BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – VALJEANNE JEFFERS

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?
As a young girl I wrote stories and poetry. But life got in the way, and I didn’t return to writing until I was in my forties. Discovering Octavia Butler was the catalyst for my taking the journey into writing fiction. For me, being a black writer means I have two responsibilies. I have to hold up a mirror to American society, to the world, to make folks think about the problems we’re facing, and offer solutions. I am the conscience of my nation. The second one is to write a story that grips my readers and holds on tight, one that gives them everything they want, and leaves them wanting more.
Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I write everyday, but I also work as a tutor/teacher. I have an MA in Psychology, which actually helps me with character development.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
I’m fortunate enough to be able to set my own work hours, so I can take off if I need to attend a CON or meet a deadline.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. I actually wrote a nonfiction book, The Story of Eve, which was never published (except as articles). But Speculative fiction (horror, fantasy, and science fiction) is my favorite genre. We stand in the midst of a Black SF/Fantasy Renaissance: black and brown folks are making huge strides in film, art, and writing. As a black female writer I am part of this movement, and writing is, in of itself, a form of political resistance.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
There are so many! I won’t try to list them all, but Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemison and Brandon Massey are huge influences, as well as: Tananarive Due, B. Sharise Moore, Quinton Veal, Balogun Ojetade, and Milton Davis.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
I listen to Blues, Jazz, R&B, Rock and everything in between. It just depends on what mood I’m in and what I’m writing. King Britt, for example, is my best inspiration when I’m creating a very visual and/or romantic scene.
How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?
It varies; anywhere from a year to two years. I took two years to finish Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child. But, I write stories while I’m working on novels, too.
What does your writing schedule look like and how many hours a day do you write?
I don’t have a set schedule, but when I’m writing (especially if I’m in the “zone”) I may go as long as six to eight hours.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I drink too much coffee and smoke too many cigarettes!
How many books have you written?
I have written ten books. This includes: The Story of Eve, my  Immortal and Mona: Livelong series (six books), Voyage of Dreams, Colony: Ascension: An Erotic Space Opera, and The Switch II: Clockwork (includes books I and II). I also co-edited, with Quinton Veal, Scierogenous: An Anthology of Erotic Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volumes I and II.
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
As I’ve said earlier, writing is a form of resistance. For black folks reading novels and stories in which they are heriones and heros is both uplifiting and empowering. As black writers, we are quintessential to this journey. No one can tell our stories the way we can. I’d like to share something I wrote several years ago, and it’s still relevant today. In the 21th century there are very still few characters like us, and out of this small pool many are post-modern “Step-and Fetchits” (stereotypes). This is why speculative fiction is so important. This genre helps us to see outside reality, to say: what if? It helps us to imagine and create spectacular, wondrous realms, step back and find the beauty and wisdom there, and then transform our own space. We need to dream, and we need our writers to help us to dream. Even if – especially if – these dreams are of fantastic, imaginary creatures and happenings. We need this because dreaming can be an escape. One should never underestimate the power of escape. Imagine a child living in squalor, and escaping into pages of a novel. Or a slave reading by lamplight and envisioning her freedom. Or a man working as a sharecropper, and at sunset telling his story with harmonica. We all need to escape, at least sometimes, into the worlds of those who dream like us, who understand us; who look like us. To paraphrase B.B. King, we need authors who get us where we live. Second of all dreaming helps us to change. If you can dream it, you can do it. You can move yourself and your corner of life forward.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
I love my Immortal series, but then I also love my Mona Livelong series. I am passionate about both.
What type of research do you conduct and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Nonfiction research typically takes longer (for me) than fiction research. But both can take hours or even weeks. When I wrote my essay for Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, I re-read Wild Seed, took notes, and watched interviews with Ms. Butler etc. It took me around a month to finish my research.
What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?
It varies. I use the same method I used to complete my MA, which is googling a resource, reading it and then using this resource to find other articles.
What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?
I have found devoted readers on facebook and twitter. But, for my community, going to SF/Fantasy Cons and  author signings works best.
How important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?
Collaboration and sharing resources is very important for our community to help us grow.
What does literary success look like to you?
I’m very well known, and I am humbled and honored by this. But I would like expand my audience and reach even more people. Eventually, I’d like to become a full time writer.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I dearly hope that my legacy will be that I am talented, humanistic author who cares about the black community and the globe, and one is who is not afraid address issues like homelessness, racism, sexism and climate change in her writing, but who can so in a beautifully written and exciting novel or story.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
 My co-editor Quinton Veal and I are working with Director Balogun Ojetade to bring my novel The Switch II: Clockwork to the screen, and possibly Scierogenous (as a series). I’m also releasing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child this year.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
Readers can visit me: www.vjeffersandqveal.com http://tehotep.wixsite.com/scierogenous and http://tehotep.wixsite.com/immortaliiiaudiobook  

Author’s Biography

Valjeanne Jeffers is a speculative fiction writer, a graduate of Spelman College, and a member of the Horror Writers Association, and the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective. She is the author of ten books, including her Immortal and her Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective series. Valjeanne has been published in numerous anthologies including: Steamfunk!;The Ringing Ear; Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia E. Butler; Fitting In; Sycorax’s Daughters; Black Magic Women, The Bright Empire, and Blerdrotica (in press).Readers can also preview or purchase her novels at: www.vjeffersandqveal.com.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – SIDNEY HOLMES

How long have you been producing artwork professionally?
I’ve been creating art pieces ever since 2012.I joined this on-line group called, http://www.fineartamerica.com.
At what point in your life did you discover that you were destined to be an artist and how has your artwork resonated within the black community?
The year of 1995, senior year of High School I met a professor by the Name of John Wade who taught me to enhance my ability, once I grasped what he was saying it just became second nature. I taught myself how to spectrum and Color Theory est.
Do you create full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I create part-Time because I work two full-time jobs but on my off days, I dedicate that time to my work. I’m a Certified Med Aid.
What medium(s) do you create with and is there a favorite?
Mediums, that I don’t have, but I would like to consider myself as Universal. I like challenges. Whether it is oils, Acrylics pencils or Watercolors I like to adapt.
What style(s) does your art take and what black cultural aesthetics do you incorporate?
Some People say that my style is different and Unique, for the most part I stand out on my own. I like all Cultures, not just African art.
Who are some of your biggest artistic influences?
My favorite Artists is Leonardo da Vinci, he helped shape the art world and saw it for what it was.
What inspires you to create and how important is it that your work encourage, empower and educate the black community?
I look at People, shapes and things I just picture what if? So I become curious and start to sketch and paint.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being an artist and do you feel it is your responsibility to use your gifts and talents to inspire the black community and the world?
The end result of the Piece itself when it’s finished. Makes me feel good about my accomplishment.
Do you have a particular piece or pieces which stand out as your favorite(s)?
My favorites are Brazil, The Franchise Confrontation I have others just to name a few. Blues Man.
What does your creative schedule look like and how many hours a day do you create?
My schedule for painting is busy. I paint on my off days. How long it takes to finish a piece depends on the Size and how I am into the Piece.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your artistic career?
My Schedule is pretty busy for the most part I keep Calendar updates on the wall and iPhone.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
Music helps enhance my creativity smooth jazz preferably, takes to another dimension.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
The most Difficult is keeping my Brushes clean because I have so many that I forget to clean them.
How many pieces have you created and how long does it usually take you to complete work on a piece/project?
So far, I’ve created over 250 Pieces I know the number isn’t much but it’s still growing.
What does artistic success look like to you?
The art industry tends to fluctuate back and forth but over the years I’ve been successful in my accomplishments. But the key is to keep painting and selling yourself.
How important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?
We as blacks must learn that we must set an example for others and making it our priority.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
That I was self-taught and that I wanted to improve the quality of Life, help create new ideas.
What upcoming projects are you working on, which you can share with the readers?
I met this female guitarist ‘(Jackie Venson)” and some abstract work
Is your work exhibited in an art gallery? If so, where can the readers find it?
I haven’t presented my work in any Galleries yet because I’m working on a website
Where can the readers continue to follow your career? Do you have a website or blog?
http://www.fineartamerica.com look for Sidney Holmes or google.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – BALOGUN OJETADE

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?
I realized I wanted to be a writer when I was five and vowed to write stories like Wild, Wild West, but with a Black protagonist.  To be a Black writer in this society is the same as being a Black man in this society—there are obstacles to overcome; there is white supremacy, covert and overt racism, and white privilege, but I continue to move forward and I write for a Black audience, although others are welcome to read my novels and watch my films.
Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I write full-time.  I also own and direct a martial arts school, teach survival and preparedness classes and camps, and provide divination, counseling and other spiritual services. I attended Howard University as a Finance Major then transferred to Columbia College where I majored in film, with a concentration in screenwriting.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
Since I work for myself, I set my own schedule.  I get up early and write, then drop my two youngest children at school.  Then I come home and write some more until my wife awakens and we spend time together until she leaves for her business.  I then write until I go to my martial arts school or have to meet with a client.  When the children come home, I spend some time with them and then spend time with my wife when she gets home.  Then I go to bed.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, comedy and action-adventure. My favorite genre to write is horror and most of my speculative fiction includes some elements of horror. I think my work in Steamfunk has had the most important impact on the Black community.  I see us creating more speculative work in film and television. That is going to be the key to getting more and more Black Speculative fiction to the masses. Starting late last year, I returned fully to my screenwriting and filmmaking roots, so I am confident my work will be seen on the big and small screens and will inspire more to create Black Speculative Fiction.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
Charles Saunders, Henry Dumas and Donald Goines.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
No, I do not. I listen to ASMR audios while I write—tapping and brushing sounds relax me and help me to create.
How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?
A novel takes me about 60 days to write the first draft.
What does your writing schedule look like and how many hours a day do you write?
I write off and on from 6am until 6pm on days I don’t see clients/students for spiritual work. I write a total of eight or nine hours a day.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Listening to ASMR. I also say my dialogue out loud if no one is home.
How many books have you written?
34. Fiction and non-fiction.
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
No. I just write what I enjoy. However, since I work to uplift and educate my people in everything else I do, it translates into, and is intrinsic to, my writing.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and the as yet unreleased Granma’s Hand.
What type of research do you conduct and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I conduct several months of research before I write most of my books and I conduct small research throughout the writing.
What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?
Thesauruses, Questia and Bio-Med Central. I also speak to my teachers in Ifa back in Nigeria, to my wife, a priest of Ifa and owner of a botanica who travels to Africa every six months, to students and friends that are mathematicians, scientists, computer programmers, professional basketball players and other spheres of knowledge, so my writing is as authentic as possible.
What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?
Combining a topic of interest with a panel discussion and the sale of books. My programs, From the Black Panthers to the Black Panther and Reading for Warriors have been huge successes.
How important is it that black creators work together to encourage, empower and educate the black community through their work?
It is very important. Collaboration brings about creativity and work that is fun, original and creative.
What does literary success look like to you?
Being able to live comfortably just from selling books.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I want my books, films and television work to show that African/Diasporan spirituality, martial arts, romance, heroes and villains are cool, meaningful, and make for great stories and storytelling.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
I am working on several screenplays and a teleplay. I have completed a few screenplays that will be shopped later this year and an award-winning screenplay I co-wrote with Milton Davis that is getting a lot of attention and making buzz in the film industry.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
You can follow my career on chroniclesofharriet.com, on Facebook (facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts) and Instagram (@balogun_ojetade).

As  a former combat veteran (MOS: 18F), Master and Technical Director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute and Co-Chair of the Urban Survival and Preparedness Institute, Balogun Ojetade is the author of the bestselling non-fiction books Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within, The Afrikan Warriors Bible, Surviving the Urban Apocalypse, The Urban Self Defense Manual, The Young Afrikan Warriors’ Guide to Defeating Bullies & Trolls, Never Unarmed: The Afrikan Warriors’ Guide to Improvised Weapons, Ofo Ase: 365 Daily Affirmations to Awaken the Afrikan Warrior Within, Ori: The Afrikan Warriors’ Mindset, Ogun Ye! Protecting the Afrikan Family and Community, Kori O: Protecting Afrikan Children from Violence & Sexual Abuse, and SKG: The Black Man & Woman’s Guide to Sticks, Knives and Guns.

He is one of the leading authorities on Afrofuturism and Afroretroism—film, fashion or fiction that combines African and/or African American culture with a blend of “retro” styles and futuristic technology, in order to explore the themes of tension between past and future and between the alienating and empowering effects of technology and on Creative Resistance. He writes about Afrofuturism/Afroretroism—Sword & Soul, Rococoa, Steamfunk and Dieselfunk at http://chroniclesofharriet.com/.

He is author of twenty-five novels and gamebooks – MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman: Freedonia; Redeemer; Once Upon A Time In Afrika; Fist of Africa; A Single Link; Wrath of the Siafu; The Scythe; The Keys; Redeemer: The Cross Chronicles; Beneath the Shining Jewel; Q-T-Pies: The Savannah Swan Files (Book 0) and A Haunting in the SWATS: The Savannah Swan Files (Book 1); Siafu Saves the World; Siafu vs. The Horde; Dembo’s Ditty; The Beatdown; Initiate 16; Gunsmoke Blues; Malik: Confessions of a Black Identity Extremist; Malik: Confessions of a Black Identity Extremist 2: Enemy of the State; Granma’s Hand; Kill City and Steamfunkateers: The Steamfunk Role Playing Game and the Steamfunkateers adventure, The Haunting of the House of Crum—contributing co-editor of three anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology, Steamfunk and Dieselfunk and contributing editor of the Rococoa anthology and Black Power: The Superhero Anthology.

He is also the creator and author of the Afrofuturistic manga series, Jagunjagun Lewa (Pretty Warrior) and author/co-creator of the Ice Cold Carter photo-graphic novel series.

Finally, he is co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo and co-creator of Ki Khanga: The Sword and Soul Role-Playing Game, both with author Milton Davis.

Reach him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts and on Instagram at @balogun_ojetade and @afrikanmartialarts. Find his books on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Balogun-Ojetade/e/B00AVEA7SU.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – NISI SHAWL

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?
I first realized I *could* be a writer in the 1970s, after reading a bunch of feminist SF.  I realized if Suzy McKee Charnas got away with saying what she said, I had a chance to do something similar.  What it means to me to be a black writer in this society is to have built-in “cognitive estrangement,” the quality that critic Darko Suvin thinks is essential to the imaginative genres.
Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?
I’m a college drop-out.  I write and teach writing full time.  I work in a bookstore one day a week.
How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
I have no day job to speak of.  I’m divorced, no children.  My family know not to talk to me–or even talk around me–when I’m writing.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I write science fiction, fantasy, horror, and creative nonfiction.  Which is the most influential?  I have two words for you: Black Panther.  In speculative fiction there has been a growing acceptance of the presence of African-descended writers and African-derived content since the 2009 online controversy known as “Racefail.”   Con or Bust, the Carl Brandon Society, and many other factors have supporteded this growth.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
Samuel R. Delany, Gwyneth Jones, Colette, and Raymond Chandler.
Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?
I listen to instrumental music for the most part, and the sort of instrumental music depends on the sort of story I’m writing: harp music, ragtime, hard bop, electronica, so on, so forth.
How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?
Years.  Everfair took six.  I write at a fairly slow pace.
How many books have you written?
Eight.  Now ask me how many I’ve published (five).
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
Nope.  I feel a personal responsibility to my ancestors to create beauty.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
I’m most passionate about The Blazing World, which my agent described as “weird.”  It’s unpublished and unsold.  It’s the first novel I ever wrote.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I want my work to challenge and satisfy readers, to have the undeniable emotional impact of a piece of music.  I want it to set a standard that others enjoy meeting in their own work.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
I’m revising a Middle Grade historical fantasy about two young African American girls having adventures in 1962; it’s called Speculation, and it involves a pair of magic glasses.  I’m also drafting a sequel to Everfair, my Nebula-nominated alternate history of a socialist Utopia in the 19th century Congo.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
Google me.

Nisi Shawl is an African American writer, editor, and journalist. They are best known for co-authoring Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, which is the go-to guide to representing difference in fiction.  Their debut novel, Everfair, ws a Nebula finalist; their debut story collection, Filter House, is co-winner of the 2009 James Tiptree, Jr. Award.  Most recently Shawl edited New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color.  Among other books, they co-edited Stories for Chip, a tribute to Samuel R. Delany; and Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler.  They edit reviews for literary quarterly The Cascadia Subduction Zone, and have contributed to Ms. Magazine, The Washington Post, Tor.com, and other venues.  Shawl has appeared as a guest lecturer at several educational institutions, including Duke University and Spelman College.  They live in Seattle, near a large lake full of enticingly dangerous currents. 

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – JD MASON

How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?
Commitment is everything. I don’t making writing an afterthought. It’s as important as showing up in any other aspect of my life and making the time to do it is probably a bit more important, because it’s easy to make excuses NOT to write. I set personal goals for myself. There are no magic formulas or answers. I make up my mind that I’m going to write a chapter a night, or five chapters a week, or 1,000 words a day or whatever, and I stick to that. If something gets in the way of me meeting that goal, well, that means I have to make it up and instead of writing 1,000 words that next day, I have to write 1,500 or 2,000. The excuse of not having time, really is just an excuse. We make time for what’s important to us.
What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?
I started out writing mainstream women’s fiction (relationship drama). Overtime, that changed and I started introducing more speculative aspects to my work. I don’t think my readers noticed, but if they did, they didn’t complain. I’m not writing in several genres; women’s fiction, mystery/suspense, romantic and dark fantasy. I do see a change in that more black writers are offering more stories in speculative fiction. And I think that one of the main reasons we’ve been marginalized in the industry is because the publishing industry has had no idea how to capitalize on it financially. They don’t believe that black folks read speculative fiction and consequently, have not spent a lot of time focusing on it. Not an excuse, but my opinion. The publishing industry isn’t big on taking risks. They tend to go with what they know works, and across the board, not just with speculative fiction, they’ve never really known how to market/publish black writers and/or relate to black readers. I like to think that, as a writer, I’m offering readers a chance to step outside of their comfort zones to try new things. Most of my audience does not read speculative fiction, but some have given my books a chance and the responses have been surprisingly nice.
Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?
Walter Mosely is my literary hero because Walter rights what he wants to write. He’s never been one to stick with what works and dares to venture out into any all genres. I believe that’s the core of what a creative writer should be. Fearless, daring and willing to take risks.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
As with most writers, I think I’ve got to “feel” what I’m writing. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and so, I think I’ve developed a good instinct on what “feels” right. My stories have to inspire whatever mood I’m trying to create in me, and if they do, then I’m confident they’ll inspire that same feeling in others. If I don’t feel it, then I have to let it go and try something else.
How many books have you written?
Over 25. I started with McMillan/St. Martin’s back in 2002 and have been writing ever since.
As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?
I’ve always considered myself an entertainer first. Mainly because I see value in it. People read fiction to escape their reality and I’ve always believed that it’s important to provide that to my readers. I’ve always seen my writing as a way to celebrate experiences from the black perspective; love, hate, joy, pain, magic—and if someone happens to learn something from what I’ve written, all the better.
Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?
I wrote a series of books some years back called my Inherit the Crown series. The series actually tanked, but that had more to do with me than the story. Poor execution on my part and the publisher took a chance on it and lost big time, so they lost interest. I recently received the rights back to the stories and am about to re-release the series again. This is a huge risk for me because it could very well tank again. It was a terrible blow to me as a writer to have to suffer through that failure before, and I feel kind of crazy for putting myself on the line again, but I truly believe that the story is good and that it deserves one last chance to show me that. I may not sell a lot of copies or win over huge audiences, and I may be the only person in the world who loves this series, but honestly, that’s all that matters. If readers truly think it sucks, then I’m about to find out.
What does literary success look like to you?
It used to look like making the New York Times/USA Today bestseller lists, selling 50K copies of a book and making crazy money. When it looked like that, though, I was miserable. I found myself comparing my success to others and I was never good enough. Now, it looks like loving what I do. Writing what I love. Having some stranger reach out to me and say, “Hey, I loved that book”. It looks like being unafraid to fail and to try new things.
What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?
I want people to look back at my body of work and say, “Wow! How the hell did we miss that?”. I want them to see that I believed that black people could live every type of life imaginable from billionaires to dragons to saviors and do it better than anyone could imagine.
What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
I’m re-releasing my first dark fantasy series that I mentioned earlier; Of Gods & Shadows, Of Dark Creatures, and Of Doom & Light. I’m finishing up the fourth of my novellas in my black dragon series; Talos: The Forged in Fire Series, Book 2 (Eshe: The Fire Breathing Series, Book 1, Demir: The Forged in Fire Series, Book 1, and Oriana, The Fire Breathing Series, Book 2 are all available now). I have a total of 9 books planned for this series and I’ve fallen behind schedule. I’m working on revisions for a new novel “The Pearl of Dumpling” that I’m super excited about and hope to release later this year.
How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?
Website: https://www.jdmasonauthor.com Website:https://www.sistersanddragons.com/

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: DERRICK FERGUSON

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?

A: I honestly can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a writer. Way back in the 6th grade I wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs inspired stories using my classmates as the main characters. I wrote a “chapter” on both sides of a sheet of loose-leaf paper which then got passed around the classroom. Once it was done and I’d gotten feedback on it, I’d write up the next “chapter.” I’ve worked many jobs but I’ve always identified as a writer and I just knew in my spirit that’s what I put on this Earth to do.

What it means to me to me to be a black writer in this society? Mostly that I get to tell stories with black characters having experiences and adventures you don’t usually get to read about. My father was a big James Bond fan and I remember asked him why there wasn’t a black James Bond and he said; “I guess you’ll have to come up with one and write about him.” So that’s been my M.O. when it comes to writing. There are certain archetype characters that I always wondered why we didn’t have black characters representing those archetypes. Apparently, I’m not the only black writer who felt that way. This is an extraordinarily exciting time for Black Speculative Fiction, Sword & Soul and all the related fields as now we have a plethora of black heroes and heroines in all genres being written by remarkably talented black writers.

Q: Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?

A: I retired some time ago. I’ve experienced two pulmonary embolisms. One in the 1980s, the other in the late 90s. After the second one my doctor recommended that I take it easy and Praise God I had not only the financial security to retire early but an understanding spouse who agreed with the doctor and said I should stay home and write my heart out if that’s what I wanted to do. When people ask me what’s the most important thing that a writer should have and I always say; “An understanding spouse.” My wife has a significant role in whatever success I have as it’s she who provides the environment I need to be creative.

My educational background is undistinguished. I graduated from what used to be known as The New York School of Printing but is now The School of Graphic Communications Arts. I went to that school for the journalism/writing classes but got some good training in learning how to run various printing presses which meant that right after I graduated, I stepped right into a job operating a Heidelberg press. I have taken some college courses but never regularly attended college. While I have a tremendous amount of respect for learning and for teachers, I don’t have pleasant memories of my time being a student in the NY Board of Education. The ironic thing is that I ended up working for them for eighteen years.

Q: How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?

A: Well, I don’t have a 9 to 5 so I don’t have to worry about that. As for family, it’s just my wife and me so I have extraordinarily huge chunks of time to myself in which to read, write and watch more movies than is probably good for me.

Q: What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fiction in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?

A: So far, I’ve written in the Western, Horror, Weird Western, Classic Pulp and New Pulp genres. Strangely enough, given my lifelong love of Science Fiction I’ve yet to write a straight-up Science Fiction story or novel. Oh, I’ve had what might be charitably be called science fiction elements in some of my Dillon novels. But there’s also espionage, action/adventure, cliffhanger pulp adventure…it’s a whole hodgepodge of stuff thrown in there. 

I see a whole lot changing for People of Color in Speculative Fiction as far as TV and Mainstream Movies and Comic Books/Graphic Novels are concerned. But that’s because the technology is there so that creatives can bypass the gatekeepers who for decades have filtered their work, diluted it or just kept it out of view. Once upon a time you used to have to mortgage your house if you wanted to produce your own comic book or self-publish or make a movie.

Now? Filmmakers are shooting entire movies on their smart phone, editing on their laptops and uploading them to YouTube. You can write a book and publish it yourself thanks to Lulu or KDP. You no longer need an agent or a publishing house. The opportunity is out there. The realm of Speculative Fiction belongs to POC now and it’s wonderful because we’re now telling stories that affirm that we shall go forward to the future. That in itself is a powerful message.

What impact will my work have? I truly have no idea. That’s a question best answered by those who are still reading my stuff fifty years from now when I’ve taken my leave and either lying on a cloud playing a harp or shoveling coal in an infernal furnace.

Q: Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?

A: There are a whole LOT of writers who have influenced me but I’ll give you the dirty dozen. These are the guys who I read and studied fanatically: Lester Dent. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Charles Saunders. Michael Moorcock. Ishmael Reed. George C. Chesbro. Robert R. McCammon. Stephen Barnes. Chester Himes. Stan Lee. Mike Resnick. Larry McMurtry.

Q: Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?

A: That all depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Sometimes I don’t want to do anything but listen to the characters talking, the explosions going off and the screamed of the damned. My imagination has a pretty good sound system. But if I’m writing a Weird Western, I’ll usually have on Ennio Morricone and Gangstagrass. In fact, if I’m writing any Western, I’ll usually have Morricone playing. If I’m writing a Dillon adventure there’s Motown and 70’s/80’s music going on.

Q: How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?

A: That depends on the book. I knocked out “Search For The Beast” in two months flat. First draft to final. “The Madness of Frankenstein” took me something like eight years. A typical Dillon adventure can take me anywhere from three to nine months to write.

I’m not one of those writers who has a set schedule to finish every book within a certain time period. Each book has its own life. Some take longer to write than others, that’s all. The only real rule I have is that I only do three drafts and no more. Unless I’m asked by an editor to do another draft. “The Thousand-Eyed Fear” was five drafts but that was because I was working with somebody’s else’s concepts and characters and I had to make the changes he asked for.

Q: What does your writing schedule look like and how many hours a day do you write?

A: I don’t have a firm hard schedule that I keep to. Which is probably why I haven’t written as many books as I should have. I do get some writing in during the day but that’s mostly rewriting and editing what I did the day before. I like writing at night the best. I’ve written as little as two hours in a day and as many as eight. If the story is flowing and the words are coming fast and furious, I don’t like to stop and luckily, I’m able to do that.

Q: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

A: I would seem to have gotten the reputation of writing action well. Readers have also said to me that they enjoy my writing so much because when they’re reading it, the prose plays out as a movie in their head. Which means I’ve done my job because that’s how my novels and stories play out in my own head. I just look and listen to what’s playing on my Mental Movie Screen and put that down on paper.

Q: How many books have you written?

A: I’ve written 8 novels, 4 collections and have stories in 19 anthologies.

Q: As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?

A: If I had a dollar for every time somebody said to me; “You should be writing something educational for our youth” I’d never have to write another word as long as I live.

I’m a big believer in that you have to write or sing or draw or act or whatever what you are hardwired to do. I am not hardwired to uplift or educate and there are tons of black writers out there who are qualified to do that much better than I could ever aspire to do. What I am hardwired to do and what I can do extremely well is tell entertaining stories that hopeful make you forget the burdens of your day for a few hours and I’m more than happy to be able to do that. I take pride in my ability to entertain and entertain well.

Q: Is there any particular book that you’ve written that you’re most passionate about?

A: Probably “Brooklyn Beatdown” because if you had told me prior to writing that book that I would write a hardboiled pulp boxing story set in 1950s Brooklyn I’d have laughed myself into a hernia. But I surprised myself by doing so. Mainly because I drew upon much of my memories of growing up in Brooklyn during the 1970s. Believe it or not, there was still a lot of the 1950s in the way black people talked, acted and thought during the 1970s and I tapped into that. It’s not one of my best-known books but I am proud of the fact that everybody who has read it loves it and there are several professional writers (including Mike Baron who co-created and wrote the comic book “Nexus” and created/wrote “The Badger”) who are big fans of the book.

I’m also quite passionate about “Dillon and The Legend of The Golden Bell.” Even though “Dillon and The Voice of Odin” is the first book in the series, I almost rather that people read “Legend of The Golden Bell” first.

Q: What type of research do you conduct and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

A: Again, it all depends on what type of book I’m doing. I’m hideously bad at doing research and I’ll make up a fact before looking one up. But when it comes to stuff like weapons and military tactics I have to buckle down and do my proper research because I’ll get a ton of email on that. Readers who are into guns and automatic weapons apparently read action adventure novels just to see if you get the specifications correct and nothing else. And Western fans are like that as well. When I write stories about Bass Reeves that are set in an actual historical period, I do have to stop being lazy and get it right because Western fans will be sure and let you know when you’ve got something wrong, be it a date or the wrong type of saddle or spurs. They know their stuff.

When I’m in the middle of writing the first draft of a novel or story if I hit a point where I need to do research I’ll just make a note of what I have to look up in [     ] and do it later in second draft. But I allow nothing to stop the momentum of that first draft as there’s nothing more important than getting the story down. I can fix everything else later.

Q: What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?

A: My friends on The Internet, believe it or not. There’s a valuable resource of experts in Facebook Groups that I take advantage of. If I need an answer to a question, I throw it out in one of my Facebook Groups and get back more answers than I know what to do with. And if they can’t help me then usually a half hour on Google will provide me with whatever I need.

Q: What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?

A: As soon as I find out, I’ll let you know.

Q: What does literary success look like to you?

A: Pretty much what I’m doing now. I write whatever I want when I want with no pressure at all. If I had to rely on my writing for my livelihood, I seriously doubt I’d be as laid back about my career as I am now. But thankfully since I don’t have to worry about that I can write the books and stories that I want to write and have fun doing so. I spent many years busting my ass at jobs I didn’t particularly like or enjoy and I’ll be damned if I’ll waste my time writing about characters and subjects that don’t interest me or don’t engage me intellectually and emotionally.

Q: What legacy do you want your work to represent and resonate in the black community and the world?

A: Again, that’s something that’s best left up to the future. if my books are still being read fifty years from now, ask those reading them what my legacy will me. I like to joke with Patricia that twenty years after I’m dead I’ll be “discovered” which is what seems to happen to a depressingly large number of black writers. I’m okay with providing entertainment now and not worried about “legacy” and all that goes with it. It’s not that I don’t care about a legacy but I’m very much a Here & Now kind of person and would rather concern myself with the impact my work is making on people today.

Q: What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?

A: I just finished another Bass Reeves story for the 4th Volume of Airship 27’s Bass Reeves-Frontier Marshal anthology series. So far I’ve had stories in three of the four volumes which I’m extremely proud of. I’m currently working on a collection of my Sebastian Red stories. They’re Weird Westerns featuring a supernatural gunslinger roaming an alternate Wild West I like to describe as a mash-up of Sergio Leone and Michael Moorcock.

Q: How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?

A: Ferguson Ink: https://fergusonink.com/ is more or less the hub of my online activities so I would advise anybody interested in me and my work to start there.

The Ferguson Theater: https://derricklferguson.com/ is where I indulge my love of movies. At last count I’ve got something like 400 movie reviews there. If you’re a movie fan then I strongly advise you to check it out.

Dillon: https://my-dillon.com/ is devoted to my best known and most successful character. Before you dive into reading any of the Dillon novels you might want to poke around here first.

Usimi Dero: https://www.facebook.com/groups/usimidero/ is my Facebook hangout group I administrate. It’s just a spot where I hang out with a bunch of wildly talented and creative people where we talk about movies, pop culture, writing, comic books, television, New Pulp, Classic Pulp, Science Fiction, mass entertainment, things of that nature.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT: JOYCE LICORISH

Joyce Licorish is a singer, actress, best-selling author and filmmaker is born and raised in Indianapolis. She is the CEO of DreamEmpire Productions, LLC-S and the President and founder of the One Race Human Race Foundation 501(c)3 whose focus is on cultural diversity and inclusion in the arts.

DreamEmpire Films, LLC-S
www.DreamEmpireFilms.com
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt8157618/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Film Pitch, The Forgotten Timepiece: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/randgeslnpjhrel/AAA8_z-TA-Z0NNgMxq4powNba/Video/the%20forrgotten%20.mov?dl=0

BLACK HISTORY SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: MAURICE BROADDUS

Maurice Broaddus is an afrofuturist author, whose work includes: Pimp My Airship, Buffalo Soldier & The Usual Suspects.

Do you write full time, or do you have another full-time job? What is your educational background?

Maurice: Both. I full-time write AND have two other full-time jobs. I have a B.S. in Biology.

How do you best meet the challenge of juggling your day job (if applicable) and/or your family, against your writing career?

Maurice: Well, to be fair, this is a process that has taken a lot of time to evolve. A learn as we went thing, since at one point the imbalance almost cost me family. Don’t get me wrong, my wife knew that I was a writer from the beginning (this was pretty clear while we were dating when I’d put off or cancel dates because I was on (self-imposed at the time) deadline). Also complicating matters was that I have bipolar disorder with hypomania, which went undiagnosed for the first decade of our marriage. It’s the hypomania that was the big problem as I would pile up huge amounts of work and then spend my life moving at a thousand miles an hour wrapping up everything to hit my deadlines. And I always hit my deadlines. In the beginning, I’d try to bring my wife (who isn’t a reader) into the process by reading my work out loud to her (she enjoyed being read to). However, this proved a short lived experiment as I tended to draw a lot from real life to a point where it made her uncomfortable. Ironically, she recently went through a writing workshop with me and wrote a poignant piece that drew incredibly on her real life, so she gets that piece of it now. Also, we had kids pretty early into our marriage. I believed two things: I wasn’t going to get as much work as I would have liked done and kids wouldn’t understand the closed door of “daddy’s working”. The reality was that I produced more words than I ever had before, just in shorter chunks as I was blogging up to six times a day (thousand plus word pieces typically). And the kids amused each other all I had to do was be in the room. If my wife was home and I was sequestered away writing, I had an open-door policy where anyone could interrupt to chat with me. These strategies were okay, but far from perfect. There came a tipping point where I had to either change how I did things or lose everything. So I reprioritized my life around my family rather than the writing. Ironically, I ended up producing more this way. My family got the “best” slice of my time rather than my leftovers. My writing schedule was shaped around them and their hours. So I wrote either before they got up or after they went to bed or while I was at work (more on this later). On weekends, my wife would take the boys on “adventures” so that I could have Saturday afternoons to write. [Also, real money started coming in for my efforts. This alleviated much of the tension.] This strategy I call “Bring Them on Board.” Meaning, there was a family meeting where I wanted their input on how best to carve out my time with them to accommodate my writing. They came up with that schedule. This strategy has continued to evolve and broaden. My wife in a lot of ways has become my business manager. She tracks the money (who owes me what and how much) and I run potential jobs/events by her so she can ask the question “is what [I am] being paid worth the time spent away from family?” We use Google calendar as a diagnostic tool to measure the state of my hypomania (all my deadlines and meetings are calandered and color coordinated so when my schedule vomits the rainbow, we can see that I’m ramping up). She also helps me throw my writing convention, Mo*Con. As far as a day job goes, when I have one (and I currently do as a middle school teacher…ironically, this happened because the school so loved me as a sub when I was shadowing my kids through school) I do most of my writing there. It started when I worked for two and a half years in a sales job (my first 9-5 gig). My manager and I came to an agreement that I would use my breaks and lunch to write. So I’d plan my writing the night before then hit the ground running during those times. Basically, I learned to do writing “sprints.” It so changed my method and output, I’ve kept it up ever since. My oldest son sometimes “agents” me, negotiating my appearance fees since it involves them taking me away from him. My youngest often claims that he’s giving me space to write, which is usually code for “I’ll be playing video games.” But I would go to their schools to do talks or run workshops/residencies or substitute teach to spend more time together. I would work them into projects (my middle grade detective novel series is basically a chronicle of my kids’ antics in school). I recently worked my youngest’s videogame playing into a story as we played games together and called it “research.” And, when possible, the family goes to cons with me (me and the boys did a “guys road trip” to one of my speaking engagements and my wife went on a cruise with me where I was teaching. Again, nothing like her enjoying cruise life to relieve tensions and for her to encourage me to write more so we can do that again).

Who are some of the major writing influences who most inspired you?

Maurice: Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley

Do you listen to music when you’re creating? If so, what type?

Maurice: These days, jazz. Bitches Brew (Miles Davis) is getting me through my space opera.

How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?

Maurice: 6 months

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

Maurice: I write longhand.

How many books have you written?

Maurice: Twenty. Have 12 published.

What are some of the best resources you’ve found for research?

Maurice: People. My neighbors in community mostly.

What have you found to be the best marketing practices for your books to the black community?

Maurice: Working in the community

What are some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?

Maurice: A play for the Indiana Repertory Theater, work for Dungeon & Dragons, a Black Panther short story. Unfadeable, my second middle grade book. Sweep of Stars, book one of my Afrofuturist space trilogy.

Thank you Maurice, for your time. How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?

www.mauricebroaddus.com