Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse! My spoiler-free review

Arrrgggh I know I haven’t posted here in 50 years, and this totally wasn’t the blog post I’d planned, BUT HERE WE ARE.

I’m a little late. My boyfriend and I saw it in theaters tonight. And I have so much to say! So then. Here we go!

First of all…

See it *now* while it’s in theaters, because the big screen does justice to its visual beauty. I wish I had better vocabulary to describe the style and the vibrant, vivid colors. The movie yanks out from the screen, plucks you from your seat, and drops you into the comic book world. The animation is stunning, clever, and quirky, and I’m pretty sure I only blinked maybe three times throughout the whole film.

I’m kind of tough to please when it comes to movies, and I surprised myself when I was genuinely shocked when [BIG PLOT TWIST] happens. In retrospect, the foreshadowing was definitely there. So when it DID happen, I was immediately able to connect all the dots, and it made sense. That was so well done. ūüíĖ

The pacing was good. Initially, I thought it was weird that so many characters just sort of accepted these fantastic things happening without questioning much… but this is Marvel. In Spider-Man’s neck of the woods, I’m sure by then, everyone’s seen some shit.

And can we talk about Miles himself? Firstly, his heritage, at least a little
It’s 2018, and there are still people who don’t know (or don’t want to acknowledge) that Afro-latinos exist. And I think the movie does a wonderful (and subtle) way of showcasing this, as it pertains to his character. You see it in his parents. You see it in the way he briefly interacts with his friends from his old school. AND LOOK AT HIS HAIR. THE KINKS ARE THERE. I LOOKED AT THE SCREEN AND KNEW EXACTLY WHAT HIS HAIR FELT LIKE.

Anyhoo! I think Miles was believable and relatable, and there was never a time where I thought he did something out of character.

The only thing that turned me off about the film was the whole boy-of-color falling for the white girl trope. I’m sick to death of it, and I have been since 2007, when I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian”….. after watching “American Dragon: Jake Long” in 2005. But I’m not here to grumble about my hang-ups about this trope~

That said… I do really like Gwen Stacy. She is quite badass, as she should be.

I also realize there is a time limit to films, and there is ample information in ample comics, but I wanted to get to know the characters better.

What they did, and what I thought was terribly clever, was use the same quick (and witty and visually stunning) intro for each character. It was so charming. I was intrigued enough to look them up immediately after the movie (I can’t tell you who they are without slight spoliers) because I was so fascinated.

On that note, another hangup of mine is that it got a little *too* silly at times. For the most part, the humor was spot on, though. I don’t have much to complain about there.

Kingpin’s motivation was believable. A bit clich√©, but believable, and I would have been more sympathetic toward him if the film had given it more detail. Again, I know you can’t put everything from the comics into the movies. But hey! This serves as an incentive for viewers to read the comic books if they want more, I guess. ūüėÖ

I just… I just WANT MORE.

This movie tugged at my heart strings, and my eyes watered a little… when… things and stuff happened. And it takes a hell of a lot for a movie to make me care so much about a film that I’m on the verge of tears. ūüíĖ

And that is partially why the ending is so satisfying for me.

Another reason the ending struck a chord with me is that, as should be no surprise, Miles was able to overcome his shortcomings — due in large part to the tear-jerker things — in a real underdog-wins-all-the-stuff sort of way. His emotional struggle was palpable, and his victory felt earned (within the timeframe that
the film would allow, anyway). ‚̧

Finally, the soundtrack was done well. ūüėĆ

For me, personally, I’ll have to give this movie an A- ūüėĆūüėĆ

Oh, and the post-credit scene was pretty great.

On World-Building: Rapunzel, the Night Maiden

First, some background info on this story:

Three years ago, I wrote stories for friends and family as Christmas presents. I wrote them for anyone who asked… I didn’t expect so many to ask. So, December 2015 was truly a month of writing through the burn out.

What helped was that I had no particular aspirations for these stories. I wrote them with no intention to revise, edit, or publish.

And yet, out of the 10 stories I wrote that month, one of them turned out to be a gem — “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden.”

For nearly three years, it sat in my Google drive, collecting metaphorical dust. Revising it for publication never crossed my mind until I wrote my Snow White reboot some weeks ago and decided to collect a group of my short stories in an anthology, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams. And when I re-read “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” it was like I was experiencing its magic for the first time. I was looking for short stories I’d abandoned, hoping to give them new life in my anthology, and I was happy to include this Rapunzel retelling.

Little did I know how popular and beloved it would be.

So far, 14 out of 16 beta readers have listed “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden” as one of their favorite (or their absolute favorite) out of the Fantasy portion of the my anthology. (Fairy Tales and Space Dreams¬†will be divided into fantasy stories and sci-fi stories.) Apparently, it is (so far) the most fleshed out, developed Fantasy story in the collection, with the most engaging characters and dialogue. I’ve also been told the world-building was actually… well done.

Was it? Was it?

When I originally wrote the story, I had no idea that world-building was what I was doing (and if I’d known then, I might have tried to turn it into a novel). I’d organically revealed parts of the world, meaning aspects were brought up naturally and when they were relevant — as opposed to explaining everything to the reader in an info dump.

That’s all well and good, but the main critique I’ve been getting is, “More! More! This sounds like the beginning of an adventure!”

What I’ve resolved to do is delete the least-liked and least developed stories in order to make room for expanding the best-written, best-developed stories, most loved stories. (I am, most naturally, a novel writer, so the most common critique I get on my short stories in general is that I need to¬†add more. So many of my short stories sound like the beginnings of novels, and I’m trying so hard to fix that.)

All right, let’s get to the world-building:

So then. I’m going to expand “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” but how? How do I continue this flawless world-building (because now I’m definitely going to overthink it), and how do I expand this story without turning it into a novella?

First, I’m going to revisit what I’ve already built.

The original “Rapunzel” is a German fairy tale, so I stuck with that when imagining my setting. It isn’t Germany¬†exactly, but it’s modeled after Germany. Therefore, the knight of the story has a very German name, Richard Ludwig.

I don’t’ want to reveal too many spoilers (because I hope to publish¬†Fairy Tales and Space Dreams relatively soon, and I want you to discover the surprises for yourself), but Rapunzel discovers a race of women who are magic healers called the Idanko, and who have names like Oriyomi. These words, with their Yoruba roots (“idan” means “magic,” and “Oriyomi” is a Yoruba name), hint at West African inspiration, mainly the Yoruba ethnic group residing in Nigeria and Benin.

(Quick digression: I originally named them the Majokko, which means “magical girl” or “witch” in Japanese… Mostly because Japanese is the foreign language I’m most skilled with. But that didn’t seem to make sense when I re-read it. So I changed it to “Idanko.” Although, I kept the Japanese “-ko” suffix, meaning “child,” often referring to girls or young women.)

This means that if I’m going to expand this world, I’m going to have to pinpoint an era (a time when knights would have existed in Germany) and research what Germany was like at that time. Now, I’m not writing a historical fiction — remember, this part of my world isn’t Germany itself. It’s modeled after Germany. But the research would certainly help with consistency.

As far as languages, my characters will speak Something-Close-to-Yoruba and Something-Close-to-German (actually, I might just use real German. I’m a native English speaker, and learning Swedish was fairly easy for me, so how hard could German be?).

Next, what were the Yoruba people doing around this time? What were some of their customs? And, this will be the trickiest, how did the Idanko come in contact with Richard’s people, and how did they come to settle in Richard’s people’s land? Perhaps Richard’s people colonized the Idanko, and some of the Idanko decided it was well within their rights to migrate North to inhabit the homeland of their colonizers. Or maybe they were slaves and won their freedom. It could also be that some of the Idanko were fleeing some sort of badness (war, disease, famine, general socio-political unrest) and took refuge up North.

All of this information doesn’t have to actually¬†be in the story, but having it in my notes will help me¬†shape the story.

I need to flesh out how¬† the Idanko will differ from Richard’s people, culturally. But perhaps a more interesting question is: how will the Idanko who migrated North differ from the Idanko who stayed back home? This is especially important because I want to paint the Idanko who migrated as people who, after many generations, deviated from their home culture until they became an essentially lost people.

The idea of a “lost people” is near and dear to my heart because I’m African-American, and we are a lost people, far removed from our West African ancestors. Once stolen and sold as slaves, we were stripped of our language and culture. My ancestors were forbidden from speaking their mother tongue. They were brought to this unknown land and made to wear strange clothes, speak a strange language, eat strange foods, and follow a strange religion.

So, what do we get? We don’t get to be African, and we don’t get to be fully American, either. We get to be African-American, and more or less 100 years after slavery (I know, it’s technically 153 years on paper, but if you think some masters didn’t keep slaves even after 1865, I’ve got some reading material for you), we’re still trying to figure out what that means.

(Wow, I teared up a little writing this.)

So how will the idea of Idanko as a “lost people” play as a factor in this story? And what does that mean for Richard, Rapunzel, and her mother? (If you’re dying to know more, you could always beta read for me,¬†or you could help my GoFundMe along to speed up the publishing process. I am still trying to raise money to afford a professional editor and a professional cover designer. ūüėČ )

If you’re also in the beginning stages of world-building, I hope some of the questions I’ve asked myself have given you something to think about in regards to your own world. ‚̧

At this point, I still don’t know how I’m going to expand, and eventually end, “Rapunzel, the Night Maiden,” but I do know that I now have a mission and a host of discoveries before me.

I’ve got a world to build.

GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

Twitter: @BGBFS

Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

Website

3 Things They Don’t Tell You About Self-Publishing (When You’re a Poor Nobody)

If you’ve been keeping up with my journey, then you likely have an idea of how this blog post is going to do down. If you’re new here, then hello and welcome! ‚̧ Thank you for joining me on my quest to self-publish my science-fiction and fantasy anthology,¬†Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

So I’m going to talk about the early issues I’ve run into while trying to get this baby published (so this does not include marketing — but trust me, if I ever get this project off the ground, there will definitely be a post on marketing later).

  1. Recruiting Beta Readers

    After a couple rounds of self-edits and revision, your manuscript is ready for the next step, which is seeking out beta readers.

    Now, beta readers are precious unicorns who take time out of their day to volunteer by reading your book and giving you their honest thoughts.

    Some people struggle with finding good beta readers and instead end up with people who provide useless answers such as, “That was good. I liked it.”

    One way to remedy this (and to be nice to your beta readers) is to provide specific follow-up questions, and ask your readers to explain why they feel a certain way.

    But my personal issue pops up before I even get to this point. My problem is getting people to care enough about my project in the first place. Whenever I turn to YouTubers for advice, I am painfully reminded of the fact that they already have hundreds (or thousands) of followers. So even though they may not be famous, they have tons of willing volunteers to choose from and are able to recruit about 20 or 40 beta readers per round (at least).

    I, on the other hand, am a nobody. I don’t mean this to be self-deprecating. I mean that I’m still a newbie in the world of publishing and social media. And since no one knows who I am, it’s nearly impossible to get people to care about my writing projects — let alone get them to care enough to beta read for me.

    So, what I’d like to know from self-published authors who’ve sold a decent amount of books is — how did they get started? No one ever really talks about this. How did they recruit beta readers when they were still relative nobodies?

    I’ve managed to nab 17 volunteers — 10 of them are my friends, and the remaining 7 are complete strangers from Twitter and Facebook that decided to give me a chance.

    The good news is that this is progress.

    When I published my first book, I couldn’t have had more than five beta readers, all of whom were my friends. And I had no system going, so all kinds of friends signed up to beta read and then never actually got back to me.

    This time around, I’ve learned it’s good practice to make your expectations clear, to set up a timeline, and to give specific follow-up questions that you’d like answers to. It’s also good practice to send your manuscript chunks at a time and make sure your readers actually have the time to read it (if you ask someone to beta read and they’re honest about being too busy, thank them for being honest and move on). For those who tell me they can beta read, I do ask that they let me know if, at some point, they can’t meet my timeline for whatever reason (some people get busy and life just gets in the way sometimes) so that we can negotiate an extension or so that I can find a replacement reader.

    And make no mistake — if you plan to publish, the beta reading process is 100% necessary. You might think your book is good, but before you start spending a fortune on revealing it to the world, you need to make sure others think it’s good, too.

    If you don’t really know what beta reading is or you don’t know how to go about facilitating the process, I recommend watching this and this for useful information from one of my favorite YouTubers.

    I’m still in the recruiting process myself, and I’m trying to remain positive. Everyone has to start somewhere.

  2. Hiring a Professional Editor and Cover Designer

    After the first round of beta reading, you make the appropriate revisions and initiate the second round of beta reading. Then you make¬†more revisions and initiate your third. After that, you’re ready to look for an editor!

    Once again, if you plan to publish, professional edits are a¬†must.¬† When I published my first book, I couldn’t afford an editor, so I skipped this step altogether and brought my book baby into the world unedited and unformatted. Don’t do this to your story. If you love your story, you will have it polished the way it deserves to be.

    If you go through the traditional editing route, this part (both editing and cover design) is taken care of for you (I have my reasons for not going this route, though, and maybe I’ll write about those reasons in a future post). If you go the self-publishing route, then you need to find your own editor(s) and pay for their services yourself.

    Some people pay $800, some pay $4,000, and some pay $7,000. It depends on the length of your manuscript and what sort of edits you’re receiving (and how many rounds of edits you’re paying for). Either way, it’s expensive, especially for someone like me, who literally (not figuratively) is living paycheck to paycheck. (After paying bills last month, I was left with $15… And then I spent $10 putting gas in my car.)

    You hear authors say, “Yes, editors are expensive, so you’d better start saving up.”

    But what about those of us who literally cannot save up?

    I’m not going to lie. This has taken some of the fun out of writing for me, and writing is my oldest and deepest passion. If I don’t write, I feel like I lose a large chunk of my identity, and the fact that money is strictly the only thing stopping me from publishing is unendingly frustrating.

    I feel alone in this, and it sucks. So, if you are currently experiencing this, I hope this serves to let you know that you’re not the only one going through this apparent impossibility.

    This also applies, on a smaller scale, to hiring a cover designer. (My first book has stunning artwork on the cover drawn by a friend for $135, but the title itself was created… by me… and it’s not even aligned correctly. Ugh.)

    I’ve seen $600 to be a typical price for a cover (for a cover meant for both print and ebook), but I’ve found an artist who’s quoted me at $450-500. So that’s nice.

  3. Crowdfunding Sucks Ass

    First of all, I hate asking for money. It makes me feel like a beggar.
    What helped ease my aversion to starting a crowdfunding campaign (at least a little) was reading¬†The Art of Asking¬†by Amanda Palmer some years ago. If you’re any sort of artist (and especially if you’re feeling like a fraud — you aren’t a fraud, by the way), I highly suggest giving it a read.

    That said, crowdfunding is still rough. And I still hate it — not only because it makes me feel like a beggar, but because people have bills to pay, children to care for, and their own dreams and hobbies to fund. There are people who need help finding a place to stay or need help acquiring food, and how dare I ask for help funding my book (again, there’s that feeling of being a beggar and a fraud).

    But it’s my passion and my dream, and I have to at least try.

    My current goal is $1,600 to pay for edits, cover design, and the costs that accompany ISBNs and IngramSpark.

    Posting my GoFundMe campaign¬†on Twitter has yielded zilch results (again, I’m a relative nobody), and I haven’t gotten any results from posting it in my Facebook group, Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi, either. Although complete strangers ignoring me on Twitter isn’t something to be upset about, I thought I was building a brand and an audience and a platform when I created the BGBFS Facebook page. But I’m learning quite quickly that my page is seen by its followers as nothing more than a source for pretty pictures of black women in sci-fi and fantasy settings (never mind my call for beta readers, or my asking them what sort of content they’d like to see in this blog, or my request for donors to fund a book that actually features black girls in fantasy and sci-fi).

    Maybe the page isn’t the platform I thought it was. It’s disappointing, but you live and you learn.

    44050731_413482965848766_4319125567916998656_n
    This is a taste of some of the art I showcase on the FB page. This particular piece is¬†“African Magical Girl” by StarZhelli
    https://www.deviantart.com/starzhelli/art/African-Magical-Girl-651233087

    Alas.

    It’s a huge world after all, and I am but a small voice in it.

    Most days, I’m tempted by the idea of giving up.

    But, other than not letting down the few individuals who’ve already given me their support, the only thing that keeps me going is that before most things, I am a writer, and my need and desire to show my work to the world burns too hotly to let me quit.

    I know there are people out there who need my stories — just as there were stories I’ve read that I’ve needed.

    GoFundMe, to help me cover the costs to publish my anthology of fantasy and science fiction short stories, Fairy Tales and Space Dreams.

    Twitter: @BGBFS

    Facebook: Black Girls Belong in Fantasy and Sci-fi

    Website

Writing While Young, Black, and Nerdy

I want to begin this post with an excerpt from the essay “Positive Obsession” from¬†Bloodchild and Other stories¬†by Octavia Butler:

My aunt and I were in her kitchen, talking. She was cooking something that smelled good, and I was sitting at her table, watching. Luxury. At home, my mother would have had me helping.
“I want to be a writer when I grow up,” I said.
“Do you?” my aunt asked. “Well, that’s nice, but you’ll have to get a job, too.”
“Writing will be my job,” I said.
“You can write any time. It’s a nice hobby. But you’ll have to earn a living.”
“As a writer.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“I mean it.”
“Honey… Negroes can’t be writers.”
“Why not?”
“They just can’t.”
“Yes they can, too!”
I was most adamant when I didn’t know what I was talking [about]. In all my thirteen years, I had never read a printed word that I knew to be have been written by a Black person. My aunt was a grown woman. She knew more than I did. What if she were right?

This conversation would have taken place in 1959 or 1960, but it’s 2018, and I’m sure most, if not all, black writers have had conversations similar this.¬†Especially those of us who write fantasy, science fiction, horror, and magical realism.

In fact, toward the end of my senior year in high school, my math teacher had a sub one day who happened to be a black lady. I told her I was salutatorian, and she was¬†so¬†impressed. But when she asked what I was majoring in, I told her I’d be majoring in English with a concentration on creative writing. Boy, her face screwed up so fast, and she was quick to tell me that someone as smart as me should be majoring in some kind of science. I gave her a nervous smile, but that really hurt my feelings.

Why do so many of us give in to the notion that black people don’t write? That only perpetuates the notion that black people don’t belong in books (including the things that come from books, like movies).

So, unsurprisingly, when I was quite young (I mean elementary school), nearly all my characters were white because that’s what I read and saw, which is something Tomi Adeyemi also experienced:

“I had a lot of different reasons for writing [Children of Blood and Bone] but at its core was the desire to write for black teenage girls growing up reading books they were absent from. That was my experience as a child.¬†Children of Blood and Bone is a chance to address that. To say you are seen.”

— Tomi Adeyemi,¬†The Guardian

Later on, around 5th and 6th grade, I added Japanese characters when I discovered anime and manga. At this point in my life, I was more into drawing manga than writing stories, and I can remember my earliest inspirations to be Sailor Moon and Card Captor Sakura.

One of my friends in 6th grade looked at one of my drawings — magical girl characters of mine who were clearly Sailor Moon knock-offs — and asked, “How come you only draw white characters?”

Indignant, I replied, “They’re not white. They’re Japanese.”

But it wasn’t until then that I actually questioned why a Japanese girl like Usagi could naturally have blonde hair and blue eyes.

usagi

By the age of 12, I added more black girls to my stories because I wanted them to be the representation I was lacking. But the funny thing was that I was adding them one at a time. There was never more than one in a story.

I wrote my first novel when I was 15 (the most horrible vampire and werewolf novel ever, and this was before I’d even heard of¬†Twilight), and out of the seven main characters, one of them was black. I forgot what I named her, but she was pretty much the only black person in the entire book. Although, in my defense, that’s what my life looked like at the time. Everyone in my friend group was white, except for one Asian guy, and I was still butt hurt from being teased by the black kids at my junior high for liking anime and rock music (I was on a steady diet of Green Day, Evanescence, MCR, The Used, Fallout Boy, and Panic! at the Disco).

A few years later, when I was 17 or 18?, I wrote another terrible horror novel that I eventually abandoned. Of the five main characters, there was one black girl, one white girl, one white guy, and two Asian siblings. I remember this black girl’s name. Mina Moon. (Ugh.) She relaxed her hair, and now that I think back on it, she was kind of annoying. Even though I wrote this nearly ten years ago, I can still remember the personalities of the other four characters, but for the life of me, I can’t remember anything specific about Mina except that she cried at the very beginning of the novel¬† (and I must say, with cringe, that I wrote the most cliched horror opening — Mina running through a dim hallway with flickering lights from some ghost or creature, and then sliding into a room in the nick of time).

So, strangely enough, even though I realized I wanted to see more characters like me, I was still rebelling against blackness super hard. I’m sad that the fact that my high school English teacher taught¬†Their Eyes Were Watching God by¬†Zora Neale Hurston was wasted on my naive, stubborn, low-key self-hating ass.

And when I reached late undergrad/early grad school, I straight up refused to write about blackness. I was still firmly rooted in the shallow notion that all blackness was, was color. Learning Black History was a nuisance to me. One of my white friends in high school scowled at the mention of a minority cultural event and called it “some stupid seminar for minorities to get together and feel good about themselves.”

So then. All that said, prepare to say “yikes!” because I’m about to share an excerpt from a blog post I wrote four years ago, during my first year of graduate school:

Hello! Happy Sunday once again, lovely blog readers.

Today, I wanted to talk about explicitly¬†not¬†writing the “ethnic story.” I don’t think it’s as big an issue these days, but authors of color are often expected to write the “story of their people.” It’s kind of similar to what I learned in my Victorian Women Writers seminar: anything written by women was supposed to have conveyed the “woman experience,” and/or reflect the female writer’s life. Likewise, for example, I would be expected to write about “the black experience.”

Not to disappoint you guys, but writing about being black sounds horridly boring.

I remember reading in my first Fiction Workshop class a short story written by a Vietnamese writer whose name escapes me. It’s basically talking about him trying to write a story, and how he doesn’t want to sell out by writing the ethnic story – but then that’s what it turns into anyway. It’s the most pretentious, sneaky thing… Hated it.

I don’t understand why people expect us to be spokespersons. [….]

I’m most naturally a writer of fantasy and horror. I love science fiction (though I’m horrible at writing it); I can’t imagine what Octavia Butler must have endured growing up in a time when blacks weren’t supposed to write things like science fiction. Have you read her short story¬†“Bloodchild”? I love it! Science fiction with a literary flare.

I wanted to write about her nearly seamless blending of literary elements and genre elements, but I couldn’t find enough sources. You know what I find a lot of though?¬†“Bloodchild” is clearly about slavery. Are you kidding me? Butler even said herself that it had nothing to do with slavery. You know what else I kept finding?¬†Race and gender in Butler’s “Bloodchild”¬†or something of the like. Well, she’s woman writer and a black writer, so she must be writing about the woman experience and the black experience. [….]

Although it doesn’t seem to be that big of an issue these days, it still kind of is, and it’s one of my fears as a black writer of genre…¬†being the black writer of genre.¬†If I continue to work hard at my writing and am ever lucky enough to be remembered for my work, I want to be listed among great writers and great fantasy writers and great horror writers.

I don’t want to be excluded from these groups but then added, as an afterthought, to a list of great female writers and great black writers.

Thankfully, by the time I reached my second year of grad school, I’d developed a deeper appreciation for black writers in literature (and thank Odin I’d finally learned there is far, far, far more to being black than skin color and ghetto-ness). I didn’t get to revisit¬†Their Eyes Were Watching God¬†in the classroom, but I did have the pleasure of studying¬†Beloved by Alice Walker — one of the most artful pieces of magical realism I’d ever laid eyes on. It was beautiful. And it was beautifully black.

‚ÄúIn this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.‚ÄĚ

‚Äē¬†Toni Morrison,¬†Beloved

And then Winter was born. Winter Yllda Al’Wen¬†ŇĹu.

winter cropped
This is my character, Winter, from The Adventures and Shenanigans of Bastien Falco, which I published in 2015. My talented friend, Joye Cho, is responsible for this stunning image.

Even though I started writing my humorous fantasy novel,¬†The Adventures and Shenanigans of Bastien Falco, when I was still in my last semester of undergrad, I didn’t finish it until a few months after I received my Master’s. This gave me time to fully develop Winter and her surroundings. This gave me time to write about Sandy’s xenophobic reactions to people who weren’t Northern (read: European) like him. And this was the first time that I was okay with writing a black woman who was dark skinned with natural hair.

It was a god damn breakthrough.

Now, not only have I discovered that I could emulate the wonderful, colorful diversity of the world in my writing (there are all sorts of ethnic backgrounds that also deserve representation! LGBTQA+ individuals deserve representation! It’s not always just about black or white! And not everyone in the world is straight, so why is that what my fictional world looks like?), I’m all about representing blackness as well as black characters in my stories, including, and especially, fantasy. Because I need to.

So, then, I write science fiction and fantasy for a living. As far as I know I’m still the only Black woman who does this. When I began to do a little public speaking, one of the questions I heard most often was, “What good is science fiction to Black people?” I was usually asked this by a Black person. I gave bits and pieces of answers that didn’t satisfy me and that probably didn’t satisfy my questioners. I resented the question. Why should I have to justify my profession to anyone?
But the answer to that was obvious. There was exactly one other Black science-fiction writer working successfully when I sold my first novel: Samuel R. Delany, Jr. Now there are four of us. Delany, Steven Barnes, Charles R. Saunders, and me. So few. Why? Lack of interest? Lack of confidence? A young Black woman once said to me, “I always wanted to write science fiction, but I didn’t think there were any Black women doing it.” Doubts show themselves in all sorts of ways.

— Octavia Butler, “Positive Obsession,”¬†Bloodchild and Other Stories

There are more of us now — me being one of them — and I’m trying so hard not to let you down, Ms. Butler. I really am.

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The Radical Notion of Afro-futurism and Blackness in Sci-Fi

So I recently watched a brief video by Afrikan Martial Arts that explores why blackness in science fiction is so radical, yet so important for the growth of the black community.

In the first place, the idea of a black future has always been radical because who has the time to imagine something as cool and whimsical as astro-blackness when we have to fight to live in the real world? Progress has always been seen in terms of beating oppression, in steps. Often small steps.

Case and point, Ray Bradbury’s short story “Way in the Middle of the Air” in his 1951 episodic novel The Martian Chronicles takes place in the year 2003/2034, a time during which colonizing Mars is possible. And yet! The blacks escaping to Mars in this story are escaping lynchings and Jim Crow laws.

In the words of Phenderson Djèlí Clark:

The whites scratch their heads, trying to figure out why the blacks are leaving now, when the poll tax has just been abolished, states are passing anti-lynching laws and they‚Äôre getting all kinds of equal rights. ‚ÄúWhat more they want?‚ÄĚ one white asks. ‚ÄúThey make almost as good money as a white man, but there they go.‚ÄĚ

Bradbury, though in some ways ahead of his time, thought that even in 2003, blacks wouldn’t have progressed much further than they were in the 1940s! (The stories were originally published in the ’40s.)

This is because the future, including science fiction, is most often seen through white eyes. But what if we allow ourselves to use our own imagination? What sort of beautiful world could we make for ourselves?

Today, if you were to gather a group of black children and asked them what they want to happen to the world in the future, you might be given answers like, “No more violence,” or “No more gun violence.” Even at a young age, we’re not allowed to dream about spaceships and flying cars, especially those of us who live in urban areas. But, coax them into using their imaginations anyway. Suppose we take away all the violence and racism. Suppose all of that is gone. What does a black future look like?

Afro-futurism … is an art form, practice, and methodology that allows black people to see themselves in the future despite a distressing past and present.

And for the African diaspora, this could mean imagining a home — one that isn’t tainted by colonization, slavery, and displacement. Here, we are the creators and the makers of our own future. This is one of the reasons why Black Panther is so important, and why it broke box office records. Not only is Pan-Africa seen in a positive light, but it embodies the very notion of Africans owning their own futuristic lives — being technologically advanced, progressive, positive, culturally rich, and unaffected by outsiders. Wakanda is not corrupted by the slavery, segregation, colonization, or disenfranchisement that haunts us in the real world, and that’s what makes it precious.

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Shuri is the princess we both need and deserve.

And even though¬†Black Panther brought Afro-futurism further into the mainstream, it isn’t a new concept by far. The term was coined in the 1990s, but the concept stretches further back to Parliament Funkadelic’s imaginings in the ’60s and ’70s. (If you’re in the mood for some amazing music, here is a clip of one of their 1976 shows for their fourth and fifth albums “Mothership Connection” and¬†“Cosmic Slop.”)

You might have recognized Afro-futuristic vibes in more contemporary artists like Janelle Monae, OutKast, and Deltron 3030.

Through time, the definition of Afro-futurism has blossomed from “speculative fiction with African-American themes” (click here to check out some Afro-futurist authors) to include all media, including music (such as the above-mentioned artists), film (such as Black Panther), art, and dance (… I’m sorry. I struggled to find good examples of this one… that are free, anyway).

At this point, you might be thinking this is all well and good, but what is the difference between Afro-futurism and science fiction?

When we think of science fiction, we think of characters like Zoe Washburne (Firefly) or Uhura (Star Trek).

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These are characters who happen to be black and who happen to exist in someone’s science fiction story. Which is awesome! Because (good) representation is awesome. But, these characters typically exist in some sort of post-racial society where their blackness is of little to no consequence.

And although Afro-futurism encompasses more than just science fiction, Afro-futurist science fiction specifically shows the world through the eyes of an African or a member of the African diaspora, and it focuses on a black future.

Afro-futurism looks at where we’ve been and projects us into a future that could be, or that we can only dream of. The important part is that we’re dreaming about it in the first place.

I’m still learning about Afro-futurism myself, but I invite you to come along for the ride and learn with me. And if you’re coming, you’d better hurry. My spaceship leaves at 10.

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Hands Up, Don’t Shoot Zulaikha

children of blood and bone

Spoiler warning for Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

I want to talk about the character Zulaikha, also known as Zu.

In the novel, she is only 13 years old, which means she was just a baby during the raids. However, despite her young age, she appears to be the leader of the bandit camp that Zelie and company stumble upon in the woods. She is also a Healer who will go so far as to exhaust herself in order to heal others.

Unfortunately, just as we begin to love her, just as Zelie’s quest gives her reason to smile like the child she was never allowed to be, King Saran’s men storm the camp. One of them shoots her dead while her hands are in the air.

This situation sounds uncannily familiar.

Adeyemi’s note at the end of the novel makes it clear that Children of Blood and Bone is a direct¬† response to the Black Lives Matter movement.¬†The book mirrors current American society with its depictions of police brutality (Saran’s guards), over-incarceration (the stocks), and over-policing of minority groups (over-policing of the diviners).¬†Just Zu’s story alone demonstrates¬†the forced maturation of children of color in a country that makes them fear the government power structure that should be protecting them.

From the Author’s Note:

Children of Blood and Bone was written during a time where I kept turning on the news and seeing stories of unarmed black men, women, and children being shot by police. I felt afraid and angry and helpless, but this book was the one thing that made me feel like I could do something about it. …. If you cried for Zulaikha and Salim, cry for innocent children like Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice, and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. They were fifteen, twelve, and seven when they were shot and killed by police.

If your heart broke for Zelie’s grief over the death of her mother, then let it break for all the survivors of police brutality who’ve had to witness their loved ones taken firsthand. Survivors like Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter, who were in the car when Philando Castile was pulled over, shot, and killed.

Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed him, was acquitted of all charges.

These are just a few tragic names in a long list of black lives taken too soon. Mothers ripped from daughters, fathers ripped from sons, and parents who will live the rest of their lives with a grief no parent should have to know.

This is just one of the many problems plaguing our world and there are so many days when these problems still feel bigger than us, but let this book be proof to you that we can always do something to fight back.

One of the children Adeyemi mentioned, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, was recently in the news again. But not for reasons we’d hope. His murderer has recently been re-hired as a cop.

This further solidifies that black lives will never matter in this country.

Another interesting point concerning Zulaikha’s death is that not only does it bring to mind the murder of black children, it also reflects the murder of black women. This is important because as large as the number of unarmed black men murdered by the police is, the number of murdered unarmed black women is larger. You just don’t hear about it as much because the lives of black women are valued even less than the lives of black men.

We may not currently stand a chance against our oppressors, but Zelie and company definitely do. Things are looking bleak at the end of this first book, but since there is going to be trilogy, I can only assume magic will return to land of Orisha. It¬†has to. It gives me something to look forward to in her world when I’m trying to escape the realities of my own.

And, as strange as it may sound, it’s somewhat¬†refreshing to see black struggles portrayed in fantasy and science fiction. As I pointed out in my previous blog post, black characters sometimes do exist in sci-fi, but they almost always live in some post-racial society in which their blackness is of little to no consequence. Similarly, it’s important to note that sci-fi¬†often depicts dystopian situations for white characters that black people have had to deal with (and¬†still deal with) right now in real life. Bittersweet as it is, I’m so happy that Adeyemi is bringing these issues to light in her work.

Cry for Eric Garner.

Cry for Sandra Bland.

Cry for Tamir Rice.

Cry for Zulaikha.

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(Additionally, I am in need of beta readers for Fairy Tales and Space Dreams, so if you are interested, check out this link for more information and contact me for the first half of the manuscript. <3)

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Before you say POCs in fantasy is unrealistic…

Okay, full disclosure, I love Orlando Bloom as Legolas as much as the next girl, and Cate Blanchett kills it as Galadriel. And I am forever, forever, awaiting the King Killer Chronicles Day Three.

But the template needs to change, my friends. Tolkien published¬†The Fellowship of the Ring in 1954. Many fantasy writers even today are modeling their own works after Tolkien’s. It’s kind of like what one of my college professors said when I was a whee baby undergrad. “I hate Twiggy! She’s the reason models have to be so skinny nowadays!” Now, I disagree with hating Twiggy. I love Twiggy to death, and I think she’s a sweetheart. But the sentiment is that people are desperately holding on to standards from decades ago. Likewise, while Tolkien’s works deserve all the respect they receive, it’s time to move on and walk on our own two feet as fantasy writers.

And as much as I hold Kvothe’s tales near and dear to my heart, every single woman in the¬†King Killer Chronicles¬†is pale — especially if she’s attractive or meant to be a love interest.

But people are quick to defend the sea of whiteness that pervades the fantasy genre with excuses such as “But I’m basing my world off of Medieval/Renaissance/Victorian Europe. Adding black people would be unrealistic.”

Ah, I forgot. The blacks weren’t invented until the 1980s.

(They use similar excuses to avoid including other POCs, LGBTQA+ individuals, and the disabled, too, but to keep this post from becoming ridiculously long, I’ll focus on one group. Although, just about all of my points can be applied to non-black POCs, LGBTQA+ people, and disabled folks.)

I have a few counter points.

  1. You can write dragons and wizards and fairies, but black people, who actually exist, are unrealistic?
  2. I would also like to debunk the myth that blacks didn’t exist in European history. (Shakespeare literally wrote a play about a black man.) People who use this as an excuse most often haven’t actually done any real research, and I will debunk this myth using Medieval and Renaissance paintings of black women:

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  3. In the case of Victorian England (I’m looking at you, Steampunk writers), as if the presence of black people in Europe for hundreds of years wasn’t enough, I invite you to meet Sara Forbes Bonetta, the West African Egbado princess whom¬†Queen Victoria herself adopted as her goddaughter when Sara’s parents were killed in intertribal warfare.

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  4. I’ve heard people say that they’ve always lived in white neighborhoods and feel uncomfortable writing black characters, but the thing is, not only is this a lame excuse because things like internet and television and books exist, but also, black people are still human beings. Write them how you would normally write a character. If you’re writing fantasy, you’re creating your own world with its own set of politics and social/cultural norms. In this case, you don’t have to worry about representing the mindset of an African-American dealing with racism, colorism, and disenfranchisement as is pertains to the real world.
  5. Finally, I hear a lot of people say something like “Well maybe I just don’t want to write black (or brown or Asian or gay or queer, etc.) characters and you can’t make me.” You’re absolutely right. I can’t make you, but I would challenge you to really ask yourself why. The world is beautiful and colorful and diverse. What sense does it make to have the power to create a completely other world… but then everyone is the same? Everyone, in the entire world, looks the same.

Using my stories in¬†Fairy Tales and Space Dreams as an example, I have written characters that are black, white (one specifically has roots in Scotland), Asian (specifically, Korean), part-Polynesian (with Maori roots), gay, lesbian, and agender. I’m not saying you need to write the entire United Nations into your story, but you get the idea.

Some people also complain that when they write in one person of color, they’re accused of tokenism…. That’s because it is tokenism. Whether you realize it or not, people tend to hang out with other people who have things in common with them. Although I have friends of all backgrounds, I also have friends who are black, female, straight, or cisgender, like me. Gays tend to hang with other gays. Women tend to hang with other women. It’s a little weird if you have an entire world full of straight, white characters and you add¬†one queer person or¬†one¬†person of color.

The last question I want to ask is,¬†why does so much fantasy take place in Europe or settings modeled after Europe? I’m going to chalk this one up to relying on Tolkien, for the most part, anyway. There are literally six other continents on the planet, and each and every one of them has their own fantasical, mystical stories (well, except Antarctica). They have their own mythologies. There are gods and fantasy creatures aplenty to explore in every region, so why do so many writers confine themselves to Europe?

A wonderful example of breaking away from this is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  

I highly recommend this book to¬†anyone who is a lover of fantasy. I’ve read it twice and eagerly await the second book’s release in March. ‚̧

It is a fantasy novel that takes place in a setting modeled after West Africa, and not only is the story riveting, but the culture is so rich, it’s almost tangible. You can tell Adeyemi put a lot of research and love into building this world.

It’s so refreshing, and I didn’t know I was starving for a book like that until I actually read it.

As a nerd, I generally surround myself with other nerds. Many of those are girl nerds. And many of¬†those are black girl nerds. And trust me when I say, we get ridiculously excited when we see ourselves represented in some of our favorite books (like Children of Blood and Bone), TV shows (like Gwen in BBC’s¬†Merlin),¬†anime (like Canary in Hunter x Hunter),¬†movies (like Princess and the Frog, or¬†Brandy in¬†Cinderella), and video games (like Marina in¬†Splatoon 2 …. but not¬†League of Legends…¬†STILL not¬†League of Legends… I will never not be bitter about the profound lack of black female characters in LoL, considering the ridiculously large character roster… but I digress).

The point is, we get pretty hype. Representation matters.

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