THE MIKAL EL-AMIN INTERVIEW
Mikal El-Amin is the sole founder of Double-Up Publishing producing a series of urban literature tales and romance novels. Authors N Focus caught up with Mikal to find out more about the company and his current title, 187 Iz An Art.
Authors N Focus: Where did the idea of 187 Iz An Art come from?
Mikal: Through correspondence with Richard Brown we decided to get into the literary arena, by coauthoring a debut novel to introduce ourselves to the world, and then afterwards to work on our individual releases.
We wanted to demonstrate exactly why some adolescents, particularly at-risk youth, turn to a life of crime. Some people may think that no matter the circumstance kids have options or outlets, which is absolutely true, however depending on the dynamics of their circumstances, it is difficult sometimes.
For instance, say a kid is from a very rough neighborhood. He’s an all-around good kid with no street intentions. One day he gets into a fight with another young guy who is a thug and he beats the guy up. Days later he crosses paths with the same guy who is with his friends and they jump the kid. Fuel to the fire-they all go to the same school.
The innocent kid decides to carry a knife to protect his self. You can see how the initial altercation had a snowball effect; because maybe he ends up srabbing one of them when defending his self in subsequent altercations with the group of boys. Now the kid feels the need to have a gun, because he knows the other guys are hardcore thugs.
What if the kid’s parents don’t have any means of moving to another neighborhood, or options to send him to live with relatives in better environments. With the premise of this one example there could be many tragic outcomes that manifest. The kid gets caught with the gun, does time, kills one of the guys etc. Ultimately what happens is that typical innocent kids become hardened, because of the environment which they are raised in. This is why we developed the story starting Kamikaze and Killa off at such a young age, so that it made sense why they were leading that type of lifestyle.
We decided that our debut novel would be an urban-fiction title, which would have the elements of life as a hustler or gangster, as we know it. Our focus was to put out a novel that was 100% uncut with no holding back, as far as the level of street content was concerned, so that hopefully readers would take away from the book that there is absolutely nothing glamorous about the streets.
ANF: Who are the main characters in your novel?
Mikal: The main characters are Kamikaze and Killa. Kamikaze is a charming cool adolescent from the projects who has no intent on becoming a gangster, but faced with hopelessness and despair, he concludes that the only way to a better life is to be a drug dealer. He ends up being a very brutal type. Killa finds himself in the same circumstances, which makes sense, because he and Kamikaze both live in the projects with Killa’s mother. So he evolves into a similar street guy, however he is more of a calculating type, a thinker.
ANF: Are there any supporting characters the readers should be interested in?
Mikal: There is Paula, Tiffany, and Nee Cee which are three young ladies whom are all major characters in the story, from beginning to end. Paula is the thorough chick in the story. She has everything together, and is independent with lots of aspirations. She’s very pretty, knows the streets, is from the hood, but carries herself properly and has plans she’s pursuing in life. She gets sucked into the game though which unfortunately happens frequently to young ladies.
Tiffany is the around the way girl in the story. She’s from the hood but has a real nice personality, and is sweet, sexy, optimistic, and very likeable. Tiffany is the girl in life everyone thinks is going to be somebody and she has all the potential, but her characteristics of trust, loyalty to friends, and a small hint of naiveté becomes her down fall. Life swallows her up. Nee Cee is the gangsta chick in its essence. She’s sharp, direct, indifferent, independent, deadly, attractive, and ambitious. She’ll do whatever it takes in her quest for money and power, and has an unshakable loyalty to her man.
ANF: I see you’re originally from Durham where the story takes place. How much of it is fact and what is fiction in the book?
Mikal: It is a story of fiction. I would assume though that most writers have to pull from life experiences when creating characters and telling a story, so that what they are describing is authentic. Richard Brown and I are both from Liberty Street Projects where most of the story takes place. In the early 90’s, Lib as we called it, was a very dangerous place and Durham as a whole period.
So being from those projects one couldn’t help but know the streets on an intimate level.
ANF: I see 187 Iz An Art has won several awards. Where did you win them and how do you feel about receiving accolades from your masterpiece?
Mikal: The first award, a 2009 Los Angeles Book Festival Award, was won in Los Angeles and Richard Brown and I were honored in Hollywood at the acclaimed Roosevelt Hotel along with the other winners of various genres. I was very pleased and excited about the award. Winning the award was a surprise to me, as the organization is a mainstream outfit, and they have competitions globally.
It was a bit overwhelming observing the managing director’s excitement when announcing our title as the winner. His segue to me making my speech contained an astonishing compliment that I definitely wasn’t expecting, so I was somewhat nervous initially. It was a wonderful night and a major push in my growth, and having my family there made it even more special.
The second was a 2010 San Francisco Book Festival Award, and the third was a 2010 New York Book Festival Honorable Mention. Overall, the awards have motivated me to continue to grow as a writer, and challenge my capabilities by tackling the most unique plots I can think of. I plan on heightening the complexity of each novel that I release, by writing outside of the box. Also I am grateful for the awards because they helped to bolster my confidence. As an author I want to please my readers, because they are a part of the nucleus which allows me to have success as a writer.
ANF: According to your website, you sent your manuscript to several publishers but was turned down or didn’t receive a reply. From all the success you’re enjoying now, how do you feel about owning your own publishing company and producing an award winning novel?
Mikal: First and foremost I have to definitely give credit to my parents for this. They have instilled in me the value of being a leader my entire life, so that quality helped me in this aspect of my success. I was raised in a highly disciplined household, so this quality was also paramount in turning my vision into reality.
First I started out trying to get published in the traditional sense, though it was for a very brief time. I bypassed the agent route because I didn’t have name recognition, and the time it takes to find a proper agent can vary, usually on the lengthy side. I submitted my manuscript to only about 5-6 publishers. If I would’ve kept going then there was the possibility that one of them would have picked me up, however I didn’t like the powerlessness and process of the situation. Constantly checking the mailbox hoping to get the magical response that every author wants to hear, rendered me with complete lack of control over the outcome of my success.
At that point, the stories I’ve heard of it taking individuals several years to get published, blasted loudly in my ears. So as you referred to my bio, yes, I envisioned myself becoming an entrepreneur and ultimately a successful businessman, and started to reapply my ambitions of being an author with this type of mentality. I cut out the middleman and eventually released 187 Iz An Art, along with my coauthor Richard Brown.
So far the experience has been very exciting to me. It was a gamble and a high risk to take, but things have been actually working out far better than I imagined for a first release. I know that I’m blessed so I definitely want to pass on the same opportunities to others.
ANF: Now besides 187 Iz An Art, what other books do you have in the Double-Up Publishing pipeline?
Mikal: Double-Up Publishing‘s upcoming projects are: 1. Richard Brown’s solo release which is about an all female bike club that is on a quest for power, and they embark on elaborate schemes procuring money in a unique way. 2. My solo release which is about a crime scene investigator whose life gets rocked by a unexpected turn of events. I have a couple of other projects as well that show great promise. Readers and everyone else can reference my website, to keep up with projects in the works.
ANF: Tell us something about your co-author , Richard Brown. How long have you known him and when can we expect to read his books?
Mikal: Richard was originally born in New Haven, Connecticut, and his family moved to North Carolina when he was a little boy. I became friends with Richard and his brothers and clicked with them out the gate, so I’ve known Richard for over 20 years now. Richard is currently incarcerated in North Carolina. He has been incarcerated since 1998 for a mistake that was made while he was a youth. He has dedicated his self to becoming a prolific author, and has many solid reasonable goals upon his release.
If any readers would like to get in contact with Richard he definitely appreciates and welcomes any correspondence.
PO Box 280
Polkton, NC 28135
ANF: You’ve been writing for five years and in the business for a year now. What inspired you to write and where do you see yourself and Double-Up in another five years?
Mikal: I’ve always had ambitions to become an author, and years ago I started getting encouragement from family and friends to write a book. I remembering telling them light stories about the streets, hustling, or even dating, and they would give me encouraging feedback about my verbal storytelling. Well I knew I was keeping it PG when telling these stories, so in the back of my mind I always thought people would really be amazed if I just gave them the real.
To be honest it wouldn’t be fair not to give a few of my college professors credit for the inspiration as well. A few of them helped to plant the seed after taking a distinct interest in my writing. One in particular was a professor in Queens, NY who asked my permission to keep a copy of my journal of essays. He told me, “I want to keep a copy of your journal as an example to my other classes. You know you are a very compelling writer right?” That was the last boost of confidence I needed.
Publishing goals… I’m attempting a major undertaking. My long term publishing goals are very distinct. I want to grow into a major publishing house with multiple imprints under the Double-Up Publishing umbrella. More than five years though… I’ve been taught to put my goals on paper because it makes you have to commit and take them more seriously, so I enjoy putting my goals out there as a way to pressure myself.
ANF: Where can our readers find Double-Up Publishing and get in contact with you personally?
Mikal: They can learn more about me by checking out my company Double-Up Publishing http://doubleuppublishing.com or following me on their favorite social sites. http://twitter.com/AuthorMikalE
http://tinyurl.com/28jqfu4 Author Face Book
Feel free to come socialize or network with me!
ANF: In closing, any advice to our new and aspiring authors on the site?
Mikal: I still have tons to learn myself, however if I had to give one pointer I would say; if you don’t have a lot of resources, then be unlimited with your resourcefulness. Don’t limit yourself in any aspect of pursuing your dreams, because there is a way around everything. I would also encourage them to not look for the easy way out of things. One thing there isn’t a way around is the fact that being an author is a lot of hard work and a full time job, so you have to be willing to fully commit.
ANF: Mikal, thanks for the interview. Much continued success to you!
Mikal: Thank you for the opportunity to be heard by your visitors, and providing authors a platform to spread their work.