Make it a REAL “Black” Friday!
Buy Black Speculative Fiction!
Also, try out these Blacktastic Books you will absolutely love:
Imaro by Charles Saunders – A masterwork from the father of Sword and Soul. Imaro is the definition of great Heroic Fantasy.
The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler – Widely considered Butler’s best work, this is an incredible story of a dystopian future and a heroine with hyper-empathy.
Immortal by Valjeanne Jeffers – The first in a series of exciting books that takes place in the world of Tundra. Jeffers deftly combines Science Fiction, Horror and Romance in telling the story of Karla, a shapeshifter who fights the forces of evil of which she dreams.
Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell – This epic fantasy romance explores race, ethnicity, and imperialism in a beautiful – and sometimes brutal – ancient African setting.
A Darker Shade of Midnight by Lynn Emery – Mystery, Horror and Romance combine to give you this masterpiece that is a first in an incredible series. LaShaun Rousselle – the protagonist, who uses her paranormal abilities to solve the mystery of who killed her cousin and what lives in the woods on her family’s land – is one of the most interesting heroine’s in fiction.
Order of the Seers by Cerece Rennie Murphy – This thrilling tale of discrimination, love, retribution, lust for power and the great potential that lies dormant in us all follows the life and struggle of Liam and Lilith Knight – a brother and sister duo who are hunted by a ruthless and corrupt branch of the U.N., which seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability to envision the future.
Hayward’s Reach by Thaddeus Howze – a series of short stories told by Mokoto, the last survivor of an unexpected cataclysm. Mokoto, even in his current state of in-humanity, learns what it means to be truly human.
Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors.
Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis – A powerful Sword and Soul tale, set in Davis’ intriguing Uhuru universe, first experienced in his seminal series, Meji. Woman of the Woods draws us into the world of demon-hunter, Sadatina and her “sisters”, a duo of twin lionesses who aid her in her battle against the vicious Mosele and their demon allies, who seek to destroy her people.
Redeemer by Balogun Ojetade – This is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that is both gangster saga and science fiction epic. A tale of fatherhood and of predestination versus predetermination. An entertaining mash-up that Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Urban Fiction fans alike will enjoy.
If you are interested in finding more authors of Black Speculative Fiction check out Black Speculative Fiction Reviews.
Do Black People Need Black Superheroes…or Just Black Heroes?
Stories 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.
Would 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 Passage – is 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.
Remi ‘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, who readers will get to see more of when the novel is released in summer, 2014. 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.
Finally, 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 (which releases at the end of this month). Soar with the superheroes within.
Capes aren’t necessary.
But, they are cool.
BLACK PULP: Fight Fiction with Funk!
Recently, I have expanded my writing into the Pulp genre of Fight Fiction, which was pretty much inevitable because my novels contain lots of exciting action and fight scenes.
What is Fight Fiction. You ask?
Fight Fiction is comprised of tales in which the fighting – whether it happens in a temple in Thailand, a boxing ring in Las Vegas, a cage in Atlanta, or in a bar in New York City – is not merely in the story to make it more exciting; or to add a different spin to it. The fighting must be an integral part of both the story and its resolution. Take the fighting out and you no longer have a story. Think Fight Club; Rocky; Blood and Bone; Kung-Fu Hustle; Million Dollar Baby; and Tai Chi Zero.
My friend, renowned spoken word artist XPJ Seven, once told me “Dude, I like your fight scenes.”
“What do you like about them?” I inquired.
“They’re not like the fight scenes in most of the fiction I’ve read.” He replied, his brow wrinkling as he scowled.
“What’s wrong with those fight scenes?” I asked.
The wrinkles in XP’s brow deepened into canyons as he frowned in disgust. “Dude…they’re wack!”
Can’t argue with the wisdom of XP.
Thus, I write this as a helping hand to my fellow writers who may struggle with writing fight scenes. If writing fight scenes for you comes easy, please, keep reading; you’re already here…you might as well. And – in the spirit of all things not wack – if you will be so kind as to contribute your wisdom to this post, it will be greatly appreciated.
Writing fight scenes has always been something I enjoy and that I believe I do fairly well. This is probably due to the fact that I have been a student of indigenous African martial arts for over forty years and I have been n instructor of those same martial arts for nearly thirty years. I am also a lifelong fan of martial arts, boxing and action films.
Thus, I share with you what little I know about writing fight scenes in the following Fight Scene Plan, which I hope will help guide you toward the light at the end of that dark, dank tunnel called wackness.
Just remember – all good plans are malleable. As my good friend, author Milton Davis, says, “A plan is a work in progress. It must be adjusted and modified based on results. An inflexible plan will eventually lead to failure.”
Fight Scene Plan
1. Show, don’t tell
I put this point first because it seems to be the one most writers have difficulty with when writing a fight scene.
Here is an example of telling:
After taking eight punches and several kicks to now vital areas all over her sinewy frame – such as her solar plexus, spine and head – Harriet Tubman staggered backward, wailing in agony.
This is “telling” because the punches and kicks are all lumped together, making it impossible to say, with any certainty, how many blows Harriet actually suffered.
Furthermore, we cannot be sure of exactly which body parts are suffering all the punishment, although we get a grocery list of a few parts that might be getting damaged…or might not – who knows?
Finally, what is Harriet doing while she is taking that beat-down? Just accepting it all willy-nilly? Does she throw a counterpunch? Beg for mercy? Scream “Feets don’t fail me now” and then haul ass? We don’t know. We cannot see this scene. We cannot see Harriet. We’re just being told about it. Wack.
2. Show sequence, not simultaneity
It rarely makes sense to make two different actions simultaneous in a fight scene.
Because a fight scene is loaded with different sorts of actions, each of which takes a different amount of time.
If one action takes a tenth of a second and another takes two seconds, the action will feel distorted if the author asserts that they happen simultaneously.
John Wilkes Booth ducked his head and whirled to the right, simultaneously kicking furiously with his right heel as he shouted “Harriet Tubman, you just will not die, will you?”
Now, you can whirl to the right pretty quickly. You can kick pretty quickly. But how long does it take to shout ‘Harriet Tubman, you just will not die, will you’? All this action cannot happen simultaneously. So, writing something like this? Wack.
3. Enforce causality
A Cause should be shown first, and then the Effect shown afterward. Showing the Effect and then the Cause? Wack.
Case in point:
John Wilkes Booth ducked his head and whirled to the right. He kicked furiously with his right heel as he shouted “Harriet Tubman, you just will not die, will you?” Just after he spotted Harriet throwing another punch at him.
So, what happened first? Booth saw Harriet throw another punch at him. However, that is shown last in the passage. The Effect is shown first, followed by a long sequence of events: Booth ducks his head; Booth spins to the right; Booth kicks; Booth shouts; only after all that are we shown the Cause of it all.
4. Show the fastest action first
When you sequence a group of actions that happen at roughly the same time, show those actions that happen fastest before you show those that happen slowest.
Do not write the passage this way:
The steambot was no longer a threat to Harriet, as it lay broken in the dirt, wondering if it would ever see its beloved creator – Mistress Nakamura – again, the very woman who had nurtured it and taught it love, an agonizing scream escaped its metallic throat.
We see the steambot pondering whether it would see its creator again and then we see it scream in agony. A scream usually takes less time than a deep pondering, so it is better to show the steambot scream first and then show it ruminate.
Showing the slower action before the faster one? Wack.
5. For every action, show a reaction
A fight scene should be written in this order: Action then Reaction. The Steambot slams an elbow into Harriet Tubman’s jaw; she staggers backward. Harriet whips a roundhouse kick at the Steambot’s head; it blocks and swings a back-fist at her temple.
See? Action…Reaction. Writing the character’s Reaction before the Action is backpedaling toward wackness. Case in point:
Harriet staggered backward when the steambot slammed its elbow into her jaw.
The Reaction – staggering backward – took place before the Action – the elbow to the jaw. Wack.
Each Action – Reaction should have its own paragraph. This, however, is not always possible. Sometimes, the sentences are too short to have their own paragraphs and can be combined. It’s up to you how to format it.
The steambot exploded forward with a powerful uppercut.
Harriet leaned backward to evade the blow. A breeze slithered up her face as the steambot’s iron knuckles swished past her nose.
The steambot exploded forward with a powerful uppercut. Harriet leaned backward to evade the blow. A breeze slithered up her face as the steambot’s iron knuckles swished past her nose.
6. Make it happen in Real Time
When writing your Action – Reaction, be sure to make it happen in Real Time. When a fight is happening, you see one punch and then right away, you see the response; and then right away, you see the next punch. During a fight in Real Time, you do not have time for such contemplations as this:
The steambot’s elbow slammed into Harriet’s jaw. She staggered backward. She was hurt quite badly; perhaps not as badly as when she shattered her shin against the thigh of that giant knoll, but badly, just the same.
This should be written this way:
The steambot’s elbow slammed into Harriet’s jaw. She staggered backward.
7. Control the pace
Pace is important in a fight scene.
It is not cinematic – and you want your fight scene to play like a movie in the reader’s head – to show a nonstop flurry of Actions and Reactions.
Even a warrior who possesses extraordinary gifts like Harriet Tubman has to catch her breath.
A cinematic fight has ebbs and flows in the pacing.
You show the faster parts of the scene with short sentences that show only the Actions and Reactions.
Use short sentences and phrases to make reading flow run faster. Long, descriptive sentences slow the reading pace.
In a fight scene, you want your reader to roll with each punch; shift in his or her seat with each kick.
Fast reading pace is essential. Use only a phrase, sentence, or – at most – two short sentences for each action. You can also combine short phrases together, since each phrase will still let the action move along:
Harriet paused, listening for movement. The whisper of a footstep to her right. She whirled, exploded forward, felt her knee connect with muscled flesh and then heard a soft thud as Booth fell to the floor.
Conversely, reading flow can also become bogged down if there are too many sentences of the same length one after the other. Cases in point:
He kicked. She ducked. He chopped. She whirled.
Harriet turned at the sound of running feet. Booth crashed into her as she stood there. Her body struck the table with a thundering crash. Splinters stabbed into the back of her neck.
Continue to avoid long, rambling description, but vary your sentence and phrase length:
Running feet. Harriet turned. Booth crashed into her, slamming her into the table with a thundering crash. A low gasp escaped Harriet’s lips as splinters stabbed into the back of her neck.
You can also show the slower parts of the scene with longer sentences that show Actions and Reactions interspersed with dialogue and interior monologue.
To do otherwise? Wack.
8. Favor completed verbs over continuing action verbs
Use simple past tense verbs, such as kicked, ran or leapt rather than participles such as kicking, running or leaping.
When you say Harriet head-butted Booth, you imply that it happened quickly and the act is now over. When you say Harriet was head-butting Booth, you imply that the act is going on and on and on. A head-butt happens in a fraction of a second, so writing “head-butting” causes the reader to envision the head-butt happening over and over and over again. Or they envision it happening in slow motion. Either way, it is not much like a fight anymore, is it? Wack.
Finally, remember that a good fight scene is about momentum and rhythm.
Jackie Chan once gave me some advice on choreographing a fight scene (yep, the Jackie Chan – I’ll tell you that story one day) that I now use in my writing. “The rhythm of a fight scene sells it. I use African and Japanese drum rhythms for my fights. Those rhythms draw the audience in and make them love the fight.”
Each move should flow from where the last one ended. If your hero throws a spinning back kick, where is her weight when she lands? Is she standing straight or bent at the waist? In what direction is her body leaning? The next blow she delivers should follow the same line of momentum. If she kicked in a clockwise motion, her next kick will also probably be clockwise.
Try to act out fight sequences – or, if you live off a steady diet of Krispy Kreme donuts and Coca Cola, ask someone else to do it – in order to figure out momentum and balance, which creates rhythm. Throw a punch and observe how your weight shifts, or what area of your body is exposed.
I often act out the entire fight scene with my wife. We are both career martial artists, so, for us, it comes easily. However, if you do not happen to have a spouse that is a martial arts expert handy, watch movies for ideas (or call me – I choreograph fight scenes for films, theater, comic books and novels…for a meager fee).
Finally, choose the type of fights you want in your story. Do you want gritty, brutal fight scenes such as the ones in Steven Seagal’s Above the Law or in The Bourne Identity (the 2002 movie, not the 1988 television miniseries)? Or do you want Hong Kong Cinema-styled fights, such as the ones in The Matrix, Inception, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? Most readers will follow either style as long as they make sense and are a good match with the genre you are writing in.
Recently, I joined a team of stellar authors, who all write under the pen name Jack Tunney, as part of the Fight Card Project.
The books in the Fight Card series are monthly 25,000 word novelettes, designed to be read in one or two sittings, and are inspired by the fight pulps of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Fight Stories Magazine and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan.
By the end of this year (2013), the Fight Card series will have published twenty-four incredible tales of pugilistic pandemonium from some of the best New Pulp authors in the business. I am writing under the Fight Card MMA brand and my book, A-Town Throwdown should debut in early 2014.
When I spoke to Paul Bishop, who – along with author Mel Odom created the Fight Card concept – he expressed an interest in my protagonist, Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed and the story of his coming of age as a fighter in the Adewale Wrestling Compound in Oṣogbo, Oṣun State, Nigeria. I was happy because I have always wanted to share with the world the fierceness, efficiency and effectiveness of the indigenous African martial arts for self-defense, as well as their transformative powers in the building of men and women with self-discipline, courage and good character. Fight Card MMA was a perfect outlet for my unique brand of Fight Fiction, which I am sure you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.
In A-Town Throwdown, readers will experience jaw-dropping action on the mean streets of Chicago, in the sand pits of Nigeria and in cages in the “Dirty South” (Atlanta).
2014 will also offer a full slate of monthly Fight Card titles along with further Fight Card MMA, Fight Card Romance, and Fight Card Now titles, as well as the debut of the Fight Card Luchadores brand, set in the world of Mexican Masked wrestling.
Before the Fight Card debut, I will publish my Fight Fiction novel, A Single Link, based on the short film I wrote, directed and produced of the same name back in 2010. It is the story of Remi “Ray” Swan, who, after suffering a brutal rape at the hands of a martial arts champion, decides that, to gain closure and empowerment, she must face her attacker in the first professional fight between a man and a woman.
You will not want to miss this powerful, two-fisted adventure, set in the near future, as Ray fights, not just for herself, but for all who have suffered at the cruel hands of those who would wreak pain, oppression, injustice and death.
Look for A Single Link December, 2013.
If you have more to add to this post, please comment. I am always looking for effective ways to avoid wackness.
BLACK HEROES OF PULP FICTION (and we don’t mean Samuel L. Jackson or Ving Rhames)
Some of you are saying “If not the movie by Quentin Tarantino, then what the in the hell is Pulp?”
Is it that nasty, fibrous stuff I hate in my orange juice, but my wife always buys, because – for some odd reason – she loves it?
What is Pulp?
Is it that early 80s British alternative rock band who sounded like a hybrid of David Bowie and The Human League?
What is Pulp?
Think adventure, exotic settings, femme fatales and non-stop action. Think larger-than-life heroes, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Marv, from Sin City and Indiana Jones.
The genre gets its name from the adventure fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s.
Pulp includes Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Western, Fight Fiction and other genres, but what sets pulp apart are its aforementioned fast-pace, exotic locales, linear – but layered – plots, its two-fisted action….and those characters! As author Thaddeus Howze describes them: “I like the larger than life heroes of the pulp era, loud, bombastic, often arrogant, sexy, outrageous and oh so violent…”
The first pulps were published in the late 1800s and enjoyed a golden age in the 1930s and 1940s.
And – like most genre fiction of the day…and today – Black heroes were absent. Like most genre fiction of the day, if a Black person was found in pulp fiction at all, they were the noble savage…or just the savage.
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones
However, in 1957, we saw our first Black pulp heroes with the duo of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, violent and vicious Harlem police officers, who operated more like private detectives, often going beyond police protocol to solve their cases.
A true master of the pulp aesthetic, Chester Himes – an accomplished author and screenwriter before going to prison – discovered the work of popular pulp author Dashiell Hammett while serving eight years in an Ohio penitentiary for armed robbery. Himes vowed to write pulp books that would, in his words, “tell it like it is”.
Upon his release from prison, Himes moved to Paris and – true to his word – wrote a string of what he called “Harlem domestic detective stories”, all but one written in French and later translated into English.
His first novel, A Rage in Harlem (1957) – first published in French as La Reine des Pomme and also known as For Love of Imabelle – which won the prestigious French literature award, Grand Prix de la Litterature Policière, gave us our first taste of the fearsome Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.
Fans begged for more of these pulp bad boys and Himes delivered, with a total of seven more bestsellers and one unfinished novel that was published posthumously: The Crazy Kill (1959), The Real Cool Killers (1959), All Shot Up (1960), The Big Gold Dream (1960), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), The Heat’s On (aka Come Back, Charleston Blue)(1966), Blind Man With A Pistol (1969), Plan B (1993).
While the duo frequently uses physical brutality, psychological torture and intimidation to solve their cases, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed have deep and genuine sympathy for the innocent victims of crime. They frequently intervene – even putting their own reputations and lives on the line – to protect Black people from the vicious and truly pointless brutality of the white, openly racist police officers in their precinct. Jones and Johnson generally go easy on – and even tolerate – numbers runners, madames, prostitutes, junkies and gamblers; but they are extremely hostile to violent criminals, drug dealers, con artists and pimps.
It can be said that Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones were the darkest heroes in pulp…and not because they’re Black…well, that too.
The next Black hero in pulp did not come on the scene until 1983. Who was he? Aubrey Knight, a lightning quick mountain of muscle, trained to be a Null Boxer who fights in brutal matches while locked in a zero-gravity bubble.
Aubrey Knight is the protagonist of Street Lethal (1983), a jaw dropping pulp thrill ride, penned masterfully by veteran science fiction, fantasy and horror author, Steven Barnes. Street Lethal is set in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles in which Aubrey Knight must battle genetically engineered New Men, drug kingpins, brutal prison guards, a ruthless femme fatale and brainwashing similar to the horrific Ludovico Technique from the classic novel A Clockwork Orange.
Barnes, an accomplished martial artist himself, gives us a pulp hero who is one part Luke Cage Noir and two parts Iron Fist…only cooler, savvier and more…well, street lethal.
Damballa (2011) is an incredible pulp adventure written by author Charles R. Saunders, the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy fiction called Sword and Soul and creator of the Fantasy icon Imaro. The action does not stop as the titular hero uses his vast knowledge of Western science, African science and martial arts to expose and neutralize the Nazi threat.
Set in 1938, Damballa is a shining example of what Pulp is when it is at its very best: thrilling, visceral, tightly-plotted, well-written, fast-paced fun.
And the hero Damballa is a shining example of what a pulp hero in the hands of a master can be: a hero the reader can actually stand up and cheer for; a hero with qualities and with a story other authors do their damndest to echo in their own creative and original ways.
Equal parts James Bond, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and The Saint, Dillon – by his creator Derrick Ferguson’s account – first came to attention of the world a decade ago, when he began hiring himself out as a soldier of fortune. Dillon possesses remarkable talents and gifts that make him respected and even feared in a world of mercenaries, spies, adventurers, powerful technology and mystic artifacts.
Actually, Dillon first came to our attention in the Pulp fiction masterpiece, Dillon and the Voice of Odin (2003).
Dillon’s actual age is unknown, but what is known is that he was born on the technologically advanced, doomed island of Usimi Dero. After the Destruction of his home, twelve year old Dillon and his mother fled to Shamballah, a monastery hidden in the Himalayas. Dillon was adopted by Shamballa’s Warmasters of Liguria, who spent the next seven years training him in various martial arts and other physical and mental disciplines. After those seven years, Dillon elected to leave Shamballah and return to the world.
Once back in the world, Dillon wandered, learning various skills that would help him in his chosen profession as an adventurer and seeking out those who destroyed his homeland.
This adventurer is the hero of four of his own books – the aforementioned Dillon and the Voice of Odin; Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell (2010); Four Bullets for Dillon (2011) and Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira (2012) – and appears in the anthology Black Pulp (2013).
First seen in the often hilarious and always exciting, Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter (2011) and now returning in the recently released, equally exciting sequel, Taurus Moon: Magic and Mayhem (2013), Taurus moon is a complex Pulp hero who walks a complex world of mythic creatures, gangsters and even mythic gangsters and gangling creatures.
The morally conflicted hero, Taurus Moon is often compared to another famed relic hunter, Indiana Jones. Unlike popular relic hunter Indiana Jones, however, the artifacts Taurus Moon hunts are not found in the deserts of Iskenderun Hatay, or in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Taurus Moon’s quests take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities; settings where Indiana Jones would get that whip and fedora shoved up his…well, you get the picture. Also unlike Indiana Jones, Taurus Moon’s clientele includes vampire crime bosses and other individuals of ill-repute.
Taurus Moon is straight up mercenary, motivated by money; yet he is imbued with nobility, which keeps him from being completely amoral.
If Indiana Jones and Blade had a clone created from both their DNA strains, with a dash of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sprinkled in, that little GMO fella would be Taurus Moon.
2014 will see the premiere of at least three more pulp heroes.
In early 2014, my character Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed, the indigenous African martial arts expert turned MMA fighter will enter the world with a bang in my novella, which is part of the Fight Card Series, Fight Card MMA: A-Town Throwdown. A second novella starring Nick Steed, Fight Card MMA: Circle of Blood is likely to follow shortly behind it.
2014 will see another MMA fighter, Remi Fasina [ray-MEE fah-SHEE-nah] – a woman – battle men and women fighters – and her inner demons – on her quest to defeat the MMA champion who sexually assaulted her seven years in her past in my Pulp action novel, A Single Link.
Finally, the Pulp hero Black Caesar – a former slave, imbued with enhanced intelligence, strength, endurance and agility by dark forces run amok upon a stone slave ship – debuts in the first Rococoa novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises.
I have also created the Pulp hero The Scythe, the resurrected Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was murdered in the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and returns to reap vengeance upon his murderers and their kin. It is likely that I will expand his story into a novel in 2015.
What other Black Pulp heroes and sheroes do you know of? What Pulp heroes or sheroes are you in the process of developing or creating?
MVmedia, publisher of Sword & Soul, Steamfunk and Science Fiction, today announced that submissions are now being taken for the second Steamfunk anthology the multimedia company will publish – Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus.
Based on the feature film, Rite of Passage – which is set in a world conceived by authors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade, based on a short story by Milton Davis of the same name – Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus will contain a collection of short stories inspired by this exciting alternate history Steamfunk world.
The release of Road to Nicodemus will coincide with the release of the movie in February 2014.
MVmedia is seeking completed stories between 2,000 and 10,000 words.
Writers will be paid $25.00 upon release of the anthology.
The deadline for submissions is December 31, 2013
Initial release will be in e-book format. Paperback release will occur at a later date.
Here are the Submission Guidelines and a breakdown of the world of Rite of Passage:
- Submissions must be set during the era of reconstruction (1865 – 1877). The story can begin at any time in the past, but the bulk of the story (roughly 75%) should take place during reconstruction.
- The story can begin anywhere in the world, but will end up in – or on the road to – Nicodemus, KS.
- Main characters – be they Guardians or Emissaries (see below) – should be in possession of an artifact – a special item that grants the user incredible powers. This artifact will have been bestowed upon the Guardian by a Mentor. Artifacts can be anything: a book; a gun; a sword; the saliva of a werewolf; a drum; etc. and the method of bestowal is up to the author. All artifacts are linked to some African deity.
- Technology is a combination of mundane technology of the era and retrofuturistic Steam technology.
- Magic, psionics and the like are acceptable, as long as they are linked to some artifact.
- The main character should be of African descent / Black.
MENTORS / GUARDIANS / ARTIFACTS
Harriet Tubman – the living embodiment of the power of the artifacts – had a vision that told her Jedediah Green – a powerful and dark entity whose power comes from the consumption of the artifacts’ power through consumption of the wielders of the artifacts’ souls – would descend upon the thriving Black-owned town of Nicodemus and from there, gather the ability to subjugate the world.
Harriet – whose power is fueled by the use of the artifacts (whether used for good or evil) – travelled the world, gathering the original bearers of the artifacts and convincing them to pass on the items and how to use them (which eventually bring about a severe depression and longing for release from the responsibility of bearing the artifact) to new bearers who would help her oppose Jedediah Green and his Emissaries.
The original bearers thus became Mentors and the new bearers of the artifacts became known as Guardians.
Harriet has called for all the Guardians to take up residence in Nicodemus, KS and has personally bought a few there herself.
The known Guardians thus far, their Mentors and their artifacts are:
Harriet Tubman – Mentor: Akingbe; Artifact: She is an artifact.
Dorothy Wright – Mentor: Akingbe / Harriet Tubman; Artifact: Shango’s necklace.
Bass Reeves – Mentor: Unknown; Artifact: Carbine and revolver/shotgun hybrid (Deity unknown)
John Henry – Mentor: Ogunlana (“Lana”); Artifact: Twin hammers of Ogun.
Jake Jessup – Mentor: Tara Malloy; Artifact: Shapeshifter’s blood, a gift from Eshu.
Henry Turnipseed / John D. Konkeroo (Mayor of Nicodemus) – Mentor: Mr. Giggles; Artifact: Baron Samedi’s top-hat.
Osho Adewale / The Dentist of Westminster – Mentor: Falana; Artifact: Tome of Obatala.
James and Corliss Riley (“the twins”) – Mentor(s): Grandma and Grandpa Riley; Artifacts: James uses goofa dust, black cat bones and other “conjure” tools; Corliss uses a fiddle. Both artifacts are from the Ibeji twin spirits.
JEDEDIAH GREEN’S EMISSARIES
Jedediah Green is the living embodiment of the dark energy that gave birth to vampires, ghasts, ghouls, lichs and other undead and evil. As such, these creatures do his bidding. Also, Jedediah maintains several Emissaries, who he is the sole Mentor of and to whom he grants an artifact forged by unknown dark deities.
The known Emissaries are:
The Piper / Tillman (once helped to escape to freedom by Harriet Tubman) – Artifact: Flute
P.T. Barnum – Artifact: Money clip
Peter Pan – Artifact: None; Peter is one of the oldest and most powerful vampires in the world who loyally serves Jedediah Green, who he narcissistically believes is his shadow self.
So, there you have it. If you feel you have a compelling story to tell – one that will enhance and / or expand the Rite of Passage universe – please, submit it to email@example.com.
Now, hop offline (after you read a few more of my posts if you’re new here) and get to writing; and most of all…have fun!
DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? Manga and Anime
Yesterday, it was announced that author Milton Davis, Yours Truly and artist Sarah Bowman (Macklin) – known worldwide as S-Sama – will collaborate to create the manga version of Amber, a YA novel penned by Milton Davis.
Milton will publish; I will write the graphic script and Sarah will illustrate the work.
For those who are scratching their heads, wondering just what the heck ‘manga’ is, ask any teenager in the world and they can tell you. If no teenager is nearby, read on.
‘Manga’ is the Japanese word commonly used as the name of the genre for all comic books or graphic novels published in Japan. Manga has a certain style, recognizable in its artwork and in its literary tropes.
While manga is typically read by teenagers outside of Japan, there are publications aimed at both children and adults.
In Japan, however, all ages read manga, which is considered literature rather than “just a comic book”. In Japan, manga is so popular its yearly sales reach the billions.
Manga is often adapted into animated television programs and films called ‘anime’. Examples include Pokémon, Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh! and my personal favorite, Death Note.
Like most people born in America, my introduction to the Japanese style of graphic storytelling began with anime. As a four year old, I would sit in awe as I witnessed the adventures of Prince Planet – known in Japan as Planet Boy Papi – which tells the story of Prince Planet – a member of the Universal Peace Corps – from the planet Radion, who is sent to Earth to determine if our world meets standards for membership in the Galactic Union of Worlds and to assist its inhabitants during his stay. While on this mission, Prince Planet adopts the identity of an Earth boy named Bobby (‘Papi’) who, along with a band of human comrades, fights the forces of evil, both alien and terrestrial. In fact, my favorite villain of all time, who I call the “first Steampunk”, is Krag of Kragmire, Prince Planet’s greatest nemesis.
A couple of decades later, I introduced my children to the anime film Princess Mononoke and thus began their love of the art form. I later got them hooked on Death Note – the anime and the manga. Now, one of my daughters is so into manga and anime, she has become fluent in Japanese and Korean and plans to write manga of her own.
Black people in the United States – like nearly everyone else – have been heavily into anime since the early 70s and into manga since the early 90s. The well-plotted stories, incredible technology, fearsome creatures, cool characters, over-the-top comedy and eye-popping action are masterfully combined to make science fiction and fantasy palatable for all.
Most fans of the genre are unaware, however, that the visual approach and concepts of manga was introduced to the Western world by a Black man – Vernon Ethelbert Grant.
Grant, known for his digest-sized comic book series, The Love Rangers, was born February 14, 1935. Always artistically inclined, Grant earned money as a child by drawing cartoons for birthday cards. After graduating from Ridge Technical High School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he studied for a year in Boston at the Vesper George School of Art and then joined the Army in 1958 at the age of 23.
While in Europe as an airborne and air assault sergeant, Grant studied Japanese and French.
Grant was eventually sent to Tokyo, where he worked as a regular cartoonist for Stars and Stripes – the official newspaper of the Unites States Army. It was in Tokyo that he developed a strong fascination with Japanese comics. He also wrote and drew for Japan’s English-language newspapers, including the Mainichi Daily News.
In the late 1960s, while in Vietnam, Grant became interested in comic books. As he recalled: “When I purchased a French comic magazine in Saigon in 1967, it was the first comic book contact that I had in more than ten years. It reminded me of my early experiments with drawing color comics in grammar school…In 1968 I was discharged from the United States Army in Japan and began studies in Japanese history and culture at Sophia University in Tokyo…In 1972, while still in school, I saw and read my first issue of an underground comic book, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. This publication was quite an interesting item for me. I had heard of underground comic books but had, until that time, never seen one. I was very impressed.”
During the years he lived in Japan, Grant wrote and drew several graphic novels, including the two-volume military satire, Point-Man Palmer and A Monster is Loose in Tokyo (Tuttle, 1972) about the life of a foreigner in Japan.
When he returned to Cambridge, he created The Love Rangers, his science-fiction comic book series about a racially mixed space crew traveling the universe. Between 1977 and 1988, Grant published seven issues of The Love Rangers in a 36-page, 5½”x8½” format.
The series follows the lives and adventures of a number of officers, robots and members of a squad of genetically engineered Love Rangers that live on the spaceship called “Home”. It is an immense structure, housing 35,000 individuals on its seven levels. While some of the action in the stories takes place on board, many of the episodes in his comic books take place on planets they visit. The ship is commanded by a male and female Shipmaster who share equally in all responsibilities. One of the dominant characters is Princess Tomi, who single-handedly leads her Mice People in their battle against the Owls for survival. There are robots and devices in the ship that the U.S. military incorporated some ten to 15 years after Vernon had already incorporated them into his series. The fuel that powers the ship is the feelings of discord and hate that emanates from different parts of the universe. At times the Love Rangers have to use weapons to control the warring inhabitants of the different planets they visit, but they attempt to first use their “love gas” to change the path of history. In the first book, the love gas helps change the consciousness of Count Ratalus from having a killing drive to flooding his mind with an understanding of history as well as nature’s instinctive patterns. When this happens, a well of human compassion overrides his coded savagery. He stops himself from killing Prince Tug, and they go off to work together peacefully for the betterment of the mice people and toward peaceful co-existence with their enemies, the Owls.
On July 7, 2006, Grant suffered a heart attack while on a daily run, injuring his head when he fell. He went into a coma and died two weeks later on July 23.
Grant’s work is included in Michigan State University‘s Comic Art Collection.
There are several Black mangaka, or manga creators – most unpublished, unfortunately – who are doing incredible work. Most popular among these are our own Sarah Bowman / S-Sama, the talented Latif-Saeed and the brilliant sister, Nashya.
Finally, from Ghana, is visual storyteller extraordinaire, Setor Fiadzibey, author / artist of the graphic novel Adinkra, the Legend of the Bearers, which is about a group of people, separated by tribes but united by a divine being known as the Great Weaver, an autocratic king and a common enemy known as the Shadow.
Having wrestled with the Shadow through countless generations, the Great Weaver shares his immense power with certain individuals, known as Bearers, who would deliver the people from his dark nemesis. Each Bearer is born with an adinkra symbol that grants them great power and compels them to do the bidding of the Great Weaver.
Adinkra is the tale of those Bearers, their struggles with the Shadow, their struggles with their humanity – even though they have divinity in them – and their pursuit of victory over both.
Amber will soon join Adinkra in delivering an amazing manga that is sure to entertain and inspire fans of anime, manga and fantasy of all ages. Look for it in Spring, 2014.
STEAMFUNK AIRSHIP PILOTS: Black Aviators in the Diesel Age
In this instance of the League of Extraordinary Black People Series, Steamfunk would actually be a misnomer as the first known Black pilots of an airship flew during the Diesel Age, thus these are actually Dieselfunk Airship Pilots, but I figured with Steamfunk picking up…well…steam and Rococoa on the cusp of becoming a movement – especially with the upcoming Mahogany Masquerade, which will feature Steamfunk and Rococoa and the Black Caesar graphic novel, coming in 2014 from Yours Truly and the brilliant artist, Kristopher Mosby – I figured I would wait to start pushing Dieselfunk until we open submissions to the Steamfunk II: Dieselfunk anthology, so Steamfunk Airship Pilots it is.
Many people know of the Tuskegee Airmen – especially since George Lucas’ Red Tails soared onto the silver screen – and their long list of accomplishments over the skies of Europe during the second World War.
The Tuskegee Airmen flew in the segregated 99th Pursuit Squadron and successfully completed several high-risk missions. By the end of WWII, they were the most requested squadron for bomber escort and when the United States Air Force became its own separate entity after World War II, segregation in the Armed forces had completely ended and fighter pilots of all races flew in the same squadrons.
But the Tuskegee Airmen were not the first Black fighter pilots and most certainly not the first Black aviators. There were a few Black fighter pilots in The Great War, now also known as World War I.
So grab your goggles, throw on that bomber jacket and climb into the cockpit of the airship Sweet Chariot with me as we get a bird’s-eye view of those pilots – and other great Black aviators – below:
Eugene J. Bullard
Born in 1894, in the rural South, Bullard grew tired of the racist and oppressive treatment he suffered at the hands of whites and in 1913, at the age of 19, he caught a boat going to Scotland, and then later took up residence in Paris, France.
Bullard made a good life for himself as a boxer and as a musician before joining the French Foreign Legion at the start of WWI.
Bullard did well in the Legion and served with distinction. He later transferred to the Service Aeronautique and eventually came to serve as a Spad pilot in Escadrille SPA 93 and SPA 85. His accomplishments in the Lafayette Flying Corps – the name given to the American volunteer pilots who flew for the French during World War I – include flying over 20 combat missions and two confirmed kills.
The United States, who entered the war in 1917, sought to recruit some of the Americans that were already flying for the Lafayette Flying Corps. Bullard passed the medical examination, but was denied the opportunity to fly for the United States Army Air Corps because he was Black.
When The Great War ended, Bullard returned to France and enjoyed life as a Paris socialite.
When Nazi Germany invaded France, Bullard found himself on the run. He managed to escape France and returned to the United States. Unfortunately, shortly after his arrival, he was subjected to an even more brutal brutal system of oppression than the one he had escaped.
Bullard was never given the respect and admiration in the United States that he had in Europe and he grew ill from the stress. In 1961, he died of stomach cancer.
He is credited with one confirmed victory and two probables in 1916. According to the book, The Imperial Russian Air Service by Durkota, Darcey and Kulikov, this made him a two-time recipient of The Order of St. George for his actions and the first Black aviator credited with shooting down an aircraft in combat, as his victory precedes Bullard’s.
Pliat, born in 1890, was born in Tahiti – known, at the time, as French Polynesia – but at the age of seventeen, moved to Russia with his mother, a nurse, and became a volunteer in the Russian Air Force.
Originally, Pliat served in the Russian Army as a driver, but was soon transferred to the Imperial Air Force, where he performed dual responsibilities as motor mechanic and gunner.
On April 13, 1916, Pliat took part in an air raid on the fortified German flak station, Daudzevas. The aircraft and crew of the Sikorsky Il’ya Muromets took major damage from bullets and shrapnel. Knowing the plane would soon crash, Pliat climbed out of the plane and onto the wing, remained there for nearly an hour, repairing the plane’s damaged engines.
Due to Pliat’s actions, the Ilya Muromets was able to land, despite suffering seventy bullet holes in its body, wings and engines. Pliat was awarded the title of senior non-commissioned officer.
In early November of 1916, Pliat, regarded as an experienced and skilled marksman, requested – and was rewarded – the tail gunner position upon the sophisticated Muromtsev bomber. During a mission in that same month, Pliat proved his skill by shooting down a reported three German fighter planes.
Unfortunately, the fate of Marcel Pliat after November 1916, is unknown as most records of the Imperial Air Force were destroyed when the Bolsheviks came into power in 1917.
Ahmet Ali Celikten
Born in 1883 in Smyrna (present day İzmir), Celikten’s mother Zenciye Emine Hanım, was of Yoruba ancestry and his father, Ali Bey, of Afro-Arab ancestry.
Celikten aimed to become a naval sailor and entered the Naval Technical School, Haddehâne Mektebi in 1904.
In 1908, he graduated as a First Lieutenant (“Mülâzım-ı evvel”) and then went to aviation courses in the Naval Flight School (“Deniz Tayyare Mektebi”), earning his wings in 1914 at Yeşilköy, which makes Celikten the first Black military pilot in aviation history.
At twelve years old, Coleman began attending the Missionary Baptist Church in Texas and, after graduating, embarked on a journey to Oklahoma to attend the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (Langston University), where she completed only one term due to financial constraints.
In 1915, at 23 years of age, Coleman moved to Chicago, where she lived with her brothers and worked as a manicurist.
Not long after her move to Chicago, Coleman began listening to and reading stories of World War I pilots, which sparked her interest in aviation.
Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French, moved to France and enrolled in the well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation.
In 1922, After just seven months of training, Coleman broke barriers and became the world’s first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Desiring to start a flying school for African Americans when she returned to the U.S., Coleman used her aerial skills to earn money, entertaining crowds with her amazing stunt flying, parachuting, barnstorming and aerial tricks. Also in 1922, Coleman broke yet another barrier, performing the first public flight by an African-American woman in the United States.
Tragically, on April 30, 1926, Coleman was killed in an accident during a rehearsal for an aerial show. She was only 33 years old.
Black flyers founded the Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs, right after her death and the famed The Bessie Aviators organization was founded by Black women pilots in 1975.
In 1990, Chicago renamed a road near O’Hare International Airport for Bessie Coleman. That same year, St. Louis’ International Airport unveiled a mural honoring Black Americans in Flight, including Bessie Coleman.
In 1995, the U.S. Postal Service honored Bessie Coleman with a commemorative stamp.
In October, 2002, Bessie Coleman was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in New York.
J. Herman Banning
And he was right.
Banning studied electrical engineering at Iowa State College for a little more than a year after which he became “air-minded.” He took up lessons, learning to fly at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines, Iowa and obtained his aviator license from the U. S. Dept. of Commerce.
Banning operated the J. H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928 but in 1929, left Ames to live in Los Angeles, where he became the chief pilot for the Bessie Coleman Aero Club.
Banning and another Black pilot, Thomas C. Allen became the first Black pilots to fly coast-to-coast – from Los Angeles to Long Island, NY – in 1932. Using a plane pieced together from junkyard parts, they made the 3,300 mile trip in less than 42 hours aloft. However, the trip actually required 21 days to complete because the pilots had to raise money each time they stopped.
Banning was a passenger in a biplane, sitting in the front open cockpit without controls, during a San Diego air show. The Navy pilot at the controls, trying to impress his more accomplished passenger, pulled the nose of the tiny plane up into a steep climb. The plane stalled and fell into a fatal spin in front of hundreds of horrified spectators.
Oscar Wayman Holmes
Oscar Wayman Holmes, who never really thought of himself as a pioneer, actually broke three color barriers, becoming the first African American air traffic controller in 1941 and a year later becoming the first commissioned Black officer in the U.S. Navy and the first Black Navy pilot.
Holmes never set out to break down racial barriers – he just wanted to fly.
Born on January 31, 1916, in Dunbar, West Virginia, Holmes attended a segregated school in nearby Charleston. Upon graduating from Garnet High School in 1932, he entered West Virginia State College, a land-grant institution for Black citizens of segregated West Virginia and earned a B.S. in chemistry in 1936.
With a graduate assistantship funded by the National Youth Administration, Holmes earned a M.S. in chemistry from Ohio State University three years later.
A superb student, Holmes’ graduate research became the basis for a coauthored article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society – a rare feat for a master’s student. Although he later claimed to hate chemistry, Holmes taught the subject for three years at Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
Tired of the low paying teaching job, he subsequently found a part-time position as a water and fuel analyst for a power company in Erie, Pennsylvania.
While in Erie, Holmes entered the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP). Established in 1939 by the federal government, the CPTP introduced young Americans to aviation. Holmes successfully completed the program and earned his private pilot’s certificate. Shortly thereafter, he spotted a civil service job announcement at the Erie post office that put him on the path to a new career. The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) was looking for air traffic controller applicants with a college degree and a private pilot’s license.
In 1941, once he completed his training, the CAA offered Holmes a position as an assistant controller at the New York airway traffic control center with an annual salary of $1,800 per year. After he accepted the position, the CAA required Holmes to fill out a questionnaire that included a question on race.
Although he got the job and excelled in it, he was denied a promotion due to his race. Frustrated by this, Holmes applied to the U.S. Navy in 1942. The Navy was offering commissions to men who had pilots’ licenses and 100 hours of flying time to train as flight instructors and ferry pilots.
Although he did not have the requisite flying time, Holmes applied and soon had an ensign’s commission. The Navy did not know it had commissioned an African-American because of Holmes’ light complexion (The Navy did not knowingly commission a Black officer until March 1944.)
At Colgate University, where the Navy had enrolled Holmes in the War Training Service Program, newly commissioned officers had to submit, among other things, a birth certificate. At this point, Holmes later explained, “they realized they now had commissioned a Negro in their Navy . . . They didn’t know what to do about it, and I suppose rather than make a fuss . . . and try to get rid of me they said, ‘Oh, we’ve got him now, we’ll just let him stay.’”
Finishing flight instructor training at the New Orleans Naval Air Station, Holmes became the first Black flying officer. The Navy assigned him first to sit on the Aviation Cadet Selection Board and then in 1944 as a ferry pilot for the Naval Air Transport Service, Air Ferry Squadron III. The Navy treated Holmes as any other officer, which was unique at the time since the military was segregated. Black sailors served in the “Black” Navy, and Black aviators in the Army Air Corps served in segregated units and were not allowed in officers’ clubs. As Holmes explained, “The Navy knew I was black, and I knew I was black, but not many other people knew it.”
After the war, Holmes returned to his job at the CAA’s New York airway traffic center, finally receiving his promotion as well as a second promotion six months later. In 1950, he became a senior controller. While at his job in New York, Holmes attended Brooklyn Law School as a part-time student. He graduated with a bachelor of laws (LL.B.) degree in 1954. He earned a master of laws (LL.M.) the following year. Admitted to the New York State bar, he opened a part-time law practice. He gave up his practice when he accepted a position at the Federal Aviation Agency’s headquarters in June 1959. There he advanced his career and retired as a GS-15 hearing officer in 1973.
The Tuskegee Airmen
Due to racial discrimination, African-American servicemen were not allowed to learn to fly until 1941, when African American college graduates were selected for what the Army called “an experiment” – the creation of the segregated 99th Fighter Squadron, which trained at an airfield adjacent to Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute.
The experiment involved training Black pilots and ground support members who originally formed the 99th Pursuit Squadron. The squadron, quickly dubbed the Tuskegee Airmen, was activated on March 22, 1941, and redesignated as the 99th Fighter Squadron on May 15, 1942.
For every Black pilot in the Tuskegee Airmen, there were ten Black civilian, officer and enlisted men and women on ground support duty.
Charles Alfred Anderson, one of the first African-American’s to earn his pilot’s license, became the first flight instructor when the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was organized at Tuskegee Institute in October 1939. The army decided to model its training program on the CPTP and hired Anderson to teach the Tuskegee pilots.
When Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941, she insisted on taking a ride in an airplane with a Black pilot at the controls. Roosevelt’s pilot was Charles Anderson. She then insisted that her flight with Anderson be photographed and the film developed immediately so that she could take the photographs back to Washington when she left the field. Roosevelt used this photograph as part of her campaign to convince her husband, President F.D. Roosevelt, to activate the participation of the Tuskegee Airmen in North Africa and in the European Theater and in June 1943, the Tuskegee Airmen entered into combat over North Africa.
The Airmen exemplified courage, skill and dedication in combat. They flew P-39-, P-40-, P-47- and P-51-type aircraft in more than 15,000 sorties, completing over 1,500 missions during the war. They never lost an escorted bomber to enemy fighters, a record no other escort unit could claim.
When the war ended, the Tuskegee Airmen returned home with one hundred and fifty Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. The group was deactivated in May 1946 but its success would contribute to the eventual integration of the United States military in 1948.
“IT’S LIKE STEAMPUNK BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER…WITH BLACK FOLKS!”
Well, that is sort of paraphrasing a description of Rite of Passage, the Steamfunk feature film, by Professor Lisa Yaszek, Director of Undergraduate Studies. School of Literature, Media and Communication and one of the Associate Producers of the film. Her actual description: “When people ask what Rite of Passage is about, I tell them to think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, set in Victorian times, with Black superheroes.”
Jadon Ben Israel, filmmaker and veteran actor of such films as Fast Five and Champion Road: Arena – who plays Vampire-Lord and martial arts master, Joe in Rite of Passage – describes the film as a “Black Steampunk Avengers.”
Milton Davis, author, publisher, Executive Producer of Rite of Passage and writer of the original story upon which the film is based, describes the film as “A Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that gives a glimpse of the adventure yet to come.”
And, of course, accurate.
In the Rite of Passage universe, the Orisa (oh-REE-sha) – forces of nature that serve and guide humans and animals alike – have given several powerful artifacts to Oluwo (“Master Teachers; possessors of secret powers”), who are to keep those artifacts until their rightful possessors – known as Guardians – come along. The Oluwo are to help their Guardian transform, so that they are worthy to possess the artifact.
In the film, the Guardians are Dorothy Wright, Black Dispatch, Conductor on the Underground Railroad and pupil of Harriet Tubman; famed lawman, Bass Reeves; and John Henry, the legendary “steel drivin’ man.”
Harriet Tubman – who is an artifact, given to the world to protect it – gathers the Guardians around the globe to prepare them for the coming of a powerful entity she calls Jedidiah Green, an ancient and dark being who feeds on the power of the artifacts and is drawn to their possessors.
We also learn a bit about the other Guardians, such as the brutal – and somewhat insane – Dentist of Westminster and Sherlock Holmes.
Jedidiah Green also has his team of “supervillains”, if you will: the Piper, the Blood-Kin (vampires) and the Night-Kin (zombies, ghouls, ghasts, Night Howlers and other undead).
African American rodeo owner, Nat (pronounced “Nate”) Love flees to Nicodemus, Kansas – the small town destined to be the final battlefield in the war against Jedidiah Green and home to the Guardians – after his business rival, P.T. Barnum, tries to have him murdered.
Barnum dispatches a special team of assassins to Nicodemus to retrieve Nat Love by any means and to kill the Guardians if necessary.
And thus begins the film.
We have been in production since August 18, following the production of the tie-in, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
Production is going very well, although filming on a budget of fumes has proved very challenging and we had to forgo shooting once because we just did not have the money to purchase the costumes for that scene. This of course, is our biggest obstacle, so please donate and help us out. Steampunks, we would definitely appreciate any donations of old costumes and or props…oh, and we have great perks, too!
The actors are phenomenal, really bringing their characters to life.
Recently, actor Maurice Johnson, who portrays – no, who is – John Henry, received a call from E. Roger Mitchell, who has had starring roles in Flight, alongside Denzel Washington, Battle Los Angeles, S.W.A.T. and The Crazies – and who portrayed John Henry in the short masterpiece, John Henry and the Railroad. Mitchell told Maurice that he has been following what is going on with Rite of Passage and told him “Now, you are the real John Henry!”
The crew is amazing and makes my job easy. Director of Photography, John Thornton, who is also Professor of Film Production at GA-Tech, brings his experience as a Director and Cinematographer for several independent and Disney films to Rite of Passage. Imed “Kunle” Patman, Cinematographer, brings his experience and artistic genius to the film, as does Assistant Director and Editor, Brandon Davis.
“We have really been blessed to have such talented and intelligent people working with us,” Akin Danny Donaldson, Producer of Rite of Passage, said. “We are making history as we make a film about our history.”
PAINTING A STEAMPUNK WORLD A DARKER SHADE OF BROWN:
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Dentist of Westminster
On Sunday, August 4, 2013, Yours Truly and the rest of the brilliant cast and crew of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage shot a short film that ties-in to the feature film, Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster.
In Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster, Osho Adewale, the first Black dentist in the United Kingdom – and the best dentist in Westminster, England – visits the town of Nicodemus, Kansas and his cousin forces an artifact upon him that forever changes his life.
Osho becomes the fifth Guardian of Nicodemus – along with Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, Bass Reeves and John Henry – but Harriet Tubman sends him back to the UK to serve as her representative in Europe as they prepare for the coming of a powerful entity, who, like Harriet, is connected to the artifacts that hold the power of the Orisa but does not possess any artifact.
Harriet is the living embodiment of the residual power constantly leaked by all the artifacts on earth; the entity who Harriet is preparing to receive feeds off the power of the artifacts and of those who wield them.
The world of Rite of Passage continues to grow and the story is ever-increasing in excitement. Author Milton Davis and I are having a ball creating this amazing Steamfunk world, developing its heroes and villains and entwining it all with African and African-American history.
Join us August 23, 2013, as we draw you deeper into the world of Rite of Passage at the internet premiere of Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. Visit the Rite of Passage website after 12:00 pm EST, click the Dentist of Westminster tab and enjoy!
For those of you who receive an invitation to the Rite of Passage: Dentist of Westminster Private Screening and Meet & Greet on August 22, 2013, we have some fun and exciting surprises in store for you, so be sure to keep your appointment with The Dentist; his chair awaits you!
Does Steampunk Promote Violence?
In the wake of the trial of George Zimmerman and the verdict, which was disheartening and disappointing for many – not me, I expected it to go just the way it did, but that’s another story, for another time – we feel a desperate need to know why, so we can understand how – how can we keep this from happening again? When someone shoots up a school, a mall, office building, or a child many of us blame lax gun laws, and recommend those laws become stricter. Others blame it on cultural factors – violent video games and films have sickened our culture, glorifying wanton violence and desensitizing our youth to its effects.
So, where do we draw the line?
Do we wrest firearms from the cold, dead fingers of the American public (and they will, most certainly, have to be dead because people are not just giving up their guns in the U.S. of A)?
Do we wrest wireless controllers from the sweaty, dead palms of the players of Call of Duty, and Halo (and they will, most certainly, have to be dead because game geeks are not giving up their COD)?
Should we ban violent films and books like Braveheart or Homer’s Iliad? Should we edit out the kills from Shakespearean plays?
In truth, violence is a great – perhaps the great – staple of the entertainment industry.
We gorge ourselves on violence in television shows, novels, films, sporting events and video games, but a half century search for real-world consequences of violence in the media has found no conclusive evidence of any link. Hundreds of millions of people watch violent television and play violent games and never develop the slightest urge to kill.
Most Steampunks and Steamfunkateers insert their personas into imaginative scenarios in which they play the role of a hero who bravely confronts the forces of chaos and destruction. When we play most video games, role playing games or cosplay we aren’t training to be mass murderers or serial killers; we are emulating the good guy who races to place himself between evil and its victims.
The same applies when we engross ourselves in more traditional fiction formats like film, television, and novels.
Almost without exception, when the villain of a story kills, his violence is condemned. When the hero kills, that kill is righteous. Fiction preaches that violence is only acceptable under defined circumstances – to protect the good and the weak from the evil and the strong. What Steven King says of horror stories in his book, Danse Macabre, applies to all forms of imaginary violence: “The horror story, beneath its fangs and fright wig, is really as conservative as an Illinois Republican in a three-piece pinstriped suit…It’s main purpose is to reaffirm the virtues of the norm by showing us what awful things happen to people who venture into taboo lands. Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile.”
Resist the urge to find and torch a scapegoat – whether in the entertainment industry or the gun lobby.
And remember that the portrayal of heroes armed with steam-powered rifles, aether pistols, or gear-driven retractable claws are just portrayals. We Steampunks and Steamfunkateers are – in general – friendly, mannerly and relatively sane.
Now those anime cosplayers? They’ll kill ya’.
Just kidding! *looks around nervously for a teenager with disheveled blue hair and a wildly oversized sword*
BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH: Celebrating Over 150 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror By and About Black People
BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH: Celebrating Over 150 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror By and About Black People
In Atlanta, we are doing it big in October, with a full month of spectacular, educational and downright fun events, all leading up to the wildly popular, 4th Annual – and now national – Alien Encounters Black Speculative Fiction Conference.
In addition to Atlanta, Alien Encounters gatherings will take place throughout October in different major cities in the United States, including the DMV (D.C.; Maryland; Virginia), Philly and San Diego, just to name a few.
Join us for three exciting days of panels, presentations and parties as we illuminated and expand Black Speculative Fiction!
October 25, 2013, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – The Mahogany Masquerade Film Festival and Cosplay Party: Come dressed in your best Steamfunk and Dieselfunk costumes as we enjoy Black Speculative Fiction short films and meet their creators.
9:00 pm until: Mahogany Masquerade After-Party
6:00 to 8:00 pm – Horror on the Black Hand Side: Horror Fiction from a Black point of view.
8:00 pm until – Black Hand Side After-Party
October 27, 2013
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman: The conscious community of Black comic books and graphic novels.
Very exciting times for creators and fans of Black Speculative Fiction and Film; however, the creation of such great and entertaining works are not new. In 1859, for example, Martin Delany published Blake, or The Huts of America, a novel about an alternate history in which a successful slave revolt in the Southern states leads to the founding of a Black country in Cuba.
Charles W. Chesnutt penned The Conjure Woman in 1899, which is the first known speculative fiction collection written by a person of color.
W.E.B. Dubois gave us The Comet in 1920, a post-apocalyptic story about a world where the only survivors of an apocalyptic event are a Black man and a white woman.
Also in 1920, South African author and entrepreneur Thomas Mofolo published his novel, Chaka, which presented a fantastical rendering of the famous – and infamous – Zulu king’s life.
Son of Ingagi is a Black Science Fiction / Horror film released in 1940. It is the story of Eleanor and Bob Lindsay, who inherit the house of Helen Jackson, a physician who has just returned from her trip to Africa possessing gold…and the monstrous, murderous, missing link-type creature named N’Gina.
Many great works of Black Speculative Fiction have followed through the years. Here is a sampling of more great speculative fiction and films by and about Black people:
The Jewels of Aptor, is a Science Fiction novel, written in 1962 by 19 year old genius, Samuel Delaney about a post-atomic future, when civilization has regressed to something near the Middle Ages, or even before, a young student and poet, Geo, takes a job as a sailor on a boat with a strange passenger, a priestess of the goddess Argo, who is heading toward a mysterious land of mutants and high radiation, called Aptor, presumably to recapture a young priestess of Argo, her daughter, who has been kidnapped by the forces of the dark god Hama.
This novel has since gone on to win countless prestigious awards including the coveted Nebula and Hugo awards.
Echo Tree, an amazing collection of short, speculative works by master writer, Henry Dumas, features such stories – all written in the mid-to-late 60s – as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a fantasy story, with elements of horror, set in an underground jazz club. The protagonist, Probe, tests a legendary instrument of immense power on a few unwelcome guests; and “Fon,” a story in which flaming arrows rain from the sky to dispatch a group of would-be lynchers.
Along with Charles Saunders, Henry Dumas is my favorite author and one of my greatest influences. After you read Echo Tree, I am sure he will be one of your favorites, too.
Space Is the Place is an 82-minute science fiction film made in 1972 and released in 1974. It was directed by John Coney, written by revered musician, Sun Ra and Joshua Smith, and featured Sun Ra and his Arkestra in starring roles.
The story revolves around Sun Ra, who has been reported lost since a European tour in June 1969. The musician lands on a new planet in outer space with his crew “The Arkestra” and decides to settle African Americans on this planet. Sun Ra’s medium of transportation throughout space and time is music. He travels back in time, arriving in a Chicago strip club where he used to play piano under the stage name Sonny Ray. There, he confronts The Overseer, a pimp-overlord, and they agree on a duel at cards for the fate of the Black race.
A Blacktacular pulp fiction novel – one of my favorites, by one of my favorite authors – is Damballa, an engaging tale of a shadowy hero who fights evil in 1930s Harlem with unprecedented martial skills and a combination of African and Western science.
If you have not read any of Charles Saunders work, run, don’t walk, to your nearest computer and visit his website.
Pumzi is a Kenyan science-fiction short film written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world in which water scarcity has extinguished life above ground, this brilliant short film follows one scientist’s quest to investigate the possibility of germinating seeds beyond the confines of her repressive subterranean Nairobi culture.
Winner of numerous awards including Best Short Film at BET Urban World Film Festival & a student film award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Wake is a story steeped in the southern gothic tradition. Written, produced, directed & edited by filmmaker Bree Newsome, Wake is a masterpiece of horror, humor and dark fantasy. This is Southern Horror at its finest!
Next is a novel that helped launch a major movement in speculative fiction.
A long-time admirer of Harriet Tubman, in Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Balogun Ojetade elevates this already heroic icon to super-heroic status, pitting her against the advanced technologies and enhanced abilities of the servants of a government that has turned its back on her and seeks to see her dead. Harriet, possessing extraordinary abilities of her own, enlists the aid of other heroes of history to make a stand against the powerful forces of evil.
Balogun transports you to Harriet Tubmans world: a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people. In this novel – the first ever book in the subgenre known as Steamfunk – 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?
With more authors and fans becoming interested in Steamfunk, many more works have begun to appear. The next bestselling work elevates the subgenre of Steamfunk and sends its popularity soaring into the stratosphere:
A 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 – African and African American-inspired Steampunk.
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.
This is the definitive work for what Steamfunk is and how much fun it can be.
These are exciting times, indeed. October will be the culmination – and the beginning; the sharing and celebration of 150 years of stories that excite, inspire, frighten, educate, entertain and evoke change.
October is gonna be hotter than fish grease!
I’ll be celebrating all month.
Come party with me!
WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom
Recently, I read an excellent – and somewhat saddening – post on the Rude Girl Magazine blog entitled A Search for Black Fandom.
The author laments: “A lot of times when I watch things, and am seeking out internet reactions and discussion, I wish I had access to other black opinions. Sometimes fandom is like watching a movie with a room full of white people – when someone does something kinda shady and racist, you want to lean over and be like ‘did this motherfucker just really,’ but then you realize you’re the only black person there so you have to weigh whether or not you’re in the mood for bullshit, because that’s what you’ll get by bringing this up with white people.”
The author thought that she was all alone in the nerdiverse. That there were no other Black people into Science Fiction, comic books, cosplay, Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons and she felt crippled by this: “It’s no secret that fandom can be racist. Like, really, really racist…if you, as a black person, want to enjoy something – anything – in most popular fandom, you kind of have to decide not to bring up problematic aspects of the source material if you’re not ready to break out the bingo card for yet another tragic game of ‘No That’s Not Racist Toward Black People, Let Me Tell You Why,’ during which white people from all corners of the globe will gather to attempt to invalidate your thoughts, feelings and experiences.”
I am constantly reminded of just how important the work I and the other members of our authors, filmmakers and artists collective – State of Black Science Fiction – do really is. We tell the stories that need to be told – stories of heroes that have been ignored; history that has been forgotten…or denied.
Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa are subgenres of fiction, fashion and film that convey the heroes and history of Africa, African-America and, indeed, the entire Diaspora. There are also many great tales of science fiction, horror, action-adventure and the paranormal with heroes of African descent.
I have been a guest and panelist at several small and major fandom conventions and I – along with my friend and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and the numbers are growing rapidly and immensely.
However, every time I get comfortable, a blog, an attendee at a panel discussion, or a fan at a convention will say “I thought I was the only one reading, doing and / or writing this,” or “If I had known Black people were writing this kind of stuff (or making these kinds of movies), I would have gotten into this a long time ago.”
Statements like that tell me that there is a lot more work to do and that there are a lot more people to reach.
I want my sister at Rude Girl Magazine to know that she need lament no longer and that she is certainly not alone.
We’re here my dear sister.
Below is a list of great recent fandom events with a strong Black presence. Most are annual events, so put them on your calendar and be sure to attend.
Black Speculative Fiction Film Festival, August 2012 – Auburn Avenue Research Library; Atlanta, GA
OnyxCon 4th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention, August 2012 – Southwest Arts Center; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, August 2012 – Dragon*Con; Atlanta, GA
The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, October 2012 – Alien Encounters (an annual Black Fandom Symposium); Atlanta, GA
The Afrofuturist Affair Museum of Time 2nd Annual Charity & Costume Ball, November 2012 – Philadelphia, PA (an annual costume ball and afrofuturism presentation / performance)
Black Science Fiction Film Festival, February 2013 – Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA (an annual film festival featuring fantasy, science fiction and horror films by and about people of African descent from around the world); Atlanta, GA
Multiculturalism in Alternate History Panel, February 2013 – AnachroCon; Atlanta, GA
Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts, March 2013 – Spelman College; Atlanta, GA
12th Annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), May 2013; Philadelphia, PA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 2013 – SciFi Summer Con; Atlanta, GA
State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 15, 2013 – Wesley Chapel Library; Atlanta, GA (upcoming)
IT AIN’T A $7 CUP O’ JOE, BUT…When Science Fiction & Fantasy meet the mean streets!
A few nights ago, late night talk show host and comedian, Jimmy Kimmel, conducted a taste test to see how people would react to the new $7 cup of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera coffee that Starbucks is introducing.
However, instead of Costa Rica Finca Palmilera, each participant was presented with two cups of coffee and they had to determine which one was regular coffee and which one was “super-premium”. Unknown to the participants, each cup was poured from the same pot of regular, cheap coffee.
Time and again, the participants claimed one cup was better than the other – how one was richer; one creamier; one much more bold. Finally, one man – who looked like he just stepped off the set of Sons of Anarchy – said that both cups of coffee tasted exactly the same.
Later, that same night, I watched a documentary about Street Lit. Also called “urban fiction”, “hip hop fiction”, “gangsta lit” or “ghetto lit”, Street Lit is a mega-popular genre, especially among readers in their teens and 20s. In the 40-plus years since Robert “Iceberg Slim” Beck released Pimp, the audience for so-called “street literature” has remained faithful, making bestsellers of such successors of Beck as Donald Goines, Omar Tyree, Teri Woods, Vickie Stringer, Sister Souljah and ‘Relentless’ Aaron.
Sessalee Hensley, a renowned fiction buyer for Barnes & Noble, says that urban lit now dominates the shelves of African-American fiction: “We have 25 or so new urban titles a month, versus about one of the literary titles.”
With provocative titles, such as Black and Ugly and Section 8: A Hoodrat Novel, and with covers featuring half-naked women, flashy cars and big guns, these books stand out on the shelves. And standing out equals huge sales.
Around the country, street literature not only outsells novels by such esteemed Black authors as Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, but also popular genre fiction such as The Da Vinci Code. Owners of independent black bookstores say they must either stock street lit, or by a ton of candles for when the lights are turned off.
However, even with the extraordinary success of street lit, the genre and its authors are still not respected as “real” authors and are, in fact, highly disrespected. In the documentary, entitled Behind Those Books, poets, authors and activists spoke passionately for or against this booming book industry.
In the documentary, Terry McMillan, author of the bestselling novel, Waiting to Exhale, says of street lit, “The fact that they are glorifying things that happen in our communities that shouldn’t be glorified – being a pimp, being a ho, you know? How much we can get away with it is seen as something to be applauded almost.” She goes on to say – “There will be something sexual to look at and it’s always a black woman. And it insults the hell out of me because it’s almost as if our breasts and our behinds are for sale…In the end [of reading a street lit novel], I want to know, am I a better person? Do I feel better about my son, my mama, my daddy, my brother, my neighbor? Now we are turning on ourselves. THAT’s what I hate about that shit [street lit].”
While street lit is known to be riddled with grammatical errors, misspelling, inconsistencies in the stories – and other issues that scream “Get a damned editor!” – Many authors of street lit actually write well and some even strive to be original in their work. In earlier posts, I discussed how Black people love science fiction and fantasy; and, obviously, we love street lit. Thus, it had to happen – street lit / science fiction and street lit / fantasy mash-ups.
Of course, urban fantasy is already wildly popular, however, to my surprise, some “urban science fiction” novels are pretty good reads too.
Yes, they are set in the ‘hood, but, as anyone who has lived in the ‘hood can attest, anything and everything happens there. If aliens launch an attack on the earth, I guarantee it will start in the ‘hood. One of my favorite films, Attack the Block, deals with this very subject, with hilarious – and terrifying – results.
Zetta Elliot’s Blacknificent young adult urban fantasy novel, A Wish After Midnight, is about 15 year-old protagonist, Genna, who resides in the projects of Brooklyn. Genna’s mother has a hard time making ends meet and to make matters worse, Genna’s brother is involved in gang life. To escape the stresses of ‘hood life, Genna regularly visits the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, where she finds herself time travelling after making a wish at a fountain.
Genna and her friend, Judah, end up in Brooklyn during the Age of Steam. They eventually become heroes, fighting for justice and equality in the ‘hood of 1860s Brooklyn during the American Civil War.
Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring is set in 21st century Toronto, which has been barricaded off and abandoned by its rich, predominantly white suburbs. Helpless to defend itself against the oppression of a ruthless drug lord, the city becomes one big…you guessed it…’hood.
Are these works Urban Fiction? Science Fiction? Fantasy? All three? None of the above?
Is Science Fiction Costa Rica Finca Palmilera and Urban Fiction regular coffee? Or, if done well, can they both be enjoyed from the same pot?
It was actually Hopkinson’s brilliant work that inspired me to write Redeemer, an urban fantasy novel set in the future – and the present – ‘hood. The pitch: Sent nearly thirty years into the past as an unwilling subject in a time travel experiment, Ezekiel Cross must save his younger self from the deadly path that forged him into the ruthless killer he is. This edge-of-your-seat thriller is both gangster saga and fantasy epic – “Goodfellas” meets “The Time Machine”.
Will fans of urban fiction love Redeemer? Yep.
Is Redeemer science fantasy, or is it urban fantasy? Yep.
Redeemer is whatever genre or subgenre you want, or need, it to be.
Is Redeemer a cup of “super-premium”, Costa Rica Finca Palmilera, or just a regular Cup O’ Joe? Who cares? It’s rich, creamy, bold and stimulating.
Pick up a cup and enjoy!
DO BLACK PEOPLE REALLY DO THIS STUFF? First, Steamfunk; Now, Rococoa!
During last year’s wildly popular Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, I inquired about the era that sits between Sword and Soul – the subgenre of African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy that is usually set before colonization – and Steamfunk, which normally takes place between 1837 and 1901. I asked if anyone had a name for that time because it is a time that fascinates me – a time of revolution (in particular, the Haitian Revolution); a time of pirates and swashbucklers; a time of reverence for art and science.
No one at the event had a name for the era, however, everyone agreed the time possessed that “cool factor” found in Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
Curious by nature and a researcher by choice, I immediately began my quest of discovery, fueled by my determination to find a name for this era that fascinated me so.
After a brief bit of research, I stumbled upon Rococo…and, to my surprise, Rococopunk.
Rococo is derived from the French word rocaille, originally meaning the bits of rocky decoration sometimes found in 16th-century architectural schemes. It was first used in its modern sense around 1800, at about the same time as baroque, and, like baroque, was initially a pejorative term.
The earliest rococo forms appeared around 1700 at Versailles and its surrounding châteaux as a reaction against the oppressive formality of French classical-baroque in those buildings. In 1701 a suite of rooms at Versailles, including the king’s bedroom, was redecorated in a new, lighter, and more graceful style by the royal designer, Pierre Lepautre (1648-1716).
In the world of painting, Rococo style is characterized by delicate colors, many decorative details, and a graceful and intimate mood. Similarly, music in the Rococo style is homophonic and light in texture, melodic, and elaborately ornamented. In France, the term for this was style galant (gallant or elegant style) and, in Germany, empfindsamer stil (sensitive style). François Couperin, in France, and two of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach – Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Christian Bach – in Germany, were important composers of music in the Rococo style.
Rococopunk is – like Dieselpunk – a sibling of Steampunk, set in the earlier Renaissance era, primarily in the high-class French community of the time. Participants in this movement wear outlandish makeup and hairstyles and sport bold, brightly colored clothing. Think Amadeus, Pirates of the Caribbean, or The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. For darker Rococopunk – think Last of the Mohicans, Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, Brotherhood of the Wolf, or Sleepy Hollow.
Okay, I had a name for the era. Now, I needed to come up with a name to define the Black expression of Rococopunk; a name to define the subgenre so that – as author and publisher Milton Davis says of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul – “when you hear or read ‘Steamfunk’ or ‘Sword and Soul’, you know exactly what you’re getting.”
Before I could come up with a name myself, the brilliant Briaan L. Barron, artist and owner of Bri-Dimensional Images and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, did it for me with her release of the animated documentary, Steamfunk and Rococoa: A Black Victorian Fantasy. While there is not much talk of Rococo or Rococopunk in the documentary – it is mainly about Steampunk and Steamfunk and features Diana Pho of Beyond Victoriana and Yours Truly – the spelling, Rococoa, was perfect!
So, with a smile on my face, I now sit down to write Rococoa stories. Stories I will enjoy writing and hopefully you will enjoy reading.
Steamfunk now has a sibling.
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!
A folk hero is a type of hero who gains this status based on personal achievement or some action which is recognized by others as revolutionary.
The one crucial trait that every folk hero must possess is widespread recognition of the person as being heroic. Many people commit acts of kindness or generosity but that alone does not make them a folk hero. When society is able to recognize an important figure by their name, personality, or deeds – and those deeds are deemed heroic by a large group of people – then that figure has achieved the status of folk hero.
In this post, we continue with the League of Extraordinary Black People Series and explore Black Folk Heroes in the Age of Steam!
High John the Conqueror
John the Conqueror – also known as High John the Conqueror, John de Conquer, John the Conqueroo and John D. Konkeroo – was an African prince who was sold as a slave in the Americas. Despite his enslavement, his spirit was never broken and because of the tricks he played to evade the back breaking labor and punishments inflicted by his cruel masters, he survived, in folklore, as a revered trickster figure.
In the Rite of Passage Steamfunk universe, he is the mayor of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas, an extraordinary little town, which is protected by four extraordinary guardians who possess extraordinary abilities.
In fact, every inhabitant of the town is, in some way extraordinary, however, among the inhabitants, John and the Guardians are the most powerful, feared and revered of them all.
Joel Chandler Harris’s ‘Br’er Rabbit’, of the Uncle Remus stories, is said to be patterned after High John the Conqueror. Zora Neale Hurston wrote of his adventures (“High John de Conquer”) in her collection of folklore, The Sanctified Church. She also makes reference to him in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
In one traditional John the Conqueror story told by Virginia Hamilton, John falls in love with the Devil’s daughter. The Devil sets John a number of impossible tasks: he must clear sixty acres (25 ha) of land in half a day, and then sow it with corn and reap it in the other half a day. The Devil’s daughter furnishes John with a magical axe and plow that get these impossible tasks done, but warns John that her father the Devil means to kill him even if he performs them. John and the Devil’s daughter steal the Devil’s own horses; the Devil pursues them, but they escape his clutches by shape-shifting.
In High John De Conquer, Zora Neale Hurston reports that: like King Arthur of England, he has served his people. And, like King Arthur, he is not dead. He waits to return when his people shall call him again … High John de Conquer went back to Africa, but he left his power here, which dwells in the root of a certain plant. Possess that root, and he can be summoned at any time.
Clever, strong, and independent, High John the Conqueror is a child of the merging cultures of Africa and America, and – true to his trickster ways – although John is an Afrikan man in bondage, he exhibits all the qualities of an ideal American.
Railroad Bill was an African American outlaw whose action-packed career on the wrong side of the law has been preserved in music, fiction, and theater. He has been variously portrayed as a Robin Hood character, a murderous criminal, a shape shifter, and a nameless victim of the Jim Crow South.
While his identity has never been conclusively identified, it is believed by railroad detectives that he was a man named Morris Slater, but residents of Brewton, Alabama disagree, believing him to be a man named Bill McCoy, who was shot – and erroneously believed killed – by local law enforcement.
In early 1895, an armed vagrant began riding the L&N railroad’s boxcars between Flomaton and Mobile, earning the nickname “Railroad Bill,” or sometimes just “Railroad,” from the trainmen who had trouble detaining the rifle-wielding hitchhiker.
On March 6, 1895, railroad employees attempted to restrain a man they found sleeping on a water tank along the railroad. The man fired on them and escaped into the woods after hijacking a train car. This incident sparked a manhunt by railroad company detectives that led a posse to Bay Minette on April 6, 1895. When detectives confronted an armed man there, he opened fire. Baldwin County Deputy Sheriff James H. Stewart was killed in the ensuing gunfight and Railroad Bill evaded capture again.
Deputy Stewart’s killing by this mysterious, elusive and deadly Black man incurred the full wrath of law enforcement and the media. A notice for a $500 reward posted in Mobile identified him as Morris Slater, a convict-lease worker who in 1893 had fled from a turpentine camp in Bluff Springs, Florida, after killing a lawman. Slater had been nicknamed “Railroad Time” for his rapid work pace. Railroad Bill crossed into Florida where, on July 4, 1895, Brewton Sheriff E. S. McMillan tracked him to a house near Bluff Springs. As the sheriff approached the dwelling, the fugitive opened fire and disappeared into the woods, leaving McMillan fatally wounded.
The killing of Sheriff McMillan marked a turning point and greatly expanded the efforts of both Alabama and Florida in hunting down Railroad Bill.
Despite a massive increase in manpower, the outlaw remained at large, robbing trains and selling goods to impoverished people for prices lower than the local merchant stores and, of course, engaging in an occasional shoot-out with lawmen and L&N Railroad authorities.
And the legend of Railroad Bill grew.
Many Black people admired his courage and audacity. Some people attributed supernatural powers to Railroad Bill, maintaining that he was able to evade capture by changing into animal form and that he was only vulnerable to silver bullets. Other tales said that Railroad Bill had the power to disable the tracking abilities of the bloodhounds on his trail.
The author Carl Carmer, in The Hurricane’s Children: Tales from Your Neck o’ the Woods, describes a lawman chasing Railroad Bill:
So the sheriff decided Railroad Bill must be hiding under the low bushes in the clearing and he began looking around. Pretty soon he started a little red fox that lit out through the woods. The sheriff let go with both barrels of his shotgun, but he missed. After the second shot the little red fox turned about and laughed at him a high, wild, hearty laugh – and the sheriff recognized it. That little fox was Railroad Bill.
By the summer of 1895, the L&N Railroad, the state of Alabama, the state of Florida, the town of Brewton, and Escambia County had pooled together a reward of $1,250 for Railroad Bill’s capture. A host of bounty hunters from places as far away as Texas and Indiana descended on southwestern Alabama and the western swamps of Florida. They were joined by operatives of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, L&N detectives, lawmen, and vigilante posses.
Soon, a small army – numbering over one hundred men loaded for bear – were after the legendary killer / “Black Robin Hood”.
The hunt for Railroad Bill persisted until March 7, 1896, when a man was gunned down by a host of law enforcement officials at Tidmore and Ward’s General Store in Atmore, AL, a depot town along the L&N.
Some say that authorities surprised and killed the man as he sat on an oak barrel eating cheese and crackers. Other accounts say that he engaged the lawmen in a shoot-out in front of the store, and still others contend that he walked into a trap at Tidmore and Ward’s.
Railroad Bill’s body was placed on public view in Brewton, AL and crowds of curious spectators gathered to get a glimpse. Many Brewton residents recognized the man as Bill McCoy, a local man who had threatened local saw-mill owner T. R. Miller with a knife at around the same time Morris Slater was working in the turpentine camp in Florida. Souvenir hunters paid 50 cents for a picture of Constable J. L. McGowan, believed to have fired the fatal shot, standing, rifle in hand, over the corpse of Railroad Bill strapped to a wooden plank. After a few days in Brewton, the body was taken by train to Montgomery and later to Pensacola, Florida, for public display. So many people came to see Railroad Bill in Montgomery that authorities charged an admission fee of 25 cents. His body’s final resting place is unknown.
Railroad Bill was a symbol of the racial and economic divide in the post-Reconstruction Deep South. During this period of increasing legal segregation in Alabama and the rest of the South, the hunt for Railroad Bill became a theatrical saga in local newspapers. The outlaw’s legacy has been passed down through generations in many cultural representations. Railroad Bill blues ballads began circulating in the early twentieth century and several blues singers have used “Railroad Bill” as a stage name. In 1981, the Labor Theater in New York City produced the musical play Railroad Bill by C. R. Portz.
In the Rite of Passage universe, Railroad Bill is a resident of Nicodemus under the guise of mayor John D. Konkeroo’s Chief of Staff, Henry Turnipseed.
The character gained prominence in a comic strip and the Chicago Defender newspaper in the early 1930s.
Bud Billiken is the Black leader of The Billiken family of spirits who are responsible for things as they ought to be; so when Steampunks refer to Steampunk as “Victorian life as it should have been”, they are speaking to life under the guidance of the Billiken.
In the Rite of Passage universe, “Bud Billkens”, along with Harriet Tubman’s pupil, Dorothy Wright, teaches at Nicodemus’ only school.
The Billiken were made into charm dolls, created by American art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908, she obtained a design patent on the ornamental design of the Billiken, who was elf-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he sat with his legs stretched out in front of him. To buy a Billiken was said to give the purchaser luck, but to have one given would be even better luck. The image was copyrighted and a trademark was put on the name.
Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University and St. Louis University High School, both Jesuit institutions, and both located in St. Louis.
The Billiken is also the official mascot of the Royal Order of Jesters, an invitation only Shriner group, affiliated with Freemasonry.
Every year, on the second Saturday in August, there is a huge parade and picnic held in Chicago in honor of Bud Billiken that focuses on the betterment of Chicago Black youth. The Bud Billiken Parade is the second largest – and largest African American – parade in the United States.
John Henry was born a slave in the 1840s or 1850s in North Carolina or Virginia. He grew to stand 6 feet tall, 200 pounds – a heavily muscled man. He had an immense appetite, and an even greater capacity for work. He carried a beautiful baritone voice, and was a favorite banjo player to all who knew him.
His story, now legendary, was told mostly through ballads and work songs, traveling from coast to coast along with the railroads, which drove west during the 19th Century.
“You speak of John Henry as if he was real!” You say.
That’s because he was.
There are actually two John Henrys – the man and the legend surrounding him.
John Henry was an ex-slave from Holly Springs, Mississippi who took his former master’s surname, Dabney, or Dabner, according to some records.
It is known that a Captain Frederick Yeamans Dabney was Chief Engineer for the Columbus & Western Railway Company during the construction of their line between Goodwater, Alabama, and Birmingham in 1887-88. Dabney was a Rensselaer-educated civil engineer who made a career of railroad design and construction. Captain Dabney’s father owned eight slaves, one named John Henry, born in 1844. He would have been 43 years old when John Henry allegedly died in 1887 – a reasonable age for a champion steel driver.
In addition, there is a strong local tradition among Central of Georgia Railroad employees and around Leeds, Alabama, that a John Henry raced a steam drill and died just outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel, between Oak and Coosa Mountain Tunnels.
In the anthology Steamfunk, I write John Henry as a prisoner who agrees to work the railroad for a lesser sentence in the story Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron. This is closer to the truth than the notion of John Henry working for his beloved railroad in order to make a better life for himself and his family.
Evidence of this is in the prison songs that sing the praises of the “steel drivin’ man”. These songs are sung to hammer blows. The last verse says: “They took John Henry to the White House, and they buried him in the sand, and every locomotive comes roarin’ by says there lies a steel drivin’ man.”
Strange that a brother was brought to the White House during that era. Stranger still is sand at the White House and locomotives “roarin by”, as there is no railroad near the White House.
Strangest of all, however, is the fact that the term “White House” wasn’t used for the executive office until Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901.
White House is a term that refers to the penitentiary, which was commonly built near railroads and were often “paved” with sand.
During John Henry’s time, convicts were commonly used to do construction for the railroad; you find steam drills side by side with these convicts and you find that the tunnel they worked on primarily was the Lewis Tunnel.
The real story of John Henry is grimmer than the one in song; uglier.
The C&O railroad wanted to get these tunnels dug; it had to get these tunnels dug by 1872 if it was to be granted the rights to the whole run from Richmond to the Ohio River. So, they bought up all scores of convicts; and they bought up several steam drills.
John Henry and all the other prisoners were forced to work on those tunnels, and nearly everyone who was forced to work on them died in the space of five or six years…not from exertion but from acute silicosis – they inhaled toxic crystalline dust from the rock.
With each breath, the poor workers drew crystalline death into their lungs. So, it probably wasn’t the race that killed John Henry, but the disease he suffered after he was forced to work the tunnels.
The legend says that John Henry was hired as a steel-driver for the C&O Railroad, a wealthy company that extended its line from the Chesapeake Bay to the Ohio Valley. Steel drivers, also known as a hammer man, would spend their workdays driving holes into rock by hitting thick steel drills or spikes.
The work was treacherous. Visibility was negligible and the air inside the developing tunnel was thick with noxious black smoke and dust. Hundreds of men lost their lives to Big Bend, their bodies piled into makeshift, sandy graves just steps outside the mountain. As the story goes, John Henry was the strongest, fastest, most powerful man working on the rails. He used a 14-pound hammer to drill 10 to 20 feet in a 12-hour day – the best of any man on the rails.
One day, a salesman came to camp, boasting that his steam-powered machine could out drill any man. A race was set: man against machine. John Henry won, the legend says, driving 14 feet to the drill’s nine. He died shortly after, some say from exhaustion, some say from a stroke.
In the Rite of Passage universe, John Henry does not die. He lives on as one of the powerful guardians of Nicodemus, Kansas; his mighty twin hammers beating back all – natural, supernatural and mechanical – who would bring harm to the residents and property of his beloved home town.
“If you have ever gone crabbing (which i have), once you begin to put the crabs in the pail you have to not only put a lid on it but a weight on top of the lid because they put a lot of energy into getting out. they do this by assisting each other, by creating a ladder out of each other with the last one being pulled out by the others. “ – Mwalimu K. Bomani Baruti on the ‘Crabs in a barrel’ myth
Recently, on Facebook, I posted this photo of a Steampunk crab as my profile picture. One of my Facebook friends asked what the significance of the photograph was.
I posted the photograph as a joke with my friend, creative partner and one of the Producers of the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage author Milton Davis after he and I were unceremoniously booted from a little website for having a “crab-in-the-barrel mentality”, according to the Administrator of that little website.
Since anyone who disagrees with this person is labeled a “crab-in-the-barrel” and because the crab-in-a-barrel mentality among Black people is just another excuse – along with the “White man”; the Illuminati; Satan; the Boule and Hollywood – for our own laziness and / or complacency, I wasn’t bothered by the accusation and really didn’t care one ounce I was removed from that little website, which I rarely frequented anyway.
For those who don’t know, the Crab Mentality is a phrase popular among People of Color – particularly Filipinos and Blacks – and was first coined by Filipino writer and feminist, Ninotchka Rosca. The Crab Mentality describes an “if I can’t have it, neither can you”-way of thinking. The metaphor refers to a pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead, they grab at each other in a useless “king of the hill” competition that prevents any crab from escaping and ensures their collective demise.
The analogy in human behavior is that members of a group will attempt to “pull down”, or “hate on” – diminish the importance, or negate the efforts, of – any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, self-hate or competitiveness.
While there may, indeed, be others who seek to pull you down, the only one who can keep you down is you.
If you give someone so much power over you that they can prevent your rise and ensure your eventual demise, you are a fool…or were not going anywhere anyway and using that as an excuse.
And we do love our excuses, don’t we?
A student in my martial arts class – a man in his very early twenties, yet possessing the muscle tone of a cup of chocolate pudding wrapped in silk – said to me that he decided he would no longer go to school or work because he wasn’t “plugged in” (initiated) to the Boule (also known as Sigma Pi Phi – believed by many to be the Black branch of Illuminati), so any attempts at success were futile. Since he considers me successful, I took that to mean he felt I was “plugged in”. He went on to say he would get plugged, but he refuses to have “relations” with another man, as the Boule is allegedly required to do, according to him and others. I asked him how he, or whoever his source is, knew this was a requirement unless they are Boule and participated in such “relations”. He paused for a long time and then responded “Damn, I fell for that bullshit.”
Yep. He did. It was easier to sit on his ass and do nothing, with the excuse that, since he wasn’t “plugged in”, anything he tried would fail anyway, than to get up, get out and get something.
Because, God forbid, he might break a sweat…or a nail.
He let himself fall for “that bullshit.”
And many of you have, too.
Many people seek to blame some external force for their lack of success, or wait upon some external force to deliver it. Whatever we call this external force, we should call it by its real names – laziness and/or ignorance, which are both rooted in fear, the very opposite of power.
Furthermore, I am an African traditionalist. As such, reliance on external forces is completely foreign to me, so I do not – I cannot operate from a position of fear. I refuse to wait on some savior to rescue me. I rely on my wits, my skills; my experience and my relationships with others.
And no, I’m not “plugged in” – not to the Illuminati anyway (*insert evil laugh here*).
Okanran-Osa, one of the 256 patterns of life in the ancient binary system of the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria says “Hoes cannot cultivate a farm by themselves; we human beings are the force behind them…cutlasses cannot, by themselves, clear a forest; we human beings are their aids…but what forces are working as aids to humanity, other than Olorun (the source of creation; the essence of evolution) and human beings themselves?”
Simply put, you are the catalyst for your own growth; for your own success; for your own failure. Others may assist you, but it is you who is ultimately responsible.
So, get off your ass, claw your way out of that barrel and get to work…or prepare to get eaten… with a buttery garlic sauce and some cheddar biscuits.
THE LOWDOWN ON THE THROWDOWN
This past weekend, I participated in the A-Town Throw Down, a revered and popular stage combat workshop held at Kennesaw State University (near Atlanta, GA) every year. The Throw Down – sanctioned by the Society of American Fight Directors – is three grueling days of full-day training in everything from 300-esque spear and shield combat to bar fighting.
On day one, after a brief warm-up, I went to my first class – Q Stick (Quarterstaff) – in which we learned and executed choreography with the quarterstaff at full speed, only breaking once for water…I knew then that I was in for a world of hurt and that these Stage Combat folks were as serious about their craft as any other combatant. I was filled with an odd feeling of eagerness mixed with dread.
After the Q Stick class, I had a great time in the Throwing Knives class and was the first to hit the target with four of six blades. I was happy about that, but after nearly two hours of throwing heavy steel in the blazing sun, happy turned to “damn” and “where in the hell is my Tiger Balm?”
After a lunch of Chai Tea (only Chik-Fil-A was open on Kennesaw State’s campus and I don’t eat chicken), I headed to my Knife Class, where we had a grand old time “cutting” (the blades were dull aluminum) and disarming each other and then ended my day with some Unarmed Fight Choreography that left me sore, but eager to return the next day.
The second day (Saturday), I began with some Instinctual Knife training and learned some things that will really enhance the blade fights in my films, then it was on to the Fighting and Music class, wherein I had to perform some of the fastest and most intricate choreography known to man. Thankfully, I was able to pick it up and execute it well; more thankfully, the teacher is a foremost master of Stage Combat and she was able to pull the fight out of us while maintaining absolute safety on a stage of about thirty people going at it simultaneously with swords. From there, I headed to what has to be the most physically demanding course on earth – the Shield and Spear class. First, I made the mistake of grabbing a big thirty pound shield and a heavy spear. Granted, I looked cool leaping through the air with such heavy weaponry, but after about a half hour of full speed choreography with the damned things, I was smacking myself in the forehead for not picking the much lighter small shield and one of the spears made of a wood half as heavy as mine. Everyone left the spear and shield class with a lot of knowledge and a WHOLE LOT of hurt. I finally ended my day with the Whip class. I had to block out the pain in my hips, feet, back and hamstrings in order to stand up and wield the damned thing, but it came naturally and I was cracking that whip from all sorts of directions. At one point, I thought about how my ancestors were probably beaten with such a weapon, which strikes at 900 miles per hour on average (that “crack” you hear is the sound of the end of the whip breaking the sound barrier) and I got nauseous and no longer had a desire to hold the weapon, so I sat down for a breather and to center myself. After a few minutes, I (slowly and with great and painful effort) got up and returned to the floor for more whip-crackin’ goodness.
On the final day, I started off with the Ground-N-Pound Class, where we choreographed our own ground fight after a few falling and rolling drills and drills to get us to commit to “the moment”. Some of the fights were cheesy. Most were exciting. I was working with one of the instructors and he gave me permission to push the envelope, so we did a brutal fight that ended in me catching him in a toe hold and snapping his ankle and knee (it was safe – no joints were harmed in the making of this fight). After that class, I went to the Single Sword Class, where we learned and executed some swashbuckling choreography. Spatial awareness and control are essential when two people are whipping steel rapiers all over the place.
Finally, I ended my day with what had to be the funniest, silliest class I have ever taken, yet it was brilliant. The class was entitled Roadhouse! (yes, the exclamation point is part of it) and it was an exercise in controlled mayhem. Fifty people on stage having a bar fight with mugs of beer, waitress trays, tables, chairs, a bar, bartenders and all – however, it is a bar fight in the Roadhouse universe – see the movie if you haven’t already and if you have seen it, watch it again – so things were nuttier than squirrel poop. A punch to the stomach caused you not to bend over in pain, but to stand straight up…a waitress holding a tray was invisible, but if she hit you with her tray, you were knocked out…the only place thrown chairs ever landed was the bar and paper and cups were constantly flying through the air – even if it was unconscious people tossing them.
Like I said…squirrel poop. After that hilarious and surprisingly fun class, which taught me how NOT to choreograph (one of the points of the seeming madness), I headed home for some much needed sleep.
When I awakened I reflected on the weekend…all the education I received…all the fun…but the discomfort I felt at being the only Black person at the event (well, there was one other, but he spent so much time trying to point out to everyone how Black he wasn’t – “I’m Panamanian and Filipino and yeah, there’s white in me too…I promise”) and the fact that many people avoided being my partner (“I don’t stink…I promise”) made me uncomfortable. I wondered why there weren’t any other Black people at the event, nor are there any Black instructors – let alone Masters or Directors – in the entire Society of American Fight Directors. Granted, there aren’t many Black people in theater, but there are many trying to break into film. Since you almost can’t make a movie without a fight scene nowadays, such training is essential if you are serious about your craft as an actor and certainly as a fight choreographer.
Wait do you think there aren’t any Black film fight choreographers? Don’t let the lack of Black faces in the Society of American Fight Directors fool or discourage you. Let’s examine a few:
Seeking to use his renown as a world and international champion in fighting, weapons and forms (kata) to break into Hollywood, Larnell Stovall moved from New Orleans to California to pursue a career as an actor and fight choreographer in February 2001.
Stovall quickly established himself as one of the best in the business with his work on the popular duo of web series – Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Mortal Kombat: Legacy, as well as the films Undisputed III, Never Back Down II, Blood and Bone and Bunraku.
Style: versatile and dynamic; incorporates high and jump kicks and acrobatics, thus he works best with quick flexible and agile performers.
Washington, D.C. native William Charles Jeffreys, III – Chuck Jeffreys – began his training in the martial arts at the age of eight, starting with Western Boxing and Tae Kwon Do. He began training in Tien Shan Pai Shaolin Kung Fu in the early 70s and began teaching kung fu in 1974.
Over the decades, Jeffreys learned and mastered other martial arts styles and systems, such as Kali, Indonesian Silat and Shoot Boxing.
Jeffreys put his skills to use in Hollywood, becoming a stunt double for the actors Eddie Murphy and Ving Rhames.
He then went on to assist in the fight choreography – and to train actor and martial artist Wesley Snipes with the sword – for Blade. He has also choreographed fights for the blockbusters, Spider-Man and Freddy vs. Jason. He returned to the Blade franchise in 2004 to train Wesley Snipes and the rest of the cast for Blade: Trinity.
Style: efficient, realistic hand-to-hand combat, with occasional high and low spinning kicks for flare.
R.L. Scott was born in America, raised in Salvador Bahia Brazil until the age of 16 when he returned to the United States. It was then that he began writing and one year later, he made his first short film. He has since gone on to involvement in over fifty shorts and feature films in many capacities including writing, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, post production work, and editing.
In 2007 Scott did the fight choreography for Champion Road, a popular feature film he wrote, directed and produced and in 2008, took on the same roles for its sequel, Champion Road: Arena.
In 2012, Scott choreographed the fight scenes for the feature film entitled Call Me King, which stars international superstar Bai Ling (Red Corner). Call Me King is scheduled to be released early 2014.
Style: probably closer to Chinese cinema than any other non-Chinese fight choreographer in the business. The beauty, power and stylistic fights of films such as Fearless, Dragon-Tiger Gate, Ip Man and Sha Po Lang – aka Kill Zone – is Scott’s signature.
After performing stunts and fights in several films, plays and demonstrations, Balogun – a master of indigenous African martial arts – went on to choreograph fights for the stage and for the independent films Reynolds’ War, A Single Link, Equalizers and Rite of Passage: Initiation.
Style: brutal, efficient and unique, combining the smooth, rhythmic, yet viciously effective African martial arts with such “exotic” martial arts as Savate, Bartitsu, La Canne, Capoeira Angola and Catch Wrestling.
I attended the A-Town Throw Down because I want to hone and enhance my craft so that I can create the very best films…so that I can bring you eye-popping fight choreography that you enjoy and that I am proud of.
Nothing less than excellent is expected of me or acceptable to me.
That’s my motto. Please, adopt a similar one (or just use mine) if you haven’t already and let’s make some great movies, y’all!
THE ORIGIN OF A STEAMFUNK FEATURE FILM
A Story of History, Fantasy and Steamfunk
Rite of Passage is a Steamfunk movie collaboration destined to change the perception of historical fantasy. It’s the tale of the city of Nicodemus, Kansas and the special souls that have gathered to protect it. Based on a story by Milton Davis, Rite of Passage blends history, fantasy and Steamfunk into an exciting action movie that draws you into the mysterious, intriguing – and sometimes frightening – world of Rite of Passage and the even bigger adventure yet to come.
How It Began
In 2011 author Milton Davis wrote a short story entitled, Rite of Passage. The story was about a young black man who was escaping the antebellum South to freedom under the protection of Harriet Tubman. That night the young man had a unique encounter with another man who possessed amazing powers and abilities. Years later he encounters that same man and is recruited to help him. At the end of their adventure the ‘superman’ passes onto the young man a necklace that gives him the powers he first witnessed in his youth. His charge is to use those powers to protect those like him.
Balogun Ojetade read Rite of Passage and was captured by its message. A writer, director, martial artist and admirer of Harriet Tubman, he saw the potential of the story encompassing much more. The young man in the story became the young woman Dorothy and through the imaginations of both Balogun and Milton, the Rite of Passage mythos expanded, introducing new characters and exciting stories.
From Paper to Film
As the story ideas continued to flow, Balogun and Milton’s vision grew from prose to film. Balogun pulled together a skilled and creative team of filmmakers to produce Rite of Passage: Initiation. The purpose of this short film was to give a glimpse of the Rite of Passage world and show the skills of those involved in order to raise funds to make a Rite of Passage feature-length movie.
An Unexpected Proposal
In addition to working on Rite of Passage together, Balogun and Milton are a part of the State of Black Science Fiction Collective, a group of speculative fiction writers dedicated to promoting black speculative fiction. Their first program was held February 2012 at Georgia Tech in partnership with Lisa Yasek, Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, School of Literature, Media, and Communication. In 2013, the group returned to Georgia Tech, this time for the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, which Balogun and Milton produced. The event was a rousing success; so much so that, when Lisa heard of the Rite of Passage project, she gathered together the creative resources of the university and offered their help with the creation of the movie.
A Unique Story Uniquely Told
Roaring Lions Production, MVmedia and the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech have come together to create a movie that combines the history and spirit of the African American experience with the fantastic foundation of Steampunk to create the first Steamfunk movie. Join us in making history and in telling the stories that need to be told!
Milton Davis is a research and development chemist who lives in Metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and two children. A publisher, author and film producer, Milton is dedicated to bringing diversity to the Science Fiction and Fantasy field. His books and films focus on presenting people of color in positive ways, thereby challenging the stereotypes and misconceptions common in the general marketplace. Find him and his amazing works of Steamfunk and Sword and Soul at his website and at his social media site, which is dedicated to authors, filmmakers and fans of science fiction and fantasy.
RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web
The full moon cast a silver glow upon the leaves that crackled beneath Jake’s heels.
He no longer heard the dogs, or the curses of Master William Jessup’s slave-catchers, so he stopped to rest his weary muscles and catch his breath. “For a short spell,” he thought.
“Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
Jake whirled toward the source of the voice, raising a silver carving knife – still sticky with his former master’s blood – chest high.
The most beautiful woman Jake had ever laid eyes upon stepped out of the shadows. The corners of her full lips were spread in an inviting smile. “I’m sorry, did I frighten you?” Her husky voice revealed a hint of an English accent.
“You obviously ain’t from around here,” Jake said, studying her tall, muscular frame. “You sound like this man who come from England and train me and the other catchers.”
“I’m from London, England,” the woman said. I moved here a while ago. I bought my freedom from…wait…catchers? What did you catch?”
“Runaways,” Jake replied.
“And now, it appears that you are the one who is running away,” the woman said.
“I was the worst catcher ever born,” Jake said. “Every runaway I went after got away.
“They just happened to get away, eh?” The woman snickered.
“My old master got wise to me,” Jake replied. “He decided to make an example of me…killed my wife; my daughter…so I killed him. Been runnin’ since.”
“Well, you are safe here for the night,” the woman said. “The locals are afraid of this forest. They say a terrible beast roams these parts.”
“Then, what you doin’ out here?” Jake asked.
“I love the outdoors,” the woman replied. “Besides, beasts don’t frighten me; men do.”
“Well, this man won’t do you no harm,” Jake said. “My name’s Jake, by the way. Jake Jessup.”
“I’m Tara Malloy,” the woman said, offering her hand.
Jake took Tara’s smooth, mahogany hand in his and kissed the back of it. “Pleasure, ma’am.”
Suddenly, Tara’s hand became a vice around Jake’s fingers, crushing the dense bones as easily as if she was squeezing an egg in her fist.
Jake screamed in agony.
Tara threw her head back as a growl escaped her throat. She snapped her head forward, fixing her maddened gaze on Jake. Her beautiful face had been replaced by what Jake could only describe as the visage of a rabid wolf.
Jake tried to snatch his pulverized hand out of Tara’s grip, but she was too strong and his pain was too great.
Tara yanked Jake toward her. The runaway’s head snapped back from the force as his feet skittered across the dirt and dry foliage.
Jake thrust forward with his carving knife, sinking it deep into Tara’s chest.
Tara staggered backward, coughing as a crimson cloud of ichor spewed from her mouth.
Jake collapsed to his knees. Tara fell onto her back, convulsed once; twice; and then, lay still.
Jake crawled to a large tree and rested his back against it. The pain in his hand and shoulder made it difficult to think; to understand what just happened and darkness encroached upon him, blurring his vision.
“Still alive, eh?”
Jake turned his head toward the voice. Tara stood beside him. He turned his gaze toward her beastly form, still lying where she fell.
“How?” Jake whispered. He wanted to leap to his feet and run, but the pain would not allow it. “What are you?”
“What was I, you mean,” Tara replied. “A werewolf; a child of Eshu; blessed with his gift.”
Tara pointed toward Jake’s wounded shoulder. “Now, you have his blessing, too.”
“I…I’m gon’ turn into a thing like you, now?” Jake spat.
“Maybe,” Tara answered. “You become what your spirit is.”
“I’m gon’ kill you!” Jake bellowed.
“You already have,” Tara said, nodding toward her corpse.”
This was all too much for Jake to bear. He shut his eyes and succumbed to the darkness.
Jake felt soft, warm flesh on his chest. He looked down. Staring up at him was a pretty woman with full, pouty lips and skin the color of sweet cream.
“Good morning, lover,” the woman said, flashing a smile. Her dimpled cheeks accented her beauty.
“You’d better give up that body, Tara,” Jake said, looking at the clock on the far wall of the inn’s room. “You only have a few minutes.”
“Jake, can we talk?” Tara asked, caressing his chest with borrowed fingers.
“Time’s tickin’,” Jake replied.
“I love you,” Tara whispered.
“You what?” Jake pushed Tara’s head off his chest and sat upright.
“I love you, Jake,” Tara repeated.
“We don’t have time for this,” Jake said. “A second past those six hours and this woman dies from shock or goes mad.”
Jake hopped out of bed. His flesh shifted; flowed, as if it was some thick, ebon fluid and then trousers, boots, a shirt and a leather overcoat – all a very dark brown – formed around his naked frame.
“You’re a haint, Tara…a ghost…the undead. I – hell we – hunt the undead. Love ain’t in the cards for us. ‘Sides, you did try to kill me, remember?”
“That was two-hundred forty-seven years ago!” Tara replied.
“Seems like yesterday to me,” Jake said.
A loud, sucking din echoed throughout the room as Tara rose out of the woman’s body. “We’ll talk more later.”
The woman sat bolt upright. She leapt from the bed, locking her gaze on Jake’s broad back. An ebony, wide-brimmed planter hat formed atop Jake’s head. The woman gasped and darted out of the room.
“Creole women,” Tara said, shaking her head. “So…emotional.”
“Let’s go,” Jake said, sauntering toward the door. “Ms. Tubman should have sent that telegram by now.”
On the ground, carriages carried people to-and-from the retail shops, restaurants, inns and houses of ill-repute. In the sky, out of the view of the common people – but not out of Jake’s view – the very wealthy and the military traversed the bustling city by ornate airships and hot air balloons.
“Isn’t it beautiful? Tara sighed.
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What do you see, then, Mister Doom-and-Gloom?” Tara asked.
“I see smoke…and steel,” Jake answered. “I see children worked to death in dirty factories…widows turned into whores to feed their babies…and we’re still swingin’ from the end of the white man’s rope.”
“Like I said…Doom-and-Gloom,” Tara snickered.
Jake entered the telegraph office. A man sat before each of the three telegraph machines.
“How can we help you fine folks?” One of the men asked, looking up from his machine.
Jake and Tara exchanged glances. Jake took a step back toward the door.
“Oh, don’t worry,” the man said, smiling. “Negro money spends here.”
“That’s not our concern,” Jake said.
“What, then?” The man said, rising from his chair.
“Well, considerin’ my lady friend here is a haint and y’all can see her without her willing it, y’all must be haints, too.” Jake replied.
The man directed his attention to Tara. “You’re a ghost, correct?”
“That’s right,” Tara replied.
“The two other men stood.
“Hmm…ghasts,” Jake said, studying the trio. “Never had the pleasure of killing one of you. Ms. Tubman said you’re fast and can possess a body for days at a time.
“Ah, Ms. Tubman,” The ghast crooned. “After we kill you, we’ll have to pay her a visit.”
“The bloodsuckers got you interceptin’ her messages, now?” Jake asked.
“She has been sending her merry, little band all over to hunt down our kind…your kind!” The ghast spat. That nigger has to die!”
“Give me the message,” Jake said, unmoved.
“I don’t think so,” the ghast hissed.
“Jake raised his palms before his chest. His hands shifted, changing into a pair of ebon broadswords. “I reckon I’ll have to take it then.”
The trio of ghasts exploded forward. Jake leapt forward to meet them.
Jake’s body shattered into a cloud of miniscule, venomous spiders. Each of the thousands of spiders was armed with a scythe-like claw on each of its eight legs. The spider-cloud washed over the ghasts. A moment later, a reformed Jake landed in front of one of the telegraph machines.
The ghasts fell, their tattered bodies covered with an uncountable number of gashes; the organs of their hosts reduced to liquid by the venom racing through their veins.
Jake rustled through the telegrams until he found the one from Harriet Tubman. “Ms. Tubman found the nest.”
“Where to?” Tara inquired.
The sweet-green smell of kudzu permeated the night air. Jake stood high above the ground upon the thick limb of an old oak tree. “Go check it out,” he said, pointing toward a large ranch house an acre away.
“Be back in a bit, lover,” Tara said, blowing him a kiss as she leapt from the limb. She floated toward the house like a feather held aloft in a gentle breeze, landing gracefully at the door of the house. With a quick step, she passed through the closed door as if it was not there.
Jake studied the house. The windows were all covered with a dense, black cloth, preventing any light from getting in or out; a sure sign of a vampire nest.
Tara appeared on the limb. She fanned her hand in front of her nose. “Lord, it smells like the flatulence of a thousand mules in there!”
“Any vampires?” Jake inquired.
“Three,” Tara replied. “It looks like they are getting ready to call it a night.”
“The sun will be up in a couple of hours,” Jake said. “Coffins?”
“No,” Tara answered. “Dirt. The whole house is covered in about two feet of it.”
“These are Old Ones, then,” Jake said. “Good. Kill an Old One and all their progeny die, too.”
Jake leapt from the tree limb. He landed silently below. The hunter knelt at the base of the tree and thrust his hands into the dirt. A moment later, he pulled out a suede sack that was filled with something metallic by the clinking sound of it. “Good old General Tubman,” Jake whispered. “Right where she said it would be.”
Jake tossed the sack over his shoulder and sprinted toward the house. His boots made no sound as they glided across the soft, red, Georgia clay.
Tara floated closely behind him. Upon reaching the house, she stepped through the door. A few seconds later, Jake heard the door’s bolt lock slide back. He tested the door, slowly turning its knob. The door opened.
Jake slipped into the house. He reached into the sack and withdrew a tiny, wedged shape device. The device, constructed of bronze, had a miniscule, amber crystal at its center.
Tara raised her thumb and smiled.
Jake placed the wedge back into the bag and crept forward down the long hallway. He felt something hard beneath the dirt sink under his feet. Iron shackles sprang up around his ankles. Jake transformed into the swarm of spiders to escape, but it was too late. Walls of thick glass sprang up from the floor, slamming into the ceiling with a tremendous thud. Jake was encased in an impenetrable, airtight cube.
The Old Ones stepped out of a room at the end of the hallway and strode toward Jake. Huge grins were spread across their pallid faces, exposing their fangs.
Tara floated toward them.
“I can feel you, darlin’,” the lead Old One – a tall, lean man, with the dress and ruggedness of a cowboy – said. “Well done.”
“Tara?” Jake gasped.
Tara turned her gaze away from Jake and cast her eyes downward.
“My kind are the servants of Eshu, charged with keeping the balance between the light and the darkness…between the Natural and the Unnatural, like yourselves,” Jake said. “My kind are the livin’.”
“Living; dead; undead…some of us are hunters; some prey,” the Old One said. “That – and blood – are all that matter.” The Old One stepped closer to the glass. “Where are my manners? In all of this excitement, I neglected to introduce myself. I am Henrick.” Henrick pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “The rather large gentleman behind me is Malloy and the enthralling beauty is Bloody Jane.”
“Let me out of here, so we can all shake hands,” Jake said.
Henrick laughed. “I like you, hunter. It’s a shame you’ll be dead soon. We could have been friends.”
The vampires walked past Jake’s cell toward the door.
Henrick glanced over his shoulder. “We are heading out for a quick bite. Don’t go anywhere.”
The vampires left the house. Their sardonic laughter cleaved the darkness outside and echoed throughout the house.
“How could you do this, Tara?” Jake spat.
“I am sorry, Jake,” Tara replied. “One day, you’ll understand.”
“Just a few days ago, you said you loved me,” Jake said. “You sure as hell have a funny way of showin’ it.”
“I do love you,” Tara cried. “That’s why I’m doing this.”
“You ain’t makin’ no sense at all,” Jake said.
“Soon, you’ll run out of air,” Tara said. “You’ll die; then, you’ll have an eternity to fall in love with me.”
“That’s haint obsession talkin’,” Jake said. “After a while, every haint goes mad. I thought you had it beat. I reckon it just took you a little longer.”
“I am not crazy, Jake!” Tara shouted. “But, love makes us do crazy things.”
“If I die on account of you settin’ me up, do you really think I’m gon’ ever love you?”
“I…I’m not sure,” Tara sighed. I hope that you’ll…”
“I’ll hate you,” Jake said. “But, if you let me out of here, there might be a chance for us.”
“You’re just saying that to convince me to set you free,” Tara said.
Jake stared into Tara’s eyes. “Have I ever lied to you?”
Tara stepped into Jake’s cell. “I don’t know where the release switch is.”
Jake nodded toward his suede sack, which lay at his feet. “Then persuade those bloodsuckers to tell you.”
Tara closed her eyes and stretched her incorporeal fingers toward the sack. For a moment, her fingers became somatic and she grabbed it. A second later, she was, once again, incorporeal, as was the sack and its contents. She walked out of the cube, taking the sack with her.
Tara floated down the hallway and through the door, leaving Jake alone in his cell.
Jake launched a powerful side-kick at one of the walls of the cell. His heel slammed into the glass. Jake’s foot felt as if it had slammed into the side of a mountain. “Magically enhanced,” he mused. Jake sat, cross-legged, on the floor. He closed his eyes and concentrated on his breathing, slowing it.
A while later, Tara returned. “It’s done.”
Jake’s opened his eyes. “Did you get all the windows? The roof?”
“I was quite thorough,” she replied.
“Tara!” A voice wailed on the other side of the door.
Tara floated to the door. She willed her hand to become corporeal and used it to open the door.
A web of intense light crisscrossed the entrance.
Henrick stood a few yards away from the doorway. Malloy and Bloody Jane stood behind him.
You’ve been a bad girl, Tara,” Henrick said. “What have you done to our house?”
“They’re called Thread Bombs,” Tara replied. Each one releases a thread of light akin to the light of the sun. I planted nearly a thousand around your house to encase it in a web of sunlight.”
“Well, be a dear and turn them off, please,” Henrick said, affecting a warm smile.
“I can’t,” Tara said. “Only Jake can.”
“And why is that?” Henrick asked, struggling to maintain his friendly demeanor.
“Every bomb has to be turned off at the exact same time, or they will explode, blanketing a square mile in their light,” Tara answered. “Jake can become a swarm of spiders and turn off each bomb simultaneously.”
“And how do we know he will do that for us once he is free?” Henrick inquired.
“You don’t,” Tara replied. “But, what choice do you have?” If you set Jake free, he might shut down the web; leave him in that cell to die and you’ll all burn.”
“Quite the fickle one, aren’t you?” Henrick said. “Okay, we’ll bite, so to speak, but know that if you cause the death of three Old Ones and their children, there is nowhere you can run; nowhere you can hide. We will find you…and even a ghost can be destroyed.”
“Duly noted,” Tara said. “Now, where is the switch?”
“In the study,” Henrick replied. “There is a brass statue of a tiger in there. Turn its tail clockwise and the walls will come down.”
“I’ll be right back,” Tara said, vanishing from sight.
“Hurry back, child,” Henrick said, looking skyward. “It’ll be dawn soon.”
A whirring sound rose from beneath Jake. A moment later, the glass walls slid back into the floor.
Jake breathed deeply, welcoming fetid, but cool air into his lungs.
Refreshed, Jake sauntered toward the door.
“We have upheld our end of the bargain,” Henrick said. “Your turn.”
“Bargain?” Jake said. “I don’t bargain with Unnaturals.”
Henrick’s smile faded. “Tara said…”
“Your deal was with Tara,” Jake said, interrupting the Old One. “Not with me.”
“Nope,” Jake replied, picking dirt from his nails.
“You bastard!” Henrick hissed, baring his fangs.
Malloy and Bloody Jane screamed as sunlight cut through the clouds and seared their flesh.
“Turn it off,” Henrick wailed, his skin turning black where the sun kissed it. “Please!”
The Old Ones burst into flames. Their chilling screams rending the night sky until their vocal chords were to charred to emit sound.
Within moments, three piles of gray ash lay near the entrance to the house.
Tara materialized beside Jake. “I hope this makes things right between us, lover,”
“Nope,” Jake replied.
“What now, then?” Tara asked.
“We keep killin’ Unnaturals,” Jake answered.
A broad smile spread across the ghost’s pretty face. “So, we’re still partners?”
“For now,” Jake replied. “We make a good team. ‘Sides, huntin’ can be lonely work. But, I promise you, you ever betray me again and you get the sigil.”
“To use a sigil on a ghost, you have to know that ghost’s real name, Jake,” Tara said. “I never told you – or anyone – my real name.”
“Your ex-husband says different,” Jake said.
Tara’s eyes widened and her jaw fell slack. “My ex…?”
“I met a conjurer a few years back by the name of Laveau,” Jake replied. “She channeled your ex-husband, Kayode, and, boy, did he have a story to tell!”
“What did he tell you?” Tara asked.
“Let’s get out of here,” Jake said. This place stinks.”
“Jake, what did he say?” Tara’s voice was shaky. “Jake?”
The corners of Jake’s mouth curled into a slight smile as he stepped through the web and into the welcoming dawn.
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE, Part 3: Inside the Mind of an Actor
Recently, the great character actor, martial artist and fight choreographer, Osceola Thaxton – who plays the physician / scientist / inventor Dr. Walcott in the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – sent an inquiry about the character: “PEACE FAM! I hope all is well….please, send me some background info on Dr. Walcott. Is he a mad scientist? Is he crazy at all? What kind of GENIUS is he? What drives him? Money…..power…women? What are his fears…his passions?
Oh, and does he speak proper English?”
Why so many questions? Why not just learn his lines, show up on the set and “act”?
From the perspective of someone who has never acted before, or from someone who has only done a school play, acting probably seems like an endeavor in which all you have to do is memorize lines.
To this effect, the way in which actors engage with material – by thinking about characterization, intention and the subtext underneath their lines – increases their memory for the material. It is by thinking about the meaning behind the words, rather than just the words themselves, that actors are able to memorize long scenes and entire plays.
This approach can help individuals, including elderly adults, who have never had an acting lesson increase their memories. So, the next time you need to memorize a speech, think about why you are speaking each sentence, in addition to just what words need to come out in what order.
An actor’s role (pun intended), however, goes far beyond just memorizing lines.
Actors are charged with creating a character from words on a page. To achieve this daunting task, first the actors have to figure out what the character wants – the goals and objectives that must be achieved within the context of the play, movie, or television program. Often a script is only the bare bones of the character’s objectives – the lines the character will say, and the lines that others will say in response. From these bones the actor creates a skeleton of characterization – a frame upon which his or her character is built.
There is a trio of critical psychological skills that help an actor create such a skeleton: theory of mind, empathy, and emotion regulation.
Theory of Mind
The ability to understand what others are thinking, feeling, believing, and desiring. Infants seem to have a preliminary theory of mind and children are able to fully understand the beliefs and desires of others by three years of age. The ability to read another’s intentions and desires varies as a function of our relationship with that person, our own attention, and the degree to which we are trained to do so. Actors, psychologists and individuals who read a lot of fiction normally have highly developed Theory of Mind skills.
Refers to a feeling we get that is appropriate and emotional in response to someone else’s emotion. This can mean being happy that your best friend is having a baby, or anger when that same friend’s now teenaged daughter stays out all night with her loser boyfriend. The use of empathy in acting is somewhat controversial – some actors think they must feel all of their character’s emotions – that they that must really feel sad, angry, or in love if you are to portray that emotion correctly. Other actors think that all that feeling gets in the way of acting, and that physical portrayal of an emotion will be enough to get it across to the audience and create a realistic portrayal and then there are those actors who will switch between both methods, depending on their personal mood and the needs of the performance.
An actor’s control of his or her own emotions and the replacement of them with the emotions of the character.
Most of the methods used by an actor, however, are unconscious. Too deep of a conscious analysis of character by an actor can be detrimental. Stellar actor Denzel Washington does extensive preparation and uses physical reminders in order to masterfully play his roles. However, when it comes to the moments of actually acting, of creating that character’s words and actions while the camera rolls, Mr. Washington has no idea how he is going to bring the character to life; he just does it. In fact, Mr. Washington believes that analyzing the character too deeply might make his grasp on the character go away. He has, instead, learned to just trust himself.
Acting is difficult. Ask any director or actor. There seems to be a delicate balance between overt preparation and unconscious performance. Bad performances are often criticized as being “self conscious” – the actor was aware of what she was doing, or aware of the character’s faults, and could not help projecting them as she played the character.
Our behavior is changed by all sorts of unconscious processes, motivations, and influences that we don’t even notice. And these influences can be manipulated extremely easily. In a classic study, John Bargh, a psychologist at Yale University, primed students with words relating to old age.
After rearranging lists of words into sensible sentences, the subjects – all New York University undergraduates – were told that the experiment was about language ability. It was not. In fact, the real test began once the subject exited the room. In the hallway was a graduate student with a stopwatch hidden beneath her coat. She pretended to wait for a meeting but was really working with the researchers. The grad student timed how long it took the test subjects to walk from the doorway to a strip of silver tape a little more than 30 feet down the hall.
The words the subjects were asked to rearrange were not random, although they seemed to be. They were words such as “bingo,” “retirement,” “Florida,”, “wrinkles,” “bitter” and “alone.”
Reading the list, you can envision a stooped, elderly person shuffling about a tiny studio apartment that reeks of mothballs, hissing curses at the television.
A control group unscrambled words that evoked no theme. When the walking times of the two groups were compared, the Florida-retirement-bingo-alone subjects walked, on average, much slower than the control group.
Bargh and his associates conducted another similar experiment in which they tested Caucasian and Asian subjects to see if they were more hostile when primed with an African-American’s face. They were.
In a third experiment, the subjects were primed with rude words to see if those words would make them more likely to interrupt a conversation. They did.
Currently, Dr. Bargh’s work is showing surprising findings about unconscious priming of behavior and attitudes, such as how holding a warm cup of coffee can make you feel socially closer to those around you – no wonder most of my meetings are held at Starbucks.
So, tell me your thoughts – is acting intuitive? Can the author of the screenplay, play or teleplay use certain words to put an actor into character? Or, does preparation enable actors to “forget” themselves when in the moment of acting? Does it matter whether you have “preexisting talent”? Or is training and preparation more important?
Your feedback – as always – is welcome and encouraged.
A STEAMFUNK VIDEO PRIMER
At our first Info Session for the Steamfunk movie Rite of Passage, GA-Tech Professor and an Associate Director of the film, Lisa Yaszek, asked who was familiar with Steamfunk. Three hands – not including those of our crew – went up in the packed room. She then asked who was familiar with Steampunk. Five hands went up.
We then proceeded to give those in attendance a list of books to read and movies to watch to familiarize themselves.
As Lisa defined what Steampunk and Steamfunk are, I realized just how important the making of Rite of Passage is. Steamfunk’s / Steampunk’s do-it-yourself philosophy, reverence for history and its focus on craftsmanship, originality, history and creativity is much needed for the building of a future and for the betterment of the present.
For all of you – and for anyone you know who may struggle with the concept of Steamfunk – I offer below a video primer that defines the subgenre and can serve as a reference for future works. Enjoy!
As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged!
STEAMFUNK WILD WEST: Black Lawmen and Outlaws in the Age of Steam!
We continue our League of Extraordinary Black People Series with an in-depth look at those who enforced – and those who gave the finger to – the law and carved a trail of tears, blood and bullets across the Wild West.
The son of a Black Chickasaw Freedman father, and a Black Creek Freedman mother, Grant Johnson was born in northern Texas during the Civil War and raised in Indian Territory. This same territory is where Johnson would become renowned as one of the greatest U.S. Deputy Marshals in history.
Serving under Judge Isaac Parker for at least 14 years, his career as a U.S. Deputy Marshal began in 1887. His contribution was invaluable and in high demand as he was well-versed and proficient in the customs and language of the Muskogee Creek nation. Johnson often worked with Bass Reeves, the man considered by many to be the greatest lawman in history. Together, they captured one of the most notorious outlaws in the territory – Abner Brasfield. Johnson also captured the noted counterfeiter, Amos Hill; Choctaw outlaw Chahenegee; the murderers, John Pierce and Bill Davis; the Cherokee outlaw, Columbus Rose; train robber, Wade Chamberlee and dozens of others.
One of the most noted peace officers in the history of the Indian Territory, Judge Isaac C. Parker mentioned him as one of the best deputies that ever worked for his court.
In 1898, Johnson transferred to the Northern District, which was headquartered at Muskogee. For many years, Johnson worked alone, patrolling in and around Eufaula, Creek Nation. He developed one of the best arrest records of any of the deputies that worked the Northern District under Marshal Leo Bennett.
Johnson became a policeman for Eufaula in 1906, primarily patrolling the African American section of town. He died in Eufaula on April 9, 1929.
The Buck Gang
The gang had a total of five members – Creek First Nation natives, Sam Sampson and Maoma July and brothers, Lewis and Lucky Davis, who were Creek Freedmen. All of them had been apprehended on minor offenses and served time in the Fort Smith jail prior to their crime spree that summer.
It is rumored that the spree came about as a result of Buck boasting that his “outfit would make a record that would sweep all the other gangs of the territory into insignificance.” However, it is more likely that the spree – driven by Buck’s rage, poverty and desperation – was in response to the horrific and tragic event in which Creeks and Cherokees, along with the escaped slaves who married into those nations, were forced, by the U.S. government, to march over 1,000 miles during the infamous Trail of Tears. Many died along the way and the First Nation and Black people forced to settle in the region dubbed the Indian Territory struggled in that bleak region for fifty years, but finally carved out a decent living for themselves. The government’s attempts to take back that land and give it to Caucasians who now desired to settle in the Southwest was met with outrage, which – in the case of the Buck Gang – became, simply, rage.
On July 28, 1895, the gang shot and killed another Black Deputy U.S. Marshal, John Garrett, near Okmulgee. On their way from that murder, they allegedly abducted and raped a white woman known only as Mrs. Wilson. They killed horse rancher, Gus Chambers when he resisted the gang’s theft of his horses and then robbed a stockman of his clothing and boots, firing a hail of bullets just past his head as he fled naked to safety. Two days later, the gang raped a white woman, Mrs. Rosetta Hansen, while they held her husband at bay with Winchesters.
The gang was finally apprehended, brought to Fort Smith and convicted in a rape trial. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the verdict, and the gang died together at the gallows on July 1, 1896.
After Buck’s death, a photograph of his mother was found in his cell. On the back, Buck had written a poem:
I dreamt I was in heaven
Among the angels fair;
I’d near seen none so handsome,
That twine in golden hair;
They looked so neat and sang so sweet
And play’d the golden harp.
I was about to pick an angel out
And take her to my heart;
But the moment I began to plea
I thought of you my love.
There was none I’d seen so beautifull
On earth or heaven above.
Good by my dear wife and mother
All so my sisters
Crawford Goldsby, an Oklahoma outlaw better known as Cherokee Bill, was born at Fort Concho, Texas, on February 8, 1876, the son of St. George and Ellen (Beck) Goldsby. He had three siblings – a sister named Georgia and brothers Luther and Clarence.
Bill’s father – a man of Black, Sioux, Mexican, and Caucasian heritage – was a highly decorated Buffalo Soldier – a Sergeant Major in the 10th U.S. Cavalry; however, because of a fracas in Texas, St. George went AWOL and escaped to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).
Bill’s mother was reportedly half black, one-fourth white, and one-fourth Cherokee. She had been born in the Cherokee nation, Delaware District. Her parents had been owned as slaves at one time by a Cherokee, Jefferey Beck.
After St. George left his family in Texas, Ellen moved with the all the children to Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, except for Crawford (Bill) – who was too young to travel – whom she left behind in the care of a Black woman, Amanda Foster. Ms. Foster took care of Bill until the age of seven when he moved with his mother to Fort Gibson and then on to Cherokee, Kansas, where he attended Indian school for three years. He then attended the Carlisle Industrial School for Indians in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for two years.
After leaving school at the age of twelve, he returned to Oklahoma.
His mother remarried when Bill was thirteen. He did not get along well with his new stepfather and started hanging around with a rough crowd, drinking liquor and rebelling against authority.
At fifteen, he went to live with his sister, Georgia, and her husband.
At seventeen, he worked on a ranch where it was said he was well liked by all.
At eighteen, while attending a dance at Fort Gibson, Texas, Crawford shot a man named Jake Lewis twice when Lewis refused to stop beating his own little brother. Crawford then headed for the Creek and Seminole Nations (now Oklahoma) where he met Jim and Bill Cook, a couple of outlaws.
In the summer of 1894, the Cooks and Crawford convinced the owner of a restaurant – a Caucasian woman – to collect some money due to each of them as a payment share for some Indian land called the Cherokee Strip. The government had bought the land. The woman did as she was told, collecting the money for all three, but upon her return, was followed by a sheriff’s posse trying to catch up with the Cooks. There was a gunfight, ending with a posse member dead, one wounded and Crawford and the Cook brothers in the wind. The owner of the restaurant was questioned about the gunfight and was asked if Crawford was among the group. She replied no, but that among them was “the Cherokee Kid”. This, apparently, was where Crawford gained his nickname.
The famous Cook gang made itself known across the Cherokee and Seminole Nations (in what is now Oklahoma) in July, 1894 with train and bank robberies and murder.
Cherokee Bill murdered at least seven people and may have killed as many as thirteen, later forming his own gang and riding with such well-known outlaws as Henry Starr and Billy the Kid.
With the assistance of acquaintances who hoped to receive part of a $1,500 reward, federal authorities finally captured Cherokee Bill and transported him to the federal district court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There, he was convicted of murder of an unarmed man who happened to witness Bill’s participation in a robbery and sentenced to hang. After an unsuccessful escape attempt in which he killed a jail guard at Fort Smith, Bill received a second murder conviction.
When the United States Supreme Court rejected his appeal of his first conviction, federal officials hanged him before hundreds of onlookers, on March 17, 1896. When asked if he had any last words, his response was, “I came here to die, not to make a speech.”
After his death, Cherokee Bill’s mother took his body to the Fort Gibson area (Oklahoma), where he was buried.
Bass Reeves was born a slave in Arkansas in 1838. His slavemaster, William S. Reeves, moved the household to Paris, Texas in 1846, where he became a prominent politician in the region as well as a farmer. Bass worked as a water boy in the cotton fields of the Reeves farm, where other enslaved Blacks regaled him with stories of adventure featuring Black heroes
When the Civil War broke out, William Reeves’ son, George, was commissioned as a colonel in the Confederate army and took Bass to war with him. Although he was supposedly George Reeves’ servant, Bass fought in several battles during the conflict. However, after a dispute with George over a card game which led to fisticuffs and the large and powerful Bass opening a can of whoop-ass on the colonel, Bass escaped and fled into the Indian Territory (which we now know as Oklahoma) as a fugitive slave. There, he lived among First Nation peoples from the Creek and Seminole, developing an understanding and appreciation of their languages, cultures and customs. During this time, Bass served in the Union’s first Indian Home Guard regiment under an assumed name.
Bass eventually moved to Arkansas where he acquired property near Van Buren. He met a young woman named Nellie Jennie and in 1870, the two were married and settled into Bass’ farm, where they raised five boys and five girls.
By 1875, however, he had found a new profession – as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, under the direction of Judge Isaac C. Parker. Bass’ family continued to reside in Van Buren during these years.
This change, from farmer to lawman, began the most colorful, noteworthy, and successful careers of all the western frontier marshals. Bass worked in the Parker court at the time of the execution of James Diggs, a notorious criminal, who had been wanted for years. He assisted in the capture of deadly outlaws Bob Dozier and Johnson Jacks and in 1884, he is noted for bringing a caravan load of prisoners from Indian Territory.
Bass served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory for 32 years and was the only one to serve from Judge Parker’s appointment until Oklahoma’s statehood. He became one of the most successful lawmen in American history, arresting more than 3,000 fugitives. Bass’ work as a Deputy U.S. Marshal ended in 1907 when Oklahoma was granted statehood. He then went on to work for the Muskogee Police Department for two years until he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease. He died on January 12, 1910.
Bass Reeves has been immortalized in literature and in film. We continue this tradition in the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage, in which Bass Reeves – one of the guardians of the town of Nicodemus, Kansas – is the possessor of a pair of pistols and a rifle that gives him extraordinary powers and enhances his already formidable skills. Veteran film director and actor, Omar Sean Anderson is tasked with bringing this amazing character to life and you are sure to love how we – and Omar – envision the legendary Bass Reeves.
Following is a complete list of Black Deputy U.S. Marshals who worked in the Ft. Smith, Arkansas region. Their numbers – and their stories – are quite amazing.
Jefferson, Edward D.