Frequently Asked Questions (updated 3/23/12)
1.) I'm currently working on a novel/short story/play. Do you have any advice for me about how to write professionally?
Before reading on, I invite you to check out my writing journey by reading, "How to Use Your English, Journalism or Writing Degree."
If you like to write, you should be an adamant reader. There are a billion books that will coach you through the writing process in every single bookstore, but the ones I'd recommend are Dan Poynter's "Self-Publishing Manual" (for the brave folks who want to self-publish), Fern Reiss' "The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days" (for marketing advice) and my AC Articles "How Booth Attendants Can Get Customers" (for book expos) and "Advertising and Marketing Through Fashion Promotion, Finding Outfits that Sell Your Product." But before you get any of those, please buy the latest edition of "The Writer's Market." "The Writer's Market" breaks down what book, magazine and newspaper publishers are looking for; how to send your information (SASE, query letters or full manuscripts), and when to send them so they don't end up in the slush pile. Marketing and networking is the hardest part of a writing career. You would think getting the book done is, but it's not even half the battle. Books like "Click: Ten Truths for Building Extraordinary Relationships" by George C. Fraser give readers an excellent breakdown. Before you can break into any business, you have to research it first. Of course there will be mistakes along the way, but just don't make the same mistake twice. As far as the money end, the pay varies depending on the printer or the publisher. I will forewarn you that in any artistic business, the "starving artist" title is no joke. It usually takes time to really make a profit and sometimes you may have to have more than one word hustle. You'd be surprised how far volunteering can get you. I have never been a full-time author, but I have much respect for those who took that leap.
2.) What made you want to be an author?
I've taken on a lot of hobbies over the years (nail design, styling hair, designing t-shirts, sewing/fashion design, photography, painting ceramics, playing the saxophone and piano, acting in plays, baking, dancing, Web design), but as soon as I learned how to do each hobby, I was bored with it and promptly stopped (minus dancing and Web design). However, there has never been a day in my life since I learned to write that I've ever been bored with such creativity. I'm a pretty outspoken person, as well as being sensitive and intense (I don't think astrology is golden, but the description of a Scorpio fits me), so I've always found writing as my means of therapy to get all of those emotions out of me. I write best when I feel passionate about an issue or to vent when I'm in a frustrated mood. I enjoy writing even more than I enjoy reading a good book or watching an entertaining movie, two more things I love to do as a reviewer.
3.) How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
I went to a university for two years that had 8,000 students and only about 95 of them were Black. Northern Michigan University consistently ignored diversity groups, African-American history, African-American literature and the newspapers would not talk about multi-cultural events on campus. I fought for two years with everyone from the cable company to the head of the English department about diversifying the education of students. It made me much more interested in my own culture. In a speaking event, one student asked me did I get anything positive out of going to NMU. I told him yes. If not for that university, I probably would not be so hell bent on learning more about my own culture besides the mediocre paragraph in textbooks that the Board of Education approves. This passion was also what lead me to Lincoln University. Now I won’t let a day go by without learning some new African-American history fact.
4.) What are your current writing projects?
As of Mon., Oct. 11, 2010, I was hired as a Digital News Editor for the Chicago Tribune. I started off updating the Tribune's local Health and Food page, and briefly worked on the Dining and Stew blog page. In 2012, I was transferred to Tribune Newspapers' Media on Demand (MoD) team. The MoD team works on National/World News, National Entertainment and National Sports so any of the content we produce may show up on any of the newspapers and broadcasting sites that Tribune Newspapers owns (ex. LA Times, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Sun Sentinel, Daily Press, Hartford Courant, Mcall). I also work on the MoD's national Health and Travel pages, Chicago Tribune's travel page and continue to update Chicago Tribune's Health page. Before that, I was a freelance journalist for various online and print publications. Visit Other Publications to check out my work.
5.) What is a favorite book from your childhood?
I was a big fan of “Babysitters Club” books because Jessica was someone I could relate to, being a positive African-American pre-teen like myself who liked to dance. Ann M. Martin was the first author who encouraged me to write via response to a fan letter. I owned about 85 of those books, in addition to the "Ramona" series, some "Fear Street" books, some "Goosebumps" books, and you couldn't top me when it came to collecting "Peanuts" and "Archie & Friends" comic strips. I also used to bumrush the Sunday papers to check out "Curtis," "Family Circus" and "Luann" comic strips.
6.) What do you hope readers will learn/discover from reading your books?
The best review I’ve gotten so far was from a young lady who read “Round Trip” and got tested for HIV/AIDS. She had quite the scare when she accidentally tested positive. Three days later, she found out it was negative. However, she was also notified that she had herpes. While that is not the outcome I hoped for, I still felt like her feedback was the most important because I strongly encourage everyone to get tested, if not for your partner, for yourself. Safe sex is imperative. I write about a lot of controversial issues: police corruption, HIV/AIDS, Greek hazing controversy, divorce, suicide, ADHD, politics, the color complex, the legal system and rape, in addition to lighter topics like entrepreneurs, marriage, education and youth. Even when writing fiction, I want to make a person think about their own life decisions afterward.
7.) On your Yahoo! Contributor network page, you talk a lot about social and political issues in the African-American community. What is your motivation?
Fox News! That and the way some media outlets completely disregard positive things happening in the African-American community. Initially, I just wanted to discuss things that were on my mind, but some of my articles (such as the Jena 6 pieces) really took off. When I saw that people were interested in my reporting while traveling, it made me take a second look at journalism. I took several courses in undergrad, but I'd never seriously thought about going in that direction. However, I thoroughly enjoy being able to inform people about topics that are important to me, whether it's going to my alma mater to talk about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, discussing racism in educational facilities and other hot topics. Most of my articles are inspired while debating with people about something on the news or something that should be newsworthy. And then there's random inspiration I get from walking around Chicago and seeing something that really excites me (men's cologne) or annoys me (sagging pants). Reader feedback is what keeps me moving because I have some very opinionated, loyal readers. The only downside of being in the journalism field is I had to tone that down. There are topics I can still write about but for the most part I have to take my mother's advice and keep some of my opinions to myself.
8.) Who has been your biggest supporter?
All of the people who supported my novel writing dreams were thanked in my second book, "Round Trip." The only people I left out who have been loyal readers since "Round Trip" are freelance writer Uku and a friend of the family, Shuntal, who read a lot of my online articles. If I write a third book, they'll get their thank yous, too. What I found interesting was the scale was about 90 percent friends and strangers. Of course I definitely had a handful of family members who were cheering from the sidelines. It was wild how so many people I never thought would be Team Shamontiel were pushing for the books as hard as me and going to book signings. My alma mater LU librarian Mrs. Elizabeth Wilson and my mother's previous boss Neomie McCarthy immediately come to mind. I totally appreciate that and love all my supporters for it. But I have to really give special thanks to my mother because she was there to help edit, give feedback, go to every book signing that she could travel to, spread the word, post signs and network with her own circle to introduce opportunities to me that I probably would've looked over. It's one of the many reasons I push her new business Ada's Student so tough.
9.) Do you feel more African-American youths are reading? If not, how can we help increase this?
I think that more African-American youths would read if they had stories they could connect with. Growing up, I can only think of one series of books that I could read with African-American characters, and that was Jessica from “The Babysitter’s Club.” I used to be so amped when one of the books was about her because she was pretty, loved to dance like me and she was a positive person. She was also my age. I would also support comic strips like "Jump Start" and "Curtis." There seems to be a gap in African-American fiction -- books go from elementary school straight to middle age. I specifically catered to a college audience because I wanted something that high school and college-age students could relate to with characters who look like them.
10.) How long did it take you to complete "Change for a Twenty" and "Round Trip"?
"Change for a Twenty" was initially a journal entry that I wrote in undergrad in about four months, but I went back to it later, re-read it and decided that this would be a better book if I added more male characters to make the story fair and more entertaining. All in all, it was about eight months. "Round Trip" was also about that length of time. I've never had writer's block, so length or time has never been an issue for me. Making sure it's ready for the public to read takes far longer for me than actually writing the book, research included.
11.) What made you pick the topics you chose?
I read a lot of books, and growing up, I used to always want to read about the high school age and college-age groups, which is the reason I loved the television show "A Different World" so much. I've always been interested in the HBCU experience even before I went to Lincoln University (Missouri). Plus, I hung out with many girls who would tease girls who were not virgins and act like they were behind the times. I wanted to write a book for those girls who want to wait and let them know that it's a great thing to think seriously about your first. And as for "Round Trip," I'm dead tired of hearing so many cases of African-American people who could've avoided this deadly disease if they'd just strapped up. I had a very close friend who rolled her eyes at the thought of wearing condoms and said it felt better without it. I asked her if life felt better to her than sex. She just stared at me. There are numerous other ways to get it, but having sex with protection is one of the easiest ways to protect yourself. I wanted to tell a story from the college perspective of that experience and how it can shape a person's growth.
12.) What types of classes or jobs should I pursue in order to be a full-time writer, author or journalist?
If you want to know about my personal journey in the writing industry, visit "How to Use Your Writing, Journalism or English Degree." The beauty about loving to write is you can use your experience in many markets--Web sites, law firms, book publishing industry, newspapers, magazines, etc. I would recommend taking Creative Writing workshop classes (including poetry, nonfiction and fiction writing classes) to develop thick skin for criticism. When you write something for the public, you have to be able to stomach the positive and negative feedback. While I've watched authors show their uglier side when their work was criticized, everybody who doesn't like your work is not a hater. Sometimes the most critical advice can improve your work, even if it's hard to hear. Listen. Learn. Improve. It's also a good idea to take editing classes. Every author is not an editor, and that's why editors will never go broke. However, authors tend to write better when they're pretty decent editors. Journalism courses are obviously going to be essential for the writers who want to work for newspapers and magazines and learn how to write articles, how to get valid sources from interviews, and the importance of research. I've been a Web Editor and Staff Writer for the "Chicago Defender" newspaper and the Message from Montie blogger with ChicagoNow.com (owned by the "Chicago Tribune"), an Assistant Copyeditor for an educational textbook publisher called Kaplan Financial (Dearborn Publishing) and a copyediting contractor for Pearson Education courtesy of CoreStaff. But outside companies have hired me for my writing and web/book/news editing experience, including D'PUC Credit Union for web and newsletter editing, a legal claims company called Sedgwick CMS for transcriptions, and Media Recall for both transcribing and editing media projects. I also voluntarily built Web sites for D'PUC Credit Union, Ada's Student and Hareder McDowell. You don't have to work for a book publisher to be able to use your craft.
13.) What do you do when you're not writing novels?
Outside of working, I'm a bona fide bookworm and don't go anywhere without a book (regardless of how many complaints I get about me bringing books into restaurants and malls even when I'm with someone). Outside of reading, I'm usually shopping at NY&CO or Kohl's, relaxing at the lakefront with my collection of yoga pants, visiting vegetarian restaurants like Quench! or Chi Tung, sitting in a movie theater, driving around in my Suzuki or hanging out with close family/friends. I try to travel as much as possible, but the economy has made me spend wisely. I'd love to return to Niagara Falls someday but after going to Maui, I'm focused on visiting the other Hawaiian islands.
14.) You discuss the vegetarian lifestyle in both of your books. Are you a vegetarian? If so, why?
I make a point of not going around telling people who do eat meat about the horror stories of animal torture, but I am a vegetarian for the moral purposes. I've gone back and forth from being a pescetarian to a vegetarian from 2004 to current day. If you're interested in finding out the moral issues, I'd strongly suggest you check out "The Vegetarian Alternative: A Guide to a Helpful and Humane Diet." If you just want to know ideas on what to eat, check out "So You Think You Can Be a Vegetarian?"
15.) Where did the title "Change for a Twenty" come from?
College is when people really start growing up and developing their individuality. When we get into our twenties we start seeing what directions a person is going in. I think every single character in here started deciding on how they were going to react to relationships, education, friendships and other obstacles during this age range. But "Change for a Twenty Year Old" wasn't as catchy, right?
16.) Who are your book cover artists? How can I contact them?
I loved working with the photographer of "Round Trip," and his name is Luke M. Schierholz. He is extremely flexible, creative and deadline oriented, plus he was quickly able to imagine the type of image I wanted. You can see his work on Flickr or on his media Web site. The photographer for "Change for a Twenty," Evan J. Hunt, can be contacted here.
17.) Who is Maroonsista and Message from Montie?
Maroonsista is a long-time alias that I've been using since my sophomore year of college (2000). My favorite color is maroon; and everything from my microwave, phone, bath towels, and even my first car and license plate code were maroon. The sista part is self-explanatory (i.e., black woman). Chances are if you see a username that's Maroonsista or Message from Montie, it's me. And no, my nickname is not spelled Monty or Monte. It's spelled with an "i" because of "Shamontiel."
18.) What made you write about HIV/AIDS? Do you know someone with it?
I have always been very passionate about safe sex and being careful about who you sleep with. I was raised to respect my body, so I try to urge others (especially young people) to do the same. One of my favorite moments while promoting my own work was speaking at my alma mater, Lincoln University, about safe sex and BEHIV. I made a decision a few years back while volunteering that I would never be intimate with anyone without knowing their status. However, I briefly dated three guys (only intimate with one) who all tried to talk me out of making them get tested. I realized how easy it is for women to get so roped up in trying to keep a man that she forgets to keep a check on her own body. After breaking my rule and not making one guy get tested first, I was so bitter about it that I broke up with him three times (third time was the charm). Another guy I dated had a friend who died of AIDS, but he was still convinced the disease did not exist. That's how deeply we're in denial about it, and it irritates the hell out of me. I have no communication with either of those guys now, by the way. No one should make you compromise your morals, especially when your morals would help both of you health wise. I have never had unsafe intercourse, but nothing is 100% (HPV can still spread even with condom usage) but abstinence so get the test! If you want to read more about my focus on sex, check out the following articles: "HPV: The Most Common STI for Sexually Active People," "How Do You Know When It's Time to Lose Your Virginity," "Condom Fitting, Sizes, and Allergies," "Why It's Important to Use a Condom During Oral Sex" and "Getting Tested for HIV/AIDS."
19.) Are you going to write more novels from a college perspective?
I don't believe I will. I think I've covered the issues I wanted to cover in college, but I will continue to write for the generation that doesn't get much attention. Whether I'll do it in book format or not, I'm not quite sure. I've found a surprising love for reporting (during the Jena 6 case), and writing online in newspapers and in magazines that I wasn't originally interested in until around 2005 (after both books were published). I enjoy writing about people in their 20s and 30s who are still trying to find themselves as grown-ups, and I'd like to explore more issues that are important to Generations X and Y no matter what platform I use.
20.) How do you pronounce your name?
It's pronounced Shuh mawn tee el. My nickname is Montie, but my brand is my birth name and I never use any other byline. I like my birth name because my mother liked it enough to give it to me, and if my mother likes it, it automatically gets my stamp of approval. However, you can't call me by my nickname until you can correctly pronounce my biological name first.
Photo by Shamontiel | ©2008 Shamontiel L. Vaughn | All rights reserved