Here’s the situation… Salih Israil is a devoted husband and father of four. He is the author of five novels published under different pseudonyms. Israil is a devout Muslim who is struggling to identify what it is that he should be writing as he moves forward in his faith.
The Situation Room with Michelle Cuttino caught up with Salih to find out more about his novels, his educational background and his goal as an illiteracy advocate.
Michelle: Why have you decided to publish novels under three different pseudonyms?
Salih: More than anything else, my pseudonyms kind of represent who I’m writing for. If you were to critically compare the works produced under each pseudonym you’d find subtle differences in style, technique, character and plot development. They all have something very important in common. What changes from one pseudonym to the next, from one story to the next are the characters’ environments and the context of their interactions with their environments and each other. Each story is driven by those life situations that force us to rethink who we are, to contemplate who we need to be, to ponder what we’re willing to do to get what we want, and/or to actively engage in becoming someone other than who we are known to be. My pseudonyms give me the opportunity to explore these questions in different contexts for different reading audiences.
Michelle: Tell us about your Urban Fantasy novels written under D.L. Cox.
Salih: Host Chronicles Volume I: Devil’s Offspring and Host Chronicles Volume 2: Hope Rising. They’re the first of a series that’s set off by three complexly interwoven storylines: a forbidden love affair between a demon and a reaper that places humanity in catastrophic danger, a high-stakes battle between a pair of demon siblings vying to be top demon lord on earth, and a young man’s lifelong journey to find the angelic warrior who will restore hope and fight for the future of humanity. It’s all set in our modern world, which could account for the “Urban” in Urban Fantasy. It’s also “Urban” in the sense of Urban
Street Fiction. We have demon lords passing themselves off as all kinds of humans, including drug lords. In fact, the quest to become top demon lord on earth is actually all about controlling the most powerful criminal enterprise on the planet. I guess you could think of the Host Chronicles series as Urban Street Fantasy.
Michelle: Will we be hearing more from D.L. Cox in the future?
Salih: Look, the truth is that beneath all the action and interesting characters of Host Chronicles, it’s really a huge exploration into the question of identity. What makes us who we are? How do all of our relations and interactions with others (such as parents, siblings, friends, and loved ones) shape and mold how we feel about ourselves and how we understand who we are? What if we woke up one morning and discovered that who we are inside doesn’t match up with who we’ve been pretending to be on the outside? How would we respond to something like that? In addition to questions of identity, the story also raises questions about the notions of love, security, rebellion, freedom and autonomy. I think all of these questions and notions are important, and as long as I’m still trying to make sense of these notions in my own life, you can expect to hear a lot more from D.L. Cox.
Michelle: D. Israil, another of your pennames, released The Legend of Greenboy. Let us know what this novel is about.
Salih: I basically dropped a manipulative sixteen-year-old young man from New York City into a Midwestern, segregated, factory town where the Whites have brainwashed the Blacks to believe that slavery didn’t end until the 1920’s. I mean this town is completely cut off from the rest of the outside world. Okay, so our boy Greenboy, links up with a local to destroy the town’s oppressive culture. But get this; he has to destroy the Black community first. How does he do it? He exposes these Blacks to hood fiction and music that glorifies the fast life and then introduces drugs and fashion into their community. The novel is laced with elements of hood fiction, but it’s doubling as a subtle critique of the entire culture. It’s like look, you could use some of the images and ideas we sometimes praise and glorify in hood fiction to destroy an entire community, which is what Greenboy actually sets out to do. The novel is his alleged journal of how he destroys the town. It has the sex, the violence, and the drugs, but there’s a lot more going on than that. In other words, I’m attempting to make a point. It’ll be a good hood book to some, and something much deeper to others.
Michelle: Your latest novel is titled, Boardwalk Kingpins. Tell us about it.
Salih: You got this highly intelligent kid named Mike from one of the most notorious housing projects in Atlantic City and he basically hooks up with the local drug kingpin and thinks his way into big money, big problems, and some serious beef. We follow Mike as he grows into a sharp hustler, a controlling father- figure to everyone in his life, a ruthless killer, and a shrewd businessman. Along the way we explore what’s going on emotionally and mentally behind the scenes as Mike rises in the game. We get a glimpse beneath his facade, those moments when he’s consciously pretending to be what he’s not in order to get what he wants. We also pull back the emotional and mental curtains on many of the other characters.
Michelle: Where did you get the idea for this type of story?
Salih: I love the real characters that pervade hood fiction. They’re exciting, bold, and daring. I wanted to explore the fear behind the courage, the pain behind the toughness, the insecurity behind the swag, the acting behind the facade of confidence. Mike’s journey gave me a platform to do that.
Michelle: What has been the overall response to Boardwalk Kingpins since its release?
Salih: It was only recently released, so we’re really just getting the word out about the book. Some of the most important feedback I’ve gotten concerns those mental and emotional situations I set out to capture. I’ve had readers tell me that this scene or that scene had them in tears or really hit home for them. For me, to have one reader tell me that was the-greatest vindication I could ever hope for as a writer. I’m just glad that somebody gets it, you know? I’m looking forward to hearing what other readers think and feel about the story.
Michelle: Will you be bringing us more from the Boardwalk Kingpins storyline, or is this a stand-alone title?
Salih: It was originally a stand-alone, but I must admit that Mike’s been living in my head. He’s been moving on with his life, facing new challenges, struggling to make sense of who he’s becoming, uneasy about reaping what he’s sown in the past. So it looks like his story may continue to play out on paper within in the next year or so.
Michelle: In your own words, what is your definition of an “illiteracy advocate”?
Salih: Not only do I hold a BA in Language and Literature, but I genuinely love reading and writing. Reading provides the opportunity to discover new ideas and writing provides the opportunity to hone and share new ideas. However, to me literacy is not simply about reading and writing. Literacy is about being able to critically engage the different levels of meaning that pervade our everyday language; being able to sift through and identify how words and ideas are working all around us and on us. Literacy is about mastering our language use, a mastery that is often honed through reading and writing. Illiteracy advocate means that I actively encourage everyone around me to take their language use and how they express themselves seriously.
Michelle: You hold a Master of Professional Studies in Urban Ministry. How has this educational background shaped you as a writer?
Salih: That’s a good question. Let me just say that as I grew and matured (got educated), my focus as a writer and the way I chose to capture certain things changed, especially my commitment to realism. I’m not as obsessed with capturing what is, what’s real, as I once was. Now I’m also concerned about what can be. I’m what I like to call a realistic idealist. The hood and the street life have a violent, irrational, indifferent characteristic to them. I start there, but I dare to envision a way above and beyond that characteristic that legitimately comes up out of it without coming off as cheesy or too idealistic.
Michelle: I know you’re looking to start a literature curriculum design firm. What will be the firm’s mission?
Salih: With the national push towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) it is crucial that literature curriculum is not left to stagnate as our nation pushes forward to a new educational horizon. My firm’s mission is to ensure that literature curriculum advances in line with and as a compliment to STEM programs. We also want to assist literature educators with meeting the challenges of providing students with literature curriculum that ensures that literature serves as vital a role as STEM in producing the great, creative, and productive minds of the future.
Michelle: Why do you think this type of enterprise is necessary?
Salih: Listen, I’m all for STEM. In order to survive in this growing global economy we have to be able to produce and advance new technologies, but we have to equip our children to think critically when it comes to interpersonal relationships too. We need to develop literature curriculum that will nurture and cultivate the kind of critical, analytic, and creative thinking skills students will need to get the most out of STEM. Not to mention, the kind of critical thinking skills that will prepare them to ask the right questions when it comes to the social and cultural effects of the technology they’ll be producing.
Michelle: What can we look forward to in the future from Salih Israil, the man behind the author aliases D.L. Cox, Mon-D and D. Israil?
Salih: I’m currently working on a nonfiction book called Unlocking the Power of Language: When,Saying is Doing and another novel called Chasing Butterflies. I’m also polishing up a couple of novellas that should be ready by the summer. For more information, check out my website iamsalihisrail.com.
Mike Clark spends his nights peering out at the chaos beneath his bedroom window in one of Atlantic City’s most notorious housing projects. When a chance encounter with the neighborhood kingpin, Safi, presents an opportunity to do more than just watch, Mike jumps on it. Safi takes Mike and his three friends—Qua, KC, and Spank—under the wing and it isn’t long before the boys are rolling in the money. Things only get better for Mike when he finds love in Safi’s beautiful but sheltered younger sister, Bree. Everything seems to go just as Mike wants until a rival dealer launches a murderous attack that leaves Mike, Bree, and Qua alone and running for their lives. They flee to Bree’s cousin in the Bronx and Mike discovers that there was much more to Safi’s taking an interest in him than he could have ever imagined. The news makes Mike even more determined to seek revenge. The question is can he exact revenge and get what’s left of his family out of the drug game without getting arrested or killed in the process.