The legendary NY Times Best-Selling author and foremost Tupac/Biggie/Compton expert Lolita Files, who was the leading respected source of the A&E docu-series “Who Killed Tupac?” where she for the first time reveals the murderers and more in her book Once Upon a Time in Compton. Files a hugely influential and admired bestselling author of six novels, a screenwriter, and a producer for stage, film, and television. Her acclaimed novel Child of God, remains a perennial book club favorite, and is part of the reading curriculum at high schools and universities across the country. Her novel sex.lies.murder.fame is being developed for film by Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios with Files having adapted the script, and a series based upon her popular Misty/Reesy trilogy is headed for television.
Here’s the interview:
Harlem World: Research plays an important part in your work, who has inspired you in your work?
Lolita Files: I’m mostly inspired by the desire to get to the truth. With the book “Once Upon A Time In Compton” that I co-wrote with Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd, I was very much inspired by their experiences and involvement in so many important moments in pop culture and Compton’s history, so I dug deep, researching them, the people of the community, and all the relevant elements. In my research on Biggie and Tupac, again getting to the truth was the driving element. As a fan of Biggie as a hip-hop artist and of Tupac as a hip-hop artist, actor, activist, poet, and revolutionary, I wanted to learn as much as possible beyond what I already knew and what I believed I already knew.
HW: What excites you about your work (the story, the people, etc.,)?
LF: When I write nonfiction, the opportunity to go deep as I learn about my subjects is very exciting. I’m a bit OCD, haha, so when I research, I research, down to the most minute, obscure details. When I write fiction, I’m similarly excited to learn about new people, even though I’m the one who’s seemingly creating them. I say “seemingly” because it may seem as if I’m in control, but once I begin to breathe life into the characters on the page, they take over and lead me. I make a point of never getting in the way of my characters and Story itself, even if things happen that I completely disagree with or even abhor. Story, to me, becomes practically a living thing, hence my use of a capital “S.” These same answers apply in my role as a producer as well. Bringing Story to life and to light excites me on so many levels.
HW: Where do you get your ideas for your subject matter?
LF: They can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s as simple as something catching my eye very quickly. I’ll spot something that seems unusual and, from there, my mind goes into trying create a backstory and universe around the seed of that thing. It can also be something the disturbs me on a level where I want to explore the what-if of why it bothers me. My book “sex.lies.murder.fame,” which Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios will be doing as a film (I adapted the script), was born out of me constantly seeing celebrities make the headlines for one bad behavior after another and becoming even more celebrated because of that bad behavior. I began to wonder, is there anything someone famous can do that is a bridge too far, where we won’t continue to reward them for it? Are we, as a society, so desensitized that nothing can repulse us? And, just like that, I had a story!
HW: When did you realize you had talent? What advice would you give wannabe Lolita Files who want to follow in your pumps or flats?
LF: I learned very early that I had a knack for storytelling. My father was an excellent oral storyteller who would have my friends rapt just listening to him whenever they came over to visit. He could captivate a room. I wanted to be able to do that, and I somehow either osmosed the skill from him or maybe it was already in my DNA. I was an avid reader from a very young age. My parents made sure my brother and I had lots of books. We loved the library and used to beg them to take us. The library was like Disneyland. I also had two extraordinary English teachers through all four years of high school who played major roles in helping me recognize and hone my talent for writing. By the time I graduated high school, everyone at my school and in my life assumed and expected that I would go on to write the so-called “Great American Novel,” haha.
I would recommend those who aspire to write books and/or write and produce for film and tv do the work. There are no shortcuts. You might get the hookup here and there, but the hookup is useless if you don’t have the skill set to deliver once someone cuts you a break and lets you in the door. Learn the craft of writing. Learn THE BUSINESS of writing. Learn the entertainment BUSINESS, which can be filled with unexpected land mines and pitfalls, despite your best efforts. Learn everything you can about what it takes to make movies and television shows come together. Take classes. Study those who are already doing what you aspire to do. Ask if you can shadow people to get an idea of what their day-to-day is like. Consider no task too menial when it comes to learning the business you want to work in. MOVE THROUGH THE WORLD WITH GOOD AND POSITIVE ENERGY. That, above all else, will serve you tremendously in whatever you do.
HW: Why do you write about such heavy subject matter like Tupac, Biggie and Compton? What do you do to unwind?
LF: Because investigating subjects such as this, in addition to being informative, is often thrilling, filled with twists and turns one might not expect. I enjoy topics that are rich in history and complexity. I’m a perpetually-curious person who loves learning new things. I never, ever want to stop exploring, investigating and learning. I love sharing what I’ve learned in a way that excites and enlightens the audience I’m sharing it with just as much as it excited and enlightened me.
I do, however, write lighter fare. I have a trilogy of books – “Scenes From A Sistah,” “Getting To The Good Part,” and “Tastes Like Chicken” – with two very popular characters (Misty and Reesy). Those books are very comedic in tone.
I like hanging out with my friends to unwind. We hit happy hours, we bowl, we do karaoke, I throw impromptu get-togethers and cookouts at my place. Although I’m not much of a drinker, I have a pretty impressive top-shelf bar at my home that rivals what can be found in some of the best clubs in the city. This may explain why my friends like impromptu gatherings at my place.
HW: What’s your fave place in Harlem?
LF: 125th Street will always be my favorite place in Harlem. To me, it personifies the heart of Harlem, even though it has changed considerably over the years. When I lived in Harlem in the late nineties, it was a popular destination of mine for so many things – from the Apollo Theater to roti shops to fried fish joints to the hip-hop gear found in the stores, oils, shea butter, and incense from street vendors, and, heck, quite a few of my books were even being bootlegged by some of those same street vendors. Whenever I was standing on 125th, I felt my Blackness in all its beautiful glory. I loved that feeling and the rich pedigree of that storied street.
You can purchase Ms. Files book here.
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