JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Julia Press Simmons, author of Begonia Brown: A Philadelphia Story
(Queen Midas Books)
(One of the first ten people to comment on Julia Press Simmonsâ€™ author interview will win a FREE copy of Begonia Brown: A Philadelphia Story from JoeyPinkney.com)
Begonia’s carefree world has been turned upside down. Forced to become the head of her household, she has to trade her paintbrush in for a switchblade and her love of art into a love affair with the hood. Lying, stealing and turning tricks, Begonia will do any and everything she can to protect her sisters from the ugliness of the world. However, it just isn’t enough…
When her younger sister Violet, desperate to escape the hell her life, is seduced by an up-and-coming corner boy. Their baby sister Daisy is riddled with disease that could be fatal if not cared for, Begonia is caught between the hard knocks of the streets and the nightmare of her home life.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the idea and inspiration to write “Begonia Brown”?
Julia Press Simmons: There was an abandoned house next door to my childhood home. One day coming home from school, I noticed that a family moved in. The mom was on crack. The kids were self-sufficient. There was no father around.
They only squatted in the house for a month or two. But the look of them, the strength of them, burned into my memory. Although “Begonia Brown” isn’t about that family, it is a representation of them and many other homeless, faceless, nameless families in the hood scratching out a living.
JP: “Begonia Brown” brings to light a story seldom given a time for true reflection. Years from now, what effect do you think this book will have on your readers in terms of the plight it covers?
JPS: I would hope “Begonia Brown” sparks action and gives a voice to the timid. I hope that it finds its way into the hands of people living that life and in turn offers some small comfort. “Begonia Brown” speaks to their souls and lets them know that they are not invisible.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that lead to “Begonia Brown” getting out to the public?
JPS: I have this corny quote from the movie Galaxy Quest on my wall. “NEVER GIVE UP! NEVER SURRENDER!” That’s my mantra.
I learned a lot with my first book, “Strawberry Mansion”. I made more mistakes than I care to admit. I will say what everyone says at the risk of sounding redundant: do your research!
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take for you to start and finish “Begonia Brown”?
JPS: I finished “Begonia Brown” in six months. I have to start with an outline. Then I give myself chapter deadlines. I can crank out five thousand words in one sitting at a book store or library. Then I won’t write a page in weeks. I go with the flow!
JP: What’s next for Julia Press Simmons?
JPS: I have a Blog Talk Radio show which premiered 12-10-09. I will be in the studio during January to record my new poetry CD, and my third book drops in February! Iz buzy…lol
Begonia Brown: A Philadelphia Story
by Julia Press Simmons
(Queen Midas Books)
5 out of 5 Stars
Julia Press Simmons has really hit her literary stride with “Begonia Brown”, the second installment in her “A Philadelphia Story” series. Pulling no punches, Simmons has skillfully penned a heart-wrenching saga following the lives of Begonia Brown (age 17) and her two sisters Violet (age 16) and Daisy (age 6). The souls of these girls are as beautiful as the flowers they are named after, but they are planted in a North Philadelphia neighborhood that offers very little to nurture their souls.
The girls’ mother, Doreen, is present physically, but has lost the mental and spiritual battle to a crack addiction is primary to her existence. Shortly after the girls’ grandmother passes away, Begonia finds herself in the center of utter chaos: her mother is another ghost of the streets, Violet is naive to the streets and Daisy is a baby that contends with juvenile diabetes and a lack of medical supplies. Begonia takes the initiative to do absolutely any- and everything to keep her sisters together and alive, even if it means kicking her mother out of the abandoned house they live in. That’s enough to make a grown man cry or a young girl grow up quick and “make it happen”.
“Begonia Brown” is written in a way that any reader will be emotionally drained as they share in Begonia’s struggle. Although Begonia is an artist at heart, her skills as a painter takes a backseat to the skills she uses to survive in her poverty-stricken Philadelphia neighborhood. From robbing and stealing to performing sexual favors, Begonia reluctantly buries her morals to the side and conceals her regrets in a thick soup of justifications, liquor and cigarettes. The way Begonia deals with the curve balls that life throws at the Brown family had me at times forgetting that Begonia is 17-years-old and not 34.
Violet is highly intelligent, and she is not satisfied with being impoverished. Only one year younger than Begonia, Violet is still innocent. Violet’s story intensifies at just the right point in the story to balance out Begonia’s one-woman-show. Violet goes from books to cooking crack cocaine for the neighborhood crook. She finds herself trying to balance the line between getting her tail beat by Begonia and losing what she feels is the love of her life. Violet’s love for the “corner boy” Kyle makes her blind and sheds light on how good girls can find themselves with the worst people and the worst situations and stay.
Simmons fine-tuned Begonia Brown, both as a book and as a character. To say there is never a dull moment is an understatement. Simmons grabs the reader by the hand with a painful grip and never gives the reader a chance to pull away. “Begonia Brown” transcends Urban Literature in a way that paints a realistic portrayal of a struggle that is universal and brutally honest.
Instead of giving the reader luxury cars, couture from international designers and an infinite supply of drug money, Simmons gives you bra straps, bathroom beat-downs and sexual predators who think nothing of paying minors for instant gratification. What makes “Begonia Brown” such a compelling read is Simmons’ ability to show the vulgarities of inner-city struggles without being vulgar.
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