Derek Jackson Interview
edited: Tuesday, January 16, 2007
By CONVERSATIONS MAGAZINE
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Saturday, July 01, 2006
Become a Fan
Bestselling author Derek Jackson is truly inspired. His new book BROTHER WORD continues to spark discussion. He discusses his success here.
DEREK JACKSON INTERVIEW
DEREK, THANK YOU FOR TALKING WITH US. FOR OUR READERS THAT MIGHT NOT BE FAMILIAR WITH YOU OR YOUR WORK, WHY DON'T YOU TELL THEM A LITTLE BACKGROUND ON YOURSELF.
First of all, thank you for this opportunity to share. A little background on myself – I’m a native Texan, but I grew up relocating to a different city every four years because my father was in the Air Force. I think that
provided me an opportunity to get exposed to different cultures and places, which is now an added help in writing novels. I attended the University of Houston, graduated with a Communications degree and self-published my first novel a year later. I’m an avid reader and enjoy teaching kids the importance of developing a love of reading at an early age.
THERE HAS BEEN QUITE A BIT OF INFORMATION WRITTEN ABOUT YOU AND WHAT YOU SEEM TO STAND FOR. DO YOU THINK THE WAY YOU GREW UP AS INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU LIVE YOUR LIFE TODAY?
I absolutely feel that the way I was raised influenced how I live my life today, especially in the area of faith. My parents not only took me and my brother to church every Sunday, but they were also active members of the
churches we attended. But it was a well-rounded childhood; we weren’t just in church all the time. It’s sort of unheard of nowadays, but my mother and father have been married over thirty years and were supportive of whatever we did – whether it was playing basketball or playing musical instruments (something I quickly discovered I had no talent whatsoever). Above all, though, they stressed the importance of education. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am who I am today because of being raised in that supportive, loving environment.
WHO WERE SOME OF THE PEOPLE WHO STAND OUT TO YOU BOTH IN THE PAST AND PRESENT AS ROLE MODELS?
Presently, my role models would have to include Tiger Woods and Condoleezza Rice. It’s amazing to see them succeed in fields that, just a few years ago, would’ve been unthinkable for them to participate in, let alone excel at. As far as role models growing up, of course there were my parents. But other than vividly remembering reading the story of Dr. Ben Carson and marveling at how he was able to succeed as a surgeon, I can’t really say that I grew up emulating anyone. There were sports athletes that I admired, but I don’t think I necessarily viewed them as role models.
YOU ARE KNOWN, DEREK, AS A CHRISTIAN AUTHOR. YOUR FIRST BOOK WAS A SELF-PUBLISHED NOVEL ENTTILED DESTINY'S CRY. CAN YOU TELL OUR READERS WHAT LED YOU TO WRITE IT AND THEN ABOUT WHY YOU THINK IT WAS SO WELL RECEIVED?
The seeds for the story of Destiny’s Cry were formed while I was still in college, and it was only after taking a screenwriting class in college that I seriously thought about actually sitting down and writing it as a novel. I
was led to write it because it highlighted that season of life – college – where young people are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do in life. The main characters came easily to me, because I’d seen
variations of them every day while living on campus for five years. And the central theme of the book as it related to identity, purpose and destiny was something that I felt (and still feel) passionate about. The questions of (who am I, why am I here and where am I going?) would keep me up at night, and the only way I knew how to express those feelings were in the context of a novel. I think it was well-received because people found shades of themselves in the characters – we’ve all been at a point in lives where we needed direction. And sooner or later, we all have to individually answer the destiny question – why are we here and where ARE we going?
TODAY IT IS NOT EASY TO HEAR GOOD NEWS, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MAN. BECAUSE OF THE WAY YOU HAVE PUT YOURSELF IN THE PUBLIC EYE, DO YOU FEEL ADDED PRESSURE TO DO WELL BECAUSE OF HOW BLACK MEN ARE SOMETIMES PORTRAYED?
I’m all too aware of how black men are negatively portrayed, which is a shame because there are many brothers out there doing positive things with their lives and getting absolutely no attention at all. When I started writing, I did so because I genuinely love the craft, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. But after the first few books came out, and I would go different places to do signings, I mostly heard how people viewed what I was doing as being such an inspiration to them. I was blessed by that feedback, and it’s not that I’m naďve – I realize that there aren’t many other young black men writing novels (and Christian novels at that), but I really don’t really feel any added pressure to do well. The only pressure I feel is what I “put” on myself – to do everything that God put in my heart to do. I think it goes back to that destiny theme. I just want to look back at my life when I’m an old man and be able to honestly say that I did all that God designed and purposed me to do.
WITH SO MANY TYPES OF BOOKS BEING RELEASED EVERY YEAR, WITH THEMES THAT RANGE FROM EDUCATIONAL TO TANTALIZING, HAS THERE BEEN A TIME WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO WRITE A CERTAIN TYPE OF BOOK TO FIT IN OR COMPETE?
This is a good question. There’s never been a time where I felt that I had to write a certain type of book to fit in or “compete”, because my current publisher, Walk Worthy Press, publishes books with the sole intent to show how God’s Word can be applied to every area of our daily lives. And the novels I’ve written would fall in that category. I don’t necessarily believe that a story has to include tantalizing, titillating scenes just to sell. I’ve always believed in the power of the story – a compelling storyline that keeps a reader turning the pages. If you’ve got great characters, a great plot or better yet – both – then what more is needed? As a writer, I only wish to write one type of book – the type that keeps the reader turning the page. The real key is figuring out how to do that on a consistent basis, especially in the genre of Christian fiction. Christian novels shouldn’t be used as pulpit to preach from; it should be a vehicle to portray relevant characters, the issues they face in life and how God’s plan is in work all around us.
SELF-PUBLISHING DESTINY'S CRY MEANS THAT YOU WERE INVOLVED IN THE ENTIRE PROCESS FROM START TO FINISH. WHY DID YOU GO THIS ROUTE, AND DID YOU KNOW FROM THE BEGINNING THAT IT WOULD BE SUCH A METHODICAL PROCESS?
The honest answer of why I went this route was impatience to get the story out as soon as possible. Once I’d finished writing the novel, I just wanted it out and being read by people. Perhaps it was because I was so young, or I didn’t have a point of reference to know the best way to go about this, but I never even considered going the traditional routes of finding a literary agent, or looking for a publisher. Looking back on it now, I did learn some things about the whole publishing industry, but I certainly did NOT know the process would be so methodical, painstaking or costly! (laughing) I would only recommend self-publishing for those who are absolutely passionate about the book they’ve written, and are prepared to juggle the different duties of writer, salesman, distributor, treasurer, PR person, etc. I was glad I self-published for many reasons, but none greater than indirectly becoming connected with my current publisher. If I had it to do all over again, I’m not sure I would have done the same thing.
I KNOW FOR ME I DON'T THINK I COULD GET THROUGH ALOT OF THE THINGS THAT I HAVE TO DO WITHOUT MY SUPPORT SYSTEM. WHO SERVES AS THAT SUPPORT SYSTEM FROM YOU HERE ON THE EARTH?
I agree 100% that having a support system is so vital to any type of success. I have a close knit group of friends from college that pray for me, and I for them. We also just hang out and have a lot of fun together. I also have the support of my family, who have been supportive and encouraging of my writing from day one. I also belong to a Christian writing group based in The Woodlands, Texas (north Houston area) called Words for the Journey that has been just tremendous in my life as far as providing support, prayers, critique and encouragement. For anyone in the area who might be interested, we meet at The Woodlands Barnes & Noble Bookseller store the last Thursday of each month.
YOUR BOOK "A MAN INSPIRED" INTRODUCES US TO JERMAINE HILL, A MAN THAT IS SEEN AS THE "MR. FIX-IT" FOR SO MANY PEOPLE. COULD YOU RELATE TO HIS CHARACTER AS FAR AS HOW HE WAS A SOURCE OF STRENGTH FOR SO MANY, AND WHAT LED TO HIS TYPE OF CHARACTER BEING CREATED?
I guess on a small level, I could relate to Jermaine, because I was served as chaplain for our college gospel choir, and there were some incidents where I was “expected” to provide an encouraging, inspiring word to the members in the choir. But I certainly did not have his charisma or voice! I think his character was born out of an understanding that highly successful people (whose success comes from being in the spotlight) can often be different people from the image that only the public sees. And no matter who you are – be it famous, influential or not, we’re all human. We all struggle with our own personal issues. I wanted to create a character who was so famous, admired and influential that the contrast between that and a man dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts would be so stark that it would almost be unbelievable. I’ve also thought about how interesting it would be for a truly famous individual to have a radical, life-changing conversion to the saving
knowledge of Jesus Christ and then to observe the public perception of that individual. Fame is nothing more than a platform – the more people know who you are, the greater audience you have when you open your mouth. Jermaine Hill was a character I’d thought about for awhile, and it was both challenging and rewarding to tell his story.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A GROWING MARKET FOR CHRISTIAN AUTHORS. DO YOU THINK THAT MEANS THAT PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING THAT IS INSPIRING?
I do think people are looking for inspiration. The events in our world today –post-9/11, the war on terror, natural disasters, poverty, etc, force us to reflect on how much we need God. All we have to do is turn on the evening news and we’re bombarded with enough images and stories to quickly depress us. So why would a person want to read a novel that is not in some way inspiring, encouraging, or has the ability to bless? But there’s also the business side of that question that I can’t leave unanswered – the publishing industry has taken note of the market with the blockbuster successes of the Left Behind series, and of course everyone knows about the movie success of the Passion of the Christ, so they understand that the market is there. For
awhile, Christian fiction was seen as a sort of “stepchild” to mainstream fiction, but again, a quality story is a quality story no matter what genre it falls under. I’m excited and encouraged to see how the market is expanding, and I think it will continue to do so. The great thing about a readership is that it is impossible to read a good book and not want to read another. As publishers see the growing demand for Christian fiction, then they will look to fill that void with the right supply.
I NOTICED ON YOUR WEBSITE www.derekjackson.com THAT YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN WRITING. YOU DON'T ALWAYS FIND THAT WITH ACCOMPLISHED AUTHORS. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO INCLUDE THAT INFORMATION?
I decided to include some tips for those interested in writing, because I know exactly how it feels to be an aspiring writer and wishing that someone would help me out. In fact, an accomplished Christian novelist named Brandilyn Collins provided me with some invaluable advice when I was first starting out, and I never forgot the feeling that someone of her stature would give me so much advice. And there were others, too, all of whom helped me to where I am today, and you know what? I’m still needing advice! So if there’s anything I
can share to help someone else out, I’m happy to do that.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR YOU?
My next novel, Brother Word, was released on April 20, 2006. It’s a novel I’m really excited about because it’s an encouraging story that I believe will increase
faith in everyone who reads it for the power of God to work in their lives. It’s the story of a man who’s been given an incredible gift of healing, but despite this gift, he remains in dire need of a healing himself. Aside from that, I still continue to write because I love the whole process of creating characters and developing a story that is not only compelling, but also contemporary and has the ability to inspire.
DEREK, WE APPRECIATE YOUR CANDOR. ANY LAST WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT YOU HAVE FOR OUR READERS?
Just to keep reading! Reading is such a powerful gift, and those that love and embrace this gift will only add to their lives. Thank you, Cyrus, for this opportunity to share. God’s blessings to you!