The Stories Yet to Come: Why I Write Fiction
…Because I love telling stories …. I love laughing with imaginary strangers who become my partners. I love throwing down with characters who resist oppression and carve out communities worth living. I love singing sentences about the hope and philosophy, grace and heroism, pain and generosity, of folks trying to be responsible caretakers of the planet. My highest literary principle comes from Ayi Kwei Armah’s book, The Healers, in which the healer explains his allegiance to inspiration over manipulation: “…Manipulation steals a person’s body from his spirit, cuts the body off from its own spirit’s direction. The healer is a lifelong enemy of all manipulation. The healer’s method is inspiration….”
But the advice of popular musicians also motivates me. Lionel Richie, in his song, “Sweet Love,” advises me to “put a little love in your heart/a little heart in your love.” Maurice White, in his rap closing Earth, Wind & Fire’s song, “All About Love,” demands that “if there ain’t no beauty, you gotta make some beauty.”
If a story supposed to tickle, I want you laughing. If a story supposed to picket, I want you on the front lines. If a story supposed to sex you up, I want you shivering. If a story supposed to coochie-coo, I want you dribbling on your own bib.
I know I’m reflecting — and riffing on — the Black-Southeast-D.C. “core culture” (John Langston Gwaltney’s hip phrase) that saturated me as I grew up, and that enriches, guides and challenges me to this day. But I’m absolutely sure that my stories don’t reflect some wholesale BLACK EXPERIENCE. Instead, they’ve grown from the echoes of the humane up and down, good and bad, gravy and gossip, fertilizing my personal history (and the histoies in common to many of us). None of my stories stuff stuff into Betty Crocker boxes, and I’m happy that I’m not crass enough to try. The instructions on the package would be too complex to follow anyway. Since I plan to stay Ready for Freddy, then the Blackest experiences will always be in the stories yet to come….
The Vampire Who Drinks Gospel Music
The Vampire Who Drinks Gospel Music is a series of inter-connected stories, in which Black vampires, led by their maker Sechaba, live off gospel and other Black sacred music. They are hunted by Candace, a Howard University anthropologist, and her team including an artist, police PR man, and two private eyes, Tony Brown and James Bond. The individual stories are called “The Vampire Who Drinks Gospel Music”; “The Vampires Take the Midnight Train to Georgia”; “The Vampires Hire James Bond and Tony Brown”; “The Vampires Do the Ring Shout Down by the River”; and “The Vampires Shake & Finger Pop.”
Excerpt of “The Vampires Take the Midnight Train to Georgia”
… in which Kepoka, T’Shapa, and other members of the vampire coven gather on a Georgia sea island to elect avengers for the murder of Sechaba, their maker and the first of the African vampires to leave the Mother Continent for America …
…The quiet chime had begun to ring solemnly. T’Shapa looked at Kepoka, who pulled her hand from his face, kissing her fingers. He looked to the front of the room and seriousness returned to his face. They both sighed. Reception was over. Tall tale telling ended.
Time to talk retribution, transformation, reconstitution — all the heavy concepts and rituals that also came along with the territory they walked till the end of time. It was time for this coven’s tradition of occult democracy: selection of their avenger, determination of Sechaba’s chances of rejuvenation, election of their change agents, consenting to their strategy of reconstruction of the delicate dance between invisibility and the glaring publicity the death of Sechaba and its aftermath had brought to them all.
The chime rang and they stepped in rhythm with the hundreds of other vampires to their seats in the magnificent hall forming the womb of this stone castle built during the enslavement period on an island off the coast of Georgia. This island has been kept as their sanctuary, the secret of both their presence here in the states and their tradition at home on the Continent.
The chime as much as the call of the blood pulled them into deepest reflection, deepest contemplation, about their timeless plight as both preservers and destroyers.
They were now all seated. K reached to hold T’Shapa’s ice cold hands. She squeezed back. They could hear the whisper of the sea through the stone walls. The red glow of so many eyes bathed a treasure trove of artistic images created by mortal and immortal hands, during the hundreds of years since the waves of African Arrival, including their First Ambassador, Sechaba.
Paintings. Photographs. Sculptures. Still Life. Abstracts. Icons and charms out of rock, string, rose petals, glass, wood, metal, earthenware, neon. These, and even media from outer space — moon sand, light from the sun eclipsed, ice from Saturn’s moons, dust from vagrant comets. Or so it seemed by the refraction of the sundown light straining through the stained glass windows and into the soulless eyes.
They sat and waited for the gavel from the chair of the Council of Caretakers, those among them tapped at the last conclave for the job of solving disputes, saying prayers over the dead, or guiding discussions such as this one tonight, when the subject was the murder of Sechaba, their Ancestor, their Forerunner, at the hands of a human who understood his secrets and used them against him in cold blood.
The gavel sounded.
None were there, but they all heard Sechaba’s death rage. Attuned to Sechaba the moment they became the living dead, they heard in their cells the ancient undercurrent of pain mixed with the obscene yell the mortals heard as Sechaba was impaled.
And through the eyes of Master Sechaba all coven members saw the murderers in living color: the anthropologist Candace, the artist Shelby, and their snide accomplice, Roger, the hack police flack. Felt Sechaba’s release, felt his strange mixture of feelings. Immense anger at being denied life. Ecstatic joy at being released from the Immortal Dependency. The silent promise and demand for retribution. The graceful wish for mercy on the women who had sent his Essence back to the mists of his ancient lands.
But Sechaba was their One, and to participate so impotently in his murder could not but destroy many from the inside-out, so weak, so psychically dependent were they on Sechaba. Wherever they were, the weaklings imploded in agony, collapsing until they were reduced to toxic bursts of evil thoughts and pleas for redemption to any god their humanity remembered. But Sechaba’s destruction thrust many of the stronger disciples into lustful insanity and indiscriminate blood takings.
They snatched children on playgrounds at high noon, preachers in serene meditation in the midnight hour. They slew celebrities backstage before show time, gang members raising 40s after an all night rave. They crashed the cotillions of sorors and debutantes, snuffed the worthless and worthwhile. All had fallen to shadows striking with nothing but hate for humanity burning in their mouths.
Humans had murdered Sechaba — a being they should have treasured, should have heeded despite the demands of his curse — and humans had put his corpse on ice at a secret location for study. So humans had been tainted, stained with a numbness that heightened the ripples of the pain and anguish and decay.
Now humans found themselves confronting a hard core community of teenagers who get high on death, a community whose citizens use violence as the answer for the smallest slights, the automatic weapon as the ice-breaker at house parties, the drive-by shooting as anonymous roll call for rivals to their turf, and the cellophane bag of rock cocaine as the currency for status and sex and communication between the inner city and the suburb.
And the highest interdependence between their worlds had been chewed to a bloody pulp. Sechaba’s Essence no doubt as an agonized witness, a tortured witness to the breakdown of the love/hate balance between vampire and human that he honored in his own obscene way.
For years, that balance had resulted, yes, in humans fearing their name, their need, but it had also resulted in the inhumans gaining a deeper respect for the capacity of humans to transform their fear into courage, their pain into art, their conflict into society. The inhumans were inspired to sharpen out their own traditions of respect for all life, even though the vampire was predator. Yes, these vampires always maintained reverence for the balance (and some humiliation at their plight) — until the rampage after Sechaba’s murder.
The Council of Caretakers — themselves tempted by the lust for revenge — reined their emotions, saw to the proper shuttering of Sechaba’s compound, salvaged what art and high fidelity audio equipment they could from the attack that night, and exerted all the wisdom and power they could muster to overcome the joy of death played out by their outraged coven members.
The Council leaders, Hakim, Adela, Neferata, Sombe, and LaTeisha Yvonne, eventually calmed the vampires, shamed them with holy telepathic messages of the art and music, till the killing stopped and the Call to Council could be heard.
The gavel sounded again. Together T’Shapa and Kopasetic released another sigh. LaTeisha Yvonne, her hair piled into a style full of curls, weave, and orange-frost for the occasion, cleared her throat, raised her hand and began the conference.
“Yall in the house, right? Right!”
LaTeisha Yvonne marked attendance her own way. Despite the serious moment, the group hollered back:
“You know it! You know it!”
“Ooooh, yall sounding good out there,” LaTeisha Yvonne said. “Is my girl T’Shapa here? I know she sitting with that fine Kopasetic. Where she at?”
An embarrassed T’Shapa stands and waves. Cracking up, she pulls K up beside her. LeTeisha Yvonne fans herself. The coven members applaud.
T’Shapa-Kepoka/Kepoka-T’Shapa — they were a pair even when living cross the country or oceans away from each other. LaTeisha Yvonne had only spoken what everybody else thought. T’Shapa and Kopasetic were the favorites to carry out sentence, if they accepted the mission.
But that’s getting ahead of procedure, and LaTeisha Yvonne was a stickler for procedure. On her watch, she didn’t allow no jumping to conclusions, mental invasions or bullying, nor lazy parliamentary rule bending….
Junior Baby’s Magic Deacons
Junior Baby’s Magic Deacons is a novel in the form of a comic fable about a cranky, philosophical, old Black man who drives his spiritually souped-up Packard through time and dimensions to round up the four men whose gifts he needs to save the earth from extraterrestials called Eulipians, who are bent on enslaving human kind based on a terrible secret they’ve discovered about us. Along the way, Junior Baby teaches manhood, personal integrity, and family history to his primary deacon, the headstrong, young son of Junior Baby’s best friend from Powhatan, Virginia.
Junior Baby is a Black Everyman who ‘tells’ my first book, Hand Me My Griot Clothes: The Autobiography of Junior Baby, which won the Oakland PEN Josephine Miles Award for Multicultural Literature in 1993. Junior Baby’s voice is steeped in the urban rhythms of eloquent Black males who are one cultural step removed from a community’s southern roots.
Junior Baby excerpt:
… in which Junior Baby presides over the marriage of Little Mel, his favorite ‘Be-There Man,’ to beautiful bride Balila. The couple met and fell in love during a mission to save our precious Earth, although they initially faced each other as mortal enemies. As part of the ceremony, Junior Baby tells the improbable, but inevitable, love story to wedding witnesses ….
Yall know why we done got together here. Got marriage on our mind. Bringing together two beautiful youngins. Hmm hmm. In what you might call a intergalactic relationship. Will definitely take some work, now we might as well say that right up front. This aint no Baptist marrying, like, a Jehovah’s Witness. And we know how hard that could be on a young couple, don’t we? No telling what their Saturday mornings would look like, just to mention one possible little problem.
No, my friends, marrying this couple take more than a notion. That’s why they asked me to conduct the ceremony. What with all we have been through together, well, it just seemed natural to have somebody presiding that don’t have no serious ties to, ahem, shall we say, formal ways of calling down the spirit to give blessing to the serious matters at hand, this evening.
See, a story this couple want me to tell yall. Without that story, this here ceremony, their vows, and the two, ah, extended family we tying together, just wouldn’t be complete. We need a witness in a big way, is what I’m trying to tell you.
First off, you need to meet some of my most favorite men in the world, who also happen to be the groom’s best men. They have consented to stand longside him up here, which is surely where men such as these need to be, seeing as how they are what you might call Be There Men in the first place. Hmm hmm. Be There Men. Picture that in your mind.
Now, let me first introduce Sessions Olivier here … A piano man. He got Dracula hands: can solo, and hypnotize you just like that.
And Wilber Calhoun … Don’t let that smile fool you none neither. I seen this boy stop gang fights with that face, bless his soul. Yeah Lord!
Then there’s HiLo … African born and bred. Can negotiate a bone out a hungry dog’s mouth.
Lord have mercy. Speaking on behalf of this couple, you men all do me so proud to stand here with your new sister Balila and your brother Little Mel. I know yall as happy as I am, especially since you know how this story got started. It sure didn’t seem like it was going to have a happy ending, now did it?
Especially, if the government had seen the light first and know how much of a threat it would be. I mean, the government see a light zooming from one side of the sky to the other, stop, and hover over New York City? Next thing you know they done launched a talking missile, with a nuclear video camera that can blow up the intruder and hold a press conference at the same time. No sir, by the time the government finally did see the light, so to speak, it was near too late.
Me myself, I saw it, me being an early riser and all. But truth be told, I didn’t make nothing of it. I see bright shooting stars streaking cross the sky on many a morning. At the time, this one didn’t seem no different than any other. But looking back on it, what with all the time I have spent watching Captain Kirk and Mister Spock and this and that other science fiction show, I should have been a little more open minded about the possibilities. But you get to be my age and just waking up is prize enough. Spending a whole lot of early-morning brainstorming about some light in the sky aint as important as a trip to the bathroom to check out whether or not you got all your parts working right, if you get my drift.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, everything turned out alright in the end, even though circumstances got right shaky there for a minute. The government didn’t blow nothing up. I learned to control my temper and deal with strangers. Plus, and this the best part, I got a chance to help this young man learn the truth about his self and just how much he was like — and unlike — his daddy. All in all, quite an adventure for a old sorcerer like myself. Beat a quiet retirement….