I know I said I was taking a short hiatus in my last post featuring Eva Roslin, but I wanted to feature one more writer before I take a longer break from Fiction Fragments.
This week, Girl Meets Monster welcomes speculative fiction writer B. Sharise Moore. Her soon to be released novel, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars, is now available for pre-order.
GMM: Welcome to Girl Meets Monster, B Sharise. So glad I finally have a chance to chat with you. Let’s just dive right in. Tell me about your new book, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars. First, I’m excited about the time period you’ve chosen. The 1920s was an exciting decade here in the United States with lots of historical context to draw from. Since this is speculative fiction, specifically Steampunk (Steamfunk?), how much world building did you do for the book? Did you keep settings, events, and people closely tied to actual history, or is your book alternate history? What kind of research did you do for characters, settings, cultural objects, etc.?
BSM: Thank you so much for having me! I did quite a bit of world building for this novel and I’d say it’s both alternate history and closely tied to actual history. As a child, I was totally enamored with Michael Jackson. In the early 80s, he recorded a song with Paul McCartney entitled, “Say, Say, Say.” The song’s video features a medicine show and a vaudeville act. This video was my introduction to the early 20th century and it stayed with me.
When I began writing the book, I researched early Black magicians. I was amazed with all the rich history I uncovered. It blew my mind that I’d never heard of any of it before. Black Herman was the first magician I found. His story is so intriguing. In fact, Black Herman was not only a magician, but a staunch follower of Marcus Garvey. He incorporated Black Nationalism into his magic act. Ellen Armstrong was the very first Black woman magician in the United States. She and her father traveled the country together in their joint magic show. These two figures were direct inspirations for Dr. Marvellus Djinn.
I am also a huge fan of amusement parks. I’ve loved them since I was a child. While researching Ellen Armstrong and Black Herman, I stumbled upon Suburban Gardens. Suburban Gardens was a Black owned and operated “Colored Amusement Park” in Washington, DC. When I began writing the novel, I was working in Washington, DC. I was stunned to find that I drove past the park’s original location each day for work. It was mind-boggling. There were several Colored Amusement Parks scattered throughout the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. For more information, pick up Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America by Victoria W. Wolcott. My husband gifted me the book for my birthday a few years ago. It is the cornerstone of my world building.
In addition to settings/places, I’ve included several historical figures in the novel, some well-known and others more obscure. Brenda Banneker, one of the four odd scholars, is the great-great niece of Benjamin Banneker. She’s also inherited his engineering and science acumen. Elliot Just is a budding chemist. He is the son of Ernest E. Just, a founder of Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Inc., and an accomplished biologist.
Essentially, Dr. Djinn’s Motherland Amusement Park of Magic and Mythological Creatures was inspired by Suburban Gardens. In the book, Dr. Djinn’s park has been funded by Marcus Garvey and designed by H.D. Woodson, the Black architect responsible for Suburban Gardens and parts of Union Station. The Motherland has a “Grand Menagerie” of African mythological creatures on its premises. I studied lots of folklore to gather the information I needed to include these obscure creatures in the story. JStor and Google Scholar were my primary sources for that information.
GMM: Where did the idea for the book come from? Are you writing about new characters, or have you written about these characters before? Is this book part of a series?
BSM: The idea sprung from my love of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This is the book that made me love reading. I read the book several times and longed to find a golden ticket (lol). I was always disappointed that not a single non-White person won a golden ticket and I vowed to write a book where the Black kids could visit the mysterious factory. In my case, the chocolate factory is Dr. Djinn’s Amusement Park.
I love this world I’ve created. It’s fun. It’s magical. And it’s full of possibilities. I’ve written a one act Dr. Djinn play that I hope to direct as a dinner theater here in Baltimore some time in the future and I’ve written a YA novel in verse that focuses on Lotus Wise, Dr. Djinn’s granddaughter who is coming to grips with her abilities as a conjure poet in present-day Baltimore. I’ve also written three short stories featuring characters from the Dr. Djinn world. My short story, The Lover, the Brother, the Jeweler, and the Ring was published in Chosen Realities: DWASF Journal No. 1, last summer. I am currently brainstorming Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars, Book Two. I’ve also written a compendium of African mythological creatures based on my research. That book is called, Fangs, Feathers, and Folklore: Africa’s Amazing Beasts. It is currently being acquired by a traditional publisher.
GMM: How do you view your writing? Where does it fit in terms of genre? Who is your imagined audience while you’re writing? As an educator who teaches writing, how does your own process differ from what you teach your students? What is your number one writing tip for students, either novices or experienced writers? Are you able to talk a little bit about your latest teaching opportunity with New York City schools?
“Writing across genres is valuable. It’s like making sure you’re working out all your muscles at the gym. There’s leg machines and elliptical machines and free weights. Writing across genres tightens up the writing.”
BSM: Writing is my freedom. I have never seen writing creatively as a burden. It makes me happy. I write across genres because Ntozake Shange, one of my biggest inspirations, wrote choreopoems, plays, poetry, and novels. She was incredible. Because of her, I write poetry, short fiction, novels, essays, and plays. I am also starting to dabble in a little screenwriting. Writing across genres is valuable. It’s like making sure you’re working out all your muscles at the gym. There’s leg machines and elliptical machines and free weights. Writing across genres tightens up the writing.
When teaching writing, I expose my students to several different processes. My job is to guide them, not shape them into me. I am fine with my students being either plotters or pantsers. I am okay with them brainstorming their characters before taking a deep dive into the worlds they’re creating. I just want them to write. Years ago, I took a fantastic class with Tananarive Due, another one of my favorite writers. She recommends a sentence a day because it always spirals into more. That is my writing tip to students. You can’t edit a blank page. Right now, I am a writer/educator with Uptown Stories. Uptown Stories specifically seeks out writers to guide young people on their writing journey. I am free to design my own curriculum and student work is published in an amazing anthology at the close of each semester. I taught a class on Dragons from around the world this past winter and I am currently teaching a class on World building now. Tomorrow, I will be teaching the Dragons course to a group of middle school students in New York City. It’s an opportunity I didn’t see coming. As a public school teacher for twelve years, I never witnessed outside instructors being hired to teach anything. However, hybrid learning has changed the landscape of education. And though I believe in-person learning is important, I am ecstatic with the opportunities it provides for expanding our reach as educators.
From the forthcoming novel, Dr. Marvellus Djinn’s Odd Scholars by B. Sharise Moore
The Kleptomaniac Inventor
Charleston, SC 1920
After three grueling hours of demonstrations, the contestants finally reached the end of Charleston’s Juvenile Ingenuity Competition. A cluster of wooden tables covered with cogs, gears, and other mechanical instruments formed a circle under a pavilion in the middle of the marketplace. Brenda watched in silence as Dr. Djinn inspected her latest invention in the palm of her hand. No more than two inches in length, the contraption had a steel outer shell with a slender glass barrel inside. Minuscule wires looped around the bottom and an inch-long syringe poked from its end. Tiny copper buttons covered the barrel’s side. Brenda cracked her knuckles behind her back.
“Never seen anything like it,” Dr. Djinn said under her breath. “What’s it made of?”
“Ninety-two percent inox. Copper, wire, and glass make up the remaining eight percent.” Brenda cleared her throat. “Inox is steel. It’s lightweight and resistant to staining.”
Dr. Djinn looked in the direction of a tall man at her side with ink-black skin. He responded with a stiff nod. She turned back to Brenda. “Demonstrate.”
Brenda took the contraption out of the magician’s palm. “It’s a siphoning mechanism.” Her eyes settled on a jar dangling from the man’s belt. Now and again, its contents would bubble and flash as if possessed by some unseen force. She motioned toward it. “May I use the jar?”
Gasps and chatter tore through the gathering. The man’s eyes grew wide. “Only a Taint—someone with magic blood, can properly handle the contents of a Soul Jar—”
“This is an ingenuity competition, Professor Blue.” Dr. Djinn rubbed her palms together. “If anything goes wrong, we can deal with it. Let’s see what she can do.”
The Professor stared at Dr. Djinn through narrowed eyes. “Very well.” He threw her a side-long glance. “But we must protect our potential Scholars at all costs. We both know what’s inside that Jar.” His West Indian lilt floated through the heavy Charleston air as he lifted the clasp on his belt.
Brenda watched as he sat it on the table in front of her. The audience crept forward, tightening around them.
With the utmost care, she balanced her invention between her thumb and index finger and pressed one of the buttons on its side. A tiny blue flame emanated from the syringe, gradually penetrating the glass. The Jar rattled and screeched. Out of the corner of her eye, Brenda could see Professor Blue reaching for it as Dr. Djinn blocked his efforts.
After the syringe cleanly broke through the glass, Brenda pushed another button. Instantly, the mucous like substance from the Soul Jar filled the glass barrel. With a subtle click, the syringe retracted and the tiny opening in the Jar closed like a healed wound. Brenda reached for the glass barrel, now filled with demonic fluid.
“The barrel is heat and cold resistant. You can use it to inject or draw out poison or any substance you’d like.” She held the barrel up high. “I call it a Fire Needle.”
Dr. Djinn tipped her top hat, bright green like her tuxedo. “Well done, young lady.”
Resounding applause and whistles rippled through the crowd as Brenda replaced the barrel inside the Fire Needle with a click, injected the goo back into the Soul Jar, and pushed it toward the Professor.
Blue reattached it to his belt loop and gave her a small smile. “Impressive.”
Dr. Djinn raised an arm up high, silencing the chatter.
“Thank you all for your inventions. Each of you has mesmerized, inspired, and surprised me this afternoon. After a one-hour intermission, I will announce the winner of the Juvenile Ingenuity Competition and our second Odd Scholarship.”
Back at her station, Brenda glanced at her stopwatch, reached for her briefcase, and dismantled her invention, piece by piece. A tiny woman squeezed through the crowd and hurried toward her.
“A whole hour, Aunt Squeak!” Brenda huffed as the woman reached her side.
“Patience Beebee, patience.” Squeak rubbed her shoulder.
Brenda frowned at the invention, now a pile of tiny cogs and screws. “It shouldn’t take an hour to make a decision.”
“They want to make sure they choose well,” Squeak said. “The competition is top notch.”
Brenda turned back to her briefcase and pushed a button on its side. The case popped open to reveal a slew of flaps, snaps, buttons, and drawers. Tiny lights blinked on and off in a strange rhythm. After she unzipped a felt-lined pocket, she scraped the parts of the Fire Needle inside.
“Your uncle loved that briefcase.” Aunt Squeak stared at the contraption with a longing in her eyes.
Brenda nodded; her eyes fastened to the pile of mechanical parts. She opened another drawer soaked in ultra-violet rays.
“Seeing you here and doing such a fantastic job—” Squeak dabbed at her eyes with a lacy kerchief.
“I know. I know. Uncle Rufus would be proud,” Brenda sighed. Squeak stuffed the kerchief in her purse. “Sure would,” she sniffled.
Do you have a fiction fragment? How about your friends? Would you like to recommend someone to me aside from yourself? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fiction Fragments will be on a short hiatus (I mean it this time). Stay tuned, and see you soon!
Guidelines: Submit 500-1000 words of fiction, up to 5 poems, a short bio, and a recent author photo to the e-mail above.