PICK UP A COPY OF STEAMFUNK HERE
A witch, more machine than human, judges the character of the wicked and hands out justice in a ravaged Chicago. John Henry wields his mighty hammers in a war against machines and the undead. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman rule a country of freed slaves that rivals – and often bests – England and France in power and technology. You will find all this – and much more – between the pages of Steamfunk, an anthology of incredible stories by some of today’s greatest authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Steamfunk …
For the next two months I’ll be featuring books I’ve had the pleasure of editing (i.e. copy editing) and interviews with the authors and editors of these fantastic books. This week I’m featuring Steamfunk! edited by Authors Milton Davis and Balogun Ojetade. Steamfunk! is an anthology that I had a ball editing! The stories are some of the most imaginative I’ve ever read, and what made my job even sweeter was that my own story The Switch (Part I of The Switch II: Clockwork) was included! So without further adieu, I present for your enjoyment an interview with Brother Milton Davis, one of the co-editors of Steamfunk!, who has been described as “the hardest working man in black speculative fiction today.”
Q&A With Author Milton Davis
(originally published by The SPEC FICTION HUB/Interviewer Marlon Edwards)
1. You are, in my opinion, one of the hardest working people in Black speculative fiction today. I’ll be honest; I’m awed by your output. Every time I look up, you have a new novel or anthology out, or you’re on a panel, or you’ve just completed a short story, or you have a new project on the go.
Now, a lot of people start projects, but you finish them. And people enjoy them.
How do you find the time? Are you one of those disciplined creatives who carve out the same block of time every day? Or do you create in small snatches, whenever you have a moment?
I’m pretty disciplined I guess. I write every morning for about a half an hour, then for an hour every evening. I’m not much of a television watcher so that leaves me plenty of time to write
2. I think I read you say somewhere that you started writing later in life. Was that due to work and family being first priority, or did someone or something inspire you to create stories?
Family and work were definitely a big part of it, but the main reason was that I didn’t find my passion to write until later in life. It was sparked by the research I did in the ‘90s on African history and it culminated with the forming of MVmedia in 2005. I decided that if I was ever going to do it it was time. So I did.
3. If Charles R. Saunders is the grandfather of the Sword and Soul, then you are the father of the sub-genre. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say you helped to revive it.
If I’m counting correctly (and correct me if I’m wrong), you have six Sword and Soul novels, including your Meji books and your Changa books. And those are just the novels where you are the sole author.
How did you first connect with Mr. Saunders, and what draws you to Sword and Soul?
I met Charles by pure chance. I didn’t discover Imaro until 2005 when it was re-released by Nightshade books. I had finished Meji and Changa by then and tried to reach out to him with no luck. Later while on Blacksuperhero.com one of the members, Richard Tyler, announced that Nightshade was no longer publishing Imaro and that he was taking over. I immediately contacted Richard, who immediately put me in touch with him. Charles was gracious and friendly from day one. He agreed to read Meji and told me he liked it, which of course made my year. We’ve been Sword and Soul brothers since.
I love Sword and Soul because it combines two of my favorites; history and fantasy. It’s where my writing passion is for now and will probably remain for a while yet.
4. I’m fascinated by writers who have distinguished, professional day jobs, like you. By trade, you’re a chemist. Do your professional experiences ever make their way into your work?
Not yet. They’re both creative processes, but until I write science fiction I think the two will remain separate.
5. Steampunk is one of those sub-genres that is fiercely protected. Some steampunks have a hard-and-fast definition of what steampunk is, and what time frame it encompasses. Anything outside of that they don’t consider part of the sub-genre.
A little more than a year ago, you and your editing partner, Balogun Ojetade, released an anthology called Steamfunk!. In doing so, you two created a sub-genre of a sub-genre. You also pissed some people off.
What is your definition of steamfunk, and why do you feel speculative literature needs this sub-genre?
Steamfunk is Steampunk that incorporates the culture and historical perspective of people of African descent. The truth to me is that Steampunk, like most genres, operates on the conditions that anyone can play as long as you play by my rules. You don’t have to look deep to see that the historical foundation of the genre is based on a time in history and an empire that was not very favorable to and for people of African descent, especially those within the empire. The concept of Steamfunk grew out of a conversation by fellow writers discussing this fact. The Steamfunk! Anthology was a result of this conversation.
I think this genre needs Steamfunk because it allows us to express what was unique to our culture during this time period in our own way. How it’s expressed depends on the writer. I tend to take the alternate history approach. To be honest both Balogun and I were writing Steamfunk/Steampunk before we knew there was a name for it. And there’s one truth that a lot of Steampunk folks are reluctant to admit while others happily acknowledge; Steamfunk has brought more people of African descent to the genre than Steampunk in its current form and has added a fresh perspective.
5. An interesting trend that has been happening for some years now is young, Black men and women who were born in the northern United States are moving to the South—often where their parents were born—especially, Atlanta.
As this has happened, Atlanta now has what’s become a thriving Black speculative fiction community. Is that fair to say, and if so, why do you think that is?
Although our Northern cousins have contributed to the growth of the Black speculative community in Atlanta, a large portion of it is home grown. I’m a good example; born in North Carolina and raised in Georgia. I think the growth of speculative fiction among young black men and women across the board is a generational thing and will continue to expand as time goes on. Atlanta has become a hub because we’ve made it so. We have an active, open community supported by a large number of speculative fiction conventions, most notably DragonCon. Atlanta has always been a city where the black community possesses a can do attitude and this same attitude exists among black speculative creators and fans here. We don’t wait for it to be done; we do it.
6. One of the things I admire about you is, not only do you collaborate with other writers and editors and artists, but you truly respect the collaboration.
I’m paraphrasing here, and I hope I don’t misrepresent your words, but I saw you post of Facebook once that, if you want a certain artist to do your novel cover or draw your character, and you can’t afford the artist, save your money until can. You seemed to be saying, ‘don’t settle for second best.’
Is that what you believe, and, in your experience, does financial compensation make the collaboration a healthier one?
One of my beliefs is that most publishers don’t put their best foot forward when it comes to developing projects geared toward black people. They don’t feel the investment will yield a good return because of the lingering misconception that black people don’t read. I promised myself that I would produce the highest quality product my money and skills were capable of, especially when it came to artwork. So I use the best artists I can afford and I pay them in a timely manner. There’s a lot of shortchanging that goes on in this industry so there’s a lot of mistrust on both sides. I’m straightforward with what I want and what I’ll pay for it; if I can’t afford it I won’t do the deal. The result is that I get to work with some great artists.
It’s always best to pay people for their work. The backend deal can work, but so many artists and writers have been ripped off in such situations that I feel it’s best to just do the deal up front unless the artist suggests otherwise.
7. Before we end this interview, I do want to thank you for setting aside some time in your busy schedule to answer my questions. I also want to give you the opportunity to tell us what projects you have coming up.
I know you’re working on a secret project (which I’m sure you can’t tell us about yet), but do you have novels or short stories or anthologies that will be published soon?
Right now I’m working on the paperback version of Changa’s Safari Volume Three, which will be available either late August or early September. After that I’m taking a break to catch my breath and plan for 2015. I do have one more project I’d like to complete before the end of the year but I’ll have to see how things pan out. I have big plans for next year; three anthologies as at least one novel. Two of the anthologies; The City and Dark Universe, are science fiction anthologies which will be a first for me. The third anthology is a continuation of the Griots series. Everything depends on sales. If things continue to grow as they have, I believe it will be doable.
Thank you for the opportunity. I hope I haven’t put anyone to sleep.
Contact Valjeanne Jeffers at firstname.lastname@example.org
Valjeanne Jeffers is the author of eight science fiction/fantasy novels, and she has been published in numerous anthologies. She is co-owner of http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com with poet and artist Quinton Veal. Contact Valjeanne for editing, and/or cover art at: email@example.com her reasonable prices will shock and amaze you 🙂