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/