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

October 13, 2019-Rock Hill, SC-Rock Hill, SC- In celebration of Black Speculative Fiction Month, Mocha Memoirs Press has released Blood, Sweat, and Blaster Bolts: Adrenaline Charged Tales of Speculative Fiction, a collection of high octane science fiction short stories written by Ronald T. Jones. Renowned for his thrilling, military science fiction novels, Jones’ new collection promises more blood, sweat, and blaster bolts!  This is Jones’s third release from Mocha Memoirs Press.

Blurbs: Come explore the outer reaches of the universe. Charge up your adrenaline and strap on your courage for action adventure among the stars!

  • Outpost: An embittered solitary commander of an isolated space station faces the grave threat of an invading enemy armada along the ruinous frontier of a fallen galactic empire.
  • Freebooter: A smuggler crash lands on an uncharted planet. Her only way off-world is to ally with the planet’s inhabitants in their struggle against a malignant horde of blood sucking monsters.
  • Safeguard: Earth is a wasteland, except for a domed utopia populated by a segment of humanity that has managed to remain at peace for centuries. But that peace is threatened by starfarring zealots bent on spreading a harshly rigid ideology through force if necessary.
  • Mission on Gined: An officer, transferred to an embattled planet, must tackle the mystery of human deaths that may or may not have been the result of enemy action. All he has to do is survive the war zone long enough to get the answer he needs.
  • Approaching a Day of Reckoning: In the far future, humanity languishes at the bottom of a hierarchy of advanced races. It falls on the shoulders of one man to over turn the status quo…no matter what it takes to achieve that end.
  • Tyler’s Goddess: A Special Forces operator suddenly finds himself in a strange realm that is most certainly not Earth. Now, he must use his deadly skill set to save a dwindling human population from extinction at the hands of bloodthirsty non-human savages.
  • Mist Lord: A newly posted ambassador to a lesser world riven by violence and corruption strikes up a relationship with the ruthless leader of a powerful criminal organization. But all is not as it appears. The criminal’s actions and the ambassador’s dealings will have galaxy wide ramifications.
  • The Formula: In an alternate, steam driven world, two agents serving a once great West African state are sent on a mission to obtain a secret that could radically impact the international order. But this is no easy venture. Other nations are after this prize. The agents must face an onslaught of ruthless enemies with enhanced capabilities in a battle for the future.

Owner, Nicole Givens Kurtz states, “Blood, Sweat, and Blaster Bolts: Adrenaline Charged Tales of Speculative Fiction is an thrilling and diverse science fiction collection. This is Afrofuturism, military science fiction at its absolute best.”

You can get a copy of Blood, Sweat, and Blaster Bolts: Adrenaline Charged Tales of Speculative Fiction 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.

Octavia Butler signing a copy of The Fledgling
Photo Credit: Nikolas Coukouma via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.5

­By Todd Sullivan

­My first memorable experience with black speculative fiction was from the works of Octavia Butler. My oldest brother moved from our hometown of New Orleans to Chicago in the mid-1990s, and came back with Parable of the Sower. For those who haven’t read it, go out and get it immediately. It’s an apocalyptic narrative about a young girl who suffers from an extreme form of empathy. If she sees someone injured, her body forces a similar injury upon her.

Throughout the novel, a parable runs through the narrative. To this day, I still recall it: All that you touch, you change/All that you change, changes you/The only lasting truth, is Change/God is Change.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed Parable of the Sower, and the next books I read by Octavia Butler, Kindred and The Xenogenesis Trilogy, my favorite novel of hers is Wild Seed.  

Wild Seed sets up a complicated relationship between the female shapeshifter, Anyanwu, and an immortal male, Doro. Throughout the novel, they are at times lovers and at times enemies as they chase after separate goals that put them at odds with each, while also bringing them together.

I found the battle of wills between Anyanwu and Doro to be captivating. I must admit that I have continued to be enthralled by the character, Doro. He is not good person, often skirting evil. He is selfish, powerful, and driven to fulfill his dream. Yet despite this, there is an opportunity for change and redemption for him. The question the novel sets up is whether or not he will become a better man, or will he let the chance slip through his fingers.

Octavia Butler challenged her readers to like her characters. There are few authors as great as she at crafting narrative worlds and populating it with people that seem genuinely alien. It took me a long time to figure out how she managed it, and I have attempted to employ a similar technique in my own fiction.

Though it is a shame that Octavia Butler’s writing still hasn’t entered popular culture, I do think it’s only a matter of time. She wrote a new type of narrative that has the power to influence generations of authors that follow her. All it’ll take are writers who are hungry to craft something unexpected, something new, and something outside of the mold.

Octavia Butler exemplified originality.

By Sumiko Saulson

“Saulson has collected magic in ways that hypnotize, entertain and make the reader shudder. In these stories desire and greed are answered with magical justice and getting what is wished for comes with ultimate, soul level prices. Walk with these women, through fables of magic, spells, werewolves, cursed days & nights and be prepared to be entertained and shook to your core.”

—Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend”

I’ve been a horror fan as long as I can remember. I grew up in the seventies, before people decided it was important to protect children from skinned knees, bruised heads and horror movies. As a child, my parents took me and my brother to drive-in movies like Its Alive, The Omen, and The Exorcist. I still remember being five years old, playing on the slides and swings with my four year old brother, and watching cartoons like Heckle and Jeckle or Woody Woodpecker. We knew that once the cartoons were over, we were supposed to leave the playground and return to the car. We weren’t afraid of being kidnapped, and we didn’t know that some people thought Heckle and Jeckle were probably racist and based on minstrel stereotyped jive-talking crows in Dumbo

We also didn’t notice that none of the people in our favorite horror movies were black. See, the eighties trope where the black guy dies first hadn’t started, and there were no black people to speak of in Carrie, The Hills Have Eyes, and Jaws. It wasn’t until 1976’s Dawn of the Dead that I saw a movie with a major black character in it. And he was the hero!

“In the 21th century there are very still few characters like us, and out of this small pool many are post-modern “Step-and Fetchit” stereotypes. This is why speculative fiction is so important. This genre helps us to see outside reality, to say: what if? It helps us to imagine and create spectacular, wondrous realms, step back and find the beauty and wisdom there, and then transform our own space.” 

— Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the short story The Lost Ones.

Like Valjeanne, I have noticed a dearth of African Diaspora characters in fiction. Where they are present, they are relegated to support or background roles. I believe it is important for the self-esteem of a people to be able to envision ourselves as heroes. That means that we should be able to read stories and watch movies where there are heroes who look like we do. We shouldn’t be brainwashed into viewing ourselves as less than central in our lives. 

Nowadays, it’s not as bad as it used to be. We see characters like Michonne on The Walking Dead, Bonnie Bennet on The Vampire Diaries, or Jenny and Abbie Mills on Sleepy Hollow, and feel encouraged that black people in general, and black women in particular, can be viewed as powerful, vital, and heroic. But the killing off of first Abbie, then Jenny Mills, and subsequent cancellation of Sleepy Hollow tell a darker tale; people aren’t ready for black women to be front and center. Even the creation of Richonne, the Rick and Michonne power couple on The Walking Dead, shows that people need a black woman to be clearly secondary to a white, male protagonist in order to be strong, or continue to live. Never mind the series of replaceable black men: T-Dog, Tyreese, Bob, Noah… and that other guy who was on there so briefly I almost didn’t register that he wasn’t T-Dog.

That’s where projects like Black Magic Women come in.

“It’s always an honor to be included in a project like Black Magic Women. Most of us are in our own corner, writing and promoting, so this project gives us a chance to catch up on each other.” 

Return to Me author Lori Titus.

I was inspired by older anthologies like the Dark Matter series, edited by Sheree Renée Thomas. It debuted July 18, 2000 with Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora. When I put together a blog series on black women who write horror in honor of Black History Month and Women in Horror Month back in 2013, I had to do a lot of research to come up with my first three lists that year. The lists, and the interviews with black women in horror that were a part of that blog series, were eventually published in 2014 as the book 60 Black Women in Horror

When I first put together 60 Black Women in Horror, a few women asked if they could add stories to the end of the eBook. That’s how I ended up with short stories by myself, Crystal Connor, Valjeanne Jeffers and Annie Penn at the back of the eBook. They weren’t in the print edition. So, when I started to work on 100 Black Women in Horror, an update to the original book with over 100 biographies and more than 20 interviews,  I decided that rather than toss a few stories in the reference guide, I should put together a separate anthology of horror stories written by women listed in the guide. I was thrilled when Nicole Kurtz from Mocha Memoirs Press expressed interest in the anthology, Black Magic Women.

“Black Woman Magic is the natural spiritual root for our ancestral legacy in life. It is protection, warrior work, praise/worship, love or it is root-work meant to hex those who harm, cause mischief or to even bring about life lessons and mores. Black Magic Woman is badassness others want.” 

—Kai Leakes, author of the short story Sisters.

But this anthology doesn’t only consist of badass women. It is a collection of horror tales where blackness is up front and center, and a black woman is always a significant player, even in stories like Delizhia Jenkins’ Dark Moon’s Curse,  Valjeanne Jeffers’ The Lost Ones and Kenesha Williams Sweet Justice, and Cinsearae S’s Killer Queen, where the protagonist is male. The women may be sensitive souls, like preteen title character in Kamika Aziza’s zombie apocalyptic slice of life Trisha and Peter, thoughtful and introspective, like the witch in Lori Titus’ Return to Me, or idealistic justice seekers like Kai Leakes’ Sisters and the circle of friends in Dicey Grenor’s Black and Deadly

“In a world where Black Women are portrayed to either be mammies, angry, or sassy, I’m so happy for a project like Black Magic Women where we get to be the heroes and maybe even the villains. So many times, because of our lack of portrayal in the media, it seems as if all Black Women characters must be paragons of virtue lest we “shame the community”. Embracing both sides of someone’s humanity, the good and the bad, is to allow them to be fully human. We shouldn’t have to be one end of the spectrum or the other, like all people, we are varying shades of gray and I think this anthology will show that.” 

—Kenesha Williams, author of Sweet Justice.

Of course, a well-rounded book of black women contains characters that are not necessarily good. Morally ambiguous creatures haunt stories like Mina Polina’s Appreciation, Nuzo Onoh’s Death Lines, Nicole Givens Kurtz’s Blood Magnolia, Crystal Connor’s Bryannah and the Magic Negro and my own Tango of a Telltale Heart. You have to read the whole story to figure out if they are heroes, villains, or something in between. In some cases, even after you’re done you aren’t entirely sure. 

Some of these stories fit into the ancient and honorable horror tradition of the cautionary tale. What would it mean to have had a black scream queen in movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street? The hopeless romantics, hapless nice girls, clueless ingénues, and ordinary janes in Tabitha Thompson’s Alternative™ , Alledria Hurt’s The Prizewinner, R. J. Joseph’s Left Hand Torment, Kenya Moss-Dyme’s Labor Pains, and L.H, Moore’s Here, Kitty! face extraordinary situations. Will they make it out alive?

“Black women have always been magical. It’s our tradition, our heritage. It’s in our blood. A part of that tradition is a belief in the fantastic and supernatural. And yes, we do write and enjoy horror. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” 

—LH Moore, author of Here, Kitty!

The first time I walked into a book store – Marcus Bookstore, a historical black bookstore in San Francisco – the proprietor expressed shock and awe at the idea of a black person writing horror. The closest thing she’d ever heard of was sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, and wanted to know if that’s what my stories were like. So I started to research horror by black authors, to see where I fit in, in this wild world of unknown and potentially amazing stories by black women, on the edge of this new frontier.

Why have there been so few documented black women horror writers up until now? Part of it, I think, has to do with respectability politics. Black writers of any gender are told we should write literary fiction, be serious, and not involve ourselves in trash genres like horror. To this day, I am invited to speak at speculative fiction conventions and on panels where they start right out insulting my genre. They act like calling Beloved a ghost story is paramount to calling Toni Morrison a dirty name. That being the attitude of a lot of authors and academics many scribes are loath to admit to writing horror, even if they do.

The other factor is the tendency to view horror as a male thing. If a woman, say L.A. Banks, writes a series called The Vampire Huntress Legends about a bad ass slayer of demons and vampires, her hero, Damali, is in a paranormal romance. Conversely, if two white dudes, Sam and Dean Winchester do the same thing, they are in a horror series called Supernatural. This is not limited to black women: Buffy and the Vampire Slayer, The Medium, Charmed, and The Ghost Whisperer aren’t really horror, because they center around girls and girly stuff like marriage, children and romance. So people tend to categorize our stories as something other than horror; urban fiction, paranormal romance, supernatural, or even magical realism, because girls don’t do horror, therefore it cannot be horror and must be something else.That’s why projects like Black Magic Women and 100 Black Women in Horror are so important.

Rock Hill, SC- Newly relocated small press publisher, Mocha Memoirs Press, has released a horror romance that will keep the heat burning well into the fall. Canadian author, Ren Thompson’s latest novel, DEAD HEAT offers the terror of a zombie apocalypse and the fire of a LGBTQ romance.

Blurb: The heart just knows…The city of Toronto is now a thriving hotbed of undead activity, and Dana Layton, brash zombie hunter with a temper as fiery as her hair, believes in only one thing: taking care of business. As a member of an elite zombie hunting organization, Dana can hang with the best of them, but the wall around her heart is as high as the one erected around her fortified home.Kelly Forrester thought she had what she wanted most of all—a career that made a difference. Blindsided by a crash course in reality, Kelly is left with a life-altering choice: Should she play it safe or follow her heart?In an already dark world, a new kind of terror emerges, one that threatens to tear apart Toronto’s fragile peace.

Dana’s back is against the wall, and time is running out for both her beloved city, and the woman who’s stolen her heart.

Owner, Nicole Givens Kurtz stated, “DEAD HEAT is right at home in our line of Dark Mocha Bites stories. It’s a story that’s outside the mainstream, amplifies marginalized voices, and tells a great, harrowing story.”

Don’t take Nicole’s word for it. Reviews have already started pouring in.

“It is well written and highly descriptive…” says Arttoa, giving the novel a four star Amazon review.

JJ Dunway stated, ..”the journey is action packed and each piece meaningful and a realistic view of a world with zombies – not always easy and never clean,” giving it a four star Amazon review.

DEAD HEAT is not for the faint of heart, which is why it comes with an 18+ warning.

You can get a copy of DEAD HEAT at the Mocha Memoirs Press website, Amazon, and other fine online retailers. You can also order the paperback from brick and mortar bookstores.

Contact:
Nicole Givens Kurtz
Publisher
mochamemoirspress@gmail.com
www.mochamemoirspress.com