The road to publication is not easy for anyone and comes with a number of hurdles. For black writers, these challenges are multiplied and because of institutional issues, the path seems almost impossible. But the resiliency of black folks always finds a way and for many black SFF writers that way was in the form of self-publishing.
At FIYAH, we do not snub our noses at those writers who chose this path. We salute them because they have decided to embark on a journey by themselves that in traditional circumstances would involve a team. So we wish to acknowledge those black indie SFF writers out there working hard and dropping a good product. Our Indie Spotlight feature seeks to amplify self-published Black writers with features of their work in our magazine and interviews featured here on the website.
This quarter’s spotlight feature interview is with Constance Burris. A segment of her novel COAL can be found in the SPILLING TEA issue of FIYAH.
1) What pulled you to writing?
As a kid, whenever I stumbled across a good science fiction or fantasy show I always rewrote the story in my head. In middle school, I watched “Star Trek: The Next Generation” every night before bed. While I slept, I rewrote the episodes casting myself as lead. I didn’t actually put pen to paper and create my own stories until high school.
2) If you had to describe the hallmarks of a Constance Burris story to someone what would they be?
In my imagination, I’m fascinated by race and gender bending, two subjects I explored in my fantasy The Everleaf Series. But if you asked my readers, they would probably say I’m most famous for black elves. In the series, some of the elves have the ability to change race/color. One, in particular, chooses to have dark skin when everyone around here does not.
Who are your biggest writing influences?
First, Octavia Butler. Most of my stories are fan fiction based off her awesome book Wild Seed. Second, Nnedi Okorafor. Okorafor’s Zahrah the Windseeker inspired me to write The Everleaf Series as a Black YA fantasy.
How does your blackness play into your stories?
Writing is time-consuming and indie publish is expensive. To justify the time and resources I take away from my family to pursue this dream, I knew that I have to use my stories to shine a light on Black Midwesterners. At every opportunity, I try to add parts of my history and experience into this vast tapestry called blackness. My horror/urban fantasy Black Beauty, for example, is a twisted shout out to my childhood being raised poor and black in Oklahoma City and community that develops when you live in apartment complexes.
Black female characters do not get their due in SFF. How do you feel your writing is addressing that disparity?
I was a single mother until four years ago, I was raised mostly by a single mother, and my mother was raised by a single mother. Needless to say, I come from a matriarchal family. The elven society in The Everleaf Series is a matriarchal society, and so are most of the families featured in Black Beauty. I definitely do my part to make up the disparity.
What’s your writing process? Do you have rituals?
After three years of trying to be a pro, I think I’ve developed some pretty helpful rituals.
- I turn on the internet blocker on my computer and the social media blocker on my phone,
- Push repeat on the song of the day, which is currently Terrified by Childish Gambino. Playing the same song on repeat helps tame my thoughts.
- I write down the time I start and set a time for 30 minutes. I try to track my time as if I was on my day job.
- I write. Of course, some days are easier than others. But the most important part is sitting my butt in the chair.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I take it from wherever and whomever I can find it. It may come from a random conversation with my daughter or a friend, from reading a book or watching a documentary on the nature channel. I don’t really question it. I just take it and run.
You’ve written quite a lot. What story would you recommend to someone just getting into your work?
It depends on your taste. If you like horror and little ‘hood’ in your speculative fiction, I’d recommend Black Beauty. If you like swords, elves, and light fantasy then Coal: Book One of the Everleaf Series is the way to go.
What’s the one story that you are looking forward to writing the most?
For a little while, I tried to get an MA in creative writing. I didn’t finish the program, but while I was enrolled, I workshopped a sci-fi story that was a mashup of “Boyz n the Hood” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” I put the story away because it was too complicated for my fledgling writing skills. But after finishing five novels, I think I’ve developed some skills to do it justice. I’m reworking it, and I’m hoping to sell it to a traditional publisher next year.
How do you feel about the future of SFF going forward concerning black folks?
The sky is the limit. No, I take that back. There is no limit. The gatekeepers that have traditionally excluded us are being replaced, overrun and circumvented. NK Jemison and Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo awards and Jordan Peele success with the horror flick “Get Out” are all proof of that.
Constance Burris is on a journey to take over the world through writing fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Her mission is to spread the love of speculative fiction to the masses. She is a proud card carrying blerd (black nerd), mother, and wife. When she is not writing and spending time with her family, she is working hard as an environmental engineer in Oklahoma City.