Friday, 28 May 2010

Interview with Roy L Pickering Jr

I promised you some new fun interviews, and I won't disappoint. We'll start with today's chat with published author Roy Pickering.

Welcome, Roy! Tell us a bit about yourself.

Well, I was born on the idyllic island of St. Thomas and now reside in a quaint New Jersey town where the residents are taxed far too heavily. In between I grew up in the Bronx, NY which is the setting of my debut novel - Patches of Grey. I began working on it while a student at NYU. This doesn’t mean it’s autobiographical, although I have received *side-eyes* regarding a few passages from my siblings (I’m the eldest of 5) who felt they recognized some snatches from our reality. I truthfully plead coincidence. Patches is only autobiographical in the sense that some of the issues it tackles are ones of personal interest to me, ones I’m rather opinionated about. Yet my goal and hopefully achievement was not to write a preachy book that lays out my world view and dictates to readers how they should feel, but rather, to tell an engaging story with issues of social relevance significant to the narrative. When not writing or spending time with my family, helping my daughter grow up into the most amazing person in the world, I’m a big sports fan. The Knicks are my basketball love and the Jets are my football love, so much so that this Caribbean born scribe is willing to endure cold winter days in the Meadowlands watching the latter play. Tennis is my other sports obsession, although I’d rather be out on the court than watching. My game has a long way to go, but that’s okay because I’m a patient and determined man. These are pretty necessary traits for a writer to have, along with enjoying the sight of my own words, which explains why I’ve become quite enamored with blogging and Twitter.

Let's talk about your books. What are the names and genres?

I suppose the label of literary fiction applies to my writing, though I basically consider myself to be a writer of stories that don’t neatly fall into any particular genre. Since the majority of major characters in Patches of Grey are teens, technically it covers territory one might consider Young Adult. But the language is a bit rougher than what you’d find in most YA novels, and the tone more intense. I suppose one could say it’s an urban novel since that aptly describes the setting, but my goals are a bit loftier than glorifying so called street life. Essentially Patches is a story of family, of how it shapes us, how we try to break free of the nest with varying degrees of success, and no matter how far away we may venture a part of us will always remain behind. It’s also a story of race, how it defines us, how we use it to figure out ourselves and others, and how it doesn’t really define anything at all because the shared color of our blood trumps the degree of melanin in our skins. If African American/Black is considered to be a writing genre then I suppose one would toss Patches in there as well, being that I’m black and so are most of characters in it. But would it be black fiction if I wrote it but the majority of characters were white (which is the case in a fair amount of my shorter fiction, not to mention cases where I make no mention of characters’ race at all)? How about if the story remained the same but I happened to be white? Are you stumped? Exactly, who the heck knows, which is why I’m not too concerned with literary labels. Individual readers can decide for themselves what they wish to consider my writing, just as I leave it up to them to decide its merits. In addition to my novel and short stories I’ve also had a novella published as an ebook by SynergEbooks. Feeding the Squirrels is even more genre-less than Patches of Grey. It’s more or less about sex yet isn’t nearly graphic enough to be considered erotica, nor romantic enough to be called Romance. Anti-romance is more like it, or so it may seem for much of the story. It has absolutely nothing to do with race, but I’m still black so is it black fiction? LOL. Perhaps my goal is never to be pinned down, whether on page on in life.

Sounds like a good goal to me. I've seen a few reviews for Patches of Grey on goodreads. What’s the story about?

Patches of Grey is the story of an impoverished African American family, contemporary in setting but pre “rise of Obama”, over the course of a tumultuous year. The narrative focus switches among the family members, but its center belongs to Tony who is a high school senior with aspirations of college and progressing further towards the so called American Dream than his parents did. Typically it’s the case that parents want their children to do better than they did. But it’s a bit more complicated than that in my novel because “moving up” is seen by some as a form of “selling out”, and Tony’s father happens to be one of those people. Tony’s choice of girlfriend doesn’t help the situation, being that she is white and his father’s emotional wounds from growing up in the segregated south are still festering. What the young man feels are simply choices about how to live his life and chase his dreams, the father sees as judgment of him. So they both condemn each other without truly understanding where the other is coming from. There are other plot points I could synopsize, but the strained relationship between Tony and his father is the heart of the story.

Wow, I can feel the drama already. How did the idea of the story come to you?

I’m not really sure how any of my stories come to me. They just do. I had some things to say about the ways in which people relate to each other and Patches of Grey served as vehicle to communicate them. Yet while one could categorize my novel as idea driven, it is equally character driven. I did not strive to write about the black condition or what an interracial relationship looks like or to tell the definitive coming of age story. There are countless variations on those situations, and my novel is but one of them, simultaneously specific and relatable to all who have interest in the human condition. My goal was to breathe as much authenticity into my characters’ lives as possible, because if I wish for readers to invest their time, the least I could do was provide characters to care about and root for. If different readers view Tony and Lionel and Caren and Janet and Tanya and C.J. in different lights according to their own personal backgrounds and perspectives then I’d say my mission was accomplished, because the same can be said of how we see flesh and blood people.

Tell us about getting Patches of Grey published.

I spent a good while pursuing the traditional path to publication (sign with a high powered NY agent who lands me a lucrative deal with one of the publishing giants) but it didn’t work out that way for me. I wasn’t particularly interested in self-publishing, or vanity publishing as it was mostly known as a few years back, so my manuscript was put on back burner and I got to work on a second novel which is now near completion (first draft anyway). Print on demand technology came about and self publishing became more attractive to those with limited budgets and storage space, yet I still resisted its pull. My plan was to do the same thing with novel #2 as I’d done with the first one, then once I was an established author I would get Patches of Grey published. First one written is not necessarily first one published after all, as the example of John Grisham for one shows. But then an opportunity came along (I won’t bore you with the details) to get my novel into print that I could not refuse and just like that I went from languishing in obscurity to… Okay so technically I’m still languishing in obscurity, but I also have a book out that can be purchased at Amazon as well as from a couple online booksellers. Now comes the next hard part, creating enough awareness of its existence that word of mouth is given an opportunity to propel its success.

Well I hope I've helped a little with this interview. :) Have you done book tours?

I have not. I’ve done almost none of the things that 21st century writers, however they end up being published, are supposed to do to put the word out about their books. Well, perhaps I’m being too harsh on myself. I do have a web site and a blog and I’ve set up promotional pages on a variety of book related web sites, though the wonderful is the only one I really actively participate at. I enjoy saying my piece about books I’ve read and GoodReads is the perfect place to share opinions with other avid readers. But when it comes to doing readings/signings and creating book trailers and having a table at book fairs and the various other methods authors use nowadays to say “hey, look at me”, I’ve been much more of a bystander than active participant. Will this change going forward? Your guess is as good as mine. I do have my first author event lined up in July. I’ll be one of a group of writers whose books are carried by the same online independent bookseller. Sharing the spotlight seems like a good way to dip my toes in the water. If it goes well perhaps I’ll take a deeper plunge and sign up for a book fair or two. I can reach a far wider audience via the internet than through personal appearances, and my time is rather limited, so the former has been the focus of my meager ad campaign.

Next up I intend to make a video recording of me reading a passage from Patches of Grey, have it hosted at YouTube. I love hearing authors read their work aloud so hopefully people will enjoy hearing my prose. I’m astounded by how many book bloggers such as yourself are out there, thrilled by the vast array of enthusiasm that can be found on the world wide web for the written word and those who put stories down on paper. I’ve never considered reading to be nerdy no matter what the cool kids in school may have said, but if it is then the nerds have clearly gotten their revenge, or at least their stage. I think this interview is going pretty well so far. Rather than touring perhaps I’ll throw all my eggs in one basket and wait for it to launch me to stardom. Is there any chance that Oprah is one of your readers?

Hehe, not that I know of, but she's certainly invited to join the fun! When writing, do you have a critique partner or beta readers?

I used to post short stories at writing workshop web sites such as WritersCafe and Zoetrope for feedback, but in truth I was really more interested in finding readers than obtaining critiques, and I didn’t end up making very many changes based on suggestions received. For better or for worse I basically (perhaps arrogantly) serve as my own beta reader. Well, not entirely me, myself and I. Once done with my novel in progress I’ll print a manuscript of the first draft for my wife to read and will certainly take seriously any feedback that she gives, just as I did with Patches of Grey and various shorter works of fiction. She’s an avid reader with good taste in literature and a great eye for detail (being a fantastic artist who does with paintbrushes what I try to do with pen and computer keyboard) so if it meets her approval I’ll feel confident that it’s ready for the world. Is she biased? Perhaps. But I still trust her to give honest opinions, and I trust my ability to effectively craft a tale.

What’s the hardest part of writing that you've struggled through?

I have yet to establish a set pattern to my writing schedule and would love to change that. Ideally I should be writing everyday, particularly when I’m working on a novel. But I tend to focus on longer projects sporadically, in explosive bursts, sometimes letting a substantial period of time pass when the well seems dry. It’s not that I don’t write regularly, because I do, but I’m usually jumping from novel to short story to blog editorial to sports article to whatever inspiration strikes next. I hope to become more disciplined and regimented, but it has been a great challenge to make this transformation happen. When I’m in “the zone” I go non-stop, my senses shut down the need for nutrition or comfort, my mind races with ideas and the hand holding my pen does its best to keep up with them. But to be a successful writer one needs to write not only when he is compelled to do so, but when he compels himself. The writing itself has never been a struggle for me. I suppose it’s what I was born to do. The re-writing, well that’s another story. If only I could get it down perfect the first time, but can anyone?

Don't look at me, lol. Any tips you’ve learned about writing you’d like to share?

Read a lot and write a lot, it’s truly that simple. I recommend diversity, even if you stick within a certain genre in your writing, even if you’re writing a series and following the same character from adventure to adventure with each subsequent book. Still you should read plenty of great writing in a wide variety of styles, on as many subjects as there are under the sun and over the moon, set in the historic past the imagined future and the rapidly developing present. A well rounded reader makes for a well rounded writer.

Who are your inspirations?

Those who have written great books before me. Certain authors hold lofty positions at the top of my favorites list such as John Irving, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Phillip Roth, Pat Conroy, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim Robbins, Richard Russo, Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens. These are some of the writers whose works I seek out time and time again, but there are a great many more who have written masterpieces that make me exceedingly grateful to be literate. Obviously I don’t try to write like my muses since they are so varied and don’t write at all like one another. They each have their own unique powerful voices that I soak in one stunning page at a time. It’s challenging enough to sound like myself, no need attempting to imitate anyone else.

Let’s get to know you on a deeper level. What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?

I’m afraid I’m not particularly deep, Dorothy. Lol. Pen and paper is all I require. I used to have an office in the house I’ve lived in for the past 6 years, but then my daughter joined the family and my office became her playroom. Technically I share my wife’s attic studio as my current office, at least that’s where my writing desk sits, but I hardly ever go up there and she has grabbed just about every square inch as her own. No matter. I don’t need to be in a particular chair or at a particular desk to write. I don’t require a specific pen or brand of writing pad. I’m nocturnal by nature but have done plenty of writing in the morning and afternoon, it doesn’t really matter much to me where the sun happens to be. No good luck charm sits beside me when I scribble my thoughts. I’m somewhat superstitious when it comes to sports, particularly watching football on TV, but not at all when it comes to writing. Having four siblings I learned years ago that I don’t even require quiet. Some of my best writing has been done in deafening conditions. Blocking out distraction is no problem once I’ve entered a world of my own making. I’ve written at cafes and on barstools and while walking down the street, though bumping into a fellow pedestrian or tree will eventually force me to find a place to sit. Something to write with, something to write on, and something to say are all I require.

New Bonus segment! Use the following words in a sentence: papercut, jello, and whimsical.

Just when I thought I had emerged from this interview relatively unscathed. Okay, how about this:

Franklin felt he was being whimsical in replacing his girlfriend’s cold cream with jello after their heated argument, but she was not amused, and neither was he when suffering a paper-cut on the break-up letter left pasted to his beloved autographed photo of Derek Jeter.

Excellent! :) Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Who would you like to give a shout out to?

Not only did I marry someone who turned out to be a wonderful wife, but as I mentioned earlier she is an amazing artist as well. Erin created the cover for Feeding the Squirrels (it’s the background of my Twitter page) and also transformed one of her incredible paintings into the cover design for Patches of Grey. If/when I secure a 9-figure deal for the rights to my latest novel, Matters of Convenience, hopefully my future publisher will see the wisdom in bringing her along for the ride as cover designer. Until that happens she is my valued partner at M.U.D. House Books. I’ve also written a children’s story that my wife hopefully will illustrate when time allows, and I believe more children’s books are in store for me to pen, so a shout-out goes to our daughter Ava for her inspiration. I’d also like to thank Mahogany Books and {Indie}pendent Books for carrying Patches of Grey, the bloggers and web site owners who have interviewed me or spotlighted my novel at their cyber homes over the past year, and the book reviewers who to date have been quite kind and generous with their praise.

Where can people find you online?

My web site – particularly recommended for short story fans. My scattered, perhaps esoteric blog where you’ll find a little of everything (short stories, book reviews, opinion pieces related to sports, related to politics, related to pop culture, etc.). Those looking for book recommendations may find my GoodReads page of interest - and I’m always up for a good follow and be followed by interesting people on Twitter - After finding me if you care to locate my books please stop by or or where Patches of Grey is sold in print format. My novella Feeding the Squirrels is sold exclusively in ebook format at and since reading on electronic device is apparently the wave of the future, I’ve also made Patches of Grey available on Kindle - I believe that just about covers it.

Thank you so much for talking with us, Roy. I hope you much success with your current and future books.


Gina said...

Interesting interview! The bits of autobiographical-ness (okay, so I made the word up) that slipped into the story...I think that happens one way or another in most books. I mean people write what they know...even if it seems obscure it's bound to have some real life tie. Good luck on getting the word out their on your current book! The interview will definitely help...speaking of which...
Another job well done, Dorothy! Oh, and I love the bonus feature. Gives them an on the spot sort of challenge to flex their creative muscles.

Dorothy Dreyer said...

Thanks, Gina! I agree about the autobiographical aspect in most books.

And the bonus feature is so fun. I've got some great ones coming up next week as well. Can't wait to share.

Thanks again to Roy!

Shelli said...

Great interview, again, Dorothy! Roy's books sound intriguing. I love literary fiction. I think Patches is something I'd pick up, but I gotta admit, I'm a little hesitant because he mentioned the language is harsher than YA. I like to think of myself not as a prude but a sensitive soul. Maybe it's because I didn't grow up in New Jersey? Still, I wish you the best of luck, Roy!

Roy Pickering said...

Shelli, my grandma called me up one day (I was in a computer training session in a room full of people but she kept recalling until I picked up) to chastise me for the cuss words in my novel. What can I say, my goal was to be authentic to how the characters would speak. After the brief lecture she told me she read on in spite of them and ended up really enjoying Patches of Grey, and nobody is more brutally honest than my grandmother. :-)