DREAM-CASTING WRATH OF THE SIAFU!

NgoloA while ago, I did a dream-casting for the movie Ngolo, which is an award winning screenplay written by authors Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis.

Wrath of the SiafuIt was fun to envision who would star in the low budget and big budget versions of the film. Now, I’d like to continue the fun by dream-casting my latest novella, Wrath of the Siafu, part 2 to the superhero origin story that began in the popular novella, A Single Link.

What exactly is dream-casting, you ask?

Dream-casting is the act of imagining which big name stars would fill roles in a movie based on your favorite book or comic book; or based on a story, book or screenplay that you wrote.

As I stated above, I do a big budget casting and a low-budget casting. It should be noted, however, that honestly, most of the actors cast in the low-budget version would be cast in the big budget version if I had any say in the matter – they are just that good.

Logline

A wrongfully incarcerated mixed martial arts champion must fight for her freedom, life and the lives of her loved ones after she is injected by a DNA-altering virus by the corrupt prison system.

Blurb

The near future… 

A young genius is gunned down brutally by the police. 

Remi Swan – our hero from the hard-hitting Action-Adventure novella, A Single Link – fights to defend the little boy and her. 

She is arrested, imprisoned, forced to fight and infected with an experimental virus that turns women into raging monsters…or worse. 

Possessed with incredible – and frightening – new abilities, Remi sets off a war against a system that has long brutalized Black people. A war that, alone, she might not be able to fight, but now she is backed by an army…a powerful and deadly force of her own making. 

Now, that brutal system will suffer the… 

WRATH OF THE SIAFU!

Now that I have piqued your interest, let’s get on with the dream-casting:

Remi Swan: The first woman to fight against men in professional mixed martial arts, Remi is a celebrity who is loved and admired worldwide. She gladly accepts her role as a symbol for justice and empowerment for abused women and as a symbol for power for Black people, in general. She is a highly skilled fighter and teacher as well as a loving wife and mother to two young children.

Big Budget: Danai Gurira

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Iyalogun Ojetade (Iyalogun portrays Remi in the short film, A Single Link, that the book was developed from).

Wrath of the Siafu

Eboni Ahmed: A former martial arts student of Remi’s husband, Master Kundo Swan, Eboni was once a bitter rival of Remi’s. However, they have grown to be best friends. Eboni is the reigning women’s middleweight mixed martial arts champion. The only defeat she ever suffered was from Remi in a non-title match before Remi went on to fight in co-ed matches. Eboni is proud and a bit hot-headed, but has a good heart.

Big Budget: Sonequa Martin-Green

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Angela Hill

Wrath of the Siafu

Warden Anna Hess: A calculating, amoral bastion of the prison system. Warden Hess, a former geneticist and virologist, spearheaded the project that created the DNA-altering AMVO virus and its use on unwitting women prisoners.

Big Budget: Vera Farmiga

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Casey Cudmore

Wrath of the Siafu

Kundo Swan: Remi’s devoted husband. A lifelong indigenous Afrikan martial artist, MMA coach and pillar of the “conscious” Black community, Kundo is intelligent, caring and courageous. A wise and respected elder.

Big Budget: Brian White

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Balogun Ojetade (Balogun played Kundo in the short film, A Single Link)

Wrath of the Siafu

Peggy: The psychotherapist at Ames Medical Facility, where Remi and Eboni are imprisoned. Although Peggy is wheelchair bound, she is menacing and will do anything in the name of scientific discovery. She is brilliant, controlling and manipulative. Peggy has worked with Warden Hess on the AMVO project since its inception.

Big Budget: Melissa McBride

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Mellie Miller

Wrath of the Siafu

Daniel Wallace: Kundo’s best friend. Dan Wallace is a billionaire, who earned his wealth through his promotion of professional MMA fights through his company, WERKWorld Extreme Ring Kombat. He gave Remi her shot at professional co-ed fights, which, from PPV sales and merchandising, made him one of the richest men in the United States.

Big Budget: Idris Elba

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Akin Donaldson (Akin portrays Sekou / Dan Wallace in the short film, A Single Link)

Wrath of the Siafu

Dee: Remi and Kundo’s neighbor and close friend. Dee started off as a nosy, but witty neighbor with a passing interest in the martial arts, but has become Remi’s corner person and assistant trainer.

Big Budget: Cynthia Kaye McWilliams

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Dasie Thames

Wrath of the Siafu

Changa bin Wahad: Activist and Founder / Chairman of the revolutionary organization, Freedom Takes Power.  Changa is bold, outspoken and a skilled military strategist. He is politically and culturally astute, hard-working, ethical and a risk-taker. He joins Remi in her plan to topple the prison system.

Big Budget: Mekhi Phifer

Wrath of the Siafu

Low Budget: Kalonji Jama Changa (I actually based Changa bin Wahad on Kalonji Jama Changa and the inimitable activist and freedom fighter, Dhoruba bin Wahad).

Wrath of the Siafu

Janine: A thirteen year old girl altered by the AMVO virus. Janine is nearly seven feet tall, as big as a male power-lifter and as defined as a professional bodybuilder. Her immense strength, speed and endurance are matched by an immense rage. The AMVO virus and her treatment at Ames have driven Janine insane.

Wrath of the Siafu

Big Budget: CGI

Low Budget: CGI

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF STEAMFUNK: Personality Types and Temperaments and Archetypes, oh my!

Speculative fiction in general – and Steampunk in particular – offers us something different: a sense that the world is larger and more filled with possibility than we might be able to imagine; a sense that increasing the opportunities of other people’s lives does not mean diminishing our own.

Steampunk is a reminder that our vision is bigger than our histories; that by looking back at yesterday and learning from it, a better tomorrow is still an option.

Most of us believe we discovered Steampunk at random. We loved the genre before it was called Steampunk and we kind of just stumbled into the Steampunk movement.

I beg to differ.

All actions follow a process – Perception à Thought à Impulse à Action – thus all actions are purposeful…and anything with a purpose, or direction, can be predicted.

How could we know we would gravitate toward Steampunk? That we would write it? Read it? Wear it?

By knowing and understanding our Personality Type.

The Influence of Personality on Reading Choice

People read fiction to enjoy a world that is not their own; to live tangentially and vicariously through someone else. People read fiction to be informed, to be entertained and to escape from everyday life.

Reading is an escapist hobby, but science fiction and fantasy reading are even more so, for readers of speculative fiction escape out of their own worlds into places and times that either no longer exist, do not exist just yet, or never will exist at all.

So, why do I read science fiction and fantasy? Why do I write Steampunk and Sword & Soul?

The answer may very well lie in my psychological makeup. Recent studies show that my temperament predisposes me to a love of science fiction.

Each of us has a temperament, that is, a part of our personality that may or may not be genetically based. A quick Myers-Briggs test has informed me that my Personality Type, as a whole is an Extroverted Intuitive Thinking Judge, or ENTJ. My Temperament is an NT – Intuitive Thinker – also known as a “Rational.”

According to the Keirsey Temperament website, “Rationals are very scarce, comprising as little as 5 to 7 percent of the population.” NTs are non-conformist critical thinkers. The NTs idolize the science fiction writer as the real architect of change. They can see the cleverness and competency in science fiction.

Rationals excel in any kind of logical investigation such as conceptualizing and theorizing – excellent tools for reading and writing Steampunk and other speculative fiction because Science fiction readers require a willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy the material, as well as the ability to conceive and extrapolate beyond what the writer has written.

Writers of Steampunk require the ability to conceive and extrapolate a retrofuturistic past and from it, create an entire world.

Speculative Fiction – often called the literature of ideas – is not just about fusion, automatons, dragon-slayers or airship pirates; it is rooted in the same ideas of love, anger and the human heart in conflict with itself that drive romance, drama, tragedies and contemporary fiction, but is presented more fantastically and thus, made new.

Even stories about humanoids battling non-humanoid alien races on a distant planet in the far future boil down to human feelings and human thoughts that we all can relate to.

Personality Types

Personality Type or Psychological Type are terms most commonly associated with the model of personality development created by Isabel Briggs Myers, the author of the world’s most widely used personality inventory – the MBTI or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Myers and her mother, Katharine Briggs, developed their model and inventory around the ideas and theories of psychologist Carl Jung, putting Jung’s concepts into a language that could be understood and used by the average person.

2 Kinds of Mental Processes
In her studies of people and extensive reading of Jung’s theories, Myers concluded there were four primary ways people differed from one another. She labeled these differences “preferences” – drawing a similarity to “hand preferences” to illustrate that although we all use both of our hands, most of us have a preference for one over the other and “it” takes the lead in many of the activities in which we use our hands.

The first set of mental preferences relates to how people Perceive or take in information. In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the second letter.

Those who prefer Sensing Perception favor clear, tangible data and information that fits in well with their direct here-and-now experience. In contrast, those who prefer Intuition Perception are drawn to information that is more abstract, conceptual, big-picture, and represents imaginative possibilities for the future.

The second set of mental preferences identifies how people form Judgments or make decisions. In the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the third letter.

Those who prefer Thinking Judgment have a natural preference for making decisions in an objective, logical, and analytical manner with an emphasis on tasks and results to be accomplished. Those whose preference is for Feeling Judgment make their decisions in a somewhat global, visceral, harmony and value-oriented way, paying particular attention to the impact of decisions and actions on other people.

2 Kinds of Mental Orientations
There are two other mental preferences that are part of the MBTI Myers Briggs model: Energy Orientation – the dimension of personality known as Extraversion or Introversion – and Outer World Orientation – the style or orientation one uses in dealing with the external world: Judging or Perceiving.

Energy Orientation pertains to the two forms of Energy Consciousness each of us experiences on a daily basis. We occupy two mental worlds: one is inwardly turned, the other is outward. One of these worlds is our primary source of energy; the other secondary. In the Myers MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the first letter.

Those who prefer Introversion draw their primary energy from the inner world of information, thoughts, ideas, and other reflections. When circumstances require an excessive amount of attention spent in the “outside” world, those preferring Introversion find the need to retreat to a more private setting as if to recharge their drained batteries.

In contrast, those who prefer Extraversion are drawn to the outside world as their elemental source of energy. Rarely, if ever, do extraverted preference people feel their energy batteries are “drained” by excessive amounts of interaction with the outside world. They must engage the things, people, places and activities going on in the outside world for their life force.

Outer World Orientation relates to which mental preference one relies upon in dealing with – and relating to – the Outside World. When this leading function is one of the two Judging mental preferences, then this orientation is called Judging. When this leading function is one of the two Perceiving mental preferences, then this orientation is called Perceiving. In the Myers MBTI Personality Type Code, this is the fourth letter.

Those who prefer Judging rely upon either their Thinking or Feeling preference to manage their outer life. This typically leads to a style oriented towards closure, organization, planning, or in some fashion managing the things and or people found in the external environment. The drive is to order the outside world. While some people employ an assertive manner, others’ “ordering touch” – with respect to people – may be light.

Those who prefer Perceiving rely upon either their Sensate or iNtuitive preference to run their outer life. This typically results in an open, adaptable, flexible style of relating to the things and people found in the outside world. The drive is to experience the outside world rather than order it; in general lack of closure is easily tolerated.

From the Myers-Briggs Personality Types, you are then able to determine your temperament using the information below:

Temperaments

The roots of Keirsey Temperament Theory are based in many years of research and innovation by Dr. David Keirsey. At Pomona College and the Claremont Graduate School, Keirsey began his research and study of human behavior. As he researched historical literature in psychology, philosophy, and the sciences, he became intrigued by the patterns of four temperaments. These four distinct patterns of human behavior were woven throughout history, dating back to such figures as Hippocrates, Plato and Aristotle, who learned these patterns from even older Egyptian knowledge from the Egyptian Mystery Schools.

In the 1950’s, Dr. Keirsey began putting his theory into practice as an Educational Psychologist, where he developed techniques in training and coaching. For more than two decades, he served as a consultant to both educators and psychologists, with continued research and innovations in his theory of the four temperaments.

In the early 1970’s Keirsey introduced his theory as an educational curriculum at California State University, Fullerton, where he served on the faculty, and eventually chair, in the department of counseling for ten years. The impact of Keirsey Temperament Theory has been lasting and substantial. In the early years, his theory was first put to use by psychologists, educators, and faith based organizations.

The Four Temperaments are:

SJ – “The Guardians”

The SJ group’s primary objective is “Security Seeking”. Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities, of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of; they are careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others. The SJ grouping includes the types:

ESTJ – “The Supervisors”

ISTJ – “The Inspectors”

ESFJ – “The Providers”

ISFJ – “The Protectors”

SP – “The Artisans”

The SP group’s primary objective is “Sensation Seeking”. Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on; they will do whatever works; whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules. The SP grouping includes the types:

ESTP – “The Promoters”

ISTP – “The Crafters”

ESFP – “The Performers”

ISFP – “The Composers”

NT – “The Rationals”

The NT group’s primary objective is “Knowledge Seeking”. Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision; always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be. The NT grouping includes the types:

ENTJ – “The Fieldmarshals”

INTJ – “The Masterminds”

ENTP – “The Inventors”

INTP – “The Architects”

NF – “The Idealists”

The NF group’s primary objective is “Identity Seeking”. Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people; they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics. The NF grouping includes the types:

ENFJ – “The Teachers”

INFJ – “The Counselors”

ENFP – “The Champions”

INFP – “The Healers”

Are there associations between professional writers’ personality types and the genres in which they write?

Surveys of professional writers have pointed to at least one significant association: Poets tend to identify with a perceiving style while fiction – and non-fiction – writers tend to identify with a judging style. Interviews support this notion, with an articulation that poets did seem to be set apart from other writers in some way.

Personality type may seem an abstract and unnecessary thing for writers to be concerned about. Yet, personality type is something writers should know, in order to construct novels that sell. How so?

1. You have a personality type whether you know it or not, and whether you care about it or not.

2. Your personality type is intrinsic to who you are and is expressed in your writing.

3. Your readers also have personality types. Their reading preferences are shaped by their personality types.

4. Your characters have personality types. Creating a personality type profile for your main characters can help you create characters that readers will love, hate and / or empathize with.

Readers, By Personality Type

Thinking: Thinking types enjoy logical, fact driven content; intellectual puzzles; and intellectual, mind-bending thrillers. Thinking types want pared down writing with no fluff.

Sensate: Sensates enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction about the real world, power, politics, action, sports. Sensates are your thriller, suspense and action market.

Feeling: The Feeling type is the women’s lit, chick lit and romance market.

Intuitive: Intuitives enjoy reading sacred texts, books about spiritual experience and spiritually-themed fiction, such as The Da Vinci Code. This is also your science fiction and fantasy market.

Steampunk Archetypes and related Personality Types

Air Pirate: One of the quintessential Steampunk characters.  Air pirates are bad, bold, and armed to the teeth. ISTP / ESTJ

Adventurer/Explorer: Their reason for being is to boldly go where no one has gone before; to experience new things; and to discover new places. ESTP

Aviator: Whether military, or a rogue; whether they’re flying a bi-plane, a zeppelin, or a space ship; they are tough, brave, and even a bit gallant, especially in contrast to Air Pirates. ISTP

Dandy/Femme Fatale: They use their wiles and charms to get what they want, sometimes at the expense of others. ESTP

Hunter/Fighter:  Monster hunters are all about firepower and skill in combat. They stay armed with stakes, silver bullets, and strange, arcane-looking weaponry. ISTP

Mad Scientist/Inventor: Another quintessential Steampunk character, they embody the steam in steampunk, discovering new things, solving problems, and occasionally blowing things up. ENTP / INTP

Mechanic/Tinkerer: A bit of a twist on the Scientist/Inventor.  Where the Inventor is creating things from scratch, the tinkerer is improving on things, often on the fly, or perhaps just trying to get things to work; making do with what they have. ISTP

Philosopher/Scholar: They like old, rare books and wax poetic about the classics; they talk too much about things no one cares about or prefer books to people. INTJ

Socialite/Lady/Gentleman: Often based on Victorian aristocracy, they can often embody the refinement and social norms we associate with the upper class of that era.  Many times they serve as patrons for the scholars, adventurers, and inventors. INFJ / ESFP

Street Sparrow/Scrappy Survivor: These are the street urchins, your pickpockets and beggars.  Hungry and dirty, they do what they need to do to survive. ENFP / ESFP

Reformer: They could be suffragettes or seeking to get rid of child labor or protesting imperialism, they are working to make the world a better place, often loudly and not always peacefully and without scandal. ENFJ

The personality types for the Steampunk Archetypes are not set in stone. They are merely guidelines to help in your writing and / or cosplay.

You can take your Myers-Briggs Test (or take it for your main characters) here: http://www.mypersonality.info/personality-types/.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering…I am an ENTJ!

The Steamfunk Canon!

A while ago, I wrote The Dieselfunk Canon, providing a list of books considered the definitive works in Dieselfunk.

Since Dieselfunk is the literary sibling of Steamfunk – and since this is the year Steamfunk comes back at you like gangbusters with the release of three novels – I figured it is now time to provide you with the Steamfunk Canon.

Here, you will not find Steampunk books that simply have a Black protagonist. No, these are books written by authors who proudly identify their work as Steamfunk and who skillfully deliver Funktastic stories in the genre.

Alright, Steamfunkateers…here goes:

Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 and 2) by Balogun Ojetade

harriet tubman“I’m gon’ drive the evil out and send it back to Hell, where it belong!” – Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more.

In MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges), the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people.

In this novel of dark fantasy, hailed as the very first Steamfunk novel, Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret. But is anyone who, or what, they seem?

The Switch II: Clockwork by Valjeanne Jeffers

Steamfunk

York is a city of contradictions. Women are hard-pressed for lovers, because lovemaking can be dangerous. The upper city is powered by computers, the underground by steam. And the wealthy don’t work for a living, underdwellers do it for them. But certain underdwellers have a big problem with this arrangement. And so does the time keeper.

Welcome to the Revolution…

The Steamfunk! Anthology edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade

SteamfunkA witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals – and often bests – England and France in power and technology.

You will find all this – and much more – between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today’s greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk.

Editors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade have put together a masterful work guaranteed to transport you to new worlds. Worlds of adventure; of terror; of war and wonder; of iron and steam.

Open these pages and traverse the lumineferous aether to the world of Steamfunk!

Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective: A Steamfunk Horror Novel by Valjeanne Jeffers

Steamfunk

A serial killer is snuffing out the lives of affluent people of color in Monterrey, North America. Hard-boiled, homicide detectives Curtis Dubois and Harold Lowe are assigned to the case. But when they realize that the killer may not be human, Mona Livelong, a young paranormal detective, is brought in to help solve the case. As Mona races to unravel the clues to save Monterrey, she finds herself caught up in a terrifying plot to change the very face of North America.

Look for Mona Livelong, Book II later this year!

From Here to Timbuktu by Milton Davis

Steamfunk

The year is 1870.

As the young country of Freedonia prepares to celebrate fifty years of existence, a young bounty hunter by the name of Zeke Culpepper is hired by a wealthy businessman to find a valuable book. In the kingdom of Mali on the continent of Africa, veteran warrior Famara Keita has been assigned to find that same book and bring it back to its rightful owner. And in the newly formed nation of Germany, an ambitious Prussian officer seeks the book as well for its secrets that could make Germany the most powerful nation in the world.

The result is an action adventure like no other!

Coming August, 2015! Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Book 3: Freedonia by Balogun Ojetade

SteamfunkSet in the world of Freedonia – author Milton Davis’ world, brought to life in the Steamfunk anthology and fully realized in the Steamfunk novel, From Here to Timbuktu – Harriet Tubman and her friend and rival, “Stagecoach” Mary Fields, chase the vengeful Alchemist out of their world and into another, in which Frederick Douglass and another, quite different Harriet Tubman govern a country of former enslaved Africans that rivals – and often bests – the United States, England and France in power and technology.

Harriet is forced to work beside the likes of Zeke Culpepper and John Scobell to prevent a war with mighty New Haiti and the elite and fearsome Hwarang warriors of Joseon (“Korea”). But a wicked force from Harriet’s world has come to destroy Freedonia and all it stands for. Will Harriet and her allies be able to stand against it?

Be sure to read all the works listed here. They’re great stories and I know you’ll enjoy them. And please, do the authors a solid and write a review, even if it’s just a couple of sentences. Thanks!

More Steamfunk novels, a second Steamfunk anthology and a Steamfunk feature film are coming and we will continue to expand this list, so check back often for updates.

THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY: A Spyfunk Story

THE UNMASKING OF AUNT TAMMY

tammy 1Amy closed her eyes and whispered a prayer as the great, stone mansion drew closer.

The ivory Rolls Royce Phantom crept along the winding road towards the immense structure, which loomed on the horizon.

“Fifteen years.” Amy said.  Her perfect, white teeth reflected the shine from her gloss-moistened lips as she smiled.

“What?”  The chauffeur peered at Amy through the rearview mirror.

tammy 2“Fifteen years, Tosu,” Amy answered.  “Fifteen years of my fellow Senior Executives’ racist, sexist, bullshit.  Fifteen years of the black employees calling me ‘Aunt Tammy’ behind my back.  It all ends tonight.”

Tosu’s broad shoulders danced back and forth as he chuckled. “Aunt Tammy?”

“Yes, Aunt Tammy, Amy replied.  “A female ‘Uncle Tom’ – and that’s not funny, Tosu!”

“Of course, you are not an ‘Aunt Tammy’, little sister,” Tosu said.  “Just because you prefer Frank Sinatra to Fifty-Cent…or because you prefer quinoa to cornbread…or because you prefer Steampunk to Street Lit does not mean you are an Uncle Tom or an Aunt Tammy…It does mean, however, that you have poor taste!”

tammy 3Tosu and Amy laughed.

The driver looked over his shoulder at his little sister.  “Today, all that you have endured pays off.”

Amy took a deep breath.  “Yes, today it does…for us…”

“And for Malomo,” Tosu whispered, as he fought back the tears that threatened to pour from under his eyelids.

The Rolls Royce Phantom crept into the circular carport on the side of the mansion.

tammy 6A short, lean, Asian woman – dressed in a blue, silk kimono  – opened the door of the Rolls Royce for Amy.  “Good afternoon, Ms. Cross,” The Asian woman said, smiling warmly.  “My name is Yuriko Sakuraba.  Mr. Emilianenko is eager to see you.  Follow me please.”

Amy shuffled behind Yuriko, who escorted her to a pair of double doors within the mansion.  The doors were carved from heavy African ironwood and inlaid with gold.  “This is the dining room,” Yuriko began. “There are a few rules I must go over with you before you enter, but first, a quick search.”

Yuriko perused Amy’s face.  Her expression told Amy that the security expert could see the fearlessness in her eyes.  Fearlessness…and ferocity.  Amy searched Yuriko’s eyes and saw the same.

Yuriko glided her lithe fingers across Amy’s athletic frame.  Her skilled hands did not leave even the slightest wrinkle on Amy’s black shark-skin business suit. The search confirmed that Amy was unarmed.

“Now, the rules,” Yuriko began.  “First, once you are seated, please remain so, unless you need to go to the restroom.  If that is the case, please inform Mr. Emilianenko.  He will call me on the radio and I will escort you.”

Amy nodded and Yuriko continued.

“Second, please refrain from any sudden gestures, or talking excessively with your hands.”

Amy smiled and nodded again.  Yuriko nodded back at Amy and went on.

“Finally, just remember, I will be right outside this door if any assistance is needed.”

Amy nodded and held her smile.  She knew that the final rule was actually a warning that if she tried to harm Mr. Emilianenko, she would have to deal with Yuriko.  “I understand.”

tammy 10Yuriko smiled and then pushed the double doors open.  Amy stepped into the huge dining room behind Yuriko.  The room was illuminated by a crystal chandelier, which hovered above a ten-foot long, mahogany table, which Amy figured to be over a hundred years old, judging by the hand-carved craftsmanship.  Aside from the dining table and chairs, which sat in the middle of the room, the dining room was pretty bare, except for tropical plants, which sat in each corner and gave the room a fresh, pleasant smell that reminded Amy of cantaloupe, sprinkled with black pepper.

At the far end of the table sat Vasiliev Emilianenko, Amy’s boss.  CEO of Biochem, Incorporated.

“Please, be seated.” Yuriko whispered.

Amy sat at the end of the table opposite Vasiliev.

Vasiliev waved a well-manicured hand as if swatting flies with the back of it.  “You are dismissed, Ms. Sakuraba.”

Yuriko bowed and exited the dining room.  Vasiliev turned his gaze toward Amy and grinned.  “Good evening, Ms. Cross.”

“Good evening, Mr. Emilianenko.”

Vasiliev shook his head.  His curly, black hair bounced slightly as his head moved from side to side.  “Please, call me Vasiliev.  May I call you Amy?”

Amy nodded.  “Of course.”

Vasiliev smiled even wider.  “So, Amy, let’s chat while we wait for our meal, yes?”

“Yes, Vasiliev.”

tammy 11Vasiliev leaned forward in his chair and placed his arms upon the table.  His massive arms strained against the sleeves of his soft, burgundy, silk smoking jacket.  “So, you are my Vice President of International Affairs, yes?”

Amy nodded.  “Yes.”

“And now, you are here to put in your bid for President, now that Radcliff Delmont has retired, yes?”

Amy swallowed and then nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

“Well, Amy, I do not dine with V-Ps…only Presidents.”  Vasiliev grinned and the light from the chandelier danced across his perfectly veneered teeth.

Amy patted her chest.  “What?!  You mean the position is mine?”

“Yes,” Vasiliev said.  “You’ve earned it.  I would be a fool not to promote the person responsible for a two-hundred and twelve percent increase in our international profits.  If I do not promote you, my rivals will steal you away from me.”

tammy 12Vasiliev laughed and then reached under the table and brought up a long white box.  “Amy, I understand that you are quite the collector of masks.”

“Yes, Vasiliev,” Amy replied.  “I’ve been collecting masks from all over Africa for the past two decades.”

“And I hear there has been one mask, in particular, that you desire, but it has eluded you, yes?”

“Yes, it is called ‘Oya’s Beard’.  It is a rare Yoruba mask that depicts the Goddess Oya with a conical beard.  “It represents women who possess the power of man, as well as woman.”

Vasiliev shoved the box down the table towards Amy.  “I see…open the box, please.”

Amy caught the box as it slid over the edge of the table.  She opened the box and peeked inside.  “Oh, my God!  Vasiliev…I don’t know how to thank you!”

tammy 4She picked up the mask, sighing as she caressed its long, spike-like beard and dark, mahogany face.

Vasiliev pounded his fists on his broad chest.  “That is my thanks to you!  You have done so much for Biochem.  This is just a small token of my appreciation…but, please, tell me…why such a fascination with masks, Amy?”

Amy stared into Vasiliev’s grey eyes.  The time had finally come.  “Paul Lawrence Dunbar said: ‘We wear the mask that grins and lies.’  I collect masks to remind me that there are many masks that we wear and I must never allow one of them to become my face.”

Vasiliev leaned forward again.  “Explain, please.”

“We all wear masks and, many times, we wear them so long and so often that the mask becomes indistinguishable from the person.  The mask has become the face.  Thankfully, mine has not.”

Vasiliev smiled.  “So, what mask do you wear, Amy?”

Amy patted her chest and then ran her hands across her face.  “This is my mask.  Amy Cross.  Conservative…capitalist…loyal to the establishment…an Aunt Tammy.”

Vasiliev’s right hand crept closer to the two-way radio that sat at the corner of the table.  “Continue, please.”

“But my face, Vasiliev, is Esusanya Ogunlana.  Former operative of the OPC – Ododuwa People’s Congress…aunt of Malomo Ogunlana, who was a victim of the Atlanta Child Murders…remember those!?”

Vasiliev grabbed the two-way radio.  Amy hurled the Oya’s Beard mask towards him.  The spiked chin of the mask tore through his esophagus, piercing his spine.

tammy 7The tip of the mask’s chin protruded from the back of Vasiliev’s neck.  His shoulders bounced up and down involuntarily and his legs jerked back and forth in a sardonic tap-dance.  The two-way radio was frozen in Vasiliev’s right hand.  His eyes stared, unblinking, at Amy’s – or Esusanya’s – chest.

Esusanya was a blur as she sprung from her chair and darted across the room until she was directly behind Vasiliev.  She placed her full lips to Vasiliev’s ear and whispered:  “Within the next ninety seconds, you will be dead, so let’s make this brief.  I know you were responsible for the death of my nephew and all those other boys.  I know that you had those boys kidnapped and murdered in order to harvest their melanin and sell it to the highest bidder to use in their tanning lotions, sunblockers and contact lenses.  I know you, Vasiliev Emilianenko…your mask has been removed!”

tammy 9Vasiliev’s eyes rolled back in his head, his body spasmed once…twice…and then slumped forward until his head rested on the dining table.

Esusanya sauntered to the double doors and placed her hands upon the handles.  “I’ll have to soak in Epsom salts after this.”

She then opened the doors to face Yuriko Sakuraba…and a life with no masks.

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WRATH OF THE SIAFU IS HERE! 2 Reasons Why We Love A Great Origin Story

Superhero Origin StoryWhy is every superhero movie an origin story?

Because we love them. Hollywood makes billions of dollars off us because we flock to go see them. But why?

Is it because they show the exact moment when a normal guy goes from being ‘just like us’ to being somehow ‘better, faster, stronger’?

Is it because they show us not how to become super but how to be heroes; to choose altruism over the pursuit of wealth and power?

Superhero Origin StoryIn one form or another, the superhero origin story has been around forever – a hero battles supernatural forces and returns home more prestigious – or comes of age – from this perilous adventure, gaining more power in the process.

Superheroes typically experience two types of life-altering events that transform them; that drive them to become greater than they were when we first meet them:

The first event is trauma.

A SIngle LinkIn A Single Link, Remi is sexually assaulted by Mixed Martial Arts professional fighter Chris Cunningham. This drives Remi to train to become the first woman to fight professionally in co-ed MMA matches and to eventually become a champion. Others who have become superheroes through some traumatic event are Batman (the murder of his parents) and Mister Terrific (the accidental deaths of his wife and unborn child).

The second life-altering event is destiny.

Wrath of the SiafuIn Wrath of the Siafu, Remi is endowed with enhanced physical abilities that she ultimately uses to combat a corrupt and oppressive system. While her choosing to fight the system is due to her and others suffering at the hands of an oppressive and tyrannical state, she comes to realize that she was destined to become a superhero. Others who were destined to fulfill their destiny as superheroes are Static and Black Lightning.

Superhero origin stories inspire us and help us to find meaning in loss and trauma. In fact, A Single Link, which first came to life as a short film, was adapted into a novella after I suffered the loss of my father on October 16, 2013.

Superhero Origin StoryBefore it even premiered, the wildly popular television series Gotham made history when Netflix bought the exclusive subscription video rights to the series, shelling out $1.75 million per episode, in a an effort to expand its international audience.

That Netflix is using Gotham, a prequel to the Batman stories, as part of its international growth strategy speaks to the power of the allure of origin stories. And their decision, it appears, was sound. Gotham is a hit.

Another reason we are interested in origin stories is that we like people to be predictable. We have a need to understand others – where they are coming from, and why they do what they do. Origin stories help us make sense of other people.

So those are some reasons we enjoy a great origin story. What are some other reasons? Your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

Oh, and if you are hankering for a great origin story now, check out A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu, which just released today.

Here’s a description:

The near future…

A young genius is gunned down brutally by the police.

Remi Swan – our hero from the hard-hitting Action-Adventure novella, A SINGLE LINK – fights to defend the little boy and herself.

She is arrested, imprisoned, forced to fight and infected with an experimental virus that turns women into raging monsters…or worse.

Possessed with incredible – and scary – new abilities, Remi sets off a war against a system that has long brutalized Black people. A war that, alone, she might not be able to fight, but now she is backed by an army…a powerful and deadly force of her own making.

Now, that brutal system will suffer the…

WRATH OF THE SIAFU!

Part Action Adventure; part Thriller; part Superhero origin story, Wrath of the Siafu – sequel to the hard-hitting Action Adventure / Martial Arts hit, A Single Link – exploded onto the scene today and is sure to leave in its wake many satisfied readers.

Wrath of the Siafu is now available in e-book and in paperback!

 

And here’s the hard-hitting song that inspired the title of the hard-hitting book, Wrath of the Siafu:

 

 

AUTHOR vs. WRITER: Which Side Will You Choose?

Often, we use the words author and writer interchangeably. But both these words are quite different.

Simply put, an author must have readers. A writer may or may not have readers.

Using words to craft a story or poem or essay or book which has the potential to take on a life of its own are at the heart of what it means to be both a writer and an author.

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.

Why do we seek out readers?

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.

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.

Are you an “Aspiring” Writer?

If you are an “aspiring” anything, you are not the thing at all.

“Aspiring” is for the weak; for the lazy; for the afraid.

An aspiring writer is a person who plans, desires, or hopes to write, but doesn’t actually write.

Aspiring writers say they want to write, but they never actually do.  They never carve time into their life to sit down and write.  

They are the ones who say “Aw snap! You’re a writer, son? I wanna be a writer someday. Let’s get together and build on that! (meaning: “let’s discuss it”)” And I always respectfully say “We build with our hands, not with our mouths.”

Writers – real writers, not “aspiring” ones – are the ones who sit their butts down and write.

The same applies to “aspiring author”; especially nowadays, with the iron-fist of major publishing crumbling into a pile of rust and giving way to small presses and self-publishing, which nearly anyone can do with enough education and hard work.

Excuses, Excuses…

The excuses we make are lies we create so that we don’t feel guilty about doing nothing.

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 will be 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.

URBAN FICTION FANATICS: 7 Reasons Why We Love Crime Dramas

Crime DramaI am a huge fan of Urban Fiction, particularly the subgenre of Urban Fiction called the Crime Drama. I’d wager most of you, dear readers, are too. I’ve seen every epidode of Breaking Bad, The Wire, LutherSons of Anarchy, Oz, Wentworth, Deadwood (yes, many Westerns are crime dramas), Boardwalk Empire, Power and the Sopranos. I have watched every crime, con, heist and gangster movie ever made in the U.S. and many foreign films, too. Hell, I even created a test to help determine which type of Urban Fiction character you’d be if you existed in a fictional world.

I really like crime dramas.

Why?  

Why are we so fascinated with crime and the crime story? Well, I have researched this fascination – and, for some, it is an obsession – for a while and I have discovered seven reasons why we love the Crime Drama: 

Fascination with the Unknown

The first crime fiction – a story entitled Three Apples, from the classic anthology, One Thousand and One Nights – came out at about the same time Giovanni Faber coined the term “compound microscope” in 1625 for Galileo Galilei’s invention, the occhiolino, or “little eye.”  

Both of the underworlds – the natural, microscopic one and the grimy, unlawful one – are of similar fascination to people who live a relatively clean surface existence.  Most of us hear about crime but rarely see it.  We know about germs but rarely see them. We are fascinated by the unknown; by what lurks beneath the surface.

Desire for Relief from Our Fears

Have you ever walked down the street and kept looking over your shoulder due to fear and / or anxiety? Have you ever clutched your purse at the approach of a stranger or locked your car door at a stop light? Crimes happen every day. We hear about them, constantly, through the print, web and televised news. We watch crime dramas because we desire the comfort in knowing that the bad guy will get caught in the end – and the bad guy isn’t always the “criminal” either. In crime dramas – and in real life – often the real bad guy is law-enforcement. Whether the bad guy is a cop or a crook, however, crime shows play on our fears of being victims of a crime fear and strive to relieve that fear by giving the bad guy his comeuppance.

Thrill of the Emotional Rollercoaster

Crime Dramas seriously play on our emotions. In just one episode love, anger, suspense, empathy, and sympathy may all be expressed. Many crime dramas are also love stories – nothing intensifies emotions more than interacting and involving the people closest to you. A killer can be someone very close to the victim or a total stranger. We would do anything to protect the ones we love, so knowing that sometimes our protection is ineffective because the threat is someone we know intimately is frightening – and fear is a powerful emotion.

We Seek Hope

Usually, during the last couple of minutes of The Following, we see some type of closure and justice, which is not always seen in the real world. There is some offense committed and in the end, there is punishment for that offense. A crime show dives in and explores the human response to evil. This provides a sense that there are good people in this cruel world of ours; people who will do the right thing. This gives the fan of crime dramas a sense of hope in the human condition.

We Seek to Understand Our Environment

Yes, bad people do walk upon the earth and bad things do happen. Crime dramas help us in our attempts to understand the horrific crimes and cruelties committed in this world through the lens of fiction. Throughout an episode of a show such as Oz, we see the bad guy’s twisted motivations and actions. Since these offenses are fictional, the acts are seen as bearable. Murder series provide a peek into the realm of human evil without the horror that goes along with the real thing.

We Seek Thrills and Chills

Picture this, you’re watching Power with your bowl of popcorn and you notice that there are two minutes left in the episode. Our hero, Ghost, sits in a restaurant having lunch. A team of federal law enforcement agents, including his girlfriend, Angela, are closing in to catch him.  The closer the team gets to catching Ghost, the faster you eat that popcorn. This is just example of how crime dramas keep you on the edge of your seat. We love the apprehension and tension as the bad guys are closing in; as our hero is close to being caught. Crime dramas allow us to live and overcome life-altering events without actually experiencing the negative life-altering experience.

We Are Law Breakers

We identify with law breakers because we are law breakers too.  We watch our favorite good guy, not-so-good guy or bad guy get away with breaking the law for a while, sometimes long enough to build a huge and successful empire.  We hope we can get away with defying the law for a long time too, but we live under its shadow and worry that it will take us down. We cheer watching the gangsters get away with it.  We’re appalled by their duplicity. We cheer when they get caught. We’re sobered to see that crime doesn’t pay.

Jung said we identify with everyone in our dreams and our fiction. We don’t just identify with the good guys against the bad guys.  We are the good and the bad guys. We are the cops and the robbers; the cons and the conned.

Crime DramaSo, what does it mean if your idea of heaven is to snuggle down in front of the TV and soak in an episode of The Wire or to sit at the computer enjoying another thrilling episode of Street Stories: Diesel?

It means that you are a person who craves adventure; a person who desires to see justice done; a person who seeks light in the darkness in which they dwell.

This dialogue from The Wire says it best:

Man On Stoop: I’m sayin’, every Friday night in an alley behind the Cut Rate, we rollin’ bones, you know? I mean all them boys, we roll til late.

McNulty: Alley crap game, right?

Man On Stoop: Like every time, Snot, he’d fade a few shooters, play it out til the pot’s deep. Snatch and run.

McNulty: What, every time?

Man On Stoop: Couldn’t help hisself.

McNulty: Let me understand. Every Friday night, you and your boys are shooting craps, right? And every Friday night, your pal Snot Boogie… he’d wait til there’s cash on the ground and he’d grab it and run away? You let him do that?

Man On Stoop: We’d catch him and beat his ass but ain’t nobody ever go past that.

McNulty: I gotta ask ya: If every time Snotboogie would grab the money and run away, why’d you even let him in the game?

Man On Stoop: What?

McNulty: If Snotboogie always stole the money, why’d you let him play?

Man On Stoop: Got to. This America, man.

 

AIN’T NO SUCH THING AS SUPERMAN! Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?

AIN’T NO SUCH THING AS SUPERMAN!

Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?

Black SuperheroStories about the heroes and superheroes in speculative fiction, film and comic books capture essential truths about human nature. We relate to – and identify with – the characters and themes in these stories; we empathize with the dilemmas and problems that superheroes face, and we admire – and often mimic – their heroic acts.

What, exactly, is a superhero, you ask?

What is the difference between a superhero and a hero?

I would say that every hero in a work of Black speculative fiction – and least the works I have read, which is pretty vast – is a superhero.

The definition of a hero is someone who rises above his or her fears and limitations to achieve something extraordinary. A hero embodies what we believe is best in ourselves. By definition, a hero would include entirely fictional characters, such as Batman, Brotherman, or Storm; characters who are real, but surrounded by legend, such as John Henry, Bass Reeves, or ‘Black’ Mary Fields; and “real world” firefighters, teachers and parents.

The clearest difference between a hero and what we tend to consider a superhero is that superheroes possess fantastic powers, fight their battles with advanced technology, or possess uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck. Superheroes are heroes who cannot possibly exist in our own world today.

Unlike ordinary heroes, superheroes must have abilities that normal people do not and cannot have.   A superhero like Brotherman – a great comic book hero and protagonist of a comic book series of the same name, brilliantly realized by writer, Guy Sims and his brother, artist Dawud Anyabwile – has no super powers. He belongs to the uncanny beauty, bravery, skill, or luck camp.

Brotherman is also larger-than-life and his stories are timeless; eternal.

Steamfunk Harriet TubmanWould this make Harriet Tubman a superhero? The great freedom fighter, spy and warrior of history is certainly a hero, however, while she possessed a supreme amount of bravery, endurance, skill, luck and the gift of accurate visions, her abilities were attainable by anyone – except, maybe those accurate visions. They were not uncanny, or otherworldly.

However, Harriet Tubman – protagonist of the Steamfunk novel Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and one of the protagonists of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passageis a superhero. She possesses the ability to heal from massive damage to her body at ten times the rate of a normal person; she has the strength of several men; and she can cast illusions.

Milton Davis’ Changa, of the Sword and Soul series, Changa’s Safari, fights monsters, sorceresses and men and has the ability to see malevolent spirits.

A SIngle LinkRemi ‘The Single Link’ Swan, hero of the fight fiction novel, A Single Link, is the first woman in history to fight men in professional co-ed mixed martial arts.

These are all superheroes – larger than life; powerful beyond the normal realm of human ability; fearless, lucky, or talented beyond measure.

And, like Brotherman, all their stories are timeless; eternal.

No costume is necessary; but it is cool.

But, how do we relate to and identify with characters with such amazing attributes?

Is the reason why the most popular stories in comic books are origin stories because they show us the exact moment when a normal man or woman goes from being just an average Joe or Josephine to being somehow better, faster, smarter, or stronger?

I believe it is not the attributes, but the altruism, we identify with – or at least we aspire to.

It is also the trauma superheroes suffer at their becoming. Many have told me that they love the origin story of The Scythe. What they have said they love is how Dr. A.C. Jackson makes a bargain with the sentient scythe of death to return to earth and exact revenge on his murderers. Dr. Jackson is, literally, a tortured soul; the victim of racism and brutality during the Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riots of 1921.

Readers also identify with the life-altering force of destiny found in origin stories. In the film Rite of Passage, Harriet Tubman gathers several Guardians – those endowed with supernatural powers to fight men, machines, monsters, demons and the undead. One such Guardian, Harriet Tubman’s young pupil, Dorothy Wright, is reluctant to accept her destiny, yet she rises to the occasion and becomes one of the protectors of the Black-owned town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Many of us identify with Dorothy’s challenge of assuming a great responsibility that forces her to grow up sooner than she wants to.

BrothermanFinally, there’s sheer chance; or the illusion that it was chance – I am not inclined to believe in coincidence – that readers love about origin stories. In the Rite of Passage tie-in, the short film The Dentist of Westminster, the protagonist, Osho Adewale, travels to Nicodemus, Kansas to put his deceased grandmother to rest, but is introduced to a world of darkness in which he gains the power to bring the light. His heroism is an example of how seemingly random, adverse events cause many of us to take stock of our lives and choose a different path.

Good writers of speculative fiction are keen observers of nature, in general and specifically, human nature. They are able to express those observations as captivating stories; they are able to tell the stories of self through the stories of their superheroes.

So, pick up a great comic book, like Dusu (issue #1 is free), Watson and Holmes (also free), the Chronicles of Piye, or Sword and Soul Adventures; or great books, such as Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Changa’s Safari, Damballa, or A Single Link. Soar with the superheroes within.

Capes aren’t necessary.

But, they are cool.

Join us Wednesday, February 18, 2015, from 8:00pm-10:00pm EST, for a roundtable discussion on the Black contribution to comic books, the evolution of Black protagonists and Black / Afrikan cultural references in contemporary comic books and graphic novels and the emergence of Black consciousness in the comic book industry.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/sisters-in-harmony
Call-In Number: 917-889-7765

The State of Black Science Fiction Celebrates Black History Month: Three Finger’d Jack

We continue our celebration of Black History Month with more great Historical Fiction from Balogun Ojetade and Maniga M. Otep! This story is a Rococoa tale about the Jamaican hero, Jack Mansong. Enjoy!

Three Finger’d Jack

By Balogun Ojetade and Maniga M. Otep  © 2014

Black HistoryThe oak wheels of the wagon sounded like distant rolling thunder. The driver of the wagon put a bottle of whiskey to his lips and then turned the bottom of the bottle skyward. The driver wiped his paper-thin lips with the back of his hand and then handed the bottle to the man sitting beside him. His partner laid his blunderbuss on his lap and then took the bottle in his plump, ruddy fist.

“Whoa!” The driver shouted.

The wagon came to an abrupt halt. Whiskey splashed in the face of the man riding shotgun.

“What the hell?” The man shouted. “Why’d ya stop the carriage, Fred?”

“Look,” Fred whispered, pointing toward something before him.

Standing in the middle of the road was a giant who towered nearly seven feet. The giant was massively muscled; his barrel-like chest strained against the red, cotton material of his sleeveless waistcoat. His chestnut-hued forearms were as girthy as a man’s thigh; his neck, like the trunk of a mahogany sapling.

The ebon colossus’ face was hidden beneath the shadow cast by the brim of his black, beaver skin capotain hat. The tall hat tilted over the brow of the giant gave him the appearance of a fearsome, black pilgrim, come to wreak bloody vengeance upon his racist white counterparts.

“Show ya’self and state ya’ business,” Fred commanded. “Or Riley here is gonna put iron in ya’ chest!”

Riley dropped the bottle of whiskey onto the dirt road and raised his blunderbuss.

The giant smiled; his perfect alabaster teeth in stark contrast to his dark skin. “Dweet, bwai,” he said in a heavy Jamaican patois – “Do it, boy.” – “You’ll be dead t’ree seconds aftah.”

“Ya’ black bastard!” Riley spat. “Yer’ dead!”

Riley squeezed the trigger of the blunderbuss. A din like thunder rent the crisp evening air. A cloud of marble sized iron pellets and rusty nails sped toward the giant.

The giant lunged to his left with blinding speed.

The shrapnel from the blunderbuss flew past him.

“Impossible!” Riley gasped.

Fred leapt down from his seat. “Hurry up and reload!”

Fred drew his slender, sharply pointed smallsword from its sheath. He thrust the point toward the giant…but the black stranger had seemingly vanished from the road.

“Where is he?” Fred inquired. “Do you see him Riley?”

Fred was met with silence.

“Riley?” Fred repeated.

Still, silence.

“Riley, I said…”

Fred looked up at the wagon. Riley’s body was slumped over in the seat. His head, cleanly severed from his body sat in his lap.

“No!” Fred screamed.

“Yah, mon.” A voice replied from behind him.

Fred whirled on his heels, slashing with his sword.

The giant blocked the blade with a backhanded swipe of his own sword – a broad, slightly curved cutlass four feet in length. The weapon’s grip and guard were carved from ivory. Its keen blade, forged from cold steel.

Fred’s sword was rent in two, leaving only the grip in Fred’s trembling hand.

“Mi name is Jack Mansong,” the giant bellowed. “Time for you to join Riley in hell.”

Jack raised his cutlass above his head.

Tears streamed down Fred’s cheeks. “No…please, don’t kill me,” he sobbed.

“Everybody die dem, mi bredren,” – “Everyone dies, my friend,” – Jack replied. “Ah fi yuh tun today.” – “It’s your turn today.”

Jack slashed downward with his cutlass with tremendous force. The sharp blade struck Fred’s skull, cleaving it in two.

Fred’s lifeless body collapsed, landing with a dull thud at Jack’s feet. Blood splashed onto Jack’s black leather shoes and black stockings, but Jack didn’t seem to notice. He peered over his shoulder and whistled loudly.

Two scores of Black men and women, all dressed in dark green waistcoats, similar to Jack’s red one, slipped from behind the Blue Mahoe trees that lined the road and sprinted toward Jack, their muskets and flintlock pistols at the ready.

“Nesta,” Jack said.

“Yah, mon,” a tall, beautiful woman with toffee-colored skin answered.

“Check di wagon,” Jack ordered.

Nesta trotted to the back of the wagon. Four men and two women formed a rank behind her. She pointed her flintlock pistol at the wagon and then snatched back its cover.

Huddled together at the front of the wagon, cowering in the shadows, were five young Black women in their late teens and a boy no older than twelve or thirteen.

“Come on out,” Nesta said. “You’re free now.”

The women crawled in a single file to the back of the wagon and then hopped down onto the road. The boy followed suit.

“How many we got?” Jack asked.

“Five gyals dem,” Nesta answered. “One bwai.”

Jack sauntered toward the young ladies and the boy. “Where were dey take yuh?”

“Mi heard di one called Fred say him was take we to Governor Dalling,” one of the girls said, taking a step toward Jack. “Him said we were gwine be his belly warmer dem.”

“Di bwai, too?” Nesta asked shaking her head.

“Yah, mon, ma’am,” the girl answered.

“Well, you’re free now,” Jack said. “So, you’re free to choose. Go fi yuh own way an’ fend fah yourselve dem, or jine me an’ we work to make all o’ we free.”

“Mi reckon join ya’ is better dan’ slave fi dem’,” the girl replied.

The other women and the little boy nodded in agreement.

“Den, welcome to di army of Jack Mansong,” Jack said with a bow and a wave of his capotain hat. “Hop back in di wagon an’ Nesta, here, will drive yuh home.”

With that, Jack turned away from his army and sprinted toward the tree line. The shadows of the Blue Mahoes seemed to embrace him and a moment later, the giant was gone.

****

The shadows opened and Jack stepped out onto a narrow path that led to the gaping maw of a cave. Twenty of his soldiers greeted him, kneeling on their right knee and raising their machetes to their foreheads in their traditional salute. Jack knelt, returning the salute and then hopped to his feet. The soldiers followed suit. Jack then embraced each of them, asking each man and woman about their day before marching up the path to the cave.

Jack stepped inside the cave. Torches lined the walls, bathing the illustrations of Jack’s exploits – drawn by Nesta, who was a masterful artist – and the hieroglyphs – drawn by his master to ward off their white oppressors – in firelight.

Jack strode past several torch lit rooms and passages on either side of him, journeying deeper down the main passageway until he came to a capacious room lit, not by torches, but by hundreds of white candles. In the center of this room was a small pool of clear water. Beside the pool, sitting upon his haunches on a straw mat, was a middle-aged man dressed in a white tunic and white breeches.

Jack lowered himself into a prone position and then pressed his forehead to the stone floor. “Wah gwan, Tata Boukman.” – “Hello, Father Boukman.”

“Wah gwan, Jack,” Tata Boukman replied. “Come si’ down wid mi, mon.”

Jack leapt to his feet and walked toward the mat. He knelt before his teacher and embraced him. He then sat on the mat opposite Boukman.

Between the two men sat a tray, which was carved from a red wood. The tray was the size of a dinner plate, with a smiling Afrikan man’s face carved into the edge of the tray closest to Jack. Jack knew well who this sculpted visage belonged to – it was the face of Tata Legba, the Divine Trickster and intermediary between the forces of nature and humanity. Upon the tray was what Tata Boukman called his “soodsaya chain” – a thin, brass chain about the size of a necklace, to which eight halves of palm seeds are connected.

Boukman held the soodsaya chain between his fingers and thumb, letting the ends of it hang just above the tray. With a gentle back and forth movement of his fingers, the divining chain swung back and forth. After the third forward swing, Boukman opened his fingers, allowing the chain to fall upon the tray.

Boukman examined the pattern formed by the palm seeds. He picked up the chain and repeated the process twice more.

“Fi yuh read come dem wid blessins’,” – “Your divination comes with blessings,” Boukman said. “Yuh are blessed wid victory ovah enemy dem.”

Boukman pressed the tips of his crooked, ebony fingers to the brown leather pouch that hung from Jack’s chest. “Nuh white mon cyan harm yuh as long as yuh wear fi yuh Obi’Yah bag upon fi yuh chest. Howevah, yuh need protection from fi yuh own Black bredren.”

Boukman slid his right hand into his left sleeve. A moment later he withdrew what looked like a large goat’s horn wrapped in tan leather. “Dis ram a hawn make dem any attack wid di white man a weapons witless, even if di wielda is blacker dan a dousand midnights.” – “This ram’s horn renders any attack with the white man’s weaponry worthless, even if the attacker is blacker than a thousand midnights.”

Boukman placed the horn in Jack’s open palms. Jack clutched it, feeling it pulse in his fist. He slipped the leather cord attached to the horn over his head and let the horn hang at his right side.

“‘Ow did today a mission guh?” – “How did today’s mission go?” Boukman asked.

“Nuh silva or food dis time,” Jack replied. “Dis time we got five sistas and one bredda.”

“Are dey wid wi?” Boukman inquired.

“Yeh mon.”

“Good! Obi is swell our ranks!”

“T’ank Obi,” Jack said, nodding in agreement. “Soon, we will take Jamdung from the white man and finally live free!”

“We done here,” Boukman said. “Mi will see yuh at dinna.”

“Alright,” Jack said, rising to his feet. “Rest up, Tata Boukman.”

“Oh, an’ Jack…”

“Yeh mon, Tata?”

“Don’t send Nesta outa pon anymo’ missions.”

“But shim ah mi bes’ soldia’.” – “But she is my best soldier.”

“Shim ah also breed.” – “She is also with child.”

Jack’s eyes grew as wide as saucers and his chin fell to his chest. “Yuh mean we…?”

“You’ll be a fam’ly soon,” Boukman said. “Suh, nuh mo’ missions fah Nesta.”

“Yeh mon, Tata!” Jack said, beaming.

Boukman Dutty laced his fingers behind his head, lay on his back and closed his eyes.

Jack backed out of the room, stepping into the cool, welcoming shadows and once again, disappeared.

****

Governor John Dalling’s plump, ivory fist slammed into the top of his mahogany desk. Earl Gray tea spilled from his porcelain cup and splashed into the saucer upon which it sat. “I want that Black bastard’s head! For overlong, Jack Mansong has wrought a reign of terror upon the good, white citizens of Jamaica.”

The governor leered at the lean, russet-colored man standing before him. “Your people – those…Maroons – swore, according to our agreement, to keep order amongst the free savage and the slave. Why are they not bringing an end to this Jack mess?”

“First of all, di Maroons are nah mi people,” the lean man replied. “Nanny ‘av grown weak, but refuse dem to tun ova powa to di strong.”

“Strong, like you?” Governor Dalling said with a smirk.

“Nah like mi,” the man said. “Ha’ Obi’Yah is nuh match fi di powa of di grave. Di powa mi mama passed dung to me – the power my mother passed down to me. Di Maroons were ‘fraid of dat powa, but used it – and we – to help winna deir freedom – to help win their freedom. But when it came time to divide di powa an’ di land, Nanny kept it to herself!”

“Well, Quashie, your powers have been quite effective in dealing with my opponents and detractors, I must admit.” Governor Dalling said.

“Of course, yuh mus’,” Quashie said. “Look, mi will deal wid dis Jack Mansong for dat t’ree hundred pound bounty yuh put pon his head, but yuh will also haf’fi  gimmi command of a hundred of fi yuh men.”

Governor Dalling’s fat face twisted into a scowl. “What! A Black leading white men? That’s preposterous!”

“As preposterous as that wig yuh wear pon fi yuh bald head,” Quashie said. “Jack Mansong ‘av big wa’ Obi an’ an army of highly trained warriors. Mi cannot wage wa’ wid him widout men.”

“Alright,” the governor sighed. “I’ll pay you nine hundred pounds sterling for Jack’s head, plus an additional fifty pounds for every member of Jack’s army you return to the plantations, but I can only spare fifty men.”

“Yuh ‘av a deal,” Quashie said. “Now, let we seal our agreement ovah hot tea. ‘Av fi yuh bwai bring me a cup!”

****

Jack and Nesta sauntered around the circle of sweating men and women who rolled, leapt and somersaulted backward, forward and sideways while holding their machetes toward the red sun of dawn.

“Kipura ah de war dance of fi wi ancestors from de Kongo,” he bellowed. “It will make yuh strong; it will make yuh agile; it will teach yuh to endure an’ prepare yuh fah fi yuh deepa combat trainin’. Suh, wi train inna Kipura every day. Wi train until fightin’ ah as easy as sleepin’!”

“Aye!” The men and women in the circle shouted in unison.

Juda, the boy who – along with the five young women – was rescued from enslavement under Governor Dalling, sprinted into camp. Only two weeks had passed and Juda had already earned a place among Jack’s scouts, who explored beyond the area occupied by Jack’s forces to gain vital information about the enemy’s movements and features of the environment for later analysis by their leader.

“Field Marshal Jack!” Juda shouted as he ran toward Jack. “A caravan!”

“Slow dung, bwai,” Jack replied. “A caravan dis early? Weh ah it?”

“Pon Windward Road,” Juda said. “‘Bout five wagons…all covered.”

“Could be a trap,” Nesta said.

“Could be,” Jack replied. “Suh, I’ll just tek t’ree warriors wid mi. Nesta, put everyone pon alert. Juda, tell de scouts to return to camp an’ help load de weapons.”

“Aye!” Juda shouted before whirling on his heels and sprinting off.

“Aye!” Nesta said, but she did not move.

“A wah?” – “What is it?” Jack inquired.

“Be careful,” Nesta whispered, caressing his fingers with her own.

“Mi always am,” Jack replied, flashing Nesta a broad smile.

Nesta released Jack’s hand. Jack whirled on his heels and bolted off.

****

Jack lay prone on a hill that watched over Windward Road, his massive body concealed behind a fallen tree. Three of his most skilled warriors – Boogs, Moby and Vera – lay beside him, their muskets trained on the caravan below them. The caravan had stopped to tighten a wheel on one of the wagons. Each wagon’s blunderbuss-wielding guard stood beside their wagon, perusing the road and the hillside. The drivers of all but one wagon – the one with the loose wheel- sat in their seats with their hands upon the reins of their horses.

Moby snapped his head toward Jack. “Wah yuh tink?” He whispered.

“It does nah look like a trap,” Jack replied. “But looks can deceive. Howeva, wi need to strike before dat wheel ah tightened an’ dey can move. Wi don’t want any of dem gettin’ ‘way.”

“Aye,” Moby replied with a nod.

“Mi ago guh dung an’ seh wah gwan,” – “I’ll go down and say hello,” Jack said. “Cova mi.” – “Cover me.”

“What if ah a trap?” Vera inquired. “What if it is a trap?”

“Good,” Jack replied. “As long as we know we a inna a trap, wi still ‘av a bly to escape it.” – “As long as we know we are in a trap, we still have a chance to escape it.”

Jack hopped to his feet and drew his cutlass from its sheath. He then drew one of the flintlock pistols in his waistband. The giant nodded at the trio of warriors and then wrapped his arms around his chest.

Shadows swooped down upon him, blanketing Jack in their coolness. Jack felt a slight tug at his innards and then, a moment later, he was standing on Windward Road behind the caravan.

Good mawnin’, bakra,” – “Good morning, white slave masters,” Jack said with a smile.

The guards, turned toward Jack, pointing their blunderbusses at him.

Jack bowed slightly. “Fi mi name ah Jack Mansong, fi yuh friendly bandulu, wo’ has come to liberate yuh of de burden of fi yuh cargo. Mi know ah heavy an’ mi seek only to lighten fi yuh load. Suh leave de wagons…an’ live!”

“Mi tink nah,” – “I think not,” a voice called from inside the rearmost wagon.

Jack raised an eyebrow. The voice was not that of a white man, but of one of his kinsmen. “Show yourself.”

Quashie climbed out of the wagon. He was dressed in a sky blue-colored, velvet great coat with cream embroidery and brown suede cuffs and collar. His waistcoat underneath matched the colors of the great coat and his breeches and shoes were brown suede. His stockings, gloves and shirt were cream-colored, as were the twin machetes he held in each hand.

Jack studied the weapons. They were constructed of bone. Human thigh bones from the look of them. Dis mon ah ah necromancaThis man is a necromancer, he thought. Boukman Dutty had told him of them; how dangerous they were, but that few existed outside of the motherland.

“Wi knew yuh would come,” Quashie said, smiling.

“Wi?” Jack replied.

“Ah, where ah mi manners?” Quashie said. “Fi mi name ah Quashie.”

“An Accompong?” – “A Maroon Warrior?” Jack asked, recognizing the name as one given to Maroon warriors born on a Sunday.

“Once upon a time,” Quashie answered. “I’m a free mon, now.”

“A bag-o-wire ah mo’ like it,” – “A traitor is more like it,” Jack replied.

Quashie’s face twisted into a scowl. “Enough laba-laba!” – “Enough chit-chat!” He shouted. “Company…!”

Scores of soldiers scurried out of the wagons, like a swarm of crimson ants. These soldiers, unlike their typical brethren, wore all red, from their coats, to their breeches and leggings, to the tricorn hat upon their heads. They wore no blue breeches or white shirts like regular British infantry and only their black boots, leather and knee high, were of a different color. Each man was armed with a musket, which they all aimed at Jack’s chest.

Meet fi mi Crimson Guard,” – “Meet my Crimson Guard,” Quashie boasted. “Dey ‘av but one mission…to kill yuh!”

“A whole regiment for likkle ol’ mi,” Jack snickered. “Mi am flattered! But fi mi mudda always said ‘neva tek a gift from anyone widout givin’ a gift inna return’, suh…” – “But my mother always said ‘never take a gift from anyone without giving a gift in return’, so…”

Jack whistled. A cracking din raced across the hilltops. A blink of an eye later, the head of one of the Crimson Guards burst like a ripe pumpkin dropped from a rooftop. The soldier collapsed in a pool of his own blood, brain and skull fragments with a wet thump.

“Dat shot came from dem de hills,” Quashie shouted, pointing in the direction of Jack’s warriors with the tips of his machetes. “First Unit, find Jack smadi! Bring dem back alive ef yuh can. Ef nah, mek dem suffa!” – “First Unit, find Jack’s people! Bring them back alive if you can. If not, make them suffer!”

The guards of each wagon and ten Crimson Guards raced toward the hill.

Boogs, Moby and Vera took quick aim and fired in unison.

Two wagon guards and one Crimson Guard fell.

Jack’s warriors reloaded.

Quashie’s soldiers increased their pace, rushing, like a red wave, towards the log behind which their targets took cover.

****

The Crimson Guard formed a semicircle before Jack.

“Mi hear yuh cyan be harmed by de Babylon’s weapons,” Quashie said. “Let wi put dat legend to de test, yeh?”

“Yeh, mon. Do fi yuh wussa,” Jack answered. “Wi will sekkle up afta.” – “Yes. Do your worst…we’ll settle up after.”

“Fiyah!” Quashie commanded.

A tempest of bullets roared toward Jack.

The giant vanished, appearing a moment later behind Quashie and his Crimson Guard.

With a blistering figure-eight slash of his cutlass, the arm of two Crimson Guards were severed. They dropped their weapons, screaming in agony as they writhed on the ground.

Before the Crimson Guard could reload, five more pairs of arms, two heads and a foot – and the Crimson Guards to whom the body parts belonged – had joined them. The surviving Guards dropped their weapons and barreled up the road, babbling about the “duppy” – ghost – Jack Mansong.

Cheers atop the hill told Jack that his warriors had not fared as well as he had.

“Fi yuh bredren a dead, Jack Mansong,” Quashie said. “As yuh will be soon.”

“Mi come yah fi drink milk; mi nah come yah fi count cow,” – “I came here to drink milk; I didn’t come here to count cows,” Jack said, rolling his eyes.

“I won’t hold you any longer, then,” Quashie said. He then twirled both machetes in his hands, flipping their points toward the ground. Quashie leapt between a pair of his fallen soldiers. He dropped to one knee, thrusting downward with his machetes. The weapons sank into the belly of each corpse with a sickening squishing din.

Quashie murmured words in a tongue Jack had never heard before, neither in the Kongo, his homeland, or in Jamaica, the land where he now fought for the liberation of his people. He had never heard such words, but he could tell they were ancient and dark.

Quashie stood, sliding the bone blades out of the guts of his fallen soldiers. The weapons were now covered in an intricate network of veins that pulsed like the beating of a heart at rest. A syrupy, greenish-yellow ichor dripped from the tips of each weapon.

Two wagon guards charged down the hill with bayonets extended from the barrel of their muskets. One wagon guard circled behind Jack to his right and then exploded forward in unison with the guard on Jack’s left.

Jack tossed his cutlass into the air, sending it flipping high above him. Then, with blinding speed, he snatched both pistols from his belt, fired and then returned the pistols to his waist before an eye could blink.

Jack extended his right hand outward at the height of his shoulder. He opened his palm and the grip of the cutlass fell into it. Jack pointed the tip of the cutlass at Quashie.

Both wagon guards collapsed. Smoke billowed from the holes in their foreheads.

Quashie exploded forward, slashing and thrusting furiously with his twin machetes, the sickness dripping from them fouling the air.

Jack somersaulted sideways to his left as he swiped to his left with his cutlass.

Quashie grunted as Jack’s razor-sharp weapon carved a crooked smile into his biceps.

Jack dashed forward and then struck with a downward, diagonal forehand slash, followed by a downward, diagonal backhand slash – both aimed at Quashie’s shoulders – and then finished the vicious combination with a powerful thrust toward the rogue Maroon’s sternum.

Quashie lurched to his right and then to his left, evading the slashes. He crossed his blades and raised them, pushing Jack’s cutlass above his head.

Quashie countered, whipping his left machete around in a circular slashing motion toward Jack’s right hand.

Jack withdrew his hand, avoiding most of the force of Quashie’s strike. The blade grazed the flesh of his little and ring fingers, however, opening a small cut.

Jack hammered his left heel into Quashie’s abdomen.

Quashie staggered backward, clutching his belly. He dropped to his knees as agonizing pain coursed through his liver.

Jack peered at his hand. For such a superficial wound, his fingers hurt more than any pain he had ever felt in his life. They hurt even more than the lashes from the whip he had suffered at the hands of his former enslaver when he was a boy. His little and ring fingers had turned a grayish-pink and the nails had turned black.

Quashie struggled to his feet.

The pain in Jack’s right hand increased, feeling like jagged nails under his skin. It became difficult for him to focus.

Quashie leapt forward, raising his machetes above his head.

Jack leapt backward. He thrust forward with his cutlass. The tip of the weapon bit into Quashie’s clavicle, just missing his jugular vein.

Quashie craned his head backward, avoiding an even deeper cut. He landed where Jack had stood.

Shadows seemed to hold Jack aloft as they pulled him toward the hilltop.

“Wi will meet again, soon,” Jack said.

Yah, mon, wi will…T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied.

Jack faded into the shadows and was gone.

****

Jack lay upon a bed of leaves and flowers in a chamber in his cave. The sweet and minty smell of the flowers barely masked the fetid flesh of his withered, greenish-yellow fingers. Cold clawed its way up his spine. He shivered.

Tata Boukman squeezed a soaked rag over Jack’s lips. A light brown liquid dripped from it into Jack’s waiting mouth.

Juda ran into the room. He dropped to his knees before the Obi’Yah master.

“Stand up, boy,” Boukman Dutty commanded. “No time for formalities. This bitter cerace tea and this bed of herbs will fight off the fever, but those fingers are dead. I need to cut them off so the death in them doesn’t creep any further, but I need to make a poultice to put on it to kill the sickness in his blood and for it to close up.”

“Yes, Tata!” Juda replied, leaping to his feet.

“I hear you have learned to ride a horse better than some of our veterans.”

“That’s what they say, Tata.”

“I need you to ride to Spanish Town,” Boukman said. “There’s a saloon there. Go around back. A bottle of whiskey will be there, sitting on the left of the door. That’s what I need. Bring it back within two hours or we will lose our Field Marshal. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Tata,” Juda answered. “I won’t fail you or our Field Marshal.”

“I know you won’t, boy,” Boukman replied. “To do so would be to fail us all. Now go!”

Juda skittered backward out of the room, spun on his heels and sprinted away.

“Hang on, son,” Boukman said, squeezing more tea into Jack’s mouth. “Obi says it’s not your time to die.”

Darkness joined the cold in Jack’s spine. The light of the torches blurred, faded and then all was quiet.

****

Light crept between Jack’s eyelids. He opened his eyes. Boukman stared down at him, smiling. His head rested on something soft, warm and familiar. He tilted his head backward and looked up into Nesta’s beautiful face. She bent forward and kissed him.

“Welcome back, fi mi love,” Nesta said.

“How long was mi out?” Jack asked.

“Four days,” Nesta answered.

Jack brought his right hand before his face. His little finger and ring finger were gone. The area where they once were was now smooth and a shade lighter than the rest of his hand.

“Fi mi fingas…” he sighed.

“We could nah save dem,” Boukman said. “Dat bwai, Quashie, has some powerful death magic.”

“Mi am guh fi guh introduce him to death de next time wi meet,” – “I’m going to introduce him to death the next time we meet,” Jack said, sitting up. “Any sign of him?”

“None,” Nesta replied. “Him ah probably healin’, too. Or gloatin’; wi lost Moby, Vera an’ Boogs.”

“Mi know,” Jack said. “Dey took all but two of Babylon wid dem an’ mi sent dem two pon fi dem way, suh fi wi bruddas and sista died good deads.”

Jack stood up. “Nesta, mi am goin’ adoor to train. Bring mi fi mi cutlass, please.” – “Nesta, I am going outside to train. Bring me my cutlass, please.”

“Yuh just regained consciousness,” Nesta said. “Perhaps yuh should cease and sekkle.” – “Perhaps you should stop what you’re doing and relax.”

“Mi ‘av rested fah four days aredi,” – “I’ve rested for four days already,” Jack replied. “De bess preparation fah tomorrow ah doin’ fi yuh bess today.”

Jack sauntered out of the chamber and then out of the cave. The warriors on watch saluted him. It was quiet in the camp. Jack looked up at the sky. The moon was clothed in pink clouds, which told him dawn was near. He’d train until noon, take a short rest and then train until nightfall. His missing fingers would not be a hindrance. Obi’Yah blessed mi wid ten, he thought. Suh losin’ two ain’t nuh big deal.

Nesta ran outside. She outstretched her hands, presenting Jack with his cutlass.

“Here,” she said. “Do nah wuk too hawd; an’ drink plenty wata.”

“Yes, mudda,” Jack snickered, wrapping his fist around the cutlass’ grip. “T’ank yuh.”

Nesta smiled, turned back toward the cave and strode back inside.

Jack rotated his wrist, feeling the weight of the cutlass; familiarizing himself with how he now had to hold it to keep it steady in his hand. He slashed with it; thrust with it; twirled the weapon in front of his chest and above his head.

He jogged along the trail toward the forest just beyond the camp, where he would practice his strikes against the trees as he gathered wood for the torches and the bonfires.

Upon reaching the forest, Jack found Juda there, hunting ‘ball pates’ – the white crowned pigeons that had become a staple in the delicious stew eaten daily by the warriors – with his goat-hide sling.

“Field Marshal!” Jordan shouted upon seeing Jack. He ran to Jack and wrapped his arms around the giant’s waist. “Mi knew you would be a’right!”

“Yah, mon,” Jack replied. “Mi rememba yuh inna fi mi chamba an’ yuh acceptin’ de mission to get de whiskey fah fi mi poultice. Dat was brave of yuh an’, obviously, yuh accomplished fi yuh mission. Mi would ‘av died widout fi yuh help. T’ank yuh!”

Juda released his embrace and loaded another smooth stone into the sling. “Mi am guh fi guh kill twenty ball pates inna fi yuh honor.”

“’av at it den,” Jack said. “Mi am guh fi guh gatha some wood.”

Juda pointed skyward. A flock of pigeons soared high above them.

The boy whipped the sling above his head and then moved his arm in a circle, spinning the sling in a wide arc over him. He held his breath and then released one strap of the sling, sending the stone rocketing skyward, toward the pigeons. The stone struck one of the birds in the chest. The bird plummeted toward the earth.

Juda peered over his shoulder at Jack, beaming with pride.

“Good wuk, bwai,” Jack said. “Mi can taste dat twenty-pigeon-stew now!”

Juda dashed off into the dense forest to retrieve the ball pate.

A few seconds later, a boy’s scream came from deep within the forest.

“Juda!” Jack shouted as he stepped into the shadows, vanishing.

A moment later, he appeared at a clearing within the forest where the scouts would hide their supplies when off on missions.

Standing before him was Quashie, rubbing Juda’s shoulders from behind the boy.

“Let de bwai go!” Jack shouted, pointing his cutlass at the necromancer.

“Mi do nah follow fi yuh commands, T’ree Fingered Jack,” Quashie replied. “Juda nuh longa does eeda. Him works fi mi, now.”

Juda stared down at the ground.

Jack’s voice trembled as he called out to his protégé. “Juda?”

Juda looked up, staring at Jack through the tears which had began to stream down his doleful face. “Mi am suh sorry. When mi went to Spanish Town fah fi yuh whiskey, Quashie…um, Masta Quashie discovered mi. Him guaranteed fi mi freedom an’ two-hundred pounds sterlin’ if mi helped him bring fi yuh head to Governa Dallin’.”

“Suh, Juda has become Judas,” Jack hissed. “Afta I kill dis bag-o-wire, yuh had bess run, beanie bobo, ca’ if mi eva see yuh again, yuh a dead!” – “After I kill this traitor, you had best run, little fool, because if I ever see you again, you’re dead!”

“Step aside, Juda,” Quashie said, drawing his oozing machetes. “An’ watch fi yuh criss – new – masta wuk.”

Juda shuffled to the side.

Quashie leapt forward, slashing high and low with his cutlasses.

Jack evaded the deadly strikes with leaps, aerial twists and somersaults, slashing with his cutlass as he moved through the air like a synchronized swimmer in deep water.

The cutlass opened several deep wounds in Quashie’s arms.  His hands shook violently as he struggled to hold on to his weapons.

Jack dropped into a low stance, stabbing downward with his blade. The point, and a few inches beyond it, sank into Quashie’s shoe.

Quashie howled as steel tore through his foot.

Jack slammed his knuckles into the small bones on the back of Quashie’s right hand like a man knocking on a door. A sickening crunch accompanied the back of Quashie’s hand collapsing inward.

The machete fell from Quashie’s fingers and landed between his feet.

Quashie swung the machete in his left hand at Jack’s neck. Jack chopped into Quashie’s forearm with the dense bones of both of his wrists, blocking the blow as he attacked the nerves in Quashie’s arm.

Quashie dropped his remaining weapon. His arm fell lifeless at his side.

Jack yanked his cutlass out of Quashie’s foot. He raised the weapon above his head. “I’ll deliver your corpse to Nanny for burning and I’ll bury those foul swords of yours. Any last…”

Something hard crashed into Jack’s left temple. He staggered sideways. His vision blurred. He snapped his head toward the left. Juda stood in the distance, loading another stone into his sling. Jack beat back the encroaching darkness and lunged forward, driving his cutlass deep into Quashie’s belly.

Sputum and blood sprayed from Quashie’s mouth. He fell to his knees.

Another stone struck Jack just below his left ear. The world tilted and then began to spin. Jack collapsed onto his back. He stared up at the sky. It was now a beautiful light blue, but it was rapidly turning darker, becoming dark blue, then cobalt gray, then black.

Jack shuddered once, and then lay still.

Juda ran to Jack and knelt beside him, sobbing.

“Nuh!” Quashie commanded. “Leave him! Hand mi fi mi weapons!”

Juda jumped to his feet. He grabbed Quashie’s machetes, careful not to touch the putrid blood seeping from them. He squeezed the grips. He wanted badly to end Quashie’s life, but decided he would wait until he had gained Quashie’s trust. It would be easier then. He handed the weapons to his master.

Quashie crawled to jack, leaving a trail of his blood and the bile-filled blood form his weapons, behind him. He held one of the machetes above Jack’s neck.

“Oh, great muddas and fahdas of de grave,” he began. “Mi gi’ fi mi eternal gratitude fuh dis victory. Receive fi yuh son, Jack Mansong, well. An’ when him returns, mek sure him comes back fightin’ pon fi wi side!” – “I give my eternal gratitude for this victory. Receive your son, Jack Mansong, well. And when he returns, make sure he comes back fighting on our side!”

Quashie brought down the machete upon Jack’s neck and the life of one of the greatest heroes the world has ever known came to an end.

But, at the same time, one of our greatest legends was born.

The Legend of Three-Finger’d Jack.

The End

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! Avoiding Cultural Appropriation in Steampunk

RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! Avoiding Cultural Appropriation in Steampunk

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In 2013, at Dragon*Con, I had the pleasure of being a panelist on the Around the World in 80 Minutes: Steampunk Multiculturalism panel, moderated brilliantly by Diana Pho, founding editor of Beyond Victoriana. My esteemed (eSTEAMed?) co-panelists were Cherie Priest, bestselling author of the Clockwork Century Series, which includes the wildly popular Steampunk novel, Boneshaker; Marina Gurland, Kimono historian and collector and Steampunk afficianado; and Kathryn Hinds, Steampunk, Fantasy and YA novelist, poet, editor, author of over fifty nonfiction books for adults and children and teacher of Middle Eastern Dance.

The conversation was powerful, engaging and interactive and had the feel of a bunch of highly intelligent, well-informed, but really cool and down-to-earth- people getting together to discuss – and find solutions to – some serious issues.

The theme of the day? Research!

From the infamous "African Queen photoshoot. The model is 16 year old, blond-haired, blue-eyed North Carolinian, Ondria Hardin.

From the infamous “African Queen photoshoot. The model is 16 year old, blond-haired, blue-eyed North Carolinian, Ondria Hardin.

Eventually, the conversation got around to cultural appropriation – a topic discussed often amongst Steampunks, as it happens often.

This is a deep issue and had to be addressed. I won’t tell you what the other panelists said, as Diana Pho has sworn us to secrecy in that regard – there will be a video of it released soon, as Alan Braden, known amongst Steampunks as Professor Upsidasium, recorded it and awaits the green light from Ms. Pho – however, I will share my take on the matter.

A working definition of “cultural appropriation” for me is the taking of some aspect, artifact or stereotype of a particular culture – usually something we consider cool – and using it as you please without an understanding and / or respect for what you have taken.

If you wear a Yoruba crown because you think it fits your Steampunk persona of Sir Richard Asshat, the Great White Leopard Hunter, but you know nothing of Yoruba culture (in fact, you probably pronounce it yoh-ROO-bah, when it is YOH-roo-BAH) or the fact that wearing a crown when you are not a chief or oba (“king”) is a capital offense in Yorubaland (even wearing a crown above or below your station is an offense), then you have committed cultural appropriation.

Someone said "He really looks British!" I replied "That's because he really IS British." Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer / Actor / Steamfunkateer.

Someone said “He really looks British!” I replied “That’s because he really IS British.” Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer / Actor / Steamfunkateer.

I am a master instructor of Yoruba, Mandinka and Wolof martial arts, an awo – or, initiate (“priest”) – of Ifa, Egbe and Obatala  and War Chief (“Balogun”) in the Yoruba traditional culture. I live as a Yoruba, am well-versed in Yoruba history, sociology, psychology and cosmology and have respect and reverence for the traditional culture and for my teachers. I am also highly knowledgeable of Akan and Fon culture and sociology, thus I would cosplay an Akan, a Yoruba or a Fon.

I would not, however, cosplay as a Zulu. Though I am a man of African descent, Africa is not a country and African people are not homogenous. I know a bit about the Zulu and respect their culture, but I do not have a deep enough understanding of the culture to cosplay as Shaka Zulu’s right hand man, ‘Bandelezi, the Steam-Bearer,’ without committing cultural appropriation.

Am I being overly sensitive? Nope. Turning someone’s cultural identity into a caricature should be avoided, so the issue of cultural appropriation warrants caution and examination and deserves, well, sensitivity.

Everyday experiences of identity reflect people’s creativity in the way they express themselves as individuals. Stereotypes erase (“white-out?”) the personal experiences of identity and replace them with generalizations.

Django...chained?

Django…chained?

And cultural appropriation is not simply a “little mistake” or a “victimless crime”. The visceral reaction to having an identity that one associates with as an experience, yet disassociates with as a stereotype, is felt in the body and in the mind as an ache; a sickness. As Kristina Bui, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Wildcat says, “It’s a feeling I’ve always struggled to articulate –a discomfort that sort of just sits in the place between your heart and your stomach, quietly nagging.”

Cultural appropriation, at its root, is about power – power to name; power to define; power to appropriate someone’s cultural identity; and power to dictate how painful the resulting stereotype perpetuated by that appropriation should be.

Cosplaying a character from another culture without understanding of that culture and without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by that culture is ignorant, at best;  racist, at worst; and an act of privilege.

appro 7However, Steampunk is about changing, or, at least, twisting history right? It is about “how the Age of Steam should have been”, correct? Then it is necessary that we know history; that we understand how the Age of Steam was, so that we can determine how it should have been. If we cosplay a “Steampunk Squaw”, we should research how First Nation women lived during the Age of Steam; we should study First Nation cultures and choose in which we are going to gain historical and sociological expertise; we should research the word “squaw”, understand it is an offensive term to First Nation women and change the name…if you give a damn. If you don’t, you are a racist. Just own up to it and move on.

Am I ruining your plans for the Mahogany Masquerade, Halloween, or AnachroCon?  Well, cultural appropriation and the resultant stereotyping ruins whole groups of people’s fun every day of their lives,

Steampunk Cultural Appropriation“Well, I cosplay as an Egyptian Princess of Icelandic descent because I want to show the absurdities of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Egyptian,” you say. Well, unless your costume includes a billboard that reads “I am cosplaying as an Egyptian Princess of Icelandic descent because I want to show the absurdities of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Egyptian,” strangers will have no clue of your intentions and your costume will be just as hurtful.

The “punk” in Steampunk enjoins us to challenge the status quo. Please, let’s do so and be more thoughtful, knowledgeable and sensitive in our cosplay.

And remember…

Research equals giving a shit; so, do it.

A lot.