GROVE STREET BOOKS, WINE, JAZZ & A TASTE OF PG COUNTY SEPTEMBER 2013
A LITERARY, LIFESTYLE, BUSINESS & ENTERTAINMENT PUBLICATION
EDITOR-in-CHIEF This marks our 12th issue of Grove Street. I can’t believe how quickly time has flown. I’ve stepped away from book publishing into another universe. Journalism is hard work. I’m grateful to every guest who followed through with an interview. I also appreciate being approved to cover great events. My two faithful friends—Judi Emm and Shelia Lipsey—both have encouraged and supported the Grove Street community. Where does this leave us? I can’t divulge my plan just yet, but I will say that when everything is taken care of, I hope to enhance your reading experience. Content is piling up more than I ever anticipated. We’ve outgrown relying on Issuu.com. I truly appreciate your reading support and patience through the forthcoming transition. This month I feel incredibly honored to mark the end of this part of Grove Street’s journey with featuring Omar Tyree and Marcus Johnson. Their names speak for themselves. No introduction is needed. I also covered The Taste of Prince George’s Food & Wine Festival. If you are located in Maryland, I invite you to discover some new dining establishments or spirit brands. I also covered the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 43rd Annual Legislative Conference. Since I gathered so much information there, I will be sharing that content separately, in the near future. Look for another issue this month here, visit thereadersandauthorsnook.blogspot.com, or velocitydmv.blogspot.com if you are interested. I hope that you enjoy this edition of Grove Street. Our aim is to inform and entertain you simultaneously. Welcome.
OMAR TYREE Grove Street: Hello everyone that’s listening in or reading our publication. We have a very special guest today. I’ll let him tell you who he is. Omar: This is Omar Tyree, New York Times best-selling author, journalist, poet, screenwriter, songwriter and entrepreneur. My website is omartyree.com. Grove Street: Wonderful. There is so much that you’ve done. I read how you branded yourself so well, and you didn’t put yourself in a box. Tell us a about your business walk and how you prepared yourself. How did you start having that mindset—I guess going back to around 1992. Why did you start your publishing company and did you always know you were going to be a writer? Omar: I actually wanted to be a football player as a teenager and a high schooler. I went to the University of Pittsburgh and had plans to walk on to the football team. At the time, I was on the track team for Pittsburgh. Once I got to the college level at the Big East Pittsburgh Panthers, I saw how many individual players and students were kind of being used and abused for their athletic skills. They were not getting the proper education, mainly because they were not taking advantage of the education and only thinking about playing sports. At that point, I became a more radical thinker, speaker and writer as a freshman. My test grades in reading and writing were sky high, and I ended up passing to the highest levels of English comprehension and writing, then I took creative writing. From that point on, I had friends who challenged me. ‘You’re so good at writing and speaking on different subjects, you should go ahead and write a book.’ At the time, I was about nineteen-years-old. I said, ‘All right, I’m going to go ahead and write a book.’ I never backed down from that challenge. By the time I got ready to graduate from college, I transferred to Howard University, which is an all black school in DC. I started working for the newspaper. At that point, I wrote a couple of books and I wanted to put them out. I was maybe twenty-two-years-old when I finished college. No publishers were thinking about putting out some
urban, young, black writer, so I put together my own publishing company. I got some money from family members and business friends, and I published my first book. I used the people that I knew in the black newspaper business in DC where I was a journalist, and got on the radio. I sold my book at Expos and different events where you would buy a table and sell your work. That’s what I did the first year. In the second year, I came out with a book called ‘Flyy Girl,’ which became a legendary book. That book sold itself at the bookstores and at conventions. The next thing I knew, I was selling boxes of books at a time. That was how I became a self-published entrepreneur. Grove Street: Wow. That’s wonderful. Were you writing when you were at Howard, or did you go straight into journalism after that point, and then say, ‘I want to get started with my book’ at that time. Omar: When I got to Howard, I wanted to sharpen up on my writing skills. I hadn’t written a whole lot of different pieces. I’d written a few creative pieces, and I’d written two books based on what I thought I knew, but once I got to Howard I wanted to get more writing skills, so I took English for one semester. I didn’t like it because they mainly had you studying old classic English books. Most of them were written by white female writers. Then many of our teachers were white, and this was at Howard University. I said, ‘What the heck is going on?’ I said, ‘Nah, I don’t think English is the way,’ so I took journalism. Journalism is more about current affairs. You get a byline and more work. You’re not studying old classic stuff. You’re studying what’s going on right now. So I said, ‘Yeah, journalism, that’s it. ‘ I started writing for the newspapers. I was very busy at what I was doing. That advent got me writing more what I wanted in the journalism department. So once I transferred to the School of Journalism, everything picked up for me. It took about two more years before I graduated from Howard with a Journalism degree. By that time, I was a lot more skilled. I got an internship working at a black newspaper. Grove Street: That’s great. Do you feel that your background has shaped who you are today as a writer? I know a lot of people don’t necessarily study the craft. They don’t take any classes. What would you say about one’s background and ability to study the craft? Is that important? Omar: I do have an urban background. I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in the first generation of hip-hop. I was a kid in the seventies, and I became a teenager in the eighties. That was the graffiti era, the break dancing era, the DJ Era, and the house parties era. That culture had a big influence on who I am as a person, who I am in the culture, as well as what I was to write about in my first couple of books, so definitely that cultural reference is all who I am—urban Philadelphia. However, once I became a more mature adult, I got to experience more things. You get to see more cultures, you get to be around more people and different things, and so you change a bit. Now you kind of look at the new things that you want to talk about. You get more diverse as you get older. Grove Street: Right. That makes great sense. That kind of ties into the question that I had about the shift you made from urban fiction to more mystery and thrillers like ‘The Traveler.’ What made you say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to do this now? I’m ready to come out of the box from where I started? Did you gain different types of readers by doing that? Omar: Well, yeah and I also lost some readers. A lot of readers want to stay with what they like. When I started writing novels, I had a goal to write about certain subjects in the African-American community. I was the type of writer that once I wrote about a certain subject, I didn’t want to write about it three and four times. If I got it right the first time, I wanted to move on to the next subject. Looking at the books that I’ve written about the African-American community, I have a book called ‘Flyy Girl’ where I wrote
about inner city materialism. The book, ‘Do Right Man’ is the good men in the community, how a lot of times people ignore them because they’re looking at bad guys all of the time. I wrote a book called ‘Single Mom,’ which we have seventy-one percent of African-American households are single mother households, so obviously we need fathers in the households. Then I wrote a book called ‘Sweet St. Louis’ which was a black on black love, which was basically saying, ‘Look, if we need more fathers and families, then black women and men need to understand how to love each other.’ So I wrote that book. Then I wrote a book called ‘For The Love of Money,’ which was a sequel to ‘Flyy Girl.’ That book was about money versus art. A lot of times people get conflicted about whether they’re doing art for money sake, or doing art for inspiration, and so that was a next book. Then I wrote a book called ‘Just Say No’ where I wrote about musicians and indulgence. When you become a musician in our community, you are so popular. You have so much money. So many people want to know you and be around you that you actually become ridiculous. It’s very hard to keep your sanity as a musician. That’s why I wrote that book called ‘Just Say No,’ because it’s hard to say no if you’re a male and you’ve got a thousand women that want to sleep with you every night. You’ve got a thousand people trying to give you stuff. You’ve got a thousand different things that you can buy with the money you have. The ego just gets out of this world. Then I went and wrote a book about urban poverty, because we still have poverty. I wrote about that in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina in a book called ‘Leslie.’ Some people say ,‘Omar, why are you still writing about poverty and light skin and dark skin? I said, ‘Because we still have that issue. Have you ever been to New Orleans and see where the dark skin people live versus the Creole light skin people?’ Grove Street: Right. Omar: We still have this. I wrote about it before Hurricane Katrina. Then Hurricane Katrina hit and people said, ‘You mean to tell me you have all of these black people who don’t have cars, who are drowning, and they are walking across the bridge instead of driving?’ Yeah—you still have that type of poverty in America. So I wrote about that. What happened was that as I continued to write about all of these subjects about black America, understand that I am hitting all of the different crevices of our society. I looked at it and said once I do it, I’m not going to write five books about poverty. I’m not going to write five books about drug dealers. I did that. I wrote a book called ‘Capital City.’ I forgot about that one. I wrote about the drug dealers in DC. And so I wrote about every different topic of our black community. Once I finished about these topics, I said, ‘Look, I’m not going to write about them three and four and five different times. I’m done. Now I have to move onto something different.’ That’s when I started getting in trouble with the audience, where I kept moving to different things. They weren’t recognizing what I was doing from day one. I was always moving to different subjects. People would always say, ‘Oh, this is a little different from your last book.’ All of my books are different if you’re paying attention to what I’m writing about. The subjects always change. At the end of the day people say, ‘Oh, you’re versatile.’ I’ve always been versatile. They just hadn’t been paying attention to what I was writing. Grove Street: That makes perfect sense, because even from what you’re saying, as far as what people think urban fiction is, it seemed like you had it mapped out so well that it doesn’t fit most people’s perception of what an urban fiction book is going to be about. You had a point to what you were saying every time. As far as your Ebook project, ‘Corrupted,’ can you tell us about that and how you set it up? Did it give you new open doors as far as Ebooks and digital publishing?
Omar: Well I didn’t believe in Ebooks at all when they first started talking about it. I am an old school dude who loves the feel of books, the smell of books. I’ve got about five or seven libraries. I love everything about physical books, so when people first started talking about Ebooks, I felt like come on man, I’m not going to read some book on a device. You don’t have a cover. You don’t have a book design. You can’t flip the pages. I was totally against it, until as I continued to write about different subjects, I couldn’t find publishers because they weren’t interested in subjects I was writing, particularly because they knew the audience probably wouldn’t pick the subject up and run with it. That was an issue where you have certain audiences that only like certain subjects, since I was writing about all of these different subjects, the publishers said, ‘Nah, we don’t think we want to put that out because we’re not going to have an audience for that. So now Ebooks became a tool where I said, ‘You know what, if I can’t publish them as a regular, physical book, how about I put them out as Ebooks and start a brand new audience and do what I want to do?’ Grove Street: Right. Omar: Now a funny thing happened. At the same time I was thinking about doing that, the bookstores started disappearing. All of a sudden, Borders closed down. Walden Books closed down. Black bookstores started closing down. So I said, ‘Wow. This is the perfect time to go digital.’ Now you can’t even go to the store like you used to and get books. That kind of thing started happening. And then the book signings and what not stopped happening. And then tours stopped happening. Now is the perfect timing to do the Ebook thing because the physical book world is changing drastically. So now I’m right on point with it. Now I can put out any type of diversified book I want without a publisher being scared about the numbers, because Ebooks don’t cost you much, and it’s not hurting anyone to put them out. So now I’m right back in the pot. Grove Street: With ‘The Traveler,’ who publishes that? Do you self-publish, or is that something that you do through a publisher? Omar: Well with ‘The Traveler’ there was a publisher with that one. I was not going to put ‘The Traveler’ out. That was before the Ebook thing started. Grove Street: Okay. Omar: So with ‘The Traveler’ it was an idea that I had for a serial book, and what happened was I had a publisher that was interested—mainly because of my name. ‘Oh, Omar Tyree…we’ve got a celebrity author.’ They were a small publishing house, and so they wanted to do something big because of my name, but I had to explain to them immediately: ‘Okay, this is a little different. It’s not an urban book. It’s an international book, so we have to think about how to market on an international level.’ Grove Street: Right. Omar: They were willing to go ahead and accept that challenge. So we started off small. We started off slow, and now we have to build up a brand new international audience, and they were willing to do it together with me. That’s a company called Koehler Books. John Koehler Books has a lineup of different authors. They were willing to make that jump and to accept that challenge of creating a brand new audience that was more international and less urban, but they were only willing to do it because they knew that I had a popularity, a name, and then I had a following. They were thinking that I could get some of the following to come with us. I told them that very clearly that you cannot assume that. You’ve
got to look at that you’re creating a brand new audience, so they said, ‘Okay, we’ll go ahead and try it.’ That’s what we’re doing now. We’ve got the first book, ‘No Turning Back’ out in Ebook. The second book is coming out in November, and that’s called ‘Welcome To Dubai.’ Then I’m going to go out there and make a trip out to Shanghai China. That will be the third book in the series. I don’t know what the title is going to be yet, but it will have something with Shanghai in it. Grove Street: I actually like that. How did you come up with the idea of going to these different places? What inspired you to do that? Omar: I grew up on the James Bond movies. I’m forty-years-old now, so I remember the old James Bond. We remember five or six renditions of James Bond over the last forty years, but we were all into those James Bond movies. We all looked at the countries that he got to visit, and all the villains he would fight, and all of the beautiful women that he would get. Oh my goodness. All of the guys would be checking that out. And so as a grown man, we’re all looking at this thing saying, ‘If I could write an international book, I would write something like a James Bond character…a dude who gets in trouble, travels around the world, has the money, and gets the girls, ’but I didn’t want to make him a spy. I didn’t want to put him in the middle of espionage and all of that. I wanted to make him more of a normal citizen, but I still wanted him to get into adventurous troubles. I said If I create a dude who just liked to travel, and he has some military skills, it would allow him to fight terrorists and any type of bad guys in any type of country. In the meantime, instead of using the country as a backdrop, I really want to explore the people of each individual culture. That means I would have to travel there and really do research on the people, and then figure out what is the issue that the people are fighting with, and then put my character in it to help those folks out each time he goes somewhere. So I got him like a Curious George type of guy that travels to different locations, and once he sees the people in trouble or dispute, he sticks his nose in there. Every time he sticks his nose in there, he’s going to get in trouble with other people who are on the bad side of things. If you go to any country looking for trouble, you will find it. Grove Street: Yes. Omar: Because there sure is trouble going on in every country in this world. So, that’s what he ends up doing. Grove Street: Wow. So what’s the response been so far to the series? Omar: Well, the people that are reading it are like ‘wow, this is brand new.’ They get it. A lot of times it takes a minute for more people to get involved in it. The second book coming out is a bigger book. The first one was just an introduction. ‘No Turning Back’ was just about who he is and how he gets to travel, and what he went through with his family, so you can really understand the person. ‘Welcome To Dubai’ is a full-blown novel with all of the adventures and the culture of the city of Dubai in the Middle East. So now you can really get into it. And it’s going to pick up over time. A lot of people don’t understand that. ‘The Firm’ was like the second or third book from John Grisham. It really didn’t pick up until he did a movie with Tom Cruise, and then everybody jumped on all of John Grisham’s next work, and his next work, and his next work. But it took a minute. His first book didn’t sell very well. Sometimes when you have new ideas, it’s not like it blows up overnight. Sometimes it takes a minute. I even remember ‘Harry Potter.’ When ‘Harry Potter’ first came out, it wasn’t this six million copies program. It was a smaller print run. In fact, it wasn’t even in hardback when I first saw it. It took a while for ‘Harry Potter’ to pick
up. By the time it got to the fourth book, it had like a six million printing, then the stores were shut down. People were lining up. It got crazy, but it didn’t start off that way. Grove Street: Right. Omar: We have to understand that. We have to start and build the audience. It just doesn’t hit the ground running. Grove Street: That’s an excellent point. I think that ties into my next question about book deals being a little bit harder to land these days. Do you still feel there’s an opportunity for new writers to gain their traction? What would your advice be to writers in that situation? I know that you have Publishing 101 in your consulting business, so you could tell us about that as well. Omar: There’s always room for new writers. So whenever you’re new, there will probably be room for you to come in, for people to look at your work and say, ‘Oh, this new person is all right,’ versus the old person where they’re like, ‘Oh, I read his book already.’ I hear that a lot. ‘I read your books already.’ Go to my website, omartytree.com, I have over twenty-two books now. They read about two or three of my books and they say, ‘I read your books.’ They haven’t read half of my material. Grove Street: Right. Omar: Me being an old writer, I get less traction than you would get as a new writer, because now they’re up on the new books that you put out, where they’ll still ignoring some of my old books. So there are new opportunities for new authors. My whole Publishing 101 was about trying to answer questions for different authors who had similar questions. I wanted to be able to answer those questions, and then consult if they wanted to get serious. I said, ‘Okay, you can pay me to be a consultant if you really want to get into the publishing trade,’ because I was not going to continue giving out specific information for free; all of the information that I built up for twenty years. If you’re serious about it, let’s talk about me being a consultant, but I don’t hit them over the head with some astronomical price. It’s only two-hundred and fifty dollars, and it’s a lifetime contract. You can call me anytime you want, ask me any question, I will give you names, dates, companies and all of that kind of stuff, advice for the rest of your writing life for two-hundred and fifty dollars. Grove Street: Oh, wow. Omar: You get a lot of people who say, ‘Oh, I can’t afford that.’ If you can’t afford two hundred and fifty dollars, well you’re not going into business! Grove Street: Yes. Omar: The 101, I give you that for free. That’s basically two pages of general information. But then when you ask me to be a consultant, I give you six more pages, and you have my private number to call me anytime you want with any advice that you need. Grove Street: Can you give us information about your consulting so we know how to reach you, if someone is interested in what you’re saying? Omar: Again, you can go to my website at omartyree.com, and once you start talking about writing, I send that to you immediately. I send my consultation breakdown plan. That’s always going to be
promoted and pushed for people who are serious about writing. You’ve got to start by emailing me and getting in touch with me at the website ( omartyree.com). Grove: Can you do it virtually? Omar: Oh yeah. You can just send an email and then it’s a phone call, as long as it’s not like in China or somewhere where it’s a difficult phone conversation, but you can still email me from China. So that’s real easy. But when we do a conference call, it’s better to talk to you than email you, because it’s easier to have a detailed conversation than it is to keep emailing. Hopefully, you would be in a spot where I could call you, and we have conference calls to settle a lot of the questions that you may have. Grove Street: That’s excellent. I’m happy to know about that. What would you say about ghostwriting, and how authors have to be diverse as far as their skillset, when deals or opportunities are slower? How do you manage to navigate the business of writing successfully? Omar: I’m glad you brought up ghostwriting. I just finished a book with the very famous mayor, Marion Barry. Marion Barry was a mayor for sixteen years in DC. He wanted to do his autobiography. I could have done his work for years, but typically I was so busy writing my own fiction books, and I had agents who didn’t want me to do those types of books, but now I finally got the opportunity to do it. We had a guy who was big enough—Marion Barry was definitely worth the while. It’s a very tedious situation where you’re sitting down asking him questions, putting it together, putting it in the right chronology, going back and forth, and then you have to put all of that information together. But you’ve got to remember, I’m a journalist by trade. Grove Street: Right. Omar: So that’s not typical of an author who is just a creative type, being able to put together a book from a journalistic perspective, when you have to ask a million zillion questions, and then put it all in certain formation. That’s a journalism skill that I’ve had for years. I’m not saying that everybody can do those types of books. You have to make sure you have the skills to do those, but I happen to have those skills. Grove Street: That’s wonderful. Is that going to be published later this year? Omar: That’s coming out February 2014. It’s called ‘Marion Barry: The Mayor For Life.’ With that book, they’re going to have a 200,000 print run with hardback copies. Then I have a nice little percentage in that, so that was a glorious situation for me, but it was very tedious work. Marion Barry was getting older in age. He couldn’t sit down for too long. He had a very busy schedule. He had a very old sounding voice where I had to keep listening to the stuff over and over again on the tape. Once we got to the editing part, there was a lot of information that he wanted to clean up; there was a lot he wanted to take out. I could write a book about the whole process of putting together his book, which is going to come out, when we finally start promoting and marketing the book. I can talk all about the process. Grove Street: What would you say about literacy month? How can we get adults and youth to read more? Omar: You’ve got to read more if you want to be a writer. It’s crazy. I had a consultation for this one woman who wanted to put a book out. I don’t know what she did with it at this point. I was consulting all that I could. I’m reading the book, and I’m like, ‘This book doesn’t follow a line of consciousness.’ It
was all over the place. So I asked her, ‘Do you actually read books to see how books are supposed to go?’ She said, ‘No, I really don’t like reading books, I just want to write my own. I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ There are people like that. They don’t want to read books, but they want people to read what they’re writing. I’m thinking, how do you understand how books are put together, how they’re formatted, the love of words, putting together different ideas, paragraphs and sentences and chapters? I’ve been reading books constantly. You know, I read a book a week. I’ve read a couple of hundred books so I could figure out how I could master my technique and how to improve my technique. ‘I like how this book flows. I like how this dude uses words. Wow, I like how this person set up this.’ There are so many things that you can learn. So when that person said they didn’t read a lot, I said, ‘Oh, that’s why this book is all over the place. They don’t understand how to put a book together.’ So no professional writer is going to tell you not to read books. You have to read other books. That’s like a basketball player saying he doesn’t watch other people play ball, or a football player saying he doesn’t watch others play football. That’s ridiculous. You have to watch your trade and understand your trade to master your trade. That means you have to read other people’s work. Grove Street: Right. That’s the second time I heard that lately. That must be a trend going on. As far as the Lionsgate Codeblack Film, can you share about ‘Flyy Girl’ and where things stand? Omar: That’s a long process. I’ve been flying out to Hollywood since 1997. And right now it’s what, 2013? That’s over twenty years that I’ve been flying back and forth out to Hollywood trying to get something happening. And now they’re finally coming around. They say they want to start production by January. So then we’ll have an update for you guys probably in November or December for what we’re doing with production. Right now, all I can say is it’s been a very long time trying to pull this thing together. We’re not done yet. We’re still negotiating back and forth on the script, the characters, who plays what, where it’s going to be shot. It’s just so much that goes on into a film. People have no idea how difficult it really is to put together a film production, but we’re right in the middle of it now. Grove Street: Okay. That’s excellent. Just to close out the business piece, what can you say to people who think it’s easy to write a book, especially since it’s easier now to publish digitally? What is it really like being a professional writer, not just an author who puts out a book here or there? Omar: I just had a conversation with an eighteen-year-old who is going to Howard University. One of my friends is a big mentor. He’d been talking to her. I just happened to be in DC last week. I sat down with her. We were having lunch. She was asking about the writing process. I said as a writer you’re always on. You’re always thinking. I may not write every day, but I’m thinking every day about different ideas and stories. You cannot cut that off as a writer. You have to always be thinking. If you want to be a writer and you want to fill those empty pages with content, you have to have something to fill those pages with. It’s always, ‘what do I know about this subject, and this subject, and this person and this person’? You can’t be a writer and not think about what’s going on around you. You have to be a sponge. You have to get it right. You have to know what’s going on around you with the many subjects that we write about. If you want to be a writer, it’s always going to be about how many things that you know, and how you can convey that in words. Grove Street: What would you say about the sacrifice of being a writer? How do you emotionally balance that and stay centered?
Omar: I can go back to that same student that we were talking to. I told her it’s all about discipline. When you sit down to write, you’ve got to finish what you’re doing. A lot of people say, ‘I got this story.’ Okay, sit down and do it. I’m going to bring up another point of art. If you think about musicians, and as much as they talk about being in the studio, think about how much they’re in there trying to figure out how to make the song go, how many takes is it going to take. They’re going to spend a heck of a lot of time in the studio. People say, ‘Wow, you spend days and weeks?’ I’m trying to get this thing right. So as a writer it’s the same thing. We’re not in the studio. We’re in our little writing lab, or in our office. Wherever you do your writing, you have to lock yourself in there and get the thing done. It’s not going to write itself. It’s always going to be a dude who wants to be a writer and they don’t have discipline. You better pick another daggone trade. Writing is all you. There’s nobody else writing your work. You’re sitting there typing this thing out with your own little fingers. There’s not going to be some type of dictaphone. You have to have that discipline to be a writer if that’s what you want to be. I’ve had that discipline for years. It actually started off with going to movies. I go to the movies all of the time. I call it movie marathons, where I could actually see three and four movies in one sitting. I would go from one theater to the next theater. I had friends that couldn’t watch one movie for two hours. I would go in there for six to eight hours and watch everything. I had that discipline. I had that attention to detail. I had that ability to take on a story in one sitting. If you don’t have that ability, you’ll be in trouble as a writer because you’re going to have to get the details right, and pay attention to what you’re working on. Grove Street: What would you say to people who say I’m going to quit my job to be a writer? Is it reasonable and practical? Omar: Again, if we go back to the music thing: we all have voices, don’t we? Grove Street: Yes. Omar: We all have melodies in our head, don’t we? Grove Street: Yes. Omar: We all think we can carry a tune don’t we? Grove Street: Right. Omar: Can we all be musicians? Grove Street: No. Omar: So, it’s the same idea. You want to write a book? That doesn’t make you a writer. Let the pros do what they do. If you want to be a writer, you have to understand the discipline and the skills of the trade. If you want to come into this field, you have to learn how to do it and become a writer. I ask people a lot, ‘Do you want to write a book, or do you want to become a writer? Those goals are two different things. If you just want to write a book, you can hire a ghostwriter, or you can nail out your own book and it will be all over the place, or it might be a good book. But if you want to be a writer, then you have to learn your trade on a consistent basis, and do the things that real writers do. But if you just want to write a book, singular, then just hire somebody or just hammer that book out however you can. But if you want to do what I do, where you’re writing multiple books, and books every year, and you want people to know you as an author, then you better know what you’re doing. I always advise
people to go back to school, go to a community college, read other books, learn what you’re doing, and then hire me as a consultant. Grove Street: Sounds good. Grove street: Just for the record, will you share some of your awards and accolades? Omar: I’ve won the NAACP Image Award—that’s the biggest one in 2001. Of course, I’ve been a fivetime New York Times best-selling author. I’ve been in ‘Ebony Magazine’ probably eighteen times, then I’ve won The Phillis Wheatley Award up in Harlem, New York at the Harlem Book Festival. I’ve won dozens of individual college awards where individuals acknowledged me for my literature and my ability to put different art together, and different cultural things together for the community. I also won an ESPN Black College Legend Award. That was cool. I went down to Florida. I was there with a whole bunch of football players. We got to see a football game, and they put me in there as a legend because of my ability to write books, and what I’ve been doing for the black community as a book writer, and also me going to an HBCU. Then they had other students there that were from Grambling, Florida A&M, so it was great to be there. Grove Street: What would you say about African-American authors branding themselves as AfricanAmerican authors, or does that matter on an individual basis? I’m wondering how you’ve been able to diversify. I’m thinking you’re moving out of the box with things like ‘The Traveler.’ Omar: When I first started writing, we didn’t have as many books as we have now for the AfricanAmerican public, particularly contemporary books. Most of the books that were out about AfricanAmericans when I started writing in the late eighties were slavery books. Everything was about blacks, slavery and the civil rights movement. I was like, ‘How come we don’t we have regular family books? Why don’t we have books about regular people doing regular, normal things and contemporary books about right now?’ When I started writing I wanted to do that. Then, another writer came out. And another writer came out. Then it was a dozen of us. Then it got to be two dozen. Then it got to be three dozen and four dozen. After a while, we have written so many contemporary books about our culture that it’s been redundant now. It’s like okay, I already did that. You already did that. We need to start looking at other subjects now. Grove Street: Right. Omar: However, the audience—the people who read the books—those are the individuals who continue to want to read the sex stories, the gangster-ghetto girl stories, and the Christian lit. That’s only three genres: sex, crime and Christian. We don’t have science fiction. We don’t have women’s history. We don’t have international. We don’t have comedy. We don’t have satire. We don’t have horror. You know what I mean? Grove Street: Yes. Omar: We don’t have fantasy. We don’t even have children’s books really, because a lot of times with our children’s books, you have to have a famous person to write them, because they’re scared that if you’re not famous you’re not going to get publicity with children’s books. So we don’t have all of these other genres going on, but it’s mainly because of the audience. It’s not the authors, it’s the audience that has to support that type of work as much as we would want them to, and that’s where we are.
Grove Street: How can readers help to change that so there’s more diversity with the types of books that are out there? Omar: With the Ebook thing, I’m about to start writing all types of books. I don’t have to worry about that at all, but for other people to change it, I really don’t know what to tell you. If you’re looking at publishing physical books, and you’re looking at the publishers, the publishers are looking at the dollars. They’re looking at numbers all of the time. They’re going to say, ‘Look, when African-Americans prove that they will buy science fiction and these others books, then we will go ahead and do it. Until then we’re going to keep putting out the books that we make money from.’ So on a national book level, I don’t know how you’re going to change that. On an Ebook level, you can write whatever you want, put it out yourself, and then create your own audience. What I’m about to do with the Ebook thing is perfect. I’m very fortunate enough to be one of the first authors issued on the Ebook Nation, Inc. That’s the new thing that I’m going to start promoting as soon as they’re up and running in September. Ebook Nation, Inc. is going to be the new explosion of works that come out where you can get away from the typical, ‘This is what they read.’ It’s going to be more, ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to read. ‘ This is a hot subject. This is new stuff. We’re all going to rock and roll with it. Just pay attention to that, and we’ll going to see what we can do, but it’s not going to change what the publishers are doing. Grove Street: I guess what you’re saying too is if people really like something that’s different, go out and buy it. Support it with their dollars. Omar: Oh yeah. That’s where it’s at. Here’s the thing though. Even if, let’s say, you’ve got a thousand people listening, say only twenty of them go out to buy science fiction. That’s not a big number. From the publisher’s angle, they’re like, we’ve got ten thousand people on a phone call, and only twenty of them bought it. So they’re looking at it from that perspective. Publishers are like, ‘No, we’re not putting out this. It’s not enough people.’ Grove Street: Right. Omar: If two hundred people went out and bought it, now you’re talking. It’s that old saying: Put your money where your mouth is. The problem is if there’s only you putting your money where your mouth is, it’s not enough people doing it. It won’t make a dent anyway, and so that’s just a hard battle to fight. Grove Street: Tell us again about your websites. Omar: My personal website again is omartyree.com, and I also want to send them to my ‘Traveler’ series. That’s at thetravelerbooks.com. Grove Street: What’s your social media information where people can keep up with you the best? Omar: That’s it. You go to my website. Once we hit November, the Ebook Nation will be up. They have a few of my books that they will feature there, brand new material, including a book called ‘Psychodelic,’ which is about two guys trying to shop their music. So I get to do comedy. And then I have a young adult book called ‘The Sneaker King,’ where I get the chance to write about the sneaker conventions, and the fetish that young guys have with shoes. They’re also going to put out The Traveler series as well with ‘No Turning Back’ and ‘Welcome To Dubai.’ So that’s ebooknation.com. You can look for them in September. Grove Street: If someone’s on Twitter or Facebook, what are you most active on?
Omar: I really love Twitter. I have a Facebook manager. You guys can all tweet me and join my Twitter page @omartyree. I read that all of the time. Grove Street: This has been a privilege and conversation full of excellent information. It’s good to know what you are writing now, because I’ve always been a fan of your work. I still have the first book I ever bought by you. Omar: Thank you. Grove Street: Thank you so much for stopping by. Good luck with the movie and ‘The Traveler’ series. I’m going to check out ‘The Traveler’ series and see what’s going on in Dubai! Omar: Thanks for having me. Spread the word as much as you can. Grove Street: We sure will. Thank you so much.
TASTE OF PRINCE GEORGE’S FOOD & WINE FESTIVAL WAS WELL RECEIVED AT SIX FLAGS
The music was turned up high on a sunny day as toes tapped and hands clapped. Reesa Renee, Marcus Johnson, Black Alley, Bela Dona—an all-female band—and other highly regarded acts graced the main stage on Saturday September 7th, at Six Flags America in Mitchellville. Fun and food are a natural fit. Something tasty was also available for every palate. The Taste of Prince George’s was a day full of food, wine and entertainment. Whether it was Jasper’s crab dip, Proud Mary’s crab cakes, a vegetarian selection purchased from Everlasting Life’s food truck, or a taste of wine poured from one of the vendors, attendees sampled and savored their heart’s edible desires. Jazz artist Marcus Johnson helped attendees to get their FLO on. His booth stayed packed as customers lined up to sip and sample FLO Wine. “Romano Vineyard and Winery is the county’s only wine vineyard,” Jo-Ann Romano informed those who were unaware. Mixologists proved their skills, cooking demos attracted curious onlookers, awards were given, and the people kept coming to support something new in a county that often gets overlooked in terms of where residents choose to shop. A common complaint has been lack of selection. However, The Taste of Prince George’s was a refreshing opportunity for customers to feel like more choices were available. They
could taste new food or spirits, and learn about unfamiliar brands and establishments that are tucked in lesser known cracks and crevices of the county. Jaspers, Wegmans, Buffalo Wild Wings, Everlasting Life, Romano Vineyard & Winery and Flo Wine were just some of the many vendors that participated. Celebrity chef, food, and entertainment writer, Chef Huda was a featured chef. Another worthy of specific mention is Donnell Long, who recently received a proclamation from the Prince George’s County Council for his work with a charitable organization— Whalen’s Creations that benefits foster children in the DC Metro area. Food samples were approximately 2 oz. each. Taste tickets were purchased in advance, or by visiting one of the restaurant partners on event day for $3.00 each or $30.00 for a book of ten. Several patrons remarked that they look forward to the Taste of Prince George’s expanding and improving in the forthcoming year. The general consensus was that the food and wine event was a positive step taken in the right direction. Quinanne Perrin, owner and CEO of FLYCANDY Media, organized the event.
Reesa Renee, R&B musician song writer & lyrical poet
Ro-Burgess of the popular YouTube Series, “The Real Housewives of Benning Road“
Sherry Giovanni, co-owner of the Fish Market Restaurant of Maryland. The Fish Market’s signature dish is rumored to be the baked salmon. “We’re located at 7611 Old Branch Avenue in Clinton, Maryland. We’ve been in business there for seventeen years. We’re a family owned business. My husband has been in business for 35 years, starting with The Fish Market in Alexandria, Virginia, and various restaurants in Norfolk and Virginia. We have entertainment four nights a week. We have our own in-house band. My husband is a drummer, and I sing. We have a great time every night. We have all kinds of family parties. We serve all kinds of food— not just seafood—chicken, beef, we do ribs, shrimp, clams, crabs. You can check us out at www.fishmarketmd.com . This event is Taste of Prince George’s which is supposed to be sampling of restaurants and wineries in Prince George’s County, and maybe surrounding counties as well. I’m involved in this because I am the Vice President of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. I’ve been on the Board of Directors for ten years now. We have quite a few people here that are with the Restaurant Association of Maryland, which tries to support all the restaurants in the state. Today we’re celebrating the ones in Prince George’s County.”
The Cake Artista is located in Edgewater, Maryland, just outside of Annapolis. Sandie Torres, owner, started cooking and baking as a little girl with her sister. She worked in corporate America and thought that she forgot how to cook. Returning to her roots, Ms. Torres stated that she and her sister are baking again. â€œI started making cakes for love,â€? Sandie Torres added.
Romano Wines are currently sold in eight retail locations.
Jo-Ann Romano sharing information.
“We planted the vines in 2007, and opened up as a winery in June 2011. We’re still pretty new on the scene, but we have a nice variety of wines. We should have something that can please just about everyone. We have six varieties of grapes in the ground. We do supplement with wine that we choose from custom growers that grow grapes just for wineries. We try to have a nice mix between what we grow, and then also offer customers a nice variety, such as chardonnay—which is something that we don’t particularly grow, but a lot of our customers enjoy. We thought it was a nice opportunity to showcase our wine, since we are the only winery in Prince George’s County. We are in the process of opening up our tasting room, although we do open house style tastings. Right now, we’re open the second and third Saturday each month, noon to five. Folks are welcome to come in those days and sample wine. They can sit out on the porch in the rocking chair and just take in the peace.” Website: www.romanowinery.com Twitter: @romanowinery
Health Expert and Restaurateur, Dr. Baruch Ben-Yehudah pictured with his vegan food truck. “In Prince George’s County, the availability of healthy food has all but disappeared, except for a couple of us. Everlasting Life has been in the county for thirteen years, in its present location. We started actually eighteen years ago in the county. Our goal has been to provide a viable food source to communities that were underserved. We also provide education so that people can understand the relationship between healthy diet and healthy bodies, and unhealthy diet, and how that impacts the balance and well-being of the body. Our motivation is to do it healthy, make it taste great, and watch people overcome health challenges, which we see every day. Everlasting Life serves plant-based food. It’s all healthy and it has a Southern taste to it. It tastes great. Website: www.everlastinglife.net
Location: Capitol Heights, MD
MARCUS JOHNSON’S FLO WINE Grove Street: I wanted to invite another very special guest. I was able to catch up with him. I’ll let him tell you who he is. Marcus: Hey, you all. This is Marcus Johnson, jazz pianist , CEO of FLO Wine and co-founder. Glad to be with you here today. Grove Street: Thank you. Just to refresh people’s memory that might not be in the DMV, can you tell us a little about your music brand Three Keys Music, and how you got started in the music industry before FL0 Wine? Marcus: No problem. I started my music career a long time ago, probably a year after I started playing about age fourteen or fifteen in the DC area. I continued through to college and put out my first two CDs when I was in law school. I realized that I had a real chance at this thing and decided to pursue it and start a record label, once I graduated from my program. I had fun with it and got my company funded with some support—a lot of support—from Bob Johnson of BET. We built a recording facility in DC and got the label started. We were able to produce a bunch of people. Bobby Lyle, Michael Lington, Alyson Williams and people like that. From there, the music industry really started changing. I had put out about twelve CDs of my own, and decided to extend into a couple of other areas. The first of which was the lifestyle series that I did under the new company FLO brand. FLO is an acronym that means ‘For The Love Of.’ Then things changed even further. I decided to make the move into wine as a complimentary product to the music and the whole concept of an idea of making a situation better—taking someone’s lifestyle experience and making it better. So we’re a lifestyle enhancement company. Grove Street: That is excellent. I can vouch for that, being an author, how the entertainment industry can be up and down. I like that you’ve extended your brand. Is it correct that you launched FLO Wine in 2012? Marcus: We launched FLO Wine actually in 2010. It was a project that I did along with a Virginia winery in Leesburg. I was working with a gentleman by the name of Rob Piziali, who at the time was the head of sales. We took the private label and basically put on a logo on two of their more successful wines. It went so well that we had to figure out a way to scale up. One of the issues with Virginia wine is not the quality. It’s actually the idea that the size vineyards, and how they produce, and the lack of supply chain infrastructure creates a barrier for production. Essentially, you have thirty-dollar bottles of Virginia wine that are going up against thirty-dollar bottles of Napa, Temecula, Washington state types of wine. There is a difference with that. We put a business plan together, went out to California, and were able to secure a production agreement. Now we are with a winery in St. Helena in Napa. We literally source our grapes from all around California and the world. Grove Street: That’s a great story, so you have a background—correct—in business, law, and music. Were you ever intimidated to join up in this venture? The wine industry can be really complicated, but you’re doing well.
Marcus: You know, I think we’ve been blessed by my fans. We have the music and the wine component. As you saw the other day at The Taste of Prince George’s, you saw me there pretty much the entire day. I left there to go to another signing and to perform at the Silver Spring Jazz Festival. You have a CEO that’s a brand ambassador that’s willing to work. Grove Street: Right. Marcus: That helps, and the fact that I do have a business background. I don’t think that it’s that I’m intimidated. It’s not the word. I’m rarely intimidated, but I do respect the immense amount of work and the organization and support needed to have a successful venture. When I put it up against the complexities in the level of competition to become successful in the music industry, I thought to myself, well, there are something like 20,000 new releases every week in music. I figured that going up against the other ten thousand wine brands, I have a little bit more of a chance. At the height of the music industry, I think that there may have been maybe 7,000 outlets that actually sold music around the country. You had record stores. They were highly discreet at different places. You had Barnes and Noble and Tower. Maybe an FYE or Sam Goody that you could go to. Now, when you look at wine, physical wine and not online, you have over 300,000 outlets in the United States, so again there’s a larger pond to go fishing in. If you have a good product, you can hook a couple of big ones. Grove Street: What’s the price point of your wines? Marcus: It’s about $10.99 in retail. Grove Street: Is this available pretty much in the local area in the DMV, or is it beyond that? Marcus: We’re in 13 states from California to Minnesota and Illinois, down to places like Nevada, Florida, all the way up to Washington and Maryland. We just entered the New York market. Grove Street: Oh, great. If someone wanted to follow up, where could they track where it’s available? Marcus: The best place to go is to Flobrands.com. However, if you really want to know, it’s just a matter of asking. For Facebook, if you go to Flobrands.com, it will take you to our Like page. We check that multiple times a day to see what’s going on. There are nice postings and pairings. It’s a great resource. Then the other thing, because of our level of distribution, we have distributors like Virginia Imports. We have distribution at retail outlets, and the wine and spirits have distribution. They are our distributor. They’re the largest distributor in the country, so it’s a matter of you let us know where you’d like us. A particular wine and spirits store can definitely order it. Grove Street: Great. For the book club members that might be reading this, or the people who want to relax, Friday or Saturday with a nice glass of wine, which one would you recommend with a favorite book? Marcus: You know, to tell you the truth, I think that there are a couple of different ways that you can go about that one. I think that if you’re an entrepreneur, and you’re reading on a Friday night, I would go with the Chardonnay or Blue Ocean strategies, and one of my favorite strategic books, ‘Think And Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill. Chardonnay would go pretty well for the weekend. If it’s a Thursday night, and you need something to kind of cool you down, I would go with ‘The Book of Awakening’ with our red blend. I think that kind of mellows you out both in body and mind. A couple of good books: ‘There’s A
Spiritual Solution To Every Problem’ and ‘The Art of Power’ by Thich Nhat Hanh. And then finally, you can always never go wrong Friday night with the Moscato. Grove Street: You know your books, your wine and your music! Excellent recommendations. If people want to keep up with you, your wine tastings, or any of your events, would they go to Flobrands.com or some place on social media? Marcus: We are connected. When you hit something, I see it within minutes on my phone. If you hit us @flowines at Twitter, we’ll get that right away and let you know what’s going on. Flobrands.com has a way for you to reach out to us as well. If you can’t get it in certain states, we ship to thirty-eight states. Grove Street: Great. Thank you so much for your time. We’re going to share this with readers. We look forward to hearing more about your musical projects as well while sipping on some good FLO Wine. Marcus: That sounds awesome.
AN EFFECTIVE, POWERFUL MARKETING TOOL FOR TODAY'S AUTHOR ‘The Author's Guide to Working with Book Bloggers,’ by Barb Drozdowich, is a time saving book marketing tool and idea generator. It also offers a dash of digital sophistication that is much needed by today's author who wants to connect with readers and bloggers. In an era when digital publishing has become an important part of the publishing landscape, digital marketing is an activity that's a part of house rules, too. Twelve chapters, plus Appendix Survey Results and Analysis, lend credibility to the assertion that bloggers have become critical connectors and audience influencers, even in the literary world. The author illustrates why and how, by offering examples and citing relevant sources. Drozdowich's book is an instructive yet easy read. It levels the playing field by providing up-to-date information for aspiring or new authors to digitally compete with veteran ones, but also allows seasoned authors to extract key tips to build stronger online relationships with book bloggers. Time consuming research has already been done. This perk should be a relief to most authors who have little time or energy left to search for book marketing information. As the founder of a popular book blog, and author consultant, Ms. Drozdowich's reference points aren't strained. Supposition rarely enters the equation in The Author's Guide to Working with Book Bloggers. Drozdowich cleverly enlisted the help of 215 book bloggers. Their opinions regarding their communication likes and dislikes, how to maximize their ability to help authors at no charge, query etiquette, how to locate an appropriate book blogger by genre preference, and other related topics are also included in the book. Integration of a survey makes the guide makes feel unique and comprehensive in presentation. I rate Ms. Drozdowich's debut title as a must have reference tool for aspiring or published authors who seek new and improved book marketing ideas. Even if some of the information is somewhat familiar, the average reader would certainly learn something more to add to his or her book promotion savvy, enabling most authors to get ahead in the race of understanding how to get noticed by online influencers. ★★★★★
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