T Styles is a boss. Fly, progressive and enough swag to lend to the haters. Now a bookstore owner, we had the chance to sit with T Styles to discuss her bookstore, the publishing business and e-books.
UM: Describe The Cartel Publications and what it brings to the publishing industry:
T Styles: The Cartel Publications is a street literature publishing house. Meaning we publish novels heavy in urban themes depicting street life. We bring consistency to the publishing industry and we offer a solid brand for our distributors and customers. Our customers are starting to realize that when they see the CP logo, it’s all good and your customers will be pleased. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
UM: Most publishers build their house on at least one book or author. To date, what book has laid the most bricks for the The Cartel Publications?
T Styles: Without a doubt it has been the Shyt List series. For seconds I’d have to say my titles…Black and Ugly as Ever, A Hustler’s Son 2 and the like.
UM: You’ve remained focused on your house and have expanded your brand into a bookstore. In an economic climate where bookstores are closing, what has been your biggest challenge operating the store?
T Styles: I haven’t had any major challenges. I scouted the area in which the book store is located a long time ago. In fact, I grew up in the area and knew that a black book store would do great in a location where most of the customers commute by bus/train. If I had to pick a challenge, it would be hiring and maintaining qualified staff members. Although we seem to be doing pretty well now.
UM: As a bookstore owner, what misconception (s) have you learned about the publishing industry that you did not know as a publisher / author?
T Styles: Hmmm, misconception…you know what, I’m one of the few publishers who is not interested in how other people do things, and because of it, I’ve been protected from ‘How other publishers/authors’ do things. So I didn’t have any misconceptions or expectations outside of keeping my focus on the brand. I knew I’d have to grind to get the brand out there that if I did, the Cartel would be okay. I think too often business folk worry too much about what others are doing in the industry and base their business decisions on what worked or didn’t work for that person. Ignorance was my greatest asset because I didn’t know that most publishers didn’t put out two books at the same time, or this that and a third. Feel me?
UM: As a bookstore owner, what are some words of advice for authors and book signings.
T Styles: Well, I’d say please…please…please don’t cut corners when it comes to quality book covers. It’s imperative. And although your mother’s cousin’s uncle may have done good copy paste work in the past, when it comes to your book cover, take no chance. People say don’t judge a book by it’s cover but they always do! They pick up the book and put it right back down if the title isn’t hot and the cover isn’t hotter. I’d also say don’t expect a line to form around the corner when you sign your books. Successful books signings are 80 percent grind & pull (of customers) and 20 percent promotion from the book store.
UM: What is your view on urban books in the ebook format and publishers giving the ebook away for free?
T Styles: Publisher are giving books away for free? Nonsense! There has to be some reason for that madness I’m sure. Me? I LOVE ebooks but you have to pay for ours. We currently have our books available on Amazon.com’s Kindle and since Kindle’s AP is available for the iPad, you may download our books there too. In terms of e-books, the industry is changing. Publishing is changing and those who aren’t willing to embrace change will get run over. There’s no other way to say it. We have to get with the program or get left out of it. People want access and immediate gratification and ebooks provide it for the consumer.
UM: The amount of books in your catalog is impressive as T Styles. What made you write using the pseudonym Reign?
T Styles: I love writing under Reign because she’s relentless. And Reign means to prevail. Sounds just like me!
UM: What book did you enjoy writing the most?
T Styles: Black and Ugly. Why? I enjoyed the story because of the topic for one (about a young lady who hates her dark skin) and I like creating characters based on solid friendships because I never had that. When I was growing up, I moved around so much I didn’t get a chance to form long lasting bonds. And although the friends in Black and Ugly fight a lot, they love one another.
UM: Do you desire to sign with a major publisher or would you like to remain independent?
T Styles: As of now, no. I’d like to remain independent because I’m not feeling the idea of working for someone else. And the longer I am successful, the more I don’t want to. This may change depending on the offer, but for now, I want to see how far I can take the label.
UM: What are some upcoming dates for The Cartel Publications book releases, author signings or book tours?
T Styles: We have The Unusual Suspects, Miss Wayne and the Queens of DC, Hell Razor Honeys 2, Reversed and the list goes on and on!
UM: Where can readers reach you online?
Jihad is a writer and motivational speaker. Early in his life, Jihad embarked on a life of crime, which landed him in prison for seven years. He was shot on several occasions and in a car accident, which left him paralyzed.
Miraculously, Jihad regained usage of his legs. He also discovered his love of books and for writing while in prison. Jihad’s books include the autobiographical novel entitled “ Street Life” which was written in 1998.
Jihad has since written five other novels. Jihad’s most recent release is a book of non-fiction entitled “The Survival Bible 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Men.” For more information about Jihad’s works, check out www.jihadspeaks.com.
In addition to his writing, Jihad is also an inspirational speaker and a real estate investor. He is the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization The Wake-Up Everybody Foundation. This company is dedicated to “positively and proactively re-awakening the African-American psyche through self-realization and re-education.”
We interviewed Jihad his work and his ideas for helping and encouraging young people. As far as his novels go, Jihad explained that he gets his ideas from major emotional experiences in his own life. He explained, “I could be running at the gym, and I’ll have a thought that develops and won’t go away. That thought usually comes from something I see or hear that I am a very passionate about.”
Jihad’s new book “The Survival Bible 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Men” has some truly insightful ideas. One of the most important points he strives to make is that youngsters need to intentionally seek out books written by people who share the same cultural identity.
Jihad explained during our interview, “In life, all of our formal education comes from either books or scholars that are teaching from the people and the books that they were taught from. These may not be books or schools of thought that have your best interest in mind, being that you are black and only have the identity that others have told you. So, you have to READ books about your yesterday written by people who look like you and have your best interest at heart. You have to do that in order to establish your cultural identity. This is a must in understanding how you got to be where you are. By studying your ancestors, you can see how to avoid their mistakes and understand how they achieved their successes.”
Jihad goes on to explain, “Your identity is your foundation. There is nothing
that can stand through rough weather or turmoil without a foundation. That
is why our people are in the condition that we are, most of us have no
foundation. See, knowing the past is knowing the future…. Everything in
life revolves, the earth, our bodies, our story. There is absolutely nothing
new under the sun, so knowing your past in essence is knowing your future,
because with knowing your yesterday, you can map out your tomorrow. In
essence, this is what they mean by Know thyself.”
Jihad’s work is self-published. Overall, he feels this experience has been very challenging. He explained that as an independent publisher he never had the same distribution outlets as the major publishers. “It’s like a grass roots movement for life being independent, at least until the media or the people really latch on to your work.”
As far as suggestions go for readers looking to become writers and follow a similar path to success, Jihad’s main words of advice are “ READ, AND JUST DO IT. Begin at the beginning of your thoughts and just write
what’s on your mind, and don’t worry if you are an avid reader, the story will come to you as you are writing.” He explains that it is important for new writers to realize that the hardest thing to write is the first page.
Jihad’s inspiration for new writers is as follows, “How many times do you see a movie that you know you could have done better or a book you could have wrote better? Sit down and just do it… everyday if it’s one word, one sentence, write… and most importantly read. Other books are your school. Don’t worry about stealing anyone’s ideas, as I said before there is nothing new under the sun, so how can you steal what never belonged to the author in the first place… It’s all about your twist on one of the few stories that have been done a million times a million ways.”
Of course, in addition to his books is his motivational speaking career. Jihad described a recent experience at one of his live events. “It was beautiful. The young King had never read a book before but his mother made him read The Survival Bible while he was grounded… After reading my book, he told his mother that The Survival Bible was the greatest one gift he’d ever received and he was going to change the world and make her proud. I spoke with the young King and told me that he was selling his PS3 to help his mother buy books from a reading list put in the Survival Bible. He is 13…. That one King’s words are worth more than any amount of money I could be paid to write.”
Next from Jihad is the sequel to “Preacherman Blues.” He not only plans on writing more novels, but also many more self-help books. In fact, the next self-help book on the horizon is “The Survival Bible: 16 Life Lessons for Young Black Women.”
The Power of Positive Thinking at Peace in the Storm Publishing
Peace in the Storm Publishing looks for talented writers and storytellers in a wide variety of genres. The subject matter ranges from fiction and mystery to erotica and Christian fiction.
Inspiration is the cornerstone of any new endeavor, and the creation of Peace in the Storm Publishing is no different. The company motto is “Giving your Soul a Rise, One Page at a Time.” Soul is definitely at the heart of Peace in the Storm publishing, and God is often sighted as a source of strength and inspiration on the company’s website. God and spirituality obviously played a huge role in bringing Peace in the Storm Publishing into existence.
Recently, we were able to sit down with founder Elissa Gabrielle. We explored the inspiration behind Peace in the Storm Publishing, as well as what personally motivates Elissa.Elissa discussed the fascinating origins of the company’s name. It is attributed to her jazz musician father, Joe Thomas, who wrote a song titled, “Peace in the Storm.” She was only ten the first time she heard the song, but it resonated with her throughout her life. The impact of this song on her was very dramatic, as Elissa felt the song’s lyrics were powerful ones. Remarkably, Elissa, at the young age of ten, decided she would some day have a company that carried the name of her father’s song.
Just as her father’s song motivated her, Elissa, in turn, wants Peace in the Storm Publishing to motivate others. Elissa states, “With each book, there will be something that will entertain, encourage, and enlighten. I’m extremely proud of that.”
All businesses face challenges, yet Elissa addressed the obstacles she has faced in a unique and determined way. She says that while the “devil has a way of trying to stop your progress, especially when you’re trying to chase your dreams,” she has found that she can still overcome many obstacles. One key strategy she has employed in tackling her obstacles is the power of positive thinking. She says that she has a “glass is half full” philosophy. She uses this positive philosophy in conjunction with constantly asking God for guidance and wisdom.
Elissa feels that Peace in the Storm Published has, to date, faced two distinct challenges. The first challenge was that of selecting authors for her initial launch. It was vitally important to her that they were a diverse group, who would appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. The second major obstacle was the complexities of developing a brand; once this challenge was met, she stated that everything was easier. Elissa said that once the branding for the publishing company was set in stone it has been “smooth sailing.”
Jacqueline D. Moore, author of Serving Justice stated what makes Peace In the Storm Publishing so unique is “The make-up of the group. The styles of writing are as varied as the women themselves.”
Lorraine Elzia, author of Mistress Memoirs, added, “Peace in the Storm prides itself on the quality of the authors, the quality of the stories and the quality of the representation of the company.”
Jessica A. Robinson, author of Holy Seduction states “We are unique because we are truly family and we believe in being trendsetters for excellence. We always try to raise the bar with our professionalism.”
These three quotes do wonders to illuminate the perspective of all those involved in Peace in the Storm Publishing. Clearly, all involved are focused on promoting hard-working authors, and focused on creating quality books that are inspirational and motivating.
Elissa’s advice for new writers attempting to get into the publishing business should be very helpful those just starting out. She feels that research is paramount because knowledge is power. Being informed about the business, being determined to meet your goals, and asking for God’s assistance and guidance are all part of the formula. Again, it was impressive to see Elissa’s consistent optimism shine through.
2009 looks as though it will be a great year for Peace in the Storm Publishing, as there are 10 authors slated for publication, with even more titles planned for 2010. Be sure you take a look at and keep an eye on their website www.peaceinthestormpublishing.com for updates and new titles. With someone as determined and positive as Elissa at the helm, there is little doubt that 2009 and 2010 will be impressive years for Peace in the Storm Publishing.
INTERVIEW UPDATE (10/09)
After the African American Awards, I caught up with Elissa Gabrielle to discuss the success of 2009.
UM: Positive thinking, creating a meaningful brand and great books garnered Peace in the Storm publishing several awards at the African America Literary Award show in 2009.
Did you expect to win and how did it feel?
Elissa: Mr. Wells, honestly, I didn’t expect to win any of the five categories Peace In The Storm Publishing had garnered nominations in. I was very honored and humbled to even be considered. How did it feel? Awesome. And not for the reasons you may think. See, in 2009, I lost my sister suddenly. Her name was Jodi and she was only 44 years old. I had never experienced pain on such a monumental level before in my life and the pain made me lose my way for some time. I still performed the roles of publisher, because I had a job to do, but it was truly a performance.
Shortly thereafter, my dad, well-known jazz musician Joe Thomas fell ill, and we weren’t sure if he would make it. For some time, he wasn’t even able to walk. I couldn’t have predicted the very highs and the very lows that I experienced in 2009. I was extremely grateful and humbled by the fact that my parents were able to witness the awards, to be there with me, and I prayed that somehow it lessened the trauma of my sister’s death. It was a happy day for all of us. And, my dad is now able to walk. So, while the awards are great, the real icing on the cake was that I was able to share such a special moment in my life with those I love the most – family, because as you know this is life is not a dress rehearsal. We are blessed with life, and we must treasure our time here on this earth with family and loved ones. And, I can’t lie, it feels great being a winner. Who doesn’t love that feeling? I am responsible for the literary careers of 11 authors, so bringing home the “gold” gave me a little more confidence and encouragement to do the best job I can for the Peace In The Storm authors.
UM: What has been the toughest challenge in the publishing industry? Was the challenge expected or inspected?
EG: That’s a hard question to answer because I’m not sure if I look at the actual challenges as challenges. I sort of stay in my own little bubble, and do my own thing for me and the authors of Peace In The Storm. In identifying one challenge, I suppose it was receiving information that I needed to move forward. Valuable resources and information are sometimes not readily available to the people seeking it. So, getting information to help Peace In The Storm grow was probably the most difficult thing to do. I guess I expected it. However, life is filled with speed bumps, roadblocks and stop signs. Our normal tendency is to listen to the world as it tells us to slow down or even stop, behind a belief that some things in life are out of our reach and beyond our attainment and control. The world wants to cushion our expectations and to ultimately limit our goals. But thankfully, there is a God. And with faith in Him and His mercies, He gives us pedals upon which to accelerate and a path of green lights upon which to proceed when others tell us we can’t possibly move forward. My Peace In The Storm journey has been an ongoing saga of having faith and believing that even though others can give me molehills of why Peace In The Storm can’t, My God gives me mountains of why Peace In The Storm can. There will undoubtedly be more challenges that lay ahead, but I have to remain focused for me and the authors of Peace In The Storm. I’ll continue to allow God to order my steps and will lean on Him for guidance when the continued challenges arise.
UM: Other than the awards and accolades, what has been your reward?
EG: My reward has been helping others. Nothing beats the feeling I get when an author calls me when they have their book in their hand. I try to really be involved with the overall publishing process, so the author and I develop a real bond as the process continues. When that part of the process is complete, I feel joy right along with the author when they’ve achieved their dream. I’m happy for my authors because they are worthy, and they deserve all the goodness that is sure to come. They work hard, and it’s been both and honor and a pleasure to witness them chase, and finally reach their literary goals. So, for me, the biggest reward is to help them make their dreams come true. Ain’t nothing like it.
UM: Now that you have found success and have been recognized as one of the leading publishers, what’s next in 2010?
EG: I think it’s going to take years for me to become a leading publisher, if that ever happens. Only God knows for sure, and only time will tell. I’m still learning and there are many more miles I need to travel. Honestly, I’m happy to be on this journey and I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Peace In The Storm and its authors. For 2010, we have two new authors, so far, that have joined the Peace In The Storm roster; Brian Ganges, and Pamela D. Rice. Returning are the award-winning Jacqueline D. Moore, Lorraine Elzia, Cheryl Lacey Donovan, and the literary-award nominated S.D. Denny, and Ebonee Monique, in addition to Tamara Angela Grant, Jessica A. Robinson, and LaToya S. Watkins. I will also release another novel in 2010. The lineup is really fantastic and I’m very excited about the 2010 releases. These authors have really stepped up their game and they will not let their readers down. Please visit www.peaceinthestormpublishing.com in December to preview the 2010 lineup from these incredibly gifted authors.
UM: Positive thinking can go a long way, but can’t get the job done alone. As a publisher, what was one of your most successful strategies that you implemented this year?
EG: In recognizing that I was a small press and a new publishing company, I needed to ensure that Peace In The Storm came out with a bang, and in order to do that, I was very selective in the process I used to choose the books in which I would publish. I wanted diverse genres and broad appeal. In doing so, the quality of books under the Peace In The Storm umbrella was very high, because I looked for stories that were above the norm. Now don’t mistake me, I don’t mean better, I just mean different. I was not interested in publishing just for the sake of publishing, but I had a real concern about the quality of books that bore the Peace In The Storm name. After choosing high quality manuscripts, I focused and encouraged my authors to direct all of their attention on marketing. The importance of marketing can sometimes be lost on publishing companies and I made sure it was not lost on me, or on the authors under the Peace In The Storm publishing house. There are so many great publishers out there, how would anyone recognize Peace In The Storm and its authors? Realizing that if Peace In The Storm was going to make a name for ourselves, it had to be done through a progressive and aggressive marketing campaign. We all were new to the literary scene, nobody knew our names, and when starting out with brand new authors, it was my goal as the publisher, to make their names as individuals, as well as the company brand, a household name as quickly and professionally as possible. I think that initiative on the part of me, as the publisher, and on the part of my authors, was one of the most successful strategies that helped Peace In The Storm overcome some of the obstacles that other small presses have difficulty overcoming, and that is being noticed. It’s very hard to be noticed. I’m so very grateful that we were acknowledged. But I’m even more happy that our readers are pleased with the work that we’ve put out there.
UM: As an author what was one of your most successful strategies that you implemented?
EG: I’ll tell you a little about my latest novel, A Whisper to a Scream. A Whisper to a Scream is the story of Queen Thomas, a successful defense attorney who is very passionate about defending the African American male. She has seen that the justice system has not been so fair and kind to them, so it is her mission to save as many of these men as she possibly can. A speed bump comes along in the form of Dr. Quincy Hughes which makes her question everything she’s believed in and has fought for, for so long. The interracial element of the book was the most difficult part to write effectively. I had to do a lot of research, because I had no direct knowledge or experience with interracial relationships, so in order to make it authentic, I had to really work hard. I challenged myself on so many levels with A Whisper to a Scream. Queen Thomas is a defense attorney, so I had to research to make sure that the courtroom drama was real. In addition to that, I needed to highlight the domestic violence parts of the book. Poetry is something that is laced throughout the book as well as the recurring theme of “whispers” and “screams” so this was the most technical book I’ve ever written. I enjoyed the challenge of having a book that was so well thought out and well written. That was my goal and I enjoyed reaching that goal. So, in terms of strategy as an author that was implemented, was giving the reader a book that exceeded my expectations as a writer. I wanted to give the people more and I’m hoping that strategy will prove to be successful.
Blackface: A Novel by Q.B. Wells
Art Official Media LLC
$14.95 US / $17.95 CA
To protect his mother, sixteen year-old Clinton Ray a.k.a Black must run away from home. Forced to mingle with the worst elements and circumstances in urban life, Black bumps into Face, Penny and Zero, who together chase the American Dream.
Inevitably, their experiences provoke Black to reassess his friendships, his lifestyle and his own aspirations. In his journey of self-discovery, Black must learn to survive on the streets of Chicago, reevaluate his life decisions, or perish in the chaos of life.
What Lies in the Souls of Men?
Alvin C. Romer
Does anyone really care about what men think nowadays, or what really lies deep within our souls? In 2008 most men that have lived a bit should be at the crossroads of their lives. Living the life and being able to transcend to levels of expectancy may not have been what we lived, give or take a few triumphs here and there. Of course there were the pitfalls, and we talk about them in bedrooms and boardrooms. We’ve had time to look deep within ourselves to exact some modicum of responsibility for the things that have been at our grasps to control…and if change is indeed indicative of wanting to do what is right, there are quite a few who wouldn’t complain. As husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, and mentors there are varying degrees of angst still lurking on the periphery that have not proven to be harbingers of good for men in general and Black men specifically, and we have a lot to say about them. Some would argue that the scales have not been equal, and parity is nothing more than a dream. Our conversations continue where voices are open and the volume much too high where truths are not arguable to good intent. Thus, the identification and definition of outward manifestations of inner soulfulness are portrayed in the minds of those that want to make a difference. Is it far-fetched to believe then that accountability should be first and foremost a prerequisite for first impressions? This is uppermost in my mind, and holds the glue to anything cohesive in this essay. Psychologists have analyzed the minds and souls of men for the longest and still there are doubts and intrigue to the psyche of what makes us tick, and why do we do the things we do. Undoubtedly there are collective reports that may be subjective to theories of thought, but what about individuals coming full circle to ask some of the same queries to gauge truth for better understanding, and to dispel any notions of negativism? What we think is important, and I feel that people DO and want to know what we are all about.
So here I am ready to solve a piece of a puzzle that is missing coherence and clarity to some to shed light on this dark passage – understanding men! My good friend and editor of the book you’re reading approached me with the query, “what is in the soul of men?” If you think nobody gives a hoot what Black men are thinking, think again. I often wonder myself! Nonetheless, some people would rather open us up and see why we do what we do, especially when there are those that fear us, and would do anything to keep us second class. We are a force – I know this because I’m aware that the corporate world loves us because they can coerce us to buy their products. Politicians have exploited us for years with promises and more promises. Banks coddle us because they want the deposits that fuel their institutional worth. The media, including TV, radio, and now the internet, want you to redefine what role models they want you to emulate…they want you to pay attention to more stereotypical crap. The point is, all of them want something from us. And when someone has a demand, and it’s us that they are after, we got power over them. Yes we, do! Anytime a collective group of people can earn more than 400 million dollars a year – that’s clout, baby! As a man of color, there are a plethora of things I’m always thinking about that have the propensity to make the grade for reflective thought. The depth of my soul is like a bottomless pit that cannot define volume. I’ve thought long and hard on how to answer this question and have come up with a few caveats that I’d like to share.
But first, hear me out. There’s just too much on the minds of men, where our souls are retched with pangs of how to do the right thing. It’s not far-fetched that men should be scrutinized for any meaningful intent in times like these. I welcome the chance to talk about my thoughts personally, and generically what other men SHOULD be thinking about. Every now and then the Black man’s long odyssey in America demands that we be heard. People want to know what lies beneath the shroud of anger and foreboding that has dogged us in time…and we haven’t been quiet, mind you. When the whispers get louder, the voices cry out in despair, rail against injustice, defy oppression, and have spoken truth with power and eloquence. For every man like me who will not be stifled by passivity, hundreds more are rising to occasions to be viable in communities struggling to be held accountable to legitimate concern. Other variables and paradoxes are at play, too. I think about the homeless and the predicament that dog the jobless. I’m at wit’s end with how to cope with the reality of stereotypical angst that propels the former and the latter. Success runs in our race for sure. At times we are embraced, sometimes we’re ignored, but mostly we are not understood by many who only see what’s on the surface. We endeavor to soar in triumphant unison where demand for respect is par for any course of acceptance. It’s when nostalgia reign supreme and my mind revert to thinking about the injustices and ill-will that we’ve had to endure that causes the hackles on my neck to stand on end. I feel that it’s always a moment to lament and wish that the pendulum swung yet the other way. I believe that time and circumstance has ways of affording the most astute among us chances to be the progenitors of good things despite all of the above. Moreover, we’ve always had our voices for self-affirmation and a sense of legitimacy. Each generation brings about change and new hope for better understanding as we talk among ourselves, and bring a sense of honor to our thoughts. It inspires us anew, and our souls and minds are full of the aforementioned ‘voices’. Thus, the real machismo insists that we are heard – our souls cry out to be taken seriously.
My idea of what lies in the soul of a man has many elements. Black men are much too complex for only surface matter to suffice, without myriads of other situations floating subconscious in mind. We’re not without reproach for things that we should be doing. I feel that men should first look in the mirror and see intrusively the need for concern dealing with self-esteem, lack of integrity and no accomplished value to have a better meaning to life in positive ways. What lies in the soul of a man? I can answer the question easily from a personal vantage point. It starts with me by being true to myself and maintaining an innate sense of relevance. Alas, I know that God made me in the image of Him, and had great plans for me, but along the way I stumbled… The African-American male, much maligned as he is, cannot be stereotyped any more justifying damages already incurred. What lies beneath the hubris is enough to begin the process for challenge and change as I regained my balance. With a new lease on life I picked up the gauntlet and ran with it! The intent is to posit frames of references to illustrate what black Americans should expect out of their men as opposed to what has been shown thus far on the surface. Interestingly enough, the first man of creation, Adam was given a blueprint and a set of directives and he failed miserably…so much so that the Divine plan originally entrusted to him didn’t exactly go awry to the point where we couldn’t eventually get it right. The souls of men should first emanate with a strong presence for spirituality where integrity can define a sense of worth for any progressive success. I feel that we could do a better job of stepping up, exerting ourselves and demanding respect on all levels of achieved reckoning.
What are we thinking about when we sit passively watching our communities fall in disrepair, see our families grow apart from apathy and lack of spiritual resolve, and most importantly, allow our progeny to fall prey to icons that are detrimental to their growth? I won’t say that my past is not checkered like so many of my peers, but having been there and done that, maturity served its purpose when my attention became centered on blueprints to construct a better role model. It is for the roles I’m destined to play in communities of thought and action. The wrongness that existed in my former life demanded that I make this change, and it took away the momentum of a nagging nemesis for intangibles to become much more than reality. You see, I once begged, borrowed, and stole anything that would allow me to be at the top of my egotistical game. I dressed the part, and allowed material things to define the fabric of my being. I was insecure at a time when I didn’t want to make mistakes that would have subsequent bearing on my career. I was a slave to sex, and at times disrespected women, myself, and distorted the truth enough to render me a mere caricature of the natural talent I had. Yes, I recall the times – ‘The ‘sensational seventies’ where the music was live and my imaginations ran away from me!
Time in its proper place will always be the barometer for change. I was able to triumph over adversity and iniquity by professing to elicit a better way of being respected, as there was something in it for me. I learned that in order to respect, one must intrusively pay homage in humble ways to see empathy in those with whom they endeavor to respect. Self-esteem became my focus, and it was not easy loving yourself in order to love others. I learned this by studying the Word. I began to think personally about how I could stop the degradation of women that I readily exploited in various segments of my carnal spirit. Instead of being the hunter after the game, I allowed the game to capture me…and in doing so I was forced to give them something to be respected of. Moreover, I thought about how equal parity could be afforded to women who were heading households while I was laying in the cut, or being cut down by society’s injustices. I sought to stop feeling sorry for myself and thinking that someone of another persuasion was the reason for my angst. I needed to think about what I can do to loosen the strings of racist attitudes and not allow it to hold me back
I can’t speak for all men, but I’m sure enough will agree that our dreams will often be imprisoned and relegated to the mockery and amusement of an unbelieving and unforgiving public. At times, life’s struggles, external and internal, will test the very souls for challenging resolve to go within. This is where self-esteem and integrity play the better part for us to get right. Social ills render us helpless, and we harbor thoughts, and sometimes do detrimental things to exacerbate the problems. Change allowed me to get completely naked; and as I stood before the mirror and saw myself for whom I really was, I stripped myself of all of the shame, guilt, and temptation of that which was not good for my soul. It forced me to get to know Him better as I looked deeper and saw the wonders of God’s penchant for putting everything where it should be at this point in my life. I had to find myself and the gift of discernment to let options be definitive of my actions – those where common sense would give good meaning to deductive reasoning. I couldn’t ignore that still small voice that roared so vociferously in my soul in the dead of night whenever He visited. It’s often at this hour that God prodded me to continue beyond sunrise to give more light at sunset!
The career I’ve carved learning to be a respected as a journalist and freelance writer is best exemplified in my writing. That’s my voice. I endeavor to write with clarity hoping that my peers see my worth. Along the way I got spiritual and spirited. I no longer worry about the friends I may have lost in my quest to be the best I can be. Words, wit, and new-found wisdom are my bosom buddies and my creativity will always flow. As I wrote, my thoughts gave new meaning to humbleness, and an ego that was lessened and lengthened for my journey subsided. It is my hope that my brothers and my many peers join me on this trip in making our race a good one to challenge what is needed for acceptance, be it from and to ourselves, or from different persuasions. The road we travel is not an easy one. What are we thinking about then? Our minds are not idle, and my mind is full and reverberating. I’m a conversationalist at heart and will talk to anyone willing to debate realism vs. ambiguity. There are some like myself who will run as fast as we can for the finish line of life, where God would be there to shake hands and say, “well done my faithful servants!” I want to be deserving of this, because I do not want to see women continuing to be the head of households, and where my community is not run by matriarchy. I want my young folk to take inventory of their lives so that self, family and community are interwoven for sustained awareness. I want black-on-black crime to cease for Agape Love to permeated using a sense of connectivity, commitment and the commission of good intent.
Lastly and certainly not lease of my thoughts were of those where I could be looked at with respect in any setting and excel because of, and not despite my race. Nowadays, it’s all about living vertically and continually seeking space to keep my thoughts just as reverent. The triumph of my soul is complete as I strive to make my achievements accountable. I’ve done some serious re-evaluation of my life while thinking back on my past. I do not lament for that which should have been, or what should be! I looked intrusively in that mirror I spoke of earlier, and didn’t allow laxity to dispel the truth that stared back at me. I lay bare my soul, and as black men with so many wrongs to right and for accountability to have value, we must challenge and be challenged. Of course I pray more now as I seek a greater audience with Him. I did it by using a triumvirate sense of awareness putting self, family, and community at the forefront of my initiatives. There’s a lot I will uphold to justify my covenant with God, with the changes I made in my life. I want to continue on an even plain. The applications that I’m adhering to, and the solutions thereof, are about a simple plan: I will live a code of honor where ethics and just doing the right thing will give much more to meaningful intent; I will live, learn, and listen more. Live for the moment that is, and allow a free spirit to guide me in my liberal leanings; and I will learn through the knowledge afforded me in my natural advantage it gives for discernable options, the importance of deductive reasoning, having common sense and good logic to define how I conduct behavior patterns. There’s more — I endeavor to gravitate around those that propel me higher as I will choose wisely my new friends. I will unclutter my mind, shore up my surroundings for a neater disposition. I will not hesitate to initiate and follow through on those things that need dumping, and will abandon what doesn’t work, and not dwell on things I’m unwilling to commit to fully.
What lies in my soul is everything that can and should fix what is wrong with the world according to man’s agenda to challenge and change the society in which he lives. My soul is my temple and my spiritual being is alive bubbling to the top waiting to explode! Asking me what’s on my mind is opportunity waiting to vociferate anew. I think about how we need to mobilize and support the election of that Black man running for President. The litmus test of loyal is upon us. We need to circle the wagons and support him, and in doing so change would start souls to solidify race to a new dimension. I’m sure there are those that DO believe in his progressive campaign for change, and in the minds of the men I talked to there are hopes, dreams, and accomplished verve that are ours to claim. We shall continue to talk, voice our opinionated views, and be on the mind of others who are wondering what we are thinking. The triumphs of our souls are the victories we claim over adversaries and how we can let others know what we are thinking in our souls. I think about loving the right way, and being loved in return. I think about doing my part to build the Kingdom and make sure that the Joshua generation has the role models to see what needs to be seen for measurable self-esteem. If we can dare to dream, let us have those great expectations and speak volumes for our victories. Check out my smile and measure my heart for the things I say and what I do. I will tell my constituents that there are peaks and valleys to life and that success will require opening up and being accountable. But by no means should they stop the flow of words between them. Continue talking, my brothers, and let your voices and actions be instruments for change. Perhaps the most important regimen for us to grasp is the need to reassert collective genius which has always empowered us in the past to survive. We can do this by loving each other more –but we’ll shout if we have to, and it should be okay!
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Xpress Yourself Publishing, LLC, founded by Jessica Tilles, is truly an up-and-coming independent publishing house. Just last year, the company received The Independent Publishing House of the Year award from the African American Literary Awards Show. Xpress Yourself Publishing has quickly cultivated a nice selection of books on an impressive array of topics, ranging from “thought-provoking literature and commercial fiction, business books, mystery, romance, erotica, spiritual, contemporary and neo-soul lit.”
Here is a bit of background on the company and some of its highlights to date:
In 2001, Jessica launched Xpress Yourself Publishing as a self-published author, publishing her national best-selling titles. In 2006, she published fellow authors Bill Holmes, Kenda Bell and Michael J. Burt. Bill Holmes’ debut novel, One Love, peeked at #4 on the Essence Best Seller’s List in July 2007, followed by Kenda Bell’s, For Every Love There Is A Reason at #8 in August 2007. As publisher of Xpress Yourself Publishing (now affectionately known as XYP), she is helping to mold the literary careers of 35 talented authors, which includes two ESSENCE Best Sellers, award-winning authors, several award nominees, and a finalist for the 2008 NAACP Image Award nomination in the Best Debut Novel category. Annually, XYP publishes 10 to 20 titles.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the company’s founder, Jessica Tilles, for an interview. It is always interesting to learn what inspires creative people to tackle the world of publishing. In Jessica’s case, she began attending publishing workshops where she met three authors, Brenda L. Thomas, Collen Dixon and Jamillah Ellis. She credits this trio of gifted authors with helping motivate her to create Xpress Yourself Publishing.
Jessica also credits advice given to her by her parents with her success. Her parents were quick to lend the very sage advice, which was “learn from the mistakes of other.” Incorporating this advice, Jessica says that she keeps her “ear to the ground and her eyes wide open.” Jessica says that she is constantly studying what others in the publishing business are doing and saying. She keeps that input close to heart.
Any entrepreneur is going to face obstacles and the publishing business is, of course, no different. Like many entrepreneurs, Jessica’s main obstacle was financial. She wondered where she would get the money to print her own book. In a stroke a genius, Jessica opted for a fundraising campaign and one of her first targets was Joe Corbis Pizza. Joe Corbis Pizza is deeply involved in fundraising in the Maryland area. Before she knew it, Jessica had enlisted the help of her friends and family to sell pizzas to their friends and coworkers. By the end of her fundraising, she had raised over $5,000, $2,500 of which went to printing of the first 500 copies of her own book Anything Goes. The other $2,500 she had raised from the fundraising went to marketing and promotion.
No doubt Jessica has created a unique publishing company with Xpress Yourself Publishing. She prides herself in the fact that she is available to her authors 24/7 and responds to their emails and calls as soon as possible. While she never forgets that the publishing business is, at its core, a business, she feels that the family-like environment at Xpress Yourself Publishing really helps her publishing company stand out from the crowd.
So what does the future hold for XYP? Jessica says that 2009 is looking bright indeed and that there are many “irons in the fire.” She is excited about the number of great writers and fantastic works at XYP and expects great things for XYP and all of its writers soon.
The success story of Xpress Yourself Publishing is nothing short of inspiring. Jessica’s success shows the strength of determination and belief in a goal. Additionally, never underestimate the power of mentors. In Jessica’s case, she was able to receive guidance and advice from authors whose opinions she admired and respected.