For your consideration: The NAACP Image Awards

Del Rey has submitted The Best of All Possible Worlds to the literary subcommittee of the NAACP Image Awards for consideration in their literary awards category. Now this is not quite a situation like the Oscars where I can hope for a full-page FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION ad in the major newspapers, but it feels very exciting and awe-inspiring and important to me. In fact, it’s so important that I have a request.

I understand that many reviewers like the fact that The Best of All Possible Worlds sites people of colour firmly in the future, in space, on colonies, in a way that is unfortunately unusual for much of the SF we encounter in books and movies. It’s okay for people to be happy about that, but I come from a region whose people and educational system have always had a firm grasp of global demographics, so for me it doesn’t feel like a particular virtue to have written the future the way it’s most likely to be.

What I am wondering is whether certain parts of my book are being overlooked by readers and reviewers who are not well-versed in postcolonial and Caribbean literature. I’m referring to two chapters: ‘Bacchanal’ and ‘The Master’s House’.

I’d be so grateful if an academic or reviewer in Caribbean and postcolonial literature could examine, assess and critique the book in general and those two chapters in particular from a position of expert knowledge. My job is to write the stuff, not explain it, and my policy is to rarely react to reviews, so I can’t guarantee any kind of ‘you’ve got it’ endorsement. I simply want to see a discussion started in an area that I feel is significant but has been barely mentioned as yet.

Old news recap

I’ve been working hard on some projects and thus only updated where I could be brief – twitter, Facebook and a couple of times even tumblr. But now I have a little time, so I’d like to recap some of the old good news.

I didn’t make a final post for my Carolinas trip, but there was not much more to tell. I had a fantastic time at Orange County Library and Chapel Hill Library with audiences that were far more mainstream/literary than SF, but very attentive and appreciative of my work. I also did a reading at Flyleaf Books. Very enjoyable – smaller audience, but the questions were still of a high calibre.

People who follow me on twitter would have seen that I came home and quickly went into AnimeKon Expo, our Bajan SF convention. Tobias Buckell was back, Robert Edison Sandiford had a new book out, and we had a bit of a Three Musketeers thing going where we had a panel together, kept our book tables side by side, and even managed a field trip for some story research. This was so soon after the Carolinas trip that it was hard for me to be at 100 per cent. I wish I’d had more energy and preparation time to get full benefit from the event, but I’m fairly happy with what I was able to do, and it’s always hugely inspiring to hang out with Tobias and Robert and talk Caribbean SF.

I’ve been invited to be Guest of Honour for the 2014 Åcon SF convention in Finland (SO EXCITED YOU HAVE NO IDEA). Details to follow in due course!

I celebrated the release of Jeff VanderMeer’s amazing writing guide Wonderbook on twitter, tumblr and Facebook. I’m extremely proud to be one of the contributors; you can find my essay on page 27 (here’s a teaser). There’s so much beauty and inspiration in that book that you’ll never get bored.

I was surprised and very pleased to find that The Best of All Possible Worlds made it to the semifinal round of the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Sci-fi category as a write-in-vote with reader support. Thank you so much to all those who voted!

Finally, I was absolutely thrilled that RT Reviews nominated The Best of All Possible Worlds for both Best Science Fiction and Book of the Year. The awards ceremony takes place at their annual convention, which is being held in New Orleans next year! Tempting! Very tempting!

What I did on my summer ‘vacation’

Rather a lot, as it turns out!

I joined Samuel Montgomery-Blinn for a radio interview with the folks at WUNC 91.5, North Carolina Public Radio.

About a week later, I had another interview/discussion with Sam and the hosts of Carolina Book Beat.

I posted in advance about the readings at various libraries and bookstores and my week as Amazon Writer-in-Residence at Shared Worlds, but I have yet to post about how they went. Short version – brilliantly! Long version … that will take time and separate posts. I’m still winding down from all the travel, and I have to ransack my overstuffed memory to come up with a coherent and chronological account.

And it was a vacation, at least partly. I got to hang out with old friends and newer friends, and I also made new friends, some of them in unexpected places. I encountered children who love to read (and I owe two of them a list of recommendations!) and discovered new books and new authors in a wide range of age levels. I saw four states and several cities/towns and a whole lotta interstate. I ate a lot of good food, and drank good wine, beer and smoothies (yes, smoothies. Karen Burnham makes the best breakfast smoothies). I encountered a ridiculous amount of chocolate but kept in control (sharing is key). I packed, unpacked and lifted so much luggage that my right arm is now noticeably more muscular than my left. I learned to do a proper cartwheel. I listened to authors – they made me laugh, they made me cry, they gave me chills.

In time, in time. There is much to do here, but I will post again soon.

Guest Post: Not another black Superman story, by Robert Sandiford

It’s been far too long since I spoke about the Caribbean literary scene, but fortunately today (on Canada Day!) I have a great guest post from Bajan-Canadian Robert Edison Sandiford. In this post, he tells us about how his early visions of Caribbean superheroes inspired him to write the novel And Sometimes They Fly, published this month by DC Books,

Draw him, colour him, dress up as him—I think every kid remembers the first superhero he created.  Not that first ideas are always the best.  My concept, at age eight or nine, was awful.

The character was wealthy Reginald Van Buren.  His sidekick was his muscular manservant—whose name I can’t recall—and very British.  Their alter egos: Black Butterfly and Brown Derby.

Years ago, on safari, Van Buren discovered a giant black pearl that gave him, when rubbed, the powers of a butterfly, including wings.  I hadn’t fleshed out an origin for Brown Derby, whose name came from the kind of hat he wore.  (As I said, first ideas.)  I got two or three pages of very rough colour pencils done in a blue Hilroy exercise book before I moved on to my next comics project: Lieutenant Laser Eyes!

These dreams of a grade school comics creator were derivative, built on conventions of the genre: wealthy hero, able sidekick, fateful adventure, mysterious powers.  The ideas behind the characters needed converting or embellishing.  Where the characters had true merit was in my aspirations: all the lead heroes mentioned above were black, with traits and speech drawn from people I knew, people who looked, sounded and acted like me in Montreal’s West Indian community, my community.

Throughout high school and university, this trend/inclination/artistic choice (I’m not sure what to call it since I wasn’t conscious of it at the time) continued.  My character Bobcat, leader of a Canadian superhero team, was black.  Safeguard of the North—my answer to Captain Canuck and Guardian and Northguard—was black; or at least not as white as the great northern country he represented might expect him to be.  Despite buying comics where the main heroes were usually white—or maybe because of this—it never occurred to me how unusual my choice was.  I was a black boy creating black heroes.  What was so unusual about that?  Seeing myself in them was about making reality more real, more complex and complete.  Still, it was a decision I should not take for granted.

I teach research methods and research paper writing to BFA Graphic Design students at Barbados Community College.  A number of my students are into graphic novels.  They read them and write them and draw them in their spare time or as part of their major and minor graduation exhibition projects.  According to the 2012 Census, eighty percent of Barbados’ population is black, and sixteen percent is of mixed black and European ancestry.  My students’ environment is, therefore, visibly black. When these students enter the programme, however, many of them show work that is heavily inflected by anime and manga; their panels are not populated by characters who look like them or the people they are most likely to meet in their neighbourhood.

One of my students shared a story in class about creating a character in high school that was a protector of Barbados.  The hero’s familiar was a water dragon.  When one of his teachers asked him why his hero wasn’t black, or why the character didn’t reflect its creator’s own culture in other ways, he told her these thoughts had not occurred to him.  At all.  Another student in the class, fairly well-read and also an aspiring graphic novelist, said he could never find the epic in Caribbean stories, that spark to fire great works.  The cartoons from Japan he and his colleagues followed, the comics from that country they absorbed, seemed more resonant than anything their history or reality might make possible.

The crime—let’s call it that—wasn’t that too many of my students couldn’t see the epic in their own people’s stories, which included the Middle Passage, slavery, colonialism, post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, indigenous mythologies and folklore.  The crime was—is—that they had never thought to fan the fire themselves: to create what was missing, to suggest what was possible, to write the stories about their own people that they wanted to read.

Part of the problem was the social engineering they had undergone as Barbadians, which I examine in my new novel And Sometimes They Fly.  My students and many Barbadians like them were raised to believe other people’s heroes saved the world, not their own.  Who would these worthy men and women be anyway?  Their politicians didn’t call in the good guys when the going got tough; they considered themselves the good guys, and had put commemorative plaques on buildings and open spaces all around the island that essentially said so.  Coupled with a decline in oral storytelling not redressed by a more active publishing industry, this belief in the outside hero has spelt the demise of the fantastic in much of Barbadian Literature.

Not entirely, of course.  Barbadians—and their stories—are more tenacious than my students might think: more entertaining, more epic, and hence more enduring.  Try, as Bajan or world critic, to dismiss writers like Kamau Brathwaite, Geoffrey Drayton and Timonthy Callender.  You’d be missing out if you weren’t aware of others like Glenville Lovell, Ronald A. Williams, Karen Lord, and Matthew Clarke.  It takes cultural consciousness to resist the drag of negative foreign incursion; the kind of cultural consciousness that can conceive of anything, including a black Superman.  But not a black Superman.  Despite successful renderings of, say, a black Green Lantern or a Latino Spiderman, I never wanted coloured-in versions of my favourite heroes.  I wanted originals of my own, fighting battles people rather like me would fight.

And Sometimes They Fly

When I came to write And Sometimes They Fly about fifteen years ago, it was not as a literary fantasy novel but as a superhero comic about a group of young people who fought to save the world.  At some point over the years, I decided to tell the story in prose instead, yet I, too, was still missing that sense of the epic: Who were these young people, meaning where did they come from, and whose world were they fighting to save?  The tragedies of 9/11, which seemed to touch on everyone’s life everywhere on this planet, provided the necessary perspective, as metaphor for cataclysmic conflict, and moment for godlike redemptive intervention…if one so chose.  Yet it was the folklore of the Caribbean, of Barbados specifically, that provided contemporary context, the proper symbols, and an ongoing socio-historical discourse out of which the story could emerge.

The epic in any work comes from the writer’s understanding of his people and their place in history, what we might call Time, here; even if his people are embodied in an individual or their place is no larger than a village.  His people, regardless of their number, race, faith or colour, are inevitably humanity itself, or his conception of it.  Events in Egypt or Syria can have magic or tragic consequences for a family or woman in Barbados or Trinidad.  The epic reveals the possibilities of a grander world, one made up of the worlds we already know and of others we still struggle to explain.  To imagine ourselves onto that boundless landscape, as writers and readers, is no privilege, then, nor should it be viewed as a burden.  It is merely our right, and our responsibility.

*

Robert Edison Sandiford is the author of eight books and co-founder with Linda M. Deane of ArtsEtc Inc. His novel And Sometimes They Fly will be released in July by DC Books.

Days Two and Three: The Weekend

Good music, good food, good company, a black swan and some black ants, and other etceteras.

On Saturday, I again breakfasted with Justine and Scott, and had some laugh-out-loud moments because they’ve both got great comic timing. I was starting to feel better. Jet lag, especially jet lag after three flights, is no joke. It’s a fatigue so deep it feels like the marrow is draining out of your bones. Fortunately, Saturday was a relatively light day with two purely enjoyable items. The first was a coffee meeting with Dr Amy Matthews, who was to moderate my Sunday panel on Redemption in Indigo. She suggested we meet in advance and chat a bit about what to discuss. We ended up sitting on the grass down by the river in marvellous conversation for about three hours. There was a brief encounter with an oddly friendly, yet shy, black swan who approached us but when we merely stared warily and declined to offer it food, it sidled away with its head tucked into its back as if it was napping, or maybe just embarrassed. Swans are sizable birds. I do not mess with swans. Nor geese.

The Writers’ Week reception took place that evening. A group of us gathered in the hotel lobby to walk over to the venue. A cheerful, charming gentleman introduced himself to me as Tom Keneally. I was still insufficiently alert, so it was much later when I clued in to who he was and got him to sign my just-purchased copy of The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.

The reception was most enjoyable in a way that can only be managed when a room full of writers and other literary types get together and have conversations. Several of us got hauled aside by the Guardian (UK) for some photos. After the reception, because the night was still young, I followed Tracey (the publicist) and a few others to the Barrio where there was a live band playing some excellent music. Eventually it dawned on me … wait a minute! That’s Soul II Soul! Pure nostalgia, great music – which alas, I could not fully enjoy because before they finished playing their set I realised that there was not much keeping me upright but sheer willpower. I chose to be sensible and went to bed.

There are things I can’t quite recall. For example, there was a stunning fireworks display down by the river which we (Justine, Scott and I) witnessed up close (very close!) from the terrace at the back of the hotel. Was that Friday night or Sunday night? I can’t remember! And I forgot that I did in fact go out to dinner Friday after the opening night performance with Sean Williams and his wife, Scott and Justine, and Isobelle Carmody (one of those delightful people who only have to speak twice to make you want to rush out and buy their books).

One of the reasons it became so hard to keep track of the days was that I was taking (whenever I could) a long nap during the day and having a short sleep at night. There’s a 14.5 hour difference between Barbados and Adelaide, almost a direct day-to-night flip.

On Sunday, I went down to the Writers’ Week venue in the morning well in advance of my afternoon panel so I could do a radio interview on-site. It was Kids’ Day, and there were little ones running about in costume. It was a great family atmosphere, everything outdoors and the weather hot, dry and clear. And ants. I was sitting under the trees listening to a panel when I looked to my right and saw that the gentleman sitting next to me was covered in black ants. They were crawling up the plastic chairs from a broad trail on a nearby tree. I alerted him and helped brush him off; he changed chairs and moved away from the tree. I was twitchily viewing my own chair for ants for a while and just when I managed to calm my paranoia I looked to the row ahead and there was a woman crawling with ants.

The panel before mine featured Justine Larbalestier, and Isobelle Carmody. It was enjoyable and relaxing  (no, I did not nod off) and put all thought of black ants out of my mind. Most if not all of the panels were being recorded for television, which meant that later during my panel when I actually was stung by an ant, I had to make it look very casual, as if I was merely brushing my shoulder rather than slapping the life out of the little miscreant.

Sean Williams fortified me with a chocolate freckle before my panel, and rewarded me with a dark chocolate covered macadamia afterwards. Walking around with chocolate treats is apparently his ‘thing’. I’m not complaining.

The panel went really well, thanks in no small part to our preparation the previous day. I got an absolutely brilliant question, weighty with knowledge and perception, from a woman in the audience who, when I queried her, admitted to having been in Barbados just the year before. I’m happy the panel was televised, but especially for that question which gave me a new insight into the approach I chose for Paama’s brand of heroism.

Here I am, looking like I know what I’m talking about:

Karen Lord discusses her book Redemption in Indigo on stage

[Source]

After the panel, I had a fun time at the signing table, then went back to catch the second half of Sean interviewing Scott about Leviathan. That was fascinating, and I wish I could have heard the entire session, but it was enough to tempt me to buy the book (and Behemoth and Goliath). Well played, Mr Westerfeld.

Before I forget, I should mention that I also found out from Amy that Redemption in Indigo is on the reading list of an undergrad course at the University of Adelaide, so there were students at my panel and in my signing line – yay!

At the end of the day, we went and had dinner at a restaurant with a secret room hidden behind a cunning sliding bookcase. (Oh dear, I’ve said too much. Well, I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant at least.)

That’s what I can remember of the weekend! Strictly speaking, that was Day One and Day Two of the Writers’ Week but Days Two and Three of the Adelaide Festival … but nevermind. I’m numbering these Days according to the time I was spending there, not by their calendar.

Next, Day Four!

Some updates

The blog pages for ‘About‘ and ‘The Best of All Possible Worlds‘ have been updated. There is an interview (more on that soon), three new reviews from the Wall Street Journal, the Telegraph and the Seattle Times respectively, and an extra in the form of a Spanish translation of the previously-linked short story ‘Astronomy Lesson’.