Friday, February 14, 2014

Armani & Me: An Interview About "Harlem Boyz"

Harlem Boyz is without a doubt one of the most buzzed LGBT books this year. Through word of mouth and print/digital publications, people are highly raving about this book. Who is this author that wrote this book that everyone keeps talking about.

I recently reached out to Armani Williams just to have a little chit chat on this new book and new recognition.

So here you are with your second book. Did you have any fear that you were going to be a one book wonder, and not write a second book after Scandalicious?

I would say before publishing Scandalicious I thought that. By the time I’d published Scandalicious, I’d finished writing Harlem Boyz. But there was a five year gap between writing them both so the fear of not being able to write another book was definitely there at first. I’m grateful that my love of writing has allowed me to write more than one book. I think that’s the difference between writers and someone who has a story to tell. There are several stories I have to tell so I’m excited about it.

What made you decide to write a novel like Harlem Boyz?

I wanted to show a different side of black gay men that doesn’t often get shown. I think there are still many misconceptions about who we are. For one, we don’t all dress in drag, we don’t all idolize and aspire to be women, we’re not all catty, mean and cutthroat. Some of us act like men, conduct ourselves as men, work, and have real lives. That was the most important thing to me. No disrespect to the ones who dress in drag, enjoy the ballroom scene, and the like. Whatever floats your boat but the thing is they are represented very well. The rest of us aren’t. You’d be surprised how many people I encounter who tell me, “Wow I’ve never met a gay man like you. You’re so…normal.” I don’t take it offensively, I’m proud to represent a different kind of gay man. And my gay male friends are a lot like me. I wanted to create something that represented us. Pretty much saying, “Hey we exist over here too.” And there is something dynamic about us here in the NYC metro area. And I figured Harlem would be the perfect place to capture it because it’s such a great place. I love Harlem. It’s my favorite place in New York.

You once wrote on your Facebook page that this book was quite an emotional journey for you. Describe that to me?

Wow. Well I went through a lot in my personal life. In between the releases of Scandalicious and Harlem Boyz, I went through about five years’ worth of stuff in about two years. A lot of dark moments that aren’t the easiest to talk about but I will say that it all made me stronger. And the big pay- off is the success of Harlem Boyz, which allows me the opportunity to talk to great folks like you. The only thing I can say is when you are met with great challenges, you truly find out what you’re made of, you find out who you are, and who is really in your corner.

How is a guy who lives in New Jersey able to depict New York City, especially Harlem, the way you did so beautifully?

Thank you. I lived in Harlem briefly so I got to know all of its splendor. The funny thing is I had written the book prior to living there. But after living there I was able to give the book more details and change a few things. I did a lot of walking around while living there. So I learned where things were and was able to mix things up with my imagination and real places. I wanted the book to feel like a film that was shot on location. So far, that has won over many of my readers. They felt like they were in New York which is exactly the picture I wanted to paint.

Which character was more interesting to write and which character was the most difficult to write?

Writing this book was very organic. The characters were just there and the dialogue came naturally. They were so much fun to write about. Especially the scenes where they were all together and just talking. Sharing themselves with one another. I must tell you, I think one of the most refreshing things about this book is that they actually talk. While there are some phone and text conversations, it doesn’t dominate the book. With the advancement of social media, smart phones, and all these different devices, conversation is such a lost art these days. So the fact that they actually talked to each other mattered a great deal to me. I don’t think any one character was particularly difficult to write about, in as much as some of the darker scenes were difficult to read over and over again. The violent scenes and the discussions of painful memories were kind of hard to go back through. But in writing them the first time, it wasn’t too hard. Just reading back through it was kind of hard after I’d written it.

When you are writing these characters, did Armani Williams, by any chance, put pieces of himself into any of the four main men or supporting characters?

(Laughs) Believe it or not, all four of them are extensions of me. I relate to Shawn’s sensitivity and his soft heart. There was a time in my life where I was very fearful like Kevin. Damon is who I would like to be when I grow up (minus the neurotic behavior, lol), and Malcolm is the guy I’ve always wanted to be. I think I’m pretty cool but Malcolm’s swag is always at 1000. I mean he walks into a room and a breeze begins to blow, that’s how cool he is. But underneath his tough exterior, he’s a teddy bear. Just don’t get on his bad side because he will knock you the fuck out. (Laughs) But on a more serious note, Mama Nzingha is a lot like my own mother. My mother read about her and said, “Wait. Is she supposed to be me?” I said “Yeah kind of.” Like Malcolm, I lost my father at a young age and had a similar conversation with his grave. I just wish he’d lived to see me grow into the man I’ve become. I wanted my father around the same way Malcolm wanted his father around. Just to be there. The conversations Damon had with his father are also the conversations I wish I’d gotten a chance to have with mine. And the fact that I wanted to live in Harlem was another reason they live there.

What is currently on your reading list?

Right now I’m reading To Paris with Love by Carl Weber.

What is next for Armani Williams? Any short term, long term goals?

Well, promotion for Harlem Boyz is underway. I have a few appearances coming up and I’m trying to figure which festivals and book fairs I want to attend. I’m midway through writing my third book, Jersey Lovers which I’m particularly happy about because my characters in this book are straight and one of them is from my hometown of East Orange, NJ. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into just one thing. But not to worry, the sequel to Harlem Boyz is coming. I just ask that everyone be patient and give me the time to cook up something even tastier the second time around. My competitive nature only exists in my own mind with myself. I compete against my last project in terms of doing my best to improve. I know the expectations will be high for the sequel so I want to make sure it’s as good as it can be before it drops. And after Harlem Boyz II, I am turning a stage play I wrote into a novel and I’ve got ideas for another book after that. So I’ll be busy writing and publishing for the next few years. My long term goal is simply to grow as a writer and keep bringing people the best books in urban chic fiction. That is the tagline for my company, Jerzee Boy Publications and I aim to create the best books out there.

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