A Steamfunkateer encounters Twinjas!
Founded and helmed by twin sisters Libertad and Guinevere Tomas, Twinja Book Reviews is a great site to find YA books that go beyond the white male default protagonist. Check out their ‘Our Reviews’ section for a wonderful selection of multicultural YA.
Also, check out their site for other exciting interviews to follow. They have a line-up of authors set up you do not want to miss. The schedule can be found on their site here.
I was privileged to be the first interview the sisters conducted. I have reposted it below for your reading pleasure:
My sister and I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of your books yet, but there has been a lot of buzz surrounding you in various places. It’s like we can’t conduct an online search pertaining to diversity in books without your name being mentioned! Why don’t you tell our readers a bit about yourself, as well as your writing?
I am very grateful for the buzz and I thank everyone for their ongoing support.
For those who don’t yet know me – and I would imagine that’s a lot of folks – I am an author; a father of eight children; grandfather of two; a husband; a Steamfunkateer / Steampunk; a filmmaker; a screenwriter; an actor (sometimes); a creator of role-playing games and a priest in the traditional Yoruba system of Ifa. I am also owner, master instructor and technical director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, which has representatives in Atlanta, Macon, GA, Raleigh-Durham, NC and London, England.
I live and work in Atlanta, Georgia.
I write speculative fiction; mainly, Steamfunk, Sword and Soul, New Pulp and Urban Fantasy.
For those unfamiliar with my work and my writing style, you can check out some of my short fiction on my website at Chronicles Of Harriet .
My published fiction books include my books, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); Once Upon A Time In Afrika; and Redeemer (or, paperback) and I am contributing Co-Editor of the bestselling anthology, Steamfunk and Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Anthology. In December, I will release my fight fiction New Pulp novel, A Single Link and in 2014, I will release two novels and one novella and will appear in several anthologies.
We’ve recently discovered the two genres you’ve penned, “Steamfunk” and “Sword and Soul” floating around the realm of diversity in science fiction and fantasy. Why don’t you explain what those genres are?
Sword & Soul is the African expression of Heroic and Epic Fantasy; think Conan or Lord of the Rings with African heroes, probably in an African setting and featuring African culture and spirituality and you have Sword & Soul. Sword & Soul has been around since the 1970s when the subgenre’s founder, Charles R. Saunders – the masterful author of two incredible Sword & Soul novel series: Imaro and Dossouye – coined the phrase and created a new subgenre of Fantasy.
As far as Steamfunk; in order to understand it, we must first give a brief definition of Steampunk. Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction or fantasy, characterized by a setting – in the past, present or future – in which steam power is the predominant energy source. Think the television show The Wild, Wild West, the graphic novel / comic book series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the movie The Golden Compass.
Steamfunk is a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the Steampunk philosophy and / or Steampunk fiction.
I am one of the founders of the Steamfunk Movement.
On our blog, Twinja Book Reviews, we only review books that feature marginalized groups (e.g. black, gay, Latin, Asian, disabled, plus sized) Why you ask? Well, because then our book blog would be lost in the sea of other book blogs! And why not spread the word on how much we’d like to get our message out there, to perhaps encourage authors to write diverse fiction and for readers to demand it! Why is Diversity in Science fiction and fantasy important to you?
First and foremost, I have been a fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy since I was two years old. In fact, I learned to read at two because my sisters introduced me to superhero and Archie comic books at that age.
I learned just how important Science Fiction and Fantasy is after spending several years as an English and Creative Writing teacher in the public and private sectors. In conversing with other English teachers, I often asked them if they taught creative writing in their classes. Most did not. One teacher told me that she tried “that creative writing stuff” with her students, but quickly gave up on it and returned to a more “practical syllabus”. Upon further investigation, I discovered that she believed creative writing – particularly Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy – to be something outside – and, indeed, beneath – the instruction of English.
Most educators of English / Language Arts focus on the mechanics of the subject – how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension – without the context of why and how those mechanics are used by students to express themselves.
Yes, we need to teach the mechanics – how to hold a pen; how to read; how words work – but we should not confuse use of a thing with understanding of it. Training in the mechanics of writing produces writing technicians; however, it does not make you a writer. So, you know how to spell; you can answer questions on grammar; you can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text – you are a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s car.
This is why we – and our children – need to read and to write Science Fiction and Fantasy – so that our children do not only work on other people’s texts; they create and build their own. So they are not limited to just reading a story written by someone else and providing a report on it – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new stories and questioning old ones…if only for the reason that they can.
We need to teach our children to go out into the world to add to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not to dissect the words of long dead men. Science Fiction and Fantasy are best suited for that.
So, your latest book, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, features Steampunk elements (Or, as you say, Steamfunk) and Harriet Tubman as the Main Protagonist. You have to share what was going through your mind when you came up with that idea!
Actually, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Book 1) is my first fiction book. It was released as an e-book in 2011 through Mocha Memoirs Press. In July 2012, I released Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) in paperback under my own publishing and film production company, Roaring Lions Productions. I am now writing books 3 and 4 in the series.
Harriet Tubman is one of my heroes. I think because my mother, who is at the top of my list of heroes, is so much like Harriet Tubman, I fell in love with “General Moses” at a young age and I continue to love and admire her. I knew, long ago, that the first novel I wrote would have Harriet Tubman as the hero. I also knew that the world would be similar to that found in The Wild, Wild West – one of my mother’s favorite television shows; a show she made me fall in love with – but a bit grittier; a bit more fantastical.
What type of research goes into bringing one of your stories to life?
If we are going to write Steampunk and our story is set during the Victorian Era (between 1837 and 1901) and we want to avoid the cultural appropriation so prevalent in Steampunk, then it is necessary that we know history; that we understand how the Age of Steam was, so that we can determine how it should have been.
If we cosplay a “Steampunk Squaw”, we should research how First Nation women lived during the Age of Steam; we should study First Nation cultures and choose in which nation we are going to gain historical and sociological expertise; we should research the word “squaw”, understand it is an offensive term to First Nation women and change the name…if you give a damn.
And that is what research is: giving a damn. So I do it…a lot.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a writer of Color?
The biggest challenge is letting people know that there are great works of Science Fiction and Fantasy by People of Color out there. Many more People of Color would read Science Fiction or Fantasy if they knew there are heroes in our books who look like them; who act, think and feel like them.
For years, we were the noble savage; the magical negro; the yellow menace. No one wants to invest days, weeks and sometimes even months, reading how less beautiful they are; how less intelligent; how less heroic. And mainstream publishes continues to perpetuate these images.
That is why I am convinced that the future of the literary industry is in independent publishing – small press and self-publishing. The mainstream literary industry is rooted in fear. It, like any corporation, is not in the business of taking risks – and Black books, other than street lit, are considered risky business.
Books with People of Color as the heroes and sheroes are risks and the mainstream rarely wants to touch these books; and if they do, you are often asked to change your hero to a Caucasian male or they whitewash your cover, changing your Person of Color into a swarthy White person. Now, once an indie author creates a lot of buzz, the mainstream might pick them up, but before that, chances of your work getting published are slim. If your hero is Black, your chances are even slimmer and if your book is about Black on Black love, you can forget it. That is why I only work with independent publishers and I also self-publish.
I think one thing We love about your book covers is that they feature African American Women of a darker shade (Nothing against the lighter shades but you have to admit darker skinned women on book covers RARELY happens). I think the trend today is to write characters Bi-racial because some feel a black character is not as relatable as a bi-racial one that shares some European heritage. Do you think Colorism and the media’s narrow minded idea of beauty play a big role in the lack of black (especially darker skinned ones) characters on the front covers of books?
I think the media is well aware of the beauty black people possess, however, for so long, the “beauty and magnificence of whiteness” has been fed to us through the media that now it is a risk to show otherwise and like I stated earlier, the media, like any other corporation, is not in the business of taking risks.
People who take risks; people who stand up and say “I am going to tell these stories about Black people unapologetically” – scare many white people. Hell, we scare many Black people too, who fear it is best to just get along. We scare the mainstream and those working within it because we show that we can be successful without the mainstream and we can do this our way.
In terms of diversity, you feature A LOT of characters of African descent (which is totally stellar). Do you plan on including other marginalized groups in future writings (e.g. Afro-Latina/ Latino characters; I ask because we’re both black Latinas) or Asian love interests?
I do include a diverse cast of characters in my books – and many Latinos / Latinas are of African descent, as I am sure you know – however, my main heroes and sheroes will always be of African descent. In my Steamfunk story, Nandi, which is set in 1970s California, the hero, Nandi, a law-enforcement officer who hunts the supernatural, is a Black woman, born in America, but with strong ties to Africa; her partner Pei-Pei Ming, is Chinese and her former lover, Wabli Ska, who is a law-enforcement officer, turned anarchist, is Native American.
I write what I want to see. I want to see more Black-on-Black love, so I write that; I want to see Black people on amazing adventures and being heroic, so I write that. I believe that most people want to see themselves as the hero. If they have the ability to create worlds in which they are that – through fiction, film, illustrations, or some other medium, they should do so.
What are some areas or themes you haven’t yet covered but would like to in future writings?
I don’t believe in waiting. If I want something done, I do it, so I have now dived head first into writing New Pulp. I am also writing a Rococoa pirate novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises. Rococoa is similar to Steampunk, but is set in the era in which clockwork technology is dominant. Think DaVinci’s Demons, The Three Muskateers, or Brotherhood of the Wolf, told from a Black perspective.
All of these new writings will be published next year.
Where can potential readers learn more about you and your current and future works?
You can learn more about me and my works by visiting my website – Chronicles Of Harriet – or to learn more about the Steamfunk feature film I wrote, directed and fight choreographed, based on a short story written by author Milton Davis, visit Rite of Passage, The Movie.
This amazing movie, entitled, Rite of Passage, will premiere in February, 2014 and is scheduled to screen at major film festivals and fan conventions worldwide.