The Interview: Bookbag Talks To A R Yoba

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To A R Yoba


Summary: They Call Me... Montey Greene is a exciting crime crossing Italy and France and ending up back in the USA. We managed to catch Abdul as he popped into Bookbag Towers - and we had a few questions for him.
Date: 26 November 2012
Interviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy

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They Call Me... Montey Greene is a exciting crime crossing Italy and France and ending up back in the USA. We managed to catch Abdul as he popped into Bookbag Towers - and we had a few questions for him.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

A R Yoba: Little old white women. I know it sounds crazy, but when I sat down to write Montey Greene I kept having visions of little old white ladies in retirement homes somewhere in middle America or Europe holding my book and reading it. That’s who I saw. Them and the incarcerated, in that order. I’m sure it has something to do with my thinking, that if I could get two groups of people from opposite ends of the spectrum who exist in an isolated or confined space, and have them get lost within the world that I create between the pages of my book, then I’ve done my job. If I could transport them from their isolated or confined quarters to a world that didn’t exist in their head, with a character that didn’t exist in their head prior to picking up my book, if I could do that and hold them captive for 2 minutes or 2 hours, if I could do that to them then I could get everyone in the middle. So, when I close my eyes that’s who I see. Little old white ladies and the incarcerated.

  • BB: Montey Greene isn't a spy or a detective, he's just an ordinary person. What made you choose the guy next door as a central character?

ARY: Hahaha, that’s easy. I got tired of superman. I love suspense thrillers but when you think about it, as I often do, Mitch Rapp, James Bond. Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher, to name a few, are all the same person depicted slightly different through their creator’s eyes. At the very core, their origin, of how and where they developed their skill sets to survive and be badasses, they’re all the same guy. Either, ex-military, special forces, ex-government operatives, spies, whatever. They’re all the same guy. After a while it’s boring. It’s like everyone is driving on the same highway, at the same speed, in the same lane. Not to mention the fact that they don’t look like me. Meanwhile there’s another lane on the same highway with the same speed limit that nobody’s driving in. It’s just a vacuum I felt needed to be filled. I wanted to entertain myself and thought it would be refreshing to create a character that came from the hoods I was raised in and ran through, and drop him in an international setting where he finds himself in a life or death situation usually reserved for and dominated by white males in these type of books. Most black authors from where I come from who write about a black guy from the hood who can bust guns with deadly efficiency and whip some ass furiously keep their character in the hood. They call that urban-lit. I’m about as urban (in the black sense of the word) as it gets -(laughs) - but I don’t write urban-lit. There’s also something to be said for the “common man”, a term they use in Hindi films a lot (Sha Ruh Khan is my favorite Hindi film actor by the way) - it’s easy for the average person to identify and relate with him because he’s flawed and vulnerable like all the rest of us. And from a pure mathematical perspective, there are more common men then there are supermen.

  • BB: You have described Montey as a modern day gunslinger. Why do you say this?

ARY: Well, Montey Greene gets gunned down. It’s not the fist time he’s been shot, but it’s the first time he’s been shot like that. I mean somebody tried to execute him, in a foreign country. Initially he’s shell shocked, paranoid and reluctant to take any initiative, partially because he doesn’t know who to initiate anything against. But as the events unfold and he finds himself trapped on foreign soil while his family back in the United States could be in danger, he’ll do just about anything to get back home. Including taking matters and the law into his own hands. Just from the environment he grew up in and knowing the mindset of criminals in large part to his best friend Spider (who’s incarcerated at the moment) he knows that people who have harmful intent on the brain don’t care about the law either. That being said, when it’s apparent that someone is trying to kill him he’s more concerned about his life than the law. You’re gunning for him. He’d rather not be caught. But when you catch up with him and have to deal with Montey Greene face to face, just the simple fact you’re hunting him down is enough harmful intent for him to justify taking your life should it come down to that. Just like a gunslinger in the old west. Every gunslinger doesn’t go looking for trouble or more notches in his belt. But when trouble shows up, and you’re standing in the way of him going home, then let the gun-play start and the devil count the dead. That’s what Montey Greene winds up doing, that’s why I say he’s like a modern day gunslinger.

  • BB: We loved the way you set Montey's adventure in Italy, France and the United States. But will he ever come to London?

ARY: Without a doubt Montey Greene passes through London. I have a good friend who lives there, Colleen Morris, she’s a tailor/costume designer, works on a lot of shows over here in the States - she’ll kill me if I don’t let him have a go in London (laughs).

  • BB: What inspires you to write?

ARY: The hundreds of stories in my head. And speaking of the century mark, I could live to be a 100 and never get all the stories out so that’s what inspires me more than anything else, wanting to get the stories out of my head.

  • BB: Where and how do you write?

ARY: I’m writing all the time in my head. I tried many years ago to write an outline and ended up writing five screenplays instead. I can’t do outlines to save my life. I can jot down notes as I’m writing the story but outlines just turn into books and screenplays with me. Many, many years ago I had a recording studio and an independent hip-hop label here in the States. I never wrote anything down until after I recorded the record and had to send the lyric sheet to the copyright office. Then Jay-Z and Biggie come along and there’s this big to do about how they never wrote anything down, they just went in the studio and did it. I just laughed ‘cause I had been doing that way before anybody even knew who they were. I’m 48 now mind you, so you are what you are. Story telling is story telling. The only thing that changes is the format. Once you understand the nuances of the format and the rhythm of the genre in which your story takes place, the rest is easy. So up until this day a great deal of it happens in my head, until I actually sit down and start typing it. I take personalities and body languages of people I know, have met in passing or just observe on a daily person and infuse that in my characters. And since I favor real locations over made up ones (of course if I were righting a fantasy in a made up world and planet that would different) if I haven’t been to a place or spent enough time there, I’ll research the hell out of it. In my opinion there’s no substitute for an authentic environment. You want people who haven’t been there to want to go there, to taste the food there, to smell the air there. Locations play a role in your story, they’re a character in your story. You gotta make it part of the journey you want your readers to go on, otherwise why should they go. That generic stuff is for the birds. And I write in my house or in my hotel room when I’m traveling. Can’t do any physical writing in coffee houses or sidewalk cafes, way too many distractions, don’t know how people do it.

  • BB: Which writers influence you most?

ARY: Nobody in particular though I’m sure we’re all influenced by what our senses take in on a daily basis. I do remember Jack and the Beanstalk and the Arabian Nights Tales influenced me greatly when I was kid. I would stare out the window wondering when I was going to see a giant beanstalk and a flying carpet. Those Arabian Nights tales were powerful. I mean, I grew up the second oldest of six kids, we grew up without a television. Not because we couldn’t afford it but because our parents wanted us to interact with each other and use our imagination. So I guess there’s some irony to the fact that my brother’s a film and television actor, my sister’s a costume designer for television and film, and I work at a television network in addition to managing screenwriter’s and authoring books. But getting back to Jack and the Beanstalk & The Arabian Night Tales, I was so hooked after hearing those stories. I suppose I could have looked up the author’s names for this interview since I don’t know them but those were the biggest influences as far as me wanting to be a storyteller when I grew up. I don’t want to consciously be subconsciously influenced by anybody which is why I don’t read anybody else's work when I’m crafting my own. Nobody’s reinventing the wheel here, but I’m damn sure gonna ride on my own wheels in my own lane as much as possible.

  • BB: What would be your Desert Island book?

ARY: Whatever book I’m writing at the moment.

  • BB: What's next for Montey Greene?

ARY: It’s funny because if I would have written the original story about this character as I first envisioned, it would have spanned well over 1000 pages. It was just called Montey Greene. Then I realized that I needed to break the story in sections - so in essence the "first Montey Greene" story spans three books, "They Call Me...Montey Greene", "Get...Montey Greene" and "Come Back...Montey Greene". When you read the books you'll see why they're titled as such and even why I use three dots instead of a comma in the title. At the end of the first book he still doesn't know the whereabouts or the well being of his family. But now that I've established the character, things get ratcheted up a whole lot in the next book, "Get...Montey Greene." I'm really excited about it and the characters that were mentioned in the first book who show up in the second.

  • BB: And what's next for A R Yoba?

ARY: What's next for me? Ah man, getting the next two Montey Greene books out over the next 14-18 months so I can move on to the next story. I also manage screenwriters/directors out her in Lala-Land, so I've been helping some of them put their scripts and film packages together. I plan on being at Book Expo America in New York and the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2013, I want to license my book in foreign territories and have them published in multiple languages. That should keep me pretty busy for a spell.

  • BB: Gosh, Abdul, we think that must be the understatement of the year! Good luck with all of that.

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