Monday, July 20, 2015

T. Anthony Bland: Author Interview and Spotlight

Please join me in welcoming T. Anthony Bland, author of In The Apartments Next To Mine


       How well do you know your neighbor? Do you know the shoes they wear..? Their struggles, strength...their story? 
       In The Apartments Next To Mine: The College Collection, is a collection of short stories about families and individuals, living with Schizophrenia, Autism,Assimilation and Racism. But there are also stories of lost love, forgiveness and even a first trip to the dentist. Some stories are humorous, others are tearjerkers, some were written as college papers, others were written while riding the 6 train in NYC. But all are people who may live next door.

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     T.Anthony Bland was born and raised in the Bronx N.Y. He graduated from the College of New Rochelle in 2012 with a masters in Communication Studies. Before entering college at mid-life, he worked many jobs that took him all around New York City and upstate N.Y. He was a messenger, janitor, construction worker, carpenter, bus driver, Sunday school teacher, camp counselor and a teacher to children with Autism and varies disabilities such Spina Bifida and Cerebral Parsley. He's traveled to San Francisco, Oregon, Boston, New Hampshire, New Orleans,Pennsylvania, Florida, Jamaica...and Ohio, by mistake. It's this life, that helps him craft the stories like those in his book In The Apartments Next Mine...  


1. When did you decide to be a writer and what books influenced you growing up?
I have probably always been a writer, well, at least a storyteller but I just didn’t write anything down. I decided to write for a living mid-life after graduating from grad school. As an undergrad, I was a literature major so my final projects most often were short stories. My professors were the ones to encourage to Write. After 2 years of writing academic research papers and a year of job hunting, I decided it was time…actually my wife helped. We agreed to just write, write and write for a year and see what happens.
Books that influenced me…? I didn’t read books growing up. I watched a lot of TV and read a few magazines, whatever my sister or mother bought. I had trouble reading as a kid so books weren’t my thing. Now movies! That’s a different story, I loved musicals and westerns and Star Trek. In fact, I’d say it was Star Trek the Next Generation that influenced me most. I was fascinated by the story telling that was created with all the restrictions of television networks. They tapped into a wide variety of subjects over the years. When I write, I don’t see words, I see moving pictures…cinema.
2. Tell us about the inspiration behind the first story you ever wrote?
My first full length story is Going Home but technically the very first is Chamber of Horrors. My assignment was to write a descriptive essay, I thought I went over the top with the picture I painted but I got an “A” and my professor loved it. It was birth out of writer’s block! I carried pen and paper for days…nothing. Then we were taking our 2 year old to her first dental appointment, while we waited I started looking around the clinic. It was horrible, I just starting writing what I saw. The word poured out like water. I even missed my daughter going in…I include that in the story.
3. Are you currently writing? Tell us what you are working on now. 
Yes, I’m in the middle of two projects. I’m writing 2 new stories for “In The Apartments Next To Mine” I plan to re-release the book this July hopefully. One story is about a family that has a child with Autism and the struggle of their morning route. You see it from the family’s point of view and the caregiver’s point of view.
I’m also in the middle of a follow-up novel to my short story Going Home. I was doing fine then got stuck so I put the book aside about 2 months ago. Then Spectrum, one of the new stories, came pouring out of me. The novel was titled The Book of James, as it was going to following up on what happened to Caleb James and his brother Jedidiah…however, it includes the whole James. Each member’s faith will be tested, the book spans a number of years. It opens 2 years after Caleb walks away from a successful career and his brother turns down the NFL. The story that features the sister is many years later. We find her in high school preparing for college. That story also introduces us a new character, a serial killer. He will have his own book…my wife has been waiting 3 years for me to write that one. Lol.
4. Tell us about your publishing experience. Did you try to find an agent or publisher first or did you always want to self-publish?
I did not try very hard to get an agent though really wish I had one. It would help with all the leg work. My former professor suggested that I get one.
I did reach out to publishing companies I was told I needed “a following first” or “we’re not accepting manuscripts right now”. If I were 20 years old, perhaps I would have stay around for years of rejections, but I’m not. My thinking was… If it came down to it, I would publish just so that my children and grandchildren would have a record of my achievement on their bookshelf. Self-publishing is a perfect fit for us right now, low over-head cost and not a huge financial investment to start. When we have more money we can put in more.
5. My son has cerebral palsy and there are a few teachers he had growing up that he truly loved. Tell us about teaching kids with disabilities.
Wow. Stressful, painful, fun, exciting and tear-jerking! But I loved it. I worked with kids and adults in a wide range of disabilities. Cerebral Palsy (CP), Down syndrome, MR, Blind/visibly impaired and of course Autism and a few others.
The stress is in, communicating to them as well as learning their communicating language and style. I worked with a guy with CP whose speech was so bad that he was frustrated; I took over for my counselor and apologized if I need him to repeat to me…he was fine with that. It took a couple of days but we got. We chatted a lot, while I was showering him! Lol. I had a girl that wouldn’t sit still and work she would fight the teachers, call them names and throw things. We worked well together though. I would start by letting her play for 5 mins, then do reading for 5. Her tough subject was math so I made sure that her favorite snack or thing to do was the reward for math. After a mouth her behavior changed. She looked forward to working with me more than other teaches. Let me tell you this kids that a wicked sense of humor. The tears flow as you joyfully sit back and watch someone learn a new skill or even do something that they hadn’t done before. They’re learning. The ones that people thought couldn’t learn.
6. For those reading this what would you say to them to convince them to give your book a read?
Here is a link to an excerpt from my website. There are 3 in total…look pass all your misgivings and think of the first time you tried something for the first time, how you fell in love with it and how you still use it, have it around, purchasing it etc. These are short stories of ordinary people with extraordinary stories that you will relate to, cry with, giggle at and fall in love with or at least with the writer. Lol

 You can follow T. Anthony Bland at the following places:

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