You have several books we can talk about, let’s start with the award winning “The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle”. What was the inspiration behind this book?
The inspiration was twofold. It began with a character I encountered ten+ years before the idea of writing a book was in my head in I Know This Much Is True (Wally Lamb) set close to where I grew up in Southeastern CT. Described as a person of color – Black, Native American, European, Ralph Drinkwater draws passing mention in the book as a sidekick to twin brothers, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey. I found his story most fascinating. How did he come to live in that part of the state? What was his family history? What if anything of consequence had he set out to accomplish in the world? KoPPM picks up where Lamb’s story leaves off, my protagonists, Trajan and Langston Hopkins, set at a point in time to potentially be Ralph Drinkwater’s nephews or grand nephews. From there, I wanted to explore what it might mean to come of age as a person of color at a time and place where cultural heritage takes center stage. With the resurgence of Native Tribes in the region reclaiming rights to their land, it suddenly became fashionable, profitable even to examine cultural history, to determine where your people come from. That I chose to write about brothers is an inevitable spill over from Lamb’s narrative surrounding the Birdsey twins. Only the brothers in this case more closely resemble Ralph Drinkwater, resemble a person who looks like I look.
Now people are going to have to visit your website for this questions, tell us about the visual thought behind your book covers. “Would Be Twins” and “Iron Bones” in particular. Is the cover design as important as the writing?
Would Be Twins and Iron Bones are excerpted from the manuscript that I’m currently shopping for publication. The narrative touches on a theme related to the one initiated in KoPPM of a young person making her way in the world amid some level of family turmoil. Penny Hill is sent from NYC to live with a grandmother in Mississippi. She arrives to find her grandmother at the helm of a sleepy little town, steeped in controversy. In Would Be Twins, that controversy erupts with dire consequences leading Bunk, one of the would be twins, to take the life of his estranged wife. In Iron Bones, Penny accompanies Booker’s lookalike, yet older brother to visit Bunk in prison. The cover imagery appeals to me as a way of setting a tone for the book even before the reader has encountered the first word. Would Be Twins paints a seemingly tranquil scene, the details of which are disappearing into the haze. Bones evokes the stark feel of a prison cell. I’d like to believe that the storyline, the words on the page, play as crucial a role in carrying the mood I’m working to create. Still it’s the cover image that provides the initial draw.
Back to “The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middle”, if the protagonist and antagonist could describe you as a writer, what would they say?
I think they would describe me as even handed. With the book, I strive to examine heroes and villains in the same color light. It’s my belief that none of us is inherently good, without a flawed bone in his/her body. None of us is undividedly evil either. I try to explore the individual folds a character possesses. Grandpa Tuke for instance can be characterized as a kindly, old soul who just happened to be a heartbreaker, a hell-raiser in his day, lingering effects of which still have measurable influence on the people in his life. I describe Luscius Brand as a ruthless drug lord who is just beginning to grow a conscience, good and evil alive in my protagonists and antagonists alike.
What advice would you give to young people who express they want to be an author as a profession?
Don’t hear “No.” Never mind whether or not you accept no as an answer. Don’t even consider it in any response you get. A rejection, and there are bound to be plenty, simply means not this piece of work at this point in time for that particular publication. It doesn’t mean you’re not a capable writer, it doesn’t mean your work is not worthy of publication. It means nothing beyond ‘not here, not now. Venture elsewhere.’ Take any constructive criticism you receive along the way and plow it back into refining your style, revising your approach. But by all means, keep going.
JEDAH MAYBERRY is an emerging fiction writer, raised in southeastern CT, the backdrop for his fiction debut. The Unheralded King of Preston Plains Middlewon Grand Prize in Red City Review’s 2015 Book Awards. It was named 1st in Multi-Cultural Fiction for 2014 by the Texas Association of Authors. Jedah was a top ten finalist for the 2013 Best New Author Award sponsored by the National Black Book Festival. He is presently shopping a new manuscript, Sun Is Sky, excerpts of which can be found at snippet.com. He resides with his wife and teenage daughters in Austin, TX.