Steamfunk * Steampunk * Sword & Soul

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SWING DOWN, SWEET CHARIOT, STOP AND LET ME RIDE: A Steamfunk sneak-peek!

SWING DOWN, SWEET CHARIOT, STOP AND LET ME RIDE: A Steamfunk sneak-peek!

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Greetings, Steamfunkateers! We are broadcasting live from the airship Sweet Chariot, which is now docked at AnachroCon, where great fun, good food, drink and entertainment and a whole lot of learning is taking place.

Many new recruits to the crew of Sweet Chariot have signed on, given their oath of allegiance to the Funk and have purchased their copy of the Steamfunkateers’ first guide to funktastic – Steamfunk!

Steamfunk is a huge book at 485 pages and every story is a powerful vision of Steamfunk from the perspective of fourteen of the best authors in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Below, I offer a sampling of just four of those stories and will give more sneak peeks as we continue to tour this Blacknificent anthology.

Enjoy!

Benjamin’s Freedom Magic

By Ronald T. Jones

The Confederate stars and bars waved high above the mansion belonging to the Jensen family. Five airships descended upon the estate in V formation. The lead airship, larger than the others, landed softly on a patch of gray tarmac, its side-mounted turbines shifting horizontally to cushion its descent. Blasts of steam whooshed out of the craft’s side and top vents as its landing struts touched the surface with an impact lighter than a feather’s kiss.

 

Tough Night in Tommyville

By Melvin Carter

Thomasville had been founded one hundred and twenty-seven years back, and named after an eastern entrepreneur, Benjamin Thomas.  Mr. Thomas and his public relations departments, both in house and hired, had webbed a myth that portrayed him as frontier born, bear and buffalo wrestling hellion, who became both a guide and later a scout for General ‘Ham Fist’ Hammond and his elite Eleventh Lancers.  An all around American Hero, he was. The reality was that he had only been west of the Lanyard and into the North West Territories twice.

His only true adventure had been an upriver journey to get trading rights with the Chippewa-Sioux.  The second, was as an older and wealthier man, dedicating a statue, to “Corny” Cornelius Opopo, a real frontiersman among whose accomplishments were, he had prevented one who had grown so fed up with the whining of Mr. Thomas on the expedition, from splitting his fat skull.  Over the decades the bronze statue became that of the 5’6” potbellied businessman, rather than the 6’2” West-Man.     Thomasville had become an important trade hub by that time. Not even the tornado of ’67, the occupation by regional separatists in ’73, nor the subsequent pitched battle in the Regulars counteroffensive.

 

Once A Spider

By Rebecca M. Kyle

A woman’s terrified scream forced Nansi to move with her day-to-night transition incomplete. Off-balance, despite the many years of nightly changes from two legs to eight, she raced through the tangle of alleys along the river toward the sound. Somewhere in the city, a big cat stalked, claiming the lives of citizens nearly every night. Nansi’s goal was to stop the deaths.

Keep to the shadows, her eight-legged mind, bent on survival, tried to assert itself. Hurry, her still-human heart urged. So she sped along on her eight legs, using the smoke from stacks to camouflage her inky form.

If the night sky wasn’t so thick with fog, the moon would be eclipsed by beautifully colored pleasure balloons owned by the wealthiest who enjoyed soaring above the city and looking down upon the silver ribbons of rivers and snow-capped mountains. Dirigibles, both great and small, also flew in more clement weather. These more sturdy crafts served for long-distance travel and the city’s emergency services, including the police and fire brigades.

So far, none of the denizens of this fog-bound city where a wide river met the sea were aware of her dual identity, but that could change any time. The more the cat killed, the more in danger the other shadowy residents of the city were.

 

The Tunnel at the End of the Light

By Geoffrey Thorne

Ol’ Moby spun slowly in the airtides, creaking and groaning as the pressure pushed it this way and that, giving the false but persistent impression that it was alive.

The giant spokes, interlocking like spider webs, the great corroded drum squatting at the hub, even the enormous bolts protruding from the thing like huge dead eyes, somehow implied the presence of some great beast or skeeter.

Of course it was neither of these things. The nearest anybody had been able to tell was that Ol’ Moby, one of the bigger wrecks floating in the misty aether a few leagues from Breaktown, was that it had been home to some manner of elseworldly persons many, many turns ago.

Those persons were all gone to dust now, leaving no clue about themselves or how they’d found their way into the Other Country.

Nowatimes only the homesteaders and the damned Morikans had any real presence and, of the two, only the homesteaders had been of a mind to take the place for what it was and put down roots.

I hope you enjoyed the excerpts from these funktastic tales dear Steamfunkateers!

Be sure to pick up your copy of the Steamfunk anthology and enjoy all the funky goodness found therein!

Also, please check out the blogs of several authors who contributed stories to Steamfunk. We will give away sneak peeks – and maybe some funky prizes, too – over the next several days. The authors and their pages are:

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 at eastofmars.blogspot.com.

Valjeanne Jeffers – is an editor and the author of the SF/fantasy / Steamfunk novels: Immortal, Immortal II: The Time of Legend, 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 films, “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 out http://www.geoffreythorne.com/.

 


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

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

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

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

So, here goes – enjoy!

What is the working title of your book?

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

Where did the idea come from for the book?

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

What genre does your book fall under?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who or What inspired you to write this book? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

And the concomitant myth of white superiority.

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

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

This sickness must be addressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why we expect so little of ourselves and of each other

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

For starters, lower expectations mean fewer disappointments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This amazing discussion includes:

BALOGUN OJETADE, Co-Moderator

Film 12

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

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

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

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

MILTON J. DAVIS, Co-Moderator

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

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

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

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

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

DONNIE LEAPHEART

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

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

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

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

TERÉSA DOWELL-VEST

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

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

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

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

Terésa can be reached at Diva Blue’s Blog.

TOMMY BOTTOMS

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

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

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

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

LARON AUSTIN

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

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

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

 

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

 

 


STEAMFUNK ENCHANTERS: Black Magicians, Conjurers and Soothsayers in the Age of Steam!

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STEAMFUNK ENCHANTERS: Black Magicians, Conjurers and Soothsayers in the Age of Steam!

 

We return to our League of Extraordinary Black People series with a look at the great men and women whose lives were bolstered, or broken, by the arts of legerdemain, divination and prestidigitation. These virtuosos of voodoo, stage magic, fortune-telling and mesmerism all came to fame through the workings of the arcane.

Previously, we explored Dandies, Adventurers, ActivistsTinkerers and the Black Dispatches. Join us now, as we examine the lives and amazing abilities of more extraordinary Black people from the Age of Steam(funk)!  

 

Richard Potter (1783 – 1835)

magic 1Born July 19, 1783, Richard Potter is celebrated as the first successful stage magician in America.

Potter was born in New Hampshire, the son of an English baronet and an African servant woman. He was educated in Europe before beginning his 25-year career as a performer in post-Revolutionary America. He lived with his father in Hopkinton, NH, until he married his wife, Sally, and had three children.

Potter is also credited as America’s first successful hypnotist and ventriloquist. One of the earliest records of his stage shows is November 2, 1811, in Boston at the Columbian Museum. The performance featured ventriloquism and magic. Potter is believed to be the first to use a ventriloquist’s dummy and could skillfully throw his voice, using human speech and sounds that perfectly imitated the chirping, cooing and caws of birds.

Potter performed in Boston, throughout New England, and Canada. Witnesses of Potter’s shows say he was able to walk through a log. The crowd that watched him do this assumed the log was hollow. But when they checked out the log for themselves they discovered it was completely solid! Another of Potter’s amazing tricks was his ability to take a ball of yarn and toss it high into the air, where it would slowly unravel. Potter would then climb up the yarn and vanish into the clouds to vanish before hundreds of spectators.

His shows also regularly included prestidigitation with eggs, money, and cards; throwing knives at assistants; touching a hot iron to his tongue; walking on flames; and dancing on eggs without breaking them.

Potter was very successful and it is said that he made $4800 for 20-day engagements in the early 1800s, allowing him to buy a 175-acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire, in the village now known as Potter’s Place. His story intrigued Harry Houdini, who became a huge fan.

JK Rowling, author of the mega-successful Harry Potter series of novels, explains the supposed origin of Harry Potter’s name: “Harry’ has always been my favourite boy’s name, so if my daughter had been a son, he would have been Harry Rowling. Then I would have had to choose a different name for “Harry” in the books, because it would have been too cruel to name him after my own son. “Potter” was the surname of a family who used to live near me when I was seven years old and I always liked the name, so I borrowed it.” However, sources close to Rowling say that she named the popular teen magician after famed stage magician Harry Houdini and his idol – the first known stage magician in America – Richard Potter.

Potter died on September 20, 1835. Sometime after his death and the death of his wife, Sally, the couple was buried in the front yard of their estate. A few years afterward, however, the house burned down. Potter and his wife’s graves were moved to their present site in 1849. All that remains to this day is a small plot with the gravestones behind the railroad station at Potter’s Place.

Marie Laveau (1794 – 1881)

magic 3Recognized as the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans,  there is no magician, conjurer, witch, or fortune teller who has risen in status or fame to rival Marie Laveau.

Marie Catherine Laveau was born in New Orleans on September 10, 1794, the daughter of two free Blacks – Marguerite Darcantel, a former Haitian slave and Charles Laveau, a wealthy, Black plantation owner of mixed race.

Raised by her mother and grandmother, both Voodoo priestesses, Marie Laveau spent most of her adult life in a world where Voodoo was neither alien nor uncommon. She was a very spiritual person who blended, in the Creole way, Voodoo with Catholicism, especially the saints. For Laveau, Voodoo was an extension of Catholic practices and Catholicism, a focus toward the same Bon Dieu (God), natural and familiar, to Voodoo.

Laveau married a Jacques Paris in 1819 and went to live in New Orleans’ French Quarter. For whatever reason, Charles Paris was soon died, however, and she was left with two children to care for.

After Jacques’ passing, the “Widow Paris” worked as a hairdresser and as a nurse, even performing minor surgery when necessary. Her nursing duties included ministering to prisoners on death row as well as taking in the sick to be nursed in her home. During the worst breakouts of Yellow Fever and Cholera, Laveau was a saint who saved many, and helped make the transition to death a comfortable one. She was there, in the worst hospital wards, using her knowledge of herbal medicines and Voodoo prayers to save the dying. This was frowned on by the local church, but nobody could stop her.

Being a free woman of color meant that “Mam’zelle Laveau” was free to own slaves. She took advantage of this…not to make life easier on herself, but to put herself in a position to free her enslaved people.

She entered into a common-law marriage with Christophe Glapion, a member of a prominent local family, and they had five children together – only two of whom survived to adulthood. Although Marie never abandoned her Catholic roots, she became increasingly interested in her traditional African beliefs and quickly developed a reputation as New Orleans’ leading voodoo queen.

magic 7While voodoo was commonly practiced in New Orleans, it had a fearsome reputation and a history of fueling revolution and slave revolts and was actually banned at different times in Louisiana history. Marie Laveau’s marriage of voodoo beliefs to Catholic traditions helped make voodoo and more acceptable to upper-class New Orleans society. She regularly presided over public voodoo ceremonies in Congo Square – one of the few locations in rigidly segregated New Orleans where people of different races could mix freely – and made a good income selling charms, curses, and blessings to people of all social classes. The fact that many of her clients were servants in upper-class homes also gave her a spy network which helped reinforce her supernatural reputation to the wealthy patrons who asked for her services.

The dark consultation of Marie Laveau was sought by the many great men and women of New Orleans. They would visit with Laveau at her St. Ann cottage, sit with her and discuss business matters and affairs of the heart. After fully understanding the situation, Marie would give them advice on how to proceed and insight into their past, present and future…and she was always right.

Marie disappeared for a time. It is said that she went off to train with a famous Voodoo priest named Doctor John, who was believed to be a free Black man with so much experience in dark magic, that he has never been discovered because of this power.

In 1830, several years after her disappearance, Marie returned as Voodoo Queen, now armed with the most potent rituals, a pet snake named Li Grande Zombi, and, it seemed, eternal youth.

Marie Laveau had an extremely complex reputation in later life, both feared for her power as a voodoo queen – with numerous stories about the things that “happened” to anyone who offended her – and admired as a living saint due to her humanitarian work.  

At the time of her death in 1881, eminent writer Lafcadio Hearn referred to her as “one of the kindest women who ever lived”.   Her fame also guaranteed prominent obituaries in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New York Times.

After the announcement of her death, however, many witnessed Marie Laveau walking the streets of the French Quarter as she always did and to this very day people claim to see Marie Laveau walking about on her beloved St. Ann Street.

Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814 – 1904)

magic 4Called “the Mother of Civil Rights in California” from work she initiated in the 1860s, Mary Ellen Pleasant’s achievements in the struggle for the rights of Black people and women went unsurpassed until the 1960s.

Pleasant was once the most talked-about woman in San Francisco. When other African Americans were rarely mentioned, she claimed full-page articles in the press. She helped shape early San Francisco, and covertly amassed a joint fortune once assessed at $30,000,000.

Pleasant was born a slave near Augusta, Georgia in 1814, the daughter of Virginia governor John H. Pleasants’ son, John H. Pleasants, Jr. and an enslaved Haitian Vodoun priestess.

After witnessing the death of her mother at the cruel hands of a plantation overseer, Mary Pleasant had to make her way through life largely on her own.

Pleasant dropped the ‘s’ in her last name, changing it to ‘Pleasant’ and fled to New Orleans, where she found employment as a linen worker at the Ursaline Convent. A short time later, she went to work as a free servant for a Louis Alexander Williams, a merchant in Cincinnati. Williams promised that, after Mary served the Williams family for some time without pay, she would be freed legally. However, Williams, in debt and ultimately jealous of his wife Ellen’s affection for young Mary Pleasant, eventually placed her into nine years of indentured servitude with an aging Quaker merchant known only as Grandma Hussey. Indentured servants could be of any race, and Pleasant, a child of mixed parentage, who in her earlier years was of a very light complexion, was told not to reveal her race – a heavy burden for a girl of about eleven.

Pleasant adopted Ellen Williams’ name, becoming “Mary Ellen Williams” and she learned business as a clerk in Grandma Hussey’s general store. Although she could not read or write then, she said in her final memoir, “I could recall the accounts of a whole day, and she [Grandma Hussey] would set them down and they would be right as I remembered ‘em.”

Pleasant grew smart and witty, and adopted abolitionist beliefs and the principles of equality that those beliefs taught her.

Later in the 1840′s, when her indentured service had ended, the Husseys helped the brilliant and talented twenty-something, young woman, become a tailor’s assistant in Boston. She also became a paid church soloist there.

Mary Ellen Williams soon met and married James W. Smith, a wealthy free Black who passed for white, so as to serve as a Southern contributor to William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Soon both Smiths served on that Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom in Canada, Nova Scotia, and Mexico.

James Smith owned a plantation near Harper’s Ferry, left to him by his white father. Smith staffed it with freed slaves, whose freedom he helped secure. Smith died suddenly in 1844, leaving Mary Ellen a wealthy woman. She eventually remarried, but she continued her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad between New Bedford, MA, and Ohio out of her own inner calling. She soon became a much-hunted slave rescuer.

Finally, in 1851, with slavers hot on her trail, she fled West.

According to ships records and confirming testimony, she arrived in San Francisco in April, 1852 to escape persecution under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, for helping hundreds of slaves escape.

magic 8Before her arrival in what would become her permanent home, however, Mary Ellen stayed a year in New Orleans, continuing her studies of Vodoun she originally began with her mother with the Voodoo Queen, Mam’zelle Marie Laveau. From Mam’zelle Laveau Mary not only learned the herbal remedies and rituals of Vodoun, but also how to mentor her people and to manipulate the secrets of the rich to gain aid for the poor – a ‘model’ that would serve her well in San Francisco. After her intensive training was complete, Mary Ellen fled to San Francisco, assisted by Marie Laveau.

San Francisco was a rough and tumble, fast-paced place, inhabited by 40,000 people, and home to 700 drinking and gambling establishments, and 5 murders every 6 days.

In addition to those staggering statistics for that time, there were six men to every woman. San Francisco was not a safe place, but Mary Ellen Pleasant was up to the challenge. She was forced to use two identities to thwart capture under California’s Fugitive Slave Act. Under this law anyone without freedom papers could be captured and sent into slavery. Pleasant had no papers, So she lived as both “Mrs. Ellen Smith”, a white boardinghouse steward / cook and as “Mrs. Pleasants”, an abolitionist / entrepreneur). As Mrs. Smith, she served the wealthiest and most influential men in San Francisco and using their regard for her as well as the “Laveau model” of leveraging their secrets for favors, she was able to get jobs and privileges for “colored” people in San Francisco. It is this work that earned her the nickname “The Black City Hall”.

In the “colored” community, in her true identity as Mrs. Pleasants, she used her money to help ex-slaves fight unfair laws and to get lawyers or businesses in California. She became an expert capitalist, owning every kind of business imaginable, and she prospered. However, her people suffered as European immigrations took the menial jobs once held for them and as anti-black sentiment and national depression mounted. So, in 1858 Mary decided to return East – not to live, but – as she once said in a letter – to help her former brother in law gain release from slavery and to help abolitionist John Brown end slavery forever.

In Canada, she bought land on Campbell Street, near Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to help John Brown house the slaves that he planned to free. John Brown’s plan was to capture the Federal arsenal there with only 21 men. He would set up a maroon-like militia, made up of runaway slaves throughout the Virginia Mountains, as the Haitians had done. Then, he would shuttle some slaves from there to Canada. Mary gave Brown money for arms and came back the following fall to ride – in disguise as a jockey – in advance of Brown to alert slaves near Harper’s Ferry of his coming. It was a good, but risky, plan, but, unlike some other Black leaders, Pleasant, believing that slavery had to be ended by force, was willing to help. “I’d rather be a corpse than a coward,” was always her motto.

Of course, Brown acted too soon and was hanged, and Pleasant narrowly escaped with her life. On her return to California, however, she continued to fight, and after the Emancipation Proclamation and the California Right-of-Testimony of 1863 law, she declared her race openly.

She orchestrated court battles to test the right of testimony, and in 1868 her battle for the right of Blacks to ride the San Francisco trolleys without fear of discrimination set precedent in the California Supreme Court.

Mary Pleasant went on to become celebrated as a philanthropist and business woman and to amass a $30,000,000 fortune with her secret partner, Scotsman, Thomas Bell and today, the Voodoo Queen of California’s legacy of love and courage lives on.

Gbêhanzin (Béhanzin) Hossu Bowelle (1844 – 1906)

magic 5Gbêhanzin Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th Century.  He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization.

Gbehanzin was also reputed to be a fierce and powerful Vodou Priest, famously noted for hanging a witch or sorcerer alive from a pole as a warning to all who would dare to cross spiritual forces with him. He was never found without his trademark pipe and according to legend emerged from the womb smoking. Gbehanzin controlled a private army of female soldiers, the Dahomey Amazons, who were said to have fought more fiercely than men, sharpening their teeth into points to tear at their opponents’ carotid arteries.

In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people.  By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo.  In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Gbehanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.

In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou. Gbehanzin, now king after Glele’s sudden death, prepared for war. Gbehanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts – militarily at Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo.  The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities.  A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Gbehanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou port.  The peace lasted for two years.  However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did.  Gbehanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war.

He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Glèlè, in1868 null and void. From this act, war began. 

Gbehanzin led the final struggle against French colonial forces, but would ultimately succumb to Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds, a Senegalese warrior, who was sent to fight against Gbehanzin with powerful French armed forces under his command. Colonel Dodds’ division defeated Gbehanzin  not by the French directly besting Dahomey in combat, but because part of Dodd’s campaign was the deforestation of sacred trees, areas of arbors believed to house the spirits of ancestors and to give strength to the Dahomey people (now you know where they got that scene in Avatar from). It was only after a significant number of the trees were cut that the French were able to break through the Dahomey forces and drive Gbehanzin into exile.

Gbehanzin died in 1906 in Algeria.  In 1928, his son, Ouanilo (who was also France’s first African attorney in 1920) had his body moved to Dahomey.

Benjamin “Black Herman” Rucker (1892 – 1934)

magic 6Black Herman was born Benjamin Rucker in Virginia in 1892.

Rucker came of age under the tutelage of an itinerant African-American showman and street peddler by the name of Alonzo Moore, who went by the name ‘Prince Herman’. Moore took in Rucker as an apprentice at the age of sixteen. By the time of Prince Herman’s death a few years later, Rucker had fine-tuned his own skills at reading cards, divining fortunes, and cooking up healing elixirs, so much that he was able to make his own way around the circuit of traveling faith healers who hustled material goods and spiritual assurances from town to town in Black Belt communities.

Eventually, poverty and racial discrimination pushed Rucker out of the South and toward Chicago, where in the late 1910s he launched an independent career. Assuming a new name borrowed from his old friend and mentor, Prince Herman, Rucker became known as ‘Black Herman’.


Black Herman was a master of conventional magic techniques and legerdemain, successfully crossing the boundaries between theater, folk religion, the black vernacular traditions and entrepreneurship and mixing them all up into a powerful and entertaining gumbo. Echoes of a mysterious, powerful constellation of folk supernaturalism, occult arts, and ancestral religiosity are what defined Black Herman’s performance style. This appropriation of worlds both distinctly African and African-American was as resonant with audiences as it was profitable for him.


Black Herman found his place as the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest magician” in Harlem, the African American Mecca during the Jazz Age.

It was in Harlem that Herman mass-marketed the act for which he became best known – a combination of stage craft, comedy, vaudeville theater, religious oratory, and mind-reading tricks.

Herman’s crowning achievement was a headlining show at Marcus Garvey’s four-thousand-seat Liberty Hall in 1923. Hugely appealing to an emerging urban audience – a highly mixed demographic that included Blacks, whites, members of high society and other elites, and men and women of the working classes – Herman sold out at Liberty Hall for a month and continued to sell out every time he performed. 


Equally at home as a merchant of conjuring implements and as a storefront impresario, Herman set up shop as an authorized seller of mail order courses, lucky numbers, and health tonics until he was arrested in 1925 and sent to Sing-Sing on a charge of fraud.

Prison did not dissuade him from his true calling, however, and by the end of the decade Herman had returned to the stage and his extraordinarily lucrative career. 


Black Herman’s public career came to an abrupt end when he collapsed onstage after a show at the Palace Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1934. Members of the audience could not determine whether Herman’s departure was part of the act or not. After all, one of his most famous tricks involved the staging of his own burial and resurrection. When Black Herman’s body was ultimately laid to rest at New York’s Woodlawn cemetery, newspapers reported that scores of visitors gathered in anticipation of his rising from the grave.

 

The author Arthur C. Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Then Steamfunk and Steampunk can be said to be magical. How does magic affect or influence you, Steampunks and Steamfunkateers? What has been magical about your life?


IT’S STILL DARK AT TWILIGHT: Scrubbing off the Whitewash of Urban Fantasy!

whitewash 9

IT’S STILL DARK AT TWILIGHT: Scrubbing off the Whitewash of Urban Fantasy!

whitewash 2Whitewashing is the practice in which an author, filmmaker, artist or fan takes a character who is originally of color in literature and / or film and replaces them with a white character, actor, or model, or a person who looks “more white”, in order to appeal to the white masses.

Whitewashing is also used to describe the entertainment industry’s erasure of People of Color from history and / or specific locales.

This practice is extremely prevalent in Urban Fantasy.

Fans of Urban Fantasy often give the excuse that because most Urban Fantasy is set in a rural town, the percentage of People of Color who populate those towns is so insignificant that inclusion of them is pointless and even unrealistic.

This would almost make sense if the problematic subgenre was Rural Fantasy. The issue at hand, however, is Urban Fantasy.

Human settlements are classified as rural or urban depending on the density of human-created structures and resident people in a particular area. Urban areas can include towns and cities while rural areas include villages and hamlets.

whitewash 3Rural areas are settled places outside towns and cities, that often develop randomly on the basis of natural vegetation and fauna available in a region. They can have an agricultural feel to them – think the village in Children of the Corn, or Mayberry, with Andy, Otis, Opie, Barney and Gomer Pyle all gathered at Floyd Lawson’s Barbershop enjoying Aunt Bee’s apple pie.

whitewash 4Unlike rural areas, urban settlements are defined by their advanced civic amenities, opportunities for education, facilities for transport, business and social interaction and overall better standard of living. Socio-cultural statistics are usually based on an urban population – think Chicago, Atlanta and New York City.

So, why in the hell would Urban Fantasy be chiefly set in a Mayberry, when it clearly should be set in Chi-Town? We should change the subgenre of these stories to Rural Fantasy. Believe me; the complaints of whitewashing would end then; especially from me, because I would never bother to pick one of those books up.

Now before one of you fanboys rants about Jim Butcher setting his Harry Dresden books in Chicago, let’s explore this fact a bit deeper.

Yes, both Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Series and Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires, are set in “Chicago”. This is obviously a very different Windy City from where I grew up and spent most of my life, however, because my Chicago is only 40% white. Yet Butcher’s and Neill’s Chicago’s are about 99% white. It’s like they took big bottles of White-Out and went berserk. Their works are, most certainly, about as fantastical as writing can get, perhaps even farcical. But Urban? Nah.

whitewash 6Speculative fiction author Maurice Broaddus, in his article entitled Putting the Urban in Urban Fantasy, says:

“About a year ago, Jim Butcher’s Twitter feed erupted into a bit of a kerfuffle about the whitewashing of urban fantasy.  Apparently folks were bent out of shape by his depiction of Chicago, essentially whitewashing it as his Chicago comes up a bit short on the amount of black folks (or other people of color) living there.  Frankly, I wasn’t too bent out of shape over this as somehow every week people used to tune into Friends who lived in a New York remarkably bereft of black folks.  It’s to the point where I go into an urban fantasy expecting not to encounter minority characters other than in a ‘magical Negro’-type capacity.”

He goes on to say:

“There are more stories to tell in urban fiction than Boyz N the Hood or Menace II Society or baby mama dramas.  Just as there are more characters to write about in urban fantasy whose stories aren’t as often told or voices always expressed.  With the legends of the Green Knight, Red Knight, and Black Knight (in each of the books, respectively), Tristan and Isolde, trolls, zombies, a dragon, elven assassins, Red Caps, griffins, gangstas, and thug life tossed in, I guess I’m putting the “urban” in urban fantasy.  This isn’t your father’s King Arthur tale, but it is mine.”

No Rural Fantasy with Maurice Broaddus’ Knights of Breton Court series. This magnificent series is pure Urban Fantasy at its very best.

whitewash 7Come on, y’all…if you write a story and set it in a place like Broaddus’ Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, London, or Las Vegas, basic demographic research will indicate the presence of People of Color.  To read and enjoy Urban Fantasy, I am expected to just accept that Black people don’t exist? You get the side-eye for that one.

Whether or not you like Urban Fantasy, the fact of the matter is that this subgenre of Fantasy has had an immense and global impact on people through literature, television and film. 

It is because of this impact that we cannot ignore the messages that Urban Fantasy brings. Each time an author of this subgenre decides to tell a story, instead of working so hard to erase People of Color out of existence, they should work just as hard to erase the problems that plague our society. And fanboys…do not say that writers should not have to be political; that they should be free to write merely to entertain. Every statement we make is political. Every sentence we write is potentially life-changing for someone. Such is the power of the word.

You cannot truly change culture without literature. We can pass a thousand laws saying that racism and sexism are wrong. We can make a thousand impassioned speeches to rouse the marginalized masses; but if everyone returns home after those speeches and sits down to read the latest installment of Twilight, or watch the next episode of The Vampire Diaries and their fictional worlds in which those same marginalized masses barely even exist – then how much change can truly be affected?

It is within the pages of books and under the light of the TV screen where we will reach people and change the world for the better…or worse.

whitewash 8Over and over again, we are told that our stories aren’t worth being told. We do not get to be the heroes. We are never “the one destined to come since man was young upon the earth”. If we are lucky, we get to be the “magical negro”; the “noble savage”; the sidekick; the Black person who doesn’t die in the first ten minutes of the film.

This is damaging to the psyches of People of Color. And a devastating blow to the self-esteem of our babies.

So, don’t tell me writers just write to merely entertain, when entertainment has such a powerful, deep and lasting impression on the minds of us all.

RedeemerThis is why Black speculative fiction is so important. In my own work of Urban Fantasy, Redeemer, the hero, Ezekiel Cross, is a Black man from an Atlanta of the future who is used in an experiment that transports him to an Atlanta of the past – our present. This Atlanta is a gritty, real Atlanta in which intelligent and powerful Black people – both good and bad – exist.

Redeemer is witty, thrilling and, sometimes, frightening Urban Fantasy that I have always wanted to read; with heroes I have always wanted to see.

Will it change the world? Maybe…give it a read and let me know.


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

Warrior King

DOROTHY, WE AINT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

The Building of a Non-Eurocentric Fantasy World

 

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

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

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

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

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

a) Know it personally.

b) Research; research; research.

c) Make it up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Sword and Soul forever!


PSYCHOLOGY, SANKOFA AND SWORD & SOUL: The Coming of Ki-Khanga!

Ki Khanga Anthology

PSYCHOLOGY, SANKOFA AND SWORD & SOUL: The Coming of Ki-Khanga!

 

Ki Khanga 2Fantasy often takes  place  in  otherworldly settings – such as the planet Pandora,  in the film Avatar –  or a slightly different version of the world we  know, such as Nyumbani, in Charles R. Saunders’ incomparable Imaro series of novels. The  details  that  go  into  the  imagining  of  a fantastical  setting  allow  the  writer  to  both  ground  a narrative in reality and challenge the notions of that reality.

In Fantasy, the distractions of the mundane world are stripped away by the fantastical setting, and the remaining resemblances between the story world and our world are only those that really matter.

Fantasy stories do not explicate their authors’ philosophies; rather, they incarnate them and thereby put them to the test. If author Milton Davis’ readers find his seafaring Swahili prince, Changa Diop, beautiful, it is because Changa represents the high and noble in human nature that rings true, that persuades us, whether we realize it or not.

Too often, Fantasy stories are mistaken as diversions for the entertainment of children, stories that not only aren’t true, but could not possibly ever be true. Many Black people discourage their children from reading fantasy and certainly will not read it themselves because Fantasy dares to tell children to believe in fantastical things like wizards and monsters. Fantasy does not teach children that monsters exist…they already know that. Fantasy teaches them that monsters can be slain – a lesson we grown folks need to learn and internalize too!

State of Black Science Fiction PanelRecently, a few writing colleagues and I were guests at an annual festival that celebrates natural Black beauty, wellness and culture. We were invited to sit on a panel and discuss why Black people should read and write speculative fiction.

We were introduced by famed hip-hop artist and activist, Professor Griff of the famed Hip-Hop Group, Public Enemy (*sigh* yes, the same group to which Flavor Flav belongs), who spoke briefly before bringing us up.

When it was announced that we were discussing Fantasy and Science Fiction, the crowd of three hundred dwindled to twelve.

One of the authors was near tears and has since not shown up at any events where it is clear that a majority of Black people will be in attendance. She was shocked and hurt by the reaction of the festival’s attendees. She felt as if her own people had rejected her; perhaps even hated her for “selling out” to Fantasy and Science Fiction.

I was not shocked. These were “conscious” Black people and I know how so-called conscious Black people think, for I am one of them.

Ki Khanga 6“Conscious” Black people are quick to accuse something of being trivial and a distraction from the work of awakening the ignorant masses of our people. And, to many of them, fiction is as trivial as you can get.

Damn the fact that our ancestors were master storytellers and conveyed most life-lessons and values through fiction. In fact, most traditional African cultures still have their Djeli, Sanusi, Babalawo, Iyanifa, Houngan, Mambo, Bokonon and other griots – keepers of the culture and history. And these storytellers are revered.

Damn the fact that every corner in the Black community has its storytellers; every mosque; every church; every barbershop.

Damn the fact that many of the Fantasy stories told by authors such as Yours Truly, Milton Davis, Valjeanne Jeffers and, of course, Charles Saunders are written in the subgenre of Sword and Soul and by writing such stories, these authors are applying the African principle of Sankofa.

Ki Khanga 3Sankofa is an Akan word that means, “One must return to the past in order to move forward.”

The symbol of Sankofa is that of a bird whose head is faced in the opposite direction of its body. This illustrates the fact that even though the bird is advancing, it periodically makes it a point to examine / return to its past, since this is the only way for one to have a better future. 

Some also interpret Sankofa to mean, “No matter how far away one travels they must always return home.”

However Sankofa is interpreted, the basic and important meaning remains – your past is an important aspect of your future. So, in order to make the best of your future, you must visit your past.

Ki KhangaFantasy stories carry readers beyond the restrictions of time and space and promote a sense of mystery and transcendence, helping readers envision a better society where intelligence, courage, and compassion prevail.

They awaken higher ideals without preaching and show how the small and powerless can triumph through perseverance and patience.

Fantasy is perfect for Black people. Conscious, or otherwise.

Balogun Ojetade, author of the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time In Afrika and Milton J. Davis, publisher and author of the Meji and Changa’s Safari Sword & Soul series, have come together to create a world of mystery; a world of magic; a world of warriors and Gods of Light and Darkness.

In mid-January, 2013, the Ki-Khanga Anthology arrives, with tales of our past – both dark and glorious – that will offer an escape from our present and pathways to our future.


THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK!

State of Steamfunk

State of Steamfunk 1The coming launch of the Steamfunk! anthology in February is causing quite a stir worldwide. With over 100,000 words of Steamy goodness, this anthology is sure to live up to – and exceed – everyone’s expectations.

We were fortunate enough to sit down with one of the contributing authors and one of the Co-Editors of the Steamfunk! anthology recently and discuss the state of the book, other exciting upcoming Steamfunk projects, Steamfunk’s relationship to – and differences from – Steampunk and much more.

So, grab a cup of chai, a shot of absinthe, or a .40 ounce of “Olde E.” and then sit back, relax and enjoy as we discuss…

The State of Steamfunk!

AUTHOR VALJEANNE JEFFERS DISCUSSES THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK!

State of Steamfunk 3Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the erotic horror series, Immortal and the Steamfunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork, sat down with us and gave us her thoughts on the present state of Steampunk and Steamfunk and where she sees the Steamfunk movement headed.

Valjeanne’s fiction has appeared in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, LuneWing, PurpleMag, Genesis Science Fiction Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, Possibilties, 31 Days of Steamy Mocha, Griots II: Sisters of the Spear (in press), and Steamfunk! (releases February, 2013). She works as an editor for Mocha Memoirs Press and is also co-owner of Q and V Affordable editing.

She blogs regularly at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com. 

Let’s get right to it, Sister Valjeanne. What is Steampunk? What is Steamfunk? Do they differ in any way other than Steamfunk having Black heroes?

State of Steamfunk 2Steampunk is a SF sub-genre that usually features steam-powered machinery and is often set in the 19th century, such as the British Victorian era, American Wild West, or post-apocalyptic future worlds. Think Jules Vern and H.G. Wells, and the flicks Time After Time and Sherlock Holmes. Steamfunk features many of these same settings but it comes out of the Black experience. This may seem like a small divergence, but it entails a great deal more than simply sticking People of Color between the pages. It is Earth shaking… or perhaps I should say Earth building.

Is there a need for a subgenre separate from Steampunk?

Most definitely! Within this new genre we are witnessing the birth of worlds in which Black folks and that which moves us reign supreme. In short, Steamfunk is just as different from Steampunk as Black Science Fiction is from White science fiction. Imagine a Steamfunk hood, an antebellum South in which abolitionists fly airships. Or, as in my novel, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds, folks living in a post-apocalyptic, steam-world with meta-humans…policed by androids. Now imagine each of these worlds predominated by folks of color: worlds in which Black, Native American, Latino, and Asian folks are not sidekicks but heroines, heroes and villains. That’s what Steamfunk is.

Well said! So, tell us a bit about the Steamfunk anthology. What is it? What was your involvement in it? And when and where can we get it?

Valjeanne 1The Steamfunk! Anthology is an exciting collection of stories written by authors with a Black and/or POC cultural worldview. My short story, The Switch (which is actually included in The Switch II: Clockwork) has been published in Steamfunk!. The Switch is an erotic, futuristic thriller set in “Tyrol,” a world divided into two realms: an ultra-modern, wealthy upper-city and an oppressed steam-powered underground.

The Switch has been very well-received. It just got an outstanding review in The Spelman Messenger, Fall 2012 Issue. I’m thrilled to also be a part in this dynamite anthology! Steamfunk! hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but it will be released [during AnachroCon on February 22, 2013 and] at The Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party on February 23, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. Readers can pick up the first copies of Steamfunk! at this release party.

These are very exciting times for Steamfunk! Have there been any Steamfunk events you have participated in, or that you can tell us about? Are any events coming soon?

As of yet, I haven’t attended any Steamfunk events. But I do plan to attend the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party in full-steam attire! I’m also one of the contributing authors of the Alabama Phoenix Festival, a celebration of SF art, films, comics and novels. This event is scheduled for May 2013.

After the highly anticipated release of the Steamfunk anthology, where do you see Steamfunk going in 2013? What other Steamfunk projects do you have in the works?

This is a fresh new genre, and there’s so much speculative ground that can be tapped into! I envision many more SF offerings emerging from this groovy space. I have another novel in the works, Mona Livelong, set in an alternate 1970s steam-world. I plan to drop Mona Livelong later this year, but I’ll be posting sneak peeks right up until its release. In closing, I’d like to thank the extraordinary author Balogun Ojetade for interviewing me. Long live Steamfunk!

Thank you, Valjeanne Jeffers, for a Blacktastic interview! Long live Steamfunk, indeed!

 

DISCUSSING THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK WITH AUTHOR MILTON J. DAVIS!

Author Milton J. DavisA regular contributor to Chronicles of Harriet, author Milton J. Davis sat down with us once again and gave us his insight on the present state of Steampunk and Steamfunk and the future of both magnificent movements.

Milton is CEO of MVmedia, producer of the Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation and author / publisher of six books of Black Speculative Fiction.

Milton is a chemist by day and a writer / publisher by night and on the weekends. All of his works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.

Let’s get right into this informative and engaging interview with Milton J. Davis, author, publisher, scientist, historian and educator.

Inquiring minds want to know, Milton…what is Steampunk and just what is Steamfunk? Do they differ in any way other than Steamfunk having Black heroes?

I’m still trying to answer the first question. I look at steampunk from a technical and historical aspect. Technically it’s imaging a past and a future where the major technology is steam based. From a historical standpoint its culture, morals and customs are based on Victorian sensibilities. Steamfunk is dealing with the same era and technology in terms of the experiences of people of color, mainly African and those of the African Diaspora. The way it differs from just having black heroes is that a steamfunk story centers on the experiences of our ancestors who lived during the Victorian Age.

Is there a need for a subgenre separate from Steampunk?

RITE OF PASSAGE POSTER 1I think so. I believe in order to give free expression to our viewpoint you need a genre that allows it. Knowing who your audience is frees you to tell stories that may not be accepted by others in the broader genre.

Tell us a bit about the Steamfunk anthology. What is it? What was your involvement in it? And when and where can we get it?

The idea for the Steamfunk! anthology sprang from a conversation I was involved in with a number of other writers. We were discussing steampunk and how people of African descent were under-represented.  Many of the writers were interested in doing steampunk stories based on our culture and traditions so I said, let’s do an anthology. Balogun Ojetade agreed to join me as co-editor so here we are. Steamfunk! will make its debut February 22, 2013 at AnachroCon. It will be available afterwards on my website, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online book sources.

Have there been any Steamfunk events you have participated in, or that you can tell us about? Are any events coming soon?

STEAMFUNK PANEL.wmv_000107841I participated in the Mahogany Masquerade Film Festival and panel discussion during Alien Encounters, which was a well-received event. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be participating at AnachroCon in February as well. In addition to AnachroCon I’ll also be participating at the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party on February 23rd.

After the highly anticipated release of the Steamfunk anthology, where do you see Steamfunk going in 2013? What other Steamfunk projects do you have in the works?

I hope to see it expand. Hopefully other writers and readers will see the possibilities and share their own interpretations. As for me, I have a couple of novel projects planned that are set in my alternate history steampunk country of Freedonia: From Here to Timbuktu, an action adventure novel and Unrequited, an action romance series. After that, who knows?

We thank you, Milton Davis, for another great interview and we look forward to all of those great works of Steamfunk on the horizon!

 

 


Chronicles of Harriet: 2012 in review!

Harriet21

2012 was a great year for Steamfunk, Sword and Soul and Yours Truly. I have shared a lot, learned even more and made the acquaintance of some of the most fantastic people ever!

Thanks to all who follow my blog, read my books, make comments on my posts and tolerate my rants. Even bigger thanks to those who inspire, empower and teach me. There are many of you and no one post is large enough to name you all.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog that I would like to share with you.

Chronicles Banner

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 52,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 12 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


The Coldest Wynter Ever

The Coldest Wynter Ever

The Coldest Wynter Ever

A Lesson Learned; A Tale of Terror

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are we headed?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3

glitch 36

Redeemer

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

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

REDEEMER: Glitch Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia jerked the weapon downward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood and brain splashed onto Z’s face.

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

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

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

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

“Put the gun down, Z.”

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

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

“You’re welcome,” the man replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can walk now,” Z said.

“You sure?” Ezekiel asked.

“Positive,” Z answered.

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

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

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

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

“Oh, no,” Ezekiel gasped.

“What? Who is that?” Z asked.

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

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

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

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

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

Fire erupted from the muzzle of Ezekiel’s shotgun.

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

“Run!” Ezekiel shouted.

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

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

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

“Cray-cray?” Ezekiel asked.

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

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

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

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

Now, you run?” Ezekiel sighed.

Ezekiel squeezed the trigger of his shotgun.

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

Ezekiel squeezed the trigger once more. The shotgun roared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REDEEMER: Glitch Part 2

Lala

Redeemer

We now continue the celebration of the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, with Part 2 of Redeemer: Glitch, the episodic short story based on the book. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.

So, sit back once more and enjoy part two of Redeemer: Glitch!

REDEEMER: Glitch Part 2

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

glitch 21Danny Sweet forced a smile as he sat across the table from Virginia and Virgil Carver – the notorious Carver Twins – the only threat and obstacle to Sweet’s total domination of rap and R&B music in the South and the Southeast.

Norm and Detective McGraw stood, menacingly, at Sweet’s back.

Z sat alone in an apartment across the street – one of Sweet’s safe-houses – monitoring the closed circuit cameras and microphones that he and Norm had planted in the restaurant the night before.

At the Carver Twins’ backs were two men who Z recognized as former Navy Seals, Manny and Steve. The duo had been securing the Twins since Old Man Carver was still alive and running the family business and the twins were in high school.

glitch 6“This is my favorite spot,” Sweet proclaimed, his voice crystal clear in the microphones hidden in the lamps, wall panels and power strips throughout the room.  “The food…the ambience…perfect!”

“My husband – God rest his soul – proposed to me here,” Virginia Carver said.  “Ah, the memories!”

“And I banged my first piece of ass here,” Virgil snickered.  “In the restroom.  Ah, the memories!”

Virginia punched Virgil in the arm.  Virgil winced from the pain.  “Ow!” he screamed, rubbing his aching bicep.

“Please, forgive my brother,” Virginia said.  “So, what exactly, did you want to discuss with us?  It sounded urgent on the phone.”

glitch 25Sweet took a bite of the steaming, fried catfish that lay on the plate before him.  He licked his lips and pointed at the fish with his fork.  “That is some good fish!”

Sweet then pointed the fork in the direction of the Carver Twins, shaking it as he spoke.  “For ten years, we’ve been rivals…”

Sweet sucked a piece of fish from between his teeth and spat it into a napkin.  “We first competed on these streets and now, in the music business.  Congrats on signing Point Blank, by the way…he’s sure to win Best New Artist at the Hip-Hop Awards.  Hell, he might even give my boy, Skinz, a run for his money for Best Album.”

“Thank you.  We’ll see,” Virginia replied.

“Well, we’ve been bitter rivals,” Sweet continued.  “But we’ve never broken the peace with each other.  There has been no violence between our families and we’ve all grown because of that.”

glitch 22Virgil glanced at his watch and then yawned.

Norm glanced at the young gangster.

Virginia shook her head.

“Look, Sweet,” Virgil began.  “I’ve got a date with a certain supermodel talk-show host in a couple of hours, so, if you don’t mind…”

“Virgil!”  Virginia shouted, as she placed a firm hand on her brother’s forearm.

“It’s okay, Virginia,” Sweet said, struggling to maintain his smile.  “You’re right, Virgil, I’ll get straight to the point.”

Sweet took a deep breath.  “Two nights ago, someone killed three of my best men.  One of them was a Lieutenant.  A reliable source describes the killer as some kind of Special Forces, ninja-type motherfucker.  Me!”

Virgil shrugged his narrow shoulders.  “So, what does that have to do with us?”

African american man shoutingNorm stepped to the table.  His face twisted into a manifestation of pure rage.  “We’d fuckin’ like to know if you set it up, you disrespectful little wanker!  That’s what!”

Virgil pounded his fist on the table.  Plates jumped and a few forks fell to the floor.  Virgil glared at Sweet, not once acknowledging Norm’s presence with his eyes.  “I am Co-Boss of the Carver Family, Sweet!  Since when do you allow your Captain to speak to a Boss at a sit-down?”

“Since when does a Co-Boss who rides the coattails of his sister – the real Boss of your family – disrespect the Boss of Bosses?”  Sweet spat.

“The Boss of Bosses?”  Virginia said, shaking her head.  “You go too far, Sweet.”

Sweet took another bite of catfish and spoke as he chewed.  “Look, we both know that there isn’t a Boss in the Southeast who will stand with you against me.

Sweet sprinkled hot sauce on his fish and took another bite.  “But, if you have broken the peace, Virginia, the other Bosses will side with me against you.  None of them like the idea of a female Boss, anyway.  Me?  I’m more progressive.”

Virginia scooted her chair away from the table and stood up.  Virgil rose almost in unison with her.

Manny and Steve stood at the Carver Twins’ flanks.

“This sit-down is over, Sweet!”  Virginia said.

glitch 19“Did you order the hit on my boys, Virginia?”  Sweet asked.

“Goodbye, Sweet,” Virginia said, as she walked away from the table.

The Carver Family sauntered out of the restaurant.

 “Fuckin’ wankers!  Norm shouted.

“What do we do now, Sweet?”  McGraw asked.

Sweet stared out of a large window, which ran from floor to ceiling in a wall near his table.  The Carver Twins were hopping into their limousine.

glitch 17His upper lip curled into a sneer.  “We prepare for war.”

“You should send Z’s crazy, little ass after them,” McGraw said.

“The Carvers are too dangerous,” Sweet said. “I can’t have my little experiment getting’ himself killed.”

“Your experiment?” McGraw inquired.

“I’m creating the perfect killer,” Sweet replied.

“I thought Norm, here, was the perfect killer,” McGraw said, slapping Norm on his massive bicep with the back of his hand.

“Norm is almost perfect, but he was a barrister before I showed him his true calling,” Sweet said.

glitch 29McGraw snapped his head toward Norm. The giant was busy eating a serving bowl of Kale salad. “Damn, Norm…I never pictured you wearing a tight ass apron, making espresso and shit.”

“That’s a bloody barista, fool! I was a barrister…an attorney.”

Sweet and McGraw laughed. Norm went back to devouring his bowl of kale.

“So, how are we handling the twins, Sweet?” McGraw asked.

“We’re gonna use an outsider,” Sweet answered.

“Anyone I know?” McGraw asked.

“Maybe,” Sweet replied. “Her name’s Lala.”

McGraw sat bolt upright in his chair. “Hold up…Lala is real? I thought she was just a friggin’ urban legend.”

glitch 31“Oh, she’s real,” Norm said, looking up from his now half empty bowl. “Real bonkers!”

“I heard she took out Preach, the Boss out of Cincinnati,” McGraw said. “And his gang, too, without ever firing a single shot. Man, I thought all that was bullshit, though.”

“No, that was really Lala,” Norm said. “She only uses silent weapons.  Knives and crossbows and other Lord of the Rings-type shit.  Sweet has used her a few times.”

“Yeah, she does good wet-work, but she’s fuckin’ expensive,” Sweet sighed. “And she’s crazy as a shithouse rat!  I don’t like fuckin’ with her unless absolutely necessary.  Unfortunately, it’s necessary. You’ll finally get to meet her, McGraw; she should be here any minute.”

“Any minute?” McGraw gasped. “What the hell is she…psychic or something? How did she know you’d be giving her this contract?”

“Ever hear of speed-dial, wanker?” Norm asked.

“The second the sit-down went south, I hit Lala up with a text.”

A woman sauntered into the dining room, her Dolce and Gabbana mini dress caressing every curve of her sensuous form with each graceful step.

glitch 32McGraw whistled in admiration as he perused the woman’s body from the top of her unkempt, reddish-brown afro, to her teal Gisele shoes.

“Gentlemen,” the woman said. She then nodded in McGraw’s direction. “Pervert.”

“Speak of the devil,” Sweet said, taking the woman’s hand.

“And the devil appears,” Lala said. “So, who are we killin’, sugar?”

Sweet kissed the back of her hand and extended his arm toward a chair. Lala took a seat.

“The Carver Twins,” Sweet said.

“Okay,” Lala said.  “Two-fifty…each.”

“Five hundred thousand dollars?” Sweet hissed. “Are you fuckin’ serious?”

“I’m the World Serious of seriousness, baby,” Lala replied. “These are two crime bosses we’re talkin’ about, not some mayor or fuckin’ police chief!”

“Two hundred each,” Sweet said.

“Two-twenty-five,” Lala responded.

“Done,” Sweet said.

McGraw exploded forward.

glitch 30Z’s eyes widened and he leaned closer to the monitors as he watched McGraw place a knife to Lala’s throat. 

Sweet lit a stogie and took a few quick puffs.

“McGraw, what the bloody hell are you doin’?” Norm spat.

“I’m disappointed,” McGraw said. “The legendary Lala, huh?  It was easy to get the ups on your sexy, little ass. I could have slit your throat and you’d have been dead before you knew who did you.”

“I’ll tell you what I do know, Perv,” Lala said. “After you slit my throat, I’d try to cauterize and sew up the wound. Hell, it’s worth a shot.  I still might die, but not before you.”

“How’s that?” McGraw asked.

McGraw winced. He looked down toward the source of his pain. Lala held the tip of a knife at his inner thigh.

“Femoral artery laceration,” Lala said. “You’ll bleed out in eleven seconds. Still disappointed?”

McGraw sheathed his knife on his belt. “Not at all.”

Tammy slipped hers back in a hidden sheath on the outside of her clutch bag. She then slammed the back of her head into McGraw’s groin.

The detective collapsed onto his knees.

Tammy leapt from the chair and darted behind McGraw. She coiled her arms around his neck and squeezed.

McGraw’s eyes turned a bright pink as the constriction on his neck grew tighter.

“That’ll be another twenty thousand, or the pervert dies,” Lala demanded.

Sweet answered with a nod.

Lala released the choke.

glitch 28McGraw fell onto all fours, struggling to catch his breath.

“I swear to God, McGraw, if you weren’t so damned valuable, I’d kill you myself!” Sweet said.

“Alright gents,” Lala said, walking toward the door. She nodded toward McGraw, who was now resting on his knees. “Pervert…gotta get home, The Walking Dead marathon is coming on and I love me some T-Dog.”

Lala glided out of the dining room.

Z slipped his Sig Sauer nine millimeter pistol into the waistband of his jeans and then tossed the bottom of his t-shirt over it. “Sorry Lala,” he whispered as he shut the door to the apartment. “The Carvers are mine!”

Join us in a few days as we continue our thrilling tale with Redeemer: Glitch, Part 2!

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


REDEEMER: Glitch Part 1

glitch 12

Redeemer

To celebrate the release of my latest Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer, I will share an episodic short story based on the book for the next three posts. Don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers – the story is an alternate timeline, told from the point of view of our hero’s younger, wilder, vengeful self.

So, grab a cup of chai tea, or your favorite brew, sit back and enjoy part one of Redeemer: Glitch!

REDEEMER: Glitch Part 1

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

 

glitch 6The din of raucous laughter echoed throughout the private dining room of Sayles’ Lobster Bar. “Sweet” Danny Sweet had just told one of his anecdotes, which were always entertaining and, usually, quite funny.

Sweet’s charisma and “favorite uncle” demeanor was in stark contrast to his brutality; his ruthlessness. Those same qualities made him one of the most powerful record industry moguls in the world and the most powerful criminal in the Southeastern United States.

Z loved Sweet. When his father was brutally murdered, it was Sweet who stepped in to give him and his mother support; it was Sweet who found the man responsible for his father’s death; and it was Sweet who gave him the opportunity – and the will – to kill that man.

glitch 5Next to Sweet sat the giant, “Nigerian Norm” – the man responsible for Sweet’s safety and for Z’s training. Norm, too, was a man of contrasts – massively muscled; brutish; a master of murder, mayhem and pain. But he was also a graduate of the prestigious Oxford Law school, well-traveled, fluent in five languages and one of the most formidable attorneys on the planet.

Norm was Z’s instructor in the ways of death and, in that role, as all the others he played, he had done exceptionally well. At fifteen years of age, Z was already an experienced and respected assassin-for-hire and was determined to one day be the absolute best.

Z thrust his fork into a mound of spaghetti gamberetto and then twirled it, wrapping the platinum utensil in a cocoon of pasta and shrimp. He shoved the pasta into his mouth, savoring the spicy-sweet flavor.

The smell of stale cigarettes and coffee assaulted Z’s nostrils. “McGraw,” he whispered.

glitch 7Homicide Detective Terry McGraw sauntered into the dining room. His thick, brown fingers fumbled with the buttons of his tweed blazer as he approached the dining table. Behind him shuffled a stout, fireplug of a man, his plump belly jiggling with each step.

“McGraw, what’s the good word?” Sweet inquired.

“I’ve got good news, Sweet,” McGraw replied, reaching across the table to shake Sweet’s hand.

“Good,” Sweet said. His eyes shifted to the clammy-skinned, beer-bellied man beside McGraw and then back to the detective. “Who’s the J? And why is he at my table?”

“He witnessed the robbery-homicide at Frankie’s spot,” McGraw answered. “His name’s…”

“Chuck Alexander Etheridge,” the fireplug of a man said, extending his plump fingers toward Sweet. “But, everyone calls me ‘Shakespeare’.”

“Okay. Have a seat McGraw,” Sweet said, ignoring Shakespeare’s hand. “…Spear-Chucker.”

The corners of Shakespeare’s mouth curled into a weak smile. “That’s Shake…”

glitch 8McGraw placed a hand on Shakespeare’s shoulder and shook his head. Shakespeare wisely shut his mouth and both men sat across from Sweet.

“Hey, Norm,” McGraw said, nodding toward the giant.

Hey, John Hop,” Norm said, leaning forward in his chair. “You had best brought some good Brad Pitt for this Buster Keaton.”

McGraw shook his head. “Damn, I’ve known you for, what? Eleven…twelve years? And I still can’t understand a friggin’ word when you talk that Cockney shit.”

“Well, if you cleaned the wax outta your sighs and had any eighteen in your loaf, understandin’ me would be lemon squeezy,” Norm said.

“It’s British Ebonics,” Sweet snickered. “You catch on after a while.”

Sweet turned his gaze toward Shakespeare. “So, what you got for me, Shake-n-Bake?”

“It’s…ahem…well, I was at Frankie’s spot when it happened,” Shakespeare replied. “It must have been around eleven, because I arrived at my regularly appointed time of ten-fifteen and had already taken my nightly dosage of opiate.”

“Opiate?” Sweet cut his eyes toward Detective McGraw.

“H,” McGraw answered.

“Oh,” Sweet said. “Go on, Salt-Shaker.”

glitch 9“He came out of the darkness,” Shakespeare said, with a sweep of his stubby arms. “Swift; silent…like Death, on gossamer wings.”

Shakespeare leapt from the table and paced the floor. He hung his head and closed his eyes. “Frankie and his henchmen did not stand a chance. Their guns meant nothing in the face of that creature of wind and shadow.

“And why are you alive to tell the tale?” Z asked.

“He left all of the patrons alive,” Shakespeare answered.

“And just what did this bloke look like?” Norm inquired.

“He was tall, but not nearly as tall as you, or Detective McGraw,” Shakespeare replied. “He was, perhaps, five-eleven, or six feet. He was athletically built, with short, well-groomed hair and his skin was a smooth caramel…”

“Damn,” McGraw shouted, interrupting him. “Did you get the motherfucker’s phone number?”

“Absolutely not,” Shakespeare said, turning up his nose. “I am…

glitch 10“Well, it looks like a new player is in town,” Sweet cut in. “He might belong to the Carver Twins; they like hiring them gossamer wing, spirit of the wind-type motherfuckers.”

“You thinkin’ a sit-down?” Norm asked.

“Definitely,” Sweet replied.

Sweet raised his glass of cognac and extended it toward Shakespeare. “Good work, Shakespeare!”

A broad smile spread across Shakespeare’s face.

Sweet withdrew a money clip from the inner pocket of his sharkskin suit coat and thrust two crisp hundred dollar bills toward Shakespeare. “Here; there’s a lot more in it for you if your information leads to us catching this bastard. Now, order yourself some food; it’s on me.”

Sweet held up a golden brown french fry. “Hey, Norm, tell Shakespeare what you call these in England.”

“Chips,” Norm said.

“Freakin’ chips!  Can you believe that?” Sweet asked.  “A chip is a thinly sliced, flat piece of potato.  Comes in different flavors, like plain – that’s my favorite – barbecue; , salt and vinegar – we call ‘em ‘salt and sour’ back home; , hot; , dill pickle – I don’t like them shits, though – anyway, that’s a friggin’ chip!”

Sweet snickered as he shook his head.  “You English are some weird motherfuckers!”

“First of all, I’m Nigerian,” Norm began.

Sweet rolled his eyes.  “Here we go…”

“Second of all, no brother would ever call himself ‘English’, he’d say he’s ‘British’, and third…”

“Hold that thought,” Sweet said, interrupting Norm.  “I gotta take a piss.”

“You’re already takin’ the piss, aren’t ya’?” Norm replied.

“See…weird!” Sweet said.

Shakespeare smiled wider.

Sweet rose from his chair.  Norm followed suit.

glitch 2“I want in on the sit-down,” Z said, dropping his fork onto his plate.

 Sweet wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. “What?”

“I want in on the sit-down, in case the Carvers get froggy,” Z replied.

“What the hell do you think me and Norm are gonna be doing there, little nigga?”  Norm spat. “Playing with our dicks? It don’t get no better than me and Norm having Sweet’s back.”

“The Carvers have some tight security and I hear that the twins are pretty dangerous themselves,” Z said. “You can use my help.”

“You’re fifteen, Z,” McGraw sighed. “Leave this shit to the big boys.”

McGraw turned his gaze toward Sweet. “Little nigga kills two or three motherfuckers and thinks he’s Dirty Harry, or some shit!”

Z pointed toward the silver police detective badge, encased in leather, hanging from McGraw’s neck. “Without that badge and gun, you’re just a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy with bad feet.”

Norm slapped the table with his fingertips. Plates rattled as silverware tap-danced against them. “Ezekiel…enough!”

“Yes, Sensei,” Z said, lowering his gaze.

“Bloody hell,” Norm shouted. “McGraw is your elder, Z. Apologize!”

“Yes, Sensei.” Z turned toward McGraw and pressed his palms together with his hands before his chest as if he was about to pray. “Detective McGraw, I apologize. I was wrong.”

McGraw smiled warmly. “It’s okay, Z. I accept your…”

“You are a really tall asshole who fights like a sissy,” Z said, cutting McGraw off. “But you don’t have bad feet.”

The room erupted in laughter.

McGraw thrust his middle finger toward Z.

“That’s better,” Norm said. “Gotta show the geezers their respect.”

glitch 11“Y’all motherfuckers are crazy!” Sweet chuckled. “Look Z, this game’s political. If someone your age attends a sit-down, it’ll be taken as disrespect. I know your father – God rest his soul – gave you a soldier’s heart and Norm is teaching you to kill like a pro, but you gotta be patient.”

“The Carver Twins hired Greg Blake to merc my dad,” Zeke sighed.

“And they’ll pay for that,” Sweet said. “Just like Greg Blake did. You’ll have your revenge, little man; we just gotta be smart about it.”

“Yes, sir,” Z said.

Sweet pulled the brim of his homburg over his right eyebrow. “That’s my boy! Be right back, fellas; nature calls.”

Join us in a few days as we continue our thrilling tale with Redeemer: Glitch, Part 2!

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


BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY? Urban Fiction’s Impact on Black Literacy!

By Any Means Necessary?

BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY? Urban Fiction’s Impact on Black Literacy!

 

Review 6My introduction to Urban Fiction in literature began with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, which I read when I was eight or nine years old. A few years after going nuts over the film version, which released in 1972 and The Godfather II, which released in 1974.

My love for The Godfather, led me to seek out gangster films and books with Black people as the heroes, thus became a lifelong (not so) secret love affair with Blaxploitation films and Urban Literature. I could quote every line from Shaft, The Mack, Coffee, and my favorite, Gordon’s War and Donald Goines’ Cry Revenge had an honored place in the trunk that held my most prized comic books.

The youth have always loved Urban Fiction. And not just tweens and teens from the inner city. Teens in rural communities also crave these gritty, action-packed stories.  Leading authority on Urban Fiction, Dr. Vanessa Irvin Morris, claims that 93 percent of libraries across the country – both urban and rural – carry Urban Fiction in their collections.

Review 3Librarians actively use Urban Fiction as a tool to create relationships with teens. “Street Lit” is bringing teens who normally do not read into the public library.

And it is bringing adults who normally do not read to the brick-and-mortar and online bookstores. According to Dr. Morris, writers such as Teri Woods, Miasha Coleman, K’wan and Shannon Holmes not only outsell such renowned authors as Alice Walker,Toni Morrison, Richard Wright and other authors of classic literature, but even more mainstream authors, such as Dan Brown (The DaVinci Code) (Morris, V. J., Agosto, D.P., Hughes-Hassell, S., & Cottman, D.T.; 2006; Street Lit: Flying off teen fiction bookshelves in Philadelphia public libraries. Journal of Young Adult Library Service, 5(1): 16-23)

And the readers of Urban Fiction are loyal customers, quick to make a purchase and insatiable in their desire for more stories.

Even with its popularity, however, Urban Literature still has its detractors – mainly African-American writers of contemporary and speculative fiction.

Review 5While the authors of Urban Fiction may not possess a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, or may not have a clue what the Lumineferous Aether is, they do have a gripping story, interesting characters, a do-it-yourself attitude and extraordinary hustle and heart. And that is why Urban Fiction outsells every other genre of fiction on the shelf. So don’t hate; congratulate…and get your hustle up!

While many of us moisten at the thought of recognition from some mainstream publishing company, the authors of Urban Fiction are possessed by an entrepreneurial spirit that enables them to self-publish and sell hundreds of thousands of copies of their books at bus stops, barber shops, beauty salons and street festivals. They don’t seek out mainstream publishers; mainstream publishers seek them out.

And – more than any other genre – Urban Fiction inspires people to read and write.

“But Street Lit glorifies drug dealing, murder and misogyny,” you say.  Some does. So does some science fiction; so does some horror; so does some fantasy, romance and even some of the classics.

However, there is Urban Fiction that gives the reader strong, independent and competent women, healthy, loving relationships, and characters with high moral standards.

Furthermore, reading Urban Fiction can evoke necessary discussion on issues that plague us all.

According to Vanessa Irvin Morris, author of The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature and owner of the website, streetliterature.com, in Philadelphia, a group of librarians worked with hundreds of teens to determine Urban Fiction’s impact on our youth. They found that the relationships between the men and women characters in the books spurred much discussion. The girls, for the most part, originally thought that the male characters “were good to their women” because “they bought them name brand stuff”, but as they analyzed the books, they came to understand that most of the relationships in them involved verbal abuse and domestic violence.

Teens Discussing Urban Science FictionThe most significant discovery for the librarians was that it was analyzing the books that brought about the teens’ awareness of abuse, which was not originally apparent to them. The students read the books and then came together to talk about what they had read and in doing so, developed a greater understanding of the dynamics of relationships and the tragedy of domestic violence.

It is interesting that we reject Street Lit for its presumed misogyny and abusive relationships – which we most certainly should – yet we ignore the misogyny in such classics as Catcher in the Rye, or the abusive relationship in the Twilight Saga. We must make a stand against the abuse of women wherever we find it. If writers truly want to see a change in Urban Fiction, shouldn’t we create that change by contributing our own works?

My mother has always taught my siblings and me, by example, that if you have a problem with something, don’t complain, do your part to fix it. I like to grow a scraggly beard sometimes – I just do, okay? – and my mother hates it. She’ll say the same thing every time she sees my beard – “How much does a shave cost?” She will then proceed to reach into her purse, pull out the exact amount for the shave and hand me the money.

Now, she could easily say “You look like a hobo, son. A shave is only six dollars…go get one!” Instead, she pulls out her money – and pulling out the exact amount tells me she was prepared to act if I sported that hateful, unkempt beard – and hands it to me. No complaining; just action.

It’s her way…and it’s one of the many great things I love about her. Ironically, it is also the way of the authors of Urban Fiction. They are warriors; not worriers.

 Urban Fiction has been called “the most appealing form of Black literature.” It appeals to youth and adults for many reasons. Why? How? Here are a few reasons readers gave in a recent study (Morris, V.J.;2010; Street Lit: Before you recommend it, you have to understand it. Agosto, D. & Hughes-Hassell, S. (eds.). IN Urban Teens in the Library: Research and Practice. (pp. 53-66). Chicago: American Library Association):

  • Stories are fast-paced and action-packed, often with elements of romance.
  • The style is straight forward and cinematic – like a movie in your head.
  • The protagonists are usually anti-heroes.
  • Readers relate to the story, setting and characters.
  • While readers tend to be African-American women, ages 18 – 35, Urban Fiction also attracts more male readers than any other genre – many readers feel that if something can get men and boys to read, it is powerful indeed.
  • There are many parallels between Urban Fiction and Hip-Hop.

Below are two reviews of my Urban Science Fiction novel, Redeemer, a mash-up of Urban Fiction and Science Fiction. Redeemer is a thrilling read and appeals to both science fiction and urban fiction readers alike for all the reasons cited above and more. But don’t just take my word for it; read on…

Redeemer” by Balogun Ojetade

Author, Milton J. DavisEzekiel Cross is a cold blooded killer. He works for ‘Sweet’ Danny Sweet, owner of Sweet South Records, the second wealthiest music label in the country. For most of his life Ezekiel has been a killer, trained from a young age to enforce the whims of his boss. But Ezekiel is tired. He longs for the day that he can hang up his guns and live a normal life with his wife Mali. But the life of a killer is never his own. Ezekiel is called to do another hit, but instead of closing the deal he finds himself the target of a different kind of hit. He’s sent back into time and finds himself in a situation that could change his life forever…or end it.

Redeemer is the latest novel by Balogun Ojetade, author of the Steamfunk novel, Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon a Time in Afrika, and my Sword and Soul brother. I had the privilege to read Redeemer earlier this year in manuscript form and was immediately blown away. The book is filled with action, drama and humor as only Balogun can write, but with Redeemer he takes his penchant of mashing genres to another level. For months I’ve read different manuscripts attempting to mesh urban fiction and science fiction in an attempt to capture a piece of the urban fiction market. None of those I perused had of a  much chance of success in my opinion. The authors either kept too much urban or too much science fiction or too little of both. After reading the last page of Redeemer I smiled and said to myself, ‘this is it right here.’ A story with a touch of science fiction, a dose of urban fiction and a wallop of great action and great character development.  If there was any book that would combine the two genres, Redeemer is it.

Now I know a few of you are saying, ‘doesn’t this plot remind you of Looper?’ Well, let me clear that up as well. Balogun first shared Redeemer to me as a script almost two years ago. Unfortunately for me I didn’t read it. He passed it along to me again as a novel later and the rest is history. Even if you persist in that thought mode, I urge you to put those thoughts aside and read this book. It takes a different journey, one that is as much heartfelt as it is action packed. And it comes with an ending that will make you smile.

Now, that’s all I can reveal without spoiling all the fun. I give Redeemer 5 out of 5 stars. Balogun once again shows his skills as a writer that can take different genres and make them something fresh and new. You can purchase Redeemer here and here. You won’t be disappointed.

-          Milton J. Davis, author and publisher

“Redeemer” – One of the best reads ever!

Playwright / Educator, Terri ReneeI am a teacher.

I teach drama and creative movement at a private school in Boston. I am also the sponsor of the Avid Readers Club at the school, which I enjoy because I have always loved to read and I have books that I love from EVERY genre.

Though I have literally (pun intended) read thousands of books in my lifetime – I average about a hundred a year – I have never written a review of one. Until now.

I just read the latest book, “Redeemer”, from Balogun Ojetade, one of my favorite authors. 

Redeemer is unique in that it successfully combines the best of urban fiction with the best of science fiction into a story that is nothing short of incredible.

I intended to devote a couple of weeks to Redeemer – to read it between grading papers and doing laundry on my weekend afternoons. I ended up reading it in one sitting, with breaks to answer the call of nature, or to briefly hop on Facebook to tell folks how great Redeemer is. 

Urban Science Fiction at its best!

Redeemer truly elevates urban fiction; not only because it is well-edited, original and does not degrade women – qualities sorely lacking in the genre – but because it is a heartfelt tale of fatherhood. Particularly how a father’s relationship with his son can have powerful consequences, for better or worse.

This gritty and exciting story is the tale of Ezekiel Cross, a hit-man who wants out of the game. He resigns from a life of organized crime and killing with the permission and blessings of his crime boss, “Sweet” Danny Sweet. Or so it seems.

Danny Sweet actually sets Ezekiel up and uses him in an experiment in time travel. Ezekiel is sent back thirty years in time. Initially distraught, he decides to change his fate by saving himself and his family from the events that led him to a lifetime of crime. Along the way, he meets some of the coolest, sexiest, deadliest and craziest characters to ever grace the pages of a book. Besides Ezekiel Cross, one of my favorite characters is Norm, a giant Black Cockney attorney and master assassin. Another is Lala, legendary contract killer and fashionista.

Redeemer is going to go down (or rise up) in history as the novel that finally got it right. That took two wildly popular, and sometimes opposing, genres of fiction and married them. And oh, what a matchmaker Balogun Ojetade is! With such masterful matchmaking skill, maybe he can hook me up with my future husband, Idris Elba! It’s in the cards, Idris. It’s in the cards.

Many fans of urban literature don’t read science fiction because they don’t see themselves in those stories and many science fiction fans don’t read urban fiction because they believe urban fiction to be poorly written, poorly edited and full of cliché. Neither side has done enough research. Great books can be found in both genres. 

Redeemer is such a book and is the best mash-up of both genres. EVER. 

I won’t reveal anymore. You’ll have to read the book. You’ll be glad you did.

-          Terri Renee, educator and playwright / director

The author would like to thank the reviewers of the novel, Redeemer and a special thanks goes out to Dr. Vanessa Irvin Morris, who provided the bulk of the research for this article.


HITMEN & HEROES: A taste of Urban Science Fiction and Sword & Soul!

HIT 2

HITMEN & HEROES: A taste of Urban Science Fiction and Sword & Soul

 

HIT 1“Hitmen and Heroes”. Sounds like an early 80s knock-off of the Dungeons and Dragons and Gangbusters role-playing games.

Actually, Redeemer (Mocha Memoirs Press) and Once Upon A Time In Afrika (MVmedia) are my latest releases.

I think of Redeemer as a sci-fi gangster epic. Some say I have created “the perfect bridge” between urban fiction and science fiction and call it “Urban Science Fiction”. And some simply call it Science Fiction.

I dunno. You tell me what it is after you read it.

Think American Gangster or Goodfellas meets The Time Machine.

Here is an excerpt:

Lit 2The assassin slid out of his vehicle and assessed his surroundings.  Satisfied that no one was watching, Ezekiel sprinted toward the largest warehouse, at the end of the cul-de-sac.

His movement was swift…silent.

He found himself thanking God again – this time, for Chagga Mutwa, patriarch of the Tokoloshe guild of assassins and expert in the arts of invisibility and quiescence.

Ezekiel had spent two years of harsh training, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, under the tutelage of the sapient old master.

In those two years, he had learned much.

Ezekiel tested the front door.  The steel entryway creaked open.  No surprise.  Engineers’ Row – or, ‘The Twilight Zone’, as the youth called it – was patrolled and protected by fearsome and efficient Nano-Drones.

Swarming an intruder by the thousands, these nearly microscopic, cybernetic organisms invaded a victim’s body through his orifices.  The minuscule drones would then connect to the victim’s nervous system and shut the intruder down, rendering him comatose until the arrival of the police.

Of course, when your boss is Danny Sweet – owner of the company that created the Drones – the little terrors presented no problem at all.

Ezekiel crept into the warehouse.  Through the dim light, he could see rows of crates, filled with wires, computer parts, electronic gadgets, rods, gears and motors of various sizes.  The hangar-sized warehouse reeked with the smell of copper and axle grease.

Suddenly, voices came – low and in a staccato rhythm.  Ezekiel crouched low and tilted his head toward the sound, as if to bring his right ear closer to it.  No, not voices, Ezekiel realized.  A voice.  A woman’s voice…rapping a tune from his early childhood.

His father would play the song and talk about the rapper performing it as if the man was a god.  “Biggie is a genius!”  His father would proclaim.  “The mad scientist of hip-hop!”

The name of the song came to Ezekiel – ‘Warning’.

The assassin moved across the warehouse in a quick, zigzagging shuffle.

The woman’s voice grew louder.

“…I got the Calico with the black talons loaded in the clip.”

The voice was coming from a small office at the rear of the warehouse.  Ezekiel rushed toward the office door, aimed his pistol and snatched the door wide open.

He rolled into the room, quickly popping up to a kneeling position, with his pistol at the ready.

The room, however, was empty, save a large plasma television in the corner of the room.  On top of the television sat what appeared to be a gold watch.

Suddenly, the door slammed shut.  Ezekiel whirled around to face it.

The low click that followed told him that the door had locked.

Ezekiel aimed his pistol at the doorknob.

The television came to life with a soft hum.  “I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”

Once Upon A Time In Afrika is Sword & Soul.

Here is an excerpt:

Afrika Cover CompleteTayewo sailed through the air, thrashing like a mackerel on the floor of a fisherman’s boat.  He landed on a row of large, wooden bata drums – his buttocks, elbows and the back of his head pounding out a thunderous tune before he slid to the floor.  Tayewo grunted as his ebony-toned back smacked the cold marble.

Ṣeeke smiled.  It was the first time she had thrown someone with a wheel kick and she had executed it perfectly.  “Mistress Oyabakin would be proud,” she thought.

Ṣeeke’s smile faded as she found herself hoisted into the air by her brother, Kehinde, who had trapped her in a powerful bear-hug from behind.

Though identical in size and appearance to Tayewo, Kehinde was nearly twice as strong and knew how to use his strength to do damage.

Ṣeeke hooked her left foot around Kehinde’s left ankle and then reached behind her, pressing her palm into the middle of Kehinde’s back.

Try as he might, Kehinde could not throw his sister, who seemed to be stuck to him like palm oil to white cloth.

Suddenly, Ṣeeke bent forward, grabbing Kehinde’s right ankle with both hands.  She continued her forward momentum, rolling over into a seated position, which sent Kehinde careening over Ṣeeke and onto his back, beside his sister, with his right leg trapped between both of hers.

Ṣeeke held Kehinde’s foot tightly to her chest as she propelled herself backward, until she lay beside her brother.  She then thrust her pelvis upward, against Kehinde’s knee, as she arched her back and expanded her chest.

Kehinde screamed in agony as his knee hyper-extended and the ligaments stretched to their limits.

Release him Ṣeeke!  Now!

Ṣeeke immediately recognized the bellowing, baritone voice.  “Yes, Baba.”

Ṣeeke released her grip on her brother’s ankle.

Kehinde rolled onto his side, massaging his aching knee.

“Is Kehinde’s knee dislocated?”  The Alaafin asked.

“No, father,” Ṣeeke said, as she sprang to her feet.  “He should be fine in a day or two.”

“How does the knee feel?” The Alaafin asked Kehinde.

“It hurts when I do this, Baba,” Kehinde replied, extending and then bending his knee in a stiff, choppy rhythm.

“Then, don’t do that,” the Alaafin said.

Redeemer is available for Kindle and Nook and will soon be available in paperback.

Once Upon A Time In Afrika is available for Kindle  and Nook and is also available in paperback.

After you read these novels, please, give me feedback and honest critique. I want your experience, when reading my books, to be nothing short of Blacknificent!


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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we say in the ‘hood – “For real?

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

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

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

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

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

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


THEY MAKE MURDER…FUN? The Greatest Detectives in Television, Fiction & Film

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THEY MAKE MURDER…FUN? The Greatest Detectives in Television, Fiction & Film

 

With the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party coming up in February, I have been reading and watching more murder mysteries as of late, which is really saying something because, after speculative fiction, mysteries are my favorite.

I like puzzles. I enjoy solving problems. Whenever I am bored, I like to read a good detective novel, or watch a murder mystery on television or the big screen. I always try to unmask the culprit before the end.

Sometimes I am right; sometimes, I am (happily) way off.

Over the decades, I have developed a list of my favorite detectives. The list is ever-growing and – at present – is as follows:

Sherlock Holmes 

The world’s first “consulting detective”. While Edgar Allen Poe’s C. August Dupin was the first police detective, working diligently to solve the Murders in the Rue Morgue – the first modern murder mystery story – he was not nearly as brilliant as the flawed Victorian, nor as renown.

Recently gaining even greater popularity with the Sherlock Holmes movie and its sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the world’s most famous detective continues to show up Scotland Yard in the BBC’s acclaimed Sherlock and solves mysteries in America in the CBS series, Elementary.

Holmes has even seen a revival in graphic form, with the digital comic book, Watson and Holmes, in which a Black Sherlock Holmes and John Watson solve cases in urban America and with the interactive novel, Steampunk Holmes, in which Holmes and Watson are born again Steampunks.

Hercule Poirot

Agatha Christie’s idiosyncratic Belgian police inspector turned London private investigator. With his signature mustache carefully trimmed and waxed, Poirot uses his “little gray cells” to solve the most baffling of crimes, such as the one in Murder on the Orient Express, considered one of the greatest detective novels of all time.

Upon Agatha Christie’s death, in 1976, the New York Times published a painting of the famous, dandy detective on the front page along with his obituary…the only fictional person to receive such an honor. The headline reads: “Hercule Poirot Is Dead: Famed Belgian Detective, Hercule Poirot, the Detective, Dies”.

The article starts thus: “Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who became internationally famous, has died in England. His age was unknown.” Regarding his health, the reporter, Thomas Lask, said: “The news of his death, given by Dame Agatha, was not unexpected. Word that he was near death reached here last May.”

The last novel starring Poirot was Curtain, released to the public on October 15, 1976, two months after Agatha Christie’s death. The novel was written – along with Christie’s other famed detective, Ms. Jane Marple’s last story Sleeping Murder – in the mid-1940′s, to be published at a later date.

Batman

Batman was never just a costumed crime-fighter. From the beginning, he was “The World’s Greatest Detective”, who combined the inductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes (not deductive reasoning–we will explore the differences in the next post) with extraordinary prestidigitation, stealth, martial and technological skills.

In fact, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 (1939) and did not get his own title for a year.

The first Batman story, The Case of the Chemical Syndicate, was originally written in the style of the pulps, and Batman showed little remorse over killing or maiming criminals. Batman proved a hit character, and he received his own solo title in 1940, while continuing to star in Detective Comics (D.C.). By that time, Batman and the company’s other major hero, Superman, quickly became the cornerstones of the company’s success.

Since then, Batman’s huge popularity has continued to grow in several films, graphic novels, animated television series and films, comic strips and in a campy 1960s live-action television show.

Columbo 

Columbo, was a Los Angeles police lieutenant working in Homicide. He solved his cases through extremely dogged and careful pursuit of all clues. Columbo’s razor-sharp analysis would always be hidden by a seemingly shambling, disorganized nature that always made the criminal underestimate him and make mistakes.

Unlike most detective shows, Columbo was never a whodunnit. At the beginning of each episode, we saw the murderer carefully execute his plan. Already knowing who was responsible, we were left to derive our enjoyment from the battle of wits that would follow: Columbo vs. the murderer.

In each episode, Columbo’s would also make vague comments about his wife and his past and would whistle the song, This old man came rolling home – clues to unravel the mystery of the Lieutenant himself.

Precious Ramotswe

From author Alexander McCall Smith comes Mma Precious Ramotswe, protagonist of the spectacular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series of novels and HBO series, with actress / singer Jill Scott starring as Precious Ramotswe.

Mma Ramotswe is Botswana’s first woman detective. Unlike other “traditionally-built” (i.e. voluptuous) beauties of Botswana,  Ramotswe has been interested in solving puzzles and mysteries since childhood.

She retaining many traditional values, is suspicious of technology and holds quite old-fashioned ideas about decency. As a detective, Mma Ramotswe is primarily intuitive and quite maverick in her methods. Less concerned with the law and more so with moral values, she does not often get involved with the police and prefers the traditional laws and customs of her people.

Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins

Author Walter Mosley’s African-American WWII veteran, turned private investigator, Easy Rawlins is refreshingly human, even in sometimes disappointing ways. He’s a proud man trying to cope with the social injustices of his time, as well as his own personal demons and he doesn’t always do a great job of it. He can, at times, be cruel or petty and sometimes a bit too easily led astray by temptations of the flesh. His obsessions with acquiring wealth and privacy sometimes lead him into making poor decisions. His faults, however, are tempered by his passion to rise above what has been pegged as his station in life and by an innate sense of what is right and especially what is wrong.

In 1995, the novel Devil in a Blue Dress was made into a Hollywood movie, starring Denzel Washington as Easy Rawlins. The movie also featured a chilling performance by Don Cheadle as Easy’s best friend and sometimes sidekick, the stone-cold killer, Mouse.

Beginning in 1990 with Devil in a Blue Dress, the eleventh novel in the Easy Rawlins series, Little Green, releases in 2013.

Dr. Alex Cross

Another African-American detective featured in a series of twenty novels and three films, Detective Alex Cross is the brilliant brain-child of author James Patterson.

Dr. Cross is a forensic psychologist who first works for the Washington D.C. police Homicide Division and later joins the F.B.I. 

Dr. Cross is the protagonist of twenty novels and has been played extraordinarily well by Morgan Freeman in film adaptations of the novels Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls. Dr. Cross was also portrayed by Tyler Perry in the film, Alex Cross…umm…no comment.

After receiving a doctorate in psychology from Johns Hopkins Univesity, Dr. Cross started a private practice and worked as a psychologist for two years. He eventually decided to become a policeman after he became disillusioned with the politics of the medical community and because the people in his neighborhood could not afford his psychological services, while white people would not see a “black shrink”.

Dr. Cross never expected to like police work, however, he became obsessed with solving crimes and soon became one of the best – and most sought after (for consultations and assistance with solving crimes) – detectives in the country.

Dr. Cross lives with his grandmother (Nana Mama) and three children, Damon, Janelle (Jannie), and Alex Jr. (Ali). His wife, Maria Simpson Cross, a social worker, was murdered.

Harry Dresden 

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the protagonist of fifteen novels, several graphic novel adaptations and a television series.

The Dresden Files is a series of “urban fantasy” novels, by author Jim Butcher, about Chicago’s first – and only – hardboiled, wizard private investigator.

Harry’s arsenal includes: a leather duster enchanted with protective magics; a rune-carved staff; a blasting rod (a wooden stick used to give him finer control over his evocation magic), a shield bracelet; a silver ring, used to channel blasts of kinetic energy; and his mother’s silver pentacle amulet. He also carries a variety of pistols and revolvers for those times when “magic just doesn’t cut it.”

Ella Clah

The Navajo woman detective, created by married writing team, David and Aimee Thurlo, Ellah Clah works to solve crimes while struggling to heal the rift that has grown between traditional and non-traditional beliefs in the Navajo community, in her family and within herself.

Ella works as an FBI agent out of Los Angeles. Her father, a Christian minister and her mother, a woman who kept to the traditional Navajo ways, allowed both of their children – Clifford, Ella’s older brother and Ella – to choose their own paths.  

Clifford chose the more traditional way and studied to become a hataalii – a Navajo holy man, who protects the nation and community by performing rituals, rites and blessings. Ella left the reservation, went to college in California and became an FBI agent.

Ella returns to the reservation when her father is murdered, discovering that her father had been engaged in building a new church on the reservation. The project had split the community between traditional and non-traditional Navajos. A primary suspect in the murder is Ella’s brother, Clifford.

Ella, forbidden by her supervisor to get involved with the investigations, works behind the scenes, trying to solve her father’s murder.

John Luther

Detective Chief Inspector John Luther begins the BBC psychological crime drama series, Luther, working for the British Serious Crime Unit and goes on to become a key member of the Serious and Serial Crime Unit.

While Luther is obsessive, possessed, fixated and sometimes violent, he is also a genius and a dedicated police officer.

Luther has paid a heavy price for his dedication and has never been able to prevent himself from being consumed by the darkness of the crimes with which he deals. For Luther, the job always comes first. His dedication to solving cases and bringing criminals to justice is a blessing and a curse – for him and for those close to him.

Brilliantly portrayed by actor Idris Elba, Luther is my favorite detective and Luther is my favorite television series.

Di Renjie

Based one of the most celebrated officials of the Tang and Zhou Dynasties of China, Di Renjie, also known as Detective Dee, is the protagonist of several mystery novels, two television series and the popular martial arts mystery film, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, an action-packed, visually breathtaking mystery starring some of China’s top acting talent, including singer / actor Andy Lau in the titular role.

Breathtakingly choreographed by martial arts master and fight choreographer / actor, Sammo Hung and directed by master filmmaker Tsui Hark, this intricately plotted whodunit is set in an exquisitely realized version of ancient China.

On the eve of her coronation as Empress, China’s most powerful woman is haunted by a chilling murder mystery: seven men under her command have burst into flames, leaving behind only black ash and skeletal bones. Recognizing this as a threat to her power, she turns to the infamous Di (Dee) Renjie, a man whose unparalleled wisdom is matched only by his martial arts skills. As Di battles a series of bizarre dangers, he unveils a chilling truth that places his life, and the future of an entire dynasty, in peril. 

Encyclopedia Brown

Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown is a ten-year old boy genius who puts his talents to work fighting crime in the small town of Idaville. Idaville is so famously tough on crime that “Hardened criminals had passed the word: ‘Stay clear of Idaville.’” This came as a result of the work of Encyclopedia – eternal fifth-grader, voracious reader (hence the nickname), and ace private eye. During the school year, Encyclopedia’s father, the police chief of Idaville, recounts his toughest cases over dinner. Without fail, Encyclopedia solves those cases before dessert. In the summer, Encyclopedia hangs out his friends and foils the nefarious plans of countless child criminals – young Moriarties to his young Holmes.

Encyclopedia’s major nemesis, however, is Bugs Meany, ringleader of a gang called The Tigers and as tough and thuggish as they come.

Encyclopedia’s sidekick is the tomboyish Sally Kimball, who is Encyclopedia’s version of Mouse – “She was the only one, boy or girl, under twelve who could punch out Bugs Meany.”

Accompanied by a large supporting cast – notorious poachers, motorcycle-riding teenage troublemakers, glamorous movie stars in town for the weekend – Encyclopedia, Sally, and Bugs star in twenty nine books and an HBO cable series.

Those are my favorites. Which detectives do you most admire? Which novel, series, or movie detective is your favorite and why?

 

 


The Mystery Behind Why We Love A Mystery

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The Mystery Behind Why We Love A Mystery

Most of what we regard as entertaining is mysterious; suspenseful. Watch television, or read a book and you will see what I mean – Will the Falcons defeat the Bears? Will Mr. Gold  / Rumpelstiltskin finally surrender to his dark side? Will Shaquita Love finally kill Pimpalicious and “come up”?

We aren’t sure how the story or the game will turn out, and we become very interested in finding out.

Why?

Uncertainty is not on most people’s list of pleasant experiences. If suspense builds on our uncertainty, then why is it possible to enjoy seeing a mystery movie or reading a suspenseful book?

But as much is uncertainty attracts us, we are still found returning to books and movies we have seen before and reading / watching them more than once. Why? You already saw the movie…you…know what is going to happen, but still you are sitting on the edge of your seat. How? Why?

Things that make you go “Hmm…”

The human brain is specifically adapted to adopt the perspective of others as it assesses situations. We are social beings, with the capacity to see and even feel the world as others see and feel it.

The ability to adopt perspectives that we know are fictional is basic to the human imagination and our imaginations entail feelings as well as thoughts – we not only imagine the scary serial killer who grinds up human teeth and uses the powder to flavor his morning tea, but are terrified of him or her.

As I stated in an earlier post, the brain does not know the difference between fantasy and reality. That is why we can care about a story we know to be fictional. It also explains how we can feel suspense even when we know how the story ends. Knowing the ending doesn’t interfere with our ability to place ourselves in the situation of the characters in a story, and once we do that, we can suspend our knowledge of the ending in the same way we suspend our knowledge that the situation is fictional.

Murder Mysteries have fascinated us for well over a century.  Whether you want to be in the middle of the unsolved case or just be a bystander, you are sure to enjoy it.

Join us on Friday, February 22nd, 2013, and discover just how much you enjoy it, as we step back in time, to the Age of Steam, and experience the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party!

Be the first person to solve the murder mystery and receive a free, signed copy of the Blacktastic new Steamfunk! Anthology!

Come in your Steamfunk gear. We are also giving a signed copy of Steamfunk! to the person with the (Steam)funkiest costume!

6:30pm – 9:30pm

Southwest Arts Center – Black Box Theater

915 New Hope Road, SW

Atlanta, GA 30331

 


Steamfunk Detectives: Origin of the Murder Mystery Game

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Steamfunk Detectives: Origin of the Murder Mystery Game

Murder mystery games are generally party games wherein the party-goers must solve a murder, determining who among them is the murderer and how and why the murder was committed. A typical murder mystery game opens with a ‘death’ and the rest of the time playing is devoted to investigation and solving the murder.

To understand the origin of murder mystery games, we must start at the very beginning and examine the origins of murder mystery fiction.

The first fictional detective was Edgar Allen Poe’s “August Dupin” in Murder in the Rue Morgue, which was published in 1841. A year later, reality followed fiction and the London Metropolitan Police appointed their first detective force, consisting of eight men.

In 1860, the UK experienced the rise of masses of amateur sleuths after the murder at Road Hill House – the first murder to be extensively reported in the press.

On June 30, 1860, three-year old Saville Kent, was found with his throat slit in the privy of Road Hill House, a Victorian manor. The only suspects were the members of the household – Saville’s father and mother, his siblings, the nursemaid, and the household staff. The disturbing murder set the British public on edge and they clamored for more information on the case.

The press responded to the public’s interest by printing hearsay and rumors as well as facts and the general public descended on the investigation like vultures, eager for any bits of juicy gossip.

Everyone had their ideas as to who killed little Saville Kent and how it was done, even to the point of contradicting the police force in the national press.

It was this case that inspired murder mystery fiction for over a century and even now, serves as a blueprint for modern murder mystery novels – a manor house, a murder, a seemingly respectable family with secrets, and a singular detective who leaves no stone unturned.

Wickie Collins’ Moonstone, released just eight years after the Road Hill Murder, is considered to be the original fictional murder mystery.

And in 1887, the world’s best known detective, Sherlock Holmes, stepped on the scene, courtesy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who, during his career, wrote 4 Sherlock Holmes novels and 56 short stories with Sherlock Holmes as the protagonist. By the way, for a Blacktastic take on the Sherlock Holmes franchise, check out Watson and Holmes, a digital comic by Karl Bollers and Rick Leonardi, in which Holmes and Watson are African-American.

Besides playing detective and reading murder mysteries, people during the Age of Steam were also lovers of all types of parlor games, many of which have survived until this day.

The origin of present day murder mystery games can be found during this era, beginning in the late 1800s, after the Road Hill Murder case. These games started out in the form of after-dinner entertainment and had such intriguing names as Murder in the Dark, Wink Murder and Jury.

In 1935, the first murder mystery boxed game known as Jury Box hit the market. Guests took the role of jurors examining the evidence from the fictional murder case presented to them.

In 1948, the first murder mystery board game, Cluedo – called Clue in North America –  was released and has continued to be a popular entertainment for all ages.

The 1980s saw the birth of the murder mystery role-playing game. Back then, the scenarios were simple, the acting directions minimal and the games relied on the guests being comfortable ad-libbing responses to each other’s questions.

Those basic games have increased in complexity and fun and are the role-playing dinner party games we now know and love.

Join us on Friday, February 22nd, 2013, as we step back in time, to the Age of Steam and experience the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party!

Be the first person to solve the murder mystery and receive a free, signed copy of the Blacktastic new Steamfunk! Anthology!

Come in your Steamfunk gear. We are also giving a signed copy of Steamfunk! to the person with the (Steam)funkiest costume!

6:30pm – 9:30pm

Southwest Arts Center – Black Box Theater

915 New Hope Road, SW

Atlanta, GA 30331


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

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

I am a “Conscious Brother”.

What is that, you ask?

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

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

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

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

I also love to read – and write – fiction.

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

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

His answer?

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

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

But they’re wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Non-Conscious Brain Treats Everything as Real

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

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

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

The Power of Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yoruba “keeps it real, son.”

And so should you.

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

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


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

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

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

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

So, what are the tropes of Map Fantasy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Covers

Covers are an easy way to tell the subgenres apart.

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

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

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

The hero will be Black.

The Effect of Saving, or Finding, a Mug

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

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

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

The Setting

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

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

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

Its Inhabitants

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

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

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

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

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

Magic

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

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

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

The Hero

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

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

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

The Villain

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

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

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

Where do I get started?

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

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

Imaro, volumes 1 – 4 by Charles R. Saunders

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

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

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

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

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

 Once Upon A Time in Afrika by Balogun Ojetade

Once Upon a Time in Afrika tells the story of a beautiful princess and her eager suitors. Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of Oyo, consults the Oracle. The Oracle answers,  telling the Emperor Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament inviting warriors from all over the continent. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament a powerful evil is headed their way. Will the warriors band together against this evil?


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

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


The State of Black Science Fiction: Filled with Possibilities!

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

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

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

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

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


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/.


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