This week I continue my blog series “Fantastic Books I’ve Edited” with a spotlight on Author and Editor Balogun Ojetade and his fantastic novel: Once Upon a Time in Afrika.
What I can I say about Once Upon a Time in Afrika? Read. This. Book. You’ll thank me later. Once Upon a Time in Afrika is a wildly imaginative ride full of rich, vibrant characters, sorcery, African mythology, and mad cool battle scenes. This is one of those novels that I wished (while editing) that I was curled upon a sofa with, instead of sitting in front of my pc. Of course that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. But then, Brother Balogun Ojetade is one of my favorite authors and he never fails to deliver.
So, without further fanfare I present an interview with Balogun Ojetade.
Q&A with Author Balogun Ojetade
Who is Balogun Ojetade?
He is an author; a father of eight children; a husband; a Steamfunkateer; a filmmaker; a screenwriter; an actor (sometimes); a master instructor of indigenous Afrikan martial arts; a creator of role-playing games and a traditional Afrikan priest. Oh…and he always spells “Afrikan” and “Afrika” with a “k”.
When did you first get into science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction?
When I was two years old – my sisters decided to conduct an experiment and see if they could teach their two year old brother to read by getting him hooked on comic books, starting with Thor, Superman, Beetle Bailey, Archie and the Fantastic Four. Their experiment worked and I have been in love with speculative and imaginative fiction ever since.
Tell us about Once Upon A Time In Afrika
Once Upon A Time in Afrika is my Sword and Soul novel. For a definition of Sword and Soul, I will quote the subgenre’s founder, the incomparable author, friend and Jegna (“mentor”), Charles R. Saunders: “Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years. The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’. Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”
Here’s what Once Upon A Time In Afrika is about: Desperate to marry off his beautiful but “tomboyish” daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of the powerful empire of Oyo consults the Oracle, which tells him that Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who the greatest warrior is, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament, inviting warriors from all over the continent. Just a few of the warriors chosen are her lover, Akin, who enters the tournament in disguise, a wizard seeking to avenge the death of a loved one and a vicious dwarf with shark-like, iron teeth. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament, a powerful evil is headed their way and they will be forced to decide if they will band together against the evil, flee, or confront the evil as individuals.
Why are Science Fiction and Fantasy important to you?
I learned just how important Science Fiction and Fantasy is after spending several years as an English and Creative Writing teacher in the public and private sectors. In conversing with other English teachers, I often asked them if they taught creative writing in their classes. Most did not. One teacher told me that she tried “that creative writing stuff” with her students, but quickly gave up on it and returned to a more“practical syllabus.” Upon further investigation, I discovered that she believed creative writing – particularly Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy – to be something outside – and, indeed, beneath – the instruction of English.
Most educators of English / Language Arts focus on the mechanics of the subject – how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension – without the context of why and how those mechanics are used by students to express themselves.
Yes, we need to teach the mechanics – how to hold a pen; how to read; how words work – but we should not confuse use of a thing with understanding of it. Training in the mechanics of writing produces writing technicians; however, it does not make you a writer. So, you know how to spell; you can answer questions on grammar; you can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text – you are a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s car. This is why we – and our children – need to read and to write Science Fiction and Fantasy – so that our children do not only work on other people’s texts; they create and build their own. So they are not limited to just reading a story written by someone else and providing a report on it – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new stories and questioning old ones…if only for the reason that they can.
We need to teach our children to go out into the world to add to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not to dissect the words of long dead men. Science Fiction and Fantasy are best suited for that.
What type of research goes into bringing one of your stories to life?
Tons of research…on the history; on the setting; on the culture and belief system of the people I write about. If we are going to write Steampunk and our story is set during the Victorian Era (between 1837 and 1901) and we want to avoid the cultural appropriation so prevalent in Steampunk, then it is necessary that we know history; that we understand how the Age of Steam was, so that we can determine how it should have been.
If we cosplay a “Steampunk Squaw,” we should research how First Nation women lived during the Age of Steam; we should study First Nation cultures and choose in which nation we are going to gain historical and sociological expertise; we should research the word “squaw”, understand it is an offensive term to First Nation women and change the name…if you give a damn.
And that is what research is: giving a damn. So I do it…a lot.
Contact Valjeanne Jeffers for editing and cover art at email@example.com
She is co-owner of http://qandvaffordableediting.blogspot.com with poet and artist Quinton Veal. Contact Valjeanne for editing, and/or cover art at: firstname.lastname@example.org her reasonable prices will shock and amaze you 🙂