I’ve been a fan of cyberpunk since I first discovered it in 2003. Yeah, I was 20 years behind the times, but I didn’t care. I felt a new generation needed to know all about it, so I wrote a cyberpunk book, Cog. But I prefer the short story medium, and searched for a place that would welcome a cyberpunk story with Black characters.
Over the course of several years on Facebook, I’ve gathered 1,000+ friends, one of whom was Milton Davis. From the ATL. He was self-publishing African-themed books and anthologies on sword and soul and steampunk. Then one day, an idea came to him about a city where no one could leave. He posted his idea on Facebook in the State of Black Science Fiction, and a bunch of writers ran with it, posting snippets of stories in the thread, and linking characters, generating ideas. Then someone said we needed to publish an anthology of all the stories. Balogun Ojetade wrote the manifesto. An artist came along by the name of Natiq Jalil, and said he would illustrate it. A music aficionado named Otis Galloway volunteered to write sound tracks. And a multimedia, multisensory book of stories was born. The City. Cyberfunk.
What is The City?
The City began as a sentient organism living inside a large asteroid. For thousands of years, the organism used the asteroid’s gravity to intercept ships from various planets and galaxies, assimilating the crew and wiping their memories, and giving them new jobs, families, and experiences. No one knows why. It just does. The organism used the assimilated information to build The City and its environment. The first beings to be captured were crew on a Nigerian space vessel. Nigeria was the first to achieve intergalactic travel during the Great Race by the major countries of the planet Earth to be the first to venture outside of the Milky Way.
And if you want to know more about Knowledge Lateef, Street Preacher; the Ooze; and the Tell, you’re going to have to read the book. It’s available on Amazon: http://ow.ly/SDUXc
We are the writers, and we call ourselves the Cityzens:
B. Sharise Moore
And Yours Truly, K. Ceres Wright
Michael Mehalek of Writing is Tricky tagged me in a ten-question blog hop called the Liebster award. So here goes…
1. Where did the idea for your current Work-in-Progress (WIP) come from?
I had seen several news stories about China investing in Africa and did some further research. I discovered that the Guangzhou area of China was known as Chocolate City because of all the African businessmen that had come there for import/export opportunities. Many had married Chinese women to help them in their business, and I wondered what China would be like when these couples’ children grew up.
2. Quote a favorite line from one of your favorite books.
“Really bad media can exorcise your semiotic ghosts. If it keeps the saucer people off my back, it can keep these Art Deco futuroids off yours.” ~ William Gibson, The Gernsback Continuum (short story)
3. Now quote your favorite lines from your current WIP
The scent of stale Tsingtao and rancid urine forced Bo to crank open an eye in half-hearted reconnaissance. Iron-framed lanterns hanging overhead told him he had fallen asleep on the living room couch, confirmed by the twinge in his back caused by the second-hand temperfoam. Memories flitted across his mental landscape—a big project with a big percentage, hence the big party. Data display in his periphery blinked a 63.5 percent chance of getting back together with Mei, based upon last night’s conversations and pheromone output. A higher than usual chance, he thought. He winked off the display, anything beyond offstream proving to be information overload.
A hangover nagged at the edge of his consciousness, a feeling quite familiar. He rolled off the couch and onto his knees, letting the vague pain take center stage before clawing his way to vertical.
4. What unique challenges has your current WIP had that your previous ones did not?
Since the story takes place in China, I have to do a lot of research on the country. My last book took place in the Washington, D.C., area, where I’ve lived for the past 30 years. I’m also using more themes, which I have to try to figure out how to tie together.
5. If you saw your main character at a party, how would you react?
I would sit quietly in a corner and observe him, and see what I got right and what I got wrong.
6. Who would play your main protagonist/antagonist if your current WIP were made into a movie?
Bo would be played by Will Demps
Hao would be played by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Mei would be played by Amandla Stenberg (in a few years)
7. What are your biggest inspirations for writing?
To inspire Black filmmakers to create visual media to reflect the diversity we see in the world today, which, in turn, will inspire the children of today to bring about a better tomorrow
8. Summarize your WIP as a haiku.
Guangzhou future days
Taiwan nuclear danger
Programmers save world
9. What role does music play in your writing?
Not that much. I can only listen to classical music when I’m writing, which doesn’t exactly evoke visions of the future, and I’m not good at predicting music trends, so I don’t know what popular music will sound like 65 years from now.
10. What’s one thing you’ve learned about the craft that you wish you had learned earlier?
I need deadlines to help me write, to give me a sense of urgency. Oh, and don’t use filtering. Here’s a great article on it: http://www.scribophile.com/academy/an-introduction-to-filtering
1. Tell us about your work in progress (WIP)
2. How is your WIP different from your prior work?
3. How has writing changed your life?
4. What inspired you to start writing?
5. Who is your favorite character from all your works?
6. Do you like to write villains?
7. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve learned?
8. How have you grown as a writer?
9. What’s your favorite line from your WIP?
10. Do you like dragons?
I attended the World Fantasy Convention during the weekend of November 7–9, 2014, and was honored to serve on the panel, “Everybody was There: Diversity in Fantasy.” I learned much from my esteemed fellow panelists: Sarah Pinsker (moderator), Mary Anne Mohanraj, Kit Reed, and S. M. Stirling. I didn’t get a chance to touch on everything I wanted to say, so I’ll include it in this post.
The issue looming over the convention was the World Fantasy Award and whether the board would decide to keep the caricature bust of H. P. Lovecraft or scrap it. Lovecraft made significant contributions to fantasy, but was also known for his racist views toward African Americans, Asians, Jews, and just about everyone who wasn’t White. But what do we owe Lovecraft and his literary contributions?
I think you have to assess a book by both past and current standards in order to see how societal views have changed over time, and ultimately, why societal views have changed. To me, it’s not owing the past anything or forgiving the past, it’s understanding how historical events have molded world views. It’s good to have a holistic overview of the era in which the book was written, rather than taking views out of context.
I think we acknowledge Lovecraft’s contribution to the fantasy genre, but we also recognize his flaws, as with any writer. It makes them more human in our eyes. However, we, in 2014, are not beholden to Lovecraft. If handing an award with his likeness to people makes them uncomfortable because of his racist views, then I think the award needs to be changed.
Change is the nature of our society. As far as fantasy is concerned, I think we’re starting to see more change in YA fantasy, because I think younger people are more willing to entertain change. They’re growing up in a more diverse culture and open to seeing that diversity reflected in their media. However, I think a major problem is that children are not usually taught history from the person of color’s point of view. I was grown before I knew about Alessandro de’Medici, the Duke of Florence; Saint Maurice of Switzerland; or Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. By the time kids are grown, they believe they know exactly what shaped Western culture, and when they find out that yes, Blacks and Asians and women and others besides white males also played prominent roles in history, it upsets their world view. And people are loathe to change. They don’t like it.
I think that diverse books will allow readers with different abilities, backgrounds, and cultures, to see themselves reflected in the books they read. And diverse authors may encourage them to aspire to become writers of diverse books themselves. I know some writers may be hesitant to write about other cultures for fear of offending someone, but if one intends to become a serious writer, one has to learn how to research other cultures and incorporate that knowledge, in some way, into one’s writing. For example, don’t assume that the same standards of beauty cut across all cultures. I have a cousin who’s 6’3” and model thin, and felt she was discriminated against in the Bahamas because she was not overweight. I watched a documentary of an African man who wanted his wife to weigh 200 pounds for their wedding, so she sat in a hut and drank goat’s milk for weeks.
The incorporation of research makes for richer prose. If you’re worried about offending someone of a particular group, get on the Internet and ask someone to read some of your work and offer advice. Read the works of other writers of color, or women, or those who are differently abled to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. Also, read “Writing the Other” by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.
I know it’s all about money in the world of publishing. But a recent Pew study showed that the most likely reader was a college-educated Black woman. I think there needs to be a paradigm shift across the industry, from the CEO, to the acquisitions editor, to the copy editor, to the book store owner. New audiences may require new marketing methods, but as I said before, change is the nature of our society.
One way to help bring about positive change surrounding diversity in fantasy is for editors of anthologies and magazines to solicit stories from diverse authors to let readers know about the existence of writers from different cultures and backgrounds. I think the traditional publishers aren’t taking risks as they would during flush economic times, so people looking for something different are starting to turn to small, independent, and self-publishers.
And if you want some recommendations, try Abengoni: First Calling, by Charles Saunders, who has been writing diverse fantasy since the seventies. There’s also the Constant Tower by Carole McDonnell, Changa’s Safari by Milton Davis, Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective by Valjeanne Jeffers, Taurus Moon: Magic and Mayhem by D. K. Gaston, Ghosts of Koa by Colby R. Rice, Sacrifices by Alan D. Jones, the Scythe by Balogun Ojetade, Sineaters by Kai Leakes, the Seedbearing Prince by Davaun Sanders, and Neon Lights by Zig Zag Claybourne.
If you find a diverse book you like, call or write the publisher and let them know you appreciate their efforts, and tell them you’ll purchase more books like that.
As Barbara Deming once said, “The longer we listen to one another—with real attention—the more commonality we will find in all our lives.”