Fiction Fragments: B. Sharise Moore

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.

B. Sharise Moore is a New Jersey native and graduate of Rutgers University. Moore’s poems and short stories have appeared in several anthologies and journals such as Chosen Realities: Summer 2020, These Bewitching Bonds, and Fantasy Magazine.

At present, she is a writer/educator, curriculum designer, the host of Moore Books with B. Sharise on YouTube, and the Poetry Editor for Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. She lives in Baltimore, MD with her husband and precocious young son.

Three Questions

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 chellane@gmail.com. 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.

Fiction Fragments: David X. Wiggin

74962_812727281055_1850019726_nLast week, David Day visited Girl Meets Monster and talked about genre as a means of choosing what to read as opposed to what to write. This week, I’m joined by David X. Wiggin. David and I have never met face to face, but we belong to Facebook group of weirdos who enjoy dark humor and laughing at our own shortcomings. I’m thrilled to have David as my guest today.

David X. Wiggin barely escaped Brooklyn with his life, though he still occupies New York City. You can find his most recent fiction on Pseudopod and in Black Treacle Magazine.

Three Questions

GMM: Tell me about this “mechanical manbody”. It’s sounds intriguing and creepy. What is it and where did you come up with the idea?

DXD: So, to answer the question a little bit of background first: the idea for this story came from a photo-collage I once saw that depicted a furious dog in a military uniform (it was in an issue of the Paris Review iirc.) That image really stuck with me (as well as some dog-men that appeared in a hallucination scene in an early episode of the TV show “Millennium”) and I wanted to write a story about this furious dog-man (this is usually how a story starts for me, by the way: a particular image or song or mood germinates in me like a seed until it starts to grow branches.) As I worked on the story other ideas started sprouting about this world of anthropomorphic animals and out of that came ideas for two more races: one that was a species of humanoids that managed to be beautiful in unconventional ways (the “Ill-Mades”) and the other was birds (the “Avians.”) I’ve always been fascinated by birds in general and in trying to dream up visualizations of humanoid birds I hit on the idea of them being normal, but highly intelligent and articulate, birds that walked around using cleverly contrived puppet bodies that gave them hands, legs, etc. Think like giant robots with pilots, but clockwork and, well, human sized.

Anyway, there was something kind of decadent about that idea and birds are almost always floating above the rest of the world so I thought it made sense to make them the rulers of this world. It’s also a nice metaphor for how they’re manipulating everyone else and making others do all the work for them

GMM: Based on the strangeness of the characters, my assumption is that your story is either set somewhere in outer space on another planet. But, I don’t know what the time period is in relation to our own past. present, or future. When is this story set? Do you prefer writing about invented times and places, or do you also write about alternative Earths?

DXD: It’s another dimension, more specifically, like Narnia or any number of fantasy worlds. I was messing around with an idea that it’s a world specifically hidden within our language, but unfortunately that idea was both too complicated and pretentious for me to pull off in the end… part of the reason this remains a fragment. As for when it’s set… well one character’s name is a pretty clumsy distortion of a historical figure from our world so I’ll leave it at that.

I’m a huge fantasy nerd so I love world building, but I’m not necessarily married to stories set in made up worlds. I published an alternative earth story a while back called “The Apollo Mission” about the ancient Romans developing space travel, but I haven’t done much with alternative earths otherwise. Maybe worth considering though!

GMM: There’s clearly a political or caste structure in your story. Is it primarily between species, or is it a bit more complicated than that? The dog-like creature is a decorated military man, so I assume that there is a hierarchy within that system, and I assume that there have been wars. Do you draw any parallels between what’s happening in this SFF story and what’s currently happening in our own time on Earth?

DXD: The hierarchy is pretty basic: the Avians have tricked the rest of the world through the power of their eloquence into letting them run it. The Bestials –which the dog-like creature belongs to, and all more or less look like humanoid versions of earth animals- are the “middle class” of the world (which is called Lexis.) They do all the dirty work for the Avians. Finally, at the bottom of society are the “Ill-Mades” who are unclassifiable but come in any sort of shape and size. The Ill-Mades are the serfs and the slaves and are considered to be no more than beasts. None of this hierarchy is legitimate or based on reality, mind you. It’s all a great big trick the Avians have pulled, pitting races against each other and making them think they’re inferior. Thilter, the dog-creature, is the only one to see through this big lie and, being a power-hungry megalomaniac uses this knowledge to lead a revolt of Ill-Mades against the Avians. Which, as we can see from the opening paragraph of the story, has obviously failed.

Does this story have any parallels with what’s currently happening on our own Earth? Well, I started this story a long time ago (maybe 10 years?) so obviously it’s not based on anything specific happening right now, but yeah I’d say there are a lot of echoes with a lot of hierarchy-heavy societies throughout history — where some people are given greater power and influence than others for basically arbitrary reasons. Some people live in mansions and eat caviar for breakfast because they can move numbers on a screen around while others starve and suffer because they can’t. Or even worse some people are better off than the color of their skin. That seems no crazier to me than a world where birds are in charge because they’re birds! So yeah, obviously this story reflects a lot of my feelings about the world, but it’s not in reference to anything specific. “The world is just awful, usually for stupid reasons” is about the gist of it — whether it be our world or a world run by birds and beasts.

Lexis, by David X. Wiggin

He wanted her to kill him.

Galatea understood what he was asking –demanding-, though they’d bound his muzzle shut with thin bands of steel fused together in a flawless web of metal.  That hadn’t stopped him from trying to reason with, beg from, and curse her every one of the countless miles they had traversed.  He struggled, but despite his seven feet of height and the hundreds of jangling medals on his chest that proclaimed his martial prowess, with his arms and legs manacled and chained he was no match for her.  His furred face was a froth of frozen snot, spit, blood, and mud and his yellow eyes burned with a heat that had in the past had typically preceded the death of thousands.  He frightened her, broken and bound as he was, as he had always frightened her.  Still, she would not surrender to his will as she had in the past.  For his crimes, he didn’t deserve death.  He deserved far worse.  They both did.

On the icy slopes of Mount Tattaghata, twenty thousand feet above the earth, whipped and nipped by the spirits of cold and wind, the two figures struggled against the elements and against each other.  One was a Bestial –a giant dog-man dressed in the rags of what had once been a beautifully tailored military uniform and fifty pounds of thick chain- the other an Ill-Formed-Woman.  Though most of them were hidden beneath her heavy coat, thousands of arms of every size grew from her back and her neck like the tendrils of an anemone.  Under her spider-fur hat, a head of thin hair-arms squirmed.  Had there been anyone to see them in this desolate corner of Lexis they would have been flabbergasted by the sight of a low caste Ill-Formed treating a decorated Bestial general like a prisoner.  No doubt it would have looked like a sick joke.  And there was no question, Galatea reflected, that was precisely what it was intended to be.  Prince Owlbert was known for his cruel ironies.

It had been her first time to see the inside of the Court (she’d been in the Castle of the Moon where the Avians held their winter sessions, but that had been after Thiltre’s Phoenix Brigade had purified it with flames) and after years of black jungles and scorched earth, the jade fountains, gilded floors, and occidental perfumes drifting through the air were almost unbearable.  Though Thiltre had had to be forced to his knees, Galatea had prostrated herself with an instinctual ease that terrified her.

They had conditioned her well.  She had experienced for herself the cruelty with which the Avians had repressed other races, stripping away their freedoms of mind and body to make pliant servants.  They had built their empire upon the bloodied backs of her people.  She knew all about their petty natures and pathetic hypocrisies.  She had seen first-hand just how mortal they were.  And yet… she had entered the court shaking, not from fear of the punishment that awaited her, but of being in the presence of her masters.  They had taken so many things from her.  Things she had never had to begin with.

Prince Owlbert had leaned down from his perch atop the neck of his mechanical manbody and studied them with blinking black eyes.  Followed by the faint whistle of spinning gears and winding strings the manbody raised a jeweled hand in an elegant gesture of greeting.

“Salutations.  Be welcome to the Court of the Sun, General Thiltre,” the prince murmured sleepily.  He spoke so quietly everyone in the hall had to lean in to hear.  “It is a glory to be presented with such a stimulating novelty in our paradigmatically dull chamber.  It has been unrelenting eons since we have had a suitable divertissement.  Is that not unequivocal?”  He looked to his courtiers: cardinals, parrots, ravens, peacocks, chickens, and blue jays; a brilliant mosaic of colored heads bobbing eagerly.  Then he turned back to the prisoners.

“You have given us sufficient of provocation over the past few turnings of the sun, General,” he mused.  “Karxxango, Dell-Where, and Tompiq conquered in a fortnight.  Approaching half a million Bestials and Ill-Mades aggregated from every corner of Lexis to stand beneath your tangerine banners.  You collected victory after victory over our Silver Legions.  Those squadrons of child soldiers- Nursery Killers, I think they were called-, were they of your own inspiration?  Delightful.  Your resolution to depart the court to lead this rebellion was a veritable disappointment. You could have ascended higher than your father.  He hung himself from shame when he heard that it was you leading the rebellion you know.”

Thitlre had snickered from behind his muzzle.  His cunning yellow eyes scanned the court.  Even then he had still considered himself undefeated, imagining that his devoted followers would come rescue him, and was taking catalogue of what precious things here he would claim for himself and who he would keep alive to torture on dull afternoons.  To his credit, he had returned from worse defeats.  This time, however, he had not counted on the extent of his second-in-command’s betrayal.

Next week, writer and climbing enthusiast, Ryan DeMoss, joins Girl Meets Monster. Do you have a story you’re dying to share with the world (or at least the few people who read my blog)? Send it my way at chellane@gmail.com.