JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
CL Smith, author of Johnny Ray Is Watching
Tenesha Campbell is a gifted teenager with very good grades. However, her life is a far cry from perfection. She endures assault by bullies, attacks from her mother, severe abuse by her stepfather and unwillingly becomes involved with a drug dealer.
She attempts to find peace from her own problems when she tries to disprove an urban legend. She figures learning about a mysterious boy would bring some temporary solace, but she endangers herself when she finds out there is truth to the rumor.
Will her intrigue in this urban legend bring resolution to her problems, or will this be the last interest she ever has in life?
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write Johnny Ray Is Watching?
CL Smith: I actually got it from several different sources. The first was the idea that there are only a handful of African American that are involved in writing fantasies: L. A. Banks, Steven Barnes, LeVar Burton, Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Nalo Hopkinson, Walter Mosley, John Ridley, Billy Dee Williams, Tananarive Due and others. I want to be counted among one of many African Americans that are opening up that genre for more people of color.
I have always enjoyed the story of Peter Pan by James M. Barrie. I always wanted to write a story of a boy with immortality with some twists and address some serious social issues at the same time. Furthermore, I was moved by the success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.
I also wanted to talk about some of the genocidal movements affecting different groups and races without alienating or segregating people of other nationalities. For instance, there are references to the genocide that is occurring in Darfur, Africa. There are also some references made to the Jewish and Black Holocausts.
Finally, I wanted to find a way to cover events in history that affected African Americans without boring the reader or alienating people of other races.
JP: What sets Johnny Ray Is Watching apart from others novels in its genre?
CL: There are not too many fantasies that deal with historical events of great magnitude and influence upon African Americans that provide entertainment. Johnny Ray Is Watching also attempts to address some of the social ills that African Americans face and provide encouragement for those who have endured it and survived it. It finds a creative, yet tasteful, way to deal with some of the most grievous forms of abuse that plague many undeserving children and teenagers.
JP: As an author, what are the keys that lead to Johnny Ray Is Watching getting out to the public?
CL: Tenacity! Tenacity! Tenacity! I’ve sent manuscripts to different publishing companies without getting a response and received many rejection letters. After recovering from the initial discouragement, that experience gave me the motivation to continue until I found a publishing company that was willing to give it a chance. Knowing that my story is unique and has never been in the eyes of the press has motivated me tremendously.
The idea of producing a story that may possibly be read many years after my passing is very exciting. As a testament to creating an enjoyable genre for future generations, I want my readers to reap the effects of its influence. I sent samples to different people to see how they enjoyed it, and constantly received positive feedback from people other than friends and family. That has also fueled the desire to continue mashing the keys and burning the midnight oil.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish Johnny Ray Is Watching?
CL: The whole period was initially one year and three months. I started off by brainstorming and doing some impromptu writing. I continued to keep playing with ideas until many of them began to form a very solid outline. Most of it was very structured with creative impromptu additions. I would follow the initial outlines that I organized the events upon only to find that there was room to include various twists and turns.
Furthermore, I have edited the story at least eight times before I finally decided to send a copy that I was satisfied with to any publisher at all. In essence a combination of both structured organized writing in addition to extemporaneous excursions would describe my writing style. My vivid imagination had a tremendous influence upon the creative process.
JP: What is next for CL Smith?
CL: I am in the process of developing and writing some sequels for Johnny Ray Is Watching in addition to exploring and laying down the foundation to a story for an African American Drama like no one has ever read. The creative process is constantly renewing itself and infusing me with rejuvenation.
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