Solomon Jones is a multi-media marvel. Journalist, author, radio host, literacy champion – he wears dozens of hats. His own story is one of redemption and rebirth, and that inspiration comes through in every word he writes. Solomon will be leading one of our novel-writing workshops at this year’s conference, focusing on plot. Fellow Liars Club member Greg Frost interviewed Solomon and discussed Solomon’s work and what he expects at the conference. Find out what he has to say after the break.
You were, I believe, already a working journalist when you published your first novel. Had you always wanted to write fiction?
I was writing for the Philadelphia Weekly when my first novel was published, and had been published in both Philadelphia Magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. I always knew I could write, and choosing writing as a career just made sense for me, because it was something I enjoyed. It was something I had a passion for doing. I didn’t know I wanted to write fiction, but when life presented the opportunity for me to write about some of the things I’d experienced during some of the darkest times I’d lived through, I chose to do so through the lens of fiction, and that’s how first book, Pipe Dream, came to be.
What elements of your career as a journalist helped you when you decided to write novels?
Being a journalist taught me how to tell a story, how to get to the most important elements first, and how to bolster the storytelling with a strong reliance on facts. Through journalism I learned how to do research, how to glean information from sources, and how to incorporate that information into the story.
Does your approach to non-fiction differ significantly from your approach to a work of fiction?
My approach to fiction differs from my approach to nonfiction because with nonfiction you have to tell the story based on the facts as they are. You can’t change the facts to suit your plot. Fiction sets you free to move things around, to change the nature of the characters, and to bolster some elements of the plot to give the story more heft, more pathos, or more drama. What doesn’t change is my approach to writing the story. I try to draw the reader in and take them along on a journey into the lives or dilemmas of the characters. Hopefully I achieve that in both formats.
You’ve written some seriously dark crime fiction. And you’ve written from a female protagonist’s point of view. How do you immerse yourself in voices and personas very different from your own?
I draw from the lives and voices of the people around me. I think, at our core, writers are observers. We all, in a sense, are reporters. We gather information from observation and research, and then we bring that information to bear in the stories we write. I borrow from the voices and experiences of the people I’ve come to know and observe in my life, and then I put myself in their shoes. That requires a level of empathy. It requires an ability to take on someone else’s point of view. Once you can achieve that, I believe you can write any character.
What are some hints for getting your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard?
You just have to make yourself do it. Sitting down and disciplining yourself to write is the most difficult thing about being a writer.
You’ve also written a lot about your family. How do you balance your writing time with the rest of your life’s responsibilities?
It’s difficult. There are times as a writer when you know you are neglecting your other responsibilities. You try to find balance and do the best you can to write and still be a father, to write and still be a husband, to write and still be present for the moments that matter most to your family. Inevitably, you sometimes fail to properly balance the two, so you have to make the moments you have with your family count. More than anything, you try to let your family know that they’re a part of what you do—that it’s not this separate part of you that they can’t access or participate in.
When did you first realize you were a writer?
I realized in high school that I could tell stories in ways that some of my peers couldn’t. I had an English teacher who saw it as well, and pushed me. In hindsight, there were other teachers who saw it as well. My vice principal in elementary school and my sixth grade English teacher were among them. In many ways, others realized I was a writer before I saw it for myself.
What are you most looking forward to at the 2015 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference?
I’m looking forward to seeing the light come on for other writers. I’m looking forward to seeing them grow.
Ready to meet Solomon and share in your growth? Register for the conference here!