John Darryl Winston IA: Initiate is an origin story and the first in a series by debut author John Darryl Winston. A Detroit native and public school educator, Winston created the coming of age hero’s journey as part of a creative writing and ‘Boys Read’ program. He is a graduate of The Recording Institute of Detroit, Wayne State University, The Motion Picture Institute of Michigan and is currently enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing program at Wilkes University. He has written songs with and for Grammy winner David Foster and record mogul Clive Davis. He has been a recording artist on Arista and Polygram records, and has written and/or produced songs for Gerald Levert, Gerald Alston, and many others. Winston currently lives with his daughter Marquette in Michigan.
Your debut novel is IA: INITIATE, a YA hero’s journey. Tell us about it. IA: Initiate is the first in a five part series I started writing for a group of middle school-aged boys I taught. It is the hero’s, coming into his own, origin story of Naz Andersen. He has lost both his parents, and the most important thing in the world to him, the only thing in the world to him, is protecting his little sister from the mean, gang-infested streets of a Chicago/Detroit-like city known as the Exclave. Naz has supernatural abilities that he isn’t aware of, but comes to know them gradually as well as his destiny as the story unfolds.
What led you to write this book? I came up with this idea maybe 20-30 years ago, and only 4 years ago decided to follow through on it. I took a 4-day cruise all by my lonesome and when I returned I had gotten through the knife fight scene minus the “In the past” which came later. Let’s go back a bit. Prior to that cruise I had worked with a group of middle school-age boys who were low-level readers. The challenge was finding books that these boys would find interesting. Long story short, my group of low-level readers evolved (bad readers stopped coming, average readers joined) into average readers and the concept of the story that had been in my head for years was rekindled. These boys wanted a real life Harry Potter-type hero that looked like them minus the witchcraft, trolls, and centaurs.
I believed I was the man to create that story, not just for them but for the world. So I met with a group of my smartest friends at a library for a mastermind alliance meeting. Not a big reader or literary person in general, I knew I had my work cut out for me. For the next year I immersed myself in the literary world (haven’t really come up for air yet). I read any and everything I could get my hands on (Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, I Am Number Four, Artemis Fowl, Legend just to name a few the good and the bad). No one ever sees me without a book in my hand. I studied craft books and took online workshops and webinars on Reader’s digest.com. I had no idea how to begin or if the words would even come out and I was afraid to even write a word at first. That’s when I went on the cruise and locked myself in my cabin and forced myself to write the first page, one of the scariest moments in my life. Surprisingly the words just flowed from me, as if they weren’t my own and were given to me by another entity. It was surreal. “It is the city, a city that never dies.”
Did you have an interesting experience in the research of this book? I would place my students in authentic settings, in the street, in the gym, in the locker room, on the playground etc and record the audio of their conversations. I did this so much they would often forget they were being recorded. It was during these times, when they were not conscious of being taped and I wasn’t around that I got my best material, material I assimilate into the body of the complete IA story. I think that’s part of what gives the story’s dialogue what others call an authentic feel.
The bleakness of the Exclave is the setting of your story. Why is this setting important? The setting is important because it is what I know. It is what John Darryl Winston Interview continued millions of people on this planet know in not just a geographical or physical since, but an emotional and psychological one as well. It is a combination of my home city, Detroit and my adopted city, Chicago: I wanted to place a flawed hero in it’s dismal, hopeless and helpless midst to not just bring about change but inspire and demand others do the same. Smooth seas don’t produce skillful sailors, well there’s nothing smooth about Detroit, Chicago, or the Exclave.
Who designed the cover? A young man just out of high school by the name of Deon Mixon designed the cover. He had read the book and was on his way to Western University for graphic design. He was also one of my son’s friends and I had known him for about 5 years since middle school. I asked him how he felt about designing the cover and he jumped at the chance for no pay (I convinced him to accept a fee in the end). His first design was beautiful, but abstract and I expressed to him that I wanted the cover to represent the words on the pages in a clear and concise way. We put our heads together and what you see on the cover now is the end result. He’s a Junior at Western now and looking forward to designing the next cover and has a few more projects under his belt, including a manuscript of his own.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? I have a duo love for sports and music so when I’m not writing, I’m in the gym, out on the golf course or sitting at my piano with my guitar in my hand, and my writing will always be influenced by those two loves in one way or another.
What social media do you participate in? I’m a twitter addict I guess you could say. I spend a good amount of time tweeting about what I’m going to read, am reading, or have already read. I’ve met a lot of really good and cool people on twitter. There’s also facebook, which I’ve been on the longest, but do not participate in as much twitter. And then there’s instagram. I do have a good amount of followers, but I don’t do much there at all.
What is your favorite character you ever created and why? I thought this would be an extremely easy question, but it turned out to be the most difficult. It’s so hard to pick one because I craft my characters to be like people we see everyday in the real world who are sometimes flawed in damaging ways, but that’s the beauty of people, our imperfections not our perfections. One of my all-time favorite characters, Clark Kent, eventually became an irritating character to me because he had no flaws. If I had to pick one, it would be Naz simply because he is the chosen one. What is your inspiration to write? My inspiration to write is the profound belief that I’ve been given an important story to tell, in the IA series, by the universe, and it is my duty, calling, and responsibility to take up that charge relentlessly and to no end.
How do you cope with the negative sides of writing? Such as haters/trolls/bad reviews/writers block. It’s not always easy or even possible, but I ignore all of those as best I can, especially haters, trolls, and bad reviews. I have absolutely no control over those factors. As far as writer’s block is concerned, I ignore it by lowering the bar or expectations for myself. When you I do that, there’s no such thing as writer’s block. Even if I have to write the same word over and over again, I do it and trust that the muse will ultimately return..
What advise would you give to a new author starting out? Read, Read, and READ some more relentlessly, write everyday the kind of stories you like to read, continue to develop your craft, commune with other authors, and build a platform using the internet and social medial.
What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you? Do you think diversity and multiculturalism are adequately addressed in main stream literature these days? There are many diverse books out there white, black, hispanic, asian, etc, to be sure, and I would say they are all over the place (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.), but when I think of the term multiculturalism, I think of cultures and races existing together in the same model, or book if you will, in various and random positions. For example the hero of the story could be black as in IA: Initiate with Naz Andersen and the other characters could be various races which occurs in the real world with startling regularity. In this case truth should not be stranger than fiction and whether it be the IA series or other literary works, powerful publishers need to make it happen. The question is, who will step up to the plate?
What’s next for you? I am in the rewriting stages of my second novel, which is the second installment of IA, and I’m extremely excited about it. I’m also piloting what’s called an Adopt an Author program which has as its mission to connect authors with young readers for the purpose of fostering a lifetime of love for literature.
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