JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Bill Campbell, author of Koontown Killing Kaper
All the rappers in Koontown are being killed, and rumor has it that it’s vampire crack-babies doing the killing. Desperate the police reach out to Genevieve “Jon Vee” Noire, ex-super model/ex-homicide detective/private detective.
Together with her former partner, Genevieve must navigate the dangerous world of gangsta rappers, shady record executives, corrupt cops and politicians, ’80s pimps, welfare queens, secret sistah societies, Ubernoggin, and the National Guard.
Can the ex-super-model survive the chaos and insanity to save her beloved Koontown while it explodes all around her?
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Koontown Killing Kaper?
Bill Campbell: I guess, in an odd way, the birth of my daughter. Like so many people, I was just going along living my life, thinking that a lot of the negativity I saw in the media surrounding African-Americans was somehow a realistic reflection of black life in America. But, while worrying myself sick over how to raise a little black girl in this country, I started delving deeper and looking at studies, etc., to discover that a lot of that negativity simply is not really “keeping it real” at all.
I saw that, for example, all the talk about black educational underachievement could be explained away by poverty. When you break students down socioeconomically, you find that blacks and whites score the same. There are simply more poor African-Americans. I discovered that rates of criminality are the same, but that black people are more likely to be arrested. Even with that, though, out of a population of over 16 million, there are roughly 840,000 black men in prison currently. That’s a lot, but that’s only roughly 5 percent of us. And there are actually more black men in college than are in prison.
So, I started wondering why is so much of American culture concentrated on black criminality? Why does so much of our music, so many of our stories and news reports, focus on the black male as criminal when so few black men actually live criminal lives? Why are there so many tales of black inferiority when there are so many studies that say that these stories are not as true as we’re lead to believe?
African-Americans still suffer from a high rate of poverty (I think around 30 percent before the recession) and the problems associated with that. But in 1960, only about 10 percent of black folks were considered middle class or better. In the space of two generations, we African-Americans have accomplished a lot, have overcome so much in the face of racism, etc.; we have a lot of reasons to pat ourselves on the back. Yet, so much of society is concentrated on our failings.
So, I decided to write a book about those negative images and what some of the real social, political, and economic ramifications those images may have.
JP: What sets Koontown Killing Kaper apart from other books in the same genre?
BC: Well, Koontown Killing Kaper is a satire exploring the black image in American society. There simply aren’t very many books that have done that. You’d have to look at Darius James’ Negrophobia or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (with some Chester Himes) for primary examples of what I attempted to do with this novel.
Also, this is a hip-hop satire—for folks in their 30s and 40s who feel that the culture has somehow changed on them. I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and had the distinct “pleasure” of integrating one school in the late ‘70s and being one of the few black faces around during the Reagan Era.
One of the things that held it down for me was our culture—the music, our literature, all the arts. How could what some of those white folks were saying to me about my people be true when we created such geniuses as Wright and Morrison, Miles and Trane, etc? Some would tell me that I couldn’t be a writer (which I wanted to be since I was 9) and I could throw The Black Poets in their face. The culture sustained me. Yet, young black adults in their 20s, say, cannot remember a time when their own culture did not refer to them as “niggaz.”
Aside from that, a few rappers here in DC got together and crafted a soundtrack for Koontown. Nothing is more unique than a hip-hop soundtrack to a novel.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to Koontown Killing Kaper getting out to the public?
BC: Well, that’s forever changing, isn’t it? In 2004, when I came out with my first novel, Sunshine Patriots, promotion mainly entailed my arranging readings and signings at independent bookstores around the country and notifying the newspapers and as many people as I could, and hopping in my car to do promotions in person.
In 2007, with My Booty Novel, a lot of independent bookstores started falling by the wayside. So, I did mostly Barnes & Nobles, and I added Myspace to the promotional mix.
A lot has changed even more since then. So, we’re working social media as much as possible. We have the website. We produced a fairly outrageous book trailer. We’re even offering Koontown merchandise—hats, T-shirts, hoodies, iPod covers, boxer shorts, and thongs.
And, as I said, there’s a Koontown soundtrack. So, we’re busy promoting the novel and the music. We have a few music videos in the works as well as a couple of concert/readings. Triple Threat (the woman who produced the soundtrack) and I are also contemplating going around to different college campuses and holding panel discussions—since the underlying theme of the entire project is exploring negative—and positive—African-American images in American culture, which is something, I think, a lot of college students would find interesting.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Koontown Killing Kaper?
BC: I don’t know if I really have much of a process. The actual writing of Koontown took roughly six weeks. I started it one Thanksgiving and ended a few days after New Year’s. However, I spent well over a year with the idea, constantly thinking about it, plotting it out in my head. Then, there was a bit of research involved, too.
In fact, most of my writing is that way. It took about six weeks to write my first book, Sunshine Patriots, but it was based on a short story I’d written seven years before I sat down to write the book. My Booty Novel was floating around in my head for about five years before I wrote that one.
Before I write a novel, I go through this weird panic attack where I think I’m the stupidest person on the planet who doesn’t deserve to exercise the same craft as so many great minds—from Samuel R. Delany, for example, to Zora Neale Hurston—have done so much to master. So, I end up reading all kinds of fiction, nonfiction, and literary theory before I set the pen to paper (and yes, I write all my novels longhand). I have no clue why, but there you have it.
JP: What’s next for Bill Campbell?
BC: Well, as I said, I have a novel and a soundtrack to promote. So, I imagine most of this year will be spent promoting those. Hopefully, I’ll be all over the internet and in a town near you!
After that, I’ll get back to writing. I have another satire in my head about the “whitewashing” of American history. As an example, African-Americans made up 20 percent of the colonies’ population during the Revolutionary War and made up 16 percent of an integrated Revolutionary Army (though George Washington didn’t want us to serve).
Yet, our history books and movies and shows about that period hardly ever show us. In nearly every facet of American history, there are black folks participating. Yet, our culture leaves everyone with the impression that we did nothing but sing, dance, and pick cotton. It’s high time I made fun of that.
I’m also thinking about writing a book about a father who leaves his family. As I said, I have a daughter. From the time my wife’s maternity leave ran out until she was 20 months old, I spent my days caring for my baby girl and working at night. I feel so totally invested in my daughter’s life that I simply don’t understand fathers (unfortunately, a lot like my own) who really aren’t into the whole parenting thing. I want to write a novel about that in an attempt to understand it all.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to share.