“When my situation ain’t improving, I’m tryna murder everything movin.” -Jay-Z
A lot in me has changed, over the years. The man I am today is a far cry from who I used to be. The growth in me has emerged. The trials and tribulations of my past are all dealt with. Today, I can honestly say, I’m a grown man. A grown man who’s more than ready for the next set of obstacles, because we all know they do not stop… Neither do I.
However, this was not something done over night. No, it took some time and doing. This giant transition took place behind the walls of silence. In a place where I was surrounded by thousands and yet I felt all alone. The facade, I once stood so graciously behind, long gone. There were no more flashy cars, jewels or people who boosted my ego with hopes of getting rewarded in return. In a place where everyone was dressed the same, ate at the same time, and held captive by the same guards, I no longer stood out. I was no longer the captain of my ship. I went from one-of-one, to one-of-many, and for a long time I was bothered by it.
This small bruise to my large ego, was a major turning point in my life. It was what caused the soul searching. My inner voice emerging, as I found myself driven and determined to be different. You see, in the beginning, writing, for me, was a merely a way I figured to make some money, and prevent from returning to the life which had lead to where I’d found myself. However, as I continued to write, it became my escape. It became a part of me. My release. I wrote lyrics, novels or, sometimes, just my thoughts. I would write for hours and hours. I became hungry for knowledge, and this hunger became a beast that lived in my heart and thoughts. The blood from this beast would bleed through my pen, taking a part of my soul with it every time. It was like a demon which acted beyond my control, scribbling pieces of me, one line at a time. It spoke to me in a monotonous voice that screamed inside my head. In the end what was once an escape had turned into pure passion, and I became one with my writings:
One with this beast within.
While a lot has changed, some things remain the same. This hunger within was in me, when I participated in illegal activities, and it’s remained as I’ve grown into who I am today. I’ve always wanted to be the best. From day 1, I held a competitive nature. I am still a very proud man, only I’ve learned to cross out the foolish pride. My decisions are never based on emotions, but whether simply on that which makes the best sense. Success is what I want, like the air I breathe. It’s my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night. The mere thoughts pushing me, whenever I want to quit. They hold court when it is time for a reality check. They, too, are apart of the beast within.
Laced with wisdom and understanding, I face this world with a ready-for-whatever attitude. Understanding that talent will only get me so far. And, knowing, that hard work is really what separates the good from the greats… I will be great!
I don’t want people to just read my writing and say, “Yeah, I liked it” or “It was good.” I want people to one day say my writings changed their lives, in the ways that they’ve changed mine. I want the beast within to be understood. I want readers to see it’s face, every time they read my work. I want my pains to be felt, my happiness to give chills, and my journey to be an adventure which readers will never forget.
More than anything, I want people to understand, that the beast in me is hungry. And by all means, HE SHALL EAT.
Interview w/ Godfather
What first inspired you to write?
SHAWN: Well, ever since I can remember, I’ve been a daydreamer. There were times, in my days as a hustla, when I would park my Cadillac on a quiet street and just entertain my own thoughts. Back then, Master P was big and he had just dropped the movie, “I’m Bout It”. Other street related movies, like “Paid In Full”, “Boys N The Hood”, and “Menace to Society” were all inspirations, long before I ever even knew anything about the Urban Lit. Genre. All I knew was, my life was like a movie, minus the director yelling “Cut”. I always wanted to tell my story and be creative, but it wasn’t until I was imprisoned, and forced to actually sit still, that I actually completed anything or was even given the focus. I was just on my bunk, one night, when my celly tossed a book at me. Interupting my reading of a James Patterson novel. “You always reading that bullshit.” he said. “Read that.” I looked at the book and it read “Dutch”, the cover was attractive. It had $100 bills on it and the bills were covered in blood. Instantly, I wanted to read it. And, once I started, I could instantly relate. A light bulb went off in my head. I knew that I could write a book, about the game that I’d once played. I just started writing, without a clue where I was going or even where to start. I just wrote and wrote, and when I let a friend read it, he told me it was terrible. Yet, not one to be too easily discouraged, from there, I started learning about literature. Small things like sentence structure and paragraph formatting. My first manuscript was written at least ten times. Then again when I got home. Bottom line, When I set my mind to something, I’m relentless. Besides, one can never truly succeed, without first knowing what it is to fail. In a nutshell, writing became my escape. My release. My passion.
I know you were in prison when you first started writing. How long were you locked up? Where did you do your time? Talk about that.
SHAWN: Yeah, I did 8 1/2 years in federal prison. I was held at a low facility in Morgantown, WV. We were in the mountains, but we made the best of it. Of course, there were hard times, but there were also a lot of times I remember laughing my hardest. Prison turned me from a boy to a grown man. It shaped me in a way people on the streets, who’ve never been there, would never imagine. I had the honor of being around dudes who had made their way down from high security to where I was. These were men who had been down for 20 and 25 years. Men with great patience and humility. They had tough skin and they taught me how to keep my emotions in check. They helped me see at my own situation as something small in comparison. The hardest part for me, was watching my love ones struggle and not being able to help. Prison made me realize just how much of a needed presence I truly was, and I still keep that in mind to this day.
How many books have you written, and are any of them a part of a series?
SHAWN: I have ten manuscripts in total. Seven are a series of events which follow my debut, Real Recognize Real. When done, that will be a ten book series. On top of that, I have two unrelated manuscripts, and also a lot of notes which will soon become another manuscript called “Mirror Me Back”, which will be my first non-fiction piece.
Tell us about your debut novel REAL RECOGNIZE REAL. What is it about?
SHAWN: My debut novel, Real Recognize Real, is a story of growth. Readers will go on a journey with a kid who’s earned the name Real. It wasn’t given by a long shot. The title is a double entendre, because not only is the main character forced to recognize what’s real, as far as his perspective on life and people in general, he’ll also be made to uncover and discover that which is real within himself. A struggling character some might call a villian, while to others he is labled as a hero. A hustler with a conscience, yet affiliated with some considered heartless.
What is it you hope to accomplish with your career?
SHAWN: I hope to become an inspiration just as those writers and film directors, I named, inspired me. Of course I want this to be a career where I can feed my family, but more than anything, I want to remain passionate about my writing. I want my readers to always see the picture I’m painting and to always see my vision.
Talk about the book game in your area. Do you know of any other authors in your area? Are there many independent/urban bookstores in your area?
SHAWN: Besides Nikki Turner, I can’t recall a writer from Richmond, Va with a heavy impact. Nikki set the bar high, and I hope to follow in her footsteps. As for local bookstores, there aren’t many, if any. The college, VCU is taking over everything. However, as an active member of United Distribution, I’ve actually been looking into how to start my own store, and just may do that one day. I believe the paperback market in this city is wide open.
What’s your strong point? What skill do you think you’ve captured best?
SHAWN: Because I could accept constructive criticism, I can say that I now have the ability to tell a story. I now know what readers are looking for. I can take a reader into a setting, and make them feel as if they are actually there. I can give a reader a character that they will either love or hate. I know how to toy with a readers emotions, and take them there, as they practically live within the scene. For instance, I now know that I can’t take a reader to the south of Richmond, without telling them about the horrible smell from the waist factory. Or tell them about, Mosby Court projects, without mentioning how the trees are gone, and the grass has been replaced with manuer. I key in on details. I want the reader to either say I never want to go there, or I need to visit this place. At the end of the day, they have to feel something or I haven’t done my job.
What are your weaknesses? What areas do you hope to work on and develop more?
SHAWN:Time lines. I still struggle with time lines. Like how do I skip from January to April, without dragging the story, or skipping ahead so fast that I lose my reader? Or when is a good time in the story to change the year. I never want the reader to feel like the story is too slow, but I don’t want them to feel like they’ve lost anything either. Finding a good pace, I would have to say. That’s something I’m working on.
On a personal level. I know you’ve got kids. What else is there to know about Shawn Starling?
SHAWN: Two daughters that I love dearly. I was blessed to have them raised, in my absence, by a phenomenal woman. I was also raised by a strong mother and grandmother. They tried to keep me in church, and a lot of those ethics/values stuck with me. I’m thankful for that. I have a crazy past, but there are no regrets, because, I am now a better person. I’ve learned from my journey. I love hard, but I don’t confuse fantasy with reality. To me a spade is a spade, and that’s what I expect from the people in my small circle.
What advice would you give someone who’s thinking about maybe putting a book together?
SHAWN: Do it, but be passionate about it. There is a lot of bad writing in our genre, so don’t get caught up in what you may have read. Stand out and read other genres. I still read James Patterson. As writers, we are putting our work on a platform and giving readers the right to play judge. The story should have flow, and the readers should be able to ride that wave. Also, when you write what is real to you, others will always feel it. Keep it 100 and they’ll applaud you for it. If you don’t, prepare to be crucified.
Is there anything else you want to add?
SHAWN: I’m simple. I believe life is simple, but we as people tend to complicate things. Honesty, loyalty, and trust is rare, but it will take you so much further than deceit. I’m a go-getter, but I also know the power in keeping still. Sometimes, you just have to be calm. That keeps me grounded. Anger not hate, is loves greatest opponent. So, when I do get angry, I’ll be still, until I’m thinking logically again. Then I move. I’m strategic, I’m a thinker and I don’t talk much. Only when I feel something is needed to be said. Humility is a very hard thing to accomplish, I’m still working at it everyday while others label me humble. The only traits of my past that still remain is the pride I put into what I do, and the fact that I will forever be a hustla. New product, but I’m still a huslta.
How can you be reached?
SHAWN: Fb:Author Shawn_ Starling.
Click here to purchase Real Recognize Real by Shawn Starling