INTERVIEWWITH4
Ajamu Jumal author of Spiritual Shackles

 
What was your inspiration for writing Spiritual Shackles?
I had a history I wanted to tell, a history book that folks would gossip about in the beauty parlor and barber shops, not a book filed away on some dusty shelf. So my inspiration to write this novel was to set a peoples history down on paper so as not to be forgotten.
 
How did you develop the idea into a full - length story?
To make sure the history got good word of mouth, the secret ingredient was to mix in exciting, intriguing and believable characters. The fictional characters intertwine with the history to the full-length, episodic story.
 
Tell us about your book
Exploding out of dramatic images of unexplained church fires, Shackles is etched deep in the faces of its players; from maids, chauffeurs and preachers, to Panthers, Muslims and Black Nationalist. The story is riveted with real events from Juneteenth and Black pride rallies to city riots and spiritual conversions. Spiritual Shackles also blends music, dance and foods with suspenseful storytelling as it stalks urban churches, beauty parlors, barbershops, and nightclubs; but can just as suddenly disappear into rugged mountains, steep canyons, and tropical rain forests.
 
Spiritual Shackles rides the energy of an extraordinary foster-home family. This episodic story moves through the lives of five children as they grow from infancy into adults; children who by coincidence or destiny, are brought together in the home of reclusive, yet beautifully mysterious woman that cherishes African spiritual beliefs. With these beliefs imparted, these "divine children" move on to become avant-garde players during turbulent times, challenging established attitudes and the status quo, questioning everything, including bedrock religious beliefs. This journey through conflicting ideas intertwines smoothly with a suspenseful love affair that is richly anchored in ancient African lore.
 
And it is the agony and bliss of love that weaves the interlocking pieces of Shackles together, a love affair that raises above all other intrigue as it hopscotch's generations and unfolds in a tragic destiny. Spiritual Shackles strips naked the soul and emotions of a people like never before.
 
Tell us how long you've been writing and what made you get into the literary field
I've been writing history pieces since back-in-the-day and some even published in newspapers and magazines, all nonfiction writing. My masters thesis, Lack of African-American Males In High School College Preparatory Classrooms was published in 1991. There was no conscious decision to get in the literary field, that's just where I find myself at this date and time.
 
How do you, as a writer, find your way into the story?  Do you use an outline or let the story unfold naturally?
No outline, it just unfolded. My characters had minds of their own and took the story into directions I'd not planned. The most I could do was hang-on and try guiding them my finish.
 
Where do you get your ideas?  How do you know you have a good tale to tell worthy of becoming a novel?
The story ideas in Shackles come from my travels and peoples I've had the pleasure, well mostly pleasure, to have known over the years. I 've been fortunate to have seen a lot of funny stuff and also sad stuff. I told my stories at parties, in living rooms and at kitchen tables to good reviews before working them into a historical novel.
 
How many hours a week do you devote to writing, including research?
I wrote Spiritual Shackles over the span of about four months every year for six years.  Since being a high school teacher/administrator at the time I was writing Shackles, I didn't have energy to write during the school year after dealing with the kids all day, so the writing took place during the summer recess and holiday breaks. The research was ongoing all year.
 
How do you keep a balance between family, work and writing?
What ever worked.
 
What literary organizations or writers groups would you recommend to writers in your genre?
I don't belong to any so I don't have a clue.
 
From your experience, what key ingredients do new writers need to succeed in the book industry?
If I knew the answer to this question, I'd have a literary agent and a publishing contract.
 
Have you ever experienced writer's block, and if so, how did you deal with it so you could begin to write again?
Writers block, not really, got sleepy sometimes.  My characters had a life of their own and kept me jumping' and hopping' all over the place. I woke-up sitting in front of the computer several times!
 
Are you devoted to your genre or do you see yourself writing in another genre at some point in the future?
I would say that I'm devoted to historical fiction.
 
Are you working on new material?
If so, please tell us about what you are currently working on and when we can expect to see it on the market?
Right now, it's in the thinking about process, but I can feel another book taking form.
 
Getting a book published is the start. To have a long career as a full time writer, you need to move your books. Tell us about 2-3 effective ways you have found to get the word out about your book.
Book club readings has been my best way of getting the word out. As the author, you are the best, many times the only, salesperson hustling your book, so try every mode possible until you find the ones that work for you.
 
Do you have any appearances planned?
Yes, and if I'm asked to come and there's a road to get me there, I'll be appearing.
 
What would you like to see happen in your writing career 5-10 years from now?
Everybody talkin' 'bout me.
 
Who are some of your favorite writers and what is it about their work you most admire?
David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident
Toni Morrison, Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved
Terry Macmillan, Waiting To Exhale
Richard Wright, Native Son
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, body of poetic works John G. Jackson, Man, God, and Civilization, African Origins of the Christian 
Myth Herodotus, The Histories Alex Haley, Autobiography of MalcolmX
They are all excellent storytellers!
 
Do you have any appearances planned?
As many as I can get.
 
How can others reach you?
okeyojumal@aol.com
 
What last words of encouragement or advice would you like to leave with our subscribers?
Get a copy of Spiritual Shackles, and enjoy the ride!
 
 

 

 
interview by Margie Shivers