JRocked: A sit down with Jasen Sousa, Author and founder of J-rock Publishing.
A few years ago I heard rumors of a kid from Somerville putting out his own book of poetry. It was a shock to me; there just wasn’t anyone where we grew up writing poetry (admitting they wrote poetry.) It would be another couple years and a few more books released by Jasen before we started the email game. Having become friends he was generous enough to allow me some time to dig into his head and put it down on paper…
MindGames: Can I ask how old you are?
Jason Sousa: 25
MG: When did you put out your first book?
JS: The first book came out in 99’
MG: How old were you then?
JS: I was working on that book between 18 and 19 years old
MG: Was the first book mostly poetry?
JS: Yea, the first book published was Life, Weather and that was a collection of like 70 poems, that’s got some illustrations to go along with them, real nice by a friend of mine from here in Somerville. Basically the concept behind my first book was to introduce it as kinda like a hybrid between a poetry and a comic book, to get young people more interested. You know pencil sketches that are real, but also kinda have some surrealism to them.
MG: With the first book were you writing it during 18/19 or had it all been written before deciding to put a book together?
JS: Actually I wrote it before…The way I got the idea to put it into a book format was I would bring it to some of my friends who were like in mental facilities and things like that, trying to get through certain problems in their life and I would bring them these poems and stories and they would say that it helped them get through it…So I guess I got the idea that I should put it a book format, you know, to better present it rather than just some loose paper. That was really what gave me the first idea to turn it into a book.
MG: Were you shy at the beginning about putting out your writing?
JS: You know what, not really. As far as my ideas and thoughts I never really was, I kinda put things out there cause, my experiences and things that I go through could always help people. So as far as putting my things out there that I’m embarrassed about and things like that, at first it was a little weird to do, but as you go through it you know…Your readers will recognize if you’re not being truthful to them. So right from the beginning I just decided to lay everything out there.
MG: How did you go from the idea of “I want to make a book” to having the final product?
JS: I did the research on what would be the best way for me to put my book out there, so I went through all the steps in terms of trying to get an agent and trying to get a publisher to accept what I have to offer. I came across the self publishing route and kind of fell in love with that because I can put it out there without anyone saying whether it’s good or bad and I can make my own, which is very important to me. So I did the research on how to get ISBN numbers, bar codes, different presses and software and things like that to put the book together. Really I went from there and my first book was really just an experiment. We did the whole thing on Microsoft Word, which turned out to be kind of a disaster, but you know we continued from there and just kept learning along the way…
MG: Any advice for someone that is thinking about the road of self publishing?
JS: Yea, well my advice would be to someone trying to put out their own writing is believe in it. It’s a long process and the publishing industry is cut throat and so many things out there that never get to see the light of day. With people that want to get it out, there are so many venues with your own computer and things like that. So people now really have a lot more ways to show their ideas and work to the world.
MG: Who helped plant the seeds in your head that you could and should go ahead with publishing your own book?
JS: You know really, personality wise, I’m a person that stays to themselves a lot and I just came up with idea on my own really and just went with it from there. Like no one knew what I was doing and if anything I got more negative feedback than anything from people because no one in my family or that I know has done anything like this. To tell you the truth no one in my family really reads. So to do something like make books for myself they were like are “you joking?” especially with friends and stuff. It’s one of those things where you believe in it with all your heart and you get these pictures in your head and they start to come into shape in real life.
MG: How much does the feedback from your books help inspire the next?
JS: The feedback for me deffinatley has an effect for me, you know. When I get my books out there a lot of my material is written for young people who are going through tough times. When I get feedback and I give a book to a young girl who reads one of my stories about another young girl who made a bad decision and got pregnant at a young age and maybe didn’t use protection and things like that and because of that story the young girl says “I don’t want my life to turn out like her,” and she’ll tell me that your book was an inspiration to make decisions that will help me in my future. Things like that help push me to keep going, no matter what happens, whether it be low money issues or things like that.
As far as the negative feedback and things like that, basically as I started going to school the feedback got more negative because the style of poems I write is more hip-hop. My poems are not traditional, so when I would bring them to School at Emerson and they would get checked out by professors, maybe there would be negative feedback as far as my style. So I just kinda keep going on and trying to get better.
MG: Most young people have trouble figuring out how to express themselves and a lot of times they turn to drugs and alcohol as an outlet. Do you find that people get inspired to open up when they see you open up?
JS: You couldn’t be more exact with that question. I have people come up to me when I’m doing these things, whether it be a book signing or things like that who pour out their life’s story and terrible things that have happened to them, like being abused as a child or things like that and they tell me these things like I’m their best friend because when they read my books, like I said before, me being truthful to them with everything I’ve been through. When they come up and tell me their stories or cry on my shoulder. It’s a very powerful experience to go through when you can connect like that when it’s a total stranger and you can develope a relationship with them for the rest of your life…
MG: We came from the same area growing up where so many people fell into the traps of drugs and alcohol. At what age did you find it went from being, kids just playing around to something a little bit darker?
JS: Well there were a few different ages, but some kids, once they got past sophomore year in high school tend to experiment with a lot of things. They’re experimenting with their identity who they are and who they want to become. When I see things get more serious is when people graduate high school. Sometimes they don’t teach kids well enough how to plan for what they want to be and it’s kinda like they’re on their own. So if they don’t have enough money to go to college and find out what direction they want to go in college, they end up finding out what they want to be on the street and that can be dealing drugs and things like that. I’ve found that in the environment that we grew up in, establishing who you are as a person is very important. I found my identity early on through sports and basketball. That helped me stay strong with who I was, but writing can be a way for some people to help them figure out who they are.
MG: Do you do any drugs or drink alcohol?
JS: One of the things I’m most proud about is that I’ve been around drugs my whole life and have never had a smoke, a shot, a sniff or anything. I’ve been next to people who sniff coke or shoot heroin and you might think that someone like me could go into that very easily, but I was able to stay disciplined through sports and even more found my self through writing. I knew who I was, so even though I was around that stuff my whole life I always stayed away from it because being sober you see what it does to people and it scares you seeing that so much. Watching it makes you see it so much clearer and it just makes you stay away that much more.
MG: Because you were outside watching it happen did it make you feel pity for those people or was it more like, “these people are disgusting for what they do to themselves?”
JS: It’s an interesting question because there’s a lot of people I talk to who think that because being in a situation like this you would ignore these types of things, but being a writer and seeing things like my friends and what they go through it’s just something you can’t ignore. I’m someone that’s routed in this stuff and never want to turn my back on it. Poverty, drugs are things that people go through and I’m not just going to move away and ignore it. Because it’s there. I feel like being through everything that I have, I can be someone who can help with things like that.
MG: With all the work that you do to help people, do you find that more often than not you’re able to help people? Or do people usually end up hurting themselves?
JS: I think it’s one of those things where it’s 50/50 each way. I done a lot of things where I’ve been able to help people who have been in a bad situation. I’m a person who’ll give you the shirt off my back if I have to, I mean I’ve given people my whole paycheck just so they can pay their rent and stay in their house. It also backfires too because a lot of the people you deal with have major issues too with addictions and one of the things I’ve had to go through in my life is trying to figure out where people are in life and how you can help them because sometimes I can’t be enough and they need professional help. I just try to be someone in the personal life that can help them get through the day as best they can.
MG: The thing that impresses me the most about you is your motivation and how hard you work to do what you think is right. How does it affect you to see friends and other people around you give up and just say “fuck it.”?
JS: Well basically the things we’ve talked about and a lot of people in my life that passed away from those things serves as motivation for me and gives me energy. Honestly I don’t think I ever would have been able to do the things I’ve done without seeing some of my friends that passed away and feeling like they’re inside of me pushing me. I feel like I’m in the position now where I have to keep a lot of people’s memories alive that never got to reach their potential. Especially I had one real good friend of mine and I’ve never really been a person to have a best friend, but he was the closest thing I’ve had and it’s kinda like he’s always in my mind and I always feel that I’m talking to him and things like that. The bad things that people do just make me want to do the most positive things for myself and for others.
MG: We’ve seen so many people fall through the cracks, that there is obviously room for improvement. With kids and education what do you think is missing?
JS: I agree with that, as far as things that they’re teaching in schools in literature classes where kids need to latch on to stories I feel like it’s important to study the classics, to learn them and understand them, but there need to more books and authors who look like these kids, dress like these kids and tell stories that talk about things that they’re going through. When kids are leaving a house where their mother might be a junkie, it’s hard to focus on a story that was written over a hundred years ago. There needs to be more stories that are routed in today’s society and deal with things that young people today are going through.
MG: Boston is a University City; with all the students in the city do you think it adds to the exploration of the arts? Or does partying and drinking overshadow it?
JS: I’m glad you brought this up because it’s definitely something that really disturbs me because I just got done going to Emerson College and it happens to be in downtown Boston in a place right near the inner city so there are a lot of things going down there. It disturbs me when I’m going to college and I see all the people there and they’re the same color as the walls. Everyone is the same in college, like a bunch of robots, who go there all learning to become the same thing, which I think in the long run will be bad for the world. There are all these kids from Boston around college age just hanging out on the corner and why can’t they have the opportunity to go to college and learn about the same things as people from wealthy back rounds come from. So that always upsets me and I want more people from the city to be going to college not only people coming from other places and taking up space where we can fill up the room.
MG: J-Rock Publishing is known for putting books out for young adults. Over time do you think because it’s so important you’ll stay with that age group?
JS: J-Rock Publishing was founded on young adult literature and I feel that J-Rock Publishing will always be known for young adult literature. Maybe in the future we’ll branch out and do imprints of other types of books, but I always feel that as far as J-Rock Publishing and the material that comes out of it will always be for young people who are going through things in their life and looking to find themselves because there’s not enough literature out there for them. I want J-Rock Publishing as before, now and always to be for young people.
MG: Do you have any projects coming up in the near future?
JS: Yea, one of the projects we’re working on right now is the Somerville Renaissance, based on the idea of the Harlem Renaissance because in Somerville there are so many young creative people around here who are rapping, writing, doing things with movies, drawing and being artistic. All these types of things like the Harlem Renaissance, in a city of transition and a lot of young artists trying to express that. For a long time I’ve been encouraging people to put out their own work and it was one of those things where you have to have enough material and enough discipline to sit down and want to do it, so I got the idea with Somerville Renaissance to put a lot of young people’s work together to try and send the message that it’s the same throughout the whole city. I’m really excited about this project for myself and for young people who are able to let their voice out to the world.
MG: How could someone submit something to the Somerville Renaissance project?
JS: If you’d like to submit something to the Somerville Renaissance you can go to www.jrockpublishing.com I got links on there to check things out www.myspace.com/jasensousa and submit your work to be reviewed and maybe be included in the book.
MG: Where can people find some more info on you, ordering one of your books or about your company?
JS: Basically the best way to find out about me is log onto the site www.jrockpublishing.com or www.myspace.com/jasensousa We got a lot of information on their some cool videos, articles. So definitely check those out and find out what we’re up to.
To see photos or watch the video from the extended interview go to www.mindgamescon.blogspot.com