Thursday, April 17, 2014

Diversify Your SteamPunk Day 5: Welcome Back Balogun Ojetade!

During our month of highlighting diversity back in December of 2013, we introduced our audience to Balogun Ojetade for the first time. Clearly with his followong he doesnt need to be introduced, but we couldnt think of a more deserving candidate to end our first week of Diversifying our Steampunk.
1. You've been here before, so while we don't require an introduction, our new followers do! What can you tell us about yourself the person, the author and the steampunk innovator?

My name is Balogun Ojetade. Although my name  is Yoruba, I am descended from the Ateke people of Gabon and the Seminole Nation of the Southeastern United States. I am a husband, father of eight children – seven girls and one boy – and I am also a grandfather twice over.

I am author of six novels, one non-fiction book, several articles and short stories I wrote are in anthologies and magazines and I am contributing co-editor of two anthologies. I am also a filmmaker and fight choreographer and I have created two short films and two feature films and choreographed three films, thus far.

As far as Steampunk innovation goes, I am one of the founders of the Steamfunk Movement. Steamfunk is Black / African-inspired Steampunk. We tell the stories that had previously gone untold – the stories about the Black heroes in the Age of Steam. We have done the same with Dieselpunk, which we call Dieselfunk and with Rococo, which we call Rococoa.

2. Since we’re asking everyone involved, we have to know. Why Steampunk? Was there something that drew you to this particular sub genre of science fiction? Have you always been a fan of steampunk? What draws you to steampunk? How do you define steampunk?

Starting at the age of two, I was sat at the foot of my mother and encouraged to watch one of her favorite television shows – The Wild, Wild West. For those familiar with the show, you know that it was Steampunk before the word Steampunk existed. I fell in love with that show and its anachronisms and I vowed that one day I would write something in that genre, but with heroes who looked like me.

I have always been a fan of retrofuturism, however, when I wrote Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, which is recognized as the first Steamfunk novel, I had never heard of Steampunk. When my publisher wrote me and said I had written a great Steampunk story, I Googled it and discovered what Steampunk is. I turned to my wife and said “Finally, I have a name for what I have been writing all my life.”

It’s funny you called Steampunk Science Fiction – and for many people, that is what it is, However, my expression of Steampunk would be closer to Science Fantasy. I include strong elements of magic, African spirituality and the supernatural in my works of Steamfunk. 
I define Steamfunk as retrofuturistic Science Fiction or Fantasy set in the Age of Steam. This age could be set in the Victorian Period of 1837 to 1901, or in Ancient Africa. It doesn’t matter when or where to me, as long as the dominant technology is steam power, or perhaps, the Lumineferous Aether.

3. Steampunk over the years has become so synonymous with the Victorian era, many will not wrap their heads around a non-European setting. You're pretty much one of the innovators of a sub genre you crafted yourself. "SteamFunk." What was the story behind Steamfunk? Why did you deem it necessary to the steampunk world?
The Steamfunk Movement started as a conversation on a social media website in which several Black authors expressed their appreciation for Steampunk, but were disappointed in its lack of stories featuring Black heroes and its near-absence of Black people involved in Steampunk cosplay or any other aspects of the genre. I had already been writing Steampunk, as had another author Maurice Broaddus, who had written a short story entitled Pimp My Airship, but we all came to the conclusion that we would all begin to write Steampunk from a Black perspective. Maurice said “well I call the Steampunk that I write Steamfunk.” We all agreed that was the perfect name for our brand of Steampunk and that is how we came to call our work Steamfunk. 

As far as the Steamfunk Movement is concerned, I decided that we needed to bring Steamfunk to the forefront of speculative fiction and to make Steampunk known to the general Black population, who knew very little of the genre if anything at all, so I started my Chronicles of Harriet blog and began educating Black people about Steampunk and educating the world about Steamfunk.
Steamfunk is necessary because our stories deserve to be told; our voices need to be heard. And honestly, before Steamfunk, very few Black people had any interest in Steampunk. Most Black people thought it was a “whites only” thing, or that it was just corny. We showed them that you can get funky with it; that Steamfunk is exciting, fun and cool.

4. What music puts you in the mood to write for SteamFunk? If you had a soundtrack for "The Chronicles of Harriet" what would make the cut?

I have very eclectic tastes in music. I listen to everything from classical music to Zydeco to Jazz to Hip-Hop. When I write Steamfunk, however, I usually listen to the music of Ennio Morricone, who is famous for scoring spaghetti westerns such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, High Plains Drifter and A Fist Full of Dollars

If I had a Soundtrack for Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, it would include: Bound to Ride and Till My Last Shot by Gangstagrass; Snowden’s Jig, by Carolina Chocolate Drops; the Prison song Early in the Mornin’; Ennio Morricone’s L’Estasi Dell’oro (“The Ecstasy of Gold”) and Il Buono, Il Cattivo, Il Bruto (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”); and the Buck and the Preacher Theme, by Benny Carter.

5. What is the future of SteamFunk for you? Do you have other SteamFunk works in your head? Do you plan on making any other historically famous women of color leading ladies? 

The future of Steamfunk for me is in film and the final novel in the Chronicles of Harriet series. I will be releasing the Rococoa novel, Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises at the end of this year and I have already released the Dieselfunk novel, The Scythe this year. Stagecoach Mary Fields is already a co-star in the Chronicles of Harriet series and I have been contemplating writing a novel with her as the lead protagonist. We’ll see.
As far as film and Steamfunk, Rite of Passage, the first Steamfunk feature film, premieres May 8th in Los Angeles. I am also writing a Steamfunk film based on my short story Nandi that I hope to get major backing for.

6. You've made many appearances throughout the steampunk junket. Do you have any favorite conventions? Who are some of the most interesting people you've met through diversifying SteamPunk?

One of my favorite conventions is AnachroCon, which is an Atlanta-based Alternate History convention held every February. It is loads of fun and the people who put on the event – the Directors and their staff – have treated my family and me very well at the Con and have been very supportive of Steamfunk.

Some of the most interesting people I have met have become friends of mine – Diana Pho, aka Ay-Leen, the Peacemaker, an editor at Tor and founder of the brilliant Beyond Victoriana website; Mark Curtis, a genius Steampunk tinkerer and cosplayer, who cosplays Steampunk John Henry and Steampunk Lando Calrissian; Mark’s wife, Theresa Curtis, another genius, who is an expert fabricator and who cosplays a Steampunk vampire, just to name a few.

7. You also have a sub genre of fantasy known as "Sword&Soul." What is that exactly? Any upcoming projects in that genre to come our way in the near future?

Sword and Soul, which is African-inspired Epic and Heroic Fantasy, is actually a phrase coined by the subgenre’s founder and father, Charles R, Saunders. I wrote the novel Once Upon A Time In Afrika, which is published by another big name in Sword and Soul, Milton J. Davis, the owner and CEO of MVmedia, which publishes most of the Sword and Soul out there.

I am working on Once Upon A Time In Afrika, Book II, which I plan to release early next year.

8. It was awesome to have you back! We're already following, but where can people just tuning in go to check up the latest updates on your work?

They can check out my website: Roaring Lions Productions , or my blog: Chronicles Of Harriet

You can reach me on Facebook ; and on Twitter @ Baba_Balogun

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Diversify Your SteamPunk Day 4:From Here to Timbuktu with Milton Davis

Although we've only recently been exposed to this author's work through his release of "Amber and The Hidden City"(Isnt the cover just amazing...),the esteemed Milton Davis has been writing for nearly a decade.

While incorporating African culture in the somewhat Eurocentric genre, "fantasy", he's managed to release over 24 distinct works and sell thousands of copies of his books. What really stands out though? With help, he and fellow steampunk alumni Balogun Ojetade, have helped diversify the steampunk genre with a new sub genre to the sub genre, notably named "SteamFunk."

Milton Davis took some time out to chat with us during our "Diversify Your SteamPunk" event, and here's what he has to say!

1. Your latest YA/MG book "Amber and The Hidden City" is what made me most familiar with your work. I mean, who could really deny that cover?!? Can you tell us a little more about yourself,and a bit about your work?

I'm a research chemist during the day who moonlights as a black speculative fiction writer. I live in Metro Atlanta with my wife and kids. As I mentioned earlier I specialize in speculative fiction by and about people of African descent. My concentration for the past 6 years has been sword and soul and steamfunk, but I'm expanding into science fiction and YA fiction this year.

2. We'll get into the interesting creation of what is "SteamFunk" with the next question. But for now, since were asking everyone, what attracts you to the Science Fiction sub-genre steampunk to begin with? What is steampunk to you? What makes you so connected to it? Was there a book you connected with that made you feel like you needed to write in this genre?
I didn't read science fiction until I was in college. One of my college instructors was trying to persuade me to change my major from chemistry to English and thought introducing me to science fiction would be the perfect way to do it. It didn't work. It did get me interested in reading and writing it, however. I wasn't until I experienced my 'African Renaissance' that I knew how I wanted to write in the genre. As far as steampunk is concerned, I'm more an alternate history fan. Adding the aspect of steam technology enhances the stories for me, but my real interest is creating 'what if'' scenarios that focus on African and African American history.

3. Since we've dedicated a theme to diversifying steampunk. Steampunk has it's faults. It hasn't been open to diversity until recently, and even then, many of the die hards still view it as a Eurocentric sub-genre. You are hailed as one of the creators of a revolutionary sub genre known as "SteamFunk." Care to share what the journey that took? What was the inspiration behind the steamfunk movement?

The concept of the Steamfunk anthology came out of a discussion between writers on Facebook. We were discussing steampunk and how with its Victorian focus it totally ignored the history of other folks during the time period. Being the person that I am, I suggested we create an anthology that filled the void. One of the writers, Maurice Broaddus, had published a steampunk story titled 'Pimp My Airship." He said he called his writing Steamfunk, and the rest is history. 

4. You and colleague, Balogun Ojetade have collaborated on not only a SteamFunk anthology, but also a motion picture! Where can we see it?!? Tell us what it's about for those of us who dont know!
Rite of Passage is based on a story I wrote a few years ago with the same title. I was about a young man who was saved by a mysterious man with incredible powers while escaping from slavery with Harriet Tubman. Years later the young man encounters the mysterious man again. He learns the secret of the man's powers which is passed on to him.

Balogun Ojetade read the story and was immediately taken by it. We brainstormed on the concept and came up with a pantheon of people endowed with special powers and led by Harriet Tubman. The main character of the story was changed to a young woman and the rest is history.
The film will debut in May at Eagle Con. I'm excited about the project and what it represents.

5. What are the most interesting parts about the SteamFunk/Punk sub genre for you to write? What do you find to be the most problematic parts about writing within the genre? 
For me it's all about the alternate history aspect. I enjoy looking at the history of the time period and imagining what if scenarios as it pertains with people of African descent. The writing is the easy part. I love history and research so it's exciting to work on the projects and to see where they lead.

6. There seems to be a surge of writers abandoning the "traditional" setting of steampunk. Many are starting to reject the Victorian era, and expanding the settings in steampunk. Why do you think that is? Do you have any favorite steampunk works featuring people of color and diverse characters?
I just think it's the evolution of the genre. As more people became involved more began to ask the question, 'where are the folks that look like me?" The response is books like Balogun Ojetade's Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and Steamfunk. I'm looking forward to more works by other writers.

As far as other steampunk writers I must admit I'm not very well-read in the genre. I like Cherie Priest's work and my daughter has recommended I read Leviathan by Scott Westerfield. 

7. Any future plans on expanding the SteamFunk movement? Any upcoming projects that aren't steam funk?

I'm about to release my first steamfunk novel, From Here to Timbuktu. It's set in my alternate history country of Freedonia, a country ruled by free blacks. I'm also releasing Changa's Safari Volume III, the continuation of my Sword and Soul historical fantasy adventure. 

8.Where can readers brush up on everything that is Milton Davis and learn more about any "SteamFunk"projects in the future?
The best place to start is my site, Milton Davis' Official Site. I also have a Ning site, Wagadu Site, where I post short stories and do all kinds of fun stuff. And  of course you can find me on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Diversify You SteamPunk Day 3:"Bolly-Punk" and Alternate India with Susan Kaye Quinn

I was introduced to you through a blog event named "Steampunk with Heart." What interested me most were, amongst a group of steampunk authors, were a few listed under multicultural. You guys know we melt for the multicultural sub genre-d books, so it had me thinking, "Why not start a steampunk theme on Twinja Book Reviews of our own?" Only I was interested in highlighting authors and personalities that promote diversity.

The creator of the event was none other than author Susan Kaye Quinn. She herself penned a book that was indeed multicultural. When I asked if she were interested in being apart of a multicultural themed steampunk month on our blog, she jumped on board! She even gave me her book to read! You can read her review here!

I was floored by it. So she definitely deserves this spotlight as far as Im concerned! So without further a do....

1.      Good Evening Susan. How are you? For those of us meeting you for the first time, why dont you tell us a little about yourself?

Good evening! My business card says “Author and Rocket Scientist” but these days all my inventions and technology are created with words, not wrenches. I use all that engineering background to create dangerous mind powers, vaguely plausible steampunk technology, and futuristic (and retro!) worlds that ask questions like, what if there was a world where everyone read minds?

2.      While you are the author of several great titles, what caught my eye was your steampunk SFF novel "Third Daughter." What prompted you to write this book, it seems so different from your other works.

All my works are speculative fiction, which means that they look at alternate worlds and see how the technology or other strangeness affects the people who populate that world. Most of my worlds are futuristic, but steampunk casts a look back to a time when technology was more muscular and luscious, then adds a spin of the fantastic – with skyships and blunderbusses instead of starships and ray guns. So, it’s not as different as you might imagine! 

At the same time, Third Daughter is wonderfully different in that it’s an east-Indian analogue – which means all the characters are Indian, but the different countries within my world represent different expressions of modern day (and traditional) India.

3.      Im asking everyone, but why steampunk? What attracted you to this sub genre? And especially, when and what choose you to divert from the typical "Victorian" era steampunk has grown known for?

“Victorian” is an era of buttoned up clothing and scientific romance – the time when science seemed to offer limitless potential, but the world was still anchored in the traditions of the past. In fact, this clash of modernity and traditionalism is one aspect I love and explore in detail in Third Daughter. But, of course, the 19th century didn’t just happen in England! I think it was a natural progression for steampunk to evolve to include the other cultures of the time – each of which had (and continue to have) their own clashes of technology and tradition.

4.      Your main character Aniri was a great main character! She was pretty much the whole package as far as I was concerned. Was there anyone that gave you the inspiration for her character? 

I usually dream up the world and conflict first, then imagine what character would live in that world. From the start, my spunky Third Daughter of the Queen was dressed in half-sari, half-corset, climbing a wall to escape her arranged marriage to a barbarian prince. All of that spoke naïve and adventurous to me, and indeed, a girl princess who was to forge her own fate, and the fate of three countries, would need that kind of blind belief in love and stubbornness to make it happen.

5.      Outside of the steampunk aspects, what are some of the other underlying themes of the book? Were you hoping the steampunk elements distracted the reader from guessing all the plot twists toward the end?

The steampunk elements are purely for fun! But as an author, I use all kinds of sleight of hand to keep the reader guessing what’s ahead. There are several themes in the book – it’s foremost a romance, balancing the idea of love marriages and arranged marriages (which have a long history in stabilizing nations and, even today, are in higher regard in the East than in the West as a more stable form of marriage compared to love-based marriages). 

The steampunk aspect is really a stand-in for modernity, butting heads with the traditional cultures represented in the book. In fact, the three countries embody this: Jungali (the “barbarians” steeped in tradition and poverty), Samir (the Western influence of technology), and Dharia (an analogue to modern India where technology and tradition exist side-by-side).

6.      You are officially the first "Bolly-Punk" title I've gotten to read. You may just be starting a trend! It seems as though many contacts I've talked to have wanted to see a steampunk book, but set in an East Indian setting. Was it always you're intention to create it this way? Do you think you would write another steampunk series outside of "The Dharian Chronicles?"

I hope it’s a trend! It’s tremendous fun to write. The Dharian Affairs is planned to be a trilogy, but I already can see another series set in the same world, but with different characters. There’s a richness to the world that begs exploring. Beyond that, I’m intrigued by the next step-up in technology, Dieselpunk, where we have gas powered engines and crusty World War II style machinery. I can see that being all kinds of fun to play with. So… yes. More “punk” in my future (although I have several other, more futuristic, series as well).

7.      Not being East Indian yourself, can you give any advice to others hoping to write a story outside of their own culture? Do you think diversity in books is important?

I think diversity in books is tremendously important – our world is diverse. Pretending it’s not is an impoverishment of the imagination. I think there’s some fear in writers about writing outside their own culture… as if they don’t do that all the time, with fantasy creatures or aliens or even writing cross-gender. I’ve never been a boy, but I write male POV often. As writers, our job is to tell the truth by creating something that is essentially made up… and you have to get out of your own POV to do that, because the truth has many sides. Whether you’re writing cross-gender, cross-sexuality, or cross-culture, the most important thing is to remember that people are people first. 

Writing authentic characters, no matter what type, is about respecting their point of view and writing from it. That being said, of course writers want to create a sense of culture and place that feels authentic as well. If I was writing a historical or contemporary novel set in India, the onus would be greater to have cultural details that matched reality… or at least evoked reality. In writing fantasy, there’s more latitude… but I still wanted to evoke a feeling of the culture of India as well as the clashes within it. So I did my research: lots of Bollywood movies, novels set in India, and my own personal knowledge of the culture of Indians living in the West all helped give Third Daughter an alternate-India feel.

8.      Finally, now that were all caught up, where can we go to make sure were all up to date on your future title releases, or just to know more about anything and everything Susan Kaye Quinn?

The best way to know about future releases is to sign up for my newsletter—plus everyone who signs up gets a free short story! If you want to know what I’ve written so far, check out my books page, or my bio will give you some of the details on how I worked for NASA but now am a hermit cat lady who writes full time. (Wow, that sounds really sad! LOL In truth, I plan to die at my keyboard… that’s how much I love my chose profession.) Or you can join me on Facebook, where I waste far too much of my time.

Purchase links:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Diversify Your SteamPunk Day 2: Reinventing Shakespeare and SteamPunk with Lev AC Rosen

Sooooo Guinevere discovered this awesome author through an amazing guest post he wrote about queer characters in fiction, particularly in Steampunk(check it out here!). Since then, we've been trying to find the appropriate theme to feature him on our blog after we begged and begged and begged him to come on!(We really did beg *_*) 

Alas, we found the perfect month to have him as our guest!!!He talks about SteamPunk, Shakespeare and and last but not least stepping outside your experiences to create diverse characters! We'd love to welcome Lev AC Rosen on a first but hopefully not last visit!!!

1. I've learned a bit about you through your official web site, and guest blog posts I've seen from you on other blogs. Introducing yourself to people for the first time, what can we come to know about Lev AC Rosen?

Well, I'm an author, born and raised in NYC, and still living there.  My first novel, All Men of Genius, came out a few years ago, and I have a middle-grade book, called Woundabout, illustrated by my brother, due out in July 2015.  I also teach creative writing in the city.

2. I have to ask this to everyone, but why did you choose to write a steampunk novel? Were there influences that attracted you to the sub genre? Have you always been a steampunk fan?

Honestly, it would be video games.  Old school video games that I grew up with were really my introduction to the steampunk genre, although I didn't know the term then.  They just combined lots of things, like weird mechanics and magic in ways that I found really appealing.  When I got older, and heard the term, it was something I could think of as an umbrella to write under.  

3. Are there any other underlying themes in your novel "All Men of Genius?" 

Plenty, I hope.  The thing about themes is that I think readers tend to see all sorts of themes, and some are intentional on the authors part, but not all, and those themes I didn't think I was putting in are still valid.  That said, I think the big ones have to do with freedom vs society - in terms of gender, sexuality, class, race.  The Victorian Era had a lot of ideas as to what was "appropriate," but those ideas were constantly being toyed with and manipulated.  It was a constant struggle between various factions, and people were trying to figure out how much they could essentially get away with.  That's really interesting to me.

4. Your main character Violet, poses as her twin brother Ashton. Being a twin, that's extremely fun to do(obviously if they can't tell), but I can imagine in her shoes, it was to gain respect she may not otherwise receive. What prompted you to create her for your story, and why is her narrative important to your story?

Well, the book is influenced by two famous plays.  First, 12th Night, by Shakespeare, in which a young woman, shipwrecked on a foreign shore and thinking her twin brother dead, disguises herself as a man so she can get work.  But then a countess falls in love with her and her brother shows up and hilarity ensues, as they say.  So that idea is pretty much stolen from Shakespeare.  The other play is The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde.  That one is actually Victorian, so I got to use a lot of that influence to really create the Victorian comedy of manners I wanted.  Plus Wilde plays with a lot of ideas about identity, which are obviously really important in a story in which everyone has disguises.  This isn't to say it's a mash-up book, by the way.  98% of the words are totally my own.  I just combined ideas and stole names.  

5. People try to make sure characters of color are represented, but when it digs deeper into sub-cultures, many tend to get under-represented. Any advice to aspiring writers who have a hard time writing characters outside their own experience?

Research.  And not just with books.  You have to be willing to go ask people outside your experience what their experiences are like.  You have to collect people's histories in many ways, and then not steal directly, but use that as an inspiration point.  Ask questions.  Figure out what your characters life would be like.  You get to choose how they react, but it has to feel authentic and express an authentic experience.  And most importantly of all, remember that your characters are full fledged 100% human beings.  

6. In your guest post with "friend in my head" blog "The Story Siren", you mentioned queer characters getting a shorter end of the stick when it comes to diversity. I know there are queer characters in the book, but I'm curious to know if you considered making Violet queer as well?

I never did.  I knew front he start she'd be masquerading as a man, and I thought the idea of a lesbian masquerading as a man felt a little too obvious. Plus, then it wouldn't let me get in all the homoeroticism I wanted where she's dressed as a man and in love with a man.  I suppose I could have just made her a gay man, but the danger of discovery for that story would be very different (higher stakes, but much easier to hide).  And Violet as a lesbian wouldn't have made much sense in the overall plot I had planned.  

7. What are some SFF books you've read that you felt highlighted queer main characters in a positive light?

Brit Mandelo's excellent anthology Beyond Binary, pretty much anything by Malinda Lo, and some old school Mercedes Lackey are the ones that come most readily to mind.

8. Lastly, what can we all do to keep up to date with anything and everything Lev AC Rosen?

Well, I have a website,, thought it's currently undergoing a revamp so I haven't been blogging much.  I also have a twitter @ LevACRosen and a Facebook fanpage, - I try to keep them all relatively up to date.  And I also try to answer any questions over twitter.  Feel free to ask!

*photo by Barry Rosenthal*

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Diversify Your Steampunk Day 1: Unvanishing Indians, Guest Post by Joseph Bruchac

So we were soooooo lucky enough to score some a guest post with our first guest, Joseph Bruchac. If you're not familiar with him, he's the writer to over 100+books featuring American Indian/Native American culture. He's been around for a while, my sister and I really started paying attention when he released his latest Steampunk influenced Novel, Killer of Enemies(also featuring a Native American girl as his main protagonist). So happy to have him with us today, It's always a pleasure featuring such an esteemed author as himself. So without boring you with our banter, We present to you......


By Joseph Bruchac

How come, after more than 50 years of writing, I have chosen to dive into steampunk? And why have I deviated away from its usual Eurocentric settings? 

Good questions. But let me begin my reply by focussing on another related question--which is why I decided to write about Native Americans in the first place. That may help, as my Abenaki grandfather used to say, “to fit the ground to plant.”

I grew up during a time when pretty much every hero offered to me by popular culture was a white guy. What I saw—what everyone saw—in movies, TV and books—was whitewashed. True, there were a few ethnic characters who were good guys, but they were all sidekicks. Like Tonto with his broken English backing up the Lone Ranger. Or a Navajo kid named “Little Beaver” (I kid thee not) who assisted a cowpoke name of Red Ryder. 

When I was young I went right along with it—as did Native kids on reservations who always wanted to be the cowboys when they played Cowboys and Indians. I’m not sure exactly when it was that a part of me rebelled against that. Maybe it was when I heard people use the n-word when they were talking about my dark-skinned Native American grandfather, Jesse Bowman. Or when they said he was “black as an Abenaki.” But, somehow, I realized that the reality I encountered with the people of Native blood who were relatives, friends, and teachers was vastly different from the images in the pages of novels (and textbooks) and on the silver screen. I also identified with the struggles (to use an overused word that still fits) of other people “of color.”

It led me to try to stand up and speak out. I switched my college major from wildlife conservation to writing. I became deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement. I spent three years as a volunteer teacher in Ghana, West Africa. 

And though it was not my only subject matter, from the early sixties on I was trying to write about the reality of American Indian cultures from the point of view of an insider rather than as an observer, a voyeur or (like Karl May, the immensely popular German author of the early 20th century who wrote novels about Shatterhand the scout and Winitou the Apache), a total fantasist. I did so first in the poems that I began to publish in the sixties, then in stories and—when I had kids of my own—in books for younger readers.  

Half a century later. It’s kind of hard to exaggerate just how many misconceptions still exist in the popular consciousness about Native Americans. There are still these adjectives that have been grafted onto us that just don’t seem to want to go away. Savage, noble, stoic, bloodthirsty, vanishing. 
Lo, the poor doomed Indian. What was it like when Indians used to be alive? That’s a question I still get asked—and not just by kids. Thinking of fantasy and science fiction, it’s as if Native people are trapped in a time warp. (Do the time warp a. . .never mind.)

There are these images—often contradictory--that keep reappearing. Innocent children of nature. Violent, pitiless warriors. (For today’s Assignment Numero Uno, my children, watch the movie Dances With Wolves again.) That kind of baggage ain’t much fun to lug around.
How do you fight a stereotype? Well, if that baggage gets too heavy, trying putting it down. As a Cheyenne elder once told me, when you have a cup full of water and that water is undrinkable, what do you do? Pour it out, dummy.

Not that it’s easy. Especially when there is wealth and power reinforcing it. The American entertainment industry that from its very beginnings fed off of American Indian culture. From Fenimore Cooper’s Indians (noble Chingachook--yup, bloodthirsty Magua--check) in his deeply influential Last of the Mohegans to the very first movies made in the United States, world culture has been fed a steady diet of racial stereotyping of American Indians. (Remember Karl May? Who was Adolph Hitler’s favorite writer, by the by.)

Native Americans, of course, are not the only “minority” to have been dehumanized in film and literature. African Americans, Asians, Jews, Irish, Italians, and today (I am sad to say) Arabs, have been cast in the roles of less-than-human characters in scenarios that elevate the virtues of majority white culture and the power of white men. Used as symbols and never fully human.  

However, the indigenous people of this land, I would argue, have been the victim of that kind of drivel more than any other ethnicity. And continue to be. You beg to disagree? Then hows come we don’t got sports teams named the New Jersey Jews or the Carolina Negroes?
Okay, ‘nough ranting. And before I go further, let me assure you that I like white people. Some of my best friends are. . . And I have white blood myself. (Which I keep in a jar in my desk.) Not trying to put down Anglo culture and achievements. I loves me my Shakespeare and my iMac and my Jimmy Fallon. (Assignment Numero Dos: Make your own list of western society’s Three Greatest Cultural Achievements)

But I also love balance. Which is one thing that is not an exaggerated stereotype about Native American cultures—a belief in the reality and importance of balance. That’s why in some of my novels, such as Sacajawea, Pocahontas, and Arrow Over the Door, I’ve told the same story from two perspectives—the viewpoint of a Native character on the one hand and an anglo on the other. It’s also why I’ve chosen, in other stories, to tell a story that may already be well known, but look at it from the American Indian side, such as my novel Geronimo or my books about Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

And I also inject what I usually find missing in most books ABOUT Indians written by non-Native authors. Humor. Major part of Native American life. If you are around a bunch of American Indians for more than half an hour and no one has cracked a joke then it’s either because they’re all sleeping or you have somehow been transported back in time to a movie set in the 1930s when all the Indians are being played by spray-painted white actors. (I have, so help me God, a photo of a young James Cagney being spray-painted for a bit part as an “Indian brave” in a western.) A elderly Native friend of mine named Swift Eagle who worked in Hollywood once joked that he could never get any major roles in the movies because he couldn’t speak Italian.

The other thing I’ve done as a writer is to not just write about Native Americans in the distant past. Such as my novel about Navajo Marines in World War II, Code Talker. Many of my stories take place in the present or at least not on the Great Plains in the nineteenth century where we must wait for Kevin Costner to tell us where we can find our buffalo herds. “Tatanka! Tatanka!”
(By the way, my Lakota buddies tell me that B.C. has a different meaning out in the Dakotas. It used to be “Before Custer.” Now it is “Before Costner.”)

Okay, let’s get back to the future. Steampunk. And time for a personal confession. I enjoy the genre. The Victorian era offers such an incredibly rich tapestry of possibilities. Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle were authors I cut my eyeteeth on, so to speak. And that whole idea of exploring a steam-powered world, one without electricity and computers just plain tickles me. I really am drawn to the idea of getting back to certain basics of technology—to a world that is not ruled by Edison’s inventions. Whether it is done through anachronism, through basing stories in that actual period or, as I did, creating a future world where things have reverted back to much older tech.

Frankly, I’m a sucker for genre fiction in general. I’ve been reading sci-fi and fantasy since I was eight years old. I have actually taught occasional college courses in speculative fiction. And can name a few SF writers who done good with Native American characters—such as R.A. Lafferty and Roger Zelazny. Or whose intelligent world view has been influenced in a positive way by real Native Americans—such as Ursula Kroeber LeGuin. Assignment Numero Tres—check out who her dad was. Google Theodore Kroeber. Google Ishi.

I am also, as much as anybody whose body is overloaded with testosterone can be, a feminist. Joking aside (but still within arm’s reach) one thing that characterizes our indigenous cultures here in the northeast is a deep awareness of the power of women. Women were and still are leaders in Iroquoian and Algonquin tribal nations. Further, it was and is nothing unusual for us about a woman being a warrior. And it’s not just in the northeast. Lozen, my character in Killer of Enemies was inspired by a Chiricahua Apache historical figure of the same name who fought by the side of her brother Victorio and was known for her psychic abilities. 

It irks me that so much speculative fiction lacks real diversity. It’s as if we are being told that the future has no room for us. Not something I am about the accept—not for my two sons, my three grandchildren, the seven generations that will come after me.

So, having said all that, let me state the obvious. If you are a writer and you admire a particular genre but bemoan its lack of something that you find missing—such as believable American Indian protagonists—what can you do? Duh.
Exit stereotypes—pursued by a bear.
Enter Lozen.

About this author

Joseph Bruchac lives with his wife, Carol, in the Adirondack mountain foothills town of Greenfield Center, New York, in the same house where his maternal grandparents raised him. Much of his writing draws on that land and his Abenaki ancestry. Although his American Indian heritage is only one part of an ethnic background that includes Slovak and English blood, those Native roots are the ones by which he has been most nourished. He, his younger sister Margaret, and his two grown sons, James and Jesse, continue to work extensively in projects involving the preservation of Abenaki culture, language and traditional Native skills, including performing traditional and contemporary Abenaki music with the Dawnland Singers.

Purchase Links

Friday, April 11, 2014

Diversify Your Steampunk! Join Twinja Book Reviews for our 9 day event!

Were sure you heard of Steampunk? You know the sub-genre of science fiction that is known for featuring steam powered machinery, airships, and typically alternative histories? Jules Verne? Pretty much one of the grand-daddies of the genre. Were sure many have heard of him!

Even through it's genius, the sub-genre can have it's faults. Up until recently, it has almost always centered on the 19th century British Victorian era, or the American "Wild West." Which are clearly interesting eras to focus on, but what were others countries doing during this era? 

I(Guinevere) have read much more steampunk books than my sister(Libertad). For the most part, she just has never been interested in a sub-genre that excludes diverse characters. And she has every right to. I mean, don't we all have the right to imagine a diverse world, with diverse characters? Especially if we are investing our money into these stories being told. Shouldn't they be reflecting every reader, and not just one who is a "default" hero as your average white, straight, cis-gendered, able bodied man?

Well we can say one thing! Steampunk is definitely stepping in the right direction, and has been since the surge of independent authors have been allowed to unlock the chains typically held by a traditional publishing house. Traditional publishing houses are trying, slowly, to explore diversity in steampunk as well.

With that being said, were hosting a 9 day event called "Diversify Your Steampunk."

We've compiled a list of 10 authors, or dominant steampunk figures in the steampunk junket! All give their take on what steampunk is to them, and how they incorporate diversity in their own way. Proudly we announce we've been lucky enough to receive sit downs with the following:

1. Balogun Ojetade- Author of "Chronicles of Harriet"(including many others), co-founder of "SteamFunk"

2. Milton Davis- Author of "Meji" series(as well as many others), co-founder of "SteamFunk"

3. Susan Kaye Quinn- Author of "Third Daughter" her Bolly-punk novel, speculative fiction author

4. Jay Noel- Author of "Dragonfly Warrior", Alternative Japan-based steampunk 

5. Joseph Bruchac- Author of "Killer of Enemies", Alternative Native American/American Indian-based steampunk

6. Diana Pho aka "Ay-leen The Peacemaker"- Activist, editor, Blogger for "Beyond Victoriana", a multicultural steampunk blog 

7. Jaymee Goh- Blogmistress and online activist for "Silver Goggles", where she talks about diveristy and steampunk, and maybe whatever she wants to at random!

8. Lev AC Rosen- Author of "Men of All Genius", New Adult Steampunk novel

9. Arthur Slade- Author of "The Hunchback Assignments", Steampunk author with too many works to list!

10. Max Gladstone- Author of "Three Parts Dead" , Urban Fantasy Steampunk novel

Sound fun? Well it gets a little more interesting! We'll host a giveaway to win Max Gladstone's first book in his "Three Parts Dead" series! All this diversity, and a giveaway too? It couldn't get better than this!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dennis R.Upkins returns!My Steps to Worldbuliding and Character Creation, Guest Post by Denny Upkins

Our Favorite King of Geeks has returned for a very thought provoking Guest Post. One of the things my sister really like about this author is that he makes you see a different perspective on topics you wouldn't normally worry yourself about based on privilege. Before my sister and I started making ourselves aware of the lack of diversity in media, we're a little ashamed to admit we knew little about the challenges that are faced in the LGBTQ community. With Dennis's help, it's opened our eyes to the injustices of what it means to be LGBTQ and a Person of Color. So to the King who needs no Introduction....... 

Guest Post: My Steps to Worldbuliding and Character Creation by Dennis Upkins:

One of the questions I'm constantly asked (which admittedly I never get tired of answering) is what  my process in terms of world building and developing complex characters.

My approach to world-building and character development ultimately corresponds to my overall approach to storytelling. As a writer, I personally belong to the school of character = story. What truth do we discover along the character's journey? More than that, whether it's fiction, articles or blog posts, I generally have three mandates which I dub E-Cubed: Enlighten, entertain and empower.

Needless to say that E-Cubed has led to other techniques which has only enhanced my storytelling abilities over the years.

1) If You Aren't Reinventing The Wheel, Keep It Rolling

West of Sunset features an entire assortment of speculative elements: witches, vampires, magic. I also understand that West of Sunset is not the first story to feature said speculative elements and I doubt it will be the last. For that matter, I doubt West of Sunset will be the last story from me specifically to feature said speculative elements.

Most people are familiar with what a vampire is, their powers and the common ways to defeat them. Many people have read a comic book or at least have watched a comic book movie. Harry Potter fans can be found all over the world. You can count this author among the masses. This is all to say that I understand that my audience is generally familiar with magic, witches, wizards and their functions. So unless I'm doing something very unique or distinctive with my mages or vampires, it serves the story no purpose to waste 30 pages hinting at what a witch is and another 30 pages explaining what witches do. That tends not to be entertaining and you're writing down to your audience.

For example. Magic is real, witches practice it. Some are good, some are evil. Vampires, immortal, pale, have fangs, very strong, very fast. They tend to be allergic to sunlight, fire, and wooden stakes through the chest. This is very much akin to the KISS method. Keep it Simple, Stud.

2) Convert The Non-Converted

I've always believed that the true mark of a master bard is not whether he or she writes a story that appeals to their fanbase but pen a universal narrative that transcends genre and can speak to almost anyone. This means creating a world a mythos, that's appealing, both realistic and simultaneously fantastical and romanticized. This includes developing characters who are unique, complex, sexy. I don't “necessarily” mean sexy in a sexual manner but from a marketing and charismatic standpoint. Are these characters you would want to meet? Are these characters you would want to root for? Are these heroes you would personally aspire to emulate? Are these villains you would love to hate and would flip the pages to see them get their comeuppance? After all the opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy.

So essentially the question a writer should ask is are these characters and worlds a reader would want to become invested in? More than that, would a reader who is not a fan of genre fiction become deeply invested in these protagonists and the worlds in which they would reside? What about someone who hates reading period? Would they be willing to pick up a book and become invested in this story?   How do I make that connection with the non-converted? This goes back to the school character = story and discovering that inner truth and universal narrative which resonates with the human condition.

One of the best compliments that I received when I released Hollowstone, was from readers who informed me that they typically don't read YA or paranormal novels, but they absolutely enjoyed my book and couldn't put it down. I was honored and humbled to hear that because it told me that I did my job. If a “non” fan likes it, then it's a safe bet that fans of the genre will love it.

3) Don't Limit Yourself To The Literary

Anyone who's met me for five seconds knows that I'm a hardcore comic book geek. I make no apologies for this. When people ask me who my writing influences and heroes are, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, F. Scott Fitzgerald and JK Rowling are the first among many who come to mind. I'll also mention Joss Whedon, Russell T. Davies, Shonda Rhimes, Janelle Monae, and the late Dwayne McDuffie. The latter list often confuses people as they aren't literary novelists. While that may be true that doesn't mean I can't learn from these gifted artists.

Sadly too many writers limit themselves by buying into this notion that you can only do what's already been done in literature. Many even take it step backwards by only qualifying art and literature as anything produced by old dead white men.

If I see exemplary storytelling techniques utilized in music videos, comic books, video games, etc. I will not hesitate to study them and implement them in my writings.

For me, story is the primary focus, the medium in which it is expressed is secondary.

4) Write To A Sophisticated & Savvy Audience

As a rule I write with the mindset that the audience is at least as smart as me, if not smarter. This forces me to step my game up with each piece I pen and I always attempt to try to outdo myself. This results in my best getting better.

As I've mentioned in the past, Hollowstone is in many respects an homage and a modern day reimagining of the Great Gatsby. Because the story is also a paranormal and YA novel, it also incorporates themes of mystery, noir, southern gothic, and more than a few action-packed scenes.

The title of my next novel West of Sunset itself is a mashup and a play on the titles of two of my favorite films, East of Eden and Sunset Boulevard. The second portion of the book has more than a few nods to both movies.

When it comes to interests and tastes, I pride myself in having an ecclectic palette which translates into the worlds I create. Worlds with influences of everything ranging from film noir, comic book superheroes, Greek mythology, Wuxia, Native American lore, and English romanticism.

It's been my experience that most readers appreciate that I respect them enough to give them more than cookie cutter rehashes of The Adventures of Captain Whitebread and His Token Sidekicks taking place on the Planet Caucasoid being told in the Hero's Journey basic formula.

5) As Long As It Contributes To The Story, All Things Are Possible

If you haven't figured out by now that I'm a huge comic book nerd, then you haven't been paying attention. No really, you haven't been paying attention because I've mentioned and referenced comic books several times now. Keep up everyone.

On top of being a comic book nerd, I am a child of the 80s. Much like graphic novels, 80s cartoons and 80s sci-fi/fantasy films allowed sorcery and science to intertwine and the two were not mutually exclusive as it often is into today's genre fiction.

A perfect example, He-Man and She-Ra. In its most simplistic description the mythos of these two series could be described as a mashup of Dungeons and Dragons and Star Wars. It goes without saying, but both hit shows were much more than that. No really they were. Which by the by, if you're not here for that Masters of the Universe/Princess of Power Realness, then you're not about this life. TRU FAX! TRU FAX!

Hollowstone contained angels, demons, Wiccans, a chosen one, martial artists, hitmen, computer hackers, and then there's the really outlandish stuff.

When peeps have inquired about West of Sunset, I've summed it up as young gay wizard detectives, witchy heroines, vampire biker gangs, all colliding during a vacation trip in L.A. and that's just one half of the book. ;-)

If it works storywise, it is fair game as far as I'm concerned. As a former art professor used to tell me, there are no rules, just tools.

6) White Is Not The Default

Because we still live in a society where white privilege, racism and institutional oppression run rampant, many of us are constantly (or should be) working to unlearn the ingrained bigotry that society programs into us.

Unfortunately in our culture, white is deemed the norm and the default. This is why even though Hollowstone runs the gamut in speculative elements, the one aspect that continuously skullfracks most white readers is the concept of Noah Scott being a mild mannered 14-year-old Black kid who is a straight, a student, devout Catholic and gifted violinist. Because apparently mild mannered straight-A black teenage musicians can't possibly exist because something something something author insert (even though he's based on 3 high school buddies) something something something Mary Sue something something something not white not right something something something Obama is scary.

Even in social justice discussions, we reinforce white is the default in our language. For instance, when white minorities, be they women and/or LGBTQs, self identify, they will often say something along the lines of “I am a woman” or “I am a gay man.” However when people of color who belong to those same groups self identify, we're all but forced to state, “I am a black woman” or “I am a gay Asian male.” Now on the surface it seems pretty innocent and harmless enough but when you add in white privilege, institutional oppression and the well-documented history of women of color and queer PoCs being treated lesser than their white peers in feminist and LGBTQ circles, well, self-identification can often be just another snowflake in an avalanche of oppression.

 Speaking of snow and avalanches, there's one scene in Hollowstone where Cal and Noah vacation in Aspen and meet a pair of beautiful twin ski bunnies. Originally the twins were white and blonde and then I stopped myself and asked, “Why do they have to be white? Black women can also be beautiful romantic love interests and illustrating that blacks do travel and ski also will probably make more than a few heads explode.”

The twins became African American and it strengthened the story as a result. It added diversity in that key scene. It also added nuance to Cal's character. Being a hopeless Lothario and bonafied bad boy, the scene showed that Cal appreciates beautiful and exceptional women, no matter their ethnicity.

Even today I'm constantly vigilant in reminding myself that white is not the default and to make sure that latent systemic programming doesn't infect my work.

7) Equality = Equality

In my world, the girls can hold their own with the boys; PoCs are the stars of their own stories; gay men are the toughest badasses walking; trans protagonists are extraordinary champions. To me it's art imitating life, which is why I call BS when white people can write drivel upon drivel about vampires, werewolves, and aliens but claim writing black people is just soooooooooo hard. This among many reasons is why I have the following personal edict: “Never mistake for ignorance that which can be explained with malice. Because when it comes to bigoted white folks, it's almost ALWAYS malicious intent.”

8) Marginalized Take Precedent

Because of the dearth of stories featuring minority protagonists in leading and central roles and the continuous whitewashing and erasure of the few that do exist, I've committed myself to penning stories that feature PoCs and/or LGBTQs as the leads.

Recently while appearing as a guest at a con, an attendee asked me “Why am I so committed to diversity, progression and multiculturalism?”

My response, “To paraphrase Joss Whedon, “Because you are asking me that question.'”

9) History, Learn You Some

If you're looking for a template to create unique and interesting characters, the past has more than a few. If you do enough research, you will discover that many of history's key players and game changers had few resources and often they weren't male, heterosexual, or white.

Bayard Rustin, Cesar Chavez, Ching Shih, Alan Turing, Sojourner Truth, Wilma Mankiller, Jamie Escalante, I could go on. Of course it begs the question, how many great leaders, scientists, artists and other brilliant minds have we missed out on because societal isms?

Because that's the thing about bigotry and institutional oppression, everyone loses and misses out in the end.

10) Learn From Your Neighbors

They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. I certainly hope that's the case because if that's true then I'm the most blessed and the most awesome individual walking the planet. Tru Fax! Tru Fax!

Not a day passes that I don't think God for blessing me with the extraordinary loved ones who have enriched my life and my journey. Men, women, young people who come from all walks of life spanning almost every conceivable demographic. Some practice an alternative faith, some have disabilities, many are LGBTQs, many are women, and most of them are people of color. So as far as inspiration goes, again, it's simply a matter of art imitating life.

11) Build The Worlds You'd Want To Live In and Create The Characters With Whom You Would Fall In Love

Regarding key reasons for the worldwide success of the Harry Potter series, my buddy filmmaker Jackson Wickham made a most profound point which I work to apply to my own work. “Rowling's masterstroke was in creating not just a great story, but a place where a tremendous amount of people would prefer to live.”

Nuff said.

12) Remain True To Your Art

As cliched and trite as this may sound many artists forget this basic fundamental. Too often they get swept up in following trends, allowing other voices to drown out theirs. As a result, their work suffers and there is a disconnect with their gift. Only I can share the characters and their journeys that I'm meant to share in my distinct style and voice. The same is true for the next artist. In being true to your gift, your gift will remain true to you.

At least that's been my experience. ;-)

Interested in learning more about Dennis? Why don't you check him out on all of his social networks listed below!