Yusuf – I’m originally from a town not too far outside of Philadelphia, PA. My wife and I currently reside in Northern Virginia.
2. Tell us your latest news?
Zoe – We started our own publishing company, Man Up Publications after the first three Blood of My Brother novels were released. We’ve just released our fifth book Legend of Billy D: The Awakening of a Don and the sixth, titled The Definition of a Man will be coming out this summer. There are several projects that we have coming out over the next year which we are excited to bring to our readers. They have been patiently awaiting and we do not want them to wait any longer!
3. When and why did you begin writing?
Yusuf – I started writing when I was 12 but that was raps that I would create after I would sneak up to the projects and listen to the OG’s rhyme. As far as novels go, for me it was the lies I would continue to read in some books about the street life, the game, whatever name people want to tag to it, that made me want to write and do it from the heart, giving people that raw uncut to the oils like it was back in ‘88.
At the time I began writing, I was on trial with the feds facing life, for not a dream, but the reality in my mind at the time that I was going to make it out of the ghetto, rock by rock or brick by brick and I wasn’t a construction worker! I knew the difference and the consequences of my actions because I had someone that took the time to school me, but many of these cats didn’t and they were getting in the game receiving a hundred years and telling on everyone they knew, even their mothers at time. The Blood of my Brother became that someone to them.
Zoe – I have written from when I was pretty young, however the Blood of My Brother was the official beginning. That is the full length real deal there. The reason behind my wanting to be a part of our first project is because of my husband; this was a story that began from his way of life that led him to prison. The creativity that we collaborated on to develop that series was amazing but the reality from which is spawned is extremely deep. Reaching out to people through literature has been a blessing. It’s wonderful to hear just how much people enjoy our stories and how many of them share our books with their loved ones that are incarcerated also. We receive countless messages and letters from inmates, some of whom have walked paths similar to my husband and it took them facing many years in prison and being taken away from their families to finally wake up and want to change their lives. Our novels have entertained some and gave others hope. We’re grateful for each and every one of our supporters.
4. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Yusuf – I still don’t at times. My wife Zoe has to remind me because to me, I’m just Yusuf, a man with many titles and a lot on my heart and mind, who’s trying to make it in this cold world.
Zoe – I first considered myself a writer after a book signing that I did for our first novel. The realization of this new identity didn’t hit until that point. I was new in the industry, still learning so much and attended this particular signing alone. I didn’t know that the person hosting the signing had arranged for a special guest to come and meet with me. This happened to be a young girl who was maybe 13 or 14 years old. Her mother was in her words, “in love with our story,” and wanted to have her daughter speak with the author because she wanted to be a writer too. I must have talked with her for close to a half an hour as she sat next to me while I signed books. It was a great feeling and I hope that I inspired her to reach for any dream that she has of being a writer because it truly is a gift and indescribable experience.
5. What inspired you to write your first book?
Yusuf – Once urban books hit the streets, it became a phenomenon to many youth and somewhat taking the place of school books because they could relate to it more. However many of them were also trying to imitate what they read, just as they sometimes do with movies and music but they weren’t getting both sides within those stories. So my inspiration came from wanting to reveal what’s really happening and what a person’s life can truly end up like. I’ve witnessed it, been through more than I could write about and thankfully made it through eleven years in the Feds, back home to my family, a new career, and with a much better and wiser outlook on life.
6. Do you have a specific writing style?
Yusuf – Mostly reality.
Zoe – I wouldn’t say I have a specific way of writing. I just have to be fully into whatever I’m writing about. I’m not one of those people who can throw something together that has no substance…I have to love what I’m writing.
7. How did you come up with the title?
Yusuf – The characters in the Blood of My Brother series are some of the strongest that I have ever read in a fiction story. It was only right that the man who started it all be called nothing but a Legend.
8. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yusuf – There’s always a message in our novels, sometimes multiple messages because some of the situations in our books have happened, they’re realistic scenarios with possible outcomes. Each person that reads it may take away something different. We always appreciate hearing someone tell us that something in our story was relatable and enjoyable. That’s what we work hard for.
9. How much of the book is realistic?
Yusuf – If I say that the feds maybe at my door.
11. What books have most influenced your life most?
Yusuf – Qur’an
Zoe – The Holy Bible
12. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Yusuf – Guy Johnson.
Zoe – Maya Angelou because it seems as though she carries herself so respectably in everything she does. She respects her craft and it shows in her work.
Yusuf – Fly Betty
14. Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Yusuf – Treasure Blue, even though he has been around for longer than myself it is like he reinvents himself with each book.
15. What are your current projects? We have The Definition of a Man coming up very soon, Summer 2013. Aside from that there is another of our novels titled The Victory of the Mind that is in the works.
16. Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Yusuf – Inmates from various prisons.
17. Do you see writing as a career?
Yusuf – Yes and I love what I do.
Zoe – I do see it as writing career. It is one that we have built for ourselves and through the support of our readers we continue to work to bring them what they love. This is one career that enables us to use our creativity without boundaries, travel to new places, meet our readers and challenge ourselves each time we write something new.
18. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yusuf – No.
Zoe – There is nothing that I would change.
19. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Yusuf – My interest began when I was serving time in federal prison. I was determined to reach out to young readers and adults alike to let them know that the “game” really wasn’t a game…this was real life. The reality and the consequences were something that I wanted to make sure were evident and unmistakable in our stories. So as we built around some experiences and found out how big of an impact we were making, it became more clear that one person’s pain can be enough to prevent someone else from ending up in that same situation. It can also take a person’s mind off of their troubles or show them that they are not the only one going through certain situations. The great thing about writing is that developing a story can mean the difference in someone’s life, regardless of the genre.
Zoe – I recall writing my first short story when I was a teenager. I did so during a class I was taking and received great feedback from my teacher. I had no idea at the time that I would write in the future as a career or otherwise but between poetry and short stories, it was more of a hobby, something that allowed me to step away from any troubles and simply express myself. It wasn’t until our first novel, Blood of My Brother came about that it really hit me that something that we create which is of personal interest to us could touch so many people, that it could entertain and also open eyes to tough lessons. The idea of our first novel I give full credit to my husband for launching. Without him and his willingness to share his experiences, things that have made him the man he is today, we would not be where we are and I know that for sure. I have to say that he is my personal inspiration and aside from loving what I do, he is one of the main reasons that I write.
21. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yusuf – There’s always a challenge when you’re trying to out due yourself. As humans, we’re often our own hardest critics.
Zoe – I agree with my husband’s statement. Trying to be even better than the last great work you composed is a challenge at times however our focus and faith take us a very long way and that’s how we are able to collaborate so well.
22. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Yusuf – Guy Johnson by far and it’s the way that he writes without fear.
Zoe – Stephen King and what strikes me is that he thinks outside of the box, some would probably agree that he does so further than most people…that’s the type of story teller I like.
23. Do you travel much promoting your book(s)?
Yusuf – Yes, I try to make it anywhere that my fans would have me.
Zoe – Our latest novel concept was created by us both and designed by our in-house designer at Man Up Publications.
25. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Zoe – Actually, there was not much difficulty in writing Legend of Billy D. Like most times when we begin writing a new story, we have an idea of where we want to take the story, we allow our creative minds to go to work let it flow from one line to the next until it’s completed. With each book that we write, the process is a little different. We’re about to release our sixth novel in a few months and I think that what we’ve done so far has worked well for us so we will continue with the great support we have from those who read our novels, our friends, family, bookstores, and book clubs.
26. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Yusuf – To just write what you feel, it has to come from the heart even though everyone may not get it. Staying true to what you know is great and what you’re comfortable with is important. I remember we were asked to rewrite our second book (laughs)…yet it’s arguably one of our best novels from what we’ve heard from our readers.
27. Do you have any advice for other writers?
Zoe – If writing is genuinely your passion, do whatever it takes to make that dream come to fruition. Research, network, and if you’re spiritual or religious, pray as well. After that, research some more because you can never do enough of that in this industry. It is a tough process that requires a lot of focus, patience, and persistence.
28. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? Thank you! You make what we do possible and we hear your feedback, love your support and will continue to do our best and be greater with time.
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