Toni-T Shakir is the wife of Jamal Shakir. Following an eventful and tumultuous life, which included Toni serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison, she has moved on with her life as an author. Her latest book is a vivid story of love, loyalty, and street life losely based on her life-experiences. We had the opportunity to talk with Toni about the book in an exclusive interview. Check it out below.
Q: Given how much you drew on your life experiences and history for this book, how difficult was the writing process? Was it more therapeutic or challenging?
Toni: “Writing was always therapeutic for me, but when I began writing Land Of No Pity it was beyond challenging and at some points, extremely difficult. Not the technical
aspect of writing a novel, or the issue of coming up with the proper content, but the emotional impact of having to revisit the many traumatic experiences that many parts
of this book derived from. I always felt it was important for the reader to not only see but also feel the emotions of the characters. And in doing so, it took honesty and transparency on my part. I had to open myself up in all sorts of ways to allow the story to flow freely. For example, the scene where Cannon was murdered. That scene was told from Elijah’s point of view and it was based on an event where one of our close friends, who was more like a brother, was murdered. I relived the entire event as I wrote. At one point, I broke down and cried. I had to stop writing on that chapter for two days in order to regroup. There were many parts of the story that had similar effects on me, because in essence I was revisiting friends, enemies, and events that for the most part were very unpleasant.”
Q: Tell us about the title “Land Of No Pity.” It seems to be driven largely by the street elements of the book. How did you come to the title?
Toni: “The title came from an incident when I was with my husband, Jamal, visiting one of his friends who lived in a huge drug-infested apartment complex in the 90’s in South Central. While we were there, the ambulance and police showed up at one of the downstairs apartment. A woman (who I later learned was her mother) came out
carrying on hysterically as the EMT brought out a little girl on a stretcher. The little girl couldn’t have been more than six years old. They rushed her to the hospital.
One of the family members came to where we were and began telling my husband’s friend that the little girl had a voice box in her throat, and her crack-addicted mother
hadn’t been attending to it properly so the child couldn’t breath. About two hours later, the little girl’s mother came back to Jamal’s friend and told him
her daughter died. Although I didn’t know the child, my heart went out to her. Tears filled my eyes. Then what happened next was beyond words to me at that time. The
mother asked for some crack for free to ease her pain. I thought for sure he would tell her to leave after knowing that her smoking crack led her to neglecting her daughter’s health condition that ultimately ended her life. Without a second thought, our friend reached in his pocket and dropped a rock in her hand. Her tears immediately dried up and there wasn’t a hint of remorse or grief on her face as she hurried off. After she left I was very disturbed so I asked him why did he give her drugs after what just happened with her daughter. He looked at me with a blank cold stare that gave me chills and said: “I don’t know where you come from, but welcome to the land of no pity.” I never forgot that day or those words, and when I started this book, I knew that no other title could convey this book’s message like the title: “Land Of No Pity.”
Q: The characters in the book are so vivid and detailed. It seems like “Land Of No Pity” would be a great movie. Do you have any interest in the book being adapted for a screenplay?
Toni: “Most definitely. I have a deep desire to see Land Of No Pity as a movie or a series similar to The Sopranos or The Wire. When I first allowed some of my associates to read the rough drafts, some of them critiqued that maybe there were too many characters and that I was giving away too much material that could be used for multiple books. But I love a multi-dimensional story and those are the type of books I enjoy reading; books that make me feel like I’m watching a movie. So when I wrote Land Of No Pity, I wrote it with a vision of eventually transforming it into a screenplay. That’s one of the biggest reasons I didn’t hold back on introducing multiple characters and plot lines.”
Q: What character do you most identify with in the book and why?
Toni: “Well, I have to say that I mostly identify with three of the main characters, Elijah, Elise, and Lauren. The two women characters, of course because I injected aspects of myself into each of them. My experiences of fear and trauma; of feeling insecure and vulnerable at certain periods of my life; of growing into a woman learning what love, loyalty, and dedication demands. I shared some very raw emotions and experiences through them and in certain ways it was a healing process for me to be able to shed light on some of the dark traumas that come with being a woman in the struggle. I also strongly identify with Elijah because the primary inspiration for him was my husband, Jamal. A complexed and flawed character that had to become calloused to his own inner demons, and strengthened himself against and in the environment of living hell; balancing the hard man he had to be towards his enemies with the protectiveness and gentility he gave to those he loved, even if it was in his own way that others often misunderstood or just didn’t care to understand. There are many qualities that I fell in love with in Jamal that I transferred into Elijah. His thoughts, actions, intelligence, and life lessons shared was the catalyst of Elijah, and I feel extremely close to Elijah’s character for this reason.”
Q: Why should people read “Land Of No Pity?“
Toni: “Besides being a well-written, dynamic and suspenseful story, Land Of No Pity is also a sort of social commentary. It is a journey into the hearts and minds of those who are the forgotten segment of American society. I don’t think that anyone, regardless of background or demographics, can read this book and walk away disappointed, and not be impacted by it in some way. It is relatable on all levels, so much more than just an ‘urban/street’ novel.”
Q: Where can people purchase the book?
Toni: “It can be purchased through our website, www.shakirpublishing.com, or www.landofnopity.com. It’s also available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online bookstores, as well as Kindle.”
Q: How can people connect with you on social media?
Toni: “Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter: @shakirpublishing.”