Writer Interview: Thelonius Legend (#BlackWritersChat, #BlackComicsChat), Novelist & Superhero Dad!

On February 3, 2015 I had the privilege of interviewing my colleague Thelonius Legend, one of my writing world’s Twitter organizers (#BlackWritersChat, #BlackComicsChat) and keen proponent of the Twitter book club @BlerdBookClub, which most recently hosted Tananarive Due. Thelonius is also the author of Sins of the Fathers, the first of a series of novels about teenaged superheroes Eve, Ana, and Gwen Parker, which I reviewed here.  I’m currently beta-reading the next book in the series.

***

E. P. Beaumont: The first thing I’m curious about – how you decided to write fiction, the story of your evolution as a storyteller.

Thelonius Legend: Always loved fiction.And I have always admired the ability of storytellers to craft something with just their imagination and determination

EPB: What was the inspiration for Sins of the Father, your recent novel?

TL: My daughters were my primary inspiration. They love to read fantasy and sci-fi but didn’t see a lot of protagonists that looked liked them between the pages. And just the challenge of completing something that at the beginning seems so daunting. I love to challenge myself, and writing a sci-fi novel is a pretty good challenge.

EPB: You’ve been very active on Twitter inspiring other artists and writers, with #BlackWritersChat and #BlackComicsChat. Could you talk a little bit about how this started?

TL: It wasn’t preplanned or anything, just came about organically. I kept coming across the most talented people that no one (including myself) had ever heard of. So I started the chats to give artists I like and appreciate a signal blast, and it has grown from there

EPB: There have been some great connections made there! Personally, I’ve been amazed at the connections I’ve made on Twitter, and increasingly I’m reading books recommended by friends and colleagues on social media.

TL: Same here.

EPB: And this week, on #BlerdBookClub, I notice that the author of the book is going to be on the chat!

TL: Yes. I always reach-out to the authors and see if they are able to join #Blerdbookclub chat. And that’s always great because you get to pick the mind and interact with established writers, which is pretty cool.

EPB: The thing that I love about Twitter is the conversations that naturally occur, the fact you can talk to people all over the world! And we’re really all writers together, just at different career stages.

TL: I agree. In the 90’s, “synergy” was a word that was constantly being used by corporations as they formed mergers and acquisitions, as justifications for layoffs and getting bigger.  Turns out these synergies never happened, but they happen everyday on Twitter.

EPB: I’ve had some great conversations that have inspired both fiction and nonfiction writing.

What books are you reading right now?

TL: Outside of the IT world, can’t remember the last non-fiction book I read.  Just been really on a fiction kick lately…

Right now I’m reading two books: Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Holder and Into the Go-Slow by Bridgett Davis.  Both #BlerdBookClub selections. [Note: Into the Go-Slow was the February selection; Half-Resurrection Blues will be discussed on March 15, and the author will be on the chat. See @blerdbookclub on Twitter for details.]

EPB: Me too! I’m in the middle of those two, along with a whole bunch of others. Multi-tasking, as you said. 🙂

TL: Yeah I have to read your book next! And then I’m finishing up my second novel to get it out to beta-readers.

EPB: That’s the tricky thing about the writing life: there’s first draft, then editing, then beta reading… I’m looking forward to reading the draft of your next novel. Loved the humor and wild ride of the first one. I’m going to have mine ready on the 14th – Valentine’s Day. Appropriate for a college romance (although also plenty of action too).

[Disclaimer: I am excessively ambitious. It did not work out on this schedule, but beta-reading Thelonius’s novel gave me the key to revising mine.]

TL: Cool. Looking forward to reading it.  Mine should be available for beta-reading my next Tuesday or Wednesday.

EPB: Excellent! So .. another question. Who are the writers who really inspire you as a science fiction / fantasy writer?

TL: Funny thing. I gather most of my inspiration from the classics.  The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison is my favorite book, followed by Of Mice And Men by Steinbeck.  In the fantasy realm, my favorite author is Ursula K LeGuin, followed by George RR Martin.

EPB: Toni Morrison’s Beloved really inspired me to think about fantasy as a language for talking about historical trauma.

TL: The way Toni Morrison writes is awe-inspiring.  There is another author who I am big fan that just most beautiful prose. His name is Paul Beatty. He wrote Tuff and White Boy Shuffle. Just a very talented writer.

EPB: Oh wow! Another one for The List. 🙂 I haven’t read Beatty (yet.)

TL: His writing is incredible. It has a poetic hip-hop vibe to it that I find alluring…

EPB: Yes. Really great storytelling is rooted in voice.

TL: I agree. I need to start reading more poetry to help with my prose …

EPB: Poetry is amazing! And there is a whole world of SF/F poetry now.

Do you read your work aloud as you’re drafting or revising? That’s a pro tip I learned from poets…

TL: No I don’t but I’m going to start…

EPB: I learned that one from Jeanette Winterson, an English writer who’s done some SF/F-flavored work (Stone Gods, Tanglewreck, Battle of the Sun).  I asked the question about reading aloud because you mentioned your daughters as inspiration for your superhero story. Is storytelling part of your Dad Skill Set?

TL: I hope so. Like most dads, I’m always telling my daughters how well they have it compared to when I was coming up and not to squander their opportunities, and I use real anecdotes and stories from my childhood.

EPB: I use those stories a lot in teaching. “I fell on my face doing that, so you don’t need to.” Sometimes I tell them I have a patent on those particular mess-ups. 🙂

TL: Learning mixed with humor is always best. But as a parent, I realize my daughters are more than likely to repeat my mistakes and make some new ones. That’s a maddening fact of parenting and life…

EPB: oh yes. And there’s the paradox that stuff that’s interesting to read about is exactly the stuff you want to avoid in real life. 🙂

TL: Exactly!

EPB: I think that one of the things I learned in writing characters messing up was a whole lot more forgiveness for my own mistakes. As I was reading Sins of the Father, I kept thinking about the glimpses of the parents — they definitely had a challenging job! The comic possibilities of “parents of superheroes” are manifold…

TL: I definitely wanted the parents POV to provide a more fuller picture of the Parker Sisters. Their perspective was important in understanding the responsibilities of parenting kids with super-powers. Plus it was fun!

EPB: It made me laugh out loud. And part of that laughter is fear — the adult question of “how are those kids going to get into trouble NOW?”and the usual adolescent pranks go up a few notches when the adolescents have super powers. And you really captured the wild energy of teenagers.

TL: Yeah, and the thing is they are good kids who get in trouble sometimes which good kids do but you add super-powers to the mix and the potential for calamities and hi-jinx increases exponentially

EPB: How many more books are you going to be writing in the universe of Sins of the Father? What other projects do you have in mind?

TL: I have nine books diagrammed out. The first three introduces you to the Parker sisters as they start the journey of becoming super-heroes.  The first book focuses on Eve, the second on Gwen, and the third on Ana. After I finish that, I plan on writing a sci-fi novel about the mythical Amazon Warriors in modern times.  Then a detective noir novel based on a character who is actually the uncle of the Parker sisters and gets all his tech from Ana.  After I introduce all these other characters they will team with the Parker Sisters to face an existential threat.  It’s going to be fun!

EPB: Sounds awesome! Speaking of Amazons, have you seen Adrienne Mayor’s book The Amazons?  Nonfiction treatment of the Amazon legends not only from Greece by also the Far East, and the archaeological evidence for existence of egalitarian warrior societies.

TL: No I’ll have to read it for research.  My Amazons are going to be based on Viking lore and more specifically the shield maidens.

EPB: Oh yes! The Viking women were bodacious. 🙂 I wanted to be a Viking when I was a kid. Then learned it was no longer a career option.

TL: Really looking forward to it. I already started talking to a scientist about select breeding (eugenics) and the regression to the mean. I love the science aspect of it…

EPB: Oh wow! We should talk nonfiction some time. In the meantime, thank you for the interview and for all you do for the writers’ Twitterverse. 🙂

TL: Thanks for reaching out and being such a great mentor in the Twitterverse! Really appreciate that!

EPB: I have awesome mentors and colleagues myself, and the only way we ever repay that is to pass it on. Have a great night, and my best to you and your young superheroes!

TL: Thanks! Same to you! Plan on starting your book next week

EPB: And looking forward to beta reading yours.

***

[The following conversation took place after the February @blerdbookclub chat with Bridgett M. Davis.]

EPB: Excellent book chat!

TL: Thanks! IT was fun.  She was great!

EPB: Just amazing. Made me think we should add on a nonfiction book club.

TL: I’m game!

EPB: After all, lots of us are inspired by our nonfiction reading!
So The Warmth of Other Suns is definitely next up on my “epic ongoing reading list,” Just finished Lawrence in Arabia, which makes clear a lot of the WWI-era imperial diplomacy that gave us the current Middle East.

TL: I def need to expand my list. but time is limited writing, daughters, work

EPB: I know. So many books, so little time. 🙂

TL: Yep. I plan to start writing my 3rd after I finish a couple more books…

EPB: and after I write tomorrow’s review column, I’m starting on beta reading your novel!

TL: Cool. And I’ll start writing book 3 in about a week. Got about four books to get through first. And maybe some poetry.  Who is your favorite poet?

EPB: Oh wow, that’s like asking my favorite body part. Or favorite child, if I were a parent. 🙂 In English: Dickinson, Lorde, Blake, Hopkins, Yeats, Hughes (Langston) …in Russian, Tsvetaeva and Akhmatova.

TL: I’ll try Yeats.

EPB: I’m a very convoluted prose writer, so I admire spare poetry. I also love translations of the haiku masters. So much mood in so very few words.

In my wild youth, I once got into serious trouble drinking wine and declaiming from Yeats’ collected works at the same time. This resulted in too much wine. Now I don’t mix poetry and alcohol.

TL: LOL That is hilarious. I’ll focus on Yeats and Hughes for now…

EPB: Hughes is awesome. I also love his prose: Ways of White Folks (stories) and The Big Sea (memoir). He taught me a lot about what ‘American writer’ meant.

TL: So much to learn!

EPB: Ars longa, vita breva — a saying that no doubt goes back to the caves. 😦

***

Thanks to Thelonius for a great interview and many fascinating chats since!

Next week’s interview: Veronica Scott, science-fiction and fantasy romance writer. We talk about her action-packed romance tales (from an AU version of ancient Egypt to the far future) as well as our favorite books in SF/F genre.

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