Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

Writers Workshop

WHAT’S MY WRITING PROCESS? Tagged in a Special Blog Hop by Author Alan D. Jones

The Keys

Balogun  Ojetade

I’m participating in a special year-long blog hop to explain my writing process. I’ve been tagged by the Blacktastic Science Fiction author Alan D. Jones, author of To Wrestle with Darkness and its sequel, Sacrifices. Here are my responses:

The KeysWhat am I working on? I am working on an Urban Fantasy graphic novel script, The Keys. I am also writing the same story as a YA novel. I am very excited about The Keys and having a ball writing it. The story is about two teens, who are really Aztec and Yoruba gods, who must awaken the power of the pyramids around the world as they are hunted by the immortal Henry, the Navigator, who is obsessed with finding the legendary Christian Kingdom of Prester John.

How does my work differ from others in my genre? My books differ from most Science Fiction and Fantasy writers in that I love to mash up genres and I write cinematic fight scenes. I also include indigenous Afrikan martial arts in all that I write. As a practitioner of indigenous West Afrikan martial arts for over 40 years, I include fighting techniques and applications of techniques never before found in prose.

Why do I write what I do? I write what I do because I love it. I write Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Sword and Soul and Urban Fantasy because I love reading these genres; I love playing role-playing games in these genre settings; and I love researching the people, technology and settings during different eras in history.

How does my writing process work? My writing process begins with the germ of an idea. Ideas come to me daily. Those that I feel are original and fun are jotted down in a notebook. I begin to take notes as I flesh out the idea into a plot. I create and develop the hero and the main villain, coming up with goals they seek to achieve and what obstacles to those goals exist.

Next, I outline the story and then complete the 1st draft with the outline as a guide.

I then step away from the story for a couple of days and return to it to write the second and third draft. Then, it is ready for an editor.

I know…many of you cringe at writing from an outline. “I’m a stream of consciousness writer,” you say.

While a few writers can successfully write without knowing where their story is going, most cannot…well, at least I cannot, but hey, I enjoy writing outlines.

Well, that’s it. I hope you learned a little bit. If not, keep stopping by, you’ll learn something eventually…or at least have a good laugh.

Next Up: Valjeanne Jeffers and DaVaun Sanders.

 


THE BLACK SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY YOUTH SYMPOSIUM: Inspiring Black Children to Imagine and Create Better Worlds and Brighter Futures

Black Science Fiction Youth Symposium

Black Science FictionRecently, I put out the call for Black creators of Speculative works to join me in putting on the 2nd Annual Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium. Authors and artists from around the country responded. Of course, since the event takes place in Atlanta, GA, I did not expect anyone from outside of Georgia to actually become involved, however, the enthusiasm and support is much appreciated and I hope that one day soon, such Symposiums will take place all over the U.S.

However, one comic book author – recommended by Sue Gilman, the Director of our partner in the symposium, the Wren’s Nest – the brilliant writer and creator of the (H)afrocentric comic book series, Juliana “Jewels” Smith, is joining us all the way from the Bay Area.

Jewels, a former professor in Oakland, California, was inspired to create (H)afrocentric after trying to find a way to teach her students about the United States’ prison industrial complex. Smith was amazed by how receptive her students were to a comic book she gave them called Real Costs of Prisons Comix and realized the power of the comic book medium to convey thoughts, ideas and principles.

Black Science FictionIn Jewels’ world of (H)afrocentic,  characters envision a neighborhood that is reminiscent of Ancient Egypt, with pyramids replacing houses; the legendary ancestral home of the Aztecs, Aztlán, called “Atzlan” in Jewels’ world, is the Southwestern United States, which is given back to indigenous peoples and political prisoners like Mumia Abu Jamal are released from prison. All the while, the characters – particularly the comic book’s hero, Naima Pepper – battle against the evil forces of gentrification.

Another comic book creator, Atlanta-based James “Mase” Mason, has also joined us. Mase, a member of the State of Black Science Fiction authors and artists collective, is writer and artist of the popular Urban Shogun: The Evolution of Combat comic book series.

Black Science FictionUrban Shogun: The Evolution of Combat follows the exciting adventures of students of an inner-city martial arts school and their Kung Fu Style war on the streets of Atlanta. Specializing in updated forms of Five Animal Kung Fu, Tiger, Crane, Phoenix, Mantis and Cheetah protect the streets from criminals and their dangerous martial arts rivals – the Venom Clan!

Renowned author and publisher, Milton Davis – who also serves as co-curator of the Alien Encounters Black Speculative Fiction and Film Conference and co-founder and co- curator of the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, both in partnership with Yours Truly – brings his experience as an author and publisher of the best in Black Speculative Fiction to the symposium.

Black Science FictionMilton is CEO of MVmedia Publishing and Beyond and has created and / or published great Sword and Soul, Steamfunk and Urban Fantasy for people of all ages, such as Meji, Books I and II; the Steamfunk anthology; Changa’s Safari, Volumes I and II; Woman of the Woods; Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology; Griots: Sisters of the Spear; and Amber and the Lost City.

The ScytheCompleting the list of teachers is author, filmmaker and event producer, Balogun Ojetade (yep, me).  Through his multimedia company, Roaring Lions Productions, Balogun creates and publishes books and films made by, for and about Black people of all ages. In addition to his self-published works, Balogun is also traditionally published by various small press, as well as Major, companies.

Balogun’s works include the first Steamfunk novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 and 2); the popular Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika; the Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, the Dieselfunk novel, The Scythe and two pulp Fight Fiction / Action-Adventure novels, A Single Link and Fist of Africa. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of the bestselling anthologies, Steamfunk and Ki-Khanga: The Anthology

With such diverse talent and personalities and with such an awesome schedule, the students are in for much fun, much learning and much development towards becoming the creators and developers of a brighter future.

Here is the schedule of events:

10:00am – 10:15am: Registration
10:15am – 10:30am: Welcome: Sue Gilman, Wren’s Nest
10:30am – 10:45am: Opening Ceremony (Youth African Drumming; Storytelling by Teachers)
10:45am – 11:00am: Introductions (of Instructors, then Students) and Overview
11:00am – 11:30am: What Is Science Fiction and Fantasy and Why Should We Read and Write It? (A discussion and Q&A between students and teachers)
11:30am – 12:15pm: Lunch
12:15pm – 12:30pm: The Fold and Pass Writing Game
12:30pm – 12:40pm: Divide students into the Young Authors Group and Young Comic Book Creators Group
12:40pm – 12:55pm: The Premise (we give the students the basic premise that their stories and comic books will be based on; they will all work from the same premise, however, how they tell their stories – and in which genre or subgenre of Science Fiction and Fantasy – will be up to them)
12:55pm – 2:15pm: The Young Comic Book Creators will sit with comic book writer, Jewels Smith and comic book artist, James Mason, who will guide them in writing their story as a comic book script. Any young comic book artists may also begin sketching their comic book if time permits.
12:55pm – 2:15pm: The Young Authors will sit with authors Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis, who will guide them in writing their story as a short story.
2:15pm – 2:45pm: After the Work is Done (Groups come together; Teachers speak on getting published and self-publishing)
2:45 – 3:00pm: Students prepare to read their work
3:00pm – 4:00pm: Student Presentation of Work (students read their work to the audience of parents, volunteers and fellow students)
4:00pm – 5:00pm: Artist / Author Meet-and-Greet (parents and students can chat more with us and browse / discuss our works)

This event is free and open to the public. However, due to overwhelming response, we are limiting availability to 45 spaces. Register to reserve your – or your child’s – spot.

Date: Saturday, April 26, 2014

Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm

Cost: Free and open to the public

Age Suitability : 8 – 14


ARE STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK and SWORD & SOUL NECESSARY? Countering Negative Images of Black People in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Countering Negative Images

ARE STEAMFUNK, DIESELFUNK and SWORD & SOUL NECESSARY?

Countering Negative Images of Black People in Science Fiction and Fantasy

 

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

We have become so insensitive or desensitized to our own negative typecasting and even dehumanization that we are no longer conscious of what we see, hear and what is going into our minds. We have become a party to our own brainwashing. We have joined in and become our own victimizers.

In the old days, white comedians put on black cork and made a living humiliating and ridiculing Black people. A few years later, their senses dulled by this illusion called “progress”, Black comedians said to the white comedians “Hey, you don’t have to ridicule and humiliate us, we’ll do it. We’ll take it from here, boss.”

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

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

“Man, you my N-Word!”

Or Kanye West and Jay-Z’s popular Niggas In Paris, now the politically correct N-Words In Paris:

“What’s Gucci my N-Word?
What’s Louis my killa?
What’s drugs my deala?
What’s that jacket, Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest
Cause I’m suffering from realness
Got my N-Words in Paris
And they goin’ gorillas, heh?”

Yeah…that shit cray.

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

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

We have been conditioned to expect little of ourselves and of each other.

Many Black authors lament that they create great content, but Black people pass by their table at geek conventions and head straight to Jim Butcher’s table to purchase his Dresden Files novels, or to the Marvel Comics booth to pick up the latest X-Man graphic novel.

Don’t lament, Black author. Remember, we have been conditioned to expect little of ourselves and of each other, so most Black people will assume, without any evidence, that your work is wack. You have to reach out and educate them; show them that your work is just as good as – or better than, what they are used to. Most will still flock to the Marvel booth. They love – and have faith in – good ol’ Stan Lee. To chastise them for that will gain you enemies, not friends and certainly not fans.

Now, outside the Black geek community is where I have found my greatest support. There is a hunger among “regular” Black people – those who do not identify as geeks, nerds, or science fiction fans – for speculative fiction written by and about Black people.

Black People ReadAt the Westview Festival last year – a neighborhood festival in the predominantly Black, lower-to-middle-class area near Atlanta’s West End – I sold out all of my books in less than a half hour. Mind you, my table was next to a table that sold – at less than half price – mainstream fiction and science fiction and fantasy by authors such as Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert and George R.R. Martin.

At the recent 3rd Annual Ujamaafest – a festival celebrating Kwanzaa’s principle of Collective Economics – Milton Davis and I shared a table. Once again, Black Speculative Fiction sold like hotcakes. At this festival, the participants were mainly culturally conscious Black people from all walks of life.

At both festivals, most of the people who purchased books said that if Black authors were writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, with Black heroes, when they were young, they would have been into it, but they were eager to get their children and grandchildren into Black Speculative Fiction.

Are Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Sword & Soul and other Black Speculative Fiction necessary? Damn right, they are.

While many of us want to see ourselves as the heroes and sheroes and recognize the need for Black Speculative Fiction, many of us cannot fathom ourselves as star-spanning, evil-crushing, saving-the-world heroes. The horse wrangler for the Steamfunk feature film Rite of Passage told me he never imagined we could be the heroes in a Fantasy or Science Fiction story, or that such a movie would ever be created.

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

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

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

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

Even Black millionaire housewives, doctors and business moguls are portrayed as argumentative, catty, incapable of being unified and downright ig’nant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Birth of a Nation – with its vicious portrayal of Black people as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan – was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for Black People. These films portrayed us in a positive light and addressed many social concerns of the community.

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

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

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

Countering Negative ImagesWe learn a great deal about human nature by comparing ourselves to others; and by comparing ourselves to fictional heroes…and villains. 

Contemplating fictional characters helps us examine the nature of heroism and villainy. Through fiction, film and television, we develop our view of the ideal person; we learn what to expect from good guys and bad guys, even in real life.

What distinguishes a superhero from a supervillain? How do their basic personalities differ — and how has the media affected our perception of ourselves and heroism?

Most people see themselves as being close in personality to their favorite superheroes and mimic their heroes’ characteristics in an effort to live up to that perception.

However, if the fiction you read or see consistently portrays those who look like you as less than heroic; as savage – whether noble, or not – as the eternal sidekick; as the first to die; as the one to sacrifice him or herself so that the real heroes can save the world; as the thug; the pimp; the whore, then how do you see yourself?

In Blueprint for Negro Literature, Richard Wright discussed the problem of Black literature:

“They [Black authors] entered the Court of American Public Opinion dressed in the knee-pants of servility, curtsying to show that the Negro was not inferior, that he was human, and that he had a life comparable to that of other people. These were received as poodle dogs, who have learned clever tricks. … In short, Negro writing on the whole has been the voice of the educated Negro pleading with white America.”

Wright went on to say that every story Black people write “should carry within its lines, implied or explicit, a sense of the oppression of the Negro people, the danger of war, of fascism, of the threatened destruction of culture and civilization; and, too, the faith and necessity to build a new world.”

While such pleading – such curtsying to show that we are not inferior” – may have been the goal of Black writers during Wright’s time, it is certainly not my goal or the goal of my colleagues.

On the contrary, I seek to show Black people, in general – teens and tweens, in particular – that we are not inferior; that we are heroic; that we are beautiful, courageous, brilliant and strong.

Furthermore, while I appreciate a good story that deals with the ills of racism, sexism, classism and the destruction and rebuilding of Black civilization, I do not feel that every story must, or even should, deal with such issues.

The ScytheWhat I do feel Black Speculative Fiction should do is tell our stories, because they have gone untold in Speculative fiction for so damned long. And I feel those stories should feature Black heroes and an occasional Black villain, too…a criminal mastermind, that is; not a damned street thug, or other walking stereotype.

And please, no more Black heroes who begin as gangsters, prostitutes, drug dealers, or dope fiends. Thanks.

If you are seeking a list of works of great Black Speculative Fiction, check it out here. For a list of great Black authors of Speculative Fiction, you can find that here. For a list of Black Speculative events in Atlanta in celebration of Black History Month, look here.

So, do you feel Steamfunk, Dieselfunk and Sword & Soul are necessary? Is there a type of Black Speculative Fiction you’d like to see created or more of? Horror? Dystopian? Young Adult glittery vampires?

Comment and let your opinion be known!


BUILDING BLACK YOUTH THROUGH SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Black People Read

BUILDING BLACK YOUTH THROUGH SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

Black People Read

Renowned Author, Neil Gaiman (the novel, American Gods; The Sandman comic book series) shared a fascinating fact. While appearing as  Guest of Honor at China’s largest state approved Science Fiction convention, Neil decided to inquire why Science Fiction, once frowned upon by the Chinese government, was now not only approved of, but encouraged, with China now the world’s largest market for Science Fiction, with the highest circulation of Science Fiction magazines and the largest Science Fiction conventions.

The answer Neil was given is very interesting.

China is the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. But it doesn’t invent or design most of the things it manufactures. China wants to capture the creativity and imagination of the culture that has produced companies like Google and Apple. So Chinese researchers talked to people involved with those and other Fortune 100 companies to see what factors they had in common. The answer?

All of their CEOs, Presidents and Vice Presidents read science fiction.

Black People Read

Artwork by James Ng

The Chinese acted upon this research and today, throughout China, Science Fiction is a thriving and respected genre, read widely; which is very different from the early eighties, when Science Fiction was declared to be “spiritual pollution” and banned by the government. Back then, Science Fiction in China all but disappeared. But it has come back stronger than ever, appealing to a new generation of Chinese who see themselves as part of a world-wide cultural phenomenon, which includes Hip Hop, Fashion, Movies and Science Fiction.

In the past decade, Science Fiction has overtaken fantasy as the popular literary form, even though fantastic fiction is an integral part of the history of Chinese literature.

Science Fiction studies continue at Beijing Normal University, the largest research and editing center of science-fiction theory and criticism in the world. Western authors and scholars visit there often and in the future, this center is expected to be the center of international Science Fiction research.

Science Fiction is an essential influence in the development of top level creative thinkers, especially those dealing with technology. We live in an age of unparalleled technological development, which is creating change throughout society of an unprecedented magnitude. Science Fiction, in all its forms, is a valuable tool for helping train people to creatively work with that change.

Science Fiction does not just show us possible futures, it trains us to anticipate new technology, model how it will impact our lives and exploit that insight.

Black People ReadAside from Nnedi Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker and the Shadow Speaker; Wendy Raven McNair’s novels, Asleep and Awake; Alicia McCalla’s Breaking Free, Tananarive Due’s and Steven Barnes’ Devil’s Wake and Domino Falls and this writer’s own Once Upon A Time In Afrika and Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, it is difficult to find Speculative fiction (Science Fiction and Fantasy) with Black protagonists, or even secondary characters, written for young adults by Black authors.

Middle Grade novels are even harder to find, with L.M. Davis’ Interlopers and Milton Davis’ Amber at the fore.

In their 2003 study of middle school genre fiction, Agosto, Hughes-Hassell, and Gilmore-Clough found that of 976 reviews of youth Fantasy novels, only 6 percent featured protagonists or secondary characters of color, and that of the 387 reviews of youth science fiction, only 5 percent featured protagonists or secondary characters of color.

Yet, as more Black authors of adult Science Fiction and Fantasy – like Charles Saunders, Walter Mosley, Keith Gaston, Valjeanne Jeffers, Milton Davis, Cerece Rennie Murphy and Balogun Ojetade (smile) – grow in popularity and fill a much needed void, more Black writers are getting the opportunity to fill that void in youth literature as well.

As the Chinese have come to realize, filling that void is important for several reasons and is a must for people of color, particularly those of African descent.

Black People ReadStudies have shown that, in the general population, Science Fiction and Fantasy has an impact on the teaching of values and critical literacy to young adults. Science Fiction challenges readers to first imagine and then to realize the future of not only the novel they are reading but, also the future of the world in which they live.

Looking at the most visible popular examples of Epic Fantasy – J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard and bestselling authors J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan – a casual observer might assume that big, continent-spanning sagas with magic in them are always set in some imaginary variation on Medieval – and, sometimes, even modern – Britain. The stories include the common tropes – swords, talismans of power, wizards and the occasional dragon, all in a world where Black people rarely exist; and those who do appear are decidedly peripheral and usually work for the bad guys.

That same casual observer might therefore conclude that Epic Fantasy – one of today’s most popular genres of fiction – would hold little interest for Black readers and even less for Black writers. But that casual observer would be wrong.

Young adults of African descent can – and do – relate to the experiences in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Indeed, they crave these experiences and read speculative fiction just as voraciously as young adults of other races. But the lack of self-images in this literature can have a negative effect on the psyche of young readers and can, indeed, contribute to negative behavior. We derive our perceptions of self by what we hear, see, and read and our perception directly affects our actions.

The Process of Action works as follows:

  1. Perception (precedes Thought)
  2. Thought (precedes Impulse)
  3. Impulse (precedes Action)
  4. Action

If the Perception of ourselves is a person who lacks courage, integrity and goodness – because we do not see ourselves possessing heroic qualities in most books – the Thought creeps into our minds that we lack those heroic qualities, so we are – by default – villains. The Thought grows into a strong Impulse to be the villain; and finally, the Action of villainy takes place.

Youth 1However, if – through Fantasy and Science Fiction written with Black characters as the heroes – our youth begin to perceive themselves as heroic…as hard working…as good…they will begin to act in accord with how they perceive themselves.

Above, we mentioned authors who have published books of Science Fiction and Fantasy featuring Black youth as protagonists. An analysis of these books reveals plots that are fun and adventurous; Black protagonists who are gifted, insightful youth surrounded by functional, supportive family units; and themes common to the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, like courage, integrity, and good versus evil. While race and ethnicity are not ignored in these books, the race or ethnicity of a character does not drive the plot.

Our youth need stories that do not deny race or the historical implications of race, while remaining unhindered by the racism that may be present.

Youth 3On May 5, 2012, in Atlanta, a group of Black authors of speculative fiction – in conjunction with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History – came together to host The State of Black Science Fiction 2012 Youth Symposium, an amazing and day-long symposium that spotlighted Science Fiction and Fantasy as a signature intersection of science, history, technology, and humanistic studies. Fun was had by all and the students who participated, who ranged in age from 5-15, all eagerly purchased books to read during their lunch break.

The symposium featured panel discussions, workshops and games that inspired the imagination and challenged minds.

The authors involved were Balogun Ojetade, Milton Davis, Alicia McCalla, L.M. Davis, Wendy Raven McNair and Ed Hall. A performance of an interactive Choose Your Own Adventure story, written by the students was featured and famed author Tananarive Due – the world’s first and most popular Black author of horror and suspense – honored us with an inspiring key-note address.

I mention the symposium because I would like to host another such conference in April or May of this year (2014). I invite my fellow authors – and anyone else who would like to become involved – to join me in creating a special event for our youth; our future.

I invite all African-centered, private and public schools who serve and care about Black youth to participate. Bring your students. Have them write works beforehand to share during the performance portion. Make it a weekend field trip. Let’s give them a day of fun, learning and transformation. Let’s give them all that speculative fiction has given us, or what it would have given us if we saw ourselves in it.

So, there it is: a full day of Black speculative fiction workshops, performances, art, games, contests and vending – all for our youth.

Are you down?

 

 UPDATE!

The Black Science Fiction and Fantasy Youth Symposium is set for Saturday, April 26, 2014; from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm.!

Black Science Fiction


HAPPY BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH!

Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month

HAPPY BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH!

SciFi 1In early June of 2013, author Milton Davis and I had a discussion – as we often do – about the importance of Black people reading, writing and watching Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Black authors, artists and filmmakers currently creating in these genres.

The conversation shifted to the various fan conventions we attend and the fact that the fastest growing demographic at these conventions is Black people. We became optimistic about this year’s Alien Encounters celebration and the audience that it is sure to draw. We also talked about how Alien Encounters is going national, with celebrations in the DC / Maryland / Virginia area, Philadelphia and even as far as California.

Black Speculative Fiction Month 4At some point, we began to kick around the idea of Black Speculative Fiction Month. Since Alien Encounters takes place in October, it made sense that Black Speculative Fiction month should also be celebrated in October.

On June 26, 2013, Milton Davis and I met with the Program Coordinator at the Auburn Avenue Research Library to plan the program for this year’s Alien Encounters when the concept of Black Speculative Fiction Month came up again. Milton discussed that meeting with famed writer and film producer, Reginald Hudlin and others the next day:

“So yesterday Balogun Ojetade, Morris Gardner (program coordinator for the Auburn Avenue Research Library) and myself were discussing the upcoming Alien Encounters program in October. We talked about a similar event being organized in the DC area the same month, and another event that will take place in Philly. At that point I brought up an idea Balogun and I were contemplating: let’s designate October Black Speculative Fiction month! Morris loved the idea. ‘Let’s claim it!’ he replied. 

And there you have it. We’re shouting it out as we speak, encouraging others to plan events highlighting Black authors of speculative fiction. We’re contacting libraries, encouraging them to spotlight speculative fiction books by and about black people during this month. Why? Because every day we meet Black people who have never imagined Black folks writing and reading speculative fiction; especially science fiction. Why? Because a recent poll among young people found that the most popular genres were science fiction and fantasy. Why? Because every prominent scientist in the US listed that they read science fiction. 

So there you have it. We hope you’ll join us.”

SciFiIn celebration of this august – well, October – occasion, Milton Davis has launched the Black Speculative Fiction Month website, which features events, in celebration of the holiday, that are happening worldwide throughout the month.

My Black Speculative Fiction Month gift to you – well, one of them, because there is much more to come – is a short list of Blacktacular books of speculative fiction, by – and about – Black people.

Imaro by Charles Saunders – A masterwork from the father of Sword and Soul. Imaro is the definition of great Heroic Fantasy.

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler – Widely considered Butler’s best work, this is an incredible story of a dystopian future and a heroine with hyper-empathy.

Immortal by Valjeanne Jeffers – The first in a series of exciting books that takes place in the world of Tundra. Jeffers deftly combines Science Fiction, Horror and Romance in telling the story of Karla, a shapeshifter who fights the forces of evil of which she dreams. 

Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell – This epic fantasy romance explores race, ethnicity, and imperialism in a beautiful – and sometimes brutal – ancient African setting.

A Darker Shade of Midnight by Lynn Emery – Mystery, Horror and Romance combine to give you this masterpiece that is a first in an incredible series. LaShaun Rousselle – the protagonist, who uses her paranormal abilities to solve the mystery of who killed her cousin and what lives in the woods on her family’s land – is one of the most interesting heroine’s in fiction.

Order of the Seers by Cerece Rennie Murphy – This thrilling tale of discrimination, love, retribution, lust for power and the great potential that lies dormant in us all follows the life and struggle of Liam and Lilith Knight – a brother and sister duo who are hunted by a ruthless and corrupt branch of the U.N., which seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability to envision the future.

Hayward’s Reach by Thaddeus Howze – a series of short stories told by Mokoto, the last survivor of an unexpected cataclysm. Mokoto, even in his current state of in-humanity, learns what it means to be truly human.

Steamfunk edited by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade – This is the definitive work of Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines Black culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or  steampunk fiction – featuring fifteen masterfully crafted stories by fifteen amazing authors.

Woman of the Woods by Milton Davis – A powerful Sword and Soul tale, set in Davis’ intriguing Uhuru universe, first experienced in his seminal series, Meji. Woman of the Woods draws us into the world of demon-hunter, Sadatina and her “sisters”, a duo of twin lionesses who aid her in her battle against the vicious Mosele and their demon allies, who seek to destroy her people.

Redeemer by Balogun Ojetade – This is an edge-of-your-seat adventure that is both gangster saga and science fiction epic. A tale of fatherhood and of predestination versus predetermination. An entertaining mash-up that Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy and Urban Fiction fans alike will enjoy.

If you are interested in finding more authors of Black Speculative Fiction check out Black Speculative Fiction Reviews.

Finally, if you would like to meet others interested in Black science fiction, fantasy and horror, join us at Alien Encounters IV and on the State Of Black Science Fiction Facebook group.

Happy Black Speculative Fiction Month


WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom

WE’RE HERE: Ending the Search for Black Fandom

Black Cosplay

searchRecently, I read an excellent – and somewhat saddening – post on the Rude Girl Magazine blog entitled A Search for Black Fandom.

The author laments: “A lot of times when I watch things, and am seeking out internet reactions and discussion, I wish I had access to other black opinions. Sometimes fandom is like watching a movie with a room full of white people – when someone does something kinda shady and racist, you want to lean over and be like ‘did this motherfucker just really,’ but then you realize you’re the only black person there so you have to weigh whether or not you’re in the mood for bullshit, because that’s what you’ll get by bringing this up with white people.”

The author thought that she was all alone in the nerdiverse. That there were no other Black people into Science Fiction, comic books, cosplay, Steampunk and Dungeons and Dragons and she felt crippled by this: “It’s no secret that fandom can be racist. Like, really, really racist…if you, as a black person, want to enjoy something – anything –  in most popular fandom, you kind of have to decide not to bring up problematic aspects of the source material if you’re not ready to break out the bingo card for yet another tragic game of ‘No That’s Not Racist Toward Black People, Let Me Tell You Why,’ during which white people from all corners of the globe will gather to attempt to invalidate your thoughts, feelings and experiences.”

I am constantly reminded of just how important the work I and the other members of our authors, filmmakers and artists collective – State of Black Science Fiction – do really is. We tell the stories that need to be told – stories of heroes that have been ignored; history that has been forgotten…or denied.

Author Milton Davis & Author / Filmmaker Balogun Ojetade at the Mahogany Masquerade

Author Milton Davis & Author / Filmmaker Balogun Ojetade at the Mahogany Masquerade

Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Rococoa are subgenres of fiction, fashion and film that convey the heroes and history of Africa, African-America and, indeed, the entire Diaspora. There are also many great tales of science fiction, horror, action-adventure and the paranormal with heroes of African descent.

I have been a guest and panelist at several small and major fandom conventions and I – along with my friend and author Milton Davis – am the curator of the popular Black Science Fiction Film Festival and The Mahogany Masquerade and I am happy to say that there is a multitude of Black fans of speculative fiction and film and the numbers are growing rapidly and immensely.

SONY DSCHowever, every time I get comfortable, a blog, an attendee at a panel discussion, or a fan at a convention will say “I thought I was the only one reading, doing and / or writing this,” or “If I had known Black people were writing this kind of stuff (or making these kinds of movies), I would have gotten into this a long time ago.”

Statements like that tell me that there is a lot more work to do and that there are a lot more people to reach.

I want my sister at Rude Girl Magazine to know that she need lament no longer and that she is certainly not alone.

We’re here my dear sister.

We’re here.

Below is a list of great recent fandom events with a strong Black presence. Most are annual events, so put them on your calendar and be sure to attend.

Black Speculative Fiction Film Festival, August 2012 – Auburn Avenue Research Library; Atlanta, GA

OnyxCon 4th Annual Black Age of Comics Convention, August 2012 – Southwest Arts Center; Atlanta, GA

State of Black Science Fiction Panel, August 2012 – Dragon*Con; Atlanta, GA

The Mahogany Masquerade: An Evening of Steamfunk and Film, October 2012 – Alien Encounters (an annual Black Fandom Symposium); Atlanta, GA

The Afrofuturist Affair Museum of Time 2nd Annual Charity & Costume Ball, November 2012 – Philadelphia, PA (an annual costume ball and afrofuturism presentation / performance)

Black Science Fiction Film Festival, February 2013 – Georgia Institute of Technology; Atlanta, GA (an annual film festival featuring fantasy, science fiction and horror films by and about people of African descent from around the world); Atlanta, GA

Multiculturalism in Alternate History Panel, February 2013 – AnachroCon; Atlanta, GA

Octavia E. Butler Celebration of the Fantastic Arts, March 2013 – Spelman College; Atlanta, GA

12th Annual East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC), May 2013; Philadelphia, PA

State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 2013 – SciFi Summer Con; Atlanta, GA

State of Black Science Fiction Panel, June 15, 2013 – Wesley Chapel Library; Atlanta, GA (upcoming)


STEAMFUNK IS A TURKEY DRUMSTICK!

STEAMFUNK IS A TURKEY DRUMSTICK

Turkey Drumstick

I recently made a comparison between Steamfunk and bacon and made the bold claim that the Steamfunk anthology is, indeed, tastier.

Angry BaconThe BLA – Bacon Lovers of America – was up in arms! Ironically, the Turkey Bacon and Vegetarian Bacon branches of this powerful and imposing organization were the most vehement.

For my safety and the safety of my family – who loves bacon (in case the BLA is monitoring this post), by the way – I have decided, for this post, to reserve my comparisons to turkey.

Not the whole turkey, mind you…just a turkey drumstick.

Recently, it was said to me that “Research isn’t necessary. After all, I am just writing fiction. A simple ‘it happens’ should suffice.” To that, I say that the reader is more sophisticated than you give them credit for.

Turkey Drumstick 1I would also say that fiction is not the art of just ‘making things up’. Fiction – especially Steamfunk and other forms of Alternate History / Alternate Reality – is a turkey drumstick: It is the bone of reality covered by the meat of creativity. Meaning, at the core of good Steamfunk is reality and then you add layer after layer of creativity around that core.

For me, Steamfunk allows me to explore, question and alter history.

I use history as a source and creative tool in most of my writing. Real world history has heavily influenced my writing since elementary school, since –after English – History was my favorite subject. History has been used as a source of terror in most of my writings, and speculative history is a major part of my Steamfunk and Sword & Soul settings.

Among all spheres of knowledge, History – as a device for storytelling – best rewards our research. It is not the absolute that it is often treated as, however. From the perspective of the present, the past cannot be known with great certainty. Thus, history tells stories of past events, and – like all stories – is told by someone for a purpose.

History can be used to enlighten, educate, entertain, inspire, and influence.

Alternate History

Turkey 2Two history types are very useful for writing fiction: Imaginative History is history that is wholly created. This is the history of most fantasy worlds.

The other type is Speculative History. This includes the “what if” of alternate history, as well as the projection of possible events into the future, which is the history of most science fiction settings.

Both types use historical analysis to generate a plausible set of events. This allows us, as writers, to tap into these created histories to add depth and life to our stories.

By far, the simplest technique is to take a bit of real world history and use it for inspiration. Alter a few things, combine fragments together, and you can create something with depth and character.

Begin with a change point – a historical event that you want to alter. From there, you can move on, creating changes until you end at the point your story begins. There are two theories with regards to change points. On one hand you can choose a major event, such as Germany winning WWII, the African Slave Trade never happening, or Frederick Douglass becoming President. The other theory is to change one small event and write what happens as a result, such as President Obama choosing Hillary Clinton as his Vice President, or Martin Luther King avoiding assassination.

Of course, you can combine these theories and come up with something really unique.

Whatever you decide to write, the next step is to show how and why the change in history occurred. For smaller changes, this is easier. The larger changes often require a summation of smaller changes, which result in the larger change. The earlier the change point, the greater the ‘snowball’ effect of changes. To be believable, you must do your research. Otherwise, you may make a mistake in some detail in setting or dialogue and readers who have done their research – a common phenomenon in science fiction and fantasy – are going to call you out on it. The readers’ suspension of disbelief will fade; they will close your book; and they will tell the world – via all the social media sites – how much your book sucks.

Although you do not need to be an expert, it helps to be well versed in history. I cannot stress enough that, if you are going to write speculative history, you must research…research…research!

Alternate Reality

Turkey 3You sit down to write a new story or novel. You want your story to be alternate history, with strong elements of fantasy and science fiction mixed. In fact, you want your story to be about Harriet Tubman. You want the world she operates in to be of the Steampunk subgenre and you want her – and others in her world – to possess “superpowers” (by the way, this has already been done in a cool and funktastic manner). What you are now writing is Alternate Reality – you are going to have to change not just history, but reality itself.

This means adding magic, anachronistic science based on clockwork mechanics and steam technology, psionics, super powers and the like. As with the altering of history, this will cause cascading effects on the timeline that need to be addressed.

If magic is possible, what does that mean to history? How would aether-based physics effect the development of social and political structures? If people can read minds, what does that do to concepts of privacy? If you have people flying around and throwing horses over houses, what purpose does society put these powers to? These are questions intrinsic to certain genres, but they also apply to the alternate history that introducing changes in reality can bring.

One of the pitfalls of altering reality is that suspension of disbelief becomes an issue. The degree to which you convince the reader these things are possible depends – once again – on the degree of your research and on your level of creativity.

Steamfunk is a turkey drumstick.

Turkey 4A grilled one; which tastes better than a baked one…and way better than a boiled one.

Hmm…is there a Boiled Turkey Lovers of America?

Hope not.

 

Here’s a list of some of my fellow Steamfunkateers. We’re celebrating the release of Steamfunk, so check out their sites for a funky overdose – which, unlike most overdoses, is a good thing!

Milton Davis – Milton Davis is owner/publisher of MVmedia, LLC . As an author he specializes in science fiction and fantasy and is the author of Meji Book One, Meji Book Two and Changa’s Safari. Visit him: www.mvmediaatl.com  andwww.wagadu.ning.com .

Ray Dean – Growing up in Hawaii, Ray Dean had the opportunity to enjoy nearly every culture under the sun. The Steamfunk Anthology was an inspiration she couldn’t pass up. Ray can be reached at http://www.raydean.net/.

Malon Edwards – Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malon Edwards now lives in the Greater Toronto Area. Much of his speculative fiction features people of color and is set in his hometown. Malon can be reached ateastofmars.blogspot.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend and Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds and The Switch: Clockwork. Visit her at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com  and http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com/ .

Rebecca M. Kyle – With a birthday on Friday 13, it’s only natural that the author is fascinated with myths, legends, and oddities of all kinds. Ms. Kyle lives with her husband, four cats, and more rocks and books than she cares to count between the Smokies and Cumberland mountains. Visit her at http://bexboox13.blogspot.com/.

Carole McDonnell – is a writer of Christian, supernatural, and ethnic stories. Her writings appear in various anthologies, including So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonialism in Science Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson; Jigsaw Nation; and Life Spices from Seasoned Sistahs: Writings by Mature Women of Color among others. Her reviews appear in print and at various online sites. Her novels are the Christian speculative fiction, Wind Follower, and The Constant Tower. Her Bible study is called: Seeds of Bible Study.   Her website is http://carolemcdonnell.blogspot.com/.

Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steamfunk); “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” (Sword and Soul); “Redeemer” (Urban Fantasy) and the film, “A Single Link” and “Rite of Passage”. Finally, he is Co-Author of “Ki-Khanga: The Anthology” and Co-Editor of “Steamfunk!” Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

Hannibal Tabu – is a writer, a storyteller, and by god, a fan. He has written the novels, “The Crown: Ascenscion” and “Faraway” and the upcoming scifi political thriller “Rogue Nation.” He is currently the co-owner and editor-in-chief of Black geek website Komplicated at the Good Men Project, and uses his Operative Network website (www.operative.net) to publish his poetry, market what he’s doing, rant at the world and emit strangled cries for help.

Geoffrey Thorne – Geoffrey Thorne has written a lot of stuff in a lot of venues and will be writing more in more. It’s his distinct pleasure to take part in another of these groundbreaking anthologies. Thanks for letting me roll with you folks. For more (and God knows why you’d want more) check outhttp://www.geoffreythorne.com/.

 


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

genre

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we say in the ‘hood – “For real?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

REAL5

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

I am a “Conscious Brother”.

What is that, you ask?

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

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

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

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

I also love to read – and write – fiction.

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

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

His answer?

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

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

But they’re wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Non-Conscious Brain Treats Everything as Real

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

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

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

The Power of Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yoruba “keeps it real, son.”

And so should you.

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

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


The State of Black Science Fiction: Filled with Possibilities!

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

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

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

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

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


STEAMFUNK REFORMERS: Black Activists in the Age of Steam!

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STEAMFUNK REFORMERS: Black Activists in the Age of Steam

Every month, in The League of Extraordinary Black People Series, we feature members of the League of Extraordinary Black People who fit specific Steampunk Archetypes. This month, we examine Reformers – the suffragettes; the revolutionaries; the protesters and abolitionists.

As always, your feedback is welcomed and encouraged.

Nat Turner

Although Nat Turner led his rebellion a bit before the beginning of the Steampunk / Victorian Era (1837 – 1901), it did happen during the Age of Steam, the period of industrialization, which actually takes place between roughly 1797 and 1914. Besides, Nat Turner’s rebellion fueled the abolitionist movement, thus he certainly deserves a place within ‘The League’.

By far the most notorious and successful slave rebellion was led by Turner in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1831.

Born in Southampton County on October 2, 1800, Turner, who was the slave of Joseph Travis, was a preacher who had visions and felt divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. He plotted his revolt for six months, sharing his plan with only four others.

On the day the revolt took place, Turner and his men gathered in the woods and then began what is known by many as the “Turner Insurrection” by attacking the Travis plantation and killing the entire family. Turner’s group, which had grown to 60, then stormed the county, killing at least 57 whites. As the revolt progressed, the ranks of Turner’s army continued to swell, rising to the hundreds within hours.

Finally, on their way to Jerusalem, Virginia, the county seat, where they had hoped to gain additional support and replenish their ammunition, most of Turner’s forces were caught and subdued. Thirteen slaves and three free Blacks were hanged, but Turner was not captured until two months later, after returning from hiding to free more of slaves.

Turner was hanged on November 11, 1831.

Harriet Tubman

Probably the most iconic of all Reformers, Tubman gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian.

After escaping enslavement in 1849, Tubman dedicated her life to fighting for freedom, equality, and justice.

Born Araminta (“Minty”) Ross in early 1822 on the plantation of Anthony Thompson, south of Madison in Dorchester County, Maryland, Tubman was the fifth of nine children of Harriet “Rit” Green and Benjamin Ross, both slaves.

From early childhood, Tubman was often hired out to temporary masters, many who were cruel and negligent.

One day, while working as a field hand, Tubman was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown by an angry overseer. The severe injury left her suffering from headaches, seizures and sleeping spells that plagued her for the rest of her life. They also left her with powerful and accurate visions.

In the late fall of 1849, Tubman took her own liberty. She tapped into the Underground Railroad, which was already functioning well on the Eastern Shore. Traveling by night, using the North Star as her guide, Tubman found her way to Philadelphia, where she sought work as a domestic, saving her money to help the rest of her family escape.

From 1850 to 1860, Tubman conducted approximately thirteen escape missions, freeing – by her own account – “thousands of slaves”. Among those she freed were her brothers, parents, and other family and friends.

Tubman brought many of her charges to St. Catharines, Ontario, where they settled into a growing community. Her dangerous missions won the admiration of abolitionists throughout the North who provided her with funds to continue her activities.

In early 1862, Tubman joined Northern abolitionists in support of Union activities at Port Royal, South Carolina. Throughout the Civil War she provided badly needed nursing care to black soldiers and hundreds of newly liberated slaves who crowded Union camps. Tubman’s military service expanded to include spying and scouting behind Confederate lines and she went on to become the most famous among the revered and feared Black Dispatches.

In early June 1863, Tubman became the first woman to command an armed military raid when she guided Col. James Montgomery and his 2nd South Carolina black regiment up the Combahee River, routing out Confederate outposts, destroying stockpiles of cotton, food and weapons, and liberating over 700 slaves.

After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn, New York. There she rose even higher as a community activist, humanitarian, and suffragist, her humanitarian work triumphing with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, located on her own property in Auburn, New York, which she eventually transferred to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1903.

Tubman remained active in the suffrage movement, appearing at local and national suffrage conventions, until the early 1900s. She died at the age of 91 on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was a prominent American abolitionist, author and orator.

Born a slave, Douglass escaped at the age of twenty and went on to become a world-renowned anti-slavery activist.

Douglass’ work as a reformer ranged from his abolitionist activities in the early 1840s to his attacks on Jim Crow and lynching in the 1890s. For sixteen years, he edited an influential black newspaper and achieved international fame as an inspiring and persuasive speaker and writer. In thousands of speeches and editorials, he levied a powerful indictment against slavery and racism, providing an indomitable voice of hope for his people and preacheing his own brand of American ideals.

Douglass welcomed the Civil War in 1861 and portrayed it as a moral crusade against slavery.

During the war, he labored as a propagandist of the Union cause, a recruiter of black troops, and an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln.

After the war, he continued to travel widely and lecture on racial issues, national politics, and women’s rights. In the 1870s Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., where he edited a newspaper and became president of Freedman’s Bank. As a stalwart Republican, Douglass was appointed marshal and recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, chargé d’affaires for Santo Domingo and minister to Haiti.

Douglass died in 1895 after half a century of activism.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth was born Isabella Baumfree in 1797 in Ulster County, a Dutch settlement in upstate New York.

Truth spoke only Dutch until around the age of nine when she was forced to speak English by John Neely, a cruel and brutal slave master, but she spoke with a Dutch accent for the rest of her life.

In 1799, the state of New York began to legislate the gradual abolition of slaves, which was to be put into full effect on July 4, 1827. Truth’s slave master had promised her freedom a year before the state emancipation, “if she would do well and be faithful.”  However, he reneged on his promise, claiming an injury to her hand had made her less productive.

Infuriated, Truth escaped with her infant daughter, Sophia, later saying “I did not run off, for I thought that wicked, but I walked off, believing that to be all right.”

Truth then immediately set to work freeing her five year old son Peter. With the assistance of Quakers, Truth made an official complaint in court. After months of legal proceedings, Peter returned to her, scarred and abused.

During this time, Truth had a life-changing religious experience, becoming “overwhelmed with the greatness of the Divine presence” and inspired to preach. She quickly became known as a remarkable preacher and soon changed her name from Isabella Baumfree to Sojourner Truth, telling friends, “The Spirit calls me East, and I must go.” She wandered in relative obscurity, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter. She eventually met and worked with abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and David Ruggles, giving her most famous speech at the Ohio Woman’s Rights Covention in Akron, Ohio, the legendary “Ain’t I a Woman?

During the Civil War, Truth spoke on the Union’s behalf and helped enlist Black troops for the freeing of slaves. After the Civil War ended, she continued working to help the newly freed slaves through the Freedman’s Relief Association and the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In 1870, Truth began campaigning for the federal government to provide former slaves with land in the “new West.” She spent a year in Kansas, helping Black refugees and speaking in white and Black churches to gain support for the “Exodusters” as they tried to build new lives for themselves.

On November 26, 1883, Sojourner Truth died in Battle Creek, Michigan at the age of 86.

Maria W. Stewart

Maria Stewart was a black abolitionist, feminist, author and educator.

Stewart was born in Hartford, Connecticut, as Maria Miller.

Orphaned by age five, she became an indentured servant, serving a clergyman. Using the clergyman’s extensive library, she taught herself how to read and comprehend. When she was fifteen, left the clergyman and went on to work for herself as a servant.

In 1826 she married James W. Stewart, taking not only his last name but also his middle initial. With her marriage to a shipping agent, she became part of Boston’s small free Black middle class. Stewart became involved in some of the institutions founded by that Black community, including the Massachusetts General Colored Association, which worked for immediate abolition of slavery.

Upon the death of her husband in 1829, she became convinced that God was calling her to become a “warrior” “for God and for freedom and “for the cause of oppressed Africa.”

In 1831, abolitionist publisher, William Lloyd Garrison published Stewart’s first essay, Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality, as a pamphlet. She also began public speaking, at a time when religious bans against women teaching prohibited women from speaking in public, especially to mixed audiences that included men.

In her first address, in 1832, Stewart spoke before an audience of only women at the African American Female Intelligence Society, an institution founded by the free Black community of Boston. She used the Bible to defend her right to speak, and spoke on both religion and justice, advocating activism for equality. The text of the talk was published in Garrison’s newspaper on April 28, 1832.

On September 21, 1832, Stewart delivered a second lecture, this time to an audience that also included men. She spoke at Franklin Hall, the site of the New England Anti-Slavery Society meetings. In her speech, she questioned whether free Blacks were much more free than slaves, given the lack of opportunity and equality. She also questioned the move to send free blacks back to Africa. Garrison published more of her writings in The Liberator and, in 1832, published a second pamphlet of her writings as Meditations from the Pen of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart.

Stewart eventually made a move to New York, New York, where she remained an activist, supporting herself by teaching in public schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, eventually becoming an assistant to the principle of the Williamsburg School. She was also active in a Black women’s literary group and supported Frederick Douglass’ newspaper, The North Star, but did not write for it. Stewart moved to Baltimore in 1853, where she taught privately.

In 1861, she moved to Washington, DC, where she taught school again during the Civil War. During that time Stewart was appointed to head housekeeping at the Freedman’s Hospital and Asylum in the 1870s. A predecessor in this position was Sojourner Truth. On December 17, 1879, Stewart died in the hospital in which she worked. She is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

I hope you enjoyed the latest in the League of Extraordinary Black People Series. Be sure to join us next month when we examine Aviators…yep…Aviators!

 

 

 


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

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

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

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

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

Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932)

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

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

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

Pauline Hopkins (1859-1930)

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

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

Harry Potter? Twilight?

Nah, give me Of One Blood!

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

Yes the W.E.B. Du Bois.

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

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

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

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

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

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

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

George S. Schuyler (1895-1977)

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

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

Henry Dumas (1934-1968)

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

Echo Tree, an amazing collection of Dumas’ short, speculative works, features such stories as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a fantasy story, with elements of horror, set in an underground jazz club.  The protagonist, Probe, tests a legendary instrument of immense power on a few unwelcome guests.

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

This is my favorite author and one of my greatest influences. After you read Echo Tree, I am sure he will be one of your favorites, too. 

Virginia Hamilton (1934-2002)

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

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

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

Samuel R. Delaney

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

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

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

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

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

Charles R. Saunders

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

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

Saunders has also created a Blacktacular pulp fiction novel – and one of my favorites – Damballa, about a shadowy hero who fights evil in 1930s Harlem with unprecedented martial skills and a combination of African and Western science.

If you have not read any of Charles Saunders work, run, don’t walk, to your nearest computer and visit his website, http://www.charlessaunderswriter.com/!

Milton J. Davis

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

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

Valjeanne Jeffers

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

Alan Jones

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

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

Balogun Ojetade

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

A long-time admirer of Harriet Tubman, in Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, Balogun elevates this already heroic icon to super-heroic status when he pits her against the advanced technologies and enhanced abilities of the servants of a government that has turned its back on her and seeks to see her dead. Harriet, possessing extraordinary abilities of her own, enlists the aid of other heroes of history to make a stand against the powerful forces of evil.

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

Wendy Raven McNair

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

Alicia McCalla

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

Ronald T. Jones

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALIEN ENCOUNTERS III

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

Thursday, October 25

7:00pm-9:00pm

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

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

The Mahogany Masquerade Masquerade: A Night of Steamfunk & Film

Friday, October 26

6:30pm-9:00pm

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

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

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

Finding Black Faces within the Pages

Saturday, October 27

2:00pm-4:00pm

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

The Last Angel of History: Film Screening

Saturday, October 27

4:00pm-6:00pm

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

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

Sunday, October 28

3:00pm-5:00pm

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

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

See you there!


STEAMFUNK MUSIC!

STEAMFUNK MUSIC

 

Funk is a very distinct style of music based on R&B, soul and jazz which is characterized by a strong bassline – often in the percussive “slap bass” style of Larry Graham (originally of Sly & the Family Stone), complex rhythms and a simple song structure.

The name “Funk” originated in the 1950s, when “funk” and “funky” were used increasingly as adjectives in the context of soul music — the meaning being transformed from the original one of a strong, pungent odor to a strong, distinctive groove.

Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord, distinguishing it from R&B and soul songs, which are centered on chord progressions.

Funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments such as electric guitarelectric bass, Hammond organ, and drums playing interlocking rhythms. Funk bands sometimes have a horn section of several saxophonestrumpets, and in some cases, a trombone, which plays rhythmic “hits”.

In early jam sessions, musicians would encourage one another to “get down” by telling one another, “Now, put some stank on it!” At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Funky Butt.

Characteristics of Funk

Rhythm

A great deal of funk is rhythmically based on a two-celled onbeat / offbeat structure, which originated in sub-Saharan African music traditions. New Orleans appropriated the bifurcated structure from the Afro-Cuban mambo and conga in the late 1940s, and made it its own. New Orleans funk, as it was called, gained international acclaim largely because James Brown’s rhythm section used it to great effect.

Funk creates an intense groove by using strong guitar riffs and bass lines, using bass lines as the centerpiece of songs. Slap bass’s mixture of thumb-slapped low notes and finger “popped” (or plucked) high notes allowed the bass to have a drum-like rhythmic role, which became a distinctive element of funk.

In funk bands, guitarists typically play in a percussive style, often using the wah-wah sound effect and muting the notes in their riffs to create a percussive sound. Guitarist Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic were notably influenced by Jimi Hendrix’s improvised solos. Eddie Hazel, who worked with George Clinton, is one of the most notable guitar soloists in funk. Ernie Isley was tutored at an early age by Jimi Hendrix himself, when he was a part of The Isley Brothers backing band and lived in the attic temporarily at the Isleys’ household. Jimmy Nolen and Phelps Collins are famous funk rhythm guitarists who both worked with James Brown. On Brown’s Give it Up or Turn it Loose (1969), Jimmy Nolen uses his guitar like an African drum, pounding out a rhythm that moves the soul.

Some of the best known and most skillful soloists in funk have jazz backgrounds. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker are among the most notable musicians in the funk music genre – both of them working with funk maestros, James BrownGeorge Clinton and Prince.

History

The distinctive characteristics of African-American musical expression are rooted in sub-Saharan African music traditions, and find their earliest expression in spirituals, work chants/songs, praise shouts, gospel, blues, and “body rhythms” (hambonepatting juba, and ring shout clapping and stomping patterns).

Famed and flamboyant singer and musician, Little Richard led a saxophone-studded, R&B road band in the mid-1950s, which was credited by James Brown and others as being the first to put the funk in the rock-and-roll beat. Following his temporary exit from secular music to become an evangelist in 1957, some of Little Richard’s band members joined Brown and The Famous Flames, beginning a long string of hits for them in 1958.

By the mid-1960s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat – with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that typified African American music. Brown often cued his band with the command “On the one”, changing the percussion emphasis / accent from the one-two-three-four backbeat of traditional soul music to the one-two-three-four downbeat – and featuring a hard-driving, repetitive, brassy swing. This one-three beat launched the shift in Brown’s signature music style, starting with his 1964 hit single, Out of Sight and his 1965 hit, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.

Brown’s innovations led to him and his band becoming the seminal funk act, pushing the funk music style further to the forefront with releases such as Cold Sweat (1967), Mother Popcorn (1969) and Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine (1970). Late 1960s – early 1970s

Also from the West Coast area, more specifically Oakland, California, came the band Tower of Power, which formed in 1968. Their debut album East Bay Grease, released in 1970, is considered by many as an important milestone in funk. Throughout the ‘70s, Tower of Power had many hits, and the band helped to make funk music a successful genre, with a broader audience.

In 1970, Sly & the Family Stone’s Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) reached #1 on the charts, as did Family Affair in 1971, afforded the group and – and funk – crossover success and greater recognition.

George Clinton, with his bands, Parliament and Funkadelic, produced a new kind of funk sound heavily influenced by jazz and psychedelic rock. The two groups shared members and are often referred to collectively as “Parliament-Funkadelic”.

The breakout popularity of Parliament-Funkadelic gave rise to the term “P-Funk”, which referred to the music by George Clinton’s bands, and defined a new subgenre. Clinton played a principal role in several other bands, including Parlet, the Horny Horns, and the Brides of Funkenstein, all part of the P-Funk conglomerate.

Funk music was also exported to Africa, and it melded with African singing and rhythms to form Afrobeat. Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, who was heavily influenced by James Brown’s music, is credited with creating the style and terming it “Afrobeat”.

Rick James was the first funk musician of the 1980s to assume the funk mantle dominated by P-Funk in the 1970s. His 1981 album Street Songs with the singles Give It To Me Baby and Super Freak resulted in James becoming a star, and paved the way for the future direction of explicitness in funk.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the artist Prince used a stripped-down, yet dynamic, instrumentation similar to James, combining eroticism, technology, an increasing musical complexity, and an outrageous image and stage show to ultimately create music as ambitious and imaginative as P-Funk.

Similar to Prince, other bands emerged during the P-Funk era and began to incorporate synthesizers and other electronic technologies to continue to craft funk hits. These included CameoZapp, The Gap Band, The Bar-Kays, and The Dazz Band.

 Influenced by the Japanese band, Yellow Magic Orchestra and the German band, Kraftwerk, the African-American musician Afrika Bambaataa developed electro-funk – a minimalist, machine-driven style of funk – with his single Planet Rock in 1982. Also known simply as electro, this style of funk was driven by synthesizers and the electronic rhythm of the TR-808 drum machine. The hit single Renegades of Funk followed in 1983.

After 1983, Funk saw a decline, with hip-hop taking over the spotlight.

However, with the growing popularity of Steampunk among Blacks worldwide, Steamfunk music had to happen. And it has happened in a big way! Today, the popularity of funk is seeing resurgence as artists of African descent in hip-hop, rock and even club dance music are bringing the funk to Steampunk – artists such as T-Pain, Alex Cuba, Props! And Nikki Minaj.

Join us at the Mahogany Masquerade on Friday, October 26, 2012 as we explore the Steamfunk Movement in music, cosplay, films, literature and more!

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

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

Presented by the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture & History and the State of Black Science Fiction as

 part of “Alien Encounters III”, the four-day convention on Black Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy!

Friday, October 26, 2012
6:30pm – 9:00pm.

This event is FREE and open to the public!

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL BRASSIERES: Sexism in Fantasy Fiction!

CHICKS IN CHAINMAIL BRASSIERES:

Sexism in Fantasy Fiction

I love reading and writing Fantasy. I really do. But I am growing increasingly disgusted by the racism and sexism within it. I can no longer read books in which people of color and women are constantly oppressed and seen as lesser beings in a world based on fantasy.

Lately – as the father of seven daughters who are all avid readers of Fantasy – I have become particularly disgusted with the continuing sexism in Fantasy fiction and visual art.

Writers, you can create a world with any rules you choose. In your world, you don’t have to continue to perpetuate the sexist tropes so prevalent in Fantasy since its inception.

Are you that lacking in creativity that you cannot write something better? Are you that apathetic to the plight of our Sisters? Or have you convinced yourself you have to maintain some sexist status quo to sell?

Shame on you.

Certain tropes have been formed and propagated. Given the overwhelming number of Fantasy novels set in a sort of idealized, white, medieval Europe…given the grossly oversimplified and homogenized concept of medieval gender roles, stereotypes and sexist archetypes have arisen in Fantasy. Some examples are:

  • The Spirited Woman Married Off Against Her Will To A Man She Doesn’t Love
  • The Lone And Exceptional Woman Warrior In A Culture Of Male Warriors
  • The Widowed Queen Fighting To Keep Her Throne Against An All-Male Cast Of Contenders
  • The Woman Who Runs Away Rather Than Be Married Off Against Her Will But Who Then Needs Rescuing From Worldly Perils
  • The Woman Whose Love Of Books And Scholarship Is Exceptional And Odd And Therefore Deemed Socially Awkward
  • The Unmarried Woman Who Is Happy Being Unmarried And Therefore Considered An Oddity
  • The Unmarried Woman Who Was Forbidden To Marry The Man She Loved And Is Therefore Sad And Unfulfilled
  • The Woman Who Ran Away To Marry The Man Forbidden To Her And Who Is Now A Social Pariah
  • The Penniless Woman Who Needs To Be Rescued From Penury As Her Gender Prevents Her From Working
  • The Girl Forced To Dress As A Boy In Order To Live Out Her Socially Unacceptable Dreams
  • The Adventurous Daughter Whose Parents Let Her Run Free But Threaten Her With Marriage Should She Fail
  • The Female Scholar/Magician Trying To Make It In A Largely Male World
  • The Lone Female Soldier/Technician/Magician/Scholar Whose Male Colleagues Don’t Take Her Seriously.

Come now. That’s all you got?

Shame on you.

Regarding the existence of sexism in the real world both historically and currently, I’m not trying to suggest that any of the above tropes are unrealistic; nor am I suggesting they should be avoided at all costs, or that they are inherently bad. What I am saying is that as writers, we are not bound by these tropes and have chosen to portray worlds that involve societies in which sexism plays a part. We can choose otherwise.

Or we can choose to take our exploration of sexism further.

In most Fantasy, we are left with sexism as a background detail; a tool used to justify the plight or origins of particular female characters, but never actually addressed.

You, dear writer, can follow sexism to some of its natural conclusions rather than focus exclusively on those few exceptional women who have avoided it, forcing characters – and, by extension, the readers – to view sexism as more than an inevitable background detail.

Or, you can avoid writing default sexism in the first place by actually considering how gender roles work in your story, building a cultural, social and historical setting that usurps the expectations of the reader. You can create an equal society, or one whose inequalities are unusual; you could write a typically sexist society, but make sexism a major narrative focus. Lots of different ways to explore the topic…if you are willing.

If not?

Shame on you.

As writers, we should not perpetuate sexism by training readers to take its presence for granted: to refrain from so much as questioning or calling it out, let alone showing its worst consequences.

Most Fantasy authors write sexist stories without any conscious thought, simply because it never occurs to them to do otherwise. The freedom to ignore the relevance of women is just another form of privilege; one more malignant than benign. And remember: if your equality looks homogeneous, then it’s probably not equality.

Modern sexism has become cunning; sly; codified. In the same way a closet racist would never dream of openly saying “nigger” but might refer to killing “zombies”, or make a pointed reference to someone Black having a natural rhythm, or liking fried chicken, a closet misogynist has a vast array of words, comments, phrases and attitudes they can employ to subtly put a woman down, or disconcert her, but without it being immediately apparent that that is what they are actually doing.

Intelligent writers are particularly adept at this.

I recently wrote a Fantasy novel in the Sword & Soul subgenre. This novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika, attempts to turn these tropes on their heads. Read the novel and tell me if I succeeded.

In my research for the novel – and in my life as an African traditionalist, which requires an in-depth study of African history and sociology, I discovered some amazing facts about the women-warriors of Africa and the Diaspora that many of you may find useful in your writing:

The “Dahomey Amazons” 

The “Dahomey Amazons”, referred to as Mino, meaning “Our Mothers” in the Fon language, were an all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey which lasted until the end of the 19th century. They were so named by Western observers and historians due to their similarity to the semi-mythical Amazons of ancient Anatolia and the Black Sea.

 For The Mino were recruited from among the ahosi the king’s wives – of which there were often hundreds.

The Mino trained with intense physical exercise, with an emphasis on discipline. Units were under female command.

Considered exceptional and brutal warriors by all unlucky enough to encounter them, those who fell into the hands of the Mino were often decapitated.

The Aje of Yorubaland

A story, that teaches the tenets of African wrestling, is as follows:

There was a boy named Omobe (“rascal”, “troublesome child”) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match!

Omobe immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent: Egungun (ancestors), Orisa (Forces of Nature) and all others lost at his hands. Finally he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on her spiritual powers.

During the match Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to Omobe’s head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared Omobe’s head her permanent abode as a sign of Omobe’s arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits.

When Omobe returned home the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days Omobe made sacrifice. On the last day Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After Omobe’s initiation into the priesthood, Olokun loosened her grip on Omobe’s life.

Amongst African traditionalists, the palm tree represents the ancestors and the elders.  Omobe climbed a palm tree even though he was not supposed to, which means he learned the higher levels of wrestling technique – and gained the ase (power) of the wrestler – through crafty means and then abandoned his teachers (he climbed down from the tree) and used what he had learned to fight those who taught him. 

This act of arrogance and disrespect led him to fight against the Forces of Nature, themselves.  Finally, Olokun, the spirit of unfathomable wisdom and matron spirit of the descendants of Africans who were taken captive during the Transatlantic Slave Trade, defeated Omobe. This means, though Omobe had mastered the physical aspect of wrestling, his disrespect of – and disconnection from – the community and its spiritual support prevented him from learning the deeper wisdom found within the study and training of the martial arts.

It was not until Omobe devoted himself to the attaining of deep wisdom and respect for the African traditions as an Olokun priest, that he was able to save himself from an early death. 

This story teaches us that in order to learn the depths of wisdom found in the African martial arts, reverence of one’s ancestors, respect for one’s elders and adherence to tradition is paramount.

Furthermore, the “deep wisdom” Omobe had to learn in order to redeem himself and to save his life was the wisdom rooted in respect for, and understanding of, the “Aje” – referred to as Awon Iyawa, also meaning “Our Mothers” – which is primal, female power.

It was Olokun, a female Force of Nature, who defeated Omobe and threatened to take his life until Omobe became her priest.  Omobe was socialized by Olokun, which is in accord with Aje’s function as a biological, physical and spiritual force of creativity and social and political enforcement.

War, defense and anything associated with Ogun, the Warrior Spirit of the Yoruba, is also associated with Aje.

It is recognition of – and respect for – the power women and girls that gives the African warrior the authority to defend and to take life.

The Isadshi-Koseshi

Nupe Women-Warriors, called Isadshi-Koseshi, fought as fiercely as the men, opposing invasions of the Fulbe conquerers who raided the Nupe for cattles and slaves.

Ibo Women and the Aba Rebellion

The Aba rebellion in southeastern Nigeria grew out of a traditional female rite of the Ibo. People were outraged at the colonial government’s plan to tax women.

In protest, Ibo women bound their heads with ferns, painted their faces with ash, put on loincloths and carried sacred sticks with palm frond wreaths. Thousands marched on the District Office, dancing, singing protests, and demanding the cap of office of the colonial chief Okugo.

This protest spread into a vast regional insurrection. The Ibo women’s councils mobilized demonstrations in three provinces, turning out over 2,000,000 protesters.

The British District Officer at Bende wrote, “The trouble spread in the 2nd week of December to Aba, an important trading center on the railway. Here there converged some 10,000 women, scantily clothed, girdled with green leaves, carrying sticks. Singing angry songs against the chiefs and the court messengers, the women proceeded to attack and loot the European trading shops, stores, and Barclay’s Bank, and to break into the prison and release the prisoners.

Elsewhere women protestors burned down the hated British “Native Courts” and cut telegraph wires, throwing officials into panic. The colonials fired on the female protesters, killing more than fifty and wounding more. Marches continued sporadically into 1930. These mass actions became known as the Aba Rebellion of 1929, or The War of the Women. It was one of the most significant anti-colonial revolts in Africa of that day.

Black Women in Ohio

In the summer of 1848, ten African-Americans, fleeing their enslavement, made it across the Ohio River into Cincinnati. The slave catchers tracked them down, but the bounty they were after proved to be quite difficult to acquire:

Cincinnati’s North Star newspaper’s August 11, 1848 issue reported the event thusly: “The women began to gather from adjoining houses until the Amazons were about equal to the [slave-hunters] – the former with shovels, tongs, washboards and rolling pins; the latter with revolvers, sword-canes and bowie-knives. Finally the beseigers decamped, leaving the Amazons in possession of the field, amid the jeers and loud huzzahs of the crowd.

Let us all strive harder for awareness of – and sensitivity to – sexism in our writings and our readings. Let us be more critical of it, for to do – and say – nothing about sexism is to help propagate it. Are you helping to propagate oppression?

If so, shame on you.

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.


Revenge of the Nerds? Steve Urkel demands your lunch money!

Revenge of the Nerds?

Steve Urkel demands your lunch money!

While I am a professed “Jocky Blerd” (“Blerd” = Black Nerd) – an athletic and fairly charismatic person who, nevertheless, is into things considered nerdy, like Dungeons and Dragons, video games, science, science fiction, fantasy literature and / or comic books – I have found nerd culture to be chock full of arrogant little racists and sexists who are quick to launch mean-spirited verbal assaults – because, God knows, they would not dare to launch a physical one – upon those they feel to be less intelligent, less nerdy, or who they think has screwed up their fandom by not engaging in or representing what they are into “just right”.

For example – the movie The Hunger Games had nerds up in arms because some of their favorite characters were Black – which they were in the books, too, but while a reader can change the look of a character in a book in their mind’s eye, that is not so easily achieved with the physical eye and, in The Hunger Games, the Blackness of the characters were in their zit-riddled faces and the scrawny little bastards went berserk, saying some of the craziest crap since 20th Century Fox took legal action against Warner Brothers over the rights to the Watchmen movie.

There is a misconception that all nerds are nice; that all nerds are victims of bullying and classism; that all nerds are super-intelligent, innocent, harmless and adorable and are fodder for bullies.

Think again.

Bullies in Taped-Up Glasses

A study tracking nearly 2,000 children reveals that bullies and their victims share similar personal histories and traits, such as aggressive behavior in early childhood, overly stern parents, and low socioeconomic status.

Both bullies and nerds have poor problem-solving skills within social situations, have negative attitudes toward others, feel badly about themselves, and most likely grew up in a home with conflict.

The only significant difference between bullies and the nerds they victimize is that bullies dislike school and tend to perform worse academically than their geeky counterparts.

Aggressive behavior in early childhood  is the strongest determinant of later victimhood, which means that poor little nerdy high school student getting pushed around in the school cafeteria was probably giving other children hell in Head-start.

To be fair, the aggression found in nerds is not the more cold-blooded aggression you find in bullies. Nerd aggression is more of a hostile hyper-reactivity, which has been linked, through other studies with unpopularity, a likely antecedent to being bullied.

An earlier study, from the U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education found that between 1974 and 2000, in 37 school shootings, 71 percent of the shooters had “felt bullied , threatened, attacked or persecuted.” These oppressed nerds went on vicious killing sprees. Why? Because the aggression was already there; already a part of the nerd’s personality.

Further proof of the similarity between the bully and victims of bullying is that the solution for both is the same.

As a master instructor of indigenous African martial arts and conflict resolution specialist, I have found that learning African martial arts, in particular (and other martial arts, too, I would imagine) is one of the most effective ways of bringing an end to bullying.

The major responsibility of the practitioners of African martial arts is to understand conflict, both internal and external.

Destructive conditioning of the brain and nervous system leads to an inappropriate reaction to conflict called the “fight-or-flight response.”

The student of African martial arts must learn to break this destructive conditioning. When we give in to the fight-or-flight response, the only options we have in the face of conflict are to fight or to run.

The first step in breaking the destructive conditioning we have been subjected to by our families, friends, teachers, clergy, the media and others, is to work on the major weakness in self: the internal enemy called “fear.”

There is an old Yoruba saying: “Those who conquer the enemy within, have nothing to fear from the enemy without.” The student of African martial arts learns that the path to self-mastery and mastery of the martial arts (or anything else, for that matter) is rooted in the process of overcoming fear.

Fear is overcome by courage. Every confrontation with fear must involve action in spite of that fear. The aforementioned proverb teaches us that once the inner fears are conquered, those frightening situations in the outside world become insignificant.

Another Yoruba proverb states that “Fear is the parent of premature death.” This proverb expresses how devastating fear can be to a person’s mental and physical health. Not living one’s life to its full term is considered by most African cultures to be a result of resistance to living in harmony with Nature. Such resistance is believed to be rooted in the fear of self-understanding, self-transformation and self-discovery. It is through training in African martial arts that a person gains the focus, self-confidence and courage to overcome fear.

When faced with conflict, the ori inu (inner self) of the African martial arts student says: “This is a threat, but I can handle it.” The ori inu of an untrained person says: “I have to run away” or, “I have to hurt this person.”

The student of indigenous African martial arts knows he has the ability to fight effectively, so he does not have to resort to flight and he is confident enough to use verbal, non-violent alternatives, because he knows that if those alternatives do not resolve the conflict, he can defend himself physically if necessary.

An untrained, socially inept person, however, will rely not only upon the fight-or-flight response, but also on what I call “small townism”.

Small Townism
Though not exclusive to nerds, “small townism” is a defensive device in which a person limits him or herself to one type of fellowship. It’s similar to small towns, wherein the lack of exposure to people who look differently, think differently and behave differently from you can cause you to have a narrow scope on tolerance.

Nerds who were – or are – outcasts find solace and comfort either to themselves or with other people who have been treated the way they have. They will hang out with people who “get them” or share their strange sense of humor. So out of a group of outcast, introverted people who dress similarly, act similarly and feel similarly, you are bound to get some opinions that do not vibe well with those outside of that community. Small townism, while making nerds feel comfortable, develops a tremendous level of ignorance and lack of empathy.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Curse of the Black Spider-Man

The death, origin and intricate conflicts of superheroes have long portrayed many truths about ourselves that we can only metaphorically grasp; just a cornball in a spandex suit? Not quite.

Comic books affect their readers on a visceral level. So, when Marvel Comics killed of Peter Parker and Miles Morales – a Black Hispanic boy – took up the mantle of Spider-Man, nerds across the globe snapped, spitting such vitriol as: 

“So, why now come out with homie the spider man? Wonder if he (President Obama) wasn’t elected Marvel would do this. But at least the comic book character will HELP better than the real life comic elected.”

“Peter Parker could not be whiter. A black boy under the mask just don’t look right. This opens up a whole new story line with a whole new set of problems. Who is going to believe a black man in a mask is out for the good of man kind?”

“Why not make him a dyslexic homosexual too, and cover all the politically correct bases, then we will really be “enlightened”

“Shame on Marvel Comics! This is not diversity; this is a disgrace! Spiderman was Peter Parker, and Peter Parker was white. Create a new character if you want to prove that Marvel Comics is ‘diverse’. Minorities are typically less than 18% of the population, but they seem to get nearly 100% of the history. Why should white children not have a comic book hero that they can identify with?”

“What will he say when he runs into a criminal? ‘Sup Foo? Dis is MY ‘hood!’”

“That’s just dangerous. With spider powers, just think how much stuff he could steal, if he was not so lazy.”

And those were all mild comments in relation to the others!

A similar uproar happened when it was announced that Idris Elba was going to play Heimdall in the movie Thor.

Nerds dislike change; when faced with it, out comes their inner bullies.

Irony & Intellect as excuses for racism. 
Often, nerds are racist, but are either clueless that they are behaving in a racist manner, or feigning cluelessness. To the typical nerd, racists are the loud, confederate flag waving nutjobs in the movies, lynching Black people and calling us niggers, shines and coons at every turn.

A nerd’s snarky remarks – filled with much irony and intellect – are meant to show their enlightened viewpoint and, since they are enlightened, they can’t possibly be racist.

 At least that’s what they think. 

Many white nerds bemoan being white and oppressed and attribute any kind of complaint by a Black person as having no basis or just cause.

While many nerds can be quite obvious in their racist and sexist insults, quite a few have learned to insult you in the nicest ways. Take heed – niceness is a strategy of social interaction; niceness does not equal goodness.

So, the next time a good friend or family member tells you there is this nice man or woman they would like you to meet, RUN!  

Just kidding (sort of).

Just as niceness does not equal goodness, nor does shyness equate to docility, or nerdy equate to intelligent, gentle and meek. Nerds ain’t Bambi; they’re Chuck Norris…with a chip on his shoulder.

‘Nuff said…Excelsior…Sweet Christmas…and other nerdy adages to drive my point home.

Hopefully, this won’t be my last post. Hopefully, a horde of enraged nerds, screaming ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ won’t find me at Dragon*Con this weekend and pummel me with pocket protectors, leaving me in a quivering heap in the lobby of the Westin Hotel (which is where the Alternate History Track – my favorite  – is held).

If they do, then damn it, so be it!

Somebody has to stand up against nerd tyranny. Somebody has to stand up for the jocks, the cheerleaders and other popular kids with IQs of less than three digits, but SQs (Social Intelligence Quotients) above 185.

Somebody has to stand up!

Damn the peril!

Damn being labeled a traitor by my Blerd peers!

Should I meet my end at the frail hands of a nerd, know that I left here fighting the good fight!

Sincerely,

Milton J. Davis

Guest Blogger

 

This was all (mostly) in fun. I – Balogun Ojetade – wrote this article and posted it to my blog. Milton Davis (shown in the above photo with Wolverine) had nothing to do with the writing of it, so don’t go hunting him down!

 I, myself, am a Blerd – Black Nerd – and wear the title – and my taped up glasses and pocket protectors – proudly.

However, I am also a writer and writers – like all artists – render the truth as they see it. The aforementioned study that shows nerds and bullies sharing the same traits is true. Bullying is wrong and must be addressed, no matter who the perpetrator is. Racism and sexism are wrong and we must stand against these societal ills…unless, of course, you are the perpetrator.

P.S. No nerds were harmed during the writing of this blog post (although some might be harmed after).


The Father of Sword & Soul and an Elated Author talk Steamfunk, Sword & Soul and Racism in Role-Playing: Charles Saunders Interviews Balogun!

 The Father of Sword & Soul and an Elated Author talk Sword & Soul, Steamfunk and Racism in Role-Playing: Charles Saunders Interviews Balogun!

Recently, I had the honor of being interviewed by one of my idols – Charles R. Saunders – the father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro and Dossouye series of novels, as well as the incredible Pulp novel, Damballa.

The interview – along with other awesome blog posts, interviews, book reviews and other Blacknificence – was originally posted on Charles’ website at http://www.charlessaunderswriter.com/.

 

Balogun Ojetade is the Master Instructor and Technical Director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, a school that teaches indigenous, West African martial arts. Born and raised in Chicago, he was educated at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Columbia College in Chicago.

At Columbia, he majored in Film, with a concentration in screenwriting. Balogun wears many hats, besides his career as a martial-arts instructor: freelance journalist, screenwriter, film director, film producer, fight choreographer and actor. And he is excellent at all these endeavors.

During the short time I’ve known him, Balogun has made a great impression on me. He could be considered a Renaissance man, but given his love for all things African, “Blackaissance Man” is a better tag. As you read the interview below, you’ll see what I mean.

Q: When and how did you become interested in fantasy and science fiction?

I became interested in fantasy and science fiction as a little boy of no more than five years old at the feet of my mother. My mother was – and still is – a huge fan of the television shows Get Smart and The Wild, Wild West. Get Smart was an American comedy television series that satirized the secret agent genre. It was a great science fiction show that I enjoyed. The Wild, Wild West – which incorporated classic Western elements with elements of the espionage thriller, science fiction/alternate history,  a bit of  horror and plenty of humor – is one of my favorite shows and greatly influenced my writing. The Wild, Wild West would be classified as Steampunk today – one of the genres I enjoy writing.

Q: Speaking of another genre, you’ve got a Sword and Soul novel coming out very soon called Once Upon A Time In Afrika. Where did the idea for the novel come from, and what’s it about? (Full disclosure: I was privileged to write the Introduction to this novel.)

Once Upon A Time In Afrika is about Akinkugbe – a young man from the Oyo Empire – who enters a martial arts tournament to fight for the hand of the woman he loves. The best warriors from across the continent of Onile (“Afrika”) have gathered to do battle, unaware that a threat to the entire continent is heading their way.

The idea came from my study of – and initiation into – the traditional priesthoods and warrior societies of the Yoruba. The customs intrigue me. How certain chiefs and warriors wear certain clothing and carry certain weapons and other trappings of status and those things carry deep meaning. Traditional people do not just throw on any old garment or wear a random headpiece. Their gear tells a story. That is what sparked the idea for “Once Upon A Time In Afrika” and the story just grew from there.

Q: Is the title a play on Once Upon A Time In The West?

The title is not only a play on “Once Upon A Time in the West”, but also on “Once Upon A Time in Mexico” and “Once Upon A Time in China”. I am a fan of all three films and figured it was time to tell the “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” story, which I hope to one day produce and direct as a feature film. In fact, the script is already written.

Q: When you first started reading fantasy and science fiction, were you already aware there were at least a few black writers in the field? Did you feel alone as a black person in reading this type of fiction, or were some of your black friends also into it?

I knew there had to be Black writers out there. It’s funny; I read an article you wrote in 1987 in Dragon Magazine #122. The article – which I still have – is entitled “Out of Africa” and is about creatures from African Folklore. When I read it, I said, “Man, this white dude has done his research, but one day, I am going to write about Africa and it wondrous creatures, history and artifacts so my people can get it from a brother.” It’s funny now…and kind of sad that I had no clue you were a Black man until about four years ago. And I did not know Samuel Delaney was Black until about two years ago.

I never felt alone in reading science fiction and fantasy as my friends were also into fantasy, science fiction and horror. Ninety-percent of my friends collected comic books and played role-playing games and ninety-nine percent of them were Black, so I felt right at home.

Q: Whoa, I almost had an identity crisis for a minute there. Moving on … from your viewpoint, what is the current state of Sword and Soul?

I see Sword and Soul growing tremendously in popularity this year and especially in 2013, with the release of Griots II: Sisters of the Spear. A lot of people – authors and readers alike – are very excited about its release.

Also, when I posted the cover art for “Once Upon A Time in Afrika” people loved it. The positive reaction and eagerness for the release of the book is incredible.

Finally, as a former teacher of English and Creative Writing, I turned my students on to your work and the work of Milton Davis and the students – many who were reluctant readers – fell in love with Sword and Soul, a testament to the power of the genre and to your – and Milton’s – Blacknificent talent.

Q: Thanks for the kind words, Balogun. Moving on …a new subgenre has sprung up over the past few years. It’s called “steamfunk,” and it’s a black variation of “steampunk,” which is itself a recent development. Is steamfunk to steampunk what Sword and Soul is to sword and sorcery?

Yes, Steamfunk is a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction.

Like Sword and Soul, Steamfunk has a rhythm; an aesthetic; a spirituality that differs enough from the genre from which it sprang to be its own genre, or at a minimum, a subgenre. Sword and Soul is not Sword and Sorcery in Black-face. It has a different feel to it, as does Steamfunk in relation to Steampunk.

Q: You’ve made your own contribution to steamfunk: “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman,” based on the black woman who helped more than 300 slaves escape from the South in the years before the Civil War. How did this idea come to you, and how does your version of Tubman’s exploits differ from what happened in real-life history?

Harriet Tubman is one of my idols and represents the epitome of a freedom fighter. I originally researched Harriet Tubman’s history for a poem I wrote about her and found out some incredible things about her, such as the fact that not one of the people after her head ever gave the same description of her as someone else. She seemed to be able to change her size and appearance.

She was also incredibly strong. Once, as an elderly woman, she refused to leave her seat on a train. It took five men – after breaking her arm – to remove her. And it is well known that she had psychic abilities.

These stories sparked my imagination and I decided to write a story about Harriet Tubman as a person who possessed abilities beyond normal human beings and that there were others like her – some good; some not so good. I then began to research the time period and the characters and story came to me.

In “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman”, Harriet battles and bonds with famous – and infamous figures in history. I have combined real events and twisted them with the paranormal and anachronistic technology. Harriet Tubman is still a freedom fighter, but she is also an expert in hand-to-hand combat and possesses powers that make her one of the greatest – and deadliest – opponents of those who would oppress, subjugate and destroy those weaker than themselves.

Q: Do you have any other steamfunk projects on the go? I know you’ll have a story in the upcoming steamfunk anthology that you and Milton Davis are co-editing.

I have written several Steamfunk stories, including “Nandi”, a story about a woman who is a detective in an America in which Africans purchased California and set up a free state for Blacks, First Nation / Native Americans and the oppressed Chinese. Steam technology is not discovered until the mid 1900s. The story takes place in the 70s and combines elements of Blaxploitation films with Steampunk.

Other stories include “Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises”, which takes place on the high seas; “The Hand of Sa-Seti”, a Sword and Soul / Steamfunk mash-up and “Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron”, a tale of the legendary John Henry.

As co-editor of the “Steamfunk” anthology, I am contributing a story in which Harriet Tubman does battle with Peter Pan.

Finally, Milton and I co-produced “Rite of Passage: Initiation” a short film I wrote based on his short story, “Rite of Passage”. We plan to use the short film to generate interest and funding to make the larger project, which is a television or webseries, also based on the “Rite of Passage” story. “Rite of Passage: Initiation”, which is about Harriet Tubman initiating her pupil as a Conductor on the Underground Railroad, is complete and will premiere August 4, 2012 at the Black Science Fiction Film Festival.

Q: You, Milton, and several others are in the process of developing an African-inspired fantasy role-playing game called Ki-Khanga. When did the inspiration for this venture hit you, and how is the game coming?

I have wanted to create an African-inspired role-playing game since I was twelve years old. I finally came up with a system for the game about six years ago, which I presented to Milton Davis last year and we have been developing it together ever since.

Ki-Khanga is coming along well. Milton and I have developed the countries on the continent of Ki-Khanga, an alternate Africa, and we are writing stories set in each country to make players more familiar with the world and to spark ideas for game-play.

We have play-tested the game and have gotten positive feedback, which we are using to further develop the game into a fun and unique experience that fans of role-playing games, fantasy and Sword and Soul, as well as African history will love. After one more local play-test, we will play-test the game a few times in other cities before we prepare for the game’s release.

Q: How did you and your group develop the Ki-Khanga setting? How much of it is derived from real-life sources, and how much came from your imaginations?

Milton and I have met several times over the course of a year to discuss – and work on – building the Ki-Khanga world. We took the continent of Africa as our foundation and then made things quite a bit more fantastic. Ki-Khanga is a bit smaller than real-life Africa and only has sixteen countries.

After naming the countries and creating their governments, economic systems, religious systems and the like, we created a history for the continent itself and how the fantastic creatures, fearsome monsters and powerful magic all came to be as a result of the wrath of the Creator. How He struck the continent with His axe and how the destruction in his wake was given life by His wrath and by the nurturing of his equally powerful wife.

Q: Who, besides Milton, are the others involved in the development of Ki-Khanga?

A: The other people working on Ki-Khanga are Stanley J. Weaver (“Standingo”), an extraordinary artist whose works have graced the covers and interiors of several novels and comic books; and Eugene Randolph Young (“Eurayo”), another Blacktastic artist who is an art instructor and artist for role-playing games and comic books. Stan is creating the visuals for the cultures in Ki-Khanga and Eugene is creating the creatures and further developing the maps, which are drawn by Milton. Milton is co-producer, co-creator and publisher of the game.

Q: For the record, Stan did the cover art for Once Upon A Time in Afrika. Meanwhile, I know the Ki-Khanga concept will ultimately involve more than just the game. What sort of spin-offs are in the works?

We will release an anthology before the game is released to build interest in the Ki-Khanga world. This anthology will be interwoven into the game itself also.

As a screenwriter and director, I am always looking at things and seeing how they can be developed into a film, so I have been working on a screenplay for Ki-Khanga as well. I believe that the release of a Sword and Soul role-playing game, followed by a Sword and Soul movie will send the popularity of Sword and Soul into the stratosphere.

Q: About 10 years ago, there was an African-based game out called Nyambe. Would you regard Nyambe as a predecessor to Ki-Khanga?

“Nyambe” wasn’t actually a role-playing game. It was a supplement for Dungeons and Dragons. Ki-Khanga is a stand-alone role-playing game with its own unique system of play and a unique random generation system that utilizes playing cards instead of dice.

Q: Martial arts are associated with almost every place on the planet, except Africa. There’s karate and kung-fu from Asia; modern boxing, which originated in England; mixed martial arts, which comes from North America; Greco-Roman wrestling (origin obvious) and so on. But Africa has indigenous martial-arts traditions of its own, which you have studied and Incorporated into your work. What are some of those traditions, and what can be done to make the rest of the world more aware of them?

If you go to Africa and ask for the local African martial arts school, they will send you to a Tae Kwon Do or Judo school because in Africa, the martial arts are referred to as “wrestling”. To wrestle – by African standards – means to put someone on their back, belly or side, thus rendering them more susceptible to a finishing technique. This is achieved by any means, thus, if I shoot my opponent in the neck with my long-bow and he falls, I have wrestled him by African standards.

Some of the names of these systems, which all operate on the same principles, with slight variations in strategy and / or application, include:

Laamb (Senegal) – also called Lutte Senegalaise avec frappe (Senegalese fighting with strikes); Ijakadi (Nigeria / Yorubaland); Nsanga (Angola) – also called Sanguar; and Mgba (Nigeria / Igboland).

Q: Are African martial arts in danger of becoming extinct in Africa itself? If so, what can be done to prevent that from happening?

A: No, African martial arts are not in danger of becoming extinct in Africa. They are an intrinsic part of the traditions of the people. In Senegal, Laamb is the number one sport, followed by soccer. The real danger is that Africans in the Diaspora (i.e. African-Americans, Black Brits, Afro-Brazilians, Afro-Cubans and the like) are forgetting, or have already forgotten the martial arts of their ancestors and feel Asian martial arts are the ultimate expression of martial arts. This can be prevented by making more African martial arts movies.

People believe in what they see on television and in film. When Steven Seagal — a master of the Japanese art of Aikido — came out with his Above the Law movie, Aikido schools around the world increased in membership by 400%1 Similar growth happened in Kung-Fu schools in the ’70s; Ninjitsu schools in the ’80s; and now in Mixed Martial Arts schools — all because of television shows and movies like Kung-Fu, Enter Wm Dragon, Enter the Nina, The Octagon, and The Ultimate Fighter.

A couple of African martial arts films would inspire many of our people to train. Of course, making films is expensive, which is why, until my production company produced A Single Link, there weren’t any such films made. A Sword and Soul film would be the best setting in which to showcase the African martial arts.

Q: As we can see from the above, you’re into a lot of projects, all of which are valuable and worthwhile. How do you manage to spread yourself out without spreading yourself thin?

A: Being the father of eight children, ranging in age from 25 – 4, has made me very efficient with time. I have a strong work ethic and I love the creative process, so I enjoy what I do. I also have a very patient and understanding wife, who is an artist herself – a photographer – so she allows me the time and space to do what I do. Of course, she knows that when I blow up, she will be sitting pretty, so her allowance is a wise move.

Q: How do you envision future participation of blacks in science fiction and fantasy? I’m old enough to remember when the only visible presence in the field was Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series. We’ve come a long way since then. Do we still have a long way to go?

A: Participation of Blacks in science fiction and fantasy is growing rapidly. There are over 2000 members on the Black Science Fiction Society website and our Facebook group, State of Black Science Fiction 2012, has nearly 400 members and has only existed since February, 2012.

We have many authors, animators, film directors and artists.  Of course, we have a long way to go; however, most of us have stopped waiting for Hollywood to discover us, which is a step in the right direction.

For those that still think we cannot make it without Hollywood (I include major publishing companies in this), Street Lit and Nollywood prove otherwise. Admittedly, a lot of the work coming from these outlets is not the best, however, if we take the same hustle and grind mentality that they have and combine that with our superior work, we will be just as successful or more so.

It’s pretty obvious that we will be seeing a lot of multi-media creative output in the future from the Blackaissance Man. For more information on Balogun’s endeavors, check out his website: http://chroniclesofharriet.com, and his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ Afrikan.Martial.Arts. To see his seminal essay about the role of race in role-playing games, go to: http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/19/racism-in-role-playing!

Balogun Ojetade


Countering Negative Images of Black People in the Media by Thinking Inside the (Becoming) Box: An Interview with Filmmaker Monique Walton!

Countering Negative Images of Black People in the Media by Thinking Inside the (Becoming) Box: An Interview with Filmmaker Monique Walton!

© Becoming Box Films

At the Black Science Fiction Film Festival, which took place August 4, 2012 in Atlanta, GA, the amazing film The Becoming Box screened, receiving rave reviews and high praise. The audience was blown away by the masterful storytelling that could only be done by a director of the highest caliber. That director was none other than the incomparable Monique Walton – director, screenwriter and film producer.

Ms. Walton was kind enough to grant me an interview, which happens to be this post. Read and enjoy!

And, as always, your feedback is always welcome and encouraged.

What is your film, The Becoming Box, about?

The Becoming Box is about a family of three siblings dealing with the tragic and sudden loss of their mother in a storm.  It’s about how each of them deal with the aftermath of that tragedy, and it’s about rebirth and re-invention.

What is your role in the making of the movie and how did you become a part of this project?

This is my second fiction film project as a grad student in UT Austin’s film department. I co-wrote this piece with my classmate, Paavo Hanninen (who was also the DP), and then I co-produced and directed it.

What were your experiences in the creation of The Becoming Box?

Photo by Jo Custer

So all of the locations had a localized, historical and emotional significance. The mural pillars under the I-10 overpass and the African American History Museum were a good example of that. It was definitely a challenge getting my crew and equipment down there from Austin, but luckily I was able to enlist some great crew members in New Orleans as well, and everyone ended up getting along on set, which I was really happy about.  The one thing I didn’t anticipate was how cold it got in the city in January.  The house we shot in had no heat so it was far from the humid, swampy weather we were hoping for!

How do you think the negative images of Black people in the media affect society?

Photo by William Cordova

How can we counter those negative images?

We counter those images by making our own, simple as that. And it’s happening more everyday with the democratization of image making on the internet, but Black folks have been representing themselves and countering negatives images since the beginning of cinema, despite direct efforts to degrade Black characters on screen. 

As a filmmaker, how important is it to you to have creative and financial control of your work?

Ideally, it will be the only way I’ll make work. Once you give up creative control, you might as well be making a commercial. And I’ll do that too, but that’s working to pay the bills, not making art. 

Is there such a thing as a “Black Science Fiction movie”? If so, what makes it such?

Photo by William Cordova

Looking back and reading about the Harlem Renaissance, Dubois and Locke were having the same critical debates.  I think the arguments continue to come up because, at least if we’re talking about film, Black directors, writers, and stories are still not appropriately represented in the mainstream. So I think it’s important to continue to work to get your voice out there, and whether or not the viewing public calls your work Black, will be a representation of the times. 

How do you come up with ideas for films?

The best ideas are spontaneous. They come up (usually in the shower) and then they take off.  With The Becoming Box it was a discussion I was having with my classmate Paavo about alternate realities and identities that just snowballed into the idea for the film and kind of took off.  But I’m inspired on a daily basis by things I watch, read, experience etc. So the challenge is acknowledging and cataloguing that information and using it when the time is right.

What upcoming film projects are you planning?

My next film is a documentary about gentrification in Austin.  The basis of the narrative will be non-fiction, but it will still have some science fiction elements to it.  

What advice can you give to someone who also wants to make an independent film?

Do it! I love that the Black Sci-Fi/Speculative Fiction genre is taking off, and I can’t wait to enjoy the fruits of everyone’s labor. There’s no formula for success, except you have to be creative and relentless and surround yourself with positive supportive people.

Monique Walton was born and raised in Long Island, New York.  A 2004 graduate of Yale University, she has directed and produced numerous documentary and narrative films focusing on racial identity and belonging.  Ms. Walton’s first film, a short documentary entitled Still Black, at Yale, screened at over ten film festivals and at universities across the country.  She worked at Viacom for four years producing on-air and web videos for Nickelodeon and then relocated to Austin, TX in August 2009. Her sci-fi short, Dark Matters, premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Creatively Speaking series in September 2010.


AUTHOR vs. WRITER: Which Side Will You Choose?

AUTHOR vs. WRITER: Which Side Will You Choose?

Often, we use the words author and writer interchangeably. But both these words are quite different.

Simply put, an author must have readers. A writer may or may not have readers.

Using words to craft a story or poem or essay or book which has the potential to take on a life of its own are at the heart of what it means to be both a writer and an author.

In the act of literary creation, we all start out as writers. We write for ourselves. We write to create. We write to explore and play and experience and for a thousand other reasons. And, finally, for many (if not most) of us, we look around to see who wants to share in our creation.

Why do we seek out readers?

The reasons are many – validation of what we’re doing; the ego-driven need to show others what we’ve created; the belief that what we’ve created deserves to be shared; the urge to make money through publishing your writings; and an understanding that literary creations can be improved by being shared with others – that readers, by the very act of reading your work, show you what works and what does not.

It is this process of sharing your creations with the world that transforms you from writer into author.

Anyone can be a writer. Simply write and create something new. And many people can develop into good writers, at that. But to become an author – you must be a writer who pushes your creations out into the world.

Becoming an author is not every writer’s goal. Nor is it some evolutionary advance, as if, in becoming an author, you have somehow “outgrown” being a writer.

Being a writer is an identity; being an author is a career.

I have identified myself as a writer since I was a small child and realized I enjoyed writing and was pretty good at it.

I have been an author since I sold my first book.

If I never sold another book, I would not stop writing. Writing is a cornerstone of my sense of self. Not being published would not stop that.

Are you an “Aspiring” Writer?

If you are an “aspiring” anything, you are not the thing at all.

“Aspiring” is for the weak; for the lazy; for the afraid.”

An aspiring writer is a person who plans, desires, or hopes to write, but doesn’t actually write.

Aspiring writers say they want to write, but they never actually do.  They never carve time into their life to sit down and write.  

They are the ones who say “Aw snap! You’re a writer, son? I wanna be a writer someday. Let’s get together and build on that! (meaning: “let’s discuss it”)” And I always respectfully say “We build with our hands, not with our mouths.”

Writers – real writers, not “aspiring” ones – are the ones who sit their butts down and write.

The same applies to “aspiring author”; especially nowadays, with the iron-fist of major publishing crumbling into a pile of rust and giving way to small presses and self-publishing, which nearly anyone can do with enough education and hard work.

Excuses, Excuses…

The excuses we make are lies we create so that we don’t feel guilty about doing nothing.

Right now, some of you are reading this and saying, “Yeah, but…” You are coming up with excuses for not writing…for not becoming the writer or author you “aspire” to be. Let’s examine common excuses “aspiring” writers and authors give for doing absolutely nothing:

I suck. If you feel uncomfortable with your level of talent, take a writing class. Every writer starts by simply putting the first word down on paper. Take a chance and write something. Learn as you go. You never know if you’ll be good at something until you give it a try. 

I have writers’ block. Having writers’ block doesn’t stop you from writing. Refusing to overcome writers’ block does. Try making an outline, even a small one; also, writing exercises will spark your creativity and get you writing. Come up with character names and engage them in imaginary conversations in your head. Keep a small notebook at hand at all times to take notes when ideas strike you.

I can’t convey my ideas on paper well. That’s what editing is all about. A perfect first draft is extremely rare. Just write; then have other writers read your work and critique it. Rewrite the work and ask them to read it again and make more needed changes; repeat the process until you feel you have a good piece of work and then send it to a professional editor.

I can’t handle the stress. Oh, please. Grow a pair, will you? Life is filled with stress…some good (called eustress); some bad (called distress). Deal with it and get to work!

I am too damned old. There is no minimum or maximum age requirement to write. As long as you are of a sound mind, you can write.

I would have too much competition. Audre Lorde said that “there are no new ideas, only new ways of making them felt”. Even with hundreds of thousands of new books published each year, you are a unique person with a unique take on life. Work hard on developing your own style and your own voice. Obis’ Law states that “Somebody else probably has the same idea, so, a) get started; and b) plan to do it better”.

I am broke. All you need to start writing is a pen or pencil, notebook and public library access. If you have your own computer, even better. And if you are truly broke, you probably aren’t working, or are working part-time, so you have even more time to write.

I don’t have the hook-up. Very few fledgling authors do, at first. Join social media sites and seek out other writers and publishers; join a writers’ workshop; go to conferences, and search other resources.  After all, you probably didn’t know a spouse or plumber before you needed one. It takes research and getting to know people.

I am afraid of wasting my time on a book that doesn’t sell. The author J.A. Konrath didn’t sell his novel until he’d amassed more than 500 rejections in his search for agents and publishers. Perseverance is the key. If that first book doesn’t sell, consider it an exercise in learning to be a better writer. Write because you love it; because you’re compelled – and maybe even obsessed – to write. Write without worrying about making a dime at first, or I guarantee you, your writing will be a trite piece of crap that will not sell.

I don’t have enough time to write a book. Most likely you’re making time for non-productive things, like watching TV or having e-fights on Facebook. That means you actually do have time to write, you’re just not making it a priority to write. Everyone has responsibilities and demands on their time. Set a goal of simply writing 500 words a day or one or two pages a day. Sit down with a calendar at the beginning of the week and schedule your writing time. If you truly want this, you’ll find the time and make it a priority.

I am a writer. I am an author. I am pretty good at both, but have a lot more growing to do. More than anything else, I am a student of the art and craft of writing. I love being a student; but I hate being in class alone. Join me and let’s learn – and grow – together.

 


STEAMFUNK MAD SCIENTISTS & MECHANICS: Black Inventors of the Steam Age!

STEAMFUNK MAD SCIENTISTS & MECHANICS: Black Inventors of the Steam Age!

 

Every month, I will feature members of the League of Extraordinary Black People who fit specific Steampunk Archetypes.

This month, I feature the Mad Scientists / Inventors and Mechanics / Tinkerers.

As always, your feedback is welcomed and encouraged.

Henry Baker

What we know about early African-American innovators comes mostly from the work of Henry Baker, who was an assistant patent examiner at the U.S. Patent Office. Baker was dedicated to uncovering and publicizing the contributions of Black inventors.

Around 1900, the Patent Office – under Baker’s guidance, conducted a survey to gather information about Black inventors and their inventions. Letters were sent to patent attorneys, company presidents, newspaper editors, and prominent African-Americans. Henry Baker recorded the replies and followed-up on leads. Baker’s research also provided the information used to select Black inventions exhibited at the Cotton Centennial in New Orleans, the World’s Fair in Chicago, and the Southern Exposition in Atlanta.

By the time of his death, Henry Baker had compiled four massive volumes of Black inventors and their inventions, called The Baker Papers.

Lewis Howard Latimer 

Lewis Latimer was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1848. He enlisted in the Union Navy at the age of 15 and upon completion of his military service, returned to Massachusetts and was employed by a patent solicitor where he began the study of drafting.

His talent for drafting and his creative genius led him to invent an improved toilet system for railroad cars called the Water Closet for Railroad Cars, in 1874; and a method of making carbon filaments for the Maxim electric incandescent lamp in 1881. Also in 1881, he supervised installation of electric light in New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, and London.

Latimer was the original draftsman for Thomas Edison and as such was the star witness in Edison’s infringement suits. Latimer had many interests. He was a draftsman, engineer, author, poet, musician, and, at the same time, a devoted family man and philanthropist.

Granville T. Woods

Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1856, Granville T. Woods dedicated his life to developing a variety of inventions relating to trains and street cars. To some he was known as the “Black Edison”. Woods invented more than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars and nearly fifty more for controlling the flow of electricity.

In 1887 he patented his most noted invention – the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, a device that sent messages between train stations and moving trains, informing the engineer of a train how close his train was to others. This device helped cut down accidents and collisions between trains.

In 1885, Woods patented an apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called telegraphony, would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. Alexander Graham Bell’s company purchased the rights to the telegraphony, enabling Woods to become a full-time inventor.

Among Woods’ other top inventions were a steam boiler furnace and an automatic air brake used to slow or stop trains. His electric car, powered by overhead wires, was the third rail system to keep cars running on the right track.

Success led to law suits filed by that wicked little shark, Thomas Alva Edison, who claimed ownership of the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. Woods eventually won. Unable to defeat Woods, Edison became a stalker, wooing Woods and – in an attempt to win him, and his inventions over – offered Woods a prominent position in the engineering department of Edison Electric Light Company in New York. Woods, wisely, declined.

George Washington Carver

An American scientistbotanisteducator, and inventor, George Washington Carver was born into slavery, freed as a child and curious throughout his life.

Carver profoundly affected the lives of people throughout the world by successfully shifting Southern farming away from risky cotton, which depletes soil of its nutrients, to nitrate-producing crops such as peanuts, peas, sweet potatoes, pecans, and soybeans. Farmers began rotating crops of cotton one year with peanuts the next.

From his laboratory at Tuskegee, Carver developed 325 different uses for the peanut, including 105 food recipes and over 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house and farm, including  adhesives, axle grease, bleachbuttermilkchili sauce, fuel briquettes (a biofuel), inkinstant coffeelinoleummayonnaisemeat tenderizer, metal polish, pavement, shaving creamshoe polish, synthetic rubber, talcum powder, wood stain, cosmeticsdyespaintsplastics, gasoline, and nitroglycerin. He also developed 118 products from the sweet potato. Other Carver innovations include synthetic marble from sawdust, plastics from wood shavings, and writing paper from wisteria vines.

Upon his death in 1943, Carver contributed his life savings to establish a research institute at Tuskegee University. His birthplace was declared a national monument in 1953, and he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990.

Elijah McCoy

When you say “I want the real McCoy”, you are saying you want the ‘real thing’ – what you know to be of the highest quality, not an inferior imitation. This saying refers to the famous African American inventor, Elijah McCoy, who earned 57 patents, most to do with lubrication of steam engines, but also including a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. Machinists and engineers who wanted genuine McCoy lubricators would demand “the real McCoy”.

McCoy was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1843, the son of slaves who fled Kentucky. Educated in Scotland, he relocated to the United States to pursue a position in his field of mechanical engineering. The only job available to him was that of a locomotive fireman / oilman for the Michigan Central Railroad. Because of his training, he was able to identify and solve the problems of engine lubrication and overheating. Railroad and shipping lines began using McCoy’s new lubricators, and Michigan Central promoted him to an instructor in the use of his new inventions.

Later, McCoy moved to Detroit where he became a consultant to the railroad industry on patent matters.

Jan Matzeliger 

Jan Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana (now Suriname) in 1852. He immigrated to the United States at age 18. After a while, he went to work in the Harney Brothers Shoes factory in Massachusetts. At the time, no machine could attach the upper part of a shoe to the sole. This had to be done manually by a “Hand Laster”; a skilled one could produce 50 pairs in a ten-hour day.

Matzeliger obtained a patent for his invention – the Shoe Lasting Machine, which adjusts the shoe leather upper snugly over the mold, arranges the leather under the sole and pins it in place with nails while the sole is stitched to the leather upper – in 1883.  His machine could produce up to 700 pairs of shoes a day, cutting shoe prices across the nation in half.

George “Speck” Crum 

George Crum was a cook at the Moon Lake Lodge in Saratoga Springs in New York.

In 1853, french fries – thickly sliced fried potatoes, a concept brought to the U.S. from France by Thomas Jefferson in the late 1700s – were on the lodge’s menu.

It is said that George Crum was a tough, crusty old man who had previously been a trapper. If any of the diners at the Moon Lake Lodge had the nerve to complain about their food, Crum would release his wrath upon them. He would send back any food that had been returned to his kitchen, only after he made it nearly inedible.

On August 24, 1853, a customer complained that Crum’s french fries were “too thick”. George Crum grumbled, but he sliced the customer up a thinner batch of potatoes, fried them, and sent them back out to the dining room.

Still, the plate of potatoes were returned to the kitchen. The diner complained that they were still too thick. He also requested that his potatoes be crunchy.

This angered Crum. Hoping to gain personal satisfaction and annoy the complainer at the same time, Crum took his sharp knife and sliced another batch of potatoes as thin as he possibly could. Crum then fried the sliced potatoes in grease until they were hard and crunchy. There was no way now that the customer would be able to eat them with a fork! He then piled them on a plate, sprinkled an over generous amount of salt on them, and sent them back to the disgruntled diner.

Crum expected the customer to dislike them very much, but he actually loved them.

Crum dubbed his creation “Saratoga chips” or “potato crunches”.

They soon became so popular that they were made up in large batches, packaged in bags, and sold in New England.

Eventually, Crum left the Moon Lake Lodge and, in 1860 with the profits he made selling his new chips, started his own successful restaurant.

The chips remained a local delicacy until the Prohibition era, when an enterprising salesman named Herman Lay popularized the product throughout the Southeastern United States.

 

Stay tuned for more in the League of Extraordinary Black People Series. Next month: Adventurers / Explorers!

 


THE BURNING QUESTION:Is there really such a thing as a Black Science Fiction Movie?

THE BURNING QUESTION:Is there really such a thing as a Black Science Fiction Movie?

On August 4, 2012, the State of Black Science Fiction author’s collective and the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture will host the Black Science Fiction Film Festival in Atlanta, Georgia.

Recently, someone in the State of Black Science Fiction group on Facebook asked “Is there really such a thing as a ‘Black’ Science Fiction movie?”

The film festival will answer that question in a big way, so don’t miss it!

In the meantime, I would like to share my list of the ten most Blacktastic actors in Science Fiction and Fantasy films and television programs. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus in The Matrix trilogy.

Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of Morpheus in The Matrix films was absolutely brilliant, bringing to life an iconic master martial artist / father figure who is cooler than Yoda and Mister Miyagi put together.

“I was really attracted to the piece because of the dual reality thing,” Laurence Fishburne said, in regard to the role. “I was fascinated by the idea that there was a real world and then another world that was just inside your head. That was the thing that really drew me towards this. The character was wonderful because he didn’t die. I die a lot in movies. Here it was, I got to play this character that is a major force and I didn’t have to snuff it.”

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars.

People talk as if Star Wars made Billy Dee Williams, however, when the original three Star Wars films hit the big screen, Billy Dee Williams was a big name actor and a sex symbol. He actually brought more name recognition to Star Wars. It’s a fact, fanboys; so sit down, relax and have a Colt 45.

Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Avery Brooks took this role and ran with it, creating the most badass of all “the Captains”.

On playing Ben Sisko, Avery Brooks had this to say: “Certainly the fact you have a black man in a command position is very important. That is something that goes far beyond just having black people working on a show, which itself is also very important. It goes to children being able to see themselves on screen and visualize that in the future they will be doing something of importance to the world at large. It addresses the situation of having all kinds of people interacting and cooperating for the mutual survival of the planet. The writing was exceptional, and the funny thing is I initially said no to Star Trek. My wife convinced me to go to the audition. She was the one who said, ‘You can’t say no to this.’”

Thanks, Mrs. Brooks. I – and millions of other fans – am forever grateful.

Will Smith as Steven Hiller in Independence Day, J in the Men In Black series of films, Del Spooner in I, Robot, Robert Neville in I Am Legend and John Hancock in Hancock.

The undisputed, undefeated heavyweight champion of the science fiction film! He is the reason I could not present this list as a top ten, as he would – in all fairness – hold at least five of those positions. A Blacknificent actor!

Joe Morton as The Brother in The Brother from Another Planet, Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Henry Deacon in Eureka.

Joe Morton always gives great performances and while most people recognize him as Miles Dyson in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and as Henry Deacon – the multi-talented super-genius on Eureka, I first became a fan of his work in The Brother From Another Planet, in which he sold the character through facial expressions and body language, as The Brother was “mute”.

Wesley Snipes as Blade in the Blade trilogy and Simon Phoenix in Demolition Man.

Wesley Snipes is one of the greatest action film stars ever!  As Simon Phoenix, he brought an edge and skill to the action of Demolition Man that made what would have been an okay film a good one. Blade, on the other hand, was groundbreaking.

Bullet Time – a special effect / film technique often credited to The Matrix – was actually first seen in Blade. But besides this technological breakthrough, Snipes brought the first serious superhero of African descent to the big screen. Before Blade, our heroes were not characters, they were caricatures. Blank Man and Meteor Man, while interesting, were not embraced as heroes in the Black community. We had enough clowns and buffoons on screen; we had enough “in the hood” movies. We were looking for a hero we could be proud of. Someone we could root for. Blade is that hero. Thanks, Wesley!

Denzel Washington as Eli in The Book of Eli, Doug Carlin in Déjà vu and Ben Marco in The Manchurian Candidate.

Denzel Washington is such a great dramatic actor, that we often forget he has starred in several science fiction films and even starred in an excellent horror film (Fallen).

Denzel Washington is my favorite actor and when I wrote the soon-to-be-released sword and soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika, I envisioned him as Alaafin Rogba, ruler of the Oyo Empire. One day, that vision will become reality. You hear that Denzel? One day, that vision will become reality.

James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in Star Wars and Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian.

Although I am a fan of several actors, I only consider one to be an idol of mine. That actor is James Earl Jones. For more on why he is one of my idols check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/02/18/state-of-black-scifi-2012-my-tribute-to-science-fiction-and-fantasy-icon-james-earl-jones/.

Who could possibly forget the haunting voice behind the mask in Star Wars? And James Earl Jones portrayed one of the most menacing – and popular – villains in film – Thulsa Doom.

Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek.

Often underrated as just a futuristic secretary in a short skirt, we forget how important Nichelle Nichols is to Black fandom, women’s fandom and, indeed, fandom in general.

Nichols’ role as Uhura was unprecedented – a lead character of African descent who was not a servant.

However, feeling that the character was not as fully developed as those of her peers, Nichols planned to leave after the first season to return to Broadway. She reconsidered when a fan of the show approached her at an NAACP function where she was speaking. That fan was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When she told him of her plans, Dr. King replied, “Stop! You cannot! You cannot leave this show! Do you not understand what you are doing? You are the first non-stereotypical role in television. Nichelle, for the first time, not only our little children and people can look on and see themselves, but people who don’t look like us, from all over the world…for the first time on television, they can see us, as we should be – as intelligent, brilliant, people! People in roles other than slick tap dancers, and maids, which are all wonderful in their own ways, but for the first time we have a woman, a woman, who represents us and not in menial jobs, and you prove it.”

Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in Avatar and Uhura in Star Trek (2009).

To create the aliens in Avatar, the cast acted on a bare stage while wired into performance-capture suits and headgear. We never see Zoe Saldana’s real face, but through her incredible acting, she brought the 10’ tall, blue-skinned Neytiri to life and we related to her.

Avatar represented a great leap forward for film technology and the viewer’s experience and an even greater one for the career of this great actress, who got her first shot at stardom in the movie Drumline.

The actress learned martial arts, archery and horseback riding for her role and was the first of the cast to master the Na’vi “language”. According to director James Cameron, “Zoe was the first one to really have to learn the language. As she owned the language, then everyone else had to match her accent and her pronunciation.”

Saldana admits that the idea of her own face and body never appearing in Avatar did bother her, but only for “about two nanoseconds,” the actress said. “It is a human condition for us to be prone to vanity – especially actors; but I feel this role has been the best role ever to cross my path. When I see Neytiri, I actually see me, in its entirety.”

And now, for your viewing pleasure, here is Wake, a short horror film from up-and-coming director, Bree Newsome. A great work of Black Speculative Fiction. Enjoy!


Steampunk: What in the hell is it, really?

Steampunk: What in the hell is it, really?

Many will argue that when H. G. Wells was writing, people believed in the possibility of time machines, making animals sentient and traveling to the center of the earth and finding live dinosaurs down there.

Now, if what H. G. Wells wrote was science fiction and most people agree that – along with Jules Verne – Wells created the model for anachronistic fiction (i.e. Steampunk, Dieselpunk and the like), then is Steampunk science fiction?

Yet, you find Steampunk on the fantasy bookshelves, not the science fiction ones. Unless, of course, the Science Fiction and Fantasy titles are, annoyingly, combined onto one set of shelves, a la Barnes and Noble.

So, is steampunk science fiction, or is it fantasy? 

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, “Steampunk”, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/05/24/punk-101-steampunk-dieselpunk-and-a-three-year-old-genius/, or http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/01/23/state-of-black-sci-fi-2012-why-i-love-steampunk/.

The Difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy

Both science fiction and fantasy present things that do not exist. All fiction does this, of course. That’s what makes it fiction. But science fiction and fantasy include not only imaginary characters and events but settings, creatures, concepts, or devices that are qualitatively beyond our normal, everyday experience.

While Science Fiction and Fantasy share some characteristics, there is a clear and unambiguous distinction between them.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are two of the earliest true modern science fiction writers. Both stretched the bounds of what was known at the time to posit things that did not exist. Unlike earlier, and even much of the other speculative fiction of the time, though, they based their plot devices on extrapolations from current science and technology. Previous visits to improbable lands, encounters with strange creatures, and even fictional travels through time were often the result of a dream or mystical insight. Both Wells and Verne presented their readers with fantastic machines, but these were based on scientifically explained principles. They included strange creatures, but they were natural rather than supernatural, with abilities explainable, at least in theory, solely in terms of biology and evolution.

Fantasy is less constrained. It can include just about anything – magic wands; fire-breathing dragons; shiny, shimmering vampires; werewolves; genies in lamps; lizard men and sentient swords. These things just ‘are’ and don’t need to be explained from a scientific perspective.

While the magical elements must be internally consistent, they do not need to be based on known science. If the story includes supernatural or mythological characters or forces that are not supported with plausible sounding techno-babble, then it is fantasy.

When asked to explain the difference between science fiction and fantasy, Isaac Asimov, the prolific writer of science and science fiction, replied, “Science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not.” We authors can – at times – be quite presumptuous and this statement is presumptuous to the nth degree, as Asimov implies that he knows everything that is possible and all that is real. He doesn’t (didn’t – he passed away in 1992). We don’t.

A better distinction was provided by the science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer who said, “There’s discontinuity between our reality and fantasy; there’s continuity between our reality and science fiction.”

He is saying that fantasy proposes the existence of things we cannot yet explain rationally. Science fiction, on the other hand, must present some rationale for how such things could exist and demands a plausible theoretical explanation rooted in what we currently know. The explanation does not need to answer such questions in detail, but the reader must feel that a scientific explanation is possible and links back to our current scientific understanding of the real world.

Science fiction is supportive of a scientific outlook and optimistic about humanity’s ability to use science to explain the universe and create a brighter future. Fantasy, which has a mystical basis, supports the idea of the existence of things science cannot explain or deal with.

 There are those who believe a magic wand is no less implausible than a TV remote control or that the binary system of African divination is as viable as Boolean logic. Both types of people can, however, read and enjoy science fiction and fantasy.

Stories from both genres can be insightful, thought provoking and evoke a sense of wonder. Both genres can take us to strange and fascinating worlds.

Science Fantasy:

Now, there are stories in which both magic and science work, science is so sophisticated it simulates magic, or characters possess psychic powers so strong they resemble magic. A term that has been applied to these stories is ‘science fantasy.’

An example would be Star Wars, a fantasy adventure with science fiction elements. The fantasy element is the Force, which is described as a mystical ‘energy’ field. The science fiction elements, obviously, are extraterrestrial aliens and space ships, although there is never much of an explanation for how the latter are supposed to work. Another example would be Van Helsing – a popular Steampunk movie.  The science fiction element is the weapons and even the creation of Frankenstein’s monster. The fantasy aspects of Van Helsing include the existence of vampires and werewolves.

Stories involving time travel are generally considered science fantasy as well.

So, if Steampunk is, science fantasy, why not just call it – and Star Wars, Van Helsing and time travel stories, for that matter – fantasy?

Well, even the best Steampunk story – a story like Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman Books 1 & 2 (shameless plug) – may not appeal to someone who strictly enjoys high fantasy. A pure fantasy reader may not appreciate a story with a dwarf who wields a steam-powered war-hammer or an elf who pilots a dirigible.

The hard science fiction fan would, most likely, loathe the inclusion of Orcs, fighting alongside the Cassad Empire in the far reaches of the Dark Universe.

So, the science fiction elements make it not purely fantasy, but the fantasy elements make it not purely science fiction either.

And the debate continues as to just what Steampunk is.

I asked the members of the State of Black Science Fiction – a group of which I am a proud, founding member – whether Steampunk is Science Fiction or Fantasy and got some interesting answers. I thank all of them for their insight and happily share them with you.

Cm Talley, noted P-Funk scholar and author: “Well, there’s very little science involved, so, it is very definitely fantasy. If there are elements of Wellsian aliens or Vernsian explorations, then you might straddle the ‘science’ line, but for the most part it’s a variation of historical fiction. Steampunk uses a different paradigm: post-feudal, post Age of Reason, New World colonization. Antebellum to height of industrial revolution to Reconstruction, Gilded Age (Victorian Era if you’re British). I call it the ‘alternate history’ branch of fantasy.”

Diop Malvi, author: “Always considered Steampunk/funk as science fiction of the alternate world variety.”

Valjeanne Jeffers,author of the Immortal series of novels and the Steampunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork: “Steampunk didn’t just come into being – it’s been around for a while. Think Adam Ant; Sherlock Holmes; and the movie, Time After Time (based on H.G. Well’s The Time Machine).

Steampunk is an island of fantasy – of escape – within our technological, very stressful 21th century. Just like every other type of speculative fiction. And a way of making one’s own personal statement.

Someone on a Steampunk blog, described it as ‘poorly defined’. Really? Seriously? How about open to experimentation and imagination. Steampunk is a glorious mixture of other fantasy/SF genres. And the settings and plots reflect this – plots set in the post-civil war; Victorian England; Post-Apocalyptic America; or a futuristic world, as in my Steampunk story: The Switch II: Clockwork .”

Maurice Broaddus, author of The Knights of Breton Court series of novels and the Steampunk story, Pimp My Airship: “Alternate history, which so much of Steampunk is, falls under science fiction.”

Vincent Moore, Senior Media Correspondent at Komplicated.com and author of the Total Recall comic book series: “I agree with Maurice. Where most Steampunk gets going is the argument about what would have happened if the Babbage Difference Engine actually started the Computer Age early. Everything else descends from that argument.”

Geoffrey Thorne, writer for USA network’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Ben 10: Ultimate Alien and TNT’s Leverage.: “It’s sci-fi if it uses science as its central technological engine. It’s fantasy if there are dragons and wizards powering the stuff.”

Cynthia Ward, Market Reporter for the SFWA Bulletin and – with author Nisi Shawl – teaches the workshop Writing the Other: Bridging Cultural Differences for Successful Fiction: “Alternate histories are usually classified as science fiction, but then the Soulless/Umbrella Protectorate series, by Gail Carriger, is urban fantasy with its parallel-Victorian werewolves, vampires, and ghosts. So I’d say the content of the individual Steampunk titles determines whether they’re science fiction or fantasy (or science fantasy).”

Ronald Jones, author of the novels Chronicle of the Liberator and Warriors of the Four Worlds: “I’d say it depends on the author. Steam technology is real world, based upon real science and engineering principles. Add steam tech to a fictional tale, create a fantastical setting, but don’t introduce magical elements, your Steampunk story will be science fiction. If magic is added to your story then I would consider it fantasy.”

Alicia McCalla,  ‎author of the Teen Dystopian novel, Breaking Free: Balogun Ojetade I think it’s both depending upon the direction the story takes. Alternate History with steam power would be more like Science Fiction but a new or alien world that uses steam technology would be more like Fantasy. Hoping you find a way to explain that. LOL!”

Hmm…so many opinions.

Maybe that is another reason I love Steampunk / Steamfunk. It freely draws from science fiction, fantasy, horror and history, yet is not bound by any of them.

Perhaps Steampunk is just…Steampunk.

 

As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Please share. 


DOING AWAY WITH TRADITION: The Savior of Black Entertainment!

DOING AWAY WITH TRADITION: The Savior of Black Entertainment!

Now, before some “traditionalist” catches me coming out of Whole Foods and busts my head to the white meat with a ball-peen hammer, let me explain.

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.

Learning Experience

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.

Calling Card

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

A rapidly increasing number of directors, producers and writers are looking to the Web to make black shows on our own terms.

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!

McDojos:  Over 40 Million Served

Greetings, all!

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:

  1. “You don’t have to experience pain in order to learn to fight effectively.”
  2. “We have techniques that can stop any grappler from taking us to the ground.”
  3. “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.”
  4. “If you can break a board, you can break a bone.”
  5. “We train slowly and softly in class, but on the street, when adrenaline’s pumping, we hit hard and fast.”
  6. “We can make you a Black Belt (or Red Sash, or Instructor, etc.) in one to two years.”
  7. “If a child can perform the same techniques as an adult, then they are capable of teaching as an adult.”
  8. “I am Grandmaster of this style and the only person alive qualified to teach it.”
  9. “I teach Kemetic Kung Fu.” (Since when is anything Chinese “Kemetic”?)

The Making of a Mythster

Another sure way to tell if you are in a McDojo is if the instruction is rooted in myth.

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:

Registered Hands

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.

Breaking Away

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!


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