Four Choose Your Adventure Books YOU Should Read!

In March 1983, an unconventional series of books held the top three entries of the Sunday Times bestseller list. These were Fighting Fantasy books – gamebooks similar to The Keys, the first book in my YOU are the Hero series, but different in that to take part in the fun of Fighting Fantasy, you also needed a pencil, eraser and dice.

The next book in the YOU are the Hero series, The Haunting of Truth High, will incorporate traditional Afrikan game elements.

According to one parent, who bought The Keys for her 15 year old son and 12 year old daughter, she was surprised that her teens, long classified as “reluctant readers,” became so engrossed in the adventures of Terry De Fuego and Jordan Drummond. “My children became completely taken over by the roleplaying as, suddenly, this was the chance to experience a book where, not only did the heroes look like them, but they were the hero.”

She went on further to say “The fact that they could also choose a hero from both genders excited them and pleasantly surprised me.”

Even before the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, however, there was the wildly popular Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks, which inspired Fighting Fantasy and my YOU are the Hero series.

In honor of those books that continue to inspire others to read and to write, I would like to share with you some of my favorite Choose Your Own Adventure titles that I am sure you enjoyed reading as well.

For those who never read Choose Your Own Adventure Books, you are in for a treat! Be sure to read The Keys first, then read the books that follow*!

CYOA

CYOA

CYOA

CYOA

*These are parodies of CYOA books, shared for your amusement. However, The Keys is real, of course!

There’s No Such Thing as Black Reluctant Readers…Just Wack Writers!

“Daddy, can you take us to buy some more books!”

We need Diverse BooksThese words I have heard often, from each of my eight children, from preschool through college. They are divine words to my ears. All of my children are avid and voracious readers, from my oldest, who is twenty-seven years old, to my youngest, who is five.

They have all grown up seeing me read, being read to and learning about the importance and power of books and being able to read – and write – them.

But some children, even those with high intelligence and good grades, would rather do anything than read. Others have learning difficulties and find reading a struggle.

Reluctant ReaderOne of my closest friends is a so-called reluctant reader. He has been for as long as he can remember. He says that reading books gives him headaches. His nine year old son says the exact same thing. His son will burst into crocodile tears if he is given a book and told he must read just one chapter.

This might seem impossible to you, but his story is not unique, especially among our boys of Afrikan descent.

What can we do to encourage our children, now classified as reluctant readers, to pick up a book, read it and enjoy it?

First, I will boldly – and accurately – state that there are no reluctant readers. That label, like many forced upon us, is a lie.

We have been using the phrase ‘reluctant readers’ like mad. Hash-tagging about them; struggling to “save” them; lamenting for them…but the fact of the matter is all of our students read – they read all the time, in fact.

Need proof?

Ask your child if they text. Ask them if they tweet; if they “hit their friends up” on Instagram or write on their friends’ walls on Facebook.

We need Diverse BooksDo they read street lit, comic books, blogs, or the subtitles on The Raid or Kung Fu Hustle? Yep, thought so.

The only things our youth are “reluctant” to read is the stuff they find boring, which means we, as authors, have to write what appeals to them, not us.

We must also acknowledge that their “literatures” – no matter how low-brow we consider them—are legitimate forms of reading.

Comic books and graphic novels are proven to be the second most popular form of book for youth between the ages of 9 and 16.

The most popular books – although their popularity has waned over the years among Black readers because, until recently, none of them featured a Black hero or shero – are gamebooks.

choose your own adventureThe Choose Your Own Adventure series of gamebooks is one of the most popular children’s book series of all time, with more than 250 million books printed in at least 38 languages. Each story is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions in response to the plot and its outcome. The series has been used in classrooms from elementary school to college and has been widely commended for its appeal to so-called reluctant readers.

Many children feel alienated from the reading process because they cannot relate to what they are asked to read.

For most youth, however, gamebooks make them part of the process by allowing them to make a choice for the main character.

Another reason our youth are reluctant to read a particular book is because the author’s writing fails to engage them in the story. When a reader cannot identify with a story or cannot relate to its characters, they quickly disengage.

Consistently not seeing ourselves represented in the reading material as a cool, kickass hero is a huge turn-off.

One of the most rewarding experiences for a reader is having the opportunity to create your own world. To actually be the hero. This engages us in the story and we become invested in the story because we become the hero and control the hero’s actions.

Once our youth are engaged, they will not only read but will want to read more and about different things, including other worlds and other heroes who they can relate to.

The KeysIn my gamebook, The Keys, the reader has the unique experience of choosing to be one of two heroes, the extreme journalist and martial artist, Terry De Fuego or the mathematical genius basketball phenom, Jordan Drummond who quest to awaken the ancient gods within them while battling the immortal sorcerer, Henry the Navigator and his horde of monstrous creations.

Every child, teen and adult who has read the book and given me feedback has mentioned how they loved being able to choose whether they wanted to be a young man or young woman with vastly different abilities, but both working to achieve similar goals. They also got a kick out of being able to control the hero’s actions and some even tried to make all the wrong choices just to find out how wild, scary or funny the story could be.

So, the next time you or your child is labeled as a reluctant reader, tell them you are reluctant…to read wack books. Then open up your copy of The Keys and enjoy!

JUST KEEPING IT REAL: Hip Hop’s Influence on Ghostwriting in the Black Community

Ghostwriter 1Ghostwriting is a great way for an expert with a book idea and no writing skills to get their expertise out there. The demand is high enough that you can make a good living.

A common relationship in the content marketing and book publishing community is busy CEOs and executives – probably poor writers to begin with – hiring writers to write in their name.

Here’s Rand Fishkin, CEO of MOZ, on ghostwriting:

“…If you’re a great communicator through non-written means and you need help to put your ideas into written language, then by all means, use a ghostwriter if you can find one with the talent to properly convey your message, and your brand.”

Not all ghostwriting is the same. Here are three common varieties:

  • Their ideas and words: In this scenario, someone pays you to turn their ideas into an article or book. You listen to them talk or take their notes and develop that into content. Or they email you a rough draft. It’s your job to clean up that rough draft.
  • Their ideas, your words: In this scenario, someone pays you to write from an outline or transcript they’ve given you. You do all the research, they approve the final draft. Or they might make substantial changes.
  • Your ideas and words: Here, someone pays you to come up with the ideas yourself, create the outlines, and write the book or articles. Their only involvement is to approve your work. This would include social ghostwriters – authors who write for celebrities who hire them to run their Twitter accounts, for instance.

GhostwriterThere is a fierce level of pride in being a ghostwriter. Yet for most, this pride is rooted in a desire to convince people what we do is not shady. It’s a sort of pride that encourages other members to resist shame.

The concern is: what would happen if your client’s readers discovered he or she did not write the blog posts or book they said they did? Would that tarnish their reputation?

Perhaps.

When Guy Kawasaki admitted he used ghostwriters for his Twitter account, people shrugged and kept pushing forward. Business as usual.

However, when it was even hinted that Sister Souljah’s sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever, A Deeper Love Inside, was penned by a ghostwriter, people were up in arms.

Even those in defense of her speak about ghostwriting as if it is some shameful act.

Alwyn K. Wilson, author and founder of Diamond Publicationz, had this to say: My favorite writer Sister Souljah has become the latest person accused of having a ghostwriter for her newest work, the sequel to The Coldest Winter Ever. That novel came on the scene damn near 15 years ago. I instantly fell in love with the street lit novel and it still resonates as my fav. Now blogs and websites are claiming Sister Souljah used a ghostwriter for the sequel A Deeper Love Inside: the Porsche Santiago Story because the style of the writing is drastically different. Look, writers’ styles change. That shows their growth in their talent.”

He goes on to say “…she has improved but I don’t think it is so drastic that I would accuse her of having a ghostwriter; I don’t know her personally but I don’t think that is her style. Why are we as blacks a hell of a lot more critical with each other than any other race? We love knocking each other down when it is unnecessary. But what do I know right? Ms. Souljah, keep doing your thang sistah! You are my inspiration!”

The fact that people jumped on Sister Souljah for apparently having a ghostwriter and that a fan and fellow author felt the need to defend her and try to prove Sister Souljah wouldn’t do something so ‘drastic’, shows that many in the Black community see putting your name on someone else’s work…work you paid for…as a shameful act.

Why?

It is due to the influence of Hip Hop on Black Culture and how we view ethics.

GhostwriterIn most genres of music, including Soul, R&B and Pop, being a songwriter is a legitimate career, but in Hip Hop, writing for another rapper has long been something to hide.

Emerging from the poverty and deprivation of New York’s South Bronx neighborhood in the 1970s, rap gave the voiceless a voice. Because of this, MCs have a unique reputation to uphold. They have to be authentic, telling stories about their own individual experience. They have to “keep it real.”

“It’s a travesty,” legendary MC, Grandmaster Caz (aka Casanova Fly) says. “…no way you can even stand in the same room as an MC if you don’t write your rhyme, plain and simple.”

Despite this, he became most famous for a song he did not perform.

The story goes back to when Caz was part of the group Mighty Force, managed by his friend Big Bank Hank of Sugar Hill Gang fame (“I’m here; I’m there; I’m Big Bank Hank, I’m everywhere”).

Big Bank Hank had borrowed money from his parents to improve the group’s sound system, and was paying back the loan with a job in a pizza shop. One day, while he was singing along to one of Casanova Fly’s tapes at the pizza shop, in walked the legendary Sylvia Robinson, from the influential Sugar Hill Records label. She was forming a new group and asked Big Bank Hank to audition for her there and then. This should have been his cue to say he managed one of the best MCs in the Bronx – but he didn’t.

“He just took the lyrics that were on the tape,” says Grandmaster Caz. “They loved it and they made him part of the group on the spot.”

Ghostwriter HankThe song in question was Rapper’s Delight, which became rap’s first commercial hit, bringing Hip Hop – then a largely counter-culture movement – out of the ‘hood’ and into the mainstream.

Big Bank Hank’s use of Casanova Fly’s lines is obvious from the lyrics, which will be familiar to many:

Check it out, I’m the C-A-S-A, the N-O-V-A / And the rest is F-L-Y / You see I go by the code of the doctor of the mix / And these reasons I’ll tell you why / You see, I’m six foot one, and I’m loads of fun.

“He was so much not an MC, he didn’t even know enough to change the words around to spell his own name,” says Grandmaster Caz. “He just copied it word for word – he said: “I’m six foot one” – he’s not, I’m six foot one. Everything in the rhyme describes me. I’m unwittingly Hip Hop’s first ghostwriter.”

In the early days, the only thing at stake was a rapper’s street credibility, but as Hip Hop gained more currency there was a fortune to be made.

And big money inevitably changed how Hip Hop was handled and who was interested in being a part of the movement. It was an open conversation that certain acts didn’t write their own rhymes but they were making the hits.

In his 2001 song Bad Boy For Life, the Hip Hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs boasts “Don’t worry if I write rhymes, I write checks.” – thereby celebrating his money-making skills over his skills as an MC. It later emerged that Diddy didn’t even write that song.

One of the biggest hits of all time, I’ll Be Missing You – Combs’ Grammy Award-winning ode to Notorious B.I.G. – was the work of the ghostwriter Sauce Money.

After Biggie was shot in 1997, the hip hop world was in mourning and label-mate Combs – then known as Puff Daddy – was looking for someone to help him write a tribute. Jay Z felt too raw to do it himself so he put Combs in touch with Sauce Money, who had lost his mother a few years earlier and channeled his emotions into the lyrics.

Sauce Money remembers when Combs first heard the song. “He was blown away because it was everything he wanted to say,” he says. “It’s almost like being an actor. I became him; and once I became him I knew what he would want to say to Big in remembrance.”

Talib Kweli talked about how being a ghostwriter is usually every aspiring rapper’s first job; a time when they can hone their skills by writing rhymes for others, before moving on to writing their own material. “There was dudes in the neighborhood that would rap…my friends…and I would write rhymes, like, ‘try this out’.” He then went on to say that although most MCs grow out of writing for others, for some, the anonymity and easy money suits them better.

This has been Hip Hop’s “dirty little secret” since its inception. It is a secret among Black people because we have come to judge not creating a work you take credit for, whether you paid for that work or not, as “biting;” as a violation of trust.

Why?

Because we view MCs as our modern-day Djeli, or Griots, who deliver the truth about what Black life in the ‘hoods of America is really like. Throughout traditional Afrika, Djeli are charged with delivering the history and exploits of their people accurately and truthfully. As a priest in the Yoruba tradition of Ifa, if we recite a single word of the Odu – or body of knowledge – incorrectly, we are reprimanded.

Those who deliver our stories must always be found ‘keepin’ it real’.

ResumeSo if a real person is claiming to be the author behind a book or blog but hires someone else to write the content, he or she is violating an unspoken contract. He or she is breaking a serious taboo and losing credibility.

However, I think the average person underestimates just how much of the content they consume is not actually written by the people they assume wrote it.

A significant percentage of books on any current bestseller lists will not have been written by the authors whose names appear on the jackets.

You may not know it, but literary ghosts are everywhere. In this golden age of reading, publishers will not hesitate to sign up surrogate authors.

But is ghostwriting ethical?

It usually is. What makes a work ethical is its authenticity.

Most ghostwriters work with the ‘author’ to ensure that the content is authentic. The biographies need to be told from that person’s point of view; their vernacular because any resulting public appearances, interviews and discussions about the content / book must ring true.

Authenticity only comes into question when there is little or no collaboration. That disconnect can be dangerous, because the content will not ring true and creates a type of juxtaposition – “You wrote this, but you’re saying something different.”

Collaboration with a professional writer is a wonderful concept and a tremendously effective means of getting the great thinking of a great leader into the words and format that will be interesting to readers, and will make the material memorable and compelling to share. In the world of communication, it’s an extremely valuable service, whether for a book, an article or a speech.

Creation of material without the participation of the represented author, or without disclosing having utilized a ghostwriter, is a terrible idea, and in my opinion, an ethical breach, especially when said ghostwriting is used to promote a person’s image or brand.

Transparency is a virtue, and great communicators and authors are happy to give credit due when there are other writers involved. Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

So, get that novel, autobiography, screenplay or graphic novel script done! You can’t quite find the words or the time? Then hire me.

I’m a ghostwriter. No shame in my game.

Just keeping it real.

READING BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION IS PROVEN TO REDUCE STRESS!

Black PulpReading Black Speculative Fiction has plenty of benefits – from heightening your imagination and creativity to building good character, to just having a great time exploring new worlds.

But now there is an even more important reason to pick up a book from Roaring Lions Productions, MVmedia and other Blacktastic authors and publishers.

New research by the University of Sussex has revealed that reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels by 68% or more.

Black ReadersThe findings further show that reading a book works better and faster to reduce stress than listening to music, going for a walk or sitting down with a warm cup of tea.

Why?

Psychologists say it is because the human mind becomes part of the world of the book when reading fiction and this journey to a world outside of the one that stressed you out eases the tension in the muscles, including the heart and the brain.

You only need to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles.

Listening to music reduced stress by 61%; a cup of tea or coffee lowered stress by 54% and taking a walk by 42%.

Playing video games brought stress levels down by 21% but left the volunteers with elevated heart rates well above their starting point.

Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. By treating yourself to a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.

This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.

This is especially important for Afrikan people in America (yes, I spelled ‘Afrikan’ with a K), who suffer from greater levels of negative stress than any other group in the world.

Balogun OjetadeOn August 31, 2012, I suffered seven cerebellar ischemic strokes. The fact that I survived one such stroke, let alone seven, and never lost cognizance, nor suffered any paralysis, left doctors scratching their heads and left me intrigued by the cause, as I am in good physical shape, teach martial arts and avoid iodized salt, pork, a lot of red meat and greasy foods. I am also only in my mid-forties, so, while I was happy to be alive and – for the most part – unaffected by the strokes, I was also concerned about what caused them in the first place.

The major contributing factor is stress. Negative stress, that is. Negative stress is highly destructive and can lead to permanent disability or death. Sadly, we do not understand stress and have thus trivialized it and placed the blame for our stress on others. How many times have you told someone (or they told you) “You’re stressing me out”, as if they have power of you? We control how we deal with stress.

What is Stress?

Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed on it. In layman’s terms, stress is anything that causes a change in your body.  These changes are triggered by different feelings such as sadness, fear, anger and happiness. Every time your feelings change your body changes and this results in stress.

Stress Stress can create feelings of conflict and /or anxiety within you. It can stem from demands you place on yourself or from external stimuli. If stress is not identified and resolved, it can progressively deteriorate your ability to function physically, mentally and emotionally.

Everyone has stress, regardless of age, sex or race. 

All stress is not bad, nor does all stress have a negative effect on us.  Some stress we experience is good and has a positive and motivating effect. 

We have problems when we experience too much, or too little, stress in our lives. 

Too much stress causes us to feel tense and pressured; this creates conflict.  Too little stress makes us feel bored, unmotivated and lethargic, which also creates conflict within us and sometimes with others. 

Therefore, it is important to maintain a proper level of stress in your life. 

Signs of Stress

The body gives you signals to let you know that you are experiencing stress.

Some signs of stress are headaches, dizziness, fast heartbeat, abnormal eating habits, troubled breathing, inability to slow down or relax, depression, ulcers, high-blood pressure, phobias, and disturbed sleep patterns.

Causes

Stress can be caused by a number of things happening in your life at any point and time.  For example it could be not having enough money; poor self- concept; death; divorce; winning the lottery; or graduating from high school, college or Grad School, but the most frequent cause of stress is change, such as loss of a loved one; job loss or advancement; illness or injury and lifestyle changes.

Effects

Some stress is positive – eustress – and creates good opportunities and outlets in life. Positive stress can keep you motivated and inspire your creativity.

Negative stress – or distress – results in debilitating anxiety that affects your overall mental, emotional and physical health.

StudyingFor avid readers, the fact that reading reduces stress is bonus news but to those who don’t read often enough or dislike reading, it’s time for a change – one that produces good stress and reduces negative stress. It’s time to take a mini-vacation of the mind…that is read a book!

If you or your child are a reluctant reader, I recommend reading a gamebook, which puts you directly into the story and allows you to choose how the story progresses. Gamebooks are also great for avid readers seeking something unique and something that allows them to exercise their creativity while enjoying an amazing story.

So, go ahead, grab a book and give yourself a healthier and happier life!

Go here for a few books to get you started.

8 YA Science Fiction & Fantasy Books with Black / Afrikan Teen Heroes and Sheroes!

In her insightful article, Kid Lit Equality – Fantasy or Reality?’ author Zetta Elliot says “There’s clearly a direct link between the misrepresentation of Black youth as inherently criminal and the justification given by those who brazenly take their lives. The publishing industry can’t solve this problem, but the relative lack of children’s books by and about people of color nonetheless functions as a kind of “symbolic annihilation.” Despite the fact that the majority of school-age children in the US are now kids of color, the US publishing industry continues to produce books that overwhelmingly feature white children only. The message is clear: the lives of kids of color don’t matter.”

While there should be much more literature written for and about Black youth, there are several great works out there. Below is a list of some of the better and more unique works for YA readers, aged 12-18. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but is a great intro to some amazing Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror books, which are sorely needed in Black homes, schools, libraries and cultural centers worldwide.

YA 1Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due. What happens when an unprecedented infection sweeps the world, leaving the earth on the brink of the Apocalypse?

But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of…more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly.

Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears.

In the midst of apocalypse, they find something no one could have anticipated…love.

AmberAmber and the Hidden City, by Milton Davis. Thirteen year old Amber Robinson’s life is full of changes. Her parents are sending her to a private school away from her friends, and high school looms before her. But little does she know that her biggest change awaits in a mysterious city hidden from the world for a thousand years. Why?

Amber’s grandmother is a princess from this magical kingdom of Marai. She’s been summoned home to use her special abilities to select the new king but she no longer has the gift, and her daughter was never trained for the task. That leaves only one person with the ability to save the city: Amber!

But there are those who are determined that Amber never reaches Marai and they will do anything to stop her.

Prepare yourself for an exciting adventure that spans from the Atlanta suburbs to the grasslands of Mali. It’s a story of a girl who discovers her hidden abilities and heritage in a way that surprises and entertains.

A Wish After Midnight, by Zetta Elliott. Genna wants out of her tough Brooklyn neighborhood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a wish gone awry transports her back in time. Facing the perilous realities of Civil War–era Brooklyn, Genna must use all her wits to survive.

This is the affecting and inspiring tale of a fearless young woman’s fight to hold on to her individuality and her humanity in two different worlds.

African American YA

African American YAThe Chaos, by Nalo Hopkinson. Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbean, white, or Black American people. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him.

Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance – because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.

The KeysThe Keys, by Balogun Ojetade. Pyramids – located all over the world, among different cultures and nations – are actually portals that allow teleportation between them.

For thousands of years, there was peace between nations; there was exchange of knowledge and culture and all of the pyramid cultures worldwide advanced because of it. But the peace soon shattered and the world was cast into the bloodiest and most costly of wars.

At the same time, the Iberian Empire, led by Infante (“Prince”) Henry the Navigator, attacked the Aztec Empire. Henry, the Navigator believed the legendary Christian kingdom of Prester John (“Presbytu Johannes”) to be the Aztec Empire’s Nueva Guatemala de la Asuncion (now called Guatemala City). He wanted to find the kingdom and achieve immortality and would murder the world if it meant achieving his goal.

The KeysThe Aztec allied with the powerful Oyo Empire of West Africa and together they defeated Henry the Navigator and his monstrous army and restored a fragile peace to the world, deactivating the power of the world’s pyramids until humanity was once again ready to use their power responsibly.

Two gods – one Oyo and one Aztec – were placed into a deep sleep within the bloodlines of two warrior families from the great Oyo-Aztec Alliance. These gods, lying dormant within two unwitting teenagers known as The Keys, are to awaken only when the world – and the gods’ teenaged hosts – is ready.

YOU choose to be one of the two heroes of this highly unique and exciting gamebook: Jordan Drummond, college basketball phenomenon and math genius; or Theresa “Terry” De Fuego, self-proclaimed “extreme journalist.”

YOU battle the forces of evil and maybe even save the world!

YOU decide your destiny… for YOU are the Hero!

African YAThe Shadow Speaker, by Nnedi Okorafor. This novel opens in Saharan Africa in the year 2070, then takes its 14-year-old heroine on a quest in a world where magic, mysticism, and mind-blowing technology reign supreme.

Years after an act of bioterrorism on earth, its most dramatic effect, the opening of a border with the planet Ginen, has just materialized.

An untrained “shadow speaker,“ Muslim teen Ejii is compelled by otherworldly voices to help avert a war between the newly joined worlds.

Readers who appreciate invention will delight in Okorafor’s world building, especially the plant-based technology that allows mansions to spring from “abode seeds” and phone calls to be transmitted via gourds. Many will also embrace the novel’s complicated characters and the appearance of African and Muslim traditions in a fantasy setting.

African American YASlice of Cherry, by Dia Reeves. Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in the city of Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.

It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire—the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities…

African American YANinth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Twelve-year-old Lanesha, an African-American girl who can talk to ghosts, lives in a tight-knit community in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. She doesn’t have a fancy house like her uptown family or lots of friends like the other kids on her street. But what she does have is Mama Ya-Ya, her fiercely loving caretaker, wise in the ways of the world and able to predict the future. So when Mama Ya-Ya’s visions show a powerful hurricane – Katrina – fast approaching, it’s up to Lanesha to call upon the hope and strength Mama Ya-Ya has given her to help them both survive the storm.

Ninth Ward is a deeply emotional story about transformation and a celebration of resilience, friendship, and family – as only love can define it.

Gamebooks: A new form of Black Speculative Fiction Emerges!

“What the heck is a gamebook,” you ask?

The KeysA gamebook is any book in which the reader participates in the story by making choices which affect the course of the narrative.

Unlike most novels, there are many ways in which a gamebook’s story can be completed, and many different circumstances that can be experienced along the way.

There are three families of gamebooks. The oldest is the branching-plot novel, typified by the Choose Your Own Adventure series. This type of book requires the reader to make choices but is otherwise like a regular novel.

The next type is the role-playing game solitaire adventure, first introduced in Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels and Trolls line. These books combine the branching-plot novel with the rules of an existing pen-and-paper role-playing game, allowing a role-player to advance his or her character without the help of a game master.

The final type, the role-playing gamebook, is similar to the RPG solitaire adventure except that it has complete rules included with the book so that no separate manuals or role-playing game need to be purchased. This concept was introduced in Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s popular Fighting Fantasy series.

In the YOU are the Hero series, we will create branching-plot novels and role-playing gamebooks. The Keys, which is the first book in the series, is a branching-plot novel.

Gamebook structure

The KeysSo how are gamebooks structured?  First, let’s examine how novels are structured so we can better understand how a gamebook, while it is the length of a novel or novella, it is quite different in how it is read.  

With a novel, you start at page 1; you read the paragraphs from the top to the bottom of the page and read the pages in sequence.  

Perhaps the writer gives you the middle or end of the story on page 1 or skips around through time a la Quinton Tarantino, but they intend for you to read the novel in order – pages 1, 2, 3…13, 14, 15…235, 236, 237…and so on.

Gamebooks are different.  You do not read the pages in order and, often, you do not even read the paragraphs in order.  Instead, based on your decisions, you are instructed which page to skip to, or in some gamebooks, the paragraphs are numbered and you are told which paragraph to start from or go to.

The page or paragraph will give you a description of your situation and then you are presented with a choice and a page or a paragraph number to turn to depending on what your choice is.

You then turn to that page or paragraph, read what the consequences of your actions are and then you have to make another choice.  Each choice has a page number or a paragraph number to turn to.  You turn to that page or paragraph, read about the consequences of your actions and so on.

In many gamebooks, you will be given an aim at the beginning of the book – a way to win the game element of the gamebook.  What you have to do is discover the correct sequence of choices that leads you to the winning page or paragraph.

Here’s an example of a 10 paragraph gamebook where the aim is to find the best blog that covers Black Speculative Fiction.  Start at paragraph 1.

 

1

It’s 2:00 in the morning and you have grown tired of all the Russian twerk videos and cute baby grizzly bear videos and fighting trolls who attacked your status on Facebook.

You read a few articles on speculative fiction – one of your favorite types of film and fiction – but they are all about European Halfling shires, British colonial airship pilots and racists Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft…crap you’ve grown tired of.

You want to find some quality Black Speculative Fiction on the web.  If you decide to go to http://wagadu.ning.com/, turn to 2.  If you decide to return to Facebook, go to 3.

 

2

Wagadu is full of great videos, photos and posts by Black authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror and their fans, particularly in the Fantasy subgenre of Sword and Soul, but in order to get the full experience, you need to register as a member and it’s 2:00 a.m.; you heard the Administrator of the site – Milton Davis – goes to bed at 9:00 a.m. (because he goes to work early, because he is old, or a combination of both you aren’t sure), so you doubt you will be able to register yet. If you decide to give up and go back to Facebook, turn to 3. If you click on Wagadu’s ‘Sign Up’ tab, turn to 4.

 

3

There is not much new on Facebook.  Most of your friends have gone to bed so there has only been one update from a friend in another time zone.  Desperate for something good, you search the Groups of Facebook to see what they have to offer.  If you click on a group called State of Black Science Fiction 2012, turn to 5.  If you click on a group called Scifi Blerd Society, turn to 6.

 

4

You hit the Sign Up tab. You fill out all of the profile information. You hit enter. A page pops up telling you that the Administrator, Milton Davis, is asleep at the moment, but will approve your membership upon awakening and after writing 15000 words of a new book or short story he is creating, which he does daily. You notice a link to Milton’s publishing page, MVmedia, in the corner of the page. If you go to that link, turn to 7.  If you decide to search for another blog, turn to 8.

 

5

This group is a collective of authors, artists, comic book creators and filmmakers who create works of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror by, for and / or about people of African descent and for fans and supporters of their work.

The collective, which was formed in February, 2012, has hosted and participated in events worldwide; produced high quality works of fiction and film; and are the founders of Black Speculative Fiction Month, an international holiday that takes place every October.  If you explore this group further, turn to 9.  If you still want to check out the Scifi Blerd Society group, turn to 6.

 

6

The Administrator of this page – who is always lurking in the shadows – demands your undying loyalty.  Any who disagree with his edicts is labeled a ‘crab in a barrel’ trying to pull the others down. You try to leave the group, but the Admin doesn’t allow it. You are forever trapped in this creative and intellectual abyss.  Your adventure ends here.

 

7

There are plenty of great books on this site – Amber and the Hidden City, the Steamfunk anthology, Woman of the Woods. But one book really stands out to you. The cover is striking and the synopsis really grabs you – Once Upon A time In Afrika by Balogun Ojetade. You must have this book! You must know more about the author too. You decide to search his name. Turn to 10.

 

8

You find the amazing – http://twinjabookreviews.blogspot.com – a website founded by twin sisters,  Guinevere and Libertad Tomas that is dedicated to bringing multiculturalism to Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction novels. Between this book review site and their Diverse Book Tours site, you are engrossed in Black Speculative Fiction until you drift off to sleep. Your adventure ends here.

 

9

You really love this group! The conversations are lively and informative and everyone is passionate about educating the world about Black Speculative Fiction and creating amazing work. One of the Administrators, Balogun Ojetade, welcomes you to the site. The other Administrator, Milton Davis, apparently is asleep. Balogun seems like a cool dude and has some great work on his Roaring Lions Productions website.  You decide to Google the brother. Turn to 10.

 

10
You Google ‘Balogun Ojetade’; you find that he is the founder of a popular website in which he frequently blogs about Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Urban Fantasy and Black Specualtive Fiction. The website is Chronicles of Harriet. You visit the site.

Congratulations!  You have found an entertaining and enlightening blog.  You enjoy reading it for the remainder of the night and your consciousness expands so that you gain an understanding of life and the workings of the universe.

Settings and Genres

The KeysThe settings and genres of gamebooks could cover anything.  There are modern day settings, historic settings and futuristic settings. Genres cover everything from comic book superheroes, to science fiction, to heroic fantasy to Steampunk.

Choose your Own Adventure books tend to go for modern settings with some elements of science fiction and fantasy thrown in.  Almost all other gamebooks cover ancient, Eurocentric settings in a fantasy genre. A few are written in the science fiction and urban fantasy genres.

In my YOU are the Hero series, I write in different genres. The Keys, is a coming of age, action-adventure Urban Fantasy YA book.

The Keys is now available through my website and on Amazon. It is available in paperback only.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first law is stated thusly:

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

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

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

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

The fifth law says:

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

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

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

And the sixth and final law I will share states:

They warned them to be humble and never be egocentric.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each one, teach one.

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

Cyberfunk

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

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

I received several responses. Here are a few:

 

Mark Dery, father of Afrofuturism...yep.

Mark Dery, father of Afrofuturism…yep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just my opinion, so I hope nobody flips out.

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

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

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

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

Balogun Ojetade: Thank you, Milton!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what are your thoughts?

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

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

The City

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

Okay y’all, here’s an anthology idea…

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

Y’all interested?

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

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

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

What is Cyberfunk, you ask?

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

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

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

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

Heroes are often actually antiheroes and…

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

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

- Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest. Writer: Milton Davis

city 2

 

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

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

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

-Abeekay Sincere, Swordslinger. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 5

 

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

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

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

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

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

Mama always said you were trouble.

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

The City

 

*Makay nabilaa
Makay ki ka nabilaa

Foro Bana
Foro Bana

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

Foro Bana*

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

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

Black Powder, Bard. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

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

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

Sly Sincere, Warrior. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

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

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

The City 

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

Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest. Writer: Milton Davis

The City 

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

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

The City 

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

Knowledge Lateef, Street Priest. Writer: Milton Davis

The City 

“When am I?”

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

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

Things are about to get…interesting.

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

“Lumumba 16th, he answers.”

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe one day…

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

Yep. Wet work.

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

The City 

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

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

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

Yeah, dog…I BEEN hacked The Wave.

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

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

Vincenzo Drew, Hacker. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

The City 

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

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

The City 

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

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

The City 

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

I TOLD you.

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

Yep…I think that’s just what I’ll do.

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

The City 

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

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

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

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

Father Ray, Techsorcist. Writer: Balogun Ojetade

Cyberfunk 

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

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

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

Cara Usare, Sweeper; wondering. Writer: Sarah Macklin

Cyberfunk 

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

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

Cyberfunk

 

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

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

THE KEYS: YOU are the hero!

The Keys

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

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

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

Delbourgo hoped to make it her first major acquisition.

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

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

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

She was. And she wasn’t alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only person responsive was Joëlle Delbourgo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packard quit his law practice to write full time.

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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