Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Week Four at the Twinja round table- Among The Veils author Bret Alexander Sweet

So one day we at Twinja Book Reviews got to thinking. Hmmm...there are so many books featuring a multitudes of diverse characters, why is it so hard to find writers who openly create stories that reflect the world we live in right now? It wasn't long that an author by the name of Bret Alexander Sweet wrote to us about his book, and how it'd be perfect to review on our blog. We researched his book, including all of his social network outlets, and the author himself. Have to say, he wasn't kidding. Not only is his book intelligently written, the amounts of characters he includes are so many different races, religions, ethnicities, we wondered how he fit that all into one book! Without further ado, we'd love to introduce everyone to Bret Alexander Sweet, author of "Among The Veils."

1. So Bret why don't you spend the next few minutes telling about yourself and don't leave anything out!

My name is Bret Alexander Sweet. I am a product of Northern California, as I was raised between the San Francisco Bay Area and the state's capital, Sacramento. My parent's were innovators in terms of social justice and civil rights which shaped a lot of my ambitions toward trying to add on to their work and legacy. I fell in love with hip hop and thought that would be my way to contribute. I started my own record label in high school and was the first person to sell downloadable music through a website when I was 19. I am passionate about breaking the rules around us that limit people and keep them from improving the quality of life. I am also terrible at talking about myself so please let me know what I am leaving out.  

2. You mentioned before to us that you're Bi-racial, how does your multi-racial background contribute to both your life and to your writing?
I am a Northern California Highland Silverback Mulatto. I remember the first time I heard the word, I was being put on the curb by some police officers. They separated us by race as they spoke through their walkie talkies reporting back. White male, blah, blah, blah. Black male, blah, blah. Then they came to me. Mulatto male, age 12, height four feet....It confirmed a suspicion I had been working on for years; I was seen as both and neither....but mostly neither. I was born around a time when interracial marriages were illegal so I hold on to the term as a way of paying homage to the progress we have made. Part of the mulatto experience is a culture of exclusion where you are constantly reminded that you do not belong to a particular group. The other part, that I find magical, is you get a perspective on similarities. Some times, folks cannot see the forest for the trees. I personally live in the place between the macro and micro. I deeply enjoy finding the places that people connect. A lot of that has come from my struggles and triumphs as the son of a black man and a white woman. In terms of writing, the Tragic Mulatto myth, was the equivalent of reality television in the decades following the Civil War. I absolutely love turning the stereotypes on their head. I'm not into passing, schucking, or mantanning. The world is not a monolithic place nor are my friends. There for when I write, it has to be representative of the world I know where people are diverse. I don't live in white america or black america or Latin America or what not. I live in the America where my friends parents speak Catonese, Spanish, English, C+ and we are all one family. This inspires me to uncover where we all connect with my writing, not where we divide.
3. How have the books you've read in the past inspire you to sit down and write your own novel?
Great question. One huge influence on my writing was Tolkien. He essentially sampled stories from Norse and Celtic myth, blended it with biblical tales and created his own world. Exceptionally mature themes but the main characters are basically children. Always thought that was cool. Secondly, I love Roger Zealzny. Hands down, the man is deadly with his words. You cannot front on his writing and it is a shame he is not mentioned as a great American writer simply because he does fantasy and science fiction. Roger Zealzny is no joke. His Amber series alone is the freshest book series of all time. He can drive a story on dialogue alone but his mastery of landscapes taught me to think about story telling completing different. Don't take my word for it though. Ask Neil Gaiman, ask Steve Perry (RIP). Roger Zealzny is the grand master of the science fiction and fantasy genre. I also love Andrew Vacchss. He writes for survivors without pulling a single punch. He can show you a side of NY in a chapter that will both disgust you and push you ask what you can do to improve the world. Finally, Octavia Butler. How could you not love Octavia? She does what Toni Morrison does with telling family tales but tells you from jump: I am a black woman creating my own universe where characters are black and they know it. She pulled no punches and I love her unapologetic style. I always wanted to write something but if I couldn't put it on the shelf next to the greats I just mentioned, I wasn't willing to do it. Aim for the stars and land on the moon.
4. Which came first your compelling story or your interesting characters?
The story and the characters came together actually. I knew the outline of the story arc I wanted to tell. The first two characters I was clear on was Clay and Wallace. As archetypes, their relationship is one of the key aspects of the book series. It's pretty cliche to me to tell the story of the long prophesied hero who rises to power and saves the day. I didn't want to tell that story. I wanted to tell the story of the hero's right hand man. The guy behind the scenes. It's like with a magic trick. The prestige is for the guy on the stage but the reality is its the people who design the tricks who actually made the magic happen. I was very clear about this relationship between an older male and younger male of color, mentorship and what happens as both parties evolve with age.
5. You main character Clay is also multi-racial, is he a reflection of you? Or was he inspired by the lack of multi-racial protagonists you don't read about in Fantasy themed novels?
Clay is certainly multi-racial, even more so than I am. I wouldn't call Clay a reflection, probably the reverse. I am probably a reflection of Clay. He is far smarter, more capable, impatient and in touch with himself than I am. I make it look good but I stumble through life discovering (lol). Clay is a composite of several powerful people who I admire from afar and up close. His primary inspiration was his archetype. In every hood, there is a very smart cat, who we know makes too much money or has too much career options to be riding the bus. Regardless he does. We all know him. I wanted to dig into his or her story a bit. Who is this clever person? Ya know? LOL. What if Briar Rabbit lived in modern America and knew magic. What would that feel like? Part of writing Clay was a direct challenge to status quo to say I am sick of these corny ass stories, with corny ass plots, and corny ass characters summed up by a lack of anyone main characters that are representative of the world we live in now. We all know the Star Trek joke about the black guy is the first to die on the planet (Sisko/Worf being exceptions), or the black guy who drives the ship or the black guy who is the superheroes caddy. I'm so over that crap. It's a new day. Clay is designed to beat up the lack of multi-racial protagonists.
6. At what exact moment did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I was five. I finished re-reading the Hobbit and my mother threw me a Star Wars read along book. I was unsatisfied with the ending. My mother suggested I write my own. So I did and when it was done it was the best feeling ever. I worked the next 25 years toward finding my own ideas to write on. I am lucky enough to know what my talents are on this planet: relating to young people and putting a pen to paper. One thing I learned through my journey is don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. Nobody is going to put you on and say "ding! you are a writer". I had to test my writing in multiple forms: songs, poems, stories, business plans, research papers, press releases and product reviews. Theres a theory that 10,000 hours at anything can make you a master. I made sure I did triple that before I looked in the mirror and said "you are a writer".
7. What were you hoping to accomplish as a story teller?
As a story teller, first and foremost, I want to connect people. I want to remove the illusion of isolation. I aim to create communities and bring people together around the idea "we belong to one another". Secondly, I want people to learn something they believed was out of their reach before. My father always loved the story of the Trojan Horse and it is a good example of how the mind works. People put up filters when they decide they can't. The best way to teach is to sneak ideas into their head, that way the reader can't decide they are too stupid to learn.
8. Let's imagine the movie rights to your book have been bought! Quick tell us who you would cast as your top 6 main characters!
Mwahahaha. This question keeps coming up. I guess it is because the readers claim Among The Veils reads like a movie, which I believe is a compliment right? Also the movie offers have started so the conversation is familiar.
Clay = Terrance Howard Xochi = Seychelle Gabriel Wallace = Michael B. Jordan
Harrison = Avery Brooks Constandina = Nina Visitor Djeuti = Denzel Washington

I got the other characters cast but I don't want to give anything anyway for folks who haven't read yet.
9. What do you find to be the most challenging when it comes to writing a book?
To me, there are two things that are absolutely near impossible and they both involve production. The first is reading over your book, knowing what you have done, sewing all the arcs together, intentionally defying convention/cliches and making sure the reader who doesn't live in your head still gets it. It's incredibly difficult to go into the process knowing you want to steer clear of the typical and still craft something that the readers can buy into. There was a time when folks just didn't get Google's GMAIL or Android. Now look at Windows 8 and iOS7...they look like Android! Even when you serve some one a great meal of cuisine they have never had before, you need to make sure the table placement is familiar. The second challenge is/was going to print. Let me say for the record, I had two lovely editors Leslie and Art. They both worked their asses off. We went over the manuscript together more than a 100 times. We submitted our changes, time and time again. At the end of the day, the printer controls what ends up on the page. We essentially got this passive aggressive message back asking if we wanted the book out or the book right. It was beyond exasperating to submit corrections, knowing they are printing your book incorrectly and realizing you don't have the stroke yet to get things right the first time. The old Bret would have jumped on a plane, went directly to the layout/printer and go in their face. That would have lead to a correctly printed book that never got printed. Therefore readers, if you see typos, realize we did our job to prevent it and didn't have the power to make corrections stick. Hate on CreateSpace for it. I bet you with the next book, we won't have any of these problems. The challenge is to look at the long game and realize your quality of service is dependent on your profile. It's like being told you will be paid less because you went to a Cal State rather than a UC, irregardless of how capable or intelligent you are. I've been the underdog my whole life. Sleep on me now. When it comes back around and I'm on top, I will remind you of what you did (lol). Patience is always going to be a challenge for people who don't want to be punked.
10. Where can potential readers read up about you and keep updated with future projects?
Check out the site: www.paperthrones.com
There is a blog, fb page, twitter, tumblr, instagram and pinterest. We've got a pretty good team of folks documenting what I am up to, to the extent I let them share it. Sign up, subscribe, follow. The team is working it's butt of to tell you what I am up to. Speaking of which, shout to the Twinja homies Libertad and Guenever, who have been incredible about spreading the word about what I am trying to do.
Folks can always hit me at author@paperthrones.com

Bret Alexander Sweet in the flesh!

Get your chance to win Bret Alexander Sweet's debut novel "Among The Veils!" 

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  1. Awesome interview! I agree that making sure that we're on the same frequency with our readers is extremely difficult.

    That's why I have a minimum of six crit partners helping me. :-)

  2. This was a very interesting interview! Also very insight, when it comes to his thoughts on this subject! Thank you for sharing.

    By the way, I nominated you for a Liebster award!

  3. Outstanding interview. You weren't kidding when you described his writing as intelligent. Forthright would be another word I'd choose.

  4. Great interview. Thanks for introducing us to this intriguing author and his novel, Among The Veils–which is now on my "Want To Read" list.


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