Welcome to the one hundred and seventy-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with children’s and non-fiction author Felicia Johnson. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello Felicia. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Felicia: My name is Felicia Pickett Johnson. I am the second oldest child of four children. I finished grade school at Murphy High, in 1985, and there I earned a track and field scholarship to the University of South Alabama’s first women track and field teams. I am divorced with two beautiful daughters. My family relocated to New York in 2003, where I completed higher learning, earning two degrees, liberal Arts from the School of New Resources and an MBA-Media Management from Metropolitan College, both schools are located in New York. Art was my first interest as a child. Communicating thoughts with words meant punishment, in my innocent little mind, therefore, I kept quiet and communicated through art.
Morgen: That’s really sad…
Felicia: It was a coping mechanism. Those are some effects divorces have on children, but now you can’t shut me up. However, those images out grew my artistic ability. Let’s just say very early.
Morgen: I think everyday situations are what make stories relatable but twists are what make them enjoyable. And I can talk for England so I’m with you there. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Felicia: I would draw the pear trees, cornfields, out-houses, and old time water pumps, on my relatives vast land in the country. The smell of my Cousin’s biscuits in the oven gave comfort to my little belly. Hum, I was full before sitting down at the table. Drawing was a reaction to the environment’s serenity; after arriving to Alabama’s dusty roads as a child of divorced parents. These drawings were emotions; I desired to have them at all times because I felt safe. As with most writers, my stories began in earlier times about everyday situations with a twist. It hyped interests and explored creativity.
Morgen: Popular genres.
Felicia: Children literature and narrative non-fiction excite me most, but I won’t limit myself to those genres. My works aren’t necessarily bringing something new to interesting content. I have simply taken a different approach which makes it different and current. Photos tell a story without words in real time. The difficulty with this type of writing is keeping your interpretations pure. Some audiences are just going to be adamant about portraying negative messages regardless of how clear you make the message.
Morgen: It’s a shame you don’t draw anymore but it sounds like you’re very busy writing (which I’m all in favour of – I have all my art equipment in the loft… some day). What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?
Felicia: My first published work was a poem, “A tribute to the African American male, sanctified seduction.” It rested upon the shelf of a neighborhood store for some time. My first writings took many forms; mostly poetry and fictions with some truth in between, mainly because there was not a concept of writing techniques, etc. I wrote from media influences, life experiences, and things surrounding me. College progressively shaped and developed my writing skills. Most recent works are “A historical glimpse about your braids” and “Shuck Shuck Shuck.” “A historical glimpse about your braids” is not about slavery, rather, it encompasses brief information on three different generational types of slavery, African people experienced, and the significance of braids is a part of that. Readers get historical information about braids relevance to culture, fashion, economics, and history. This is a great book of history the entire family can enjoy filled with colorful photos.
Morgen: It sounds really interesting.
Felicia: “Shuck Shuck Shuck” is a fun and humorous book. A young Hania discovers, she is not only beautiful with braids, but she can do many acrobatic movements during outdoor play without losing the glamour of her hairstyle. She also discovers the sound in her hula-hoop is Shuck Shuck Shuck. This amuses her to laughter. Children ages 2-12 are entertained and they learn creativity, sound recognition, and self-esteem.
Morgen: I don’t have children but I love the title and wondered where it came from. Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Felicia: Limited editions of ‘A historical glimpse about your braids’ were printed, and I know the individuals who have those copies, so I would be surprised to see someone unknown to me reading this book. There will not be more printed editions from the publisher without my (author) approval. In this book, I discuss, post-slavery regimes. The book’s subtitle is past, present, and future. Sad realization we have sex slave regimes filtering into America rapidly. It was important for me to assure the correct message was sent to readers. That message is all about braids as an art form, and understanding, its evolution into a lucrative business for African women. There will be a second edition in 2013. To answer the question directly, I have not. Both books sell online. They were launched April 2011. Currently, the buzz is picking up, and more people are showing interest. Copies of Shuck Shuck Shuck have been sold.
Morgen: It can be a slow process but it sounds like you’re getting there. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Felicia: I do 100 percent of marketing my brand directly. Indirectly, I can’t say what percentage is done by contacts until sales rise, and then, I can analyze demographics and the likes to determine indirect marketers influence, such as you.
Morgen: I’ll keep my fingers crossed then. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Felicia: It’s all about getting your brand noticed. With a steep faltering economy, writers are preserving their budgets in marketing. Learning to take advantage of free social media opportunities is the way to go. Building my brand shows lots of promise. I use twitter to talk about A historical glimpse about your braids, such as telling readers about “Author, poet, activist, Alice Walker, deriving the title “Color Purple”.” For those who have not read my book, here is a peek a boo moment. She and freedom songwriter and singer, Bob Marley stood underneath the orange sun in Africa, when she noticed the tint of his dreadlocks beneath its rays were a tint of purple. How fascinating is that!
Morgen: Bob Marley’s one of my favorite singers. ‘Easy Skanking’ and ‘Kaya’ bring back very fond teenage memories. Do you write under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to an author’s profile?
Felicia: No I do not write under a pseudonym. I may consider that in the future, because it is good to reinvent yourself as trends change. I think this is one reason Sean Puffy Combs has been so successful. It’s proven to work.
Morgen: And Prince / symbol. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Felicia: Agents are significant to our success. They are vital players in this game. If one can afford their experience and expertise, yes, get an agent to help your works get noticed, purchased, and developed. It may take longer with extra long work hours to achieve those accomplishments without an agent. Nevertheless, it can be done successfully, for example, Mr. Tyler Perry, a homeless playwright, he is now on the big screen.
Morgen: You just have to keep going… which you will if you love doing what you’re doing. Are your books available as eBooks?
Felicia: eBooks have been discussed, but right now, I don’t think it’s profitable or secure.
Morgen: What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Felicia: My first published poem was a hit in the local area. Acceptance was a huge thrill, and I am well known locally for ‘A tribute to the African American male’ poem, which I performed on the famous Apollo stage. No, I did not win; I lost a third place finish to a gospel singer. It has been difficult for audiences to move away from my first writings. Like an actress, people see your character as your everyday personality. This is who they want you to be. You’re overlooked as an artist. Audiences like works involving romance, (sex), and gossip, but I have grown and learned to be a skilled writer of many topics. Not to mention, life has taken me to a different place. So, I like this place and choose to stay here a while and explore the discoveries.
Morgen: Third place sounds pretty good to me, especially somewhere like the Apollo… well done.
Felicia: What was significant about the whole ordeal is the fact; I made the audition cuts, and gained a surmountable experience and self-satisfaction performing before an enormous crowd. Hey, Luther Vandross performed eight times on the Apollo stage before he ever won. There are drawbacks that come with the territory of thrill. Envy from men of other races. Although men of color are being celebrated in my poems; it doesn’t lessen respect for my brothers of other races. I say to them, there are queens in their courts who feel equally passionate if not more toward their men, and I am sure one day her shyness will leave, and she too will serenade their graces. Another drawback is every woman who reads this poem somehow convinces herself this character is her (Smoke King) significant other having an affair. How wrong they are! So those are the things we as writers deal with all the time.
Morgen: Which leads me nicely on to my next question… have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Felicia: Fans of my first writing were very indifferent to most recent works. Writers get cast-typed as well.
Morgen: Which is where a pseudonym would come in handy. Lots of top authors have done it because they’re used to writing one genre (Barbara Vine = Ruth Rendell, JD Robb = Nora Roberts and so on). Nora, by the way (according to Wikipedia which of course is never wrong) has written 209 novels… and she’s only 60!
Felicia: Over all, more information about the topics audiences receive, they gain interests and ask how can I gety this book? I hate to tell them, “A historical glimpse” was a limited edition. However, I do take a sample copy to any speaking engagements, and I am also putting it to PowerPoint for discussions. I will bring the book to life for those interested, by way of interviews and book reviews.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment / next?
Felicia: Really studying the hairstyle markets and seeing what audiences like. Each day you can find me updating social media sites. Utilizing social media networks to meet people, such as you, providing us opportunity to reach greater audiences during an economic drought is phenomenal. I want my team to use this as leverage to move forward and accomplish great things in life. It’s a start.
Morgen: It is, and I’m sure it’ll just take perseverance. Do you manage to write every day?
Felicia: Since most of my time is spent marketing and preparing to operate my publishing company with a staff, little time is spent writing.
Morgen: I know that feeling although my excuse is this blog… and work… and walking my dog… What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Felicia: When I first began writing with a purpose, writers block stacked pretty high. Then, college taught me techniques to overcome that. Writers block occurs when you don’t know what to do in starting and completing the process or you have taken the subject as far as you can before needing assistance to develop its contents. Writing is a skill of sorts. For writers are naturally gifted, others are like many athletes, they are trained. The natural gift can only go so far until it needs more tools to develop it into greater expressions. I would say, learn about your craft. My motto is “read, listen, and learn.”
Morgen: Absolutely, just practice. A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Felicia: My children inspire me. Beyond my family, artists, such as, the Jackson Five, Michael of course, thrill me. A historical glimpse about your braids was actually an honor to his work. I am a big fan of 5o cent. It is not about the lyrics to his songs. He is admired as a self-made millionaire, man, and artist. I will keep that motivation perk personal. I have never met him, but his story makes me cry!
Morgen: Ahh… Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Felicia: Over the years as my skills developed, I learned to plot the stories. Building upon a thought gradually is preferable. Stories tend to develop themselves.
Morgen: I’m sure stories work better that way. Few of the interviewees I’ve spoken have been big plotters (“pantser” is a word used by a few of them). Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Felicia: Initially no, both my books started with a different theme. Later resulting into new contents, and that’s exciting production. You may see more intentional character writing in the future.
Morgen: As you write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Felicia: How much does it mean to me? Is the subject worth others being offended? Will it bring about a positive change? Will the results out weight the short-term harm which could actually become a moment of healing, a turn around for the better.
Morgen: Do you write any poetry?
Felicia: I don’t write a lot of poetry. The mood has to strike me, just like a song does. Free verse is like a piece of prose. Words may have a little rhyme to them but lack smooth transition from one stanza to the next. It is a work of art though just the same. That’s what makes great rappers, having an ability to make non-rhythmic verses speak poetically. Ultimately a finished work is a combination of both.
Morgen: Do you write or would you consider writing novels?
Felicia: Personally, novels don’t excite me. It is said, scholars write more pages. The greater number of pages than the more you know the subject. My theory is people don’t have time to read as in times past. Women aren’t home all day any more. We read on the go as we order meals on the fly. The truth is… you write as many pages as your pocket can afford. If 24 pages is what money can purchase. How much knowledge you have doesn’t matter. A good story gives lots of references. Readers should want more of what you have to say. A historical glimpse about your braids has that kind of affect.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Felicia: As I said earlier, getting a full staff for My Glitter Braids Publishing Company is in the making. I can’t give much detail currently. Also, part of that establishment will be the marketing of the documentary to
A historical glimpse about your braids, I have already produced it, however, I will be going through some fine-tuning production. The documentary is historically creditable and informative that everyone needs to see. I believe in keeping the faith, a television network or film festival will pick it up. It is certainly an appropriate response to Comedian Chris Rock’s movie, hair. Videos and DVD’s are in production as well.
Morgen: I’d not really considered film trailers for books but it’s been a popular topic on LinkedIn recently and I’m sure it must make a difference as it’s another opportunity to get your name known. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Felicia: Latest works were produced as a media project for grad school. Certainly, professors approve your media creations. Otherwise, my daughters are first readers, and then a friend or another literary professional.
Morgen: I can imagine your daughters loving ‘Shuck Shuck Shuck’. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Felicia: A lot of beginner writers make the mistake of trying to edit as they go. After producing the last materials, I developed a strategy for editing. Set mid points or bench marks, depending on the length you intend to write will determine number of pages chosen to edit. Edit after reaching a set number of pages. Do this until your book is complete, then go back and edit it as a whole before sending into the publisher. Publishers will send it back to you if more editing is needed; unless you have paid for their editing services.
Morgen: That’s a very good idea to keep going until you reach a target, a bit like NaNoWriMo that I (and a few hundred thousand other people) are doing this month – 1,667 words a day doesn’t lend you to editing as you go. How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Felicia: I had to learn about photography with both books. It took two years to write “A historical glimpse about your braids” and Shuck Shuck Shuck together as they were released at the same time. I still have more research to do. The subject on the history of braids is limitless. “Shuck Shuck Shuck” was not as difficult because I work with only one model verses a team of individuals with the first book. Again, it took learning about lighting, color, being photogenic, so on. Mr. Curtis Hamilton initially took photos for “A historical glimpse about your braids” because the idea was to produce a magazine; the end product was a book. I used my photos for content instead, but he took all the photos on the front cover, I owe my beginner lesson to him. He was very inspiring, encouraging, and gave me guidance to complete the projects without his continued assistance.
Morgen: He sounds like a very useful person to know. My father was, and uncle still is, a photographer so I can consult him if I need to. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Felicia: Proverbs 3:3 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee. Bind them about they neck; write them upon the table of thine heart, so shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man. (favor with God gives favor with man). I don’t plot poems, if a verse comes to mind, then I jot it down and come back to it later or I maybe in the middle of researching more thoughts come to mind that I can later add to the verse. With purposeful writing the process begins by determining your motive, what is it you want to achieve and research if there is an audience for that content. I haven’t learned enough about my writing behaviors quiet yet. Artistry grows with me everyday.
Morgen: But is sounds like you’re really enjoying yourself. It comes down to practice… like a piano player. It’s all an art… a craft and we’re all still learning. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Felicia: I do both. But computers seem to make the thought process clearer, and faster. I prefer the computer.
Morgen: Me too, although I tend to edit more on paper. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Felicia: It just depends on the mood. Artist don’t fit in any size box. We are creative people, and sometimes writing requires discovery, exploration, noise, quietness, and all that. Actors study their characters by going to the actual seen where an event took place or they interview the character. For example, Jamie Fox spent time with Ray Charles from the movie “Ray”. Writers go through the same scenarios. Maybe I will climb the Kilimanjaro mountain to poetically describe the vast view.
Morgen: That would be dedication. One of my closest friends climbed it last year for charity… I’m still in awe of her. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Felicia: In my poem “A tribute to the African American male” first and third person are used. For example, I write, “He (third person) is the sugar cube in my (first) early morning tea. He is the mayonnaise on my midday sandwich; he is the hot sauce on my neck bone. He is the flame in my fire (that is spiritual fire, motivation, not a physical fire), uhm uhm uhm uhm, he’s my smoke king.” Now just for clarity, smoke king is a character from one of Langston Hughe’s poems. Sarcastically, I respond to Langston’s idolized smoke man simply by saying, “Langston, here is another version of the smoke king I like!” That’s where the idea of Smoke King came from as a character in this poem. It’s more that just a man being of a dark skin color. Black men come in all shades.
Morgen: It sounds like you really enjoy what you do, what’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Felicia: Most favourite was drawing innocent pictures of country life in which they later became written self-expressions. Least favourite aspect has been putting much time and efforts into my latest works and it’s taking just that much effort to get them recognized.
Morgen: It is hard work… and many an interviewee has found it frustrating but we all have the one same thing; determination. That’s what will see us through, amongst other attributes of course. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Felicia: Good writing eventually has to become more technique than gift and talent. The gift only makes room for you.
Morgen: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Felicia: Learn all you can about writing styles, terminology, techniques. Study successful book authors, play writes, and screen writers. Stay true to yourself. Remember Deuteronomy 8:17 Do not say to yourself, My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth. 8:18 but remember the Lord your God, for it is he who give you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today.
Morgen: What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Felicia: Reading is healthy and educational. So, any reading is good for the brain, but science fiction, romances and novels are my least favorites. Coffee table literature, children, autobiography, Memoirs, and non-fiction suite me fine. Alice Walker is an awesome writer.
Morgen: Isn’t she… I have various anthologies of hers. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Felicia: Personally, ‘read, listen, learn’!
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Felicia: God does have a place in my life. I like to spend quiet times in mediation and listening to inspirational music. From time to time I have my friends and family over for lite meals. I am not on the party or social scene, simply because there is not time, but don’t count me out as a socialite.
Morgen: From what you said earlier you sound very social. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Felicia: United States is my base. It is good to let people know where we can be found. It makes possible opportunity to exchange ideas and form lasting business relationships.
Morgen: LinkedIn is a great place for that. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Felicia: Recently my profiles have been updated with LinkedIn, twitter, and Youtube etc. Since I am an independent (Freelancer) author and building upon a publishing company without a full staff, the process is longer. I am doing for myself what a paid publicist or agent could do for me. Reading, marketing, researching links and discovering wonderful business savvy individuals takes time away, so choosing activities to participate is strategic. Gaining an interview with you, Ms. Bailey is a rewarding result of these efforts as well as allowing the gift to make room.
Morgen: Well, thank you, I hope we get plenty of people stopping by. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Wow, you’re a busy lady. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Felicia: The future is bright for writers, but it will take more effort on our part to be recognized as creditable writers with material audiences need to read. Writers must perform beyond the pen. We have to understand global business, and marketing.
Morgen: We do… quite a few interviewees have classed the marketing as they’re least favourite aspect but I think it’s a necessity and I’m enjoying meeting new people, albeit virtually. If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Felicia: Whoo! I don’t know if things could have been done differently because life has been trial and error. Just as writing. Those experiences developed me into a present day writer and the writer I shall become. It can only get better.
Morgen: I like to think that too. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Felicia: Today, I am very very happy with myself. I know who I am as a person and learning more of who I want to become as an artist (writer). Traveling to London and Germany as a graduate student, broaden horizons adding to this confidence. It’s a good feeling. May good spirit be with all of you and never give up on your dreams.
Morgen: Absolutely, they do say that a successful author is one who didn’t give up.
Felicia: Had I given up ten years ago when I knew nothing about writing techniques and the likes, publishing two books would be fluff, completing higher learning would be just a goal, traveling abroad would be by imagination. So far my dreams have become reality. Why stop now. Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Morgen: Thank you Felicia.
Felicia: Again. Thank you Ms. Bailey its been fun.
Morgen: You’re very welcome.
Published Author Felicia P. Johnson, under the lenses of photography; she captures fantastic jubilant energy and life in the works of the African people’s unique self-expressions with hair art, braids, and what it brings to outdoor play for youth, and thoughts in real time. She is the Author of A Historical Glimpse About your Braids: Past, Present, Future. Her career evolved from childhood school plays, a high school senior speaker, talent shows, orator of dramatic readings and poetry, to appearing on the famous Apollo Theatre stage.
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