Saturday, 1 April 2017

Spotlight: Still Black Remains by Kevin Michaels

Still Black Remains Synopsis

“Still Black Remains” is an original work of fiction. It tells the story of Twist, one of the leaders of an inner city gang named the Skulls, and the architect of his gang’s decision to kidnap a mafia soldier in a last-ditch attempt to end a violent turf war. The war started when the Skulls tried taking a bigger piece of the drug business in their Newark, New Jersey neighborhood from the organized crime family who had once been their partners. Like most great ideas, the plan doesn’t turn out as expected. 

Negotiations between the gangs deteriorate, words fail, the violence escalates, and the only recourse left is the inevitable execution of the hostage. Chosen to be the one to execute the prisoner, the story covers Twist’s ability to pull the trigger, the consequences of that action, and his internal struggle. As the volatile situation grows more explosive by the hour, the lines between right and wrong blur; resolution comes with a price and Twist has to decide if pulling the trigger will get him what he wants, and if he can live with that cost.

The Process of Writing and Being A Writer 

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”

Stephen King On Writing

There is no formula for being a writer. No matter what anyone says, it’s not that simple.

Writing can be a tiring and thankless job, filled with critics, self-doubt, and constant insecurities. There is no shortage of advice from well-meaning friends, because deep down, everyone thinks they can be a writer too. Throughout my career a number of people have said to me, “If I only had more time, I could be a writer too,” as if time holds the secret to success. There are those who believe that if you locked a dozen monkeys in a room with laptops and energy drinks, sooner or later one of them would bang out War and Peace. Because writing is supposedly that easy.

The reality is that writing is a craft that takes hard work, perseverance, and skill. An abundance of time has nothing to do with it, especially if you’re like me and procrastination is a problem.

There are no shortcuts.

Good writing starts with conflict. Without conflict there’s no reason to read a story—conflict is the engine that drives everything forward (otherwise you just have a lot of dialogue and pretty scenes and a group of characters drifting from page to page). Your story needs a unique voice as well —don’t try to be someone else. There was only one Hemingway. One Mailer. And one Faulkner. And one Fitzgerald. Writers who try to copy someone else are rarely good enough to imitate with any degree of success.

I faced a number of challenges with Still Black Remains. One had to do with writing a book that had no clearly defined genre – no zombies or alien invaders or love-struck college sweethearts doomed by a combination of fate, bad luck, and rare disease. Still Black Remains is the story of a street kid turned gangster named Twist, his drug-dealing gang called the Skulls, and an out of control turf war in Newark, New Jersey that escalates with the kidnapping of a mafia capo. But it was the story I wanted to write, and that was more important than everything else, no matter what’s popular in bookstores. That is the true cardinal rule of writing and the secret to success: write your story. It doesn’t matter what your friends, your college professor, or even other writers think you should write – you need to write the story you want to write.

Keep working at it and never allow yourself to get complacent or careless. Writers write. That means edit and revise and review what you’ve written, and don’t be afraid to make changes, even when they are drastic. If you want to write realistic dialogue you have to listen to people when they talk – every conversation has a certain flow, and as a writer you need to capture that style and reflect it in the dialogue your characters use.

I keep a copy of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing taped to the wall in front of me while I write—they may not be appropriate for every writer, but I’ve found that his rules work for me:
  • Never open a book with weather. 
  • Avoid prologues. 
  • Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue. 
  • Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely. 
  • Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  • Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." 
  • Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. 
  • Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 
  • Don't go into great detail describing places and things. 
  • Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
His most important rule is one that sums up all 10: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

And don’t ever give up. The world is filled with critics and people who will tell you about insurmountable odds and the difficulty in achieving your dreams…..ignore them and keep writing. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

As Stephen King said, “I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

If there is a secret to success as a writer, it’s that.

Kevin Michaels' Bio 

Kevin Michaels is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel LOST EXIT, as well as two entries in the FIGHT CARD BOOKS series: HARD ROAD and CAN’T MISS CONTENDER. He also released a collection of short stories entitled NINE IN THE MORNING. His short stories and flash fiction have also appeared in a number of magazines and indie zines, and in 2011 he was nominated for two separate Pushcart Prize awards for his short stories. Other shorts have been included in the anthologies for SIX SENTENCES (volumes II and III) and ACTION: PULSE POUNDING TALES (2).

In April 2017 his latest novel STILL BLACK REMAINS will be published by Literary Wanderlust LLC.

He has also published a number non-fiction articles and stories in print publications ranging from the and the Life/Style section of The Boston Globe to The Bergen News and Press Journal and raged in print at places like the triCity News, NY Daily News, and The Press.

He is the Founder and Creative Director of Story Tellers which is a community-based organization that develops and promotes literacy through writing. Story Tellers provides under-served teenagers, young adults, and women from distressed situations the opportunity to discover the strength and power of their own voices (self-empowerment through self-expression).

Originally from New Jersey, he carries the attitude, edginess, and love of all things Bruce Springsteen common in his home state, although he left the Garden State to live and work in the foothills of the Appalachians (Georgia) with his wife, Helen and an assortment of children and pets.

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