Latanya Jones – Locked Down but Still Writing

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Death got to be easy because life is hard. So where does that leave the people in between? Latanya Jones, an author and an inmate at a federal correctional facility in Connecticut, shares with us the sometimes unbearable circumstances she has to endure as a long distance mother and a “state property” publisher.
-Latanya Jones

translated by Lamont Sappleton

Many behind bars are starting to become a part of the literary world, although that may not be the only quest prisoners are involved with, do you believe that a majority of inmates are deciding to take that route? Why or why not???
Latanya Jones: I wouldn’t say that the majority of inmates are moving into the literary world, but there are a great number of us. And I cannot say why or why not. What I can say is that I believe a large number of incarcerated people are misinformed about the literary world. (There are) many who think writing a book is a remedy to their financial dilemmas, a get rich quick fix. Then there are some who feel like they have a story to tell and pull out the pen & paper and get busy and well, do their best, good, bad or indifferent… while others love the craft and just enjoy creating. Whatever the reasons are, I say go for it.

Parlé: What authors if any do you use as a framework to complete your own visions on paper or do you consider yourself a one of a kind mind?
Latanya: To write I follow the rules of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ – I love his instructions – ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott – her simplicity is incredible – (and) Strunk & White’s Elements of Style – I think all writers know their rule 17. As far as my vision goes, a lot of times I know what I see, but I don’t know where I’m going until I get there. Characters pop up demanding to be in the manuscript, while others have to be forced out. I just listen to the voices in my head and let them lead me – some of which are clamoring to be heard now.

Parlé: Is there anything that makes you different from the rest of the authors on the bookshelves? Why are you and your work worth the read?
Latanya: My experiences make me different (because of) my exposure to society’s cultural, economical, sexual, racial, and religious diversities. I consciously and unconsciously study people, enabling me to transcend my finding to paper. My storylines have urban backdrops, but my writing style is more contemporary, my characters voices are credible. My work is more craft than anything else, but easily relatable.

Parlé: I am sure you have undergone some struggles with your craft (nothing is easy). What hardships do you expect to experience with Cannon Row Publishing?
Latanya: The extensive effort it’s going to take to create a recognizable brand for the avid reader. It is one thing to make it to the book shelf, but it’s a horse of another color to be that sought after product. But with an active, well thought out marketing plan, and of course the grace of God, I’ll overcome these hardships.

Parlé: Since being confined in prison does not give you the absolute “solace” you may desire, what incidents specifically have deterred you from your writing?
Latanya: Well, I’m housed in a dorm so a lot of times, except late at night, I’m privy to multiple conversations at once – arguments, jokes, my “bunkie” coming and going, someone calling me at the door. There are a number of things to knock me off my square. Even when I tell people, “When I’m writing, please do not disturb me,” they come softly and whisper, “Sorry, but…” I guess they don’t realize an interruption is an interruption, whether it’s a whisper or a scream. One girl used to repeatedly playfully hit my ponytail. I had to go in on her: “I recognize a hater even when it’s in a playful package, but you can’t stop this. But you ARE gonna stop hitting my ponytail.” She didn’t like being called a hater so she stopped. This is a deranged environment, but I manage to maintain my focus.

Parlé: What exact “treatment for a reality show” do you have in mind? How do you plan on exercising it and what “nuances of the literary world” do you recognize and intend to focus on?
Latanya: This is a two part question so let me answer them separately. The reality show is called, Alpha Bet Chicks. It’s about seven women’s transitions from federal prison back into society. They reunite with family, make amends to victims, run businesses, and are mentored as they follow the Alpha Bet Chicks “26 Principles to Restoration.” They will show America who they are, where they come from, and what it takes to overcome the stigma of being an ex-con. To exercise it, we have an entertainment attorney, publicist, and manager. By the time this goes to print we should have a deal, so keep an ear out for us. The Alpha Bet Chicks.
Now, the other part of the question regarding the nuances of the literary world… to me they’re crystal clear. I recognize a well polished product that was written and published with care for the product and pride for the company. (I recognize) a writer who is aware of syntax, similes and metaphors, who has developed their characters and made places in their stories real. And publishers who have made sure that stories are edited properly, that font is consistent, and typesetting is correct opposed to those whose books are rife with syntax, grammatical, and punctuation errors. Books that feel hurriedly slapped together despite their pretty packaging. Ostensibly, quantity is replacing quality.
My focus would be on the reverse, the former of what I just explained. My objective is higher-styled more contemporary top quality writing and publishing. The goal is for Cannon Row Publishing to become the home of the new generation of serious, cutting edge writers who will once again revolutionize the urban literary genre.

Latanya Jones
Latanya Jones ‘Cannon Love’ album cover

Parlé: What are your intentions as an author?
Latanya: I’d like to think my audience is 21+, especially for Russian Roulette – the sex scenes are, well, uh, let’s just say the jury’s still out. I’m waiting for my IR (ideal reader) to get back to me. He’ll probably tell me I need to get home to my man {laughs} and turn the heat down on the pages some. But, I do believe that writing for anyone can be cathartic in nature, especially if they’re trying to rid themselves of something painful. Sometimes people can’t say what’s on their minds, so they put it into the safety of the written word. Even if you’re just writing to create like an artist with a blank canvas, there’s magic in art. Like Mr. (Stephen) King said, “Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
About my intention as an author, it’s to push myself to see what else my mind can conjure up next and hope that someone besides my IR or family will want to read it {laughs}.

Parlé: Based on the information you provided about your family it is safe to say that they have been an influence in your choice to pursue writing. Has your environment in growing up had that same influence?
Latanya: Yes, absolutely. Certain members of my family have always influenced me to write. We influence each other. We love the craft. It’s in our bloodline. This probably doesn’t sound like much fun, but we totally enjoy sitting around bouncing our work off one another – usually poetry. Even the kids participate. I hate that I’m not there, I’m missing out. They have sent me a few in the mail to check out.

Parlé: You mentioned that the hardest part of your incarceration is admitting the truth to your children. What would you do differently to not be in the situation you are in and not have to explain yourself?
Latanya:I’d rely totally and completely on God and know that He’ll provide. I wouldn’t take matters into my own hands, financial or otherwise. Especially now, my baby is at the door of adolescence and I have so much at stake. Besides, I clearly see the importance of leading by example. I thank God daily for the unconditional love from my children.

Parlé: Speaking as specifically and as detailed as you may wish to, explain the reason for your imprisonment and the process you have endured to date.
Latanya:I’m serving a 70 month sentence for identity theft and bank fraud. My so-called cousin was dealing with some unrelated charges and to avoid prosecution she wore a wire in my home and set me up. Don’t get me wrong, I take full responsibility. If I had not done anything she wouldn’t have had anything to tell. As a result, I lost my two properties: homes in Boston Massachusetts and Fairburn Georgia. My youngest just celebrated her 12th birthday; she was 9 when I left. I have missed funerals, weddings, graduations, babies being born, and family traditions being celebrated. Nevertheless, what the enemy meant for bad, God has turned around for good. This too shall pass, and like a cat I will land on my feet.

Parlé: Tell me more about the debut novel Cannon Love. How did the concept come about?
Latanya: Cannon Love is loosely based on a true story – mine. I was that little girl that grew up without a father, the one who was violated by a family member, the woman whose husband was slain on Chicago’s south side, and yes I have a best friend. As for the rest of the story, well, I’ll just say I’m humbled that anyone would read it and I hope that the readers enjoy it. I pray that I was able to make someone laugh or cry, angry or happy, disappointed or hopeful. If I was able to evoke any of these emotions I did my job and to God be the glory.

Parlé: You mentioned that you wrote the book before you were incarcerated. How did you go about getting it published once you were incarcerated?
Latanya: I met another author here at the prison who put me onto a subsidy press that would allow inmates to correspond with them via email. I thought that would be ideal, an open line of communication. But things didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. I drove my daughter crazy in the process {laughs} but it got done. So, let’s say I did it with support, resilience, perseverance, and determination. I will re-publish under my own imprint (Cannon Row Publishing) once I’m released.

Parlé: What have you written since you’ve been locked up?
Latanya: * Russian Roulette, a story about a young lady who kept her brother’s secrets and protected him since their childhood, which lead to her becoming a hit woman for the Russian Mafia, but is forced to make the ultimate decision – protect herself or her brother. (Fiction)

* Alpha Bet Chicks 26 Principles to Restoration (Self-help)

* Memoirs of an Alpha Bet Chick, work in progress (True story)

* Sky’s the Limit (fiction)

Parlé: What are your goals once you are released?
Latanya: To first attend therapy sessions with my youngest daughter so we can regain some semblance of normalcy.
Then breath life into Cannon Row Publishing and get my existing catalogue on shelves across America, as I widen my stable of writers. I’m also relocating to New York (Harlem) and might get married…I said might! (smile)

Parlé: Any final words you’d like to put out there?
Latanya: Yes. I’ll be home in 7 months so keep your eye out for me. Thank you and God bless you all.