From down and out to selling 20,000 books: Interview with former inmate and author Frank C. Matthews
Prodigious and profound author Frank C. Matthews’ triumphant transformation from inmate to novelist has established him as a leading force in the world of urban literature. Armed with his mastery of the written word, Matthews has achieved feats that are only reserved for the most seasoned of writers, selling an unprecedented amount of books as a first-time author and self-publisher. When it comes to putting the urban voice – the human voice – on the page, Matthews has no peer. His unprecedented journey demonstrates that even when confronted with a web of trials and tribulations, creativity has the ability to flourish. As a New York City native, Matthews grew up with aspirations of one day becoming a household name as an NBA Superstar. His dream took a detour, but his resilience and determination allowed him to persevere.
The lure of the streets and its fast money took Matthews away from hoops and into another game – the drug trade – where he found instant success. But a deal gone bad eventually landed him behind bars. Once incarcerated, Matthews had few options of how to spend his seemingly unending time in what felt like a black hole drawing at all happiness. Taking advantage of the still and silent nights, Matthews spent hours plunged into two of the world’s most renowned, contemporary African-American storytellers, Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines.
The books empowered the now bright-eyed and enthusiastic Matthews and awakened a creative bug to tell the stories locked inside him. “Incarceration transformed me,” said Matthews. “I went from a young, frustrated, and confused boy to a mature, humble, and pensive man.” Much the way Malcolm X used the power of words to transform himself in prison, Matthews used the power of the pen to write his way to freedom, real freedom. While the calamities of his past may have blackened his vision they did not still his pen. He found his purpose. He would write his stories in notebooks, on torn-open envelopes, and anything he could get his hands on and would pass them around through the system. While some traded cigarettes, Matthews traded his highly demanded stories, which inmates clung to like emotional life rafts.
Matthews delved into the business of publishing, an industry he now planned to one day master. He found his style of writing to be unique, labeling it as “true fiction,” an alternate take on real events he had witnessed firsthand. He honed his craft and further developed a distinctive writing style that was uninhibited, dramatic yet cinematic as his readers traveled to adventurous sonic territory. He had a burning desire to share his rare experiences in the underworld of crime with anyone who would listen. Matthews’ drive and passion was reinvigorated. He would be relentless in his pursuit to share with the masses his tales of underworld crime, drama, brotherhood and love.
Upon his rebirth in 2005, Matthews discovered that he could put his past behind him and emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and unwavering determination. The resilient author took his astounding gift of writing “true fiction,” coupled with his compulsion for words and decided to pursue his passion. Even after numerous failed attempts at landing a publishing deal, Matthews did what he learned to do best – create opportunities for himself. He knew that there was an untapped niche audience eager to hear his voice, and he was steadfast in his desire to supplant the current favorites in the urban lit arena.
Matthews self-published one of his first novels, Respect the Jux, and it caught fire, selling over 20,000 thousand copies. The book catapulted Matthews into the sphere typically reserved for seasoned literary greats while capturing the attention of everyone from rappers Jay-Z, Ghostface Killer, and 50 Cent (who rapped on Lloyd Banks’s single, “Hands up, if you want to party with crooks you have to learn to Respect the Jux!”) to literary powerhouses like bestselling author and publisher Karen Hunter.
The gripping tale borrows from Matthews’ recollection of urban legends through the saga of Cat, who journeyed from Jamaica to the United States as a teenager. After a stint in the military, Cat returned with newfound skills and a desire for his own version of the American Dream—by any means necessary.
Using his extensive military background in weapons and intelligence, Cat formed “The Order,” a band of thieves that specialized in pulling off juxes, which Matthews defines as emulating and acquiring another’s style, intellect, or swagger for personal advancement.
Captivating, intriguing, mesmerizing – all words that describe Frank Matthews’ uncanny ability to bring readers into the worlds that he creates. His first auspicious debut Respect the Jux, a dynamic tale of brotherhood, greed, and power, hits the shelves nationwide in September, the style made famous by Slim and Goines will be revived…with a 21st century twist!
Thank you for this interview, Frank. You have quite an interesting background and I can’t wait to ask you more questions about that but can we begin by asking you when you started writing and do you think an early interest in writing makes for a better author?
Frank: Surprisingly to most people I haven’t been writing very long. I started writing while I was incarcerated, which was about nine years ago. Writing to me is a God given talent “either you have it or you don’t”.
Did you always write urban fiction or is this a new genre for you?
Frank: Yes I’ve always been writing urban fiction. It was actually my first because of the influence of Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim. I am looking forward to venturing into other genres.
Some authors “write what you know” as they feel it gives them first hand knowledge to important details in their books. Is this the case for you?
Frank: It definitely is. Writing what I know makes it easy to tell my stories with accuracy and authenticity.
Let’s talk about your latest book, Respect the Jux. Quite an interesting name but I’m unfamiliar with the word “jux.” Can you tell me what that is and why it relates to your book?
Frank: The word “Jux” is a West Indian term used mostly by Jamaicans. It actually means to stick or poke something. In urban culture the meaning was changed to stick-up or rob someone using a well thought out plan.
Now let’s talk about your background. You dreamed of becoming an NBA superstar but the road took another path for you. Would you like to talk about that?
Frank: Growing up we were lead us to believe that Basketball and sports in general was our best option of getting out of the ghetto. I played through out my childhood and teenage years. Somewhere a long the line “The Crack Epidemic” hit our communities and changed life for the worst be giving us a negative and false sense of opportunity to become wealthy.
While incarcerated, you decided you were going to use your time wisely and started pursuing writing. Is this when you started writing ‘Respect the Jux’?
Frank: Yes that is exactly to when I started writing “Respect The Jux”. It’s actually the first time I picked up the pen and started writing seriously.
You ended up self-publishing it and sold a whopping 20,000 which is incredible even for a non-self published author. How did that happen for you?
Frank: Basically I applied the amount of time and energy I put into doing the wrong things on the streets. Into promoting and selling my books. I sold to everyone I could, mom and pops shops, people on the street corners and even people on the train.
About when did Simon & Schuster pick up your book and how did it go from self-published to traditional published? Was it the fact your book sold so well while it was self-published that Simon & Schuster picked you up?
Frank: Yes. Though I sold a great amount of copies I only did it in the Tri-State (NY, NJ, and PA) area.
You are the perfect success story. Who or what do you attribute your success?
Frank: I would attribute my success to my belief in God and my education. Without both those I wouldn’t be here doing this wonderful interview you.
Thank you so much for this interview, Frank. We wish you continued success and keep on writing!