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THE FRESH FEST OF AFROFUTURISM! 13 Authors Rock the Mic in Honor of Octavia Butler and L.A. Banks!

Butler Banks Book Tour

THE FRESH FEST OF AFROFUTURISM!

13 Authors Rock the Mic in Honor of Octavia Butler and L.A. Banks!

 

Book TourThe State of Black Science Fiction Authors and Artists Collective decided it is time to do a tour to let the world know that we’re here; that great Black books, written by, for and about Black people do exist (yes, there are many who still don’t know).

Hmm. Which would be best to do – a virtual book tour, or a blog tour?

A virtual book tour is much like a traditional book tour but instead of the author flying from city to city, they are featured on a wide variety of blogs and websites as a guest blogger or author.

A blog tour is a group of writers – not necessarily authors – who get together and, on specific dates, they all blog on similar themes. For example, on May 3rd, 2014, this group of writers might blog on why they love a specific genre of speculative fiction. John Q. might blog on why he loves Paranormal Fantasy; Suzy Q. might blog on why she loves Steamfunk and so on.

We wanted to do something different from a typical virtual book tour and from a traditional blog tour. I decided to let the idea present itself when it was ready. I sat down to do my daily writing, turned on my YA Writing Playlist on Spotify – I am working on a YA Novel / Graphic Novel entitled The Keys – and the first song to play was Run-D.M.C.’s Rockbox.

Book TourYeah, I know, Rockbox isn’t exactly jumping out of teens’ Ipods nowadays – damn, they’re missing out – but back in my teen days, it was always found screeching out of my Walkman…and no, not the digital one launched in 2007; I’m talking the 1982 Sony Walkman cassette player, baby…with Dolby C noise reduction and everythang!

And that’s when it hit me…

“We’ll do this like Fresh Fest!” I shouted with glee.

“What is Fresh Fest?” My son, Oluade, who is eleven years old, inquired from the balcony of my office (well, it was actually the breakfast nook he shouted from, but it is above my office and all my children watch me work from there – whether I want them to, or not – so it feels like a balcony, to me).

Now, while many of you probably know what the Fresh Fest is, most of you probably have no clue, so let me break it down for you:

Book TourThe Fresh Fest concert tour, which began in 1984, was headlined by Run-D.M.C., and featured Kurtis Blow, Whodini, the Fat Boys, and Newcleus. It was hip-hop’s first big moneymaking tour (3.5 million on 27 dates).

It was followed by Fresh Fest II, which included the same acts, with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five replacing Newcleus.

This was hip-hop at its best. A stage of superstars – brought this revolutionary, still fairly new form of music, to the world.

One after another, these stars left their blood, sweat and a portion of their spirit on stage. And we – the fans – gave spirit back. Hell, in Chicago, at Fresh Fest II, they even had a linoleum floor set up for any b-boys and b-girls who felt the urge to breakdance or pop-lock (which thousands did, without one incidence of violence; I miss those days).

So, the tour formed in my mind – each day, a “superstar” (author), would take the stage and step to the mic. They would write a blog about their book, or books and the rest of the superstars on the tour would post that blog as a guest blog and shout that blog out all over social media. We would bring the best in Black Speculative Fiction to the world. Yep. That’s what we were going to do.

And we would name – and do – this tour in honor of two of the biggest superstars in literature. Two superstars whose names are synonymous with Black Speculative Fiction and whose works have inspired most of the Black authors who write Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror: Octavia Butler and L.A. Banks.

Octavia ButlerOctavia Estelle Butler, who shared a birthday with my father (June 22), was an internationally acclaimed science fiction writer. A recipient of both the Hugo and Nebula awards (two of each, actually), her evocative novels explore far-reaching issues of race, sex, power and, ultimately, what it means to be human. Butler was one of the best-known women and Black authors in the field. In 1995, she became the first Science Fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship.

Set in time periods ranging from the historical past to the distant future, Ms. Butler’s books are known for their controlled economy of language and for their strong, believable protagonists, many of them Black women. She wrote a dozen novels, including Kindred, Parable of the Sower; Parable of the Talents; and, Fledgling.

LA BanksLeslie Esdaile Banks – who wrote under the pennames of Leslie Esdaile, Leslie E. Banks, Leslie Banks, Leslie Esdaile Banks and L. A. Banks – wrote in various genres, including African-American Literature, Romance, Women’s Fiction, Crime, Suspense, Dark Fantasy, Horror and Non-Fiction for five publishing companies.

Best known for The Vampire Huntress Legend Series, Ms. Banks won several literary awards, including the 2008 Essence Literary Awards Storyteller of the Year.

On April 14, the Butler / Banks Book Tour begins. Thirteen authors of Black Speculative Fiction are ready to rock the mic.

So, readers around the world, get ready. The literary Fresh Fest is coming!

Book Tour Promo 1


SISTERS OF THE SPEAR: Black Sheroes In Speculative Fiction

'Ayen and Bull' by artist Jason Reeves

SISTERS OF THE SPEAR: Black Sheroes In Speculative Fiction

 Women Warriors 1

A while ago, I wrote a blog lamenting the sexism in speculative fiction. We still have a long way to go, but, in Black Speculative Fiction, at least, great strides are being made to give women their due respect and some awesome sheroes have emerged.

In this festive month, alone, no less than two awesome books have been released that feature hard-hitting women protagonists:

The first is the Sword and Soul anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear, which 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 as sheroes. 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 Black women. The griots have returned to sing new songs; and what wonderful songs they are!

The Table of Contents and list of authors in Sisters of the Spear hints at just how much of an amazing must-read this anthology is:

A Subtle Lyric by Troy L Wiggins
Blood of the Lion by Joe Bonadonna
Brood by Balogun Ojetade
Death and Honor by Ronald Jones
Ghost Marriage by Phenderson Djèlí Clark
Lady of Flames by Treka Willis Cross
Marked by Sara Macklin
Queen of the Sapphire Coast by Linda Macauley
Raiders of the Skye Isle by Cynthia Ward
The Antuthema by Ds Brown
The Night Wife by Carole McDonnell
The Price of Kush by Sylvia Kelso
The Sickness by Valjeanne Jeffers
Zambeto by JC Holbrook
Old Habits by Milton Davis
Kpendu (a new Dossouye story) by Charles Saunders

Art by Andrea Rushing.

Art by Andrea Rushing.

The women in this book are brave, strong, powerful and brilliant. In my story, Brood, the shero is Mistress Oyabakin, the most powerful warrior on the continent and one of the main characters in the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika.

The second book is the two-fisted (and footed; and elbowed; and kneed) action-adventure Fight Fiction / New Pulp tale, A Single Link.

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.

In A Single Link, the author, Balogun Ojetade (yep, Yours Truly) challenges you to step into the cage, where action, adventure, bone shattering fights, and a touch of romance await you!

Remi Swan, who goes on to become known as ‘The Single Link’ when she transitions from receptionist at a martial arts school to pro fighter must earn her spot on the fight cards, battling not only men, but a formidable women’s champion, who feels Remi has no place in the sport of professional mixed martial arts at all.

Remi is a wife, a mother and a martial artist who lives in a near-future world in which mixed martial arts has become a sport more popular than soccer and basketball. A near-future that dares ask and examine the questions “can a woman win against a man in a professional fight?”

A Single LinkThis fast-paced, hard-hitting tale is the first in a series of books I call the WERK Chronicles. Also, set within the WERK (World Extreme Ring Kombat) Chronicles universe, but not directly part of the WERK Chronicles itself, is Fists of Africa, the Fight Fiction New Pulp novella I penned as part of the Fight Card MMA series. Fists of Africa will release in early 2014.

Another WERK Chronicles book featuring Remi ‘The Single Link’ Swan – Showdown in Sudan – will release in summer, 2014.

I’d like to introduce you to a few more powerful sisters in fiction:

In the Vampire Huntress Legend Series, a twelve book series written by L.A. Banks, we meet young, African-American spoken word artist named Damali Richards, who is one of the Neteru, humans born every thousand years to fight creatures from the Dark Realms. Her most dangerous and most constant enemies from the Dark Realms are vampires. Damali was orphaned at an early age and her experiences in foster care led her to escape, starting her journey as a vampire huntress.

The first book in this incredible series, Minion, unfolds Damali’s origin and introduces us to her team of fellow hunters. 

In the Immortal series by Valjeanne Jeffers, the shape-shifting Karla emerges. Karla is described as a young, “Indigo” (read the book to find out what an Indigo is) woman who works as a successful healer at a place called CLEAN, where people go to get “clean” from addiction to the legal drugs Rush and Placid. Karla is tormented by lucid and erotic – yet terrifying – dreams in which she is immortal.

Two men emerge from these phantasms: the first a Copper shape-shifter (again, read the book) and the other a demon more dead than alive. But Karla is more than prepared to deal with the dark creatures from her dreams…if her own lust doesn’t consume her first.

Parable of the Sower centers on a young woman named Lauren Olamina, who possesses what author Octavia Butler dubbed “hyperempathy”, the ability to feel the pain – and other sensations – of others. As a child living in the remnants of a gated community in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, Lauren develops a benign philosophical and religious system called “Earth seed”.

Society has reverted to anarchy due to scarce resources and poverty. When the community’s security is compromised, Lauren’s home is destroyed and her family is murdered. She travels north with a few other survivors to start a community where Earth seed can grow.

Dossouye is the tale of the warrior Dossouye and her war-bull, Gob, written by the father of Sword and Soul, Charles R. Saunders.

This fierce and fearsome character is inspired by the real-life female warriors of the West African Kingdom of Mahoney.

Orphaned at a young age, Dossouye becomes a soldier in the women’s army of the kingdom of Anomy. In a war against the rival kingdom of Avanti, Dossouye saves her people from certain destruction; but a cruel twist of fate compels her to go into exile.

On her journey across the vast rainforests outside of her homeland, Dossouye encounters many menaces and perils that will either break or strengthen her.

Woman of the WoodsWoman of the Woods, by Milton Davis, introduces us to Sadatina, a young woman of the Adamou nation. For centuries, the Adamou have been under attack by the yoke – dark, ape-like servants of the god Karan. Their only protection has been the Sosa – warrior-women blessed by their god, Cha, to fight the yoke. Even as a young girl, Sedating is stronger and faster and better at hunting and fighting than any of the young men in her village.

With the aid of two rhumbas – jungle cats whom she has raised from cubs – Sedating becomes the village’s protector and earns the name “Woman of the Woods”.

Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, by Yours Truly, is an exciting mash up of Steam funk, alternate history and horror.

The shero – soldier, freedom fighter, Black Dispatch and monster hunter, Harriet Tubman, is hired by John Wilkes Booth to rescue his child Margaret from kidnappers.  Harriet Tubman is a supernatural shero, so she does her job well, but later discovers that Booth is not the girl’s father, which launches the story into a frenzy of action and adventure. The adventure speeds us across the U.S. and Mexico, introducing us to extraordinary characters and exciting scenarios along the way.
Matching Harriet Tubman in power are the murderous Mama Maybelle and the cigar-smoking, gun-toting, ass kicking anti-shero, Black Mary Fields (aka “Stagecoach Mary”).

Harriet Tubman is also one of the sheroes of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage and its upcoming companion anthology, Rite of Passage: Road to Nicodemus.

There are many more Black heroes in Fantasy and Science Fiction who I will introduce you to in later installments. What women heroes of color are your favorites?


UnCONventional Gatherings: Steampunk, Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions and Conferences that target Black People

UnCONventional Gatherings: Steampunk, Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions and Conferences that target Black People

Cosplay3Nearly every month of every year, there are one or more conferences, conventions, or symposiums on the subject of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk and / or Horror.

Traditionally, these gatherings have attracted the default fan of Speculative Fiction – the Straight, White Geek Male – and always will, because that is who most of these geek gatherings are marketed to. However, there has always been a small group of die-hard fans other than the default who frequent these events as well.

In fact, according to a reliable source who is very active in the development and hosting of conventions throughout the country, the fastest growing demographic at conventions across the board is…you guessed it – Black folks!

With that growth, of course, have come gatherings that target a Black audience. All are welcome; however, these gatherings showcase works by – and, more often than not, about – Black people.

I have been fortunate to attend and participate in – as a professional and a fan – several of these gatherings and I am actually the co-developer and curator of one such gathering myself.

Below, we will examine several gatherings that target the Black fan of Speculative Art, Fiction and Film.

But first, let’s give brief definitions to the types of gatherings offered:

Cosplay 10conference is a meeting of people who “confer” about a topic. Also known as a trade fair, a conference provides the opportunity for creators, fans and the general public to network and learn more about topics of interest through workshops, presentations and meeting vendors.

convention is a gathering of individuals who meet at an arranged place and time in order to discuss or engage in some common interest. Conventions typically focus on a particular industry or industry segment, and feature keynote speakers, vendor displays, and other information and activities of interest to the event organizers and attendees. Such conventions are generally organized by societies dedicated to promotion of the topic of interest.

Conventions

Black Age of Comics Convention

In 1993, Turtel Onli launched the inaugural Black Age of Comics convention at the Southside Community Arts Center in Chicago and has been organizing the conventions ever since.

A trained artist with an interest in a wide range of mediums, Onli emphasizes “independent creativity” as the major subject of the convention. “Independent people need to come together and cooperate,” says Onli, who sees the Black Age of Comics Convention as a movement of artistic innovation; a movement that has grown by leaps and bounds since its humble beginnings.

Co-sponsored annually by the DuSable Museum, the Black Age of Comics Convention attracts hundreds of excited attendees each year.

East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention

ecbaccThe East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, originally slated to be called the Pan-African Comic Convention (PAC-Con) or First World Komix Con (1st World Con), is an annual gathering of comic book artists, writers, their fans and retailers who are interested in discussing, buying and selling comic books, science fiction, action figures and related material by and / or about Black superheroes, super-powered characters and their adventures.

In addition, this convention also features panel discussions, self-publishing and graphic arts workshops for aspiring creators, and film screenings of works of veterans and amateurs alike.

Held in Philadelphia each May, ECBACC also features the prestigious Glyph Comics Awards. The Glyph Comic Awards recognize the best in comics made either by, for, or about Black people.

Motor City Black Age of Comics Convention

Detroit’s first convention for the aforementioned Black Age of Comics Movement was held at the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center on February 07, 2009. Since then, the Motor City Black Age of Comics Convention has continued to follow the tradition set forth by Turtel Onli, as well as the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, spearheaded by Yumy Odum and Maurice Waters.

Andre Batts, the CEO of the Motor City Black Age of Comics Convention is also co-creator of the well known comic book series, Urban Style Comics.

OnyxCon

Cosplay 11OnyxCon is a progressive and diverse showcase and networking event for professionals who appreciate the African Diaspora’s contributions as it relates to popular Arts media. Like its sibling Black Age Conventions, OnyxCon’s major feature is comic books.

Not limited to comics, however, this event also showcases literary novels, video games, collectable toys and models, films and documentaries, and all other media fits the interest of their target audience.

Conferences

Alien Encounters

SteamfunkAlien Encounters – the annual conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music – serves as a venue for both education and entertainment.

Co-sponsored by the State of Black Science Fiction author, artist and filmmaker collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History and curated by author / publisher, Milton Davis and author / filmmaker, Balogun Ojetade, this conference features three days’ worth of discussions, lectures and book signings, all aimed at highlighting the wide variety of contributions by creators of color to the fields of science fiction, fantasy, Steampunk, Dieselpunk and horror.

In its fourth year, and growing larger and more popular with each annual conference, Alien Encounters promises to culminate Black Speculative Fiction Month with a bang.

Here is the schedule for 2013:

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 25, 2013

7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – The Mahogany Masquerade: Black to the Future

Come dressed in your best Rococoa, Steamfunk and Dieselfunk costumes as we enjoy Black Speculative Fiction short films and meet their creators.

Some of the films shown will be Evolve, from director Kia T. Barbee; Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster, from director Balogun Ojetade and Kina Sky, from director Coretta Singer.

9:00 pm until – Mahogany Masquerade After-Party

Drop the children off at Grandma’s and parade over to the BQE Lounge with us and let’s party the night away!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 26, 2013

4:00 to 6:00 pm – Retro-Futuristic Worlds of Steam and Diesel Funk

Join authors and creators of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade and Steampunk and cosplayer, actor and maker of Steampunk and Dieselpunk costumes and props, Mark Curtis for a discussion on Steamfunk and Dieselfunk, the long ignored stories of the Black experience during the Victorian Era and the Great World Wars told through retrofuturistic Fantasy and Science Fiction.

6:00 to 8:00 pm – Dark and Stormy: Horror Fiction on the Black Hand Side

Join horror authors Brandon Massey and Crystal Connor for this exciting panel as they discuss horror fiction from a Black point of view.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2013

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman

Join artist and Curator of OnyxCon, Joseph Wheeler III, comic book store owner, collector and publisher, Tony Cade and renowned comic book and animation creator and illustrator, Dawud Anyabwile as they discuss the conscious community of Black comic books and graphic novels.

Ongoing – Monday, September 3, 2013 – Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Neo-African Dynasty: Art from the Ancient Future of the Continent

This groundbreaking art exhibition, by renowned artist James Eugene, is a vibrant, afrofuturistic visual fusion of Africana ancestry, non-Western cosmologies and fantasy techno-culture.

Join James Eugene Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 7:00pm, for a discussion on his art, his creative process and the borderless Black future, rooted firmly in the African Diasporic experience, that he envisions.

PRE-CONFERENCE EVENTS

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2013

7:00 pm to 8:00 pm – The Animated Life of Floyd Norman: An Evening with a Legendary Walt Disney Studio Animator
Author’s Discussion and Book Signing

As a part of Alien Encounters Atlanta 2013, and in collaboration with The Wren’s Nest, Emory University and Morehouse College, the Auburn Avenue Research Library will host legendary animator, Floyd Norman, who will discuss his nearly fifty year career as an animator at Walt Disney Studios and his work with Pixar Animation Studios.

This event will also focus on Mr. Norman’s lifelong commitment to cultural diversity as an African American animation artist, his role as co-founder of the AfroKids Animation Studio, and his contributions to the animated classics Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, and the original Hey! Hey! Hey! It’s Fat Albert television special.

This community discussion will be facilitated by Dr. Stephane Dunn, Co-Director of the Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies Program at Morehouse College. Copies of Animated Life: A Lifetime of Tips, Tricks, Techniques and Stories from an Animation Legend will be available for purchase.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24, 2014

7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – “Ancient, Ancient”, by Kiini Ibura Salaam

In collaboration with Charis Books and More and Afrekete, Spelman College’s LBGTQ Student Organization, the Auburn Avenue Research Library will host acclaimed Speculative Fiction author and Spelman College alumnus Kiini Ibura Salaam, who will discuss her collection of short fiction stories Ancient, Ancient.

Winner of the 2012 James Tiptree Jr. Award, these compelling stories introduce readers to alternate worlds, built around magical realism and fantasy, which ultimately provide transformative revelations about gender, sexuality and the human condition.

There you have it. Fun-filled weekends of Blacktastic Science Fiction, Funk, Fantasy & Horror you absolutely do NOT want to miss!

I look forward to seeing you at Alien Encounters next month!

 

 


ALIEN ENCOUNTERS IV: The Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Experience Returns!

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS IV: The Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Experience Returns!

Art by James Eugene.

Art by James Eugene.

Once again, Alien Encounters, the annual conference for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music – which serves as a venue for both education and entertainment – returns to Atlanta in October, which is now recognized worldwide as Black Speculative Fiction month!

The Atlanta-based State of Black Science Fiction collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History have collaborated to offer exciting, informational and interactive discussions, film screenings, book signings and much more that are all free and open to the public.

“About four years ago, I went to the Decatur Book Festival, and found authors of color who wrote in these genres (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, horror),” the original event organizer, Sharon E. Robinson, says.

“We got together, talked, had several meetings, and finally came up with the idea of putting together this program [Alien Encounters]. A lot of the time, our literary audiences aren’t as familiar with these genre writers as they are with, say, urban romance (authors) and others. There are a lot of writers, in the Atlanta area and across the country, who write in these genres, and we hope to increase readers’ knowledge base about them and their works,” she explains. “Our ultimate goal is to broaden visitors’ literary knowledge and understanding about these particular genres.”

The schedule for Aliens Encounters IV is as follows:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Steam Lady7:00 pm to 9:00 pm – The Mahogany Masquerade: Black to the Future 

Come dressed in your best Steamfunk and Dieselfunk costumes as we enjoy Black Speculative Fiction short films and meet their creators.

Some of the films shown will be Evolve, from director Kia T. Barbee; Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster, from director Balogun Ojetade and Kina Sky, from director Coretta Singer.

9:00 pm until – Mahogany Masquerade After-Party

Drop the children off at Grandma’s and parade over to the BQE Lounge with us and let’s party the night away!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

4:00 to 6:00 pm – Retro-Futuristic Worlds of Steam and Diesel Funk

Steampunk and Dieselpunk cosplayers, Mark & Theresa Curtis.

Steampunk and Dieselpunk cosplayers, Mark & Theresa Curtis.

Join authors and creators of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade and Steampunk and cosplayer, actor and maker of Steampunk costumes and props, Mark Curtis for a discussion on Steamfunk and Dieselfunk, the long ignored stories of the Black experience during the Victorian Era and the Great World Wars told through retrofuturistic Fantasy and Science Fiction.

6:00 to 8:00 pm – Dark and Stormy: Horror Fiction on the Black Hand Side

Join horror authors Brandon Massey and Crystal Connor for this exciting panel as they discuss horror fiction from a Black point of view.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm – Ain’t No Such Thing As Superman

alien 4Join artist and Curator of OnyxCon, Joseph Wheeler III, comic book store owner, collector and publisher, Tony Cade and renowned comic book and animation creator and illustrator, Dawud Anyabwile as they discuss the conscious community of Black comic books and graphic novels.

Ongoing – Monday, September 3, 2013 – Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Neo-African Dynasty: Art from the Ancient Future of the Continent

This groundbreaking art exhibition, by renowned artist James Eugene, is a vibrant, afrofuturistic visual fusion of Africana ancestry, non-Western cosmologies and fantasy techno-culture.

Join James Eugene Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 7:00pm, for a discussion on his art, his creative process and the borderless Black future, rooted firmly in the African Diasporic experience, that he envisions.

There you have it. A fun-filled weekend of Blacktastic Science Fiction, Funk, Fantasy & Horror you absolutely do NOT want to miss!

See you there!

Art by LewisKF22

Art by LewisKF22


PAINTING A STEAMPUNK WORLD A DARKER SHADE OF BROWN: RITE OF PASSAGE: The Dentist of Westminster

PAINTING A STEAMPUNK WORLD A DARKER SHADE OF BROWN:

RITE OF PASSAGE: The Dentist of Westminster

Dentist of WestminsterOn 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.

The Gentleman VampireOsho 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.

WestminsterJoin 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

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.

trayvon 2“And?” The master asked, raising a thick, gray eyebrow.

“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!”

trayvon 1


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

 

BSF Month 4Recently, the month of October was proclaimed Black Speculative Fiction Month!

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

October 26, 2013
4:00 to 6:00 pm – Steamfunk to Dieselfunk: Historical Foundations of Fantastic Fiction.

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.

BSF Month 1Very 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.

 

Black AvengersThese are exciting times, indeed. October will be the culmination – and the beginning; the sharing and celebration of 150 years of stories that excite, inspire, frighten, educate, entertain and evoke change.

October is gonna be hotter than fish grease!

I’ll be celebrating all month.

Come party with me!

 

 


WE’RE HERE II: Black Creators of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Film & Fiction

WE’RE HERE II: Black Creators of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Film & Fiction

In my last post, I provided a listing of popular fandom events with a major Black presence.

I now offer you We’re Here, part II.

Coincidentally (?),  friend and fellow speculative fiction author, SR Torris, asked me, shortly after I scheduled this article to post, to check out a video in which the narrator launched a scathing attack on Black writers for our “lack of a literary capacity or intellectual competence to write such stories [Science Fiction and Fantasy]” and “Because most Black writers have no knowledge of anything other than pimping hoes and hearing women complain about not being able to find a man.”

As I have said before, I do not believe in coincidence; I know this post is right on time and much needed.

The lack of knowledge of the existence of great Black writers of speculative fiction by the narrator of that video – a man who calls himself “theblackauthOrity” – proves that.

I would like to introduce you to just a few of the people who – at present – are on the cutting edge of creating works that attract fans from throughout the geekosphere and who are regular guests of honor, vendors and panelists at fan conventions, festivals and symposiums around the globe, or regular bloggers on all things Black and Nerdy.

We’re here, theblackauthOrity.

We’re here.

Here is my list. There are many more great Black authors and filmmakers out there. Please, feel free to suggest others.

Charles R. Saunders

Charles 2Born in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, in 1946, but living in Canada since 1969, this brilliant African American author and journalist has, during his long career, written everything from novels to screenplays and radio plays to magazine articles on boxing.

Charles is also the founder and father of Sword & Soul – African-inspired epic and heroic fantasy.

I first read a work by Charles in 1987 in Dragon Magazine #122, entitled Out of Africa. Unaware that Charles was Black at the time I said “This white guy got it right, but one day, I’ll do better. As a brother, I have to!”

Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.

Of course, by the time I discovered Charles – who is now at the top of the list of my favorite authors – he had already published his first Imaro story over a decade earlier and had released the first Sword & Soul novel, Imaro, six years before that Dragon Magazine article.

In addition to the mega-popular Imaro series of books, Charles is also the author of the Dossouye series of novels about the adventures of the titular woman-warrior and Damballa – a pulp novel about a scientist / shaman / warrior who fights against Nazis in 1930s Harlem.

His latest work, “Mtimu”, can be read in the anthology Black Pulp.

Reginald Hudlin

here 5A pioneer of the modern black film movement, creating such successful and influential movies as House PartyBoomerang and the animated Bebe’s Kids, Reginald Hudlin is unique in the entertainment business because of his success as a writer, producer, director and executive.

Hudlin is also the executive producer and writer of the Black Panther animated series and was executive producer of The Boondocks.

Hudlin received an Oscar nomination as Producer on the blockbuster film, Django Unchained, which also won two Golden Globes, two NAACP Image Awards and is writer / director Quentin Tarantino’s most profitable film and one of most successful westerns ever made.

In addition to his success in films and animation, Hudlin has found much success on the “small screen” as an executive producer of the 2013 NAACP Image Awards, which aired on NBC. The broadcast got the highest ratings for the show since 2009.

Other works in television include his directing the pilot of the hit series Everybody Hates Chris and his work as producer and director of The Bernie Mac Show. Hudlin has also directed episodes of Modern FamilyThe OfficeThe Middle, and Psych.

During his tenure as the first President of Entertainment for Black Entertainment Television, Hudlin created some of the most successful shows in the history of the network including the award-winning reality show, Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is; American Gangster; and Sunday Best.  He created the BET Hip Hop Awards and the BET Honors.

Reginald is also one of the most successful Black writers in the field of comics, writing award winning runs of Spider Man and Black Panther for Marvel Comics. He adapted Quentin Tarantino’s original screenplay for Django Unchained into a six issue limited series for DC/Vertigo Comics and co-authored the intelligent, witty and moving graphic novel Birth of a Nation.

Milton Davis

MiltonA self described “chemist by day and writer by night”, Milton has proven to be that and so much more.

A friend, writing partner, filmmaking partner and jegna (“mentor”) of mine, Milton has been a strong influence on my work.

Together, Milton and I produced the successful Mahogany Masquerade: An evening of Steamfunk and Film and the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, now both annual events.

He is the author of two Sword & Soul series, Changa’s Safari (Volumes I & II) and Meji (Books I & II) and he, together with the Father and Founder of Sword & Soul, Fantasy fiction pioneer, Charles R. Saunders, is the Co-Editor of Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, the definitive work of Sword & Soul, featuring stories from fourteen different black writers. The first such anthology of its kind, Milton also published this masterpiece through his multimedia company, MVmedia, a micro-publisher and film production company dedicated to bringing diversity to the science-fiction and fantasy fields.

Milton is also Co-Editor, with Balogun Ojetade, of the Sword and Soul anthology Ki-Khanga –which is an introduction to the world in which the table-top role-playing game of the same name they created is set – and the wildly popular Steamfunk!, an anthology featuring twelve masterfully crafted stories of Steampunk, told from an African / African-American perspective.

Milton is also publisher of Balogun’s Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, the co-creator of the graphic novel, The Blood Seekers, with artist Kristopher Mosby and will release his own fifth Sword and Soul novel, the highly anticipated Woman of the Woods, in mid-June.

Milton is also co-producer and executive producer of the Steamfunk short film, Rite of Passage: Initiation and co-producer and executive producer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.

Balogun Ojetade

7Balogun began his career as an author in non-fiction, as writer of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within, which is also used as the manual for the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, in which Balogun is Master Instructor and Technical Director.

His career in speculative fiction, however, began as screenwriter, producer and director of the films, Reynolds War and A Single Link.

He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul, Steampunk and fandom in general, on his website, the popular Chronicles of Harriet.

He is author of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk! and is the screenwriter, director and co-producer of the short Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation.

Along with creative partner Milton Davis, Balogun produces the popular annual events, the Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk & Film and the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.

At present, Balogun is directing and fight choreographing the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage.

Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes

AE2Dynamic Duo…Wonder Twins…Mr. and Mrs. Smith…these descriptors do not begin to describe this epitome of the definition of “power couple”.

The First Family of Speculative Fiction, these authors and filmmakers are movements by themselves and forces of nature together.

Steven Barnes has written several episodes of The Outer Limits and Baywatch. He also wrote the episode “Brief Candle” for Stargate SG-1 and the “The Sum of Its Parts” an episode of Andromeda.

Barnes’ first published piece of fiction, the 1979 novelette The Locusts, was written with Larry Niven, and was a Hugo Award nominee.

Barnes has gone on to author nearly thirty great novels, including the speculative fiction novels, Street Lethal, Lion’s Blood, Zulu Heart and with Tananarive Due, the Tennyson Hardwick mystery novel series.

The first person of African descent to find success as an author of horror fiction, Tananarive Due is an icon, a living legend and immensely popular worldwide.

Beginning with the scary-as-hell, The Between, in 1995, Due followed up with the equally frightening The Good House, a book that gave my wife nightmares every night she perused its pages and still gives her goose-bumps whenever the book is mentioned. After that came Joplin’s Ghost, and then the African Immortals series – my favorite – then, the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series with her husband, Steven Barnes in partnership with the actor, Blair Underwood.

Recently, Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due have teamed up to create the “zombie” YA novel series, which includes Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls.

This series inspired the horror short film, Danger Word, which Barnes and Due wrote and produced.

R.L. Scott

here 6R.L. wrote, produced and directed his first short film at the age of seventeen. He has since gone on to involvement in over fifty short and feature films in many capacities including writing, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, post production work, and editing.

In 2006, R.L. wrote, directed, produced and choreographed the fan film Black Panther: Blood Ties, a film I, my wife and several of my students had the pleasure of acting and performing stunts in.

In 2007 R.L. brought us Champion Road, a popular martial arts / fantasy feature film he wrote, directed, choreographed and produced and in 2008, took on the same roles for its sequel, Champion Road: Arena.

Full disclosure: I play the heroic hermit / martial arts master, Soleem, in both films.

In 2012, R.L. choreographed the fight scenes for the feature film entitled Call Me King, which stars international superstar Bai Ling (Red Corner). Call Me King is scheduled to be released early 2014.

Recently, R.L. acquired the film rights to the Street Team brand of indie graphic novels, which feature street-level (think Wolverine and Batman) superheroes of African descent.

Rasheedah Phillips

here 7Rasheedah Phillips, Esq. is a 2008 graduate of Temple University Beasley School of Law.

Rasheedah’s life is one that inspires and educates. A mother at the age of fourteen, Rasheedah raised her daughter while attending high school, and college and, in spite of her many responsibilities, she was able to earn a cumulative 3.79 GPA, graduating Summa Cum Laude from Temple in three years with a Bachelors in Criminal Justice. In the fall of 2005, she began her first semester at Temple University Beasley School of Law, earning her J.D. in Spring, 2008 and becoming a member of the Pennsylvania Bar in Fall 2008.

Because of her perseverance and success in spite of personal difficulties, her story was featured in several publications, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Temple Times, as well as a few books, including It Couldnt Happen to Me: Three True Stories of Teenage Moms by Beth Johnson.

An educator, attorney, activist and advocate for teen moms, Rasheedah writes science fiction stories and essays on Philosophy and Metaphysics in her spare time. She has had a work of short fiction published in an anthology entitled Growing Up Girl, inspirational essays published in Sister to Sister: Black Women Speak to Young Black Women and Professor May I Bring My Baby to Class. She will publish her first science fiction novel, Recurrence Plot, in Fall 2013.

In 2011, Rasheedah created The AfroFuturist Affair, an organization dedicated to celebrating and promoting Afrofuturistic culture, art, and literature through creative events and creative writing.

Through The Afrofuturist Affair, Rasheedah has created the annual Charity and Costume Ball, an Afrofuturist-themed costume ball that features artists, authors, and performers who present creations using Afrofuturism and Science Fiction as vehicles for expression and agency.

Black Tribbles

here 1Black Tribbles is a radio show about geek culture and media in which five people of African American descent engage in thought-provoking conversation and provide critical insight into a culture that is often devoid of a Black influence. The show is witty, irreverent and informative, simultaneously entertaining as it educates.

Every Thursday night, the Tribbles – Jason “Spider Tribble” Richardson; producer, Len “Bat Tribble Webb; co-producer, Kennedy “Storm Tribble” Allen; Erik “Master Tribble” Darden; and Randy “Super Tribble” Green – gather in the radio studio to banter about the nerdy things that excite them, from comic books and fantasy movies to science, history and ancient mythology.

Recently, they hosted a special show – Octavia City – in which original tales of afrofuturism from some of science fiction and fantasy’s upcoming and brightest stars were performed live.

Of course, this list could be expanded to include many more Black men and women who are doing great things in speculative fiction and film. If you would like more authors and filmmakers featured, please, let me know and I will be glad to introduce you to others.

Until then, happy reading and watching!

here 4


RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web

Web25

RITE OF PASSAGE: The Web

The soles of Jake Jessup’s feet were on fire. Pine cones and dry twigs bit into his flesh as he sprinted through the dense forest.

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.

Tara opened her mouth wide, revealing a mouth full of vicious canine teeth. She closed the toothy maw down upon Jake’s shoulder, rending sinew and bone.

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.

****

Sunlight kissed his eyelids, awakening him.

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.”

****

Bourbon Street was busy.

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.

“We’re here,” Jake said, pointing toward a large store nestled between a candy shop and a dentist’s office.

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.

“We’re ghasts,” the man said. “A bit…stronger than our ghost brethren,”

“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.

“Atlanta.”

****

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.

“Oh, don’t act so surprised, son,” the lead Old One said. “You’ve been betrayin’ your kind for a couple of centuries.”

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.

“Hope so.”

“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.

Tara willed herself visible to the vampire’s eyes.

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.”

Henrick’s eyes turned crimson and his face twisted into a snarl. “Turn off this goddamned web!”

“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!”

“Nope.”

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.

For more about the world of Rite of Passage before the release of the movie, check out author Milton Davis’ Rite of Passage: Kiowa Rising Series and the Rite of Passage website.


THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Pt. 1, the Crew

THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Pt. 1, the Crew

crew 1When I left Howard University – and my despised major in Finance – in 1986 (don’t do the math) to pursue my vision of novelist, screenwriter and film director, my family – particularly my mother was supportive. My sister, Alesia, however – a film and video producer for the Air Force – did not warn me about what I was getting myself into.

I enrolled in Columbia College – the renowned college of the Fine Arts in Chicago – and my training in film, which I just knew would be easy and fun every minute, began.

And so did work ten times more demanding than any Finance, Economics, or Statistics class ever was.

Easy? My ass!

Fun? Hell no!

The work was grueling; tiresome; boring; lonely.

Wait a minute…lonely?

crew 2The first week of my Film Directing I Class was a solo directing project. Unbeknownst to us ignorant students, that project was designed for the sole purpose of teaching us – the hard way – that film is always a collaborative effort. Anyone who tries to be a one-man film crew is about as sharp as a bowl of Jell-O.

For those of you looking to make a movie, but you do not have access to a multimillion-dollar budget, you may have to assume more than one responsibility to make your film. While it is possible – and often necessary – to wear two or three hats when making a film, it is not recommended. Search hard for qualified and experienced people to work with. The more you do, the more the quality of your film suffers and the quicker you will burn yourself out.

In May, we begin pre-production on the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage. We start shooting in August. This is the bare minimum crew we will begin with:

I1Producer: A film producer creates the conditions for making movies. The producer initiates, coordinates, supervises, and controls matters such as raising funding, hiring key personnel, and arranging for distributors. The producer is involved throughout all phases of the filmmaking, from development to “delivery” of a project.

Executive producer: In major productions, can sometimes be a representative or CEO of the film studio. Or the title may be given as an honorarium to a major investor. Often they oversee the financial, administrative and creative aspects of production, though not always in a technical capacity. In smaller companies or independent projects, it may be synonymous with creator/writer. Often, a “Line Producer” is awarded this title if this producer has a lineage of experience, or is involved in a greater capacity than a “typical” line producer. E.G – working from development through post, or simply bringing to the table a certain level of expertise.

Associate producer: Usually acts as a representative of the Producer, who may share financial, creative, or administrative responsibilities, delegated from that producer. Often, a title for an experienced film professional acting as a consultant or a title granted as a courtesy to one who makes a major financial, creative or physical contribution to the production.

Script Supervisor: The script supervisor maintains a daily log of the shots covered and their relation to the script during the course of a production, acts as chief continuity person, and acts as an on-set liaison to the post-production staff. They maintain logs of all shots and act as the chief continuity person on set, performing daily cross-referencing with the continuity stills photographer to ensure shots remain accurate and in logical order.

Continuity Stills Photographer: The continuity stills photographer uses a digital still camera to establish continuity referents for each shot covered in a day of shooting. These shots are cross-referenced with the script supervisor’s log for accessibility on set. The continuity stills photographer takes pictures of each shot covered, paying particular attention to the in-point and out-point of a shot – a photograph is taken just before the director says “action,” and immediately after he or she says “cut.”

crew 3Director: The director is responsible for overseeing the creative aspects of a film, including controlling the content and flow of the film’s plot, directing the performances of actors, organizing and selecting the locations in which the film will be shot, and managing technical details such as the positioning of cameras, the use of lighting, and the timing and content of the film’s soundtrack. Though the director wields a great deal of power, they are ultimately subordinate to the film’s producer or producers. Some directors, especially more established ones, take on many of the roles of a producer, and the distinction between the two roles is sometimes blurred.

Stunt Coordinator: Where the film requires a stunt, and involves the use of stunt performers, the stunt coordinator will arrange the casting and performance of the stunt, working closely with the director. This includes Fight Choreographers – stunt coordinators who specialize in the casting, design and performance of fight scenes.

Production Designer: A production designer is responsible for creating the physical, visual appearance of the film – settings, costumes, properties, character makeup, all taken as a unit. The production designer works closely with the director and the cinematographer to achieve the ‘look’ of the film.

I2Director of Photography / Cinematographer: The director of photography is the chief of the camera and lighting crew of the film. The DP makes decisions on lighting and framing of scenes in conjunction with the film’s director. Typically, the director tells the DP how they want a shot to look, and the DP chooses the correct aperture, filter, and lighting to achieve the desired effect.

Camera Operator: The camera operator uses the camera at the direction of the cinematographer / director of photography, or the film director to capture the scenes on film. Generally, a cinematographer or director of photography does not operate the camera, but sometimes these jobs may be combined.

I16Boom Operator: The boom operator is an assistant to the production sound mixer, responsible for microphone placement and movement during filming. The boom operator uses a boom pole, a long pole made of light aluminum or carbon fiber that allows precise positioning of the microphone above or below the actors, just out of the camera’s frame. The boom operator may also place radio microphones and hidden set microphones.

I4Location Scout: Does much of the actual research, footwork and photography to document location possibilities.

Film Editor: The film editor is the person who assembles the various shots into a coherent film, with the help of the director.

Sound Designer: The sound designer, or “supervising sound editor”, is in charge of the post-production sound of a movie. Sometimes this may involve great creative license, and other times it may simply mean working with the director and editor to balance the sound to their liking.

Composer: The composer is responsible for writing the musical score for a film.

Foley Artist: The foley artist is the person who creates the sound effects for a film.

Key Makeup Person: The key makeup person applies and maintains the cast’s makeup, working in coordination with the script supervisor and the continuity stills photographer.

Key Hairdresser: The key hairdresser dresses and maintains the cast’s hair, working in coordination with the script supervisor and the continuity stills photographer.

crew 4Costume Designer: The costume designer works under the supervision of the director and the art director to design, obtain, assemble, and maintain the costumes for a production. Costume designers develop costuming concepts and the design of costumes in coordination with the art director, production designer, and DP.

This is the crew I am working with, plus the assistants for each member of the crew, caterers and security. I bet no Financier ever had to work with so many people – from a couple of months to a year or more – just to complete one project.

Such is the life of a filmmaker, but I love it and when you see the fruit of the labor of our crew, when Rite of Passage hits the silver screen at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival in February, 2014, you’ll love it – and us – too!

More funk to come. Stay tuned, Steamfunkateers!

If you would like to be a part of the making of this film and live in or near Atlanta, please join us at the Information Session at Georgia Tech Thursday, April 18, 2013; Skiles Building; Room 343 at 11:00 am. We will discuss cast and crew needs, scheduling and benefits to be enjoyed by all involved!

ROP 1


SEEKING SHELTER: A Steamfunk Tale

Shelter6

SEEKING SHELTER

 A powerful wind tore across the night sky.

A bitter chill gnawed at the back of Thomas Morgan’s pink neck.

He flipped up the collar of his overcoat and walked briskly up the lonely road. “It will be dark soon,” he whispered. “I must find shelter.”

Thomas continued on, thinking that the feeling of unmerciful winds biting into his flesh must be what it felt like to the countless number of slaves who had tasted the caustic sting of his whip.

The memory of his whip rending black flesh warmed him a bit and strengthened his resolve to continue on.

Finally, Thomas came upon a house. He crept up to it. The smell of cinnamon met him, caressing his nostrils. Thomas peeked through a window at the front of the house. Inside, an elderly Black couple sat before a flickering fire. Steam rose from their brass mugs as they sipped from them.

“Niggers,” Thomas hissed. To Thomas, ‘niggers’ were bad enough, but ‘Yankee niggers’ were the worst.

Well, their nigger home looks warm,” He thought. “And niggers are too scared to turn away a white man seekin’ shelter.

Thomas rapped gently on the door.

A moment later, a man’s voice called from the other side of the door. “Who’s there?”

“My name’s Morgan,” Thomas replied. “Thomas Morgan. My airship crashed about a half mile from here. I need a warm place to spend the night until I can find a tinkerer in the morning.”

The door opened a crack. A pair of brown eyes peered out. “You sound like a Southerner, Mr. Morgan,” the old man said.

“Born and raised,” Thomas said, tipping his bowler as he saluted the old man with a deep bow. “But my heart belongs to the North.”

“What brings you to Weeksville?” The old man inquired.

“I’ve been usin’ that ol’ airship of mine to transport runaways for Harriet Tubman,” Thomas lied. He wondered what this old coon would do if he told them that he was really headed to Auburn to kill ‘General Tubman’.

“You can stay,” the old man said. “If you tell me an’ my wife a good story.”

Thomas rubbed his numb fingers under his armpits. “Umm…there once was a man from Nantucket…”

“I said a good story!” The old man said, interrupting Thomas’ limerick.

“I wish I could, but I’m just a transporter of people and cargo,” Thomas said. “I don’t have no stories to tell.”

“Then, Godspeed, suh.” The door slammed shut.

“Black devil!” Thomas spat as he stormed away from the house.

He perused the area. A barn sat several yards behind the house. Thomas scurried toward the barn. He tugged at the door and it swung open. Inside, the barn was empty, save for a few farming tools strewn about and a large mound of straw that sat in a far corner.

Thomas dashed to the mound and dived into it. He burrowed deep into the mound, pulling straw over himself until he was completely covered. He quickly warmed up and, within moments, he was sound asleep.

****

“Drag that peckerwood in here!”

A gruff voice awakened him.

Thomas peered between a few blades of straw, seeking the source of the harsh, baritone voice that had startled him out of his slumber.

In the middle of the barn, illuminated by a single lantern, stood two of the largest men Thomas had ever seen in his life. One man stood about seven feet tall. His massive muscles strained against his leather overcoat as he rapidly rubbed two sticks together over a pile of twigs and dry leaves

The other man, nearly a foot taller than the first and just as massive, dragged something large and heavy across the floor.

Both men’s faces were concealed by the over-sized brims of their top-hats, but their hands were nearly black as pitch.

As the fire came to life and lit the barn, Thomas saw clearly what the man was dragging – the corpse of a portly white man. The flesh on the corpse’s neck was twisted into a sickening spiral pattern, as if someone – or something – had tried to screw his head off.

The first man tied a rope around the corpse’s feet. “Hang him from that beam and let’s roast him.”

Shelter 11The second man tossed the rope over the beam and pulled the corpse just above the fire. He then tethered the rope to a wooden column. “Now, you turn him so he roasts evenly.”

“I’m tired,” the first man replied. “Let Tom Morgan do it.”

Thomas shuddered. “How could they know I’m here? How do they know my name?

“Come on out,” the second man bellowed.

Thomas crawled out of the mound of hay.

The first man yanked him to his feet. “Turn the corpse…and do not let it burn!”

Thomas’ mouth went dry and sourness gurgled in his throat. He nodded.

Thomas began to slowly turn the corpse over the fire.

The men turned from him. The first man snatched the barn door open. Moonlight poured into the barn, reflecting off the giants’ ebon skin.

“Keep turning, Tom,” the second man said as he disappeared into the night. “We’ll be back soon.”

Thomas shook as he turned the body over the fire.

A loud snap startled him. Suddenly, the corpse plummeted into the now raging flame. Sparks and ashes flew into the air and the barn filled with smoke.

“No!” Thomas screamed. “They’ll kill me!”

Thomas sprinted out the door and back onto the road. He raced into the frigid wind, fear keeping his legs pumping even though they ached terribly. When he could not run another step, he scurried into a muddy ditch, hiding behind a moist clump of overgrown weeds.

He had barely caught his breath when he heard thunderous footsteps upon the road above him.

“I am tired of carrying this charred, fat fool,” a gruff voice bellowed. “You carry him now.”

“Not me,” a second voice – as deep and gruff as the first – replied. “I’m tired. Let Tom Morgan do it.”

A loud thud exploded behind Thomas. He whirled toward the sound. Standing over him was the massive second man from the barn.

The man wrapped his thick fingers around Thomas’ neck and then hurled him high into the air.

Thomas winced as his buttocks slammed onto the road.

The first man snatched him onto his feet.

“Drag this body to Whitmore Ridge so we can bury it!” The first man ordered.

“But…but ain’t Whitmore Ridge about a mile from here?” Thomas asked.

“Move!” The first man commanded.

Thomas tucked the corpse’s feet under his armpits and shambled up the road, dragging the obese, bloated body behind him.

Thomas’ legs burned and his back felt as if it would fold in upon itself, but his fear of the twin black giants kept his taxed legs moving.

Finally, after what seemed to Thomas like hours, they reached Whitmore Ridge. Thomas dropped the corpse’s feet and then collapsed onto his knees.

“While you’re down there, start digging,” the first man snickered.

“With my hands?” Thomas sighed.

“Well, you can’t dig with my hands, can you?” The first man spat.

The second man tapped the first man on the shoulder and then pointed toward the reddening sky. “Sun’s coming.”

“It’s your lucky night, Tom Morgan,” the first man said. “If we could stay a bit longer, we’d bury you with that body.”

With that, the men sauntered away and soon disappeared up the road.

Thomas leapt to his feet and then sprinted down the road in the opposite direction of the giants. Soon, he came upon the same house with the barn behind it in which the two men had found him. He slammed his fists on the door.

The door swung open. The old man of the house stood before him.

“You, again?” The old man hissed.

“Please, sir,” Thomas cried. “Some crazed men made me do terrible things! Please, grant me a place to hide and to rest and I will reward you dearly.”

The old man stepped aside and Thomas staggered through the doorway.

“Take a seat,” the old man said, pointing toward a table with four large oak chairs.

Thomas plopped down in a chair. The old woman of the house – a petite Black woman with smooth, cocoa skin and white locks that fell to the middle of her back - placed a cup before him. Thomas inhaled. The contents of the cup smelled pleasantly of honey, cinnamon and nutmeg. Thomas took a sip. The tea warmed and relaxed him.

Suddenly, heavy footsteps came from the back of the house.

A shiver crawled up the back of Thomas’ neck.

The twin, ebon giants sauntered into the room.

“Have a seat, boys,” the old woman said. “Tom Morgan got a story to tell.”


STEAMPUNK AMERIKKKA!

STEAMPUNK AMERIKKKA!

Steampunk AmerikkkaIn the film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – based on the bestselling novel of the same name – a young Abraham Lincoln’s life is changed forever after he discovers, to his horror, that slavery is an institution controlled by vampires and the slaves are not to be used for labor, but for food. Lincoln decides that to end slavery is to end the scourge of vampires. Lincoln thus becomes an Abolitionist.

The idea of this took me back to elementary school, wherein we were taught that the real Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves after a terrible war between the Northern and Southern United States – fought because the “evil” South wanted to keep slaves and maintain slavery, while the “good” North sought to abolish slavery. A few years later, Icame to realize that what was taught to us in elementary school was as absurd as Abraham Lincoln ending slavery to stop a plague of vampires.

Many Steampunks choose to ignore the horrors wrought by colonialism – slavery, indentured service, sexism, classism; they create a world in which these things do not exist, or are sugar-coated so much, the world might end up diabetic.

A while ago, in response to another blog I wrote entitled What is Steamfunk? Exposing The Big Steampunk Lie, a Steampunk said “History is exactly what it says on the tin, an event that happened in the past. Learn its lesson and move forward. The human race will never achieve its potential if we cannot let the past go, and progress to greater things. If race, religion, sex or age is an issue to you, it proves a lack of intelligence, or an example of a small mind, which in of itself is an evolutionary cul de sac.”

Now, I wanted to come back in some clever way, like former enslaved brother, Jourdon Anderson did in response to his former “master” asking him to return to work on the same plantation upon which he and his family suffered. But I…wait…you haven’t read the brilliant letter by old Jourdon? Well, here you go:

Jourdan_AndersonSir:

I got your letter and was glad to find you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this for harboring Rebs they found at your house.

I suppose they never heard about your going to Col. Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville hospital, but one of the neighbors told me Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here; I get $25 a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy (the folks here call her Mrs. Anderson), and the children, Milly, Jane and Grundy, go to school and are learning well; the teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday- School, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated; sometimes we overhear others saying, “The colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks, but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Col. Anderson. Many darkies would have been proud, as I used to was, to call you master. Now, if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free-papers in 1864 from the Provost- Marshal- General of the Department of Nashville.

Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you are sincerely disposed to treat us justly and kindly–and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future.

I served you faithfully for thirty-two years and Mandy twenty years. At $25 a month for me, and $2 a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to $11,680. Add to this the interest for the time our wages has been kept back and deduct what you paid for our clothing and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to.

Please send the money by Adams Express, in care of V. Winters, esq, Dayton, Ohio.

If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night, but in Tennessee there was never any pay day for the Negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve and die if it comes to that than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood, the great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

P.S. — Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson

I wanted to be clever, however, my response was just…well, me:

Race, religion, sex and age are not issues to me, however they are concerns. Many people of color have these concerns. Many who are brilliant. Such concerns are not proof of lack of intelligence, nor of small mindedness. Who is seeking such proof anyway? There are several people on this site with the same concerns – none of whom lack intelligence…none of whom have small minds. 

If I abuse and steal from my neighbor and then tell him to move on…to let it go…I am the one displaying small mindedness. Should Jews let go of the horrors they endured in the holocaust? Are they small minded or lacking in intelligence for saying “Never again” and for not letting go of their past troubles? Absolutely not! No one who has suffered at the hands of an oppressor should “let go”. They should use the past to move forward. This is a principle in African culture called “Sankofa”. A good principle I will continue to live by.

And so I – like a good African traditionalist – and, indeed, like a good Steampunk and Steamfunkateer – now look back at the America my ancestors and elders knew…the America I choose to express in my Steampunk; the America that provides a wealth of happenings, people and settings that make for great Steamfunk stories.

And to those who want to say “let sleeping dogs lie”, or “let the past go”, or some other insensitive bullshit – my mother sharecropped; my aunts and uncles…my maternal grandparents…my first cousins. I grew up hearing the horror stories and the happy ones and they shaped and molded me, my creativity and my love for all things Black / African.

As I stated in the opening of the Steamfunk anthology: To “let go” is to be un-African; to “let go” is to let go of myself. Ain’t gonna happen. Ever.

And now, without further ado, I present – for your reading (dis)pleasure… 

STEAMPUNK AMERIKKKA

 Historic Timeline of Slavery

  • 1501-African Slaves in the New World
    Spanish settlers bring slaves from Africa to Santo Domingo (now the capital of the Dominican Republic).
  • 1619-Slaves in Virginia
    Africans brought to Jamestown are the first slaves imported into Britain’s North American colonies. Research shows the year may actually be 64 years earlier – 1555.
  • 1700-First Antislavery Publication
    Massachusetts jurist and printer, Samuel Seawell, publishes the first North American antislavery tract, The Selling of Joseph.
  • 1705-Slaves as Property
    Describing slaves as real estate, Virginia lawmakers allow owners to bequeath their slaves. The same law allows masters to “kill and destroy” runaways.
  • 1775-Abolitionist Society
    Anthony Benezet of Philadelphia founds the world’s first abolitionist society. Benjamin Franklin becomes its president in 1787.
  • 1776-Declaration of Independence
    The Continental Congress asserts “that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.”
  • 1793-Fugitive Slave Act
    The United States outlaws any efforts to impede the capture of runaway slaves. (Also see 1850)
  • 1808-United States Bans Slave Trade
    Importing African slaves is outlawed, but smuggling continues.
  • 1820-Missouri Compromise
    Missouri is admitted to the Union as a slave state, Maine as a free state. Slavery is forbidden in any subsequent territories north of latitude 36°30′.
  • 1834-1838-Slavery in England
    England abolishes slavery in its colonies including Jamaica, Barbados, and other West Indian territories.
  • 1850-Compromise of 1850
    In exchange for California’s entering the Union as a free state, northern congressmen accept a harsher Fugitive Slave Act different from the previous one of 1793.
  • 1854-Kansas-Nebraska Act
    Setting aside the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congress permits these two new territories to choose whether to allow slavery. Violent clashes erupt.
  • 1857-Dred Scott Decision
    The United States Supreme Court decides, seven to two, that Blacks can never be citizens and that Congress has no authority to outlaw slavery in any territory.
  • 1860-Abraham Lincoln Elected
    Abraham Lincoln of Illinois becomes the first Republican to win the United States Presidency.
  • 1861-65-United States Civil War
    Four years of brutal conflict claim 623,000 lives.
  • 1862
    On September 22, Lincoln drafts the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. The final is issued on January 1, 1863.
  • 1863-Emancipation Proclamation
    President Abraham Lincoln decrees that all slaves in Rebel territory are free on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation only emancipated those slaves in states that were in rebellion against the United States. The proclamation did not emancipate slaves in the states that never left the Union.
  • 1865-Slavery Abolished
    The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlaws slavery.

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad was a covert network of people and places who assisted fugitive slaves as they escaped from slavery in the South. Most widespread during the three decades prior to the Civil War, this activity primarily took place in the regions bordering slave states, with the Ohio River being the center of much of the activity.

At the heart of the Underground Railroad were the beliefs of the abolitionist movement. The 18th Century Quakers – members of the Religious Society of Friends – were the first organized abolitionists, believing that slavery violated Christian principles. By the first decades of the 1800s, every state in the North had legally abolished slavery. Abolitionist ideas then spread west into the territories that would soon become Indiana and Ohio.

People involved with the Underground Railroad developed their own terminology to describe participants, safe places, and other codes that needed to be kept secret. People who guided slaves from place to place were called “conductors”; locations where slaves could safely find protection, food, or a place to sleep were called “safe houses” or “stations”; those who hid fugitive slaves in their homes, barns, or churches were called “station masters”; enslaved Black people, who were in the safekeeping of a conductor or station master, were “cargo”.

Code words were also used to enable fugitive slaves to find their way North. The Big Dipper, whose handle pointed towards the North Star, was referred to as the “drinking gourd”; the Ohio River was frequently referred to by a biblical reference, the “River Jordan”; Canada, one of the final safe havens for many fugitive slaves was called the “Promised Land“.

Besides Canada, many fugitive slaves also escaped to cities in the northern and western U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and South America.

It is important to realize that while conductors and fugitive slaves were participating on the Underground Railroad, all of their actions were illegal. The federal government had passed Fugitive Slave Acts as early as 1793 that allowed slave catchers to come north and force runaways back into slavery. By the 1830s and 1840s, these laws were expanded in reaction to increased Underground Railroad activity.

With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, assisting or helping hide fugitive slaves became a federal offense, making all Underground Railroad activity subject to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. Escaping from slavery or helping someone to escape from slavery was a very difficult and dangerous task.

The Underground Railroad through rose-colored goggles

The Underground Railroad is often portrayed as the result of benevolent abolitionists who toiled out of the kindness of their hearts to lead and shelter fearful runaway slaves, helping them break free from the bonds of slavery to start life anew in the Promised Land.

These abolitionists are depicted as white people who placed lamps in windows or quilts on fences as signals for safe places. Slaves would then hide in the homes and barns of conductors, hidden in their secret hiding rooms and passage ways. This scenario is pure myth.

The reality of the Underground Railroad was much less romantic. Escaping enslaved individuals often had no help or guidance from anyone throughout the majority of their journey. While it is a common belief that white Northerners were going into the South and bringing slaves from the farms and plantations into the North, the truth is that most enslaved individuals left on their own. When the enslaved did have assistance, the aid they received varied from being given a place to rest in barns and sheds to being provided with a small amount of food and sent on to the next location. Those seeking freedom would have had to place a good amount of trust in the people who were assisting them, for at any moment their safety could be compromised, leading to recapture.

There is also a common misconception that all people working to assist escaping individuals were white Northerners. The fact is that the majority of the conductors on the Underground Railroad in the South were Black, often still enslaved themselves.

Come on, ride this train              

It is very difficult to know the exact number of people who escaped from slavery and even harder still to know the exact number of people who escaped with the help of the Underground Railroad because no complete records were kept. Best estimates put the number at 100,000.

The thousands of people, both famous and not, who escaped or assisted on the Underground Railroad were very brave individuals whose courage, cooperation, and perseverance helped them to survive and endure. Here are some of the stories of these heroes and sheroes.

Henry ‘Box’ Brown

Amerika 1Brown, enslaved in Richmond, Virginia, convinced Samuel A. Smith to nail a box shut around him, wrap five hickory hoops around the box, and ship it to a member of the Vigilance Committee in Philadelphia. The box was 2 feet 8 inches wide, 2 feet deep and 3 feet long.

At 5 feet 10 inches and more than 200 pounds, Brown had very little space for movement. Even though the box was marked “This side up with care,” he spent some of the time upside down. He could not shift his position because that might attract attention. Brown took only a little water to drink, and also to splash on his face if he got to warm, and some biscuits. There were tiny holes within the box so he could breathe. In all, the trip took 27 long hours. When the box finally arrived in the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery office, four people locked the door behind them, knocked on the box, and opened it up. Henry stood up and reached out to shake their hands. He was a free man!

Henry ‘Box’ Brown went on to speak all over the U.S. and Europe about his escape.

John Parker

1827 – 1900

Amerika 4Born enslaved in Virginia, Parker was sold away from his mother at age eight and forced to walk in a line of chained slaves from Virginia to Alabama. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally bought his freedom with the money he earned doing extra work as a skilled craftsman.

Parker moved to Cincinnati and then to Ripley, where he became one of the most daring slave rescuers of the period. Not content to wait for runaways to make their way to the Ohio side of the river, Parker actually “invaded” Kentucky farms at night and brought over to Ripley hundreds of slaves. He kept records of those he had guided towards freedom, but he destroyed the notes in 1850 after realizing how the Fugitive Slave Law threatened his home, his business, and his family’s future.

Robert Smalls

1839 – 1915

Amerika 2Years of working on ships around Charleston, South Carolina paid off for Robert Smalls and twelve other enslaved people. On May 13, 1862, Smalls, his wife and two children, and twelve other slaves took over the Planter, a steamboat built to haul cotton.

Dressed as the captain, Smalls used the signals he knew would allow passage by Fort Sumter. He then steered the ship towards the Union Navy, which was currently blockading the port. Hoisting the white flag of surrender, Smalls offered the boat to the Union forces.

Not only had he won freedom for himself, his family, and twelve others, but Smalls had also given the Union a ship, weapons, and important information about the Confederates’ defenses. President Lincoln authorized a bill giving Smalls $1500 for his actions. He was named captain of the Planter, and took part in seventeen engagements (events during the Civil War) on behalf of the Union.

When the war was over, Smalls lectured throughout New York. He bought the Beaufort, South Carolina, home where he and his mother had been enslaved; he lived there for the rest of his life. Smalls served terms in the South Carolina Senate and House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Congress for five years.

Harriet Tubman

1822 – 1913

Amerika 3When, as a young child on a plantation in Eastern Maryland, Tubman tried to protect another slave, she suffered a head injury that led to sudden blackouts throughout her life. On her first escape, Tubman trekked through the woods at night, found shelter and aid from free Blacks and Quakers, and eventually reached freedom in Philadelphia to align with William Still and the Vigilance Committee.

After hearing that her niece and children would soon be sold, Tubman arranged to meet them in Baltimore and usher them North to freedom. It was the first of some thirteen trips during which Tubman guided approximately 50 to 70 people to freedom.

Tubman spoke often before antislavery gatherings detailing her experiences. She was never captured, and went on to serve as a spy, scout, and nurse for the Union Army. When the government refused to give her a pension for her wartime service, Tubman sold vegetables and fruit door-to-door and lived on the proceeds from her biography.

Reconstruction

Reconstruction, one of the most turbulent and controversial eras in American history, began during the Civil War and ended in 1877.

Reconstruction remains relevant today because the issues central to it — the role of the federal government in protecting citizens’ rights, and the possibility of economic and racial justice — are still unresolved.

Central to Reconstruction was the effort of former slaves to take full advantage of their newly acquired freedom, and to claim their rights as citizens. Rather than passive victims of the actions of others, Black people were active agents in shaping Reconstruction.

After rejecting the Reconstruction plan of President Andrew Johnson, the Republican Congress enacted laws and Constitutional amendments that empowered the federal government to enforce the principle of equal rights, and gave black Southerners the right to vote and hold office, however, in time, the North abandoned its commitment to protect the rights of the former slaves, Reconstruction came to an end, and white supremacy was restored throughout the South.

Reconstruction During the Civil War

The nation’s efforts to come to terms with the destruction of slavery and to define the meaning of freedom began during the Civil War. The nation sought to define slavery before the slaves could define it for themselves – he who imposes the terms of enslavement will impose the terms of freedom.

From the war’s outset, the Lincoln administration insisted that restoring the Union was its only purpose and this remained President Lincoln’s stance. However, as military victory eluded the North, the president made the destruction of slavery a weapon of mass destruction against the South; and in January 1863, Lincoln “pushed the button” and unleashed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Emancipation

The Lincoln administration insisted that the preservation of the Union, not the abolition of slavery, was its objective, but as the Union army occupied Southern territory, slaves by the thousands abandoned the plantations. Their actions forced a reluctant Lincoln administration down the road to emancipation.

However, as an old African proverb says, Emancipation from the bondage of the soil is no freedom for the tree.

Emancipation only meant freedom from chattel slavery; it did not mean the enjoyment of human rights.

The meaning of freedom itself became a point of conflict in the Reconstruction South. Former slaves relished the opportunity to flaunt their liberation from the innumerable regulations of slavery.

Immediately after the Civil War, Blacks sought to define their freedom by reuniting families separated under slavery, establishing their own churches and schools, seeking economic autonomy, and demanding equal civil and political rights.

White Southerners, unwilling to accept a new relationship to their former slaves, resorted to violent opposition to the new world being created around them.

From Slave Labor to Free Labor

The most difficult task confronting many Southerners during Reconstruction was devising a new system of labor to replace the shattered world of slavery. The economic lives of planters, former slaves, and non-slaveholding whites, were transformed after the Civil War.

Planters found it hard to adjust to the end of slavery. Accustomed to absolute control over their labor force, many sought to restore the old discipline, only to meet determined opposition from the emancipated Black people, who equated freedom with economic autonomy.

Many former slaves believed that their years of unrequited labor gave them a claim to land; “forty acres and a mule” became their rallying cry. White reluctance to sell to Blacks, and the federal government’s decision not to redistribute land in the South, meant that only a small percentage of the Black people became landowners. Most rented land or worked for wages on white-owned plantations.

Sharecropping where Cotton was King

The Mississippi Delta was where “cotton was king.” The Delta plantation system started in the nineteenth century when white farmers went there in search of fertile farmland, escaping declining productivity in other Southern states.

They brought with them slaves to do the backbreaking work of clearing the wild forest and subduing the Mississippi River with levees. As a result of the slaves’ labor, the Delta became the richest cotton-farming land in the country.

The Delta stretches 200 beautiful miles – from Memphis, Tennessee, down to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Slavery and cotton production became synonymous with the Southern economy and Mississippi. Since the Mississippi Delta was the last area of the South to be settled, after the Civil War, the state became among the most reactionary and repressive states for Blacks, who lived with the daily threat and reality of violence.

Although Blacks outnumbered whites, the sharecropping system that replaced slavery helped ensure they remained poor and virtually locked out of any opportunity for land ownership or basic human rights.

Under this system, the sharecropper rented a plot of land and paid for it with a percentage of the crop – usually 30 to 50%.

Sharecroppers would get tools, animals, fertilizer, seeds and food from the landlord’s store and would have to pay him back at incredibly high interest rates. The landlord would determine the crop, supervise production, control the weighing and marketing of cotton, and control the recordkeeping.

According to my cousin, Doris Davis – “It was a hard life, boy. We’d get ten…maybe twelve dollars a bale and we had to work from sun up, to sun down – ‘til we bled – to make that. The school system in Mississippi was even scheduled around the crops; still is.”

At the end of the year, sharecroppers settled accounts by paying what they owed from any earnings made in the field. Since the plantation owners kept track of the calculations, rarely would sharecroppers see a profit.

The End of Reconstruction

In the 1870′s, violent opposition in the South, and the North’s retreat from its commitment to equality, resulted in the end of Reconstruction. By 1876, the nation was prepared to abandon its commitment to equality for all citizens regardless of race.

As soon as blacks gained the right to vote, secret societies sprang up in the South, devoted to restoring white supremacy in politics and social life. Most notorious was the Ku Klux Klan, an organization of violent criminals that established a reign of terror in some parts of the South, assaulting and murdering local Republican leaders.

The North’s commitment to Reconstruction soon waned.

Many Republicans came to believe that the South should solve its own problems without further interference from Washington. Reports of Reconstruction corruption led many Northerners to conclude that black suffrage had been a mistake. When anti-Reconstruction violence erupted again in Mississippi and South Carolina, the Grant administration refused to intervene.

The election of 1876 hinged on disputed returns from Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, where Republican governments still survived. After intense negotiations involving leaders of both parties, the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, became president, while Democrats assumed control of the disputed Southern states. Reconstruction had come to an end.

Black Railroad Workers

After slavery ended, railroads and associated companies like the Pullman Car Company became a major employer of Black people.

The story of railroad porters is an important chapter in the history of railroads and the American West. The construction of railroads encouraged large numbers of people to settle in the West.

Many of those settlers were Black people.

Railroad companies barred people of color from holding high-quality jobs. Inventor Elijah McCoy is one example.

McCoy was a descendent of Kentucky slaves who had escaped to Canada with the aid of the Underground Railroad. When he was a child, his family returned to Michigan.

Elijah McCoy studied as an engineer in Scotland but was only able to work as a locomotive fireman upon returning to the United States, despite being issued over 57 patents for his inventions.

The phrase, “the real McCoy,” was created by machine buyers who insisted on purchasing only products designed by the inventor. His name is still associated with authenticity.

For the most part, conductors, engineers, managers and cooks were all white. Blacks were allowed to apply for jobs as porters, dining room attendants, kitchen help and freight handlers. Companies hired African American women as maids and kitchen help. Through their hiring practices, the railroads created one of the most highly institutionalized forms of industrial segregation in the land. 

For Black people, being a porter and other service jobs were seen as an improvement over sharecropping, one of the few other opportunities open to blacks at the time.

Lynchings

For many Black people growing up in the South in the 19th and 20th centuries, the threat of lynching was commonplace.

Lynching, an act of terror meant to spread fear among blacks, served the broad social purpose of maintaining white supremacy in the economic, social and political spheres.

Although the practice of lynching existed even before slavery, it gained momentum during Reconstruction, when viable Black towns sprang up across the South and Blacks started to make political and economic inroads by registering to vote, establishing businesses and running for public office.

Many whites – landowners and poor whites – felt threatened by this rise in black prominence.

Lynchings were frequently committed with the most flagrant public display. Like a medieval execution by guillotine, lynchings were often advertised in newspapers and drew large crowds of white families.

Lynchings were covered in local newspapers with headlines spelling out the horrific details. Photos of victims, with exultant white observers posed next to them, were taken for distribution in newspapers or on postcards. Body parts, including genitalia, were sometimes distributed to spectators or put on public display.

Most infractions were for petty crimes, like theft, but the biggest one of all was looking at or associating with white women. Many victims were black businessmen or black men who refused to back down from a fight.

Newspapers even printed that prominent white citizens in local towns attended lynchings, and often published victory pictures – smiling crowds, many with children in tow – standing next to the corpse.

In the South, an estimated two or three blacks were lynched each week in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

With lynching as a violent backdrop in the South, Jim Crow as the law of the land, and the poverty of the sharecropper system, Black people had no recourse.

This Unholy Trinity of repression ensured Black people would remain impoverished, endangered, and without rights or hope.

My Amerikka

When I wrote Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, I wanted to create a retrofuturistic America that was as gritty and brutal as the world described to me by my parents (seen in the photo to your left) and other relatives; a world in which monsters were real…and bore names like Rufus…and Joe-Bob…and Shadrach.

I also, however, wanted to make the book an enjoyable read. My family had it hard in the American South (and North), but we have always been a people who encourage creativity and enjoy a good laugh. So, no doom and gloom for me…just a healthy dose of reality!

I am a Steampunk. I am a Steampunk author. I am a Steamfunkateer. My expression is rooted in Africa and in an America that was not too kind to Blacks, other People of Color, the poor, or women. My roots run deep and are well-nourished and I will forever feast from the fruit of the Echo Tree.


THE NEXT BIG THING: Steamfunk, Sword & Soul and The Haunting of Truth High

THE NEXT BIG THING: Steamfunk, Sword & Soul and The Haunting of Truth High

Haunt Cover 1I’m humbled, honored and hyped to have been tagged by Blacknificent authors Quinton Veal and John F. Allen as their choices for the Next Big Thing! Thanks, so much, Quinton and John!

The rules of this blog hop are simple and sweet: 1. Answer ten questions about your current Work In Progress on your blog; 2. Tag five writers / bloggers and add links to their pages so we can hop along to them next.

So, here goes – enjoy!

What is the working title of your book?

The working title of my next novel is The Haunting of Truth High.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Even though I am known for writing Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Urban Fantasy, I am a horror writer at heart. I have always wanted to write a horror novel. I am also the father of seven daughters and a son. Six of my eight children read Young Adult Fiction and have asked when I will write something in that genre. A marriage of horror and YA fiction happened in my head and voila…The Haunting of Truth High was born.

What genre does your book fall under?

The Haunting of Truth High is Young Adult Horror Fiction, however, I’ve made it deep enough that adults will enjoy it too.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Haunt 3The main character, Renay is a beautiful, intelligent and talented teen, who is very popular in and outside of school. Her life, however, is troubled and in turmoil. Renay discovers she is a warrior, born with the power to slay ghosts and other vengeful spirits. The role would require a young actress who possesses depth, but also can take on the demands of a very physical and gritty role. I think Keke Palmer would be the perfect Renay.

Haunt 4Her love interest, Shawn, who introduces Renay to the dark and frightening spectral world, hides a dark secret. Although he is young, he was raised by ghost hunters, so he has experienced things most of the world has only had nightmares about. This has made him wise beyond his years, fearless and a bit stoic; however, he is also charismatic, witty and the epitome of cool. Corbin Bleu would make a great Shawn.

Haunt 5Renay’s autistic half-brother, Ricky, has the ability to see ghosts. While he cannot speak, he can draw nearly perfect illustrations of people with uncanny speed. Such a role would require an actor who can show emotions and evoke feelings without saying a word. Kyle Massey is perfect for the role of Ricky.

Finally, the main antagonist, Mr. Newsome, while appearing to be a lovable but firm band instructor, is sinister, creepy and theHaunt 6 literally feeds off pain, sorrow and hatred. I would cast Phill Lewis in this frightening role.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A girl, whose life falls apart after the death of her father, discovers her true calling as a ghost hunter when her high school is overrun by vengeful spirits that feed on human emotions.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The Haunting of Truth High will be self-published through my new publishing company, Roaring Lions Productions.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I am still writing it. I should have the first draft complete by May.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

While there are other works of Young Adult Horror Fiction, I would say the closest comparison would be Devil’s Wake, by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes. Devil’s Wake, while a YA novel is still scary as hell and is a great read for older folks as well. In those ways, The Haunting of Truth High is similar, even though the premises are quite different.

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 

I was inspired by my love for horror movies, television and fiction and for my desire for my children to have more books with heroes who look and think like them.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

For those who read my Steamfunk, Urban Fantasy and Sword and Soul stories, you know my writing style. It is very visual, visceral, witty, and a bit frightening at times. Well, I am truly a horror writer at heart, so with The Haunting of Truth High, I went all out with the chills and thrills. Also, as a man with children who are voracious readers of YA fiction, I am intimately familiar with the YA genre and know what makes a YA book great. I also know and understand teens’ desires, goals and fears, which allows me to spin a tale that is scary, but at the same time, has heart.

Below are the links to the next chain of authors. Be sure to bookmark their sites and add their new releases to your calendars.

  1. Milton J. Davis: Sword & Soul; Steamfunk
  2. Talitha McEachin: Fantasy
  3. Malon Edwards: Steamfunk; Urban Fantasy
  4. Thaddeus Howze: Science Fiction; Fantasy
  5. D.K Gaston: Urban Fantasy; Mystery; Thriller

STEAMFUNK DEBUTS AT ANACHROCON 2013!

STEAMFUNK DEBUTS AT ANACHROCON 2013!

Steamfunk Fly

This is an exciting week for me. The greatest cosmological event of all time, in my humble opinion – my bEARTHday – is February 21. You are all invited to join me in celebration. In honor of that august day (can it be august in February?), complimentary drinks are on me!

Immediately following the celebration of my 25th solar return – that’s right, I said 25th (I am a Fantasy writer, after all) – is the long-awaited release of the Steamfunk anthology!

We will debut Steamfunk at AnachroCon on February 22, 2013. For those who don’t know, AnachroCon is, by their own definition, “the premier place in the Southern United States for people to celebrate Historical Reenacting, Alternate History, Steampunk, Sciences, Horror, Etiquette & Indulgence, Fashion, Fabrication, Literature & Media, Costuming and socialize with people of like minds.” Sounds like fun…and this year, AnachroCon gets fun-ky, as thousands of Steamfunkateers converge upon the convention to witness the unveiling of an anthology chock-full-o’ steamy and funky goodness!

To help us celebrate, the good folks at AnachroCon have given Steamfunk Co-Editor, Milton Davis, a table, where contributing authors to Steamfunk will sign books and hand out free hugs and handshakes. They have also made me a Guest and I will have the pleasure of speaking on a panel or two.

So, come on by and let’s funk up AnachroCon!

Following is a list of Funkateers and their Funktastic contributions to the Steamfunk Anthology:

Ronald T. Jones – Benjamin’s Freedom Magic

Malon Edwards – Mud Holes and Mississippi Mules

Hannibal Tabu – The Sharp Knife of a Short Life

P. Djeli Clark – Men in Black

Geoffrey Thorne – The Tunnel at the End of Light

Ray Dean – A Will of Steel

Kochava Greene – The Refuge

Carole McDonnell – Oh, Western Wind

Rebecca McFarland Kyle – Once a Spider

Josh Reynolds – The Lion Hunters

Melvin Carter – Tough Night in Tommyville

Valjeanne Jeffers – The Switch

Balogun Ojetade – Rite of Passage: Blood and Iron

Milton Davis – The Delivery

Steamfunk Cover

 

 

 


THE STATE OF BLACK SCIENCE FICTION 2013: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media!

film 13

THE STATE OF BLACK SCIENCE FICTION 2013: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media

 

film 18From posters that advertised slaves for sale in the 1500s, to the lumping of Zane’s erotica with Charles Saunders’ Sword and Soul on the same shelf in the bookstore today, there has been an unrelenting, powerfully persuasive and seeming purposeful, effort to promote black inferiority in the media. For every positive image of African-Americans, there are 100 negative stereotypes; sadly, many of them perpetrated by Black people.

Images and words combined are very powerful, and have been used, quite effectively, to convey this whole idea of African-Americans being “less than”; “not as good as”: the myth of Black inferiority.

And the concomitant myth of white superiority.

Black inferiority is a myth that had to be created in order to justify slavery within a democracy. These two contradictions – slavery and democracy – had to be reconciled, and the only thing the good old U.S. of A. could come up with was the declaration and substantiation that slaves were not human.

film 15We must realize that we are not talking about ancient history, either. We have slave narratives that were written in the 1930s. The tragedy and horror of chattel slavery happened only a few generations ago. And the inferiority that was drummed into us through the media – through propaganda – has passed down from generation to generation just like a favorite family recipe.

This sickness must be addressed.

 If you have a malignant tumor, you cannot just wait for it to dissipate. It will not just go away. It will spread. The disease of institutionalized racism in the media has been a cancer that we have hoped would just go into remission, but it has spread and now, the whole planet has bought into these myths.

We have become insensitive or desensitized to the point we are unconscious of what we see, hear and what is going into our minds. We have become a party to our own brainwashing. We have joined in and become our own victimizers.

In the old days, you had white comedians putting on black cork and basically humiliating and ridiculing Black people. Fast-forward a few years, when we were given this illusion called “progress”. Black comedians said to the white comedians “Hey, you don’t have to ridicule and humiliate us, we’ll do it. We’ll take it from here, boss.”

And they took it from there…and carried it straight to Hell.

Film 19Let’s take the use of the word “nigger”, for example; so talked about now because of its use 110 times in the movie Django Unchained. Black comedians took this wicked, destructive word and took ownership of it as if to call ourselves a nigger was empowering, as if it was a term of endearment and still vehemently defend its use to this very day. And no, saying “the N-word” is no better. It is just foolish.

The historian Carter G. Woodson said that African-Americans have been basically conditioned to go around to the back door, and if there is no back door, we will insist on one.

If you can get a Black comedian to show up on a late-night talk show and act the clown, it’s comforting to those people who say, “See they are a happy people. They aren’t angry with us for five hundred years of slavery and oppression.” It is like approaching a dog you have abused, neglected and chained up in your kitchen for a week, thinking “Boy, I sure hope it doesn’t bite.” And if, instead of tearing out your throat, the dog starts wagging its tail, you breathe a sigh of relief and say “Whew, good dog.”

It is a toxic mix – white supremacy, white superiority, and black inferiority.

Why we expect so little of ourselves and of each other

Film 20There are several reasons for this sad and unfortunate truth.

For starters, lower expectations mean fewer disappointments.

We have become comfortable with negative behavior; with poor performance.

Recently, my students and I met at a local, Black-owned vegetarian / vegan restaurant for a meeting. The restaurant, scheduled to open at 11:00am, was closed. It was noon when we arrived. This was not the first time this had happened and I suggested we go somewhere else, but everyone – except yours truly – was set on eating at this place.

Time crept on. 12:30pm…12:45pm…1:00pm.

Finally, at 1:15pm, the owners drove up, walked by us without even a “Hello”, let alone an apology for their extreme lateness, and entered the restaurant.

Film 23My students and I followed. I asked if they had anything already prepared that we could eat and they informed me that they prepare their food daily, so I would have to wait. I informed the owner that we had already been waiting for an hour and that they were supposed to be open at 11:00. The owner shrugged her shoulders and said “We have lives outside of this restaurant. Don’t you have a life outside of your job?”

As a business owner who goes above and beyond to satisfy my students and those who read my books and watch my films, I was shocked and furious. I told my students that I was leaving and would never spend another dime with those fools. My students all said that we need to give Black businesses second, third and forth chances. And that as “conscious” Black folks we must be even more forgiving.

I said “Consciousness has nothing to do with it! We have to demand excellence from Black businesses and cease this acceptance of Black mediocrity or we will remain mediocre!” I then hugged everyone and left. I have never returned to that restaurant. And never will.

Film 26From kindergarten through fourth grade, I attended Sol R. Crown Elementary School in a poor neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. At Crown, being smart and working hard was interpreted as acting white. Because to be smart, was also to be different. And to be different meant that you were trying to be better than those who were not striving.

When I was in kindergarten, one day my class was counting from one, through ten. My voice seemed to stick out from the rest of the group for some reason. The substitute teacher – a Caucasian woman who appeared to be in her early forties and mean as a junkyard dog fed a steady diet of gunpowder and guinea peppers – seemed to notice too and she singled me to count by myself. “Won…too…th-REE…for…” I said, pronouncing the words carefully and correctly, as my mother and sisters taught me. “…fiv…” The students laughed at the way I properly said five. They also laughed at my “nin” and my “tehn”, saying “It ain’t ‘fiv’, it’s ‘fahv’; it’s not ‘nin’, it’s ‘nahn’; and it shol’ ain’t ‘tehn’, it’s ‘tin’.”

I challenged them and said they were “talking country” (“talking country” means to speak in an unsophisticated manner, usually associated with the drawl of the rural American South) and asked the teacher who was right. The teacher told them I was wrong and that the “country” way they said the numbers was the “proper way for your people to say it.”

And no, this was not in Yazoo, Mississippi in the 1800s. It was 1972 in Chicago, Illinois.

In the test tube#4Even today, if a Black person is articulate and does not use slang, some of us will say that person is acting “white”.

The media is directly responsible for this. The perpetuation of stereotypes is always done through print, television, film, radio, music and, now, the internet.

Flip the channel or turn the page and there are the “baby mamas” and “baby daddies” so ubiquitous in common American culture that they become plot points or titles for mainstream comedies and movies.

The syndicated television program Maury, hosted by Maury Povich, is known for its “Who’s Your Daddy?” segments. Much of the content is based on issuing paternity tests to teens and young adults in hopes of determining fatherhood.

Many of Maury’s guests are black, and the sheer number of these cases is damning. Shows like these, along with court television shows that promote the same dysfunction, are very popular.

Millions of viewers are indoctrinated by these images of black family chaos. And we watch these programs like a gory highway car wreck because they involve so many people who look like us.

And we accept and share these perceptions without question, qualm or quarrel.

At a very young age, Black men and women are inundated with messages that they cannot trust or depend upon one other. Children see images of – and hear comments and jokes about – lazy, greedy, irresponsible, or otherwise flawed Black adults.

Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1888, but Black actors were not even hired to portray Black people in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.”

film 16In addition, Black people were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over Black people. Since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years, this has had a tremendous effect on society’s view of Black people.

The media sets the tone for the morals, values, and images of our culture. Many people in this country believe that the degrading stereotypes of Black people are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe about us is determined by what they see on television. After over a century of movie making, these horrible stereotypes continue to plague us today, and until negative images of Black people are extinguished from the media, we will be regarded as second-class citizens.

The Solution

Film 22We have not come that far since 1914, when Sam Lucas was the first black actor to have a lead role in a movie for his performance in Uncle Tom’s Cabin

1915 is a significant date in motion picture history because D.W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which supported the Ku Klux Klan and is possibly the most anti-Black film ever made.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked very hard to try to ban the film due to its vicious portrayal of Black people as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan. The Birth of a Nation was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for African-Americans. These films portrayed us in a positive light and addressed many social concerns of the community.

Before “race films,” Black people were nothing more than shuffling, shiny-faced, head-scratching simpletons with bugged out eyes who leaned on brooms and spoke bad English, but after the introduction of “race films,” we were depicted with more dignity and respect.

In order for Black people to ensure that they would have positive roles and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes through film, we had to make our own movies. The same holds true today.

I am asked, quite often, if there is such a thing as a Black Science Fiction movie. Supposing by “Black Science Fiction movie”, they mean a science fiction or fantasy movie that features a Black protagonist and majority Black cast and deals with issues that strongly impact Black people, I tell them that Black Science Fiction movies began in 1939, with the release of Son of Ingagi and that filmmakers continue to make quality Black Science Fiction movies today.

On Thursday, February 7, 2013, we will explore this topic in-depth and present solutions at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival during the panel discussion entitled The State of Black Science Fiction: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media.

This amazing discussion includes:

BALOGUN OJETADE, Co-Moderator

Film 12

film 11Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link and Rite of Passage: Initiation.

Balogun is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

He is author of four novels – MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) (Steampunk); Redeemer (Science Fiction); Once Upon A Time In Afrika (Sword & Soul) and the Sword and Soul anthology, Ki-Khanga. In February, 2013, Balogun – with Co-Editor Milton Davis – will release the Steamfunk anthology.

Balogun is Master Instructor of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Technical Director of Martial Ministries of America, a non-profit organization that serves at-risk youth.  He is also a traditional African priest, actor and conflict resolution specialist, who works and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, his seven daughters and his son.

MILTON J. DAVIS, Co-Moderator

film 9

film 10Milton Davis is a chemist by day and a writer/publisher by night and on the weekends. He writes and publishes uplifting science fiction and fantasy stories from an African-American perspective because he feels that there is a lack of positive black characters in the speculative fiction market.

Milton is the author of four novels: Meji Book OneMeji Book TwoChanga’s Safari Vol. 1Changa’s Safari Vol. 2 and two anthologies: Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, for which he is a contributing editor, along with sword and sorcery living legend – and founder of the fantasy subgenre, Sword and Soul – Charles R. Saunders and co-author – with Balogun Ojetade – of Ki-Khanga: The Anthology, a book based on Ki-Khanga: The Sword and Soul Role-Playing Game.

A man who wears many hats and wears them well, Milton is producer of the Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation, which is based on his short story, Rite of Passage.

In February, 2013, Milton and Balogun team up again, releasing the highly anticipated Steamfunk anthology worldwide.

All of Milton’s works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.

DONNIE LEAPHEART

film 5

film 6Filmmaker extraordinaire Donnie Leapheart is the award-winning writer, director, producer and editor of the hit web series, Osiris, winner of the coveted Best Web Series award at the prestigious American Black Film Festival.

Osiris  is an independent science fiction thriller with gritty elements of crime fiction, espionage and the supernatural.

Donnie has also edited and / or produced several documentaries and films, including The Walk, starring Eva Marcille (Pigford); the Soul Train Awards; and Paul Mooney’s Jesus is Black-So was Cleopatra-Know Your History.

Donnie creates his films and web series through his production company, Pyramid Pictures.

TERÉSA DOWELL-VEST

film3

film4Terésa Dowell-Vest is a writer, director, and production designer for the stage and film.

She has taught acting and producing at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood and was the first Program Director of the African American Heritage Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities at the University of Virginia.

An accomplished professional photographer and author of poetry, stageplays and short stories, Terésa is the creator of the bestselling book of poetry and reflections, Hot Sauce & Honey and the coffee table book, The Box 69: A Photo Blog Series…a Photographic Chronicle in Verse, Song, and Crayons.

She is the writer, director and producer of Genesis: New American Superheroes, a feature film that is now in production and that is to soon cross-over into a series of novels and a video game.

Terésa can be reached at Diva Blue’s Blog.

TOMMY BOTTOMS

film 1

film 2Tommy Bottoms, an Indiana native who now resides in Atlanta, GA, is a cultural and media critic as well as an HBO Def Poetry Jam alum. His 10 year career in spoken word and writing has garnered him critical acclaim in poetry and academia circles from Los Angeles to London. Because of Tommy’s ability to dissect complex topics in a witty and frank manner, he has been invited to speak at various universities around the country, including Penn State Law School and Harvard University.

His The Tommy Bottoms Report provides breaking news and in-depth analysis of politics and culture from an urban perspective.

Tommy is producer of the popular web series, Eternal, appropriately described as True Blood meets The Wire.

Tommy can be reached at tommy.bottoms.7@facebook.com or on Twitter @eternaltheshow.

LARON AUSTIN

film 7

film 8LaRon Austin is the director of the acclaimed music documentary Beat Makers and the hit feature film Step Off, from Lionsgate Films.

LaRon’s feature film, blackhats – an action-packed science fiction thriller, already described by many as “an indie mini-blockbuster” – is slated for an early 2013 release.

LaRon can be reached at http://blackhatsmovie.blogspot.com/.

 

So, walk, crawl, bicycle, or rent a blimp…whatever it takes to make it out to the Black Science Fiction Film Festival at GA-Tech. You do not want to miss this!

 

 


DOROTHY, WE AIN’T IN KANSAS ANYMORE: The Building of a Non-Eurocentric Fantasy World!

Warrior King

DOROTHY, WE AINT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

The Building of a Non-Eurocentric Fantasy World

 

Ki Khanga AnthologyI grew up on science fiction and fantasy, loving both genres equally, however, when I discovered Dungeons and Dragons back in 1981, my greatest love became fantasy. Forced into game-mastering due to the racism of the white students who refused to teach Black students to play, or treated us like “orcs” when they did teach us, my storytelling grew from the simple stories about Shaft, Billie Jack, Luke Cage and the Falcon I would tell to entertain my friends and family, to the building of worlds inhabited by complex characters. Fantasy worlds filled with intrigue, adventure, horror and humor.

Wanting to tell better Fantasy stories and to create a richer world for the players in my Dungeons and Dragons campaign, I became a voracious reader of fantasy novels, reveling in the richly-textured worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Robert E. Howard.

After two years of enthusiastic play, however, I – and my friends, it turned out – was tired of playing such a Eurocentric game. We had grown tired of lands that were obvious representations of England, Germany and Russia. These settings were not offering us anything new; anything we had not seen in slightly different forms over and over again.

Warrior 3To make the game interesting, many of my friends would create a character that was a ninja or samurai – because they were people of color, which made them unique and because they were ninjas and samurai, which made them cool. When I decided to introduce a Mandinka king who had come to the Land of Nod – we called all Eurocentric settings that because, for us, they had become boring and powerful sleep-inducers – to hunt the vampires who murdered his family, however, our interest in the game resurged. The players in my group begged to have their characters accompany the king back to Mali once they helped kill the vampire hordes infesting the Land of Nod. I agreed and everyone went into a frenzy – they, to find armor, clothing, weapons and spells appropriate to the terrain; I, to research ancient Mali and African folklore, creature lore and social, military and ecological systems and to create a world worthy of my players and of Africa.

kikhanga8From this experience, I learned that a writer has to do three things in order to create a fantasy world that is real enough for readers to escape to; to immerse themselves in; to feel:

a) Know it personally.

b) Research; research; research.

c) Make it up.

For my friends who do not write fiction, you probably think that writers of fantasy rely entirely on “making it up”, but you would be wrong. For the most part, fantasy worlds – just like worlds in hard-boiled crime, horror and romance – are based on something. Very often, fantasy worlds are an altered or hybridized version of a pre-modern, non-technological human society, which means, to create a world that readers will accept as real, you gotta research, research, research!

African Armor 2The best places to find new ideas for fantasy world-building are in reading about history, culture and “real-world” systems of belief.

If an author’s only research is other fantasy novels, he or she will wind up borrowing Eurocentric milieus from the rest of the genre – and give us even more cliché from the Land of Nod.

A world based on Europe or West Asia is no problem, as long as, when immersed in your world, we don’t expect Conan, Bilbo Baggins, or The Gray Mouser to hop out from behind a bush and shout “Surprise!”

We need more worlds like Charles Saunders’ Nyumbani – “home” in Swahili – a world based on the traditions, legends and lands of Africa. Saunders, the founder and father of the fantasy subgenre Sword and Soul, has created a world that is fantastic, yet very real. Nyumbani is home to Saunders’ Imaro, one of the greatest and most interesting heroes in the history of fantasy fiction.

Taking inspiration from Charles Saunders, authors Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade (full disclosure: that’s me), no strangers to world-building themselves, joined forces to create Ki-Khanga, a unique world that draws readers in and keeps them there. What, exactly is Ki-Khanga? How does this world “work”? Well, Charles Saunders says it best:

Ki-Khanga is an Africa that could have been, located in a world that might have been. Sprung from the fertile minds of Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade, Ki-Khanga is a place of magic and mystery, heroism and horror, spears and seduction. It is a place roiled by the long-reaching repercussions of an ancient feud between pre-human races and the subsequent wrath of an affronted deity. Not only does magic work in Ki-Khanga – magic defines Ki-Khanga, in more ways than one.

Cleave 1I invite you to join us on the sandy shores, perilous mountains and mysterious savannahs of our world. I invite you to ride beneath the dunes of Targa in the bowels of the oga’koi-koi or to do battle with the Ndoko in the Great Circle. I invite you to share in our tales of triumph; of tragedy; of terror and tenacity.

I invite you to free yourself from the Land of Nod…and flee to Ki-Khanga!

 

Help us change the game by supporting our game! All the profits from the anthology will go to the development of Ki-Khanga: The Role-Playing Game. 

We’re not asking you to Kickstart or Indiegogo, just purchase a copy of this exciting collection of stories by Balogun Ojetade and Milton J. Davis; with an amazing cover by world-renowned fantasy and science fiction artist, Eugene Randolph Young and a powerful introduction by the Father and Founder of Sword & Soul, Charles R. Saunders!

You get a great anthology now…and a great role-playing game later. It’s a win-win!

The anthology is now available for Kindle and Nook. Print copies are coming soon.

Sword and Soul forever!


The Coldest Wynter Ever

The Coldest Wynter Ever

The Coldest Wynter Ever

A Lesson Learned; A Tale of Terror

 

Tent CityI have always had a heart for – and spoken in defense of – the downtrodden; the victimized; the rejected and the despised. I have never turned my nose up at a homeless person, or looked down upon those less fortunate than myself. I think of myself as one of the “good guys” and good guys defend the weak and help those in need.

It is easy, however, to “speak out against”, or “speak up for”, however to act on behalf of is quite another thing entirely and not so easy at all.

I learned this nearly two decades ago, while discussing the plight of the homeless in Chicago. I was scolding a group of brothers for not being “grassroots” enough; for not speaking out against homelessness and for not working together to erect a shelter for homeless women and children.

One of my closest friends pulled me aside after my tirade and told me he liked what I said and agreed that we must take an active stance in helping the homeless. He then asked if I’d like to go see Pulp Fiction – his treat. With dark comedies – especially ones with professional assassins – at the top of my list of favorite types of movies, how could I refuse?

On the way to the movies, my friend, who insisted that he drive, said he had to make a quit stop. He then proceeded to head toward downtown Chicago – the opposite direction from the movie theater we frequented.

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

“I have to drop something off to some old friends of mine,” my friend replied.

Winter HomelessWe reached Wacker Drive, the famed “triple-decker” street. My friend veered off toward the road that led to Lower Wacker Drive and we continued our descent to Lower Lower Wacker Drive, which was even more famous…for being one of the largest homeless encampments in the world. The homeless preferred sleeping on Lower Lower Wacker Drive because they are sheltered from the weather and dozens of them could be found sleeping on loading docks and other out-of-the-way spots on any given night. In the mid-1990s, Chi-Town began forcibly removing these unfortunate people, tossing out their belongings and fencing off the places where they stayed.

In 1993, however, Lower Lower Wacker Drive was a sprawling metropolis of tents and cardboard boxes.

My friend – Jermaine is his name, in case you’re wondering – parked beside a loading dock, honked twice and then hopped out of his vehicle. I followed him to the trunk. Jermaine opened it, revealing his wife’s mink coat, two goose down coats, a pair of his ostrich-skin boots – chill, PETA, it wasn’t me – and a crate of bottled water.

Dozens of homeless people approached us, with warm smiles. Jermaine knew them all by name. He embraced them without hesitation.

I felt immense shame, because I realized that I was talking the talk – with a proverbial megaphone at that – but had never walked the walk.

Jermaine had walked it many times, though and had never said a word about it. He did not seek accolades; he did not seek support. He saw people in need and wanted to help them in the best way he could.

Jermaine handed out his donations to a man he called “The Mayor”, a short, thin, elderly Black man, who corrected me when I said the word “homeless” during my conversation with this brilliant man – “We aren’t homeless; we’re residenceless. This is home.”

homelessThe Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive then decided who would receive which items. No one complained about his choices and all was peaceful. Jermaine and I said farewell to everyone, hopped back in his car and drove off. I turned to Jermaine and asked “So, when are we coming back?” “Pick a day,” he responded. “I visit and drop off stuff four or five days a week.”

Jermaine – always a cool brother – became a hundred times cooler, in my eyes.

My many chats with the Mayor of Lower Lower Wacker Drive over the next year or so inspired me to write a story with a “residenceless” person as the hero. Finally, I crafted Chicago Wynter, a tale of a homeless man’s battle against the deadly cold that takes the lives of so many homeless in Chicago each year.

I recently recorded an audio version of the story for GA Tech’s WREK radio station (91.1 FM), which will air on their Sci Fi Lab show. I now share that recording, with an accompanying slide show, with you. Give a listen and a look, enjoy and then, please, give me your feedback.

 

I have given homage to authors Nnedi Okorafor and Milton J. Davis  by making them “actors” in this work. Why? Because they are artists whose work I admire greatly and, in the case of Milton Davis, he is also a great friend and teacher who I have had the honor – and pleasure – of working with on several projects.


REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3

glitch 36

Redeemer

We now continue the celebration of the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, with Part 3 of Redeemer: Glitch, the episodic short story based on the book. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.

So, sit back and enjoy the finale (perhaps) of Redeemer: Glitch!

REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3

Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag

glitch 33Z strolled down Abernathy Boulevard, past the old men hanging out in front of the West End Mall to ogle scantily clad girls as they passed by; past the men and women selling incense, fragrant oils and books on the Prison Industrial Complex or the Mayan Apocalypse. He strolled past them all, seen, but unnoticed, just as Norm had taught him to be.

Unnoticed, that is, except by one. One who remained unnoticed and unseen by all, stepping in and out of shadow as he traced Z’s every step.

Z stopped at the door of a three-story office building nestled between a swanky vegetarian restaurant and a natural hair salon. The sign on the door read ‘Carver Recording & Film Studios’.

Z stepped through the door, drawing his pistol from inside his Enyce vest. The pitol’s silencer reflected the light from the chandelier which hung over the security desk. He squeezed the trigger twice.

The first guard slumped in his chair.  A torrent of blood rushed gushed from a hole in his neck. Within seconds, his starched, white uniform shirt was a deep burgundy.

glitch 38The second guard collapsed to the floor as blood and tissue erupted from his back. A wisp of smoke rose from the hole in his black security officer’s shirt as he convulsed erratically. A moment later, he lay still.

Z sauntered to the elevator, pressed the button and waited.

The elevator door slid open. Z turned his back to the elevator, admiring his handiwork as he stepped into it. The elevator came to a smooth stop on the third floor. The door opened and Z stepped out of it into the hallway. The skylights that ran the length of the hallway’s ceiling bathed the corridor in the warmth and light of the noonday sun.

Z perused the numbers on the studio and office doors, stopping at ‘Studio 9’, from which emanated the din of southern gangster rap music, laughter and firm commands. Z recognized one of the commands belonging to the voice of Virginia Carver. He had found at least one of his targets.

Z raised his pistol before him. He then took half a step back from the door, inhaled deeply and then drove the heel of his foot toward the doorknob.

His heel crashed into the door, just below the knob. The door frame shattered and the door flew open. Z rushed in, squeezing off a volley of rounds from his pistol.

glitch 44The Carver Twins’ bodyguards, Manny and Steve, threw their bodies in front of their bosses, as Z had hoped – he did not want to have to face these two killers and the twins – and were caught in a hail storm of searing lead. Round after round tore into their flesh, rending tissue, bone and vital organs. The big men fell, soiling the hardwood flooring with entrails and gore.

The rapper Point Blank dropped to his haunches in the recording booth, thrusting his head between his legs.

Virginia Carver darted forward, closing on Z with fearsome speed and ferocity. Her hands wrapped around his pistol, as she pushed her arms high above her head. A round exploded from the gun, lodging in the ceiling.

Z tried to pull the trigger again, but Virginia held the pistol’s slide firmly in place and the gun would not fire.

Virginia jerked the weapon downward.

Z’s index finger, caught in the trigger guard, made a sickening snap as it bent sideways at an impossible angle. Z dropped to his knees, releasing the pistol.

Virginia thrust her knee forward, driving the air out of Z’s lungs as the powerful knee strike collided with his solar plexus.

Z tried to crawl away, but a heavy, leather boot came crashing down on his left hand, crushing the small bones and pinning it to the floor.

Z screamed in agony as he looked up into Virgil’s smiling face.

“Where are you running to, boy?” Virgil snickered. “”Don’t you have some killing to do?”

“This is one of Sweet’s boys,” Virginia said.

The hammer of Z’s pistol clicked as Virginia cocked it. “We’re gonna send what’s left of your head to Sweet. The rest of you, I’m gonna keep on display in pickle jars in my pool-house.”

Virginia aimed the pistol at Z’s forehead. A loud boom rocked the studio.

Blood and brain splashed onto Z’s face.

A second boom. More blood and brain rained on the floor before the teen.

Z scurried across the floor, slipping in blood and bits of flesh.

The headless bodies of the twins collapsed onto the floor with dull thuds.

Z reached out toward his pistol. With shaky fingers, he snatched it off the floor and raised it toward the entrance. There was no one there.

“Put the gun down, Z.”

glitch 45Z leapt to his feet, aiming his pistol toward the source of the rich, baritone voice. Standing before him was a tall, athletically built man holding a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun on his shoulder. Although Z had never seen him before, the man looked strangely familiar.

“Who the hell are you?” Z inquired. “How do you know my name?”

“You’re welcome,” the man replied.

“Thanks,” Z said, keeping his gun aimed at the man. “Now, who the hell are you?”

“My name’s Ezekiel,” the man answered. “Ezekiel Cross.”

“Bullshit!” Z shouted, struggling to ignore the intense pain gnawing at both hands.

“Naw, boy, that’s real shit,” the man said. “As real as the shock you’re gonna go into if we don’t get those hands taken care of.”

A wave of nausea washed over Z. The pistol fell from his shaky fingers and he collapsed against the mixing board. Ezekiel ran to Z and placed a powerful arm around the boy’s waist. “We have to get out of here. I’ll explain everything later.

Z nodded. Ezekiel sat Z in a chair and retrieved the boy’s gun. He tucked the weapon into the holster sewn into the interior of Z’s vest and then helped him to his feet. The duo crept out of the office and into the sunlit hallway.

“I can walk now,” Z said.

“You sure?” Ezekiel asked.

“Positive,” Z answered.

Ezekiel let him go. Z stood wide-legged, remaining still until he was sure that his balance would not fail him. He then sauntered down the hall toward the elevator with Ezekiel on his heels.

A low “ding” came from the elevator and the door slowly slid open.

Ezekiel raised his shotgun, holding it at the ready. Z took a few steps backward until he was standing a couple of feet behind Ezekiel.

glitch 41An immaculately dressed, elderly man stepped off the elevator and stood before the elevator door, offering only his profile to Z and Ezekiel. The man was tall, but his spiky, grey afro made him appear even taller. His full, grey beard seemed to glow against his mahogany skin and his frame, though covered in a tailored grey suit, was obviously athletic, despite his age.

“Oh, no,” Ezekiel gasped.

“What? Who is that?” Z asked.

“He’s called Paradox,” Ezekiel whispered. When a time traveler changes history, Paradox comes and fixes it back.”

“Man…what? Paradox?” Z said, shaking his head.

“That’s Grandfather Paradox to you,” the elderly man said. “Always respect your elders, boy.”

“What do you want, old man?” Z inquired.

“You,” Paradox replied. He turned his head slowly toward Z, revealing a wide grin.

Fire erupted from the muzzle of Ezekiel’s shotgun.

Paradox was thrown onto his back as a sabot shotgun slug blew a chasm in his chest.

“Run!” Ezekiel shouted.

Z did not move. “Run? You just ghosted that old nigga!”

“Damn, I do not recall being this stupid!” Ezekiel spat. “Now, we’ve got to fight this thing.”

“Man, I appreciate you saving me and all,” Z said, approaching Paradox’s body. “But you are straight cray-cray, for real!”

“Cray-cray?” Ezekiel asked.

“That means you take crazy to a whole ‘nother level,” Z said. If you really believe you’re…”

The words grew heavy in Z’s throat as he watched Paradox sit up on his haunches. “The hell?” The teen gasped.

glitch 43Paradox rose to its feet. It raised its head toward the ceiling and let loose a roar that sent a chill clawing its way up Z’s spine. The creature shifted…changed. Tendon, sinew and bone popped and crackled as they changed shape and function.  The Grandfather Paradox was no longer a sophisticated, athletic elderly gentleman; it was now gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin was pulled tautly over its bones and its complexion was now the pallid, ash-gray of death. Strange runes and raised patterns traversed the creature’s flesh. Its eyes were pushed back deep into their sockets, what lips remained were tattered and bloody and the monster gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition; of death and destruction; of disease, sickness and shit.

Z whirled on his heels and took off. The Grandfather Paradox exploded forward, sprinting on all fours, hot on Z’s heels.

Now, you run?” Ezekiel sighed.

Ezekiel squeezed the trigger of his shotgun.

The creature fell over on its side as its forearm was blown from its elbow.

Ezekiel squeezed the trigger once more. The shotgun roared.

Paradox’s head exploded, its oily, black ichor painting the walls and floor.

glitch 46Z darted out of the emergency door. Ezekiel followed.

“Keep going,” Ezekiel shouted. “That thing will be back at us in a few minutes!”

Ezekiel and Z reached the main floor. They ran through the door and into the lobby, continuing on, sprinting past the corpses of the pair of security guards.

“My car is parked around the corner…to your left,” Ezekiel said.

The duo ran out of the building and onto Abernathy Boulevard. Almost in unison, they reduced their speed to a brisk walk, so as to not attract too much attention.

“Time travelers…old men turning into monsters…what the hell is really going on, shawty?” Z inquired.

“Welcome to my world, kid,” Z sighed. “Welcome to my world.”


IS STEAMFUNK JUST ‘BLACK’ STEAMPUNK? – The Illusion of Genre & Subgenre

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IS STEAMFUNK JUST ‘BLACK’ STEAMPUNK? – The Illusion of Genre & Subgenre

 

Recently, while discussing the business of writing, a fellow writer took a jab at Steamfunk and the writers of it, saying “I’m not really into the whole making my own version of it bit. IF I see one more black Steampunk story that is nothing more than black Victoriana, I’ll scream.”

Mind you, this is from a person who doesn’t write Steampunk and who probably does not read much of it either, based on her comment. While she is an excellent writer, her excellence does not make her qualified to give an intelligent analysis of something she does not do. She was incorrect in her assessment of Steamfunk, thus her ‘screams’ – which are sure to come, as more “black Steampunk” will, indeed, be written – will make her look silly, like a man running around shouting “The world is gonna end December 21st!”…on December 22nd.

And this is the danger of genre and subgenre. A person reads the definitions of the genre and thinks he or she knows what it is. I would argue that if you do not do a thing – and, in the case of a literary subgenre, that would be faithfully reading and / or writing it – you cannot really know it.

“No participation, no right to observation”, as we say in the ‘hood (I don’t know if the affluent area of Hyde Park in Chicago – where I picked up these words of wisdom – qualifies as the hood, but you get the point).

Another saying, I learned in that Hyde Park ‘hood was “Each one, teach one”, thus I will now define genre and subgenre for those who may not know what they are.  

A genre is a classification of artistic works into descriptive categories. A subgenre is a sub-category of a specific genre, and can apply to literature, music, film, theater, video games, or other forms of art. Subgenres break down genres into more specific subjects.

The concept of genre emerged around 300 B.C.E., when Greek philosophers Aristotle and Plato organized various written works into three categories. Numerous genres have been added since, and the list of subject matter continues to grow.

Due to the amount of artistic material in the world today, subcategories of major topics make searching material easier. Genres and subgenres are also powerful marketing tools for publishers and distributors of artistic works. When singer Anthony Hamilton first came on the scene in 1996 with his album XTC, he was hailed as a neo-soul artist, because that was the rage at the time, as people sought a return to the days of “real” music. The XTC album found moderate success, however, as people were not too keen on taking a risk on buying neo-soul at the time, nor were record companies keen on putting their marketing dollars behind neo-soul, because it was just that – neo…new.

Literature became one of the first topics to be listed into separate genres and subgenres. Before the subgenre was introduced there were only a select number of categories to choose from, including romance, horror, thriller, science fiction, and mystery.

As writers put their unique spin on the stories within these categories, publishers closely observed what types of stories sold the most and decided they would sell more books if they created a niche that would attract a specific type of reader within those broad genres. Thus, the subgenre was born. Romance stories are now broken down into the subgenres of contemporary, erotic, historical, regency, gothic, paranormal and young adult. Horror fiction adopted categories such as psychological, supernatural, and Lovecraftian. Science fiction is now broken into such subgenres as hard, soft, space opera and, of course, Steampunk (which is also often categorized as a subgenre of Fantasy or as ‘Science Fantasy’).

Film and theater often have similar types of categories as literature because they are both based on written works.

Modern technology has assisted in the growing popularity of subgenres – check out Netflix and you will find several subcategories of film under each of the twenty categories. The subgenre feature is the primary search format that Netflix customers use in order to find movies.

Another problem with genres and subgenres is that they lead to bullying from self proclaimed ‘genre experts’.

Recently, I posted a short story, Lazarus Graves: The Scythe of Death, which was my experimentation with Dieselpunk. A reader told me he loved the story, but I should not say what I wrote is Dieselpunk because it is definitely Pulp Fiction. I answered him the same way I answer anyone who has taken the time to read one of my stories – “Thanks.”

If he says the story is Pulp – which is actually a style, not a genre or subgenre – and he likes it, then the story is Pulp. If a reader tells me he or she likes my Dieselpunk story, then it’s Dieselpunk. I just write what I like to read and let the readers and publishers decide what it is. When I began writing Steamfunk, I just wanted to write a story similar to one of my favorite television shows – Wild, Wild West – with Harriet Tubman as the protagonist. When my publisher said Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman is a great Steampunk story.” I shrugged and responded “Thanks.” Then, I turned to my wife and said “I guess I finally have a name for what I have been writing.”

I have since accepted that I primarily write what is called Steampunk / Steamfunk and Sword & Soul, but I mash-up these genres and others, because I continue to write what I want to read and what I feel others will also enjoy. And I remain bully-proof, by agreeing with all who read my work that the genre is whatever they want, or need, it to be.

Others are not so bully-proof, however. Recently, author Gail Carriger suffered at the e-hands of e-bullies when she dared to call her bestselling series, The Parasol Protectorate, Steampunk. The genre-police felt her work did not qualify as Steampunk and should be classified as “Bustlepunk” – a term used to describe a softer, “girlier” version of Steampunk.

As we say in the ‘hood – “For real?

My advice for writers is – write first; worry later. Do not fixate on what genre or subgenre you are writing. Just tell the story you want to tell to the best of your ability. And while you should not argue with those who try to define your work as this or that subgenre, because they happen to enjoy this or that subgenre and also enjoy your work, you should not allow the genre-police to bully you, either.

Should you adopt a genre or subgenre as your own, then learn all you can about it; practice it; master it…so that you can turn it inside-out, upside-down and sideways if you so desire. I write Steamfunk and Sword & Soul because, for one, there is a deficit of stories told from an African / Black perspective in Steampunk and Sword & Sorcery and secondly, because I like to write without the restrictions of genre. Both of these sub-subgenres are malleable and alive, thus they are being defined as we write stories within their categories. If I want to mash-up Steamfunk and horror, it’s fine.  If I want to have my Sword & Soul hero use an arsenal of Steamfunk gadgets, it’s okay.

As we say in the ‘hood – “It’s cooler than a Polar bear in an igloo, with air conditioning during a snowstorm, baby.”

My advice for readers is – READ! Oh yeah, and stay humble. Do not perceive yourself as the defender of some genre, attacking those whose writing within that genre is not what you view as ‘authentic’. Heed my words – they can save you from a ton of embarrassment and a world of hurt.

Now, in regard to “Black” Steampunk – Steamfunk is not a gimmick – we do not use “Blackness” as a selling point, we just tell great stories, with heroes that we want, and need, to see; heroes that everyone can relate to. It is not “Victoriana” – an outlook and design style from the Victorian era (1837–1901) – and neither is Steampunk (more on that in a future post). Furthermore, Blackness is not homogenous. There is not just one way of being “Black”.

As we say in the ‘hood – “Miss me with that shit.”


WHEN KEEPIN’ IT REAL GOES WRONG: Is Fiction More Powerful than Nonfiction?

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WHEN KEEPIN’ IT REAL GOES WRONG: Is Fiction More Powerful than Nonfiction?

I am a “Conscious Brother”.

What is that, you ask?

“A Conscious Brother” is a Black man who possesses a knowledge of – and love for – his history, culture and people. He knows that, because of the color of his skin, he is – by law, or tradition – politically, economically and socially discriminated against and he works – in a myriad of ways – to fight against said discrimination. Of course, there are also “Conscious Sisters”.

I hang out with Brothers and Sisters who are both “conscious” and not-so-“conscious”.

Now, talk to most “conscious” people and they are intelligent and very well read. Most of us can quote Chancellor Williams’ Destruction of Black Civilization from cover-to-cover. I have read everything from Soledad Brother to Flash of the Spirit. Our shelves are filled with great works of nonfiction.

I love to read nonfiction. Hell, I even wrote a nonfiction book – Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within.

I also love to read – and write – fiction.

After forty years of voracious reading and after nearly three decades of studying the workings of the brain and the mind, I have come to the realization that fiction is a more powerful tool – for learning and delivering truth; for shaping opinions and for affecting change – than nonfiction.

Recently, I asked one of my “conscious” friends why – out of over a thousand books – not one is a work of fiction and why he doesn’t allow his children to read fiction.

His answer?

“All that Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, Steampunk shit ain’t real, bruh. I keeps it real, son…for myself and definitely for my seeds (“children”). I got no interest in those ‘escapist’ hobbies, yo.”

Sadly, many Black people – particularly those who consider themselves to be “conscious” –  feel that Science Fiction, Fantasy and role-playing games are pointless; useless; a waste of time; and maybe even harmful. 

But they’re wrong.

My time spent playing role-playing games, reading comic books and storytelling during my childhood and teen years were crucial, formative experiences that were as real and memorable as my time spent running track, competing in the Academic Olympics or grappling on the sparring mat.

Once an event has passed into memory, it is the feeling of accomplishment, reward, mutual achievement and victory that is important. How I feel these feelings is irrelevant. The triggering event does not matter.

To fully understand this, let’s examine what the brain is – and how it functions – a bit deeper.

The Human Brain is the Most Complex Entity in the Known Universe

Our brains are organs of staggering complexity, having approximately 100,000 miles of capillaries…and it can grow more.  Your brain has 100,000,000,000 cells.  It also has 100,000,000,000,000 to 500,000,000,000,000 connections between those cells and no matter where you are at in your own brain development, you do not even use a fraction of 1% of your brain’s capacity.

Your Non-Conscious Thinking is 5 Times Stronger Than Your Conscious Thinking

Your brain thinks in six different areas at the same time.  You have six parallel processes going on at once.  Only one of these is your conscious process.  The other areas of your brain are not accessible by your conscious brain.  You have a different set of neurons that comprise your conscious thinking and you cannot directly access your non-conscious thoughts.

You have a powerful friend or foe in your non-conscious brain.  It is 5/6 of your thinking power.  Because you cannot directly control or access your non-conscious brain, you have to work at some techniques that will help you control it.

Your Non-Conscious Brain Sees, Hears, Smells, and Touches.

I am sure you have all heard of subliminal pictures.  Your conscious mind cannot perceive a picture that lasts for less than about 1/50,000 of a second.  However it is proven that your non-conscious brain does see and remember it.  Scientists monitoring your brain activity can tell what picture your non-conscious brain saw by observing the firing patterns in your brain when one of these pictures is flashed in front of you. Your non-conscious brain is aware of everything that is going on around you.  It is drinking in the world to a much higher degree than your conscious mind.  Just because you are not aware of it at the conscious level, does not mean that you are not thinking about – and reacting to – it.

Your Non-Conscious Brain Treats Everything as Real

Notice how when you are watching a scary movie, you actually get scared?  You react emotionally even though your conscious brain knows it is not real.  The same thing is true for fiction. 

You experience fear, happiness, sadness and other emotions when you watch a movie or read a book because your non-conscious brain is watching the movie too and it does not know the difference between fantasy and reality.

Your non-conscious brain believes that everything it thinks, sees, hears and feels is real.  It cannot tell the difference between reality and fantasy or between the truth and a lie.

The Power of Fiction

Is fiction good for us? We spend huge chunks of our lives immersed in novels, films, TV shows, comic books and other forms of fiction. Some see this as a positive thing, arguing that imaginative stories cultivate our mental and moral development. However, others argue that fiction is mentally and ethically corrosive. That it is a bundle of lies, while nonfiction is the truth.

This controversy has been flaring up ever since Plato tried to ban fiction from his ideal republic.

In 1961, FCC chairman Newton Minow said that television was not working in “the public interest” because its “formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons” amounted to a “vast wasteland.”

What Minow said of television has also been said – over the centuries – of novels, theater, comic books, and films: They are not in the public interest.

Fiction does, indeed, mold us. The more deeply we get into a story, the more potent its influence.

In fact, fiction is more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this makes us malleable – easy to shape.

Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings make us believe that the world can be more just than it is right now.

Fiction giving birth to the belief that a better world is attainable may even help explain why humans tell stories in the first place.

As the psychologist Raymond Mar writes, “Researchers have repeatedly found that reader attitudes shift to become more congruent with the ideas expressed in a [fictional] narrative.” For example, studies reliably show that when we read a book that treats white men as the default heroes, our own views on white men are likely to move in the same direction – we view them as heroes. History, too, reveals fiction’s ability to change our values at the societal level, for better and worse. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped bring about the Civil War by convincing huge numbers of Americans that Black people are…people, and that enslaving us is a crime against God and man. On the other hand, the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation inflamed racist sentiments and helped resurrect an all but defunct Ku Klux Klan.

Fiction can, indeed be dangerous in the wrong hands because it has the power to modify the principles of individuals and whole societies.

However, virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency that is deeper than politics.

Psychologists have found that heavy fiction readers outperform heavy nonfiction readers on tests of empathy, even after the psychologists controlled for the possibility that people who already had high empathy might naturally gravitate to fiction.

One study showed that children ages 4-6, who were exposed to a large number of children’s books and films, had a significantly stronger ability to read the mental and emotional states of other people. Similarly, psychologists recently had people read a short story that was specifically written to induce compassion in the reader. They wanted to see not only if fiction increased empathy, but whether it would lead to actual helping behavior. They found that the more absorbed subjects were in the story, the more empathy they felt, and the more empathy they felt, the more likely the subjects were to help when the experimenters “accidentally” dropped a handful of pens.  Highly absorbed readers were twice as likely to help out.

It appears that ‘curling up with a good book’ may do more than provide relaxation and entertainment. Reading fiction allows us to learn about our social world and as a result fosters empathic growth and appropriate social behavior.

While fiction sometimes dwells on lewdness, depravity, and simple selfishness, storytellers virtually always put us in a position to judge wrongdoing. More often than not, goodness is endorsed and rewarded and badness is condemned and punished. Fiction generally teaches us that it is profitable to be good.

Furthermore, traditional tales – from heroic epics to sacred myths – perform the essential work of defining group identity and reinforcing cultural values, acting as a kind of social glue that binds fractious individuals together around common values.

On the continent of Africa, history, culture, the sciences, social norms and religious practices are imparted through storytelling and the storytellers – Babalawo, Iyanifa, Sanusi, Djeli – are held in the highest regard and are figures of great power, authority and respect.

The traditional African man and woman have long understood the workings of the brain. Indeed, the study, state and function of the three levels of the brain and mind – or “Ori” – are of the utmost importance in traditional Yoruba society. The more stories – called Ese (sounds, ironically, like “essay”) – a Yoruba knows, the more knowledgeable, wise and understanding he or she is considered to be.

The Yoruba “keeps it real, son.”

And so should you.

Read your nonfiction…then get “real” and pick up a novel.

Preferably, one written by me (just keeping it real).


WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: Where, on the map, is YOUR Fantasy?

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WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE: Where, on the map, is YOUR Fantasy?

“Map Fantasy” is an umbrella term I use for the Fantasy subgenres of High Fantasy, Heroic Fantasy / Sword & Sorcery and Sword & Soul. If you ever see a book whose cover depicts a guy fighting a dragon, or a freakishly muscled warrior staring off into the distance as a buxom woman kneels at his feet, crack that mug (in Chicago, where I grew up, we call objects “mug”) open and I bet the first thing you find in there is a map. You have just discovered a book of “Map Fantasy”.  Now, there are exceptions; my own Sword & Soul novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika does not have a map (although it does have a glossary). So do not send me any rants or “I told you so”-s. If you still do, know that you are crazier than a mug (yep, we use it like that, too).

Genre is primarily a marketing tool that publishers use to attract a certain demographic of readers and brick-and-mortar bookstores (yes, some still exist) use to categorize books on their shelves. Secondarily, genre is convenient shorthand – based on typical tropes and themes – to tell readers what type of book they are about to read.

So, what are the tropes of Map Fantasy?

In general, Fantasy uses the magical or the spiritual as an element of setting or plot. Oh yeah, and people wield Big Ass Swords.

In High Fantasy, Elves, dwarves, Halflings and other non-human, albeit humanoid, races often abound and an epic quest is quite common. Of course, the recounting of this quest usually requires multiple books. The Lord of the Rings and the role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons are examples.

Before The Lord of the Rings and High Fantasy, there was Heroic Fantasy, which began with the pulp hero, Conan, the Barbarian, whose “mighty thews” first appeared in Weird Tales magazine in 1932.

Back then, speculative fiction wasn’t as clearly defined by genre and subgenre. Fantasy and horror often lay in the same bed, so Heroic Fantasy was bloody…very, very bloody and magic was – and often still is – wielded solely by the forces of “darkness”.

Sword & Soul – African-inspired Map Fantasy – is less confined by tropes and can include elements of both Heroic and High Fantasy. Sword & Sorcery can be quite bloody and magic is often wielded by the forces of good and evil.

Let’s examine these subgenres a bit closer and see how they are similar and how they differ.

Their Covers

Covers are an easy way to tell the subgenres apart.

On High Fantasy covers, look for men and women wielding swords and dressed in shining armor – women are usually dressed in the compulsory chainmail bra – and fire-breathing dragons, unicorns and electricity-wielding Lords of Darkness. You might also find a Castle, looming in the misty distance, or a wizard with a long, white beard and a pointy hat.

On Heroic Fantasy covers, you will find nearly naked men burying their axes and swords into the skulls of other bloody, mostly naked men, or into the pallid flesh of some creature that looks like it crawled out of the Devil’s toilet. You will also find full-breasted, nearly naked women kneeling at the hero’s feet, with her arms wrapped around his mighty thews. Oh, and as for those creatures that crawled out of the Devils toilet, those mugs usually have mighty thews, too.

On the covers of Sword & Soul novels, you may find the things you find on the covers of High and Heroic Fantasy, with one huge difference:

The hero will be Black.

The Effect of Saving, or Finding, a Mug

Whether saving a princess or finding nine powerful, magic rings, the heroes of High Fantasy will also save the world. High Fantasy is usually driven by its setting and the world is all-important.

Heroic Fantasy is less magnanimous. The effects are usually personal. If Conan saved the world, it’d be by accident, and he might curse Crom for allowing him to do so, because, in Heroic settings, the world isn’t worth – or is beyond – saving. Heroic Fantasy is usually character-driven.

In Sword & Soul, the heroes are usually of higher morals than the heroes – or anti-heroes – of Heroic Fiction. They may – or may not be concerned with saving the world, but whether the characters or on a seafaring safari, wandering a vast continent, or battling for the hand of a princess in a grand tournament, they are, most certainly, character driven.

The Setting

In High Fantasy, the world – yes, the entire world – looks, smells, sounds and acts like Medieval Europe. The places of good are rolling shires and an occasional stony underworld ruled by dwarves as strong – and sometimes as hard – as the stone and ore they mine. Kings are brave and wise and the people are hardy and simple. Of course, there is a Dark Lord just waiting to pass a shadow over the land.

Heroic Fantasy is a bit more willing to experiment. Medieval Europe abounds, but there are also other earth-based societies on the fringes. These societies are usually barbarous, grimy wildernesses (how a wilderness can be grimy is beyond me), swarming with thieves, or exotic lands in which cultists make sacrifices to naked deer-headed goddesses or monstrosities that would make Cthulhu soil his knickers. Farms? Hell, agriculture? There is none. I guess plant-life has a hard time growing when it’s watered with blood.

Sword & Soul is usually set in a city or village based on a real city or village found in ancient Africa. The people in the story are usually based on the real people who populated the real setting the story is based on. Thus, most writers of sword and soul are well-versed in history, or, since they are a lot who often communicate with each other and freely exchange information, they contact another writer who is well-versed in history, particularly African history.

Its Inhabitants

In High Fantasy, humans are generally the baseline. Humans can be bad or good, in league with the Dark Lord, ambitious, timid, brave, or cowardly. Basically, they’re people. White people. Other non-human races exist and their existence is usually a stereotypical one.  Dwarves are drunken, hardy louts who never forget a friend or enemy; Elves are usually arrogant and quite delicate, despite the fact they have lived, for eons, in the forest; Orcs are evil, stupid, dark-skinned brutes who are, most likely, servitors of the Dark Lord.

On occasion, one of the other humanoid races will “rise above” his or her stereotypical nature and act more human (i.e. more white). This “exceptional humanoid usually becomes the sidekick of the protagonist, eventually earning the respect of all and proving that all people can transcend their “lowly” upbringing.

Where High Fantasy stories usually veil their racist messages in the actions of its humanoid races, Heroic Fantasy shrugs its shoulders and screams “Who gives a crap?” as it openly embraces its racism and sexism. Jungle-residing cannibals, mysterious and treacherous “Orientals” and sexually insatiable witches are fodder for the mighty thewed heroes’ swords, clubs, axes and penises. Non-humans are rare. If they do exist, they are usually monstrosities best left unnamed.

In Sword & Soul, humans are usually the baseline. However, non-humans also often exist and inhabit the world. These non-humans may be heroes, villains, or just weary travelers looking for a bed and a hot cup o’ joe.

Monsters of various sorts exist in all three milieus. Vampires, demons, zombies and strange creatures, whose bodies are half in our world and half in some other world, roam the planet. In High Fantasy, monsters are varied and quite common. In Heroic Fantasy, monsters are usually less common and a lot meaner. In Sword & Soul, monsters are usually based on creatures from African folklore and are thus stranger – and often more frightening – to Western readers.

Magic

In High Fantasy, magic can be rare, like in The Lord of the Rings, or it can be so widespread that one has magical steeds and magical weapons and magical burger joints. Magic is used to heal the sick and feed the poor, or to infect the healthy with a plague and turn the poor into a shambling horde of zombies. It might be hereditary, or it might be learned from a wise old wizard or an arcane text.

In Heroic Fantasy, on the other hand, magic is usually rare, unpredictable, and is often evil. It is accessible to anyone who is willing to sell a bit of his or her soul to some demonic entity. In fact, Heroic Fantasy is often concerned with the triumph of the sword over sorcery.

In Sword & Soul, magic is linked more to the spiritual than to the arcane. Magic is usually the gift – or curse – of some god, or of some powerful ancestor. It can be as common as it is in High Fantasy, but is always more common than it is in Heroic Fantasy.

The Hero

In High Fantasy, the protagonist is often marked by ancient prophecy to rise to greatness and to remove the shadow that blankets all the mountains and shires. Often, the hero is an ignorant farm-boy, who happens to live somewhere out of the Dark Lord’s grasp. Usually, some town drunk or ne’er do well is secretly the person charged with protecting and teaching the boy when the time finally comes for the lad to take up his quest.

The hero of Heroic Fantasy is the anti-hero. The best of Heroic Fantasy’s heroes lives by a code of honor, but will go against that code if need be. Taking a quest because it is “the right thing to do” is unheard of. Quests, in Heroic Fantasy, are taken for the money, or for sex, or for revenge.

In Sword & Soul, quests are taken for the reasons in both High Fantasy and Heroic Fantasy, but the hero is usually more like the heroes of High Fantasy in morality and more like the heroes of Heroic Fantasy in attitude.

The Villain

We have already seen the Dark Lord throughout this work. Evil, in High Fantasy, is an ideal; a force that must be vanquished. The Dark Lord is an embodiment of that force, so he must also be destroyed. There are clear delineations of what is good and what is evil in High Fantasy; very black and white.

In Heroic Fantasy, the villain is usually just a tad bit more unpleasant than the hero. The hero, however does not wield magic and the villain does. He is not evil for evil’s sake. The villain in Heroic Fantasy most likely wants power, or booty (money and the other booty), and figures the best way to get it is by sending his horde of undead warriors to acquire it for him. If you had a horde of undead warriors at your disposal, you just might do the same.

In Sword & Soul, good and evil is more complex. This is probably because, in most traditional African societies, good and evil is not really dealt with; appropriateness is. If bandits invade a hero’s house and attempt to rape his mother, to do nothing, or to run and hide would be considered “evil”, because it is an inappropriate act in regard to the situation. To kill them all would be considered appropriate, thus good. If our hero runs next door and kills one of the bandits’ grandmother, then that would be considered inappropriate, thus evil. In Sword & Soul, the hero is often forced to deal with such complexities, which makes for some powerful storytelling.

Where do I get started?

By now, you are surely wondering where you can pick up some of these wonderful books to read (if not, you are crazier than a mug). While there are works from High and Heroic Fantasy that I enjoy – chief among them, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser by Joe Bonadonna, I have loved Sword & Soul since I sought it as a child while creating people that looked like me in the world of Dungeons and Dragons and finding Charles Saunders’ Out of Africa article as a young man in Dragon Magazine (I did not know Charles was Black back then) and I have grown to pen a Sword & Soul novel myself and several Sword and Soul short stories.

Thus, I give you a few must have titles to get you started:

Imaro, volumes 1 – 4 by Charles R. Saunders

Imaro is the tale of the titular outcast, wandering warrior and his search for a people and a community to call his own. Written by the Founding Father of Sword & Soul, Imaro is an exciting series that is often compared to the works of Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but, in my opinion, transcends all of the works of those authors and is some of the greatest writing in print.

Changa’s Safari, volumes 1 and 2 by Milton J. Davis

Driven from his homeland as a boy, Changa Diop travels the 15th Spice Trade world seeking wealth and adventure. Together with his companions and crew he crosses the Indian Ocean to fulfill his dreams and destiny. His dhows filled with the treasures of the East, Changa begins his journey home. But adventure waits with the winds, changing his fortunes and friendships in ways he could not have imagined.

Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology by 14 Authors; Edited by Charles Saunders and Milton Davis

Fourteen writers; fourteen artists; one unforgettable anthology! In Griots, Davis and Saunders have gathered together fourteen stories, written by new and seasoned writers, to answer the question: What is Sword and Soul? Each story is accompanied by illustrations to give vision to the prose. A first of its kind, Griots is an anthology that lays the foundation and expands the definition of Sword and Soul.

 Once Upon A Time in Afrika 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” daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle answers,  telling 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 warriors 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?


“Magic and mayhem. Gods and glory. Witches and warriors. Once Upon a Time in Afrika has all this, and much more. It is Sword and Soul at its finest, casting a long shadow over the ‘jungle lord’ and ‘lost city’ motifs that have previously prevailed in fantasy fiction set in Africa”
-Charles R. Saunders, author of Imaro & Dossouye, creator of Sword and Soul

“Balogun Ojetade represents a powerful new voice in Sword and Soul. He’s a master storyteller with an engaging, exciting style. Once Upon a Time in Afrika is well worth the read.”
-Milton Davis, Author of the Meji duology and Changa’s Safari Volume One and Two


The State of Black Science Fiction: Filled with Possibilities!

While many are concerned with the state of the Union on this election day, my concern is with the state of Black science fiction…and fantasy…and horror.

In early 2012, author Alicia Mccalla spearheaded a blog tour called The State of Black Science Fiction 2012 to educate people on the wealth of speculative fiction written by and about Black people available for us to enjoy. This blog tour has since grown into a movement. A movement that has spawned many Blacktacular events, starting with The State of Black Science Fiction Panel at Georgia Tech to the most recent Alien Encounters III convention, which featured The Mahogany Masquerade and other State of Black Science Fiction-hosted panels, book signings and film screenings.

In fact, the State of Black Science Fiction 2012 blog tour and Steampunk activist and journalist, Jaymee Goh, were the inspirations for me to start this Chronicles of Harriet website.

When we decided to form a collective of authors called State of Black Science Fiction, we chose to do a collective story, called Possibilities that we would read at our presentations. Since that time, other authors have added stories and Possibilities has grown into a book, which is now available – for free – on Smashwords!

So, join artist Winston Blakely and authors LM Davis, Milton Davis, Margaret Fieland, Edward Austin Hall, Valjeanne Jeffers, Alan Jones, Alicia McCalla, Balogun Ojetade, Rasheedah Phillips, Wendy Raven McNair, and Nicole Sconiers as we explore the possibilities in the broad ranges of Science Fiction from Paranormal to Steampunk!


GREAT BLACK AUTHORS OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY: Past & Present

GREAT BLACK AUTHORS OF SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY: Past & Present

Ask people to name Black authors of science fiction and fantasy and only a few names will be repeated, if any names are known at all: Octavia Butler…Tananarive Due…L. A. Banks…Walter Mosley. While, most certainly, these brilliant authors should be in everyone’s library, you are cheating yourself if you do not know of – or explore – the many other great Black authors of speculative fiction.

The Black presence and impact on the world of speculative fiction is a vast and powerful one. Some of these authors you may have heard of; some you may not have. Some will absolutely surprise you. All of them tell Blacknificent stories.

Let’s dive in and see just how deep this well of creativity is.

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)

Chesnutt published The Conjure Woman in 1899.  The book, a series of loosely associated short stories, focuses on Uncle Julius McAdoo’s efforts to manipulate and dupe his northern-born, white employers, with hilarious results.

Like the famed trickster of the antebellum and postbellum-eras in America – High John the Conqueror – Uncle Julius overcomes an oppressive society through cunning, veiled courage and humor and his tales offer coded commentary on the psychological and social impact of slavery and racial inequality.

The stories Of Uncle Julius combine a good bit of magic – “cunjuhring,” “root wuk,”  “goophering” – and creatures of the supernatural, placing it firmly in the realm of Fantasy. 

Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930)

Pauline Hopkins  was a prominent novelist, journalist, playwright, historian, and editor. She is considered a pioneer in her use of the romantic novel to explore social and racial themes.

Her novel, Of One Blood – also known as The Hidden Self – was published in a serialized version in The Colored American Magazine, beginning in 1902 and ending in 1903.  The novel begins on a bitter Boston night, in the living quarters of Reuel Briggs, a Black scholar of mysticism. Hopkins goes on to concoct an intricate and engrossing tale of Asian mesmerism, ancient and mysterious African kingdoms, and metaphysical globetrotting.  This book has all of the action, adventure and romance that you would find in a modern Fantasy bestseller.

Harry Potter? Twilight?

Nah, give me Of One Blood!

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963)

Yes the W.E.B. Du Bois.

While most people know who W.E.B. Du Bois is – and if you don’t, you really need to brush up on your history – most do not know that Du Bois frequently wrote speculative fiction.

A couple of Du Bois’ speculative works include The Comet (1920) – which imagines what would happen if there were only two people left on the planet (a black man and a white woman) and Jesus Christ in Texas (1920) – in which Jesus returns as an enslaved African in Texas to set the enslaved free. 

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

A literary powerhouse of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston is probably most well-known for her Blacktastic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.  Also a cultural anthropologist and Mambo (diviner / spiritual leader) in the Haitian tradion of Vodoun, Hurston published two collections of African American and Caribbean folklore, Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse (1938) respectively, that include extensive sections on Vodoun (“voodoo”) and Hoodoo – a form of African-American traditional folk magic.

Hurston’s experiences with such folklore and spiritual tradition found its way into much of her work. In the novel Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), for example, Hurston recasts the biblical figure Moses as a powerful Hoodoo man, with a great command over the forces of magic.

Hurston challenges and subverts the predominant stereotypes of Vodoun and Hoodoo as “primitive magic” and “witchcraft”, giving us what she believed to be an authentic, African spiritual path to empowerment for those without power.

The result is a narrative of mythic status and import. Just as myths transcend the limitations of common life and imbue daily actions with universal significance, Hurston uses Vodoun and Hoodoo imagery and symbolism to create a modern American myth, grounded in the African diasporic traditions.

George S. Schuyler (1895-1977)

Schuyler was a satirist, and like many satirists, he created fantastical, alternate realities in order to deliver his social and political commentary. 

In his 1931 novel, Black No More, The protagonist, Max Disher, becomes white after strapping himself into the revolutionary “E-Race-O-Later” machine (invented by Dr. Crookman) and begins to understand what it is like to live on the other side of the color line.

Henry Dumas (1934-1968)

A man of many hats, Dumas was a  writer, a poet, did a stint in the military, was a teacher, and even worked a year at IBM.    A poet of the highest order, poetic rhythms and structures infuse his prose.   As a lover of all things Black, Dumas’ writing reflects his lifelong love of African American and African Diasporic folklore and musical traditions.

Echo Tree, an amazing collection of Dumas’ short, speculative works, features such stories 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.

In Dumas’ works, magic offers a way of giving power to the powerless – to exact a kind of decisive justice, as when, in “Fon,” flaming arrows whiz from the sky and dispatch a group of would-be lynchers. 

This 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. 

Virginia Hamilton (1934-2002)

Virginia Hamilton’s first novel, Zeely, was about two children who encounter a “Watusi” (Tutsi) queen on their uncle’s farm.   She received numerous honors for her writing throughout her career, including the Coretta Scott King Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award and a MacArthur Genius Grant, publishing more than 40 books in various genres for children, middle grade, and young adult audiences.

Though Hamilton’s works range in theme and content, much of it is, most certainly, speculative fiction.  Hamilton deftly handles topics as diverse as aliens – Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed – and African goddesses – The Adventures of Pretty Pearl.

In one of my favorite works by Hamilton – the Justice Trilogy – a girl, Justice, and her twin brothers – all of whom possess incredible powers – are thrust into a desolate, post-apocalyptic world a million years in the future.

Samuel R. Delaney

One of the most prolific science fiction authors of the 20th century, Delaney’s body of work includes more than twenty novels, several novellas, and countless short stories. 

Publishing his first novel, The Jewels of Aptor, in 1962 at the age of 19, Delaney has since gone on to win countless prestigious awards including the coveted Nebula and Hugo awards.

His science fiction novels include Babel-17The Einstein IntersectionNova, Dhalgren, and the Return to Neveryon series.

After winning four Nebula awards and two Hugo awards over the course of his career, Delany was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2002.

Delaney is currently a professor of English and Creative Writing at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he is Director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program.

Charles R. Saunders

An African-American author and journalist currently living in Canada, Saunders is best known as the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy called Sword & Soul, which is described by Saunders thusly, Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years.  The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’.  Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”

Saunders has inspired several generations of writers with his work, beginning with the four-volume Imaro series of Sword & Soul novels – about a skilled, fearless, wandering warrior who rivals (exceeds?) Conan – and continuing with the two-volume Dossouye series about a fierce woman warrior from Dahomey and her mighty war-bull, Gbo.

Saunders has also created a Blacktacular pulp fiction novel – and one of my favorites – Damballa, about 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, http://www.charlessaunderswriter.com/!

Milton J. Davis

Author and publisher Milton J. Davis specializes in writing Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the author of four Blacknificent Sword and Soul novels – Meji I, Meji II, Changa’s Safari, Changa’s Safari II – one alternate history novel – A Debt to Pay – contributing editor and publisher of Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology and the long awaited, soon-to-be released Steamfunk! anthology.

His books, and the works he publishes, can be found at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/ and on Amazon.

Valjeanne Jeffers

Valjeanne Jeffers is best known as the author of the erotic horror / fantasy series, Immortal. She is also author of the Steamfunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork (Books I and II) the short works, Grandmere’s Secret, and Colony. She has been published in numerous anthologies including Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology and the upcoming Steamfunk!. Contact Valjeanne at http://www.vjeffersandqveal.com/.

Alan Jones

Alan Jones is a native Atlantan, a former columnist for the Atlanta Tribune, and a Wall Street consultant. 

Alan writes a brand of science fiction that blends fanciful characters and scenarios with generous doses of philosophy and social commentary. His book, To Wrestle with Darkness, is available at most major retailers.

Balogun Ojetade

A diverse writer and wearer of many hats, Balogun is the author of several short stories in the genres of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction and of three novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the science fiction gangster saga, Redeemer; and the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika. He is also co-creator – with author, Milton Davis – of the soon-to-be-released role-playing game, Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG.

A long-time admirer of Harriet Tubman, in Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Balogun elevates this already heroic icon to super-heroic status when he pits 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 is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/. His books are available on Amazon and at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/.

Wendy Raven McNair

Raven McNair is the author of  AsleepAwake, and the soon-to-be-released Ascend, a young adult fantasy trilogy about teen super-beings. McNair’s stories celebrate African American teen girls. Her novels are available at http://wendyravenmcnair.com/.

Alicia McCalla

Alicia McCalla is author of the Teen Dystopian, “Genetic Revolution” series of novels, which includes Breaking Free and Double Identity, which is scheduled for release in early 2013. Alicia’s work is available on amazon.com and through her website: http://aliciamccalla.com/.

Ronald T. Jones

Chicagoan, Ronald T. Jones, is considered by most to be a master of Military Science Fiction and his novels, Chronicle of the Liberator and Warriors of Four Worlds, are proof of that. His work is available on Amazon.

*NOTE: For more research on this subject, please check out the website of author L.M. Davis, who has done extensive research on authors of Black Speculative Fiction and is the author of the incredible Young Adult Fantasy Shifter Series of Novels: http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/.


ALIEN ENCOUNTERS: Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Invade Atlanta!

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS: Black Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Invade Atlanta!

Alien Encounters is an annual convention for Black speculative and imaginative fiction, film and music that serves as a venue for both education and entertainment.

The Atlanta-based State of Black Science Fiction collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History have collaborated to offer exciting, informational and interactive discussions, film screenings, book signings and much more that are all free and open to the public.

“About four years ago, I went to the Decatur Book Festival, and found authors of color who wrote in these genres (i.e., science fiction, fantasy, horror),” the original event organizer, Sharon E. Robinson, says.

“We got together, talked, had several meetings, and finally came up with the idea of putting together this program (Alien Encounters).  A lot of the time, our literary audiences aren’t as familiar with these genre writers as they are with, say, urban romance (authors) and others. There are a lot of writers, in the Atlanta area and across the country, who write in these genres, and we hope to increase readers’ knowledge base about them and their works,” she explains. “Our ultimate goal is to broaden visitors’ literary knowledge and understanding about these particular genres.”

Join us, October 25-October 28, 2012 for our third year of four Blacktastic days of Black Speculative Fiction, Film and Steamfunk!

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS III

Black Speculative Fiction: What it is and why Black people should read it

Thursday, October 25

7:00pm-9:00pm

A dynamic discussion on Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in literature, film and other media with authors of African descent. The authors will showcase their involvement in their respective genres and subgenres of Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Panelists Include:
Ed Hall (moderator): Author and Editor
Milton Davis: Author and Publisher
Wendy Raven McNair: Author
James Eugene: Visual Artist
Balogun Ojetade: Author and Filmmaker

The Mahogany Masquerade Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk & Film

Friday, October 26

6:30pm-9:00pm

Come out in your (Steam)funkiest gear and enjoy The Mahogany Masquerade: An evening of Steamfunk and Film!

Enjoy the four short films that will be screened; engage authors, filmmakers and artists in a panel discussion on the Steamfunk Movement; shop for books and movies in our bazaar and meet and greet your fellow Steamfunks, Steampunks, and lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy!

Wear your Steampunk / Steamfunk Clothing, Costumes, Gadgets and Gear and receive a Blacknificent Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror novel free!

Finding Black Faces within the Pages

Saturday, October 27

2:00pm-4:00pm

Fantasy and science fiction young adult authors will read excerpts from their books and discuss ideas and techniques in writing Sci-Fi literature for young adults of color.

The Last Angel of History: Film Screening

Saturday, October 27

4:00pm-6:00pm

Directed by John Akomfrah, this film is an engaging and searing examination of the hitherto unexplored relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology.

Devil’s Wake and My Soul to Take: Discussion and Book Signing with authors Tananarive Due & Steven Barnes

Sunday, October 28

3:00pm-5:00pm

The Auburn Avenue Research Library will host authors Steven Barnes and Spelman College Cosby Chair in the Humanities, Tananarive Due, who will discuss their latest publications, Devil’s Wake and My Soul to TakeDevil’s Wake is the tale of young people struggling to remain human-and humane-in a post-apocalyptic near future.  My Soul to Take is set in the year 2016 when governments are striving to keep terrorists at bay and plagues secret to reduce the threat of panic. 

There you have it. A fun-filled weekend of Blacktastic Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror you absolutely do NOT want to miss!

See you there!


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