Aug 02 2011
This week, my guest is Shykia Bell, who developed a love for writing at a very young age and often dreamed of authoring books, but her career took several turns before she penned her first sci-fi/fantasy novel, Camileon. At present, she is working on two sequels to her self-published debut and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband Max, their cat and cockatiel.
Welcome, Shykia. It’s a pleasure to have you here. You grew up in my favorite city, New York, but you mentioned that your neighborhood in Brooklyn was pretty rough. What were your childhood years like? What did you do to escape the harsh reality outside of the confines of your home?
Thanks, Molly. I’m thrilled to be here. New York is great, but like in any big city, some neighborhoods are rougher than others. Growing up in East New York, my younger sister and I would joke that even the stars were afraid to come out at night. Luckily, we had amazing parents who protected and educated us as best they could. Drawing and coloring became my escapisms during my grade school years. I also took solace in a show called Reading Rainbow. It was a refreshing contrast to the drab concrete jungle around me. Writing soon became my newest hobby during what was probably the happiest point in my childhood, when I could freely explore my imagination since I couldn’t explore the world beyond the bullet-pierced windows of our apartment.
What were your dreams in high school and how did they change after graduation?
I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life during my high school years. I now realize that’s because I had already abandoned what I believe I was born to do—writing. In many ways I felt like a character from Stephen King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes. He was described a compass swinging aimlessly, searching for its True North. I studied fashion design in high school and applied to FIT, but decided to shift gears when I couldn’t get into my desired major. In 2002 I graduated from New York City Technical College with a degree in Communication Design. During my attendance there, I met my husband, who would later play an important role in reawakening my dream.
I know that you’ve written a novel born out of your admiration for Brent Spiner’s performances in and beyond Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG). Please, tell the Trekkies and non-Trekkies alike how this came to be.
Brent Spiner played a huge part in the rekindling of my passion for writing since his work led me to write fan fiction stories based on the characters he portrayed. So many stories distorted the characters he painstakingly brought to life for over a decade and I felt the need to write something that would honor his work. The next thing I knew, I’d written three more before penning my novel, Camileon. Incredibly, I recently realized that as a result of Brent’s work, my novel hadn’t been created, but resurrected. You see, I actually began writing the first few pages of Camileon in a journal while back in high school, but ended up forgetting about it. Years later, and several months after self-publishing Camileon, I came across those very pages I had written in my late teens. To me, it was a physical manifestation of just how deeply the story was enrooted in my soul. Equally amazing is that LeVar Burton, Brent’s friend and ST:TNG co-star, was the host of Reading Rainbow. It all seemed to come full circle and I actually got to meet Brent a few times, which was an enormous honor. I also have to give credit to my patient and talented husband, Max, who set these events in motion. He encouraged me to leave a toxic environment and to write and publish my original work.
Max has been a comforting beacon through the most trying times of my journey, much like the steampunk inspired nightlight he recently made. He’s great at creating things, including custom knives and jewelry.
I’ve read your blog many times, and girlfriend, you do write beautifully. What are your literary aspirations? What writers have inspired you?
Thanks, Molly. Your words truly honor me. I would love to write a modern classic that will resonate through time. I guess I’m seeking immortality through my work. I’ve always admired the work of Toni Morrison, Stephen King, Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry. They have boldly and unflinchingly explored the depths of the human condition at its best and its worst.
How do you spend the bulk of your time on an average day?
These days I spend most of my time working on, and doing research for, my two upcoming novels. The intensity of the plotline has hurled me into the most involved research I’ve ever done. It’s exciting and scary at the same time since there’s a great deal of responsibility in telling the story properly without sacrificing historical accuracy.
Finding free time to read is elusive to many of us these days, but if we took a peek at your Kindle or to-be-read shelf, what books are awaiting your eyes? What are some of your favorite books of all time?
My Kindle is my buddy and I’m constantly adding books to it. My most recent read was Octavia Butler’s Kindred. My work has been compared to hers and I must say I’m very honored by that. Other titles on my Kindle include such classics as The Odyssey, Anna Karenina, and several Jane Austen titles. Some of my all time favorites are The Bluest Eye, the Harry Potter series, and The Giver.
Handling rejection is a huge part of achieving success in one’s given field of endeavor. Do you have any thoughts or philosophies about rejection that you’d like to share?
In one of my blogs I wrote: “Failure is an initiation some people go through before achieving victory.” I feel the same way about rejection. Lord knows I’ve had my share and will undoubtedly see much more of it in the future. Rejection is a catalyst that brings us to the important question: “How badly do I want this and how much am I willing to sacrifice and endure in order to get it?” Everyone should have a chance to do what keeps them happy. Depression is often the result of a malnourished soul. I should know, my soul had been starving for a long time.
The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?
It certainly is. The publishing industry is a cutthroat business and for a long time self-published authors were on the sharp end of the blade. Now that the ebook industry is exploding, there’s a great opportunity for those thirsting to achieve their dreams to publish their work. There was a time when if you couldn’t land an agent, your fate was sealed. There was also a time when self-published authors were basically viewed as the Hester Prynnes of the literary world. Luckily, times are changing. As the ebook movement continues, we’ll see many more independent authors hitting the best seller lists, proving that the ones with the most power in the literary industry aren’t the agents, publishers or even the authors, but the readers.
Social media is terrific, but it can be a great big time vampire, too. Everyone has different thoughts about the use and misuse of it. What are yours?
Social media can be a great marketing and communication tool when used responsibly. Yet, finding the right balance can be challenging and this is something I continue to work on. I’ve found myself hypnotized by the seductive vampiric charm of social media more than once and on each occasion I wound up hemorrhaging time.
Although I don’t live in New York City, it is not all that far from Swansea and I visit every chance I get. For me, there’s no place on earth like it. Please, tell the cool peeps what it’s like from your point of view to be a New Yorker.
Being an insomniac, it’s only fitting that I live in the city that never sleeps. Having lived here my entire life, I sometimes find myself longing for a quieter, slower paced environment. Yet, I really do love living here. What I love most is how accessible everything is, especially food and entertainment. To top it all off, I can see some of the most gorgeous sunsets right outside my window. In addition, the personalities here range from the good, the bad, the eccentric and the completely insane (and that’s just on the subway)!
You have a cat and a cockatiel. That’s way cool. I have a cat, but if I had a cockatiel, I think the only thing he/she would learn to say is “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” Does your bird talk? Is it tough to have a bird and a cat?
Yes, I have a black cat named Bazik and a cockatiel named Nuggets, who I found on my fire escape several summers ago. His arrival actually preceded my cat. When we brought Bazik home, he squawked: “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” In all seriousness, Nuggets doesn’t actually talk, but the bird’s got lungs on him! The two didn’t get along at first. Believe it or not, Nuggets was the instigator until one day, I guess Bazik had enough. I returned from work to find the cage busted open on the floor. Luckily, I found the bird perched on the curtain rod for dear life. Bazik’s nearly eighteen pounds now and Nuggets no longer tempts fate.
Being a big foodie, I have more than one favorite. I do love a good slice of pizza. Not the type from those commercial chains. I’m talking good old-fashioned New York pizza (preferably from Lenny’s or DiFara’s). Fughettaboutit!
I don’t often connect with today’s music. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a few artists who remain true to the craft and don’t rely on skin and spectacle to sell records. Yet, I think the music of yesteryear was more genuine and enchanting. The genres that resonate with me most are jazz, instrumental, R&B and neo soul. I love artists who are unusual and are able to express themselves with class.
My biggest pet peeve it the blatant disrespect and superficiality currently spreading throughout our culture. People are placing higher value on reality TV degenerates than in some of the most talented and educated people in history.
My last vacation was my all-time favorite. My husband and I spent a week in Antigua. The island is smaller than Manhattan, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sheer gorgeousness! We drove around the entire island in one afternoon and visited some pretty amazing sites. I daringly (or stupidly) zip-lined across the rainforest despite my crippling fear of heights. My heart was pounding like a frantic Calypso drum player, hyped up on caffeine.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
I guess what I’m most picky about is having things planned in advance. Spontaneity unnerves me, sometimes. I like to know what’s coming down the pipeline, but life doesn’t always grant such an advantage.
Where can people find you in cyberspace?
I’m on Twitter nearly every day. I’m also on Facebook, Goodreads, and Myspace (yes, I’m still there). I hope to have my revamped author website up by the fall.
Camileon has grown into something unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I originally planned it as a trilogy, but the plot has gotten so intricate that I think it will demand a spin-off. I’m working tirelessly to bring it to my readers and fellow word warriors soon. Please subscribe to my blog and check out my entries. Like Camileon, they’re a prelude to the remarkable journey I’ll take you on within the pages of my upcoming novel. I’d be honored if you gave me a chance by joining me as a valued guest in my world.
Camileon is currently available in print via Amazon and Barnes & Noble.