TOP 20 STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK, SWORD & SOUL AND URBAN FANTASY BOOKS FOR BLACK YOUTH!
Recently, I wrote about why Black children should read and write Science Fiction and Fantasy. I also wrote about it here. Now I would like to provide you with a list of books for young adults, teens and tweens. A list of books for children aged 2-9 will follow in a later blog.
Young Adult (“YA”) Fiction is fiction marketed to adolescents and young adults, ranging roughly between the ages of 14 to 21. The majority of YA stories portray an adolescent as the protagonist, rather than an adult or a child. The subject matter and story lines are typically consistent with the age and experience of the main character and the stories span the entire spectrum of fiction genres.
Middle Grade (“MG”) Fiction is intended for readers between the ages of 8 to 12, with the protagonist at the higher end of the age range.
MG readers are learning about who they are, what they think, and where they fit in. Their focus is inward and the conflicts in MG books usually reflect this. The themes range from school situations, friendships, relationships with peers and siblings, and daily difficulties that may seem ordinary to the rest of us. The protagonist’s parents are usually seen and have some sort of an influence. Stories are usually fast paced and chapters are short.
In contrast, Young Adult novels deal with underlying themes and more complicated plots. They allow teen readers to examine deeper issues, their roles in life, the importance of relationships, how to cope with adversity and even tragedy and how their actions can impact the world.
YA protagonists are usually searching for their identity, figuring out who they are as an individual and where they fit in. YA books are generally much more gritty and realistic than MG books. Parents have less influence in YA stories and are often not seen at all.
Below is a list of twenty of the most Blacktastic books that are sure to entertain, educate and even empower readers, young and old.
The books are grouped into three categories, by age appropriateness, for your convenience.
While there are many more great books written by and about Black people, this is a good start and more books will be shared in future posts.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 15+)
A Single Link, by Balogun Ojetade
After suffering a brutal rape at the hands of a martial arts champion, Remi “Ray” Swan decides that, to gain closure and empowerment, she must face her attacker in the first professional fight between a man and a woman.
Join Ray in this powerful, two-fisted adventure as she 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!
Step into the cage, where action, adventure, bone shattering fights, and a touch of romance await you!
Damballa, by Charles R. Saunders
The first ever African American 1930s avenger sets out to stop a Nazi plot to subvert a championship fight.
From deepest Africa to the streets of 1930s Harlem, the action is none stop.
Written by famed novelist Charles Saunders, with interior illustrations by Clayton Hinkle and a cover by Charles Fetherolf, this is a history making pulp adventure fans do not want to miss.
Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of . . . more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly.
Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears.
In the midst of apocalypse, they find something no one could have anticipated . . . love.
Dillon and the Voice of Odin, by Derrick Ferguson
He’s a soldier of fortune gifted with an astonishing range of remarkable talents and skills that make him respected and feared in the secret world of mercenaries, spies and adventurers. A world inhabited by amazing men and women of fabulous abilities that most of us are unaware even exists.
Fueled by a taste for excitement, driven by an overpowering desire to protect the innocent, see that wrongs are righted and assisted by a worldwide network of extraordinary men and women, all experts in their fields, Dillon spans the globe in a never-ending quest for the wildest and most breathtaking adventures of all!
Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders
Magic. Myth. Warfare. Wonder. Beauty. Bravery. Glamour. Gore. Sorcery. Sensuality. These and many more elements of fantasy await you in the pages of Griots, which brings you the latest stories of the new genre called Sword and Soul.
The tales told in Griots are the annals of the Africa that was, as well as Africas that never were, may have been, or should have been. They are the legends of a continent and people emerging from shadows thrust upon them in the past. They are the sagas sung by the modern heirs of the African story-tellers known by many names – including griots.
Here, you will meet mighty warriors, seductive sorceresses, ambitious monarchs, and cunning courtesans. Here, you will journey through the vast variety of settings Africa offers, and inspires. Here, you will savor what the writings of the modern-day griots have to offer: journeys through limitless vistas of the imagination, with a touch of color and a taste of soul.
Griots: Sisters of the Spear, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Charles R. Saunders
Griots: Sisters of the Spear picks up where the ground breaking Griots Anthology leaves off.
Charles R. Saunders and Milton J. Davis present seventeen original and exciting Sword and Soul tales focusing on black women.
Just as the Griots Anthology broke ground as the first Sword and Soul Anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear pays homage to the spirit, bravery and compassion of women of color.
The griots have returned to sing new songs, and what wonderful songs they are!
Ki Khanga: The Anthology, Edited by Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade
What is Ki Khanga?
The answer lies in the pages of this amazing anthology.
Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis define this fascinating world which forms the foundation of the Ki Khanga Sword and Soul Role Playing Game.
Prepare yourself for stories of bravery, tragedy, love and adventure.
Prepare yourself for Ki Khanga.
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, by Balogun Ojetade
Harriet Tubman: Freedom fighter. Psychic. Soldier. Spy. Something…more. Much more.
In “MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1: Kings * Book 2: Judges)”, the author masterfully transports you to a world of wonder…of horror…of amazing inventions, captivating locales and extraordinary people.
In what is hailed as the world’s first Steamfunk novel, Harriet Tubman must match wits and power with the sardonic John Wilkes Booth and a team of hunters with powers beyond this world in order to save herself, her teenaged nephew, Ben and a little girl in her care – Margaret.
But is anyone who, or what, they seem?
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
In 2025, with the world descending into madness and anarchy, one woman begins a fateful journey toward a better future
Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.
When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.
Steamfunk, Edited by Balogun Ojetade and Milton J. Davis
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. Open these pages and traverse the lumineferous aether to the world of Steamfunk!
Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter, by Keith Gaston
Taurus Moon is a relic hunter, but the artifacts he searches for aren’t found in the jungles of the Yucatan or the deserts of Egypt. His quests often take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities where even the toughest of thugs fear to tread. Forgotten relics once thought of as only myths and legends can be found, if you know where to look, and have the guts to go searching into dark and deadly places.
Taurus Moon is hired by a vampire crime lord to locate an ancient artifact that would make the criminal a God. Even though Taurus is no fan of vampires, especially one aspiring to become a Deity, he does love money and despite his misgivings, he begins the treacherous hunt for the artifact. Things become more complicated when a rival crime lord hires a ruthless relic hunter who has no qualms about killing the competition.
YOUNG ADULT (Ages 13+)
Changa’s Safari, by Milton J. Davis
In the 15th century on the African Continent a young prince flees his homeland of Kongo, vowing to seek revenge for the murder of his father and the enslavement of his family and his people.
He triumphs over the slavery and the fighting pits of Mogadishu to become a legendary fighter and respected merchant.
From the Swahili cities of the East African Coast to the magnificent Middle Kingdom of Asia, Changa and his crew experience adventures beyond the imagination.
Changa will not rest until he has fulfilled his promise to his family and his people. The anchors are raised and the sails unfurled.
Let the safari begin!
Fist of Africa, by Balogun Ojetade
Nigeria 2004 … Nicholas ‘New Breed’ Steed, a tough teen from the mean streets of Chicago, is sent to his mother’s homeland – a tiny village in Nigeria – to avoid trouble with the law. Unknown to Nick, the tiny village is actually a compound where some of the best fighters in the world are trained. Nick is teased, bullied and subjected to torturous training in a culture so very different from the world where he grew up.
Atlanta 2014 … After a decade of training in Nigeria, a tragedy brings Nick back to America. Believing the disaffected youth in his home town sorely need the same self-discipline and strength of character training in the African martial arts gave him, Nick opens an Academy. While the kids are disinterested in the fighting style of the cultural heritage Nick offers, they are enamored with mixed martial arts. Nick decides to enter the world of mixed martial arts to make the world aware of the effectiveness and efficiency of the martial arts of Africa.
Pursing a professional career in MMA, Nick moves to Atlanta, Georgia, where he runs into his old nemesis – Rico Stokes, the organized crime boss who once employed Nick’s father, wants Nick to replace his father in the Stokes’ protection racket. Will New Breed Steed claim the Light Heavyweight title … Or will the streets of Atlanta claim him?
Once Upon A Time In Afrika, by Balogun Ojetade
An exciting Sword and Soul tale by Balogun Ojetade, Once Upon a Time in Afrika Tells the story of a beautiful princess and her eager suitors.
Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” duaghter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle tells the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warrior from all over the continent.
Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way.
Will the warriors band together against this evil?
The Scythe, by Balogun Ojetade
Out of the tragedy of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, a two-fisted hero rises from the grave!
Inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s, a tale of action, adventure, thrills and chills await fans of Dieselpunk, die-hard pulp fans and readers who just love a gritty story that packs a mean punch.
Enter a world in which Gangsters, Flappers, vampires, robots and the Ku Klux Klan all roam the same dark back streets; a world of grit, grime and grease; a world of hardboiled gumshoe detectives and mad scientists; a world where magic and technology compete for rule over the world.
Dieselfunk has emerged in The Scythe…and the Roaring Twenties will never seem the same!
The Seedbearing Prince, by DaVaun Sanders
Dayn Ro’Halan is a farmer’s son sworn to a life of plowing on his homeworld, Shard. After finding a lost artifact called a Seed, he’s thrust into an ancient conflict between voidwalkers of the hated world Thar’Kur, and Defenders from a floating fortress called the Ring.
Dayn must become a Seedbearer and learn to use the Seed’s power to shape worlds before the entire World Belt is lost.
Woman of the Woods, by Milton J. Davis
The latest Sword and Soul novel by Milton Davis returns to the land of Meji, the amazing world of Uhuru. It tells the story of Sadatina, a girl on the brink of becoming a woman living with her family in Adamusola, the land beyond the Old Men Mountains. But tragic events transpire that change her life forever, revealing a hidden past that leads her into the midst of a war between her people and those that would see them destroyed, the Mosele.
Armed with a spiritual weapon and her feline ‘sisters,’ Sadatina becomes a Shosa, a warrior trained to fight the terrible nyokas, demon-like creatures that aid the Mosele in their war against her people.
Woman of the Woods is an action filled, emotionally charged adventure that expands the scope of the world of Uhuru and introduces another unforgettable character to its heroic legends.
MIDDLE GRADE (Ages 10+)
Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor
Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer.
There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality.
But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?
Amber and the Hidden City, by Milton J. Davis
Thirteen year old Amber Robinson’s life is full of changes. Her parents are sending her to a private school away from her friends, and high school looms before her. But little does she know that her biggest change awaits in a mysterious city hidden from the world for a thousand years.
Amber’s grandmother is a princess from this magical kingdom of Marai. She’s been summoned home to use her special abilities to select the new king but she no longer has the gift, and her daughter was never trained for the task. That leaves only one person with the ability to save the city: Amber! But there are those who are determined that Amber never reaches Marai and they will do anything to stop her.
Prepare yourself for an exciting adventure that spans from the Atlanta suburbs to the grasslands of Mali.
It’s a story of a girl who discovers her hidden abilities and heritage in a way that surprises and entertains.
Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, by L.M. Davis
Make sure to clean up your messes.
Keep the cat in the house.
Fraternal twins Nate and Larissa Pantera know all about strange rules. They’ve grown up with plenty of them, and they have always obeyed those rules without question
However, disturbing things are starting to happen–both at home and at school. And when their parents go missing and a strange messenger appears, they discover that the only way to save them is by breaking all the rules.
Interlopers: A Shifters Novel is the thrilling fantasy adventure. Fans of YA fantasy, such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, love this new series about the Pantera twins, who discover that everything they thought they knew is only the beginning of the truth.
I am sure this list will get you well on your way on your Blacknificent journey through the world of Black Speculative Fiction. We end this with a few book trailers to take along as companions on this journey. Enjoy!
NO QUEENS IN AFRIKA: Women Rulers in Sword & Soul and other African-Inspired Fantasy
Now, while I am happy to see Nzinga recognized, every time I see it I cringe.
Because, the posters of that article scream “The mighty Queen Nzinga!” or “Warrior-Queen Nzinga!” or “Another great African Queen: Nzinga!” or, simply “Queen Nzinga!”
Nzinga was never a queen people!
No African woman ever was.
That’s right. I said it. Now, read on!
I should say that no traditional, pre-colonial, woman – or woman who opposed colonization / slavery ever was – because later, you did have some Europeanized African rulers who, in their attempts to reduce the power of women, reduced them to queens – and many women accepted their lot.
Nzinga was an Ngola – a ruler of a nation; a “king”, if you must.
Some say she was given the title after the passing of her father, who was an Ngola. Some say Nzinga was given the title after murdering her own brother and becoming her father’s next heir to the throne. However she became Ngola, she was Ngola…not queen.
Traditional rulers throughout Africa were not always given the title and responsibilities of rule by birth or by blood. More often than not, the people chose their ruler and if the ruler did not serve and / or represent the people well, the ruler could be removed from his or her throne.
It was the people who governed and, to the people, gender was rarely a factor in who they chose to lead them.
Among the Yoruba, anyone born under the Odu – the 256 patterns of life / containers of destiny in which all creation exists – Irete Ogbe (aka Irentegbe, or Ategbe) is destined to be an Ǫba, or “king”; gender be damned.
The term “queen” is a product of recent history and the English language. In Ancient African, Asian and Pacific cultures, and even some European countries, women rulers were given the title king or its equivalent, such as pharaoh.
The Byzantine Empress Irene was called basileus – “emperor” – not basilissa, or “empress”. Jadwiga of Poland was crowned Rex Poloniae, King of Poland.
In China, Wu Zetian became the emperor and established the Zhou Dynasty after dismissing her sons. It should be noted that Emperor Wu is described throughout history as huangdi – “emperor”, as opposed to huanghou – “empress”. Similarly, in Korea, the rulers Sindeok and Jindeok were called yeowang – “female king” not hwanghu – “queen”, which refers to the wife of a king or emperor.
“Then what the hell is a queen?” You ask?
Well, let’s examine the term.
A queen regnant (plural: queens regnant) is a European female monarch who reigns in her own right, in contrast to a queen regent, also known as a queen consort, who is the wife of a reigning king.
An empress regnant is a female monarch who reigns in her own right over an empire.
A queen regnant possesses and exercises sovereign powers. The husband of a queen regnant does not usually share his wife’s rank, title or sovereignty.
A queen consort, on the other hand, shares her husband’s rank and titles, but does not share his sovereignty.
A queen dowager is the widow of a king. A queen mother is a queen dowager who is also the mother of a reigning sovereign.
Among the Davidic Monarchs of the Kingdom of Judah, there is mentioned a single queen regnant, Athaliah, though the Hebrew Bible regards her negatively as a usurper. The much later Hasmonean, Queen Salome Alexandra (Shlom Tzion), was highly popular.
Accession of a regnant occurs as a nation’s order of succession permits. Methods of succession to queendoms, kingdoms and tribal chieftancies, include nomination when the sitting monarch or a council names an heir, known as primogeniture when the children are chosen in order of birth from eldest to youngest; or ultimogeniture when the children are chosen from youngest to eldest.
Historically, many European realms forbade succession by women or through a female line in obedience to the Salic law, and some still do. No queen regnant ever ruled France, for example. Only one woman, Maria Theresa, ruled Austria.
In Japan, the Chrysanthemum Throne – currently barred to women – did not always have such a restriction. There have been eight empresses regnant. The Japanese language calls such women rulers josei tennō – “female imperial ruler” – with kōgō being the term reserved for an empress consort.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the differences between European and African women who rule and how referring to such African women as “Queen” in your fiction is not correct and could even be considered insulting to many, let’s look at a few African women rulers for information and inspiration in your research and writings.
Amina – or Aminatu – of Zazzau (Zaria)
Amina was the eldest daughter of Bakwa Turunku – also a woman – the founder of the Zazzau Kingdom in 1536. After the death of her mother in 1549, Amina ascended the throne. This medieval African kingdom was located in the region now known as the Kaduna State in the north-central region of Nigeria, capital at the modern city of Zaria, named after Amina’s younger sister, Zariya.
The earliest commentator to mention Amina is Muhammed Bello’s history text, Ifaq al-Maysur, composed around 1836.
Amina is also mentioned in the Kano Chronicle, a well-regarded and detailed history of the city of Kano and the surrounding Hausa people.
Known as a great military strategist, the cavalry-trained Amina fought many wars that expanded the southernmost Hausa kingdom.
Queen Amina is a legend among the Hausa people for her military exploits. She controlled the trade routes in the region, erecting a network of commerce within the great earthen walls that surrounded Hausa cities within her dominion. According to the Kano Chronicle, she conquered as far as Nupe and Kwarafa, ruling for 34 years.
Moremi Ajasoro, Olori of Ile Ife
Moremi Ajasoro was a figure of high significance in the history of the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria, Benin and Togo. She was a member, by marriage of the of the royal family of Emperor Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba people (whom some scholars believe was a woman).
Moremi was an Olori – a title held only by certain Chiefs – hailing from Ile Ife, a kingdom at war with the neighboring Ìgbò nation.
Scores of Ife – or citizens of the Kingdom of Ile Ife – were enslaved by the Ìgbò. Because of this, the Ìgbò were generally regarded with disdain by the Yoruba city-states.
Moremi – a very brave and beautiful woman – was taken and enslaved by the Ìgbò and, due to her beauty, was wed to their ruler.
After familiarizing herself with the secrets of her new husband’s army, Moremi escaped to Ile Ife and revealed these secrets to the Yoruba, who were able to subsequently defeat the Ìgbò in battle.
Following the war, Moremi returned to her first husband, King Oranmiyan of Ile Ife.
Oranmiyan immediately had Moremi re-instated as his wife and as a Chief.
In contemporary Nigeria, a number of public places are named after Moremi, such as the women’s residence halls at the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University.
Hatshepsut – meaning “Foremost of Noble Ladies” – was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. She is also known to scholars as “the first great woman in history of whom we are informed.”
Although it was uncommon for Egypt to be ruled by a woman, the situation was not unprecedented. Hatshepsut was preceded by Merneith, of the first dynasty; Nimaethap, of the third dynasty; Nitocris, the last pharaoh of the sixth dynasty; Sobekneferu, of the twelfth dynasty; and the warrior, Ahotep I.
In comparison with other women pharaohs, Hatshepsut’s reign was much longer and much more prosperous. She was successful in warfare early in her reign, but generally is considered to be a pharaoh who inaugurated a long peaceful era. Hatshepsut reestablished international trading relationships, once lost during a foreign occupation, and brought great wealth to Egypt – wealth that enabled her to initiate building projects that raised the caliber of Ancient Egyptian architecture to a standard that would not be rivaled by any other culture for a thousand years. Hatshepsut ruled for twenty-two years.
Ngola Nzinga Mbandi
Nzinga fearlessly and cleverly fought for the freedom and stature of her kingdoms against the Portuguese, who were colonizing the area at the time.
Around the turn of the 17th century, the independent kingdoms and states of the Central African coast were threatened by Portuguese attempts to colonize Luanda, today the capital of Angola.
Portugal sought to colonize the region in order to control the trade in African slaves, and attacked many of their old trading partners to further this goal.
Unlike many other rulers at the time, Nzinga was able to adapt to these changing circumstances and fluctuations in power around her. By her own determination and refusal to give in to the Portuguese without a fight, she transformed her kingdom into a formidable commercial state on equal footing with the Portuguese colonies.
In 1617 the new Portuguese governor of Luanda began an aggressive campaign against the kingdom of Ndongo. His troops invaded the capital and forced Ngola Mbandi – Nzinga’s brother, who inherited the throne from their father – to flee from the area. Thousands of Ndongo people were taken prisoner.
The Ngola sent his sister Nzinga Mbandi to negotiate a peace treaty in 1621, which she did successfully. But Portugal didn’t honor the terms of the treaty.
Ngola Mbandi, feeling he had failed his people, committed suicide, leaving the kingdom to his sister, Nzinga.
As the new sovereign of Ndongo, Nzinga re-entered negotiations with the Portuguese. At the time, Ndongo was under attack from both the Portuguese and neighboring African aggressors. Nzinga realized that in order to achieve peace and for her kingdom to remain viable, she needed to become an intermediary. She allied Ndongo with Portugal, and was baptized as Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande, with the Portuguese colonial governor serving as her godfather. By doing this she acquired a partner in her fight against her African enemies, and ending Portuguese slave raiding in the kingdom.
The new alliance didn’t last very long, however. Portugal betrayed Ndongo in 1626, and Nzinga was forced to flee when war broke out. Nzinga took over as ruler of the nearby kingdom of Matamba, capturing Matamba’s ruler – a woman by the name of Mwongo Matamba – and routing her army. Nzinga then made Matamba her capital, joining it to the Kingdom of Ndongo.
To build up her kingdom’s martial power, Nzinga offered sanctuary to runaway slaves and Portuguese-trained African soldiers and stirred up rebellion among the people still left in Ndongo, now ruled by the Portuguese.
Nzinga also reached out to the Dutch and invited them to join troops with her. She told the Dutch she would be happy to ally with them because of their justice and politeness, whereas the Portuguese were proud and haughty.
Even their combined forces were not enough to drive the Portuguese out, however, and after retreating to Matamba again, Nzinga started to focus on developing Matamba as a trading power and the gateway to the Central African interior.
By the time of Nzinga’s death in 1661 at the age of 81, Matamba was on equal footing with the Portuguese colony. The Portuguese came to respect Ngola Nzinga for her shrewdness and tenacity.
Now, please, no more excuses. If you are writing Sword and Soul, building an African setting for your Fantasy Role-Playing Game, or hell, writing an essay on an African ruler who happens to be a woman, please, do your research. Get it right.
And for all you players and smooth-talkers, the next time you open your mouth to call a sister a “beautiful African Queen”…don’t.
Beautiful African King, maybe. But if that doesn’t sound right to you, although it’s much more accurate, hell, just go with Goddess. Yeah, that’s it.
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.
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!
ENROLLING IN A NEW INSTITUTION: The Solution to Racism in Fandom
I read a brilliant – and heart-wrenching article today in which cosplayer, Chaka Cumberbatch demanded better representation for Black women characters in popular geek media, because frankly, the lack of a Black presence in fandom has her fatigued.
“I’m tired of not seeing faces like mine in my comics. I’m sick of the notion that a black female character is a rare treat, a special occasion.”
“I’m getting really tired of just accepting whatever scraps are thrown our way.”
“I’m tired of not seeing faces like mine in my comics.”
“…faces like mine in my comics.” That was the beginning of my heartbreak for this brilliant sister truly believes those comics are hers.
They should feature more Black women – and men, for that matter – as superheroes because Black women are, well…extraordinary; but they don’t.
Because mainstream geekdom is not concerned with us. A Black hero is “different”; is “risky”; and no form of media in the mainstream is in the business of taking risks.
Now, watch someone pull Storm, Luke Cage, the Black Panther or Aqualad out of the bag and shout “We have given you these cool superheroes and yet, you still complain.”
Those characters were not written with us in mind.
As renowned veteran comic book creator, author and screenwriter Geoffrey Thorne says: “There can be no Black consciousness in comics unless there are Black creators in comics.”
Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself and we are acutely more aware of self than of anything external.
So, to put it bluntly, we are not part of the consciousness of the creators of fandom, who are mainly white men…white men are.
We are the only people who believe that if we write about a Black hero or shero, they must have a white sidekick or mentor in order for the book to be accepted. We are the only people who cry “I live in a multicultural world, so I write what I see.” White people live in that same world. If they decide to write a multicultural tale, the hero is, more often than not, a white man. If they are “really hip”, they might have a white woman as the protagonist, but a person of color as the protagonist is a rarity, indeed.
And we should not complain about that. People can write what they want to.
We should not demand more representation from the mainstream. The mainstream does not care about the Black demographic at best and is a racist institution at worst.
The institution of geek fandom is old and has been allowed to keep running with our support and our hope for a brighter and better day for women and people of color. However, this institutional racism within fandom will continue as a pattern of racial exclusion simply by virtue of folks doing things the way they have always been done.
Recently, Worldcon – the biggest convention in fandom – planned to screen the spectacularly racist film, Song of the South.
When called out on this madness, Worldcon fans – mostly white men, of course, were swift to defend their beloved con. One fan summed up the sentiment of fans nicely: “Going to cons–and Worldcon moreso–is a luxury activity. The truth is that most POC don’t have the disposable income [to attend fan conventions]. They’re a noticeable minority at airports, on cruises, and other luxury activities”.
I wonder if he received a free guest pass.
Geoffrey Thorne broke it down for us like this: “Marvel says they can’t make a Black Panther film because it’s too far fetched to present Wakanda as a real place while at the same time dropping both the new Thor film and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. Wakanda is more farfetched than Asgard?”
See? We need to transfer out of the racist institution called mainstream geek media and enroll in a new institution; an institution of our creation.
An institution in which Samuel Delaney is President; Octavia Butler and Charles R. Saunders are the Deans; Walter Mosley, Nisi Shawl, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due are Department Heads; and Milton Davis, Nnedi Okorafor, Geoffrey Thorne, Valjeanne Jeffers and Balogun Ojetade are Professors; an institution in which veteran, up-and-coming and aspiring creators and fans of Black Speculative Fiction, Film and Art walk its hallowed halls.
My dear sister, Chaka – and every other sister out there who feels marginalized and underrepresented, check out works by the aforementioned creators and you will have plenty powerful, beautiful and extraordinary Black sheroes to cosplay – from a Steamfunk Harriet Tubman to a spear-wielding demon-hunter whose sisters are a pair of lionesses and more.
HAPPY BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH!
Keep this conversation going and join artist and Curator of OnyxCon, Joseph Wheeler III; comic book store owner, collector and publisher, Tony Cade; comic book author, collector and critic, Hannibal Tabu; and renowned comic book and animation creator and illustrator, Dawud Anyabwile, for Aint No Such Thing As Superman, a discussion on the influence of the conscious community on Black comic books and graphic novels and the impact of Black comic books and graphic novels on the conscious community.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
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!
TRAYVON 2.0: The Valley of Dry Bones
…thus, saith the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live…and they lived – and stood up upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.
The trio sat, cross-legged, at the feet of their master as he stood before them, supported by his ever-present, crystal walking stick, which reflected a rainbow of colors with each measured, yet graceful, movement of the man’s wiry frame. ‘Skittles’, the stick was called – and it was rumored to be a rod of immense power.
“Long have we awaited this day,” the old master said. “The wise diviners foretold of three young warriors rising up to one day defeat the Zimmer-Men – and here you sit.”
“We live only to serve!” The three youth replied in unison.
“And serve, you shall,” The master replied. “But to serve well, you must know yourself, your enemy, the time and what must be done. Do you know these things?”
The young warriors had memorized the answer to that question long ago, for it had been recited to them every night, at bedtime, for the past thirteen years.
The trio leapt to their feet and – as one – recited ‘The History’: “On the first day of The Resurrection, the Final Sacrifice was slain by the Zimmer-Man.”
“Continue,” the master commanded.
“On the thirtieth day of The Resurrection, anger over the slaying of the Final Sacrifice and anger over the portrayal of Black people in major roles in the film, ‘The Games of Hunger’, begat the Great Riot.
“And on the thirty-third day of The Resurrection, a group of racist scientists in Atlanta poisoned the water supply with a new disease, comprised of rabies, leprosy and the rhinovirus, or common cold.”
“And did this disease work as the scientists planned?” The master asked.
“No, master,” the trio replied. “While thousands of Black people died, as the scientists planned, non-Blacks suffered also.”
“How so?” The master inquired.
“The disease mutated, transforming them into creatures possessed by a terrifying rage and an inability to feel pain – the monsters we call ‘The Zimmer-Men’.”
“And what did the Zimmer-Men do?” The master asked.
“They set out to infect the world…to remake it in their image and their likeness.”
“So, you are telling me these monsters are intelligent?” The master said, feigning surprise.
“Incredibly so,” the trio answered. “And wickedly wise.”
“And did the Zimmer-Men succeed in their twisted mission?” The master asked.
“They have infected nearly half the population of the United States, thus far and would have succeeded in infecting the entire nation, had not all the Black, Native and Hispanic organizations within America set aside their petty differences, joined together and fought…but many Hispanics have turned to Zimmer-Men, so our numbers are dwindling fast.”
Then, all is lost?” The master asked.
“No, master,” the trio answered. “For it was prophesied that three youth would don hoods made from the blood-soaked cloth of The Final Sacrifice and these hoods would give them power to destroy the Zimmer-Men once and for all.”
“Very good,” the master said, smiling. “Now, place the hoods upon your heads and tell me who you are.”
The three young warriors slipped the black hoods over their shaved heads and then shouted, in unison – “I am Trayvon Martin!”
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!
BLACK PEOPLE DO READ: Urban Fiction’s Impact on Black Literacy!
My introduction to Urban Fiction in literature began with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which I read when I was eight or nine years old – a few years after going nuts over the film version, which released in 1972 and The Godfather II, which released in 1974.
My love for The Godfather, led me to seek out gangster films and books with Black people as the heroes, thus became a lifelong (not so) secret love affair with Blaxploitation films and Urban Literature. I could quote every line from Shaft, The Mack, Coffee, and my favorite, Gordon’s War and Donald Goines’ Cry Revenge had an honored place in the trunk that held my most prized comic books.
The youth have always loved Urban Fiction. And not just tweens and teens from the inner city. Teens in rural communities also crave these gritty, action-packed stories. Leading authority on Urban Fiction, Dr. Vanessa Irvin Morris, claims that 93 percent of libraries across the country – both urban and rural – carry Urban Fiction in their collections.
And it is bringing adults who normally do not read to the brick-and-mortar and online bookstores. According to Dr. Morris, writers such as Teri Woods, Miasha Coleman, K’wan and Shannon Holmes not only outsell such renowned authors as Alice Walker,Toni Morrison, Richard Wright and other authors of classic literature, but even more mainstream authors, such as Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) (Morris, V. J., Agosto, D.P., Hughes-Hassell, S., & Cottman, D.T.; 2006; Street Lit: Flying off teen fiction bookshelves in Philadelphia public libraries. Journal of Young Adult Library Service, 5(1): 16-23).
And the readers of Urban Fiction are loyal customers, quick to make a purchase and insatiable in their desire for more stories.
Even with its popularity, however, Urban Literature still has its detractors – mainly African-American writers of contemporary and speculative fiction.
Popular Speculative Fiction author and publisher, Milton Davis, had these words of advice for his speculative fiction colleagues who hate on Urban Fiction:
“As a black science fiction and fantasy writer, I constantly listen to my fellow writers complain about the genre, how it is lowering the standards of black readers and stealing shelf space from not only our works but those of ‘more literary writers’ like Terry McMillian and Tony Morrison. While there are complex reasons why this is happening, the obvious reason to me is simple: hustle…don’t concentrate on what you feel the Street Lit writer is doing wrong, focus on what they’re doing right then apply it to your efforts.”
He goes on to say “So what has Street Lit taught us? That [success] is as much, or more, about hard work as it is about skill. The lesson should resonate more among independent writers, such as myself, than my mainstream published kin, although they too should take note.”
While the authors of Urban Fiction may not possess a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, or may not have a clue what the Lumineferous Aether is, they do have a gripping story, interesting characters, a do-it-yourself attitude and extraordinary hustle and heart. And that is why Urban Fiction outsells every other genre of fiction on the shelf. So don’t hate; congratulate…and get your hustle up!
While many of us moisten at the thought of recognition from some mainstream publishing company, the authors of Urban Fiction are possessed by an entrepreneurial spirit that enables them to self-publish and sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their books at bus stops, barber shops, beauty salons and street festivals. They don’t seek out mainstream publishers; mainstream publishers seek them out.
And – more than any other genre – Urban Fiction inspires people to read and write.
“But Street Lit glorifies drug dealing, murder and misogyny,” you say. Some does. So does some science fiction; so does some horror; so does some fantasy, romance and even some of the classics.
However, there is Urban Fiction that gives the reader strong, independent and competent women, healthy, loving relationships, and characters with high moral standards.
Furthermore, reading Urban Fiction can evoke necessary discussion on issues that plague us all.
According to Dr. Morris, who is author of The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature and owner of the website, streetliterature.com, in Philadelphia, a group of librarians worked with hundreds of teens to determine Urban Fiction’s impact on our youth. They found that the relationships between the men and women characters in the books spurred much discussion. The girls, for the most part, originally thought that the male characters “were good to their women” because “they bought them name brand stuff”, but as they analyzed the books, they came to understand that most of the relationships in them involved verbal abuse and domestic violence.
The most significant discovery for the librarians was that it was analyzing the books that brought about the teens’ awareness of abuse, which was not originally apparent to them. The students read the books and then came together to talk about what they had read and in doing so, developed a greater understanding of the dynamics of relationships and the tragedy of domestic violence.
It is interesting that we reject Street Lit for its presumed misogyny and abusive relationships – which we most certainly should – yet we ignore the misogyny in such classics as Catcher in the Rye, or the abusive relationship in the Twilight Saga. We must make a stand against the abuse of women wherever we find it. If writers truly want to see a change in Urban Fiction, shouldn’t we create that change by contributing our own works?
My mother has always taught my siblings and me, by example, that if you have a problem with something, don’t complain, do your part to fix it. I like to grow a scraggly beard sometimes – I just do, okay? – and my mother hates it. She’ll say the same thing every time she sees my beard – “How much does a shave cost?” She will then proceed to reach into her purse, pull out the exact amount for the shave and hand me the money.
Now, she could easily say “You look like a hobo, son. A shave is only six dollars…go get one!” Instead, she pulls out her money – and pulling out the exact amount tells me she was prepared to act if I sported that hateful, unkempt beard – and hands it to me. No complaining; just action.
It’s her way…and it’s one of the many great things I love about her. Ironically, it is also the way of the authors of Urban Fiction. They are warriors; not worriers.
Urban Fiction has been called “the most appealing form of Black literature.” It appeals to youth and adults for many reasons. Why? How? Here are a few reasons readers gave in a recent study (Morris, V.J.;2010; Street Lit: Before you recommend it, you have to understand it. Agosto, D. & Hughes-Hassell, S. (eds.). IN Urban Teens in the Library: Research and Practice. (pp. 53-66). Chicago: American Library Association):
- Stories are fast-paced and action-packed, often with elements of romance.
- The style is straight forward and cinematic – like a movie in your head.
- The protagonists are usually anti-heroes.
- Readers relate to the story, setting and characters.
- While readers tend to be African-American women, ages 18 – 35, Urban Fiction also attracts more male readers than any other genre – many readers feel that if something can get men and boys to read, it is powerful indeed.
- There are many parallels between Urban Fiction and Hip-Hop.
Below are two reviews of my Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, a mash-up of Urban Fiction and Urban Fantasy. Redeemer is a thrilling read and appeals to science fiction, fantasy and urban fiction readers alike for all the reasons cited above and more. But don’t just take my word for it; read on…
Ezekiel Cross is a cold blooded killer. He works for ‘Sweet’ Danny Sweet, owner of Sweet South Records, the second wealthiest music label in the country. For most of his life Ezekiel has been a killer, trained from a young age to enforce the whims of his boss. But Ezekiel is tired. He longs for the day that he can hang up his guns and live a normal life with his wife Mali. But the life of a killer is never his own. Ezekiel is called to do another hit, but instead of closing the deal he finds himself the target of a different kind of hit. He’s sent back into time and finds himself in a situation that could change his life forever…or end it.
Redeemer is the latest novel by Balogun Ojetade, author of the Steamfunk novel, Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon a Time in Afrika, and my Sword and Soul brother. I had the privilege to read Redeemer earlier this year in manuscript form and was immediately blown away. The book is filled with action, drama and humor as only Balogun can write, but with Redeemer he takes his penchant of mashing genres to another level. For months I’ve read different manuscripts attempting to mesh urban fiction and science fiction in an attempt to capture a piece of the urban fiction market. None of those I perused had of a much chance of success in my opinion. The authors either kept too much urban or too much science fiction or too little of both. After reading the last page of Redeemer I smiled and said to myself, ‘this is it right here.’ A story with a touch of science fiction, a dose of urban fiction and a wallop of great action and great character development. If there was any book that would combine the two genres, Redeemer is it.
Now I know a few of you are saying, ‘doesn’t this plot remind you of Looper?’ Well, let me clear that up as well. Balogun first shared Redeemer to me as a script almost two years ago. Unfortunately for me I didn’t read it. He passed it along to me again as a novel later and the rest is history. Even if you persist in that thought mode, I urge you to put those thoughts aside and read this book. It takes a different journey, one that is as much heartfelt as it is action packed. And it comes with an ending that will make you smile.
Now, that’s all I can reveal without spoiling all the fun. I give Redeemer 5 out of 5 stars. Balogun once again shows his skills as a writer that can take different genres and make them something fresh and new. You can purchase Redeemer here and here. You won’t be disappointed.
“Redeemer” – One of the best reads ever!
I teach drama and creative movement at a private school in Boston. I am also the sponsor of the Avid Readers Club at the school, which I enjoy because I have always loved to read and I have books that I love from EVERY genre.
Though I have literally (pun intended) read thousands of books in my lifetime – I average about a hundred a year – I have never written a review of one. Until now.
I just read the latest book, “Redeemer”, from Balogun Ojetade, one of my favorite authors.
Redeemer is unique in that it successfully combines the best of urban fiction with the best of science fiction into a story that is nothing short of incredible.
I intended to devote a couple of weeks to Redeemer – to read it between grading papers and doing laundry on my weekend afternoons. I ended up reading it in one sitting, with breaks to answer the call of nature, or to briefly hop on Facebook to tell folks how great Redeemer is.
Redeemer truly elevates urban fiction; not only because it is well-edited, original and does not degrade women – qualities sorely lacking in the genre – but because it is a heartfelt tale of fatherhood. Particularly how a father’s relationship with his son can have powerful consequences, for better or worse.
This gritty and exciting story is the tale of Ezekiel Cross, a hit-man who wants out of the game. He resigns from a life of organized crime and killing with the permission and blessings of his crime boss, “Sweet” Danny Sweet. Or so it seems.
Danny Sweet actually sets Ezekiel up and uses him in an experiment in time travel. Ezekiel is sent back thirty years in time. Initially distraught, he decides to change his fate by saving himself and his family from the events that led him to a lifetime of crime. Along the way, he meets some of the coolest, sexiest, deadliest and craziest characters to ever grace the pages of a book. Besides Ezekiel Cross, one of my favorite characters is Norm, a giant Black Cockney attorney and master assassin. Another is Lala, legendary contract killer and fashionista.
Redeemer is going to go down (or rise up) in history as the novel that finally got it right. That took two wildly popular, and sometimes opposing, genres of fiction and married them. And oh, what a matchmaker Balogun Ojetade is! With such masterful matchmaking skill, maybe he can hook me up with my future husband, Idris Elba! It’s in the cards, Idris. It’s in the cards.
Many fans of urban literature don’t read science fiction because they don’t see themselves in those stories and many science fiction fans don’t read urban fiction because they believe urban fiction to be poorly written, poorly edited and full of cliché. Neither side has done enough research. Great books can be found in both genres.
Redeemer is such a book and is the best mash-up of both genres. EVER.
I won’t reveal anymore. You’ll have to read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
A Timeless Killer
Ezekiel Cross is handsome, strong, intelligent, in love, and a ruthless assassin. After years of lying to his true love, Cross decides to finally end his career as a professional killer and become the man his parents would have been proud of. After telling his employer, `Sweet’ Danny Sweet, of his intentions to retire, Sweet sends him on a final assignment. Trouble is, it’s a trap.
Cross travels back in time in what was meant as an experiment as well as punishment. Although Cross is determined to return to his own time and wreak revenge on those that betrayed him, he sees his leap back through time as an opportunity to fix things involving his life as a young man. However, his actions have created events that may cause even more damage to the timeline.
Redeemer by author Balogun Ojetade is an innovative novel that is highly addictive, fast paced, and entertaining.
The author would like to thank the reviewers of the novel, Redeemer and a special thanks goes out to Dr. Vanessa Irvin Morris, who provided the bulk of the research for this article.
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)
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 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.
Creativity is defined as the process of generating new and original ideas. Creativity is the basic force for all invention, the bringing of a thing from concept to actualization and the determining of unique solutions to problems.
The creative person is marked by traits of originality, nonconformity and high levels of knowledge. When you bring forth a unique and effective solution to a problem; a solution that has not been thought of before in the way you thought of it, you are being creative.
Psychologists have tried to explain creativity with many theories. Among these are cognitive (creativity as a process that uses mental constructs and structures), behaviorist (the environmental and associative nature of creative ideas), psychoanalytic (creativity as a mental or personality disturbance), social (creativity as developed by schools and family) and personality (the possession – and manifestation – of personal creative traits).
Creativity is believed by many to be the ability to solve issues and find solutions by “accident” – while you’re trying out several methods, the best method or a solution to your issue arises out of “nowhere” and “by chance”, you discover something totally unique.
As a person who does not believe in coincidence or happenstance, I would suggest that the creative process is more a discovery of new relations between older known concepts and methodologies – using common things in uncommon ways – thus, the more experienced you are in a particular subject area, the more likely you are to consider creative solutions. In music, acting and in the indigenous African martial arts, we call this “improvisation”.
Some mistakenly believe the creative process is all about insight, a “sudden flash” – a moment of serendipity or divine intervention. The insight seems like a “sudden flash” because thought travels at a speed of twenty-four billion miles per second – you have accessed your experience at over one-hundred thousand times the speed of light, so of course it seems “sudden”, or as if the Creator hurled the idea down from heaven and deposited it in your head (would the creator, overseer, mother and father of every single organism in the multiverse have the time, or the inclination, to do such a thing?).
Is the speed of thought of all humans the same? No. Those who have suffered brain damage or who may have developmental issues – who are often described as “slow” or “delayed”, by the way (now you know why) – may think considerably slower, however, most of us think at close to the same rate.
Yes, there is a well-defined creative personality. Highly creative individuals and geniuses have marked similar traits and although every human being is creative in one way or the other, some individuals actually develop their creativity to such a high level that they are recognized as creative geniuses. All highly creative individuals possess certain common personality traits.
Highly creative people love to challenge themselves with complex situations and problems as this allows them to contemplate several possible solutions on their journey to discovering the best solution.
Highly creative people are open-minded and receptive to new ideas and possibilities; especially those that help them to move beyond traditional modes of thinking.
Creative geniuses are confident and possess strong leadership qualities – traits necessary to pioneer new possibilities and guide others along new paths of discovery.
Highly creative individuals are non-conformists, unconventional and consistently think “outside the box”.
Highly creative people are extremely intuitive and often seem to possess the ability to read minds. In actuality, they are simply in tune with – and knowledgeable of – the order of things and are thus able to predict people’s responses to various stimuli.
Creative geniuses are extremely sensitive, for without a well-developed sensitivity, it is not possible to feel and portray emotions through a creative work. A novelist must feel as his characters feel in order to write characters that feel real to the reader.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it gives verve to the creative genius. Highly creative people want to discover and learn new things and persistently ask questions, which is the fuel for creative growth.
Highly creative people have a broad and deep general knowledge, which they use in their creative pursuits. Most creative people are knowledgeable in several spheres of interest.
Marry a creative genius’ leadership qualities to his or her nonconformist personality and you will witness the birth of a person who possesses an intense independence of thought. Creative geniuses commonly move beyond norms and often have a distaste for anything they deem “the mainstream.”
The highly creative person commonly engages in world-building and cosplay. Creative people often engage in daydreaming and even if well-grounded, thrive on fantasies.
Highly creative people are often extremely critical – of themselves and of others.
The highly creative person has a prolific range of ideas.
Highly creative individuals are often selfish, possessing a “me first” attitude. Many are narcissists or possess an extreme egoism, although they can be very generous and may not reveal their egoism for social reasons. Many even transcend the Self and work for greater causes and the common good.
Creative individuals have a love for the new and the unique and move beyond established ideas to find something radically different.
Most creative geniuses quickly grow bored with order or any predictable course of events – a reason why many creative adults were rebellious as children in school and / or at home. They have a love for disorder, unpredictability and the unknown.
As individuals for whom freedom of thought and expression is paramount, highly creative people often have a love for the ambiguous – when there are two or more ways to explain a problem.
Creative geniuses are often driven by a sense of higher purpose. They are self-aware and enlightened and many believe there is a divine purpose for their existence.
The ‘Thin Line’ Myth
One belief that permeates Black communities throughout the United States – and used to be one of my pet peeves – is that there is the existence of “the Thin Line”. When the discussion of genius comes up among a group of Black people, more often than not, someone will proclaim “You know, there’s a thin line between genius and insanity.” I used to become furious when I heard this because it seemed to be an attack on – and discouragement of – genius. After all, who the hell wants to be insane? Many brilliant and creative Black youth I went to school with would deny their genius or dumb themselves down around others who were not quite as intelligent as them.
Fortunately, the people in my neighborhood – from the gangbangers to the respected business owners – encouraged me to embrace my creativity and intelligence. Even the nicknames they gave me – “Professor”; “Mr. Spock”; “Braniac” – were complimentary of my intelligence and creativity. Once, however, the leader of one of the local gangs decided to give me a warning – “You’re smart as hell, Professor. I love that about you. Stay smart…but don’t get too smart, or you’ll end up in Bobby Wright (a mental health facility in Chicago).” “Why would I end up there?” I inquired. His answer? You guessed it – “Because there’s a thin line between genius and insanity.”
That was not the first time I heard that statement and it certainly would not be the last.
While I grew up rejecting that statement as total male bovine poop (i.e. bulls**t, for those whose thoughts travel at a substantially slower speed than 24 billion miles per second), my study of personality, cognizance and creativity has revealed that highly creative individuals are, indeed, prone to mental disorders. In fact all creative geniuses may be vulnerable to bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and creativity itself is now considered by psychologists to be a sort of neuroticism.
However, even though creative geniuses have a propensity towards mental illness, their creative outlets are powerful tools that help to maintain sanity. Thus, considering the inbuilt defense mechanisms that most Steampunks, Steamfunkateers and other highly creative people have, it is most unlikely that such people would actually go stark raving mad.
Because, in most cases, creative geniuses are not afraid to stretch their minds, thoughts and behavior beyond limits that the less creative can fathom, they are branded as “weird” or “eccentric”. Such brilliant people, however, are extremely strong-minded due to their self-awareness and independence.
In fact, the creative genius exercises his or her creativity and exorcises madness, as he or she continually stretches mental limits to maintain creative pursuits.
So keep up that cosplay…keep on telling those Steamfunk tales…keep killing those orcs, leopard men and oga’koikoi…
Claim your genius…proclaim your brilliance…own your creativity…
Because the mind is a terrible thing to waste.
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.
THE ROAD TO NICODEMUS: Black Towns in the Age of Steam!
Black Americans have played a vital role in building this nation. Eager to live and prosper as free people, we have established our own towns since Colonial times. Many of these communities were destroyed by racial violence or injustice, while some just died out. Let’s explore a few of these symbols of freedom, courage, hard work and ingenuity a bit more in-depth.
Fort Mose, Florida
Although this settlement was established well before the Age of Steam, it still merits mentioning, as it is a fascinating place with an even more fascinating history. Established in 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose – or Fort Mose – was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States and played an important role in the development of colonial North America.
Amid the fight for control of the New World, Great Britain, Spain and other European nations relied on African slave labor. Exploiting its proximity to plantations in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies, King Charles II, of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 which stated that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom, provided he joined the Militia and became a Catholic. This edict became one of the New World’s earliest emancipation proclamations.
By 1738 there were 100 Black men, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. Many were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
When war broke out in 1740 between England and Spain, the people of St. Augustine and nearby Fort Mose found themselves involved in a conflict that stretched across three continents. The English sent thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine and bring back any runaways. They set up a blockade and bombarded the town for 27 consecutive days. Hopelessly outnumbered, the diverse population of blacks, First Nation peoples and whites pulled together. Fort Mose was one of the first places attacked. Lead by Captain Francisco Menendez, the men of the Fort Mose Militia briefly lost the Fort but eventually recaptured it, repelling the English invasion force. Florida remained in Spanish hands and for the next 80 years remained a haven for fugitive slaves from the British colonial possessions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The site was abandoned in 1763 when the British took possession of Florida. The residents of Mose evacuated to Cuba and formed a new town, Ceiba Mocha, Matanzas province, considered the hub of African spirituality in Cuba.
The town prospered as the Florida Railroad established a small depot to handle the transport of cedar wood to the pencil factory in Cedar Key and the transportation of timber, turpentine rosin, citrus, vegetables, and cotton throughout the State. In 1890 the cedar depleted and many of the white families moved to Sumner, three miles west of Rosewood and worked at the newfound saw mill established by Cummer and Sons. By 1900 Rosewood had a black majority of citizens.
On the morning of January 1, 1923 Fannie Coleman Taylor of Sumner Florida, claimed she was assaulted by a Black man. Although she was supposedly knocked unconscious for several hours due to the shock of the incident, she was not seriously injured and was miraculously able to describe, in detail, what happened. No one disputed her account, of course and no questions were asked. It was assumed she was reporting the incident accurately.
Sarah Carrier a Black woman from Rosewood, who did the laundry for Fannie Taylor and was present on the morning of the incident, claimed the man that assaulted Fannie Taylor was her white lover. It was believed the two lovers quarreled and he abused Fannie and left. However, in 1923 no one questioned Fannie Taylor’s account and no one asked Sarah Carrier about the incident. The Black community claimed Fannie Taylor was only protecting herself from scandal.
A posse was summoned and tracking dogs were ordered by James Taylor, Fannie Taylor’s husband and the foreman at Cummer and Sons saw mill. The local white community became enraged at the alleged abuse of a white woman by a Black man – an unpardonable sin in a world in which it was punishable for black men back then to even look at a white woman.
James Taylor summoned help from Levy County and neighboring Alachua County, where a large number of KKK members had been rallying and marching in opposition of justice for Black people.
A telegraph sent to Gainesville in regards to Fannie Taylor’s allegations provoked four to five hundred Klansmen, who headed to Sumner at the appeal of James Taylor. They arrived enraged and combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect. Suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, a Black man who had allegedly recently escaped from a convict road gang. No proof of the escape was ever provided.
The posse confronted Sam Carter at his home and Carter allegedly admitted to helping Hunter escape. The posse forced Carter to take them to the place where he last saw Hunter. When no trace of Hunter could be found the posse turned into an out of control lynch mob, torturing Carter, riddling him with bullets and hanging him from a tree.
The posse continued their hunt in Rosewood. They found Aaron Carrier, cousin and friend to Sam Carter, in bed at his cousin, Sarah Carrier’s house. They yanked him out of bed, tied a rope around his neck and dragged him behind a Model –T Ford from Rosewood to Sumner. They tortured him, beat him with gun butts and kicked him until he lost consciousness they then shot him numerous times.
Levy County Sherriff Bob Walker halted the gunfire before a fatal shot could be delivered, however, when he yelled, “Don’t, I’ll finish the nigger off!” Confident that the sheriff would take care of Aaron Carrier, the posse returned to Rosewood to hunt and kill more Black people.
Sheriff Walker threw Aaron Carrier in his vehicle and took him to Gainesville, to the Alachua County jail, begging Sheriff James Ramsey to hide Carrier from the public and his family until tempers settled down. Sheriff Walker also suggested that Sheriff Ramsey get medical help for Carrier. Sheriff Ramsey brought in two local Black doctors – Dr. Parker and Dr. Ayers – to treat Carrier. For six months, without any knowledge of the public or Carrier’s family, the doctors tending to Carrier’s wounds and returned him to health and strength.
Fuming with anger because they had not found the attacker James Taylor sent Sarah Carrier’s son, Sylvester Carrier, a message “We are coming to get you.”
Unbeknownst to the posse, Sylvester Carrier took heed to the threats and made contact with his Levy County friends who bravely traveled to Rosewood to help avert the planned ambush of its citizens.
After dark, the white posse traveled to Rosewood prepared to kill or be killed. The posse, intoxicated with moonshine and ignorance, was met head-on with resistance from Sylvester Carrier and his friends, however and several of them were killed or injured. The surviving posse members fled, returning to Sumner, leaving their guns behind at the order of Sylvester Carrier and his men. Other posse members lay dead and wounded in Sarah Carrier’s yard.
On January 3rd, many citizens of Rosewood fled into the swamp, hiding out and waiting for the train to come and take them to safety. Others fled to white store merchant John Wright’s home. He allowed them to wait there in hiding until they heard back from Sheriff Walker, who travelled back and forth to Cedar Key, Sumner, and Rosewood in an effort to move Rosewood’s citizens safely out of Rosewood on the 4 AM early morning train, which was conducted by the Bryce Brothers from Bryceville, Florida.
When the posse returned to Rosewood days later to make an assessment of the damages, they vengefully shot and killed anyone who remained in the town – mainly those too ill or too old to
Weeksville, New York
What is now Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY, Weeksville was the second-largest community for free blacks prior to the Civil War. James Weeks, a freed slave, purchased a significant amount of land from Henry C. Thompson, another freed slave. Weeks sold property to new residents, who eventually named the community after him. The town thrived, becoming a free Black enclave of urban trades-people and property owners comprised of both Southern blacks fleeing slavery and Northern blacks escaping the racial violence and draft riots in New York and other cities. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, Weeksville was already a thriving area with its own doctors, teachers, publishers, and social services.
Freedmen’s Town, Texas: Houston’s ‘Little Harlem’
Over a period of sixty years the town thrived, with churches, schools, stores, theaters and jazz spots lining the cobblestone roadways, earning Freedmen’s Town the nickname of “Little Harlem” by the 1920s.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression caused many residents of Freedmen’s Town to lose their homes. Most longtime residents were forced to move to other Houston neighborhoods, while others stayed in the town, only to watch the community deteriorate.
In 1984, Freedmen’s was designated a historic district.
Blackdom, New Mexico
Dispatched from Ft. Leavenworth for the New Mexico Territory in 1846 to fight the Mexican-American War, General Stephen W. Kearny led a force of 2,500 soldiers in the invasion (yes, invasion – just ask the First Nations in the area). One of those detailed to that force as a wagoneer was a Georgia freedman by the name of Henry Boyer. Upon reaching New Mexico, Boyer fell in love with the vast desert expanses of sky and land, upon his return home, he told his wife and children tales of his adventures in New Mexico, emphasizing the awesome beauty of the land.
One of Boyer’s children, Francis Marion (“Frank”) Boyer, was captivated by his father’s stories. Frank, a graduate of Morehouse College and a teacher, grew dissatisfied with his existence in Georgia and joined groups of other Black men who spoke out against the savageries of the Ku Klux Klan and other Southern atrocities.
Fearing for his son’s life, Henry Boyer suggested that Frank leave Georgia and move to New Mexico to seek a better life for himself and his family. In 1896, Frank Boyer and his friend and student, Daniel Keyes, decided to set out for New Mexico.
Being Black, Mr. Boyer and Mr. Keyes could not travel by stagecoach or rail, nor could they get secure passage on a wagon train. Undeterred, they set out on foot, and walked the entire distance from Pellum (nowadays known as “Pelham”), Georgia to Roswell, New Mexico – a distance of 1,200 miles.
Upon arrival, the two men worked multiple jobs while exercising their rights as freedmen under the Homestead Act, laying claim to acreage in the area of what is now Dexter. The following year, Franks’s wife, Ella Louise and their children joined him, and he was able to secure a loan from a bank to begin homesteading. He dug an artesian well, built a house, and began an active outreach campaign to other Black families in surrounding states, urging them to come to the beautiful desert land in the southeastern part of the Territory and help create the New Mexico Territory’s first Black community.
And they came…more than 300 people from across the country…despite the odds; despite the obstacles. Whites would not sell them train or stagecoach tickets and would not permit them to board in the event that they managed to secure tickets anyway; they would not sell wagons or horses to Black families, despite their ability to pay.
But they came…by cart; on horseback; on foot like the town’s founders…and in 1903, Frank Boyer filed the town of Blackdom’s articles of incorporation.
Unfortunately, in the 1920s, a severe drought led settlers to abandon the town.
In the late 1870’s, as the Reconstruction following the Civil War failed to bring the long awaited freedom, equality and prosperity promised to Black people, along came a white man by the name of W.R. Hill – to black families in the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee – who described a “Promise Land” in Kansas. Hill told of a sparsely settled territory with abundant wild game, wild horses that could be tamed, and an opportunity to own land through the homesteading process in Nicodemus, Kansas.
The town site of Nicodemus was planned in 1877 by W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and Reverend W.H. Smith, a black man. Reverend Smith became the President of the Nicodemus Town Company and Hill, the treasurer. The two founders aggressively promoted the town to the Black refugees of the Deep South. The Reverend Simon P. Roundtree was the first settler, arriving on June 18, 1877. Zack T. Fletcher and his wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, the daughter of Reverend W.H. Smith, arrived in July and Fletcher was named the Secretary of the Town Company. Smith, Roundtree, and the Fletchers made claims to their property and built temporary homes in dugouts along the prairie.
The Nicodemus Town Company produced numerous circulars to promote the town, inviting “Colored People of the United States” to come and settle in the “Great Solomon Valley.” The Reverend Roundtree became actively involved in the promotion, and worked with a man by the name of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton , a black carpenter from Nashville, who traveled all over the United States distributing the circulars, which portrayed Nicodemus as a place for African-Americans to establish Black self-government. Singleton, who could not read or write, distributed so many circulars that he was sometimes called the “Moses of the Colored Exodus.” The Blacks who decided to emigrate soon acquired the name “Exodusters”.
At the same time, railroads, needing to populate the West to create markets for their services, exaggerated the quality of the soil and climate in this “Western Eden.”
The desperate families of the South listened with rapt attention and in the late summer of 1877, 308 railroad tickets were purchased to take them to the closest railroad point in Ellis, Kansas. The families then walked the remaining fifty-five miles to Nicodemus, arriving in September 1877.
Building homes along the Solomon River in dugouts, the original settlers found more disappointment and privation as they faced adverse weather conditions. In the Promised Land of Kansas, they initially lacked sufficient tools, seed, and money, but managed to survive the first winter by selling buffalo bones and by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis, the city fifty-five miles away where they originally arrived. Others survived with assistance from the Osage First Nation, who provided food, firewood and staples.
Though most stayed, many settlers were disillusioned by the lack of vegetation and the harsh land and made a hasty return to the green fields of Kentucky and Tennessee. Of those who stayed, the spring of 1878 brought hope and opportunity as new Exodusters, bearing horses, oxen and farming tools began to farm the soil.
A local government was established, headed by “President Smith.”
One woman arriving in the spring, Williana Hickman, said years later of arriving at Nicodemus: “When we got in sight of Nicodemus the men shouted, ‘There is Nicodemus!’ Being very sick, I hailed this news with gladness. I looked with all the eyes I had. I said, ‘Where is Nicodemus? I don’t see it.’ My husband pointed out various smokes coming out of the ground and said, ‘That is Nicodemus.’ The families lived in dugouts… the scenery was not at all inviting, and I began to cry.”
Despite the poor living conditions, Williana and her husband, Reverend Daniel Hickman, stayed, organizing the First Baptist Church in a dugout with a sod structure above it. By 1880, a small, one-room, stone sanctuary had been erected at the same site. This structure evolved from limestone to stucco, and in 1975, a new brick sanctuary was built. Today, the church still stands in Nicodemus.
Zachary Fletcher, one of the town’s first settlers, became the first postmaster and the first entrepreneur in Nicodemus, establishing the St. Francis Hotel and a livery stable in 1880. His wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, became the first postmistress and schoolteacher and one of the original charter members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The complex that Fletcher built, which housed the post office, school, hotel and stable, later became known as the Fletcher-Switzer House and was an important focus of activity in the community. The building still stands in Nicodemus today.
By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, boasting a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores – surrounded by twelve square miles of cultivated land.
Edward P. McCabe, who joined the colony in 1878, served two terms as state auditor, 1883-1887, the first African American to hold a major state office.
By 1887 Nicodemus had gained more churches, stores, a literary society, an ice cream parlor, a lawyer, another newspaper, a baseball team, a benefit society and a band. Hopes were high in the community when the railroad talked of an extension from Stockton to Nicodemus and in March of 1887, the voters of the Township approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community. Despite the bond issue, the town and the railroad could not agree on financial compensation and the railroad withdrew its offer.
In 1888, the railroad established the extension six miles away south of the Solomon River, leaving Nicodemus a stranded “island”. Businesses fled to the other side of the river to the Union Pacific Railroad camp that later became known as the town of Bogue. With the businesses leaving, Nicodemus began a gradual decline.
Zachary Fletcher, the town’s first entrepreneur, sold his town lots to the original promoter, W. R. Hill, but continued to run his businesses. Eventually, the hotel reverted to Graham County for a time but was brought back into the family in the 1920′s by Fred Switzer, a great-nephew raised by the Fletchers. When Switzer married Ora Wellington in 1921, they made the hotel their home.
Despite all the hardships and calamities that Nicodemus faced, it survived…and thrived.
More than a half-dozen black settlements sprung up in Kansas after the Civil War but Nicodemus is the only one that still stands.
In the world that author Milton Davis and I have developed – the world you will experience in the upcoming Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – the secret to Nicodemus’ survival lies in its four very powerful protectors – Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, John Henry and Bass Reeves and the town’s President, “High” John Konker. Just as the Exodusters have been drawn by promises of self-government, freedom and economic success, the town’s protectors have been drawn by a mysterious and fearsome entity known only as Jedediah Green, who you will learn more of in the next phase of Rite of Passage stories.
The Rite of Passage movie is a pulse-pounding thrill-ride that introduces you to this dark and gritty world of steam, brass and iron and to the origins of its heroes.
With the might of our heroes – and with the imaginations of Milton Davis and Yours Truly – Nicodemus Town Company will never fall.
GA-TECH GETS FUNKY! Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!
GA-TECH GETS FUNKY!
Filmmakers Partner With The Yellow Jackets to Produce the First Steamfunk Feature Film!
I was recently contacted by an agent who asked if Rite of Passage – the Steamfunk movie that goes into pre-production in May and production in August – was a student film. I informed her that the film is a collaboration between the professional multimedia companies MVmedia and Roaring Lions Productions and GA-Tech’s School of Literature, Media and Communication, so yes, students will be heavily involved in the making of the film, but under the guidance and leadership of experienced and accomplished film professionals who are the directors, producers and cinematographers on this project.
I informed her that the students will not be treated as “amateurs”, nor is the film going to be amateur or second rate. The students involved in the making of Rite of Passage are expected to be just as professional…just as committed as those who have worked on ten or more projects.
The agent’s response?
“Well, I will probably send a few of my actors to audition, but most of my actors would never act in a student film. I was a bit surprised to hear that most of the actors she represents dismiss programs that have produced some of industry’s best filmmakers and actors. “She needs to educate her people,” I thought.
However, “To be fair,” – as Rite of Passage’s Producer, Akin Danny Donaldson, is fond of saying – he’s from England; everyone from England are fond of saying that – I could come up with a few reasons myself as to why an actor would not want to act in a student film – there is no pay; the filmmakers do not have a lot of experience and are still learning how to talk to and treat actors; and few student films become a success by Hollywood standards. However, from her reaction, I was sure she – or some of her actors – had experienced some Stygian nightmare in doing a student film.
She, or any of her actors, had not; she just thought there was nothing for her people to gain from such projects. She was oblivious to the tremendous opportunity provided by student films to form strong, lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with young, talented, up-and-coming directors, producers, actors and casting directors.
You could very well be working with the next Martin Scorsese or Spike Lee. They are not master directors yet, but “to be fair”, the next Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Malcolm X, or The Inside Man could be their next film.
Student films often achieve admittance into top notch festivals each year, earning these young filmmakers studio deals and the actors in their films worldwide recognition.
If you choose to act in a student film, there are certain things that you should not negotiate. You should receive a copy of your work in a timely fashion, be fed every six hours, and should not be asked to work longer than a 12-hour day without proper turnaround.
Know that student filmmakers, especially those in the early stages of filmmaking, tend to prioritize their aesthetic vision over an actor’s performance. Don’t be shocked, frustrated, or allow your ego to be bruised if hours are spent on a cool-looking, spinning, overhead dolly shot rather than your sublime performance in a close-up.
Keep in mind that these young filmmakers are attempting to bring their visions to life without large crews and budgets, so – “To be fair” – cut them some slack if things take longer than they should.
Actors, don’t feel ashamed, embarrassed or as if you are “settling” because you are auditioning for a student film. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad actor. Agents submit actors to films by USC, Columbia University and Columbia College Chicago every day.
“To be fair”, however, I will admit that many student films simply stink. The most common reason for such odoriferous works is lack of story. A suicide prone emo teen is a subject, not a story. If your story is about an emo college freshman with a football player roommate whose girlfriend is always trying to convince the emo kid to go out and party – who cares?
The second most common reason for the malodorousness is the student’s reach exceeding his or her grasp. The student tries to tell a story that is too convoluted; uses techniques that are far beyond his or her experience. The more complex the story, the more skill it takes to tell it and the greater likelihood that a relative beginner will fail in the telling of it.
Fortunately, Rite of Passage has some of the best professionals in independent film working on the project and the students chosen to work with us will be the best that GA-Tech has to offer, which, “To be fair,” is saying a lot, as GA-Tech is fast becoming recognized as one of the top film schools in America, particularly in the areas of special effects, sound effects, prop and graphics design and cinematography.
Below are the current professional members of the crew of Rite of Passage. We are all excited to work with the next generation of Scorseses, Lees, Singletons, Spielbergs, Poitiers, Tarantinos, Lucases and”To be fair,” Balogun Ojetades (go ahead, you can laugh)
HARRIET TUBMAN HAS GREAT STEAM-FU: Putting the Funk in your Fight Scenes!
I have choreographed and / or performed fight scenes for seven films – two “traditional” Hong Kong-style martial arts movies; one gritty urban fantasy; one thriller; one post-apocalyptic science fiction film; one alternate history movie and one comedy.
Filming a fight scene is totally different from shooting a scene of dialogue. It requires much more planning and the director must be able to tell a story through the fight itself.
I would like to share with you what I have learned about shooting and choreographing a fight scene because it is an interesting topic; because I hate it when I watch an otherwise great film fall apart because of its poorly shot fights; and because we go into pre-production for the Steamfunk movie, Rite of Passage, in a month and I want to make you, dear reader, aware of what we are doing and how it is done, because, ultimately, this is your film. We are making this for you.
Begin with the previous action
If your heroine, Harriet Tubman’s last action in the previous sequence you shot was a hook punch, even if you know you are not going to show that punch in a close-up, film it at the start of the next sequence anyway and then keep rolling and shoot that next sequence; this will make your fight appear much smoother and editing the scene will be easier.
Always return your strikes to their point of origin
If you watch martial arts movies with great fight scenes, such as Flashpoint, starring Donnie Yen, or the Bourne movies, then you’ll notice that every time they punch someone, their fist recoils back. By adding this subtle movement to your actors’ hits, it makes the impact of those strikes appear much more powerful and makes the character look as if he or she is really strong.
Always keep your eyes on your opponent
This is an important tip for your actors as well. After an actor is hit, he “sells” the strike as a powerful one by making sure his eyes always return back to his opponent. So, if Harriet Tubman punches P.T. Barnum in the jaw with that hook punch, the actor playing Barnum would sell the punch by snapping his head sideways, looking over his shoulder and then snap his gaze right back to the actor playing General Tubman.
This also allows your actors to communicate their readiness before the next blow is thrown, thus helping you to avoid accidents in case one of your actors is not ready or has forgotten the next move. Remember, when filming fight scenes, safety first!
Shoot the entire fight wide and then move in for close-ups, over shoulder and medium shots
Not following this suggestion can cause you to run into some editing problems as a result. Often, when we shoot the intense over shoulder, medium and close-up shots first, which require much more facial expression along with technique to sell the fight, we forget to shoot the wide shot. If you don’t have a wide angle of your fight, you run the risk of the fight appearing choppy or worse, appearing disorienting to the audience.
Move your camera with the movements
Moving with the punches makes the strike appear faster and by stopping the camera’s movement right as the punch connects, adds a jerky feel that can often make a punch appear more violent on screen. Shoot moving shots after your essential stationary shots.
Editing and Sound Design turn good fights into great fights
A great editor lets us forget that we are simply watching a fight scene and pulls us into the scene by making the action seamless.
This is the most essential part of the fight to be done.
Coming in a close second is the post production music and Foley (sound effects).
Don’t believe me? Watch any fight scene with the audio muted – that scene feels far less compelling. The hits become weaker and the fight now feels flat and totally fake.
The audio is edited and mixed with utmost acoustic continuity for fight scenes, because, while our eyes are okay with being cheated by the illusion created by camera angles, slow motion and the like, our ears are not. Since our ears are much more vital to our sense of balance, we notice the slightest break or hiccup in the audio with a 15 – 20 times higher temporal precision than we notice in the video.
So actually, fight scenes are not made sound real at all. But you are willing to let yourself drawn into them because of a flawless sound design.
Boot Camp or Bust
On every film in which I am the Fight Choreographer, I conduct a Fighters’ Boot Camp. This camp – which can run over several days or over many hours in one day, depending on time and budget – is required for any actor who has a fight scene in the film to attend and strongly suggested for the Director and Cinematographer to attend as well.
This Boot Camp teaches non-martial artists how to move, hit and react to hits so they appear to be martial arts experts on screen. For the martial artists in the film, we teach them how to make their techniques look good on screen – most “real” martial arts techniques do not look powerful or cool onscreen – and how to sell the hits and the reaction to hits.
On one set, I worked with a former professional boxing champion. He did not want to do “that fake stuff” and wanted the actor to really strike him on film. I expressed concern for his safety. He said the actor – a woman – couldn’t hurt him. We humored him and shot it the way he wanted, as the scene was supposed to be comedic anyway and I wanted to teach him a lesson. During one sequence, the actor he was fighting struck him in the jaw with one of her “non-fake” punches and rocked him badly, dropping him to his knees.
Lesson learned. We kept that scene in the film.
When a fight scene seems real to you, the actors and the film crew have done a great job and have successfully executed the clearest demonstration of the magic that is filmmaking.
I now leave you with a few fight scenes featuring Yours Truly and my favorite fight scene of all time, featuring actors Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. Enjoy!
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Part 2, The Cast
Is it a great script? The film’s director? The type of camera and lenses you shoot with?
Or is casting the right actor most important?
Casting a film is much like cooking – you need the right ingredients in just the right amounts to create something that’s palatable and satisfying. Casting professionals are chefs. They take a director’s vision and a writer’s story, and concoct a ten-course meal that’s worthy of a five-star restaurant. If the recipe is off, however, even a potentially great film could easily turn out to be average.
Actors, especially A-list players, cost a lot of money. Money that – contrary to what you might believe – is well-deserved. I have acted in several movies and I can tell you, it is some of the most demanding work I have ever done. Imagine putting on sixty pounds of muscle to play a professional boxer, or learning to ride a horse and fire a longbow from horseback – all while looking good and making it look like you have been riding horses and firing arrows from their backs since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.
Lesser-known actors don’t have the same salary requirements, but they may lack exposure or experience.
Thus, the Casting Director walks a fine line between beauty, budget, and risk – carefully assessing each role and the type of actor you need to make that character successful.
The Casting Director, or CD, is the individual responsible for finding and auditioning actors for the roles in a movie. CDs work closely with the director and producer to find the talent they are searching for – the talent right for a specific role.
Casting directors are pros at matching the right actor to the right role. They are the matchmakers of the filmmaking industry, arranging auditions, casting calls, and callbacks and their help is indispensable.
In making their decisions, Casting Directors examine a number of factors, including an actor’s experience, “chops” (proficiency in acting), physical characteristics, and other special talents, such as martial arts training or stunt experience.
If you take on the responsibilities of Casting Director for a film, here are a few tips I would like to share. I learned these the hard way – through assisting directors in casting films, through auditioning for films and through making mistakes during production of my own films.
1. Avoid using one of your crew members as an actor in the film. You diminish the size –and therefore the efficiency – of your production team when you pull one of them out to act. A crew of four people that loses one to become a performer is diminished 25%. Usually this drastic trade-off becomes visible on screen in numerous ways.
“Spike Lee and Quinton Tarantino do it all the time,” you say? Yep. They are exceptions. Not the rule.
2. Try to work with those who have a reason to commit to the film. Actors and even acting students have a reason to participate in a film until the very end because it is important for them to have an acting reel, meaning samples of them performing. The better the project is, the better their reel, so they have a strong incentive to perform well. Not only do they get a credit on a film, but the reel can lead to other acting gigs.
However, a close friend who is a professor of English Literature might be excited about – and even agree to dust off those college acting skills and be in – your movie, but after the first ten-hour production day, they may start to lose interest. With mid-terms coming up, with an impatient wife to appease and teaching assistants to maintain, suddenly the thought of sticking around for three more shooting days isn’t so appealing to the good old professor. Frequently, good friends find the limits of their friendship on film productions.
3. Think twice about casting family members. Family relations are often complex; add to that the stress and arduousness of the filmmaking process, and you’re working with a volatile mixture – kind of like a gallon of nitroglycerin in the hands of your ninety-seven year old uncle after he has had a decanter of coffee, two Krispy Kreme donuts and thirteen cigarettes. Imagine asking your mother to redo her lines after she has flubbed them for the tenth time, but is convinced the last take was “a keeper”. “But you directed your wife in that action film, A Single Link and in Rite of Passage: Initiation,” you say? Again…exceptions to the rule.
4. Always remember that it takes a skilled director, and lots of patience, to get a great performance out of a non-actor. For most films, casting skilled actors is important in order to get what you need for your film. Even if your film has no dialogue, a good actor can bring a new interpretive energy, authenticity, and creative resources to the project.
Finally, I would like to share the current cast of Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk film, with you. As we add more actors to the cast, I will edit this section, so please, check back often.
Oh, and if you happen to be an actor, a Steampunk maker or Steampunk fashion designer / costume maker and are interested in working on this awesome film, please join us Thursday, April 18, 2013 at GA-Tech in room 343 of the Skiles Building at 11:00 am for an Information Session.