Shadows Over Cymande: The Complete First Season

Now that I’ve got the first season of Shadows Over Cymande done with, I suppose it’s as good as time as any for me to try and explain what I’m doing with this series, where it’s going and how it came to be in the first place.

Why did it start? Well, if you’ve been a Patron of mine for a while and before that you know my work from my Frontier period then you know how dedicated I am to presenting online serialized fiction. I don’t know why that is and someday I’m going to have to sit down and try to figure it out for myself but I’ve been committed to telling serialized stories ever since I first discovered The Internet. I spent a lot of years in DC/Marvel fan fiction writing serialized stories about my favorite superheroes and I enjoyed it immensely. Fan fiction was a good way for me to keep the creative juices flowing when I got stuck on a piece of original fiction. And since I considered it highly unlikely that either DC or Marvel was going to come knocking on my door and offer me a job, it was a fun way to tell the superhero stories I always wanted to read. I also made a lot of good friends. Many of whom I still work with and socialize with to this day.

So, when I started up this Patreon thing, I naturally intended to use it as a way to tell serialized stories that in some ways would be me experimenting with storytelling in a way I thought would be more entertaining that just presenting it as a novel.

Of course, there’s the whole ethical angle of me experimenting on your dime when I’m supposed to be entertaining you but we’ll put that to the side for awhile.

Shadows Over Cymande was born out of my love of Soap Operas, believe it or not. I grew up during the 1970s and 1980s when Soap Operas were the primary daytime television entertainment. And for a time there, we even had nighttime Soap Operas such as “Dallas” “Falcon Crest” and the wildly successful “Dynasty”. The daytime Soap Operas are almost all gone, now. I think only two or three are still hanging in there, including “General Hospital” which was one of the daytime Soap Operas that is a huge influence on Shadows Over Cymande

There was a period during the 1980s where “General Hospital” was the craziest, most batshit insane pulp action adventure cliffhanger serial you ever saw. Luke and Laura Charles (played by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis) along with superspy Robert Scorpio (Tristan Rogers) and ace reporter Jackie Templeton (played with a ruthless kind of feistiness by Demi Moore. Yes, that Demi Moore) ran around the city of Port Charles getting embroiled in wild adventures that came straight out of comic books and 1940s Saturday cliffhangers, culminating into the classic “Ice Princess” storyline which saw our heroes battling the wealthy yet insane Cassidine family bent on world domination who had at their disposal a weather machine they intended to use to freeze the Earth if they didn’t get their way. Believe me when I say that for a few years there, “General Hospital” was unlike any other Soap Opera on daytime TV what with its mad scientists, secret societies, hidden cities within cities, ruthless crime bosses, fights, captures, chases, explosions and fates worse than death. And mind you, this was every day.

In fact, the show was so popular it attracted a whole lot of really world renowned actors and actress who showed up either in cameos or small supporting roles. Culminating in a genuine Film Icon, Elizabeth Taylor herself appearing as Helena Cassidine, matriarch of The Cassidine Clan looking for revenge against Luke and Laura for foiling her husband’s plans to freeze the world.

And then there’s “Dark Shadows” It started out as a Gothic melodrama and didn’t really take off until a year after it’s debut when Jonathan Frid took center stage as the vampire Barnabas Collins. It didn’t take long after that until we also had werewolves, witches, warlocks, zombies and all sorts of monsters running around Collinsport. And if that wasn’t enough, the writers threw in concepts such as parallel universes and time travel. “Dark Shadows” even flirted with Lovecraftian themes with the “Leviathans” storyline, heavily influenced and inspired by Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos.” And just like “General Hospital” this batshit insanity was on the tube five days a week.

In fact, the first scene of Episode One of Shadows Over Cymande is intended as a homage to the first scene of the first episode of “Dark Shadows” which has the heroine Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) arriving by train to the mysterious town of Collinsport, located in Maine. My heroine Alexandrea Ainsley similarly arrives by train to the mysterious city of Cymande in South Carolina. 

And on top of that, for years I’ve been taking notes about ideas for a series of novels involving two African-American families of great wealth, power and influence with lineage going back to the Civil War and their rivalry from the days of slavery to the 21st Century. I envisioned it as a John Jakes type of multi-generational epic series of novels. But after a few years I realized that this was a genre I simply wasn’t hardwired to write. For one thing, it would take tons of research and quite frankly, I’d rather be writing than doing research. I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for writers who can spend years doing pure research before writing Word One but I’m not that breed of writer.

But somewhere along the line I got the bright idea that maybe I could smoosh all of these ideas/concepts together and come up with something halfway readable. Judging by the fact I have not as yet gotten an email from my patrons demanding to know What Is This Shit? and Can I Have My Money Back? I guess I’m safe for the time being.

So why not call the first twelve episodes Book One instead of Season One? Mainly because unlike the other serials that are running here, I currently have no plans as yet to publish Shadows Over Cymande as a novel. It’s going to be running here exclusively on my Patreon for a good long while. And if I think of each twelve-episode arc as a Season that will enable me to build certain storylines organically and manage the huge cast of characters much better. So far, I’ve got five Seasons planned. But that could change and it could go longer. Or something else could happen and I end it sooner. These days I like to be extremely loose with my writing plans. Makes me feel less constrained.

So, we’ve met most of our main and supporting characters in Season One and been introduced to the Redfern and Jalmari families. The Redferns are deep into highly advanced technology that almost seems…well, alien or magical in nature while the Jalmaris have connection to…Something Else.

(Cue ominous music)

Even though we now know who killed Carol Baylor and Walter Pinckney, there’s still a lot about the why they were killed that still has to be uncovered. As well as the words the unconscious Carole said to Isaiah Jalmari. And what happened to Sheriff Mark Francis? Why did David Redfern just suddenly disappear? Why was he spying on his family? Why does Cab Westminster have a retro secret office straight out the 1950’s in his basement and why is he typing up reports on everything that happens in Cymande?

I promise I won’t be stringing out these mysteries for long. But the thing about writing something like this is that for every mystery that’s solved, it seems to give birth to two more that need to be solved.

If you’re at all curious as to what this is all about then just bounce on over to my Patreon site. Shadows Over Cymande: The Complete Season 1 is available in both Epub and Mobi formats I hope this has enhanced your understanding and hopefully enjoyment of Shadows Over Cymande. And if not, let me know and I’ll take another whack at it and we’ll see where we’re at.

You can find my Patreon site HERE and besides Shadows Over Cymande there’s plenty of other goodness such as Dillon and The Island of Dr. Mamuwalde and One Night In Denbrook to enjoy if you’re so inclined to part with a couple bucks a month to check it out.

My Thanks to Perry Constantine for his technical assistance in preparing the ebook version and his most excellent cover design.

And as always, Thank You for your time, your patronage, your interest and support in my work and may God continue to bless you and yours. Stay safe and be good to yourself and others.

Kickin’ The Willy Bobo With…BERTRAM GIBBS

Derrick Ferguson: It’s been three long years since we did this last so we have to do this obligatory bit of business for the people that came in late. So here we go: Who Is Bertram Gibbs?

Bertram Gibbs: Husband, father, writer, brutally sarcastic curmudgeon, cinema, television, and comic book historian, purveyor of true crime stories, collector of oddities. 

DF: Where do you live and what do you tell the IRS it is that you do for your cheese and crackers? 

BG: While I am always saying/reminding people I’m from the Bronx, New York, I live in Lynn, Massachusetts.  I do issue the warning that I have constructed an electrified moat around my home (oft referred to as ‘The Psychedelic Shack’) and is guarded by a bevy of attack gerbils.  That’s on top of my rescue pup and three cats. Regarding the felines, one is a spastic germaphobe, one constantly retreats to the basement to work on her thermo-nuclear device, and the last one sits calmly, staring and plotting the demise of us all.

DF: One of the things that intrigued me about you right from the start is your background so yes, I’m gonna make you tell the folks at home about it. Proceed.

BG: OH, C’MON!!!

My rapier wit, my brutal sarcasm (re-mentioned in case the readers skipped over the first part), my near-encyclopedic knowledge of films, my love of comic books, and my cinematic writing style which lets the readers ‘see’ the story they’re reading.  But originally, we crossed paths when I was writing for Curtis Fernlund’s Justice League fan fiction site where he was great and righteous enough to publish a novel I wrote (that DC/Warner wouldn’t) in monthly installments (The Return of BWAH-HAH-HA, for those who came in late).  It was a team-up story with a lot of cameos from the DC heroes’ roster.  I decided to let Plastic Man, The Blue Beetle (Ted Kord) and Booster Gold go after Lex Luthor, using their combined powers of annoyance.  This was done in the 80s period where super heroism was mixed with outlandish comedy.  I tried to do all the characters justice and threw a few comedic moments that the DC writers didn’t come up with.

DF: How long have you been writing?

BG: YEESH!  If you want photographic proof of when I started, there’s a pic of me at 4 years old, frowning in front of a typewriter (I’ve aged of course, but the frowning rictus remains the same).  If you asked Ma, she would say it was about the time I learned to read on my own; which was at 3.  Ma had read me comics since I was aware enough to question the bubbles above the superheroes.  One day, after a bedtime story, I complained (yeah; I’ve been doing that since birth) that I didn’t like the story.  She said, ‘So, go write one!’  Been writing ever since.

Ma was my biggest fan and harshest critic.  I would sit in my room, writing in longhand, finish the dozen or so pages and pass it to her for review.  She would sit in her chair, a cup of tea on the ever-present folding TV tray next to her chair, going over page after page until she was done.  One of two things would happen: Ma would either tell me she liked it, commenting on the plot, the story structure, the characters, then give a few tips on how I could improve it.  Or, she would lock eyes with me, take a sip of tea, then tear the sheets of paper in half, then in haves again, telling me why the story didn’t work, if it seemed like I used a known character or one from something else I wrote, or if it was crap to begin with, then proceed in telling me why she felt it was crap.  All the while smiling under her dark eyes and speaking in her soft Lauren Bacall voice.  Which could also go full New York with a Jewish twang.

True, the latter could be ego-blitzing, but living in a sarcastic environment, where the digs flew like a flock of insane geese, it thickened my skin.  And helped me deal with rejection.

Quick Ma story showing her caustic remarks weren’t just meant for the family: She had to go through a parents/teacher’s night and each one (there were eight in total) said that I was attentive, had my homework down, always willing to help out, polite, always had my hand raised with an answer, and things like that.  Ma got bored of hearing the stings of praise by the third teacher.  The last one said basically the same thing as the others, except she added, ‘When Bertram was born, they broke the mold!’  Ma said in her dangerous monotone, ‘And to make sure there were no duplicates, we backed a truck over the pieces.’

DF: In the three years since we last did this, have you found an audience for Bertram Gibbs or have they found you?

BG: A little bit of each.  I’ve been passing my stories around to different people; professionals and John Q Public.  The civilians really like them; so did some of the professionals, but not enough to publish them because they did not fit into a particular literary niche.  And because my stories read like a film instead of a book, the few professionals who responded felt they were off-putting because I did not adhere to a particular format.

Between the end of last year all the way into the Spring, a filmmaker asked to do a film adaptation of The First Thing We Do.  Because I lack the talent to do screenwriting, the gent happily took on that task.  What came from that was very disconcerting.

He had merged one or two characters, changed the gender on one, removed key murders, altered the motivation of the villain, as well as the ending, and because the story revolves around my two NYPD Homicide detectives, Desmond Fine and Frank Costa, versus them being equals, he tried to make one the older, senior detective and the other the newbie on the force.  That caused a bit of a back and forth brouhaha between us because I explained – repeatedly – that a pairing of that type was an overused film trope that went back to Kirk Douglas’ ‘The Detective’. 

Then it occurred to me that even if he changed the characters and the events from the book for a film, it did not change what I wrote in any way.  I decided to allow him to make whatever changes he wanted to (within reason) because if/when the film came out, it would turn people towards the book.  The readers would see what as written versus what they saw and determine which was done better.

End result: he couldn’t get the funding to get the production off the ground.  That equally saddened and overjoyed me.  Sure, I was disappointed, but felt that if the book was in the right hands, and the time was right, a film would be made based on my story and characters one day.

DF: The world has changed in extraordinary ways in the past three years. How has it affected your writing? Has it affected it at all?

BG: If anything, the dark paranoia and tenuous nature of the world; especially 2020, has spurred my imagination.  Part of my work has more of a cynical edge, and part has more humanity running through it.  Many I know are going through anger issues, anxiety attacks and increasing bouts of worry and depression.  But they are what they are and even as bad or horrific as they are – in my mind – they’re only temporary.  We have gone through troubling times and have gotten over them.  WW1, WW2, the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars. The assassination of both Kennedys, King, Malcom.  9-11. The Oklahoma bombing.  Waco. School shootings, mass murders. The murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, and others. And on.  And on.  Ad infinitum.  I am old enough to remember them all.  That said, I am fully aware of the social and political unrest that appears on the news every other minute, but throughout it all, I am hopeful.  We, as humanity, have come out of each one a little more cynical, but – for the most part – on the better side.  Maybe not as complete as we’d like it, but they’re stages in our being.  It’s an understanding that we, as a society, are broken.  And we’ve known this all along, but now and once again we have to face the shattered pieces and fix it.

Which is why I write.  I create worlds where this; our reality, doesn’t exist.  And if it does, it does in a somewhat different way.  Despite the dark, weird and otherworldliness of my stories, there’s a degree of hope at the end.  And if there isn’t, the ‘bad guy’ gets their due.  Either way, I like to see my stories as a distraction to our day to day.  Something to take your mind away, if only for a few minutes.  To give you a moment of peace so you’re not dwelling on what’s going on around you.

DF: Whenever I recommend your work to anybody I always tell them to start with THE FIRST THING WE DO… is that fair of me?

Some months back, I would have said yes, but these days, no.  To clarify that answer, I have to tell you a story, and we all know that stories are a part of life.

When I first met my publisher, the company published ‘Reflections From the Abyss’.  Because of my aversion to sequels and feeling that if you can tell a story the way you want it, it should be a one-and-done.  That is how I wrote ‘Reflections’.  The publisher demanded a follow-up story and because the book had a finite ending, there was no logical way to create a ‘next chapter’.  But the requests continued and my imagination led me to think in a cinematic way.  Like in films, you could do a prequel; a story that happened before the story.  So, using my detectives, Desmond Fine and Frank Costa, I came up with an earlier case that became ‘The First Thing We Do’.  After that was published, the kinks in the fabric started to show.

Seeing that how I ended ‘First’ did not refer chronologically to how ‘Reflections’ began, I knew I had to write a bridging piece that tied both works together.  That story is called ‘The Cup of Their Deservings’.  At the same time, the publisher began to make very drastic changes in how their author’s work was to be published (marketing, the cost of book covers – which had to be from their house artist -, editing, the actual publishing, and how the nut fell into the author’s lap).  While I debated each point, a friend – who is a big fan of my detectives – pushed me to write another book with Fine and Costa.  Again, ‘Reflections’ had such a finite ending, it really couldn’t be done without stretching the reality I created.  In short, ‘Reflections From the Abyss’, while being published first, is actually the third in the series, and ‘The First Thing We Do’, is the first story while ‘The Cup of Their Deservings’ is the second.  I can send you a stack of 8 x 10 colored glossy photographs with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back if you’re confused by this point. 

Then thanks to my watching the ‘Forensic Files’ show, I figured out how to do a follow-up story to ‘Reflections’ and keep the reality, well, real.

Suddenly, the head of the publishing company became ill and subsequently passed away.  The person who took over started sending a battery of emails, reassuring the authors that their work would not go unattended.  They were followed by more emails that invited the authors to submit more work, requesting said authors to invite new and unpublished authors to join, and adding a new price structure that seemed legit if you were willing to hock your mother’s respirator to get your work published through them. 

Warning: When a publisher sends you an email filled with spelling and grammatical errors, moonwalk the hell out of there.

So, I did a test:  I sent a copy of the bridging story that was purposefully quite graphic in violence, profane past the point of shock value and purposely filled with spelling and continuity errors.  I expected that these glaring points would be mentioned and a request for a rewrite would follow.  What I received was a contract to publish it, filled with said new and improved pricing structures and detailed sections on what they would not do to push the book; which was just about everything.  I requested the full rights of ‘Reflection’ and ‘First’ and ended my relationship with the publisher.

So, because both books are out of print, you may find them online somewhere, but will have to pay a hefty price for them.  But no worries; as the Joker said, ‘It’s all part of the plan’.

DF: Tell us about NO WORD OF A LIE.

‘No Word of A Lie’ is Stage One in my nefarious plot for world domination.  The book has 14 short (and in some cases, not-so-short) stories covering different genres.  Science fiction, modern fantasy, satire, straight drama, realistic horror, comedic; all stories that I feel everyone will enjoy.  Taken from the Amazon site:

‘A man dies and finds Heaven is not as perfect as advertised.  Two friends and how a long-hidden secret change everything.  What goes on in a self-help group.  A man who is stalked by himself.  A 40s private eye works to solve the case of an impossible murder in modern-day Hollywood.  A serial killer is forced to take a hard look at his misdeeds.  The ultimate workout program.  A man finds out how far he will go to change his life.

These stories and more.

As you turn each page, you’ll find No Word of A Lie.’

At this point, the book is only available in Kindle format.  Maybe as time moves forward, I will include a paperback edition.  But, as it stands now, you have a collection that is a little over 500 pages for $3.04 a pop, so versus adding a luggage rack to lug the thing around in to your cart, I think you’re getting a pretty decent bargain. 

DF: What other pots you got boiling on the stove?

BG: Now that I am publishing my work through Amazon, I intend to re-publish my crime thrillers in book order.  In a short time, you’ll have a slightly revamped and updated ‘The First Thing We Do’, ‘The Cup of Their Deservings’, ‘Reflection From the Abyss’ and the other dozen or so books I’ve written that follow.

I will also be publishing another mystery, outside of the Fine and Costa pieces, called ‘Split Decisions’, and my irreverent take on the superhero genre, called ‘The Collector’.  There’s also a second book of shorts in the making.

DF: What’s A Typical Day In The Life of Bertram Gibbs like?

BG: Since the fun of COVID-19, I’ve been working from home.  I get up around 5:15, have my coffee and alternate between watching the news and a show I have on DVR (presently, it’s the first season of Star Trek: Discovery).  Then around 6:20, I do a moderate workout with weights, then assist my wife in getting ready for her day at the office (she does not work remotely).  Then I begin my job in credit and collections.  Insert 16-ounce mugs of coffee through the day.  Because I have my work laptop on the same long desk as the home computer, I roll in my chair from computer to computer, office-working on one while writing or noodling on a story on the other.  So, if a camera was filming me, it would be like watching a tennis match with me rolling from one end of the desk to the other.  I tend to do my stories on weekdays so I can devote my time to hanging out with my wife in the evenings and weekends.  Of course, there will be moments when my brain returns to a story and I go to add a line or page or two.  My wife is my inspiration; my muse, and she thankfully understands when I get that glazed look in my eyes (outside of my generally glazed look) and skips to the office to go back to a story.  Or begin a new one.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I’m hoping, as all writers do, that No Word of A Lie is a springboard to being able to write fulltime.  A bum can dream.  Writing is the best thing I do.  Legally, anywho . . .

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should or need to know?

Bertram Gibbs: There are probably some odds and sods I could add, but they’d probably bore you to tears (I know it does me).  So, I will leave it to your readers to ask whatever question they feel the need to ask.  I will respond, but will warn you to expect a modicum of sarcasm in my answers.  As Ma has said, my level of sarcasm could power a third-world country.

NO WORD OF A LIE is now available on Amazon. All you got to do is bounce over to HERE

And Bertram is a really entertaining guy to hang out with. Why not slide on over to his Facebook page and make friends?

40 Odd Things About Me…

1. Do you put ketchup on hot dogs? No.
2. Choice of soda? Coca-Cola
3. Do you put salt on watermelon? I don’t eat watermelon
4. Can you swim? Like a dolphin.
5. Hot dogs or burgers? Cheeseburgers
7. Do you believe in ghosts? Yes.
8. What do you drink in the morning? Hydrate with plenty of lemon water then a gallon of coffee.
9. Can you do 100 push ups? Even when I could do 100 push-ups, I didn’t.
10. Favorite season: Summer.
11. Your favorite animal? Elephants
12. Tattoos? None.
13. Do you wear glasses? Yes.
14. Do you have a phobia? Is fear of your dreams considered a phobia? Is so, yes.
15. Do you have a nickname? When I was a kid my family nickname was “Booga.” As an adult, most everybody calls me ‘D’ or ‘Fergie.” My wife Patricia even calls me ‘Ferg’ 75% of the time.
16. Ever been arrested? Twice.
17. Do you remember your first kiss? Absolutely.
18. Rain or Snow? Rain
19. Can you change a tire? Yes.
20. Favorite flower? I don’t have one.
21. Can you drive a stick? No.
22. Ever gone sky diving? No.
23. Kids? None that I know of.
24. Favorite color? Red and/or Black
25. Favorite actor? Pam Grier.
26. Can you whistle? No.
27. Where were you born? Brooklyn, NY
28. Surgeries? Tonsils and adenoids when I was a kid.
29. Favorite smell? Freshly baked cornbread and fresh cut grass.
30. Shower or bath? Shower. Who’s got time for a bath?
31. Last Song You Heard? Billy Joel’s “Tell Her About It”: The Jellybean Benitez Remix.
32. Broken bones? None, yet.
33. How many TV’s in your home? 3
34. Worst pain? Toothache.
35. Do you like to sing? Yes, but I do it in private as I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.
36. Are your parents still alive? My mother is.
37. Do you like camping? Nope. Did it once. That was enough.
38. What do you binge watch? You mean currently? I’ve been into The Classics in recent months: “The Office” “Seinfeld” “The Bob Newhart Show” “The Simpsons” and I’ve recently discovered how hilariously deranged “Bob’s Burgers” is.
39. Pumpkin or pecan pie? Neither. Apple or sweet potato
40. If you feel so inclined, feel free to play along with a photo of yourself.

Charles Saunders (1946-2020)

It’s been a couple of days since I’ve heard of Charles Saunders passing away. In those couple of days I’ve had a few well meaning people ask me if I were going to write something in reference to his passing and while I fully understood why they would ask me that, I also didn’t feel as if it was my place to do so. And here’s why:

There’s this psychological pattern commonly known as “imposter syndrome” where an individual constantly doubts their talents and refuses to believe that they deserve their success, popularity or achievements. They fully expect to one day be exposed as a fraud and live in fear of the day that happens. You find it a lot among writers. Oh, yah…a whole lot of writers, trust me.

My imposter syndrome manifests in me through my relationship with a number of professional writers that thanks through the Internet I have met, worked with, met in person and even become friends with. The very notion that these accomplished men and women whose writings I have read and enjoyed for many years that treat me as a fellow professional still blows my mind and I often feel that somehow, I’ve tricked them into thinking I’m far more intelligent and talented than I actually am.

Which brings me to Charles Saunders. When people asked me if was I going to write something about Charles, I felt that Ron Fortier, whose friendship with him goes back to the 1970s and Milton Davis, who worked quite closely with Charles in recent years were more qualified to speak about Charles and that I would be stepping on toes by being presumptuous in claiming a relationship that wasn’t there.

But after talking with my wife Patricia and re-reading some of the letters Charles wrote me, I realized that there indeed was a relationship Charles and I had for a long time even though we had never met in person. I wouldn’t be the kind of writer I am without Charles Saunders. Don’t get me wrong…I would still have been a writer. It’s what I’m hardwired to be. But it was Charles Saunders that expanded my notion of what a black writer could write about. He, along with Octavia Butler, Chester Himes, Ishmael Reed, Samuel R. Delany and Langston Hughes helped me to have the courage to write what I wanted to write, instead of what I was “supposed” to write or what I “should” be writing.

I discovered IMARO sometime during the 1980s when I spent a lot of time on weekends hanging out in Manhattan’s used bookstores. At that time, I was hip deep in Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Lin Carter, Fritz Leiber and the sight of a Heroic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery paperback with a black hero on the cover was enough to drive all the air out of my body. I bought the book on the spot, asked the guy behind the counter if he had any more books like that. He gave me that; “Get outta here, man,” look and so I took the book home and during that weekend read it two times. Next weekend I read it two more times. It was that much of a revelation to me.

You have to understand that I didn’t get much encouragement from black folks as to the stuff I liked to write. Even other black writers didn’t have much respect or liking for my pulp influenced action adventures or Science Fiction or Sword and Sorcery. “That’s stuff for white people” I would be told or, “You need to write books that will educate. Our kids don’t need that.”

So when I found Charles Saunders it was akin to Indiana Jones finding the Ark of The Covenant. Here was proof that what I liked to write could be published. I could write what I liked to write and it would find an audience. As this was pre-Internet I had no way of knowing the setbacks and indignities Charles himself had to struggle with and like most visionaries he was not accepted or appreciated the way he should have been because he truly was ahead of his time. He is now known as the Father of Sword and Soul, but man, did it take him a long time for that acknowledgment. It’s not an easy thing to be the founder of a genre. But that’s what it means to be a trailblazer, leading the way for others to follow. Quite often, it’s the scout that returns to the wagon train with a lotta arrows in his back. But because he went on ahead and found a way, the wagon train gets to where it’s going. And all of us who have loved Charles for the characters he created and the stories he told are still on that wagon train, because it’s not the destination. It’s never the destination. It’s the path you create and the journey you take, the pushing of boundaries further and further out so that the ones following you know where to go because you made that road easier.

Charles Saunders expressed an appreciation and enjoyment of my work that still sustains me when I hit those days when the words struggle to flow the way they should. I consider myself blessed that for a time we exchanged letters and communicated not just as writers but I also hope with all my heart, as friends.

Thank you, Charles.

From the “Chadwick Forever: A Stepping Off Point” File by Sean E. Ali

“Is this your king?”

Stick a pin in that, I’ll get back to it.

During the promotional tour for BLACK PANTHER, Chadwick Boseman was asked if he had directly experienced the social impact of the film, and did it affect how he approached the role. At this point in his life, Boseman had already been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer and was privately undergoing surgeries and chemotherapy to combat it. Without revealing that, here’s how he answered the question…

“There are 2 little kids–Ian and Taylor–who recently passed from cancer. And, throughout our filming, I was communicating with them, knowing that they were both terminal. What they said to me, and their parents, is they’re trying to hold on till this movie comes. To a certain degree, you hear them say that and you’re like: ‘Whew. Wow. I’ve got to get up and go to the gym. I’ve got to get up and go to work. I’ve got to learn these lines. I’ve got to work on this accent.’

“To a certain degree, it’s a humbling experience because you’re like ‘This can’t mean that much to them.’ But, seeing how the world has taken this on, seeing how the movement, how it’s taken a life of its own, I realized that they anticipated something great. I think back now to [being] a kid and just waiting for Christmas to come, waiting for my birthday to come, waiting for a toy that I was going to get a chance to experience, or a video game…I did live life waiting for those moments. So, it put me back in the mind of being a kid, just to experience those 2 little boys’ anticipation of this movie. And, when I found out that they…”

Boseman suddenly seemed to feel the full weight of the experience and was unable to continue, because the end of that remembrance is that Ian and Taylor were unable to hold on until the film’s completion. They, despite this relationship they had built, passed away before BLACK PANTHER was finished. Boseman breaks down in tears and eventually he had to excuse himself from the discussion, leaving his cast mates and director to finish up that particular part of the junket.

But the clip, which I posted below is powerful because that man and that vulnerability is an insight into who Chadwick Boseman was. It’s an openness that was rare for him, but it was also very telling about the man’s conviction to carry on. And through this story and countless visits to other children like Ian and Taylor Boseman never let on that there was a deeper meaning to him, a need to not only fight for his own life, but to also be there to comfort the generations that would follow him.

If you watch the man behind the roles, Chadwick Boseman comes across as a man of purpose, passion and conviction. He lived his life unlike most entertainers with a certain sense of obligation and responsibility to not just achieve but to exceed expectations, to create and portray characters on the shoulders of those that sacrificed and fought the battles on the behalf of future generations like his who would pick up the torch and carry it. During an address at Howard University in 2018 as their commencement keynote speaker, Boseman recalled how he, as a student at Howard at the time, had encountered The Greatest – Muhammad Ali as he was crossing a courtyard. Ali who was in the last years of his life, but still every bit of the man and legend he was, locked in on Boseman and assumed a sparring stance. For a few moments Boseman had the unique honor of trading a couple of light jabs with The Champ before Ali’s security and assistants moved the legend along to whatever point in history they were headed to next. Boseman recalled that he left “floating like a butterfly”. For Boseman, the encounter was one he told the students he would have to draw upon later.

He spoke to them of how he was impacted by teachers and actors and the unique chances and opportunities he got as he was raised on the shoulders of those that came before him. How he left Howard and found almost immediate success landing roles and rapidly climbing to his first real TV acting job on a soap opera he doesn’t name where he found himself cast as a character some would say was stereotypical: A young, but angry, man who is directionless but eventually attracted to a gang and their lifestyle. Boseman relates how he was “troubled” about the part and, after a couple of episodes in the can, was invited up as he was filming the third one by the producers who wanted to share their satisfaction with his work and put forth the offer to let them know if there was any concerns or needs on his part because they were looking for a long run with him. So he questioned some of the motivations of his character by asking for background info. The first question was where was the character’s father?

By the time he’d gotten to the second question dealing with why was the character’s mother deemed unfit which led to his character and the character’s brother going into foster care, they were re-reading his resume like they’d missed something. The meeting ended amicably enough, he went back on set and finished shooting for the day…

…and he was let go the following day.

He used his own doubts and questions of that event and how the reality of losing that job gave him a reputation as “difficult to work with”. I’ve been there myself. I’ve got a doozy of a story about my first graphics job which lasted about 14 hours total. So I get exactly how he must’ve felt.

What I enjoyed about watching that address is the appreciation he got eventually for standing by his convictions and questioning the role despite the outcome. Given the people he went on to play and the heights of his career, he made what would become a solid call. What brought him back to himself was his encounter with Ali. The few moments The Champ had called upon his past to recall the fighter he always was even in fun in those few glancing jabs. What he concluded was that in a sense Ali was giving him a gift – a transference of the fighter’s spirit that Ali called upon so often in victory and defeat to face impossible odds and rise above in victory or fall in defeat with the promise to not quit and get back on your feet so you can get back in the fight. If you take time for it, the address is an inspiring half hour and delivered with a sense of awareness, passion and urgency to be up and doing. To not just represent, but also respond.

And if you find another two or three minutes, as I did, check out Boseman’s tribute to Denzel Washington at the latter’s API Lifetime Achievement Award celebration. Boseman’s being in awe of Denzel along with the gratitude given to one of the greatest actors of his generation by his direct contribution to Boseman’s Howard and acting experience that allowed him to study and act in Britain. His praise and earnest appreciation moved a usually stoic Denzel to tears and a standing ovation that you could see was genuine because he was blown away by Boseman’s sincerity as he said there would be no BLACK PANTHER if it wasn’t for Denzel responding to the call to raise the next generation.

People often look at folks who lionize the passing of an entertainer saying they do not rate the level of attention given them. That it’s celebrity worshipping and shouldn’t be voiced or encouraged. In some cases that is generally true. You mark their passing say it’s a shame and move on.

But Chadwick Boseman isn’t one of those. Go look at his body of work, the icons he played, the roles where he would not allow content to be compromised for fame’s sake. For embodying all of the lessons learned at Howard, the values from his upbringing in his family, his humility gained through failure and success, his respect for the past, his passion for the present, his responsibility to the future, and a sense of urgency bought about by knowing his time was short so his actions had to matter.

“Is this your king?”

You better believe he was.

And, in a very real sense, always will be simply because he was trying to be the best man he could be. We could learn a lot from his example.

“Everybody is the hero in their own story. You should be the hero in your own story.”

And that’s who Chadwick Boseman was at the end of the day: the hero of his own story.

And for a time or two, he even saved the world to boot.

While it was sudden to us, it was his time. I hope he finds the veldt King T’Challa spoke of when he said…

“In my culture, death is not the end. It’s more of a stepping off point. You reach out with both hands and Bast and Sekhmet, they lead you into the green veldt where you can run forever.”

He will be missed for much more than BLACK PANTHER, but he leaves behind a brief but impressive legacy.

And consider it a stepping off point to pick up the torch and carry it forward.

And I wish him a Peaceful Journey.

Chadwick Forever.

And the clips I mentioned above can be found below…

Be good to yourselves and each other.

And The Battle Continues: An Essay by Sean E. Ali

Emmett Till should have turned 79 today.

Till was just 14 years old when he was abducted and brutally murdered because of an accusation by Carolyn Bryant, the white married proprietor of a small grocery store in Money, Mississippi. Till was accused of flirting with or whistling at Bryant. In 1955, Bryant testified Till made aggressive physical and verbal advances towards her which deviated from her original story. The jury did not hear the judge ruled that her testimony was inadmissible and the jury never heard it. In an interview given in 2008, Bryant admitted that she had falsified part of the testimony, specifically the part where she accused Till of grabbing her waist and uttering obscenities, saying “that part’s not true” on the record.

His murderers, Carolyn’s husband Roy Bryant and his half-brother J.W. Milam, claimed they were innocent of the crime and they were acquitted by an all white jury. The decision by the jury was rendered after a 67-minute deliberation. It was reported that one juror said, “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.”

A year later, with assurances that they were protected from double jeopardy, Bryant and Milam admitted that they had indeed lynched and murdered Till, saying that they had originally intended to beat him and toss him off an embankment into the Tallahatchie River, but allege that Till “forgot his place” by calling them bastards, claiming he was as good as they were, and he had been sexually active with white women…

Again, at the time of his death, Till was only 14-years old.

Over the years, Bryant and Milam would change their stories and vacillate between admitting they killed Till to denials of having done anything depending on their circumstances. But in the interview with LOOK Magazine, Milam stated:

“Well, what else could we do? He was hopeless. I’m no bully; I never hurt a nigger in my life. I like niggers—in their place—I know how to work ’em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain’t gonna vote where I live. If they did, they’d control the government. They ain’t gonna go to school with my kids. And when a nigger gets close to mentioning sex with a white woman, he’s tired o’ livin’. I’m likely to kill him. Me and my folks fought for this country, and we got some rights. I stood there in that shed and listened to that nigger throw that poison at me, and I just made up my mind. ‘Chicago boy,’ I said, ‘I’m tired of ’em sending your kind down here to stir up trouble. Goddam you, I’m going to make an example of you—just so everybody can know how me and my folks stand.”

The murderers had involved two black men in Milam’s employ, Levi “Too Tight” Collins and Henry Lee Loggins who may have been direct witnesses to the lynching and murder of Till. The prosecution was unaware of their involvement prior to the trial and the sheriff, Clarence Strider, had both men arrested and jailed to make sure they weren’t accessible to serve as witnesses for the entirety of the trial. Strider would also do his part to cloud the issue by changing his definite identification of Till when his bloated and mutilated body was pulled from the river after being tossed over the Black Bayou Bridge in Glendora.

It should be noted that during the trial Sheriff Strider regularly welcomed black spectators coming back from lunch with a cheerful, “Hello, Niggers!”

Because he was a polite, classy guy.

Strider also suggested later that the recovered body had been planted by the NAACP. He speculated the corpse had been stolen and Till’s ring placed on it to solidify identification. Strider changed his account after his comments were published in the press, later saying: “The last thing I wanted to do was to defend those peckerwoods. But I just had no choice about it.”

Identification was difficult due to the state of the body when it was found. Till’s head was very badly mutilated, he had been shot above the right ear, an eye was dislodged from the socket, there was evidence that he had been beaten on the back and the hips, and his body weighted by a fan blade, which was fastened around his neck with barbed wire. He was nude, but wearing a silver ring with the initials “L. T.” and “May 25, 1943” carved in it. His face was unrecognizable due to trauma and having been submerged in water.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Bradley, insisted that Till’s body not be buried in Mississippi, but returned to her in Chicago. The officials in Mississippi were trying to rush bury Till to put the issue to rest; they had already packed Till’s body in lime and had him in a pine box when they were compelled to comply with Till Bradley’s request to return the body to her. It’s been said that when the body reached Chicago and was opened at the funeral home to be identified before preparing the body for burial, the stench was said to be detectable at least two blocks away from where it was. Till Bradley, based on the condition of her son’s body decided to have an open casket funeral saying: “There was just no way I could describe what was in that box. No way. And I just wanted the world to see.” Images of Till were published in the black and white periodicals of the day and received worldwide attention with regard to the caste system and institutionally backed racism, and racially biased brutality brought to bear against Black Americans.

The counter charge by the officials with a vested interest in maintaining segregation and perceived white racial superiority was that groups like the NAACP were instigating discord and not interested in race related social justice as much as being agitators attempting to “radicalize” the local black community. There were conspiracy theories, reports of riots in the area and vandalism that didn’t happen but were meant to influence public reaction by misrepresenting the intent of outside groups who took an interest in Till’s death and the greater racial and social issues that were raised by it…

…sound familiar?

The admission of Bryant and Milan that they did, in fact, Lynch and murder Till changed their fortunes in an ironic way. The community turned on them despite their nearly unanimous support despite the overwhelming evidence they had a hand in the crime. Both men were compelled to relocate to Texas and take up new professions.

Milam tried to return to farming after his business was boycotted and he was forced to close. He secured a loan and got land, but was unable to coerce any of the black workers, who were the primary labor force in that line, to come and work for him. He’d eventually have to pay higher wages to secure white workers which led to financial problems that closed the new farm. He moved to Texas to try for a fresh start but his reputation and infamy followed him. He eventually returned to Mississippi where he’d be tried for various offenses like writing bad checks, credit card fraud, and assault and battery…

…for folks needing a modern day counterpart to relate: see George Zimmerman.

Roy Bryant’s store where Till encountered his wife leading to the murder was boycotted by the black community (who turned out to be the majority of his customers) and was forced to close it and file for bankruptcy. He’d later move to Texas, have his reputation and infamy make him return to Mississippi where he’d eventually divorce his wife, and open a new store where he would get caught and convicted for food stamp fraud a couple of times. He gave an interview in the 1980s In a 1985 interview, he denied that he had killed Till, but said: “if Emmett Till hadn’t got out of line, it probably wouldn’t have happened to him.” Bryant wanted to avoid the boycotting of his new store so he lived a private life and refused to be photographed or reveal the exact location of his store, explaining: “this new generation is different and I don’t want to worry about a bullet some dark night.”

A couple of years before he died, in 1992, Bryant was interviewed about his involvement in Till’s murder. Bryant was unaware that Till’s mother had been invited to listen in on the conversation in another room so he would feel comfortable to speak freely. During the interview, he asserted that Till had ruined his life. Expressing no remorse, Bryant reportedly said, “Emmett Till is dead. I don’t know why he can’t just stay dead.”

Till’s death is said to have been the tipping point that would inspire what would become the Civil Rights Movement because it was one of the first cases that showed how deeply ingrained racism was and how swiftly local governments and the white community moved to protect his murderers based on the racial component being that “white is right” above all else.

A battle that’s still being fought 65 years later come August.

Incidentally, just last month a bill to make lynching a federal crime, was blocked by a single Republican Senator.

And the battle continues.

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From The “Feeling The Heat In Miami File” by Sean E. Ali

Yes, there’s some art for a book I’m not attached to, but felt compelled to create because…

Well, therein lies the tale…

Since coronavirus came to town my world in particular had gotten crazy and uncertain…

But on the upside, my days aren’t nearly as stressful as say coming home to find the place ransacked and picked clean of profits from something you worked pretty hard to get through means you’d rather not discuss…

…It’s criminal what a guy has to go through.

And what makes it worse is that it happens in the last place you’d expect things like this to happen: a quiet suburb just outside of…

…Miami.

Especially when you just settled down there after retiring from your last job in Las Vegas. But as you’ll soon discover, whatever happens in Vegas, could have consequences you never expected.

Which is a set up for Van Allen Plexico’s all the fun you’ll find in this second helping of professional heisters Harper and Salsa as they find themselves putting in work in MIAMI HEI$T.

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Heist stories, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, have a special place in my heart. They’re entertaining, tricky to plot and execute, and offer some insight into what motivates people to take what doesn’t belong to them and the extremes they’ll engage in to get the job done. And Van, bless him, chose the 1960s to set these up in where these guys were both brutal and cool thanks to films like the original OCEAN’S 11 and books like the series featuring professional criminal Parker written under the pen name Richard Stark by the late, great Donald Westlake. There’s nostalgia and a wonderfully tech free world to work in carry your action without the fear that one of your crew will be posting up video to social media and blowing the job.

So when we last saw our heroes, John Harper and Saul “Salsa” Salzman have successfully managed to get out of Vegas in one piece and considerably richer than they were going in…

…given they were a team of four at the start of the caper, there were a few hitches.

Well we are now months and miles away from Nevada and deep underground on the sun splashed beaches of Miami where Harper has adopted a new name, bought a new home he’s rarely at in Flagler Beach, and picked up a (presumably) new girlfriend Connie Perrigen – who is aware of what Harper does and has none of the issues expected of grad student, and a new Camaro which has brought him back to said new home after leaving (presumably) new girlfriend down at a South Beach hotel after getting a message sent to his new adopted name letting him know someone, somehow knows exactly who he is, where he lives and what he has

…from that time in Las Vegas.

When Harper gets to his house, he finds that his stash with his money from Vegas is long gone from where he hid it. He checks in with Salsa who got an earlier message from Harper that sent him, not to his stash to check his loot, but to the house of Lois Funderburk, who was the finger for the job in VEGAS HEI$T and is now Salsa’s steady girl. By the time Harper gets to Salsa’s office, he finds out Salsa’s been cleaned out too. Lois, being a practical woman, had the bulk of her cut tied up in legitimate investments or it’s in the bank earning its interest on more faith than Harper and Salsa has for those institutions. As despair and desperation kick in, Salsa brings up a job that Harper passed on earlier tied to a local but solitary spot known as Ruby Island which houses an old estate converted into a casino and a legend that there may be gold hidden away in the grounds.

Gold that came there by way of a Nazi submarine during World War II.

Harper and Salsa have a limited crew of themselves and the ladies and while scouting the job they come across a second crew looking to pull a straightforward robbery run by Big Bob Bigelow, a local planner who is talked into supporting Harper’s effort, but is a little annoyed to find the pay day may not be as nice as his team co-opting the job for their own for the risks they’re taking. Harper himself wasn’t too keen on the job from the beginning, and the number of red flags he’s noticed and ignored haven’t helped any.

But with their Vegas money gone and no idea of who took it and where to find it, Harper and Salsa have to play some long odds and go for broke.

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Now, I’ll stop with the summary because I caught myself about to reveal things you shouldn’t know about if you plan to read the book, or details you may be a little fuzzy about if you haven’t bought/read VEGAS HEI$T, which this book leans on heavily to set things up to tell its tale. I want you to check in without spoilers of any sort on my end.

As to how I felt as it played out though?

Yeah, I can share that with you…

Heist stories are solid because most folks think of them as two major acts: everything up to the heist, and the heist itself and everything that follows. You watch the job get planned, you see it executed, you wait for whatever fallout comes of doing what they did and any flagged aberrations that will flip the circumstances in different ways, and you hope all of the above is executed in such a way that you feel you invested your time well. But the thing about heist stories and the folks who occupy them is nothing’s ever according to plan with a nice neat finish. Look at some of the best literary heisters and con artists and in a lot of cases the antihero be it a “gentleman thief like Raffles, or Earle Stanley Gardner’s Lester Leith, or Westlake’s Parker, or TV shows like LEVERAGE and HU$TLE, you’ll find a certain element of chaos that adds to the tension of the story as everything goes off the rails making the crooks we’re rooting for got to work on trying to get everything back under control. The thing is that the bulk of these guys keep their cool and tend not to be reckless as they adjust. And while that’s all well and good, what you almost never see is what happens when your guy pulls off the big job, gets away…

…and it still blows up later.

What MIAMI HEI$T does is take that exact route, if snatches away a successful job with a messy finish in VEGAS and turns this tale into a heist, a caper…

…and a getaway story of sorts. Which is a part of the whole heist genre that gets overlooked as a subcategory a lot. In this case, things don’t just go wrong, but they’re going wrong from the last job which is spilling over into how this job is put together. It’s a nice play of controlled panic and desperation where all concerned are pushed well out of their comfort zone from the folks we met in VEGAS and the new members of the cast who turn up in MIAMI. You get the feeling right away that Harper’s winging this more than he wanted to because he has no safety net, but everyone around him thinks he’s got it together.

It is a beautifully put together character examination of Harper over the rest of the cast where he’s fleshed out a bit and slight divergences from his spiritual father of Westlake’s Parker are starting to show up. Mostly because Parker wouldn’t have gone this route with so many potential holes in the plan. Van also shows some subtle things with Salsa who still wears his feelings on his sleeve, especially where Lois is concerned, Connie may be a keeper, her role in this left me wondering how she and Harper hooked up and exactly what kind of life she had led up to this introduction. There are great character bits, small stuff that puts some weight to Salsa being thought of as a partner more than a convenient associate. Van makes it understandable why Harper works with Salsa and even gives us a sort of Salsa moment from Harper which could very well lead them into their next big job after going to a movie. I also like that I’m personally uncomfortable with Lois being involved as she is. Her use in this book and the way Van plays with her interactions with everyone makes her the same sort of question mark she was in VEGAS but maybe more so given the callouts to the first book. But this is more Harper’s story than anyone else’s and you get inside his head a little with him being more desperate than in control.

The cast is a bigger than the last book as moving parts go, but it was well worth it because, like any good heist story, you’re trying to figure out exactly where the twist is…

…and I’m telling you now, you’ll never see it coming.

…or that other one…

…and definitely not the one…

Well, you get the idea.

Get a neck brace though, you will get whiplash trying to follow all of this after the heist when everything gets WILD!

Plus there’s a lot of loose ends dangling that could (and should) be followed up and at least one guy I’d like to see the crew catch up to on camera as opposed to off. That guy turned out to be slicker than a kitten on skis.

No need for a spoiler alert, that’s the bulk of the cast in this book.

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If there’s any complaint it’s that the McGuffin was gotten to pretty easily, but it set up some really nice sequences after the job was done. Also, though it works from a marketing standpoint, you really should pick up VEGAS HEI$T to really appreciate everything that happens this time around. And you can find that definite gem of crime writing at a link like this one: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=pd_aw_sim…/146-2096148-8091948…

Also, if you’re so inclined by what I said above, check out MIAMI HEI$T. I picked up a copy for my Kindle app right here:

https://www.amazon.com/Miami-Heist-Harper…/…/ref=mp_s_a_1_1…

Available in ebook and hard copy. Sadly we don’t get a movie version, but hey never say never…

Now, did I enjoy this one more or less than VEGAS?

Let’s just say I doodled a lot more this time around.

Until next time…

…Be good to yourselves and each other.

Oh yeah

As for the doodling inspired by this…?

Told you there were a lot…

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