This month on Six Questions, we have Milton Davis in the padded room. Author of the Meji novels and several Sword and Soul short story collections (including Ki Khanga: the Anthology), Milton Davis was not content to write within one genre, he also has helped to pioneer Steamfunk with the novel From Here to Timbuktu and the collection Steamfunk!. A man of many hats, Milton also runs his own publishing company, MVmedia (http://www.mvmediaatl.com/) and maintains the Wagadu blog (http://www.mvmediaatl.com/Wagadu/). And if that wasn’t enough, he is working on bringing Ki Khanga to life with a Sword and Soul Tabletop RPG. Somewhere in all of this, Milton finds the time to work as a chemist and spend time with his family.
Diversity has been a hot topic in genre fiction recently from the so-called “Sad Puppies slate” for the Hugo awards and its opposition to the debate surrounding the bust of H.P. Lovecraft as the World Fantasy award and its subsequent removal. Do you think that the speculative fiction community is trending more toward being more inclusive to marginalized voices?
I think the community has been trending that way for quite some time. I’ve seen the change since I began writing ten years ago and it was very apparent at Dragoncon this year. I think it was a matter of reaching critical mass with books by marginalized writers being available and that was achieved via independent publishing. Readers are way ahead of mainstream publishers in this regard. The consensus I get is that most readers don’t care as long as the story is good.
You say on your blog that “It’s my contention that the reason black men/boys don’t read is because there’s not much out there for them to read that represents them beyond non-fiction books.” and that “Most businesses are interested in supplying a demand, not creating one.” what can be done to help stimulate the industry to start creating a demand?
That’s a good question. I believe it starts with the writer. The mainstream industry, like most large corporations, are not trendsetters. Setting a trend involves high risk and when you have investors and stock holders you want to keep risk to a minimum. It’s going to take hard work, no way around that. We have to attend the cons, work social media groups and spread the word by word of mouth. Advertising helps but most small publishers like me have very limited funds. There’s no quick way unless someone writes a blockbuster to kick open the door.
Is there a certain mindset to writing sword and soul? What sort of advice would you offer to a writer interested in the subject?
If I was to pick one thing that distinguishes sword and soul other than its African roots I would say the association between spirituality and ‘magic.’ Most heroic characters in sword and soul gain their special abilities from their association with ancestral spirits or higher beings. I would tell anyone interested to spend time studying African culture, traditions, faith and history. Now Africa is a huge continent with a wide variety of cultures and such, so it helps to pick one that holds a particular interest for you and start there. For me it was Zulu culture because the information was most readily available. From there I studied Yoruba, Ashante, Soninke, Tuareg, Bambara, Kykuyu and Swahili culture. And I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Are there any particular themes or characters that you would like to see more writers tackle in their work?
I think there is lots of room for more black women characters most definitely. As far as themes are concerned I’m not much of a theme writer, with the exception of concentrating on black main characters.
You have been working on the development of a Role-Playing game based in the Ki Khanga setting, do you have any updates on when it might be available?
Ki Khanga the Game is actually playable in its current form. We’ve done a few beta tests and the feedback has been favorable. All that’s lacking now is aesthetics, mainly artwork. We’re shooting for June 2016 but we hope to be done by then.
Do you have any projects coming up that you would like to let our readers know about?
We plan on launching a Ki Khanga Kickstarter in January 2016. The plan is to raise the funds to complete the game. Of course there will be perks. We hope your readers will help us reach our goal. Thanks for the opportunity.
And thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Mister Davis.