One of the challenges of Sword and Soul is establishing a visual reference for our stories. It has been my experience that most people care little about history. This is usually not the case with sword and sorcery and fantasy fan. Most know that the stories they recognize and love are based on northern European history and legends, so the images come easily. All our lives we’ve read book upon book and seen movie upon movie that reinforce these images in our minds.
The same cannot be said for Sword and Soul. Images of Africa past and present are few beyond panoramic views of the Serengeti or Mount Kilimanjaro. There is the Great Pyramids, but in the minds of many there is Africa, and then there’s Egypt. So one of the projects that is near and dear to my heart is finding images of Africa’s past and commissioning artists to incorporate these influences into our fantastic art.
I am by no means the first one to do this. African influenced art has been available for centuries. I’ve used many of these images to strengthen my description of many of my characters. At the Black Science Fiction Society I display images and challenge my fellow writers to create stories based on them. These are powerful portraits on their own, but adding prose to them seems to bring them to life and establish a connection between the observer/reader and the combination of art and words.
The challenge of creating Sword and Soul is just as difficult for some writers as it is artists. To write it convincingly means doing the research. With the right information a story can be extraordinary. When we sent out the call for Griots many writers wanted to participate but were unsure that their knowledge would allow them to create a story that could be considered Sword and Soul. Many threw doubt aside and dived in with varying levels of success. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider myself the authority on Sword and Soul. I have my view of what it consists of, as does Charles R. Saunders and other writers who have written in this genre. But I do believe a story of this genre should clearly emanate the soul of the Motherland.
Creating these images have been just as challenging to some artists. Providing images from current books and photos of celebrations from various African countries have helped give the artists a foundation to develop their work. We don’t expect accuracy; after all, this is fantasy fiction. But having the foundation of the culture and history of the myriad of kingdoms and cultures that rose, fell and rose again across the vast African continent has inspired some beautiful and breathtaking work.
The more I delve into the history, people and cultures of the Motherland, the more stories spring forth. Displaying these stories in words and especially in images solidify the foundation of Sword and Soul and exposes readers to the beauty and power of our history. The result is a growing interest and following of Sword and Soul and, hopefully, an increased willingness of writers and other publishers to explore this barely tapped reservoir of creativity.
Timbuktu Chronicles by Anthony Kwamu
I don’t believe in fate, but sometimes things seem fated to occur, like how I came across Anthony Kwamu’s Sword and Soul adventure. My wife and I were enjoying a day of hanging out in the city. We began our day with a trip to our favorite cupcake place then stopped by a taqueria in Vinings to visit with old friends. After a quick lunch my sweety wanted to stop by the Barnes and Noble across the street to look for a book she couldn’t find in our local store. As she searched for her book I browsed through the science fiction/fantasy section and came across the Chronicles. It’s not often (actually never) that you come across a book with a cover displaying black people in such a way. I immediately grabbed it and ran to the register. I’m glad I did.
Timbuktu Chronicles take place in 14th century Mali. The ruler of Mali is Abubakari II, places these events during the Songhai empire. Gyvan Drabo, a former teacher at Sankore Univeristy, has joined the army to seek fame and fortune. An unfortunate event gets him discharged but then just as suddenly he finds himself reinstated to go on a quest of enormous magnitude. Gyvan gains a reluctant companion, a young witch, or eeid, named Aida. Together they go on a series of adventures in order to save their kingdom and their world from a threat beyond the realm of man.
The Chronicles are mainly told from Gyvan’s and Aida’s point of view. There are chapters dedicated to other voices but this does not confuse the narrative. It took me a while to get used to Anthony’s writing style but once I did I found myself immersed in the story. Like most sword and soul stories the fresh foundation makes it challenging to figure out what will happen next. I love how Anthony places the story firmly in history, using cities like Timbuktu, Djenne and Sekou to full use. Anyone well versed in West African history will smile as they follow Gyvan and Aida on their quest.
Though fantasy books today are becoming more inclusive when it comes to people, cultures and settings, there as still very few of them that immerse themselves in the rich history and culture of the African continent. Timbuktu Chronicles is the latest addition to the small but growing list and it’s a must have for fans of this emerging genre. I enjoyed Timbuktu Chronicles. I hope you do, too.
If you’ve spent any time reading my blogs you know I have a sore spot when it comes to independent publishing. When I made the decision to jump into the writing world via this method I was shocked by the negative reaction I received from fellow writers. I was also discouraged by the negative comments I heard during seminars from agents and publishers. I felt it was a viable way to do what I wanted to do because I was skeptical about how publishers would view my work and I’d seen the success of urban/street lit writers.
It seems that I entered the writing world at the tipping point. Although print on demand spurred the independent movement, e-books seem to have rallied the troops. With Amazon’s success with the Kindle, Barnes and Noble responding with Nook and of course Apples iBook Store to support the iPad, there has been a significant sift to independent publishing. Writers are discovering a new revenue stream unhindered by the middlemen in this industry and although the books cost much less, sales are steady and the profit is much higher. All of this doesn’t guarantee success. You still have to write a good book, you have to take on the responsibility of sales and marketing on yourself, and there’s still that mysterious ‘magic’ required to make you book popular. But there’s something about having more control over your results that’s appealing, at least to me.
That being said, I still haven’t embraced the ‘revolution’ as some would call it. I have yet to set up my books as e-books despite the constant encouragement to do so. I’m slow when it comes to e-anything but I’m getting there. Traditional publishing will continue to exist albeit in a different form to deal with the new challenges of independent publishing. I’ve learned a lot since 2005, some bad but most good. I’m committed to this journey this way and I’m looking forward to the future of Sword and Soul. I hope you are, too.
War Goddess Revealed by Kris Mosby
I first met Kris Mosby a couple of years ago at the site Black Super Hero. From the beginning he showed an interest in Sword and Soul, often complementing positively on stories and excerpts I posted on the site. I was also a fan of Kris’s work. His style of digital painting is intriguing and his attention to the female form is amazing. So imagine my delight when I received the painting you see to the left. I immediately knew I had to write a story that included this image. As I was contemplating a proper vehicle for this image Kris surprised me with anther image; one which he called Shange.
Shange and Mijoga by Kris Mosby
Unlike Kris’s first gift a story immediately popped in my head. Kris and I exchanged e-mails discussing the storyline and he shared with me his skill as a storyteller as well. At the time I was writing a series of prequel stories about Changa so I decided to write an adventure that included both the War Goddess and Shange. The result was Mwanamke Tembo (The Elephant Woman). You can read it at my Scribd account: http://www.scribd.com/doc/37380938/Mwanamke-Tembo
But I wasn’t done with Shange. Her story begged for its own adventure. No sooner did I finish the first adventure did I begin a story for Shange. Walaji Damu (The Blood Eaters) is an adventure solely for this lovely heroine and her feline companion. I sent the story to Kris with a selfish suggestion. ‘This would make a great graphic novel,’ I said. Weeks later Kris answered with the image below.
Walaji Damu Graphic novel page by Kris Mosby
I was ecstatic. Kris has worked on the graphic novel slowly and surely since then, dazzling me and others with amazing work on every page. It’s his goal to be completed in time for Onyx Con this year (http://www.onyxcon.com/) but whether he is or not, the final result will be amazing. Not only that, it will also be the first Sword and Soul graphic novel.
Kris is not just a Sword and Soul artist. This is a title I bestowed upon him. His artwork crosses the spectrum, from oil paintings to graphic design. But its when his hands are inspired to produce African based images that his talents truly shine, at least in my opinion. If your like me I know you can’t wait to see the final results of his work on Walaji Damu. I hope he finishes soon; I’m looking forward to writing another story for him soon. Maybe it will be the second Sword and Soul graphic novel.