Kool Kat of the Week: Weird Worlds and Twisted Tales: Spec-Lit Author Nicole Givens Kurtz Talks Diverse Voices, Representation and BLACKTASTICON 2018, Coming to Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 12th, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

The State of Black Science Fiction shouts “Welcome to the Future!” as co-founders Kool Kat Balogun Ojetade and Milton Davis bring you BLACKTASTICON 2018, Atlanta’s top-notch spec-lit convention (formerly known as The State of Black Science Fiction Con), this  Saturday and Sunday (June 16-17) at GA Tech’s Ferst Center. This event is chock full of Afro-futurism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, and then some! So come on out and celebrate the diverse and ultra relevant voices of current black writers, artists, filmmakers, and creators of all kinds delivering some of the most dynamic and ground-breaking speculative fiction today, including our Kool Kat of the Week, Nicole Givens Kurtz.

Kurtz, Dream Realm, EPPIE and Fresh Voices in Science Fiction award finalist, delves deep into the speculative literature genre (sci-fi, horror, weird westerns, urban fantasy, etc.). Her short stories have been published in thirty plus anthologies including “KQ” (LOST TRAILS: FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST, VOL. 2 – wild west/horror), “Death’s Harvest” (STREET MAGICK ANTHOLOGY – urban fantasy); “Kanti’s Black Box” (THE MARTIAN ANTHOLOGY – science fiction), just to name a few. Kurtz is also the mastermind behind the CYBIL LEWIS and MINISTER KNIGHTS series. In addition to her prolific writing career, Kurtz is publisher and owner of Mocha Memoirs Press, brought to life in order to bring more diverse voices to the land of speculative fiction.

ATLRetro caught up with North Carolina-based writer and frequent Atlanta visitor, Nicole Givens Kurtz, to find out more about her influences, her career in spec-lit, the need for diversity and representation, and the importance of BLACKTASTICON.

ATLRetro: The first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention was a hit with over 500 attendees and 40 vendors. Atlanta welcomes it back for another exciting year as Blacktasticon 2018 invades the south once again! As a guest and panelist at last year’s event, can you tell us a little about your experience and what you hope to gain this year?

Nicole Givens Kurtz: The first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention was an awe-inspiring event. It also felt like a homecoming. Many of the people there I’ve known virtually via social media. There were hugs, laughter, and a great deal of support. One of the beautiful things about the convention resided in the warmth and promotion of black science fiction. It was ours. Here we were not the fringe of the convention, but the center, its heart. That paradigm shift hit me hard, and there were times when I looked out at the sea of black faces–faces like mine–that I wanted to weep in joy.  I’ve never felt so included in a convention before.

Blacktasticon welcomes us to the future, a boundless and complex yet beautiful future. With the current state of politics, of the #metoo movement, of the societal woes and bloody wounds still saturating the present-day, what message do you hope current writers and creators bring to the table for future generations?

The overriding message I hope Blacktasticon delivers to future generations is that we (African-Americans) aren’t going anywhere. The future is full of black people, including women. We are a creative force, in all aspects of media, comics, movies, novels, and animation. This convention shows the future generations what we are capable of and what they can do. Those creative doors aren’t shut to them because of traditional gatekeepers. This goes beyond simply diversity, but the nuisances of the black collective. African-Americans aren’t a monolith, and here at this convention, all of those various talents are displayed.

Black Women in Sci-Fi Panel 2016 (l-r) Nicole Givens Kurtz, Alicia McCalla, Penelope Flynn, Kyoto M., Rennie Murphy

Do you feel it is the job of artists, writers and creators to represent what this world should be and could be? If so, which speculative fiction writer past or present would you say represents the most comprehensive ideal of how the world and its inhabitants should be?

Science fiction has always been political. Mary Shelley‘s FRANKENSTEIN is an absolute novel about hubris. So, yes, I do feel it is our job to tell stories, as humans have done since the beginning of time, since before written language. We tell stories to explain the world around us. That’s the role of artists, writers, and creators to continue to tell those stories, including what the world should be and what it could be. Past fiction writers that I feel offered the most comprehensive ideal of our world are classics such as Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Zora Neale Hurston, and of course, Mary Shelley. There are modern writers of science fiction and fantasy who are representing the world as is or how it could be as well. N.K. Jemisin, Daniel Jose Older, Max Gladstone and anyone at Rosarium Publishing is presenting fabulous visions of the future.

Can you tell us how you got started writing? Did you start writing as a little girl? Or were you older when the writing bug bit you?

I’ve been writing stories before I could actually write words. When I was little, I would go up to my room and continue the stories I saw on television with my dolls or in my head. Once I learned to write, I would scribble the stories down, but it wasn’t until high school where I won a district wide essay contest that I realized I could make money from writing. I read everything I could get my hands on from elementary school onward. My mother encouraged me to keep reading and we spent many weekends at the public library checking out books. When I became a teenager, I would skip the mall and spend my Saturday buried in books, gaining knowledge, and losing myself in other worlds.

Your Mocha Memoirs Press mission statement is “We believe representation in speculative fiction (science fiction, horror, fantasy) is not only important, but a necessity.” Can you tell our readers a little bit about Mocha Memoirs Press, LLC, and why you feel representation is essential?

Mocha Memoirs began as a way for me to funnel more diverse works into the world, where at the time, I saw a huge gap. The company began in 2010, and at that time, I did not see vary many science fiction works that reflected people of color, women, or black women in particular. Often when I attended conventions with my first novel, I was the only black person there at all, let alone actually selling my published novel. In an effort to give back but also bring awareness to the diverse stories we can tell, I started Mocha Memoirs Press. Representation is essential because it provides positive self affirmation. Essentially, seeing oneself in media as a hero, heroine, or protagonists demonstrates to the reader/viewer, “You matter. You exist. This future is yours and you have a place in it. This story could be your story.” Everyone wants to be valued. Representation should reflect the diversity of our world.

We see that you’ve had work published in LOST TRAILS: FORGOTTEN TALES OF THE WEIRD WEST, LAWLESS LANDS, and STRAIGHT OUTTA TOMBSTONE, to name a few. Can you tell us about your love of westerns (the weirder the better) and how living in New Mexico influenced your writing?

Prior to moving to New Mexico, I lived in a variety of other places (San Diego, Chicago, Louisville) but nothing took root inside me the way the Land of Enchantment did. My mother was always a western fan, and in our household, I grew up with Clint Eastwood, SHANE, and THE RIFLEMAN. To this day, my mother still sits and watches westerns. Imagine a young black girl in a housing project watching these men settle scores with the fastest pistols in the west. As a writer, my weird western stories are rooted in the theme of freedom. This place, the west, specifically, the southwest, thrived with a diverse group of people–Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, freed slaves, and of course, wealthy Eastern whites; each having to work together to scrape out a life in this harsh, new environment, and in doing so crafted an entirely different way of life, of culture, unlike those in the East. Those differences still resonate through to this day. That’s why I write weird westerns.

You’ve had short stories published in over thirty anthologies ranging from science fiction to horror and have had your novels become finalists for several awards, such as the EPPIES, Dream Realm and Fresh Voices in Sci-Fi. If you had to choose a favorite short story or novel from your bibliography, which would you choose and why?

This is like asking me to pick my favorite child! Of all the short stories I’ve written, “Belly Speaker,” is my favorite. It’s my favorite because it is a weird western, but it is about finding one’s voice when others threaten to silence it. My favorite novel, of the ones I’ve written, is DEVOURER. In this second MINISTER KNIGHTS OF SOULS novel, Akub seeks to redeem herself from her violent past by doing something criminal.  I’m interested in redemption and how we overcome the actions of our past.

Which writer from the past and which writer from the present has influenced and continues to influence you the most and what is it about them that draws them to you?

The writer from my past that influenced me the most is Stephen King. Most of my stories have their roots in weird, strange horror. Even if they’re science fiction stories, horrific things happen in them. Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Zora Neale Hurston, and classic literature such as Shirley Jackson, Alice Walker, and of course, Octavia Butler have all influenced me.

Having had the pleasure of experiencing your panels at last year’s convention, we know you’re not only a killer storyteller, but you’re also a spooky horror film junkie and fanatic like us! Can you tell us your favorite horror movie and why it ranks at the top of your list?

My favorite horror movie of all time is MY BLOODY VALENTINE, the remake. Don’t judge me! Prior to that movie, my favorite horror films were from the 1980s: LOST BOYS, FRIGHT NIGHT and HELLRAISER. I still watch these films on streaming media whenever I need a good scare.

As a writer working in the science-fiction, fantasy and horror genres, what challenges have you personally faced that seem to be a common theme among women, especially women of color in the industry?

When I began my career in science fiction publishing in 2005, the challenges were getting past the gatekeepers at major publishing companies to even look at my work. So many rejections of “Cannot identify with this character,” and “Nice concept, can’t sell it.” The perception that black protagonists wouldn’t sell or that readers who weren’t black couldn’t identify with a non-white protagonist in science fiction was astounding to me. This same genre where people could identify with shapeshifting tigers, but not another human being, continues to be the drumbeat for certain editors and publishers today. The difference today (14 years later) is the convenience of small press publishing, electronic book publishing, and self publishing options that allows my work to by-pass some of those gatekeepers. Conventions like Blacktasticon help me market and connect to readers who are hungry for those stories.

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

Five things I’m in to right now are: 1) CLOAK & DAGGER on Freeform/Hulu; 2) ALTERED CARBON-the series with Kovacs is a good cyberpunk series; 3) Sting’s TEN SUMMONER’S TALES is always in rotation; 4) Andrea Botticelli is also in heavy rotation; and 5) ROUTE 3 by Robert Jeffery is a comic series that I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Any advice for women writers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

Nicole Givens Kurtz and SOBSFC guest 2016

DO.NOT.SETTLE. I wish I would’ve stuck to this advice at the onset of my career. Don’t settle. Do your research because this business requires a great deal of patience. Know what you want and do not settle for anything less.

Getting back to what brought us here, Blacktasticon 2018! Is there anything exciting you have planned for attendees? Can you give us a sneak peek into the panels you’ll be sitting on?

My press, Mocha Memoirs, will have special package pricing just for the convention. I’m on the Women in Black Speculative Fiction panel, which I’m very excited to be a part of again. Last time we had standing room only!

And last but not least, what are you currently working on and how can we get our hands on it?

I’m currently working on finishing a novella, that’s romance and fantasy. Afterwards, I’m diving back into my Cybil Lewis Science Fiction Mystery series. Then later this year, I’ll be working on my weird western short story collection.

 

Photos courtesy of Nicole Givens Kurtz and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Space Is the Place: Balogun Ojetade’s Journey from Sword and Soul to Co-Founding The State of Black Science Fiction Convention Which Lands in Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2016 By:

Official Logo 1The Mothership lands in Atlanta this weekend. No, it’s not a Funkadelic concert, but the first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention (SOSBFC) at the Southwest Arts Center Saturday June 11 and Sunday June 12. For all the talk about accepting the diversity of the alien, science fiction’s early history is peopled by white super-men protagonists, and some today seem to want to keep it that way if recent controversies in fandom  are any indication. But black writers, artists and filmmakers have been emerging to create some of the most dynamic and innovative speculative fiction today, pushing boundaries and re-imaging earth’s future and space as diverse, complex, uncomfortable, beautiful and inspiring.

SOSBFC aims to bring together the most comprehensive celebration of black creators of science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics to date. Just a glance at the programming schedule is sure to cause sensory overload with the mix of panels, speakers, workshops, presentations and kids’ activities to nurture the next generation of creators and fans–something most cons neglect. There’s also a dealers room and art show, cosplay is encouraged, and there’s even going to be onsite food that’s more than pizza or burgers, we hear – something most cons neglect! Whether you’re into Afrofuturism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, or just what the find out what the funk is happening, SOSBFC is the place.

Needless to say, our choice of Kool Kat this week was easy. ATLRetro caught up with Atlanta-based writer Balogun Ojetade, co-founder with writer/editor/publisher Milton Davis, to find out more about how Atlanta’s newest spec-lit convention got launched, what’s planned and what’s next.

OctaviaEButler_KindredATLRetro: To many, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler lit the fuse on an African-American SF perspective, yet W.E.B. DuBois published an SF story back in 1908. Which SF/spec-lit authors were early favorites/inspirations for you?

Balogun Ojetade: My early inspirations were Charles R. Saunders, the Father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro series of novels and the brilliant master storyteller and poet, Henry Dumas, whose short stories “Fon,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Ark of Bones” were the greatest influences on my horror and fantasy writing style as a young man.

Atlanta’s been characterized as a center for Afrofuturism. Can you talk a little about the local community of black writers and publishers? Do you feel like you were part of a movement?

Atlanta is where the now worldwide State of Black Science Fiction author, publisher, artist, filmmaker, game designer and cosplayers collective was founded. As one of the founders of this collective and one of its most active members, I am certainly part of a movement, which is still very much alive. I am also one of the people who founded the Steamfunk Movement, along with author and publisher Milton Davis, who also resides in Atlanta.

Official Flyer 4What’s the specific origin story of SOBSFC?

The origin of the State of Black Science Fiction Convention, or SOBSF Con, began about four years ago. In the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group we had a lively discussion about the need for a convention that would not only showcase comic books by creators of African descent, but would also showcase novels, films, artwork, fashion design, cosplay, African martial arts and much more. We wanted to give con goers a full and enriching experience.

It was originally decided that each region would host a convention – one would be in Atlanta, one in the DC / Maryland / Baltimore area, one in New York City, one in Chicago and so on – on the same days and times. We would call this mega event Diaspora Con. Well, certain things happened that let Milton Davis and I know that Diaspora Con was not to be, so we scrapped the idea, but the desire to give the world a convention that showcased black speculative works continued to burn.

In early 2015, Milton and I decided we would host a con that would draw fans and creators of black speculative fiction, film, fashion and fabrication from around the country. We agreed on the name State of Black Science Fiction Convention and then started making plans. By mid-2015, we made our plans public and received positive feedback from hundreds of people who said they would attend such a con in Atlanta and here we are.

imaro_cush_nightshadeDo you think SOBSFC and a greater push for diversity in SF publishing is especially needed right now in light of the Sad and Rabid Puppies Hugo Awards controversy and Internet outrage about a black lead in the recent Star Wars movie?

These controversies and the outrage is nothing new. You have always had and will always have ignorant and fearful people in all walks of life. The science fiction and fantasy community is not exempt from this. There has always been a need for a SOBSF Con and for a constant push for diversity in SFF publishing. The more we push, the more people know we are here. The more people know we are here, the more that know there are alternatives to the racist, sexist rubbish they have had to endure for so long.

SOBSFC is billed as the “most comprehensive presentation of black speculative fiction ever.” There’s a lot going on for just $25 for both days (a bargain compared to DragonCon, most cons).  I know this is a hard question but what 3-5 pieces of programming should con attendees be sure not to miss and why?  

Yes, it is a hard question because the programming is so Blacktastic, but I will share a few that I know people will absolutely be blown away by.

  1. The YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest: Imagine hordes of black cosplayers of all ages and body types presenting mainstream, independent AND original characters from film, comic books, anime, manga, or of their own design. TOO cool!
  2. The Future is Stupid Art Show: Dozens of Afrofuturistic pieces of artwork by Atlanta’s favorite artists will be found all over the exterior and interior of the convention facility.
  3. The Big, Beautiful, Black Roundtable: At this “Town Meeting” we will present, discuss, listen to and put into effect strategies and collaborations to take black speculative fiction/film/fashion/fabrication to the next level!
  4. The Charles R. Saunders Tribute: We will share stories about how this great man has influenced our writing, his history and great contribution to the advancement of speculative fiction and we will read excerpts from his works, all before presenting Charles with a much deserved award.

 Official Flyer 3Can you talk a little about the writer guests and how they reflect the variety and scope of black spec-lit today?

We have some great guests at SOBSF Con and the authors represent the entire spectrum of speculative fiction. Here are a few:

  1. Valjeanne Jeffers: Writes horror, Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
  2. Zig Zag Claybourne: Writes action and adventure, Rococoa and Cyberfunk.
  3. Derrick Ferguson: New pulp icon. Creator of black pulp heroes Dillon and Fortune McCall.
  4. Cerece Rennie Murphy: Writes urban fantasy for adult, young adult and middle grade readers.
  5. Brandon Massey: Master of horror and suspense.
  6. Hannibal Tabu: Comic book writer and critic.

We also have authors of Cyberfunk, Dieselfunk, Dark Universe (Space Opera) Afrofuturistic fusions of hip-hop, jazz, blues, time travel, magic realism and urban fantasy and much more. Black speculative fiction is very broad and very deep. Con-goers are in for a powerful experience.

This is a really exciting time for black filmmakers in SF and horror. Can you talk a little about that and how that will be reflected in SOBSFC’s programming?

As a lifelong fan and creator of science fiction and fantasy with strong horror elements and straight up horror, too, I am very excited. The digital age has allowed filmmakers who would have otherwise been unable to tell their stories – stories in which the Black character doesn’t die within the first 10 minutes or die sacrificing himself or herself so the white hero can live on to save the day – to now tell stories in which Black people are the heroes, sheroes and even mastermind villains.

Saturday 20th June 2009. Old Devils Peak Quarry, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. STILLS FROM WANURI KAHIU'S FILM 'PUMZI'! A 20 min Sci-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III, ‘The Water War’!   A series of stills photographs taken during the production of Wanuri Kahiu's short film, 'Pumzi'. Wanuri Kahiu, an award winning Kenyan Filmmaker, wrote and directed the film that was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa. These stills specifically were taken on various locations in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa during June 2009. The film is a futuristic work based on a devastated world without water and other precious commodities. The film, set in the Kenyan countryside, questions the price of fresh water, fresh air, fresh food and other commodities and revolves mainly around its central character, 'Asha'. The film also focuses on how to harvest moisture, energy and food in all their varied forms in order to supply the human food chain that depends on these life precious things for their ultimate survival. In the film Asha is a curator at a virtual natural history museum in the Maitu Community located in the Eastern African territory. Outside of the community, all nature is extinct. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she decides to plant a seed in it. The seed starts to germinate instantly. Despite repeated instructions from her superior to throw out the soil sample, she appeals to the Council to grant her an exit visa to leave the community and plant the seed. Her visa is denied and she is evacuated from the Museum. Asha decides to break out of the inside community to plant the seed in the ‘dead’ outside. She battles with her own fear and apprehension of the dead and derelict outside world to save the growing plant. Essentially Asha embarks on a personal quest that becomes her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening that causes h

Many great independent films and web series have been developed, screened and gained massive followings and Hollywood has been paying attention, so now you have the Black Panther stealing the show in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and even getting his own movie. You have Idris Elba playing Roland in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Will Smith and Viola Davis starring in SUICIDE SQUAD as Killer Croc, Deadshot and Amanda Waller, respectively.

And television is even more progressive, giving starring roles to black people in several Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror-themed series and having very diverse casts on these shows.

But again, this all began with black indie filmmakers. To reflect this, SOBSF Con is featuring our Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival, which showcases short and feature films by independent creators. Many of the films creators will also be on hand to share their creative process and answer questions from the audience. Just a few of the films screening at the film festival are: PUMZI (award-winning science fiction short from Africa),  DAYBLACK (horror), BLACK PANTHER: STORMS OF CARNAGE Parts 1 & 2 (superhero / fantasy), REIGN OF DEATH (dieselfunk), DANGER WORD (horror; written and produced by master horror author Tananarive Due and science fiction icon Steven Barnes), RITE OF PASSAGE: INITIATION (steamfunk), and a special screening of the science fiction film RETURNED.

13335708_10204767521866576_1909339829978449592_nWhat about comics at SOBSFC? 

You cannot have a science fiction and fantasy convention without comic books! While comic books are not the focus at SOBSF Con – our focus is on all aspects of black speculative creation – most of the creators and fans at SOBSF Con were heavily influenced and inspired to “do” Science Fiction and Fantasy from our love of comic books, manga, animation and anime. Thus, there will be comic book vendors at SOBSF Con and some giants in the industry are distinguished guests, including Dawud Anyabwile, the co-creator and artist of the iconic blockbuster comic book series BROTHERMAN; Marvel Comics artist Afua Richardson, best known for her work in the award-winning and politically potent Image / Top Cow miniseries GENIUS; Tony Cade, comic book publisher and owner of comic book company, Terminus Media; and TUSKEGEE HEIRS creators Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham, just to name a few. The creators and publishers will share their knowledge and experience with con-goers on the Create Your Own Comic Book and Black Craft and Consciousness in Comic Books panels.

Atlanta is known for its cosplay community. Are you encouraging costuming and will there be activities for cosplayers?

We highly encourage cosplay and invite all the cosplayers in Atlanta to come out and join us! We are very excited about our YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest I mentioned above, and we also have the Cosplay in Non-Canon Bodies panel, facilitated by popular cosplayers, TaLynn Kel, who will be joined by popular cosplayers, JaBarr Lasley and Dru Phillips.

Balogun Ojetade.

Balogun Ojetade.

What else would you like people to know about SOBSFC?

While SOBSF Con offers all the great things you expect from a great fan convention – awesome panels, cosplayers, genre films, a dealers’ room with all kinds of cool stuff for sale – we also have offerings you probably have never seen at any con before, such as Tiny Yogis, a yoga class for children; 5P1N0K10 (SPINOKIO), an Afrofuturistic, hip-hop puppet show by a master puppeteer named Jeghetto; Traditional Arms, Armor and Martial Arts of Afrika; Afrikan Martial Arts for Youth Workshop; traditional African artifacts and soaps, oils and fabrics sold in the dealers’ room; your questions answered through traditional Afrikan casting of lots by the Amazing Identical Ojetade Twins (one is a 13-year-old boy; the other a 6-year-old girl); gourmet pot pies; and, most importantly, a place where you can be yourself without judgment, without rude comments, but with love and appreciation. This is a fun event for the entire family you do NOT want to miss!

Beneath the Shining Jewel CoverFinally, would you like to take a moment to talk about your own writing? What’s your latest work and what are you up to next? Feel free to add where we can find you at SOBSFC!

I am always happy to talk about my writing. For those who don’t know me, I write fiction, nonfiction and screenplays. I also direct films and choreograph stunts and fights for films. As a fiction writer, I am most known for my Steamfunk novels, MOSES: THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN and THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN: FREEDONIA; my Sword and Soul novel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA; and for the STEAMFUNK anthology, which I co-edited with author Milton Davis. However, my novels cover the spectrum of black speculative fiction: Dieselfunk, Rococoa, Afrofuturism; urban fantasy; action-adventure and horror.

My latest work is BENEATH THE SHINING JEWEL, a horror novel set in Ki Khanga, a Sword and Soul world created by Milton Davis and me for our upcoming tabletop role-playing game, KI KHANGA. I am finishing up a Dark Universe (space opera) novel and have a horror short film I wrote slated to begin production in the fall. Finally, in August, comic book artist Chris Miller (Chris Crazyhouse) and I begin work on a graphic novel that is going to blow away fans of manga, comic books and black speculative fiction!

Thanks, so much, for this opportunity and I look forward to seeing everyone at the State of Black Science Fiction Convention June 11 and 12!

SOBSFCON FultonCty

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Chesya Burke Investigates the Harlem Renaissance in THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA

Posted on: Jan 29th, 2016 By:

chesya1Atlanta author Chesya Burke finds a mystery in 1920s Harlem in THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA, her debut novel  from Rothco Press which has its launch party Friday Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Charis Books and More in Little Five Points. The innovative and much anticipated story features as its protagonist feisty would-be detective Jaz Idewell, daughter of the first African-American officer in the New York Police Department, and as her best friend a young Zora Neale Hurston.

Chesya has been turning heads with her short fiction, unabashedly bringing an African-American  woman’s perspective to horror and spec-lit. Her first story collection, LET’S PLAY WHITE, came out from Apex Publications in 2011, and other recent publications include “In the Quad of Project 327,” in CASSILDA’S SONG, an all-women authors’ collection of stories inspired by Robert W. ChambersTHE KING IN YELLOW which featured in HBO’s TRUE DETECTIVE.

ATLRetro was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at STRANGE CRIMES and enjoyed it so much we couldn’t help but make her Kool Kat of the Week.  We caught up with her recently to find out more about the book, the festivities at Charis and what’s next for this innovative author.

strangecrimescoverATLRetro: What’s the “secret origin story” behind how you came to write THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA?

Chesya Burke: STRANGE CRIMES isn’t much of a secret. A fellow writer and I thought that a black woman detective novel would be fun to write, Harlem would be a great setting and now there’s my Little Africa. Which I hope captures just a little of the real Little Africa.

How much of an impact has Zora Neale Hurston’s writing had on you personally, and did you feel at all intimidated bringing such a literary icon onto the page?

I love ZNH! Just love her. I love everything about her. Researching her, reading her biography, her own story, written by her, true and false—she was known to…subvert the truth when she saw fit—was fascinating. I’m a huge fan and I enjoy her work. I’m not sure how much influence she has on me, probably quite a bit, but less than some authors such as Octavia Butler. I think what I take most from Hurston is dialogue. She really got to the essence of rural black dialect.  I hope I can be half as good as she one day! 

I was nervous to write about Hurston. I have this idea of the woman that she was in my head, but it’s not real. I had to realize that I could never get the real Zora on the page, only a bit of the mystery of her as I could imagine.

Zora is not the only real-life character from the Harlem Renaissance. Briefly, can you tell us about a few of the others, such as the enigmatic Madam St. Clair, who also appears in your story “I Make People Do Bad Things”?

There are so many. I researched a lot for the book. Stephanie St. Clair, Bumpy Johnson, Anderson Charles and several others. Even her father, Rueben Idawell was based on the first black traffic cop in NYC.

chesya3What did you do to research the book, and what was the most challenging piece of information to find/fact-check?

I’ve been to New York a bunch, and I went to Harlem specifically to do research. I spent hours and hours in the museum, walking the streets and just trying as hard as I could to get a feel for it. But, of course, I hadn’t been to 1920s Harlem, so I looked at old articles and pictures and newspaper clippings from the time. That’s where I got the name, “Little Africa.” I hadn’t [known] it was called that until I read it in a newspaper from the time.   

Jaz, the protagonist, is the daughter of the first African-American officer in the NYPD. Are there any lessons that you hope readers will bring to the present from your depiction of race and justice/injustice in the Harlem Renaissance?

Racial injustice and police brutality have only changed in measures since the era of the novel. We don’t have to read historical novels to see this. Anyone reading STRANGE CRIMES will see parallels. And that is unfortunate.   

Your acclaimed short story collection LET’S PLAY WHITE is horror/spec-lit. Especially over the past decade more African-American horror writers have risen to prominence from Tananarive Due to Victor LaValle, and some would say that Toni Morrison’s BELOVED is one of the best horror novels of all time. Are you encouraged by more diversity in the genre community or do you still see significant challenges/barriers for writers of color?

Of course. I hope that in the future we will see even more.

You just completed a master’s thesis at Agnes Scott College about Storm of Marvel Comics’ X-MEN and started a doctoral program at the University of Florida-Gainesville. Is it challenging to be both a graduate student and an author?

Oh. My. God. Yes. It’s most difficult because it seems that I’m being pulled in so many directions and both careers are doing relatively well. But it’s the problem to have, so I’m not complaining. Love every minute of it!

letsplaywhiteYou still consider Atlanta home, though. Is that why you wanted your official book launch here at Charis? Can you tell readers a little about the festivities on Friday night?

Yes. Atlanta is home. Always will be. The book launch is on Friday and I will be reading from STRANGE CRIMES. Charis is also home and is the perfect place for the release party of my first book. I’m also reading at Agnes Scott College on Wednesday evening!

What’s next in fiction for you? The end of STRANGE CRIMES seemed to hint that you might have a sequel in mind?

Yes. I’m working on the next book in the series. At least, I should be. I’m working on a few short stories and comic stuff. Most of it, I can’t talk about unfortunately. 

Any other current or “lost/forgotten” writers you’d like to recommend to ATLRetro readers?

Octavia Butler, who is not lost, but everyone should know about. Maurice Broaddus. Jennifer Brissett. Victor LaValle. Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Kiese Laymon. Shane McKenzie. Laird Barron. I know I’m missing lots of people. 

Chesya talks more about THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA and other works in this recent interview on THE OUTER DARK podcast on Atlanta-based Project iRadio.

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A Spooktacular Spectacle! The Weird! The Wacky! The Horrifying! Our Top Ten Retro Reasons to Go to the 25th Annual WORLD HORROR CONVENTION

Posted on: May 5th, 2015 By:

by Melanie Crew 5.8WHC
Managing Editor

Get horrified, literary-style this weekend at the 25th Annual World Horror Convention, this year presented by the Horror Writers Association (HWA), haunting Thursday-Sunday May 7-10 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis! Guests of Honor include legendary bestselling horror author and Marietta local, John Farris; author Kami Garcia (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES); author Christopher Golden; author Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD); author Lisa Tuttle; and Godzilla artist extraordinaire Bob Eggleton, as well as toastmaster Jonathan Maberry and over 150 more writers, editors, filmmakers, publishers, and artists! This year’s World Horror Society’s 2015 Grand Master has been awarded to William F. Nolan, co-author of the novel LOGAN’S RUN, and it’ll be presented with awards for the year’s best in horror fiction Saturday night at the HWA’s Bram Stoker Awards Banquet!

World Horror Con is held in a different location every year, so we think it’s pretty spooktacular that the 25th anniversary con is back in the Monster Kid Capital of the USA. The 1995 and 1999 WHCs were also in Atlanta.

Here are our 10 scariest retro reasons to get downtown.

1) 25th ANNUAL WHC CREEPY COSTUME BALL! Kool Kat Shane Morton, a.k.a. ghost host with the most, Professor Morte and the Silver Scream Spook Show will have you shakin’ in your boots during the Creepy Costume Ball, Friday, May 8! Slither on down for this spooky spectacle which will have you monster mashin’ it up with DJ Extreme Gene and more at the creepiest party of the year! $100 cash prize for best costume, $50 for second place and a free Bram Stoker Awards banquet ticket for third. Party begins at 8:30pm and will rattle your bones through 12:30am!

2) MASS AUTHOR SIGNING! Come one, come all (free and open to the public) to the Mass Author Signing on Friday, which will be bookin’ it from 6:30-8pm! This is an event you won’t want to miss, because you’ll get the chance to catch more than 100 of your favorite horror/spec-lit/weird fiction (and more!) authors, including John Farris, local legendary author and all the other Guests of Honor; Grand Master William F. NolanJack Ketchum, Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and author of such novels as THE GIRL NEXT DOOR; renowned SF/F/H editor Ellen Datlow; New York Times bestselling splatterpunk pioneer and bizarro author John Skipp; Weston Ochse, author of SEAL TEAM 666, which is being developed into a major motion picture starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Shirley Jackson Award-winning author Nathan oconnor-wise_bloodBallingrudScott Nicolay, author of ANA KAI TANGATARue Morgue magazine’s Best Fiction Collection of 2014; many Bram Stoker Award-winning and nominated authors such as Yvonne Navarro, Usman T. Malik, Damien Angelica Walters and Stephen Graham-Jones; our very own wickedly weird kool kitten, ATLRetro publisher Anya Martin; and we kid you not – about 100 more! Atlanta’s Eagle Eye Books is the official bookseller of the WHC, and will be located in the Dealers Room, so stop by and pick up books by your favorite attending author to sign this weekend!

3) THE WEIRD SOUTH. Dig deep into horror’s heritage in Southern Gothic literature, with dark panels galore! On Friday, May 8, you won’t want to miss Voices of the Mountains: Manly Wade Wellman and Karl Edward Wagner at 9 pm, exploring the two pioneers of Southern Horror. The A Good Horror Isn’t Hard to Find: The Dark Side of Flannery O’Connor and Southern Gothic Lit panel gets grotesque Saturday, May 9, at noon!

4) FANGTASTIC FILM!  With the support of Atlanta’s own Buried Alive Film Festival (Nov 21-22, 2015) and the Tabloid Witch Film Festival, this year’s film program will spotlight some of the most exciting short and feature films created by Georgia and Southern filmmakers, as well as will showcase recent works by other attending professionals and exciting shorts from around the world. Freaky Friday includes Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures discussing his recent documentary endeavors surrounding Jeff Burr’s FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987), with exclusive clips from the documentary and giveaways, during The Night(s) Indie-Horror Came to Georgia: An Hour With Daniel Griffith on Friday at 2pm! Get brutal and exploited during a screening of Kool Kat James Bickert’s throwback to ‘60s/’70s exploitation films, DEAR GOD! NO! (2011) is a bloody ruckus at 3pm, with an introduction by Prof. Morte! And stick around for the Filmmakers Lounge at 5pm, where you’ll get to witness film shop talk and learn the fun parts of making horror films! Sinister Saturday brings you a screening of Jason Brock’s THE ACKERMONSTER CHRONICLES (2013), revisiting the life and times of mega-fan Forrest J. Ackerman at 9am (includes a dear-god-no-posterQ&A with filmmaker and William F. Nolan)! Spend an hour with “Fun Boy” Michael Massee (THE CROW) at 11 am! Get sinister during Skipp’s Saturday Sinema Funtime featuring screenings of John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s AN HONEST MISSTAKE (2014), Izzy Lee’s POSTPARTUM (2015) and Gigi Saul Guerrero’s EL GIGANTE (2015), beginning at noon! At 1pm, the Buried Alive Film Festival and Kool Kat Blake Myers, present Ryan Lieske’s ABED (2011), based on the Elizabeth Massie story and produced by Atlanta’s own late Philip Nutman (WET WORK, Fangoria), followed by their screening of Kool Kat Eddie Ray’s SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS (2014) at 2pm. And finally, the Buried Alive Film Festival presents Its Bloody Best, a block of the best shorts screened at past Buried Alive Film Festivals, at 3pm! And stick around for the Filmmakers Lounge where talking shop never gets dull, at 5pm!

5) MULTI-CULTURAL WORLD HORROR. What’s more fitting when exposing the diversity in the dark underbelly of spec-lit and horror than doing so in the city that was the center of the Civil Rights Movement? Catch Different Visions: African-American Spec-Lit from Afro-Futurism to Beloved on Friday, at 1pm, and get a peek through the lens of the African-American experience from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to the first black president! On Saturday, May 9, you won’t want to miss Pushing the Diaspora Darkly: Horror from Multicultural Perspectives at 1pm, which explores diversity and an emerging global view of spec-lit and horror as it moves into the 21st century with a new generation of writers from different cultural backgrounds.

6) WHC LIFETIME ACHIEVMENT AWARD RECIPIENTS.  This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipients are Tanith Lee, author of more than 90 novels across the entire spectrum of speculative literature; and Jack Ketchum, author of 32 books to date, with five of his novels making their way to the big screen [The Lost, The Girl Next Door, Red, Offspring and The Woman]. Celebrate Tanith Lee’s achievement during Dancing With Darkness: A Tribute to HWA Lifetime Achievment Award Winner Tanith Lee on Friday, at 10am! And you won’t want to miss the HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Winner Interview: Jack Ketchum at 2pm, Friday!

The-Girl-Next-Door-2007-37) H.P. LOVECRAFT IN THE 21st CENTURY.  Learn about Lovecraft’s legacy in modern horror fiction, which has been cemented for more than half a century in his Cthulhu Mythos and his exploration of cosmic, existential horror. More recently, the tentacles of Lovecraft’s more troubling legacy—as a voice for some of the last century’s most vile expressions of racism and xenophobia—have found their way into the center of the discussion of his work, so creep on down, Friday at 3pm for the H.P. Lovecraft in the 21st Century: The Problematic Legacy of the Great Old One of Horror and the Weird panel!

8) THE STEPHEN KING HOUR. Are you Stephen King’s biggest fan? If so, you won’t want to miss The Stephen King Hour at 5pm on Friday, and catch the experts discuss the most important horror writer of this generation! (One lucky contest winner will get the chance to sit on this horrorific panel!)

9) READINGS, READINGS AND MORE READINGS! What’s better than reading the works of this century’s wickedly weird and catastrophically creepy writers, who have reaped what our horror forefathers of yore, sowed many murderous moons ago? Why, getting the chance to experience the horror spewing from their own lips! Friday, May 8, brings you readings by Charlaine HarrisWilliam F. Nolan (co-author of Logan’s Run and more), Kami GarciaUsman T. Malik, Joe McKinney, Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters), Scott Nicolay (Ana Kai Tangata) and more! Saturday, May 9, brings you readings by Jack Ketchum; Christopher Golden, James A. Moore, Lisa Tuttle, Jonathan Maberry, Weston Ochse, Yvonne Navarro, Damien Angelica Walters, Molly Tanzer (A Pretty Mouth, Vermilion and more) and Jesse Bullington [The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, The Enterprise of Death and more]!

10) HISTORIC HORROR: FACT & FICTION! The written word has a way of bringing reality to life and vice-versa! Don’t miss out on a special presentation by Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great grand-nephew at 11am during the Bram Stoker / Dracula Travel Guide New Discoveries 11810429369_10202842198174817_2702201103170314613_n Years Later event, exploring his specialized travel guide surrounding Bram’s most famous novel, Dracula. Dacre’s one-hour PowerPoint presentation includes stunning photos of sites associated with Bram’s life in Dublin, his holidays in Whitby, Cruden Bay Scotland, Count Dracula and Vlad Dracula sites in Romania. At 2pm get monstrous during the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company’s presentation of “The Passion of Frankenstein” by Thomas E. Fuller. This classic radio theatre retelling of the classic story by Mary Shelley is sure to thrill and chill! And, what are the limits of horror’s human side? Catch the Horror’s Human Side: There Are NO Limits, Or Are There panel at 5pm, which explores Joyce Carol Oates’ take on horror fiction and realistic fiction, whether some subjects are too horrific to be horror, and what’s the line between realist literature and horror lit?

World Horror Con main hours are Thur. May 7 from 6 p.m. to midnight.; Fri. May 8 from 9 a.m. to midnight; Sat. May 9 from 9 a.m. to midnight; and Sun. May 10 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with parties going late into the night on Friday and Saturday. For more info, visit www.whc2015.org.

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