Baye McNeil was born in Brooklyn, New York, but currently lives in Yokohama, Japan. He recently published his first book, Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist. Baye’s motto is: … and if the elevator tries to bring you down, go Loco!
Hi Baye, Please tell everyone a little about yourself.
Baye: My name is Baye McNeil and I’m a freelance writer and blogger from Brooklyn, New York. I currently live in Yokohama, Japan, where I teach Junior High School English. I’m a fervent connoisseur of Japanese Hot Springs and Ramen and spend my free time taking photos of trains, and life in the subways and stations of Yokohama, Kawasaki and Tokyo.
When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Baye: I think the first bite was in the genre of poetry when I was in elementary and junior high school, as a way to attract girls. By high school, screenplays gave me quite a charge. I wrote a couple including one horror movie that garnered me my first applause. After that it didn’t resurface until university.
When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Baye: I wasn’t really aware of any particular message or goal aside from “I’d like to meet you after school and take you for a long walk in the botanical garden holding hands and stealing coins from the wishing pond …” By University, one of my writing professors informed me that I had unsuspected depth and “a voice the reader loves to hear …” Shouldn’t have told me that! Started writing like a mad man. Around that time I came across a writer by the name of James Baldwin and from that point on my unstated goal became to write something he might read and say, “That’s not bad.”
Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
Baye: It’s a stand alone book called, Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist. It’s about how my bitter responses to the behavior of people here in Japan (whether it is due to their racism, xenophobia, or any other fear-based feeling my presence inspires) informed me in no uncertain terms that I was a racist, and that if I wanted to be rid of this dark social virus — that I believe many of us are afflicted with whether we’re aware of it or not — then I had better locate its source and confront it head on!
Who’s the most unusual/most likeable character?
Baye: That title would probably go to Aiko, the woman the book is dedicated to and the inspiration behind its writing. She taught me so much about Japanese people and culture, upon my arrival in Japan, but eventually she became like a mirror that when held up reveals not only the person you are but the person you have the capacity to be. She taught me about love and hate, about the meaning of strength and the proper use of power. She is a mortgage I will gladly pay until the day I pass on, and probably still be in debt once I’ve gone, and this book attempts to pay homage to the woman she was and will forever be in my heart.
Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Baye: Since this book is a non-fiction memoir of sorts there isn’t a plot really, but I did need to keep each chapter related to the theme and reveal more not only about myself but about how I viewed and what I was learning from the world around me in digestible nuggets. I also had to modulate my story so as not to overwhelm the reader. This I learned how to do, ironically, through blogging. I’ve kept a blog, www.locoinyokohama.com, for the past three years where I floated a lot of the ideas I intended to include in the book just to see how they would be received and how to present them with just the amount of intensity to engage the reader without inundating them with too much raw emotion (something I had a tendency to do before I learned the extent of the force I write with quite often … it’s a hell of a challenge!)
Do you have a specific writing style? Preferred POV?
Baye: Again, this was something I discovered via my blog. I tend to write first person … but I lacked the confidence at the onset of blogging to stand behind my feelings and thoughts full on. I often write very confrontationally, delving into issues that make people uncomfortable…including me at times. I feel wary and vulnerable to attacks while at the same time I feel like I’m doing the right thing because certainly these issues deserve the light of day and were just waiting for a voice to emerge with the courage and dare I say skill to address them in an honest, direct and provocative way yet keep it entertaining and educational at the same time. I feel my style and voice accomplish this and my blog readers would concur, as do, thus far, the readers of my book
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Baye: Oh man, in every way imaginable, particularly with this book and the issue of racism. Being raised in Brooklyn new York in the 1970s, before New York became the kinder, gentler metropolis it is now, when it was a still a Buppie /Yuppie-free neglected, gang and drug infested ghetto, replete with corrupt racist cops and an angry black populace striving to maintain dignity and gain respect … yeah, I was influenced quite a bit by being brought up amid this. I was basically a child of the Pan African/Black Power Movement, my playground was on the front lines of boycott and demonstrations against the white power structure. My first school was an all-black private school formed by educators fed up with a public school system that set black children up for failure and low self-esteem and taught them to capitulate before the Eurocentric train of thought. I was raised to be a warrior in a war against white indoctrination and brain washing. And this colors the writing in this book and most of the writing I’ve done over the course of my life.
Any advice you’d give to aspiring self-publishers?
Baye: Yeah. Make sure the product is as good as you can make it and then some, because word of mouth will be the kiss of life or death. And before you even think about self-publishing anything, you had better build up some solid relationships founded on mutual respect and admiration. And preferably some that are willing to help out with those above mentioned tasks … or go out and learn about them on your own because they are realer than real. And don’t count on friends to help you out of the kindness of their hearts. Some will of course but plan around that. Whatever they do ought to be gravy. They should not be part of the meal. That includes family, as well. You are the rudder. Give people a good reason to help you, like for example they stand to benefit as well, then you’ll get a more robust response. And learn how to be grateful. How to stay humble and say please and thank you, and SHOW appreciation. We writers are quite often hermits and spend a lot of our time alone with a keyboard and our thoughts and feelings. So, wearing the social hat often takes us out of our comfort zone. Try to learn to be comfortable in that discomfort zone BEFORE you publish! And never make the mistake of believing ten bucks or five bucks is nothing and people will just part with it for your product like it’s nothing. The onus is on you to make them feel that it’s nothing. The value of the product they’re getting for that price is what makes the money easier to part with. And that, my friend, returns us to the product. Make it great!
Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Baye: This is from the book’s Amazon page:
I was genuinely caught off guard by this book in so many ways. I didn’t hope to laugh as much as I ended up doing, but I never expected to cry. The book blew me away on three different levels. The first is that Loco completely succeeds at drawing you slowly into his world, talking to me about things I thought I knew about or was familiar with, but learning I was not. Showing me a whole different life experience through his own eyes. The second thing that got me about the book was Loco’s writing style. His narrative is fluorescently vivid. Some of his turns of phrase and sentences really made me actually wish I could stop and mark the page. So many quotables, and so many brilliantly and succinctly put insights. The third thing about the book is the structure of the book – I’ve read his blog before and found it a bit jarring to go straight into, as indeed, I think jumping straight to the third or fourth chapter of this book would be. But the narrative is set up so well, and you are eased into it, and then led through a dance between sadness and joy, geographies and timescales, each contrasting and complementing the last before finally and gently returning the reader to the motif used in the beginning of the empty train seat, and the thought piece at the end. I expected to read a really long blog about Japan made into a book. I got the best damn read I’ve had in the last 10 years by a man who has proven to me beyond any doubt that he is a uniquely talented writer.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
Baye: I have a website set up for the book here: www.himynameisloco.com. There folks can find info about me, about the book, excerpts, reviews, and info on upcoming readings and events. For the time being most will be in Japan, but hopefully they’ll be some in the US and elsewhere in the days to come. I’m currently working on my second book about teaching and living in Japan as an African American from New York, called: Loco Was Here!
Anything else you’d like to say?
Baye: Yes, there is. Hi! My Name is Loco and I am a Racist is essentially a mission statement. I AM a racist. There’s no doubt in my mind of that, but that’s not the end of my story. And I don’t think it needs to be the end of anyone’s story. I think most of us deal with these types of issues at some point in our lives and I believe it’s essential that we face them and not lurk in the shadows like pedophiles or some other kind of degenerate. Demonizing racism only chases it underground. Surrendering to these proclivities, like it’s human nature and thus inescapable, only perpetuates it. We can’t concede victory to this social virus. I’m of the mind that it CAN be beat, and with constant vigilance and conscious abstinence it WILL eventually go into remission. We may even find a cure. That’s my personal mission and I ain’t ashamed to say it out loud.
Thank you for joining us today, Baye.
Baye: Thanks a lot!