This is a reprint of a blog I wrote for Blackgate last year. Enjoy…
In the West African bulge is a land known in pre-colonial history as the Sudan. This Sudan is not to be confused with the modern nation that bears the same name. It is a moniker which translates from Arabic to mean ‘The Land of the Blacks.’ This pre-colonial Sudan covered an area that stretched from the West African coasts to the borders of the Nile, running north along a border of grasslands known as the Sahel ‘the shore,’ and south along the beginning of the African forests region. Between these natural borders a wide variety of kingdoms and empires rose and fell, each one fueled by the Trans-Saharan trade with channeled forest gold to the north and desert salt to the south. This land was known to many of its inhabitants as ‘The Bright Country,’ and the blueprint of these mighty kingdoms was drawn by a people known as the Soninke.
So what do these folks have to do with heroic deeds? The Soninke warrior society possessed many similarities of warrior societies that developed in other areas throughout the world, from the chivalry of Northern Europe to the Bushido codes of feudal Japan. It was the Soninke who established the first of a line of great Sudanese kingdoms that began Ghana and continued to Kanem and Bornu.
It is here where we find the root the Sudanese warrior culture. A strict hierarchy ruled the Soninke, one that drew distinct lines between members of society. The horro, or nobles, were the highest of this society. A horro protected the virtue of his women and was generous to the poor and weak. His entire life was dedicated to upholding the reputation of his family and proving himself by accomplishing brave and honorable deeds. A young horro was trained in the arts of war and tradition from a young age. Once his training was complete he was given a horse, weapons and, most importantly, his own diaru. The diaru was in many ways equivalent to the bards of Europe, but he was also much more. The diaru was always at the horro’s side as his counselor, friend and praise singer. Soninke society did not allow the ‘knight’ to boast or speak of his own accomplishments. That duty fell upon the diaru. A perfect story which explains the Soninke warrior culture is ‘Gassire’s Lute.’ Alta Jablow gives a good explanation of the role of the diaru in Soninke society while the epic itself describes the valor of the horro.
Soninke culture extended beyond the confines its own kingdom. Ghana had a significant influence on the kingdoms that followed it. Like Rome, those who stepped into its place emulated its customs. Much of what we know of Soninke chivalry survives in the tales passed on through storytellers. Sundiata, the story of the first king of the Mali Empire, also reflects the Soninke tradition of honorable battle. Mali was a vassal of Ghana until its fall. The void left by the empire’s collapse was filled by Mali.
The tales that gives many clear descriptions of this brand of honorable conflict come from the Bambara and their kingdom of Segu. Many of their stories ring with the same voice of the Soninke. In their culture the ever present Diaru is called djeli. Many of the rituals of combat are described in detail in these stories. For instance, magic preparation was just as important as marital preparation. A warrior magic was considered stronger than his armor. If a warrior could demonstrate a stronger magic than is opponent a duel would not take place. It was common for a warrior to allow his opponent to take the first ‘shot,’ either with an arrow or a gun. Surviving the shot proved strong magic. Only if two warriors demonstrated equal magic would they resort to weapons. It was also dishonorable to fight an opponent who has admitted publically that he was afraid; there was no honor in fighting a man who has expressed his inferiority.
The culture of the warrior seems not to be confined to one particular culture or continent. Wherever the social conditions provide the means of development, this society seem to be the natural result. Just as the knights of old sang of the glories of Camelot, the horros of Ghana sang of the glory of Wagadu.
‘The fifth Wagadu will arise from discord to endure as the rains of the South,
As the rocks of the Sahara,
Every man will bear Wagadu in his heart.
Every woman will have Wagadu in her sons.
Hoooh! Dierra, Agada, Gana, Silla!
We’ve all done this before. If you didn’t, you should have. As a child we ran to the swing set, hoping to be one of the first to jump on a swing. There was always a little pit under each swing, excavated by dragging and pushing feet. We would kick off then work our arms in perfect synch with our legs, swinging higher and higher with each pass. Then, when we reached the highest point we dared, we jumped. We didn’t wear helmets, knee pads or any other type of body protection. We assumed when we landed we would be okay. And most of the time we were. We would let go, freeing ourselves to fate, totally immersed in the moment.
Most of the time when I talk to independent writers I realize that they are doing just the opposite. They spend most of their times worrying about issues that no longer apply to them. Of course there are the requirements that none of use can escape; good storytelling, good grammar, and good spelling. But there are other things independent writers concern themselves with that have nothing to do with what we do. These are the concerns of the mainstream writer, the writer that must meet the demands of the agent and the editor, their true customers. For if you are a mainstream writer, these are the people that you must please. I’ve had this discussion as well; writers will argue that they are writing for the reader. You are, but in your case the reader is the agent or editor. I’ll save this discussion for another blog.
I was part of a discussion where a writer was working on a fantasy novel and was seeking a source for the rules of magic. I read in amusement as other writers gave various sources, then I type, ‘Dude, this is fantasy. We’re making this up. There are no rules.’ I was immediately assailed with all types of reason why what I typed was false. But all the reasons led back to examples of what mainstream publishers would accept as fantasy.
You are an independent writer. There is no one between you and the reader. There is no one to dictate to you how you should write your story. The possibilities are endless. Sure there may be certain types of stories readers prefer. We’re all conditioned to respond to what we’ve been exposed to. But here’s the funny thing about readers; they’re far more open that agents and editors. Why? Because their decision does not determine the profit or loss of a corporation nor does it affect future commissions. The only decision the reader has to make is whether or not they think your book will be entertaining.
You have to learn how to write without looking over your shoulder. Write from the heart, then find people who like what you write. Most of us are naturally risk adverse, at least in adulthood we are. But to me independent writing means letting go of the constraints, expectations, stereotypes and validations of the mainstream market. It’s a different path. So here’s my advice to all my independent writing friends; swing hard, swing high, then let go.
Here they are, the stories and authors of the upcoming Steamfunk! Anthology. Thanks to everyone who submitted and congratulations to the authors selected. Plans are to debut Steamfunk! at Anachrocon 2013. Let’s get funky!
Author Story Title
Ronald T. Jones Benjamin’s Freedom Magic
Malon Edwards Mud Holes and Mississippi Mules
Hannibal Tabu The Sharp Knife of a Short Life
P. Djeli Clark Men in Black
Geoffrey Thorne The Tunnel at the End of Light
Ray Deen A Will of Steel
Kochava Greene The Refuge
Carole McDonnell Oh, Western Wind
Rebeccan McFarland Kyle Once a Spider
Josh Reynolds The Lion Hunters
Melvin Carter Tough Night in Tommyville
Valjeanne Jeffers The Switch
Milton Davis The Delivery
Balogun Ojetade Rite of Passage: Blood and Iron
XJ Patterson just wants to be a normal teenager. She wants to hang with friends, enjoy the prom and spend time with her boyfriend, if she had one. But XJ’s life is anything but ‘normal.’ She a GEP, as in Genetically Enhanced Person, a person designed and endowed with unique abilities and a person of interest to CAGE, the Coalition to Assimilate Genetically Enhanced persons. To make matters worse, she’s the daughter of Dorothy Patterson, a mysterious woman who is also an active a revolutionary movement determined to keep GEPs free. And then there’s Brandon Miller, cute, rich, white Brandon Miller. XJ likes him, he likes her, but a myriad of complication and secrets keep them apart. Such is the life of a GEP.
Alicia McCalla has taken a variety of issues, teenage agnst, biracial romance, genetic tampering and government control and brewed them into an interesting and exciting mix. Breaking Free is the first book in her Genetic Revolution Series. In this book we are introduces to XJ Peterson, Brandon Miller and the volatile mix of realities and emotions that make up XJ’s world. XJ’s world is similar to that of Marvel’s X-men, where those with enhanced abilities are distrusted and some call for them to be controlled. On the other hand, many of the GEPs have submitted to government control and are prominent members of society. XJ wants nothing to do with either side, but her relationships draw her deeper and deeper into the struggle against her will.
Alicia has done a good job with XJ, making her the typical teenager in some respects while showing her emerging maturity. Like a teenager, she bounces between responsible and irrational decisions as she struggles with a situation that forces her to confront her powers and the people she loves. She’s also susceptible to those raging hormones, usually when in the presence of Brandon, a boy she hates just as much as she loves. Alicia is also excellent with action scenes. XJ finds herself in quite a few situations where the only solution is to fight and these fights are not easy .
I enjoyed Breaking Free. It’s refreshing to see such a book with a young black woman as the major character. The beginning of the book sets up therelationships and situations slowly, but be patient. Once the action begins its worth the wait. I finished the book eager to continue the series. If you have a young adult in your household share this book with them. And when they’re done sit down and read it yourself. You’ll both have something good to talk about. You can purchase Breaking Free here: http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Free-Alicia-L-McCalla/dp/0983513376/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344417583&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=breaking+free+alicia+mcalla
So here we are, six months into the year. Time to take a look at where we’ve been, where we’re headed for the rest of the year and to begin the planning for 2013.
I must say, I’m pleased with the year so far. Last year we sold 332 books total. By the end of June 2012 we were at 329! I think I can say that we’ve established a toe nail hold on the fantasy market. We’re averaging 45 books sold per month, the majority of those sales being e-book sales through Kindle. With at least two titles planned for release this year, I think we’ll sell at least 600 books this year. Thanks to all of y’all who have contributed to these sales and who are spreading the word. It’s greatly appreciated.
Speaking of book releases, I began the year with the release of Changa’s Safari Volume 2 in February. I did so with fingers crossed because there were big changes in store for Changa and his cohorts and I was really concerned how previous readers were going to take it. I’m happy to say that all went well. There was some grumbling, and a few folks were upset, but overall Changa’s Safari Volume 2 has been as well received as the first adventure, Changa’s Safari. I’m currently researching Volume 3, which I plan to begin after I’m done with a current manuscript.
Griots continues to do well and receive good reviews. As a matter of fact all the books are doing good sales, with the exception of my Sivad Chronicles books, The Possession and A Debt To Pay. I plan to repackage both books under one title ‘The Sivad Chronicles,’ and release as a e-book and paperback.
For this year I have two more releases. My most special is ‘Once Upon A Time In Afrika by Balogun Ojetade. This book is special for two reasons. Firstly, it always good to work with a fellow Sword and Soul writer, especially one as talented as Balogun. He brings his vast knowledge of African, especially Yoruba culture, and presents it in a way that rings true to traditional West African storytelling. I’m also excited about this book because it is the first novel I’m publishing by someone other than myself. I always envisioned carrying a few titles by other authors; I saw MVmedia as a launching point for authors having difficulty entering the market. Balogun is the first of a few. I plan to release the first book in Charles R. Saunders’ Abengoni series next year, and there are a few other writers I’m encouraging to write Sword and Soul novels for me to release. You know who you are.
I also plan another release of my own this year, ‘Woman of the Woods,’ the novel that was the inspiration for the image to the right. I commissioned the image two years ago while working on the novel. Finally you’ll get to read the prose on which the image was based. Sadatina is the first woman character I’ve written a novel for and I hope you like her adventures as much as you’ve enjoyed my other novels.
Woman of the Woods will hopefully be a good preview for the second anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear. Charles and I are currently working on this next collection of sword and soul short stories, dedicated to women of color. The stories have been chosen and the cover artwork has begun. Look for Griots: Sisters of the Spear in early 2013.
Next year will be significant because it will be the fifth year of my five year plan. Five years is a significant milestone for a business. If you survive that long you’ve been around long enough to shake out all the misconceptions and you should have a good idea what it takes to do what you do. I’ve learned a lot over the years and I think we’re poised to continue to grow and share exciting stories and other projects with you. Thank you for believing in and supporting us. Most of all, thank you for your patience. Sword and Soul Forever!
I have a confession to make. I’m not a big comic book fan. Yes, I read comic books growing up as a boy and I have many friends who are comic book readers, collectors, illustrators and writers. I even hope to see my books as comic books one day. But the awful truth is that I don’t read many comic books or graphic novels. Once I made the transitions into reading novels I’ve rarely picked up and read a comic book of any sort. Now I know some of my friends are reading this and saying to themselves, ‘what about the book I gave him? Did he read it or did he smile at me and lie in my face? To every person who ever gave me a comic book I can say that I did read it/them, and I will continue to. But beyond the realm on books produced by my friends I rarely indulge.
And this is probably why. As you know I’m deep into Sword and Soul and as far as I knew up to a few months ago there were no Sword and Soul graphic novels available with the exception of Sword and Soul Adventures by Kris Mosby. It’s a great book, by the way, and I would say that even if I hadn’t written the story it was based on. The funny thing about it is that this was a spontaneous collaboration, an unplanned project that has turned out much better than some of my organized attempts to produce a graphic novel. In this case it was all about a favor for a favor then evolved into a great book.
It has come to my attention recently that there are a few books making their way to your local shelves. The first to come to mind is the Chronicles of Piye by Richard Gaskin and Chris ‘Crazyhouse’ Miller. From what I can see from the video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYBx-UuDC88) this duo plans to give us an action filled adventure based on African culture and mythology, the essential requirements of Sword and Soul. According to the video The Chronicles of Piye should be available December 2012. I’ll probably see Chris at Onyx Con in August and I’ll confirm.
There’s one more book I’d like to mention; Uzan by Kevin Grevouix. Pages of this work-in-progress were posted a few months back but as far as I know the book has not been released. It’s another possible addition to a growing awareness of African based heroic fiction. Kevin is known as the screenplay writer for the first Underworld movie and has other writing successes under his wing. I hope this book and others see the light of day.
So what’s in store for MVmedia? Well, Changa’s Safari is sitting heavy on my mind. The books are becoming popular, and an informal survey at Wagadu (http://wagadu.ning.com/) indicates that such a venture would be well received. My only hesitation is that a graphic novel is a larger financial investment than a novel and I’m not as confident about the market as I am about novels. My plan is to wait until the novel series in complete before embarking on a graphic novel interpretation. Then after that? Who knows. Animation maybe? We’ll see.
This weekend me and a few fellow writers conducted the State of Black Science Fiction Youth Symposium. From 11:00 am to 5:30 pm we held a workshop on writing, listened to inspiring words from L.M. Davis, Tananarive Due, Ed Hall, Alan Jones, Alicia McCalla, Wendy Raven McNair and Balogun Ojetade. We participated in a group read story by the youth then wrapped the day up with an abbreviated version of the State of Black Science Fiction panel. During those hours we played a few games, laughed a lot, ate pizza and learned a few things as well. At the end of the day I was exhausted and exhilarated. The energy and the enthusiasm of the children that attended reminded me why I decided not only to write but to self publish.
Contrast this to the weeks prior to our symposium. I spent way too much time ‘discussing’ politics, the implications of multiculturalism in fantasy and the proper approach for African Americans in science fiction and fantasy fiedl. I also spent way too much time listening to people whose perception of their status stretches far beyond the reality. It occurred to me that something dreadful was happening, something that I thought I’d protected myself from but was now sinking in up to my neck. My hobby was becoming like a job, and not a good job at that.
I write because I love to. I share my books with others because I think I have something to say that others might be interested in and enjoy. I have no profound messages or life changing revelations, just hopefully good stories that will bring a few minutes of enjoyment to those that read them. To say that I’m ambitious about what I do would be true to a certain extent. I like a good discussion like the next debater, but I find myself getting involved more and more into discussion that were destined to lead nowhere from the start. And then I see this room full of young children, picking up my books and smiling with wonder and then rushing over to me to purchase them. There is no discussion of if they should read them, or what are the ramifications of such books to the genre, or whether or not the genre that they claim is legitimate. They see something they like, they get it, they read it, they enjoy it.
The State of Black Science Fiction Youth Symposium reminded me of where I need to be. It’s the same place I was when I first began writing my books and a place where I somehow slipped away. I always believed that the most important relationship is that between the writer and the reader. Everything else is in the way. It’s time to get back to the fun. So if you see my avatar pop up in the middle of a heated discussion, please forward me a link to this blog. I’ll appreciate it.
In the music today there is the term ‘mashup.’ It’s used to refer to a mix of two or more songs from different genres that sound great together, if the DJ is a master mixer. Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman is a literary mash up and the author, Balogun, is a master mixer.
This exciting novel takes place in the late 1800’s and drops us right into the action, with Harriet Tubman rescuing the child Margaret who has been kidnapped from her father, Secretary of War Edwin E. Stanton. The fun begins in the first scene, where we find Harriet not only aided by her visions from the Lord, which serious Harriet Tubman followers are familiar with, and her handling the six kidnappers with the skills of a trained martial artist, which took me pleasantly by surprise. The book continues at a break neck pace, introducing historical characters that are familiar by name but not by attitude. Balogun puts his own spin on each of these personalities, a spin that turns toward the supernatural and horrific. Harriet finds herself pursued by John Wilkes Booth who seeks Margaret for his own nefarious reasons, as well as Stanton himself.
And then there’s steampunk. Balogun is a fan of steampunk and he incorporates it into this action tale. The chase takes us across the American North, South and all the way to Mexico, where the story takes us to the next level.
Mainstream publishing dictates staying between the lines in order to make a book easier to market. Independent publishers and writers break this rule, resulting in books that are exciting mixes that keep a reader entertained and pleasantly off balance. Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman is one of those books, a gumbo of historical, horror, action and steampunk fiction that feels like a roller coaster ride. It’s a great mash up that I highly recommend.
When I was a child during the Ice Age we had a weekly ritual. When my mother got paid, she would give each of us a dollar. We would walk together through Buena Vista Estates Apartments to the little convenience store down the hill. With our dollar we would buy a bag of potato chips, a candy bar, a ’soda’ and a comic book. Later, when we moved from the apartments to the suburbs, our ritual transformed to anxiously waiting on the bookmobile which stopped at the corner of Lasalle Drive right in front of our house. My reading taste had changed by then. I barely read comic books now. I spent my time reading history books. Comics continued to influence me because my cousins and one of my good friends were still avid readers. I remember spending hours trapped with them in comic book stores while they read comic after comic before finally buying the one they came to purchase.
Nowhere during that time were we exposed to many black heroes. There was Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage and Brotherman. That was it. We accepted it, because we were children of the ’60s and had become accustomed to being ignored. Our heroes were our mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles. We worked hard to be like them and sometimes, better than them, as they worked hard for us to be. But there were some things we never imagined. We never imagined ourselves as superheroes.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized the possibilities and almost twenty years after that when I realized I could do something about it myself. So I began writing Speculative fiction to create the heroes I missed as a child and to make sure that black children after me wouldn’t have to reach far beyond their experiences to experience what I was deprived of.
Some people question the importance of children reading speculative fiction but to me there is no question that they should. A child should be exposed to all the possibilities. The mind is a muscle and it must be exercised to reach its maximum strength. Speculative fiction teaches a child to imagine, to look beyond the limits and see the possibilities of the present and the future. It the case of Sword and Soul it links a child to history in an entertaining way and introduces them to a history full of accomplishments and pride. I don’t know about you, but I want my children to have the strongest foundation possible, and speculative fiction adds to its strength.
So I look forward to the State of Black Science Fiction Youth Symposium with excitement and enthusiasm. I’m anxious to share my knowledge and I’m excited about hearing the young folks in attendance express their dreams and expand their imagination. I hope y’all come out to see and contribute as well.
Check out my fellow writers and read what speculative fiction has taught them:
Ed Hall – Alabama escapee Ed Hall writes journalism, poetry, and fiction. He serves as host of Eyedrum’s monthly literary forum, Writers Exchange, and as an organizer of Eyedrum’s annual Experimental Writers Asylum (which is part of the Decatur Book Festival). His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Code Z: Black Visual Culture Now, and the Dictionary of Literary Biography. He plans to have his first novel, a sf-pionage story for young adults, come out soon.
L.M. Davis – L. M. Davis, Author–began her love affair with fantasy in the second grade. Her first novel, Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, was released in 2010, and the follow-up Posers: A Shifters Novel will be released this spring. For more information visit her blog http://shiftersseries.wordpress.com/ or her website www.shiftersnovelseries.com.
Alan Jones – Alan Jones, a native Atlantan, former columnist for the Atlanta Tribune and Wall Street Consultant, writes a brand of science fiction suitable for both adults and young adults. His brand of science fiction blends fanciful characters and scenarios with generous doses of philosophy and social commentary. His book, To Wrestle with Darkness, is available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble and most major retailers. Visit Alan at http://wrestlewithdarkness.ning.com/profile/Alan.
Alicia McCalla – Alicia McCalla is a native of Detroit, Michigan who currently resides in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. She writes for both young adults and adults with her brand of multicultural science fiction, urban fantasy, romance and futurism. Her debut novel, Breaking Free is available in print and for immediate download on Amazon and other booksellers. The Breaking Free theme song, Keep Moving, created by Asante McCalla is available for immediate download on itunes and Amazon. Visit her at: www.aliciamccalla.com
Balogun Ojetade – Author of the bestselling “Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within” (non-fiction), “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” (Steampunk) and “Redeemer” (science fiction); and screenwriter, director and producer of the feature film, “A Single Link” (martial arts drama). Visit him: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/
Wendy Raven McNair – is a wife, mother, artist and author of the Young Adult novels, Asleep and Awake. Visit her athttp://wendyravenmcnair.com/page19.php.