Hasani Claxton was raised on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts. He always loved art, but had never met a successful, professional artist when he was growing up. He studied Business at Morehouse College (1999) and Law at Columbia University (2003). While he was serving as an Assistant District Attorney in the Bronx, he began taking evening classes at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and in 2005 decided to pursue his passion full time, enrolling in Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He earned his Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in 2009 and later that year attended the Illustration Master Class at Amherst College. He currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland.
It’s rare that I designate an artist a Sword and Soul artist unless I’ve work them him or her, but Hasani’s work in not new to me. A few months ago the painting above, ‘Knights of the Savanna’ on a Black Arts website. I was immediately excited. It was the first time I’d seen a recent painting of the yan lifida, the quilted armored cavalry of the Sokoto Caliphate. I immediately searched for him but unfortunately his first name was misspelled and I came up with nothing. A month ago a Facebook friend posted one of his famous fairy paintings and this time his name was spelled correctly. I went to his site (http://www.hasaniclaxton.com/) and was immediately captivated. It was like finding a long lost Sword and Soul brother. Here is an artist where the Sword and Soul spirit came naturally, where the frustration of finding Sword and Sorcery images that reflected our heritage spurred him to create them himself.
In his own words:
“As a child I was fascinated by tales of sword and sorcery such as King Arthur and Lord of the Rings. It was not until adulthood that I noticed that within the fantasy genre African people were either left out entirely or portrayed as grotesque stereotypes: the voodoo witchdoctor, or savage warrior with a bone in his nose. My art remedies this, drawing upon the majesty of African history and mythology to tell the forgotten stories of medieval Africa and create new fantasy worlds.”
I was so impressed by his work that I immediately commissioned him for an illustration in the upcoming Griots Sisters of the Spear anthology. I have also selected him as the cover and interior artist for Changa’s Safari Volume Three. It’s rare to work with an artist that already carries the sensibilities of the Sword and Soul subject matter and it’s great to have another example of Sword and Soul expression. You can also check Hasani out at
Sword and Soul Forever!
A few days ago a Facebook friend posted a link to a blog where the blogger took Disney to task for the lack of people of color in ‘Brave.’ They presented the argument that there were people of color in Scotland during this period and they should have been recognized in the film. The blog made me think back on other posts where the writers listed numerous examples of people of color throughout Europe during the medieval period and other points in European history. All these claims were posted to justify the inclusion of people of color in historical fiction and fantasy, effectively challenging those who believe that such representation is not historically accurate.
But then I leaned back in my chair and asked myself the question, ‘What’s really going on here?’ Why do people like me, people of African descent, fight so hard to show our footprint in Europe and around the world when we have an entire continent where our presence goes without saying? There is a clear, legitimate argument as to why, but there’s also a shallow, superficial answer to the question as well; because it’s so cool.
Most of us learned history through fiction first. We watched cartoons and movies of Robin Hood, King Arthur, of noble knights and beautiful ladies, of glamorous castles surrounded by green fields and happy peasants. We wanted to ride to battle in shining armor, rescue damsels in distress or be rescued by handsome knights. When fantasy and sword and sorcery came into vogue we were swept away by the myriad of artistic images, especially those by Frank Frazzetta and Boris Vallejo. This was cool! We wanted to be these folks.
When I look back to African based images that stuck in my mind growing up two images come to mind; Shaka Zulu and Kunta Kinte. The Zulus come the closest in my mind of African coolness. These were the people who defeated the British at Isandlwana. Hundreds of books have been written about them. The Zulus were considered so cool that when Oprah was on Dr. Gates show that traced genetic roots she said she thought she might be descended from the Zulu (sorry Oprah!).
And then there was Kunta Kinte. The story of Roots is a powerful narrative, a story that reflects the struggle of African Americans in this country. It was moving and thought provoking but not cool. I did not want to be Kunta Kinte.
In the early ’70s we were introduced to Japanese cool. We were inundated with anime, overwhelmed with images from the culture and we fell hard. We wanted to be samuri and ninjas because it was cool to cut someone in half with a katana, to uphold the bushido code or to climb vertical walls and disappear at will into a cloud of chalk dust.
So this superficial blog is about close. When I sit down to write Sword and Soul, I write the stories I love to read. I try to write the best story I can. I try to develop interesting characters then put them in challenging and exciting situations. But I know that if I expect people to embrace Sword and Soul, I have to make it cool. How will I know I’ve succeeded? When I go to a fantasy convention and see a cosplayer dressed like that man above.
Back to work.
Ezekial 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 Ezekial has been a killer, trained from a young age to enforce the whims of his boss. But Ezekial 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. Ezekial 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 me you of Poser? 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. You won’t be disappointed.
Okay, let me preface this by explaining that before I entered the self publishing business I had no experience in publishing other than adding to the slush piles of various publishers. I did however have a pretty good business foundation, from employee to manager to small business owner. So as I studied the market and the business I naturally applied what I knew and noticed that basic business practices transcend business types and categories. One of those concepts is that of pull through/push through sale and marketing. So what is this concept and how does it apply to us as writers/publishers? I’m glad you asked!
Pull through/push through is a concept that mostly applies to a ‘mature’ marketplace, that is a market that’s been around for some time, like publishing. It involves the method of getting the product (book) to the end user (reader) in the most efficient and profitable way. In most cases this is accomplished through a middleman or a series of middlemen. The manufacturer (publisher) produces the product then sells that product (book) to the distributor or wholesaler (book distributor or book store) who in turn sells the product (book) to the end user (reader). So how does pull through/push through apply to this process? Again, I’m glad you asked!
In push through marketing the manufacturer focuses its attention on the distributor. He/she tailors its products for the needs of the distributor. It is assumed by the manufacturer that the distributor’s decisions are based on the needs and wants of the end user (reader). But the distributor has other concerns as well, such as inventory volumes, purchase order statements and other stuff. So the final decision may not always be made based on what the customer (reader) wants and need. Also,scant consideration is made as to if there is something the customer (reader) wants and need that is not currently available. So the manufacturer’s customer is the distributor. This is the person he/she must satisfy.
Pull through marketing/sales is different. In this case the manufacturer sell directly to the end user (reader) and creates the demand. The distributor will fall in line because the customer (reader) is demanding said product and in the end, the customer (reader) knows best. This type of marketing requires more effort on the manufacturer’s part but also gives the manufacturer more control over the end user (reader) market. It also allows the manufacturer (publisher) to introduce and create demand for new products (books).
Okay, I hope you’re still with me. So what does this have to do with you as a mainstream writer/independent writer? Well, if you are a mainstream writer you are in the position of push through marketing. You are trying to convince the agent/editor/publisher to sell your story to the reader. So as much as you would like to think you are writing for the end user reader, you are writing for the agent/editor reader. You have to convince these folks that your story/novel is worth their time and effort to present to the end user reader. It is very important in this case that you spend more time meeting what the agent/editor requires in order to get your chance to be published. That’s why agents give you these long lists of things to do.
Now if you are an independent writer you’re in pull through mode. You’re dealing directly with the reader, writing your stories and presenting them any way you can. As we have seen many times, most recently with 50 Shades of Gray, if you win the end user reader everyone else falls in line. You’ve created the demand and everyone else wants a piece of it. Since you went directly to the source you don’t have to consider the other items that would concern the distributor, such as inventories or whether or not the reader will actually want this new type of writing or story. Pull through can be more effective for a writer but is challenging because it involves self marketing. Luckily social media had made that a bit easier.
And now I’m done. Whichever path you choose to publishing, take the time to study and understand the market and methods so your time won’t be wasted. It will help increase your chances of ’success,’ whatever that means to you. Class dismissed; there will be a quiz on Friday.
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!