T. Styles: A New Life for
by Kaven L. Brown
Is there a place where those who experience the struggle of inner city life are afforded an escape through literature which mirrors the lives they live and told by authors who’ve lived it?
Indeed there is.
T. Styles, the controversial Beltway Beauty, fan favorite, and bestselling author of A Hustler's Son, Black & Ugly and Diamond Playgirls—plows into the New Year with an innovative publishing company—The Cartel Publications. She represents the Hustlers, the Pimps, and the Prostitutes. The Maryland based company says there’s nothing wrong with depicting fables of strife. While the majority of publishers, who publish these gritty stories, sunder themselves from the urban/inner-city tales, The Cartel professes it full force. The creation of The Cartel Publications was in direct response to the demands of readers from a culture that has been ignored in texts up until recent years. And still only a few publishers have been able to capture the essence of this lifestyle; realistically portraying the conditions in which their fans live and the situations they face everyday—The Cartel Publications aims to fill this void.
After remaining relatively quiet on the issues concerning the state of Street Lit, no longer can T. Styles hold her tongue. "I'm sick and tired of authors, fake experts, and people of the like hating on Street Literature," she declares.
First up, is a novel that will find its way into the hands of thirsty readers who are gasping for a breath of fresh air, and they shall find it with: Shyt List, where we are introduced to Yvonna, who escapes her conniving neighborhood only to come face to face with the realization she can't shake the betrayal of her friends no matter where she runs and devotes herself to vengeance—the infamous Shyt List is then born.
Next to press is T. Styles’ second investment titled: Pitbulls in a Skirt. When four girls are forced into the game by the men they loved and put on the streets to manage a big drug operation, things pummel out of control. In a situation like this, betrayal, deceit, and envy are a guarantee. Banding together, these women make a decision to fight for the future of an empire they helped to build. As the warring begins the ladies of the Emerald City Squad learn that most things are indeed easier said than done.
T. Styles and The Cartel Publications is Street Lit.
Why did you decide to start your own publishing company?
I decided to start my own publishing company because I wanted more control over my career and it was important to me to launch the careers of others, as it was done for me. I'm not going to lie; it took me a minute to push forward. I didn't want to just jump out there and say, "I’ve got my own publishing company world! What do you think?!" I had a few conversations with a few women who don't even realize the impact they had on me. The first conversation I had was with Venesha. This marketing genius taught me the importance of the "Introduction" and setting yourself apart from others. I think people will be surprised at the things I'll do to push my company forward in 2008. Some people are already surprised because they didn't see it coming. These same people need to understand that I didn't play the backseat because I didn't have a license. I just choose not to drive, but I'm behind the wheel now. In 2008 I'm going to be more visual and I'm going to do what I have to do, to move my novels and make The Cartel a success.
Another woman who changed the way I thought was probably also clueless as to how much she helped me. I had a brief conversation with KaShamba Williams at a book signing we did together in Baltimore. She stressed to me the importance of branding yourself and your product. I did so many things wrong when I was first introduced into the literary world and I don't intend on making the same mistakes in the future with my company or my authors. When I launched The Cartel Publications it was important to me to have excellent manuscripts, a tight company name that my authors could be proud of and great book covers. I think I've succeeded so far but there's so much left to be done. Check www.thecartelpublications.com in the future for more information.
What do you look for in manuscript submissions?
I look for originality and hungry authors. The reason I want hungry authors is because they'll help me move our product. I need hustlers. It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. I need authors with that "J.M. Benjamin" spirit. Grinding is where it's at! I'm going to put everything into the novels I publish, my money included, and I need authors to believe in themselves as I believe in them.
What do you think of the Essence Bestseller's list? Some think it's nothing more than an illusion and marketing tool. How can every book be a best seller?
I think it's a goal marker. I mean, when I first made the list I cried my eyes out. And afterwards I was like, okay now what? There are plenty of authors/publishers who move way more books on the streets than what is being reported to Essence. When it's all said and done, the only list that matters is the New York Times Best Sellers and the goals you set for yourself. How do I think every book can make it? Well for starters they have to get out there and grind. Not every company has the name power like Triple Crown. You have to get out there on them streets and move somethin'! With thousands of books on the market, it's the only way.
What is something that we don't know about T. Styles?
Ummm…let me see. For starters people don't know that I have recently become a vegetarian. And when I say recent, I mean right after this past Thanksgiving. LOL! I messed around and looked at this documentary on PETA, and saw some things that scarred the hell out of me. Only time will tell if the damage will be permanent or not. I'm not sure if it will. All I can say is I haven't touched anything but fish since viewing the documentary on Comcast. My family better be glad I saw it after the holiday too because I would've murdered the entire Thanksgiving meal. I'm talking about NO TURKEY, NO HAM, NO NOTHIN'!
I'm not going to sound the violins, but people also don't know that I don't believe in love. Don't get me wrong, I adore my son and my close friends, but love in regards to relationships fail a lot so I steer away from them. And if people follow my work, you'll see my novels reflect my statement. The characters go through a tough time for the sake of making "IT" work. My upcoming novel titled Diamond Playgirls, in which I created a character by the name of Mona Lisa Dupree, expresses my feelings in this area too. I believe in drive, goals, ambition, helping others and the pursuit of happiness. Who needs love? LOL!
Lastly people will be surprised to find out that I'm a shark with a hell of a Go-Getter spirit! I think most people took me for the cute author with the wide smile. But please don't mistake the physical for who I really am. I'm a force to be reckoned with and I know my capabilities. When I bet on myself, I come out on top every time.
Who is your favorite author?
I've been swearing by Quentin Carter forever. I also love Leo Sullivan's style and then there's Wahida Clark. Most recently I added TuShonda Whitaker to my list because her books read like movies. She's great.
What book are you reading right now?
Right now I'm reading Larceny since it's about to become a movie. I never read it before now and I'm enjoying it. After I finish Larceny I'm diving into Tipihani's Still a Mistress. I loved the first book so I MUST see how the sequel ends.
What was the last book you read?
Doing His Time by Nichelle Walker.
Where do you see Street Lit 10/20 years from now?
I see Street Lit advancing if we evolve. We have to find ways to better ourselves and our craft. I think with the right people involved, we can make this a respectable industry but we have to stop being on crud time. Everybody's worried about what so-and-so is doing instead of learning from one another. I applaud sisters like Azarel, Crystal Lacey-Winslow and KaShamba Williams for advancing in the industry and I look up to them. When you pay homage and show respect to those before you, you learn. And when you learn, you grow.
Why do you think Street Lit is bashed so hard?
Street Lit is bashed for a number of reasons. First I believe people expect us to be their children's parents while they fail and hang out in the clubs. Just like TV shows raised a lot of kids in my era, these books are raising the kids in this generation. The problem is not the books, its not knowing the difference between reality and fiction. Blaming authors like myself and others is ridiculous and this unreasonable behavior is partly to blame as to why some of our communities are doing so poorly. Don't get it twisted, I think we should always do what we can to help our communities and when possible, we should include valuable messages about the lures and the dangers of the streets into our stories.
I know I did with Black and Ugly, “Cold as Ice” in the anthology Street Love and my upcoming novel with Triple Crown titled, The Face That Launched A Thousand Bullets, which drops in July. But it irks me when we have people telling us what we should do and what we should write about. What are you doing to help? Our readers are smart and recognize the real. And when we come at them too hard with fake subliminal messages, we'll lose them for good. And I'm not willing to risk that with my fans. I put just the right ingredients to make a difference and to make it digestible. I'm an entertainer above all and I know how to separate my outreach efforts from my books. So while I believe some Street Lit is plain old garbage, I also believe other novels provide powerful messages but in a language our readers can decipher. Smut exists in all genres' not just Street Lit.
Anything you’d like to express regarding the bashing of Street Lit?
I'd like to tell people where to go and what they can kiss but for the sake of being a lady (smiles widely), I'll just say this. They should be careful where they point their fingers because they might end up in their own faces. And when the blame game is played, we miss everything that's going on around us. I think people who have a problem with the literature should monitor their homes carefully if they believe Street Lit is inappropriate. And to the youths who read our literature, who don't have supportive role models to look up to, you must understand that everything you see, read, or hear isn't real. Learn who you are and take the positive out of every negative situation you're placed in.
To others who may be going through it, I'd say I understand how you feel when you wake up and look out your homes only to see violence and despair. I know how it feels not to have a place to stay or somewhere to call your own. I know how it feels to avoid taking welfare despite needing it because you have pride. And I also know how it feels to accept it eventually because you have babies to feed. To you, all of you, I'd say this—my literature will always be something you can relate to. But understand as I grow, I need you to grow too. Never accept less and always strive for better. You can attain anything you want out of life and I'm a living example. Let your pain be your war wounds and wear them proudly as you move forward.
If you could, what would you change about the publishing industry?
I would change the sneakiness, underhandedness, the disrespect of authors, the shady players and replace them with people who deserve to be in this industry.
Kaven Brown is a contributing editor for The Urban Book Source, writer and the producer of the Behind Those Books Documentary.
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