JOHNNY BELL – Author of THE DIRT COURT
1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio? I never had any desire to become a writer, let alone a teacher when I was younger. I hated school and reading, preferring to play outside with toys or ride my bike in the woods. When I told my mom that I was going to become a teacher, she dropped her jaw. She was more surprised when learning that “I wrote a book, actually two books.”
2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it? (ask mom)
3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it? The most recent book is The Dirt Court. When I began writing the book, I was a dean at an elementary school. Having to interact with students, parents, and faculty in mostly negative, and highly emotional situations helped me work on conflict-solving skills but also exposed me to learning about what was really going on in children’s lives. During that time, I researched about building relationships and how to become a blessing and not a burden to others.
4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)? I wrote my first two books in a span of a few months! I began writing Take the Shot over Thanksgiving break and finished writing by early January. Once I finished writing the first draft, I started a second book and finished writing The Dirt Court within another month or two. After that, it’s been strictly revising, meeting other authors, finding a publisher, and advertising both books. Also, that was prior to meeting my now-wife and starting our life together. We’re closing in on celebrating our first anniversary! Between marriage, working fulltime, kids, and being a student, I struggle to find time to write.
5. Do you have any unusual writing habits? Yes! None of my writing habits are what “typical” writers do! The house is never quiet, I’m usually multi-tasking, and there’s something blaring on the television! Highlights of basketball games or sports play on the television and I may have some Lofi study music playing. When I start early in the morning, I usually begin playing Gospel music or Christian hip-hop. Once I get to typing and a good flow, I’ll switch to something without lyrics. I can’t sit still, so I may sit and write for 20-30 minutes, stand and stretch, or move the writing process to a new area in the room. Usually I hoop between my storyboard and list of ideas while writing frequently. I also spend a lot of time sitting and reflecting on characters in the story. A good chunk of time is spent researching specific parts of the story: location (things to do, events, demographic information), developing characters, crafting the events in the story, and learning more about sports events that can tie into the book.
6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing? Outside of writing, I occasionally draw with the boys. They’re in that stage where they will pick up a box of crayons or markers and randomly draw. As mentioned, I enjoy various projects around the house. I’ve built coffee tables, nightstands, shoe shelves, and even a deck.
7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings? The last book I read before writing my first book was Mike Lupica’s Summer Ball. It sits on my bookshelf; I’ve read it a couple of times! I also enjoyed Gamechangers and Jake Maddox’s Pick and Roll. Although I appreciate their writings, I wanted literature written by minority authors for minority children, specifically Black and Brown literature. When I couldn’t find books that would draw the attention of young Black readers, I decided to write books for them. The stories are for all readers, but I want to give a voice to minority children. As a life-long educator, my understanding of teaching reading skills like fluency, vocabulary, and critical thinking heavily influence how I write a story and the language included.
8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen? I just started a project on a project featuring an immigrant girl to the United States with her mother and older sister. My goal is to complete planning, writing and revising within the next calendar year for a 2021 release date! I have some ideas stored away for books combining characters as they mature into adolescence.
9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books? Duh! Of course I think about my readers! I wrote Take the Shot and The Dirt Court specifically thinking about the people I have been around. My focus is creating realistic literature that moves young people to action, to positive thinking and a constant I-can-do-it attitude. I want to write books that have the reader saying, “I’ll read one more chapter,” while they lose themselves in a great book!
10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors? My advice is the same that I give students during writing class: write whatever comes to your mind! Don’t worry about spelling, sequence, or any of that other stuff. We (you) can fix it later. #teacherlife
11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard? Just write! Ignore the critics, if you don’t like their changes to your story, don’t keep it! (Thanks, JoAnn!)
12. How many books you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre? I’ve probably read eight or nine books in the fall semester for class, so there’s not much time for leisure reading. I’ve increased my consumption of articles and journals from academic scholars. I try to build time to sit with my boys and engage in a book on their level once a week.
13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers? The goals of my writing can be summed up into three points: acknowledging my faith in God, recognizing that everyone has some demons in their closet that they have battled, and to have a proactive, positive attitude.
14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends? What I’ve learned is that publishing is very difficult. As a new author, breaking into any profession with people that have dedicated their entire career to the writing cycle, finding colleagues that are trustworthy and learning about the process is important. I’ve also learned that this profession is dominated by white publishers and editors, like most careers. This makes it difficult for minority, especially Black folks to break into the profession and achieve worthy attention, credit, and success. Because my writing is targeted for all children, but specifically minority males, I’ve found it challenging when going through peer revision, finding a publisher, and gaining traction while advertising the novels I’ve written.