James W. Lewis
JAMES W. LEWIS is a novelist and freelance writer published in several books that include Zane’s Caramel Flava, Chicken Soup for the Soul (two series), Gumbo for the Soul, Truth Be Told: Tales of Life, Love and Drama and Don’t Forget your Pepper Spray. Magazine credits include 3AM Magazine, Eyeshot, Dare Magazine, Naptural Roots Magazine, Lucrezia Magazine, Circle Magazine, Rundu Bedtime Stories and the fitness magazine AFAA. His debut novel Sellout launched in July 2010. After spending twenty years in the Navy, James retired from active duty and started his studies in Kinesiology. In addition to writing, he loves to DJ and has a collection of over 300 vinyl records.
He also does extensive volunteer work at a local veterans assistance center and Boys & Girls Club.
My “birth write” started with me doing the usual as a pre-teen–getting in trouble. As punishment, my mother sentenced me to house confinement. Not only that, she decided to try something different: She made me write a story every night for a week. I was like, “what ‘chu talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”Well, they don’t say, “Moms know best” for nothing. I had no idea this unique form of torture would plant a passion in me that refuses to fade, even now as a grown-ass man. Initially, I didn’t use my newfound “penmanship” to become a full-blown writer, though. Oh, no. I became what every young man wanted to be back in da high-top fade 80’s–a rapper. MC Juicy J was born!I figured I had the “juice” to bust rhymes (we don’t say “juice” anymore; we use “swag” today). I also convinced myself my rhymes were so juicy my name should reflect my skills! The name Juicy J was perfect! And with my fellow partners-in-rhyme MC Dazzy D and DJ RMC, we became…who else? The Three Bad Rockers. Fresh new Pumas, fat shoelaces and bomber jackets sealed the deal for rap super stardom.We sounded pretty good, considering our hand-me-down equipment and my–and I’ve finally came to terms with this–third-grade lyrical flow. But I give props to our adolescent creativity. Of course, my rap star delusion ended shortly after I graduated from high school. Then I joined the Navy–and the pen stopped. I didn’t write anything creative for the next ten years.
The Internet brought the pen back.
I found a site called Timbooktu.com, a forum where aspiring writers can post short stories and poetry. I became a frequent visitor, reading all the stories. The more I read, the more my juices stirred. No, not the juices that birthed MC Juicy J (thankfully), but the kind that made me a writer again–just like that little boy who slaved at the kitchen table almost twenty years before.
I wrote a story and posted it online. Of course, I was all proud and stuff; even told my Mom about it. Then something unusual and completely unexpected happened: I received feedback. The day after posting my story, three people emailed to say they really liked it. Let me tell you, nothing feels better than when someone enjoys your work. I was in demand!
So I wrote another story called “Educating the Ignorant” and found other places to publish it online. The floodgates opened shortly after. I received emails not only from people in this country, but from I’d-only-seen-on-a-map places like Britain, South Africa, and Australia. International demand! I was hooked!
I kept writing stories and eventually personal essays and articles. I immersed myself in the craft and business of writing. I even attended writer conferences and joined writer groups. Gradually, I built a nice list of publication credits, ones I could proudly write on query letters to editors.
Then I wrote another short story that got even more attention. I wrote it from a woman’s point of view. It had adult content, so I pitched it to an editor at an erotica site. The editor loved it and posted it online.
Man! A Tsunami effect of feedback followed. I received an average of two emails a day for at least four months, all of them praising my story with words like “extremely funny,” “best short story I ever read” and “gifted.” Beautiful thing. Time to look past molehills and climb mountains, so I started a novel
I finished the novel in 2002. Prouder than a father with the last name Manning, I fantasized of big-time author riches. For seven years I tried the traditional route to the published land. I sent queries, got an agent, lost same agent, found another one. I’d told myself if I didn’t have a book deal by my military retirement in September 2009, I’d give self-publishing a shot.
Well retirement rolled around and a no book deal. Just countless rejections. I kept my pledge, so I decided to tackle self-publishing. I wasn’t sure how, but luckily, my fellow pillars of Pantheon helped blaze the path. We each have unique strengths and the drive vital to making it happen. No egos, no power trips, no lead singer in this group. Just three writers sharing ideas and helping each other fortify their dreams.
With my partners riding this road beside me, I don’t plan on jumping off anytime soon. Unless…the Rap Gods come calling again. Hmmm…maybe Steph and Omar will help me cut an album? The title could be Guess Who’s Bizack: The Original SwagMaster MC Juicy J, maybe?
Naw. I’ll just stick with books and leave Juicy J in the shower. Nobody raps better in there.