Ask Solomon Jones, author of Pipe Dream, (Random House/Striver's Row) what finally turned him away from a crack-addicted life that began in 1990 and he will answer quickly, "I turned to the Lord." Taking pages out of his own life, his novel Pipe Dream catapults readers inside Philadelphia's underground drug world to solve a murder mystery.
When a prominent politician, slated to become the next mayor of Philadelphia, is found murdered in a crack house, the manhunt focuses on four drug addicts -- Black, Leroy, Pookie, and Clarisse. They struggle not only to escape from police but, also, from the addiction that binds them.
At a recent book signing at Basic Black Books in Philadelphia, readers were impressed by Jones's personal story, and they discussed the various accounts they had seen and read concerning him and his book. "Many talked to me about the plot of the book, which centers around addiction, and shared with me how addiction had touched their own lives. I think the most fun I had was donning my sales uniform and convincing readers who'd never heard of me or the book to take a chance on it," Jones said.
Shortly after his addiction began in 1990, Jones went through drug rehabilitation centers, detoxification, and 12-step programs, but nothing worked. Homeless and penniless by 1993, he completed a 28-day program and lived in a "clean-and-sober" homeless shelter. Jones relapsed in 1996, contracted bacterial pneumonia, and was admitted to the hospital with a fifty-fifty chance of living. That was his wake-up call.
"When I was discharged, I refused to go to another rehab and instead turned to the Lord. That was the best decision I have ever made in my life," said Jones.
While living at a Philadelphia shelter, Jones was hired as a correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune, the oldest continuously published black newspaper in America. "The challenge in being a correspondent was finding the time to write between group therapy, one-on-one counseling sessions, and 12-step meetings. Some nights I would sit at a table in the dining area while everyone else was in bed, writing my stories by hand. The next day, I would go to another facility where I had access to computers so I could type them and turn them in to my editor," explained Jones.
Pipe Dream began as something to do to pass the time while Jones worked evenings as a desk clerk at a condominium complex -- and finished his Bachelor's degree studies in journalism at Temple University.
"Writing this book was a joy," said Jones. "It allowed me to delve deep inside my own experiences, excavate them, and share them with readers in a positive way. The most difficult part was selling the book. It received 50 rejections -- not because it was poorly written, but because agents and publishers did not believe readers would want to read a book concerning crack addiction. The book, which was published in August, is now in its third printing."
Jones hopes that each reader comes away with a better understanding of the nature of drug addiction and of the humanity of the addict. "But more than that, it is my hope that the reader will accept his or her role in helping to alleviate it, because addiction is not the problem of the addict alone. It is everyone's problem," he said.
The journey to publication confronted many roadblocks, and Jones said he never imagined the outpouring of support he has received from readers and booksellers.
"The thing that impresses me the most about independent booksellers is that there is more intimacy," said Jones. "Not only between authors and readers, but between booksellers and readers. There is a lot more handselling. The owners of the stores tend to know their customers by name. They tend to know what types of books they like. And they tend to do events with authors who cater to their market."
Jones related that shortly after Pipe Dream was published "an events coordinator at a major chain store told me that she couldn't have me in for a signing because, 'After your friends and family, who else is there?' Four months later Pipe Dream is in its third printing, and I consistently sell out at signings. While all event coordinators at major chain stores do not share the bias of that one, I have found that independent booksellers have a clearer understanding of their niche. They understand that authors do not have to be famous. They need only have a good product and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and sell."
Jones hopes that independents market Pipe Dream as a suspenseful, well-written glimpse into the hard truths of the streets. But, more importantly, he hopes booksellers let readers know that it's a book that will cause them to reexamine their perceptions, not only about addicts and addiction, but also about themselves.