Press Release

March 16, 2020 — Rock Hill, SC.

From the publishers of Black Magic Women, An Improbable Truth, and The Grotesquerie comes yet another groundbreaking anthology. Committed to amplifying marginalized voices in speculative fiction, Mocha Memoirs Press is on a mission to publish diverse and inclusive stories featuring protagonists not often found in mainstream publishing. In that vein, Mocha Memoirs Press is proud to present SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire — a revolutionary anthology celebrating vampires of the African Diaspora. Featuring anchor stories by award winning authors Sheree Renee Thomas, Craig L. Gidney, Teri Clark, Jessica Cage, Michele Tracy Berger, and Steven Van Patten, SLAY aims to be the first anthology of its kind.

To provide professional Horror Writers of America rates, Mocha Memoirs has launched a crowdfunding campaign. The Indiegogo campaign will run until March 31, 2020. Interested parties can pledge at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/slay-stories-of-the-vampire-noire#/

Contact:

Publisher

Nicole Givens Kurtz

mochamemoirspress@gmail.com

www.mochamemoirspress.com

Consent matters. We all know consent matters – at least we think we do. But how often do we actually practice consent? As an aunt to several rapidly maturing children (who range in age from pre-school to high-school) and the adult most likely to be asked awkward questions, I have grown especially sensitive to seeking consent. Every time I want to hug or kiss them, I ask. We talk about how important that is, why it matters, and how to respond if someone doesn’t respect your right to consent.

We watch movies together, and this is where it gets hard. They ask me why Sleeping Beauty would marry a man who assaulted her, and I say it’s because she doesn’t know any better, that she was taught to think rape is love. I say this because it was what I was taught, quite literally; I am a survivor of childhood abuse and Sleeping Beauty was always my princess as a child. Honestly, she is not alone in being a problematic princess. Many poignant satire videos which point out the copious lack of consent present in media have been posted on YouTube and other sites.

Media is a cultural expression of who we are as a society. We grow up thinking the things we see in it are normal; we internalize the books we read and the characters we love as a part of ourselves. When we consistently consume media which portrays love as something easily mistaken for abuse, it’s no accident that we find ourselves in a society where bodily autonomy is rarely recognized and good people fall in love with abusers. We were taught that’s what love looked like.

When I sat down to craft a romantic relationship, I made very deliberate choices in how it would be portrayed. I knew that I – as a writer, as an aunt, as a survivor of sexual assault – needed to see for myself and show to others what consent looked like. Raven consistently asks Kara’s permission every time he kisses her, even before their first kiss as a married couple. It was especially important to me that he ask before this specific kiss. Why?

I live in a country where there are lighter punishments for spousal rape. In some cases, these acts are not even considered rape unless the husband issues a direct threat of violence. Spousal rape wasn’t even prosecutable as rape in the US until the 1970’s, thanks to a 17th century English Common Law which states a “husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind to her husband which she cannot retract.” This country spent two hundred plus years believing women give up consent in marriage. I don’t think the last fifty years has changed this outlook much.

When I wrote The Laws of Entanglement: A True Love Story, I wanted Raven to be the sort of man who never takes his partner’s consent for granted, not even when they are married. Kara’s feelings matter to Raven, so he always asks for permission because he acknowledges her autonomy as a separate person and values her feelings above his own desires. This insistence upon consent turns out to be the very thing that Kara loves most about Raven. She knows that he will always consider her thoughts and feelings.

I recognize this may be radical and uncomfortable at first for most readers, and that’s the point. As writers, we possess a singular power to sway people’s minds and hearts simply by showing them a new perspective. I wanted to use my power to talk about consent, especially after marriage. I want to write the sort of stories that can be made into movies my kiddos watch one day and say, “Yes, this is what love looks like. Love asks, every single time.” 

The Laws of Entanglement:
A True Love Story
by Maya Preisler

Paranormal romance is a genre full of human and supernatural pairings: vampires, shifters (of every type), witches, elves, angels (and demons)… but very few ghosts. Horror stories have their fair share of all the supes, but love stories seem to be limited to a select few types.

From a Freudian perspective, there’s probably a reason for that. Romance stories represent our subconscious desires. More specifically, they have traditionally represented the subconscious desires of women. As diversity, gender inclusivity and awareness come into our collective social consciousness, our love stories should change as well.

Traditional supernatural pairings often reflect gender roles and stereotypes of their era: Vampires became sexy in Victorian times because they symbolized penetration without being crude or immoral, and their victims were innocent — and therefore free to indulge in passion because the vampire mythos absolved them of any responsibility. Werewolves reflect a desire for strong dominant “alpha male” types, promising an escape from the drudgery of modernity by reconnecting with our animal natures.

Ghosts are a different class of supernatural characters altogether. Aside from witches, they are the only supernatural creatures whose existence is studied by credible research institutions and are most likely to exist. They represent an inevitable truth many find terrifying — one day we will all die.

Ghost romance then represents our longing for our loved ones who have passed on, a desire to connect with something beyond the physical, a need fo believe in life after death. Ghost romance is about longing and loss, but also faith and hope — the promise of a chance to see our most beloved ones again. And really, don’t we all want that?

Since 2010, Mocha Memoirs Press’s mission is to amplify marginalized voices in the areas of speculative fiction (science fiction, horror, and fantasy).

SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire will follow the steps of our previously published bestseller anthologies: An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Black Magic Women: Terrifying Tales by Scary Sisters.

What we are looking for: Vampires have been around in the horror genre for centuries. We are looking to tell a different vampire story. Ones where they may sparkle, but it is a dark one. This call is seeking unpublished short stories that tell stories of the vampire noire, the black vampire. We want stories of vampire hunters, of anti-vampiric heroes/heroines, and more. If you can take the story out of westernized culture, we’d love to see those, too! We want stories that speak of inclusivity. So, if your vampire is disabled or suffers from an alignment, send those stories too. LGBTQ+ stories are also encouraged. To point, we want stories from the African diaspora.

If you do not follow the guidelines, your submission will be deleted unread. Read the guidelines. Follow them.

Upon results of a successful crowdfunding campaign, we will pay HWA pro-rate of .05 per word for publication for First World Rights.

GUIDELINES:
• Stories for this anthology must be original (no reprints or previously published material), no more than 5,000 words in length, and must satisfy the theme of the anthology, meaning the protagonist must from the African Diaspora. Remember, this entire anthology is dedicated to stories of the black vampire. They can be in space, superheroes, but they must be from the African Diaspora.
• Manuscripts should be in Shunn manuscript format, meaning double-spaced, 12pt font, standard margins on the top, bottom and sides, and pages numbered. Please use Times New Roman font. The first page should include the Title of the story, Author’s name, address, and email, and Pseudonym if different from the author’s real name. Italics and bold should be in italics and bold.
• Attach the story in either .docx, .doc, and send it to mochamemoirspress AT gmail.com
• Subject: SLAY Submission: Title of Short story-Author Name
• Save your File as STORY TITLE-AUTHOR NAME

DON’Ts:
• No revenge stories.
• No erotica.
• No bestiality.
• No underage sex with minors.
• No racist rants/racist storylines.

DEADLINE and TIMELINE:
• The deadline for submissions is March 31st, 2020.
• Decisions on stories should be completed by the end of July 2020.

PRESS RELEASE: MOCHA MEMOIRS PRESS RELEASES SHORT STORY COLLECTION COLLABORATION WITH ARTIST JULIA LACQUEMENT

Collected: A Cybil Lewis SF Mystery Collection

November 14, 2019—Rock Hill, South Carolina    Mocha Memoirs Press, LLC released a short story collection of Nicole Givens Kurtz’s popular Cybil Lewis private inspector futuristic noir series. This collection of stories contain illustrations from former DC Comics’ illustrator and renowned artist, Julia Lacquement. The title is available in ebook and paperback. A hardcover limited edition will be available later this month.

Early reviews are buzzing with Cybil Lewis’s voice and character as being engaging and one to follow.

Julie Dismukes writes in her 5-Star Amazon review, “I’m nominating Cybil Lewis as a new favorite detective to keep up with. The world of Cybil Lewis is mysterious: there has been some extreme disaster, humanity has had to pull itself together and remake society. Cybil works in a futuristic Washington, DC that is falling apart even as it is being rebuilt. Cybil is a war veteran, as are most of her surviving cohorts…The stories get more interesting as they go along. Each novella is worth buying by itself—this collection of novellas is a wonderful deal. I could not put the book down as soon as I picked it up.”

Here’s the blurb from the collection: Before the Change, before Jane, and before she became a PI badass, Cybil Lewis cut her teeth in the District as a solo, brand new private inspector. At last, those stories of her early years are collected into this volume of short stories and novellas. Offering beautiful illustrations by comic book and brilliant artist, Julia Lacquement (DC Comics), Collected: A Cybil Lewis SF Mystery Collection provides action-packed, mystery stories set in the futuristic territory of D.C. (the District).

Whether this is your first time meeting Cybil or are a long-time fan, this collection should be a part of yours.


You won’t be disappointed.

COLLECTED: A CYBIL LEWIS SF MYSTERY COLLECTION is available at the Mocha Memoirs Press website, Amazon, and other fine online retailers. You can also order the paperback from brick and mortar bookstores.

Contact:

Publisher

Nicole Givens Kurtz

mochamemoirspress@gmail.com

www.mochamemoirspress.com

By Sumiko Saulson

My first exposure to the versatile and prolific Tony Todd was in 1990 when he starred as Ben Jones in the remake of George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.” Too young to have seen the original performance by Duane Jones, Todd’s take on the role was indelibly etched in my mind moving forward. My budding infatuation with Tony Todd became a full-fledged love affair two years later when he acted in what many consider his career-defining film, “Candyman.”

Not having seen the original “Night of the Living Dead” until well after I watched the reboot, my first exposure to black representation in horror films had instead been the second in the Romero series of zombie films, “Dawn of the Dead.” In it, Ken Foree starred as the musclebound action hero type character Peter Washington. I was only ten years old, but I loved and rooted for its hero. Like many African Americans, I was proud to see such a positive portrayal of a black man in horror.

Watching Tony Todd in the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead” was a much different experience. By then, I was a twenty-two-year-old woman and immune to neither an actor nor a character’s sex appeal. Ben Jones as portrayed by the unusually tall and thin Tony Todd, who is 6’5, was not a powerful man of action, but a soft-spoken, thoughtful character that remained poised and dignified in the most unusual and dire of circumstances.

Although both films are about humans trying to survive a zombie outbreak, unlike the action-packed “Dawn of the Dead,” “Night of the Living Dead” spends a lot of time with its main characters in hiding or isolation. Ben Jones and Barbara Hamilton, a young white woman portrayed Patricia Tallman who is attacked by a horde of zombies at her parents’ gravesite at the start of the film, first discover and then gradually begin to rely on each other. Ben is a sensitive, soft-spoken character whose demeanor goes against stereotypical portrayals of black men. He rarely loses his temper, even when faced with racism on top of adversity. Along with other characters, the two struggle to survive against unfavorable odds by keeping their wits. Brains and calm and collected mind become more important than brawn and weaponry. Ben’s upbeat attitude in the face of tragedy gives the film heart. Because the Barbara character has more agency in this version than in the original, the Ben character is less the clear-cut protagonist of this film and Barbara’s role is more active and central.

After Candyman came out, I wasn’t the only one swooning over Tony Todd. His portrayal of the story’s iconic urban legend inspired title character was both nuanced and provocative. The movie was written by British horror master Clive Barker and directed by fellow Englishman Bernard Rose. Its subject matter, however, was distinctly American. Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Public Housing Projects, it tells the tale of Helen Lyle, a white graduate student portrayed by Virginia Madsen who is investigating the true histories behind urban legends.

Despite the presence of a central white or white-passing character (the character is allegedly a distant descendant of Candyman), the backstory’s premise is steeped in the history of slavery and the restoration. Most of the supporting cast is African American, including Helen’s bestie, Vanessa Williams, played by Anne-Marie McCoy, and Helen’s Cabrini information source Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh, played by Kasi Lemmons. There are several other key African American characters and a wealth of lesser or background characters.

None of the characters, including the protagonist, steal the show in quite the way Tony Todd’s charismatic and frequently sympathetic villain Candyman does. The brooding bad man approaches Helen in a provocative and often flirtatious manner, imploring her to understand the dark history of injustice and terror that lead to his monstrous afterlife. His deeply resonant voice is seductive and haunting. His character evokes such pity and empathy in the viewer that even as a villain, he could be considered a Byronic hero. When pleading fails, Candyman resorts to threats and bargaining. Helen is the hero and the catalyst for the story, but Candyman is clearly its star. In spite of this, and his stand out performance, Todd didn’t win any awards (he was nominated for one, “Fangoria”), while Virginia Madsen won three.

From the start of his acting career, Tony Todd seemed poised for the world of speculative fiction. Although “Night of the Living Dead” was his first starring role, his motion picture debut was as Barrington in the 1986 fantasy “Sleepwalk,” about a Chinese manuscript with mystical powers. Fantasy and horror weren’t his only speculative acting roles. Some of you will remember his appearances on the sci-fi television program “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Worf’s younger brother, Kurn. 

Todd is often cast in villain roles, and horror is the genre he is most solidly associated with. He played the villain Grange in 1994’s classic dark fantasy film, “The Crow,” starring the ill-fated Brandon Lee, who died during production. The movie, based on a dark superhero comic book, contained many elements of horror. Grange, a gangster, is merely a henchman of the main villain Top Dollar. However, in classic Tony Todd character style, Grange is the one who discovers that the crow is the source of hero Eric Draven’s powers.

His characters often have dark mystical knowledge, even when they are neutral, or on the side of good. William Bludworth, his character in the “Final Destination” series, is a coroner who has some special magical knowledge of how death (the entity, not the action) operations. Like Grange, William Bludworth can be considered somewhat problematic as a cinematic trope known as the “magical black character.” These are token black mystics who use their special magical knowledge to aid the story’s white protagonists (or in the case of Grange, villain). However, he is a notable character in the series by virtue of being the only repeating character besides Clear Rivers, the original protagonist (played by Ali Larter) to appear in more than one film. Since death never appears in the flesh in the movies, the Bludworth character acts as an anchor for its personification, performing as a medium or mystic of sorts. He appears in more than half of the movies.

The movie “Candyman” spawned two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999).  While “Farewell to the Flesh” was well-received and succeeded as a sequel, it lost much of the Afrocentrism of the original 1992 Candyman film. Fay Hauser as Pam Carver plays a significant enough role to prevent Todd from being the token black actor, but the significant decrease in black actors in both speaking and background roles makes certain elements of the backstory a bit more problematic.

In the story, Candyman originally existed as a free black man Daniel Robitaille.  He was an artist and the son of a slave. His eternal torment is the result of having been tortured, maimed, and murdered by a white mob for sleeping with a white plantation owner’s daughter whose portrait he had been commissioned to paint and getting her pregnant. Candyman’s central targets as victims are women who are descended from his bloodline.

The story becomes increasingly problematic with each sequel as the viewer begins to wonder why these descendants of Candyman’s biracial daughter are predominately white. By the third film, one begins to wonder why the blonde starlet (Donna D’Errico) is the descendant instead of her black girlfriend Tamara (played by Alexia Robinson). In a seeming effort to relieve the second movie’s lack of color, the third film takes on a Day of the Dead theme, a series of Latino secondary characters, and a new Los Angeles location. None of this saves the movie, which is by far the worse of the three. Some of the other acting performances were so bad that not even Tony Todd could save it, and it ultimately killed the franchise.

Although these are his best-known horror series, Tony Todd’s notoriety as a horror actor has landed him a number of parts both large and small over the years. He played a parody of himself as an obnoxious, entitled actor in two episodes of the television show “Holliston” entitled “Candyman.” Some of this other movie roles include Ruber in “Dead of the Nite,” a story of ghosts, ghost hunting, and murder; Reverend Zombie in “Hatchet II,” and Reverend Abraham Stockton in “The Graves.”

Tony Todd remains very active in acting and other pursuits and at 61 years of age, is still widely regarded as a sex symbol. He was a voice actor in a 2015 animated treatment of “Night of the Living Dead” subtitled “Darkest Dawn.” Other 2015 forays into horror for the busy actor included Eddie in “Frankenstein,” Detective Johnson in “Scream At The Devil,” Dr. Murphy in  “Agoraphobia,” and the pastor in “Live/Evil.” “Frankenstein” was written and directed by Bernard Rose, co-wrote and directed “Candyman.” Tony Todd also keeps up his creepy bad guy image with a recurring role in the television series “The Flash” as Zoom, an arch-villain who is kind of the anti-Flash. He stars as Detective Sommers in the horror film “Zombie,” currently in post-production.

 In addition to his successful movie career, Todd has a substantial history in both Broadway and off-Broadway theater. His onstage credits include Donkeyman in Athol Fugard’s “The Captain’s Tiger,” the title role in August Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” and Reuben Tate in “Zooman and the Sign.” He continues to be active in theater, and is currently starring in Jack Megna’s “Ghost in the House,” a historical piece about Jack Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. A victim of Jim Crow laws, the boxer convicted of violating the Mann act in 1913 for traveling with a white woman across state lines for “immoral purposes,” despite a lack of evidence. One of Tony Todd’s personal causes is working with other celebrities to ask President Obama to issue a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson for his unjust imprisonment.

By Sumiko Saulson

Born Chloe Ardelia Wofford in 1931, eight-four year old Toni Morrison is one of the most prominent voices in African American literature. The bestselling author has won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize, and earned such an enduring place in American hearts and minds that she’s already a staple of many college English literature course curriculum in her own lifetime. Although her works often defy genre classification, the vagaries of genre politics have her firmly associated with the high-classed literary fiction genre. Literary fiction is the darling of critics and the academia alike.

Speculative fiction, and especially horror and the supernatural, are considered low-classed, tawdry genres. We sit in a dirty little niche corner, along with romance and erotica, as those genres that are just not prestigious enough for the so-called serious writers. Genre prejudice is so deeply ingrained that many do not recognize a horror story for what it is even when its nature is vastly apparent.

In essence, Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a gothic horror story. It is a ghost story set against a backdrop of slavery and the post-Civil War restoration. It takes on the tone of gothic horror immediately at the outset of the story with the line “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom,” referring to 124 Bluestone Road, the address of the protagonist Sethe’s home. The use of a building, most commonly a house, is a trope commonly associated with the gothic fiction genre.

The story also utilizes many elements of the subgenre American Gothic. English gothic horror took place in the Victorian era, the same period of time that the Civil War and the post-war Restoration took place in the United States. The dark histories involving the African slave trade and the genocide of New World’s indigenous peoples were primary features of a guilt-ridden American conscience. Wronged native peoples and oppressed African slaves were some of the ghosts and bogeymen of American gothic. That is clearly the case in Beloved, which is about the petulant spirit of Sethe’s murdered two-year-old daughter, Beloved. Sethe killed her own child to protect her from slavery and has been haunted ever since.

While Toni Morrison’s overall literary genre is American or African American literary fiction, Beloved is widely categorized as Magical Realism. Magical realism is a genre that involves the insertion of folklore and supernatural elements into otherwise realistic narratives. Beloved is not Toni Morrison’s only venture into magical realism. Song of Solomon, Sula, Jazz, and The Bluest Eye all use elements of the genre.

If it weren’t for the fact that Sula won a Nobel Prize for American literature, we might think of it as magical realism, as it certainly utilizes many elements of the genre. Many supernatural elements are used to illustrate the town of Bottom’s discomfort with and rejection of the unconventional protagonist Sula Peace. These magical elements are illustrations of the town’s scapegoating behavior. They clearly symbolize the tendency to demonize women for liberal and sexually unrepressed behavior. However, there is a more than superficial resemblance between Sula’s connection to the paranormal occurrences and witchcraft. Sula seems like a witch, and the town seems to be on a witch hunt.

In magical realism, these things are seen as symbolic, not necessarily to be taken literally, as in horror. There is an additional layer of psychological complexity in magical realism, as it is often unclear whether the supernatural is at play, or characters are just superstitious. That mystery is part of what keeps magical realism psychologically terrifying.

The strange appearance of a swarm of agitated birds in Sula is a great example of this. They arrive when she returns to town, and they occur in such unmanageable numbers that some townspeople are driven to sadism in an effort to get rid of them. They are so populous that the birds create a danger to themselves and others. However, the book never explains their mysterious arrival and disappearance. That is where magical realism differs from traditional horror: in horror, a cause, usually a diabolical one is assigned. In Sula, people superstitiously connect the appearance to the protagonist and her sexually loose moral behavior, which includes interracial relationships and sleeping with married men.

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon opens up with some of the most horrifying scenes I’ve ever read. One involves the hunting of a runaway slave by a pack of dogs, and the other involves an extended analogy about leaping to suicide while attempting to fly away from enslavement. Song of Solomon uses several elements of magical realism. Many of these are directly or indirectly connected with a character named Pilate, a woman who was born without a belly button.  She is a guardian angel/earth mother figure in the life of the protagonist, Milkman.

Her lack of a navel suggests a supernatural origin because bellybuttons are a sign of earthly birth. Created creatures, like angels or golem, wouldn’t need navels. Pilate shows other signs of supernatural knowledge or power, as does the ancient former slave Circe. Circe tells the protagonist Milkman of his great grandfather Solomon, who is the title character. Solomon was said to have literally flown to escape slavery. However, throughout the story, various attempts at flight are ambiguous and often seem more like suicide and less like an escape.

There is the further complication of determining whether or not supernatural occurrences are real in magical realism. In Toni Morrison’s controversial debut novel The Bluest Eye, Pecola Breedlove, a sexually molested young black girl, retreats into a fantasy world where she feels beautiful because she imagines she has blue eyes. The book has been banned multiple times because it deals with tough subjects like incest and child molestation. However, at the core of it is a deeper truth: our most terrifying monsters are the ones that are real.

Horror as a genre allows its readers to confront subjects that are too hard to look at directly. Like a filter that allows us to look at the sun without going blind, horror softens the impact of unimaginable subjects by replacing horrific human monsters with supernatural creatures. They are less upsetting than the idea that the real monsters are us.

There is a close synergy between magical realism and gothic horror. They are flip sides of the same coin. Magical realism is a genre label usually ascribed to people of color talking about ourselves and integrating our own folklore, history, legends and mythology into stories that contain both realistic and fantastic elements. Gothic horror, especially American gothic, is written from a white person’s point of view and has to do with outsider fear and suspicion of the same folklore, history, legends and myths.

 A novel like Beloved might have been considered gothic horror if it had been written from a white person’s perspective by a white author. A story like Bernard Rose and Clive Barker’s Candyman might have been mystical realism if it were written by a black author and from Candyman’s point of view. Both stories are about a tragic character that died unnecessarily as a result of racism and slavery who returns as an avenging spirit. The change in the point of view character is also key to the genre categorization here: Candyman is about how slavery impacted white people. Beloved is about how it impacted African Americans.

Toni Morrison’s forays into magical realism may not be universally considered horror for the same reason that not everyone considers Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein horror: the monster is so sympathetic that from time to time, human beings seem the real monsters. The monster is the one who has been wronged here. If we feel more sympathy for the monster than it persecutors, then we lose a lot of the fear we associate with the horror genre.

In Part I of our interview with Author Ronald T. Jones, we asked him some generalized questions about space and science fiction. In Part II, he shared some insight into the stories in Blood, Sweat, and Blaster Bolts. Here’s what he had to say:

MP: What is your favorite story in this collection and why?

Ronald: It’s hard to say. I had a great time writing each story. I will say that some of the stories were strongly inspired to the point where I had to put aside existing projects to work on them. Others were intended for past anthologies. Tyler’s Goddess, for example, came from a call by a sword and sorcery website for short stories featuring tales centered around a warrior woman and her big cat. I decided to do an Edgar Rice Burroughs take on the story, the Earthman-transported-to-another-world-by-mysterious means-trope. I’ve always liked fish out of water tales.

In Safeguard, I tackle competing strains of thought: pacifism and violence. How do you protect a society that eschews violence from existential threats? And would the means of protection be acceptable to one deeply indoctrinated in pacifism? I address extremism as well, mining today’s headlines to envision an ISIS-like organization returning to an Earth recovering from centuries of environmental blight to stake their claim through force.

Mist Lord was inspired by a book I read on Pablo Escobar, the notorious Columbian drug trafficker. I simply moved the setting to a far future place in another part of the galaxy.

Approaching a Day of Reckoning offered a not so optimistic look at where humans could end up centuries down the road should they make first contact with rigidly hierarchal species. How would humans respond to a status quo that stunts their development? I enjoyed exploring that theme.

I like a good mystery. Mission to Gined is a mystery cloaked in science fiction. The story also provided an opportunity for me to introduce creatures that have become a staple of horror tales. I won’t reveal who those creatures are. You’ll have to read the book! 

Freebooter is another version (a science fiction version) of a story written by Robert E. Howard, featuring Solomon Kane. Now, here’s my challenge for any Robert K. Howard fan reading Freebooter. See if you can discover the Solomon Kane story that inspired Freebooter. If you do, respond to this blog with the name of the story. That should be a fun challenge!

MP: Oh, that does sound like a fun challenge! You heard him, book baristas! If you’re a Robert K. Howard fan, comment and let us know your answer to Ronald’s challenge!

Ronald: So, I don’t have a favorite story per se. But each story was inspired by an idea that slithered into my mind and coiled around my brain like a snake. They are all unique tales which I enthusiastically embraced at the time I was cranking them out.

MP: Thank you for sharing so much insight into each story, Ronald. This makes me want to read them all, right now!

As part of #BlackSpeculativeFictionMonth, we are celebrating Black voices in speculative fiction writing. We caught up with Mocha Memoirs Author Ronald T. Jones and asked him some questions related to his latest release — Blood, Sweat, and Blaster Bolts. Here’s what he had to say:

MP: What do you find so compelling about space as a setting for storytelling?

Ronald: Space is a vast, endless, obstacle-free venue for conflicts to be played out. It is also a great place to show off spaceships and demonstrate their power.

On a personal level, space always represented for me the next step in humanity’s progress, the idea of leaving Earth and navigating through an endless, cold gulf to reach our next planetary destination. Or perhaps we don’t need to settle a planet. Spaceborne habitats with environments mimicking Earth’s are also viable.

MP: That’s a great lead-in to my next question. Why do you love Science Fiction? What does Science Fiction mean to you?

Ronald: Science fiction is the most visionary of genres. As an adolescent, I was mesmerized by the vivid explosions and frenetic space combat of Star Wars as well the star-spanning adventures featured in original Star Trek reruns.

As I grew older and more discerning in my viewing and reading of science fiction, I realized that beyond the visual bells and whistles, much of the science fiction I enjoyed contained relevant messages and commentary pertaining to science, technology and social issues.

In Star Wars, historical themes were woven into the narrative. The idea of a democratic republic being supplanted by a repressive, authoritarian regime and not through force, but voluntarily; that was played out most prominently in German history with Hitler’s electoral rise to power and the subsequent dissolution of the Weimar Republic.

The original Star Trek episode, ‘Let That be your last Battle Field’ tackled the issue of American racism. It was an admirable attempt by Star Trek to shed light on race relations, using science fiction as a vehicle.

2001, Terminator, and Matrix became cautionary tales, each envisioning how our relationship with technology could take a downward spiral if humans fail to carefully govern its use.

MP: Thank you, Ronald. If you love Science Fiction as much as we do, we think you will enjoy Ronald’s work as well. Often described as Tom Clancy set in space and praised for his realistic and believable depictions of combat and its impact, Ronald’s books are well-written space adventures full of action and intrigue. Pick up a copy today!

We are actively seeking reviewers and bloggers to review titles such as this. If you are interested, please contact us.

By Sumiko Saulson

We have a special treat for Black Speculative Fiction Month! Award Winning Author, Sumiko Saulson, has generously offered to let us re-post her winning story from the 2018 Afrosurrealist Writer Award.


My feet soaked at the edge of the lake in a balm of brackish water. Lake Merritt is polluted by dumpers, but teeming with life. Home to a rare mud-skipping crustacean called Transorchestia Enigmatica; thirty species of fish and over one hundred kinds of bird, and North America’s oldest wildlife refuge. I wish Courtland Creek, which runs alongside my home, was as fertile. Thanks to pollution and re-routing of the waterway, frogs, fish and most birds have vanished from Courtland Creek.

Pollution and gentrification are natural, but they aren’t. They come from the darker spirits generated by the passing through and the wrongdoings of mankind. We cast our own dark magic over life as it stood before we trampled through here, destroying everything. It creates dark pockets of sterile death, paving over everything in its wake. But life struggles to break through anyway. You will find a bit of grass splitting the sidewalk here, a tree that refuses to placidly stay in its lane and takes over a driveway elsewhere. But men are always arriving with our heavy machinery to tear it down, to domesticate it. 

But the earth spirits live on despite our efforts to tame them. By my home, at Courtland Creek, there are wild groves of flowers, and among them, many butterflies. That is how life strives to resurface.

I quietly fill a flask in my pocket with the cool waters of Lake Merritt, and stick it into my pocket so I can bring it home with me. The foul spirit Mathalaki that dwells near Courtland Creek fears brackish water. That’s why his evil moves men to dump garbage in the water and all through the trees I look down on from my bedroom window.

Once, waters flowed freely from estuaries spreading like lifelines across the open palm of historical Oakland. Sausal Creek, the Lyon watershed and Courtland Creek used to flow over luscious hill and lulling dale before emptying out into the San Leandro Bay. That was before the Oakland Alameda Coliseum opened September 18, 1966, two years before I was even born. Now, part of the watershed flows underground, through dank, musty tunnels that smell of clean mold just after fresh rainfall, but rotting debris and chemicals most of the year.

Bracken, mold, and pond scum aren’t death scents, you know? Like the decay of moist eucalyptus, the decomposition of oak leaves, they breathe renewed life into the cycle of birth-death-rebirth that includes all of the living, even we, humanity. But the smell of chemicals, sterile bleach, cold disinfectants, and factories are the harbingers of death. Thick, cloying motor oil, a rainbow slick across the watershed from gasoline, all of these are dead smells. As dead as the bodies in Hope of the Peace Cemetery, about six blocks away from where we stand, over on Fairfax Avenue. It’s the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Oakland. The dates of the most recent burials are around 1966. The year the Oakland Alameda Coliseum was built. Apparently, this was still a Jewish neighborhood back then.

Now, all of the Jewish people live up the hill in Maxwell Park. Even there, they’re mostly older. The new white folk in Maxwell Park aren’t particularly Jewish. And down around Courtland Creek Park, and the Hope of the Peace Cemetery, is a smallish enclave of renters. To the east of us is the Fairfax District, one of those black and Latino neighborhoods where the poor are proud homeowners. The Fairfax Business District is the home of a lot of businesses owned by the same demographic. Back in the seventies it was an up and coming Black Business District. My parents thought it was going to become the Fillmore of Oakland. That’s why they bought this tiny property off of Courtland Creek Avenue.

My house is a good half-mile from the cemetery, but I’m more afraid to walk around it than I would be to walk through the gravestones at night. At least over there, you know where the bodies are buried. I take out my flash of brackish water from Lake Merritt and pour some over the threshold as I enter the door. I utter the incantation under my breath.

Most people don’t know Courtland Creek is haunted. That’s why, when those kids from Fremont High found the bones of a dead dog during their Earth Day clean-up, they didn’t think nothing of it. Neighbors said the dog was probably dumped by an unscrupulous dog fighter. It was a pit bull, after all. You know how they do, with pit bulls. Others said it was poisoned by the same fecal matter that killed off all the fish and frogs. You know, they tried to blame the homeless for that, but it turned out to be a busted sewage pipe.

Figures. It’s always the lowly that get fingered as a problem. But that sewage line burst up in the Oakland Hills somewhere above Mills, where the Creek never smells like urine, human or canine. Up where money makes a safe, warm bed for them at night. Over there, where the only thing they have to fear are fire elementals. Elemental creatures that reside in polluted waters never assail their sense, as shit literally rolls downhill.

All of the local shootings and stabbings and other insanity come from that spirit, and by spirit I do not mean ghost, as it never was a human being. It is something insidious, something elemental, and something born of miscreant magic and polluted creek water. It was a malevolent spirit that caught hold of a neighbor lady and made her go all out of her mind, shooting BBs at people’s windows. That lady hung out on the porch some days, aiming at stray cats and occasionally, she got hot at someone or the other about real or imagined slights. 

It was the villainous spirit that caused two young black men barely out of high school to shoot Jewish senior lady from the neighborhood watch, against the fence of Hope of the Peace Cemetery, because that’s how these malicious demons work.  

And it is important that you know it is a demon. This is no spirit of a wayward child gone missing, or anything that has ever been human, but a phantasm that rose out of the muck the very day they decide to well up Courtland Creek and the other waterways and let them wallow in pollution so they could build up that Coliseum. 

Sometimes when I drive past Walgreen’s on High Street next to the I-580 onramp, I see my white neighbors standing there with Black Lives Matter protest signs, waving at the passing cars, and I honk at them to show my support. I know what they’re doing. They’re doing their best to chase off that demon.

His name Mathalaki, son Mammon, and as surely as the love of money is the root of all evil, he rose up over Oakland the very day he was born, on  September 18, 1966. Mathalaki lives here now, attracting those who love money above all. He sings a song that cries to the blood of every illegal dumper who receives money to haul garbage away from some business in San Leandro or Hayward for a reasonable fee, and then dump into onto our sidewalks, into our yards, and down into the creek. He hums a melody that roils the blood of those greedy little thugs who broke into houses and killed an old lady to steal her iPhone. To all of the predatory lenders who closed down local black businesses and price gouged. 

The teenagers are down at the creek again, fighting Mathalaki. There is nothing he fears more than the smell of brackish water. He hates the clean, crystal stream of fresh water pouring out into San Leandro Bay, mixing with the salty waters that drift in from San Francisco Bay, in from the Pacific Ocean. The children whisper Mathalaki loathes the Oakness Monster, a sea-creature that lives in Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Legend has it that the creature has been seen more frequently over the past five years, due to clean-up efforts.  

I am intimately familiar with the Oakness Monster. I remember the very first day he came to reside here. I recall seeing other fanciful creatures that still resided within Oakland’s watershed when I was a child. Creatures that loved the scent of clean, brackish water and I suspect, were responsible for keeping the creek clean. Like Plecostomus catfish, the suckermouth fish that ate feces and algae and kept aquariums clean, only large and ancient. Some believed the Oakness monster might be some ancient ancestor of the Plecostomus that thrived in brackish waters. I heard from a coworker thought he was an ancient amphibian of some sort.  

Now, I know they have sea-hares there. I have seen them before, giant purple sea-slugs. The so-called monster is like that – natural. I have good reason to believe my coworker is correct.

Mathalaki is unnatural and greedy.

Oral tradition has it that Mathalaki’s father, Mammon, arrived in Oakland during the Gold Rush. My ancestors arrived with him – eager to shove off their chains. He offered them freedom in exchange for their hard work panning, or in gold mines, and so, California entered the union a free state. Oakland was born during the Gold Rush. The minute land became too pricey in San Francisco, it was born. Incorporated on March 25, 1854, but there were few African Americans here until the Great Migration from the South in the 1940s bought still more ancestors of mine, escaping Jim Crow. And so we built, and we made for ourselves a home. I was a little boy when the Black Panthers rose up in the seventies. They formed in 1966, the same year that the Coliseum was erected.  

We were already fighting Mathalaki back then.

Mathalaki rose in strength and prominence during the crack cocaine gang wars of the 1980s. The government fueled crack addiction and the worship of money, and death filled the air, heavy iron, gun smoke, cocaine hydrochloride and baking soda. It was Mammon feeding his wicked son Mathalaki, cleaving greedily to his breast.

Tonight, I soak my front porch steps in brackish water, eager to ward off the wicked one. Tomorrow, though… I swear I will do what must be done.

###

What Must Be Done

“Davey, it would be so much easier if we could just exchange the water,” father told me when I was a child. “We could get a big semi, the kind that carries water or gasoline, and fill it with brackish water from Lake Merritt. Bring it down here, and then pour it into the creek until it went to overflowing. Then, we might get rid of Mathalaki.”

But it would only be temporary, he warned. The water would back up and get filthy, unable to escape down into the bay. You see, once there was a marsh there, where the Coliseum. Rich with life, aromatic at low-tide with the same strong, swampy aroma present around other places such as Emeryville, Vallejo, and Novato. Some people hate that smell. They say it smells like someone farted. But that’s a life-smell. Not a death smell, like the stink of the Chevron Richmond Refinery.

Now, the East Creek Watershed, which combines all of Oakland’s many creeks, flows out through two flood channels – the Damon Creek Slough, and the one Courland Creek flows out of, East Creek Slough. But my father said they were not wide enough to let the poison flow out when the curative rain waters flow in. That’s why my father had a plan. Make it so the water can get back out to San Leandro Bay again, where it could be cleansed by the magical mixture of salt water and freshwater that existed there. Water needed motion. It needed to drift in and out of the creek, not pile up due to the traffic jam at East Creek Watershed.

Now, the jam up was notably made worse by all of the things people threw into the creek whenever they dumped into them. Old couches, shopping carts, mattresses, and dead critters backed everything up into a stinking mess. 

A spell was required to remove them all. A spell made of fruitful rich earth and brackish water. So my father had begun to dig a tunnel in my backyard, one that was hidden under a well. This well required years of excavations and more than a few detonated explosives. Over time, my father and I cleared out the space in order to make a large enough space for the magical infusions of water that were required to flush out Mathalaki.

But now, I knew it wouldn’t be enough, at least not alone.

That is why I began the spell. I ran my fingers over my walnut brown arms as I said them, waiting for my transformation to be complete. Once it was done, would I have fingers at all? 

Rocking back and forth on the dirt floor, I ran a pinky over the dust and scrawled upon it runes. Again, I chanted, running my fingers along my changing skin. Bumps rose up on the surface of my forearms. Webbing sprouted between my fingers. I nodded, inhaling cool breath and hissing it out between clinched teeth. Warm air condensed into incensed fog. Sweet and sallow, it rose to the ceiling. I ran a finger over my gritted teeth, and felt them sharpen into tines. Hands cupped my eyes, stroking them as the eyelids receded and they rose, bulging and aquatic, as my body reverted to an the earlier evolutionary condition of amphibians. 

I looked at legs stretched, lean and muscular as a frog, webbed toes curling under the newly moisty soles of my feet. Then, I stood and removed my clothing. Nude, I leapt into the well, swimming far away into the muck of Courtland Creek.

The transformation… easy to do, wasn’t as easily undone. How would I live, as a merman, or a creature, like the Creature of the Black Lagoon? How would I buy groceries, and tend to my needs in this new form, the Creature of Courtland Creek?  Spells could be cast to undo it, but not until my missions were over. And even then, they might not succeed.

But I did what I was meant to do, as my father had done before me. I joined the Earth’s fighting force to defeat Mathalaki. I swam through the rivers, filtering out garbage with my catfish muckraker jaws. The filthy I removed with my hands, the dirt in and out of my gills. 

I have finally done it. I have finally joined my father, the Oakness monster.

I will be forever known as the Creature of Courtland Creek.