By Malvika Padin
Writing has been a part of award-winning author and songwriter Zangba Thomson’s life, where he moved from Bong County, Liberia (in West Africa) with his family to the rough neighborhood of Jamaica located in Queens, New York where his family lived next door to the infamous Shirt Kings who were known for innovating hip-hop fashion with airbrushed apparel. Thomson has many stories to share and his love for it never fades.
Whether it’s writing hip-hop rap verses, seemingly influenced by revolutionary hip-hop and artists like Too Short and KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions or writing full-length novels, ideas are nurtured in Thomson’s mind until they bloom into brilliantly impactful, imaginative words. Thomson has an educational background in Journalism and Creative Writing where he was able to nurture his passion for writing outside of the box.
As editor-in-chief of his own music blog, “Bong Mines Entertainment;” a song writer
himself and an author, Thomson wears multiple writing hats with ease and grace, taking joy in everything he does. Regardless of how technical and tedious a task might be, Thomson finds positivity and creativity in it and forges a path for aspiring writers who will come after him.
Speaking to UBO MAG, Thomson takes us through the process and learning curve of writing his first ever full-length novel “Three Black Boys: Tomorrow After Supper” and his second foray into the universe with “Three Black Boys: The Hotep Brother.” Thomson will also answer the question that begs to ask what the difference is between writing for yourself versus writing for other and if a third book is in the making defining what writing means to him and much more.
Interview with Author, Blog-Zine Editor-In-Chief & Hip-Hop Artist Zangba Thomson
UBO MAG’s Malvika Padin: You’ve mentioned in multiple interviews that the first volume of “Three Black Boys” was born out of a song that you wrote and you already had an ending in mind. For the second volume, did you still work backwards from a point in this manner?
Zangba Thomson: I started with the basic journalism principle of the what, where, when, who, why and how of the story. Once I worked through this and had a beginning and middle before attaching to the ending. For the first volume, I had the freedom to go wherever I wanted with the story except for the ending, because I had to go off the song. The second book followed a similar pattern but I had the freedom to write the ending, the way I wanted to do it.
M.P.: When you were writing the first novel were you ever tempted to deviate from the pre-planned ending you had in mind? Did you have ideas that didn’t fit with the ending that you had exclude or did you manage to somehow work new ideas to fit the base of the ending?
Z.T.: At first, it was a fight with myself because I wanted to end it a different way to the ending of the song. But something inside of me said ‘stick to the script.’ So [al]though I wanted to deviate at points, I stuck with the script and now I think understand why did it had to go that way to make the first volume the best it could be.
M.P.: What was the biggest difference between penning the first volume and the second? What were the biggest challenges you faced both times?
Z.T.: It’s like having your first child – you make a lot of mistakes with the first child because you’re learning how to be a parent. But by the time the second child comes around, you know what to do because you have experience under your belt. The same rule applies to my writing; the first book was my first child and a lot more challenging because I had to solve a lot more problems and do more research because I was entering into a new realm. I had to transition from writing hip-hop rap songs where I used slang and broken English to writing a full novel. The songs would be three to five minutes and the format for a novel was obviously different so I had to learn how to be patient and write for longer hours. By the time I wrote my second novel, the routine was more familiar to me. The biggest challenge for the first book was making that transition from song writing to writing novels but for the second book I had enough experience as a writer.
M.P.: Speaking of the second novel, you have mentioned in interviews how you thought you tapped into the story of “Three Black Boys” with the first book and thought it was the end but you had the urge to continue with the story. What prompted you to revisit the idea?
Z.T.: I didn’t want to force it and honestly I was still promoting the first book. There is a huge gap between when I released the first book and the second; during that time I was living life, became a vegetarian, started learning more about myself, nature and the universe. During the time and now as well, I say the word ‘Hotep’ a lot because I was studying Egyptian and the word meant ‘peace.’ I didn’t know I was going to write the second book but ideas started building and I pieced it together. I’d say I went through a mental pregnancy with the ideas building in my mind and sitting long hours and writing it was the labour in a way. The motivation to revisit the boys and continue their adventures came from within me, it wouldn’t happen otherwise.
M.P.: Do you think there might be a third volume at some point in the future?
Z.T.: Book number three is growing and being nurtured inside my mind. A lot of people are interested in the series and it would be both in mine and the public’s best interest to work on a third volume. In the future I see “Three Black Boys” going the series route on Netflix or cable network following their lives as teenagers living in Queens, New York; maybe five or six seasons of that. Then further on I see it turning into a movie and then a Broadway play – I’m just envisioning things!
M.P.: It’s interesting you mentioned ‘it will be in the best interest of the public,’ [paraphrased] does that come with some amount of pressure? Since it has become something other people love and gotten invested in, would the third book be more for somebody else than it is for you
Z.T.: The pressure comes from the challenge of coming up with another adventure for these guys to go on, if I solve that then I have fun and it becomes creative writing. The main thing will be solving the problems in my head and then writing. With the experience I’ve gained writing the first two books and because I’ve been watching a lot series, I’ve got ideas and the understanding to write a new book. The only challenge and pressure is that I’m trying to hit that homerun with number three. Though the first two books had their own good qualities, the third book is something that will be the best book I can write now. I want to entertain whoever reads it, get them hooked so that they’ll want to go back to the first and second books.
M.P.: Aside from watching series’ where do you get your creative inspiration from?
Z.T.: If we go back to the first book, I knew the ending of them robbing a store. While solving the ‘why’ of the story, I brought [in] the character of the mother. I was reading something about India and disease called ‘Black Fever Disease’ which was killing 80,000 people a year and there was a drug being worked on the Bill Gates Association. As I got more into the story and found that the poor people couldn’t get the treatment they needed and dying, I wanted to shed some light on it. So I decided that the mother would have the disease, to give the boys the reason to commit the robbery; the mother’s body had deteriorated and needed an expensive surgery that she couldn’t pay for as an immigrant from India.
M.P.: So you base your stories on real life stories, are there any particular kind of experiences you use as inspiration?
Z.T.: I believe that everyone and everything that I come across in my life inspires me. It might be a friend telling me about their relationship so I think maybe one of the characters needs a relationship and I could work that into the story. The inspiration could come from the stray cat that came into my backyard today, it was rubbing up against my legs, I didn’t know why but if I look deeper and think of what the cat was trying to tell me maybe that could become part of the story in the future. Whatever I’m experiencing now will be reflected in what I’m writing at the moment, it’ll always be relevant to the stories I hear and experiences I live through.
M.P.: Writing has been a major part of your life for a long time whether that’s writing songs or novels. If you could offer a piece of advice to all aspiring writers out there, no matter what they may be writing , what would it be?
Z.T.: The same advice I was given; never stop writing, no matter what happens. Write everyday but most importantly set up a good writing routine. For me I prefer to write between the hours of 9-5 but sometimes I wake up at three in the morning and jot down ideas that came to me in a dream. I also read a lot of books on writing, so read both fiction and non-fiction. If you can, take some writing courses and hire a writing coach. Every writer is unique so find your style, work out a system to keep writing and stay loyal to that system.
M.P.: Since your writing is so strongly interlinked with your music, do you tend to imagine and interpret stories for songs that you hear or videos you watch?
Z.T: All day long! My blog “Bong Mines Entertainment” is a music blog, I love doing reviews because I get to decipher song lyrics from the song and when I read these lyrics I can see how enriched they are with storylines and ideas. Each song is like a movie to me – I could take a song and write a book or screenplay for a movie out of these lyrics. While listening to the song, I imagine the characters and their story arc. My imaginations runs very wild!
M.P.: What’s the last song you heard which prompted you to come up with an intricate plot?
Z.T.: This artist from Estonia and her stuff was very nice. The song was about an individual who wants a chance at love but the person she loves plays a lot of games and she sees this person talking to someone else and it hurts her. She wants to get that person back. I thought it might make a really good romantic film! I cover a lot of female musicians particularly in R&B [and] pop so the romance route always seems like a good one to imagine.
M.P.: In your opinion, what’s the best or most impactful novel you’ve ever read and why?
Z.T.: My favourite book is “Art of War” by Sun Tzu. I love strategy books like that. But as for novels, it would “Black Gangster” by street-lit[erature] author Donald Goines, I would say it was the first novel that I ever read that inspired me to become a better writer. Goines had the ability to draw you into his world one word at a time and when I read his work I thought I wanted to write like that. I went onto read his entire catalogue. His style of writing was the kind of I’d use in my song-writing so it was a good base for me to make the transition to writing novels by reading his work.
M.P.: What kind of stories or genres have you never attempted writing, that you’d love to write about at some point?
Z.T.: I was telling my brother I wanted to write a romantic comedy because I think I have my fair share of experiences to draw from. Romance and comedy would resonate well particularly as I’m a positive person and want to write feel-good stuff.
M.P.: Personally, what does writing mean to you?
Z.T.: On the surface level writing is a skill I’ve developed over many years. It’s something I’m passionate about because it allows me to be a creator without limitations, also writing is my main source of communication with the world; it is, therefore something that gives me contentment and happiness.
M.P.: With your passion also being your job for such a large part of your life, how do you deal with creative burnout or is it always an escape for you?
Z.K.: The writing part of it is always fun to me because it’s creative. Once I’m creating I’m having fun but I wear a lot of hats while managing my blog so there’s the pressure that comes with the territory of areas like digital publishing. Writing is my main focus but I also have to deal with the business side of things which can be challenging and time-consuming. Whenever I feel burnt out or fatigued I’ve learned to relax and live life a little; get away from writing, watch a movie, take a drive and laugh a lot to stay grounded and positive. The pressure is actually good for me, I utilize it in a good way. I don’t complain instead I just work hard so whatever I have to do I do it with joy even if it’s things I don’t like. For example I’ve grown to like editing and all the backend stuff—I like having to learn every day.
M.P.: In your career so far what has been the most memorable moment for you?
Z.K.: In 2016 I received the Baltimore Literature Award at the National Black Theatre in Harlem, New York where I first started selling the “Three Black Boys” book on the streets and I was also awarded a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congressman Charles. B. Rangel in appreciation for my contribution to making a difference to volunteer service. It was my biggest moment because I felt appreciated after decades of working.
M.P: Finally, what is one question no one asks you an interview you wish you were asked?
Z.K.: Nobody ever asks me ‘where can we hear the song that inspired the book?’ The song is on Soundcloud, it’s a 15-year-old [track] and it’s called “Three Black Boys.” I mean I could have changed the name of the song but now it’s too late. So keeping that going but yeah definitely I wonder why no one asks about it!
Music Platforms & Read the Books!
“Three Black Boys: Tomorrow After Supper” Volume 1 (READ FREE)
“Three Black Boys: The Hotep Brothers Manuscript” Volume 2 (PURCHASE ON AMAZON)
“Three Black Boys” Buy The Series!
Bong Mines Entertainment (Blog-Zine)
Zangba Thomson Biography