Our Own Sort of Fun

Drugs. Violence. Police brutality. Hate. Love. Love. Love. 

In 1995, if you would have read about the Robert Taylor projects, the news report would probably have headlined something like this: 

“17 Men Arrested in Drug Sting at Robert Taylor Homes.” 

But inside those forsaken buildings where no one but those who lived there would have gone, children lived there. And those children, like all children, found a way to make the best of their situation. We did so in part by playing “It” in abandoned apartment buildings with holes in the walls.

Looking back on those days so many years later, I know my mother would have had a fit had she known what I was doing. As a father of three, I know I would not ever knowingly allow my daughters to play in abandoned buildings. Yet I also know that those dangerous moments where we had fun chipped away some of our surrounding circumstances and gave us a hideaway. 

Maybe my children will not ever experience what it is like to grow up impoverished in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago, but they will hear many a stories from me about those moments. 

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Manuscript Anxiety

I once read somewhere the hardest part of writing comes after the manuscript is complete. Later, I read that all first drafts were trash. I thought the people who wrote those things were idiots. How wrong I was.

Some people have problems putting words on the page. This is why most manuscripts are never finished. I don’t have this problem. However, the closer I come to finishing a manuscript, the more anxious I become.

When you write 90,000 words, you think, “Geesh. I just wrote 90,000 words.” There is a certain level of pride that comes along with that. Then, you think in utter horror, “Damn it. I just wrote 90,000 words.” That means you will have to revise, edit, proofread and polish a 90,000-word manuscript. Needless to say, that is quite the endeavor.

I have an awesome Science Fiction novel I am this – close to completing. But I don’t have $3,000 to pay a professional line editor or any editor to work magic on it. In my manuscript’s current form, I’d be laughed out of every publishing house on this side of the universe before it ever sees print. This is why editing and revising are so vital.

I have been writing Carbon Copies since September of last year. When I put the final words on the page this week, the real work will begin. I will have to read for consistency and make notes along the way. Then, I will have to go back and make the necessary changes which include rewording, rewriting, organizing, deleting and fleshing out characters and scenes. Then, I will have to proofread for grammatical errors front to back at least twice. All that should take at least three months.

Writing is a full-time job. If you want to be a writer, you don’t necessarily have to LOVE the process. You have to at least LIKE it though or have an appreciation for it like red lights. We’re not fans of them, but we do appreciate the fact they prevent others from slamming into us. A manuscript in its first draft is like the bones of the house with a foundation to build upon. The revising, editing and proofreading are what make the house a home. They are the paint, the cabinets, the windows and everything in between.

I write this to give insight on what it’s like to write and be serious about it. Take what matters to you and leave behind what doesn’t.

What It Means to Be a Self-Published, Indie Author in 2018

A lot of writers who do not have book deals classify themselves as self-published or indie authors. They take on that title and expect instant success. Most of the time, if their first book does not do well, these “authors” drop out of the race to being America’s next great writer.

Over the last two years, I have complete several writing projects, including my upcoming novella “Operation Soul Cast” and my collection of short stories “The Book of All Things Beautiful.” And, let me tell you something: being an indie author is not easy. You effectively become:

  1. Writer
  2. Publicist
  3. Editor
  4. Promoter
  5. Finance Guy
  6. And so on and so forth

There is a lot that goes into releasing a book. First you have to write the book. Then you have to edit and proofread it and revise it yourself if you don’t have money to pay a professional. You have to format it for different versions, like audio, hardcopy and ebook. You have to constantly promote yourself. At times, it will seem overwhelming. It is not impossible.

Although I have been writing for years, I am still a novice in many aspects. I do not want to be an indie author forever. I want to be traditionally published, even though I would probably get to keep a lesser percentage of my royalties. So, why am I self-publishing at all?

Big publishing houses want novels, meaning greater than 60,000 words, but usually in the 90,000-word range. So, I self-publish my novellas, very short books, just to get my name out there.  But I have written novels and I am trying to get them published by a big publishing company. I’m not saying you should do the same.

What I am saying is, keep writing. No matter what. Put words on the page. Plan out your steps to write and release your books.

I hope this helps you pen the next great American novel.

Becoming Writer: Formal Education as an Author Versus None as a Writer

Yesterday, a fellow blogger asked me a good question about formal education as a writer versus no formal education as a writer. A lot of writers struggle with this. Some see education as the end all, be all that will make them a best-seller. Others who don’t have this education sometimes feel inadequate.

It took me four and a half years to get my bachelor’s degree which is in the field of Professional Technical Writing. Unlike beginning authors without training, I have a pretty good grasp on grammar and the technical parts of writing. I learned much of this in high school though and a small amount of it in college.

You don’t have to go to school to be a writer. Writing is a craft. Reading and writing will undoubtedly make you better. You just have to read books on the craft of writing and study hard on your own. Don’t just throw something together and think it will sell. You must edit and proofread meticulously.

Being in the Creative Writing MFA has put me in contact with some great influential writers. You can build similar contacts by going to writing workshops or joining groups.

Publishing houses and literary agents tend to take formally educated writers more seriously. If you can get some of your work published in magazines or anthologies, this will open doors for you.

You don’t need a degree or two like I have. You just need to write good stories, and send them to publishing houses and agents who will read them. If your work is good, the book deals will come.

This Year So Far as a Writer

This year has been one of the most successful and stressful for me as a writer. I am in my third semester of a Creative Writing MFA program that requires a bunch of reading and writing, I have done a poetry reading, gotten into a car accident, written a novella, published a novella, worked on several novels and short stories AND had a new baby this year named Zuri.  She’s lovely.

In February, I did my first poetry reading, compliments of The Poetry Foundation here in Chicago. Because I don’t view myself as a poet, the whole ordeal was stressful, but it was fun and it paid handsomely. As I stared out at the crowd from the podium, I stuttered a bit while wondering what I was really doing there. The reading was a complete success.

The MFA program has been kicking my ass daily. I have had to read August Wilson’s Century Cycle. Although the plays are insightful, having to answer questions about them has been overwhelming. I still have a 12-page paper due and I have to take two more tests before the semester ends. So far, I have gotten A’s on all the assignments.

My collection of literary fiction short stories “The Book of All Things Beautiful” is available for download on Amazon. Click the link or search my name, Jermaine Reed, and look for the book that has someone sitting with a red umbrella. You can’t miss it. The stories are wonderful.

My new Science Fiction novella “Operation Soul Cast” will be available for download or for print May 1, 2018. It is a wonderful story about minds being cast into different bodies and bloody outcomes.

My car accident has been a headache. I have two Nissan cars, and for some reason the insurance company has gotten them mixed up. It really boils my blood. It’s like they shoot me as much paperwork as they can to deter me from continuing my claim. But they won’t deter me.

As an up and coming writer, things have been rough. I don’t find time for writing. I MAKE time for writing. Life will give you every excuse to not write. You have to bypass the will to make excuses and write. Put words on the page.

Today, I hosted my fraternity Phi Rho Eta, Incorporated’s 9th Annual Mock Trial Competition. As the event’s coordinator, a position that consisted of finding participants, helping to raise money, finding a venue and all sorts of things, I nearly broke down. The anxiety almost had me. The event went well though. I would not have had it any other way.

I hope this piece helps someone find the courage to write their next line, next story, next novel.

#indieauthor #writer #selfpublish

Near Death Experience

One of my most devastating moments occurred when I was just twelve years old when I was hit by a car. I hardly ever talk about this, and I don’t know why. What I do know is that since that moment, I have always been aware of how life can change within just a matter of moments.

In grammar school as I have been throughout most of my life, I was somewhat a prick. Before Tristain and I became best friends, I was his enemy. I would pick on him and call him names, mostly because he wore glasses and had a long “tail” (a single braid of hair located towards the back of an otherwise shaved head).

“You’re ugly,” I said to Tristain.

“You’re ugly,” he said.

So on this day, while in line after lunch, I punched Tristain in the stomach. Unfortunately, our teacher saw it. She was a behemoth of a woman who wore a blonde mullet and glasses. After asking how I would like to be punched, she socked me in the stomach. I lost my breath and went down for the count.

I was enraged, so I ran out of school. The security guard, a former stripper, chased behind me. He was too late, as I jetted into the street. I remember being hit by a blue sedan. I was knocked into a pole, but I managed to stumble away. When I came to, I was surrounded by people from my project building. They were all telling me to be still.

The ambulance came and the paramedics cut me from my clothes. The fifty cents I’d had in my pocket is still unaccounted for. I don’t remember any pain.

I was out of school for two weeks while a large sore on the right side of my face healed. Although there were cameras in the school and it was confirmed that my teacher had punched me in the stomach, nothing was immediately done about it. This was the 90s, a different era in a different part of Chicago.

Eventually, the teacher who punched me was either fired or relocated. I learned not to punch people.

I Hit a Girl

Since I could remember, I’ve had an affinity for cats. My love for them lies in their mysteriousness. They are quiet, gentle and affectionate. If a person rubs them the wrong way, cats can be pure buttholes. It seems they have a sense for who they should and should not trust.

As I’ve said, I grew up in the Robert Taylor projects on the Southside of Chicago. These buildings were huge high rises, able to hold up to 160 families. The pissy hallways were always dank and disgusting. For reasons unknown, my sister Precious and my cousin Shaday loved to play in them.

One day, I caught them in the act of dangling a cat from the 8th floor hallway window. My heart dropped with an anchor of fear. Before I could stop them,  they dropped the cat. I was equal parts dumbfounded and enraged.

“Why did y’all do that?” I said, my voice ricocheting off the hallway walls.

“Because cats always land on their feet,” they said in unison.

I have always been in disbelief of how the myth of cats always landing on their feet leads to so much animal cruelty against them. Just because cats can land on their feet, it doesn’t mean they’ll survive a toss from a window.

So, I punched my sister and cousin both in their arms. Of course, they cried to my mother. And yes, I got my ass whipped. Should a boy ever hit a girl? No. Not unless he’s avenging a cat.

She Died at Three Months Old

There is an image seared into my brain of my sister running through the house screaming as she clutches her three-month-old dead baby. This image is so clear, I can pull it up and see everything exactly as it happened.

The death of three-month-old Jennifer had a huge impact on my family. Since then, my family has been plagued with drug-addiction, alcoholism and huge feuds. When she passed away, I was only eight years old. Yet I understood my own mortality. It was at this very age that I understood that I could die and no one could prevent it.

Jennifer did not get to live a percentage of her life. Everyday, I think of her, wonder how she would have laughed or cried, wonder what her favorite color would have been, what career she would have pursued. I wonder who I would have been if I would have been able to be the uncle she needed.

Who is J Reed?

If you ask me who I am, I will tell you that I am a mercenary from a far away country who has come to America on a secret mission to rattle things up. And if I happen to ask you rather you believe me and you in fact do, then I have done my duty of being the greatest storyteller on the planet.

My name is J Reed, coming from Chicago, the Windy City, home of Al Capone. None of what I have told you so far truly defines who I am. But isn’t “Who are you?” a loaded question? Who really can sum up in words who he is? What I am saying is that I am a day-by-day work in progress, so I who I am today is not necessarily who I was last year or who I will be ten years from now.

Because of that, I can tell you only that I am a father of two beautiful little girls, ages 6 and 8. I live in Chicago, write stories, am a college graduate and that I have experienced many hardships in my life. I also run the devilshornet2.wordpress.com blog. I was raised in the notorious Robert Taylor Projects where drug addicts were the talk of the day. Somehow, I lived throughout it all.

Have you ever seen your niece die? Been accused of shooting your best friend? Been afraid of where you sleep? I have. It is those things that made me who I am today. I am Jermaine Reed, whatever that means.