Friday, April 15, 2011
PROFILE: Author Sheryl Mallory-Johnson
Author Sheryl Mallory-Johnson has managed to create a readership that spans different age groups and backgrounds all by just being true to who she is as a person and her gift. The California native talked with me about this journey that has allowed her to meet her readers wherever they might be in order to address their concerns and issues while giving them some great entertainment along the way.
Here is our conversation (This interview appears in the April/May 2011 issue of Conversations Magazine.):
Sheryl, it's great to catch up with you again. The last time we talked, you were promoting your adult novel SENSE OF LOVE. Since then you have written for younger readers. What has the change of audience been like for you?
Writing for an adult audience comes natural for me. Writing for young adults, however, requires that I get into their world. I accomplish this by talking to the teens around me, listening to their music, watching their TV shows, doing their dances (laughs)and understanding their language and means of communication. When I was a teenager, we didn’t have cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, nor did we have our own texting language. This is a whole new generation, connected to the real world at the click of a mouse or by simply turning on the nearest television. I have to be “up on it,” as they say. So, the change of audience is interesting to say the least. But no matter how old I get, the teen I once was isn’t far behind.
When you first started on this journey as an author did you have a certain audience you wanted to write for?
Funny you should ask that question, Cyrus. Ironically, my journey as a writer started with the YA audience. The L.A. Summer series originated as a motion picture screenplay some ten years ago, and was titled “Rollin’ at the Rink.” I had a “Hollywood” agent at the time that attempted to shop my screenplay for production. Lo and behold, a movie titled “Roll Bounce” was produced and subsequently one titled “ATL,” centering on a similar theme. It’s amazing how God blesses our lives in ways we don’t “get” until we get it. My hurt and disappointment led me to my passion, novel writing. Since, I’ve adapted both of my screenplays to novels, which includes the L.A. Summer and Sense of Love.
I remember from our conversation on the radio that you are really into developing characters that readers can relate to and understand. Has that been even more so with your writing for younger readers?
Definitely! L.A. Summer is raw and real and not written for adult approval. As a matter of fact, akin to real life, the adults in this series are left in the dark for the most part. As a YA writer, the last thing I want to do is write preachy stories teens cannot relate to. I give my characters freedom and allow them to learn lessons in hindsight, like we all have. I love this population! Many teens of today are ahead of their time, extremely intelligent and goal oriented, yet they are also impulsive, politically incorrect, and unpredictable, which makes for drama packed, fun filled plotlines. Sometimes I don’t know what stunts Stacy, Mikki and Carlette are going to pull. It’s the heat of the moment for these girls, act now and deal with the consequences later.
I keep making the distinctions about the demographics you are writing towards, but I think you would agree that just as many adults like your YA work just as much as your adult novel. Has that surprised you?
Yes, it has come as a surprise, an exciting one. Actually, some of my adult readers prefer my YA novel and are anxiously awaiting the sequel. It might be because this is an “edgy” series, with some mature subject matter, written for high school age girls on the brink of womanhood, or because many adult readers find themselves transported back to their own teen years through the characters’ experiences.
Tell us about L. A. Summer and the series.
L.A. Summer is a fast paced, reality based series written in the voice of three in your face, memorable characters, Stacy, Mikki and Carlette. The story arose from my coming of age experiences in South Central L.A., after spending my early school years in West L.A., a predominantly white, influential area, while my mother attended UCLA. In some ways, I was much like Mikki, a small town girl thrown into the lion’s den. In other ways, I became Stacy, strong and tough on the outside to survive and fit in. And there are many teenage girls who can relate to Carlette, hungry for freedom and willing to risk it all to obtain it. Despite experiencing the death of a boyfriend at the hands of a drive by shooting, surviving a drive by shooting myself, being forced to fight to maintain respect, and watching the rise of crack cocaine devour the streets around me, what I remember and appreciate most about coming of age in L.A. is hanging with my best friends, the nonstop drama and mischief, loving boyz, and having fun! That is what this series is all about.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are big among all ages, but especially among the young audiences. How have you been using them to get the word out about the books?
Well, I’m certainly on Facebook, and was on MySpace. I’m also on Twitter, but still don’t get it. My other marketing efforts include libraries, teen websites, teen groups, churches, schools and being lucky enough to gain the attention of the great Cyrus Webb and Conversations Live!
What's next for you, Sheryl?
What’s next for me…? Books, books and more books! I recently completed my second Women’s Contemporary fiction titled Love & Regrets (at the moment anyway.) If adult readers want a book they can’t put down, they will love this provocative, romantic, fiery novel, which weaves the lives of three beautiful women around five desirable men. I’m also working diligently on book two of L.A. Summer, which will be finished soon!
Thank you again for your time. How can our readers stay in contact with you?
Readers can blog me anytime at http://www.sherylmallory-johnson.com, or send me a friend request on Facebook. To purchase L.A. Summer or Sense of Love, they can visit Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com. Sense of Love is also available on Kindle.