Books,  In The Spotlight

In The Spotlight: John Darryl Winston

It has taken me slightly longer than usual to put this post up, as I have been extremely busy (dealing with rubbish companies and work related stuff), but here is my review of John Darryl Winston’s ‘IA: Initiate‘.

I approached John on Twitter back in July when I read the synopsis for his book ‘IA: Initiate‘. It immediately had me hooked and with a male black protagonist, it was definitely different to previous books I had read in the supernatural/thriller genre.

IA: Initiate is a supernatural thriller set in the mean streets of America. A seemingly random act of gang violence sends “Naz” Andersen on a quest to find answers surrounding his dead parents that lead to a series of discoveries about his supernatural abilities. Naz tries to stay out of the way at his foster parent’s home, but he walks in his sleep, and he is unable to keep the fact that he hears voices from his therapist. He attempts to go unnoticed at school and in the streets of the Exclave, but attracts the attention of friends and bullies alike, and his efforts to protect his little sister make him the target of malicious bullying by the notorious street gang, Incubus Apostles. Naz is an ordinary thirteen-year-old, or so he thinks. He harbors a secret that even he is oblivious to, and a series of ill-fated events reveal to him telekinetic and telepathic abilities. Now he must navigate newly found friendship and gang violence, and face the full force of the world around him. The only way he can survive is to discover the supernatural world within.

John was kind enough to send me an electronic copy of his book and when I started reading I could not put it down. Something that made me happy was that the main character, Naz, was someone of colour. Whilst growing up, most of the books I read featured mainly white characters, which I obviously couldn’t relate to as I am half Asian/half black.

Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoyed the books I read, but it would have been nice to read a book when I was younger with a character who had the same colour skin as me or the same texture of hair as me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself more drawn to books by POC’s, and it is honestly a refreshing insight for me.

What I love about John’s book is that despite the main characters being young, I think people of any age can still relate to it. From Naz’s honesty and the way he takes in his surroundings to the way that he develops throughout the book and gains more confidence in himself, it is honestly a heartwarming thing to read about.

The mix within the book of supernatural, science fiction and mystery is something that had me hooked because these are genres I love. The pace of the book was good, as well, and John certainly knows when a flashback is needed. (I hate when authors put in a flashback and you’re just like, “Er, excuse me – back to the main story please. I do not need to hear this person’s origin story, right now.” Same goes for television shows, but I digress).

Honestly, if Naz was a older I’d probably be in love with him. I’m always falling for fictional characters – it’s a wonder I have a boyfriend.

I asked John if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions, so here’s my interview with him! Enjoy 🙂

Can you tell my readers a little bit about yourself?

Hmmm … let me see. I’ll work backwards. I‘m a middle school teacher with the Detroit Public Schools (pray for me). Teaching is a second career for me with recording artist being the first. I was one half of the group Kiara: a late eighty’s, early ninety’s duo signed to Arista Records (Whitney Houston label mates RIP) that released two albums which included 3 top ten singles and the number one record “This Time”: a duet with Shanice Wilson. During my music career, I also managed to produce and write songs for a number of other recording artists, most notably Gerald Levert (RIP) on his biggest selling album “Groove On” for which I received a gold and platinum record.

Before the music industry, I attended The Recording Institute of Detroit (RID) and The Motion Picture Institute of Michigan where I received certifications. Before that I was a saxophone player in the army band and since that time I’ve received my BA in education from Wayne State University and my MA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Currently, I’m piloting a program I developed called Adopt an Author with the mission to connect published authors with young readers for the purpose of creating an environment where all children learn to love reading and writing.

Where did the inspiration for IA come from?

I guess at the end of the day, I expand on what I see on the big screen. That’s what usually does it for me. I have a place in my heart for the origin story. I was never a fan of Superman until I saw the movie with Christopher Reeve and learned the origin of it all. That did it for me. I like a robust tale, like Star Wars, with a flawed hero or heroine that achieves in the end against overwhelming odds, cliché, I know. My stories always start from that vantage point and then the muse takes over.

In the case of the IA series, I simply wanted to write a mainstream story on a grand scale with a black protagonist that everyone would relate to.

I contacted a reader on Goodreads, who had written one of the many positive reviews IA: Initiate had received, to thank her and ask her why she chose my book over the countless others out there and she replied:

“I often read first what I want my twin grandsons to read. I had been hoping to find a “Harry Potter” type book and series where the main character is African American and I believe ‘IA: Initiate’ fills that. Additionally, I look for “Super Hero” type books for them where the super hero is also African American. My grandsons delight in these characters on TV with European features, white skin and flowing Blond hair who don’t look like them.”

It was as if the words I had written in the subtle science fiction of IA: Initiate had spoken to her in the exact terms of my intention, and it was as if she had read my mind because that was my exact goal.

If you were to meet Naz in real life, do you think he’d want to hang out with you?

He’d definitely want to hang out with me because we’re equally yoked for obvious reasons. He’s everything I wish I or my son could be, along with all of the fears and insecurities. He harbors endless questions, as I do that can never possibly be answered by mere mortals. But that’s the fun of it all and the rub. And we’d spend endless hours just asking those unanswerable questions.

What was your favourite chapter to write, and why?

My favorite chapter was definitely the Chess Master chapter(s) because there’s so much going on, some of which the reader will only come to realize down the road. There’s also a cinematic feel I tried to create with multiple things going on with dialogue, action, and description between the enigmatic Chess Master and the humbled heir to the throne, Naz. I had a lot of fun with it.

Is there a particular character in IA you feel a stronger connection with?

Actually, Naz’s father Dr. Cornelius Anderson (Cory), because he has all these not-so-popular ideas to change the world, and he loves to put on a show while doing it. He thinks there’s so much more to life than our senses reveal to us, and he wants to find those things in fun, entertaining ways. I know somebody like that … Oh, me!

What sort of Starbuck’s coffee would your characters order? Simple coffee, complicated soy-non-fat-extra-espresso-half-caff-nightmare?

Naz – Hot Chocolate
Meri – White Hot Chocolate
Miss Tracey – Who cares
Mr. Tesla – Drip Coffee
Gruff – Caffe Americano
Ham – Chai Tea Latte
Dr. Gwen – Cappuccino
Coach Fears – Espresso

Which of your characters would you like to meet in person and why?

I have to meet Naz one day because he can do that telekinesis and telepathy thing with his mind, although, he doesn’t know it yet. I’d want him to try and teach me how to do it, or at least hang out with me and do it so we could impress some people.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Become a sponge. Read, read, READ, and then read some more. A good friend once told me that writing gave birth to reading, which makes sense, but I think it’s a circle that can’t be broken now and being a veracious reader leads to being the writer that you want to be … whoever that is. Read good books, bad books, hard books, easy books, read any and everything you can get your hands on. And of course write as often as you can, but there’s one more thing: listen. Listen to people in conversation wherever you go. Eavesdrop whenever you get a chance to, not just what people say, but how they say it, and take notes. This will increase the authenticity of your dialogue, which is huge.

What project are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on the second of installment of IA: My beta readers have it in their hands and from there it goes to my editor.

And last but not least, if vampires can’t see their reflections, why is their hair always so neat?

Hmmm … I gonna say there hair is petrified because they’re actually dead, right? So, their hair never moves, I don’t know, lol.

Watch out for John’s sequel to IA: Initiate by following him on Twitter and checking out his Goodreads!

Find John

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Website


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: