Interview with ‘The Chicago Phoenix’ author, Executive Producer & Businessman James Keene
Just days after the official release of his book ‘The Chicago Phoenix’, James Keene is sharing exclusive information with us. Read on to find out about his inspiration behind this autobiographical novel, as well as the challenges he had to overcome.
Who is James Keene?
From a talented athlete who was a star MVP football player, star wrestler who mastered martial arts to getting swept up in the drug business and finally, to one of the biggest names in the business industry in the U.S., James Keene is a world-renowned novel author and producer. Keene wrote his first book titled ‘In With the Devil: A Fallen Hero, a Serial Killer, and a Dangerous Bargain for Redemption’.
Briefly, the book follows James Keene in the 1990s as he gets arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison. Keene’s novel follows the events that took place in the prison, notoriously known for keeping the worst of the worst.
When everything seemed terrible to James Keene, he finally got the opportunity to serve as an FBI undercover agent. After successfully cornering the vicious serial killer Larry Hall, Keene was set free of all charges and got his record completely cleared.
Apple TV+ took Keene’s novel as the direct inspiration for their mini-series Black Bird. Moreover, the author James Keene served as executive producer on the show. Just days before the show’s successful worldwide premiere, Keene released another book titled ‘Black Bird’.
Now, in April 2023, James Keene just published his third book in the autobiographical franchise and titled it ‘The Chicago Phoenix: Jimmy Keene’s Untold Story’, which follows him prior to going to prison. Comic Years had an amazing opportunity to receive exclusive information about James Keene’s latest novel.
James Keene about The Chicago Phoenix
Your latest novel, ‘The Chicago Phoenix’, tells us yet another amazing part of your life. Can you explain what drove you into the marijuana business at just 13 years old?
My parents divorced when I was 10 years old with 4 years of a prior crossfire hurricane between them. During the separation and after their divorce my Dad was gone and not present in the family home any longer. My Mom had a new huge pressuring responsibility to now raise us kids on her own. Unfortunately the pressure was too great for her alone by herself that she succumbed to it all.
She stayed out late at night and was barely ever present in the home. This led us into deep poverty and day to day survival became an unbearable nightmare. One day at 12 years old while out riding my bicycle deep out in the cornfields, I stumbled onto many many giant hefty bags stuffed with marijuana. These giant bags sat out in a secluded area deep in the cornfields for almost a year. Finally, I sensed the financial opportunity to broker the marijuana to my older friends. It sold like hotcakes and so began my wayward path into the marijuana business.
The novel follows young Jimmy Keene in the marijuana business. However, the business was undoubtedly dangerous. The job included surviving street shootings, brawls, and other dangerous situations. Do you recall any specific situations in which your life was in danger?
Lol, way too many to count. One particular life or death situation I got caught up in is described in chapter 5 “The Heat is On” in my new book. The country was completely dry, no marijuana could be found. I got a call from a close friend in Arizona who said that he had a connection that could get us all the marijuana we could handle. I flew to Arizona, and met the guy who ran a notorious biker gang.
He claimed to have all the product we needed. Therefore, I, alone with my giant bag of money, was lured deep into the boiling hot desert. It was a total rip off set up scheme. I fled with my giant bag of money deeper into the desert as dozens or more bikers were chasing me and shooting at me. This was an all day escape event, from dawn till dusk, all day in the blazing hot desert sun with no water dodging bullets. I was able to foil their rip off scheme by using extreme wits and a huge rock. The whole very crazy wild story along with similar events is detailed in my newest book “The Chicago Phoenix”.
‘The Chicago Phoenix’ serves as a prequel/sequel to The Black Bird, as it follows your early adulthood years prior to getting arrested. For all the book readers, in which order should they begin reading your autobiographical novels? Should they, perhaps, start with The Chicago Phoenix?
I would begin with my newest book “The Chicago Phoenix” because it lays out my earlier developmental years and what led me to the events in my award winning critically acclaimed Apple TV+ movie series “Black Bird”, and where my life uniquely went after Black Bird.
James Keene’s book “The Chicago Phoenix”, courtesy of James Keene
James Keene’s message: Your Freedom is Far Too Valuable
Looking back at the situation you lived through as a teenager, do you think there was a different way out?
Still even now when I look back at my earlier years after my parents divorce and the lack of adult supervision I had, growing up in an area that had the highest crime rate in the nation and the highest unemployment rate in the state I can still see why it was so easy to end up on a wrong wayward course and get caught up in the marijuana business as I did at a young age. It seemed the only thing that showed any financial promise at that time.
Ironically enough, I wanted to be a police officer, but my Dad was totally against it, so heeding that his advice left me only more confused as a young man. Perhaps I should have taken an out of state football wrestling scholarship, and seen where that would have taken me, but the reality of moving out of state and away from my thriving marijuana business, my only real means of financial survival kept me in Chicago and still on a wayward path.
According to the 2020 drug trafficking statistics, more than 64k cases of people in the drug business have been detected, 96% of which have been sentenced to prison (with an average sentence of 70+ months in prison). There are many teenagers caught in the same situation you were in. Do you have any advice for them on how to get out?
My advice is don’t get involved. I know it’s easier said than done. I know it is extremely hard from concerns and needs of financial survival and extreme peer pressure, but in the end it is just not worth it. As a young man I never had a clue as to how extremely draconian the drug laws are. It never even was a thought and I suspect that most young people who get caught up in the drug business out there also do not realize how draconian the drug laws are, especially conspiracy laws.
I personally do not think the drug penalties should be so draconian and harsh for non-violent drug crimes. I do not think conspiracy laws should even be legal at all. Because what is a conspiracy… It is hearsay and you can never defend yourself against hearsay. Your freedom is far too valuable to lose even a day!
The Chicago Phoenix by James Keene, courtesy of James Keene
Jimmy Keene’s Future Projects
After the success of Apple TV’s Black Bird, do you plan on having more of your books turned into TV adaptations? Perhaps, The Chicago Phoenix would be a perfect subject for a movie.
Well, there are 2 film studios that currently would like to make my new book “The Chicago Phoenix” into a movie. My hope along with all the other producers of “Black Bird” is to stay with Apple TV and do a prequel and sequels with the new fodder from my new book. The hope of all us producers is “Black Bird 2”. From the huge critically acclaimed response from the Black Bird fans, I think they would all love to see a “Black Bird 2” as well.
I’m also currently writing my next new book “American Sparkle” based on one of my other creations which is already set to be a motion picture. We were supposed to start filming “American Sparkle” in June 2023 but the writers and directors and actors strike happened. It’s currently still in negotiations, so as of now my “American Sparkle” movie is on pause till all is resolved.
Lastly, do you plan on writing more novels in the near future? I think that fans across the world sympathize with everything you’ve gone through. They admire the empire you built with your bare hands. Do you agree that your books serve as a reminder that anyone can pave the way for themselves, no matter how difficult their lives get?
I do plan to keep writing new books. My first next book will be “American Sparkle”, and I’m in talks with publishers about a 5 book deal. Either way, I will be writing more books. I hope my books and my redemption serve as a reminder that as long as you keep your head held high and stay positive and forge forward and stay focused that anything can be accomplished even in extreme adversity.
James Keene’s Books, courtesy of James Keene
Comic Years is grateful for the amazing opportunity to speak with the world-famous and respected businessman, novel author and executive producer James Keene. This interview offers exclusive information about James Keene’s latest novel “The Chicago Phoenix”, as well as details about his upcoming projects. Stay in tune for more exclusive content.
Obsessed with anime, all-things magical, collecting rare editions and funko pops, Natalija is a young writer who strives to read every comic and manga out there!