1) How did your writing journey begin?
I always loved creating stories, and I suppose that began with hearing, watching, and later reading great stories when I was child: everything from Spider-Man, Rocket Robin Hood, Star Trek, and Star Wars to my mother reading Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet to me while I was in her lap, and later reading more Heinlein, Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, and of course comics. I had my first comics before I could read, but early got issue #140 of Fantastic Four, and later fell in love with comics because of Bill Mantlo’s work on Micronauts. All those experiences filled me with wonder, and wonder, in my opinion, is one of the most important emotional and intellectual experiences for individuals and humanity, because wonder draws us to connect, explore, and create what we need that is better than what we have, including a better civilization. Since I was child, I’ve wanted to create stories that inspire wonder, and I’m still trying.
2) Who are your writing inspirations?
As I mentioned above, Bill Mantlo was a big inspiration as a writer, as so were Jim Starlin and Frank Miller back in the early and mid-1980s, but then Alan Moore became a towering inspiration for me. When I put more of my time into novels, I found Frank Herbert’s Dune which I continue to adore as a work of world-building and allegory, especially one that, unlike most Eurocentric SFF, was interested in the entire human world of cultures and religions. Malcolm X’s Autobiography remains a central story of personal transformation, religion, politics, revolution, and integrity. I fell in love in university with poets such as Jamaica’s Claude McKay, Britain’s Linton Kwesi Johnson, and South Africa’s Mzwakhe Mbuli, as well as Africamerica’s KRS-One and Chuck D. Nalo Hopkinson (of Guyanese and Jamaican roots, and who lived in Canada for a long time) showed how one could integrate Yoruba gods of Nigerian and Benin (in their Caribbean forms from Santeria, Voudou, and Candomble) into near-future urban dystopia (Brown Girl in the Ring was set in Toronto). Today, I am particularly inspired by Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade for the quality and range of their artistic output and the power of their independent publication.
3) Are you an outliner or a panster?
I outline so much that my final body of plot, character information, and world-building is usually 25% to 50% the length of my finished novel, which could be hundreds of pages. I would rather figure out the story and then feel relaxed while writing it, instead of worrying about what’s going to happen next. Also, I hate, hate, hate throwing out chapters. It’s heartbreaking to destroy so much work.
4) What are your favorite books?
As I mentioned, I love Dune, Flowers for Algernon, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and Brown Girl in the Ring. I loved Davis’s Amber and the Hidden City which I read to my younger daughter (who also loves it). I love many, many more, but I’d better stop there, or I’ll end writing fifteen pages just to answer this question.
5) Describe your writing process.
I jot notes on whatever interests me, such as characters, dialogue, culture, technology, psychology, and events. Think of those as individual, self-propelled robot parts and of my imagination (and notebooks) as a laboratory. Eventually some of those parts come together (like the vehicles in Battle of the Planets) and form something incomplete that is nevertheless striking (at least to me). Sometimes it moves for a while and then falls apart, and it’s clear it’ll never go further. Other times I just need to find old parts or create new ones to make something that really moves. My advice to writers is keep notes and when Story A doesn’t work, see if something you loved from Story B, E, or X will fit in (with a little reshaping).
To plot, for many years I used my own modified version of Hero’s Journey with a heavy emphasis on the archetypal Young Untested Hero, Shaman, and Underworld. I still use that, but to create a plot overview that quickly tells me if I’ve got a workable prototype, I use Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! which focuses writers on sixteen or so “beats” (key event/character pivots). If you want to say that’s formulaic, I say, “You’re right! And so are haiku, sonnets, Elizabethan tragedies.” The point of a formula is that it works. But what you do inside that formula is what makes your story different from everyone else’s.
6) What inspired you to write The Alchemists of Kush?
After I attended the Million Man March, I wanted to organize a group to help African-Canadian boys; it was supposed to combine rites of passage, African histories, Boy Scout-style activities, hip hop culture, and Kemetic iconography. It was called “The Young Falcons.” It lasted a while but petered out. For a while I’d wanted to write a story about Hru (called “Horus” by the Greeks) as the Young Untested Hero, either set in ancient myth, or as god-on-Earth story like Marvel’s Thor who was connected with a frail physician, Dr. Blake. But I didn’t want my story to trivialize the issues I wanted to engage facing African youth in North America. I was also fascinated by the history of the Nation of Gods and Earths, AKA the Five Percenters. I knew about them through hip hop and early 1990s discussions on usenet, including soc.culture.african.american. I wondered if I could make an archetypal allegory connecting Hru and Kemet with early followers of Father Allah and the experiences of Sudanese and Somalis in Edmonton (where I live), particularly to understand the pain and the triumph of young people who escaped the “lost boy” horrors (being recruited in Sudan and Somalia into militias as child soldiers). The result is The Alchemists of Kush.
7) Tell us a bit about your book.
(I think I answered that above)
8) What do you hope to accomplish with The Alchemists of Kush?
I hope that people will enjoy a story about how people face truly terrible circumstances and transform themselves with friendship, love, teaching, experimentation, mysticism (meaning the experience of the profound interconnectedness of all life), and Pan-Africanism, and will be inspired by the novel’s dramatized examples to organize for triumph in ways that suit themselves and their own communities.
9) Will there be more stories of the Alchemists?
I’m currently working on the sequel to my first novel (The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad), which is called The Coyote Kings vs. The Myconauts of Plutonium City (it’s serialized and available at https://www.patreon.com/MinisterFaust). There will be cameos from TAOK characters in it. There’s also a companion story called “In the Belly of the Crocodile” which is reprinted in Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology and Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond.
10) How do we keep up with all things Faust?
Please subscribe to my newsletter at http://ministerfaust.com, and also join the Patreon for my new Coyote Kings serialized novel at https://www.patreon.com/MinisterFaust.
11) What advice would you give to new writers?
It’s the same general advice: read lots (and widely, not just in your preferred genre, and not just from your country, race, gender, identity, religion, or ideology) and write lots (and widely, not just in your preferred genre). Take risks. Be open, but don’t robotically follow anyone’s suggestions (they’re not orders) on how to change your work.
If you’ve completed at least one novel, regardless of what stage you’re at in your career), I strongly recommend Chris Roerden’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery: 24 Fiction-Writing Techniques to Save Your Manuscript from Turning Up DOA (Bella Rosa Books). It’s an acclaimed writing manual from an editor with decades of experience in the publishing industry, featuring entertaining examples and clear instructions on what can go wrong in a novel and how to make it right. Any novelist, regardless of genre (one doesn’t have to be a mystery writer) or career stage, can benefit from Roerden’s fun and educational text.