James W. Lewis is a novelist and freelance writer published in several magazines and books such as the New York Times best-selling anthologies Caramel Flava and Chicken Soup for the Soul (two series). He has won several awards, including a 2011 Best New Author Award and winner of the 2011 International Book Awards in African American Fiction. James is also part owner of the publishing company The Pantheon Collective.
What made you become a Storyteller?
I was always an avid reader, but my mother unlocked a gift for storytelling in me that I didn’t know I had, using a very unique, “slick” method. When I was about twelve years old, I got in trouble for something (I don’t remember exactly what) and my mother placed me on house restriction for a week. Not only that, she gave me assignments to write a short story every night of my punishment. I initially hated to write under duress, but as they say Mom knows best, and writing eventually became my passion. Thanks, Mom!
What and who inspire you?
My partners Stephanie Casher and Omar Luqmaan-Harris inspire me to strive for excellence in my work—not to mention keeping me on deadline!
The only thing that I personally don’t like about writing is when self-doubt comes creeping in to spoil my moment. Is there anything that you find annoying or uncomfortable about being an author?
For me it’s focusing my energy on writing and nothing else. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to concentrate on that next book when I have so many other tasks calling my name from the to-do list.
Authors are normally avid readers themselves. What are your favourite books and why?
Books by Eric Jerome Dickey are my favourites because he was the first male author that I read who could write from a woman’s point-of-view extremely well. I knew my books would target a female audience, and I wanted to perfect my female characters. After I read one of his books, I was so impressed that I went back to my first completed manuscript, revised it, and fleshed out the characters because I realized they were one-dimensional.
If you could travel in time just for a day, where and when would you go?
I would go back to the days leading up to my father’s death because he left me and my family as a seven-year-old child. I always wanted to know why he left, but never got the chance.
What inspired you to write Slow Your Prose especially in the Cyberworld that we live in where thousands of writers have already had a go at publishing their writing tips?
With the popularity of e-books, I noticed a lot of authors venturing into self-publishing, probably for similar reasons that made me jump into it. However, I noticed some of them were more concerned with releasing their work to the public rather than writing a quality book, skipping crucial steps like professional editing (trust me, I’ve made similar mistakes). I wanted to emphasize the importance of “slowing it down” and covering all the bases before debuting a new novel. A car manufacturer wouldn’t place their latest E-Class Benz on the lot without making sure it’s in pristine condition for the driver.
When we look around us, the world is just becoming more and more immersed in beauty products that promise to transform gremlins into Heidi Klum and those gadgets that give you a six-pack in two minutes. What do you think about our obsession with superficial beauty and its place in the literary world?
Beauty definitely has its advantages, and sometimes, the spotlight on a person’s looks often overshadows their talent, and that’s unfair. I believe our fixation on what looks good and what doesn’t infiltrates all areas of entertainment, but not so much with the literary world, which is a good thing. One can argue Stephen King has no chance (and never did) of becoming a model; yet, he’s one of the most prolific authors ever.
In The Scarlet Omen, my main character has some very realistic dreams that turn out to be omens of some sort. What is your opinion about dreams, their prophetic potential and their influence on authors?
I used to document my dreams because they were so real and epic, like the movie Titanic. At the time, I wanted to know what my subconscious was trying to tell me, so I kept a journal. I believe our minds have a way of creating fantasy worlds full of lively characters and plots. Writers should pay attention to the visions of the night. A dream was the inspiration behind Stephanie Meyer’s book Twilight, and we all know what happened next. Hell, I may even journal my dreams again for inspiration, starting tonight!
Once we publish a book, authors practically hand the world part of our souls on a silver platter to be scrutinised and dissected beyond recognition. How do you personally deal with both positive and negative critiques regarding your work?
No matter how much we try, you can’t please everyone, so some readers will not like your work. They may even leave a nasty review (I’ve received my share). A negative review can sting, but I suck it up and move on. Still, whether negative or positive, I try to learn from their feedback for future works.
Do you have any advice for us novices?
You never know what can happen unless you try! We’ve heard these words many times as a child, but they are so true.
Thanks, James! Insightful stuff…
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