Our author spotlight this month falls on Harule Stokes, or better known to WritingForum members as Tettsuo. Herule has self-published two novels and is now working on his third.
Please tell us a little about yourself, including hobbies and interests.
Not much to say about myself. I’m married, and trying to be the best father I can be to my twins (boy and girl). Working hard at writing so I can stop working hard at my day job. I’m a fan of mmorpgs and anime. And I love boxing, Muay Thai and MMA.
You mention on your Amazon author profile that you grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY, where you witnessed violence and drug abuse. Has this influenced your writing?
Your question made me smile. Not because I think it’s a funny question, but more akin to my odd sense of nostalgia. During the 1980’s, the height of the crack epidemic, is when I passed through childhood and into my teens. I have many fond memories of that time and some incidences I wish I’d never experienced. The odd thing is, as those incidences were happening, none of it felt like some otherworldly experience. It all felt normal. That was life for me during that time, and none of it was so horrific that it left a scar. Yet, when I look back on it, through the eyes of my now adult life, I do see the madness I was surrounded by and immersed in.
So to answer your question directly, yes I was witness to a lot of violence and drug abuse.
As for the influence those experiences have on my writing, I believe it has to have an impact. I build a lot of stories from my life and experiences. In fact, there’s a scene in my first novel Sectors that was directly pulled from my personal observations about the neighborhood I grew up in.
Who or what inspired you to write your first novel, Sectors (Volume 1)?
The root of Sectors is in the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. I wanted to do a take on it, kind of like an allegory, that would probably paint Israel as the villain. Then, it all changed when I actually starting writing, mostly because I was writing it from the vantage point of the aggressors. Suddenly, I found myself understanding the fears and concern they would feel about an enemy in their backyard. My previous sense of justice no longer played a part, and I was confronted with the viewpoint of a society I was tasking myself with protecting. So, what came out of this self-mind-screw, is Sectors.
What is the book about?
At its core, Sectors is about a young man, gifted with great power, but oppressed within his society. Evidence of his society’s oppressive nature is he’s tasked with policing his country’s political prisons held within a mass concentration camp.
Please can you share a short excerpt?
The alleyway opens into a canopy of bright foliage. But today the rays of light sifting through the leaves, and the shadows they cast, remind me not only of the innocent children whose laughter once rang through this space, but also of the horrible end they met. Fresh anger churns in my gut, and for the first time in my life, I’m ashamed to be a Northerner.
The scent of blood lingers around me, around the broad tree ahead and the green moss below. They didn’t even clean the space. Bullet holes dot the ground, walls and tree – they simply sprayed the crowd in reckless fear and wild unrestrained hate.
Did they even look to see that their targets were children as young as five and six?
“They killed eight children along with Chann,” I hear from a doorway to my right.
It’s Satpal. She’s here.
“They didn’t even offer Chann medical assistance as she slowly rejoined. That’s what David told me before he left. They just stood over her, watching her die. They watched her bleed to death,” she says, walking slowly towards me. “Want to know something funny? As much as she didn’t like you, she said she could see why I’d be interested. Interested in a despised Northerner.”
“I wish I could have done something. I wish I was here,” I say, walking towards her as she stops and stands her ground.
“Do you now?” she shouts, gesturing towards me with her hand and giving me a cynical, cold smile. “Like what? What could you have done to stop this situation? Huh? Other than allow us to fucking live our lives without your people’s oppression? How about that? Could you have done that?”
The pain that I only glimpsed in her eyes a few hours ago at Reynold’s apartment now spills freely out as tears stream down her cheeks.
“I do whatever I can.”
“Well, whatever you can do is not enough. It didn’t stop them from killing Avtar or Hargun, did it?”
“I can only do my best, Satpal,” I say as sadness swells up inside of me.
“Your best didn’t stop them from blowing Jodh’s brains out or save Kanwal from drowning in her own blood.”
I drift off, looking at the red scarred ground near her feet. There were once children playing and laughing there.
“LOOK AT ME! Your best didn’t comfort the children while they watched Jasver struggling to keep his little brother Pargat from bleeding to death. You weren’t here to stop the officers from dragging crying, screaming children away from Chann’s dead body,” she says, tight-jawed, motioning with a tight fist across herself as if pulling her own heart from her chest. “She died trying to protect Harbhajan, Anand, and Jai from the hail of gunfire that murdered all three of them right where you’re standing now.”
There’s nothing I can say to give her comfort, nothing I can do but listen.
“I had the luxury of reaching here as they were about to put Galeen, Gunpreet, and Anant into the back of a van for collaring, like animals.”
“I’m sorry, Satpal.”
“No, don’t feel sorry for me. I also got to see David kill every single one of them.” Her voice cracks as tears land on her bright blue blouse. “I got to see them suffer. I got to save a few Keynosian children from them. No, don’t you feel sorry for me.”
“I’m sorry you had to lose so much.”
“You want to know what I lost? I lost my heart,” she squeaks out, her face twisting in grief. “My heart is broken, Joseph,” she mutters, no longer caring to wipe the glistening streaks from her face.
Can anyone mend a heart that’s been broken? I want so badly to be able to do so.
“Do you understand? Can a Northerner like you even comprehend what I feel? My heart is BROKEN!” Her body and voice quakes with the force of her emotion.
“I never wanted this to happen, Satpal. I just… I just want things to be good.”
“How can they be good?” she questions. “How can anything be good in this cage, this prison? We can’t even protect our children!”
I love you, Satpal. That’s what I want to say right now. I want to say that to her so badly. I love you.
“I can try to do whatever I can, Satpal. But I don’t want you to push me away,” I say, taking a step towards her.
She doesn’t move.
“What? Do you think that somehow just because you want something it’ll just happen? Do you think that you can solve what your people are doing to us because you just wish it so and all the while working for them? Working in a system that’s over seventy-five years in the making? Who the fuck do you think you are?”
I take another step towards her, now within arm’s reach, listening closely to her heart rate increasing.
“What the hell do you want from me? I’m just a Southie, right? Isn’t that what you people think of us? Filthy Southies? What do you want from me!”
One last step and I reach out to her, trying to touch her, connect again like we once did before.
With a flash of white pain, an explosion hammers the side of my face, stunning me. I didn’t even see her hand move. The force of the slap nearly knocks me down and my eyes fill with tears. Not from pain, but from shame. I can taste salty blood in my mouth as I step closer to her again.
“Can’t you see I don’t want you here? I don’t want you here, Joseph!” Once again I sense she’s building up energy, preparing herself for another strike.
I love you. “I will do whatever I can to help, Satpal,” I say, again reaching towards her broken heart. This time I see her arm tense up, preparing to knock me back again. “I’m not going anywhere, Satpal. I’m not going to run.”
“Didn’t you hear me?” she says, openly sobbing now as she raises her hand once again. “My… my heart is broken. I have nothing to give.”
“If your heart is broken, so is mine.”
My hand presses down on her blouse, my palm on her heart, and my fingers gently rest across the top of her breast. I feel the racing of her heartbeat and prepare to be struck again or worse. I’m not going to run. As I close my eyes, defenseless, I am prepared for anything but her gentle touch on my chest.
When do you plan to publish volume II?
Currently, part 2 is in the works. I’ve finished the rough draft of the 1st chapter. I’m going a lot slower this time, hoping to minimize my errors so I don’t have to go over it a bunch of times before I send it to my editor.
Your second novel Fallen Sun: The Great War was published in May 2016. What is the book about?
Fallen Sun takes place 75 years prior to Sectors. It centers on the end of the war and the state of one soldier, Jocelyn Martinez. We get to see the end of the Great War through her eyes.
If I were perusing the ‘shelves’ on Amazon, what genre best fits your books?
Honestly, I don’t know. My books are considered science fiction, but I don’t really have much science in them. The books are more tech-fantasy-ish? You could even label them superhero novels and not be too far off.
Is there a genre you would not attempt to write and, if so, what and why?
I wouldn’t even attempt to write comedy. Mostly because I don’t think I’m funny or clever enough to pull that kind of story off. I believe it takes a really keen mind to write comedy well, and I don’t think I have the comedic depth to do that kind of writing.
What importance do you place on social media and which if any platforms do you use to market your work?
I’m completely losing faith in social media as a means of getting people to buy my work. It’s just far too saturated right now. More and more it’s looking like the only way to really get your book in front of readers is to get a Bookbub ad. Currently, my plans revolve around getting enough good reviews by writing to the best of my abilities, so that Bookbub will accept one of my novels. It’s a long shot, but worth it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to plug away and work at it to the best of my ability… which mostly revolves around other ad spots in better and better companies.
Did you follow the traditional publishing route or did you self-publish? If self-published, what problems did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
Self-publish all the way. And fyi this seems to be the most effective way for a complete newbie to start out in my opinion. Traditional publishers are now mining self-published authors and trying to snatch up the most successful of them.
The biggest problem with self-publishing is,frankly,the cost of getting a novel up to snuff. Editors being chiefly the biggest cost hurdle. The rest, I think writers can learn to do ina few weeks if they apply themselves.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m elbow-deep in part 2 of Sectors. As always, it’s tough to start, but once the juices start flowing, it gets easier. So, come on juices!
If you could have dinner with five authors, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
Oscar Wilde – Off beat and brilliant
Terry Pratchett – He’s writes in such a humorous and intelligent way, I assume the guy is super fun to be around.
George Orwell – Deep and very intelligent thinker with just enough dark to see the world clearly.
Kurt Vonnegut – I’ve listened to him speak and think he’s way too cool and funny to not have dinner with.
Frank Herbert – I just want to mine this guy’s brain. He made one of the most enduring worlds ever.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
You can’t edit a blank page. So even if it’s bad and you’re not feeling the inspiration, keep writing anyway. That’s the best way to learn and complete work.
Do you outline a plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
I outline always, but I also allow my ideas to take me wherever they may. Well, so long as I can direct the story back to the outline, I’m good.
How do you develop your characters? Do you have any tips for breathing life into them?
Find out why the characters behave the way to do. Give them a history, one that will make sense of why they act the way they do. Even the most profoundly evil people were once children. Somewhere in their lives, they received the wrong message and it messed them up. Then, keep that history in your mind when you write the characters.
Also, give all of your character the idea that they are the heroes in the story, at least from their perspective. If you do that, they’ll “behave” in a more natural way. Sure, all characters are indeed created for the purpose of plot development, but they don’t know that (or they shouldn’t act as if they were created for that purpose). Characters often read flat because they are. They sound, talk and act like cardboard cutouts of people because the author never took the time to breathe life into them by actually understanding the whys of their characters.
Where and in which formats are your books available?
Sectors and Fallen Sun are both on Amazon and both are available in eBook and physical format.