ADVICE FOR THE YOUNGIN Or 7 (or more) Steps to Success and Longevity in the World of Black Speculative Fiction

Balogun Ojetade and Milton DavisA common criticism that many veteran authors – and by ‘veteran author’, I mean one who has published more than one book, play or screenplay and who has been in the industry for at least 5 years – have about young authors entering the industry is that these youngins – and by ‘youngin’, I mean any person whether young or old, who an elder, in whatever field, is duty bound to guide and teach – want all the trappings of a successful career but aren’t willing to put in the work needed to earn them.

This isn’t surprising. Unlike when I grew up and recognition and reward was earned through hard work – many of our young people grew up getting trophies and accolades just for trying. Consequently, the idea that you might actually have to earn success through hard work has died.

While trying is worthy of applause, trying your best is worthy of reward.

Paying your dues is not an antiquated idea. Nor is respect for those who do so.

Paying your dues, of course, doesn’t mean slogging through 80 hours a week at a job you hate, or jumping through hoops for no reason other than your higher-ups had to, so now you do. Paying your dues means putting in the time and work to attain what you envision.

Black Speculative FictionI know several brothers my age who are unemployed and, at damned near fifty, are still living with their parents because they can’t get the job they feel they deserve, and they refuse to work a “menial” job because they think it’s beneath them. This arrogance and ignorance has provided fuel for their laziness and their fear of experiencing the discomfort that comes with growth.

Success comes from years of hard, persistent work. Respect for your work and for your opinion comes when people recognize that you have put in the work necessary to be considered proficient in your field.

Even overnight successes aren’t really overnight. Bruce Lee seemed to burst onto the scene back in the early 1970s, but Bruce had been acting since the 1940s.

While it seems Facebook is your typical overnight success, it was actually years in the making.  Mark Zuckerberg started computer programming in middle school. While most teenagers were playing video games and watching TV, Zuckerberg was hammering out code. Consequently, when the muses visited Zuckerberg in his dorm room, he was ready with the knowledge and skills to build Facebook. Even after Facebook launched, it would take a few years for the site to grow to where it is today.

Famous Black AuthorsLast week, my student and comrade, Ajigunwa Mayami, stayed over at my house to complete some spiritual work. Throughout his time with my family and me, we discussed much (he’s a deep brother). At one point, we discussed Black Speculative Fiction – Ajigunwa, a fan of Black Speculative Fiction, has read all of my and Milton Davis’ books. Ajigunwa asked me to name all of the great Black authors of Speculative Fiction who I have been fortunate to learn personally from and / or work with. My list included Charles Saunders, Derrick Ferguson, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, Geoffrey Thorne, Abiodun Oyewole, of the Last Poets, Valjeanne Jeffers, Eugene Redmon, Hollywood filmmaker and screenwriter, R.L. Scott, Dr. DeWitt Kilgore and, of course, Milton Davis. This list does not include the amazing authors, artists and filmmakers I have shared panels and conducted workshops with, just those with whom I have personally had conversations with, done interviews with, who have written introductions in my books, who have taught me, who have given me sound advice and those few who are my Jegna (“mentors”).

Looking at the list humbled me. I have had the opportunity to work with, learn from and be associated with some of the best in the business.

I have had this opportunity because I NEVER presented myself as a peer to these giants in speculative fiction, but as a student, eager to learn; as a fan; as a writer determined to be published and willing to work hard as hell to do so. If any of the aforementioned authors have become friends, or have come to consider me a peer in the book or film industry, it is because I work persistently and without fear while maintaining the utmost respect for myself, for my elders – in and outside of the field – and all who run the marathon on the road to success.

Just as it applies to me, part of what will make you successful is your respect for those who came before you.

The Internet, however, has affected this old-school approach of respecting your elders.

Recently, a young writer, in disagreement with my opinions about Hollywood not being a place that Black people will ever have control of their imagery and the proper portrayal of Black heroes and Black loving relationships, decided to correct me and tell me about my lack of experience in Hollywood filmmaking, thus my lack of knowledge on the subject. Damn the fact that I have worked in “Hollywood” (here, we mean Hollywood, the mainstream, not the location in Cali) as a screenwriter and filmmaker for decades.

Afrikan Martial ArtsIn another instance, a young artist, with no martial arts experience, verbally attacked me and called me a “coon” because I disagreed with her statement that the martial art Ninjutsu and Ninjas come from Afrika. Damn the fact I wrote a book on the history and techniques of indigenous Afrikan martial arts. Damn my 42 years of training in, and study of, the Afrikan martial arts.

DevoNow, I am not some diva (devo?) who thinks his poop smells like watermelon on a bed of roses, but come on, have some goddamned respect for your elders, youngin.

The Internet has allowed writers with little or no experience to become experts on everything from the craft of writing, to publishing, to copyright law.

In this same digital world called the Internet, what you say and do exists forever on the information superhighway. Therefore, youngin, I suggest that before you start spouting the wisdom you garnered from your 10 minutes in the business, do a little research before what you say and do one day comes back to bite you in the ass.

And the most basic rule: don’t assume you know everything or anything about writing. You will be surprised how your style and tastes grow and your understanding of writing expands as you open your mind to those who have come before you.

In the Yoruba spiritual tradition of Ifa, in which I am initiated as an Awo (priest of Ifa, aka Babalawo) and as an Olorisa ( priest of Obatala) among other things, we have sixteen laws that govern how elders – and indeed all of us, especially youngins – should conduct ourselves.

The first law is stated thusly:

They (16 elders) walked to Ile Ife in order to request long life. Will we live as long as Olodumare (God) was their question to Ifa. They (the Babalawos) warned, do not call esuru (ay-soo-roo; a type of yam) esuru (ay-SOO-roo; the sacred stories) (Which means do not say what you do not know).

Ifa is based on the principle of humility.  In Western culture, it is considered a sign of weakness to admit a mistake or to acknowledge a lack of understanding.  In traditional Afrikan culture no one is expected to know everything – “the master blacksmith in one town is the student blacksmith in another” – which is why we build community. 

If you do not know the answer to a question someone else will.  Ifá says good character requires the ability to admit you do not know the answer to a specific question and to make some effort to find an expert on the subject in the community and get the answer from them.

The Yoruba believe that those who pretend to be experts block their chance to connect with Spirit. 

The fifth law says:

They warned them not to try to swim when they do not know how to swim. (Which means do not pretend to be wise when you are not).

Those of us who claim to know everything – called False Omniscience – are making a critical and possibly fatal mistake. False Omniscience is an epidemic within the geek community and within the martial arts and I know several so-called masters who suffer from it. Ultimately, it leads to embarrassment because the day will certainly come when the person is asked a question they cannot answer and their veneer of all-knowingness will shatter.

Any attempt at being an all knowing elder in light of the unknowable mystery of Creation is considered arrogance at best and foolishness at worst. Any attempt by a youngin to do this is foolish – and almost laughable – at best and just plain ig’nant at worst.

And the sixth and final law I will share states:

They warned them to be humble and never be egocentric.

This establishes the difference between those elders who believe the community should serve them and those elders who understand that they serve the community.

We must be humble. True humility is demonstrated in a willingness to listen to someone else’s opinion and to consider it long enough to test its validity in the real world.

A person who is always right and who never makes mistakes has a straight line learning curve that in turn creates a distortion in their perception of self and world.  No one is right about everything all the time.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

The belief that you are always right is a delusion and delusion is the source of mental illness.

If this applies to elders, it applies even more to you youngins who are old enough to know better, but not old enough to know better than your elders.

Black YouthOur young people, with their energy and boldness, insure that we live on; that our art and culture is not lost. The universe blesses the bold. However, our young people will continue to start at square one without the guidance of those who have done and gone what and where our young people want to do and go. Many are too green and too ignorant to recognize their need for elders, or even to recognize who their elders are. This is not an insult, it is truth and, as elders, we must speak the truth, regardless of who or what. We must guide our young people aright.

Each one, teach one.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Afrofuturism vs. Black Speculative Fiction!

Cyberfunk

Recently, in the popular Facebook group – State of Black Science Fiction 2012 (2012 is the year the collective of authors, artists, musicians, game creators, filmmakers and fans formed) – I asked the following question:

“Why is there no clear cut definition of ‘Afrofuturism’? Is it because the term was not coined by a person of African descent, thus the examination comes from an external lens? Just wondering. Thoughts?”

I received several responses. Here are a few:

 

Mark Dery, father of Afrofuturism...yep.

Mark Dery, father of Afrofuturism…yep.

Ronald Jones: Afrofuturism wasn’t coined by a black person? :-o

Balogun Ojetade: Nope, it was coined by Mark Dery, Ronald.

Balogun Ojetade: This is why self-defining terms like Sword and Soul, Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Rococoa and Urban (capital “U”) Fantasy are so important.

Ronald Jones: Now that is interesting! It just shows, we not only have to participate in all areas of speculative fiction, we have to claim them! Make them ours!

Balogun Ojetade: Even Black Speculative Fiction works, even though “Speculative Fiction” was coined by Robert Heinlein – a posterboy for racism – in 1941 (or so it has been said), because WE added “Black.” No one added it FOR us.

Ronald Jones: That’s right! It’s like jumping into a public pool and daring the other swimmers to say something crazy!

Pharoah Ama Khoe: We gotta stop letting other people define our culture.

Science-Is Fiction: The term is indeed problematic for that reason, but I think for the time being, it’s a good common term for people to build community around it and feels intuitive as a definition for some of the work that people are producing.

I think the origins of many terms that we use to define or identify are problematic. Even the word Africa is of suspect origin.

I think Afrofuturism has so many different definitions because people have developed it and practice and utilize it differently, and I can see the beauty in that. I think generally, people have the same idea when they hear “Afrofuturism,” but there are also particular nuances to it, just like there is to any genre.

Valjeanne Jeffers: I totally agree. I had to explain the term to a sister at the Spelman Octavia Arts and Activism event. The way I explained Afrofuturism was think hard SF…now, think of Black hard SF and/or any future imagined by someone of African descent.

I’d like to expand this to include ALL people of color.

Trina Lala: I remember we talked about this term b4…OR I looked it up after seeing it on here…the definition was elusive. I think that Science-Is-Fiction helped me understand better with her page…but then, like Valjeanne Jeffers mentioned, I had someone describe themselves as such completely out of the context of Sci-Fi…but referencing being of an African mindset with thoughts of our future……I was a bit perplexed but figured she was literally correct…LOL

I love coining my own terms and understand the power of a name as well as the ability to name oneself…it is ULTIMATELY important when one considers the energy that this holds…I coined the term Agro-Africanist for myself and others who deal with or study agriculture thru an African lens. I feel that even if one vibes with a label or term that someone outside of their culture coined, they always have the power to create another term themselves that still holds true to their understanding of that definition…WHY NOT!?

If I choose to stop identifying with the word African because it was not of our culture’s making, I would have no problem with that. It is MY choice. That is the freedom we possess, if we want it.

Milton Davis: I’m not a big fan of the term because I’m not clear on what it represents. When I hear Afrofuturism, I think science fiction that incorporates the social issues of Black people. I kind of have a problem with that, because I’m not interested in reading science fiction that imagines us dealing with the same issues 10,000, 1,000, 100 or even 10 years from now. Plus while I’ve seen music and artwork labeled Afrofuturism, I’ve come across very little literature identified clearly as such.

Science-Is Fiction, do you consider your recent book Afrofuturism? (I plan on reading it, by the way. It looks very intriguing)

Science-Is Fiction: Milton Davis thank you! I look forward to your thoughts on it.

Good question. I think my novel comfortably fits under Black Sci-Fi, experimental fiction, slip stream, or Afrofuturistic.

I appreciate your thought about not wanting to see us dealing with these same issues in SciFi so far into the future. But I think I see the future as relative, which is why Afrofuturism appeals to me. It empowers me to think of the future as being now…or the next moment…or tomorrow. It empowers me to think of time differently, much in the way that I am told my ancestors in African communities experienced time, as cyclical and non-linear. It invokes for me the thought of Octavia Butler’s time machine in Kindred, and how the concept of the future became relative to Dana when she had to ensure her bloodline.

Afrofuturism allows me to use Sci-Fi to explore things that I have experienced or people I work with experience everyday (incarceration, teen pregnancy, interactions with the foster care system), where these institutions and issues are present and accounted for in their foreseeable future.

The people in my immediate social circle and community are not so much looking 1000 years into the future because they are really unable to conceptualize even making it to the next week. So, while I don’t think Mark Dery had any of these concepts in mind when he coined the term, I think the term and how people apply it has evolved in a healthy way. And not everyone will identify with it or has to, and like with any community, there will be disagreement on language simultaneous to agreements and commonalities that allow us to recognize all of us Black Sci-Fi-entists / Spec Fictionists / Afrofuturists as having some common goals of self-expression and actively engaging our identities and the communities we come from.

But, at the same time, I agree with others and these are things that I actively renegotiate all the time as I participate in Afrofuturism.

Alan Jones: Not real worried about who coined the term. Even the words (European) and letters (Indian/South Asian) we use to discuss this are not ours; no more so than the universal language, (born in Africa) of mathematics and science belongs to them. We are all authors in this play called “Man” (or “Woman”).

Eric Wilkerson: From how I see the term used I believe it means “If you are not Black, you will not be included in our depictions of the future and its arts since you don’t include us in your mainstream vision of Sci-Fi / Fantasy.”

The word is exclusionary, which makes the art form no better than the segregation and omission of diversity in typical American Sci-Fi / Fantasy art. I’m less concerned about making totally Afrocentric art and more with doing something multicultural. Let everyone know they can and should be represented. “Multicultural Futurism” perhaps.

Just my opinion, so I hope nobody flips out.

Milton Davis: I don’t see the word as exclusionary.

While I don’t think there is a clear definition, what it does guarantee to me is that whatever the story is, it will include people of African descent in it, which we all have to admit has been, and still is, seriously lacking.

An Afrofuturism or Black Speculative Fiction story might contain all Black characters or it might contain main Black characters in a multi-cultural setting. This is a direct reflection of my life. There are times I’m in a multicultural situation, and there are times that I’m in an all black environment.

Afrofuturism, Sword and Soul, Steamfunk, Urban Fantasy and Roccoa insure our inclusion as a whole in the genres they are associated with, even though the individual project might be exclusive.

Balogun Ojetade: Thank you, Milton!

I think we are mature enough creators to write without a tit-for-tat reaction to what white writers have historically done to us in speculative fiction. The concern is with seeing ourselves in fiction as the main characters; with telling OUR stories. If what we are doing is purposeful exclusion as payback, or if we create with the idea of alienating or NOT alienating others, then others are actually in control of our work. Thankfully, such is not the case with MOST of us.

Afrofuturism 1For those unfamiliar with ‘Afrofuturism’, it is a term coined by Caucasian cultural critic Mark Dery in 1993 to describe the particular strain of science fiction concerned with black experiences.

Dery claims that “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture — and, more generally, African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future — might, for want of a better term, be called Afrofuturism.”

By Dery’s definition, Afrofuturism would only apply to a specific type of Black Speculative art: “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns…”

So, Afrofuturism does not seem to be concerned with continental African themes or Speculative Fiction from anywhere in the Diaspora other than the United States.

And yes, I know, the Americas include the continent of South America and the country of Canada, but people of African descent from South America or Canada are not referred to as “African-American.”

Sword and SoulAfrofuturism also does not seem to be concerned with the past – the usual settings of Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa – as it is defined as “Speculative fiction that treats African-American themes and addresses African-American concerns in the context of 20th century technoculture…” Perhaps Dieselfunk meets the requirements of Afrofuturism by this definition, but it is doubtful, as Dery goes on to say “…and, more generally, [Afrofuturism is]African-American signification that appropriates images of technology and a prosthetically enhanced future…”

By this definition, Afrofuturism would, of course, be an appropriate term for Cyberfunk and perhaps other futuristic Black / African Science Fiction and maybe some Fantasy set in the future, like the novel Redeemer, which deals with a man forced to return to his past and turning that misfortune into an opportunity to save the life of his father, thus saving his teen self from a life of crime.

Dery created the term Afrofuturism to explore how Black people negotiate life in a technology intensive world. Interestingly, all those contemporary authors whom Dery dared to identify as Afrofuturist – Samuel R. Delany; Octavia Butler; and Nalo Hopkinson – explicitly identify themselves as Science Fiction authors. I believe that his lumping of these authors – who all write very different works – under his umbrella term, not a term coined by the creators, was the typical, ill-informed, white privileged way of making Black people monolithic.

So, what are your thoughts?

Should the creators of Black Speculative fiction, film and art define all such works as Afrofuturism? As Black Speculative Fiction? As some other term, or as nothing at all?

IT’S A THING! Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade bring us Cyberfunk with The City!

The City

It began a couple of weeks ago and then it spread like wildfire. Author Milton Davis posted this in the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group:

Okay y’all, here’s an anthology idea…

‘The City. No one knows how it began or when it will end. No one knows how we came to be here, 20 millions souls, 1500 different species all crammed together in plascrete and biosteel. No one’s been in or out of the city in 20 centuries. Some have their theories why, some don’t care. But no matter who you are, or what you are, you have a story, don’t you? The trick is finding someone that cares to listen…’

Y’all interested?

The reply he received was nothing short of astronomical. Writers in the group started posting snippets of stories set in The City. Then, several writers wrote tie-ins to other writers’ snippets, character from snippets made cameos in other people’s snippets and the readers loved it.

The already popular group grew by 200 members once the snippets started rolling in and many snippets have been shared across social media.

The City is now a thing. Cyberfunk is a thing!

What is Cyberfunk, you ask?

CyberfunkLike the genre from which it gains inspiration, Cyberpunk, Cyberfunk is a genre of Speculative Fiction centered on the transformative effects of advanced science, information technology, computers and networks (“cyber”) coupled with a breakdown or radical change in the social order. Unlike Cyberpunk, however, Cyberfunk is expressed through an Afrikan / Black lens (“funk”).

Often possessing a dark, gritty and cynical tone, Cyberfunk includes elements of Film Noir, hard-boiled Detective Fiction and postmodern deconstruction.

CyberfunkWhat might seem to be forward thinking in science fiction, in many Cyberpunk works, Afrika is a popular setting. Oddly, though, in Cyberpunk, Afrika often seems to be the one place in fiction that never gets better as time goes on. Occasionally in Cyberpunk, Afrika catches up to the rest of the world technologically, but, of course, it still doesn’t get any better. Technology is advanced, but there is still no reduction in widespread poverty; the continent still suffers from diseases the rest of the world seems to have gotten under control. Poor Afrikans…we just can’t seem to get it together no matter how advanced we are.

This is not the case in Cyberfunk, of course. At least not the case in The City – which may or may not even be set on earth, but one thing is sure, the majority of its inhabitants are of Afrikan descent and in some parts of The City, time and place are described using Afrikan languages and principles.

Heroes are often actually antiheroes and…

Well, I can show you better than I can tell you, so here are a few snippets from The City. Enjoy!

First rule of The City? Never, ever ask questions about The City. They might be watching you. How do you know if you’re being watched? Are you breathing? Then you’re being watched. From the day you were born, hatched, brewed or built you’re watched. Until the day you die, ascend, transcend, melt or rust. Ask a question, then They start paying attention. So live your life. Try to be whatever you want, or don’t want to be. But never question The City. Never, ever question The City.

- Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest. Writer: Milton Davis

city 2

 

I told him that moving to the Northside of The City would change things. Would change US.
Sure, we’ve killed before – me, more than he. But that was for cold, hard credits – hey, a girl’s gotta eat – but on the Northside, you kill because to do otherwise is to flip the middle finger at tradition. And in The City, tradition is everything…especially on the Northside.

I fit right in, but Sly? Well, the Northside traditions just aren’t his thing – a warrior’s honor and all that. I tell him all the time that he’s not on the Westside anymore and sticking to that code of honor is going to get him dead one day, but you can’t break a lifetime of training, I guess.

Me? I’m a Southside girl – born and raised. On the Southside of The City, killing isn’t a tradition, but it sure as hell pays the bills.

-Abeekay Sincere, Swordslinger. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 5

 

You just couldn’t keep from teaching the babies the Westside Ways, could you, Sly?

I told you…we were leaving all that behind us, but no…”The inhabitants of The Lush gotta know how to protect themselves,” you said.

Fool! The LUSH protects us! You just couldn’t let that old Warrior Code go. AND you couldn’t just die out there in The Beyond could you? You survived somehow and went back to The City. What? You thought we wouldn’t find out?

Now, I gotta leave The Lush; leave my home; leave my wife and kids and go back to The City and put you down.

And they didn’t send me on this hunt alone, Sly. Samfang is with me.You better HOPE I find you first. You KNOW Samfang won’t end you quickly.

Mama always said you were trouble.

Kofi Sincere, Former Warrior, 1st Class; Resident of The Lush. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City

 

*Makay nabilaa
Makay ki ka nabilaa

Foro Bana
Foro Bana

Iye laidu mi tanye
Ki bi dem
Di ne ma
Ningye fro biye
Aiwa makeh ika fro bana

Foro Bana*

In that song is the key to this here map, boy…IF you got the gift of Interpretation.
There’s a LOT more songs…a LOT more maps.
Them songs can show you the way out; maybe even show you the way to The Lush.

Now, who you gon’ be down with? Knowledge Lateef or Black Powder?

Black Powder, Bard. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

Abeekay thinks I’m an http – a sentimental, old fool. But it’s the Ways of the Westside that’s gonna buy my way back into The Lush…and, hopefully, Abeekay’s way in to.

I think I’m gonna head back there with my girl on our anniversary. Surprise her. I’ll probably take Knowledge, too. He’s a good dude – hell, he married me and ‘Beekay – and he deserves to be there; to get away from The City’s Watchers, Runners and The Wave.
I can’t tell him where we’re going, either, though…he’d never believe me anyway.
Now, where WERE we?
Oh yeah, YOU dying and ME getting my other sword back.

Sly Sincere, Warrior. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

Woo-hoo!
The hunt is ON, baby!
Not that I want to leave The Lush, you unnerstand, but I ain’t done no killin’ since I let you convince me to leave the Westside behind and come here with you and Sly.
Not that I’m complainin’. The Lush has really helped me with my…problem. And I don’t necessarily WANNA kill, but it’s just been so LONG. A man got needs, Kofi! 
And I didn’t ask for this. The Elders chose me; just like they chose you, so don’t look at me like that.
Let’s just go, kill that big brother of yours, get the hell out of The City and back to baskin’ in real sunlight, fishin in real rivers, havin’ sex with real women and…well, havin’ sex with real women!

Samfang, Former Warrior / Interrogator, Resident of The Lush. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

What? You still asking questions? Okay, last answer, one way or another. The River is the Soul of the City. They say everything come from it, and everything eventually goes back to it. You ever been to it? Smells like perfection, doesn’t it? Water as clear as glass. Makes you want to jump in and swim with fishes, doesn’t it? Don’t. And never accept an invitation to go for a walk by the River. As a matter of fact, just stay away from it all together. Shit! I knew it! Walk fast and get the hell away from me. They’re paying attention!!!

Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest. Writer: Milton Davis

The City 

I’m from the Heap. Yeah, that low. But when there’s no way but up you learn what needs to be done to get out. You do, you don’t think. But a funny thing happens when you’re staring down on The City. Despite all the credits and all the influence and all the so-called power, you’re still trapped. You’re still nothing, just the nothing on top. Why, because you’re still in The City. And there’s got to be something better than this.

-Tilian Drew. Owner of Ooze, Inc. Writer: Milton Davis

The City 

Runners. The eyes, ears and mouth of The City. Whatchu say? We don’t need messengers? Everything is in the Wave? That’s exactly why the Runners exist. You keep forgetting what I told you. Nothing is secret to the City…unless it’s not on the Wave. If you want to send a message, give it to a Runner. They are honest, trustworthy, loyal…and literate. What does that mean? Ha! They can read and write! In any form. Oh yeah, they can take care of themselves pretty good, too. How do I know? I used to be a Runner before I found Street Wisdom. Now I spend my time schoolin’ folks like you, trying to keep you out of the River. The River? That’s another subject.

Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest. Writer: Milton Davis

The City 

“When am I?”

The words claw their way up my new vocal cords and yank themselves out of my still developing throat.

My speech is garbled, as it always is during the first few minutes following a shedding. The pitch of my voice is obviously female despite the slur of my words. I haven’t worn the skin of a woman in quite a while; hell, I haven’t worn the skin of a human in quite a while.

Things are about to get…interesting.

“Consciousness confirmed,” my Body Banker whispers into his recorder.
“When AM I?” I ask again. This time, my voice is clearer; husky – almost seductive.

“Lumumba 16th, he answers.”

“Really?” I ask, shocked at the length of my slumber. “It took me that long to shed?”

“You were pretty messed up when your partner brought you in,” the Banker says.

“Thank The Contractor for Lex Talionis!” I reply.

Damn…two months gone…completely wiped from my existence. Two months ago, there was another me – Arno Bailey – strong, handsome and smart enough to pull off a two year undercover operation as cyber security at Ooze, Inc.

Well, maybe not smart enough. That goddamned op led to my death.
But this body feels tougher…stronger. My new op must be wet work. Damn, Lex, what the hell have you gotten us into, now? I gotta get out of The City!

Maybe one day…

I bring my hands in front of my eyes to inspect them. The fingers are thin and long; the knuckles callused and scarred – obviously the work of many fists connecting with jaws.

Yep. Wet work.

Zipporah “Zip” Alonzo, Shedder / Detective 1st Class, Borg Emergency Action Team (BEAT). Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

I keep tryin’ to tell y’all fools – the Heap…Ward 215…the River…even The Lush – they’re ALL constructs of – and controlled by – The City!

You think you gon’ escape to The Lush unless it’s by The City’s design?

So what I live in the ‘burbs…I KEEP my ear to the ground, ya feel me?

Yeah, dog…I BEEN hacked The Wave.

Yeah, my daddy owns Ooze Inc., THAT’S what makes is so easy for me to get inside, man!

Damn! Gotta go…here come a couple of Perimeter Patrol pigs!

Vincenzo Drew, Hacker. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

The Wall?
Yea…I been up the wall…up and over. Up past the shell heads…past the tweekers…past the wild girls and past the Blue Authority.
Up through Angel Bay with the haughty golden kids and the richy riches…
Higher than the Sweepers and farther than runners go…
High enough to look down on the Sun Tower and the carrier ships…
Past the smog where even the drones don’t go.
Got to the top…the wide scarred metal and crossed the antennae fields, the dish lake and looked over beyond and up above.
You know what I saw?
…more CITY.

Kit Henson, Henson Repairs. Looking up. Writer: Gene Peterson

The City 

The Lush? No, it’s not a myth. It’s real, as real as you and me. The one place where the City can’t reach you, where the Watchers can’t watch you. Where is it? If I knew I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’d be there. People are always looking for it though I’m sure a few have found it. But since they ain’t coming back to tell nobody, it stays hidden. Now stop asking questions. They’re going to start paying attention.

Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest; walking away. Writer: Milton Davis

The City 

I told you that new enhancement made me feel…funny, papi. I told you AND your crew that I didn’t want to service you anymore…not like YOU wanted me to, papi.

I TOLD you.

Now, the BEAT is talking to me, but the words are all jumbled. I don’t like the words. I think I’ll make them all shut up, just like I made YOU, papi.

Yep…I think that’s just what I’ll do.

Lupe Garcia, Pleasure ‘Borg gone nutter. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

When a ‘borg or an AI goes all nutter butter, The City calls on me, not YOU, Lateef, so don’t get cocky.

Yeah, I know you Street Priests deal with the dark shit that ‘dwells deep in man’ and all that spirit walkin’, shea butter, turkey bacon hocus-pocus and I respect that.

But have you ever seen a ‘borg go nutter? It ain’t pretty and if one of us don’t get to him in time, the BEAT cops are gonna have to come pop a new asshole in his forehead.

And that ain’t pretty either, Street Priest; not pretty at all.

Father Ray, Techsorcist. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

Cyberfunk 

I’d never been above the clouds before. The City spreads before the glass elevator, going on into eternity. Uncle says it never ends. But then again, Uncle says a lot of things. Keep your head down. Don’t spread rumors. Don’t insult the Northsiders. Stay away from the Southsiders. Never, ever challenge a Westsider.

Don’t speak. Don’t think. Don’t act. Don’t live. Just clean, collect your pay, and go home. But how could you look across the vastness of the city and not wonder about it all? Wonder if there is an edge and, if this city does end, what lies beyond it?

Wait, what’s that in the distance? Is that… green?

Cara Usare, Sweeper; wondering. Writer: Sarah Macklin

Cyberfunk 

I’m gonna bring you and all of Ooze, Inc. down, Tilian. 
Why? 
‘Cause you’re screwin’ up The City. 
‘Cause you’re walkin’ all over ‘borgs like you own ‘em. And you wanna know the worst part? You’re a ‘borg your goddamned self!

Lex Talionis, Detective 1st Class, Borg Emergency Action Team (“BEAT”). Writer: Balogun Ojetade

Cyberfunk

 

Read many more snippets in the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group and be sure to give us feedback. And make sure you check out The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology when it releases next year!

*NOTE: None of the images belong to the writers listed. They are merely inspirations and used to give an idea of the aesthetics of The City and of Cyberfunk in general.

THE KEYS: YOU are the hero!

The Keys

In 1978, an unproven assistant editor in her early twenties, Joëlle Delbourgo got an unwelcome message: her boss at Bantam wanted to see her.

Delbourgo was championing a new children’s title called The Cave of Time. The book was something of an anomaly – it didn’t have a plot or a main character or even a proper ending. Instead, the reader was asked to assume the role of the hero. And The Cave of Time wasn’t the only book of its kind – it was one book in a series!

The main premise of the books was simple: they weren’t meant to be read straight through; instead, each book consisted of a collection of episodes which were read in a certain order depending on the choices the reader made. The reader, as the hero, found himself or herself in a situation faced with a choice of actions; having decided what action to take, he or she proceeded to the page of the book where the consequences of that decision were played out and a new decision then had to be made. Depending on the reader’s decisions, the protagonist succeeded or failed; lived or died.

Delbourgo hoped to make it her first major acquisition.

The main premise of the books was simple: they weren’t meant to be read straight through; instead, each book consisted of a collection of episodes which were read in a certain order depending on the choices the reader made. The reader, as protagonist, finds himself or herself in a situation and is faced with a choice of actions; having decided what action to take, he or she proceeds to the page of the book where the consequences of that decision are played out and a new decision must be made. Though the reader usually must decide between only two actions, sometimes three or more actions present themselves, with the maximum being five or six. Depending on the reader’s decisions, the protagonist succeeds or fails, lives or dies.

In fact, she hoped to pursue the entire series. However, as a junior voice in the company, she had no idea how her higher-ups would respond to such an experimental project. As she stepped into the office of Oscar Dystel, Bantam’s president, anxiety struck.

“I understand you’re trying to change the way kids read,” he barked.

She was. And she wasn’t alone.

A decade earlier, an attorney named Edward Packard hit upon an idea that grew from his nights reading bedtime stories to his children. Whenever Packard couldn’t figure out how to resolve a story, he asked his children to give him options on how the story should end. He soon realized that they enjoyed the stories more when they helped choose the endings.

This interactivity was a valuable storytelling device – it held the children’s attention and sparked their innate creativity.

Packard figured if his children enjoyed this form of storytelling, other children would too and he began to contemplate a way to package it in book form. During his commute to and from work, he began to write a shipwreck adventure called Sugarcane Island, which had multiple storylines that required reader participation.

In 1969, he passed his finished copy of Sugarcane Island along to a friend of a friend who worked as a William Morris literary agent. The feedback was glowing.

“The agent said he would be surprised if there were no takers,” Packard recalls. “Then he proceeded to be surprised.”

CYOASugarcane Island collected dust until 1975, when Vermont Crossroads Press, a publisher looking for innovative children’s books, picked it up. The press was headed by R.A. Montgomery, a former high school teacher who saw the educational value in game structure.  According to Montgomery,“Experiential learning is the most powerful way for kids, or for anyone, to learn something,”

Montgomery published Sugarcane Island to a meager response, but he wasn’t discouraged by the small numbers. He and Packard began to write more stories. However, Montgomery’s Vermont Crossroads Press didn’t have great distribution capability, so he passed the title to a young literary agent named Amy Berkower, who tried to pitch the books to numerous houses.

The only person responsive was Joëlle Delbourgo.

“I got really excited,” says Delbourgo, who also worked in Bantam’s educational division. “I said, ‘Amy, this is revolutionary.’ This is precomputer, remember. The idea of interactive fiction, choosing an ending, was fresh and novel. It tapped into something very fundamental.”

But before Delbourgo could publish the book, she had to persuade her boss at Bantam to take a risk…and corporations are not in the risk-taking business.

CYOA Dystel was skeptical at first, but Delbourgo’s presentation was convincing. She believed in the product. Dystel wound up becoming Delbourgo’s biggest supporter and the Choose Your Own Adventure series officially launched in 1979.

Montgomery and Packard were each contracted to write six books. The first title to be picked up by Bantam was Montgomery’s Journey Under the Sea, about an expedition to Atlantis. Readers were confronted with seismic choices: If you put up the energy repulsion shields to try and escape the black hole, turn to page 22!

To stoke attention, Bantam gave away thousands of copies, flooded book fairs, and created teaching guides for classrooms. The strategy worked. By 1981, Bantam had four million copies in print.

That same year, the young daughter of New York Times culture columnist Aljean Harmetz picked up a CYOA book and couldn’t put it down. Intrigued, Harmetz wrote a piece that described the series as being “as contagious as chicken pox.” That’s when the popularity of the books exploded.

To capitalize on the momentum, Bantam decided to roll out one title a month. In turning up the frequency to serial levels, the publisher hit upon another novelty that would prove irresistible. Because the books were numbered sequentially, kids started collecting them like trading cards. Years later, this savvy marketing technique would be applied to other series, including The Baby-Sitters Club and my son’s favorite series: Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Packard quit his law practice to write full time.

By the late 1980s, the series was showing signs of exhaustion. Crappy concepts like You Are a Shark signaled the end was near. Then came the rise of video and computer games, which provided that same interactivity in an even more addictive format so, in 1999 the publisher of the 250 million copy selling powerhouse, Choose Your Own Adventure chose to retire the brand and let the trademark lapse.

However, CYOA had – and continues to have – a powerful influence worldwide, inspiring such mega-popular books as Goosebumps, and proving to skeptical parents that children were still willing to open a book and read.

I believe the solution to getting reluctant readers to read lies in the CYOA, or gamebook, format.

Back in the late 70s through the late 90s, children around the world – particularly boys, who are often reluctant readers – and Black boys, long considered the most reluctant readers – were reading, collecting, trading and discussing the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Why?

Because children were put in the driver’s seat. They were the mountain climber; they were the abominable snowman hunter; they were the time traveler and deep-sea explorer. They made the choices, so they read.

CYOA This was especially important for Black children who never saw themselves as the hero in books. But in the CYOA books, invariably written in the 2nd Person, the reader becomes “you.” YOU fight the bandits; YOU travel by hot air balloon across the Sahara Desert to rescue your friends. Finally, we Black boys could be the hero…even though the illustrations always showed the hero as some white boy. But we’d just ignore the photos and enjoy being the hero for once. Sad, but true.

Choose Your Own Adventure has been cited by numerous educators as a uniquely effective method for helping students learn to read.  The series has documented popular appeal for the reluctant reader due to its interactivity.  Choose Your Own Adventure has also been used specifically in technology lesson plans in elementary, high school and college curricula, as well as in professional development tools.

The choose-your-own-adventure books are essentially games played by one, and it is not surprising that a related type of book – the role-playing book – has developed. These books are essentially games of chance, with the reader, as hero, deciding the outcome of various decisions by a role of dice and sometimes keeping a score.

The role-playing game-style CYOA books, which use stats and sometimes even dice, similar to Dungeons and Dragons, seem to be aimed at high school-aged readers and older, most Choose Your Own Adventure-type books seem to be aimed at children between the ages of 10 and 13, though there has been a series for adults and there is presently a series for preschoolers.

CYOAIn my YOU are the Hero series of books, beginning with the Young Adult novel (for ages 13 and older), The Keys, the reader can choose to be either Teresa “Terry” De Fuego, a nineteen year old self-proclaimed extreme journalist of Aztec descent, or Jordan Drummond, nineteen year old math genius and star basketball player of Igbo and Ateke descent.

Whichever of these two strong, independent and cool characters the reader chooses to be, they are encouraged throughout the book to be self-confident enough to forge ahead and complete the adventure, while applying common sense, prudence, and certain moral values in the decision-making process.

Courage is of great importance in The Keys and in all of the YOU are the Hero books, for unless the hero forges ahead, there is no story.

Reading The Keys also helps to instill confidence in yourself and teaches young readers to trust themselves to do the right thing.

However, courage and confidence should not rule out caution. The successful hero is prudent – thinking before acting and being patient enough to learn all that may be useful later, asking for expert help when he or she needs it, using common sense, and taking the advice of our elders, who are wiser than us.

So, finally, our youth – and we adults, too – can be the hero in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror stories and we can control how the story unfolds and even how it ends.

Check out The Keys when it launches worldwide in September, 2014, with an amazing cover (seen at the top of this post) and 20 interior illustrations by Blacknificent artist, Chris Miller!

BE COOL! Afrofuturism and the Ancient Afrikan Martial Arts!

“Why do people like me, people of African descent, fight so hard to show our footprint in Europe and around the world when we have an entire continent where our presence goes without saying? There is a clear, legitimate argument as to why, but there’s also a shallow, superficial answer to the question as well; because it’s so COOL.”Milton Davis, author and publisher

African martial artsThe Asian martial arts have been made cool to the world. How? Mainly through the movies; television, comic books and novels have contributed, too.

A movie or a comic book could have an African protagonist. The creators will build an elaborate world to rival the architectural wonders and military structures of ancient Egypt, Oyo, Songhai and Timbuktu. The people will be more advanced than ANY modern society due to little contact with, thus interference from, the outside world. They will speak a traditional Afrikan tongue; wear traditional Afrikan clothes and defend themselves and their mighty nation with…kung-fu.

Really?

African NinjaSo cool are the Asian ways of self-defense to us that many will claim that we were the first ninjas to roam the shadows of Japan, assassinating the enemies of the Shogun for money and land. Damn the fact that this would be considered bad character and a taboo in most traditional Afrikan cultures because killing people for material gain is so COOL…as long as you are wearing a black ninja suit.

Also, damn the fact that most traditional Afrikan cultures would not wear black clothing in the first place – their dark color of choice was / is indigo – because black clothing – even in 120 degree weather – is COOL.

On one of my Facebook posts, an individual decided to school me on Afrikan martial arts history because, you know, my 42 years of study and training in the indigenous martial arts didn’t teach me shit. She also addressed Milton Davis, a martial artist with nearly 40 years of experience. This is what wisdom she decided to enlighten us with: “You guys DO know that Asian martial arts was heavily influence (that person’s poor grammar, not mine) by African fighting styles right?”

My response?

African martial arts“Yep, but other than the SE Asian systems (Kali, Silat, Muay Boran, Bando) they are NOTHING alike.”

Why, oh why, did I respond? This person decides to teach me a bit more: “Balogun, you might want to rethink that. All fighting styles come from Africa. The first samurai and ninja in Asia were black. You’d have to be willingly blind to deny that. But to each his/her own I say.”

Still hoping that I can teach this person a little bit and help them not look any more foolish than they already did, I responded again:

“I am well aware. I actually wrote a book on the topic (nonfiction). LOL Most fighting SYSTEMS have roots in Afrika, however a STYLE – which is most of what we see coming from mainland Asia, are an individual’s INTERPRETATION of a root system. Most of these styles are FAR from their roots.

This is what 42 years of study and practice has taught me and proven to be true.

Chinese and Japanese martial arts are as far from Afrikan martial arts as Chinese and Japanese dance is from Afrikan dance. No comparison at ALL.

The Samurai had a saying that to be a good samurai, one had to be of MOSTLY Black blood. There is no evidence that the first ninja were of Afrikan descent, though.”

And then crazy train left the station.

The person’s response confused me:

“I’m going to unfriend you now. Nothing worse than a willingly blind coon that rejects his people’s history and disrespects them as well. I’m going to make sure I take care of you as far as the other groups go as well. If you want nothing to do with us then, I can respect that and cut you off.”

“Huh?”

No, no…I actually responded with “Huh?”

I was perplexed and feeling totally disrespected. Needing clarity, I inquired about the person’s strange response:

Balogun Stick 2“Did you not read that I am an Afrikan martial arts instructor? Most of the people commenting on my videos are my students or close friends who are revolutionaries. And you call me a coon? You are waaay off sister, but do as you will.”

The person’s response was simply “You can’t and won’t be able to teach anyone anything if you, yourself are not fully educated.”

Now, of course, I can learn a lot more about the Afrikan martial arts and martial arts, in general – the master blacksmith in one town is the student blacksmith in another is one of my favorite Yoruba proverbs – however, to discount decades of experience is foolish, at best.

This person then went on to rant on their Facebook page about me. I originally thought this person was simply lying on me to save face, but I soon realized this person is nuttier than squirrel poop and probably really believes they have the power to harm me through their keyboard karate techniques. I suppose the person thinks Keyboard Karate is COOL, too.

Here’s a taste of what this squirrel-food said– just a taste; too much consumption of crazy causes TRUTH decay:

“I’m so tired of these fake pan-African Negroes, faking the funk and yet when you catch them talking shit about black people, suddenly, they want to delete the thread and become teachers on African knowledge. Don’t fake the funk now; if you don’t like who you are and where you came from stick to it. You can’t hate me and be my friend at the same time. If you hate your own people just be up front about it so people can decide if they want to be bothered with you or not.”

“…when you catch them talking shit about black people, suddenly, they want to delete the thread…”

The thread is still there. It was there when this troll was ranting on it, too. Nothing was erased…not even this person’s madness.

“Don’t fake the funk now; if you don’t like who you are and where you came from stick to it.”

This person has no idea who I am or where I came from. We don’t know each other. In fact, I didn’t know anything about this person before today, other than their name and the fact they like to draw elves. By the way: I love who I am – father, teacher, husband, son, brother, student, priest, author and filmmaker – and where I came from – Chi-Town! West Sayeeeeed!

“You can’t hate me and be my friend at the same time.”

I don’t hate you and you have never been my friend, except on Facebook – e-buddies don’t count – so you really get the side-eye for this one.

“If you hate your own people just be up front about it…”

I don’t hate my people. I love them. My work says so…so chillax.

The crazy train totally derails when she concludes with: “Plus, if I hear one more black dude who is suppose to be pan-African talk about how we as black women wear fake hair and how fat we are, I will scream. I’m like: you are supposed to be a teacher so talk about some real issues that are going on in the black community, not this simple minded BS.”

And, once again, I can only respond with “Huh?”

I now understand what my mother means when she says “There is nothing more dangerous than a made up mind.”

Well, mom, I am making it my duty to unmake those minds, so, in 2015 and 2017, Roaring Lions Productions and MVmedia will, once again, team up to bring you the Afrikan martial arts and speculative fiction – and all their COOLness – in a big way!

Ngolo – an Afrikan martial arts / action / Science Fiction feature film set in the near future – will go into production in 2015 and Redeemer – an Afrikan martial arts / action / Science Fiction television series set in the near future – will go into production in 2017.

Ngolo is based on a story by Milton Davis, developed for the screen by Yours Truly and Redeemer is based on my novel by the same name.

So hop off that crazy train and join us for the ride of your life on the airship Sweet Chariot, your Funky LoCOOLmotive, where we make all things Afrikan COOLer than a polar bear in an air conditioned igloo with wet socks on.

African Future

 

 

THE DIESELFUNK CANON

DieselfunkWhat is Dieselfunk, you ask?

And what is the Dieselfunk canon…a weapon that shoots big, iron balls and runs on diesel fuel?

Well, to answer the second question…that would be the Dieselfunk cannon (TWO “n”). The Dieselfunk canon (ONE “n”) is a collection or list of books considered the definitive works in Dieselfunk.

To answer the first question, we need to first define Dieselpunk.

DieselfunkOften referred to as Steampunk’s grittier sibling, Dieselpunk is set during the Diesel Era – a period of time that begins at the end of World War I and continues until the early 1950s.

Dieselpunk features retrofuturistic innovations, alternate history and elements of the occult.

Think the movies Captain America: The First AvengerSin CityHell Boy; the Indiana Jones films and The Mummy (1999 – 2008) trilogy.

Dieselfunk is fiction, film and fashion that combine the style and mood of Dieselpunk with African and African-American inspiration.

Dieselfunk tells the exciting untold stories of people of African descent during the Jazz Age.

Think the Harlem Renaissance meets Science Fiction…think Chalky White (from Boardwalk Empire) doing battle with robots run amok in his territory… think Mob bosses; Nazis; flappers. Jazz; the Tuskegee Airmen; bootleggers; Bessie Coleman; Marcus Garvey; the 761st Tank Battalion; the Tulsa Race Riots…that is Dieselfunk!

Here is the list of books that currently are considered Dieselfunk. We will continue to expand this list, so check back often for updates.

Damballa, by Charles R. Saunders

Dieselfunk

From the heart of Africa to the streets of Harlem, a new hero is born; he is Damballa and he strikes from the shadows.

When the reigning black heavy weight boxing champion of the world agrees to defend his crown against a German fighter representing Hitler’s Nazi regime, the ring becomes the stage for a greater political contest. The Nazi agenda is to humble the American champion and prove the superiority of their pure-blood Aryan heritage. To achieve this end, they employ an unscrupulous scientist capable of transforming their warrior into a superhuman killing machine. 

Can the mysterious Damballa unravel their insidious plot before it is too late to save a brave and noble man? Airship 27 Productions and Cornerstone Book Publishers are proud to introduce pulpdom’s first ever 1930s African-American pulp hero – and the first novel ever written in the Dieselfunk genre – as created by the acclaimed author, Charles Saunders. 

Black Pulp, an anthology from Pro Se Productions

Dieselfunk

From some of today’s best authors and up and coming writers comes Black Pulp, from Pro Se Productions.

Black Pulp is a collection of stories featuring characters of African descent in 12 tales of action, adventure, and thrills.

Black Pulp brings bestselling authors Walter Mosley and Joe R. Lansdale, Gary Phillips, Charles R. Saunders, Derrick Ferguson, D. Alan Lewis, Christopher Chambers, Mel Odom, Kimberly Richardson, Ron Fortier, Michael A. Gonzales, Gar Anthony Haywood, and Tommy Hancock together to craft adventure tales, mysteries, and more, all with Black characters at the forefront.

The Harlem Hellfighters, by Max Brooks; Illustrated by Caanan White

Dieselfunk

From bestselling author Max Brook comes the riveting story of the highly decorated, barrier-breaking, historic black regiment—the Harlem Hellfighters.

In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on—and off—the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy.  

In The Harlem Hellfighters, Brooks and acclaimed illustrator Caanan White bring this history to life. From the enlistment lines in Harlem to the training camp at Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the trenches in France, they tell the heroic story of the 369th in an action-packed and powerful graphic novel.

The Scythe, by Balogun Ojetade

The Scythe

He has been given a second chance at life. A second chance at revenge. He is the bridge between the Quick and the Dead. He is…THE SCYTHE! 

Out of the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, a two-fisted hero rises from the grave! 
Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch. 

Enter a world in which Gangsters, Flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world. 

Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!

 

AN EVENING WITH TWO SWORD and SOUL BROTHERS and STEAMFUNKATEERS!

Black Speculative FictionA few days ago, my friend, Jegna (“mentor”) and frequent collaboration partner, Milton Davis made this statement on Facebook:

“One of my goals is to form a local collective where artists, writers, filmmakers and animators can come together and create content from which we all can benefit. I know it will be difficult, but I think that as we all progress as individuals, we might be able to pool our talents to create successful projects. It may be a pipe dream, but it’s a goal worth working toward.

Now, Milton and I have collaborated on two successful anthologies, two short films, a feature film, a dozen wildly successful and popular events, the founding of a movement (Steamfunk) and the founding of Black Speculative Fiction Month. However, he – and I – desires to see the scores of Black artists, authors, filmmakers, fan convention planners and animators out there come together to create so great as to resonate throughout fandom, the conscious community and the unconscious community worldwide.

Why is such collaboration important? Why is collaboration valuable, you ask?

Here are a few reasons:

Black Speculative FictionOne important reason to collaborate is to multiply your intellectual resources.

When you work with another creative person, you create this sense of collaborative energy some call “synergy.”

Think of all the times when you came up with ideas with the help of others that you know you wouldn’t have come up with on your own; that’s synergy.

Another reason to collaborate is because it is fun and you can make friendships that will last a lifetime. Collaborating gives you a needed respite from the lonely work of the artist or author that can be refreshing and enhance your productivity!

Be warned, collaborating with just anyone is not good.

While collaboration is often good for creativity, be sure to make smart choices about the characteristics of your partner and how you decide upon who does what and how critique is handled. The right collaborator has an enormous influence on the product and the pleasure of the exchange.  If the chemistry is not right, the roles are nebulous, competitiveness looms and the collaboration can be draining.

It comes down to knowing whether this person and the collaborative process bring out the best in you and your work. You have to be honest with yourself. You may dearly love someone who nevertheless is not a good creative partner. It’s about how the work gets done and the end result of that work.

Good collaboration is based on trust and the inner freedom that ensues when you come together. Ideally, there are unspoken understandings and ways to anticipate the other’s state of mind without direct discussion.

Balogun Ojetade and Milton DavisMilton and I have been friends and collaborators for a few years. We have an established rhythm of creative exchange through brainstorming and improvisation.

Milton and I have a third collaborator, who, at times, probably has no idea he is collaborating with us.

The famed author, Charles R. Saunders, the father and founder of Sword and Soul, has an indirect, but significant involvement in our works. Charles is muse, friend and Jegna to us both. His “voice” feeds our will, determination and creative courage.

It is important to have a treasured “other” in your life that bolsters your creative strivings. The sense that someone is there for you, even if they are not hands-on with your work, can make a huge difference in your creative output.

A great writer, artist or thinker, alive or not can guide you internally. Just remembering things they expressed in their works about living, about creating, or even about you moves you forward.

Sadly, most people become inhibited and competitive in groups, even if they are encouraged to feel the opposite.

Often, in a competitive business or academic setting, creative interaction is hard to achieve. People feel self conscious or insecure or want to maintain strong boundaries. They don’t wish to risk a blunder, put forth a bad idea or look foolish. Often fear rules them.

Furthermore, for many people creativity is a solo affair. While solitude and solo time are less and less a part of our cultural fabric, many introverted people require such solitude. 

Milton and I both happen to be extroverts, which has made it much easier for us to collaborate with great success.

Black Speculative FictionWhen Milton and I first met several years ago to discuss developing his story Ngolo into a feature film, I told Milton that he will find that I operate from a position of power, not fear; that I believe the world – and the Heavens – favors the bold. Milton told me that he operated from that same position. I knew then that we would do great work together.

When collaborators understand and trust one another; when they are equally fearless, dedicated and hard-working, they can always make great things happen.

Black Science FictionOn June 7, 2014, Milton Davis and I are collaborating to make another great thing happen. This time, we are partnering with our dear friend, Kiyomi Rollins, founder and owner of The Good Hair Shop, the premier natural hair shop in the Southeastern United States, to bring you an exciting evening of Sword and Soul, Steamfunk and Urban Fantasy.

We will share excerpts from our works – including a hot, new Rite of Passage short story Milton and I cooked up exclusively for this event. It will be the only time we read it before a live audience, so don’t miss out. Be sure to be there!

We will also answer any questions you have about Black Speculative Fiction, the process of writing, publishing, plotting, the true history of the universe, how to file your toenails without a file, or anything else you’d like to know – just be sure to direct those kinds of questions to Milton!

All-in-all, it is going to be a fun and (Steam)funky night, so please, join us!

The Good Hair Shop

2001 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SW

Suite 100

Atlanta, GA 30310

4:00pm – 6:00pm

Black Science Fiction

 

 

 

 

IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR: How A Black Family From Chi-Town Made Me A Steamfunkateer!

 

The Wild, Wild, WestMy journey to becoming an author began at the age of four at the feet of my mother, who would enjoin me to sit with her and watch two of her favorite television shows – The Wild, Wild West and Get Smart. These two brilliantly crafted shows would have a strong influence on what and how I wrote.

I was also strongly influenced by comic books.

Fam 2My sisters, for some odd reason believing I was intelligent, took it upon themselves to teach me to read at two years of age. They brought a stack of Archie, Beatle Bailey, Richie Rich and – thankfully – Thor, Batman and Spider-Man – comic books to my room, placed them beside me on my bed and said “It’s time for you to learn to read.”

Always the good little brother, I shrugged and said “Okay.”

I didn’t know what this “reading” thing was, but if my big sisters said it was time, it was time.

 

My big sisters: Phyllis (right) and Alesia (left).

My big sisters: Phyllis (right) and Alesia (left).

My sisters sat with me and after a few hours of patient work on all of our parts, they had taught me to sound out the titles of each book. I recall Archie, Richie Rich and Thor causing me some difficulty because of the consonant digraphs ‘ch’ and ‘th’. When I asked why putting “certain letters next to each other” made the sound of the letters change and my sisters started talking about “postalveolar fricatives” and “interdental fricatives”, I told them I needed to take a lunch break and an aspirin because they were giving me a headache.

They fixed my lunch – a grilled cheese sandwich, with tomatoes and grilled onions, thank you – and brought me an aspirin, which I actually refused, as I feared contracting Reyes Disease (for some reason, my sisters found that hilarious) – and then we went back to reading.

 

Me and my sisters, 1971.

Me and my sisters, 1971.

By nightfall, I was sounding out several words in the comic books. Any word I could not sound out, my sisters would help me with and for each word I could not figure out the meaning of in association with the illustrations, my sisters would define it.

The combined influence of my mother and the teaching of my sisters forged in me a love for speculative fiction.

I was also a very talkative child and loved to tell stories. My father would take me to see martial arts movies at the drive-in and I would act out every scene in the movie as I told my mother and sisters what the movie was about.

When my father asked my mother and sisters why they never wanted to go to the drive-in with us, they told him there was no way the movies could be more entertaining than my retelling of it!

By the time I was four, I had seen every martial art film from China that had ventured onto American shores – Five Fingers of Death; The Magnificent Trio; The Assassin; The One-Armed Swordsman; The Big Boss (aka Fists of Fury); Fist of Fury (aka The Chinese Connection) – I loved them all and kept bugging my father for Kung-Fu lessons, completely unaware that my father was a skilled practitioner and teacher of several indigenous West African martial arts. Fearing that I would grow up with a love of all things Asian while being completely unaware of my own African traditions, he began my training in the African martial arts.

 

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad

Around the same time, my father started taking me to see every Blaxploitation film that came out. If the film had a racy scene – as most Blaxploitation films did – he’d whisper to me “Now, when you tell your mama and sisters about this movie, do not act out this part!” I had no clue why acting out those scenes would be problematic, but I would shrug and agree to edit out those “funny scenes.”

This experience made me painfully aware that Black people were nearly absent in the speculative works I loved and when we were present, we were portrayed as the noble savage, or merely the savage. We were never the dashing and daring hero; we were never the brilliant scientist who came up with the solution to save the world. We had Luke Cage and the Black Panther, but their titles weren’t as readily available as comic books with white protagonists and sometimes weren’t carried by the comic book shop I frequented. Furthermore, there were no toys, costumes or cartoons to give Luke and T’Challa that “cool factor.”

Longing to see myself as the hero – and taught by my mother that if you encounter something that needs changing, you change it instead of asking or demanding others do it – I decided that I would write stories with heroes I wanted –  and needed – to see.

It was then that I committed to writing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror fiction that told stories about Black people.

Hundreds of short stories and eight books later, I continue to write what I want to read. I have made Black people the heroes and sheroes of all my stories; I have made us cool in my writing and have been rewarded with a loyal readership and ever-increasing fan base because of it.

My first novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, is directly influenced by the anachronistic alternate history of The Wild, Wild West; the dry humor of Get Smart, the Blaxploitation western movie, Buck and the Preacher and the super-powered heroes and villains of comic books.

Thanks, mom! Thanks, dad! Thanks, Phyllis and Lisa!

Throughout my earliest beginnings in writing and martial arts, my father would ask me “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

The answer? “Practice, practice, practice.”

This old saw applies, not only to musicians, but to every sphere of life.

Once, I asked my father “What about talent?”

Ah, yes, ‘talent’, he replied. “That mysterious quality given at birth to the fortunate few…it won’t get you across the street, let alone Carnegie Hall.”

In study after study, researchers find that innate talent is not a prerequisite for success and that hard work alone does not make people great.

While successful people – those who achieve excellence in a domain – do work very hard, it is how they work that distinguishes them from others.

Just putting in hours at your chosen work is not enough; the only way to get better is to make sure you’re devoting those hours to what we call deliberate practice.

Most of us think that we know what practice is. We learned to play basketball and we remember practicing our jump-shot. We learn to play the piano and we practice scales.

It is unlikely, however, that what we have done and are, at present, doing is really “deliberate practice” and it is almost a certainty that we have never applied the concept of deliberate practice to improving our ability to write.

When most people practice, they repeat things they already know how to do.

Those who become experts in their field spend most of their time doing things they don’t already know how to do.

They are constantly challenging themselves to improve, to do things better, to gain additional skills.

Deliberate practice demands reaching for objectives that are always just out of reach and the practitioner knows that the only way to achieve those objectives is through immense amounts of repetition.

Athletes and musicians all devote themselves to practice; they know that’s the only way they can become good enough to compete at a professional level. Practice is how they learn their skills; practice is how they keep those skills sharp. But when do most writers ever practice?

For most people, the answer is: Never.

Why?  Because we learn how to write in school, where writing is always done under “performance” conditions: the writing will be read, assessed and graded.

Even in most creative writing workshops and writers’ groups, the focus is on performance writing. The writer is taught to write something good enough to get published.

The problem with this approach is that it’s impossible to learn your skills and to improve them if you never give yourself a chance to practice. Most aspiring writers are doing themselves a great disservice by focusing on trying to write publishable pieces. These writers simply don’t have the skills they need to produce professional-quality work. Instead of trying to get published, they need to devote themselves, at least for a while, to practice.

What, though, does a writer practice?

Writers need to possess two main sets of skills: “Content Skills” and “Craft Skills”.

Content Skills

The skills we use to come up with ideas and material for pieces of writing.  They include:

  • creativity
  • imagination
  • curiosity

Craft Skills

These are the skills we use to establish a natural relationship with readers, so we can transfer our content into their minds. They include:

  • an understanding of how a type of writing works (a short story does not work the same way as a novel or a newspaper article)
  • an understanding of how our chosen genre works (science fiction, romance and horror possess different rules and styles)
  • the ability to choose words and put them together in clear, eloquent, and “musical” sentences (or clear, dirty and gritty ones, depending on the genre)

One of the keys to deliberate practice is to break a complex skill down into component parts and practice each part separately.

To begin, write down all the writing skills you presently have.

Are you good at coming up with ideas? Do you have a well-trained ability to do research? Does your imagination give you vivid, detailed pictures? Are you good at finding wonderful words?

Next, write down all the skills you need to learn or to work on.

If you are just getting started with writing, you may find this difficult. If people have made comments on your writing, you can use those comments to make your list.

If, for instance, you have been told that your characters are not believable or your descriptions are fuzzy, then the skills of creating characters and writing descriptions go on your list.

Read a piece of writing by your favorite author; say, for instance, me. Now, write down all the things that writer does (I do) that make(s) the piece so good.

How many of those things can you do now? How many of them do you need to learn how to do?

Your answers to these questions will tell you what you need to practice.

To get the most benefit from practice, keep these two principles in mind: repetition and reflection.

Repetition – lots of it – is required to make skills automatic, so that when you sit down to write your novel those skills are ready to work for you.

Reflection – What did I learn today? What do I need to learn next? – is what keeps you on track in your pursuit of excellence.

Developing Creativity

I once asked my students to define “creativity”. None of them could.

I asked them to draw what creativity means to them. A few could; most could not.

I believe the reason is because – in the U.S. and the U.K. (and I suspect all of the Western World) – creativity is looked at as purely the stuff of “dreamers” who want to pursue artistic endeavors and not “real work”. This is farther from the truth than the world being flat, but many take this view and discourage others from accessing what they believe to be an excuse for slacking off or avoiding reality.

In actuality, creativity is the process of producing something that is both original and worthwhile. Creativity is about finding new ways to solve problems and approach situations. Creativity is not a skill restricted to artists, musicians or writers; it is a useful skill for people from all walks of life.

If you want to further develop your creativity, you can:

1.      Commit Yourself

The first step is to fully devote yourself to developing your creative abilities. Do not put off your efforts. Set goals, enlist the help of others and put time aside each day to develop your skills.

 2.      Become an Expert

One of the best ways to develop creativity is to become an expert in that area. By having a   rich understanding of the topic, you will be better able to think of novel (pun intended) ideas and innovative solutions to problems.

 3.      Reward Your Curiosity

One common roadblock to developing creativity is the sense that curiosity is an indulgence. Rather than reprimanding yourself, reward yourself when you are curious about something. Give yourself the opportunity to explore new topics.

 4.      Build Your Confidence

Insecurity in your abilities can suppress creativity, which is why it is important to build your confidence. Recognize your progress, commend your efforts and always be on the lookout for ways to reward your creativity.

 5.      Make Time for Creativity

You won’t be able to develop your creative talents if you don’t make time for them. Schedule some time each week to concentrate on some type of creative project.

 6.      Overcome Negative Attitudes that Block Creativity

According to a 2006 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, positive moods can increase your ability to think creatively. According to Dr. Adam Anderson, senior author of the study, “If you are doing something that requires you be creative or be in a think tank, you want to be in a place with good mood.” Eliminate negative thoughts or self-criticisms that may impair your ability to develop strong creative skills.

 7.      Brainstorm to Inspire New Ideas

Brainstorming is a common technique in both academic and professional settings, but it can also be a powerful tool for developing your creativity. Suspend your judgment and self-criticism, then write down related ideas and possible solutions. The goal is to generate as many ideas as possible in a relatively short span of time. Next, focus on clarifying and refining your ideas in order to arrive at the best possible choice.

 8.      Realize That Most Problems Have Multiple Solutions

When you approach a problem, look for a variety of solutions. Instead of simply going with the first idea you have, take the time to think of other possible ways to approach the situation. This simple activity is a great way to build both your problem-solving and creative thinking skills.

 9.      Keep a Journal

Start keeping a journal to follow your creative process and track the ideas you produce. A journal is a great way to reflect back on what you have accomplished and look for other possible solutions. This journal can be used to save ideas that can later serve as future inspiration.

 10.  Try the “Six Hats” Technique

The “six hats” technique involves looking at a problem from six differing perspectives. By doing this, you can produce more ideas than you might have had you only looked at the situation from one or two points of view.

  • Red Hat: Look at the situation emotionally. What do your feelings tell you?
  • Black Hat: Look at the situation objectively. What are the facts?
  • Yellow Hat: Use a positive perspective. Which elements of the solution will work?
  • White Hat: Use a negative perspective. Which elements of the solution won’t work?
  • Green Hat: Think creatively. What are some alternative ideas?
  • Blue Hat: Think broadly. What is the best overall solution? 

11.  Look for Sources of Inspiration

Never expect creativity to just happen. Look for sources of inspiration that will give you fresh ideas and motivate you to generate unique answers to questions. Read a book, visit a museum, listen to your favorite music or engage in a lively debate with a friend. Utilize whatever strategy or technique works best for you.

 12.  Create a Flow Chart

When you develop a new project, create a flow chart to track the presentation of your project from start to finish. Look for various paths or sequences of events that might occur. A flow chart can help you visualize the final product, eliminate potential problems and create unique solutions.

If all this sounds like a lot of work—well, it is.

Becoming a skilled athlete or musician is a lot of work.  Did you think becoming a skilled writer would be any different?

However, if you love to write – if you love it as much as Stevie Wonder loves to create music or as much as Michael Jordan loved to play basketball – then practice becomes a kind of dedicated play; a source of pleasure and fulfillment.

If you are willing to shift your focus from getting published to becoming an excellent writer, then there’s a very good chance that, eventually, your skills will take you to the “big leagues” of the writing world.

Just remember – practice does not make perfect…perfect – or deliberate – practice makes perfect; so, work diligently, but also work deliberately – to bring about the results you seek.

Like my father, my mother enjoys challenging others thoughts, visions and aspirations – to see if you are serious about what you do and to see if she can somehow help you become what you say you want to become.

So, when I told her I wanted to be a writer, she asked “Do you want to be a writer, or an author?”

Often, we use the words author and writer interchangeably. I didn’t know, at the time, that both these words are quite different.

“Aren’t they the same thing?” I inquired.

“Never answer a question with a question,” she replied, shaking a finger at me. “An author gotta have readers. A writer don’t.”

And she was right. In the act of literary creation, we all start out as writers. We write for ourselves. We write to create. We write to explore and play and experience and for a thousand other reasons. And, finally, for many (if not most) of us, we look around to see who wants to share in our creation. We seek out readers.

Why?

The reasons are many – validation of what we’re doing; the ego-driven need to show others what we’ve created; the belief that what we’ve created deserves to be shared; the urge to make money through publishing your writings; and an understanding that literary creations can be improved by being shared with others – that readers, by the very act of reading your work, show you what works and what does not.

It is this process of sharing your creations with the world that transforms you from writer into author.

Anyone can be a writer. Simply write and create something new. And many people can develop into good writers, at that. But to become an author – you must be a writer who pushes your creations out into the world.

Becoming an author is not every writer’s goal. Nor is it some evolutionary advance, as if, in becoming an author, you have somehow “outgrown” being a writer.

My mama concluded by saying. “Being a writer is an identity; being an author is a career.”

I have identified myself as a writer since I was a small child and realized I enjoyed writing and was pretty good at it.

I have been an author since I sold my first book.

If I never sold another book, I would not stop writing. Writing is a cornerstone of my sense of self. Not being published would not stop that.

When I was sixteen, I told my father that I was an aspiring author.

If you are an ‘aspiring’ anything, you are not the thing at all,” he replied. “Aspiring is for the weak; for the lazy; for the afraid. Authors – real authors, not “aspiring” ones – are the ones who sit their butts down, write something and get their work out there until it gets published.”

Right now, some of you are reading this and saying, “Yeah, but…”

You are coming up with excuses for not writing…for not becoming the writer or author you “aspire” to be. Let’s examine common excuses “aspiring” writers and authors give for doing absolutely nothing:

I suck. If you feel uncomfortable with your level of talent, take a writing class. Every writer starts by simply putting the first word down on paper. Take a chance and write something. Learn as you go. You never know if you’ll be good at something until you give it a try. 

I have writers’ block. Having writers’ block doesn’t stop you from writing. Refusing to overcome writers’ block does. Try making an outline, even a small one; also, writing exercises will spark your creativity and get you writing. Come up with character names and engage them in imaginary conversations in your head. Keep a small notebook at hand at all times to take notes when ideas strike you.

I can’t convey my ideas on paper well. That’s what editing is all about. A perfect first draft is extremely rare. Just write; then have other writers read your work and critique it. Rewrite the work and ask them to read it again and make more needed changes; repeat the process until you feel you have a good piece of work and then send it to a professional editor.

I can’t handle the stress. Oh, please. Grow a pair, will you? Life is filled with stress…some good (called eustress); some bad (called distress). Deal with it and get to work!

I am too damned old. There is no minimum or maximum age requirement to write. As long as you are of a sound mind, you can write.

I would have too much competition. Audre Lorde said that “there are no new ideas, only new ways of making them felt”. Even with hundreds of thousands of new books published each year, you are a unique person with a unique take on life. Work hard on developing your own style and your own voice. Obis’ Law states that “Somebody else probably has the same idea, so, a) get started; and b) plan to do it better”.

I am broke. All you need to start writing is a pen or pencil, notebook and public library access. If you have your own computer, even better. And if you are truly broke, you probably aren’t working, or are working part-time, so you have even more time to write.

I don’t have the hook-up. Very few fledgling authors do, at first. Join social media sites and seek out other writers and publishers; join a writers’ workshop; go to conferences, and search other resources.  After all, you probably didn’t know a spouse or plumber before you needed one. It takes research and getting to know people.

I am afraid of wasting my time on a book that doesn’t sell. The author J.A. Konrath didn’t sell his novel until he’d amassed more than 500 rejections in his search for agents and publishers. Perseverance is the key. If that first book doesn’t sell, consider it an exercise in learning to be a better writer. Write because you love it; because you’re compelled – and maybe even obsessed – to write. Write without worrying about making a dime at first, or I guarantee you, your writing willbe a trite piece of crap that will not sell.

I don’t have enough time to write a book. Most likely you’re making time for non-productive things, like watching TV or having e-fights on Facebook. That means you actually do have time to write, you’re just not making it a priority to write. Everyone has responsibilities and demands on their time. Set a goal of simply writing 500 words a day or one or two pages a day. Sit down with a calendar at the beginning of the week and schedule your writing time. If you truly want this, you’ll find the time and make it a priority.

I am a writer. I am an author. I am pretty good at both, but have a lot more growing to do. More than anything else, I am a student of the art and craft of writing. I love being a student; but I hate being in class alone. Join me and let’s learn – and grow – together.

And if anything I have shared with you helps at all; if you have enjoyed my blogs, my books, or my films…thank my mama, my daddy and my big sisters because, without a doubt, my journey as an author is, indeed, a Family Affair.

 

 

5 Tips For Raising Black Children Who LOVE to Read!

Once Upon A Time in AfrikaA couple of years ago, I got the notion to develop a program that would inspire Black youth to read Science Fiction and Fantasy and teach them to write it well. I knew Black children would only respond positively to such a symposium if they saw themselves as the heroes and sheroes. I also knew I had the perfect team of authors and artists to give them such images.

I presented the idea to the State of Black Science Fiction – a collective of authors, artists and filmmakers who create speculative works for and about Black people – and the Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium was born.

April 26, 2014 marked the day of the 2nd Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium, which we did in partnership with the Wren’s Nest.

After a Blacktastic day of African drill performances; readings of our current works by Yours Truly and Milton Davis; a workshop on the writing process and the need for Black Speculative Fiction; students (and even parents) creating and sharing short stories and comic book art based on Milton Davis’ novel, Amber and the Hidden City; masterful instruction in storytelling from authors Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis, comic book creator, James Mason and artist, Wayman Humphrey; and even lively conversation about the state of Black speculative works with parents long after the symposium had ended, I am even more inspired to create great works of Black Speculative Fiction and my head continues to swim with ideas.

I would like to share with you, dear reader, a few things the symposium taught me that might be of use to you and your children, or any young ones near and dear to you, particularly if your child is a reluctant reader.

  1. Captivate Children By Feeding Their Interests

DSC_7750Using your child’s interests, strengths, and talents, you can connect him to reading he enjoys, as he simultaneously builds his reading skills. If he is interested in comic books – I learned to read at 2 years of age by reading comic books – the Urban Shogun series, by James Mason, are exciting reads and feature a culturally and racially diverse cast of heroes. If African history is her thing, Once Upon A Time In Africa, or Amber and the Hidden City will keep your child turning the pages and building those reading skills. 

Your child’s increased reading skill will result in more satisfying reading experiences. As this positive experience continues, he or she will even improve his reading comprehension and memory of what he is required to read for school.

A word of caution: As you see your child’s love of reading increase, you will have the urge to push him or her toward improving their reading abilities. Don’t do it! The improvement you want to see will happen, but only after the love of reading is there first. If your child feels like reading is a chore, they won’t fall in love with it.

Another word of caution: Parent’s love to take credit for the successes of their children. However, this often robs the child of the chance to take ownership of his or her accomplishments. Allow your children to take pride in how their reading habits made the difference in their reading capabilities.

Incorporate family reading nights and maybe even throw a reading party in which your children and their friends have cake and ice cream and play games. The day ends with them receiving awards for their reading and even receive cool books as gifts. Use such fun activities as tools that influence your child’s positive connections to reading.

 

  1. Follow Their Lead

Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth SymposiumChildren are attracted to books, magazines, and other print material that feature their interests, such as super heroes, dinosaurs, science fiction, the ocean, space exploration, insects, people from other lands and times and their favorite computer games.

As your child reads more books in his or her areas of high interest, he or she will experience an increased depth of specialized knowledge in that sphere of interest. This will help him or her stand out among his or her peers and gain the respect of teachers, which will result in a significant increase in his or her self-concept and confidence in taking on other challenges.

A word of caution: Low pressure is the key. Provide casual opportunities for your children to come in contact with reading material about their interests. Keep a variety and rotation of books and magazines around the house related to their interests and observe which books they pick up.

If you read a book and you know it is of high interest to your child, let her hear you laugh or make comments aloud, “to yourself” as you read. Saying, “Wow, I never knew that,” can start a conversation in which your child asks what you are reading. If she doesn’t inquire, leave the book open when you leave the room to cook, mow the lawn, or anything that will take a while. That is when she is likely to follow her curiosity to pick it up and see for herself what was so interesting to you. 

Visit libraries, used and new bookstores, or web sites with your child to discover his interests and promote new ones. What captures his attention as he browses the library or bookstore shelves? If he enjoyed books about certain topics or by specific authors in the past, ask the librarian for additional suggestions. If your child has a favorite book or author, look for more books by that author on Amazon, or see if they have a website where you can purchase more of that author’s work. 

Another word of caution: If your child wants to read to you, regardless of their age, let them. Most tweens and teens won’t say “Mommy, can I read to you?” They will say something like “Mom, this passage in the book was funny, check it out.” Teens still desire your approval and an encouraging word from you, even though they act as if they couldn’t care less. 

Also, let your children’s reading errors go unchecked while they read to you. This may be difficult for you, but the reward will be a child who likes to read. If you are still bothered by a few errors they made in their oral reading, work on it with them a little later, while you and your child are doing something else, or during homework or study time. Then, you can slip in a reading tip and give cues to guide her in the concept she missed. Be sure to correct the type of error, instead of drawing attention to the specific error.

 

  1. Inspire, Don’t Push

Do not force your child to finish every book he starts or quiz him on the contents of his recreational reading. Similarly, do not make a big deal about his choice to sit and read a book for pleasure and if he soon rejects the book as not one he wants to stay with. You want to avoid making him feel reluctant to pick up books in the future when he is not positive he will like them.

You don’t finish all books you start that don’t meet your needs, do you?

Nope. And neither should your child.

It helps if you encourage him to select several books about a topic, so if he finds one wack, there are alternatives.

When he speaks positively about a book, ask him if he’d like to read a favorite paragraph or chapter to you because you are interested in the book.

 

  1. You are a Role Model; if your children see you read, they will read, too

Black Science FictionYou are a role model for your children. When they see you reading books, not just for specific reasons but also for enjoyment, they will follow suit. 

If you have reading challenges, it is important for them to see you being challenged when reading, but overcoming those challenges. This increases their comfort about difficulties they have reading complex books. 

Talk about your own reading challenges with your child. If the computer software book you are reading is dense with facts and you need to take frequent breaks or stop and take notes, let your child know how you are feeling and what you are doing. Say, “This is hard reading; that’s why I keep getting up and moving to another Black Science Fictionchair or adjusting the lights. I need to give my brain a break, so I can get through the book and learn what I need to know.” Sometimes, I read a book for my research, or a work of fiction that is not interesting. I have to read the same sentence two or three times, and I even have to write things down so I can understand and remember what I read. My children, and even my wife, see this and they now do the same instead of saying “This book is so boring,” and then tossing it under the bed. 

If you had trouble developing an interest in reading or had a harder time than your classmates when learning to read, that is also good information to share with your child. Younger children may see you reading books with tiny print and with many pages (and no pictures) and think you were just “a born reader” or much smarter than they are. If there was a special interest that connected you with certain books, such as books you didn’t like at first but grew to enjoy, share those memories with your child. He wants to be like you. Knowing about your frustrations or embarrassments helps him remain optimistic when he is struggling in the same ways.

 

  1. If the Book Fits

Black Science FictionFor many children, the “choose your own adventure”-style books are great for encouraging youth to read and building a love for reading. In such books, the reader gets to make a choice for the character and is instructed to turn to a particular page number based on her choice and the story progresses from there. 

My next book – written for readers aged 11 and up – is penned in the “choose your own adventure” style. The book is entitled The Keys and is the first book in my YOU are the Hero series. 

Look for The Keys in October of this year. 

The length of some books, especially required for school literature reading, can intimidate or discourage children. Abridged – or graphic novel – versions of common books can provide a starting point that your children will feel is an achievable challenge.

Another option, if your child finds the smaller print of school-assigned literature books intimidating, is to find a large-print version of the book that has fewer words per line and more frequent page turns.

 

Picking Age-Appropriate Books

Many readers – and sadly, many authors – are confused about the age / grade classifications of books for youth. Many of us lump all books for young people under the category YA, without realizing that YA means Young Adult. A book appropriate for a Young Adult is usually not appropriate for a ten year old.

What are the classifications and their differences, you ask?

The two main classifications are Middle Grade (MG) and Young Adult (YA). Each classification can be broken down into a few sub-classifications.

Middle Grade is chiefly read by late elementary / middle school students; Young Adult is chiefly read by high school students and up.

MG is primarily written for young people, 8-12 years old. Within Middle Grade, you also have Upper Middle Grade, which is more appropriate for 10-14 year olds.

Young Adult readers are generally 12-18 years old. The younger portion of this age group often reads books that their parents would remember as “teenage novels.” However, by the middle of the adolescent years, and sometimes earlier, most teens are reading adult novels, particularly in school.

Teens get drawn into YA novels with stories that relate directly to their own deep concerns – books that help them figure out their place in the world in a sensitive way.

If the protagonist is under 12 years old, it’s usually MG; over 12 years old usually means YA.

MG plots tend to center on the protagonist’s internal world, whereas YA plots are more complex and are more concerned with the protagonist’s effect on his or her external world.

Middle grade readers are beginning to learn who they are, what they think.

YA novels have more complicated plots than MG, and the change in a protagonist is triggered by external events, fitting into a bigger picture.

Pretty much anything is allowed in YA as long as the book adheres to the following rules:

1. The main character has to be a teenager, usually between 16 and 19 years old.

2. The plot must have something to do with coming of age.

The underlying themes, regardless of genre or topic, allow teens to examine deeper issues in a safe way: what their role in life is, the difference one person makes, the importance of relationships, coping with tragedy of any sort, etc. The younger set of YA readers can cope with scary subjects when they are at a distance – the character’s friend is doing drugs, not the character himself.

There is a subcategory of YA called New Adult, which tackles formerly taboo subjects with an intense perspective. These books are aimed at older teens and young adults (16-20 years old).

Instead of a friend or acquaintance having issues, the main character is the one being abused, cutting, considering suicide, etc., or it’s a family member or best friend of the main character. The viewpoint is very close, the bond and introspection and questioning are strong. Overall, teens can identify keenly with the character’s feelings, if not the situation.

One is the search for identity. Young Adult novels have protagonists who are trying to figure out who they are as an individual. They try on this and then that, not sure what really fits them.

Middle grade novel protagonists are developmentally more into the concreteness of life – friends, siblings, the mean teacher, the lost dog, etc.

The word count for Middle Grade fiction is around 20,000-40,000 words.  However, there are exceptions (early Harry Potter, anyone?).

The word count for Young Adult fiction is generally 55,000-80,000 words. Once again, however, there are notable exceptions (late Harry Potter, anyone?).

For a list of great books for Black Youth, check out TOP 20 STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK, SWORD & SOUL AND URBAN FANTASY BOOKS FOR BLACK YOUTH!

Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium

Instructors and participants in the Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium! April 26, 2014

THE BUTLER / BANKS BOOK TOUR CLOSES WITH A KNOCKOUT FROM BALOGUN OJETADE!

What a wild ride!

The Butler / Banks Book Tour has been nothing short of incredible! Incredible authors sharing incredible books in an incredible super-genre: Black Speculative Fiction.

As the tour, also known as the Fresh Fest of Afrofuturism comes to a close, I would like to thank the writers who have worked hard to help promote their fellow authors and to spread the greatness that is Black Speculative Fiction around the world. I would also like to thank you, for your support of us during this tour and for doing your part to keep Black Speculative Fiction growing and increasing in awesomeness!

Balogun 1For those who know me, I am a writer.

For those who don’t know me, I am a writer.

I write speculative fiction – mainly Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Rococoa and Sword & Soul.

Recently, I have expanded my writing into the  Fight Fiction – aka Action / Adventure, aka Pulp – genre, which was pretty much inevitable because my novels contain lots of exciting action and fight scenes.

What, exactly, is Fight Fiction. You ask?

Fight Fiction is comprised of tales in which the fighting – whether it happens in a temple in Thailand, a boxing ring in Las Vegas, a cage in Atlanta, or in a bar in New York City – is not merely in the story to make it more exciting; or to add a different spin to it. The fighting must be an integral part of both the story and its resolution. Take the fighting out and you no longer have a story. Think Fight ClubRockyBlood and BoneKung-Fu HustleMillion Dollar Baby; and Tai Chi Zero.

Writing fight scenes has always been something I enjoy and that I believe I do fairly well. This is probably due to the fact that I have been a student of indigenous African martial arts for over forty years and I have been an instructor of those same martial arts for nearly thirty years. I am also a lifelong fan of martial arts, boxing and Luchador films.

Recently, I joined a team of stellar authors, who all write under the pen name Jack Tunney (for e-book versions only; paperback versions are in the authors’ names), as part of the Fight Card Project.

The books in the Fight Card series are monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings, and are inspired by the fight pulps of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Fight Stories Magazine and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan.

Fist of AfricaIn 2013, the Fight Card series published twenty-four incredible tales of pugilistic pandemonium from some of the best New Pulp authors in the business. I am writing under the Fight Card MMA brand with my book, Fist of Africa.

Here’s a brief synopsis: 

Nigeria 2004 … Nicholas ‘New Breed’ Steed, a tough teen from the mean streets of Chicago, is sent to his mother’s homeland – a tiny village in Nigeria – to avoid trouble with the law. Unknown to Nick, the tiny village is actually a compound where some of the best fighters in the world are trained.  Nick is teased, bullied and subjected to torturous training in a culture so very different from the world where he grew up.

Atlanta 2014 … After a decade of training in Nigeria, a tragedy brings Nick back to America. Believing the disaffected youth in his home town sorely need the same self-discipline and strength of character training in the African martial arts gave him, Nick opens an Academy. While the kids are disinterested in the fighting style of the cultural heritage Nick offers, they are enamored with mixed martial arts. Nick decides to enter the world of mixed martial arts to make the world aware of the effectiveness and efficiency of the martial arts of Africa.

Pursuing a professional career in MMA, Nick moves to Atlanta, Georgia, where he runs into his old nemesis – Rico Stokes, the organized crime boss who once employed Nick’s father, wants Nick to replace his father in the Stokes’ protection racket. Will New Breed Steed claim the Light Heavyweight title … Or will the streets of Atlanta claim him?

I really enjoyed writing this book because I have always wanted to share with the world the fierceness, efficiency and effectiveness of the indigenous African martial arts for self-defense, as well as their transformative powers in the building of men and women with self-discipline, courage and good character. Fist of Africa is a perfect outlet for my unique brand of Fight Fiction, which I am sure you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

In Fist of Africa, readers will experience jaw-dropping action on the mean streets of Chicago, in the sand pits of Nigeria and in cages in the “Dirty South” (Atlanta), as well as a bit of romance.

Please, enjoy this excerpt, then hop on over to my website, or to Amazon and purchase the book. You’ll thank me later.

ROUND SIX

Vee-Vee’s was packed. The line of men and women spilled out of the Nigerian restaurant and onto the hot sidewalk as the lunch crowd eagerly awaited the mouth-watering, sweet fried plantains, egusi soup with pounded yam and coconut rice.

Standing in the line, Nick and Baba Yemi still had two customers ahead of them before they were in the door. Nick rubbed his hands in excitement.

Baba Yemi raised an eyebrow. “Is the food really that good, Nicholas? You look … eager.”

“You just don’t know, grandfather,” Nick replied. “I haven’t had Vee-Vee’s in over ten years.

“You’ve had Nigerian food in Nigeria,” Baba Yemi said. “What’s so special about Vee-Vee’s?”

“It’s Vee-Vee’s,” Nick responded with a shrug.

Baba Yemi shook his head.

“Excuse me, you just jumped ahead of me,” a woman’s voice said.

Nick peered over his shoulder. A rotund woman addressed three young men who stood in front of her in the line.

“Look, lady, we just want to get some plantains up out of here,” one of the young men – a lanky teen with jeans hanging halfway off his butt – said. “You look like you’re about to order the whole damned menu.”

The young men laughed heartily and exchanged high fives.

“Teens today have no respect,” the woman said. “If you are the future, we’re in big trouble.”

“Shut up, pendeja!” Another young man spat. “That’s moron, in case you don’t know … pendeja!”

More laughter from the young men.

“Hold my place in the queue,” Baba Yemi whispered.

“Grandfather, don’t …” Nick muttered.

Baba Yemi approached the young men, stopping a few inches behind them. “You are being very rude. This young woman deserves an apology.”

The teens turned to face Baba Yemi. The largest of the trio, a tall, athletically built young man, who had not yet spoken, looked Baba Yemi up and down.

“Push on, old man, before you get yourself hurt,” he said.

Baba Yemi smiled and tapped the young man on his muscular chest. “Hurt? How?”

The lanky young man with the sagging pants placed a firm hand on Baba Yemi’s shoulder. “Get gone, old dude, before we kick your …”

The young man hit the pavement with a dull thump.

“My hand!” He screamed, clutching at his wrist and writhing in agony.

The Spanish-speaking young man launched an awkward-looking kick toward Baba Yemi’s belly.

The old wrestler side-stepped to his left, bringing his right arm up to scoop the young man’s leg. Baba Yemi shifted toward the trapped leg, grabbing it with both arms in a tight grip. He ducked under the leg, lifting his arms over his head at the same time.

The young man’s knee twisted at a sickening angle. He landed next to his friend with the dislocated wrist, who joined him in a chorus of cries, whimpers and yelps.

Baba Yemi exploded toward the remaining member of the trio.

The young man stumbled backward, then whirled on his heels and sprinted off.

The teen with the sagging pants and damaged wrist helped the young man with the dislocated knee to his feet. “Sorry, ma’am,” they said in unison.

Baba Yemi laid a hand on the shoulder of the young man with the sagging pants. The young man jerked in fear.

“Relax,” Baba Yemi said. “Let me fix it.”

The young man cautiously gave Baba Yemi his damaged hand. The old man grabbed the teen’s fingers and yanked hard. The teen winced at the pain of his wrist sliding back into its correct position.

“Thank you,” the young man said. “And I … I’m sorry.”

“What about my knee, sir?” The Spanish-speaking young man inquired, still gasping in pain.

“That is going to require more treatment than I can do here,” Baba Yemi answered. “Do either of you have a car?”

“Yes, sir, I do,” the Spanish-speaking youth said.

“What’s your name, boy?” Baba Yemi asked.

“Hector, sir,” the young man said.

“And yours?” Baba Yemi asked the young man with the sagging trousers.

“Miles,” he answered.

“Miles, take Hector to the hospital,” Baba Yemi said. “They’ll put the joint back in proper position, then you bring him to me and I’ll really heal him. Talk to my grandson over there. He’ll give you the address.”

“Yes, sir,” Miles said, approaching Nick.

“Thank you, sir,” Hector said.

Vee-Vee’s waitress, who had come outside to see what the commotion was all about, handed Nick an ink pen and an order slip. Nick wrote the address to his parent’s house on the slip.

The two young men shambled off, Hector’s arm wrapped around Miles’ shoulder for support.

“Thank you!” The pudgy woman shouted. She wrapped her arms around Baba Yemi’s torso and held him in a warm hug.

The people in line applauded as Baba Yemi returned to his place in line.

“We’re running a compound for young thugs out of my parents’ house now?” Nick said, shaking his head.

“You weren’t so different when you first came to me, Nicholas,” Baba Yemi said.

“True,” Nick said.

“So, I ask again,” Baba Yemi said. “What now?”

 

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