No Need for an Alarm Clock by Jahmal Mayfield

Written by Jahmal Mayfield



My bookshelf is bursting with crime novels. Visitors to my home often remark on the breadth of titles and ask if I’ve read them all. Not all, I’ll say, noting that some belong to my wife. Usually, the conversation will then veer to asking for recommendations. That’s the moment I light up, eyes wide with joy. I love sharing the books that have shaped me. Novels such as Dennis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER. Or Walter Mosley’s DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS. THE NEON RAIN by James Lee Burke. Lee Childs’ ECHO BURNING. George Pelecanos’ RIGHT AS RAIN. Don Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG. And so on and so forth.  

This love of reading, not surprisingly, has led to my love of writers. Once I’ve fallen for a book, the next thing I do is learn as much as I can about the novelist. I’ll search online for written interviews, dip down the rabbit holes of YouTube for author talks. And, inevitably, whatever the form of interview, the fiction writer will be asked that inescapable question. 

Where do you get your ideas? 

Ray Bradbury once said that he didn’t need an alarm clock, that his ideas woke him. 

That’s a wonderful sentiment. But I drift back to the summer of 2017 when I read an immersive novel about an eleven-year-old girl reunited with her father. He was freshly out of prison and waiting on the doorstep of her school in a stolen car. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. And, as you would expect, I practically tripped over myself running to Google to learn more about this Jordan Harper who’d written the equivalent of a heatseeking missile with SHE RIDES SHOTGUN. I learned of Harper’s background in screenwriting and that he loved speaking about the technical details of creating stories. 


At some point, Harper shared his creative process and his idea of a “spirit board,” a short document he creates at the start of each new project with a list of influences that shape the coming text. As an avid reader, I was fascinated by the concept. As a writer, transformed. 

So, in February of 2021, as I sat down to begin working on what would become my debut crime novel, SMOKE KINGS, I pasted sticky notes along the edge of my desk with a collage of things that were on my mind. 

First, there was the tragic murder of my little cousin three summers prior. He died far too young, and in such a senseless manner. Like so many other young Black males cut down by violence, left to be memorialized through Twitter hashtags, candlelight vigils, and graffiti murals. None of which is enough or provides anywhere near the necessary comfort to those in mourning. But as I’ve written in the dedication to SMOKE KINGS, “The brightest lights cannot be dimmed,” and so I endeavored to channel all the rage I felt at my cousin’s death and place it in a fictional text that would challenge notions around race. 

There was also the previous summer’s devastating murder of George Floyd. I’d forced myself to watch all 9 minutes and 29 seconds of the video. In my mind, this was an effort to hold onto my humanity, but as with my cousin’s death, my rage just fomented. 

And I wasn’t alone. The writer and activist Kimberly Jones went viral with a video where her anger was palpable. She spoke of years of oppression and ended with a line that yanked at my spirit: “And they are lucky that what Black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.” 


The writer in me realized that could be one hell of an epigraph in one hell of a book. 

A novel that I would set out to write. 

There’s one more influence that I must acknowledge. During that same summer, I read Steph Cha’s YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY and was impressed by her exploration of the Korean and Black racial tensions that rose from a simmer to a boil during the LA riots of 1992. 

All of these “influences” coalesced in such a way that I had a framework and a throughline emotion with which to begin putting words on the blank page. At some point in the writing, I also came across another influence that gave me the title of my novel. W.E.B. Du Bois’ 1907 poem, "The Song of the Smoke," a celebration of Black heritage, in which he opens with the lines: I am the Smoke King I am black! 

SMOKE KINGS tells the story of a Black activist and his friends who devise a plan to kidnap the descendants of hate crime perpetrators and force them to pay reparations, only to wind up on the run from a violent white supremacist. 

Ray Bradbury ultimately was right.  

This was an idea that made me restless. 

Published by Melville House UK - 8th February 2024 Kindle/Paperback

"A fresh and fierce new voice to crime fiction...a stunning book that takes the reader on an intense and harrowing journey that is truly unforgettable. Consider me a big fan."— Don Winslow, New York Times bestselling author of The Cartel, The Force and City on Fire



Jahmal Mayfield

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor