When Jonathan Luckett sent his first short novel to agents, they told him there wasn't a market for the racy African American fiction he wrote.
Luckett, who had e-mailed the novella, "Feeding Frenzy," to friends who passed it along to others, was fairly certain more than just his extended network would enjoy his book. So he decided to self-publish it rather than wait for agents to come around.
Publishing brought the agents, and now, two years later, he will read from his third book, "How Ya Livin,' " at Karibu Books in Hillcrest Heights tomorrow and at the store's location in Forestville Saturday.
"It was a question of, I know what I like to read. I had a sense before I even wrote the book that there was a market for contemporary African American fiction. I felt what I was getting from these agents was that they were disconnected, not that I was," said the Accokeek resident. "I felt that if I self-published and started to sell the book myself, I would be able to tell whether or not there was a market."
That decision was one of the best Luckett could have made. After selling hundreds of copies of his book on the Internet, out of the trunk of his car and at independent bookstores, he was invited to read from his novella at the Baltimore Book Festival in 2002. There, well-known erotica author Zane approached him to find out if he had written anything else -- a meeting that led to a contract with Zane's Strebor Books publishing house. The company has a distribution deal with Simon & Schuster, a fact that has ensured his second book, "Jasminium," and his newest book, "How Ya Livin'," a spot on the bookshelves of even the large chain stores.
A layoff from a biotech firm in 2002 gave Luckett the push he needed to pursue writing full time.
"I always knew I wanted to be a writer and an author," said Luckett, 44, who spent 17 years working in the information technology field. He still teaches part time at Johns Hopkins University. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native began writing short stories and poetry as a teenager and kept it up as he grew older.
"Back then, the pressures of raising a family and working a 9-to-5 job didn't leave a lot of time for writing. I was doing the proper thing, and my writing was relegated to a weekend activity, a hobby. I honestly got tired of being unfulfilled. I got to the point in my life where I needed to get back to my creative side," he said.
That creative side has led him to his current book, "How Ya Livin'," a 650-page character-driven novel about three singles who are best friends -- two men and a woman -- going through the dating world. Luckett, a divorced father of two, says that he drew upon his own experiences and those of his single friends to create the spicy story, which takes place in Washington, New York and New Orleans. Scenes mention local sites such as Dream Nightclub in the District and Sipp'ss Cafe, the Fort Washington coffee shop where the author spent months working on the book.
"From the beginning, my intent was to write a book that gave readers really rich, deep characters. I think that's something that's missing in a lot of our contemporary fiction. We have a lot of drama and sex, but the characters seem very superficial," Luckett said.
"I think people are looking for a story of substance," he said. "There are a lot of books out there that are not well written. People want more, and I think I'm giving them that."
Jonathan Luckett will read from and discuss "How Ya Livin' " tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at Karibu Books, Iverson Mall, 3817 Branch Ave., Hillcrest Heights; and Saturday at 4 p.m. at Karibu Books, Forest Village Park Mall, 3289-B Donnell Dr., Forestville. Other upcoming local appearances are listed on his Web site, www.jonathanluckett.com. 301-559-1140.