Everyday Heroes & Villains - The Melting Pot
I once read somewhere that we are each the hero of our own story. This turn of phrase always makes me wonder: if we are the hero of our own story, does that make us the villain for someone else? I mean, after all, in an argument between two people doesn’t each person perceive their stance to be the most correct or even the most just?
My parents taught me to always be kind and courteous, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because you never know what the next person is going through. You never know what trials are in their midst or which villain they have succeeded or failed to slay. Over the years, I’ve seen that a small kindness can make someone’s day in the same way that a small slight or cruelty can spark the hot flame of rage.
In both of the stories I’ve selected this month, the lead characters reach a point where they must choose the path towards the light or the path towards darkness. Regardless of their choice, they are both heroes.
Let’s add the sweet flavors of kindness and some bitter roots of revenge to The Melting Pot.
The story starts with a simple task for Charles Thomas Tester: deliver a book to an old woman in Queens. But this book wasn’t a common paperback and the old woman was far older than she appeared. Thus begins The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. This novella turns the tables on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook by providing an African-American protagonist. It richly illustrates the everyday slights inflicted by the period correct racial norms and attitudes, while providing a feeling for the sense of community created in each of the featured neighborhoods and boroughs.
As I’ve said in this column before, I typically don’t do creepy, but LaValle paints such a lusciously dark New York underbelly garnished with whispers of forbidden magic and hidden histories… I simply HAD to keep listening to find out what would happen next. (I bought the Audible version of this book to listen to during my walks. Trust me when I say I reached and surpassed my step goal every day!) I enjoyed it so much, I bought the paperback for my favorite book shelf to study setting and mood for my own writing.
Tom is a long-suffering empathetic character who refuses to be victimized. Be prepared to be some mix of happy, shocked, and horrified by his choices, but in the end you will be more than satisfied with the story’s ending.
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn't there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father's head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?
I’ve touched on Afrofuturism in previous columns and here is another fine example of speculative fiction, but this one is rooted in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Mr. Walker’s story starts with a simple question: What if every person of African descent in the United States woke up one day speaking a new language that only others of African descent could understand? The even more subtle, yet provocative question is: What happens when people who don’t physically look like they are of African descent find themselves only being able to speak this new language, too?
WOW – talk about a WILD RIDE! Ooga Booga is full of so many twists and turns, you’ll have a few late nights reading to find out what happens on the next page. Written with the pacing of a jack rabbit, I devoured this book in no time flat. This story raises timely questions about representation, the treatment of women in leadership roles, and the influence of corporate money on our political system. You will swing from happy to sad to mad over some of Vanessa Landing’s decisions and how she is ultimately treated, but the twist on the very last page is a real winner.
If you like stories with loads of twists and characters that straddle the fence between good and bad, you should also check Mr. Walker’s debut novel: Pretty People Are Highly Flammable.
Ooga Booga by Gerry Walker
OOGA BOOGA by Gerry Walker is one of the first fictional renderings of the #BlackLivesMatter movement told via a speculative, futuristic lens:
It has been a few years since the deaths of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland.
A mysterious condition invades the U.S., erasing the Black individual’s ability to speak any known languages. A bizarre new dialect has surfaced instead. Unable to comprehend their surroundings, they take to the streets and do what they can to survive. This sparks nationwide panic, triggering a government mandate to capture Black people and transport them to isolation camps.
Marketing executive Vanessa Landing risks everything to fight for their freedom, not realizing the web of deception awaiting her, nor the liberating love that will transform her from an insecure corporate pawn into the fierce warrior she was meant to be.
Columnist: C. Morgan Kennedy
I have a confession to make. I’m a time traveler. I love flinging myself into the future, then hurtling fast to an alternative past. In my usual time-space-dimension, I’m a mechanical engineer and business woman. So, I have a natural penchant for hover cars and steam or aether powered engines. Though I was born in the wrong era, I’m actually a child of the sixties – 1860, 1960, 2060.
My stories feature strong women, who know how to wield their minds like weapons. Their men are smart and often controlling….but, rest assured, my female leads give them a run for their money. They strive to follow their hearts and dreams for the betterment of themselves and their loved ones. Like my life, all of my stories feature a diverse cast of characters.
With my business partner, Therese Patrick, I work to demystify marketing principles for my author friends. Our first book, Author Marketing 101 Guide & Journal, was published by Gazebo Gardens Publishing and released in October 2013.
Steampunk, futurist, blerd, artist, author, and marketing maven…a real creative force of nature – that’s me in a nutshell.
Keep tabs on my adventures via my blog, Morgan’s Mix Tape, on my website: http://www.cmorgankennedy.com.