Story Notes: “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” available at FIYAH Magazine

Should’ve posted this earlier this month, but yes! I got another short story out! “Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie Sing the Stumps Down Good” has been published in FIYAH’s Music issue, which you can buy now! It also comes with a poppin’ Spotify Playlist and another gorgeous illustration!

Ain’t that gorgeous?

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ve heard about this one a lot. A few years ago, I stumbled onto the rockin’ blues gospel music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which I didn’t even know was a thing. That got me listening to more women who played guitars in the 1930s and 40s, and when I came across Memphis Minnie, I knew I had to get them into a story together. Also, I am so stoked that this was published a couple of months after Sister Rosetta Tharpe was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. Now if we can only get Minnie inducted…

I also wanted to write a story featuring my hometown, specifically, the south side of Chicago where I grew up. Fun fact–the real Sister Rosetta and Minnie actually did live in Chicago in different parts of their lives, but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever interacted. Seeing that most gospel musicians considered blues artists as heathens, I’m not surprised. On the flip side, Sister Rosetta came under a lot of fire for putting gospel hymns against “devil music”, so who knows.

The story give a couple of callouts to the history of the Chicago’s South Side: The Regal Theater, which was big for black entertainers in the 30s and 40s; the Ida Wells homes, a series of low-income housing mostly populated by blacks, and the Bronzeville and Bridgeport neighborhoods. And my favorite: Rita Moy, daughter of Frank Moy, mayor of Chinatown, who really did like to dress in men’s clothes. There’s even a picture of her!

Finally, I wrote this story because I wanted to show a relationship between two women of different beliefs. Sister Rosetta was an evangelist through and through, and she was also queer. Memphis Minnie, on the other hand, had a rough life: busking on Beale ave, doing a stint with Ringling Brothers Circus. Although Rosetta and Minnie never met in real life, it was fun imagining the sort of conversations they could have. You can read more about these women in their biographies: Shout Sister Shout!: The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Woman With Guitar: Memphis Minnie’s Blues. (Also for Minnie, there’s a description of her written by Langston Hughes)

And finally, listen to these women songs. I can repeat myself enough: they…are…AMAZING. Here, I’ll even get you started.

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LaShawn’s WisCon 42 Schedule

WisCon 42 is coming up in a couple of weeks and I will be there! For those of you who are going, here’s where you can find me.

Friday, 5:30pm: POC Dinner
It’s our POC annual dinner! If you’re a person of color and haven’t gotten your ticket yet, sign up here. Even if you can’t pay, please sign up for a ticket so we know how much food to order. I’m also coordinating volunteers for the dinner to help with setup or cleaning afterwards, so you want to help, let me know in the comment section of this post and I’ll get in touch with you.

Saturday, 4:00pm: Steven Universe Sing-along
From “Giant Woman” to “It’s Over, Isn’t It,” Steven Universe offers a variety of beautiful songs in different genres that we can all sing our hearts out to. Hopefully we’ll be able to sing up to the latest song “A Distant Shore” and WE WON’T LIKE BE TALKING ABOUT THE NEXT EPISODE AFTER THAT BUT DANG THAT PUTS SOME OF THE SONGS IN A WHOLE DIFFERENT LIGHT NOW DON’T IT.

Anyway, I will be there.

Sunday, 1:00pm: Reading @ Michaelangelo’s — Smash the Patriarchy
Join me along with fellow readers Monica Valentinelli, David Levine and Naomi Kritzer as we read stories that will unsettle you, make you uncomfortable, force you to think and feel. Come for the stories. Leave with possibilities. I’ll be reading my latest short story, “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy”, that was published in Fireside Magazine last month.

Sunday, 2:30p: It Is Our Time: A People’s Celebration, Exploration & Analysis Of Black Panther
In which I geek out with a bunch of other people about Black Panther.

Monday, 11:30am: Sign-Out
This year, I got a whole bunch of stationary I want to use up. So if you visit me at the Sign-Out, I will write out a quick flash story on whatever subject you like. It will only be at the most a paragraph, at the most, 100 words, but hey, free story from me !

Of course I’ll also be around just to chat, so if you see me, feel free to say hi!

(Unless I’m peopled out…or working on the novel…in which case, a wave would do….)

Story Notes for “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy”, now up at Fireside Magazine

I got a new story out! “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” is now up at Fireside Magazine, where you can read it for free, and y’all, the illustration for it…THE ILLUSTRATION!!!

I want to thank Julie Rios for taking a chance on this story, and also a big thanks to Dawid Planeta, who illustrated the story! (Did you see how he captured the jade bracelet woman?! And the basalt stone?! AAAAAAHHHHH IT’S SO AWESOME!!!)

I wrote the framework for this story five years ago as a fun writing exercise. I was trying to combine my two favorite fortune telling nursery rhymes. Monday’s Child” (Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace, etc.) and the Counting Crows rhyme  (one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, etc). For the former, I’ve always been struck by that rhyme, particularly since I was born on a Tuesday, so I’ve always tried to live my life filled with grace. Also, as a kid, I had a necklace that had “Tuesday’s Child is full of grace” engraved on it. Funny thing–even as I type these words, I’m just now realizing that that pendant was probably the basis for the coins in the story. The Counting Crows poem is popular from the band of the same name, but also from a kids book The Secret of the Seven Crows. It was a mystery that involved tracking down some treasure where the clues were pictures of crows. There was some black kids in the story but I don’t know if I want to go back and read it. if I recall, the father was going to give his kids a whoopin by ‘getting a switch from a tree’. And then something about him joking that ‘maybe he’ll just get an itty bitty switch’…

Anywho, I wanted the story to be about children and crows and then somehow it turned into a creepy weird story about crows stealing dead children and I was like “ooooookay. This is getting weird. Better put this away so it never sees the light of day.”

Then 2014 happened. Ferguson happened. Eric Garner happened. Black lives matter happened. I had a miscarriage. I lost a friend to suicide, a beloved uncle to a heart attack. My dayjob went through a major crisis. We sold and bought a house in 4 months. And basically all of 2016. I stopped writing short stories and just focused on the novel. Every once in a while, I tried to write something to process my feelings but nothing seemed adequate enough.

Then in 2017, I started to get the urge to write short stories again. I went through my old journals and stumbled across the story.  Immediately, I thought, “This isn’t about crows or dead children. This is about grief.”

From there, I finished the story in two weeks.

So yeah, this story is pretty personal to me. I’m glad it got picked up, and I’m hoping it will speak to others going through their own grieving processes. And did I tell you that I love that illustration? OMIGOSH THAT ILLUSTRATION.

Black Panther is our Lord of the Rings (SPOILERS AHOY)

Right. Right. I saw Black Panther on Friday, and I’ve been pretty much tongue-tied over it because OMIGOSH IT WAS AWESOME. Now that I I’ve had some time to process it, I want to talk about it. So SPOILERS!!!

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So there was a scene where the Jabari tribe joins Black Panther as he fights to get his throne back from Killmonger. This is after M’Baku, the leader, tells T’Challa that he’s on his own and that the Jabari will not ally themselves with him. Yeah, I knew immediately that he would be joining anway, because climatic action, yada yada yada…still awesome though.

Anyhoo, in that fight, we see W’kabi leap onto a war rhinoceros and charge towards Shuri…or T’Challa…I can’t really remember. Someone was in danger..and W’kabi’s lover, Okoye, sees this, leaps to put herself right in the rhino’s charging path…

…and the rhino not only grinds to a halt, but then gives Okoye a loving lick. Because no way is it not going to gore its favorite human…

And at that moment, I thought…

This is our Lord of the Rings.

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Remember when the Lord of the Rings came out? Specifically, the Return of the King? Remember the Haradrim? They were the robed figures done up in a Arabic style riding humongous war elephants…or oiliphants, as Samwise Gangee calls them. In the books, they’re described as ‘swarthy’ and brown-skinned’. In the books as well as the movie, they are a threat, and a fighting force wielding spears and scimitars. They fight, they get their butts kicked, and that’s about it. Unless you read the Simillarion, you don’t know much about them, and even what’s in that is pretty limited. 

I never really saw the Haradrim as African–more Arabic–but still, the Haradrim was the closest to brown people with my description in fantasy literature. Add that up with portrayals of blacks by Lovecraft (blatantly racist), or C.S. Lewis (non-existent), and it felt that blacks can only be portrayed in fantasy as either savages, or an lone exceptional example, or simply non-existent. Implied. Invisible. 

Until Black Panther.

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Yes, I know it’s a superhero movie, but there is so much fantasy in this movie. From the herb where Black Panther gets his power, to the Ancestral Plain, to the fight scenes (omigosh did you see when Okoye threw her wig in a guy’s face as a diversion tactic? DID YOU SEE THAT?! AND HER FIGHTING IN THAT RED DRESS OOOOOHHHHH) to M’baku’s kingdom in the snowy mountains…M’Baku, who was called Man-Ape in the comics, but in this movie was turned from a caricature into a living, breathing leader with the freedom to make his own choices.

And that was the whole. dang. movie.

We weren’t given cookie cutter enemies. These enemies could think and feel and love and cry. Tolkien had characters that could only be seen in black and white, good and evil. Probably the only sympathetic baddie was Gollum. But you’d never see an orc struggle with doing the right thing, because it had been raised to be nothing but evil. And that became prescribed for whoever helped Sauron out.

Black Panther, however, showed people, actual *black* people with different wants and needs on different sides, each doing things they thought were best. Even Killmonger to some extent. He did horrible things. He killed many people. He was awful, awful, AWFUL to women. (Where was his mother, anyway? What happened to her?). And yet, that scene when he goes to his own ancestral place, and confronts his father…dang….that was a *powerful* scene.

But this is getting away from me. All these brown skinned people, in a story of an own, but not as fodder, but as *real people*. That scene when the Jabari came to help Black Panther get his throne back, that was some Lord of the Rings shit right there. And it allowed all the warriors to fight for what they believe in, and in some cases, even choose not to fight. Because they had that right. Even the war rhino, instead of being some mindless creature, made the conscious choice not to kill, but to give its target a loving lick on the cheek. It was a beautiful, badass moment, and it made me tear up in happiness.

This is what I had wanted Lord of the Rings to be for those nameless Haradrim.

In my Uncanny Magazine essay, “Learning to Turn Your Lips Sideways“, I wrote, “Black authors are learning how to turn their lips sideways. We are coming out of the woodwork and getting black blackity black all up in our stories and our fairy tales and our science fiction and our fantasy. We’re writing works that tell stories that have always been told, to show that Black Lives truly do Matter, that we are more than one-notes with just a single story. That we are deep and complex and diverse.”

Black Panther is the epitome of that. And the best thing about it is that it appeals to SO MANY PEOPLE, not just black folk. Look at those box office records being smashed. This is unprecedented, and pretty much what we’ve been saying what would happen. Give people a great story, and they will watch it.

So yeah. This is a game changer. It’s unprecedented. And yeah, I know. At some point I’ll start criticizing it proper (did I mention how Killmonger really was awful to women?) but still YOOOO THIS IS OUR LORD OF THE RINGS WAKANDA FOREVAHHHHHH

(And I’m not just saying that because the only two white guys in it were also in Lord of the Rings. They were the Tolkein white guys. Get it? Get it? Aughhhh memes ruin everything….)

“There are no wrong answers” up at Podcastle

 

Remember the story I wrote for the What Fates Impose Anthology? “There are No Wrong Answers” is now up at Podcastle, read by the awesome Podcastle editors Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali and Jen R Albert.

I thought I had written up story notes for this, but for the most part, I gave the background to this story in the interview I had with with Jim C Hines back in 2013, during the promotion of the What Fates Impose anthology. I’ll let most of that stand for itself but I do want to reiterate:

  1. This was the first story I ever wrote from start to finish in 3 months.
  2. This might not be the last time we see Madame D.
  3. Yes Marty is real…

…huggably adorably real.

Go check out the story, and if you like it, go buy the anthology What Fates Impose . Lots of great stories in there and you can get it on Kindle for $1.99.

Plus, you’ll make Marti very happy.

Writing Goals for 2018

Now that I got my 2017 Year in Review out of the way, I thought I’d take a crack at making writer goals for 2018. Do you know the last time I ever sat down to make writer goals? 2009. So let’s get cracking…

Weeping of the Willows Novel: Finish final draft by March 31; Submit it by April 30
In case you didn’t see my announcement on Twitter, I finished the 3rd draft of my novel the last week of December. The 4th draft will involve cleaning it up, making it look pretty, and moving it from Scrivener to Word.

Because I want this to be a polished draft, I would like to get this done as soon as possible. So after a brief rest, I’m going to tackle it exclusively over the next few weeks. Also, I’m going to do something I haven’t done in a long time: I’m setting a hard deadline, because I want this baby to be done and out the door by the end of April. I’ll announce my progress on Twitter to keep myself on track and for you all to encourage, cheerlead, poke with me a stick, etc.

Write seven short stories/poetry. Have 10 stories on submission
Once Willow is out the door, I want to tackle getting some short stories done. I already have one in progress, but I want to get more written and on submission.

Read more books!
Doing the Lightspeed book reviews has re-ignited my book reading. Most fabulous! I want to keep it going by taking the Goodreads 2018 book challenge. I know in doing the books reviews, I’ll be reading at least 12 books, so 20 should be a good goal.

Get back into blogging more
This I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Facebook has grown less and less hospitable for writers. Going through previous posts made me realized how much I’ve missed blogging, and how I’ve neglected the Café in the Woods over the past few years. Now that I have free headspace again, it’s time to revive the blog.

Right now, because of the last Willow revision, I just will be posting updates like this one. After Willow is submitted, I want to do an overhaul of the website. I also want to revisit some past posts I’ve done.

Reconnect with YOU
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years is that I wouldn’t be a writer today without my readers. A big THANK YOU to all of those who had stuck with me this far. Once I’m done with Willow, I would like to find a way to reconnect more with readers and fans. One thing I want to look more into is Patron or maybe do something similar to the Story Calendar I did a few years back. Remember that?

There’s a lot more that I want to do, but this is a good start. See you when I start the last revision of Willow!

2017 Eligibility Post and Writing Year in Review

It’s that time once again for everyone to be posting the works they published in 2017 that are eligible for awards. And for the third year in a row, I don’t really have that much published fictionwise.

Actually, no. I take that back. I’m looking at my bullet journal Writing Management Log (one of these days, I’ll post on how I’m doing that. It’s a todo in the journal!) and hey, whatdya know! I did have a fiction piece published in 2017. The Summation of EvilCorp Subsidies HR Meeting Agenda Minutes, Compiled by Olivia Washington” was published by Fantastic Stories on January 2, 2017. This is the print version on the audio story I wrote for Podcastle, so I don’t know if it qualifies for awards, but can’t hurt to mention it.

The rest of my published works in 2017 were nonfiction. I had an essay in this year’s WisCon Chronicles40 that was based off of my Tale of Two WisCons blog post. I also wrote an essay for Uncanny Magazine, “Learning to Turn Your Lips Sideways” in their May/June 2017 issue. 

Then there are the book reviews.  I did one for Time’s Oldest Daughter by Susan W. Lyons for the Fall 2017 issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone. And of course, this year I started writing a quarterly book review column for Lightspeed Magazine 

And that’s just the published stuff. Writing wise, I pushed hard in finishing the revision of my Weeping of the Willows novel. As of today, I am revising the very last chapter. I’m hoping to finish it at this end of this month. I still have several stories out on submission, including the novella I completed in 2016. I also wrote a new short story, “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” which, much to my delight, was picked up by Fireside Fiction magazine to be published sometime in 2018. 

So yeah. 2017 was startlingly, surprisingly productive. 

As for 2018, I’m going to make that a separate post. The past few years have been pretty rough (see my 2016, 2015 and 2014 Review posts), but finally, I feel like I have enough headspace that I can sit down and plan writing goals, something I haven’t done in a long, long time. 

But first, gotta finish this draft of Willow. See you on the other side of that.