Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Hello Cole. Thanks for taking time to chat with me. I know you just had a national cyber-chat with your book, Making The Hook-Up, and there was a large ad featured in Essence Online. We want to hear all about that and more. So let's get this party started!
Q. You must have been surprised when the legendary writer Ishmael Reed mentioned you, Cole Riley,in his latest book, Mixing It Up, as one of the influences in the work of Richard Price and George
Pelacanos, one of the writers for the HBO series, The Wire.
I was so honored because Ish Reed is one of my inspirations. I've read him from my younger days as a poet.As a writer, you never know how many people are following your work. For example, there is a master writer and journalist, Maxim Jabowski, who is a fan of mine in England. He used some of my work in one of his internationally known collections. When I issued the call for the Cleis collection, Making The Hook-up, Iwas surprised at how many writers had heard of my work abroad. I had several submissions from writers internationally.
Q. Tell me about the book, Making The Hook-Up. How did the project come about?
I took the idea from a conversation with Calvin Herndon, a noted writer from the 1960s and the author of the hugely popular book, Sex And Racism. He also wrote a controversial novel, Scarecrow, which cause a stir among the critics in the literary world. However, his work and theories were really well known in his day.
When I was going through one of my notebooks, I found several quotes from him during a day I spent with him years ago. He said: "When Black people are allowed to indulge the usual sins, the customary fetishes, and all the regular vices humans are permitted, then they will have achieved total sexual citizenship. Otherwise, they will remain trapped in the usual stale stereotypes and labels the world have assigned to us."
I built the collection of short stories around this concept. For me, I knew exactly what he was saying. Black people have internalized so much of the crap that has been said about them. We have enslaved ourselves sexually and emotionally. With my collection, I wanted to broaden the psychological and sexual
terrain of the Black community.
Q. How did you want to accomplish this mission through your collection?
In the stories of this collection, I wanted to show our people as sexual beings reflecting joy, pleasure, and other positive emotions. I wanted to show them as masters of sexual and emotional choices, and not slaves of urges and impulses. A wonderful friend from Canada, who is originally from Chicago,came in possession of a box of letters from one of her beloved aunts. The letters were a treasure trove.
They were from the Depression, during the time of the reign of FDR. The letters spoke of her love for her devoted husband, her family, her children, her elders. The emotions were genuine and authentic.She shared some of the letters with me. It floored me to see how proud of her family, her race, and community she was. None of the bitterness or anger. She was also proud of her womanhood and sexuality. We don't see that anymore.
There is an ongoing battle between our sexes in our race. Something in terms of positive emotions is lacking. There is no romance there. No emotional support exists as in our elders from days past. And it's not just affecting our men and women but it is impacting our children as well. It's reflected in our culture, our arts, our life, our music, this anger, this distrust,this division, this rage.
A Jamaican writer friend said we as Black Americans must forgive ourselves and others who have participated in our emotional and psychological decline. Otherwise we will continue to kill, rape, and downgrade each other. We're doing ourselves in. I agree. Look at the other communities and cultures, some of which have just come to our shores. They are thriving. So I wanted to start to reverse some of this trend and it has put some issues on the table to be discussed.
Q: How was your relationship with Cleis Press?
I have nothing but good things to say about them. They were open to all of my suggestions and ideas. They are very good business people. Their books are known around the world. One of the writers, who was in Thailand, saw my book. We are in talks to do another collection.
Q: I've known you for some time but introduce yourself to the readers.
I'm the literary alter-ego to an award-winning journalist and editor, who made his mark in the New York newspapers. But in another life, I assumed my pen name of Cole Riley back in the late 1970s. I used to run the streets, hang out with the bad guys, and do thug foolishness. I was a lost soul. I had been physically and emotionally abused as a kid. I would use some of the stories from that life in my early books. Then I got my life straight and saw the light.
I guess I always wanted to be a writer. I always found time to read. When I was young, I read books by Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O' Connor, Frank Yerby, and Ann Petry. When I started writing,I used all of the things I read in those books.
Q: Tell us about your publishing journey.
I was very young. I was very broke and needed money. My landlord told me that I would be evicted if I didn't get his rent. At that time, before Terri McMillian's splash, Holloway House was the only place that published people like me, unschooled and untrained. I remember I got a note from Iceberg Slim, aka Robert Beck, the author of the classic novel, Pimp, when I sent him part of my novel. I loved it. Once I published Hot Snake Nights, I was off and running.
My books provided me with the imagination, passion and an outlet for my rage and turmoil. I saw some ugly things. I had lived a screwed-up early life. My folks divorced when I was in my teens. I left home very early on, just wandering. I was shell-shocked during my twenties. Those early Cole Riley novels gave me confidence to do everything in my legit writing life. All of them are still in print both here and abroad. That is so pleasing to me.
Q: Social networking is the thing now. What are you doing in regard to that?
Keeping an online presence is vital. Cleis has provided me with access to many readers through the internet. In a few weeks, I will have a presence with a blog, Facebook, Twitter, and a My Space page. Also, Eden Fantasy, where I've just become a contributor, has allowed me to reach "friends" and "followers." For example, it has been a trip to answer some of the questions from the fan base that I'm building. All races, all classes, all stripes of the sexual realm. Sure, you're hoping to move product but it's about wanting them to see that you are worth their time, that you have something to say. They're tired of this reality show crap. They want real life and you want to provide them with that. It's fun. I have a wholly new crossover audience. And I love it.
Q: How do you keep your writing identities separate?
By keeping busy on all fronts, I work under both names. I have projects under both names. I am a workaholic as you know. We're in talks for several future projects. I work on several projects at one time like yourself. I'm addicted to writing. I'm addicted to writing in various genres. I keep several notebooks with ideas. I never get writer's block.
Q: What about digital publishing? The whole e-book format.
I've been approached by different publishers to do strictly e-books. I've not bought a Kindle but I know a friend who has one. They are cool, but I love the feel of books. Call me old fashioned. However, digital publishing is the wave of the future. My Cleis collection is available in e-book form. I'd like to get into it.
Q: What are your morning rituals?
In the morning, I read and revise. I try to work until I get it right. I usually do my serious writing during the afternoon and at night. No cars, no trucks, the city at an uneasy rest. Sometimes I work on a project until I fall asleep.
Q: What are some of your favorite books?
Recently, I've been reading a lot of non-fiction books, autobiographies and biographies, and political essays. The present state of the world interests me to no end. I've been terribly disappointed in our leaders. But the fiction relaxes me. I love the biting satire of Ish Reed, the protest of James Baldwin, the righteousness of Steinbeck, the dark desires of Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell, and the economy of Hemingway. Every now and then, I re-read Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, and was very disappointed in the movie. I love crime and mystery novels, new and old. Currently, I'm reading Steig Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Damn, that man could write.
Q: Do you have encouraging words for aspiring authors?
I think aspiring writers have an obligation to push the literary envelope. Don't play it safe. Take risks and take chances. Timeis going fast. We have a duty to encourage our readers to challenge themselves in every way. Don't waste time. If you want to write, write like your life depends on it.
Q: What's on the horizon?
The initial response to Making The Hook-Up has been very positive. My next project for them will be a collection spotlighting romances of risk and consequence. Sex is a part of everyone's life. There is a difference between erotica and porn. Henry Miller, Anais Nin, D.H. Lawrence
and James Baldwin wrote erotica. Also, I'm editing a collection of short stories of the blues for a Scottish publisher. And we're in talks to do another Cole Riley mystery, Night Beat, for Hard Case.
Thank you "Cole" for sharing your story with us. Continued success. We'll see you on the shelves!