Monday, August 5, 2013

Interview with R. Kayeen Thomas, winner of Phillis Wheatley Book Award for "Antebellum."

    R. Kayeen Thomas

R. Kayeen Thomas is based in Washington, D.C. His fiction titles include Antebellum, The Seven Days, and Light: Stories of Urban Resurrection. The Seven Days was released on April 16, 2013.


Synopsis: The Seven Days is a prequel to my first novel, Antebellum.  Antebellum is about a rapper who is transported back into the antebellum slavery period, and The Seven Days is about two men who both share a bloodline that allows them to be possessed with the spirits of dead slaves.


Andrea: I would like to congratulate you on receiving a prestigious award. Please share what it is called, the purpose of it, when you received it, and the book that earned this honor.


Thomas:  I recently won the Phillis Wheatley Book Award in the category of First Fiction for my novel, Antebellum.  Earlier this year, Antebellum was also nominated for a 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Debut Author.



Andrea: The premise of Antebellum is unusual but thought provoking. How did you come up with the idea for the plot?


Thomas:  The plot for Antebellum was inspired by both my love for the African-American community and culture, and my love of hip-hop music and culture.  I wanted to write a book that could potentially bridge the gap between the older civil rights generations that don't understand hip-hop, and the hip-hop generations that don't understand and feel completely detached from the civil rights era.  I believe Antebellum provides a window for both sides to see each other more clearly. 


Andrea: Many aspiring authors today may feel pressure to write a manuscript that fits in comfortably with mainstream books. Your originality stands out. What would you tell anyone who wants to pen something different, but he or she is afraid the book wouldn't sell?


Thomas:  Originality is what sets you apart from other authors, so I would tell anyone and everyone to embrace your uniqueness and be true to yourself no matter what.  Cookie cutter stories will only get you so far. The books may sell, but as an author you have to ask yourself if you want your books to survive after you're dead and gone.  Only the unique stories outlive the storytellers.


Andrea:  You self-published once, but currently are traditionally published by Zane's company, Strebor Books and Simon & Schuster.  Some people assume that being traditionally published requires less work. What are a few things that you've had to do to promote yourself and your work in both scenarios?


Thomas:  I actually had that same assumption when I signed my first book deal - that the publishers would take care of everything and I could just sit back and collect a check.  I got my rude awakening pretty quickly.  In my experience, the publishers make your book available to a wider audience, and they jump start the marketing process when the book is released, but after that (especially if you're a first-time author) you'd be well advised to continue acting as if you're self-published.  You have the option of sitting back and doing nothing, but finding your own venues, pushing and promoting your own books, and networking in different circles is essential for building your brand and increasing your own sales.  Even though the publishers have already picked up your work, they'll only put big money behind it if the sales numbers suggest that an investment like that is worth it.  And unless you're already famous, those initial sales will be a direct result of your own hustling.  The authors I've met who have this process mastered have managed to build their own team of people focused specifically on their work.  I'm actually in the process of trying to do the same thing.


Andrea: When you penned Antebellum, who did you envision your target audience would be, and what demographic seems to relate to it most now?


When I first wrote Antebellum, I thought it would only appeal to the hip-hop generation. I knew that it had a multi-generational message, but I thought it would be a while before the word spread and the core audience expanded.  In reality, it was just the opposite.  The first book club meeting I attended was all women between the ages of 35 and 65, and they all loved it.  The majority of the people who reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter are over 40.  More times than not, they've read the book, and then passed it down to their sons and/or daughters, and its sparked a significant discussion.  So at this point, I can't really pinpoint the demographic that it most relates to, because its reach has been so wide.  Every time I think there's a group that the book won't reach, someone contacts me and proves me wrong.


Andrea: I write because...


Thomas:  I write because I have to.  Really, I don't have a choice.  If I go too long without putting some words down the world starts to lose its color.  I write the kind of stories that I write to try and creatively bring about change in my community, but the general act of writing for me is what keeps my pulse going and my blood warm.  



Andrea: Thank you for stopping by. I wish you continued success.



This year, R. Kayeen Thomas was also nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Debut Author. Antebellum can be purchased anywhere books are sold. You may keep up with the talented author on Twitter @RKayeenThomas or on Facebook under R.Kayeen Thomas.