Welcome, one and all, to the start of the first book themed week that I’ve done in a while. The way this will work is that I’ll give you an interview with an author, then the next day you’ll get my review of their latest book.
To that end, I’m starting today with Donte M McNeal. I actually had his book The Family: The Brotherhood ready to read for a long time, but only recently found the time to do so. It was worth the wait though! Now, onto the interview…
Donte, for those unfamiliar with you, can you please give us a quick introduction?
Sure thing! I’m Donte M McNeal, but you can call me the Dark Overlord of…you know what? Donte’s fine. I’m a writer, but I’m an avid reader at heart. I’ve been reading as far back as my memories go, and it’s always been my favorite way to spend my free time. I beta read for a few authors, and am also a freelance editor. Other than that, my free time is chocked full of anime, manga and games (and raging at said games…so much raging).
Starting with your literary work, The Family: The Brotherhood is your first novel. The book is set in a dystopian future and follows The Family, a gang that were formed with good intentions in mind. What inspired the setting for the novel?
Honestly, the story started off in my real world neighborhood from my childhood, but soon enough it grew bigger than I thought it ever would. I wanted a setting that was believable, but not exactly like our own. I’ve always enjoyed stories that were set in places we know, but in my opinion a story sets itself apart when it isn’t shackled by real world locations because the reader (and writer) is able to discover and explore this brand new world. So, the country of Levana was born.
The main protagonist, Leone King, was one of my favourite parts of the book. As a character, I thought that he had a lot of layers, and his plight was always presented in such a way that you could feel how conflicted he was when faced with situations that could potentially draw him away from his ideal. How did you come up with Leone? Was he based on anyone in particular?
I had a friend ask me this same question last year. My answer hasn’t really changed. Leone was the person I wanted to be growing up. I grew up in a stable and religious household, but our neighborhood was far from ideal. Gangs were everywhere, and if you didn’t join one, you were harassed, bullied and the like. I never had to endure any of that because I stuck to myself, but also because everyone in the neighborhood knew that I was a bookworm and didn’t care for that lifestyle. My brothers were a different story.
They were in fights almost every day, over the smallest things being blown out of proportion. I saw friends and family turn on each other all because of the gang they were a part of, and I couldn’t help but wish I could be someone who could stop all the violence and just unify everyone, bring the gangs together like a family. That’s where Leone came in. He was a young man who knew what he stood for, gathered like-minded individuals around him just by being so set in his ways and wanting to help others. He wants nothing more than to end the needless violence gangs bring about. And that’s all I wanted growing up.
Although the book has a clear end, the final chapter of The Family: The Brotherhood clearly sets up a sequel. Were you aware when you started writing the book that you wanted to make this a series? And have you planned ahead in terms of what will happen in future instalments?
It’s funny. It was pointed out by a few people that the epilogue seemed a bit forced and out of place and looking back through everything, I saw that they were right. I’ve since removed that sequel-staging chapter, but to answer your question: No. I didn’t plan for The Family to be a series. I had originally intended for it to be one story, and that was it. The characters had other plans though.
As far as future instalments go, I already have the sequel written. But, there are quite a few changes that I need to make because of how things went down in the first book. Characters lived that I had originally killed off, plotlines continued where I had previously ended them; so, I have a bit of reworking to do for that. I’m thinking it’ll be done as a duology, but we’ll see how things turn out.
When you wrote The Family: The Brotherhood, did you have any detailed notes to hand, or did you go more for the approach of knowing where you wanted to end up but otherwise just writing and letting the story come?
I rarely plan out stories. Stephen King said he writes stories where a character is placed in this situation and the story is about how the character deals with said situation. I take a similar approach. Whenever I’m struck by a story idea, I think about the worst (or best, I’m not totally evil) place a character would be and determine a way to get him or her to the other side of the spectrum. If they’re in a really good place, I take them through hell, and sometimes I even let them come out of it okay in the end. If they’re in a bad place, I try and help them find a way out of it and into the light. In other words, I have the endgame planned out, but I let the characters determine the journey to it.
What titles are you currently working on, and where are you at with them? Did you have any other projects on the go too, or is it all hands to the book pumps at the moment?
I have a few projects I’m currently juggling. The first is Godhood, a story about demigods fighting for the right to ascend to full godhood. It’s an urban fantasy of sorts, and its off with the editor as we speak. Another one I’m working on is called Stardust, which is a fantasy about a race of beings tasked with protecting the universe from all manner of threats, and they face their greatest challenge yet in a race that is the polar opposite of everything they stand for. It’s full of powers, friendship and death, and I’m about halfway done with that. It’ll be a doozy. Another is a little story called Living Shadow. It’s about a young man who is possessed by a demon and lives as an assassin because he has to kill in order to stay alive, but things get dicey when he’s contracted to kill the one person he vowed never to kill: his best friend. That one still has a ways to go; I’ve only written a few chapters, but I’ll be getting into that one after I’m done with my last current project: Elemental Knights, my first foray into the LitRPG genre I’ve recently fell in love with.
I am of the view that there’s always more to learn, especially when it comes to creative ventures. That being the case, is there any advice that you’d give to upcoming authors trying to get a footing in the industry?
I’ll impart two little nuggets I’ve learned myself. One, is to never stop writing. That seems like a given, but there are times where a story isn’t flowing the way you want to, or you just don’t have the motivation. To this I say, find a way. Don’t force yourself because that can lead to lackluster content, but you do need to do something. Don’t let yourself, or your story for that matter, go too long without being engaged in some form or fashion.
Second, get your nose wet with marketing. Marketing sucks, for me at least. I’d much rather be spending my time writing, but it is a necessary evil (okay, it’s not that bad), and the more you know about it, the better. If you don’t know anything about there are countless recourses out there to brush up on marketing knowledge. I learned a lot from Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson and Jerry Jenkins. Their knowledge is indispensable.
You released The Family: The Brotherhood as a self-published venture. What made you decide to go down this route? Was it always the plan to self-publish with this title?
Self-publishing was always the plan for me. Maybe down the line I’ll pursue a more traditional approach, but there’s a certain freedom in self-publishing, and traditional publishing is no longer the only way to make a name for yourself in the writing world. I love that, and so I think I’ll stick with self-publishing for the time being for my upcoming projects.
Do you see yourself working with traditional publishers down the line?
I won’t dismiss it outright. It’s definitely a chance to get more exposure and help with marketing, so it’d be a different experience from self-publishing, and I’m all for experiencing new things. I’d actually like to see how different things would be in comparison to self-publishing, so yes, I can see myself working with traditional publishers down the line.
What are your main goals with writing? Are you writing purely for pleasure, or planning to take over the literary world, one novel at a time?
I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to be at the top of the literary world, because who wouldn’t want to be the best at their passion, but that’s not the goal for me. Honestly, I just want to tell stories. There are fewer things I enjoy more than creating worlds and filling them with complex and memorable characters, and as long as I can do that, I’m happy. Though, I suppose making a lot of money along the way wouldn’t hurt.
Moving away from writing for a minute, do you have any other interesting hobbies or talents?
I’ve already said that I like to spend my free time reading, I do, but a hobby that’s stayed strong throughout my life is learning about other cultures. I love it. Whether its US culture (because we all know different states, sometimes even cities, hold different cultures), or another country, I can’t get enough it. There’s so much more out there than what I’m exposed and accustomed to, I can’t help but be curious and want to learn more. I plan to visit quite a few countries and collect things from those countries (starting with Japan next year). My house will be packed full of collectables from whatever country I visit that year.
You have a blog, Donte’s Playground, where you’ve been running book reviews and talking about anime. Starting with the reviews, what generally attracts you to a book and makes you want to review it?
In all honesty, the saying “you can’t judge a book a by its cover” doesn’t apply to me. The cover of a book is what draws me in; if that grabs my attention, I look at the genre and go from there. I don’t usually stay away from a book based on its genre, but an unappealing cover can push me away…which sounds kind of superficial now that I think about it. I’m sure I’ve missed out on good stories because the cover was underwhelming. Anywhoo, if the cover and genre are up my alley, I usually give it a shot. I try to review every book I read, because I’m a firm believer in reviews helping both the author and potential readers, whether you enjoyed a book or not. I do my best to point out my dislikes and reasons for them, without being a bully, because that doesn’t help anyone.
Anime is something that’s been part of my own life since I was kid. What was it that got you into anime as a genre, and do you have any favourite series or films?
Oh man, I’ve been watching anime since I was a kid too. I think Dragonball was my introduction to the medium, and is one my top anime for sure. I watched it not knowing what anime was, but once I learned that it was its own thing, I dove headfirst into the sprawling genre of anime, and I haven’t come up for air yet. It’s a medium that never grows stale!
As far as favorites, my favorite series is a tie between Hunter x Hunter and Gintama. It’s tough for me to choose one over the other, but if I was forced to, it’d probably be Gintama. It just does everything so well: comedy, drama, action, mystery, you name it. Gintama has it all, and it knocks it all out of the park, especially the comedy. Plus, Gintoki is hands down the best main character of any anime I’ve seen thus far.
My favorite anime film is “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” It’s just so good! I watch a lot of stuff with characters with powers, killers, or supernatural occurrences, but there’s something special about that film. Though, “Spirited Away” also has a special place in my heart.
What about film, TV and music? Any favourites of which to speak?
I can’t say that I have any favorites in any of these categories. My tastes change so quickly, it’s hard for a show, film, or song to stay cemented as my favorite for too long. I’ll give this a go though. Film: The Raid. The high-octane action this foreign film boasts is almost unparalleled. If you haven’t seen it or its sequel, you’re missing out. TV: I’ve got to with Hannibal here. Mads played Dr. Lecter (one of my favorite characters in any medium) to perfection and the visuals presented in the show were something to behold. I was bummed to see it get axed. As far as music goes, my favorite artist is Lana Del Rey. She can do no wrong. Adventure Club is a close second.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for both taking part in this interview, and for the entertaining read. Did you have any final messages for readers? Also, whereabouts on the web can everyone find you if they want to know more? Feel free to link to anything you want.
Thanks for having me, this was a blast to do. And I’m glad the book was fun for you. To current readers I just want to say one thing: You’re awesome for spending your time with the creations of a nerdy guy like myself. I sincerely thank you. To future readers, welcome aboard! Now for the plugs.
You can catch me over on my website, Donte’s Playground to keep up with my blog which consists of book reviews, tidbits about anime, TV and the other things I’m into (mostly books though). You can keep up with the stories I mentioned over on Wattpad, including a sample of The Family; you can also chat with me on my Facebook and Twitter. I always respond.
Thanks again Matt! This was fun.