know you are eager to get back out there with your music, but what else would you like to do?
I want to do everything: books, tv and movies. What I really want to see is a documentary of The Dayton Family. I want to take you behind the scenes of the neighborhood that made me.
Thank you for giving me this access into your life. What would you like to say to the people who are reading this interview and learning about you for the first time.
I would say that if you ever want to hear powerful music then what I bring for you. If you can relate to ever being the underdog or ever at the bottom of anything, then I have the music that will heal you of all the pain you have experienced. I can lift you up.
And to your fans? What would you like for them to know?
I love all of you for sticking by me and not jumping ship like some have done. Believe me when I say that I am going to bring the heat. You will be seeing me soon. I am going to go out of my way to hit each of your cities soon. Just give a minute. I want you all to know that everything I do is for you.
To find our more information about Conversations Book Club, visit http://www.thebestbookclub.info. Additional information can be found about the Dayton Family at http://www.daytonfamilysouth.webs.com.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
C'mon. What are you waiting for? JOIN THE ADDICTION: Get hooked on books! CONVERSATIONS BOOK CLUB