Interview: The Sons of Shea

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Your story depicts a neglected, poor Michigan neighborhood without hope except for one man, Bishop. It also has a hint of personal importance to you. Tell us how you developed the story.

DD: The Sons of Shea was a passion project for me. It began as a hobby — I had no strategy for publishing it, I just wanted to write it. I think so many people have stories within them, longing to get out, and that was me. I needed to get the story out of me . . . to give life to it. It felt like I just had to, regardless of what came of the work after that. So I started pecking out one chapter at a time. In many of the U.S. inner cities during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 80’s and 90’s, it really was a fascinating period in terms of the impact it had on people and communities in so many terrible ways. There were countless stories that depicted the horrors of it all in graphic detail. I wanted to create something different. I created in Bishop, not just the story of a hero, but almost a superhero in a sense. Hopefully there’s inspiration to be found in the midst of all of the fantasy and the fiction.

There’s a parable within the story where the main character, Bishop, tells of a Princess Shea. I found myself caught up in the story of Shea as the characters were in your book. What was the inspiration?

DD: I made-up the parable of Princess Shea on the fly one afternoon and  liked it so much that I decided to make it a running theme and the title of the story. The parable of course serves as a metaphor for the plight of black people in America, and Bishop can’t accurately conclude the story, because, in his world as in ours, the ending is still being decided – so he never definitively shares an ending.

Many stories and movies have been created surrounding kings and queens because there’s a fascinating interest that surrounds such wealth and power and position. I felt the stark contrast of a noble princess falling to the lowest depths, due to no fault of her own, was a dark, but poignant telling of how easily power and position can shift. Then comes the fight for dignity and for the survival of her sense of self. And that’s what The Sons of Shea is all about.

Bishop has an influential power and wisdom that capture the young men and women who help him on his mission for the community. What was your source of inspiration for Bishop and how did you want to portray his character over the course of the story?

DD: I’ve gotten a lot of questions asking who exactly I’d modeled Bishop after, but the truth is there was no one person who fit that bill. He was purposely an aggrandized character. He was more like an action hero, or the good-guy gunslinger in an old western movie, than the type of hero typically portrayed in this genre. I say that because he was equally as strong and forceful and driven, if not more so, than any of the antagonists he had to face — and yet he was good to his core. I wanted his pure heart to be both his greatest strength and his one true weakness. I liked the tension it created because I believe that the struggle to do the things we want to do, and perhaps even know that we should do, in the face of life’s challenges is the very fight that many of us face on a daily basis. I just felt that people could relate to his goodness and yet enjoy his ability to cast his righteousness aside if the raw laws of his particular jungle insisted he must.

As an independent author, what are some of the lessons you learned while writing your book?

DD: I learned a lot of lessons while writing this project.  The main one was that writers write! I had to develop the habit of just sitting down and letting my fingers run freely on the keyboard whether or not I felt that what I’d written was any good. Eventually the story began to take shape and I learned that it’s far easier to edit something, even if it’s not great, than to create something out of nothing. Writers write, not just daydream, or pontificate, or sit unproductively in front of a keyboard spinning their wheels. Write something. That’s what I kept reminding myself.

What would you like readers take away from reading The Sons of Shea?

DD: That our cities with challenges are still peoples’ homes, many of them good people. Often times there might be a few bad elements bringing down entire areas or groups as a whole, but there are usually good people there deserving of help. Lastly, sometimes when you believe something is right, and good, and is deserving of a fair chance to succeed, you may be called upon by your conscience to stand up and defend whatever that thing is. If you believe in it, I hope you show up and fight for it. That’s it.

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