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The Farthest Frontiers: An Interview with Two Writers of Marginalized Speculative Fiction

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I spoke recently with Frank Creed and Cecil Washington. As you will see from our interview, both men are on the edges of science fiction. They write for audiences that are not considered mainstream science fiction audiences.

Cecil, you are editor and Publisher of Creative Brother , a magazine that publishes and explores speculative fiction written by black men.

CW: This is not correct. It is about people who live with or around what we call Black Culture. I do not only publish black men. I'm still waiting for a futuristic story about an Eminem type of character, other than the one I wrote called "Street Mind". I have not received one yet. Does that mean that there will be no Eminems in the future? I thought that only black people and other non-white people were in danger of disappearing.

I understand what you mean by disappearing. So often when one watches science fiction – especially the old movies — one wonders what happened to the non-whites. But that has begun to change, I think. On Amazon, for instance, there are many multicultural speculative fiction books. There are also many Christian speculative fiction books . Not as many as one would like, however. So, in the future I’ll remember that Creative Brother also publishes creative sisters.

CW:
Creative Brother's sci-fi magazine is about black people.

Frank, you are part of the Lost Genre Guild, a group that specializes in Christian speculative fiction and you also blog at A Frank Review, a blog that reviews Biblical speculative fiction. Some people consider Christian speculative fiction and multicultural speculative fiction to be marginalized speculative fiction. By marginalized I mean, "not in the mainstream." Tell me, why have you chosen to write in such marginalized areas?

CW: People fill up the Internet with complaints about the lack of black in speculative fiction. I decided to be someone who would stop complaining and start acting. I read Octavia Butler, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Nalo Hopkinson, Delaney and John Faucette. I need to get on the ball and read more of Brandon Massey. I also decided to return to writing my own stories once I stopped actively writing Hip Hop.

FC: After years of fruitless searching, I stopped looking for Biblical speculative fiction in Christian bookstores or on religious shelves. I’ve been writing since very young and eventually started to write in the genre I enjoyed reading — but with the twist of writing in a manner that is respectful of Christian values. I’ve since found that there are many fans of spec-fiction who have a difficult time finding enough novels to feed their reading habit — connecting with them is the challenge I face.

Why not simply write stories that deal with what we have in common instead of what separates us?

CW: If you honestly tell your own story, can rip apart those barriers and dig out the raw expression, the common concerns and fears all humans have will be exposed. A good story is a good story. I like reading about other cultures, why can't others read about me?

FC: I think that history has proven the melting-pot to be a false idea. Our culture is a woven tapestry — what we have in common is our hearts. I didn’t deliberately set out to include characters of other cultures — I develop the characters as I see them in my mind.

Do you write for only those who are like you? And why?

CW: I write for whoever will read it because I want to be read and make money writing and publishing.

FC: My intended audience is anyone who was raised in church, and likes a page turner — no matter where they are in life now. I have been told by non-Christians, for instance, that the characters in, and story of Flashpoint have inspired them — perhaps not enough to convert to Christianity, but at least to search for something more in their lives.

Do you think that people who are not like you, not black or not Christian, would enjoy or understand your work?

CW:
Yes.

FC: Yes, I have had reviewers indicate just that. The problem I face is that my work is labeled “Christian fiction” and that label alone may prevent someone from picking up the book and so there is a whole community of readers out there who will never get the opportunity to read my work. Part of the reason is that Christian fiction has had a reputation for slightly inferior quality. People remember the books they checked out from the church library or that they received as gifts when they were young.

True. Christian fiction does have something of a bad reputation. But, accepting that you are indeed writing Christian fiction and good Christian fiction, wouldn't non-Christians think you're trying to preach at them? Cecil, would white readers think you're trying to preach to them or even to malign them? Frank, the same question.

CW: Some will, some won't, based on their own issues. One white reader told me I should have put more drug use in my first book because it reminded him of a dystopian story he read years ago where people got high all of the time. People are going to read into things what they want to read into them. All I want to do is tell a good story.

FC: A fiction author’s first job is to entertain. Nobody reads fiction for a sermon. If it's not about character and setting, people will stop reading. If a reader cannot identify with judgmental characters, yeah, they will feel maligned. Communicating Christ's love, reaching people where they're at in life, is all about the Golden Rule — do unto others.

Folks can be very uncomfortable with stories that deal with religion and race.

CW: That's probably why those are the good stories. Cannibalism and murder also disturb people. And let's not forget about sex. Shall we stop writing about things that humans are prone to do? If we do, we'll bore our readers.

FC: I'm hoping my novels will cross over to seekers, but the Underground series is doomed to sit on religious fiction shelves, away from the eyes of sci-fi readers. I pray the end-times sci-fi concept captures interest and catches on. At book signings with other authors, I will take any opportunity to cruise the sci-fi shelves and talk to readers about Christian spec-fiction — most are very surprised that it exists and many immediately want to know more about it.

Do you consider your enterprises successful? Relatively speaking, that is. Do you have many readers?

CW: I have few readers. I want more. I'd like to be able to make a fortune from my enterprise. But, despite the few readers I go on because I know there is at least one magazine, mine, that is about black people in sci-fi/horror/fantasy settings.

FC: I founded the Lost Genre Guild to promote Biblical speculative fiction (most people don’t know what that is, so please check Wikipedia — a guild member wrote the definition), and I cannot believe the number of lives that have been touched. If the Boss strikes me down tomorrow, I've already lived dream one.

I just checked out the Wikipedia article. That’s a very good historical recap of Biblical speculative fiction.

FC: My own short fiction has only been published in two anthologies — I’m nobody. I work in a factory. My first novel Flashpoint: Book One of the Underground, will be released on September 30, by The Writer's Café Press. Most of my readers have been reviewers for Flashpoint’s advanced review copy. I leaned on my publisher to make Christian-pirate novelist ML Tyndall (Legacy of the King’s Pirates series) my front cover blurb. My three favorite novelists are George Orwell, CS Lewis, and ML Tyndall — so having my only living favorite novelist on my front cover is dream two.

On September 30, my third dream will be realized. I was eight years old when I knew I wanted to write storybooks — dream three took 33 years.

Will you be content with a certain kind of niche audience for your works? Or are you aiming for fame in the larger marketplace?

CW: Again, I'd like to be able to make a fortune from my enterprise. I'm sure that people who are classified as black are not the only people who support black products. Do only Chinese people each Chinese food? Do only white people listen to Mozart? Do only black people listen to James Brown?

FC:
I hope sci-fi readers find me, but they don't look for their favorite fiction on religious shelves. I’ll be content with whatever he gives me: Christian science fiction is nonexistent as a subgenre, so if I'm ever able to pay the mortgage with fiction it will be a miracle.

Do you believe you're working from outside the mainstream in order to change the mainstream? Or don't you care about mainstream speculative fiction at all?

CW: I believe I'm working outside of the mainstream because the mainstream is not publishing me. If they published me, I'd stop working outside of the mainstream. You'll have to ask the mainstream why I'm outside of it. If I waited around for the magic blessing of mainstream publishing I'd never write anything.

FC:
The big publishing houses have bought out most of the small Christian imprints, so I just hope to make a difference for my subgenre. As a reader through my whole life, I was so tired of only finding the atheist worldview presented in science fiction. According to Writer's Digest, religious fiction in general is predicted to be the big growth market in coming years. Cecil and I are in the right place.

Frank, have you ever read any speculative fiction by Black authors? Cecil, would you read white Christian speculative fiction? Have you read any?

CW: The nuns of St. Mary's Piscataway made sure I found out about C.S. Lewis when I was in elementary school. Barring that, I read whatever I think is good.

FC:
[smiling] Most of the science fiction I've read was in paperback form, and paperbacks don't usually include author pictures. For all I know, these people were green!

What are your current projects?

CW: I've been writing poetry and just completed recording a rap song in my cousin's studio. I'm also working on a short story and the next issue of Creative Brother.

FC: I am working with role-playing game designer Mike Roop on a RPG based on Flashpoint; at the same time I am writing the sequel to it as well as collaborating with a small group of people who are writing in the Underground setting.

Thank you so much for the interview and good luck with your enterprises.

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  • Constance

    Good article. I may have to put aside my own stigma over Christian spec fiction and check out Frank’s new book.

  • http://frankcreed.com Frank Creed

    Carole–
    Thanks for a great interview. Looking forward to working with both you and Cecil in the future.

    Constance–
    I do hope you read and enjoy.

    Faith,
    f