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About the Book
Still Black Remains Synopsis
“Still Black Remains” is an original work of fiction. It tells the story of Twist, one of the leaders of an inner city gang named the Skulls, and the architect of his gang’s decision to kidnap a mafia soldier in a last-ditch attempt to end a violent turf war. The war started when the Skulls tried taking a bigger piece of the drug business in their Newark, New Jersey neighborhood from the organized crime family who had once been their partners. Like most great ideas, the plan doesn’t turn out as expected. Negotiations between the gangs deteriorate, words fail, the violence escalates, and the only recourse left is the inevitable execution of the hostage. Chosen to be the one to execute the prisoner, the story covers Twist’s ability to pull the trigger, the consequences of that action, and his internal struggle. As the volatile situation grows more explosive by the hour, the lines between right and wrong blur; resolution comes with a price and Twist has to decide if pulling the trigger will get him what he wants, and if he can live with that cost.
Interview with the Author
What initially got you interested in writing?
I love writing. There is unimaginable power and enjoyment in using imagination and creativity to tell stories – writing makes me feel complete.
I think Hemingway said it best: “My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”
Every writer is by nature, a story teller, and we all have stories we want to tell.
I was an avid reader as a kid – I read any and every book I could get my hands on, and I always loved the way writers created their own universe to tell their stories. I loved the power of imagination – as a writer you could tell any story you wanted.
I wrote in high school and college (school newspapers and magazines), although it wasn’t until a few years ago after a career as a corporate samurai that I decided to pursue my dream of writing fulltime. I had written off and on for a few years while working, but never pursued it seriously. It comes down to that desire and need to write or tell a story. Writing gives me complete satisfaction and in a lot of ways, creates the kind of happiness I had always been seeking and never found in business. Throughout all the years I worked in the business world I felt that dissatisfaction gnawing at me, and I knew I would never be happy until I pursued my dream. I can’t imagine finding happiness doing something other than writing.
My only regret is that I didn’t choose this path earlier.
How did you decide to make the move into becoming a published author?
I was completely dissatisfied with the path I had taken. My career in business had been successful, if you measure success by things like money and possessions, but it left me unfulfilled – empty. I wanted to be able to do something that made a difference, and for me, writing was that vehicle that could make a difference. I spent a number of years working at writing, reading a variety of authors, and honing my skills and technique. Writing is a craft and you can’t just show up and expect to find success without putting in the time and the effort. I wrote a number of short stories – ranging from flash to longer stories – taking chances with some of the stories, and experimenting with voice and POV. Very early I was fortunate to find sites like “Six Sentences”, “A Twist of Noir”, “Fictionaut”, “The Foundling Review”, “At The Bijou”, and “Cavalcade of Stars” who published my stories and gave me an audience of writers, editors, and critics who supplied feedback on everything from structure, to voice, to plot. Feedback is important – even when you don’t want to hear criticism- because as a writer you need to know what works and doesn’t work for readers. Those magazines also allowed me to carve out my own identity as I found my voice as a writer.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your works?
Even though there’s violence throughout the book (after all, it deals with inner city life and a gang war based on drug trade), there are moments where the books as well as much of what I write is still about people and their feelings for each other. In “Still Black Remains”, Twist genuinely cares about Maria and Angel, and he thinks about getting out of the game while taking them out of Newark, but he’s incapable of showing that in ways that work for her. He saw something special in Malik and took him under his wing, trying to steer him away from the kind of world he and his brothers lived in – he knows there are only two outcomes to that life (dead or in prison), and he wants more than that for Malik. Eddie Dallas loves and protects his mother and sisters by sheltering them from the world he lives and works in. And for all of Bone’s toughness and hard edges, he mourns his brother and is motivated by revenge for his death.
What I found surprising was that at the core of the book (and my writing) it’s all about the human experience each of us shares. We are all just people. When you dig down underneath surface differences, we are all human beings no matter what our backgrounds. And all of us want essentially the same things at our core. We want to love and be loved. We want to be safe. We want our loved ones to be safe. We want to feel that what we do with our lives has meaning. I didn’t expect to see that in the characters when I created “Still Black Remains”. That’s what I’m hoping readers see: that beneath the grittiness and violence of life in an inner city, people still live their lives and do what they have to do to survive.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
I get complete satisfaction from writing – I can’t put it any more succinctly than that. The creativity involved in writing fills a need.
A writing career isn’t like being a rock star or a movie actor – very few writers show up in the headlines, wind up on the cover of People, or get interviewed on Entertainment Tonight. But that’s not why you write – you write because you have stories you want AND need to tell to any audience that will read what you’ve created. It’s a need to be a storyteller.
What do you find most challenging about writing?
Finding the right publisher who will work with you as a writer, and share the same kind of vision for your books is probably the biggest challenge. I needed a publisher who was willing to take a little bit of a risk on something that was outside the mainstream and didn’t fall within a specific genre. That was my biggest obstacle – “Still Black Remains” doesn’t have a clearly defined niche or category like horror, fantasy, or romance. There’s more broad-based appeal to the story and it crosses over between different genres like contemporary fiction as well as crime fiction. Agents and editors who first read the book felt it was a strong story but they didn’t know how to position it in the market or where to target the audience (most were afraid it would fall through the cracks). The other issue that came up was voice- most of the characters in “Still Black Remains” are black, and I was told that some publishers might be reluctant to publish the book because I wasn’t black (assuming that only a black writer could write and market a book from that POV….which is idiotic because that would mean only women could write books featuring women characters, only real cowboys could write westerns, and only zombies could write about the zombie apocalypse. That kind of belief and attitude diminishes and dismisses a writer’s creativity and ability to imagine).
Literary Wanderlust appealed to me for a number of reasons. I think the diversity of the writers who are published by Literary Wanderlust speaks volumes about their approach. I wanted a publisher who would invest in the book and invest me as an author. Their business model keeps overhead low and allows them to take more risks with newer and mid-list authors, and I was encouraged by their feedback when I initially submitted the manuscript. Their editors worked closely with me to help tighten the story, making it much stronger and focused – their recommendations made the characters’ POV clearer, heightened the conflict, and ultimately made the book better. The Literary Wanderlust team came up with a viable marketing plan so that the book won’t get lost on book shelves and will find its audience. From the beginning we have worked together as true partners, and I have felt that my success is their success.
What advice would you give to people wanting to enter the field?
You need to write – every day. And you need to keep writing. And when you’re not writing, read. Stephen King said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
Never stop trying to improve and never stop working at your craft – the most important thing you need to do is to keep writing. If you want to write realistic dialogue you have to listen – every conversation has a certain style and flow, and as a writer you need to capture that and reflect it in the dialogue your characters use. Keep working at it and never allow yourself to get complacent or careless. Then edit. Revise and review what you’ve written, and don’t be afraid to make changes, even when they are drastic. Make the book as tight and error-free as possible. Edit ruthlessly. Don’t be afraid to cut out the parts that don’t work. Then finish what you’ve started – the best advice I got was this:
“You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”
Don’t give up. And don’t let somebody else tell you that you can’t do something. Take rejection as a motivator – learn from it, work hard, and study the craft and keep trying to get better.
Is there anything else besides writing you think people would find interesting about you?
I sometimes get mistaken for Bryan Cranston (okay – actually Walter White from “Breaking Bad”). It happens all the time so I’ve gotten used to it, and it’s kind of fun playing along when people ask, “Do you know who you look like”?
I’ve had random strangers approach me in airports, grocery stores, even standing in line for a Broadway play – although if I was really Bryan Cranston I doubt I’d be waiting in line. But any number of people have stopped me so they could pose for selfies and pictures, even after I’ve explained that “I’m not him”. One lady said she thought I was “the guy from Breaking Bad”, but after hearing me speak said I cursed more like Samuel L. Jackson.
What are the best ways to connect with you, or find out more about your work?
I post my fiction along with periodic writing updates at both A Cold Rush of Air, and Sliding Down the Razor’s Edge where I offer my opinion and POV on topics not too earth-shattering in size, scope, or detail. And those few people who really want to know more are always welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Kevin Michaels’ Bio
Kevin Michaels is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel LOST EXIT, as well as two entries in the FIGHT CARD BOOKS series: HARD ROAD and CAN’T MISS CONTENDER. He also released a collection of short stories entitled NINE IN THE MORNING. His short stories and flash fiction have also appeared in a number of magazines and indie zines, and in 2011 he was nominated for two separate Pushcart Prize awards for his short stories. Other shorts have been included in the anthologies for SIX SENTENCES (volumes II and III) and ACTION: PULSE POUNDING TALES (2).
In April 2017 his latest novel STILL BLACK REMAINS will be published by Literary Wanderlust LLC.
He has also published a number non-fiction articles and stories in print publications ranging from the NYTimes.com and the Life/Style section of The Boston Globe to The Bergen News and Press Journal and raged in print at places like the triCity News, NY Daily News, and The Press.
He is the Founder and Creative Director of Story Tellers which is a community-based organization that develops and promotes literacy through writing. Story Tellers provides under-served teenagers, young adults, and women from distressed situations the opportunity to discover the strength and power of their own voices (self-empowerment through self-expression).
Originally from New Jersey, he carries the attitude, edginess, and love of all things Bruce Springsteen common in his home state, although he left the Garden State to live and work in the foothills of the Appalachians (Georgia) with his wife, Helen and an assortment of children and pets.