Duane Lance Filer grew up in Compton, California and had one of the greatest, richest childhoods one could have growing up in an “inner” city. Duane’s dad Maxcy Filer was involved in the west coast civil rights movement, and during the late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s Duane got to witness and was involved in some wild and crazy events during this important time in American history. Since birth, Duane has possessed an extraordinary memory; an insatiable imagination; and a fascination with writing. He started writing in high school, through college, during his 30-plus work years, and into his present retirement. Duane’s funky writing projects and painting can be viewed at his website http://duanelancefiler.wixsite.com/duanelancefiler.
Listen to a reading from The Legend of Diddley Squatt
Duane discuss this vision for the children’s books, LongTALES for ShortTAILS
BPM: Have you always been a writer? Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My first short story was written for Mrs. Pierce’s 7th grade English class at Walton Jr. High in Compton. Then, at Compton High School, Mr. Alvin Taylor’s Black History class inspired me to write “what you know.” My next stop was at Cal Lutheran College (now University) where creative writing professors Ted LaBrenz and Dr. Jack Ledbetter encouraged me to continue to write my off-the-wall short stories. After college, I continued to learn the craft of writing at the Watts Writers Workshop in 1973-1974 (God bless Harry Dolan); the Open-Door Writers Program for Minority Writers at 20th Century Fox (1980-82): and the Institute of Children’s Literature.
BPM: Are you a musician? If so, how has that influenced your writing?
I’ve been fooling around with the bass ever since I heard Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone in the late 1960’s. I can pick out melodies and bass lines and I have some musician friends who come over to my “FFFunklab” (Filer Family Funk – my man cave area, carved out of a corner of our garage in Carson, CA, where I write my crazy stories and play my funky music).
Music has DEFINITELY influenced my writing. Other than Sly, my other musical influences are Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and the Talking Heads. I have hundreds of albums, and music is always playing when I write. The music takes me away… I especially like to listen to Miles when I’m writing.
BPM: Tell us about your latest book, The Legend of Diddley Squatt.
Bullying has been in existence since the beginning of time; different color/gender? Bullied! Awkward feature/size/frame? Bullied! Abnormal/strange name? Bullied! Now just imagine if your name is Diddley Squatt, a black child, born and living in the backwoods of the deep south USA circa 1940-1950? You think Diddley Squatt was bullied?
BPM: What do you hope readers take away from it?
Regardless of your birth circumstances – born black, white, or brown; rich or poor, big or small; male or female; in the north, south, east or west – YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER WHO YOU ARE AT BIRTH! It is left to each of us, once born and as we start to grow into ourselves, to ensure that we make the best of our lives. Nobody can live for you – you take the good with the bad and learn to adjust, and hopefully find happiness along life’s glorious journey.
BPM: Give us an insight into your main characters. What does he/she do that is so special?
• Diddley Squatt – Our main character. A young, good looking black kid with curly hair and dimpled cheeks. At birth bullied because of his unique name, he learns to get past the bullying by finding the best in everyone and not carrying grudges. With the help, and encouragement, of special people who inhabit and visit the Copp-A-Squatt Inn – Young Didd finds because of the kindness he exhibits to all living beings – he has been gifted with two unique special powers:
1.) By way of a magical harmonica gifted to him – he can make himself and others small and fly on the back of his lady bug friend.
2.) Because of the trust he earns from animals, he learns he indeed can talk to animals and they can talk back at him.
Young Diddley navigates his way through high school with help from these characters, both human and animal, and decides his fate is to become a guitar playing musician. The book explains his travels from birth to high school graduation to his first excursion out into the world as a struggling musician.
• Momma Squatt – Diddley’s grandmother who raises him, no questions asked, when her young daughter Jackie Squatt instantly realizes she isn’t cut out for motherhood. Momma is the owner of the largest hotel/brothel this side of the Mississippi. She is a caring, good-cooking, church-going, grandmotherly, woman from Rundown City. She welcomes all who frequents her business, the jumping Copp-A-Squatt-Inn. She instills in Young Didd, that although he may not have come from the best circumstances, he can still make good in life, but that it is up to him to lead the way.
• The Copp-A-Squatt Ladies – Mainly Chastity, Delila, Tiffany, and Epiphany – who look after Young Didd and make sure he stays on the straight and narrow.
• Robert “Bobby” Johnson – One of the greatest black blues musicians/guitarist of the day. Robert, nearing the end of his time on earth, sees something in Young Didd and labels him one of his “kindred souls” whom he wishes to teach an important lesson before he leaves this good earth. Robert’s dying wish is to repent for past sins.
• Sly Squinter – Sly Squinter is the coolest squirrel ever! Sly becomes Diddley’s best friend, indeed a “kindred soul,” and all he requests in return is loyalty and a fresh supply of nuts. Sly’s animal wisdom and cunning asides help Young Didd as he heads out into the world.
BPM: Was there a real-life inspiration behind your development of the characters?
As in most of my writing, I remember bits and pieces of incidences from different people and stories learned from characters/friends I’ve bumped into the past 65 years. Many of the characters in my book came from my thoughts of what old time blues musicians/actors/soldiers may have experienced while passing through the south and the limited hotel/motel situation because they were black and could only stay in certain places designated for black folks.
The closest real-life inspiration for Diddley Squatt came from the alleged background of one of my favorite comedians (in my opinion, one of the greatest comedians of all time) Richard Pryor. Richard was raised by his grandmother who happened to run a popular hotel/brothel and he often mentioned various characters and situations from those brothel days in his comedy routines. Although his grandmother was tough on him, Richard gave her credit for his success in his life.
BPM: How did you come up with the title for The Legend of Diddley Squatt – A Novella from a Brother Fella?
As many of my ideas, the title came to me in a dream. Since high school, I’ve kept a journal of some sort. When I started writing professionally, I always thought to have some sort of paper/pen/journal next to my bed in case an idea woke me up and I needed to jot it down. I learned you must jot the idea down IMMEDIATELY, that night, in order to remember specifics about the thought/subject. There is no “I’ll remember to write it down in the morning” – no that doesn’t work – you will forget important details and why the thought came to you originally.
So, one night after I had written down an outline of the first draft of Diddley, it came to me to change the spelling of the original “d-i-d-l-y squat” and I sat up in bed and said “THIS IS GONNA BE LIKE A NOVELLA FROM A FELLOW BROTHER” – and I just switched it around so that “fella” rhymed with “novella.”
BPM: In what genre do you write? What do you love about the genre(s)?
I write fiction. I just love fiction. There is so much madness in the world, I like to write about happy, far-out, weird stuff and give the reader a break from reality. I like animals and I believe that animals actually talk to us in their own language with their barks, moans, and actions.
Don’t get me wrong. I love reading nonfiction; especially biographies. While I prefer fiction, I usually add some personal facts that I’ve experienced in my books. In my first book, Square Squire and the Journey to DREAMSTATE, I combine fact with fiction and called it faction. The book begins with real experiences of my childhood in Compton, CA. I quote my real childhood friends and actually use the real names of some friends and teachers – although I don’t use my real name. Later in the book, I break off into fiction with the main character, Squire, inventing a “dream-state” that allows him to drift into a magical state of mind and create/ write his crazy stories.
BPM: Do you outline your books? Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I definitely and strongly believe in outlining anything that I write (book, essay, play or screenplay, poetry – all of which I’ve written.) In my opinion, it makes writing, and completing a project, so much easier. I jot down possible chapters; possible characters; possible themes; possible plots – and start to shift these outline points into a time frame I think will make the book interesting.
An outline is moveable; it doesn’t have to be exact, but it will help you move forward in your writing and you can complete chapters in a much easier fashion. Plus – if you get the calling and an idea what you want in a certain chapter – you can jump ahead and throw ideas/word/sentences/paragraphs in that chapter- they can all be unfinished – but you can return at a later date and complete that particular chapter.
BPM: How much research went into sculpting this story?
Definitely some. I always try to do some research on projects I write. If the project, like Diddley Squatt, takes place in the past (in this case it does in the 1940-50’s). I have to check to make sure certain products were available, certain songs and musicians I name or refer, were indeed around and relevant at that time; the cars, the dances, the foods, etc. I listened to many old blues and jazz albums from the 1940’s,50’s, and 60’s that help set a tone on my writing. As I’ve stated, music is very important to me not only in my storytelling, but also in the present when I am composing my thoughts and ideas into print. Music is the universal language.
BPM: Can you explain why you have chosen this particular subject matter for your new release?
Because one of the major story lines that drives the story – bullying – is SO RELEVANT in today’s times. Turn on the news, and you will hear a story about a bullied teen at an elementary, middle, or high school; or a fraternity that bullied and harassed a certain individual or group because they were different (color, gender, status, immigrant); spoke in a different language; dressed in a different way; different gender, different political view. The plot and theme of the story is JUST AS RELEVANT TODAY, as when the story takes place in the mid 1940’s – 60’s.
BPM: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
Probably Chapter 6, entitled “Two Kindred Souls Unite at the Crossroads.” One of Young Diddley’s most trusted mentors, famous blues musician Robert “Bobby” Johnson, is old and dying. His last, dying wish is for Diddley to transport him back to this famous graveyard in backwoods Mississippi so that Bobby can have a last chance at repentance, before passing on, with the strange/ungodly character who gifted Bobby with his talent by unscrupulous means.
Diddley uses one of his unique gifts of “smalling” to make him and Bobby tiny enough to ride on the back of one of Didd’s insect friends, LadyM (a ladybug) – who flies them to the scary, monstrous, darkened and frightening graveyard, known far and wide as “The Crossroads” – in the darkest of midnight – where indeed Robert (along with Diddley) once again encounters the ominous figure known as Mr. DeVile – a.k.a. THE DEVIL!
There, Diddley learns that Robert learned to become one of the greatest guitarists not by practice, but by selling his soul to the Devil. In return for gifted guitar playing without the usual years of practice and toil, and the instant fame that followed, Bobby was immediately gifted with amazing hands, voice, and musical technique. In return, by Mr. DeVile’s orders, Bobby ruined many a marriage by his preaching of partying, stealing, and thuggery – through his partying lifestyle, through many of his songs, and by the cult that followed him. Fame and riches given to Bobby- but not garnered by hard work and study of craft -the right way!
Bobby stands up to the Devil and ask for forgiveness, but mainly wants Diddley to understand that he gained his fame the wrong way, and this is a life-changing moment for Diddley. Diddley stands up to the scary Mr. DeVile, and states he will not sell his soul to the Devil – but will live his life, and gain any success, through hard work. During the encounter, Didd quotes bible verses learned at Sunday school – and he and Robert defeat the dreaded Mr. DeVile on his own territory through truth and love. Young Didd and Bobby fly home on LadyM’s back – exhausted but happy.
BPM: Talk us through your experiences as a self-published author. Why did you go down this route?
Through an initial early learning process of just “asking around” and continued through exhaustive internet searches of “how do I get my book published,” I found that traditional publishers won’t even look at your product unless you are represented by a literary agent. What? So, after more extensive internet searches, I learned that there were various literary agent websites where you could submit a “query” letter in hopes of garnering an agent’s interest enough to take you on as a client. Thus, began a process of query writing that continues until today.
Starting with my first book in 2012, I’ve tried to find a “legitimate” publisher of all my books. The Legend of Diddley Squatt – A Novella from a Brother Fella is my 7th book, and I bet I’ve sent out at least fifteen hundred or two thousand combined query letters for all seven books. I make an Excel spreadsheet for each query I send; the spreadsheet contains the date, name of the agent, name of the agency, and what exactly I’ve sent (query, synopsis, first 500 words, chapters, etc.); and lastly the spreadsheet contains the column “Date Rejected/Declined.” When I get a rejected letter, I then code that letter in red so I know that it has been rejected. Sigh.
So, I at least try to find an agent for each of my books. After approximately 150/200 queries have been sent for each book, and although some agents give me hope (“send me another chapter”) – after about 200 I give up and know it is time to self-publish. Hey…I tried right?
Self-publishing is not bad. At least I have some products out there – but my marketing skills are not what they should be. My dream is to eventually have one of my books published through a traditional publishing house.
BPM: Did publishing your first book change your thought process on writing? Was it a positive experience?
Once you receive that first batch of your first books- the thrill is unbelievable! It was a very positive experience in 2012. After my first book, I had other books lined up and waiting and it was just the process of what should come next. I will never give up the idea that one of my books will break through and become popular. Would you believe my dad, Maxcy Filer from Compton, took 48 exams before he passed the California State Bar? Yes, 48 attempts before he realized his dream of practicing law in California! My dad took the bar twice a year for 24 years from 1967 to 1991and finally passed it on his 48th attempt in 1991. Persistence finally paid off and I too will never quit!
BPM: What is the most rewarding part of your artistic process?
Putting in the work. I retired in 2013, and I have this thing about me that I have to ACCOMPLISH something every day or I don’t feel right? Whether it’s going to the gym or practicing my bass, I’ve got to complete something each day. Writing gives me that accomplishment feeling the best. I also like quirky stuff. I don’t like traditional. I’m drawn to folks who people may think weird…we just have a vibe.
BPM: Was there an early experience where you learned that the written word had power?
I remember 1969, in my 11th year Black History Class, teacher Alvin Taylor gave us an assignment to read a book of our choice. I had read “The Fire Next Time” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain” by James Baldwin – my favorite author to date. So, while looking for a new/different book for Mr. Taylor’s assignment, I came across the title of a book “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” by an author named Sam Greenlee. THE TITLE JUMPED OUT AT ME! I ordered the book from the library and couldn’t put it down; it was different – and my mind was never the same.
Later in college at Cal Lutheran, I happened upon “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson and me and my roommates were never the same! I became a fan of “gonzo” journalism (living/experiencing what you write) and that’s why I still talk to the squirrels when they visit my backyard.
BPM: What is one of the things you’re most thankful for as a writer?
Just to be able to write what I think and see. I love the term “writer’s prerogative.” My wife hates some of the stuff I write, and often tells me “why can’t you write or paint traditional stuff?” That’s when I know I’ve done my best. For writers, I love Hunter S. Thompson, Ishmael Reed. For painting, as far as my far-out paintings, I love Basquiat and Jackson Pollock. For music? John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and the king Sly Stone. Also, as mentioned earlier, I like to escape. Writing lets me escape – and it is up to me what I write – I’m in control.
Purchase The Legend of Diddley Squatt: A Novella from a Brother Fella
Science Fiction & Fantasy > Magical Realism > Paranormal & Urban Life
BPM: Tell us about your most recent work with children’s literature.
I have a children’s short-story collection of 3 picture book stories ready to blow your mind! I call it “LongTALES for ShortTAILS.” It’s about real (from my youth) and imagined stories that kids from tots to teens will enjoy. Here’s a quick look at what the stories are about:
• Fastjack Robinson – Like a young Jackie Robinson, Fastjack is the fastest rabbit in the world! Somebody in Bunny Junction has to stop the notorious Grabbit Rabbit, so it’s Fastjack to the rescue.
• Ms. Missy-Bishop’s First Dog – Do you remember what it was like when you got your first dog? Bishop’s first dog turns out to be the beautiful diva Missy. Plus, Missy soon has a surprise for the family.
• Duncan and the Chocolate Bar – A story of the futuristic Duncan as he wins a contest and is one of the youngest to ever travel to outer-space.
“LongTALES for ShortTAILS” is a children’s short-story collection that totals 7 interesting stories. To date, Duane Lance Filer has completed and self-published 3 of the stories in the series. The stories are about real and imagined stories that kids from 2 – 13 years-old will enjoy.
“LongTALES for ShortTAILS,” written by Duane Filer, that will leave your kids enthralled and excited. Each book contains eye-popping color illustrations by Jay DeVance III. Below is a brief summary of these three storybooks. Please share this flyer with your friends and family. Give the Gift of Knowledge…Give Books as Gifts!
BPM: How can readers discover more about you and your work?