Kind of a grandiose title, right? And Milton would probably be the first one to knock me upside my head for bestowing that title upon him but I can’t help it. Whenever I think of Sword and Soul I first think of Charles Saunders, that remarkably talented founder of the genre and the man who I consider to be The Godfather of Sword and Soul. At its simplest Sword and Soul is African inspired Heroic Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery . That’s the thumbnail version. For a more in depth and comprehensive overview of the genre I point you in the direction of an article written by Balogun Ojetade who is himself no stranger to the genre:
And Milton Davis is the second name I think of when it comes to Sword and Sword because he’s had considerable influence in revitalizing and reinvigorating the genre, spreading knowledge of it and inspiring a whole generation of brand new writers who have embraced Sword and Soul with a burning passion, elevating and evolving it in exciting and fascinating new directions. That’s why I call him The Godson of Sword and Soul.
“Okay, Derrick,” you say. “I’m sufficiently intrigued to want to know more. But where do I begin? Who should I be reading? What books and writers do I start with?”
I’m glad you asked because Milton Davis has been good enough to compile a list of Sword and Soul books that you can start with. And here it is:
IMARO by Charles Saunders
DOSSOUYE by Charles Saunders
MEJI by Milton Davis
GRIOTS Edited by Milton Davis and Charles Saunders
GRIOTS: SISTERS OF THE SPEAR Edited by Charles Saunders and Milton Davis
ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA by Balogun Ojetade
THE CONSTANT TOWER by Carole McDonnell
ABENGONI: FIRST CALLING by Charles Saunders
SONGS OF THE SUNYA: TALES FROM THE SANDS OF TIME by Mansa Myrie
CHANGA’S SAFARI by Milton Davis
WHEN NIGHT FALLS by Gerald L. Coleman
Many of these I have read myself and heartily recommend and as for those I haven’t read, I trust Milton’s recommendation as to their quality and entertainment value so don’t be wary of diving in and discovering the magic and majesty of Sword and Soul for yourself. Enjoy!
Derrick Ferguson: It’s been quite a while since we’ve done this so for the benefit of those who don’t know you (and shame on them!) who is Valjeanne Jeffers?
Valjeanne Jeffers: Greetings sweet readers and authors. I’m the author of nine books, including my most popular Immortal series and Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective series, as well as one nonfiction book, The Story of Eve, which has only been published as articles. I also co-edited, with Quinton Veal, Scierogenous: An Anthology of Erotic Science Fiction andFantasy (Volumes I and II). I’ve been published in a number of anthologies, including: TheBright Empire, Fitting In, Black Magic Women,Luminescent Threads, Sycorax’s Daughters and Blerdrotica (in press).
DF: Where do you live and what do you tell the IRS you do?
VJ: I live in Alabama and I work as a teacher and literary editor. I love editing because I get to read wonderful books, mostly speculative fiction, for free.
DF: So how has the writing thing been going for you since we last talked? You’ve been a busy young lady.
VJ: I wish everything went as smoothly as my writing. There are always marketing headaches when you’re an Indie author. Right now, I’m working on getting all of my books on Barnes & Nobel’s site, and ultimately into their physical stores. I’m hoping that this will be a game changer for my book sales.
DF: Is writing getting easier or harder? Have you made any major changes or adjustments in how you work, where your work or the hours that you work?
VJ: I have to balance my writing with my work schedule, and that part is easier since I now set my own hours. I’ve also found my voice and a ton of support from my writing circle, so I don’t doubt myself as much as I used to. We writers are quirky folks, and it has been so beautiful to find my niche among them.
Yet, writing a book, for me, is like starting journey where you have a general idea of your destination, and no idea how you’re going to get there. It’s like that for me every time. That’s the difficult part. In my latest novel, Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III, I tackled some issues that were very close to home, and this too made it harder. But I can see my way to the conclusion of my latest journey.
DF: You’ve been doing this for a goodly amount of time now. Have you found your audience? Or have they found you?
VJ: I believe that I have found my audience. Yet a writer’s work is never done when it comes to discovering new readers. I’m working really hard on getting my books into brick and mortar stores and attending events where I can meet and greet folks. Also, cons and author signings are a lot of fun.
DF: What are your thoughts on the role and direction of African-American Speculative Fiction written by Women of Color in the past five years?
VJ: I started this journey back in 2007. When I first began writing and reading the only black female authors I knew were: Octavia Butler, Tananarive Due and Nalo Hopkinson. Since then, black women have made tremendous strides as authors, directors and filmmakers. I’m one of the contributing screenwriters for the “7Magpies” horror anthology film, spearheaded by producer and creator, Lucy Cruell. Lucy decided to bring together me, Tananarive Due, Sumiko Saulson, Eden Royce, Crystal Connor, Linda D Addison, and Paula Ashe together as screenwriters to make this project happen, as well as several female directors, including Rae Dawn Chong. This film project has been in the works for a while, but hopefully we’ll see the finished product soon.
DF: I’ve noticed in the past few years you’ve been writing in the genre of Erotic Science Fiction which I didn’t know was a genre until I read some of your stories. Is this a genre we should all be reading?
VJ: I’ve co-edited Scierogenous I and II, and some of the writers in my circle write erotic science fiction, most notably Sumiko Saulson, Quinton Veal and Penelope Flynn. So, I believe that erotic science fiction may be ascending from sub-genre to full-fledged genre status. It ain’t for the faint of heart, but a lot of folks dig it.
I have a mix-media approach to writing: I write horror, science fiction and fantasy and I adore them all. Derrick, you once referred to my writing style as imaginatively experimental and I love this description. Yet, I don’t consider myself to be an erotic writer. I think of myself as someone who writes stories and novels with erotic elements. Author Milton Davis, when I posed this question to him, told me that if I removed all of the erotic elements from my stories, they would still be solid stories. But, if folks describe me as a writer of erotica, that’s cool. Often, it’s your readers who define your work according to how it moves them. As a case in point, I didn’t consider myself to be a horror writer, until Sumiko Saulson included my Immortal series in “60 Black Women in Horror Fiction” (she has since updated this volume to include 100 writers). I was blown away! And so, I took on the cap of “horror writer” and ran with it. Now, my most popular series is Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective, a horror/steamfunk series.
DF: You are a highly prominent and respected female African-American Speculative Fiction writer. At least I think so. But where do you see your place on the field? What position do you hold?
VJ: I graciously accept both titles. I believe that I have reached the point in my writing career where I am both a well-known and respected author. But there are shoulders that I’ve stood on to reach this point in my writing journey, most notably Octavia Butler. Octavia has always been my writing mentor, although I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet her while she was alive. And she continues to inspire me.
Last summer at Blacktasticon 2018, I sat on a panel with some of the heaviest hitters in the black SF community, to discuss Octavia’s writing and the impact that she continues to have on speculative fiction. I was honored to sit beside them. So, as I writer I have arrived, but there’s still room for growth.
DF: What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?
VJ: Octavia Butler has the best recipe for overcoming writers block: “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” As writers, we have to keep it moving, even through creative slumps. It’s okay to take some time off, to step back and let things simmer for a while. But when I leave my characters for too long, they become strangers, and then I have to go through the process of reacquainting myself with them.
Also, outlines work best for me, when I find myself writing in circles. Music too, is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for me. I’ve actually created scenes inspired by music. I once wrote a concluding action scene listening to “Rollin Crumblin” and another one listening to “Magic Carpet Ride.” And I listen to all genres of music depending on what mood I’m in: Jazz, Hip Hop, R&B, Blues and Rock.
Lately I’ve been listening to one of my favorite bands (just their music from the ‘70s) WAR
DF: What do you do with your free time when you’re not writing?
VJ: If I’m not writing I’m usually working or reading. I have three books on my kindle that I’m reading (Gerald Coleman’s “Plague of Shadows”, Joe Bonadonna’s “Mad Shadows II”, and Alan D. Jones’ “Blerd Tales”). I’m still working on reading stories from the anthologies I’ve been published in. I recently got my copy of The Bright Empire (edited by Milton Davis and Gene Peterson) and the first story I read was Balogun Ojetade’s “The Transmission of Aragomago;” it’s outstanding. I also just finished reading Nicole Kurtz’s story “Belly Talker” (from the Blacktasticon Anthology edited by Milton Davis) which is also off the chain. And I have a few favorite TV programs that I watch, or I try to catch a decent SF/fantasy movie.
DF: Tell us about your upcoming projects. What can we look forward to from Valjeanne Jeffers in 2019?
VJ: I’m currently writing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the VanishingChild. I should be finished by late Spring or early summer. And I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a children’s novel based on my short story, “The Visitor” (which was very well received). But I won’t tackle this until I finish Mona Livelong III. Author and artist Penelope Flynn is releasing an anthology of erotic science science, Blerdrotica, and my story “Aura’s Awakening” will be included, and I am very excited about it.
DF: Drop some Words of Wisdom on all the aspiring young writers out there reading this and thirsting for your knowledge.
VJ: My advice to all new authors is read books in your genre, or just read. Read the authors you admire and don’t worry if your words don’t sound like theirs. Variety is the sugar and spice of life, so find your own voice and write! Once you put pen to paper, you are a writer, no matter what anyone says.
DF: What is the one story or novel of yours that you would recommend that we should start with?
VJ: If your taste is Fantasy/Afrofuturism with a dash of Horror start with Immortal. If you prefer your Horror/Steamfunk straight with no chaser, start with Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective: The Case of the Angry Ghost.
DF: What’s a Typical Day In The Life of Valjeanne Jeffers like?
VJ: Normally my days consist of writing, reading and playing with my grand babies – who are playing with my dog Caesar and my cat Cleo. I usually teach in the evenings, unless I’m editing a novel.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Valjeanne Jeffers: I’d like to thank you Derrick, pulp writer extraordinaire, for interviewing me! And I wish everyone love, peace and creativity.