Chat with the Author: How Social Issues Fuel This Writer’s Creativity

I haven’t featured author friends in this space for a while, and I’m delighted to resume this practice for fall with one of my favorites – both for her provocative storytelling and for her work ethic as a multi-published, award-winning author.

Pamela Samuels Young and I have not had the pleasure of meeting in person (yet), and I’ll miss her next week when she visits the city where I’m based (Richmond, Virginia) to attend the James River Writers Conference.

However, she has always been supportive of my work as a writing coach, and we’ve danced in similar author circles for years. I salute her for holding down a full-time career in law while writing her books.

Today, just in time for book lovers to consider what new to read for the weekend, Pamela shares some thoughts about her writing process, her life as an author and one of her latest novels.

How many books have you written? 11 novels and one nonfiction book on natural hair.

What themes do you write about in your novels?  Most of my books – which are legal thrillers – deal with social issues. For example, I’ve written about child sex trafficking (Anybody’s Daughter), gender discrimination (Attorney-Client Privilege) and sexual harassment (In Firm Pursuit). I didn’t start my writing career intending to take on social issues. It just turned out that the issues that interested me were great backdrops for legal thrillers.

What is the tile of your most recent book?  The title of my most recent book is Abuse of Discretion.Abuse of Discretion

I learned about teen sexting during a telephone conversation with a law school classmate who is a criminal defense attorney. He was complaining about having yet another teenage client charged with possession and distribution of child pornography as a result of sexting. He explained that teens all across the country were facing pornography charges after taking naked selfies and sharing them with a boyfriend, girlfriend or classmate. I was floored when he told me that these children—some as young as 13 or 14—were not only being prosecuted, but would have to register as sex offenders if convicted. As soon as we hung up, I Googled “teen sexting” and was stunned at the massive number of prosecutions all over the country. Many news articles called teen sexting an epidemic. I immediately knew this was a topic I wanted to explore in a legal thriller and Abuse of Discretion was the result.

 

Can you tell us more about the plot? In Abuse of Discretion, Graylin Alexander is a model 14-year-old. But when his principal gets a report that he has a naked picture of a classmate on his cell phone, he soon finds himself embroiled in the criminal justice system.

What do you want readers to know by the time they reach “The End”? My main goal in writing Abuse of Discretion was to educate parents and grandparents about the teen sexting epidemic and the very serious consequences for our children—who don’t even know they’re doing something that’s against the law. After the book was released, many readers expressed shock that kids were being prosecuted for sexting.I soon realized that I also needed to educate teens. #AOD-YACoverFor that reason, I created a young adult adaptation of the book, entitled #Abuse of Discretion. Open and honest discussion with our kids and grandkids about teen sexting is the key to saving them from the devastating legal consequences of an adolescent act that they don’t even know is a crime.When a reader—be it a teen or an adult—gets to the end of  Abuse of Discretion, it’s my hope that they’ve enjoyed the mystery, but also that they’ve been educated about this epidemic.

What is your favorite writing space/location? Panera Bread

Outside of writing what do you do for fun? Work out at Orange Theory Fitness and hang out with my incredibly supportive girlfriends.

Author Pamela Samuels Young
Author Pamela Samuels Young

More about Pamela Samuels Young: Attorney  Pamela Samuels Young is the NAACP Image Award-winning author of Anybody’s Daughter. Her latest legal thrillers are Abuse of Discretion and #Abuse of Discretion(the young adult edition). She resides in her native California. Visit her at her website, PamelaSamuelsYoung.com or on Facebook.

Write Your Way Whole….These Scribes Are

I spent Saturday morning at one of my favorite places in Richmond – Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden – leading a talented group of writers through the process of refining their novel, memoir, blog and short story ideas, with the goal of helping them captivate readers.

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Stacy Hawkins Adams and her Writing @ The Garden workshop participants.

As soon as the workshop ended, I headed to the Meadowdale Library to attend the book launch celebration for my writing mentee DaNika Neblett Robinson, Ed.D., who I’ve watched blossom into authorhood over the past three years while simultaneously completing a doctoral program in leadership at VCU. (Can you say “wow” with me??)  IMG_2221Her novella is a fictional story about three pregnant teens seeking hope amid their difficult choices, and it’s a path that DaNika knows well, having herself journeyed from teen mom to Ph.D standing. You’ll find her book – A Metamorphic Journey – on Amazon.

I’m so proud of all of them and grateful to share my expertise and passion for storytelling in this way. When their works shine, my heart smiles.

Got Empathy? How Seeking to Understand Serves Us All

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

“Don’t Make Assumptions.” I appreciate this one of Don Miguel Ruiz’s tenets from his book The Four Agreements in particular because it reminds us to give grace to others due to our own blind spots.

There’s no way we can fully know what someone else is going through or has gone through – especially by watching their social media “commercials.”

There’s no way to know the complete behind-the-scenes experiences that have motivated others’ next steps or perhaps left them stuck – unless we both ask with an open heart (when appropriate) and listen with unfiltered ears (always).
Until we can truly see and value others, we’ll always assume what “should” or “could” be their reality and/or their responses. But what good does this kind of judgment yield?

So consider this agreement a practice worth pursuing, in the spirit of elevating relationships of all kinds.

Ask instead of assuming you know their truths and speak up instead of assuming they “should” know yours.

Pause instead of pointing fingers; reflect instead of rejecting. Know that unless you’ve walked the very path they’re trodding, you really know very little – and vice versa!

Extend grace as you’re also seeking it. Hold at the forefront of your mind that each day and each personal encounter should begin and end the same – with love as the central force.

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Writing Their Way to Joy

May These Authors Making Moves Offer Inspiration for the Purpose You Want to Pursue

One of the participants in the writing workshop I hosted at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden yesterday shared a profound revelation that she received after attending my inaugural Writing @ The Garden seminar at Lewis Ginter two weeks ago.

While her comment gave me chills, I won’t share it verbatim, because I’m expecting it to show up in the book she’s writing. In essence, however, she challenged herself after that workshop to get off the sidelines of life and claim all the good she possibly can.

I celebrate her courage and the courage of all of you who are loosing the shackles of “Why me?” and celebrating where your “Why not me?” attitude is taking you – in particular my literary friends who are touching the lives of others with their words and deeds as they live their dreams: authorwritingcco

Congrats to Kwame Alexander for opening a library in Ghana in his mother’s honor.

Congrats to Robin Farmer for securing an important platform at the 2019 Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference.

Congrats to Sadeqa Johnson for being named National Book Club Conference Author of the Year.

Congrats to Bonnie Newman Davis for launching and leading a successful media camp for RIchmond-area teens – filling them with wisdom and ideas that will help shape their future.

Congrats to A’Lelia Bundles for landing a Netflix series for the story of her great-great grandmother Madame C.J. Walker, America’s first African American female millionaire, in the early 20th century.

And this is just in the past week and just in my writer community!

I celebrate their wins and cheer you on, too. Look around you and dance with those in your circle who deserve it. As you applaud their steps forward you’re also moving in the right direction. 😘

 

How Hip Hop Serves as a NYT Bestselling Author’s Muse

Angie Thomas’ love of Hip Hop fueled her passion for storytelling, and just like the rappers she admires have sought to perfect their art form, she has sought – and succeeded – at doing the same.

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Bestselling author Angie Thomas

Her debut novel is her evidence, and when the movie version of the book hits the big screen in October 2018, her desire to give voice and humanity to a sector of Americans who often feel they have neither (voice nor humanity) is expected to reach fever pitch.

Thomas is the bestselling author of the multi award-winning New York Times bestselling young adult novel The Hate U Give.  In addition to reaching the No. 1 spot on the New York Times list, the book is being sold in more than 40 nations, and Thomas has traveled the globe to expound upon its themes, including the narrative that Black Lives Matter and that every child deserves to be heard and valued.

Several hundred residents of metro Richmond, Virginia – including teens, librarians, book club members, and readers and writers of all backgrounds and ages – converged onIMG_0713 the Chesterfield County Public Library‘s North Courthouse Branch to see Thomas and hear wit, wisdom and words of encouragement pour from her lips.

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Angie Thomas spoke at the Chesterfield County Public Library North Courthouse Branch

Time seemed to stand still during her 90-minute talk and Q&A as she mesmerized the audience with the story – her story – of being a 6-year-old girl reading Jet magazine (which she called that era’s “Facebook for black people”) in her home and stumbling upon the picture of Emmett Till in his casket – an image her mother took time to explain in depth, leaving Thomas with the message to “know your worth, but know that not everyone values you the way I do, simply because of the color of your skin.”

She also shared her memory of being an 8-year-old enjoying the swing set in her not-so-safe neighborhood park when she heard Hip Hop lyrics for the first time, in the verses of  Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message, which described the very reality of her hard-knock life. Then, there was her pivotal memory of seeing the late Tupac Shakur for the first time, in news coverage that cast him as a rebellious yet intelligent rapper. Soon after, she heard his music and his commentary, including the explanation for his THUG LIFE tatoo: The Hate U Give Little Infants F—s Everybody.  “Meaning (that) what society gives us as youth, bites (society) when we wild out,” Thomas explained during her talk.

While acknowledging the downsides of Hip Hop – its controversial and profanity-laden lyrics and many verses that disparage females – Thomas still gave a nod to the musical genre for waking up a few generations of people who often feel invisible, forgotten and frustrated and helping them (including her) find their voice.

Throughout her childhood in Jackson, Mississippi, she heard stories of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, who was assassinated not far from where she grew up, in his own front yard; and in 2015, as the reality of Florida teen Trayvon Martin‘s killer being acquitted of murder stunned her spirit, so did her desire to become a social justice warrior.

Rather than pick up the weapons she so despised for their role in harming people of color, she decided to model the rappers she had long revered and use her words as her sword. The Hate U Give was born as a short story for a college senior project, then grew into the novel we know today.

Thomas’ captive Chesterfield County library audience thanked her for her willingness to write a story that scared her; and one Caucasian middle school student asked for advice on how she could encourage her friends and classmates to read the book and be willing to understand kids who differ from them in some way.

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Angie Thomas during Q&A

Thomas told her to keep being herself – a brave “book recommender” – and serving as an ambassador for what it looks like to be accepting of others.

It’s a path that Thomas is determined to continue walking, with each new story she births and each new audience she introduces to her personal experience of being a little girl who had everything going against her until she heard herself reflected in lyrics (musical storytelling) that legitimatized her existence.

Because she believes “books can change the world,” Thomas intends to be that light for a whole new generation of young minds – whether they read her novels, watch her movie, hear her speak or encounter others who have been transformed by the messages in her words.

Her library talk was an invitation to everyone in the audience to individually and collectively become literary citizens who create meaningful paths to knowledge, understanding and connectedness.

Stacy Hawkins Adams

Her Story: I Survived Suicide

By Guest Blogger Quelina Jones

Four years ago today (July 11, 2014), I took an entire (brand new) bottle of pills in an attempt to take my life.
Mental illness is real. I thank GOD for keeping me! I’m so grateful and happy to be on the right side of the grass today! I’m grateful to have life and breath!
In that moment, I couldn’t see that joy was on the other side of my current circumstance. Had I been successful, I would have missed my oldest daughter’s graduation, her prom and sending her off to college. I would have missed our funny FaceTime conversations and silly texts. I would have missed being here for her during the moments she needed her mommy.
My youngest daughter wouldn’t have been born. My family and the rest of the world would have missed out on this precious little girl and all the joy that she brings. I wouldn’t have experienced waking up to both my girls and watching them rest peacefully beside me or in my bosom. I would have missed their giggles, hugs and their sweet kisses.
All of my new friendships wouldn’t exist. All of the trips I’ve taken and new experiences I’ve had in the last four years would have never occurred. (Aruba, St. Maarten, The Bahamas, Cabo, Dominican Republic and Jamaica) WOW! All of that could have never happened….
BUT GOD (and therapy)! Lots and lots of therapy! Then and now.
July is Black Mental Health Awareness Month. If you are struggling with something, you don’t have to do it alone. I can offer you a hotline number (1-800-273-8255); but I’d rather extend my hand to help you through. Like someone did for me.
I understand and I’m here.
We can pray, talk, cry together, laugh, I can listen; and if you are in the Richmond, Virginia area, I can accompany you to therapy, a hospital, a meeting – whatever!
Listen to me – You are NOT crazy! You are NOT weak! You’re just having a difficult time right now, but you can get through it. With help. I know because I’ve lived it.
Please know that:
You matter.
Your life has purpose (even if you don’t know what that purpose is right now).
This is NOT the end. Just a season. It will pass. It gets better.
Most importantly, please know that…
You. Are. Not. Alone.
YOU – are not alone.
Just reach out. If not to me, reach out to SOMEONE.  I did.
Choose life, because no matter how bad it seems right now, it DOES get better. I PROMISE! But you gotta be here and be willing to do the work.
I’m here and I care. xo
Quelina “Que” Jones

Quelina “Que” Jones is a Richmond-based writer and speaker who focuses on women’s empowerment through transparency. She believes that the first step to living your best life today is exposing and healing the pain of the past. She uses her own experiences to inspire other women to heal from the inside out. Connect with her here:  Website: quelinaj.com; Instagram: quelinaj; Facebook:  Quelina Jones

How to Make the Rest of This Year the Best of This Year

Can you believe we’re in mid-June and 2018 is half over?
No worries – there’s still enough year left to reboot, regroup and refocus.
Revisit your goals, set new deadlines and get moving.
Practice more self-care, whatever that looks like for you.
Try something new (a meal, a place, an activity) and open your mind to enjoying it.
Say no to whatever feels like settling.
If someone else’s “good enough” is your “almost but not quite,” trust yourself and be patient.
Make new friends, but keep the old.
Forgive yourself, and others too. It’s freeing.
Start positive new habits while gently kissing goodbye those actions, attitudes and encounters that no longer serve you.
Hug yourself. Respect yourself.
Water your soul with loving thoughts and words and watch yourself grow.
Be fair with others, even when they are unkind. Your grace could be the antidote to whatever is causing them to act in unbecoming ways; and if nothing else, you’ll walk in the joy of knowing that you remained your best self.
Be grateful for your allies, supporters and loved ones. People change and tribal members do, too; but your day-in and day-out loyalists are worth cherishing.
Move forward – one thought, one prayer, one choice, one step at a time. This all can add up to a powerful transformation.

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