CHARLES R. SAUNDERS
WRITER
SWORD & SOUL

INTRO

Welcome  to my new Website and Blog, both of which I am calling "Things Fall  Together." This designation is a tribute to the title of Nigerian author  Chinua Achebe's Classic novel, Things Fall Apart.  And, indeed, things often do fall apart and shatter, as a look at any  day's newspaper headlines will tell you. But sometimes, things fall  together and connect, or perhaps interlock. I'm hoping that on this  site, there will be some interlocking, even as things are bound to fall  where they will.

My previous website, www.charlessaunderswriter.com ran  from 2008 to 2015. Its focus was on the fantasy-fiction genre, the  field in which I have been writing from the early 1970s to the present  time. That site is still accessible, though no longer active. It contains  a wealth of archival material about my writing, along with book reviews  and commentary about the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres.  as well as reprints of non-fiction articles and a couple of stories I  wrote for various small-press publications.

The  scope of this new site will be much more eclectic. Yes, it will still  feature shameless self-promotion ... is there really any other kind? And  I'll continue to write reviews and commentary about present and past  works in my favorite genres. However, I will also branch out into  current issues and events, and even (gulp) politics. 

One  of the most enjoyable aspects of my previous site was the interaction  and feedback generated in the Forum section. I would like that exchange  of thoughts and opinions to continue. So please feel free to comment on  what you read on this site. And let's hope that as the world progresses,  things fall together and not apart.


ABOUT CHARLES

Charles  R. Saunders is a cutting-edge Baby Boomer, born in Elizabeth,Pa. --  a  small town near Pittsburgh. He later lived in Norristown, a suburb of  Philadelphia. He was educated at Lincoln University, a historically  black institution in Pennsylvania from which he graduated in 1968.  

The  next year, he moved to Canada, where his life as a writer began and  continued amid stints in scholarship, teaching, clerical work and,  ultimately journalism. As an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction,  he noticed that blacks were, for the most part, either absent from or  stereotyped  in those genres -- though there were notable exceptions  such as Ray Bradbury's Mars story, "Way in The Middle of the Air."

Having  developed a keen interest in African history, culture and folklore, he  combined those passions with an urge to write fantasy fiction. That  merger of interests resulted in the creation of African-based stories  and novels featuring Imaro, a brother who could kick Tarzan's ass, and  Dossouye, a Black Amazon who could do the same with the help of her Cape  buffalo companion, Gbo. 

He  coined the term "Sword and Soul" to describe this new subgenre of  fantasy fiction -- a tribute  to the Sword and Sorcery subgenre created  by Robert E. Howard back in the 1920s. As other writers began to explore  that theme, he became known as "The Father of Sword and Soul." 

Now  retired from his career in journalism, during which he worked as a copy  editor, opinion columnist and editorial writer, he continues to  contribute to the subgenre he founded.

Nov 2017: naming, shaming and blaming


Recently,  a brief but intense controversy flared in Halifax, Nova Scotia, over  the use of an "n-word" by a city councillor named Matt Whitman. No, it  wasn't the six-letter word that starts with an "n" and ends ends with an  "r" and is the atomic bomb of racial epithets. Instead, it was a  five-letter word that starts with an "n" and ends with an "o" and was  once the preferred reference-term for black people.

The  word in question is "Negro." It was mentioned within the context of a  debate between two councillors over the possible racial connotations of  another word:"marijuana." The question was whether that word is racially  offensive to Mexicans. In an interview about the matter, Coun. Whitman  argued against that notion, because "Mexicans are not a race, unlike  "Negroes." 

Immediately,  the councillor was with criticism on on social media and elsewhere for  using a term the critics deemed offensive to black people. Soon after,  Whitman issued the now-standard apology  to anyone he may have offended.  His reasons for using the word "Negroes" remain unknown.

Regardless  of those reasons, there was -- and is -- no need for Whitman to  apologize. There was -- and is -- no reason for the critics to have  taken offense to his utterance of the five-letter "n-word." Unlike the  six-letter "n-word," "Negro" is a descriptive term only, not a  pejorative one.

In  the past, the word "Negro" was the conventional nomenclature for people  of African descent, whether or not they actually live in Africa. Most  black people embraced the term. Obviously, it was preferable to that  six-letter alternative.

That's  not to say that "Negro" was free from controversy. During the 1920s and  '30s, huge debates raged both within and outside the black community  over whether the "n" in "Negro" should be capitalized, or remain  lower-case, as was common practice at that time. That distinction may  seem trivial now, but back then the capital "N" was thought to be an  indication of respect. Ultimately, the capital "N" won out.

The  next controversy over the five-letter "N-word" occurred half-a-century  ago, during the turbulent 1960s. It was a generational conflict: younger  people at that time wanted to drop the word "Negro" and replace it with  "black." Having battled so hard to get that doggone "n" capitalized,  the parents of the 60s youth resented their offsprings' rejection of  that hard-fought victory. Ironically, this was a battle of linguistics  more than anything else, because "negro" happens to be the Spanish and  Portuguese word for ... black! So it was a matter of whether one  preferred to be called "black" in English or Spanish. Yet feelings ran  so deep that some parents and children stopped speaking to each other  over what they wanted their race  to be called.

By  the 1970s, "black" became predominant, and "Negro" faded into the  background. A dictionary of self-referential terms followed, ranging  from "African-American or Canadian" to "people of color." Only a few  black people born after the Second World War continue to refer to  themselves as "Negroes."

Even  so, there is nothing wrong with that word. To this day, an  American-based organization called the United Negro College Fund  continues to use the five-letter "n-word" as part of its official name.  If the UNCF believed the word "Negro" to be detrimental, it would have  changed that name a long time ago.

The word "Negro" may be outdated and outmoded m this day and age. But it is not outrageous.

For sure, it's not worth fighting over.

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SEPT 2017: STATUES OF LIMITATION

One by one they are falling, like weeds being cleared from a long-neglected garden. Statues and other public monuments commemorating the Confederacy, that cabal of slave-holding Southern states that precipitated the American Civil War during the 1860s, are being taken down and placed in storage or in museums – anywhere other than the pride-of-place locations they have occupied in public parks and civic squares.    The presence of these monuments, along with the display and veneration of the “stars-and-bars” Confederate battle flag, has been the subject of acrimonious division and debate for decades. One side decries the continued presence of these monuments as constituting tacit – or, perhaps, overt – approval of slavery and the right to secession. The other side insists that the statues and flags are legitimate memorials to the history and heritage of the South.   Passions run hot and deep in this debate. It’s as though the Confederacy’s surrender in 1865 ended the war on the battlefield, but not in the hearts and minds of the descendants of those who fought in the conflict. Violence seethes beneath the surface of the dispute. Sometimes the brutality breaks through, leading to painful – and even lethal – consequences.    Case in point: In Charlottesville, Virginia, city authorities decided to remove an equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Confederate armed forces during their attempt to break away from the Union, from a public space ironically named “Emancipation Park.” In August, a gang of white supremacists for whom veneration of the Confederacy is only part of an overtly racist and anti-Semitic ideology marched in protest of the statue’s imminent removal. Counterprotesters who supported the removal soon appeared.    In the midst of the resulting chaos and confusion, a car rammed into the ranks of the counterprotesters, killing a young woman. A white-supremacist man faces charges in the wake of the tragedy.   

  Not only did the Charlottesville authorities uphold their decision to relocate the Lee statue; other Southern municipalities also took action to eliminate their Confederate monuments as well. Those measures prompted the expected pushback from people who continue to cling to the belief that the defeat of the Confederacy represents a “lost cause” rather than simply a lost war.   The union’s victory preserved the federation of states that went on to become the most powerful nation in the world, both economically and militarily. Reluctantly, then eagerly, the former Confederacy participated in, and benefited from, the advancement of the nation it had attempted to rip asunder. If anything, the South should be dotted with monuments honoring Civil War president Abraham Lincoln and Union General Ulysses S. Grant, who won the war, rather than Lee and Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate states. It stands to reason that many Southerners have long since accepted the result of the Civil War, and have moved on. Yet many others, as evidenced by the Charlottesville disaster, clearly wish the outcome had gone the other way … that the Confederacy had succeeded in its aim to establish itself as an independent nation.    But why? Do these dreamers really believe that residents of a separate South would have lived happily ever after, with no more interference from those do-gooding abolitionists from the North?   Well, you know the old saying: 

“Be careful what you wish for.”  

  Tons of alternate-history novels have been written about what might have occurred if the South had won the Civil War. Few, if any, of them paint an optimistic picture of such a timeline. Why would they, considering the extreme tensions that existed at that time?   With two mutually hostile nations – the United States of America and the Confederate States of America – facing off while recovering from the wounds of war, there is scant reason to believe that the conflict of the 1860s would have been the last war fought on American soil. The vast lands to the west of USA and CSA territory would have beckoned. Instead of one nation seeking to fulfill its “Manifest Destiny” to “win the West,” there would have been two. And the two nations would have fought like cats and dogs to expand their boundaries.   Indigenous Americans, also known as “Indians,” would have caught in the middle of these disputes over lands that had been theirs for millennia. Perhaps they could have played the CSA and USA off against each other, and thus maintained their autonomy. Or maybe they would have been defeated and dispersed, as they were in the timeline we know.   Mexico, which lost huge chunks of land to the United States at the conclusion of the Mexican War of 1846 to 1848, would have been in a perfect position to reverse those recent losses. With the USA and CSA at loggerheads, could very well have succeeded in that quest. They might have even built border outposts – or a wall – to keep Union and Confederate Americans out of the reclaimed territory.   Texas, which to this day styles itself as the “Lone Star State,” might have decided to secede from the seceders, which would have been a body blow to the CSA, especially in view of the threat from Mexico.   Can anyone doubt that Great Britain, which was approaching its apogee as a world power during the late 19th century, would have taken advantage of the war-weary Northern States to annex disputed territory south of the Canadian border? More land would have been added to the empire upon which “the sun never set.”   Also, the USA would not have possessed the fiscal wherewithal to purchase Alaska from the Russians. If the Bolshevik Revolution had occurred during this alternate timeline, the Soviet Union would have enjoyed a sizable foothold in North America, and would have proved a major player in the continent’s geopolitical affairs.   Clearly, the people for whom a Confederate victory would have had the direst and longest-lasting consequences are the African-Americans. There would not have been any need for post-slavery Jim Crow segregation laws in the South, because slavery would have continued. In the wake of defeat, the North might have continued to take in fugitive slaves as a way to damage the Southern economy – or it could have targeted the slaves as scapegoats and barred runaway blacks crossing the border between the two countries. Either way, life for blacks in an independent Confederacy would have been even more of a hell-on-earth that it was before the Civil War.   Yes, this is all just speculation. There are infinite variations on alternate-history timelines. It is within the realm of possibility that that in some of those variations, less-disastrous outcomes might have occurred. Even so, a Confederate win would have destroyed the “one nation, indivisible” that went on to achieve greatness in the world of our timeline. Instead, the territory that nation now occupies would be the site of two, and perhaps more, counties perpetually at odds and sometimes at war with each other.   So why in the world would anyone want to honor and revere the people who would have made that grim possibility a reality?    There is no need to burn the flags of the Confederacy, nor melt down the statues of its heroes. But there is also no need to accord them positions of prominence that that implicitly extol an ideology that was vehemently opposed even during its heyday. If there were no contemporary dissent against slavery and secession, the Civil War would never have occurred.   History needs to be preserved, within an appropriate context. Museums are the best place for monuments to the “Lost Cause.” Otherwise, they are nothing more than statues of limitation.  

Feedback

Morgan Holmes

The Confederate statue issue is a cause du jour these days. I had heard a lot of them were erected in the 50s and 60s when Jim Crow was being dismantled. I had three ancestors in the Union Army in the Civil War. The Confederates made it easy to wage the Civil War by firing on Ft. Sumter and attacking a Federal armory in Missouri. Had they attempted no violence
and wait out the Union, public opinion would have been different.

I can remember Steve Tompkins demolished Charles Gramlich's defense of the South the with whole "unique culture" ox manure. Steve shut it down that the South's unique culture was slavery.

A situation of two geographical populations who grew to despise each other. The South certainly seemed to be preparing for war for at least a
decade. Jefferson Davis as Sec. of War tried to give as many commands to Southerners in the 1850s as he could to get them ready.

CRS: Thanks for that valuable information, Morgan.

Confidence Chizoro

Great read. Wow, so many possibilities. Thanks as always for the insightful writing.

CRS: And thank you for your support, Confidence.


If  the Sword-and-Soul sub-genre were a relay race, I would be the starting  runner. The person to whom I would hand the baton for the next leg  is  Milton Davis. This is not the most appropriate analogy, though. I  haven't handed off any baton. Milton and I are running this race  together, side-by-side. And ... there's no finish line. My hope is that  Sword-and-Soul will go on indefinitely, with more and more authors  creating more and more novels and short stories, as well as visual art.
One of Milton's novels, published in 2013, has already become a classic. Its title is Woman of the Woods,  The story unfolds in Milton's alternate-world version of Africa known  as Uhuru, which is also the setting for his ground-breaking Meji novels.
The  title character is a warrior-woman named Sadatina. Adopted as an infant  by a farming family, Sadatina grows up unaware of her destiny. One  indication that she is not like other girls is her instinctual command  of combat skills. Another is the bond she establishes with a pair of  orphaned female lion cubs, who soon become her four-footed "sisters."
Beyond  the boundaries of Sadatina's home community,dire events are occurring.  An unholy alliance of humans, called the Mosele, and demonic beasts,  called the nyoka, is  seeking to dominate all of Uhuru. This conflict directly impacts  Sadatina when she returns from a trip to find her home destroyed and her  parents dead at the hands (and claws) of the nyoka.
With  the help of her ferocious "sisters," Sadatina avenges the deaths of her  parents. Then she becomes the "Woman of the woods," a reclusive slayer  of nyokas and protector of her people.
One  day, a mysterious stranger comes to her people's country: A warrior  woman who is a member of the Shosa, an order of female soldiers who from  the distant city of Wangara. Her name is Hazeeta, and it turns out that  she is Sadatina's natural mother, who had been forced by unbending  custom to give her daughter up soon after birth. 
After  a bittersweet reunion, Hazeeta takes Sadatina to Wangara, where it is  expected that the young woman will undergo training to become a Shosa.  But the free-spirited Sadatina balks at that prospect, and leaves  Wangara to return to her role as "Woman of the Woods."
Years  later, Sadatina has a change of heart, and she makes a second journey  to Wangara, this time to stay. Not only does she become a Shosa, she  rises to the top of the order, reaching the position of  Nana -- a  combination of commander and priestess.
In  the meantime, ominous and momentous events continue to occur throughout  the land. Two god-like entities, Karan and Rashadu, are fomenting  mayhem and destruction. Humans and nyokas alike are locked in a dance of death, and Wangara itself is in peril.
With  her lioness sisters at her side, and a talismanic magical sword named  Judgment in her hand, Sadatina plays a pivotal role in this cataclysmic  conflict. Before it ends, lives are lost, ancient wrongs are righted,  and new beginnings rise from painful endings. 
Although Woman of the Woods weighs  in at 275 pages, those pages are packed with enough action, color, and  spectacle to do justice to a novel twice its length. sometimes, it reads  like an African counterpart to the Norse Ragnarok, the Twilight of the  Gods. when Rashadu and Karan, along with Cha, the deity of deities, are  in the house?
Woman of the Woods is  not only one of the best Sword-and-Soul novels I've ever read; it's one  of the best fantasy novels, period. If you haven't read it yet, do  yourself a favor and order a copy at MVmedia Publishing The Best in Black Speculative Fiction! You'll be glad you did.

JULY 2017: MY COMEBACK

Hello,  everybody. It sure feels great to be back in the blogging saddle again,  after a long and unfortunate hiatus. And what better way to return than  with the announcement of a new book's debut?

The title of the volume isNyumbani Tales.  It is a collection of short stories I wrote during the period from the   mid-1970s to the late '80s. The yarns can be viewed as vintage  sword-and-soul ... the beginnings of my explorations into how African  myths, legends and culture could fit into the framework of contemporary  fantasy and sword-and sorcery fiction. From those explorations came the  exploits of my two major characters, the ultimate warrior Imaro and the  Black Amazon Dossouye. Their adventures are chronicled in four Imaro  novels and two Dossouye volumes. 

However,  the African experience, which stretched back to the beginning of  humankind, offers far more fuel for the creative fire. Thus, I have  written a number of sword-and-soul stories that feature neither Dossouye  nor Imaro. These stories appeared in small-press magazines, as well as  mass-market paperback anthologies. I have gathered these stories into a  single volume:Nyumbani Tales.   The title is a tribute to the name of the alternate-world Africa I  created as a setting for the Imaro stories and novels. Nyumbani also  serves as the background for the non-Imaro, non-Dossouye stories in the  collection.

The publication ofNyumbani Tales came about as a matter of pure serendipity. My friend Milton Davis, who has published my Abengoni novel and with whom I have co-edited theGriots anthologies,  came up with the idea of turning one of my short stories, "The Return  of Sundiata," into an e-book. I thought that was a great idea, and told  Milton so. In passing, I mentioned that "The Return of Sundiata" was  just one of several non-Imaro, non-Dossouye stories I hoped would be put  together as a collection some day. 

Milton said: "Hey, let's publish that collection now!"

My response: "Right on!"

So that's howNyumbani Tales came  to be. The scope of the stories therein pretty well encapsulates the  evolution of the sword-and-soul sub-genre, as well as an overview of my  development as a writer. Some of the tales date back more than 40 years,  appearing in zines for which I was paid either in copies or a fraction  of a cent per word. I am just as proud of them as I am of my novels, for  which I got paid much more.

Yet even in the glow of the publication ofNyumbani Tales, something niggles (That's an acceptable n-word, folks) at the back of my mind.

Part  of the current war of words over political correctness vs freedom of  expression is the debate about "cultural appropriation." Loosely  defined, cultural appropriation is an arrogant ripping-off of aspects of  one culture by artists and entrepreneurs of another. It can be anything  from the use of Native North American images as sports-team logos and  mascots to to casting white actors to play characters who were  originally non-white, or change entire cultures from colored to  Caucasian -- or vice-versa.

Lately,  I've been wondering if I'm guilty of cultural appropriation in my use  of African motifs as the basis for my fiction. If I were ever accused of  cultural appropriation, I would vehemently deny it. When I started  writing sword-and-soul, I believed I was righting a wrong by correcting  the way Africans and black people in general were, for the most part,  misrepresented if not ignored in the genres I nonetheless enjoyed. All  modesty aside, I believe I have succeeded in that goal. 

And  I'm not the only one. A scholar named Steve Tompkins, who is no longer  with us, once wrote that my work "decolonized Africa in fantasy  fiction." That stands as the highest compliment I have yet received. Its  implication is about as opposite to the notion of  cultural  appropriation as one can get.

Yet still ... sometimes I wonder.

If you have any thoughts on this matter, please feel free to express them in this site's Feedback section.

In the meantime,Nyumbani Tales is available in e-book, hardcover and paperback form at:MVmedia Publishing The Best in Black Speculative Fiction!

COMMENTS

Derrick Ferguson

Message:

A  day for rejoicing indeed! Allow me to add my congratulations on the new  website and voice my delight to have you back with us. Like everyone  else who already commented here, I've missed you .As for any "cultural  appropriation" on your part, baloney! (I had a stronger expletive that  also starts with the letter 'b' but we're keeping this family friendly,  right?) You looked at a popular genre and saw that there was an Africa  sized hole in that genre that needed to be filled and you went ahead and  did so. It's not given to many to be the founding father of an entire  new genre but you are. Rejoice in your accomplishments as we all who  read and love your work do.

CRS: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I like that phrase, "Africa-sized hole."


Gregg Chamberlain

Message:

At last, a new addition to my CRS collection... as soon as I can get the order in for a hardcopy version of Nyumbani Tales... and I remember with fondness and a bit of moisture in the corner of one eye the story of Amma. As for the "cultural appropriation" concern of yours, Charles... in one word... 'No!" You never were, never have been, never are, and never will be guilty of such a thing, and anyone who might infer otherwise is an idiot and deserves to be smothered in honey and dragged by wild asses through the fire ants colony field. There is a difference between cultural appropriation, with its disrespect (ranging from simple ignorance of those who copy sacred tattoos as part of their 'personal style' to the actual cultural artistic thieves), and cultural appreciation, which demonstrates complete respect (which all true martial artists embrace, as one example). The growing problem is the increasing number of morons who cannot tell the difference, but rather prefer to respond with kneejerk political correctness as they scold anyone and everyone in a blatant effort to show how "with it" they are. And that concludes my rant for the week. Try the veal, folks, it's delish! :)

CRS: Thanks for backing me up, Gregg. If anyone ever did accuse me of culturql appropriation, my response would be: "I am not Edgar Rice Burroughs." Nuff said?


Mshindo I.

Message:

Glad to see you back in the groove. I miss doing the work for your covers. Please feel free to ask for my services at any point. Peace and many blessings.

CRS: Your extraordinary covers for the Imaro and Dossouye books were, and still are, highlights for me, Mshindo. You can be sure I will be seeking more covers from you.


Ronald T. Jones

Message:

Charles, I read Nyumbani Tales and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am so glad you're back! I'm looking forward to more of your work and I'm eagerly awaiting Abengoni II!!!

CRS: Thanks, Ronald, and I look forward to seeing more of your work, too.


jude

Message:

hi charles, your new website/blog looks great! i'm so glad you're back in the saddle. the universe and your fans have missed you. much love jude

CRS: Thanks, Jude. For those who do not know, Jude was one of my teaching colleagues long ago. I learned from her, too.


Clifford Bird

Message:

Keep up the good work, Charles.

CRS: Thanks, Cliff. For those who do not know, Cliff Bird is a friend/colleague/publisher whom I first met back in the 1970s.


Confidence Chizoro Ehieze-Okeke

Message:

Thanks for all your work and dedication Sir. I just finished Nyumbani Tales and thoroughly enjoyed it.

CRS: Thank you as well, Confidence. I'm glad you like the collection.


Fletcher Vredenburgh

Message:
So  glad/excited to see you back in the saddle. Nyumbani Tales was easily  the S&S highlight of the past few years. Looking forward to what  comes next from your pen.

CRS: Thank you, Fletcher, for your steadfast support.


Ron Fortier
Message:
Happy  to have you back on-line, my friend. Here's wishing you continued  creativity for as long as the Good Lord blesses us with your presence in  this world. And a not on that first blog, I detest Political  Correctness. It's a form of censorship/intimidation I will not ever  yield. Freedom means saying what you want to say, even if it offends  others. We all have the right to be offended. Anyhow, welcome back,  you've been sorely missed.
CRS: The thing is, Ron, who defines "political correctness"?



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