On January 18th, 2017, the authors featured in the REBIRTH issue of FIYAH got together to talk about their work and the world of Black SFF. The audio recording is almost entertainingly grungy, and we’d have uploaded it here if some non-licensed music wasn’t playing in the background. Growing pains. Feel free to donate some funds to help defray the cost of editing or at least keep our poor tech girl well-caffeinated while she does all that for free!
In the meantime, you’re welcome to view the transcript here in all original syntax. You could re-enact it with one friend each doing three voices, or five friends if you’re that popular. Or just read it. It was a great discussion and some of your favorite authors from the issue drop details of new stories you can expect to see from them soon.
Use the arrows beside each question to view the responses. Enjoy!
EPISODE 1: “WE’RE SPONGES”
Brent: Hello everyone, and welcome to our first Camp Fiyah Writers Chat. The authors of the first issue of FIYAH are here today to talk about their work, black SFF in general and our mutual love of writing. To start off with, I’ll introduce our writers to our listeners. We have Malon Edwards, we have Wendi Dunlap, we have Veronica Henry, DaVaun Sanders, and LeKesha Lewis, and myself, Brent Lambert.
[expand title=”Okay, so with the introductions out the way, let’s get started. We’ll start talking about our stories and what inspired them and what inspires you in general.“]
Malon: So, I will start. This is Malon. For Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber, my story in the first issue, I was inspired specifically for this story. I wanted it to be a cyberpunk story that was very specific to the Black experience and specifically growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago. Some of my experience is there. The story is set in Fort Heights, Illinois, and if you’re not familiar with Fort Heights it is a very, very poor suburb. One of the poorest towns in the United States. Back in the day, I forget the original name of the suburb but they named themselves for the Heights because they wanted the Ford plant to come there so it would boost the economy. People living there would have a place to work and that did not happen. Because of Ford not going there, a lot of people moved out. The economy for the town didn’t do well at all. So I wanted to write about that experience to make it a decidedly Black experience and get really ambitious with the sci-fi technology of my story which was having Black people be given solar cells that would take energy from the sun and store it and they could upload it for money.
That was my experience —I’m sorry, my inspiration for the story. In general, my inspiration has been Nalo Hopkinson and Octavia Butler, especially Octavia Butler’s Parable series. She wrote about Black people in L.A. and I wanted to do the same for Chicago.
Brent: So my story, I was inspired by the Sandra Bland case. That just kinda was the impetus for the story. Of course you know police brutality has always been a topic of discussion in the Black community and it was my only response to that particular situation, which is why I think I had the savior figure in the story be a Black woman. I wanted to respond to her murder in a way that would kinda help me process it. In general, you know I think I’m just a big sponge. Whatever kind of media I’m around, I absorb it. I like to read everything and watch everything. I have this sad habit of when I go to, like, the gym, I watch people and have to make up stories about them in my head. So, you know, it’s just kind of the way I am. I’m always inspired. I really can’t narrow it down to one specific thing.
Wendi: The inspiration for Revival was my pregnancy at the wee age of 19 while I was a sophomore in college. The reaction that I received from family, friends, and community was pretty dramatic and it was a really difficult time and I tried to convey that in the story. But the main point that I really wanted to emphasize was the power of choice. The lead character, Serene, was adamant about maintaining her choice of whether or not to continue her pregnancy. In this story, she hides it for quite some time so that no one can make that decision for her.
There’s a great deal of ambiguity around intense sort of life decisions such as that and I wanted to convey that in the story through the ambiguity around the father of the child and whether or not the child would be human, whether or not the child would be safe around the human inhabitants. When you make these life decisions, you don’t know what the outcome will be but it’s still in your power to decide. So that was sort of the inspiration behind Revival and the point that I wanted to convey is just the importance of women having that choice regardless of the consequences and being in control of their own fate.
DaVaun: Hey, everybody, this is DaVaun Sanders. Man, it’s great hearing everybody’s stories. This is awesome, I just wanted to say that and get that out of the way. For my story personally, The Shade Caller, the inspiration behind that I think a big part of what drove that plot was the wave of police brutality particularly over last summer. I remember being stricken just deeply by everything that was going on and trying to keep that facade up at work and just living while everybody else is living their lives but while myself and people in my circles closer to home are being impacted deeply by everything that’s going on. I think that’s something everybody here can relate to. With that, the main characters, the sonu are literally invisible and that was a big piece of just exploring that nuance, feeling with how they function in their society if there’s a way for them to turn that invisibility into a strength whether than just something they’re accustomed to. Kind of exploring that nuance and how it works and what it kind of informed about our culture. That’s kind of how all that turned around but I think it was a personally cathartic piece just to get that out and into the world.
For inspiration in general, man, I think like Brent I’m definitely a sponge. I get excited when I see the latest, you know, planet discovery and they’re talking about this exoplanet may harbor this kind of life and just all those different things. You know, I’m a science nerd. If I’d have studied just a little harder I might have some physics under my belt but it just, you know, starts to hurt the brain for too long if I look at the equations and whatnot. So I write sci-fi. And then with that, I Iike to explore things that are going on in terms of social commentary, Black life and Black experience and advancing us and pushing us into the future in places where we are not necessarily always portrayed. That’s a big source of satisfaction for me, just kinda getting us out there progressively into the larger sphere of imagination.
Ronnie: Hello everybody, this is Veronica Henry, better known to my friends and FIYAH family as Ronnie. My story was We Have Ended. So Eloko is actually a character from a novel that I wrote a couple year ago and that novel was set in 1930’s and it features a carnival. Of course I wanted my carnival to be a little different. It wasn’t going to look like everyone else’s and part of that was figuring out what type of characters were going to inhabit this space. Of course I turned to my African roots because we have a whole set of mythical creatures based right there on the Motherland that I could pick from. That research led me to the Congo and to the Eloko people if I can call them a people. And they’re kind of tree creatures that feed on human flesh. So, early on I realized that he was going to take over that novel. He just kind of asserted himself, became the most important and the most intriguing character even out-pacing my main character at that point and I’m fixing that now, by the way.
But writing that short story was actually just an exercise in fun for me. It was so that I could get to know him, that I could explore a little bit more of his history, his origins and all that. So I wrote that story and I actually set it aside. And when I heard about FIYAH, I thought “this story is perfect.” So I pulled it out —and that theme of “rebirth,” certainly— so I pulled it out, I kinda dusted it off and started working on that again, got it all ready and that became what we see in the first issue.
I’m going to have to mirror Malon and DaVaun and Brent: I’m a sponge and an introvert. And as such, I observe people. I observe everything that’s going on around me, so that’s my inspiration, everything I read, every quirky thing I see people do, everything. People at work, people at the store, people standing in line. People are most interesting, so that’s where I get my inspiration in general. Of course I always manage to tweak that to focus on perspective of course as a Black person and as a woman and that usually comes out in my fiction.
LeKesha: Alright well, this is LeKesha. Everybody else’s responses were so thorough, I kind of don’t want to do any retreads. But, my story, Chesirah was based in a larger universe that I wrote and she’s actually one of the tertiary characters in that world. So this is actually my first foray into the planet that she’s from. I wanted to do a different take on what we know of the phoenix as this bird but in terms of the Black experience. You’ll notice the different spelling in the story simply because there are no Phoenicians in this world so it wouldn’t make sense to adopt that. There are notes of slavery, particularly the historical erasure of Chesirah’s people as a means to keep fenox submissive. And of course there are notes of freedom and the occasional necessity of violence.I have this habit of going way too big when I do my world-building which I guess worked out in my favor with this publication. I almost didn’t submit just because I do work on the staff and I thought that that might be, I don’t know, maybe frowned upon somehow? But the editors had faith in it so I kind of went with it.
I had no important elements that I wanted to convey. I mean, when we see oppressive structures at work in our lives as Black humans, there’s often this figurative call to “burn it down.” Well, Chesirah’s power is the literal application of that call. I’m very pro-Black Girl Magic when it comes to my characters and my stories so what you’ll see hopefully when I get more work out there is that that’s kind of a recurring theme.
I guess since everyone else is a sponge, I’m a sponge as well. And also an introvert, so there are a lot of notes of observation. I actually read a lot more non-fiction than I do fiction and that, I think, informs my world-building better than if I read a lot more SFF. But that’s all I’ve got for that question.
Brent: Well, I think it’s pretty interesting that we’re all sponges because I’m sure that there’s a perception among people that aren’t aware of the Black SFF community that our inspirations are generally focused on “Black things.” I’m doing quotation marks with my fingers for those who can’t see me.
Brent: But, you know, we’re varied. We’re not a monolith.
LeKesha: I feel like the takeaway from this one is going to be “We’re Sponges.” I feel like that’s just going to be the tagline for this entire chat.[/expand]
[expand title=”Brent: Yeah. So yeah, we’re sponges. We’re creative. But obviously FIYAH’s a Black magazine, so that brings me to the next point. Do we as Black SFF writers feel a responsibility to have Black leads in our stories?”]
Malon: We’re doing the same order?
Brent: Yes sir. We’ll just keep it rotating in the same order.
Malon: Okay. I— that’s an interesting question because as of late I have written my lead characters, they have all been Black. But what I’ve done in the last few stories I’ve written especially stories where I’ve had an older Black woman, I’ve based that woman on my mother in particular and her sisters. And I’ve done this mainly because as I’m getting older and my mom is getting older, I want to remember her. And I definitely want to remember the good things about her, what makes her unique.
I’m from Chicago. I’ve been living in Canada for six years now so I’ve moved away from my first family and I’m now here with my immediate family and I don’t see them often. So for me, it is very comforting to write that character and to really mine some of the great things about my mom. And when eventually she passes on, I will still have that and I hope at that time, it’s comforting. But for me it’s been a very conscious decision to do that and to make sure my characters are Black because when I write I have to fall in love with my main character and if I can’t, I can’t write the story. It’s not going to be a good story. So part of that is knowing my characters well and to a certain extent basing them on people I know.
Brent: Yeah, definitely people I know feed into my stories all the time. But as far as responsibility, I do feel a responsibility but I don’t see it as a burden. I have seen pieces here and there where I’ve seen authors of color lament the fact that they’re expected to write characters of color and I’m like, no, that’s beautiful to me. I want to do that. It’s not a burden, it’s something I take pride in and, you know, I want them to be in everything I write.
I want to write stories for the young Brent that was in the library that was trying to find something to read and could never find a Black wizard or a Black samurai or something, you know, just something where Blackness is at the forefront. I’m more than happy to write these stories and maybe, hopefully someday give that young kid the book that they’re looking for. So yeah, I definitely feel a responsibility. It’s a good responsibility, I guess. I don’t know any other way to word it but I take pride in the fact that I write authentic-like characters and bring all these experiences in from my youth and from people I know into stories. Much like — yeah, I want to bring in family and I want to bring in friends and even you guys. You guys inspire me, seeing the way you write and seeing how you approach it. I feel like it shouldn’t feel like a burden. It should be something you look forward to, and I do.
Wendi: Yeah, I think I’ll echo that. I don’t see it as a burden but I do see it as a responsibility so I definitely share Brent’s sentiments. Part of it, though, for me — it may be sort of a narcissistic impetus — I am naturally, as a Black woman, the center of my own universe along with my Heavenly Mother-Father. And so my work sort of follows along those lines where my protagonists are more often than not other Black women and there are often spiritual themes because that’s the world that I exist in. That’s the lens through which I see life and so just naturally, those are the stories that I’m going to tell. But it’s not — I don’t want to convey it as a limitation. I certainly don’t see it as a limit on my creativity.
I’m writing a piece now which is a Lovecraft-inspired space opera where it’s being told from the perspective of a monster, of a creature. But themes of liberation, of choice, of oppression, are still present because again, that is my reality as a Black woman in America. And so it is a responsibility but it is also sort of a natural inclination for me to tell stories through my own lens. And I think part of that is quite empowering and quite liberating in that there are so few stories where Black women are the heroes or are the protagonists in science fiction and other genres. And inserting ourselves in stories as the central figure is, in a way, sort of declaring to the larger universe that we exist, we have a right to exist, that we have stories to tell, that we experience just like everyone else, and that we’re real and we’re powerful and we won’t be silenced or ignored or pushed to the corner or overshadowed. So I take great strength from that in my writing and I hope people who read my work do as well.
DaVaun: I feel the responsibility. It’s there, it’s something that you don’t get to go into a movie theater and shut your brain off about the representation that you may see on the screen. Same goes with reading a book. To mirror what Brent had said earlier about “a young Brent,” I certainly have that kind of motivation as well with the two little terrors in the next room over here that are being amazingly quiet right now. Thank you guys.
DaVaun: But I think with that responsibility, you’re aware of it, it’s part of, you know, the reality and existence that we’re dealing with right now as creative people in everything that’s going on in the world right now. But it’s not, as other folks have said, a limitation. It’s something that comes naturally and it certainly doesn’t mean that any other characters are going to be off the table. Everything is on the palette, everything is within the realm of possibility. It’s just we are in a space where what I want to do is typically going to be around getting a certain experience out that a lot of folks that I know can relate to and hopefully share that experience with other people as they come in and get to see what we’re all about.
Ronnie: Absolutely couldn’t agree more. In answer to the question about responsibility: an emphatic yes. And also to mirror what others have said: an emphatic yes. I agree to everything that’s already been said so I won’t go over that territory again. For me, this is a privilege. The idea and the opportunity to write about my experience as a Black person — as a person who was actually drawn to sci-fi early on, before there were very many people in the genre that looked like me — the opportunity to write about me or write about us is nothing short of a wonderful privilege and I look at it that way and that’s the way I approach my work. So yes, in my fiction the vast majority of the time — I think there’s only one exception — my lead characters have been Black people. In another case, like with this story, it’s a creature from the Congo so I kind of consider him Black too. But I’ll admit that it’s something I thought about. It’s something that I even questioned when I did write one story that did not feature a lead character that was Black. I asked myself can I do this? Should I do this? Is that a problem? And eventually I wrote the story because that’s what came to me.
But on the other side, I want to also say that one of the things that bothered me with fiction that I read earlier was when we were present and I started to actually see us present, it was the treatment of the characters. Having to be rescued — I don’t have to go through all the tropes but you guys know what I’m talking about. But it was the treatment. So I thought when I write my own stories, yes my Black people will be leading but I’m going to write a world that someone resembles the real world so there are going to be people of other cultures, other races, other creatures. So my responsibility to them is to treat them fairly. Even if we may not have been treated fairly in other pieces that I’ve read. So that’s kind of my take on it.
LeKesha: So, one of the perks of going last is that I can just say “ditto” to everything everyone else has said.
LeKesha: There’s definitely a responsibility and I think when I first started writing in my teenage years if you don’t count all the times I went overboard on homework assignments in elementary school, when I wrote, most of my main characters were white. And it took — I went on this wild and crazy sort of early adulthood misadventure — when I started writing again, it sort of became well why was it my inclination to write white characters. So it became one of those things that I had to unlearn. And I think that’s what a lot of the conversation is about in publishing now. It’s how to not center whiteness.
So for the last few years, all of my writing — honestly my best writing — all of my central characters are Black. And I think it has something to do with the fact that I have a niece now and she’s a little Black girl and I want her represented. And if one of the only things that I do right in the world is maintain my ability to write and write well, and write well-developed, well-reasoned, dynamic Black characters, then that’s my obligation to sort of dedicate to her. Now that I’ve been doing it for awhile, it is reflexive. I can’t imagine writing another way. That isn’t to say I don’t write white characters or Asian characters or anyone else, but my job now is to center Blackness if for nothing else then for posterity.[/expand]
[expand title=”Brent: So it seems pretty apparent from everybody’s comments that making sure Blackness is well represented is important to all of us. But as we all know and as is well-documented, that is not always as important to people in publishing. So with that said, that leads us to our next topic. What do you feel has been your greatest challenge to producing and getting your work out there?”]
Malon: For me, it’s kind of a hard question. First, I write very slowly. I’m not a fast writer. I also only write short stories. I have not even wanted to write a novel or even thought about it and right now that’s more marketable than short stories. But I think really the crux of it is that I often second-guess myself and I often think that the story that I want to write won’t be a good story, it won’t be read, it won’t be liked. So combine all of that, and it really, really —it’s mostly in my head— it really restricts how much I write, how I write, and what I submit.
Brent: For me, I have to focus more on the producing part of this question since this was my first sale so I don’t have enough experience to really talk about that. But in terms of producing it wasn’t until maybe a couple of years ago that I even really felt I had a chance with stories basically. I kind of cut my teeth in fan fiction which I guess some people are embarrassed to talk about but I’m not. I was doing, like, Marvel fan fiction because I’m a huge comic geek. I was doing that for years, actually, and it’s an all white male space. So my work was constantly being battered, it was constantly being tore down, it was constantly being criticized.
I think it had a two-fold effect. On the one hand it kinda made me think “oh, I could never do this. I’ll never be able to succeed at this.” On the other hand it toughened me up really quick. So, thankfully there was an older Black gentleman who was in those same circles. His name is Derek Ferguson, he’s kind of an indie writer, but he lifted me up and he was like “no, young man. You can do this. Stick with it.” So I stuck with it and I met you guys. That was kind of my point where I realized I could do this. But the greatest challenge out of all that was really just believing in myself. That was the point of that whole story, just believing in myself that I could actually do it. So I feel like I’ve overcome my greatest challenge, actually which is really good saying out loud. But yeah, so, there’s that.
Wendi: I think the biggest challenge for me in terms of getting my work out there, to echo Malon and Brent, has been myself. So writing for me from a very young age was always an escape. I was bullied from a very young age so reading and writing was my way of self-care. And I was really fortunate that as a teenager I had a lot of early success as a writer where I was actually getting paid to write fiction and non-fiction and won some awards and was getting published. But there was still this kind of shield that I had up where writing was my dream, it was my escape. So what do you dream about after you’ve realized the dream? And so that was always what was kind of preventing me from really getting my work out there particularly as I moved into adulthood and confronted the stresses of, you know, finishing college and earning a living, you know, being a single mom. I was able to put all of that in front of my writing and writing just continued to be that escape and that dream that I could turn to when things got hard. And as a result, it prevented me from getting my work out there.
And I’ve been very blessed with some really strong writers and instructors in my corner who over the years have just pushed me to get my stuff out there and to live the dream. So it’s very much a psychological sort of exercise similar to what Brent was sharing, where I had to overcome those issues in order to get my work out there. And logistically, I think the thing that you’ll hear from a lot of writers is just productivity. Establishing a routine and just writing on a regular basis and becoming a member of a critique group and I have an amazing critique group which Brent and DaVaun are members of. And just being courageous enough to be vulnerable and let people read my work and being courageous enough to accept success and accept praise. So all of this has been mixed up in this experience with FIYAH Magazine. I’m just looking forward to getting more of my work out there and I feel like I’m on a roll now. This has been a really positive impetus. Once you get that motivation you just gotta keep it going with that self-confidence and with that routine; and I think with those two things combined will result in… if not success then at least self-satisfaction.
DaVaun: If I can cosign all of that, that was perfect. There was so much in there that was spot-on at least from my experience as well. Early on there’s the dream that you have of writing and the accolades and scanning through all these wonderful review of people who love your work and they’re writing fan fiction on all your stuff and you have all these magical things happening. And then there’s this void between that and your actual grind which in my experience is: after going to the day job, come home and play with the children, play with the wife if we have that opportunity—
DaVaun: — depending on our exhaustion levels to just continue to have a relationship and not be roommates and not be parents. After we’ve done all these things and everybody’s asleep, there is a brief, few, precious minutes of consciousness before I get up and do it all over again where I can choose to write or I can choose to watch my Netflix or stare at my phone or commiserate with other writers who are going through the exact same challenge.
With that being said, I think the biggest challenge early on is just finding that space of people who are going to lift you up. Because I did solitary for a long time and kind of built up a lot of unnecessary doubts and blocks within myself: can I do this, am I wasting my time, should I go get a career for real this time? All these different starts and stops with being completely focused on writing and then balancing all the other things we do in life until that gets to a point of sustainability. Whatever that success looks like for all of us. Shout out to the critique group that’s really been a godsend for me in building that focus and just continuing forward with that positive enthusiasm and being surrounded by people who are doing the same thing and knowing that you’re not alone. I think that’s been probably the strongest thing that’s helped turn that challenge around; just the solitary nature of writing which we all run up against but it’s easy to forget, I guess, when success comes. I don’t know, but that’s it for me.
Ronnie: Absolutely echoing on knowing that you’re not alone. I just recently joined that critique group so I look forward to working with you guys. The work is demanding and all that. I normally don’t have a challenge in writing. I’ve realized that I can’t do it everyday. Some days I’m just a bit more exhausted than others. Generally weekends is my writing time and I have no problem sitting down to do that. One of the challenges that I do have, though, is struggling between short fiction and novel-length fiction. It turns out that I can’t do both at the same time, as badly as I would want to. For example as I talked about the story that’s in FIYAH, that was written after I was done with the novel. And, again, I took a lot of time off of writing short fiction after that because then I jumped immediately into another novel. So the challenge for me is though I love, love, love writing short fiction, I go through these spurts where if I’m writing a novel and I’m working on that for a year, my short story production goes to nil. But I don’t want it to so that’s going to be my challenge for myself this year, is to see if I can find time somewhere to fit in a short piece in between novel writing.
As far as the marketplace, though, the challenge there is of course acceptance. It’s understanding that there are people in magazines —even though those numbers have dwindled quite a bit from when I first started writing— there are magazines that still frankly don’t get you and may not be interested in getting you. So though I’ve had a few token sales and also luckily had the sale to FIYAH, I’ve not been able to broach that first pro sale. I’m still chasing that one. Who knows, maybe this year with help from my new critique group.
Those are my challenges, but echo what everyone else said. I can’t stress enough the importance of community because I operated in a vacuum myself for a bit before I knew there were others like me out there. So wherever you are, find your folks, find your community in your city, online, somewhere out there.
LeKesha: In terms of the marketplace, I’m not too well versed in it. I’m kind of a baby in the whole querying process so I can’t really speak to how difficult or easy it might be to break into it. I think Chesirah was my second short fiction submission ever, and my first sale. My third is a novella submission to Tor’s window that just closed. So my statistics would be skewed. Production-wise, I’m kind of everywhere. My WIP list is going about 12 submissions strong right now. Four of those are novels, one is a graphic novel series, one of them is apparently some idea I had in the middle of the night and I woke up and added it to my WIP list and now I don’t know what it is —
LeKesha: One of them is a novella that I actually started developing this week and then the rest I’m hoping will be short stories. I consider myself more of a novelist than anything but now with the publishing of this story I feel compelled to follow that up with more shorts. I’m still not terribly comfortable with writing short stories. Mine was the novelette in the issue which is still long for a short story. So if I ever get anything in under 7500 words, that’s a day to celebrate.
I think prior to two or three years ago, I wasn’t producing anything at all. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder which I guess answers a whole lot of questions in retrospect as to what exactly I was doing with my life. But if I can go ahead and blame my lack of productivity on that, that’s what I’m going to do. Now that I’m good to go in terms of treatment and everything, my life’s a bit more organized and I’m a lot more focused on the writing aspect of my career than I am in any other sphere except for that life-saving stuff I’m supposed to be doing. I guess I’m hope that that’s no longer a challenge or at least it will be sparingly. My goal list for this year is pretty hardcore but I’m hoping to squeeze out more shorts while I get these novels ready for submission.
Brent: Okay, so do we have time or —
LeKesha: We’re pretty good on time so have at it.[/expand]
[expand title=”Brent: Okay, then. We can go into the fun stuff where we have everybody kind of talk about some of the stories you have going, what kind of projects you’re working on. Our next issue is Spilling Tea so let’s spill some tea about what you’re working on.”]
Malon: Like I said previously, I write slowly. So I’m really only working on one thing now. About a year and a half ago, Brian White, who is the editor and publisher of Fireside Fiction, I’d submitted him a story, a satire story, that satirizes white people in the Black experience and wanting to appropriate that and belong. He said why don’t you write a collection of short stories for me and I said “oh yeah, I’ll do that,” knowing that I write slowly and had never done anything like that. A year and a half later, I’m still working on that last story which is a novella. Actually Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber was a story for that collection and I asked Brian if I could submit it to FIYAH and he said yes, of course. So that’s one that’s going to be in that collection. The last one is a novella that I’m still working on and —never told anyone this but Brian so I’m putting it out there— it is inspired by Hamilton the Musical and the Kendrick Lamar’s [most recent] Grammy performance. I watched that and I had no idea how I was going to write this novella and what I was going to do, but those were the two inspirations. Hopefully I finish this novella by summer and once I do that, the collection will be done.
I do have a story that’s going to come out in Steampunk Universe which I think is going to be out this Spring or Summer. I’m loving that story and I can’t wait until people read that. A few days ago I had a story come out in Shimmer Magazine. That’s really it. Like I said, it’s been slow for me because of this novella but hoping to get into more things.
But I’m going to flip the script here a little bit since I go first, and I just want to say that I think I’ve told almost all of you this individually but I am so proud to be a part of this issue and this magazine. After reading all of your stories, I have never been in a magazine issue or an anthology where I am so proud to be a part of the table of contents. All of the stories are so good and I just can’t tell you… I am so amazed by all of you, your writing, your storytelling, your world-building, I’m just so proud to be a part of this.
LeKesha: If I can, real quick, just say Malon I don’t know if I can speak for everyone on staff but when they finally gave me the names to put on the cover, I was so relieved that you were on there for the first story. I was like “oh my gah, I don’t know what to expect, I don’t know who we’re getting, I haven’t read any of these stories yet” because everything comes to me once all the decisions have been made already. So I was like “‘Malon Edwards’ yesssss, we’re okay. We’ll be fine.”
Brent: That was my reaction. As long as he’s on that table of contents, somebody’s gonna like it.
Malon: That really does mean a lot but I mean you guys are wonderful. DaVaun and Ronnie, I’ve been in table of contents with you before and seen your names and seen your writing before… This is a great group of writers. It really is amazing.
Brent: Yeah, I was so happy to be a part of this group. I just, I was thrilled. When I saw that my story was accepted, I about fell out my chair at work.
Brent: I think it was the best thing about 2016. But in terms, I guess, of what I have going on, for those who do not know, me and LeKesha are pretty much identical twins.
LeKesha: We are!
Brent: So when she says she has four projects, I probably have the same amount. I’m not even going to try to go through all of them but I’ll touch on some of the ones I like the most right now. I just finished the first draft of a novel. It’s a high fantasy novel but it’s full of Black people, it’s full of queer people. It’s full of crazy magic and world-building and I love it so I gotta get cracking on that. The story that’s in draft process that is really catching my interest right now…there are a couple of them but one of them came from LeKesha actually. She had this wonderful idea and she already knows I’m already overworked but she sent it to me anyway and said “here, Brent, write this.”
LeKesha: That’s exactly what happened.
Brent: Exactly. But it’s kind of a Disney fairytale retelling which I know has been kind of beaten to death but the idea here, I believe, is killer. It’s coming from The Little Mermaid story. I don’t want to reveal too much before I really get into it. I have this big thing, personally. I always have defenses for the Disney villains so I was defending the hell out of Jafar one night, then we started talking about Ursula so she kicked that story to me. Speaking of Jafar that’s the other one. I have a story I can get a little more into, kinda like what if Jafar would have been smart in that last moment and made a different wish. Then fast forward ten years later when he’s in charge of Agrabah but the whole world is like “okay we gotta take this guy down” and what happens. Those two I’m really ready to get into. I think those are the biggest things I have on the table right now. I’m just excited. I feel like FIYAH… I’m just going to go for it: I feel like it put a fire under me.
LeKesha: Ha ha. Fire puns will never get old.
Brent: But yeah, those are my works in progress right now.
Wendi: I just want to also say how privileged I am to be a part of this inaugural edition. It has been a great motivator for me in just living that dream and not being afraid of it. So I’ve got a few things in the queue. A short story that I wrote called The Settlement will be featured in the Artemis Rising edition of PodCastle. That’s coming out in March. Those that are not familiar with PodCastle, it is a podcast of audio recordings of speculative fiction and Artemis Rising is their special sort of all-female edition, so please look out for my story on PodCastle, coming out this March.
I was also just recently — thanks to FIYAH and all the great social media this issue has been getting— I was contacted by an editor as I mentioned previously to write a Lovecraft-inspired space opera. So I’m working on that and hopefully they’ll like it and they’ll buy and you guys will see that coming out soon.
Lastly, you know, I’ve written pretty much everything. I’ve written plays, I’ve won awards for play-writing, I was a film major, I’ve written scripts, and now I guess I write short stories. But I do also write, or I’m trying to write, a novel. I’ve been working on a novel for a while that is an interesting take on the lichen canon. So it’s a new spin on werewolves. I’ve gotten some interest from publishers already although it’s not done which is really encouraging. So I just need to finish it. Being in FIYAH and the feedback I’ve gotten from readers has definitely encouraged me to finish that novel. It’s about a young Black girl who discovers that she is a lichen. It’s pretty dark and brutal and empowering and soulful, so I hope to finish that and get that out there as well.
I’m so privileged to be in the company of such great writers, you guys. Your energy feeds me, so thank you.
DaVaun: I also want to mirror that, too. This whole undertaking has been an absolute joy to be a part of. I can’t wait to see the trajectory for all of us, like, where we’re going from here and then as further people go on in the magazine. I feel like this is a special group and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Now upcoming projects, let me think about this for a minute. I felt like I spent a lot of 2016 chasing after special issues and I felt good about that but then I felt funny about it for a lot of different reasons. I want to kind of take a step back. The upside of that is getting a lot of good practicing in the realm of short stories and writing at a different pace than novels, I think. So with that being said, there are two main novels that I would like to complete this year that have been sitting on the hard drive from past National Novel Writing Months that I do have to give a shout out here to Brent who dragged me through. Particularly this last one, because I was done with that book but I got through.
Brent: That’s what I’m here for.
DaVaun: Yeah, I know, man. I appreciate you. There’s a novel that I would like to complete and hopefully get in on one of the various Twitter pitching contests going on. It’s a YA novel, it circles around an alien invasion and it’s gonna be told through multiple points of view just with multiple young protagonists. I’m liking it’s going to be the first book in a series so I want to polish it and submit to the world this year and see how that goes.
I have another work in progress that centers around some paranormal elements but I want to get weird with it. There are angels and vampires and all kinds of stuff in the mix but I need to create some brand new entities to go along with the cast of usual suspects.
The last thing that I really want to finish out is the indie series that I’ve been working on steadily. It’s WORLD BREACH, and that series has three novels in it and I have three more to go so I would like to release at least one of those this year and then have the others in various states of draft. Then I can have that sense of completion as well. But that’s my ridiculously ambitious year, because how else do you do this thing, right?
Ronnie: I would like to add my voice to the chorus. The sale to FIYAH at the end of the year was obviously the highlight of my professional career last year. To just be a part of that, to be a part of something I think is going to be bigger than us, when we look back on this in a few years we’re going to be even more in awe of what was started here with us. And to be with this group just means more than I can tell you guys. Meeting you guys, just being a part of that just means more than I can say.
In terms of things I am working on, I would like to finish going through an edit of the novel that I mentioned before the 1930s carnival. I would like to do that, whether or not it gets done is another story but it’s on the list of things to do. The next thing that I’m already in draft mode on is a —if this is such a thing— a fantasy mystery. It’s set in New Orleans, female protagonist who is going to be dragged into solving some unusual crimes. So if you guys know anybody that’s from Haiti or New Orleans, I need the perspective so please let me know.
The next thing that I’ll be working on is a story that just kind of came to me from nowhere. I’m thinking it’s going to be novella-length. That may or may not change, but I was thinking it’s about a jazz musician and a particularly tortured jazz musician. And I have no more to say about it because I don’t know what more but that’s just the thought that came to me. So those are the things that are on my list for 2017, and if I get two of them done, I’ll be very happy but I’m going to ask you guys to hold me accountable for at least one.
LeKesha: Oh we have no problem holding people accountable.
Brent: Oh I’m good for that.
Ronnie: And I said that on tape, too, didn’t I?
Wendi: You asked us, just remember.
LeKesha: I kind of went down my list of WIPs so far but I guess I’ll focus on the main things going on right now. I’m doing editing on two novels. One of them is the sequel to the novel that I’m currently querying. It will end up being a trilogy and the Chesirah story from the issue takes place in this same universe and involves her and the Cirque Nocturna semi-directly influencing some fateful events. You’ll probably notice a lot of my shorts, if I end up getting them out there, are all related to this one universe. That’s intentional.
The second novel is set in this universe— the universe is called the Three Known Worlds so I don’t have to keep saying universe — but it takes place on an entirely Afro-Latinx continent tangentially significant to the history revealed in the trilogy. It’s a fantasy story involving a lesbian romance between an exiled assassin and an unburnable, metal-bending witch during a time when witches are being hunted down by colonists in order to “help” the indigenous people of the continent let go of their old gods and embrace new ones. And of course, we can’t have that. So hopefully I’m going to put that in beta, I’m thinking in March or April at this point. As long as I’m staying busy with other things, I can’t quite get to it yet.
Brent: And it’s awesome.
LeKesha: Yeah, it’s awesome. Brent has read or has suffered through my summaries about everything that I’m writing so—
Brent: Not suffered. I gladly read all of it. I ask for more, actually….
LeKesha: All right, whatever. He’s so maddeningly supportive so if you ever need a pep talk or something, just hit him up and he’ll talk your ear off for a good hour about how great you are.
DaVaun: Yes, he will.
LeKesha: He’s awesome like that. I’m kind of excited about this new novella concept that I started maybe two days ago? Some of us are on video and Brent’s looking at me, nodding. The novella is based on… how do you say her name? [SZA]’s track “Sweet November” inspired sort of an afrofuturist/neo-noir thing involving a vengeful, lovelorn, necromancing private investigator and some exceptionally creepy dolls so I’m excited to get started. That’s in sort of the outlining stages now. But that’s all I’ve got going on right now. I do have some other shorts and things in the pipeline that if I can get to them, great. If not, I’m trying not to push myself too far because FIYAH’s become a new happy responsibility but still a demand on my time. But I think two novels and a novella is ambitious enough for a year.
Wendi: That’s a little bit going on.
LeKesha: Just a little. Some slight work, it’s fine. If I get anything else going, you guys will be the first to know. We all follow each other on Twitter, so you’ll hear about it.
Brent: I guess before I wrap this up, I just want to say a couple of things. Congrats to all of you who have stories coming up in magazines because we need you out there. I will be reading and I will be supporting.
[Assorted celebratory noises]
Brent: Follow us on Twitter @fiyahlitmag. LeKesha and I kind of manage that account together so we try to make it fun. We want to be inclusive. We want you to come in and talk and enjoy the conversation. And with Black History Month coming up, we have some interesting things that we’re looking forward to. You can also follow us on Tumblr and of course find everything you need on the website at fiyahlitmag.com.
So once again, thank you to the writers for taking the time out just to come together and be a part of this, not just the magazine but a growing Black SFF movement. If I have to say so, I think we came out the gate pretty hard on this first issue. All of us together made a damn good theme. I’m looking forward to the next, but we’re the first, so from now on we can always say we were the first. We’re going to try and make this a regular feature for every issue, get the authors together and chop it up. So thanks for hanging out with us. [/expand]