Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!: Indie Edition

Some of the best SF&F books out there right now are written by indie authors.

Don’t believe me?

Try some!

Traditional publishing has a long and glorious history of taking the safest route possible into customers (that’s readers!) pockets. They don’t like to take chances, try new things, explore risque themes and ideas. They don’t like to support writers they deem as “too niche.”

Which means the traditional publishing industry pumps out a lot of same old, same old books. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

You get the idea.

I am fortunate to know many fantastic indie authors, writing in every genre from non-fiction and memoir, to romance and history, to–my favourite–science fiction and fantasy.

So to wrap up my How Long ’til Black Future Month? series, I give you Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NO!: The Indie Edition!

Science Fiction

Jelani Wilson

SpaceWizards! The Ballad of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson

If you’re looking to spice up your reading list with something totally different and out of this worlds, be sure to check out The Ballade of the Bladesinger by Jelani Wilson.

This novella is an offshoot of Wilson’s upcoming SpaceWizards! novel, and this teaser does not disappoint! I love the irreverent blend of Sci-Fi and Fantasy tropes, the vibrant characters, and magically intergalactic setting. The dialogue is smart and funny (I’ll be adding fuckmelon to my list of curse words), and all the little details make this snapshot of Wilson’s world building come to life.

Xenobia the Blue is a magic blade swinging Space Wizard trying to lay low by posing as a backup singer for the famous cyborg songstress, Tronix. But when her cover is blown, all hell breaks loose on the luxury spaceship she’s been hiding out on…

Because this is a novella and not a full length novel I can’t give away too much more than that without ruining the plot. However, if you love spaceships, magic, creative alien species, and high stakes espionage, you’re going to love this book!

Ballad of the Bladesinger has a kind of Fifth Element / Guardians of the Galaxy vibe that is fun, feisty, and action packed. I highly recommend checking it out.

Find Jelani Wilson Here:

Website: http://www.pageswithoutpaper.com
Instagram: @jelaninfinite

W.A. Ford

The Fadian Experiment sucked me in from the first page. It starts out tough and gritty, you jump into some high-stakes action right off the bat, and it really doesn’t let up the whole way through.

The main character, Kaleigha, is living a brutal life. After failing a childhood assessment that would have placed her in a job, she now wanders the streets looking for temp work or hustling as a fortune teller while dodging the unwanted advances and abuses of police and other citizens. As if that’s not bad enough, Kaleigha hears voices in her head. That’s why she failed her assessment, and it’s getting worse instead of better.

I loved the set up for this novel. The way Ford describes the world and city, I was reminded of N.K. Jemisin’s settings where the city is almost a character in its own right. There is nothing kind about this world, and Ford’s depictions of future class division are frighteningly realistic.

As we get deeper into the story, the plot spirals and everything we think we understand from the beginning of the book is turned upside down. The characters are intense, the pace is relentless, and the world is complex. You just have to keep reading to see what’s coming.

The Fadian Experiment blends science and magic, reality and fantasy, dreams and memory with so many twists and turns you never know what is going to happen next. At its core, though, this is the story about a poor young women who will do anything to help her city and improve the lives of her people.

Book Two in the trilogy, The Fadian Escape is coming soon, so be sure to follow W.A. Ford for updates!

Find W.A. Ford Here

Facebook Page: The Far BackRoom
Instagram @thefarbackroom

Natasha Oliver

If you love fast paced, urban fantasy with a Sci-Fi twist have I got a book for you!

In Awakening, Book One in the Evolved Ones trilogy we meet Rox.

Rox is on the run, desperate to escape the people chasing her and to find out who she really is. From the very first page, we are sucked into Rox’s quest to rescue herself from a personal hell. She is stuck in limbo, being used by everyone who promised to help her find her identity, and she doesn’t even know if there is anything to discover. The unknown threatens to destroy her.

I am a sucker for great characterization. Oliver takes this skill to the extreme. She handles a large cast of characters with in-depth, emotionally driven character arcs. Each of the characters is fully developed, with a unique personality, compelling backstory, and complex motivations. You’ll even love the unlikable ones!

This book grabs you, shakes you, and drags you along with it. Break-neck pacing, fever-pitched emotions, and non-stop action, Awakening has “Blockbuster Movie” written all over it.

This is an absolute must read for anyone who likes action-packed Sci-Fi with a heavy dose of raw emotion and character depth to go with it.

You can easily pick this book up and read it straight through. It is hard to put down, even if you know you have to wake up early. I might have had a rough morning or two because I was up reading after the kids went to bed!

Book Two: Sacrifice is available now!

Find Natasha Oliver Here:

Website: www.natashaoliver.com
Instagram: @natasha_oliver_author

Fantasy

M.J. McGriff

Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff

Are you looking for a rip-roaring adventure with magic, pirates on the high seas, snarky dialogue, and a little sexual tension?

That’s a stupid question. Of course you are.

Macario’s Scepter by M.J. McGriff is the perfect beach read book or–if, like me, you are locked in an eternal winter–the perfect “wishing you were on a beach” read. Either way, this fast-paced YA pirate fantasy is going to spirit you away to a tropical paradise filled with white sand beaches, handsome rogues, badass heroines…

… and an evil magical serpent bent on destroying the world!

Trust me. You’re going to have fun.

McGriff’s characters are smart and sassy, make all kinds of hilarious bad decisions, and are simply a joy to go adventuring with.

And I was on the beta reading team for Book 2: The Secret Library and let me tell you… it only gets better!

If you’re looking to dip your toes into this world, check out M.J. McGriff’s website and sign up for her reading group via the popup to get a free copy of The Griffin, a fantasy novella set in the same world as these swashbuckling adventure stories.

Find M.J. McGriff Here:

Website: www.mmcgriff.com
Instagram: @mj_mcgriff

Sharon D. Ballentine

A Look Behind Lightning by Sharon D. Ballentine

Wow! This is quite a read. You’re definitely getting your money’s worth with this one at almost 500 pages.

A Look Behind Lightning is a spooky urban fantasy with a ton of wonderful characters. It slowly builds suspense as we follow Jocasta and her students through their daily lives, with things getting stranger and stranger as the book progresses. Tensions rise, monsters emerge, and everything comes crashing together in an epic climax!

Ballentine does a superb job of immersing us in her characters’ lives so that we really care about them and the supernatural events that threaten to take over their lives.

This is a long book simmering with slow-burn tension, and Ballentine really uses the length well. You will be fully immersed in these characters lives so that when the book finishes… you’ll be itching to start Book 2!

Find Sharon D. Ballentine Here:

Website: www.sdballentine.com
Instagram: @sdballentine

Further Reading

Do you have any favourite indie authors you’d like to share? I try to read at least one indie book a month, and I review all of my favourites. So drop a recommendations below and I’ll check it out!

More Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!

Celebrate Black History month by exploring Black Futures with some of my favourite SF&F writers of all time!

Part One: N.K. Jemisin

Part Two: Ocatvia E. Butler

Part Three: Nalo Hopkinson

Part Four: Nnedi Okorafor

Part Five: Indie Edition, 5 Black Indie SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW!

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 4: Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a writer that I stumbled upon completely by accident after a review I read called her YA trilogy, Akata Witch, the “Nigerian Harry Potter.”

I read and reviewed Akata Witch myself, here, and discussed the problem of minimizing the work of Black writers by comparing them to the (mostly white) literary canon as if all Black writing is derivative rather than existing in its own right. This experience really changed the way I think about literature in general, from comparing women’s writing to men’s, western writers to eastern, straight and queer, etc.

All of this is tangential to the fact that Nnedi Okorafor is a phenomenal writer. I loved the magic and friendship of Akata Witch. I loved the bravery and brilliance of Binti. I loved the raw power and energy of Who Fears Death. Okorafor’s writing just really clicks for me in a way I haven’t found with a lot of contemporary writers and I still struggle to define exactly what it is.

What I do know, is that she’s a writer that all SF&F fans need to read now! And there’s something for everyone, from YA to Adult, from novellas, to novels, to comics and graphic novels. Okorafor is a joy to read, even when she’s tearing your heart out (thanks, Who Fears Death…)

Here’s a little bit about the Author, and scroll down to see a selection of her most popular works.

About Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American author of Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism for children and adults. Her works include WHO FEARS DEATH (in development at HBO into a TV series), the BINTI novella trilogyTHE BOOK OF PHOENIX, the AKATA books and LAGOON. She is the winner of Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Locus and Lodestar Awards and her debut novel ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER won the prestigious Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. Her next novel, IKENGA, [was released] in stores August 2020.

Nnedi has also written comics for Marvel, including BLACK PANTHER: LONG LIVE THE KING and WAKANDA FOREVER (featuring the Dora Milaje) and the SHURI series, an Africanfuturist comic series LAGUARDIA (from Dark Horse) and her short memoir BROKEN PLACES AND OUTER SPACES. Nnedi is also cowriter the adaptation of Octavia Butler’s WILD SEED with Viola Davis and Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu. Nnedi holds a PhD (literature) and two MAs (journalism and literature). She lives with her daughter Anyaugo and family in Illinois.

From https://nnedi.com/

The Books

Young Adult Novels

Akata Witch (2011) & Akata Warrior (2017)

Affectionately dubbed “the Nigerian Harry Potter,” Akata Witch weaves together a heart-pounding tale of magic, mystery, and finding one’s place in the world. [Note: The publisher is still using this description!]

Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits in. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?

Ursula K. Le Guin and John Green are Nnedi Okorafor fans. As soon as you start reading Akata Witch, you will be, too! 

Ikenga (2020)

Nnedi Okorafor’s acclaimed first novel for middle grade readers introduces a boy who can access super powers with the help of the magical Ikenga.

Nnamdi’s father was a good chief of police, perhaps the best Kalaria had ever had. He was determined to root out the criminals that had invaded the town. But then he was murdered, and most people believed the Chief of Chiefs, most powerful of the criminals, was responsible. Nnamdi has vowed to avenge his father, but he wonders what a twelve-year-old boy can do. Until a mysterious nighttime meeting, the gift of a magical object that enables super powers, and a charge to use those powers for good changes his life forever. How can he fulfill his mission? How will he learn to control his newfound powers?

Award-winning Nnedi Okorafor, acclaimed for her Akata novels, introduces a new and engaging hero in her first novel for middle grade readers set against a richly textured background of contemporary Nigeria.

Binti Novellas (2015, 2017, 2018)

Winner of the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novella!

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself — but first she has to make it there, alive.

The Binti Series
Book 1: Binti
Book 2: Binti: Home
Book 3: Binti: The Night Masquerade

Adult Novels

Who Fears Death (2010)

In a post-apocalyptic Africa, the world has changed in many ways; yet in one region genocide between tribes still bloodies the land. A woman who has survived the annihilation of her village and a terrible rape by an enemy general wanders into the desert, hoping to die. Instead, she gives birth to an angry baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand. Gripped by the certainty that her daughter is different—special—she names her Onyesonwu, which means “Who fears death?” in an ancient language.

It doesn’t take long for Onye to understand that she is physically and socially marked by the circumstances of her conception. She is Ewu—a child of rape who is expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by her community. But Onye is not the average Ewu. Even as a child, she manifests the beginnings of a remarkable and unique magic. As she grows, so do her abilities, and during an inadvertent visit to the spirit realm, she learns something terrifying: someone powerful is trying to kill her.

Desperate to elude her would-be murderer and to understand her own nature, she embarks on a journey in which she grapples with nature, tradition, history, true love, and the spiritual mysteries of her culture, and ultimately learns why she was given the name she bears: Who Fears Death.


The Book of Phoenix (2015)

A fiery spirit dances from the pages of the Great Book. She brings the aroma of scorched sand and ozone. She has a story to tell….

The Book of Phoenix is a unique work of magical futurism. A prequel to the highly acclaimed, World Fantasy Award-winning novel, Who Fears Death, it features the rise of another of Nnedi Okorafor’s powerful, memorable, superhuman women.

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.



Lagoon (2016)

It’s up to a famous rapper, a biologist, and a rogue soldier to handle humanity’s first contact with an alien ambassador—and prevent mass extinction—in this novel that blends magical realism with high-stakes action.

After word gets out on the Internet that aliens have landed in the waters outside of the world’s fifth most populous city, chaos ensues. Soon the military, religious leaders, thieves, and crackpots are trying to control the message on YouTube and on the streets. Meanwhile, the earth’s political superpowers are considering a preemptive nuclear launch to eradicate the intruders. All that stands between seventeen million anarchic residents and death is an alien ambassador, a biologist, a rapper, a soldier, and a myth that may be the size of a giant spider, or a god revealed.

Remote Control (2021)

An alien artifact turns a young girl into Death’s adopted daughter in Remote Control, a thrilling sci-fi tale of community and female empowerment from Nebula and Hugo Award-winner Nnedi Okorafor

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­—a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks—alone, except for her fox companion—searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

Discussion

Have you read any of Nnedi Okorafor’s work? Which has been your favourite? I just bought Ikenga when it came out and plan to read it with my kids before we jump into Akata Witch and Akata Warrior. It’s great that Okorafor is putting out middle grade and YA fiction as well as SF&F for adults. This is so important for ensuring that diverse science fiction and fantasy books are available to kids from a young age, and hopefully will nurture a life long love of the genre of the future!

I’m really excited for Lagoon and Remote Control, too…

Want more Black SF&F Writers?

Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Part 5: Indie Edition: 5 Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read Now!

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 3: Nalo Hopkinson

The very first Black SF&F writer I ever read was Nalo Hopkinson. This was back in high school when I stumbled upon Brown Girl in the Ring and long before I realized how important science fiction and fantasy could be to women and other marginalized people.

I can’t even remember how I stumbled upon it, or why I picked it up, other than that I knew it would be different from anything else I had ever read. Probably I heard about her on CBC Radio. And it was. Different. Gloriously, magically, chills-up-the-spine different from anything I had ever read.

Hopkinson’s blend of Caribbean folk lore and fantasy opened my eyes to the sheer potential of the genre. And it woke a hunger in me for these Other stories. The stories that we have to dig to find. The stories that go beyond the SF&F Canon that my reading had been previously limited to. Stories about Othered people and places and worlds that have been pushed to the peripheral.

That feeling never left me. I still feel that thrill when I pick up a book that I know is going to show me something new, a different way of seeing, a story through eyes I’ve never seen through before. It really does give me chills.

I hope, in sharing her work with you today, you’ll discover something new and wonderful that opens your eyes to a different perspective. There are as many ways to dream as there are people in the world, and there is no reason to stick with the same old visions all the time!

About Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson

Powered by ADHD

…though the brake pedal probably reads fibromyalgia. And if I’m going to stretch this metaphor past breaking point, the toolbox on the seat beside me might be labelled NLD. After all, the flip side to “non-verbal learning disorder” is arguably “high verbal ability.” I’m not saying that my cognitive differences made me a writer — that would be flippant and untrue — but though they pose challenges, there are ways in which they can sometimes help.

I write science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction; call it whatever you want, my novels and stories are full of the unreal, the futuristic, the unlikely, the impossible.

I was born in Jamaica, in the Caribbean. I lived for years in Guyana as well, and in Trinidad/Tobago. But the bulk of my life so far has been spent in Toronto, Canada. After about 35 years of that, I moved to the USA for a professorship in Creative Writing.

I’ve won numerous awards for my fiction and other literary activities.

I’ve been a maker of 3-dimensional objects for most of my life. Manipulating physical materials is a welcome break from typing black letters on a white background. It might be functional objects or more decorative ones, and it’s where let myself be full-on whimsical. I’ve scattered muted images of some of my pieces all over this site. Feel free to drop me a note to ask me more about them.

My dream home is on a cliff overlooking an ocean, with lots of room on the grounds for a workshop and a writing cottage. And fruit trees. Or maybe truffle-bearing oak trees. Can’t you just picture it?

About the Author: Nalo Hopkinson
https://www.nalohopkinson.com/about-the-author

The Books

Brown Girl in the Ring (1998)

In this “impressive debut” from award-winning speculative fiction author Nalo Hopkinson, a young woman must solve the tragic mystery surrounding her family and bargain with the gods to save her city and herself. (The Washington Post)

The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways — farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.


Midnight Robber (2000)

It’s Carnival time and the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint is celebrating with music, dance, and pageantry. Masked “Midnight Robbers” waylay revelers with brandished weapons and spellbinding words. To young Tan-Tan, the Robber Queen is simply a favorite costume to wear at the festival–until her power-corrupted father commits an unforgiveable crime.

Suddenly, both father and daughter are thrust into the brutal world of New Half-Way Tree. Here monstrous creatures from folklore are real, and the humans are violent outcasts in the wilds. Tan-Tan must reach into the heart of myth and become the Robber Queen herself. For only the Robber Queen’s legendary powers can save her life . . . and set her free.


The Salt Roads (2003)

From the SFWA Grand Master, a“sexy, disturbing, touching, wildly comic . . . tour de force” that blends fantasy, women’s history, and slavery (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).
 
In 1804, shortly before the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue is renamed Haiti, a group of women gather to bury a stillborn baby. Led by a lesbian healer and midwife named Mer, the women’s lamentations inadvertently release the dead infant’s “unused vitality” to draw Ezili—the Afro-Caribbean goddess of sexual desire and love—into the physical world.
 
As Ezili explores her newfound powers, she travels across time and space to inhabit the midwife’s body, as well as those of Jeanne—a mixed-race dancer and the mistress of Charles Baudelaire living in 1880s Paris—and Meritet, an enslaved Greek-Nubian prostitute in ancient Alexandria.
 
Bound together by Ezili and “the salt road” of their sweat, blood, and tears, the three women struggle against a hostile world, unaware of the goddess’s presence in their lives. Despite her magic, Mer suffers as a slave on a sugar plantation until Ezili plants the seeds of uprising in her mind. Jeanne slowly succumbs to the ravages of age and syphilis when her lover is unable to escape his mother’s control. And Meritet, inspired by Ezili, flees her enslavement and makes a pilgrimage to Egypt, where she becomes known as Saint Mary.
 
With unapologetically sensual prose, Nalo Hopkinson, the Nebula Award–winning author of Midnight Robber, explores slavery through the lives of three historical women touched by a goddess in this “electrifying bravura performance by one of our most important writers” (Junot Díaz).


The New Moon’s Arms (2007)

First it’s her mother’s missing gold brooch. Then, a blue and white dish she hasn’t seen in years. Followed by an entire grove of cashew trees.

When objects begin appearing out of nowhere, Calamity knows that the special gift she has not felt since childhood has returned-her ability to find lost things. Calamity, a woman as contrary as the tides around her Caribbean island home, is confronting two of life’s biggest dramas. First is the death of her father, who raised her alone until a pregnant Calamity rejected him when she was sixteen years old. The second drama: she’s starting menopause. Now when she has a hot flash and feels a tingling in her hands, she knows it’s a lost object calling to her.

Then she finds something unexpected: a four-year-old boy washes up on the shore, his dreadlocked hair matted with shells. Calamity decides to take the orphaned child into her care, which brings unexpected upheaval into her life and further strains her relationship with her adult daughter. Fostering this child will force her to confront all the memories of her own childhood-and the disappearance of her mother so many years before.


The Chaos (2012) (Young adult fiction)

Navigate between myth and chaos in this “journey filled with peril, self-discovery, and terrifying moments” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).

Sixteen-year-old Scotch struggles to fit in—at home she’s the perfect daughter, at school she’s provocatively sassy, and thanks to her mixed heritage, she doesn’t feel she belongs with the Caribbeans, whites, or blacks. And even more troubling, lately her skin is becoming covered in a sticky black substance that can’t be removed. While trying to cope with this creepiness, she goes out with her brother—and he disappears. A mysterious bubble of light just swallows him up, and Scotch has no idea how to find him. Soon, the Chaos that has claimed her brother affects the city at large, until it seems like everyone is turning into crazy creatures. Scotch needs to get to the bottom of this supernatural situation ASAP before the Chaos consumes everything she’s ever known—and she knows that the black shadowy entity that’s begun trailing her every move is probably not going to help.

A blend of fantasy and Caribbean folklore, at its heart this tale is about identity and self acceptance—because only by acknowledging her imperfections can Scotch hope to save her brother.

Sister Mine (2013)

Nalo Hopkinson–winner of the John W. Campbell Award, the Sunburst Award, and the World Fantasy award (among others), and lauded as one of our “most inventive and brilliant writers” (New York Post)–returns with a new work. With her singular voice and characteristic sharp insight, she explores the relationship between two sisters in this richly textured and deeply moving novel . . . Sister Mine We’d had to be cut free of our mother’s womb. She’d never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby’s head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here’s the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn’t. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things–a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby’s magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.

Today, Makeda has decided it’s high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans–after all, she’s one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she’s been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There’s even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.

But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent–and reconcile with Abby–if she’s to have a hope of saving him . . .

Short Story Collections


Skin Folk (2001) (short stories)

The SFWA Grand Master’s award-winning collection “combines a richly textured multicultural background with incisive storytelling” (Library Journal).
 
In Skin Folk, with works ranging from science fiction to Caribbean folklore, passionate love to chilling horror, Nalo Hopkinson is at her award-winning best, spinning tales like “Precious,” in which the narrator spews valuable coins and gems from her mouth whenever she attempts to talk or sing. In “A Habit of Waste,” a self-conscious woman undergoes elective surgery to alter her appearance; days later she’s shocked to see her former body climbing onto a public bus. In “The Glass Bottle Trick,” the young protagonist ignores her intuition regarding her new husband’s superstitions—to horrifying consequences.
 
Hopkinson’s unique pacing and vibrant dialogue sets a steady beat for stories that illustrate why she received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Entertaining, challenging, and alluring, Skin Folk is not to be missed.


So Long Been Dreaming (2004, anthology)

So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy is an anthology of original new stories by leading African, Asian, South Asian and Aboriginal authors, as well as North American and British writers of color.

Stories of imagined futures abound in Western writing. Writer and editor Nalo Hopkinson notes that the science fiction/fantasy genre “speaks so much about the experience of being alienated but contains so little writing by alienated people themselves.” It’s an oversight that Hopkinson and Mehan aim to correct with this anthology.

The book depicts imagined futures from the perspectives of writers associated with what might loosely be termed the “third world.” It includes stories that are bold, imaginative, edgy; stories that are centered in the worlds of the “developing” nations; stories that dare to dream what we might develop into.

The wealth of postcolonial literature has included many who have written insightfully about their pasts and presents. With So Long Been Dreaming they creatively address their futures.


Report From Planet Midnight (2012) (short stories, interview and speech)

Infused with feminist, Afro-Caribbean views of the science fiction and fantasy genres, this collection of offbeat and highly original works takes aim at race and racism in literature. In “Report from Planet Midnight,” at the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts, an alien addresses the crowd, evaluating Earth’s “strange” customs, including the marginalization of works by nonwhite and female writers. “Message in a Bottle” shows Greg, an American Indian artist, befriending a strange four-year-old who seems wise beyond her years. While preparing an exhibition, he discovers that the young girl is a traveler from the future sent to recover art from the distant past—which apparently includes his own work. Concluding the book with series editor Terry Bisson’s Outspoken Interview, Nalo Hopkinson shares laughs, loves, and top-secret Caribbean spells.


Falling in Love With Hominids (2015) (short stories)

An alluring new collection from the author of the New York Times Notable Book, Midnight Robber

Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the RingThe Salt RoadsSister Mine) is an internationally-beloved storyteller. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as having “an imagination that most of us would kill for,” her Afro-Caribbean, Canadian, and American influences shine in truly unique stories that are filled with striking imagery, unlikely beauty, and delightful strangeness.

In this long-awaited collection, Hopkinson continues to expand the boundaries of culture and imagination. Whether she is retelling The Tempest as a new Caribbean myth, filling a shopping mall with unfulfilled ghosts, or herding chickens that occasionally breathe fire, Hopkinson continues to create bold fiction that transcends boundaries and borders.

Discussion

Have you ever read any of Nalo Hopkinson’s work? Which was your favourite? I have read and loved Brown Girl in the Ring, Midnight Robber, and Skin Folk and look forward to reading more! Do you have a favourite folk-lore inspired SF&F writer? Share in the comments below!

Want more Black SF&F Writers?

Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Five: Indie Edition

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 2: Octavia E. Butler

February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seems like an unusual way to celebrate Black history, since science fiction is undeniably the realm of futuristic speculation rather than dwelling in the past. However, if you read my last post on N.K. Jemesin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month? you’ll understand why science fiction is so important to Black people: past, present, and future.

Next up on the list of my favourite Black SF&F writers is Octavia E. Butler. I first started reading Butler about four years ago when I stumbled upon this article from TOR.com “8 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books Sexier than 50 Shades of Grey.” Granted, I’m not sure that’s such screaming praise… I’ve never read 50 Shades of anything, so I’m probably not the best judge. Anyway, Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy was the only item on the list that I was intrigued enough to download.

It completely blew my mind. Not just the sexy bits (and there were a few of them) but the in-depth exploration of themes like: slavery, colonialism, and transhumanism (via subsummation by an alien species). It’s still one of the coolest SF series I’ve ever read. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Butler’s SF works.

Octavia E. Butler

“Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.

After her father died, Butler was raised by her widowed mother. Extremely shy as a child, Octavia found an outlet at the library reading fantasy, and in writing. She began writing science fiction as a teenager. She attended community college during the Black Power movement, and while participating in a local writer’s workshop was encouraged to attend the Clarion Workshop, which focused on science fiction.

She soon sold her first stories and by the late 1970s had become sufficiently successful as an author that she was able to pursue writing full-time. Her books and short stories drew the favorable attention of the public and awards judges. She also taught writer’s workshops, and eventually relocated to Washington state. Butler died of a stroke at the age of 58. Her papers are held in the research collection of the Huntington Library.”

— from Goodreads Authors

The Books


Patternist Series

Wild Seed (1980)

In an “epic, game-changing, moving and brilliant” story of love and hate, two immortals chase each other across continents and centuries, binding their fates together — and changing the destiny of the human race (Viola Davis).

Doro knows no higher authority than himself. An ancient spirit with boundless powers, he possesses humans, killing without remorse as he jumps from body to body to sustain his own life. With a lonely eternity ahead of him, Doro breeds supernaturally gifted humans into empires that obey his every desire. He fears no one — until he meets Anyanwu.

Anyanwu is an entity like Doro and yet different. She can heal with a bite and transform her own body, mending injuries and reversing aging. She uses her powers to cure her neighbors and birth entire tribes, surrounding herself with kindred who both fear and respect her. No one poses a true threat to Anyanwu — until she meets Doro.

The moment Doro meets Anyanwu, he covets her; and from the villages of 17th-century Nigeria to 19th-century United States, their courtship becomes a power struggle that echoes through generations, irrevocably changing what it means to be human.

Mind of My Mind (1977)

A young woman harnesses her newfound power to challenge the ruthless man who controls her, in this brilliant and provocative novel from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.

Mary is a treacherous experiment. Her creator, an immortal named Doro, has molded the human race for generations, seeking out those with unusual talents like telepathy and breeding them into a new subrace of humans who obey his every command. The result is Mary: a young black woman living on the rough outskirts of Los Angeles in the 1970s, who has no idea how much power she will soon wield.

Doro knows he must handle Mary carefully or risk her ending like his previous experiments: dead, either by her own hand or Doro’s. What he doesn’t suspect is that Mary’s maturing telepathic abilities may soon rival his own power. By linking telepaths with a viral pattern, she will create the potential to break free of his control once and for all-and shift the course of humanity.

Clay’s Ark (1984)

A powerful story of survival in unprecedented times, from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.

In an alternate America marked by volatile class warfare, Blake Maslin is traveling with his teenage twin daughters when their car is ambushed. Their attackers appear sickly yet possess inhuman strength, and they transport Blake’s family to an isolated compound. There, the three captives discover that the compound’s residents have a highly contagious alien disease that has mutated their DNA to make them powerful, dangerous, and compelled to infect others. If Blake and his daughters do not escape, they will be infected with a virus that will either kill them outright or transform them into outcasts whose very existence is a threat to the world around them.

In the following hours, Blake and his daughters each must make a vital choice: risk everything to escape and warn the rest of the world, or accept their new reality — as well as the uncertain fate of the human race.

Patternmaster (1976)

An all-powerful ruler’s son vies for control over the human race in this brilliant conclusion to the Patternist saga, from the critically acclaimed author of Parable of the Sower.

In the far future, the human race is divided into two groups striving for power. The Patternmaster rules over all, the leader of the telepathic Patternist race whose thoughts can destroy or heal at his whim. The only threat to his power are the Clayarks, mutant humans created by an alien pandemic, who now live either enslaved by the Patternists or in the wild.

Coransee, son of the ruling Patternmaster, wants the throne and will stop at nothing to get it, even if it means venturing into the wild mutant-infested hills to destroy a young apprentice — his equal and his brother.

Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood series

Dawn (1987)

One woman is called upon to rebuild the future of humankind after a nuclear war, in this revelatory post-apocalyptic tale from the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower.

When Lilith lyapo wakes from a centuries-long sleep, she finds herself aboard the vast spaceship of the Oankali. She discovers that the Oankali—a seemingly benevolent alien race—intervened in the fate of the humanity hundreds of years ago, saving everyone who survived a nuclear war from a dying, ruined Earth and then putting them into a deep sleep. After learning all they could about Earth and its beings, the Oankali healed the planet, cured cancer, increased human strength, and they now want Lilith to lead her people back to Earth—but salvation comes at a price.

Hopeful and thought-provoking, this post-apocalyptic narrative deftly explores gender and race through the eyes of characters struggling to adapt during a pivotal time of crisis and change.


Adulthood Rites (1988)

From the award-winning author of Parable of the Sower: After the near-extinction of the human race, one young man with extraordinary gifts will reveal whether the human race can learn from its past and rebuild their future . . . or is doomed to self-destruction.

In the future, nuclear war has destroyed nearly all humankind. An alien race intervenes, saving the small group of survivors from certain death. But their salvation comes at a cost.

The Oankali are able to read and mutate genetic code, and they use these skills for their own survival, interbreeding with new species to constantly adapt and evolve. They value the intelligence they see in humankind but also know that the species-rigidly bound to destructive social hierarchies-is destined for failure. They are determined that the only way forward is for the two races to produce a new hybrid species – and they will not tolerate rebellion.

Imago (1989)

The futures of both humans and Oankali rest in one young being’s successful metamorphosis into adulthood.

You can also buy Lilith’s Brood as a single volume HERE. Or… It looks like beautiful new paperback editions are being released this year, so you might want to hold off until they come out…


Parable series (also called the Earthseed series)

Parable of the Sower (1993)

This acclaimed post-apocalyptic novel of hope and terror from an award-winning author “pairs well with 1984 or The Handmaid’s Tale” and includes a foreword by N. K. Jemisin (John Green, New York Times).

When global climate change and economic crises lead to social chaos in the early 2020s, California becomes full of dangers, from pervasive water shortage to masses of vagabonds who will do anything to live to see another day. Fifteen-year-old Lauren Olamina lives inside a gated community with her preacher father, family, and neighbors, sheltered from the surrounding anarchy. In a society where any vulnerability is a risk, she suffers from hyperempathy, a debilitating sensitivity to others’ emotions.

Precocious and clear-eyed, Lauren must make her voice heard in order to protect her loved ones from the imminent disasters her small community stubbornly ignores. But what begins as a fight for survival soon leads to something much more: the birth of a new faith . . . and a startling vision of human destiny.


Parable of the Talents
(1998)

Originally published in 1998, this shockingly prescient novel’s timely message of hope and resistance in the face of fanaticism is more relevant than ever.

In 2032, Lauren Olamina has survived the destruction of her home and family, and realized her vision of a peaceful community in northern California based on her newly founded faith, Earthseed. The fledgling community provides refuge for outcasts facing persecution after the election of an ultra-conservative president who vows to “make America great again.” In an increasingly divided and dangerous nation, Lauren’s subversive colony–a minority religious faction led by a young black woman–becomes a target for President Jarret’s reign of terror and oppression.

Years later, Asha Vere reads the journals of a mother she never knew, Lauren Olamina. As she searches for answers about her own past, she also struggles to reconcile with the legacy of a mother caught between her duty to her chosen family and her calling to lead humankind into a better future.

Standalone novels


Kindred (1979)

The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us—along with her Black female hero—through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana’s life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.


Fledgling (2005)

“A master storyteller, Butler casts an unflinching eye on racism, sexism, poverty, and ignorance and lets the reader see the terror and beauty of human nature.” — The Washington Post

This is the story of an apparently young, amnesiac girl whose alarmingly unhuman needs and abilities lead her to a startling conclusion: She is in fact a genetically modified, 53-year-old vampire. Forced to discover what she can about her stolen former life, she must at the same time learn who wanted-and still wants-to destroy her and those she cares for and how she can save herself.


Short story collections


Bloodchild and Other Stories

A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?

Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.

Bonus Book!

Octavia’s Brood

Whenever we envision a world without war, prisons, or capitalism, we are producing speculative fiction. Organizers and activists envision, and try to create, such worlds all the time. Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have brought 20 of them together in the first anthology of short stories to explore the connections between radical speculative fiction and movements for social change. These visionary tales span genres—sci-fi, fantasy, horror, magical realism—but all are united by an attempt to inject a healthy dose of imagination and innovation into our political practice and to try on new ways of understanding ourselves, the world around us, and all the selves and worlds that could be. Also features essays by Tananarive Due and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a preface by Sheree Renée Thomas.

“Those concerned with justice and liberation must always persuade the mass of people that a better world is possible. Our job begins with speculative fictions that fire society’s imagination and its desire for change. In adrienne maree brown and Walidah Imarisha’s visionary conception, and by its activist-artists’ often stunning acts of creative inception, Octavia’s Brood makes for great thinking and damn good reading. The rest will be up to us.” —Jeff Chang, Who We Be: The Colorization of America

Indie Book Bonus!

A writer friend of mine who is featured in Octavia’s Brood (above) has his own SF novella out right now, and I highly recommend checking it out. You can buy The Ballad of the Bladesinger directly from Jelani Wilson by clicking HERE! I’ll be doing a review of it this month, but for now suffice it to say: Read it now! It’s so much fun! You’re going to love it!

“Space Wizards! tells the story of five cosmic mages a dozen years after a failed attempt to topple a technocratic regime that ruthlessly controls all interstellar travel and activity for dominion and profit. After their defeat, our heroes have been left scattered across a cluster of star systems known as the Constellation.

Demoralized, these five survivors embark on cruel, lonely journeys to a destination of last resort. Through acts of bravery, a philosophy of intelligent combat, and feats of cosmic sorcery, they face certain death in a desperate attempt to catalyze liberation for all.”

Discussion

Have you read any Octavia E. Butler? So far I’ve read the Lilith’s Brood trilogy, Parable of the Sower, and Fledgling and I’ve loved all of them. They’re all very different! Lilith’s Brood is science fiction in the aliens and spaceships kind of way, though it feels a bit like pioneer/colonization SF at times. Parable of the Sower is a brutally dark post-apocalyptic novel that is definitely not for the faint of heart, but there is a thread of hope running through it that saves it from being a Cormac McCarthy style depression fest (I’m looking at you, The Road…) And Fledgling is a SF vampire story unlike anything you’ve ever read! I can’t wait to dig into the Patternmaster series next.

Who’s your favourite Black science fiction writer?

Want more Black SF&F Writers?

Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Five: Indie Edition

How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW! Part 1: N.K. Jemisin

The introduction to N.K. Jemisin’s short story collection, How Long ’til Black Future Month?, holds a truth bomb that I had somehow evaded until that moment. Jemisin explains how she began writing short stories in general and speculative fiction in particular. Her words solidified for me not only the reason that I have been drawn to writing Science Fiction as a woman, but suddenly made me realize how bloody important Science Fiction is to all marginalized people, and how grateful I am to be writing today rather than 20, 30, 50, or 100 years ago.

February is Black History Month in Canada and the US. Featuring Black science fiction writers might seem like an unusual way to celebrate Black history, since science fiction is undeniably the realm of futuristic speculation rather than dwelling in the past. However, if you read this excerpt from Jemisin’s introduction, I think you’ll understand why I have chosen to do this.

“In an attempt to resolve frustration with the state of my life, I finally [in 2002] decided to see whether my lifelong writing hobby could be turned into a side hustle worth maybe a few hundred dollars. If I could make that much (or even just one hundred a year!), I might be able to cover some of my utility bills or something. Then I could get out of debt in twelve or thirteen years, instead of fifteen.

I wasn’t expecting more than that, for reasons beyond pessimism. At the time, it was clear that the speculative genres had stagnated to a dangerous degree. Science fiction claimed to be the fiction of the future, but it still mostly celebrated the faces and voices and stories of the past. In a few more years there would come the Slush-bomb, an attempt by women writers to improve one of the most sexist bastions among the Big Three; the Great Cultural Appropriation Debates of DOOM; and Racefail, a thousand-blog storm of fannish protest against institutional and individual racism within the genre. These things collectively would open a bit more room within the genre for people who weren’t cishet white guys—just in time for the release of my first published novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But back in 2002 there was none of that. In 2002, I knew that as a black woman drawn to science fiction and fantasy, I had almost no chance of getting my work published, noticed by reviewers, or accepted by a readership that seemed to want nothing more than endless variations on medieval Europe and American colonization…

How Long ‘til Black Future Month takes its name from an essay that I wrote in 2013… It’s a shameless paean to an Afrofuturist icon, the artist Janelle Monáe, but it’s also a meditation on how hard it’s been for me to love science fiction and fantasy as a black woman. How much I’ve had to fight my own internalized racism in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business. How terrifyin it’s been to realize no one thinks my people have a future. And how gratifying to finally accept myself and being spinning the futures I want to see.”

So this month I’m going to dedicate my posts to a handful of my favourite Black science fiction writers. These lists will by no means be exhaustive. I first made a concerted effort to read more Black SF writers back in 2017 when I discovered that October is Black Speculative Fiction Month (how cool is that?) and I have been thrilled with all the new authors I’ve found since swerving off the path beaten path by decades of exploration of “classics” and “the Canon.” However, there is a world of wonderful writers out there who deserve recognition. I’d love to hear your recommendations, too!

(Interestingly, I also wrote about my love of Janelle Monáe on this blog. You can check that article out HERE.)

So, without further ado. Let’s meet N.K. Jemisin, the first of my favourite Black SF&F writers, and someone I think all SF fans should add to their TBR piles right now!

N.K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is the first author in the genre’s history to win three consecutive Best Novel Hugo Awards, for her Broken Earth trilogy. Her work has won the Nebula and Locus Awards, and she is a 2020 MacArthur Fellow. The first book in her current Great Cities trilogy, THE CITY WE BECAME, is a New York Times bestseller. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up. She’s been an instructor for Clarion and Clarion West writing workshops. Among other critical work, she was formerly the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer at the New York Times. In her spare time she’s a gamer and gardener, responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her dangerously intelligent ginger cat, and his destructive sidekick, the Marvelous Master Magpie.

Jemisin wrote an essay called “How Long ’til Black Future Month,” which does not appear in the short story collection, but which you can read for free on her website by clicking THIS LINK.

The Books

The Inheritance Trilogy


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010)

After her mother’s mysterious death, a young woman is summoned to the floating city of Sky in order to claim a royal inheritance she never knew existed in the first book in this award-winning fantasy trilogy from the NYT bestselling author of The Fifth Season.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle with cousins she never knew she had. As she fights for her life, she draws ever closer to the secrets of her mother’s death and her family’s bloody history.

With the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Yeine will learn how perilous it can be when love and hate — and gods and mortals — are bound inseparably together.


The Broken Kingdoms (2010)

A man with no memory of his past and a struggling, blind street artist will face off against the will of the gods as the secrets of this stranger’s past are revealed in the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the debut novel of NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a strange homeless man on an impulse. This act of kindness engulfs Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. And Oree’s guest is at the heart of it. . .


The Kingdom of Gods
(2011)

Shahar and the godling Sieh must face off against the terrible magic threatening to consume their world in the incredible conclusion to the Inheritance Trilogy, from Hugo award-winning and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin.

For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri’s ruthless grip is slipping. Yet they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.

Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family’s interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.

As long-suppressed rage and terrible new magics consume the world, the Maelstrom — which even gods fear — is summoned forth. Shahar and Sieh: mortal and god, lovers and enemies. Can they stand together against the chaos that threatens?

Includes a never before seen story set in the world of the Inheritance Trilogy.

The Dreamblood Duology

The Killing Moon (2012)

Assassin priests, mad kings, and the goddess of death collide in the first book of the Dreamblood Duology by NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin.

The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers — the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh’s great temple, Ehiru — the most famous of the city’s Gatherers — must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess’ name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh’s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill — or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.


The Shadowed Sun (2012)

In the final book of NYT bestselling and three time Hugo-Award winning author N. K. Jemisin’s Dreamblood Duology, a priestess and an exiled prince must join together to free the city of dreams from imperial rule.

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. And nightmares: a mysterious and deadly plague haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Trapped between dark dreams and cruel overlords, the people yearn to rise up — but Gujaareh has known peace for too long.

Someone must show them the way.

Hope lies with two outcasts: the first woman ever allowed to join the dream goddess’ priesthood and an exiled prince who longs to reclaim his birthright. Together, they must resist the Kisuati occupation and uncover the source of the killing dreams. . . before Gujaareh is lost forever.

Broken Earth series


The Fifth Season (2015)

The start of a new fantasy trilogy by Hugo, Nebula & World Fantasy Award nominated author N.K. Jemisin.


THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.


The Obelisk Gate (2016)

Continuing the trilogy that began with the award-winning The Fifth Season

This is the way the world ends, for the last time.

The season of endings grows darker, as civilization fades into the long cold night.

Essun — once Damaya, once Syenite, now avenger — has found shelter, but not her daughter. Instead there is Alabaster Tenring, destroyer of the world, with a request. But if Essun does what he asks, it would seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

Far away, her daughter Nassun is growing in power – and her choices will break the world.

The Stone Sky (2017)

Humanity will finally be saved or destroyed in the shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed NYT bestselling trilogy that won the Hugo Award three years in a row.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.


Great Cities Series


The City We Became (2020)

One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Best Fantasy Books of all time
One of TIME Magazine‘s 100 Must-Read Books of 2020
One of Vanity Fair‘s 15 Best Books of 2020
One of Amazon’s Best Books of 2020

Three-time Hugo Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author N.K. Jemisin crafts her most incredible novel yet, a “glorious” story of culture, identity, magic, and myths in contemporary New York City.

In Manhattan, a young grad student gets off the train and realizes he doesn’t remember who he is, where he’s from, or even his own name. But he can sense the beating heart of the city, see its history, and feel its power.

In the Bronx, a Lenape gallery director discovers strange graffiti scattered throughout the city, so beautiful and powerful it’s as if the paint is literally calling to her.

In Brooklyn, a politician and mother finds she can hear the songs of her city, pulsing to the beat of her Louboutin heels.

And they’re not the only ones.

Every great city has a soul. Some are ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York? She’s got six.

Short Story Collection

How Long ’til Black Future Month? (2018)

Three-time Hugo Award winner and NYT bestselling author N. K. Jemisin challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption that sharply examine modern society in her first collection of short fiction, which includes never-before-seen stories.

“Marvelous and wide-ranging.” — Los Angeles Times“Gorgeous” — NPR Books“Breathtakingly imaginative and narratively bold.” — Entertainment Weekly

Spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Discussion

Have you read any N.K. Jemisin yet? I admit, I haven’t read all of these. I have read the Inheritance trilogy, Book One in the Dreamblood duology, and all of the short stories in How Long ’til Black Future Month?. I’m most looking forward to The City We Became because I love the way Jemisin is able to anthropomorphise Cities until they become characters in their own right. She’s got a couple of great short stories in her collection that got my gears turning. I have read enough of her work that I am confident in recommending you pick up anything of hers that you come across!

Do you have a favourite Black science fiction writer? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!

Want more Black SF&F Writers?

Check out my “How Long ‘Til Black Future Month Series” for more articles featuring my favourite Black SF&F writers:

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part One, N.K. Jemesin

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Two, Octavia E. Butler

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Three, Nalo Hopkinson

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Four, Nnedi Okorafor

Black SF&F Writers You Need to Read NOW: Part Five: Indie Edition

Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Three – Newsletters

Everybody hates junk mail. Our inboxes are flooded with marketing from every website we’ve ever given our email address to, and many others we haven’t. We delete most of these emails without ever opening them. So why on earth would we want to create a newsletter for our business?

Newsletters are:

  • a direct link between you and your audience
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  • an opportunity to establish yourself as an expert
  • 100% owned by YOU

The purpose and importance of the newsletter is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of marketing for businesses. But building a mailing list is the single most powerful marketing tool you can use. Not only are newsletters more than 40% better at converting browsers into customers than social media, it is a tool that you actually own. If you’ve built your business through Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, you are vulnerable to changes in their policies and algorithms that directly affect your business’s visibility. Your newsletter belongs to you, 100%.

By now, you should know who your audience is, and you should be providing them with valuable content via social media and your website or blog. But your newsletter is where you are going to convert your followers into readers and customers.

If you’re wondering how to build a mailing list and what kind of content you need to put in your newsletters, this article will help you out!

Optimizing Your Platforms Part 3: Newsletters

How Do I Build a Newsletter Mailing List?

The hardest part of having a newsletter is convincing yourself to start it before you have anyone to send it to. But it’s important to get yourself set up before you start building your list so that when you do have a small list started, you aren’t fumbling around with back end stuff at the same time as you’re writing. So, even if you are not ready to start your mailing list, you should make an account with MailChimp, MailerLite, or ConvertKit or another newsletter delivery service. Familiarize yourself with their site and send yourself some practice emails.

Before you have a list you can:

  • Write a welcome letter that will be sent automatically to your subscribers once they sign up for your list
  • Set up a template for your emails so that your mailings have a consistent look
  • Set up a Newsletter Opt-In pop up for your website or blog (your newsletter service will walk you through how to do this, it’s easy!)
  • Brainstorm ideas for a freebie you can use to encourage newsletter sign ups: a short story or novella, a how-to manual, a discount coupon for your shop; there are lots of options!

Filtering In

Your platforms all work together to filter your most engaged and interested audience members toward your most personal and intimate communications.

  • Social media has a broad reach, but tends to have quick, surface engagement rather than deep connections
  • Website/Blog, usually a narrower reach, but audience is directly engaged in your content and committed to more than just a scroll and like
  • Newsletter, direct personal access to your most engaged and interested followers, near limitless potential for growth

Each step in this filtering process brings your ideal audience closer to you. Your newsletter is where you build trust and intimacy, establish yourself as an expert, and can make calls to action. This is where your followers are most likely to be converted into loyal fans and repeat customers.

What Should I Write About in My Newsletter?

Remember that your newsletter isn’t about you. It’s about your customer. How can you provide value to them?

Newsletters are never to be used for a hard sell. They are an opportunity for you to give your audience updates on your business, products, and services. However, these updates should be written more as a letter from and interesting and helpful friend than a sales pitch. Make use of your voice, your youness. Show your customers a side of you that they don’t get to see on social media on your blog.

Remember that intimacy has value. Sharing details about your work and life with your newsletter subscribers that they can’t get anywhere else is a way to build intimacy. They become a part of your inner circle, and you should treat them as such.

Your newsletter subscribers should the first people you tell about upcoming sales and shows and they should get exclusive deals that you don’t offer to anyone else. You should provide links to free/discounted content from other creative businesses like yours, so that every email has something for them, even if you don’t have something to sell them (yet).

There are lots of articles out there that give ideas for what to write in your newsletter. There’s no set formula to follow. In fact, if your readers sense that you’re using a formula they’re likely to unsubscribe. They don’t want cut and paste newsletter copy, they want you. You need to find a way to give them a little bit of yourself with every letter.

Your newsletter content will be deeper than your social media sound bytes and more personal than your blog posts. But they should still tie in to those key attributes/interests you’ve ascribed to your ideal customer. You are writing your newsletters for that one ideal reader out there, just like you are creating for them.

Newsletter Builders

If you have some kind of freebie to offer, building your newsletter will be much easier. There are many websites out there to help you. If you write a short story or novella, or a how-to or self-help e-book a site like BookFunnel can help you connect with other writers in your genre/topic so that you can team up to offer even more value you your subscribers. Other giveaways can be distributed through KingSumo or similar sites. These newsletter building sites are worth exploring well before you’re ready to start writing your newsletter, just to get a feel for how everything works together. You don’t have to have everything figured out yet to start!

Conclusion

I hope this series has helped you to see how all of your platforms can work together instead of competing with one another, how you can share and adapt content between platforms to save you time and stress, and how filtering in your audience is the key to growing your customer base.

If you need a refresher check out the Creative Business 101 posts on Optimizing Your Social Media and Optimizing Your Website/Blog.

If there is anything you would like me to explore in greater detail, please let me know in the comments! I’d love to brainstorm with you on making your creative content the best it can be. Thanks for reading!

Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Two – Websites and Blogs

Websites are considered the cornerstone of a successful business. This is your virtual storefront, the first place you want people to find when they come looking for you.

But what do you put on your website? Should you have a blog? How do you leave a trail of digital cookie crumbs so that your ideal audience can find you in the deep, dark, forest of the Internet?

If you’ve read my last Creative Business 101 post, Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together, Part One: Social Media then you’re already on the right track.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at:

  • how to get the most out of your website,
  • why, YES, you should have a blog, and;
  • what kind of creative content is best for your website/blog.
Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Two – Websites and Blogs

Websites

No matter what kind of creative product you produce, you should have a website. Your website is your “home base” where interested people are going to come to find out more about you and your work. It will take a little bit of work to set it up, but after that initial effort, website maintenance is pretty simple and straightforward.

Deciding what to put on your website in the first place can be more challenging. What does your website need?

Website Basics

The landing page of your website should have:

  • A description of you and your creative work
  • Your business contact info
  • Purchase Links: either your own store or the online stores where customers can purchase your work
  • Reading Links: to your own blogs, and any other places you’ve been published online

How you design your website will be largely dependent on the kind of creative work you produce. A graphic designer might want to have an interactive landing page that showcases their talents, a writer might want to display their latest release, an actor or model will want to have a professional headshot front and centre.

Less is more unless you are a professional website designer. Start simple and expand as you get more comfortable and as your needs grow. If your needs exceed the basic tools you get with your website provider, consider hiring someone to design it for you. Nothing is more frustrating for your (future) customer than a poorly designed website. You don’t want them to come looking for you and then turn right back around and walk out the virtual door because your storefront is a mess.

To Blog or Not to Blog…

It’s not really a question. The answer is, Yes! Start a blog!

What Is a Blog?

Blogging began as a kind of online, public journaling. In fact, many people still use it this way and that’s great. There are rich communities of casual bloggers on pretty much every platform out there. Like on other kinds of social media, bloggers follow and interact with one another, sharing their stories and experiences with the world.

The difference is, the blog is a long form communication. People who read blogs are prepared to spend some time with you. And this is what makes it an ideal form of communication for small business owners.

Types of Blogs

I’m going to draw some lines in the sand here and say there are three main types of blogs:

  • Personal Blogs: These are a series of journal-like articles about a person’s personal life experiences. They may include anecdotes, lessons, personal updates with pictures, and are usually written in a casual style.
  • Professional Blogs: These are themed blogs that provide a series of articles written to inform and entertain, on a particular subject. Food and travel blogs, book review blogs, parenting and lifestyle blogs, for example. Professional blogs are usually monetized via advertising and affiliate links. Professional Bloggers make their living by blogging.
  • Business Blogs: These blogs are designed to provide additional value to a business’s customers, beyond the product or service that they offer. These blog articles demonstrate the business owner’s expertise in their field, but usually are not selling anything directly.

Creative Business owners can draw from all three “types” of blog styles in order to build their online brand. If you are feeling resistant to the idea of starting your own blog, don’t worry. There are lots of ways to use blogging as a tool to enhance your creative business and transform followers into customers. We’ll find something that works for you.

Blogging for Creative Businesses

Business blogging is different from personal and professional blogging. While there is some cross-over–you can certainly entertain your readers with personal anecdotes and recommend products you love–the difference is in the purpose of the blog itself.

Your business blog should:

Your business blog should not:

  • Be too personal or unprofessional
  • Attempt to “sell” anything

The ultimate purpose of a blog for the creative business entrepreneur is to produce creative content that draws in your audience and makes them curious about your work.

How To Use Blogging to Build Your Audience

In the last post, Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part One – Social Media, we discussed how you can use your social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to seek out and engage directly with your audience.

Your social media feeds should be a curated collection of bite-sized creative content that makes people want to “follow” you for more: Quotes you love, interesting photos, infographics, and strong captions. Each platform has a different feel, and you have to work with what works for you.

These little bits and pieces are the cookie crumbs you use to lure in future customers and get them to take the next step in building a relationship with you.

Social media moves quickly, so if something you post doesn’t get a lot of traction, that’s okay. Try again with something new tomorrow. When you DO find something that seems to click with your audience, you have a blog idea.

Think of your blog as a place to expand upon the ideas that your audience is interested in:

  • Ideas for Writers: books you love, either in reviews or top ten lists; artists, artwork, or music you use for inspiration; discussion of real-world topics that apply to your writing, or themes that you explore; character interviews, short stories, and trivia about your books; detailed posts about your writing process; progress updates
  • Ideas for Artists: local gallery reviews; behind the scenes in your studio; how-to articles for people who want to learn how to do what you do; a start-to-finish look at your artistic process; work and shows by other artists similar to you; an interview with one of your mentors; the story behind one of your favourite pieces

Once someone decides to visit your blog, they have already committed to spending a certain amount of time to learning about you and what you have to say. Use this moment to let your followers to get to know you in more depth than they get from your social media posts.

This is the next step in your relationship. Now you are starting to build intimacy. You blog is where you begin to convert followers into fans.

Filtering In

Each step in your platform is designed to filter in your ideal audience members. Many people who visit your social media feeds are just there for a quick like or comment and never take the relationship any further. That’s just fine. Keep interacting with them. Some people are slower to warm up than others.

People who visit your blog are naturally going to be more invested in you and your work. Open up about yourself and your process here. Show your work. Share the things you love and which your ideal audience will love too. The key is to be purposeful with what you share. You might really love true-crime documentaries but if you write sweet romance, the blog isn’t the right place to dig into this passion. A list of your favourite places to go on a first date, though, would be great!

Making Connections

Your blog and your social media accounts will work together. You can see which tidbits and cookie crumbs generate the most engagement and expand on those ideas on the blog. You can also share your blog posts on social media to create two way traffic.

Sharing your blog posts to social media gives more opportunities for others to like, share, and engage with your ideas. If you share your latest blog post to Facebook and one of your followers shares your post to their personal feed or a group, you automatically expand your reach. This allows more likeminded people to find your blog, and to become a part of your audience.

Remember that you can recycle content when you are too busy to write a new post. Use Instagram to highlight a past post that was really popular, just update the your smart link in your bio to put the featured link up top. You can repurpose popular Instagram posts into blog articles without having to do a deep dive into researching a totally new topic.

Optimizing your platforms and getting them working together is all about how to “work smarter not harder.” When your platforms are in sync it’s actually easier to keep all of them updated with fresh content than if you are trying to create unique content for each individual platform.

Next Steps

When people visit your blog, you can invite them in to the next stage of your business relationship: signing up for your mailing list.

The newsletter is where the real magic happens.

We’ll break it down in Part Three of the Platform Optimization series, next week!

Conclusion

I hope this helps clear up the purpose of blogging for creative business owners. Have you resisted blogging up until now? Or do you already have a blog? What have been your biggest successes and your biggest flops? What do you need help with?

Ask your questions below, and drop a link to your blog in the comments!

Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part One: Social Media

Competition in the Creative Business world can be tough, so don’t make things harder by competing with yourself!

To run a successful business, most people will operate on multiple platforms in order to maximize exposure and attract a larger audience. This sounds great on paper, but without proper planning, all of these various platforms can end up competing against one another and causing your workload to grow exponentially with every platform you add!

In Creative Business 101 we have learned:

In the next three posts, we’re going to take all of this a step further. We have killed some self-doubt, identified our audience, and learned how to provide value to our audience with great creative content. Now, what do with do with it?

These optimization hack articles will tackle the following questions you might have about how to optimize your platforms to build a better creative business:

  • Where is the best place to put each type of content?
  • How do you get your platforms working together instead of competing for attention?
  • How do you use your platforms to draw in your “true fans” and build intimacy?

Are you ready?

We’re going to break this up into three sections:

  • Part One: Social Media
  • Part Two: Blogs
  • Part Three: Newsletters

If you don’t have all of these platform types up and running, don’t panic! This article will demonstrate the potential role each of these platforms plays in your ultimate goal to convert strangers into fans.

If all you have at the moment are your socials, that’s okay. That’s all we’re talking about today. I do want you to start thinking about how to grow your business, so be open to setting up a blog and newsletter in the future. I’ll be sharing why this particular trifecta of platforms is so powerful for creative business entrepreneurs.

Part One: Social Media

Social Media is one of the easiest ways to start interacting with your audience. Before you have a website, blog, or newsletter, chances are you’ve been hanging out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or something similar. Social media is probably the best place to meet your audience, and begin to develop a personal relationship with them. Let’s take a look at what makes social media so powerful.

Social medias are:

  • informal and friendly
  • fast paced
  • community oriented
  • quick to update
  • easy to share

I won’t discuss individual platforms here, as the benefits of each essentially come down to the above stated list. Your preferred social media accounts (whether it’s one or all of them) can all be used in the same way. You want to use social media to provide great creative content AND to actively seek out and engage with your audience.

How to Use Engagement to Boost Your Social Media Following

While a website, blog, or newsletter can be a bit of a one-sided affair with you as the talking head, social media is all about the back and forth conversation. Social media naturally forms itself into tight-knit communities of likeminded people, whether that’s through Groups on Facebook, or tags on Instagram and Twitter, it is very easy to find people who are interested in the same things as you are interested in. And it’s easy to find people who are interested in the things you make.

Because you know your audience, you can use social media to engage directly with the people you know will love your work. Check out the feeds of accounts that catch your eye. Comment on their posts. Ask questions. Introduce yourself, not with a sales pitch, but with a few details about you that might connect with their interests. Have genuine conversations.

When you are interested in other people, they naturally become interested in you. Use this fact to your advantage by forging connections and friendships with potential audience members.

How to Use Creative Content to Build Followers

When you engage with social media users, they are likely going to come check out your feeds too. This is where your content is either going to draw them in or turn them away. You might have had a great conversation on someone else’s post, but if they come to your feed and see a disjointed collection of personal photos and memes, they’re probably not going to click that follow button.

The Best Creative Content for Social Media

Social media moves fast. You want bite sized information that people can read and react to quickly. An interesting image, a quippy caption, an engaging question, these are the things that people are drawn to on social feeds. If you can hook someone’s interest in the first line of text, many will stick around to read a longer caption, too. Experiment with what types of posts get the best conversations going and stick with this.

Beware of “like” traps. Some content inspires a quick scroll by and like, but nothing more. “Likes” are the least valuable kind of social media interaction. They are little more than a social proof that other people are interested in your post.

What you want is dialogue.

How Do I Use Social Media to Create Dialogue With My Audience?

If all you post are pretty pictures, or other people’s quotes, you are unlikely to get much actual interaction on your posts. Visual artists know this phenomenon well. Beautiful feeds full of artwork might get a lot of likes, but people tend not to comment. It’s pretty, but it’s not personal. You can’t build a relationship with scroll-by-“likers.” There has to be a story that bridges a connection between you and your audience.

How do you tell a story?

Have a Theme.

Theme’s are a kind of story. On a very visual platforms, like Instagram, it’s important that your feed have a cohesive visual look. You can achieve this by sticking to one filter, or using a particular colour scheme. This helps followers identify your posts quickly when they are scrolling through their own feeds. On less visual platforms, you can still have a theme in that your post cohesive content and use a consistent voice. Your theme is a story about you. People should be able to scroll through your posts and have a strong sense of who you are.

Show Your Face.

You are the narrator of your story. You don’t want an entire feed full of selfies, but you do need to show your face often enough that someone checking out your feed for the first time has an immediate idea of who you are. Chose pictures that show off your personality, whether that is serious and contemplative, or whimsical, or completely off the wall. Break up these snapshots with other content, but make sure that there are at least one or two photos of yourself displaying to browsers at any given time. When people see your content, you want them to picture you with it. You are the most important part of your story.

Micro-Blog.

Micro-blogging is like the flash fiction of the blogging world. Mini stories about you. You can treat your socials as a kind of micro-blog. Try new ideas here, test out what gets traction and what doesn’t, and then use that information as material for expansion on your blog or newsletter.

Posting a link to your latest blog post is a great way to optimize your platforms, but if you don’t engage your audience’s interest with a caption, they’re going to scroll right past your link without reading the headline. Engagement is key to converting followers into fans.

Whether you are sharing your own original content or you are sharing inspirational content from someone else, NEVER let it sit there without a caption. Connect it to a personal experience, ask a question of your audience, grab their attention. Share your story!

The Ultimate Goal of Social Media Accounts for the Creative Business Owner

If you only have social media and no other platforms your goals are these:

  1. Engage with potential audience members in their feeds.
  2. Create a feed that inspires engagement from casual browsers.
  3. Have an easily recognizable “look” to your content, which highlights who you are as a creator.

Discussion

I hope this breakdown of how best to use your social media platforms has helped you to understand how to get the most out of these indispensable creative business tools.

Do you have any other questions about social media use as a creative entrepreneur? Which ideas would you like to see me expand on in the future? What is your favourite social media platform for your business? Let me know in the comments!

Next Steps: The Blog

Ultimately, you want all of your social media posts to direct your audience back to your blog or website. Blogging is an extremely effective tool at the hands of any creative business owner. Next week, we’re going to talk about websites, and specifically the inarguable power of the blog.

Why? Your website/blog is the next level of engagement with your followers. This is where you move past the “trigger finger” reactions and lightening fast comments of social media, and narrow your audience down to those who are more deeply engaged with your story.

These followers will browse your online store and linger over long-form articles because they are genuinely interested in you. Followers who make it to your website or blog are more invested in your work than those on social media.

You just leveled up.

Stay tuned for next week’s Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together–Part Two: The Blog

The Power of the Ugly Draft: How I Wrote a Novel in 22 Days

I just wrote 60K words in three weeks and no one is more surprised than me! We are 22 days into NaNoWriMo and this morning I typed “THE END” on the first draft of my third novel, Weirfall: The Timekeepers’ War Book 3.

Figuring out my process as a writer has taken years of fumbling and frustration. My first novel, The Timekeepers’ War took nearly ten years to get from concept to published manuscript. Not only is is the first book I have every published, it was the first book I ever wrote. There are not many authors who get to see their first novels published, and I am forever grateful to be one of them.

It wasn’t easy. My drafting process was painfully slow and I ended up having to cut 50K words from my first bloated over-written draft. I made a lot of mistakes. I am still making mistakes. And every time I make a mistake I learn something new.

So how did I go from writing one book in ten years to writing a book in less than a month? Here is what has worked for me:

  • Plan ahead
  • Study craft
  • Let go of perfectionism
  • Make time

Plan for Success

Whether or not you consider yourself a plotter, a pantser, or a something in between, having some kind of a plan is going to make your life easier.

I have always been a bit of a pantser. Drafting is like “flying by the seat of my pants.” One of the reasons my first book took so long from start to finish is that I didn’t really know what my story was about. I floated through plot ideas, exploring hundreds of possibilities, and struggling to connect the dots in a cohesive way.

Exploratory writing is great. Many people find a lot of joy in this process. But if you really want to finish a book, you will benefit from having a plan. It doesn’t have to be a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown with character backstories and 100K of world-building files cluttering up your desktop. At the very least, you should learn how to outline a novel.

I resisted planning and outlining for years before I finally read a book that made everything click. If you like to plan, you probably already have a favourite craft book. But for those of you who really don’t want to let go of the explosive creative joy of pantsering your way through a draft, I highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel.

Weiland showed me how to put all my exploratory creative energy into the outlining process, so that the drafting process became faster and more organized. You won’t lose any of your creative mojo, I promise. You will save time and effort with a good plan.

Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland is a life saver!

Study Your Craft

Learning how to outline is a great segue into learning the basics of story structure. I have always been a great lover of story. I read a lot, and I read widely. I have a good instinctual sense for when stories feel “right.” Many writers are like this.

Somehow, for me, this did not translate into a strong working knowledge of story structure. How to properly structure a novel is something that I have had to learn. I spent hours re-structuring my first book after realizing that I’d gotten the pacing all wrong.

I re-wrote my second book three different times before I realized I had messed up the overall structure of the trilogy and was trying to jump too far ahead of myself with book two.

Studying writing craft can be intimidating. There are thousands of books and courses available that purport to teach you how to write “the right way.” I recommend avoiding all of the nitty gritty details of line editing at first. Don’t worry too much about show vs. tell or grammar or fillers and filters. First, you have to get the structure and the character arc in the right place.

I recommend Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, both of which use screenwriting techniques to help writers understand universal principles of story telling, using examples from popular culture that are accessible and easy to understand.

K.M. Weiland’s Structuring your Novel and Creating Character Arcs were indispensable next steps in my own craft study. I find Weiland’s work extremely well organized and easy to cross reference. Creating Character Arcs saved my bacon when I got off track drafting book three. I read each relevant chapter as I was drafting and used the character arc to drive me through my plot points when I felt I was wandering. I am confident that my third book will be my best yet, simply because I put character development front and centre.

With a better understanding of structure, a solid outline in place, and a stronger sense of Ghost’s character arc, writing Weirfall has been a dream in comparison to my struggles with the first two books.

Let Go of Perfectionism

If you want to be a great writer, you have to stop trying to be a good writer. Let go of perfectionism. Let yourself be messy and make mistakes. Write badly. Dump all of your ideas on the page, even if they sound stupid.

A badly written but complete first draft will make your revisions faster and easier. It seems counter intuitive, I know. But all those poorly written sentences–rife with cliches and repetition and placeholders for words you couldn’t think of–act as a memory trigger when you come back to your second draft work. If you have stuck to your outline and have a decent macro-structure in place, revisions will be a piece of cake.

You didn’t waste time getting the imagery perfect in the first draft, but you didn’t lost any of your wonderful ideas, either. Now that you have time to play with the language, you can decide which images to keep and perfect, and which are no longer necessary. You can replace your telling with showing where you want the reader to linger and you can cut the over-written filler where you need to speed things up.

The best part is, you can do this without shedding any tears as you “kill your darlings,” because you haven’t spent hours and hours perfecting and getting emotionally attached to beautiful sentences that simply don’t fit.

Once your structure is in place and your draft is complete, you can add to your craft knowledge with books like Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. There are hundreds of great craft books out there. Swain’s Techniques is my favourite, even if it’s a little old-fashioned, particularly for the genre fiction writer. He taught me about the evils of simultaneity and how it killed my pacing in book one. The way he breaks down sentence and scene structure completely changed they way I write.

But you can’t edit a blank page, as they say. And you have to let go of you perfectionism if you want to finish that draft.

Make Time to Write

One of the most common complaints I hear from other writers is that it is impossible to find time to write. There is this idea that you have to sit down at your computer and slave for 8-12 hours a day in order to finish a book in any kind of reasonable time.

This is a lie!

I wrote a 60K novel in 22 days writing for 2 hours a day.

Finding an “extra” two hours a day isn’t necessarily easy. I wake up at 4am every day in order to get my hours in before the rest of the house wakes up. Then, for the rest of the day I am home-schooling three kids, bookkeeping for our trucking company, writing blog posts, updating social media, and doing my business writing (aka the “real job”). I am in bed by 9:30pm every day.

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, finding time at the beginning or end of your day is usually the easiest. Be sure to either go to bed earlier, or let yourself sleep later, so that you aren’t sacrificing sleep. If that’s not possible, perhaps you have to write on your lunch break. Whatever works for you, what is important is sticking to it.

Have a schedule. Sit down and write whether you “feel like it” or not. You are not waiting for inspiration, you are writing because you have a plan. You will learn to make your muse come to you. The more frequently you write, the easier it gets.

Last year, when I did NaNoWriMo it was my first “win.” I spent 3-4 hrs every day fighting against my internal editor to get the necessary 1667 words a day to hit 50K in November. That draft, after two months of revisions and edits, become Ghostlights: The Timekeepers’ War Book Two.

This year, I wrote 2-3K a day in a 2hr window without breaking a sweat. The early morning quite probably helped. More than anything, though, keeping a regular schedule helped my brain jump into productivity mode that much faster each day. In the end, I was flying through my words faster than I’ve ever written before.

So, That’s How I Wrote a 60K Novel in Three Weeks

Is it pretty? No. But it has potential to be. In another 20 days I will have Weirfall revised and ready for beta readers. I will have finished Book Three before Ghostlights is even released. This is the publishing schedule I could only dream of when I started this journey more than a decade ago.

There are novelists who blow my productivity out of the water. I aspire to release 6 books a year some day. After my success with outlining and ugly drafting last year, and recreating that success this year, I’m ready to commit to a more rigorous writing schedule.

Doubtless I have more mistakes to make and hurdles to drag myself over, but I’m ready to handle it.

Conclusion

What is your biggest hurdle in drafting and revising your work? Do you think any of these tips could help you take your process to the next level? Let me know in the comments!

Top 10 Bookish Gifts from Etsy Independent Sellers for the 2020 Holiday Season

Top 10 Bookish Gifts from Etsy Independent Sellers for the 2020 Holiday Season

The holiday season is fast approaching, and chances are there is a bookworm on your list that is proving troublesome to buy for. Yes, books are always a great gift idea. But it’s impossible to know what they’ve read and what they haven’t without spoiling the surprise.

Besides, most book lovers have a TBR pile that is longer than their expected life-span. New books can be a bitter sweet gift to receive for the overwhelmed reader.

So, what else do you get for the bookworm in your life?

I’ll be doing a short gift guide series for everyone who is doing their shopping online this year. And we’re going to start with independent sellers because a) we want to support as many creative business owners as we can, and b) hand-made gifts can take longer to ship!

Today, I’ve collected some of my favourite bookish gifts from independent sellers on Etsy to make your gift buying a little easier this year.

#1 Bookish Bracelet

“She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain.” Louisa May Alcott quote bracelet from Jezebel Charms

This delightful bracelet with a quote from Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel Work: A Story of Experience is something any book-loving ladies in your life will appreciate. While the scene in the story from which this quote has been pulled is actually quite tragic: Christie Devon falls asleep reading by candlelight, accidently sets fire to her attic room, and is subsequently fired by her cantankerous employers. Yet the forbidden nature of reading as a woman remains a thing to be embraced by modern readers. Check out Jezebel Charms Etsy shop for more bookish jewelry and other fun quotes!

#2 Book Dragon T-Shirt

“I’m a book dragon, not a worm.” T-shirt from Koala Tee Clothing

Perhaps the bookish person in your life is much too voracious a reader to consider themselves a mere bookworm. If you know a book dragon, check out this cool unisex t-shirt from Koala Tee Clothing!

#3a Personalized Leather Bookmark

This beautiful, personalized leather bookmark is available from Anise Leathers.

Unless your reader is a spine-cracking, dog-earring misfit, they probably love bookmarks. A personalized leather bookmark is a great gift idea for any classically minded bookworm. Anise Leathers has a wonderful selection to choose from!

#3b Personalized Wire Bookmark

A stunning personalized wire bookmark from By Kauri.

If leather is not your thing, but you still love the idea of a classic, personalized bookmark check out By Kauri. This shop has a gorgeous selection of wire bookmark creations–from names and quotes, to cute kitties and mermaids–to suit your bookworm’s personality.

#4 Bool-Lover’s Face Mask

How about a bookish face mask for the readers and teachers on your holiday list? This fun, fitted mask is from EmiberbShop on Etsy.

It’s the break-out fashion accessory we never saw coming! This 2020 Holiday Buying Guide would not be complete without a stylish book themed facemask. EmiberbShop on Etsy has many fun, fitted mask designs to choose from.

#5 Bookworm Art Print

This beautiful bookworm print by artist Jorey Hurley will be a great addition to any reading nook!

Readers always have a special place they like to read best of all. Maybe it’s their bedroom, or a cozy book nook, or even a personal library! Help your bookworm add a little dazzle to their reading space with this beautiful art print by Jorey Hurley, sure to brighten up any space!

#6 Handknit Wool Socks

Cozy handknit socks are a great gift for everyone on your list, not just the readers! These beauties are from Agnes Felt in Lithuania

Personally, I think there is no greater winter gift than handknit wool socks. Readers especially will appreciate the warmth of foot cozies to protect against the inevitable frozen toes caused by an epic read-in session. Bundle up your favourite reader with a good book and warm toes, and maybe you’ll see them again in the spring time! These lovely socks are from Lithuanian fiber artist, Agnes Felt.

#7 Reading Planner

A reading journal and planner for the dedicated book worm, from StellaBookishArt.

Serious bookworms know that the only way to tackle the TBR pile in earnest is to make a plan and stick to it. If you have a truly dedicated reader on your list this holiday season, consider getting them a reading journal in which they can plan their literary adventures and reflect upon their reading in one place. This beautiful design is from StellaBookishArt.

#8 Literary Candles

Do you know someone who loves candles and books? Why not buy a book-themed scented candle for that special person on your list? Wonderland is from BookishlyUK on Etsy.

Candles are one of the most inviting additions to the winter holiday home. There is something undeniably romantic about reading by candlelight, eye-strain and potential housefires notwithstanding. There are a million candles to choose from, and giving a candle as a gift can seem to be a bit of a last-minute “I didn’t know what else to get” kind of gift. But a literary themed candle based on your bookworm’s favourite book is both charming and thoughtful! BookishlyUK has many classic-themed bookish candles to choose from.

#9 Bookish Mugs

“Go Away, I’m reading” mug by Mirkwood Scribes.

Coffee or tea? No matter what your bookworm is drinking, it is guaranteed to taste better in a bookish mug. “Go away, I’m reading” mugs (and some more colourful varieties on the theme) are very popular amongst the booknerd crowd. Mirkwood Scribes has a variety of great mugs and other merch to choose from.

#10 Book Lamp

This wooden covered, folding book lamp would be a wonderful addition to any book nook! From Artesania Maderas

There is something delightful about a reading lamp disguised as a book. This beautiful, handmade lamp has a folding wooden cover and paper pages lit from within by an LED light. It would make a whimsical addition to any bedroom or book nook! This piece is from Spanish artisan Artesania Maderas.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has helped you to find some unique gift ideas for the readers on your list this year. If the particular pieces I’ve chosen don’t appeal to you or your bookworm, fear not! There are literally thousands of handmade bookish gifts available from independent sellers on Etsy.

Please consider buying your gifts from creative businesses this season. 2020 has been difficult for everyone. Buying a handmade gift is sure to please not only the recipient of your present, but is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of an artist or artisan who may be struggling this year.

Do you have a favourite bookish item you think others would love? Let me know in the comments!