As an author, my job is to provide you the reader with content to engage your intellect for any number of pages. As a writer, it is my duty to persuade you to my point of view. As a director of a book expo, it is my responsibility to produce a good program that is educational, entertaining and inspirational. Chances are I’ll fail at one or perhaps in all three. My challenge is to keep a level head if that ever happens.
What I can’t do is to attack a critic of my work, even if I believe he or she doesn’t see the same vision as I. There may be points of discussion of grammar, spelling, continuity of text, consistency of characters, whether or not the plot caught your eye, any number of factors up for debate. I do expect respect in return which means while you may not be a friend or not, at least separate the work from the person I am. So many times we fail this invisible contract between critic and artist. The heated exchanges, the vitriol online is legend in the endless pages, message boards and posts of the internet. Now I enjoy doing research of how authors handled these exchanges with publishers, booksellers and ‘fans’, the classic writers, not today’s contemporary bunch. For certain, if they had technology like the ones we had in this era, the same level of complaints would be just as worse - if not even more.
How I interact with the supporters of my books and written work, I have to keep in mind these people bought my creative art for a reason. They feel comfortable or enlightened with what I write, which keeps them coming back for more. Then, if they know me personally, they’ll keep showing their support with every purchase. While I understand we authors love to be noticed in the form of awards and platitudes, all of this doesn’t matter if we fail to continue to provide clear, clean and fresh content for our reading audience. I’ve learned in my now twelve years of being an author, I am now considered as a professional - not only looking like the part but acting it out as well. Whether it’s dealing with fellow scribes or the public, when that book was published, it created a whole new world for me. It also gave me a choice. Either I approach would-be readers pitching my book in a positive manner or I belittle them by boasting why my work is ‘the best’ and all others don’t compare. I’ve ran into authors who have taken both approaches. One method works for them, while the other doesn’t turn out to be a success.
I deal with literature, or the written production of it. These words we choose have power and if used effectively, evoke responses from individuals who are in awe of them or causes deep reflection. Trouble is, there is so much text in social media, blogs like this, in our computers, laptops, smartphones, it’s hard to keep track which mental buffet is healthy and which is full of junk food. Everyday, the human mind is submerged into gossip, politics, religion, cautionary warnings, affirmations, agendas. Somewhere in this vast sea of words, there is truth. Maybe not the truth you or I seek, but it is in there. My job, duty and responsibility as a literate soul is to direct readers to it, whether through my own words or those of others. I deal with a lot of authors, and writers who take the mantle of sage, but they too must realize they are in competition with entertainers, those who write to titillate, elders with stories history has tucked away in its own secret corner, all for different reasons of their own. In other words, there is more than just one person on the mountaintop when it comes to the world of writing, there are many.
Literature is a freedom my ancestors were not afforded to have. Laws were made against them limiting or restricting their power to read and write. In some cases, if these laws were broken, it meant torture and/or death to those who opposed it. Today, as the number of books produced are increasing, the desire to read them is declining. Furthermore, the avenues to utilize the same power Frederick Douglass once risked his life to give his fellow captives are now being pushed into electronic form. The statistics show the twenty-first descendants of my ancestors are not immersed in a reading culture as the slaves who desired freedom one hundred and fifty years ago. No doubt we are emancipated physically, but like the last slaves in Galveston Island, Texas who heard about the proclamation two years later after it was signed, we still have a multitude who are waiting for the moment when we hear it’s free to read and write. Otherwise, we will continue to hear this statement, “If you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book.” A statement I try to prove wrong every time.
There will be no answers coming from me as what to do next. All I can do is continue to write and in doing so, perhaps it will draw one soul to read my words and like a bird to bread crumbs, interested in the next piece, and so on, and so on……What I can say is that all the stories, all of the ‘positive messages’ not seen in movies, all of the true heroes and heroines (or sheros as our sister girls say) are available anytime, anywhere in those places we’re leaving behind; bookstores. We could find them there or anywhere which sells the printed page. Yet I am not hopeful that freedom will be utilized. Instead, I see a race and generation already enslaved, already ensnared by the visual medium. Our emotions lead us astray whenever we don’t ‘see’ a positive image on screen, but the same industry shuts us out of telling our true stories about our history. We have to understand we have all of the accurate historical and cultural information at our fingertips - which authors and writers, booksellers and literary event producers have shown over the years. If we should become angry, it should be at the lack of continuing the culture of reading and writing our ancestors started. If a movie fails to present that, it is your choice - and your hard earned money - to leave it alone and not support it. The lack of cash at the box office is a language filmmakers understand.
Until then, I will keep writing in the hope you will follow me……