Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 41
Stories
The Two Kingdoms Woman
by James Beamon
The Time Mechanic
by Marie Vibbert
The Temptation of Father Francis
by Nick T. Chan and Jennifer Campbell-Hicks
The Fiddle Game
by Alex Shvartsman
IGMS Audio
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
At the Picture Show: Extended Cut
Vintage Fiction
Voice of the Martyrs
by Maurice Broaddus

Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With Maurice Broaddus
    by Darrell Schweitzer

Introduction: Maurice Broaddus made his first professional sale with "Family Business," published in Weird Tales in 2006. The story won the World Horror Convention story contest the year before, the judge being none other than Darrell Schweitzer. Broaddus's short fiction has since appeared in Apex, Doorways, Space and Time, Black Static, Asimov's Science Fiction, and numerous anthologies. He branched out into novels with King Maker, King's Justice, and King's War, published by Angry Robot, 2010-11, and recently reprinted in an omnibus, The Knights of Breton Court. He has edited two anthologies with Jerry Gordon, Dark Faith (2010) and Dark Faith: Invocations (2012).

SCHWEITZER: Tell us something of your background, who you are, where you're from, your education, what you did (or still do) as a real job other than writing? Are you full-time these days?

BROADDUS: I was born in London, England, but moved to the states when I was a wee lad. Immediately lost my British accent with the flawed idea that I needed to fit in. I would kill for that accent now. My mother is from Jamaica and my dad from the States. But I've lived most of my life in Indianapolis, Indiana, and when I can, I set my stories there.

I am married (interacially) going on 15 years now. Raising two biracial teenage boys. As a part of how we do life, we're very intentional about living in a diverse neighborhood, going to a diverse school, and attending multi-cultural events.

I have a B.S. in biology which I used for 20 years as an environmental toxicologist. Then I went full time freelance writing for a while before getting involved in a homeless/re-entry housing ministry. But writing is my part-time job and first love.

SCHWEITZER: What attracted you to the fantastic, as opposed to other types of literature?

BROADDUS: Honestly, I think my fourth grade Sunday School teacher had a lot to do with it. He was teaching on Noah's Ark and the flood one day. I put a bunch of floating bodies on the flannel-graph next to the boat because I figured a world-wide flood meant lots of bodies. He and I immediately bonded. We had a mutual love of comic books and he introduced me to Doctor Who and later Stephen King. This also may explain why issues of faith so often enter my stories.

SCHWEITZER: Your remark that you'd kill for that accent now is intriguing. Do you think that a writer has an advantage if he can present himself as exotic, i.e. the Prince from Another Land (Norman Spinrad's phrase) rather than Joe from Down the Block?

BROADDUS: Well, I was originally thinking in terms of my accent aiding me in picking up women during my college days. But, frankly, also it'd be a great asset when I'm speaking on panels. I'm prone to spouting whatever gibberish pops into my head in that instant. Everything seems so much more erudite with a British accent, even gibberish.

As for your actual question, I think there are two phases to that, as there are in general to the life of a writer: the writing and the marketing. As for the writing, it's about finding your voice. Whatever helps define your voice as unique is what you bring to the literary canon. British culture is a part of who I am. Jamaican culture is a part of who I am. Being African American is a part of who I am. Being a man of faith is a part of who I am. Those all go into forming my writing voice.

As for marketing myself, heck yes, I'll take any advantage I can to stand out in a crowd. An accent would be awesome, anything to help folks remember you.

Coming up, I was the diversity at most conventions I went to, and very much felt like a Prince from Another Land. A very lonely prince. Now things are starting to get better. While I'm in no danger of becoming "Joe down the block" just yet, hopefully, in terms of diversity I will be soon. Thus I'll have to rely on being charming and witty.

SCHWEITZER: So, how long were you writing before you sold anything?

BROADDUS: That depends on if I mark my writing life with the first short story I wrote, "The Big Mac Attacker," the sordid tale of a Big Mac being devoured from the point of view of the Big Mac. I was in fifth grade, although, to be fair, I also won an essay contest that year.

In college, 1993, I began writing short stories, even received an honorable mention for the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Writing. I also started my first novel. It took me seven years to write that beast, but I finally reached The End. That was in 2000. That's when I typically mark the beginning of my writing career. One of my professors told me that "writers finish things" so I never considered myself a writer until I finished it. I sold my first story, "Soul Food," to the small press Hoodz magazine in 2001.

For the record, that novel is still unsold. As is the second novel I wrote. And the third. Someone once said that you have to write 250,000 (or was it a million) words before you start getting the hang of it. These were all words to make that threshold.

SCHWEITZER: We would qualify this by saying that an upper class British accent sounds more erudite. A Cockney, much less so. You will notice how American snobs (particularly in the East) try to sound veddy veddy British. You must have certain insights from being both an insider and an outsider at the same time, which informs the perspective of your fiction.

BROADDUS: Outsider. To truly get that, and how it informs nearly all of my work, I probably ought to give you some perspective. I mentioned that my mother is Jamaican and my dad African American. I can't begin to tell you how many discussions around the dinner table began "The problem with you people is . . ." I never knew which side of the "you" I was supposed to be on. This was compounded by the fact that other than my home, I was raised in a mostly white environment: a special school program and the church my parents sent me to, which formed the bulk of my social life. I was over being the "token" in any given social situation pretty early on. That being said, it left me with a sense of always being the outsider in any given circumstance. Even if I were among my own people.

Case in point: my first professional sale was the story "Family Business" to Weird Tales Magazine. In it, you have a son raised by a Jamaican mother who goes back to Jamaica on his own for the first time to experience the culture for himself, as himself. It's a story that partly reflects on identity (as a lot of my stories do) and cultural exploration. Even then, there's the sense of me writing, and the reader experiencing the story, as an invited outsider.

Plus side, the outsider perspective is also a relational cheat. Everyone at one point or another has been the outsider, so they can always relate to that perspective.

SCHWEITZER: This may be a politically sensitive question (everything is these days), but given that an editor is dealing with a name on a manuscript and can't even tell if the writer is African American, and therefore couldn't exercise prejudice even if he were so inclined, why do you think that African American writers have not (at least until recently) been entering SF/fantasy in proportion to their numbers? I admit I can't think of any at all before the 1970s other than Samuel R. Delany.

BROADDUS: I can only speak to my experience. To grow up black and geek meant swimming against the tide (not so much these days). I felt alone, as if I was the only one out there. I didn't discover Samuel R. Delany or Chester Himes or Charles Saunders until I was well into genre stuff. So I came up reading stories that I couldn't identify with. Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, were who I came up reading. Still great stories, but part of me couldn't identify with some of the work. When I read Octavia Butler, I discovered a missing part of myself. Just like reading Stephen King encouraged me to incorporate my faith more into my work (Desperation was a real turning point for me), Octavia Butler challenged me to explore my culture more in my work. To truly find my own voice.

Editors can be more proactive though. I co-edited the Dark Faith anthology series and the upcoming Streets of Shadows anthology. Every time I sit down to put together an anthology, I put together a list of writers I'd love to work with. I don't consciously count people of color to make sure I have a good mix, but I know that diversity is important to me and I actively reached out to as diverse a group as I could. So I don't let editors entirely off the hook.

SCHWEITZER: I think it was Bradbury who said you had to write a million words, and he was thinking more in terms of a story a week for a year. You must be brave or at least stubborn to work your way all the way through those novels that did not sell. Didn't it occur to you to try short stories first, until you started selling, and only then attempt a novel?

BROADDUS: I love short stories. I fell in love with Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Clive Barker through their short work first. Eventually I read some of their novels. My first short stories, way back in high school, were all shades of Poe. In college, all I wrote were short stories. Short stories are my first love. And short stories kept me sane.

So my first novel attempt, Strange Fruit, took seven years to write. Like most writers, I live on the rush of being able to type "The End" when I've completed a work. But, seriously, seven years? I can only take so much delayed gratification. So I would take breaks and write short stories just to be able to complete something.

Plus, short stories are my little private laboratory. I can always experiment with style and voice and teach myself new literary "tricks" that I can then bring to any novels that I write.

SCHWEITZER: But now you're a big-time novelist. They were giving away copies of your The Knights of Breton Court at the World Fantasy Con in Brighton, and I thought, "Hey, I know that guy!" and carried it back across the Atlantic. I was very pleased to see how far you had progressed in your career. So, what is this about an Arthurian Mythos set in Indianapolis?

BROADDUS: I don't know about big-time, but I do have my own Wikipedia page!

The Knights of Breton Court was such an interesting writing experience. It began as a writing exercise. I was leading a creative arts program working with homeless youth and I had tossed out the line "princes and princesses of the streets." The idea rather stuck with me. I have always loved the Arthurian mythos. Maybe it's my British side popping through or being weaned on Monty Python and the Holy Grail as well as Excalibur (which I eventually watched another half dozen times while writing the books and called it research). Anyway, the idea became the basis of me attempting to do National Novel Writing Month and next thing I knew, I had the rough draft for King Maker.

Here's the other thing, I love crime fiction. George Pelecanos. Elmore Leonard. David Simon (who, technically, writes non-fiction). With the setting of my take on the Arthurian legends revolving around the lives of homeless teens and gang members in Indianapolis, the series has the pacing of a crime novel rather than a fantasy novel.

When all is said and done, acknowledging my love of horror, the scariest part of the series was the lives of the kids. In the series, magic becomes a metaphor for homelessness: it's all around us if we choose to see it.

SCHWEITZER: The mythic elements are metaphors then? The original Arthurian story seems a metaphor for statehood. Do you see it as a striving for order within your own novels?

BROADDUS: Very much so. Two of the things King has to come to terms with is the fact that he's caught up in The Story and he's trying to bring reconciliation to his divided neighborhood. It's a burden he takes on himself because no one else seems to care enough to do anything about what's going on.

At the same time, the mythic/magic elements are treated as matter of fact. Of course, tainted drugs produce zombie drug users. Of course there's a dragon living in the basement of an apartment building. Of course there are troll hitmen or elf assassins running around. Basically, of course, there is this magical underbelly to Indianapolis, its shadow self. All cities have one, but we'd rather pretend or be caught up in our constructed safe worlds rather than see it.

SCHWEITZER: Just curious: Have you read Sanders Anne Laubenthal's Excalibur? This is an Arthurian novel set in Mobile, Alabama. It was in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series. The editor, Lin Carter, said that when he got the proposal he didn't believe it could be done, but he allowed himself to be convinced. An Arthurian story set in Indianapolis also sounds pretty dubious. Did you have trouble convincing the editor?

BROADDUS: I didn't and I read so  much Arthurian material. Le Morte d"Arthur, comic books (Camelot 3000 and Mage), The Once and Future King, Peter David's Knight Life, research papers. The more I read, the more I became convinced that I could do anything I wanted with the story because the underlying mythos was so strong.

I had actually sent a different novel to Angry Robot. They rejected it (it was that second novel I had mentioned before), but they said that they liked my writing style. They asked if I had anything else. "Well, I have this novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month which I just polished. It's The Wire meets Excalibur." [i.e. the John Boorman film, not the Laubenthal novel - DS] They said "if you can make it work, we're buying this book." I sent them three chapters. They offered me a contract.

SCHWEITZER: Did you read any of the other medieval Arthurian material other than Malory?

BROADDUS: Tons, including Welsh poems. It's one of the reason why there are so many characters in the series. I delve into a lot of the "side stories," for example, bringing in the Green Knight, the Red Knight, and the Black Knight, not to mention Tristan and Iseult.

SCHWEITZER: Is it the King Arthur mythos which is so universally applicable, or is this more a matter of Joseph Campbell's mono-myth about the Hidden Hero, which is found in cultures all over the world?

BROADDUS: I think it's a bit of both. Campbell's mono-myth certainly plays a part in the cycle, but the mythos are so grand and expansive, filled with such drama and passion, that people simply relate to them. I had to be careful while writing the Tristan and Iseult storyline to make sure it didn't take over the entire book.

SCHWEITZER: I suppose if Tristan and Iseult threatened to take over the entire book, you could have let them have an entire volume to yourself. Surely the publisher would encourage this for a successful series.

BROADDUS: From your lips . . .

SCHWEITZER: Have you felt any inclination to go the Charles Saunders route and address specifically African material?

BROADDUS: Funny you should mention that. I've written several "sword and soul" stories, two of which feature a warrior named Dinga Cisse and the third featuring the heroine Lalyani. My fourth novel Black Son Rising felt like a love letter to Charles Saunders and will probably have a home before too long.

The idea that has been noodling around in the back of my head has been to explore more specifically Jamaican material, which of course has its roots in West African traditions.

SCHWEITZER: What about the narrative voice? Do you have to wait until you can "hear" the story in your head, or can you just make that happen?

BROADDUS: Now's normally the time when I would wax eloquent about "my muse" or the perils of writer's block, but my wife cured me of a lot of my writer's angst. It involved a "come to Jesus" type conversation where she reminded me that we can't afford writer's block because we have bills to pay so I better plant my butt in a chair, get over myself, and get to putting words on the page.

Once I have my notes, I can usually go. But a lot of those notes involve background on my characters, typically snippets of conversation, and description. So I know quite a bit about the POV character and how they sound before I put pen to paper. (Literally, pen to paper. I still write long hand.) Also, armed with my notes, it cuts down the odds of becoming stuck.

SCHWEITZER: I am reminded of L. Sprague de Camp saying that much of writing consists of "the application of the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." In other words, self-discipline. Do you think you'd write any differently if you didn't have to make a living at it?

BROADDUS: I'm not sure. There are some projects I might have passed on if the payday wasn't so good. Who am I kidding? I'd probably still have taken them. Taking on projects helps reinforce the discipline to be honest with you. With a lot of looming deadlines, I don' have the luxury to lie around or take extended breaks. Deadlines don't move all that much, so I have to stay on it. On the plus side, having multiple projects means that if I do get stuck on one, I can always switch to another.

I don't even get to enjoy what I call "the cigar moment": that moment when I type "The End" and have completed a project. I allow myself the evening for a glass of muse juice (Riesling), but the next day I know I have another project to get to.

SCHWEITZER: Let's talk about influences a little. Who are some of your favorite writers and how did they influence you? Was it a matter of your finding these writers at the right time?

BROADDUS: Coming up, Stephen King influenced me on characterization. Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link on that sense of wonder and story. Octavia Butler on voice. Elmore Leonard on dialogue. George Pelecanos on plotting. Michael Chabon and Junot Diaz on style and prose. Amy Hempel . . . just because she's cool and I love her way with words.

All of them I found at the right time. I'm always looking for new books to read and writers to learn from. There's this whole canon of words to choose from so we have this advantage of choosing from some truly great teachers. Then I kick myself for not discovering them sooner. Case in point, Walter Moseley's Futureland. That book rocked my world in terms of how to incorporate worldview into story.

SCHWEITZER: Tell me about projects you're working on now or plan for the future.

BROADDUS: I have a massive "sekrit projekt" which I'm working on (Non-Disclosure Agreements and everything!). That should keep me tied up through the end of the year writing-wise. Well, it should. I'm also doing the final prep on Streets of Shadows (Alliteration Ink), an urban fantasy meets crime anthology co-edited with Jerry Gordon and featuring such writers as Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Kevin J. Anderson, Kathryn Rusch, and Tim Lebbon. I'm about to release a short story collection tentatively titled Walkers with the Dawn (Blackwyrm Books). I'd keep an eye on the Firefly RPG stuff from Margaret Weis Productions as well as the Storium storytelling game. Be looking for an announcement about my sword and soul novel, Black Son Rising (co-written with Steve Shrewsbury) soon.

Coming up early next year includes me wrapping up Pimp My Airship: The Novel (plus another short story collection of steampunk tales all in the same universe), a science fiction/crime novel tentatively titled Serpent (co-written with Jason Sizemore), plus a middle grade detective novel. There's about a half dozen short stories sprinkled among all of that I've already committed to also. That should be enough to kick off 2015.

SCHWEITZER: Thanks, Maurice.


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