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This reading group guide forRespect the Jux includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Frank C. Matthews. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
As a kid growing up in Jamaica, Cat learned that life was simple: you hustle, or you get hustled. He decided that he wanted to get his, and he wasn’t going to let the law stop him. Then at sixteen, his world was uprooted and brought to the streets of Queens. Cat’s first jux happened after spotting a “baller,” a man with a knot of cash. He was too flashy with his cash, so it was taken from him. This is the code Cat lives by; this is the code that gives rise to The Order of Thieves.
The Order, founded by Cat, consists of a disparate group of men who have all proved themselves in action. They do not consider themselves gangsters, but gunmen; they go down shooting. Cat, Banit, Cloud, James, Prince, and Ozzi are the members, but one of them is a cop, and one of them is about to get killed. Forced to split up, the crew plans to reunite in Miami and team with party promoter Gamble to pull off the biggest jux any of them has ever seen. Will their pasts catch up with them before they can pull it off, or will they be able to leave the streets with a newly stolen fortune?
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. The fascinating account of Cat’s rise is told in Chapter Two. Arriving in the United States at sixteen, he had already lived the life of a thug in Jamaica, and his father was murdered in gang activity when Cat was just a boy. Do you think Cat had a way out of life on the streets, or was it inevitable? Given his story, does any part of you admire the success he achieved in founding The Order?
2. Cat’s first jux is committed after he sees a man he calls “the baller,” with gold chains and gold rings, pull out a knot of thousands of dollars and take out a few bills for groceries. This conspicuous display of wealth makes Cat both angry and jealous. Throughout the novel Cat and The Order prey on people who flaunt their wealth, as if the victims are receiving their comeuppance for being so flashy. What do you think of this system of justice? How much of a jux do you think is the victim’s fault?
3. We witness Cloud’s trepidation in the middle of a jux at the onset of the novel, and soon learn that he is a cop. Given this revelation, what do you think of his participation and the shot he fires in the opening jux? Should he be punished by the law? Also, do you think he intentionally didn’t search the man thoroughly, hoping that a member of The Order would be shot, or do you believe it was just an oversight?
4. Even though Banit “felt responsible for Ozzi’s death,” should he have gone to Ozzi’s funeral or was that foolish? Why do you think none of the other members of The Order went?
5. One of the most interesting relationships in the novel was between Prince and his nephew James. What did you make of this family tag-team? Was it irresponsible of Prince to encourage this behavior in James, or was he simply looking out for a man who was going to be a criminal anyway, and keeping him close?
6. In Chapters Five and Six, we get a glimpse of what a loose cannon James is, as he murders first Allen and then Vill. We then see rogue justice played out again as James is gunned down in Chapter Seven. Do you think the members of The Order would agree that James deserved this judging by the rules of their own code? Do you think he got what he deserved?
7. Banit’s initiation into The Order is one of the most poignant and intimate scenes in the novel. It reveals a sensitive side to Cat, and gives us glimpses into his reasons for founding it. During the oath, Banit must repeat, “I . . . swear with my life to uphold The Order. To obey and follow all its rules and to always strive to better the principles it is founded upon and to walk in their deeper meanings.” Discuss this initiation and the rituals that Cat lays out. What do you think these deeper meanings are? Do you think all of the members of The Order fully understand?
8. The reasons for Gamble’s assimilation into the crew was simple; he knew everyone in Miami, he helped Cat and The Order gain access to some of the most important people around, and he also helped plan the super jux at the end of the novel. He never officially became a member of The Order, but do you think he will? Will The Order continue as we know it, or do you think it is over with?
9. Judging by Cloud and Tina’s failure to get into the party and stop the super jux, The Order definitely prevailed. But did the good guys win, or did the bad guys win? Think about the case of Cloud. Was justice thwarted, or did it win out? Do you like Cloud for being on the side of the law, or hate Cloud for being crooked?
10. In retrospect, which of the juxes performed in the novel was your favorite, and why? Some likely candidates include Cat’s initial solo jux on the “the baller,” the jux on the Chinese man, the jux that the novel begins with, and the super jux at the end. What do you think?
11. What do you make of the five real juxes included at the end of the book, referred to as Five Stickups? Do they help to bring you some perspective on the rest of the novel, or stand alone as an interesting footnote?
12. The novel ends with a very interesting message: Everything is cyclical. After Cat and Cynthia have traveled the world, and are living the life, they fall victim to a jux. Cat could have stopped it, but deemed it more important to “respect the jux.” It got him where he is, so why stop others from getting there too? Do you think Cat will ever commit another jux, or is he officially retired? Would Cat be a hypocrite if he broke up the jux?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Take the imaginative leap and assume this will become a movie. If you were to cast the main characters, which actors/actresses would you chose to play the role of Cat? Cloud? Prince and James? Ozzi? Banit? Gamble? Cynthia? Create your own cast list, chose a director, then compare notes with your fellow book club members and see how many names you have in common.
2. Check out the author Facebook page for Respect the Jux at www.facebook.com/frankcmatthews or his website at http://keeplockent.com You can see updates from the author, order T-shirts with the cover art, and revisit everything that you loved about the novel.
3. You have just read about several juxes in the novel and seen five other examples of juxes that actually occurred, so with your newly learned expertise diagram the next jux for Cat and The Order. Will it be overseas in London or somewhere new in the U.S.? Which members of The Order will be there? Will Gamble be involved? Either create a scenario individually or have your reading group agree upon one.
A CONVERSATION WITH FRANK C. MATTHEWS
Like Cat, you started hustling and became a man of the streets at a young age. How autobiographical was this novel, and was it difficult to keep yourself from transposing your own experiences onto your character?
It is not autobiographical, however, I have witnessed all that I write about in some form, shape, or fashion. There are only two degrees of separation between what I write and what I live.
Did you ever consider writing the book as a piece of nonfiction? How do you think your audience would react to the story if the specifics of the juxes were presented as facts?
No, I am unable to write it as a piece of nonfiction without incriminating others. I think they would react the same because the jux is something that occurs every day. There’s someone being juxed at this very moment.
How did being incarcerated change the way you approach telling a story like this? Is it easier to let your imagination wander? More difficult to conjure up images? Do you think you ever would have written the story if you were not incarcerated?
Being incarcerated added a little depth to my story-telling ability, but overall I do think I would have a written a story of this magnitude. This story comes from my element and era so it’s not hard to let my mind wander or conjure up images, it’s a natural flow— similar to a hip-hop artist writing a song.
You mention that, while serving time, you read everything you could get your hands on. Were there any specific writers that influenced your style and subject matter? Who would you want to be compared to as a writer?
I would not want to be compared to anybody because I wouldn’t want to credit or discredit any other author. I’m just Frank C. Matthews telling Frank C. Matthews stories.
Do you think the fact that you have lived some of the situations in the book gives you instant credibility with your readers, or do you still feel like you need to earn their respect?
The fact that I lived some of these situations naturally gives me credibility, however, I do feel a need to earn the respect of my readers because all of my books are not about criminal experiences. I’m a well-rounded person, I attended college and made decent grades when I was at school, as well as traveled the world. I want everyone to both understand and appreciate my work.
The book is hard to categorize because it is so real and raw, and it doesn’t seem right to give it a blanket classification. What genre would you place yourself in? Urban Fiction? Crime Fiction?
I categorize my genre as “True Fiction.” There is truth to every story I write and there’s a Cat out there whose life reflects my writing.
At the conclusion of the book you include five “Stickups” which recount juxes that actually occurred. Why did you decide to include these five historical juxes?
I wanted to give my readers more. I wanted them to feel how authentic my writing is, and the essence of my stories.
You have written a total of twenty books while doing time, though this is the first one that is being published. What advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to break into the business? How many of your works did you send out to publishers before you signed your book deal?
I would tell any writer who wants to break into the business to offer something different to his or her readers. Work harder than anyone who’s working with you or for you. Maintain a positive attitude and never take no for an answer. I only sent one of my books, Respect the Jux, out to publishers. However, it took me five years to get a publishing deal. So you can never give up on your dream.
Do you have any plans to reunite Cat, James, Banit, and the rest of The Order for any future novels, or do you prefer to work with different characters on different projects?
I will reunite The Order, so stay tuned for Part Two. I will also be introducing other characters to the world in other books such as Bury Me in It, Below the Radar, Through My Dog’s Eyes, Summer of the Dons, and Lucifer Godson, to name a few.