Here’s The Situation… You’ve been in the game for over a decade, releasing one or two novels a year, and that’s in addition to the numerous anthologies and collaborations you’ve been a part of. You’ve self published and worked with various publishing houses, and you still don’t feel like you have gained the respect, recognition or rewards you have worked so hard to achieve. You only have One Lyfe To Live, so what’s it going to be? Are you going to throw in the towel or are you going to hang in there and fight?
AAMBC’s The Situation Room gets up close and personal with Erick S. Gray to discuss his hustle, the struggle and what he hopes to accomplish in the end.
Michelle: I must admit, when we met during Kwan’s book signing at Déjà Vu Book Lounge, I was drawn in by your aura, and so were many of the other ladies in attendance. You have a certain sex appeal that is self-assured and confident yet also very down home and humble. How do you manage to stay modest and sincere when your books are so gritty and raw?
Erick: Lol, thanks….having me blushing. But, that’s just me, down to earth. I like to have fun and make people smile and laugh. I’m about my business, but also know when to unwind, relax and enjoy life. I’ve seen my share of heartache, disappointments, violence and deaths over the years, and I refused to carry that stigma and stain around with me. So, thinking about the things I’ve been through yesteryear, and experiencing so much, has made me become the man that I am today—gotta live my life to the fullest, and never take anything for granted. And now, I write about it…I express myself through my novels and poetry. It’s so therapeutic for me. Being who I use to be, and Growing up in South, Jamaica, Queens, and living in Brooklyn at one point in my life, are what makes my books so gritty and raw. I just love to tell about it, and not live about it now…
Michelle: How did you become a part of the Déjà Vu Publications family and what is your involvement with the Déjà Vu Book Lounge?
Erick: Sexy aka Deborah, we are best friends. She’s the best. We met four years ago, and since then, we clicked together like legos. Like myself, she’s ambitious, smart and outgoing, and she always pushes and encourages me. I got involved with Déjà Vu Book Lounge, because I believe in her. Sexy has always been talking about opening her own book store in Spanish Harlem. It was something that neighborhood needed… something positive and I’m always for helping to build up a community. And with the publishing company, we decided to do something jointly together.
Michelle: With Crave All Lose All, you chose to name the main character, Vincent Gray, after your brother, who passed away in Attica in 2007. Were the book’s character and your brother one and the same, or did you use his name for another purpose?
Erick: Nah, they weren’t the same. My brother was rougher and a true thug, but he had a warm smile along with a warm heart, and was a comedian. But the one trait that they shared was the ladies. My brother was a ladies man and women loved him. Sometimes, with me, when I used a name that’s dear to me, either family or friends… the story comes out ten times better, because it’s closer to home for me. I used Vincent, for one, because it was my way to dedicate something to him, and two, my brother lived a rough life, and even though he has his own story to tell, which I’ll write someday, Crave All Lose All was a hard and inspirational story, which I wanted to attach his name to. I was nervous about using my brother’s name in that book at first, I didn’t know how my family would react, but they all loved it.
Michelle: Your books tend to stray from the usual urban-lit formula, where drugs and money are glorified. Instead, you choose to show the negative aspects of the “good life.” Is there a method to your madness?
Erick: No real formula or method, like Nike, I Just Do It! When I feel that I have a story to tell, I just sit down and write it. I don’t believe in far-fetched characters or fairy tale endings, where the protagonist is a super thug, and can kill dozens of people, got millions of dollars going on extravagant shopping sprees, with every cop and judge on his payroll and always having the badest bitch, and at the end of the story, he supposedly just that smart enough to get away with his crimes, maybe seek revenge and live secluded somewhere on a tropical island with his woman…bullshit! Shit, in my world, that don’t happen. I’ve seen all the negative affects of living that type of lifestyle and 95% of the time, it ain’t a happy outcome. Readers always tell me, that my stories are the truth and my characters are real life, cuz I’ve grew up in the hood. I’ve seen the pain and been through the emotions. I thrive on telling meaningful and thought-provoking stories, where the characters suffer through real life issues, either it being via drugs, gangs, sex, prostituting or murder. Not every drug dealer is a superstar or rich, every thug or stripper didn’t come from a broken home and not every whore is a nympho with a tainted past….sometimes, you gotta write why these people are the way they are, break it down…it’s called character development, and I believe in the cause and affect, in which an action or event will produce a certain response to the action in the form of another event. The choices we make do reflect who we are and the future we’re bearing for ourselves. So, I feel when a writer glories drugs, violence and money, then what are you trying to tell these young readers?
Michelle: The last installment to Crave All Lose All and Love and a Gangsta is America’s Soul, which was released on October 25, 2011. What, if anything, was done differently in this final chapter?
Erick: Well, actually, the book isn’t released yet. It got pushed back. But it will be dropping soon. But with this final chapter, “America’s Soul,” I speak on so many things. The book is a love story, mixed with hip-hop, drugs and redemption. And I also bring readers into the world of two drugs, crystal meth and brown-brown, because I feel crack is played out, especially to write about in this era. And if you’re not familiar with brown-brown, it’s a form of powered cocaine cut with smokeless gunpowder. It’s popular in West Africa, given to child soldiers where they go on to commit heinous crimes. But this book, the readers I feel, will love it, cause you have the love story with America and Soul continuing, but with a few major obstacles coming in between them…but then the subplots will have readers in awe. The Blacks are at war with the Jamaicans and I have the Mexican cartel in the mix of things, too. My writing in this book, I feel is one of my best.
Michelle: Like fellow scribes, Ashley & JaQuavis, you were also discovered by Carl Weber. Tell us how that came about.
Erick: I’ve known Carl Weber for years now; we go way back since 1998, when he owned a book store in Queens, on Jamaica Avenue. We struck up a friendship throughout the years. I used to show up at his store all the time asking what’s a good book to read. He was one of the co-founders of this publishing company that started in 2002, and I was one of the first authors he had signed. My first published book was Booty Call.
Michelle: We know that you are an avid reader and a huge movie buff. Name one movie and one book that influenced your writing and why.
Erick: Damn, only one movie and one book…that’s hard to do, because there are so many. But the movie or movies that influenced me, was Boyz in the Hood and Menace II Society, those two films were so gritty and raw, that it made me feel like I was in L.A with Ice Cube and Lorenz Tate. They were well written, and spoke volumes about the troubles, struggles and survival in the hood. I was 13 when Boyz n the hood dropped and sixteen when Menace II Society hit theaters, and I remember saying to myself, I want to write something that was so powerful and moving about life in the hood like those two films…especially something coming out of New York.
Now with books, it had to be Mark Anthony’s “Urban Massacre,” later renamed, “Paper Chasers.” And Donald Goines, “Dope Fiend.” And Monster Kody’s book “Monster.” Yeah, I know you said one, but I just can’t do one, lol. With those books, they pulled me into such a compelling story, that I just got so caught up and lost myself in those books, where as, my own reality ceased to exist. It made me realize that a good book could take you through so many emotions and have you thinking you know or experience that world yourself. When you give your readers feelings like that along with a strong visual of that world you want to portray, then you’re one hell of a writer. And I have such a vivid imagination, too.
Michelle: Have you had to face many struggles in your writing career? Please elaborate.
Erick: Damn, where do I start? Lol. But anything worth having in life is never that easy to attain…it was something I’ve learned a long time ago. But since I signed my first deal, it’s been an upward battle for me, from feeling underrated and unappreciated at times, and just trying to get your name out there and your books to shine. I’ve dealt with the harshness of criticism from all sides, the neglect, and being judged because of the books/stories I’ve chosen to write…where other genres and authors had turned their nose up, and scoffed at me and my fellow co-authors, because they feel that our genre, street lit, urban-fiction, or whatever you choose to call it, is not considered literature. Then I asked, what is? Literature is writing, no matter what stories you choose to write. It’s still a form of expression, and we all have a story to tell, don’t care what background it comes from. But there will always be struggles, its part of the come-up.
Michelle: Rumor has it that you are ready to quit the writing game. If that’s true, why now?
Erick: Yeah, it was true. It was at a point where I was just so frustrated and tired of everything that was going on, with this genre, among other things. But when you love something so much, and have a longing passion for it, it’s hard to give up and quit on it. But I’m not going anywhere, I’m here to stay.
Michelle: What do you think is the hardest part about being in this industry?
Erick: Everything, lol. I always say that the easiest part in this industry is writing and completing your novel. After that, it gets harder—from the editing, publishing, criticism and then the networking, marketing, promotion, etc… and then, trying to sell your book and yourself to the readers out there that already may have some doubt. If you don’t have thick skin in this business, you better hurry up and get some, cause you’ll get your feelings hurt quick and this industry will crush you and peel you open like a banana, real talk. I’ve been through it all…
Michelle: You have been signed to many publishing houses. Why such a huge variety? Where were you happiest and why?
Erick: I’ve been asking myself that same question for a moment now, lol. But where I was the most happiest…when I get to do this myself, and start publishing my own works, like with One Lyfe to Live. But I’m still learning this business, and you can’t learn this shit overnight. But I’m just happy that I’m being heard and read…I don’t take this business or this genre for granted. Being published, especially with so many titles out there, is such a privilege.
Michelle: Do you have any publishing horror stories you can share with us? If so, what was the outcome?
Erick: Oh, yes I do. The first publishing company I had signed with, they were a mess…the worse, editing issues, greed, ignorance, and on top of all that, these mo-fo’s had the audacity to spell my name wrong in the book, Eric Grey, when it’s spelled Erick Gray…still SMH at that one. And then on top of all that, they still owe me money, like sixty grand. But that’s paper I will never get to see, because they had the audacity to file for bankruptcy…so there’s my outcome, lol.
Michelle: In your opinion, how can a new and upcoming author avoid some of the pitfalls of the publishing game?
Erick: Simple, just do your homework. Ask questions and read, and I do mean, read everything. But it’s always good to reach out to other authors, to those that are willing to lend you a hand anyway…cuz you do have some shady and selfish individuals out there. But know how to network and study this business from top to bottom, build up strong relationships and don’t rush into it….take your time, be a little aggressive, but humble also, get to really know her, meaning this business…cuz foreplay usually leads to much greater pleasures.
Michelle: I know that you want to branch out into movies and are currently working on the manuscript for your novel, Streets of New York. Why did you select this storyline above all the others?
Erick: Well, I didn’t select Streets of New York, it was video director, Nick Quested that read the series, loved them and decided that he wanted to work with us and shoot the movie for the book. He’s well known with working with Nas, Dr. Dre, P. Diddy, cash money, Benny Boom, AZ, Trina, Trick Daddy, and many others. He’s well known in the industry and a really cool dude to hang out with.
Michelle: With eight novels (or is it nine now?), thirteen collaborations, and now your move into independent film, what else can we expect from the unstoppable Erick S. Gray?
Erick: I think it’s more like thirteen. But I’m gonna continue to keep them coming, and branch out into other things, like Sci-Fi, romantic comedies, and contemporary novels. I’m doing poetry; speaking engagements, especially with the youth, and the film business….which can be such a tedious and slow grind sometimes. It seems like it can take forever to get a quality film into production, so many things to try and get done…it’s so much different from the literature genre. But I’m also collaborating with a well known author to put out a book around Valentines, 2012. The story is bananas, and the title’s gonna have y’all jaws dropping. But I’m looking and so ready to get involved in so many things.
Michelle: At the end of the day, when your last book is written and the idea well runs dry, what do you want to be remembered for?
Erick: I don’t think the idea well will ever run dry, lol…I have so much to say and from my many experiences alone, along with my creativity, the pages are gonna keep turning, and as long as there’s breath and life in me, God willing, I’m gonna always keep producing something. It’s in my blood. But what I want to be remembered for….is that I truly lived my life, had a purpose and was one of the greatest that ever did this.
About The Author: The author of the urban sexomedy Booty Call has been writing seriously since 1997. His writing style of the streets, comedy, anecdotes, and well thought plots keeps the reader interested with every turn of the page.
This entrepreneur is also the owner/founder of 3G Publishing, and is also partnered with the publishing of SLR (Street Literature Review) a well rounded magazine about urban literature and upcoming authors of a growing genre. Mr. Gray is also making moves in other markets as well—one particular market is in independent film, in which he’s working on his first script for Streets of New York.
Being Born and raised in the south side of Jamaica, Queens, this 34 years young, gifted author has brought himself out on a high note with his first endeavor. His first book, Booty Call was published by Black Print Publishing in 2003, and has sold tens of thousand of copies in the past years, and from there on, he never looked back. He continues bringing you good stories as he shows in his collaboration with Mark Anthony and Anthony Whyte in the Streets of New York series Volume, one, two and three, along with Ghetto Heaven and his most recent smash hit, Love and a Gangsta, and Crave All Lose All, in which he won an award for best urban street lit book of 2007. With his other titles like Nasty Girls, It’s Like Candy, Money Power Respect, Flexin & Sexin, Booty Call *69, One Lyfe to Live and the highly anticipating novel soon to be released, America’s Soul, and Nasty Girls 2…Mr. Gray shows longevity and ambition among his peers in the urban genre.
Mr. Gray also has been involved in numerous anthologies, such as Menace, published by Melodrama, Around the way girls 5, published by Urban books, From the streets to the Sheets, Guns and Roses, the ground breaking, Heartbreakers anthology with powerhouse Kensington and Flexin’ and Sexin 2, published by Life Changing Books, with Treasure Blue, Deshawn Taylor and Nichelle Walker.
He’s been signed to many publishing companies from St. Martin’s Press down to Black Print Publishing, and has experienced many aspects of the genre, being to self-publishing Streets of New York with co-authors Mark Anthony and Anthony Whyte, or helping to edit stories with Q-Boro books or other up and coming authors, and he even modeled for one of his own book covers. Mr. Gray comes with seniority and has proven to hold his own in the game among literary giants such as Shannon Holmes, Nikki Turner, and K’wan with great story telling and being consistent with great material and other endeavors.
Mr. Gray is the epitome of how an author should show consistency throughout the years, by dropping books on a yearly basis, and keeping his name going in the industry. Mr. Gray is definitely on his way to becoming a literary mogul by laying down the foundation with future endeavors and by not letting the world forget his name, because in his own words, he quotes, “Creativity burns through my skin and to let you know, I’m sentenced to life with a gift.”
Erick S. Gray is showing that young African-American males don’t all fall into the same categories of drug dealer/thief statistic. His future is filled with promises of more intriguing and diverse stories for the masses to digest.
Don’t ever judge a book by its cover!!!