Michael J. Burt interview with author and poet Bill Holmes
Bill Holmes, a native of Philadelphia, PA is an enthusiastic poet, author, and novelist. His most recent release was his debut novel under Xpress Yourself Publishing, “One Love”, which has had tremendous success and is still going strong. Holmes’ writing career began in 1996 when he began his literary journey as a poet. He wasn’t too pleased with his job at that moment, so poetry was a way for him to escape all of the turmoil he faced in the work place.
Holmes’ writings have been featured in the popular African-American magazine ESSENCE, The Philadelphia Tribune, the spoken word CD Urban Assault, and the anthology Mine Eyes Have Seen into the Millennium.
I had the opportunity and pleasure of talking to Bill Holmes about his poetry, novel, and life. Allow me to introduce you to Mr. Bill Holmes…
MJB: Many writers have alter egos that they use when they write. Do you have an alter ego? Who is Bill Holmes the author? The person? Are they the same?
BH: No, I don’t have an alter ego when I write. Bill Holmes the author is the same as the person. However, Bill Holmes the poet is much more aggressive, daring and outspoken than both the author and the person. I suppose that comes from reciting poetry and having an open and honest relationship with the audience and my fans.
MJB: Describe your journey to becoming an author? Were you ever rejected in the past by publishers or agents? If so, was it an extensive amount of times? How did you keep pressing on?
BH: My writing career began as a poet back in 1996. I was working at a job I didn’t care for and had a lot of time on my hands. I began venting my frustrations onto paper and spend a lot of time writing love poems for my then girlfriend. One year later, I began reciting poetry at open mic venues in Philly at the suggestion of my best friend. I wrote a chapbook, Illuminations, a full length book, Straight From My Heart, and recorded a spoken word EP, Asphyxiation, and CD, The Air I Breathe.
My desire to write fiction began in April, 2001 when I attended a book signing for Marcus Major’s Four Guys and Trouble in Philly. I was the only person in attendance and had the chance to vibe with Marcus that evening. He was so encouraging and inspiring, and the next day, I bought a large notebook and started writing down ideas for One Love.
My original goal was to self publish, but I submitted to a small publishing company in Philly. They loved the story, characters, setting, etc. and wanted to publish my novel. However, there were contractual terms and arrangements that were not beneficial to my advantage. I discussed everything with several friends, including my publisher, Jessica Tilles. At the conclusion of our phone conversation, Jessica asked me to submit an excerpt from my novel and I sent her the first seven chapters. She enjoyed reading the story, loved my writing style, and asked if she could read the entire manuscript. I submitted the entire manuscript to Jessica along with an autographed copy of The Air I Breathe, and the rest is history.
I press on in all of my creative endeavors because God has blessed me with a powerful gift that has been able to touch another human being’s life in a positive way. Writing has and will always be my therapy because it has provided me with so much solace, comfort and resolution to my fears and frustrations.
MJB: Most books now have very raw and provocative characters. Who inspires these characters? Do they have characteristics that you have?
BH: My characters in One Love were based upon my observations, experiences and feelings. There was a little bit of myself in the two major characters, Chris and Regina. For instance, Regina is dealing with an illness that I was personally diagnosed with in 1998. I incorporated my experiences into her character to add the element of authenticity to make her believable.
The characters did take a life of their own and took the story in a different direction that I originally didn’t plan to do so. Most times, it made the novel more crisp and exciting. The few times it didn’t work were due to the main supporting character, Cami, Regina’s girlfriend. Girlfriend attempted to steal the spotlight from Regina like the one Morris Day did from Prince in the movie Purple Rain. By the end of writing One Love, I was ready to strangle Cami.
MJB: Who are some of your favorite writers?
BH: My personal favorite is Tracy Price-Thompson. She is an excellent storyteller and an inspiration for me as a writer and an author. I love the way she builds the reader’s anticipation with each chapter of her books and they don’t disappoint. For Tracy to take time out of her schedule and write a blurb for One Love was the greatest thrill that I could not describe in words.
Octavia Butler was a true genius ahead of her time. Her social commentary about humanity, politics, and race relations has challenged me to better myself as not only a writer, but also a person. I’m currently reading Parable of the Talents because it is interesting to see how the topics she discussed when originally writing that novel are slowly manifesting themselves in our society.
Some of my other favorite writers include Dianne McKinney-Whetstone, Marcus Major, Nicole Bailey-Williams, and Eric Jerome Dickey.
MJB: What are some of your favorite books?
BH: In no particular order, some of my favorite books include the following: Terry McMillian’s Disappearing Acts, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Assatta: An Autobiography, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, Nicole Bailey-Williams’ Floating, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Marcus Major’s Four Guys and Trouble, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Eric Jerome Dickey’s Friends and Lovers and Between Lovers, The Bible, and all novels by Tracy Price-Thompson and Dianne McKinney-Whetstone.
MJB: As you know I too am a poet, so I MUST ask who are some of your favorite poets?
BH: My favorite poet is my friend, sister and writing partner Uva, a phenomenonal female poet hailing from the Republic of Panama. I’ve learned so much from Uva to better myself as a writer and a human being through her words, stage presence, humility and demeanor. Her influence is very apparent on several tracks on my spoken word CD The Air I Breathe. (For more information about Uva, please check her out at www.lildrummaboy.com).
I was also blessed to have studied poetry under Lamont Steptoe, who taught me so much about how much power words have when conveyed properly. I learned how to appreciate the beauty and the language of poetry from writing haikus, cinquains, and tonkas to take my work to another level.
I enjoy listening and/or reading from poets who are not afraid to put their experiences into their work and are able to touch a person’s life with their authenticity. Some of my favorite poets include the following: Jill Scott, Langston Hughes, Lamont Dixon, Gil Scott-Heron, Jessica Care Moore, Saul Williams, Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Giovanni, The Twin Poets, Demetrius the Poet, Bernard Collins, Tantra, Aziza Kinteh, Traycee Lynn, Taalam Acey, Quiet Rage, RhapsodE, Brotha Train, Jaz, and DuEwa Frazier.
MJB: What inspires you to write? Is it the love for written expression or the paycheck at the end of the day? (I must ask)
BH: I’m inspired to write for the love and the passion for the written expression. Unfortunately, there is no paycheck at the end of the day. If I never sold another book, essay, short story, poem, etc. again in my life, I will continue to write until the day I die. Anybody who personally knows me that every word I write is an extension of my breath, my heart, and my soul I want the world to share and to remember long after my life has come to an end.
MJB: What is your strategy when it comes to writing poetry?
BH: I don’t have a set strategy when it comes to writing poetry. All of my writing is based from my heart and my reaction to something I may have heard or read. I try my best to capture what I’m feeling onto paper at that moment. I don’t write to elicit a particular reaction from the audience because I wouldn’t be true to myself.
MJB: Explain life for Bill Holmes…past and present.
BH: Well, I was born in Drexel Hill, PA, but raised in Philadelphia, PA and Yeadon, PA. I am the oldest child of two sons to my parents. I was rather shy and introverted as a child and spent my time drawing comic book characters (Spider-Man was my personal favorite) and writing short stories based upon science fiction, Greek mythology, and comic book superheroes. The biggest impression for me was seeing Star Wars at 7, which further my creative aspirations. However, it was The Empire Strikes Back (the best of all the Star Wars movies) that made me want to pursue a filmmaking career. I remember spending that summer writing the next installment to the Star Wars trilogy.
I attended college in Drexel University, majored in Accounting and graduated in June 1993. After graduation, I entered Corporate America and discovered that it was not all that it was cracked up to be. In addition, I aspired to study for the Certified Public Accountant examination in Pennsylvania, but that desire was put on hold when I fell in love and became engaged in an unfruitful relationship that lasted three years. When I decided to end that relationship, I re-embraced my creative side and put my heart and soul into my writing. I haven’t looked back since then, but there is a part of me that wants to pass the CPA exam. However, I’m having too much fun writing and performing poetry right now to concentrate my time and efforts into studying to accomplish this goal.
MJB: What is next for Bill Holmes?
BH: I’m looking at 2007 to be a prosperous and wonderful year for my writing career. God has blessed me with so many opportunities, but it’s also refreshing to have the chance to make a positive difference in another person’s life. Without giving too much information away, I will be teaching a creative writing course tentatively called Write Here, Write Now sometime next summer. I’m also participating in the development of an anthology called My Lady, My Lover, My Life, a book for black women written by black men.
I’ve spent that past few weeks writing new poems and I may co-produce another spoken word CD. Poetry will always be an important part of my life and I can’t forget what brought me to the dance. Also, I’ve discussed with my publisher Jessica Tilles for her to re-publish my full-length poetry collection Straight From My Heart under her company, Xpress Yourself Publishing, in the spring of 2007.
My family, friends, co-workers and readers have been demanding a sequel for One Love. I’m truly touched by their love, support and desire to see what is in store for both Chris and Regina in the future. Unfortunately, Cami may throw her two cents in and have something to say about that. Girlfriend is quite loud and demanding when she doesn’t get her way.
Bill Holmes is the author of “One Love.” “One Love” is available now at Amazon.com. For more info on Bill Holmes, please visit www.billholmes.com!