In federal prison on a drug conviction, Quentin Carter wrote best-selling novels about Kansas City 

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"No," he said. "Drugs."

She was turned off by the answer. But before long, she could see that all the girls wanted him and she liked the idea that she could have him.

"He could always tell a good story," Acklin says. "Any party, they'd be like, 'Is Q going to be there?' He had that charisma about him." A year after they met, they had a daughter.

And by January 2001, Quentin was incarcerated.


In prison, everyone is looking for ways to fill the time. Reading a legal pad scrawled with someone's first novel was good for an hour or two.

Whatever his cellmates thought of Quentin Carter's prose style, it wasn't boring. Sex scenes were graphic and frequent. Within three paragraphs, a character could go from sipping cognac to being shot in the gut. The plot was as familiar to Carter as his memories: Two brothers working their way to the top of Kansas City's crack business, sidetracked by sex, betrayal and a series of murders that all seemed like revenge for whoever was killed in the previous chapter.

A few days after the manuscript began making the rounds, Carter asked one of his friends what he thought of the story. The man yawned and said, "It makes an excellent sleeping pill."

Another reader was more encouraging. Carter had a ceramics class with a white-haired convict named Ed. Now in his 50s, Ed had been a crooked cop in Kansas City, Kansas. He spent his days on the bunk in his cell, a tubby bookworm with false teeth. Ed offered to type up the manuscript on one condition: That Carter would try to get it published.

Carter had read books about young black hustlers. He liked the work of Iceberg Slim, who wrote the 1969 autobiographical novel Pimp: The Story of My Life. But Carter was insulted by other crime writers whose characters drove around with 20 kilos of cocaine in their trunks and carried amounts of money that were absurd even for the dope business.

"It just didn't seem real or authentic to me," he says. "Maybe they do it that way somewhere else, but not in Kansas City."

Ed found a way to get Hoodwinked typed, and Carter got it out to publishers.

Two independent publishing houses wanted it. Both specialized in street lit, a paperback genre of dark and profane novels written by African-Americans and set in urban landscapes. Carter accepted an offer from Triple Crown Publications in Columbus, Ohio, because it would publish the book quickly and because he felt a kinship with the company's founder. The same year Carter was incarcerated, Vickie Stringer launched Triple Crown with her debut novel, Let There Be Reason, about a woman who creates an alter ego to make her own way in the underworld.

Hoodwinked came out in July 2005. In the acknowledgments, Carter thanks the publisher, fallen friends, family and his children's mothers: Danika, Keosha, Lady and Shawna. The appreciations end with this: "Every story has been told — it's the way I tell it that keeps the reader turning pages."

The boast was well-founded. Soon after publication, Hoodwinked topped Essence magazine’s best-seller list, the best-known measure of success for an urban-fiction book. The list uses sales reports from African-American bookstores across North America. He first saw his story on a bookstore shelf when Acklin took a picture of it at the Ward Parkway mall and mailed it to him in prison.

Fan mail started arriving shortly thereafter. Most of Hoodwinked's sales were on the coasts, which was obvious by postmarks on the envelopes coming into the Springfield penitentiary. Almost all of Carter's admirers were women, who sent their pictures (or a bottle of cologne or a new shirt) to comfort him while he served out his sentence. Men wrote, too, without the visual aids, usually to thank him for giving them something to dip into while watching the clock at jobs they hated.

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