Interview with Michael Johnson

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story I ever wrote was something I wrote in my senior year of high school. Unfortunately, I do not remember the title of the story but there is an interesting tidbit behind it. I received an assignment from a science class in which the students in my class were to write a story about yourself and three friends construct an underwater vehicle, travel to three different continents, describe what you see while traveling on the ocean floor and on the surface and return home. I was worried because I was not doing well in the class and I didn't have a strong grasp on science. I thought if the story was interesting enough, the lack of scientific expertise would be overlooked. I followed the few parameters the teacher set but otherwise the story would be something that would resemble a horror film. The vehicle was overtaken by a omnipotent presence who murdered two of my friends. When the vehicle resurfaced on land, the local citizens were in a trance while dressed in white, or dead. One of my friends on the vehicle was the person who controlled the tragic events of the story. When we returned home, my friend revealed to me the people who were still alive had taken pills to have their memories erased and would live forever without pain. Those who refused the pills were killed. My two other friends on the ship refused the pills and were killed. My character was intended to remain alive and absorb the memories (good and bad) of those who had taken the pills. My character did not want to carry that burden alone and ended up stealing pills and joining everyone else living a lobotomized existence.

My teacher read it and mistook it as a cry for help and notified the school counselor who then called my mother. My mom was rattled because she thought I was suicidal. The school did not want another Columbine situation. Once the school counselor interviewed me, the fears were alleviated. I got a 94 on the paper.
What is your writing process?
I am not terribly organized as a writer. I can write for eight to ten hours at a time and then go days without writing at all. I do need to be alone as I have difficulty concentrating on my writing and doing much of anything else. I need silence when I write stories. I project a lot of my personal thoughts and feelings into my characters. I may feel a certain way and that feeling is reflected in my writing. I may read it some time later and decide that is not what I want for the character or the story and delete it. Sometimes I push myself to express something I may not be totally comfortable saying. When I push internal boundaries, I know I have found something great.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
My first fourteen years I lived in Philadelphia, PA. Then I lived in Daytona Beach for four years while I attended high school. I always felt that I have been misunderstood and I have had difficulty building relationships and interacting fluidly with my own people, African Americans. Initially I did not understand why and I was really bothered by this. Even as an adult my interpersonal dealings with black people have not always been pleasant. I learned as an adult why this is so and that I am not the only person who deals with this issue; divisiveness amongst black people. One word: Racism.
When did you first start writing?
I first started writing in 2008. Interracial dating has always been a source of controversy in the black community and I have always been fascinated with it. Every black person has an opinion about it and from my perspective, it is clear why black men and women choose to date outside their race. Frankly, many black people are treated poorly as children by their families and this is what compels individuals to start looking outside of their race for love and acceptance.

I started writing to find a way to explain to people why and how a black person can be convinced they cannot find love and acceptance from another black person.
What are you working on next?
The book I am working on now is the continuation of "Shades of Gray: The Introduction of Water Harrison" called "Shades of Gray: Vigilante."

In my last book, Walter really struggled with isolation, self-confidence, and loneliness. A lot of the choices he made in the book were because he was in pain and he just wanted to feel loved and accepted by somebody. He needed someone to tell him that he was important to them. In Vigilante, we will really see Walter evolve and begin to truly like the person he sees in the mirror. In life, we grow and we change and because of this, not every relationship we have remains the same of even remains at all.

Walter and Tasha came together because they needed each other but what happens when that is no longer the case? It is fun and exciting to be with someone so fundamentally different at first but when the novelty is gone, what happens next? Also, how does Walter handle the responsibility of people depending on him? I chose the subtitle "Vigilante" because this is what Walter will need to become to evolve from an unconfident boy into a man.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I just wanted to be able to say whatever I wanted in my works and reach the people I need to reach to make the difference I want to make. I look at how black men are thought of in real life and portrayed in the media and it bothers me immensely. I want to help create something everyone can enjoy and learn from but I especially want black men to be better than what we are currently.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
My greatest joy in writing is knowing that someone may read my works and be motivated to try a little harder to understand those around them. Racism will not go away until someone lets their guard down a bit, reach out, and start a conversation. We have way more in common with others than we are being led to believe.
What do your fans mean to you?
People work hard and have many different obligations but through all of that, if someone decides to spend their hard earned money on my stuff...that means everything to me. Even if they hate my work, if they take the time, energy, and money on my work, then that is the most awesome #@$$ ever.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My kids climbing on my bed every morning and pressing their fluffy cheeks against mine.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I try and read as much as possible. I like to bake and I love walking whenever I can. I help raise my kids to the best of my ability. I do not have an exciting life.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Walter Harrison is a twenty something owner of an apartment building, Harrison's Palace, which he inherited from his father, as a patronizing gift to remind Walter of the disappointment he has become. Walter carries the burden of feeling ostracized by his fellow African Americans and internalizes a toxic combination of anger, self-pity, and resentment towards black people. Walter views himself as a victim of racism from his own people, but his self-indulgence of sorrow does not permit him to see that his tormentors are also victims of racism. Convinced he will never find acceptance from African Americans, Walter forces himself to find love and acceptance outside of his race, to the dismay of those around him. The simultaneous abandonment of his parents and his first love drive Walter to the brink of madness. As he struggles to get his life in order, the shocking suicide of his tenant, and mirror-image, James Saint, another black male coping with loneliness, threatens to unravel Walter all over again.

Shades of Gray: The Introduction of Walter Harrison is a colorful and honest representation of how mental slavery affects the lives of African American men. The 95,000 word novel focuses on the life of Walter Harrison and his curiosity with his tenant, James Saint.
Published 2014-09-13.
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Books by This Author

Shades of Gray: The Introduction of Walter Harrison
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 95,110. Language: English. Published: March 11, 2011. Categories: Fiction » African American fiction » Urban life
Walter Harrison is a twenty something owner of an apartment building, Harrison’s Palace, which he inherited from his father, as a patronizing gift to remind Walter of the disappointment he has become. Walter carries the burden of feeling ostracized by his fellow African Americans and internalizes a toxic combination of anger, self-pity, and resentment towards black people.