THE HEART AND SOUL OF J'SON M. LEE

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J'son M. Lee is the Owner and President of Sweet Georgia Press, a multi-dynamic publishing and editing firm based in Baltimore, MD.  He was born in Lewiston, NC, and resides in Baltimore, MD, where he enjoys a fulfilling, yet busy life that includes managing commercial properties, writing books, editing, food and entertainment, and spending time with loved ones.

Lee is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning a degree in Speech Communication with a concentration in Performance Studies. He is a multiple award-winning author who creates works that challenge the notion of normalcy. Most recently he was named 2013 Author of the Year by SGL BOOKLOVERS magazine. With his pen, he seeks to broaden minds and reinforce the universality of love. With wit and a gift for narrative, he creates characters that will speak to your heart. His works include Just Tryin' To Be Loved, How Could My Husband Be GAY?, the "Friends or Lovers" short story series (Best Friends, More Than Friends and Can't Be Friends), love One (short story), and One Family's AIDS (short story).

Lee is also a writer and celebrity interviewer at Proud Times Magazine in Spokane, WA, and host of a monthly BlogTalkRadio show, A Different Kind of Love.
Courtesy of jmcoylee.com


Imani: J’son, you’re well-loved and respected among our peers, and I’m sure many of them are familiar with your background. But share with us, what makes J’son M. Lee the man he is today?

J’son: Imani, first of all, thank you for this opportunity, and thank you for those kind words.  What makes me the man I am today?  That’s a great question.  I think the answer is quite simply my experiences—mainly the bad ones.  I’ve been very candid about my upbringing, and those things shaped the person you see today.  They made me stronger.  They made me better.  They kept me honest.  They made me push harder, and want more.  There are times that I wish my life—especially my childhood—had been different, but I continue to believe that God doesn’t make mistakes.  I am exactly where I am supposed to be and who I am supposed to be.

Your debut novel, Just Tryin’ to be Loved, was an awesome read. I loved it! So share with the readers, what inspired you to write a compelling story?

I wrote this story for selfish reasons—to release a lot of the pain and disappointment I experienced in my own life as it relates to acceptance, love, and relationships. There is a lot of similarity between me and the main character, Mark Harris. Mark’s views on love—and life in general—mirror my own.  Despite everything that’s happened in my life, I am still a hopeless romantic. I hope this book makes people believe in themselves and believe in love.

Just Tryin’ To Be Loved has some very colorful characters, most of which are based on people I know.  My favorite character was Gramma’.  The relationship Mark has with his grandmother is the relationship I had with my own grandmother, Georgia Lee (who is also my company’s namesake).  In reading the book, I hope you will see my love for her and the wonderful lessons she taught me.

What about the development of the characters, were there any challenges of creating them?

I think this project was the only one where there weren’t challenges with character development.  I remember sitting in my dining room and literally having conversations with and between the characters.  They were all so real to me.  I heard their voices.  I knew their thoughts.  They literally guided my hands through the process.

One of your characters I found intriguing was Mark's grandmother. I knew when reading this book this character was personal for you. So, tell us more about your 'Gramma' -- Miss Georgia?

My grandmother was an amazing woman, and I wanted to capture her essence and pay tribute to her in this work.  She never got to read the book, but she did read the acknowledgments.  I remember sitting in her living room in North Carolina as she held the book in her tiny hands.  She was very proud of me.  “I can’t read all dese words, but I read what you said about me.  That was very nice,” she said.  That alone was all the validation I needed as a writer.

Let’s talk about your writing process: are you character-driven by allowing your characters to guide you? Or taming the storyline by being plot-driven?

I’d have to say that I am character-driven.  Most times the characters dictate the story.  I typically don’t begin writing knowing where a story is going to go.  I just relax into it and let it unfold.  My characters have a mind of their own.  I will say that there are times that I literally skip chapters because a character has advanced the story well beyond where the other characters exist.  In those times, I simply go where I’m told and then go back and fill in the gaps.  It’s a crazy process, but it seems to work.



You’ve also written books centered around social issues; such as, LGBT romance, HIV/AIDS, and sexual abuse. Why are these topics important to you?

I try to be as authentic as possible in my writing.  In staying true to who I am, I often write about things that I know or things that I’m passionate about.  You’ve mentioned a number of those things above.  I am a gay man who believes in love, so I write LGBT romance.  I have lost a friends and family to complications of HIV/AIDS, so I want to pay tribute to them and make people aware of this disease.  HIV/AIDS is not the death sentence it used to be.  Lastly, I’m very transparent about my own experience with sexual abuse.  I was in therapy for many years dealing with the repercussions of abuse.  Many people never seek help.  I write about abuse to let people know how it effects the victim, and to raise awareness.  I love children.  Sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic experiences a child can endure.  They deserve better.  They deserve to be children.

I know you're living the life that some dream of having, but when you first 'came out", what was the reception you've received from your family and friends? And how is it now?

I'd like to say that coming out was a positive experience, but quite frankly it wasn't.  When it's been ingrained in you since early childhood that you are an abomination and going to hell, it's hard to reverse the effects of those teachings.  Coming out for me was a long process.  I didn't come to terms with my sexuality until I was well into my 30s.  In the process, I had varying reactions and emotions.  My mother found out when I was in high school, and outed me to my entire family out her own hurt and anger.  She looked in my face and said, "If you want to be a woman, then be one.  Why hide it?"  Many people, my mother included, think that being gay is about wanting to be the opposite sex.  That is the furthest from the truth for me.  I love being a man; I just happen to also love men. The remainder of my family never really talked about my sexuality, and I was fine with that. 
              
Fast forward a few years...I was a college graduate and living on my own.  To this day, many of my family members remain silent on my sexuality.  They all know, but there's never a conversation about who I'm dating or anything like that.  I think a large part of that has to do with my perceived success.  I'm from a small town, and in their minds I've "made it."  I think there is some intimidation on their part. They know how vocal I am, and dare not say anything to incite me.   On the other hand, there are a few family members who are fine with my sexuality and love me unconditionally.

I've been blessed to have friends who love me for who I am.  I do feel that I have to compartmentalize my friends.  As I said, I have some who love me for who I am, and then there are others who feel it is a choice and that I can be delivered from this somehow.  I used to readily discard folk who believed this way, but it was such a waste of energy.  We simply agree to disagree.  The way I see it, they have two choices—love me, or leave me.  I'm not changing.  I'm comfortable in my own skin.  I'm openly gay, and very vocal about it.  I will continue to be vocal until sexuality becomes a non-issue.


 Your much anticipated, upcoming novel, Darkness, has already gripped my attention. For those who don’t know, share a little sneak peek of this important novel.

Imani, if I’m honest, this project is a struggle.  I’ve had the idea for a few years now, but have yet to put anything on paper.  When that happens, I simply have to wait until I’m directed.  I know it’s something that I will complete, but I don’t know the premise or when.  All I know is that Darkness will be a book about my own struggle with depression.  Recently I wrote an article for Proud Times about my experience.  I’ll share a portion of that with you:

At a glance, I have the ideal life:  I am a Senior Property Manager at the largest owner/manager of commercial properties in the Washington, DC region.  I own my own editing firm, and have a thriving writing career.  I own my own home; I drive a luxury car.  I also have some of the greatest friends any person could ask for.  While I seem to have the life that many would dream of, there are times when I am overcome with sadness.  Often during these times, I find myself crying for no apparent reason.

My symptoms first surfaced when my mother unexpectedly passed away.  I have always been the person whom everyone in my family relied on to handle business.  When my grandmother died in 2006, I assumed the role relegated to me.  The same was expected when my mother passed away three years later.  After the funeral, I returned to Maryland—business as usual.  I had moments of sadness as I grieved the loss of my mother, but something was different.  I’d suffered loss before, but this pain went beyond loss.  I cried for no reason.  I found excuses to not be social.  I would stay in bed all weekend with the curtains drawn.

One day as I was driving in to work, tears began to stream down my face.  I couldn’t figure out why I was crying.  I decided to see a therapist.  At our appointment, I shared with her all I was going through.  “J’son, you have endured great loss.  I would like to suggest that you see your primary care physician.  I think you need something to take the edge off of what you’re feeling as you work through your pain,” she said.  I was completely against medication.  I didn’t want to walk around like a zombie.  After all, only crazy people took medication, right? 

At my doctor’s appointment, I tried to hide my sadness, but my doctor saw through it.  He insisted something was wrong because I wasn’t my usual “smiley” self.  I finally shared with him that I had recently lost my mother, and that I was feeling unusually sad.  I also shared with him what my therapist had said.  He praised me for going to therapy, and for the first time the word “depression” was used… 

I want to continue on the subject of depression. Explain to the readers on how debilitating the illness is, and why “praying-it-away” isn’t that simple?

Let me begin by saying that I believe my faith coupled with therapy is the reason I am able to cope with my depression.  The faith-based community would have you believe that you can pray everything away.  I am not of the same mindset.  I think that mentality is killing people.  Prayer is one of the most powerful weapons we have, but there’s a lot to be said for therapy and medicine (if warranted).  Depression, especially in the black community, is like a dirty little secret.  We need to get beyond this stigma if we are going to heal ourselves.  We are taught not to tell our business, so we often don’t seek therapy for our issues.  Further, black people tend to have a lot of fears surrounding medication.  Let’s be real, we have every right to be as evidenced by the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, for example.  Historically, we don’t trust medication, and we don’t trust white folks to prescribe it to us.  I believe God led me to my therapist, and I’m a huge proponent of therapy, and medicine when needed.  I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve utilized both.  People think you are crazy if you see a therapist; I think you’re crazy if you don’t.

So how are you feeling today?

I still suffer with bouts of depression, but I am more readily able to recognize the symptoms and do the things I need to do to get better.  I recently went back on medication as I felt the “darkness” looming again.  I couple that with an exercise program, and I feel great!

I’ve mentioned earlier how you center your stories around social issues, including sexual abuse. As a survivor, what advice do you have for individuals who’ve dealt with the lingering effects, but feel too ashamed to seek help?

First of all, I’d like them to know that what happened to them was not their fault.  For many years, I blamed myself for the sexual abuse I endured.  I remember telling my therapist how I seduced my abusers.  My eyes were opened when she said to me that I did what I was taught.  As a child I didn’t have the capacity to seduce.  So I was finally able to release the guilt and shame I harbored.  Talk to someone about your pain.  Therapy may not be an option for everyone, but talking about things goes a long way in healing your heart and mind.

You’re a man of many talents – author, actor, and now add editor to your resume. Describe your flourishing business, Sweet Georgia Press and its mission?

Sweet Georgia Press is a multi-dynamic publishing and editing firm based in Baltimore, Maryland. Established in 2012, we hit the ground running with an eye for detail and commitment to professionalism.  From short stories to full novels, we focus on ensuring writing of the highest quality. We work with authors on their own terms, with an emphasis on best practices. 

I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing authors like Michelle “Big Body” Cuttino, Deidra Ds Green, Ben Burgess Jr., Keisha Green, Rashea Baldwin, Andrea Ryan, M.T. Pope, and many others.

Imani, although my grandmother is gone, I still want to make her proud.  Sweet Georgia Press is dedicated to her memory.  This company is an extension of her legacy.  I hope to leave behind the same legacy of love, integrity and compassion.

We all have that special someone that made an impression on our craft. Who is this person(s), and what would you say to them if they were here?

So many people have made an impression on me, but two people immediately come to mind—Monique Thomas and Mark Williams. 

Monique, thank you for pushing me to finish Just Tryin’ To Be Loved, and for challenging me to think beyond boundaries.  You are my muse and you make me see life and nature the way no one else can. 

Mark, thank you for saying, “You are bigger than a short story.”  Had you not said that, I would have settled.  You showed me that I hadn’t even tapped into my talent.

Finally, what are the top five things on your bucket list?

That’s a great question.  Here they are, in no particular order:

1)      I want to fall in love and get married.
2)      I want to be able to take some extended time off and travel the world.
3)      I want to launch my own greeting card line.  This is actually in the works!
4)      I want to retire early.
5)      I want to meet Michael Strahan.  I’d settle for him being #1. 

Thank you, J’son! This has been an insightful interview that I know will help someone. If readers would like to know more about you and your work, or seeking an editor, where should they go online?


To learn more about me and/or my works, please visit my website at www.jmccoylee.com.  I’m also on Facebook www.facebook.com/jmccoylee.  If someone is seeking an editor or editing advice, please check me out at www.sweetgeorgiapress.com.  


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2 comments:

Priscilla Danita said...

Great interview. I too have read Just Tryin' To Be Loved and agree it was amazing. J'son I thank you for sharing your story. Depression is real and something that needs to be talked about until the stigma around it goes away. P.s our grandma's have the same name I feel like we were meant to cross paths.

Eddie Previtte said...

I enjoyed your interview. I always knew you were a man of many talents. Your grandma is smiling down on you everyday!

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