THIS AINT I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE: Rape in Black Speculative Fiction
For years, I worked as an expert witness on violent crime in Illinois and I am the founder of the NZINGA: Mother / Daughter Self-Defense Program, in which I taught rape awareness as part of the course. I say taught, because I have since given responsibilities of that program over to my wife and to the women who are Assistant Instructors under my tutelage.
Among African Americans, there is a reluctance to report rape and incest. A reluctance born of wariness of authority, especially white authority, which is learned from the experience of white lynch mobs; the death of four little girls killed during the bombing of a church in Birmingham and the battered body of young Emmett Till. There is reluctance, because we remember the destruction of entire cities – such as Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida – at the hands of white mobs after a Black man was wrongfully accused of raping a white woman.
Historically, we have learned that the system is not to be trusted.
Rape is one of the most underreported violent crimes, according to the Department of Justice, regardless of the victim’s sex, age, race, ethnicity, religion or class, but as a group, African American women are the least likely to break the silence.
This phenomenon, first documented in 1981 by Gail Wyatt, a sexual behavior researcher at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, is now being addressed in self-help books and at rape crisis centers created specifically to serve People of Color, such as the Rosa Parks Sexual Assault Crisis Center in South Los Angeles.
I believe what I suffered, which I kept to myself for thirty years, led me to being sexually promiscuous at a very young age; to high blood pressure, which led to several strokes in 2012 and a bout with alcoholism. What I, three of my children and countless women I know, suffered also led to my portraying rapists, or potential rapists, as the vilest of villains in some of my writing.
It’s no secret that rape is common in fiction. Sometimes it’s relevant to the plot, often used as the catalyst in a revenge story. Other times rape is used to remind us that we live in a cruel world, filled with even crueler people. And other times, it is used to shock, or even titillate.
I don’t write much about rape. Only my latest book, A Single Link, actually has such a horrific event take place and in one of my screenplays, I hint that one of the villains is a rapist.
When I wrote A Single Link, which I first wrote, directed and produced as a film, I conferred with nearly fifty women of various ages. I asked if I had handled the rape intelligently, if it came off as a gimmick, or if it was predictable. They invariably answered “no,” and told me A Single Link was a story that needed to be told.
Many of the women – including my wife – gave suggestions on how I could make the story more believable; more like something they would want to see. I am glad I listened and made much needed changes based on their suggestions. The story went through fifteen drafts – more than I have ever done for any of my writing – before I was comfortable enough with the script to shoot it.
I am happy I did.
Many lazy writers use rape as a plot device in their stories because it is easy to use as a motivator for the shero to begin her quest. Well, for those who have known me for even a short while, you know I am far from lazy, so you know that was not my motivation (as one reader and part-time troll implied). She assumed my use of the rape is predictable…which is a predictable – and lazy – response, by the way (do your research – or at least read the book – before passing judgment, y’all).
However, to be fair, rape is often overused or misused in fiction; particularly in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
In fact, no violent act – assault; battery; terroristic threats; murder — should take place in a story unless it is integral to the plot or to develop characters. Any violence, for the sake of violence, is wrong and makes for poor writing.
A common statement that has been made is “Let’s see men get raped in fiction as well.” Once again, if it is handled intelligently and with empathy, why not? However, if such a story is told on some old ‘quid pro quo’ bull, then it is just as gimmicky; just as lazy; just as wrong.
Rape of men has happened in popular fiction a few times; most famously in Pulp Fiction, Deliverance and Antwone Fisher. Sadly, these rapes have been made jokes of by men and women, as if a man suffering a rape – especially if committed by a woman – has no lasting effect on men. This should be rectified, so I would welcome someone writing a story that deals with this issue seriously.
America has been described as a “rape culture” – an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence – and I would agree with that description.
A Single Link is my contribution to the fight against such a twisted, cruel culture that leaves my mother, my sisters, my daughters, and even my son, unsafe.
I pray I got it right.
Read the book and let me know.
A SINGLE LINK IS HERE!
I am excited – and proud – to announce that the action adventure, fight fiction, New Pulp book is available in paperback and ebook!
A Single Link is sure to keep your eyes popped, your jaw dropped and your fingers turning the pages as you step into the cage with Remi Swan, who becomes the first woman to fight against men in professional mixed martial arts on her quest for justice and closure after suffering a brutal assault by a pro fighter.
I loved writing this Rocky meets Enough story, which is filled with heart, grit and pulse-pounding, two-fisted action and I know you’ll love it too!
The action adventure New Pulp novel ” A Single Link” is now available in paperback and ebook!
BLACK HEROES OF PULP FICTION (and we don’t mean Samuel L. Jackson or Ving Rhames)
Some of you are saying “If not the movie by Quentin Tarantino, then what the in the hell is Pulp?”
Is it that nasty, fibrous stuff I hate in my orange juice, but my wife always buys, because – for some odd reason – she loves it?
What is Pulp?
Is it that early 80s British alternative rock band who sounded like a hybrid of David Bowie and The Human League?
What is Pulp?
Think adventure, exotic settings, femme fatales and non-stop action. Think larger-than-life heroes, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, Marv, from Sin City and Indiana Jones.
The genre gets its name from the adventure fiction magazines of the 1930s and 1940s.
Pulp includes Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Western, Fight Fiction and other genres, but what sets pulp apart are its aforementioned fast-pace, exotic locales, linear – but layered – plots, its two-fisted action….and those characters! As author Thaddeus Howze describes them: “I like the larger than life heroes of the pulp era, loud, bombastic, often arrogant, sexy, outrageous and oh so violent…”
The first pulps were published in the late 1800s and enjoyed a golden age in the 1930s and 1940s.
And – like most genre fiction of the day…and today – Black heroes were absent. Like most genre fiction of the day, if a Black person was found in pulp fiction at all, they were the noble savage…or just the savage.
Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones
However, in 1957, we saw our first Black pulp heroes with the duo of Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, violent and vicious Harlem police officers, who operated more like private detectives, often going beyond police protocol to solve their cases.
A true master of the pulp aesthetic, Chester Himes – an accomplished author and screenwriter before going to prison – discovered the work of popular pulp author Dashiell Hammett while serving eight years in an Ohio penitentiary for armed robbery. Himes vowed to write pulp books that would, in his words, “tell it like it is”.
Upon his release from prison, Himes moved to Paris and – true to his word – wrote a string of what he called “Harlem domestic detective stories”, all but one written in French and later translated into English.
His first novel, A Rage in Harlem (1957) – first published in French as La Reine des Pomme and also known as For Love of Imabelle – which won the prestigious French literature award, Grand Prix de la Litterature Policière, gave us our first taste of the fearsome Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones.
Fans begged for more of these pulp bad boys and Himes delivered, with a total of seven more bestsellers and one unfinished novel that was published posthumously: The Crazy Kill (1959), The Real Cool Killers (1959), All Shot Up (1960), The Big Gold Dream (1960), Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965), The Heat’s On (aka Come Back, Charleston Blue)(1966), Blind Man With A Pistol (1969), Plan B (1993).
While the duo frequently uses physical brutality, psychological torture and intimidation to solve their cases, Gravedigger and Coffin Ed have deep and genuine sympathy for the innocent victims of crime. They frequently intervene – even putting their own reputations and lives on the line – to protect Black people from the vicious and truly pointless brutality of the white, openly racist police officers in their precinct. Jones and Johnson generally go easy on – and even tolerate – numbers runners, madames, prostitutes, junkies and gamblers; but they are extremely hostile to violent criminals, drug dealers, con artists and pimps.
It can be said that Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones were the darkest heroes in pulp…and not because they’re Black…well, that too.
The next Black hero in pulp did not come on the scene until 1983. Who was he? Aubrey Knight, a lightning quick mountain of muscle, trained to be a Null Boxer who fights in brutal matches while locked in a zero-gravity bubble.
Aubrey Knight is the protagonist of Street Lethal (1983), a jaw dropping pulp thrill ride, penned masterfully by veteran science fiction, fantasy and horror author, Steven Barnes. Street Lethal is set in a near-future dystopian Los Angeles in which Aubrey Knight must battle genetically engineered New Men, drug kingpins, brutal prison guards, a ruthless femme fatale and brainwashing similar to the horrific Ludovico Technique from the classic novel A Clockwork Orange.
Barnes, an accomplished martial artist himself, gives us a pulp hero who is one part Luke Cage Noir and two parts Iron Fist…only cooler, savvier and more…well, street lethal.
Damballa (2011) is an incredible pulp adventure written by author Charles R. Saunders, the founder of the subgenre of Fantasy fiction called Sword and Soul and creator of the Fantasy icon Imaro. The action does not stop as the titular hero uses his vast knowledge of Western science, African science and martial arts to expose and neutralize the Nazi threat.
Set in 1938, Damballa is a shining example of what Pulp is when it is at its very best: thrilling, visceral, tightly-plotted, well-written, fast-paced fun.
And the hero Damballa is a shining example of what a pulp hero in the hands of a master can be: a hero the reader can actually stand up and cheer for; a hero with qualities and with a story other authors do their damndest to echo in their own creative and original ways.
Equal parts James Bond, Indiana Jones, Doc Savage and The Saint, Dillon – by his creator Derrick Ferguson’s account – first came to attention of the world a decade ago, when he began hiring himself out as a soldier of fortune. Dillon possesses remarkable talents and gifts that make him respected and even feared in a world of mercenaries, spies, adventurers, powerful technology and mystic artifacts.
Actually, Dillon first came to our attention in the Pulp fiction masterpiece, Dillon and the Voice of Odin (2003).
Dillon’s actual age is unknown, but what is known is that he was born on the technologically advanced, doomed island of Usimi Dero. After the Destruction of his home, twelve year old Dillon and his mother fled to Shamballah, a monastery hidden in the Himalayas. Dillon was adopted by Shamballa’s Warmasters of Liguria, who spent the next seven years training him in various martial arts and other physical and mental disciplines. After those seven years, Dillon elected to leave Shamballah and return to the world.
Once back in the world, Dillon wandered, learning various skills that would help him in his chosen profession as an adventurer and seeking out those who destroyed his homeland.
This adventurer is the hero of four of his own books – the aforementioned Dillon and the Voice of Odin; Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell (2010); Four Bullets for Dillon (2011) and Dillon and the Pirates of Xonira (2012) – and appears in the anthology Black Pulp (2013).
First seen in the often hilarious and always exciting, Taurus Moon: Relic Hunter (2011) and now returning in the recently released, equally exciting sequel, Taurus Moon: Magic and Mayhem (2013), Taurus moon is a complex Pulp hero who walks a complex world of mythic creatures, gangsters and even mythic gangsters and gangling creatures.
The morally conflicted hero, Taurus Moon is often compared to another famed relic hunter, Indiana Jones. Unlike popular relic hunter Indiana Jones, however, the artifacts Taurus Moon hunts are not found in the deserts of Iskenderun Hatay, or in the tropical rainforests of Brazil. Taurus Moon’s quests take him through the grittier parts of urbanized cities; settings where Indiana Jones would get that whip and fedora shoved up his…well, you get the picture. Also unlike Indiana Jones, Taurus Moon’s clientele includes vampire crime bosses and other individuals of ill-repute.
Taurus Moon is straight up mercenary, motivated by money; yet he is imbued with nobility, which keeps him from being completely amoral.
If Indiana Jones and Blade had a clone created from both their DNA strains, with a dash of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford sprinkled in, that little GMO fella would be Taurus Moon.
2014 will see the premiere of at least three more pulp heroes.
In early 2014, my character Nick ‘New Breed’ Steed, the indigenous African martial arts expert turned MMA fighter will enter the world with a bang in my novella, which is part of the Fight Card Series, Fight Card MMA: A-Town Throwdown. A second novella starring Nick Steed, Fight Card MMA: Circle of Blood is likely to follow shortly behind it.
2014 will see another MMA fighter, Remi Fasina [ray-MEE fah-SHEE-nah] – a woman – battle men and women fighters – and her inner demons – on her quest to defeat the MMA champion who sexually assaulted her seven years in her past in my Pulp action novel, A Single Link.
Finally, the Pulp hero Black Caesar – a former slave, imbued with enhanced intelligence, strength, endurance and agility by dark forces run amok upon a stone slave ship – debuts in the first Rococoa novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises.
I have also created the Pulp hero The Scythe, the resurrected Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was murdered in the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 and returns to reap vengeance upon his murderers and their kin. It is likely that I will expand his story into a novel in 2015.
What other Black Pulp heroes and sheroes do you know of? What Pulp heroes or sheroes are you in the process of developing or creating?
THE LOWDOWN ON THE THROWDOWN
This past weekend, I participated in the A-Town Throw Down, a revered and popular stage combat workshop held at Kennesaw State University (near Atlanta, GA) every year. The Throw Down – sanctioned by the Society of American Fight Directors – is three grueling days of full-day training in everything from 300-esque spear and shield combat to bar fighting.
On day one, after a brief warm-up, I went to my first class – Q Stick (Quarterstaff) – in which we learned and executed choreography with the quarterstaff at full speed, only breaking once for water…I knew then that I was in for a world of hurt and that these Stage Combat folks were as serious about their craft as any other combatant. I was filled with an odd feeling of eagerness mixed with dread.
After the Q Stick class, I had a great time in the Throwing Knives class and was the first to hit the target with four of six blades. I was happy about that, but after nearly two hours of throwing heavy steel in the blazing sun, happy turned to “damn” and “where in the hell is my Tiger Balm?”
After a lunch of Chai Tea (only Chik-Fil-A was open on Kennesaw State’s campus and I don’t eat chicken), I headed to my Knife Class, where we had a grand old time “cutting” (the blades were dull aluminum) and disarming each other and then ended my day with some Unarmed Fight Choreography that left me sore, but eager to return the next day.
The second day (Saturday), I began with some Instinctual Knife training and learned some things that will really enhance the blade fights in my films, then it was on to the Fighting and Music class, wherein I had to perform some of the fastest and most intricate choreography known to man. Thankfully, I was able to pick it up and execute it well; more thankfully, the teacher is a foremost master of Stage Combat and she was able to pull the fight out of us while maintaining absolute safety on a stage of about thirty people going at it simultaneously with swords. From there, I headed to what has to be the most physically demanding course on earth – the Shield and Spear class. First, I made the mistake of grabbing a big thirty pound shield and a heavy spear. Granted, I looked cool leaping through the air with such heavy weaponry, but after about a half hour of full speed choreography with the damned things, I was smacking myself in the forehead for not picking the much lighter small shield and one of the spears made of a wood half as heavy as mine. Everyone left the spear and shield class with a lot of knowledge and a WHOLE LOT of hurt. I finally ended my day with the Whip class. I had to block out the pain in my hips, feet, back and hamstrings in order to stand up and wield the damned thing, but it came naturally and I was cracking that whip from all sorts of directions. At one point, I thought about how my ancestors were probably beaten with such a weapon, which strikes at 900 miles per hour on average (that “crack” you hear is the sound of the end of the whip breaking the sound barrier) and I got nauseous and no longer had a desire to hold the weapon, so I sat down for a breather and to center myself. After a few minutes, I (slowly and with great and painful effort) got up and returned to the floor for more whip-crackin’ goodness.
On the final day, I started off with the Ground-N-Pound Class, where we choreographed our own ground fight after a few falling and rolling drills and drills to get us to commit to “the moment”. Some of the fights were cheesy. Most were exciting. I was working with one of the instructors and he gave me permission to push the envelope, so we did a brutal fight that ended in me catching him in a toe hold and snapping his ankle and knee (it was safe – no joints were harmed in the making of this fight). After that class, I went to the Single Sword Class, where we learned and executed some swashbuckling choreography. Spatial awareness and control are essential when two people are whipping steel rapiers all over the place.
Finally, I ended my day with what had to be the funniest, silliest class I have ever taken, yet it was brilliant. The class was entitled Roadhouse! (yes, the exclamation point is part of it) and it was an exercise in controlled mayhem. Fifty people on stage having a bar fight with mugs of beer, waitress trays, tables, chairs, a bar, bartenders and all – however, it is a bar fight in the Roadhouse universe – see the movie if you haven’t already and if you have seen it, watch it again – so things were nuttier than squirrel poop. A punch to the stomach caused you not to bend over in pain, but to stand straight up…a waitress holding a tray was invisible, but if she hit you with her tray, you were knocked out…the only place thrown chairs ever landed was the bar and paper and cups were constantly flying through the air – even if it was unconscious people tossing them.
Like I said…squirrel poop. After that hilarious and surprisingly fun class, which taught me how NOT to choreograph (one of the points of the seeming madness), I headed home for some much needed sleep.
When I awakened I reflected on the weekend…all the education I received…all the fun…but the discomfort I felt at being the only Black person at the event (well, there was one other, but he spent so much time trying to point out to everyone how Black he wasn’t – “I’m Panamanian and Filipino and yeah, there’s white in me too…I promise”) and the fact that many people avoided being my partner (“I don’t stink…I promise”) made me uncomfortable. I wondered why there weren’t any other Black people at the event, nor are there any Black instructors – let alone Masters or Directors – in the entire Society of American Fight Directors. Granted, there aren’t many Black people in theater, but there are many trying to break into film. Since you almost can’t make a movie without a fight scene nowadays, such training is essential if you are serious about your craft as an actor and certainly as a fight choreographer.
Wait do you think there aren’t any Black film fight choreographers? Don’t let the lack of Black faces in the Society of American Fight Directors fool or discourage you. Let’s examine a few:
Seeking to use his renown as a world and international champion in fighting, weapons and forms (kata) to break into Hollywood, Larnell Stovall moved from New Orleans to California to pursue a career as an actor and fight choreographer in February 2001.
Stovall quickly established himself as one of the best in the business with his work on the popular duo of web series – Mortal Kombat: Rebirth and Mortal Kombat: Legacy, as well as the films Undisputed III, Never Back Down II, Blood and Bone and Bunraku.
Style: versatile and dynamic; incorporates high and jump kicks and acrobatics, thus he works best with quick flexible and agile performers.
Washington, D.C. native William Charles Jeffreys, III – Chuck Jeffreys – began his training in the martial arts at the age of eight, starting with Western Boxing and Tae Kwon Do. He began training in Tien Shan Pai Shaolin Kung Fu in the early 70s and began teaching kung fu in 1974.
Over the decades, Jeffreys learned and mastered other martial arts styles and systems, such as Kali, Indonesian Silat and Shoot Boxing.
Jeffreys put his skills to use in Hollywood, becoming a stunt double for the actors Eddie Murphy and Ving Rhames.
He then went on to assist in the fight choreography – and to train actor and martial artist Wesley Snipes with the sword – for Blade. He has also choreographed fights for the blockbusters, Spider-Man and Freddy vs. Jason. He returned to the Blade franchise in 2004 to train Wesley Snipes and the rest of the cast for Blade: Trinity.
Style: efficient, realistic hand-to-hand combat, with occasional high and low spinning kicks for flare.
R.L. Scott was born in America, raised in Salvador Bahia Brazil until the age of 16 when he returned to the United States. It was then that he began writing and one year later, he made his first short film. He has since gone on to involvement in over fifty shorts and feature films in many capacities including writing, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, post production work, and editing.
In 2007 Scott did the fight choreography for Champion Road, a popular feature film he wrote, directed and produced and in 2008, took on the same roles for its sequel, Champion Road: Arena.
In 2012, Scott choreographed the fight scenes for the feature film entitled Call Me King, which stars international superstar Bai Ling (Red Corner). Call Me King is scheduled to be released early 2014.
Style: probably closer to Chinese cinema than any other non-Chinese fight choreographer in the business. The beauty, power and stylistic fights of films such as Fearless, Dragon-Tiger Gate, Ip Man and Sha Po Lang – aka Kill Zone – is Scott’s signature.
After performing stunts and fights in several films, plays and demonstrations, Balogun – a master of indigenous African martial arts – went on to choreograph fights for the stage and for the independent films Reynolds’ War, A Single Link, Equalizers and Rite of Passage: Initiation.
Style: brutal, efficient and unique, combining the smooth, rhythmic, yet viciously effective African martial arts with such “exotic” martial arts as Savate, Bartitsu, La Canne, Capoeira Angola and Catch Wrestling.
I attended the A-Town Throw Down because I want to hone and enhance my craft so that I can create the very best films…so that I can bring you eye-popping fight choreography that you enjoy and that I am proud of.
Nothing less than excellent is expected of me or acceptable to me.
That’s my motto. Please, adopt a similar one (or just use mine) if you haven’t already and let’s make some great movies, y’all!
THE ROAD TO NICODEMUS: Black Towns in the Age of Steam!
Black Americans have played a vital role in building this nation. Eager to live and prosper as free people, we have established our own towns since Colonial times. Many of these communities were destroyed by racial violence or injustice, while some just died out. Let’s explore a few of these symbols of freedom, courage, hard work and ingenuity a bit more in-depth.
Fort Mose, Florida
Although this settlement was established well before the Age of Steam, it still merits mentioning, as it is a fascinating place with an even more fascinating history. Established in 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose – or Fort Mose – was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States and played an important role in the development of colonial North America.
Amid the fight for control of the New World, Great Britain, Spain and other European nations relied on African slave labor. Exploiting its proximity to plantations in the British colonies in North America and the West Indies, King Charles II, of Spain issued the Edict of 1693 which stated that any male slave on an English plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom, provided he joined the Militia and became a Catholic. This edict became one of the New World’s earliest emancipation proclamations.
By 1738 there were 100 Black men, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. Many were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. With accompanying women and children, they created a colony of freed people that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
When war broke out in 1740 between England and Spain, the people of St. Augustine and nearby Fort Mose found themselves involved in a conflict that stretched across three continents. The English sent thousands of soldiers and dozens of ships to destroy St. Augustine and bring back any runaways. They set up a blockade and bombarded the town for 27 consecutive days. Hopelessly outnumbered, the diverse population of blacks, First Nation peoples and whites pulled together. Fort Mose was one of the first places attacked. Lead by Captain Francisco Menendez, the men of the Fort Mose Militia briefly lost the Fort but eventually recaptured it, repelling the English invasion force. Florida remained in Spanish hands and for the next 80 years remained a haven for fugitive slaves from the British colonial possessions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The site was abandoned in 1763 when the British took possession of Florida. The residents of Mose evacuated to Cuba and formed a new town, Ceiba Mocha, Matanzas province, considered the hub of African spirituality in Cuba.
The town prospered as the Florida Railroad established a small depot to handle the transport of cedar wood to the pencil factory in Cedar Key and the transportation of timber, turpentine rosin, citrus, vegetables, and cotton throughout the State. In 1890 the cedar depleted and many of the white families moved to Sumner, three miles west of Rosewood and worked at the newfound saw mill established by Cummer and Sons. By 1900 Rosewood had a black majority of citizens.
On the morning of January 1, 1923 Fannie Coleman Taylor of Sumner Florida, claimed she was assaulted by a Black man. Although she was supposedly knocked unconscious for several hours due to the shock of the incident, she was not seriously injured and was miraculously able to describe, in detail, what happened. No one disputed her account, of course and no questions were asked. It was assumed she was reporting the incident accurately.
Sarah Carrier a Black woman from Rosewood, who did the laundry for Fannie Taylor and was present on the morning of the incident, claimed the man that assaulted Fannie Taylor was her white lover. It was believed the two lovers quarreled and he abused Fannie and left. However, in 1923 no one questioned Fannie Taylor’s account and no one asked Sarah Carrier about the incident. The Black community claimed Fannie Taylor was only protecting herself from scandal.
A posse was summoned and tracking dogs were ordered by James Taylor, Fannie Taylor’s husband and the foreman at Cummer and Sons saw mill. The local white community became enraged at the alleged abuse of a white woman by a Black man – an unpardonable sin in a world in which it was punishable for black men back then to even look at a white woman.
James Taylor summoned help from Levy County and neighboring Alachua County, where a large number of KKK members had been rallying and marching in opposition of justice for Black people.
A telegraph sent to Gainesville in regards to Fannie Taylor’s allegations provoked four to five hundred Klansmen, who headed to Sumner at the appeal of James Taylor. They arrived enraged and combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect. Suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, a Black man who had allegedly recently escaped from a convict road gang. No proof of the escape was ever provided.
The posse confronted Sam Carter at his home and Carter allegedly admitted to helping Hunter escape. The posse forced Carter to take them to the place where he last saw Hunter. When no trace of Hunter could be found the posse turned into an out of control lynch mob, torturing Carter, riddling him with bullets and hanging him from a tree.
The posse continued their hunt in Rosewood. They found Aaron Carrier, cousin and friend to Sam Carter, in bed at his cousin, Sarah Carrier’s house. They yanked him out of bed, tied a rope around his neck and dragged him behind a Model –T Ford from Rosewood to Sumner. They tortured him, beat him with gun butts and kicked him until he lost consciousness they then shot him numerous times.
Levy County Sherriff Bob Walker halted the gunfire before a fatal shot could be delivered, however, when he yelled, “Don’t, I’ll finish the nigger off!” Confident that the sheriff would take care of Aaron Carrier, the posse returned to Rosewood to hunt and kill more Black people.
Sheriff Walker threw Aaron Carrier in his vehicle and took him to Gainesville, to the Alachua County jail, begging Sheriff James Ramsey to hide Carrier from the public and his family until tempers settled down. Sheriff Walker also suggested that Sheriff Ramsey get medical help for Carrier. Sheriff Ramsey brought in two local Black doctors – Dr. Parker and Dr. Ayers – to treat Carrier. For six months, without any knowledge of the public or Carrier’s family, the doctors tending to Carrier’s wounds and returned him to health and strength.
Fuming with anger because they had not found the attacker James Taylor sent Sarah Carrier’s son, Sylvester Carrier, a message “We are coming to get you.”
Unbeknownst to the posse, Sylvester Carrier took heed to the threats and made contact with his Levy County friends who bravely traveled to Rosewood to help avert the planned ambush of its citizens.
After dark, the white posse traveled to Rosewood prepared to kill or be killed. The posse, intoxicated with moonshine and ignorance, was met head-on with resistance from Sylvester Carrier and his friends, however and several of them were killed or injured. The surviving posse members fled, returning to Sumner, leaving their guns behind at the order of Sylvester Carrier and his men. Other posse members lay dead and wounded in Sarah Carrier’s yard.
On January 3rd, many citizens of Rosewood fled into the swamp, hiding out and waiting for the train to come and take them to safety. Others fled to white store merchant John Wright’s home. He allowed them to wait there in hiding until they heard back from Sheriff Walker, who travelled back and forth to Cedar Key, Sumner, and Rosewood in an effort to move Rosewood’s citizens safely out of Rosewood on the 4 AM early morning train, which was conducted by the Bryce Brothers from Bryceville, Florida.
When the posse returned to Rosewood days later to make an assessment of the damages, they vengefully shot and killed anyone who remained in the town – mainly those too ill or too old to
Weeksville, New York
What is now Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, NY, Weeksville was the second-largest community for free blacks prior to the Civil War. James Weeks, a freed slave, purchased a significant amount of land from Henry C. Thompson, another freed slave. Weeks sold property to new residents, who eventually named the community after him. The town thrived, becoming a free Black enclave of urban trades-people and property owners comprised of both Southern blacks fleeing slavery and Northern blacks escaping the racial violence and draft riots in New York and other cities. By the time of the Emancipation Proclamation, Weeksville was already a thriving area with its own doctors, teachers, publishers, and social services.
Freedmen’s Town, Texas: Houston’s ‘Little Harlem’
Over a period of sixty years the town thrived, with churches, schools, stores, theaters and jazz spots lining the cobblestone roadways, earning Freedmen’s Town the nickname of “Little Harlem” by the 1920s.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression caused many residents of Freedmen’s Town to lose their homes. Most longtime residents were forced to move to other Houston neighborhoods, while others stayed in the town, only to watch the community deteriorate.
In 1984, Freedmen’s was designated a historic district.
Blackdom, New Mexico
Dispatched from Ft. Leavenworth for the New Mexico Territory in 1846 to fight the Mexican-American War, General Stephen W. Kearny led a force of 2,500 soldiers in the invasion (yes, invasion – just ask the First Nations in the area). One of those detailed to that force as a wagoneer was a Georgia freedman by the name of Henry Boyer. Upon reaching New Mexico, Boyer fell in love with the vast desert expanses of sky and land, upon his return home, he told his wife and children tales of his adventures in New Mexico, emphasizing the awesome beauty of the land.
One of Boyer’s children, Francis Marion (“Frank”) Boyer, was captivated by his father’s stories. Frank, a graduate of Morehouse College and a teacher, grew dissatisfied with his existence in Georgia and joined groups of other Black men who spoke out against the savageries of the Ku Klux Klan and other Southern atrocities.
Fearing for his son’s life, Henry Boyer suggested that Frank leave Georgia and move to New Mexico to seek a better life for himself and his family. In 1896, Frank Boyer and his friend and student, Daniel Keyes, decided to set out for New Mexico.
Being Black, Mr. Boyer and Mr. Keyes could not travel by stagecoach or rail, nor could they get secure passage on a wagon train. Undeterred, they set out on foot, and walked the entire distance from Pellum (nowadays known as “Pelham”), Georgia to Roswell, New Mexico – a distance of 1,200 miles.
Upon arrival, the two men worked multiple jobs while exercising their rights as freedmen under the Homestead Act, laying claim to acreage in the area of what is now Dexter. The following year, Franks’s wife, Ella Louise and their children joined him, and he was able to secure a loan from a bank to begin homesteading. He dug an artesian well, built a house, and began an active outreach campaign to other Black families in surrounding states, urging them to come to the beautiful desert land in the southeastern part of the Territory and help create the New Mexico Territory’s first Black community.
And they came…more than 300 people from across the country…despite the odds; despite the obstacles. Whites would not sell them train or stagecoach tickets and would not permit them to board in the event that they managed to secure tickets anyway; they would not sell wagons or horses to Black families, despite their ability to pay.
But they came…by cart; on horseback; on foot like the town’s founders…and in 1903, Frank Boyer filed the town of Blackdom’s articles of incorporation.
Unfortunately, in the 1920s, a severe drought led settlers to abandon the town.
In the late 1870’s, as the Reconstruction following the Civil War failed to bring the long awaited freedom, equality and prosperity promised to Black people, along came a white man by the name of W.R. Hill – to black families in the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee – who described a “Promise Land” in Kansas. Hill told of a sparsely settled territory with abundant wild game, wild horses that could be tamed, and an opportunity to own land through the homesteading process in Nicodemus, Kansas.
The town site of Nicodemus was planned in 1877 by W.R. Hill, a land developer from Indiana, and Reverend W.H. Smith, a black man. Reverend Smith became the President of the Nicodemus Town Company and Hill, the treasurer. The two founders aggressively promoted the town to the Black refugees of the Deep South. The Reverend Simon P. Roundtree was the first settler, arriving on June 18, 1877. Zack T. Fletcher and his wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, the daughter of Reverend W.H. Smith, arrived in July and Fletcher was named the Secretary of the Town Company. Smith, Roundtree, and the Fletchers made claims to their property and built temporary homes in dugouts along the prairie.
The Nicodemus Town Company produced numerous circulars to promote the town, inviting “Colored People of the United States” to come and settle in the “Great Solomon Valley.” The Reverend Roundtree became actively involved in the promotion, and worked with a man by the name of Benjamin “Pap” Singleton , a black carpenter from Nashville, who traveled all over the United States distributing the circulars, which portrayed Nicodemus as a place for African-Americans to establish Black self-government. Singleton, who could not read or write, distributed so many circulars that he was sometimes called the “Moses of the Colored Exodus.” The Blacks who decided to emigrate soon acquired the name “Exodusters”.
At the same time, railroads, needing to populate the West to create markets for their services, exaggerated the quality of the soil and climate in this “Western Eden.”
The desperate families of the South listened with rapt attention and in the late summer of 1877, 308 railroad tickets were purchased to take them to the closest railroad point in Ellis, Kansas. The families then walked the remaining fifty-five miles to Nicodemus, arriving in September 1877.
Building homes along the Solomon River in dugouts, the original settlers found more disappointment and privation as they faced adverse weather conditions. In the Promised Land of Kansas, they initially lacked sufficient tools, seed, and money, but managed to survive the first winter by selling buffalo bones and by working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Ellis, the city fifty-five miles away where they originally arrived. Others survived with assistance from the Osage First Nation, who provided food, firewood and staples.
Though most stayed, many settlers were disillusioned by the lack of vegetation and the harsh land and made a hasty return to the green fields of Kentucky and Tennessee. Of those who stayed, the spring of 1878 brought hope and opportunity as new Exodusters, bearing horses, oxen and farming tools began to farm the soil.
A local government was established, headed by “President Smith.”
One woman arriving in the spring, Williana Hickman, said years later of arriving at Nicodemus: “When we got in sight of Nicodemus the men shouted, ‘There is Nicodemus!’ Being very sick, I hailed this news with gladness. I looked with all the eyes I had. I said, ‘Where is Nicodemus? I don’t see it.’ My husband pointed out various smokes coming out of the ground and said, ‘That is Nicodemus.’ The families lived in dugouts… the scenery was not at all inviting, and I began to cry.”
Despite the poor living conditions, Williana and her husband, Reverend Daniel Hickman, stayed, organizing the First Baptist Church in a dugout with a sod structure above it. By 1880, a small, one-room, stone sanctuary had been erected at the same site. This structure evolved from limestone to stucco, and in 1975, a new brick sanctuary was built. Today, the church still stands in Nicodemus.
Zachary Fletcher, one of the town’s first settlers, became the first postmaster and the first entrepreneur in Nicodemus, establishing the St. Francis Hotel and a livery stable in 1880. His wife, Jenny Smith Fletcher, became the first postmistress and schoolteacher and one of the original charter members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The complex that Fletcher built, which housed the post office, school, hotel and stable, later became known as the Fletcher-Switzer House and was an important focus of activity in the community. The building still stands in Nicodemus today.
By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, boasting a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores – surrounded by twelve square miles of cultivated land.
Edward P. McCabe, who joined the colony in 1878, served two terms as state auditor, 1883-1887, the first African American to hold a major state office.
By 1887 Nicodemus had gained more churches, stores, a literary society, an ice cream parlor, a lawyer, another newspaper, a baseball team, a benefit society and a band. Hopes were high in the community when the railroad talked of an extension from Stockton to Nicodemus and in March of 1887, the voters of the Township approved the issuance of $16,000 in bonds to attract the Union Pacific Railroad to the community. Despite the bond issue, the town and the railroad could not agree on financial compensation and the railroad withdrew its offer.
In 1888, the railroad established the extension six miles away south of the Solomon River, leaving Nicodemus a stranded “island”. Businesses fled to the other side of the river to the Union Pacific Railroad camp that later became known as the town of Bogue. With the businesses leaving, Nicodemus began a gradual decline.
Zachary Fletcher, the town’s first entrepreneur, sold his town lots to the original promoter, W. R. Hill, but continued to run his businesses. Eventually, the hotel reverted to Graham County for a time but was brought back into the family in the 1920′s by Fred Switzer, a great-nephew raised by the Fletchers. When Switzer married Ora Wellington in 1921, they made the hotel their home.
Despite all the hardships and calamities that Nicodemus faced, it survived…and thrived.
More than a half-dozen black settlements sprung up in Kansas after the Civil War but Nicodemus is the only one that still stands.
In the world that author Milton Davis and I have developed – the world you will experience in the upcoming Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage – the secret to Nicodemus’ survival lies in its four very powerful protectors – Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Wright, John Henry and Bass Reeves and the town’s President, “High” John Konker. Just as the Exodusters have been drawn by promises of self-government, freedom and economic success, the town’s protectors have been drawn by a mysterious and fearsome entity known only as Jedediah Green, who you will learn more of in the next phase of Rite of Passage stories.
The Rite of Passage movie is a pulse-pounding thrill-ride that introduces you to this dark and gritty world of steam, brass and iron and to the origins of its heroes.
With the might of our heroes – and with the imaginations of Milton Davis and Yours Truly – Nicodemus Town Company will never fall.
THE MAKING OF A STEAMFUNK MOVIE: Part 2, The Cast
Is it a great script? The film’s director? The type of camera and lenses you shoot with?
Or is casting the right actor most important?
Casting a film is much like cooking – you need the right ingredients in just the right amounts to create something that’s palatable and satisfying. Casting professionals are chefs. They take a director’s vision and a writer’s story, and concoct a ten-course meal that’s worthy of a five-star restaurant. If the recipe is off, however, even a potentially great film could easily turn out to be average.
Actors, especially A-list players, cost a lot of money. Money that – contrary to what you might believe – is well-deserved. I have acted in several movies and I can tell you, it is some of the most demanding work I have ever done. Imagine putting on sixty pounds of muscle to play a professional boxer, or learning to ride a horse and fire a longbow from horseback – all while looking good and making it look like you have been riding horses and firing arrows from their backs since you were knee-high to a grasshopper.
Lesser-known actors don’t have the same salary requirements, but they may lack exposure or experience.
Thus, the Casting Director walks a fine line between beauty, budget, and risk – carefully assessing each role and the type of actor you need to make that character successful.
The Casting Director, or CD, is the individual responsible for finding and auditioning actors for the roles in a movie. CDs work closely with the director and producer to find the talent they are searching for – the talent right for a specific role.
Casting directors are pros at matching the right actor to the right role. They are the matchmakers of the filmmaking industry, arranging auditions, casting calls, and callbacks and their help is indispensable.
In making their decisions, Casting Directors examine a number of factors, including an actor’s experience, “chops” (proficiency in acting), physical characteristics, and other special talents, such as martial arts training or stunt experience.
If you take on the responsibilities of Casting Director for a film, here are a few tips I would like to share. I learned these the hard way – through assisting directors in casting films, through auditioning for films and through making mistakes during production of my own films.
1. Avoid using one of your crew members as an actor in the film. You diminish the size –and therefore the efficiency – of your production team when you pull one of them out to act. A crew of four people that loses one to become a performer is diminished 25%. Usually this drastic trade-off becomes visible on screen in numerous ways.
“Spike Lee and Quinton Tarantino do it all the time,” you say? Yep. They are exceptions. Not the rule.
2. Try to work with those who have a reason to commit to the film. Actors and even acting students have a reason to participate in a film until the very end because it is important for them to have an acting reel, meaning samples of them performing. The better the project is, the better their reel, so they have a strong incentive to perform well. Not only do they get a credit on a film, but the reel can lead to other acting gigs.
However, a close friend who is a professor of English Literature might be excited about – and even agree to dust off those college acting skills and be in – your movie, but after the first ten-hour production day, they may start to lose interest. With mid-terms coming up, with an impatient wife to appease and teaching assistants to maintain, suddenly the thought of sticking around for three more shooting days isn’t so appealing to the good old professor. Frequently, good friends find the limits of their friendship on film productions.
3. Think twice about casting family members. Family relations are often complex; add to that the stress and arduousness of the filmmaking process, and you’re working with a volatile mixture – kind of like a gallon of nitroglycerin in the hands of your ninety-seven year old uncle after he has had a decanter of coffee, two Krispy Kreme donuts and thirteen cigarettes. Imagine asking your mother to redo her lines after she has flubbed them for the tenth time, but is convinced the last take was “a keeper”. “But you directed your wife in that action film, A Single Link and in Rite of Passage: Initiation,” you say? Again…exceptions to the rule.
4. Always remember that it takes a skilled director, and lots of patience, to get a great performance out of a non-actor. For most films, casting skilled actors is important in order to get what you need for your film. Even if your film has no dialogue, a good actor can bring a new interpretive energy, authenticity, and creative resources to the project.
Finally, I would like to share the current cast of Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk film, with you. As we add more actors to the cast, I will edit this section, so please, check back often.
Oh, and if you happen to be an actor, a Steampunk maker or Steampunk fashion designer / costume maker and are interested in working on this awesome film, please join us Thursday, April 18, 2013 at GA-Tech in room 343 of the Skiles Building at 11:00 am for an Information Session.
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
Z 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.
The 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.
The 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.”
Z 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.
An 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.
Paradox 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.
“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.”
We now continue the celebration of the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, with Part 2 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 once more and enjoy part two of Redeemer: Glitch!
REDEEMER: Glitch Part 2
Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag
Danny Sweet forced a smile as he sat across the table from Virginia and Virgil Carver – the notorious Carver Twins – the only threat and obstacle to Sweet’s total domination of rap and R&B music in the South and the Southeast.
Norm and Detective McGraw stood, menacingly, at Sweet’s back.
Z sat alone in an apartment across the street – one of Sweet’s safe-houses – monitoring the closed circuit cameras and microphones that he and Norm had planted in the restaurant the night before.
At the Carver Twins’ backs were two men who Z recognized as former Navy Seals, Manny and Steve. The duo had been securing the Twins since Old Man Carver was still alive and running the family business and the twins were in high school.
“My husband – God rest his soul – proposed to me here,” Virginia Carver said. “Ah, the memories!”
“And I banged my first piece of ass here,” Virgil snickered. “In the restroom. Ah, the memories!”
Virginia punched Virgil in the arm. Virgil winced from the pain. “Ow!” he screamed, rubbing his aching bicep.
“Please, forgive my brother,” Virginia said. “So, what exactly, did you want to discuss with us? It sounded urgent on the phone.”
Sweet then pointed the fork in the direction of the Carver Twins, shaking it as he spoke. “For ten years, we’ve been rivals…”
Sweet sucked a piece of fish from between his teeth and spat it into a napkin. “We first competed on these streets and now, in the music business. Congrats on signing Point Blank, by the way…he’s sure to win Best New Artist at the Hip-Hop Awards. Hell, he might even give my boy, Skinz, a run for his money for Best Album.”
“Thank you. We’ll see,” Virginia replied.
“Well, we’ve been bitter rivals,” Sweet continued. “But we’ve never broken the peace with each other. There has been no violence between our families and we’ve all grown because of that.”
Norm glanced at the young gangster.
Virginia shook her head.
“Look, Sweet,” Virgil began. “I’ve got a date with a certain supermodel talk-show host in a couple of hours, so, if you don’t mind…”
“Virgil!” Virginia shouted, as she placed a firm hand on her brother’s forearm.
“It’s okay, Virginia,” Sweet said, struggling to maintain his smile. “You’re right, Virgil, I’ll get straight to the point.”
Sweet took a deep breath. “Two nights ago, someone killed three of my best men. One of them was a Lieutenant. A reliable source describes the killer as some kind of Special Forces, ninja-type motherfucker. Me!”
Virgil shrugged his narrow shoulders. “So, what does that have to do with us?”
Virgil pounded his fist on the table. Plates jumped and a few forks fell to the floor. Virgil glared at Sweet, not once acknowledging Norm’s presence with his eyes. “I am Co-Boss of the Carver Family, Sweet! Since when do you allow your Captain to speak to a Boss at a sit-down?”
“Since when does a Co-Boss who rides the coattails of his sister – the real Boss of your family – disrespect the Boss of Bosses?” Sweet spat.
“The Boss of Bosses?” Virginia said, shaking her head. “You go too far, Sweet.”
Sweet took another bite of catfish and spoke as he chewed. “Look, we both know that there isn’t a Boss in the Southeast who will stand with you against me.
Sweet sprinkled hot sauce on his fish and took another bite. “But, if you have broken the peace, Virginia, the other Bosses will side with me against you. None of them like the idea of a female Boss, anyway. Me? I’m more progressive.”
Virginia scooted her chair away from the table and stood up. Virgil rose almost in unison with her.
Manny and Steve stood at the Carver Twins’ flanks.
“This sit-down is over, Sweet!” Virginia said.
“Goodbye, Sweet,” Virginia said, as she walked away from the table.
The Carver Family sauntered out of the restaurant.
“Fuckin’ wankers! Norm shouted.
“What do we do now, Sweet?” McGraw asked.
Sweetstared out of a large window, which ran from floor to ceiling in a wall near his table. The Carver Twins were hopping into their limousine.
“You should send Z’s crazy, little ass after them,” McGraw said.
“The Carvers are too dangerous,” Sweet said. “I can’t have my little experiment getting’ himself killed.”
“Your experiment?” McGraw inquired.
“I’m creating the perfect killer,” Sweet replied.
“I thought Norm, here, was the perfect killer,” McGraw said, slapping Norm on his massive bicep with the back of his hand.
“Norm is almost perfect, but he was a barrister before I showed him his true calling,” Sweet said.
“That’s a bloody barista, fool! I was a barrister…an attorney.”
Sweet and McGraw laughed. Norm went back to devouring his bowl of kale.
“So, how are we handling the twins, Sweet?” McGraw asked.
“We’re gonna use an outsider,” Sweet answered.
“Anyone I know?” McGraw asked.
“Maybe,” Sweet replied. “Her name’s Lala.”
McGraw sat bolt upright in his chair. “Hold up…Lala is real? I thought she was just a friggin’ urban legend.”
“I heard she took out Preach, the Boss out of Cincinnati,” McGraw said. “And his gang, too, without ever firing a single shot. Man, I thought all that was bullshit, though.”
“No, that was really Lala,” Norm said. “She only uses silent weapons. Knives and crossbows and other Lord of the Rings-type shit. Sweet has used her a few times.”
“Yeah, she does good wet-work, but she’s fuckin’ expensive,” Sweet sighed. “And she’s crazy as a shithouse rat! I don’t like fuckin’ with her unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, it’s necessary. You’ll finally get to meet her, McGraw; she should be here any minute.”
“Any minute?” McGraw gasped. “What the hell is she…psychic or something? How did she know you’d be giving her this contract?”
“Ever hear of speed-dial, wanker?” Norm asked.
“The second the sit-down went south, I hit Lala up with a text.”
A woman sauntered into the dining room, her Dolce and Gabbana mini dress caressing every curve of her sensuous form with each graceful step.
“Gentlemen,” the woman said. She then nodded in McGraw’s direction. “Pervert.”
“Speak of the devil,” Sweet said, taking the woman’s hand.
“And the devil appears,” Lala said. “So, who are we killin’, sugar?”
Sweet kissed the back of her hand and extended his arm toward a chair. Lala took a seat.
“The Carver Twins,” Sweet said.
“Okay,” Lala said. “Two-fifty…each.”
“Five hundred thousand dollars?” Sweet hissed. “Are you fuckin’ serious?”
“I’m the World Serious of seriousness, baby,” Lala replied. “These are two crime bosses we’re talkin’ about, not some mayor or fuckin’ police chief!”
“Two hundred each,” Sweet said.
“Two-twenty-five,” Lala responded.
“Done,” Sweet said.
McGraw exploded forward.
Sweet lit a stogie and took a few quick puffs.
“McGraw, what the bloody hell are you doin’?” Norm spat.
“I’m disappointed,” McGraw said. “The legendary Lala, huh? It was easy to get the ups on your sexy, little ass. I could have slit your throat and you’d have been dead before you knew who did you.”
“I’ll tell you what I do know, Perv,” Lala said. “After you slit my throat, I’d try to cauterize and sew up the wound. Hell, it’s worth a shot. I still might die, but not before you.”
“How’s that?” McGraw asked.
McGraw winced. He looked down toward the source of his pain. Lala held the tip of a knife at his inner thigh.
“Femoral artery laceration,” Lala said. “You’ll bleed out in eleven seconds. Still disappointed?”
McGraw sheathed his knife on his belt. “Not at all.”
Tammy slipped hers back in a hidden sheath on the outside of her clutch bag. She then slammed the back of her head into McGraw’s groin.
The detective collapsed onto his knees.
Tammy leapt from the chair and darted behind McGraw. She coiled her arms around his neck and squeezed.
McGraw’s eyes turned a bright pink as the constriction on his neck grew tighter.
“That’ll be another twenty thousand, or the pervert dies,” Lala demanded.
Sweet answered with a nod.
Lala released the choke.
“I swear to God, McGraw, if you weren’t so damned valuable, I’d kill you myself!” Sweet said.
“Alright gents,” Lala said, walking toward the door. She nodded toward McGraw, who was now resting on his knees. “Pervert…gotta get home, The Walking Dead marathon is coming on and I love me some T-Dog.”
Lala glided out of the dining room.
Z slipped his Sig Sauer nine millimeter pistol into the waistband of his jeans and then tossed the bottom of his t-shirt over it. “Sorry Lala,” he whispered as he shut the door to the apartment. “The Carvers are mine!”
Join us in a few days as we continue our thrilling tale with Redeemer: Glitch, Part 2!
And, as always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.
To celebrate the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, I will share an episodic short story based on the book for the next three posts. 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, grab a cup of chai tea, or your favorite brew, sit back and enjoy part one of Redeemer: Glitch!
REDEEMER: Glitch Part 1
Glitch: A minor malfunction, mishap, or technical problem; a snag
The din of raucous laughter echoed throughout the private dining room of Sayles’ Lobster Bar. “Sweet” Danny Sweet had just told one of his anecdotes, which were always entertaining and, usually, quite funny.
Sweet’s charisma and “favorite uncle” demeanor was in stark contrast to his brutality; his ruthlessness. Those same qualities made him one of the most powerful record industry moguls in the world and the most powerful criminal in the Southeastern United States.
Z loved Sweet. When his father was brutally murdered, it was Sweet who stepped in to give him and his mother support; it was Sweet who found the man responsible for his father’s death; and it was Sweet who gave him the opportunity – and the will – to kill that man.
Next to Sweet sat the giant, “Nigerian Norm” – the man responsible for Sweet’s safety and for Z’s training. Norm, too, was a man of contrasts – massively muscled; brutish; a master of murder, mayhem and pain. But he was also a graduate of the prestigious Oxford Law school, well-traveled, fluent in five languages and one of the most formidable attorneys on the planet.
Norm was Z’s instructor in the ways of death and, in that role, as all the others he played, he had done exceptionally well. At fifteen years of age, Z was already an experienced and respected assassin-for-hire and was determined to one day be the absolute best.
Z thrust his fork into a mound of spaghetti gamberetto and then twirled it, wrapping the platinum utensil in a cocoon of pasta and shrimp. He shoved the pasta into his mouth, savoring the spicy-sweet flavor.
The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee assaulted Z’s nostrils. “McGraw,” he whispered.
Homicide Detective Terry McGraw sauntered into the dining room. His thick, brown fingers fumbled with the buttons of his tweed blazer as he approached the dining table. Behind him shuffled a stout, fireplug of a man, his plump belly jiggling with each step.
“McGraw, what’s the good word?” Sweet inquired.
“I’ve got good news, Sweet,” McGraw replied, reaching across the table to shake Sweet’s hand.
“Good,” Sweet said. His eyes shifted to the clammy-skinned, beer-bellied man beside McGraw and then back to the detective. “Who’s the J? And why is he at my table?”
“He witnessed the robbery-homicide at Frankie’s spot,” McGraw answered. “His name’s…”
“Chuck Alexander Etheridge,” the fireplug of a man said, extending his plump fingers toward Sweet. “But, everyone calls me ‘Shakespeare’.”
“Okay. Have a seat McGraw,” Sweet said, ignoring Shakespeare’s hand. “…Spear-Chucker.”
The corners of Shakespeare’s mouth curled into a weak smile. “That’s Shake…”
“Hey, Norm,” McGraw said, nodding toward the giant.
Hey, John Hop,” Norm said, leaning forward in his chair. “You had best brought some good Brad Pitt for this Buster Keaton.”
McGraw shook his head. “Damn, I’ve known you for, what? Eleven…twelve years? And I still can’t understand a friggin’ word when you talk that Cockney shit.”
“Well, if you cleaned the wax outta your sighs and had any eighteen in your loaf, understandin’ me would be lemon squeezy,” Norm said.
“It’s British Ebonics,” Sweet snickered. “You catch on after a while.”
Sweet turned his gaze toward Shakespeare. “So, what you got for me, Shake-n-Bake?”
“It’s…ahem…well, I was at Frankie’s spot when it happened,” Shakespeare replied. “It must have been around eleven, because I arrived at my regularly appointed time of ten-fifteen and had already taken my nightly dosage of opiate.”
“Opiate?” Sweet cut his eyes toward Detective McGraw.
“H,” McGraw answered.
“Oh,” Sweet said. “Go on, Salt-Shaker.”
Shakespeare leapt from the table and paced the floor. He hung his head and closed his eyes. “Frankie and his henchmen did not stand a chance. Their guns meant nothing in the face of that creature of wind and shadow.
“And why are you alive to tell the tale?” Z asked.
“He left all of the patrons alive,” Shakespeare answered.
“And just what did this bloke look like?” Norm inquired.
“He was tall, but not nearly as tall as you, or Detective McGraw,” Shakespeare replied. “He was, perhaps, five-eleven, or six feet. He was athletically built, with short, well-groomed hair and his skin was a smooth caramel…”
“Damn,” McGraw shouted, interrupting him. “Did you get the motherfucker’s phone number?”
“Absolutely not,” Shakespeare said, turning up his nose. “I am…
“You thinkin’ a sit-down?” Norm asked.
“Definitely,” Sweet replied.
Sweet raised his glass of cognac and extended it toward Shakespeare. “Good work, Shakespeare!”
A broad smile spread across Shakespeare’s face.
Sweet withdrew a money clip from the inner pocket of his sharkskin suit coat and thrust two crisp hundred dollar bills toward Shakespeare. “Here; there’s a lot more in it for you if your information leads to us catching this bastard. Now, order yourself some food; it’s on me.”
Sweet held up a golden brown french fry. “Hey, Norm, tell Shakespeare what you call these in England.”
“Chips,” Norm said.
“Freakin’ chips! Can you believe that?” Sweet asked. “A chip is a thinly sliced, flat piece of potato. Comes in different flavors, like plain – that’s my favorite – barbecue
; salt and vinegar – we call ‘em ‘salt and sour’ back home ; hot ; dill pickle – I don’t like them shits, though – anyway, that’s a friggin’ chip!”
Sweet snickered as he shook his head. “You English are some weird motherfuckers!”
“First of all, I’m Nigerian,” Norm began.
Sweet rolled his eyes. “Here we go…”
“Second of all, no brother would ever call himself ‘English’, he’d say he’s ‘British’, and third…”
“Hold that thought,” Sweet said, interrupting Norm. “I gotta take a piss.”
“You’re already takin’ the piss, aren’t ya’?” Norm replied.
“See…weird!” Sweet said.
Shakespeare smiled wider.
Sweet rose from his chair. Norm followed suit.
Sweet wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “What?”
“I want in on the sit-down, in case the Carvers get froggy,” Z replied.
“What the hell do you think me and Norm are gonna be doing there, little nigga?” Norm spat. “Playing with our dicks? It don’t get no better than me and Norm having Sweet’s back.”
“The Carvers have some tight security and I hear that the twins are pretty dangerous themselves,” Z said. “You can use my help.”
“You’re fifteen, Z,” McGraw sighed. “Leave this shit to the big boys.”
McGraw turned his gaze toward Sweet. “Little nigga kills two or three motherfuckers and thinks he’s Dirty Harry, or some shit!”
Z pointed toward the silver police detective badge, encased in leather, hanging from McGraw’s neck. “Without that badge and gun, you’re just a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy with bad feet.”
Norm slapped the table with his fingertips. Plates rattled as silverware tap-danced against them. “Ezekiel…enough!”
“Yes, Sensei,” Z said, lowering his gaze.
“Bloody hell,” Norm shouted. “McGraw is your elder, Z. Apologize!”
“Yes, Sensei.” Z turned toward McGraw and pressed his palms together with his hands before his chest as if he was about to pray. “Detective McGraw, I apologize. I was wrong.”
McGraw smiled warmly. “It’s okay, Z. I accept your…”
“You are a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy,” Z said, cutting McGraw off. “But you don’t have bad feet.”
The room erupted in laughter.
McGraw thrust his middle finger toward Z.
“That’s better,” Norm said. “Gotta show the geezers their respect.”
“Y’all motherfuckers are crazy!” Sweet chuckled. “Look Z, this game’s political. If someone your age attends a sit-down, it’ll be taken as disrespect. I know your father – God rest his soul – gave you a soldier’s heart and Norm is teaching you to kill like a pro, but you gotta be patient.”
“The Carver Twins hired Greg Blake to merc my dad,” Zeke sighed.
“And they’ll pay for that,” Sweet said. “Just like Greg Blake did. You’ll have your revenge, little man; we just gotta be smart about it.”
“Yes, sir,” Z said.
Sweet pulled the brim of his homburg over his right eyebrow. “That’s my boy! Be right back, fellas; nature calls.”
Join us in a few days as we continue our thrilling tale with Redeemer: Glitch, Part 2!
And, as always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.
BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY? Urban Fiction’s Impact on Black Literacy!
My introduction to Urban Fiction in literature began with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which I read when I was eight or nine years old. A few years after going nuts over the film version, which released in 1972 and The Godfather II, which released in 1974.
My love for The Godfather, led me to seek out gangster films and books with Black people as the heroes, thus became a lifelong (not so) secret love affair with Blaxploitation films and Urban Literature. I could quote every line from Shaft, The Mack, Coffee, and my favorite, Gordon’s War and Donald Goines’ Cry Revenge had an honored place in the trunk that held my most prized comic books.
The youth have always loved Urban Fiction. And not just tweens and teens from the inner city. Teens in rural communities also crave these gritty, action-packed stories. Leading authority on Urban Fiction, Dr. Vanessa Irvin Morris, claims that 93 percent of libraries across the country – both urban and rural – carry Urban Fiction in their collections.
And it is bringing adults who normally do not read to the brick-and-mortar and online bookstores. According to Dr. Morris, writers such as Teri Woods, Miasha Coleman, K’wan and Shannon Holmes not only outsell such renowned authors as Alice Walker,Toni Morrison, Richard Wright and other authors of classic literature, but even more mainstream authors, such as Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) (Morris, V. J., Agosto, D.P., Hughes-Hassell, S., & Cottman, D.T.; 2006; Street Lit: Flying off teen fiction bookshelves in Philadelphia public libraries. Journal of Young Adult Library Service, 5(1): 16-23)
And the readers of Urban Fiction are loyal customers, quick to make a purchase and insatiable in their desire for more stories.
Even with its popularity, however, Urban Literature still has its detractors – mainly African-American writers of contemporary and speculative fiction.
While the authors of Urban Fiction may not possess a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, or may not have a clue what the Lumineferous Aether is, they do have a gripping story, interesting characters, a do-it-yourself attitude and extraordinary hustle and heart. And that is why Urban Fiction outsells every other genre of fiction on the shelf. So don’t hate; congratulate…and get your hustle up!
While many of us moisten at the thought of recognition from some mainstream publishing company, the authors of Urban Fiction are possessed by an entrepreneurial spirit that enables them to self-publish and sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their books at bus stops, barber shops, beauty salons and street festivals. They don’t seek out mainstream publishers; mainstream publishers seek them out.
And – more than any other genre – Urban Fiction inspires people to read and write.
“But Street Lit glorifies drug dealing, murder and misogyny,” you say. Some does. So does some science fiction; so does some horror; so does some fantasy, romance and even some of the classics.
However, there is Urban Fiction that gives the reader strong, independent and competent women, healthy, loving relationships, and characters with high moral standards.
Furthermore, reading Urban Fiction can evoke necessary discussion on issues that plague us all.
According to Vanessa Irvin Morris, author of The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature and owner of the website, streetliterature.com, in Philadelphia, a group of librarians worked with hundreds of teens to determine Urban Fiction’s impact on our youth. They found that the relationships between the men and women characters in the books spurred much discussion. The girls, for the most part, originally thought that the male characters “were good to their women” because “they bought them name brand stuff”, but as they analyzed the books, they came to understand that most of the relationships in them involved verbal abuse and domestic violence.
The most significant discovery for the librarians was that it was analyzing the books that brought about the teens’ awareness of abuse, which was not originally apparent to them. The students read the books and then came together to talk about what they had read and in doing so, developed a greater understanding of the dynamics of relationships and the tragedy of domestic violence.
It is interesting that we reject Street Lit for its presumed misogyny and abusive relationships – which we most certainly should – yet we ignore the misogyny in such classics as Catcher in the Rye, or the abusive relationship in the Twilight Saga. We must make a stand against the abuse of women wherever we find it. If writers truly want to see a change in Urban Fiction, shouldn’t we create that change by contributing our own works?
My mother has always taught my siblings and me, by example, that if you have a problem with something, don’t complain, do your part to fix it. I like to grow a scraggly beard sometimes – I just do, okay? – and my mother hates it. She’ll say the same thing every time she sees my beard – “How much does a shave cost?” She will then proceed to reach into her purse, pull out the exact amount for the shave and hand me the money.
Now, she could easily say “You look like a hobo, son. A shave is only six dollars…go get one!” Instead, she pulls out her money – and pulling out the exact amount tells me she was prepared to act if I sported that hateful, unkempt beard – and hands it to me. No complaining; just action.
It’s her way…and it’s one of the many great things I love about her. Ironically, it is also the way of the authors of Urban Fiction. They are warriors; not worriers.
Urban Fiction has been called “the most appealing form of Black literature.” It appeals to youth and adults for many reasons. Why? How? Here are a few reasons readers gave in a recent study (Morris, V.J.;2010; Street Lit: Before you recommend it, you have to understand it. Agosto, D. & Hughes-Hassell, S. (eds.). IN Urban Teens in the Library: Research and Practice. (pp. 53-66). Chicago: American Library Association):
- Stories are fast-paced and action-packed, often with elements of romance.
- The style is straight forward and cinematic – like a movie in your head.
- The protagonists are usually anti-heroes.
- Readers relate to the story, setting and characters.
- While readers tend to be African-American women, ages 18 – 35, Urban Fiction also attracts more male readers than any other genre – many readers feel that if something can get men and boys to read, it is powerful indeed.
- There are many parallels between Urban Fiction and Hip-Hop.
Below are two reviews of my Urban Science Fiction novel, Redeemer, a mash-up of Urban Fiction and Science Fiction. Redeemer is a thrilling read and appeals to both science fiction and urban fiction readers alike for all the reasons cited above and more. But don’t just take my word for it; read on…
Ezekiel Cross is a cold blooded killer. He works for ‘Sweet’ Danny Sweet, owner of Sweet South Records, the second wealthiest music label in the country. For most of his life Ezekiel has been a killer, trained from a young age to enforce the whims of his boss. But Ezekiel is tired. He longs for the day that he can hang up his guns and live a normal life with his wife Mali. But the life of a killer is never his own. Ezekiel is called to do another hit, but instead of closing the deal he finds himself the target of a different kind of hit. He’s sent back into time and finds himself in a situation that could change his life forever…or end it.
Redeemer is the latest novel by Balogun Ojetade, author of the Steamfunk novel, Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon a Time in Afrika, and my Sword and Soul brother. I had the privilege to read Redeemer earlier this year in manuscript form and was immediately blown away. The book is filled with action, drama and humor as only Balogun can write, but with Redeemer he takes his penchant of mashing genres to another level. For months I’ve read different manuscripts attempting to mesh urban fiction and science fiction in an attempt to capture a piece of the urban fiction market. None of those I perused had of a much chance of success in my opinion. The authors either kept too much urban or too much science fiction or too little of both. After reading the last page of Redeemer I smiled and said to myself, ‘this is it right here.’ A story with a touch of science fiction, a dose of urban fiction and a wallop of great action and great character development. If there was any book that would combine the two genres, Redeemer is it.
Now I know a few of you are saying, ‘doesn’t this plot remind you of Looper?’ Well, let me clear that up as well. Balogun first shared Redeemer to me as a script almost two years ago. Unfortunately for me I didn’t read it. He passed it along to me again as a novel later and the rest is history. Even if you persist in that thought mode, I urge you to put those thoughts aside and read this book. It takes a different journey, one that is as much heartfelt as it is action packed. And it comes with an ending that will make you smile.
Now, that’s all I can reveal without spoiling all the fun. I give Redeemer 5 out of 5 stars. Balogun once again shows his skills as a writer that can take different genres and make them something fresh and new. You can purchase Redeemer here and here. You won’t be disappointed.
“Redeemer” – One of the best reads ever!
I teach drama and creative movement at a private school in Boston. I am also the sponsor of the Avid Readers Club at the school, which I enjoy because I have always loved to read and I have books that I love from EVERY genre.
Though I have literally (pun intended) read thousands of books in my lifetime – I average about a hundred a year – I have never written a review of one. Until now.
I just read the latest book, “Redeemer”, from Balogun Ojetade, one of my favorite authors.
Redeemer is unique in that it successfully combines the best of urban fiction with the best of science fiction into a story that is nothing short of incredible.
I intended to devote a couple of weeks to Redeemer – to read it between grading papers and doing laundry on my weekend afternoons. I ended up reading it in one sitting, with breaks to answer the call of nature, or to briefly hop on Facebook to tell folks how great Redeemer is.
Redeemer truly elevates urban fiction; not only because it is well-edited, original and does not degrade women – qualities sorely lacking in the genre – but because it is a heartfelt tale of fatherhood. Particularly how a father’s relationship with his son can have powerful consequences, for better or worse.
This gritty and exciting story is the tale of Ezekiel Cross, a hit-man who wants out of the game. He resigns from a life of organized crime and killing with the permission and blessings of his crime boss, “Sweet” Danny Sweet. Or so it seems.
Danny Sweet actually sets Ezekiel up and uses him in an experiment in time travel. Ezekiel is sent back thirty years in time. Initially distraught, he decides to change his fate by saving himself and his family from the events that led him to a lifetime of crime. Along the way, he meets some of the coolest, sexiest, deadliest and craziest characters to ever grace the pages of a book. Besides Ezekiel Cross, one of my favorite characters is Norm, a giant Black Cockney attorney and master assassin. Another is Lala, legendary contract killer and fashionista.
Redeemer is going to go down (or rise up) in history as the novel that finally got it right. That took two wildly popular, and sometimes opposing, genres of fiction and married them. And oh, what a matchmaker Balogun Ojetade is! With such masterful matchmaking skill, maybe he can hook me up with my future husband, Idris Elba! It’s in the cards, Idris. It’s in the cards.
Many fans of urban literature don’t read science fiction because they don’t see themselves in those stories and many science fiction fans don’t read urban fiction because they believe urban fiction to be poorly written, poorly edited and full of cliché. Neither side has done enough research. Great books can be found in both genres.
Redeemer is such a book and is the best mash-up of both genres. EVER.
I won’t reveal anymore. You’ll have to read the book. You’ll be glad you did.
The author would like to thank the reviewers of the novel, Redeemer and a special thanks goes out to Dr. Vanessa Irvin Morris, who provided the bulk of the research for this article.
I think of Redeemer as a sci-fi gangster epic. Some say I have created “the perfect bridge” between urban fiction and science fiction and call it “Urban Science Fiction”. And some simply call it Science Fiction.
I dunno. You tell me what it is after you read it.
Think American Gangster or Goodfellas meets The Time Machine.
Here is an excerpt:
His movement was swift…silent.
He found himself thanking God again – this time, for Chagga Mutwa, patriarch of the Tokoloshe guild of assassins and expert in the arts of invisibility and quiescence.
Ezekiel had spent two years of harsh training, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, under the tutelage of the sapient old master.
In those two years, he had learned much.
Ezekiel tested the front door. The steel entryway creaked open. No surprise. Engineers’ Row – or, ‘The Twilight Zone’, as the youth called it – was patrolled and protected by fearsome and efficient Nano-Drones.
Swarming an intruder by the thousands, these nearly microscopic, cybernetic organisms invaded a victim’s body through his orifices. The minuscule drones would then connect to the victim’s nervous system and shut the intruder down, rendering him comatose until the arrival of the police.
Of course, when your boss is Danny Sweet – owner of the company that created the Drones – the little terrors presented no problem at all.
Ezekiel crept into the warehouse. Through the dim light, he could see rows of crates, filled with wires, computer parts, electronic gadgets, rods, gears and motors of various sizes. The hangar-sized warehouse reeked with the smell of copper and axle grease.
Suddenly, voices came – low and in a staccato rhythm. Ezekiel crouched low and tilted his head toward the sound, as if to bring his right ear closer to it. No, not voices, Ezekiel realized. A voice. A woman’s voice…rapping a tune from his early childhood.
His father would play the song and talk about the rapper performing it as if the man was a god. “Biggie is a genius!” His father would proclaim. “The mad scientist of hip-hop!”
The name of the song came to Ezekiel – ‘Warning’.
The assassin moved across the warehouse in a quick, zigzagging shuffle.
The woman’s voice grew louder.
“…I got the Calico with the black talons loaded in the clip.”
The voice was coming from a small office at the rear of the warehouse. Ezekiel rushed toward the office door, aimed his pistol and snatched the door wide open.
He rolled into the room, quickly popping up to a kneeling position, with his pistol at the ready.
The room, however, was empty, save a large plasma television in the corner of the room. On top of the television sat what appeared to be a gold watch.
Suddenly, the door slammed shut. Ezekiel whirled around to face it.
The low click that followed told him that the door had locked.
Ezekiel aimed his pistol at the doorknob.
The television came to life with a soft hum. “I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”
Once Upon A Time In Afrika is Sword & Soul.
Here is an excerpt:
Tayewo sailed through the air, thrashing like a mackerel on the floor of a fisherman’s boat. He landed on a row of large, wooden bata drums – his buttocks, elbows and the back of his head pounding out a thunderous tune before he slid to the floor. Tayewo grunted as his ebony-toned back smacked the cold marble.
Ṣeeke smiled. It was the first time she had thrown someone with a wheel kick and she had executed it perfectly. “Mistress Oyabakin would be proud,” she thought.
Ṣeeke’s smile faded as she found herself hoisted into the air by her brother, Kehinde, who had trapped her in a powerful bear-hug from behind.
Though identical in size and appearance to Tayewo, Kehinde was nearly twice as strong and knew how to use his strength to do damage.
Ṣeeke hooked her left foot around Kehinde’s left ankle and then reached behind her, pressing her palm into the middle of Kehinde’s back.
Try as he might, Kehinde could not throw his sister, who seemed to be stuck to him like palm oil to white cloth.
Suddenly, Ṣeeke bent forward, grabbing Kehinde’s right ankle with both hands. She continued her forward momentum, rolling over into a seated position, which sent Kehinde careening over Ṣeeke and onto his back, beside his sister, with his right leg trapped between both of hers.
Ṣeeke held Kehinde’s foot tightly to her chest as she propelled herself backward, until she lay beside her brother. She then thrust her pelvis upward, against Kehinde’s knee, as she arched her back and expanded her chest.
Kehinde screamed in agony as his knee hyper-extended and the ligaments stretched to their limits.
“Release him Ṣeeke! Now!”
Ṣeeke immediately recognized the bellowing, baritone voice. “Yes, Baba.”
Ṣeeke released her grip on her brother’s ankle.
Kehinde rolled onto his side, massaging his aching knee.
“Is Kehinde’s knee dislocated?” The Alaafin asked.
“No, father,” Ṣeeke said, as she sprang to her feet. “He should be fine in a day or two.”
“How does the knee feel?” The Alaafin asked Kehinde.
“It hurts when I do this, Baba,” Kehinde replied, extending and then bending his knee in a stiff, choppy rhythm.
“Then, don’t do that,” the Alaafin said.
After you read these novels, please, give me feedback and honest critique. I want your experience, when reading my books, to be nothing short of Blacknificent!
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA
Once Upon A Time In Afrika is written in the subgenre of Sword & Soul. For those unfamiliar with what Sword & Soul is, here are definitions from several authors who contributed to Griots, the critically acclaimed, first Sword & Soul anthology and from fans of the subgenre:
Diop Malvi: “The expansion of a subject once locked into one room without a window but a funhouse mirror.”
Sean Howard Mcintosh: “Sword and Soul is edutainment. Sword and Soul provides the readers a source of a fun filled escape to brand new worlds, while opening up minds to wholly unexplored cultures with real world basis.”
Milton Davis: “Sword and Soul is a celebration of our past with positive implications for our present and future. It represents us in a heroic, positive light and builds a bridge between us and our precolonial past. When done at its best, it inspires, enlightens and encourage. Sword and Soul Forever!”
Keith Gaston: “Sword fighting against evil – clang, clang, clang; blasting magical bolts at malevolent wizards, whose evil lair falls apart after you defeat them.”
Hannibal Tabu: “Many forms of western literature have done a good job at trying to pretend we don’t exist in the future, the past, and sometimes the present. Sword and soul is a part of putting on corrective lenses, seeing even the fantasy world as it is, as it has to be. Or, in the words of KRS-ONE: ‘We will be here forever. Get what I’m saying to you. Forever. Forever and ever, and ever and ever. We will be here.’”
Valjeanne Jeffers: “Dark sorcerers with silver tongues, Magical Sisters with swords at their sides, Black knights with preternatural powers, lots and lots of monsters and villains LOL!”
And, finally, a definition of Sword & Soul from the subgenre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders: “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.”
Thanks to all those who have taken the time to give me feedback on the book and for those who have supported me by purchasing it. I look forward to hearing from you all.
So, here goes…
“Every now and then, a novel comes along that simply must not be missed. Balogun Ojetade’s Once Upon a Time In Afrika, published by Milton Davis’s MV Media, is such a novel. Full disclosure: I wrote the book’s Introduction.
Balogun is deeply imbued in African history, culture, and folklore. He is also a martial-arts instructor – one of many hats he wears. This eclectic range of knowledge and expertise has enabled him to tell a tale that is richly textured — and also a rip-roaring adventure yarn. Sword and Soul doesn’t get any better than this.
Once Upon a Time in Afrika is set in Onile, a mythical alternate Africa along the lines of the Nyumbani of my Imaro novels and the Uhuru that is the background for Milton Davis’s Meji duology. However, Onile is fully distinguishable from Uhuru and Nyumbani, and so is the story Balogun tells.
And what an epic story it is. It is a story of sword-crossed lovers: a princess named Seeke (full name Esuseeke) and a warrior named Akin. Their perilous relationship unfolds within a context of events that threaten the future of their vast and variegated continent. The focal point of the plot is a grand fighting tournament in which the prize is not some Olympics-type medal, but the hand of Seeke in marriage. For only the greatest warrior of all is worthy to be her husband.
Akin enters the tournament under a false identity. As Akin progresses through its various – and potentially lethal – stages, Balogun reveals a variety of African martial-arts styles. The reader never knows which form will come up next.
The richness of cultural and mythic detail in Once Upon a lime is astounding. Here’s an example:
A sound, like distant thunder, joined the chanting of the young warriors. The ground shook and the scent of iron filled the air.
Master Gboyega leapt to his feet “Horses approach! The riders are armed! Form ranks!”
The warriors placed their training swords on the ground around the Warriors’ Circle and then quickly retrieved their iron swords from a row of racks nearby.
Akin kept the twin, ironwood swords he carried on his back. The wooden weapons were given to Akin by his maternal grandmother, Efunlade. The swords had been used by Efunlade’s father, Damilola, in slaying the last iron dragon, Garugu — a powerful and ancient malevolence that terrorized the citizens of Oyo for centuries. Garugu ate iron and breathed the digested metal as a cloud of molten shrapnel, thus Damilola wisely chose to forgo the use of an iron sword and shield in favor of two swords carved from incredibly hard ironwood. The blood of Garugu was said to be soaked into the wooden swords, giving them nigh indestructibility and the power to pierce and cut through iron as easily as a lion’s teeth pierces the flesh of a gazelle fawn.
Even as the tournament reaches its culmination, external events menace the kingdoms of Onile. The people of another continent are conspiring to conquer (Mile, exploit its riches, and enslave its inhabitants (sound familiar?). The outcome of the tournament will affect the larger course of Onile’s future.
Will the disguised Akin prevail in the tournament and win the hand of Seeke, who is a formidable fighter in her own right? Will Onile be able to overcome the forces arrayed against it? Will the continent’s gods and spirits intervene on the mortals’ behalf?
Hey, I don’t do “spoilers.” You’ve got to get hold of copy of the book and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.” – Charles R. Saunders, Father of Sword & Soul and author of the Imaro series of novels, the Dossouye series and the pulp novel, Damballa
Balogun Ojetade’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRIKA
“‘Sword and Soul’ is a sub-genre I had yet to explore – had yet even to have heard of – before my good friend and fellow book freak EssJay mentioned it, and this book, to me. Ever ready to try something new, especially if it’s cheap, I decided to take a chance on Once Upon a Time in Afrika.
I’m very glad I did.
Written like a fairy tale, densely plotted like the conventional epic fantasies it’s riffing on, Once Upon a Time in Afrika is a hell of a lot of fun to read. Set in an alternate pre-white-contact version of Africa in which the magic and the gods and demigods of folk tale and legend are real and part of everyday life, the story of badass Princess Esuseeke and her equally badass suitors is packed with action, combat, empowerment and intrigue. Ojetade is a student of African martial arts and it shows; his fight scenes are intricate, plausible, visceral and absolutely breathtaking, but he’s writer enough to keep the reader’s attention between battles.*
Refreshingly for this reader, Esuseeke is not rebelling when she takes up a sword or drops into an unarmed combat stance, but partaking fully of a culture that expects women to be able to defend themselves and boasts of a proud tradition of women warriors who often outshine the men. Her gender is important only because of her royalty; someone’s got to breed successors to the crown, and for that she needs, at some point, a husband.
But her husband can’t just be any old blue-blood type; he has to be her equal. And there aren’t many of those.
Enter the time-honored device of the tournament. The winner gets to marry Esuseeke — all nice and straightforward. But it isn’t; Esuseeke’s father, a politician rather than a warrior, doesn’t trust the mechanism to produce a satisfactory result. He has someone in mind for her that will probably win, but daddy wants to be sure, you see. In other words, daddy starts gaming the system even before the system is in place, just to make sure that his daughter marries the right guy.
Of course the right guy is kind a jerk. More than a jerk, actually, a terrifying warlord whose fixation on the Law brings him to commit acts of extreme cruelty towards those less fortunate than he, rather than bend the rules a little.
But wait, there’s more! Chiefly one Akin, the son of the unspeakably badass warrior woman who trained Esuseeke, but whom the princess somehow never met. He is the best student at his parents’ school but has yet to prove himself anywhere else, but oh is he ready. Packing a pair of wooden swords that once slew a dragon and sporting a bristling mohawk, he is every inch a hero-in-waiting, but the way he finds himself fighting for Esuseeke’s hand isn’t quite what he might expect.
There’s also a magician of intimidating power and wiliness, who just happens to be the sworn enemy of the Jerk. And a vast and skeletal monster only half of which, the left side, exists in our world. And a freaky witch that tricks her way into Akin’s stomach. And a giant, pasty warrior who rides an armored albino rhinoceros into battle. And much, much more.
I haven’t had this much sheer fun with a book since the first Crown of the Blood novel, if you couldn’t tell.
So if you love pulp fantasy but don’t love the racism, or the sexism, this may be your new favorite novel, or perhaps novella, for my one complaint about Once Upon a Time in Afrika, it’s that it’s just too short! But like they say, you want to leave ‘em hankering for more.
Mission accomplished, Mr. Ojetade.
*Although there is a bit of tedium in the middle as he sends the kingdom’s Prime Minister on a tour of the continent, recruiting warriors for the tournament. It’s only a bit tedious, though, because Ojetade’s considerable imagination gets free reign on the journey. And he does like a badass warrior-woman, does Ojetade. Oh, yes.” – Kate Sherrod, author of Suppertime Sonnets
WERE AMOS & ANDY SCI-FI GEEKS? Spencer Williams and the Son of Ingagi
Well, if not, Spencer Williams – the man who portrayed the dreamer, Andrew “Andy” Hogg Brown – certainly was.
For those of you too young to remember the show, or with parents too young to remember it…or for those who have chosen to forget just what Amos n Andy is, it started as a radio comedy series set in the African-American community of first, Chicago, then Harlem. It was written and voiced by Caucasian comedians, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll and originated from station WMAQ in Chicago.
After the program was first broadcast in 1928, it grew to become a huge influence on all the radio series that followed it. The show ran as a nightly radio serial from 1928 until 1943, as a weekly situation comedy from 1943 until 1955, and as a nightly disc-jockey program from 1954 until 1960.
The television adaptation ran on CBS-TV from 1951 until 1953, and continued in syndicated reruns from 1954 until 1966.
Considered by many to be the most offensive television program of all time, Amos n Andy was also one of first TV shows to have a predominantly black cast. Stories mostly centered on the titular characters’ Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge leader, George “The Kingfish” Stevens and his schemes to get rich, which often included duping his brothers in the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge. Andy was particularly dupable. Amos mostly narrated the goings on.
Determined to realize improved images of ourselves in popular culture, the characters in Amos ‘n Andy – including rude, aggressive women and weak black men – were offensive.
Most of the characters – especially, the Kingfish and his wife, Sapphire Stevens – could not engage in a conversation without peppering their speech with faulty grammar and mispronunciations.
The NAACP, bolstered by its 1951 summer convention, mandated an official protest of the program. The organization outlined a list of specific items it felt were objectionable, for example, how “every character is either a clown or a crook,” “Negro doctors are shown as quacks,” and “Negro lawyers are shown as crooks.” As the series aired in June 1951, the NAACP appeared in federal court seeking an injunction against its premiere.
In 1953, CBS reluctantly removed the program from the air.
The Amos ‘n Andy show, however, remained in syndication well into the 1960s and is currently available on DVD.
Before Spencer Williams became known to the nation as Andy Brown of Amos n’ Andy, he wrote, directed and starred in numerous “race” films – a film genre which existed in the United States between about 1915 and 1950, consisting of films produced for an all-black audience and featuring black casts.
Approximately five hundred race films were produced. Of these, fewer than one hundred are available for public view. Because race films were produced outside the Hollywood studio system, they have been largely ignored by mainstream film historians.
As a director, Spencer Williams brought the technique of montage, the superimposing of scenes, to race films and is the writer of the first black science fiction movie, Son of Ingagi (1940).
Alfred N. Sack, whose Dallas, Texas-based company, Sack Amusement Enterprises, produced and distributed race films, was impressed with Williams’ screenplay for Son of Ingagi and offered him the opportunity to write and direct a feature film.
At that time, the only African American filmmaker was the self-financing writer/director/producer Oscar Micheaux.
With his own film projector, Williams began traveling in the southern US, showing his films to audiences. During this time, he met William H. Kier, who was also traveling the same circuit showing films. The two formed a partnership and produced some motion pictures, training films for the Army Air Forces, as well as a film for the Catholic diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Williams’ resulting film, The Blood of Jesus (1941), was produced by his own company, Amnegro (I swear I did not make that up), on a $5,000 budget using non-professional actors for his cast. The film, a religious fantasy about the struggle for a dying’ Christian woman’s soul, was a major commercial success.
With the success of The Blood of Jesus, Williams was invited to direct additional films for Sack Amusement Enterprises. In the next six years, Williams directed Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus (1942), Marching On! (1943), Go Down Death (1944), Of One Blood (1944), Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946), The Girl in Room 20 (1946), Beale Street Mama (1947), Juke Joint (1947) and Jesus versus Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny (1948) (Okay, I did make that one up).
Following the production of Juke Joint, Williams relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he joined Amos T. Hall in founding the American Business and Industrial College.
Spencer Williams becomes “Andy”
In 1948, U.S. radio comedians Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were planning to take their long-running comedy program Amos ‘n Andy to television. The program focused on the misadventures of a group of African Americans in the Harlem section of New York City. Gosden and Correll were white, but played the black lead characters using racially stereotypical speech patterns. They had previously played the roles in blackface make-up for the 1930 film Check and Double Check, but for the television version they opted to use an African American cast.
Gosden and Correll conducted an extensive national talent search to cast the television version of Amos ‘n Andy. News of the search reached Tulsa, where Williams was sought out by a local radio station that was aware of his previous work in race films.
Williams successfully auditioned for Gosden and Correll, and he was cast as Andrew H. Brown. Williams was joined in the cast by New York theater actor Alvin Childress, who was cast as Amos, and vaudeville comedian Tim Moore, who was cast as their lodge leader, George “Kingfish” Stevens.
After the removal of Amos n Andy from the air, Williams, along with television show cast members Tim Moore, Alvin Childress, and Lillian Randolph and her choir, began a US tour as “The TV Stars of Amos ‘n’ Andy” in 1956. CBS considered this a violation of their exclusivity rights for the show and its characters and the tour was brought to a premature end.
Williams returned to work in stage productions. In 1958, he had a role in the Los Angeles production of Simply Heavenly; the play had a successful New York run. His last credited role was as a hospital orderly in the 1962 Italian horror production L’Orribile Segreto del Dottor Hitchcock.
Williams died of a kidney ailment on December 13, 1969, at the Sawtelle Veterans Administration Hospital in Los Angeles, California. He was survived by his wife, Eula. At the time of his death, news coverage focused solely on his work as a television actor, since few white filmgoers knew of his race films. The New York Times obituary for Williams cited Amos ‘n Andy but made no mention of his work as a film director. A World War I veteran, he is buried at Los Angeles National Cemetery.
Recognition for Williams’ work as a film director came years after his death, when film historians began to rediscover the race films. Some of Williams’ films were considered lost until they were located in a Tyler, Texas, warehouse in 1983. His 1942 feature, Brother Martin: Servant of Jesus, is still considered lost.
Most film historians consider The Blood of Jesus to be Williams’ crowning achievement as a filmmaker. Dave Kehr of The New York Times called the film “magnificent” and Time magazine counted it among its “25 Most Important Films on Race.” In 1991, The Blood of Jesus became the first race film to be added to the U.S. National Film Registry.
Film critic, Armond White, named both The Blood of Jesus and Go Down Death as being “among the most spiritually adventurous movies ever made. They conveyed the moral crisis of the urban/country, blues/spiritual musical dichotomies through their documentary style and fable-like narratives.”
Son of Ingagi
Son of Ingagi is about Eleanor and Bob Lindsay inheriting the house of a doctor Helen Jackson, who had just returned from her trip to Africa with gold and a missing link-type creature named N’Gina.
When N’Gina drinks a potion created by Doctor Jackson, it sends him into a murderous rage and he kills the doctor.
The Lindsay family inherits Dr. Jackson’s house – and, unbeknownst to them – the monstrous, murderous N’Gina along with it.
For what happens next, watch the film. I have embedded it below for your viewing pleasure.
Spencer Williams was a multitalented man whose genius and unwavering determination have earned him a place in the League of Extraordinary Black People!
Learn more about Spencer Williams – and other great people and events in Black Science Fiction and Fantasy films – at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.
DOING AWAY WITH TRADITION: The Savior of Black Entertainment!
Calling something “traditional”, or oneself a “traditionalist”, or referring to “traditions” is often an implication of Right and Wrong. However, a tradition, in actuality, is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society, still maintained in the present, with origins in the past.
I am an African traditionalist. For me, that means I practice a spirituality that predates Judeo-Christian religion on the African continent and has been passed down, for eons within Yoruba society. Although I do consider my spirituality to be right and exact (or else, why practice it?), I do not consider someone else’s to be wrong. However, for many, the term traditional is used to say “Hey, what I do is the right way and your way is bullshit.
Filmmaking is full of “traditions”. These traditions are “the way things are done”, they are “industry standard”, they are “what is expected and accepted”, implying that there is a correct way to do things and deviations from that way are incorrect and unacceptable.
One such long-standing and entrenched tradition is the significance of the Short Film.
The Short Film is generally accepted to be significant to the emerging and aspiring filmmaker primarily, as learning experience and secondly, as a calling card. The short film allows you to gain experience without the overhead. Similarly, as a calling card, the short film serves as a demonstration of your abilities as a filmmaker in order to convince potential investors to trust you with the responsibility – and budget – to make a longer project.
The theory is that a good short film allows you to proclaim “If this is what I can do in 10 minutes of screen time, on a shoestring budget, just imagine what I could do with 90 minutes and millions of dollars!”
Learning experience; calling card. If this is what short films are for they have epically failed on both accounts.
The short film fails as a learning experience because making a short film only really teaches you about making short films. The structures, patterns and conventions of short film have little to no relationship to feature films.
A short film is not just a feature film shoved into a tiny house. A short film, simply by its duration, cannot fully expand your understanding of the elements of story, character, theme, myth and metaphor.
Furthermore, a short film will not prompt you to ask who your audience is; what they expect; what they want; what excites and challenges them; or how they will respond.
Ironically, film schools all over the globe make short films the fundamental learning experience, but spend nearly 100% of their class time discussing and analyzing feature films. That is like going to a karate school, studying day after day, month after month, year after how to snatch a man’s torso off and then, for your black belt exam, having to run like hell from some 126 pound orange belt. While running is sometimes the best strategy and a hasty retreat can be an art in itself, it really proves nothing about competence in the snatch-off-a-torso technique.
Now, if you are happy making short films as a mode of artistic expression, more power to you. However, I would wager that most of you aspiring filmmakers want to make feature films and will do so as soon as the budget allows.
No matter how dope / raw / funky / cold / hot your short film is, if your intention is to make bigger, longer dramatic works, it will largely fail to serve your intent. Short films do not demonstrate the crucial things that fill financiers with confidence. A short film, regardless of how “good” it is, can’t effectively demonstrate you can sustain character arcs and it doesn’t show you understand narrative structure.
A short film does not prove you know how to develop a story over time, or construct consistent dramatic tension and release. A short film doesn’t demonstrate you understand genre and know how to attract an audience.
Without these things there is no real evidence you can effectively make a viable feature film.
Well, if not short films, then what? Is there something better?
Lacking time and resources to make a feature film or a TV pilot, the answer is the web series, or webisode.
What is a Webisode?
A webisode – also known as web originals, web shows, web series, and online series – is a show in episodic form released online, or in some cases, across various mobile platforms. The series is created to live on the web and individual shows within a web series tend to run between 3 minutes and 6 minutes, with an entire season, from beginning to end, averaging an hour to an hour and a half.
When making a web show, the question is what kind of web show will you make? While web series take many forms, typical categories include sci-fi/fantasy (The Silent City; Osiris: the Series), comedies (Awkward Black Girl; 12 Steps to Recovery) and dramas (Touye Pwen: Kill Point; Celeste Bright).
Advantages of the Web Series
While most producers and financiers may currently ask to see your short film and inquire what festivals it has been in, many are now asking where your web series website is and how much traffic you webseries gets.
The advantages of the web series, as both learning experience and calling card, are myriad and obvious.
The web series is resource-viable. It takes no more money, technology or logistics to make an episodic online series than it does to make a short film.
The web series can easily find a far larger international audience than a short film on the festival circuit ever could. In doing so the web series proves the ability of the filmmaker to create for, gather, keep and motivate viewers.
While webisodes are generally short, the nature of their spacing and structure connects very well to feature film narrative turning points, and television episodes and seasons.
The web series may be small scale but the core structure is tangibly applicable and demonstrable, unlike most short films which – like running away, in relation to snatching off a man’s torso – offer little direct overlap.
In regard to the web series, transmedia – the development of stories across multiple forms of media in order to deliver unique pieces of content over multiple channels – is part and parcel of what a web series is. Where short and feature film projects the world over are being asked to add these elements (websites, trailers, games, etc), the web series is integrated tightly to this model from the start.
A good short film can be a great work of art but emerging and aspiring filmmakers need much more than a short work of art to build a career. The short-format, online, episodic webseries is the most dynamic, audience-driven, self-publicizing, learning vehicle independent filmmakers have ever had access to.
Find Your Audience
No matter how good your story is…if you can’t find someone to watch it, then you’re not likely to get much traction from your work.
If you can’t sit down and easily identify what kind of person will like your show and name five places that person might go to on the internet to hype your series, you will have a hard time getting the word out about your masterpiece.
As much as you may dread the idea, you’ll have to put in major work in order to alert the masses to your series. You have to market and promote. Even if your series is the best ever, you may have to work just as hard to convince people to watch as you did to make it.
However, within the last year more money has been devoted to original web content than at any time in the past. Youtube recently committed $100 million to nurturing new web-based talent. And Hulu has earmarked a half billion dollars for original content. Yep, $500 million.
Much of this interest comes from web series demonstrating their ability to reach larger groups of people and generate revenue. Most successful web shows appeal to very specific niche audiences and then grow from there.
That growth, or course, is a function of perseverance. If you can produce a series, find an audience and keep it, then the industry might just catch up to you with sponsors.
Five Keys to Success
- Have Something to Say – With the cost of filmmaking dropping all the time, creating your own series can be enticing, but you have to have something to say. Have a story to tell. No matter what your topic, the story needs to be compelling.
- Manage Your Imagination – Scale down your vision into something that’s shootable; something that you can make without waiting for approval or money. The greatest advantage of a producing a web series is that you do not need anyone’s okay to make it, and you don’t need anyone’s funding. You can shoot something compelling and engaging without lots money as long as you remain realistic about your ability to shoot it within the confines of your resources.
- Use The Resources at Hand – There are many people around you that can help you produce your project. There are actors, editors, sound people, hair and make-up people, wardrobe experts and camera operators who will work with you for little to no money because, like you, they seek to build experience and their portfolio. Also recruit talented friends and family members. Hiring your cool uncle Rollo to be your cinematographer might not be a great idea unless he has some training in film and experience as a director of photography and camera operator.
- Be a Leader – If it is your web series, then you are the leader. Everyone is looking to you as the captain of the ship. And trust me, you will be held responsible for everything – from your assistant director showing up drunk to an actor’s costume being a size too small because they chose to binge on Big Macs the night before a shoot. Have a plan. If not, then you are in for a world of grief and your project will probably go nowhere.
- If You Build It, Money Will Come – This might sound unrealistic, but it has been proven time and again that if you do good work consistently, the money will come – whether someone wants to buy your web series, or buy your talent and have you put the same effort into a television show or a feature film. Do not limit yourself to being a writer or a web-series producer – you are a creator. Create!
The Webseries: Savior of Black Entertainment?
New series that target the Black community are popping up every month.
Savior or not, this emergence of original Web programming is, indeed, good news for black art and expression.
In regard to our project, Rite of Passage, co-producer, Milton Davis and I are deciding whether to produce and pitch the show as a television series for independent television networks that celebrate the Black experience, such as Bounce TV (http://www.bouncetv.com/) and ASPiRE TV (http://www.aspire.tv/) or produce it as a web series.
Which do you think we should do?
McDojos: Over 40 Million Served
On occasion, I like to deviate from my regular posts on Steampunk, Steamfunk and / or the craft of writing and talk about some aspect of the martial arts.
I am honored to have the opportunity to share with you what little knowledge I have acquired in my forty years of training in – and twenty-five years of teaching – traditional African martial arts and I welcome your questions and comments.
A martial artist, like any other artist, has the responsibility to render the truth as they see it, so I will do just that. If this blog wounds anyone, so be it. Band-Aids only cost $2.99 a box. Now, here goes:
In this blog, we will discuss the bane and shame of the martial arts world: The “McDojo”.
McDojos are martial arts schools that – like the restaurant chain with a similar name – fill their patrons with garbage disguised as something good and, in the end, help to create soft, martial arts pooh-bears, or overly aggressive brutes.
The McDojo’s motive is profit.
McDojos teach impractical, ineffective martial arts and send unprepared, over confident students from the pristine, safe and controlled environment of the McDojo into the real world, armed with the false belief that they can defend themselves and teach others to do the same.
In actuality, these bamboozled students have no real combat or self-defense skills. They have wasted valuable time and money and are the victims of fraud and deception.
McDojos crank out thousands of “Black Belts” each year, who open schools after one or two years of training. Over half of these “Instructors” are twelve (12) years old and younger.
We have people who have never been hit, or who have never actually hit anyone, teaching self-defense to ourselves and our children. I have even been told of McDojos that convince unwitting students that they can learn to fight through the practice of dance steps. These instructors are basically ballet – or belly – dancers in a “karate suit”.
Learning to dance prepares the nervous system, mind and muscles for dancing, not combat. Next time you see someone disarm a knife wielding attacker with the “Stanky-Leg”, let me know.
With McDojos now outnumbering credible martial arts schools, it is essential that you learn to distinguish between the two, if you are serious about defending yourself and your loved ones
While visiting a martial arts school, listen for these McDojo warning signs:
- “You don’t have to experience pain in order to learn to fight effectively.”
- “We have techniques that can stop any grappler from taking us to the ground.”
- “If you have enough control to punch or kick inches from someone’s face without actually hitting them, you can easily hit them on the street.”
- “If you can break a board, you can break a bone.”
- “We train slowly and softly in class, but on the street, when adrenaline’s pumping, we hit hard and fast.”
- “We can make you a Black Belt (or Red Sash, or Instructor, etc.) in one to two years.”
- “If a child can perform the same techniques as an adult, then they are capable of teaching as an adult.”
- “I am Grandmaster of this style and the only person alive qualified to teach it.”
- “I teach Kemetic Kung Fu.” (Since when is anything Chinese “Kemetic”?)
The Making of a Mythster
We really do not realize how influenced by martial arts movies we really are.
We believe in – and actively seek out – Mr. Miyagi (or Mr. Han, in the remake), from The Karate Kid; Stick, from Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and Elektra books; or Pai Mei, from Kill Bill, Vol. 2.
The more mystical and mysterious the better. Damn practical self-defense technique when you can just snatch out your opponent’s entire ribcage and show it to him before he hits the ground.
While teaching my students in the park a couple of years ago, an onlooker, who claimed to be a lifelong student of the martial arts, observed me “take a student’s strength” and then “give it back to him” and then watched as the entire class tried – futilely – to push me backward, even while I was standing on one leg.
I explained to the students that this had nothing to do with magic, but had everything to do with my knowledge of physics and biomechanics – something that is extensively studied in indigenous African martial arts.
The onlooker approached us and exclaimed “You’re foolin’ ‘em! You’re foolin’ ‘em!”
“Fooling them?” I inquired. “How so?”
“You’re a chi master, pretending that your power is just physics and biology and whatnot,” he replied.
That poor man would rather believe I was a sorcerer than a scientist. Sad, but the truth is: most people are just like him.
This is why so many myths abound in the martial arts and why McDojos around the world are raking in big bucks…from you.
Let’s kill a few myths right now:
This is one of the oldest American martial arts legends, and has absolutely no basis in truth.
First, the U.S. government doesn’t regulate the martial arts, which means there is no process to identify people practicing the fighting arts and there is no governmental method by which practitioners can be evaluated…at least no process of identification they have revealed to the public.
Actually, there is not a country on earth in which martial artists are required to register themselves as weapons, deadly or otherwise.
This myth has its roots in three different events that occurred within the mid-20th Century:
In post-World War II Japan, the traditional martial arts were banned and records were kept of experienced practitioners. The ban and keeping of records only lasted a few years and never spread beyond the borders of Japan.
Another event is the regulation of the activities of U.S. servicemen overseas.
Following World War II and even into the 1960s, military personnel who enrolled in martial arts programs were asked to register their participation, though not themselves.
When a person joins the military, he’s essentially the property of the U.S. government and engaging in activities that needlessly result in injury is like damaging military equipment. If a school was causing a lot of injuries, the military wanted to know about it. They would forbid military personnel from training at such schools and in some cases, the U.S. government would shut a school down.
The third event is rooted in the soil of the rich and often outrageous history of professional pugilism. In the era of boxer Joe Louis, it was common to have police on hand during a press conference to “register” the boxer as a deadly weapon.
This was merely a publicity stunt and carried no legal weight.
In court cases involving violent confrontations, lawyers and judges may advise the jury to bear in mind a person’s martial arts, boxing or military training when evaluating the facts of the case, as in the Matter of the Welfare of DSF, 416 N.W.2d 772 (Minn. App. 1988), where the Minnesota Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant, who had “substantial experience in karate,” was aware enough of the potential of his blows to deliberately break the plaintiff’s jaw.
That is a lot different, however, from legally stating that the person in question is a registered and/or licensed deadly weapon.
What is disturbing, however, is that some martial artists carry “registration cards” which they have received from their McDojo, who charged them a hefty fee to be registered. These unwitting students believed that they were registered as deadly weapons. Sad.
Nose in Brain
Inevitably, at every workshop I teach, I am asked to demonstrate a quick “death move” that anyone can do to take out any opponent. Someone will invariably shout: “Push his nose into his brain!”
Now, tell me: Can a person really strike someone in a way that will drive the nose bone into the brain? The answer is an emphatic “No!” I repeat: No! You cannot drive any part of the nose into the brain!
This cannot be done and never has been. Anyone who argues to the contrary is misinformed or outright lying and stands in opposition to overwhelming medical and anatomical fact.
Firstly, the nose is primarily composed of malleable cartilage which does not possess the tensile strength necessary to penetrate the thick bone of which the skull is composed. Secondly, even if the nose was entirely made of bone - and it is NOT – it would not be long enough to reach the brain.
This is one of the most popular myths in American culture and has grown to urban legend status from its appearances in books and movies.
In Stephen King’s novel Firestarter the assassin John Rainbird contemplates killing someone in this fashion and in the movie, he actually does it; the author Shirley Conran used the nose-in-brain technique as a plot device in her novel Savages. For the use of this mighty mythological technique, you can also see the Bruce Willis action flick, The Last Boy Scout, the Nicholas Cage film, Con Air and A History of Violence, starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris.
The structure of the nose makes the nose-in-brain death-blow impossible. The nose bone, or crista galli, is a thick, smooth, triangular piece of bone that projects from the bone that forms the roof of the nasal cavity (cribriform plate).
Though there are small openings in the cribriform plate, which allow nerves to pass through it, these openings are not large enough to allow a piece of splintered crista galli to enter the brain case, nor are these openings direct conduits to the brain.
So the nose-in-brain death-blow, as dynamic and spectacular as it is in fiction, is just that…fiction.
A Black Belt Is a Master
Nope. Not even close.
First of all, most martial arts do not even use belts (or sashes, for those that wanna be cute).
For those that do, a first-degree black belt is merely an advanced beginner. The belt signifies his or her passage from the ranks of those who are still learning to the ranks of those who’ve learned how to learn.
The transition from white belt to black belt has less to do with techniques than with learning the methodologies necessary to think like a martial artist.
A black belt should be able to grasp the principles upon which the arts are based, which is far more important than his ability to perform any technique. The black belt has learned how to learn and therefore becomes more proactive in his own education.
Most of my colleagues in the traditional Asian martial arts maintain that a person becomes a true expert by the time he reaches fourth degree, which is, for many arts, the point at which a person can begin teaching.
These days, first- and second-degree black belts are often assigned to teach, and many are even called sensei. This is a marketing tactic; one that, in fact, confuses people, especially when we learn to equate anyone with a black belt with instructor-level expertise.
If you’re already enrolled in a McDojo, I suggest you break that lengthy and expensive contract you signed, on the grounds that you were defrauded, throw that belly-dancing six-year old master instructor over your knee and whoop his little ass.
Nah, just sue that McDojo for every dime you ever paid them, plus pain and suffering, then e-mail me and I’ll direct you to a reputable school in your area.
Until next time: Stay strong and keep it (Steam)funky!
HARRIET TUBMAN, “HONEST” ABE and THOMAS ALVA EDISON: Movies and the Age of Steam
Movies in the Age of Steam
The age of motion pictures – or movies (“moving pictures”) – began at the end of the nineteenth century with the invention – and patenting – of a device called a Kinetoscope, an early motion picture exhibition device designed for films to be viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components. This device was conceptualized by Thomas Edison and developed by his employee, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, in 1890.
The Kinetoscope allowed a series of transparencies to be recorded sequentially onto a single strip of negative film. Once this film was developed, printed and replayed at original recording speed, it created the illusion of moving pictures.
Once the technology was perfected, business-minded men pounced upon it like sharks on a sea lion, opening nickelodeons – the first type of indoor exhibition space dedicated to showing projected motion pictures with the Kinetoscope (usually set up in converted storefronts, these small, simple theaters charged five cents for admission, thus the name) – across the United States.
A third of these businessmen – being the smart sharks that they were – pilfered Edison’s work and built “Kinetoscopes” of their own. Patent laws and other such inconvenient balderdash be damned!
Another third – being the not-so-smart, but gangsta, sharks that they were – stole Edison’s equipment and set up shop.
The remaining third – being the wiser-than-their-brethren sharks that they were – actually purchased the equipment legally and in strict adherence to U.S. patent laws.
Edison took everyone who violated his patent to court and won every suit – being the relentless and ruthless shark hunter that he was.
The up-and-coming sharks – all based on the East Coast, within a seashell’s throw of Edison’s lawyers – figured, correctly, that being so close, they would only be caught and jailed, or fined heavily, if they pilfered from old Tom Alva.
So, the sharks fled the East Coast and swam west to avoid scrutiny by Edison’s agents, or by government officials.
Since sunny California was as far west as they could travel and still be in the good old U.S. of A, that is where most of the sharks permanently set up shop.
This “second gold rush” led to a flood of silent movies pouring out of California.
These films were the work of such men as Cecil B. DeMille; Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount; and William Fox, founder of what is now Twentieth Century Fox.
Since most of California was still undeveloped at that time, most of the films made in the wild, wild, west were, well…westerns.
Filmmakers who created westerns had no need for elaborate sets. They only needed a couple of horses, a couple of stars – one, tin; the other, a celebrity who earned a whopping five dollars per film – a doe-eyed damsel in distress, some open land and a hill or two.
Many filmmakers simply purchased a vacant lot, erected a few rudimentary sets – which they recycled from movie to movie – and called it a studio. To this day, film studios are still called lots – a carryover from their humble beginnings.
Movies set in the Age of Steam
Released June 22 worldwide, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opened third in the box office behind two animated movies – Brave and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (just can’t compete with the kiddy movies, unless you’re the Dark Knight or the Amazing Spider-Man).
And if you just cannot get enough of Abraham Lincoln offing the undead, check out Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. If you can stay awake, you just might enjoy a chuckle or two.
On the (shark) tails of ol’ bloodsucker stakin’, walking dead decapitatin’, “Honest” Abe comes the short, Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation – written and directed by Yours Truly, based on the story Rite of Passage, by author Milton J. Davis – which, if I may say so myself, is Blacknificent!
What makes this film so awesome is the genius of the actors – Dasie Thames and Iyalogun-Osun Ojetade (yep, we’re related – she’s my wife) who were not only incredible thespians, but performed all their own stunts and fight scenes. People will never see Harriet Tubman the same.
This film is chock full o’ genius, as is indicated by the brilliant work of cinematographer Imed “Kunle” Patman and camera operator, Brandon Lamar Davis. These extraordinary gentlemen made me look good and made my job easy. They both have a great eye for action and Mr. Patman brought his experience and mega-talent as both a cinematographer and an editor to the film.
Not to be outdone, Alana Davis – our photographer took some amazing shots of the action and drama and our composer – Dion Wake – produced a powerful score that is part Ennio Morricone (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly; A Fistful of Dollars), part Benny Carter (Buck and the Preacher) and part Mario Paint (Gonna Fly Now / Rocky’s Theme; Eye of the Tiger).
Finally, Co-Producer, Milton Davis, our Associate Producer – Danny “Akin” Donaldson – and Gabriel Adeyeye, our Boom Operator, helped raise Rite of Passage: Initiation to a level of creativity, power and beauty beyond my wildest expectations.
And this is just the beginning.
After we premiere Rite of Passage: Initiation on August 4 at the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival (for more on the film festival, check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/05/31/adapting-stories-into-screenplays-and-a-brief-history-of-the-first-steamfunk-movie-video/), we will raise funds to shoot Rite of Passage as a five episode series and then either present it as a web series or pitch it as a series to a few local television channels.
Our goal is to bring quality, entertaining Steamfunk into homes worldwide. Expect no less.
Long live the Steamfunk Movement! (http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/05/13/the-steamfunk-movement/)