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MF GALAXY

MF GALAXY is a weekly podcast powered by four mighty engines: * Writers on writing: the craft and the business * Pop culture including TV, movies, graphic novels, and more * Progressive politics, activism, and social enterprise * Africentric change-makers, histories, cultures, art, and more! Mixing brand-new interviews with classic conversations (from my archive of 23 years in broadcasting) with famous and dynamic figures in the arts, Hollywood, and politics, MF GALAXY will take you to places you've never been before, and deliver fresh insights on the places you've been.
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Sep 15, 2016

Award-winning writer Jennifer Cockrall-King is a journalist and the author of Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, a book on global movements in urban food production.

Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers including the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Post, Maclean’s, and many more. She spoke with me live onstage at Authorpalooza #2 in Edmonton at Cha Island on November 26, 2014.  She talks about the business and the craft of being a freelance journalist and how the skills for both can help other writers boost their careers, and what her A-game is, what it means to physicalise her writing, and how to learn from other writers.

Next up, award-winning fantasy novelist Eileen Bell. Her debut novel was the paranormal mystery Seeing the Light, which won the 2014 Book Publishers Association of Alberta award for Best Speculative Fiction Book of the Year, and was shortlisted for the Bony Blythe Award for Light Mystery. She’s also the author of Drowning in Amber and Meeting the Parents, edits for On Spec Magazine, and wrote one of the novellas in Women of the Apocalypse. She spoke with me at Authorpalooza #3 on March 11, 2015 live at Devaney’s Pub in Edmonton.

 

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Sep 1, 2016

London-born Jenn Brissett is one of those classic overnight success stories who was decades in the making. Her first novel, Elysium: Or, The World After, was the runner-up for the 2015 Philip K. Dick Award and a finalist for the 2015 Locus Best First Novel Award. She’s currently completing the sequel called Eleusis and has had stories published in The Best of Halfway Down the Stairs.

She has a Master degree in Creative Writing specialising in Speculative Fiction, and also an Electrical Engineering degree with a concentration in Visual Art. Prior to winning literary accolades, she owned and ran Indigo Café & Books in Brooklyn.

In today’s MF GALAXY, we discuss:

  • Her strategies for creating intimacy for readers
  • How, why, and where she takes careful observation of her fellow New Yorkers
  • Why she uses analogue methods in a digital age for editing her work
  • Her take on using the five senses and, yes, extra senses, in order to make her work the best it can be, and
  • How to defeat imposter syndrome

And along the way, Brissett cites fantasy author David Anthony Durham.

She and I spoke on July 22, 2016 by Skype, and we began by discussing which teacher had such a huge impact on her, and why.

 

jennbrissett.com

 

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Aug 8, 2016

To be alive is to eat. To enjoy life is to eat. To meet with family and friends and reminisce and plan the future is to eat. And of course, all of human culture, in one way or another revolves around our basic need to stay alive through producing, consuming, and loving food.

So why do so few novelists, poets, lyricists, and other writers talk about food in their work?

I’ve been cooking since I was a kid and have always loved everything about acquiring, making, and consuming food, and in recent years I’ve become an enthusiastic and productive gardener. I’ve relished (ba-dum-ching) my conversations with other people, but especially other writers, about food. This episode features the sparkling ideas about food, culture, science, feminism, social justice, technology, and more of three delightful human beings and celebrated writers:

SG Wong is the creator of the Lola Starke hardboiled detective series (Die on Your Feet, In For a Pound, and Devil Take the Hindmost), set in Crescent City, California, in an alternate history in which China colonised North America. An Arthur Ellis Award finalist, Wong is also a sparkling stalwart of Edmonton’s literary scene as an organiser of writer conferences. She’s one of those outstanding individuals whose endless energy benefits everyone in the community. 

Ekaterina Sedia is the author of The House Of Discarded Dreams, The Secret History of Moscow, and The Alchemy of Stone. She’s a short story writer who also occasionally edits anthologies, and was an interim non-fiction editor for Clarkesworld Magazine in the fall of 2008. She blogs television, books, fashion, food, and even cats, with a focus on the intersection between fashion industry and feminism. She encourages readers to contact her at katsedia@hotmail.com.

Nalo Hopkinson, whom the Routledge Companion to Literature and Science calls a luminary in the science fiction community. She is widely known for her Africentric science fiction and fantasy novels exploring the experiences and cultures of African peoples in the Caribbean and ultimately into the galaxy. She’s the author of ten celebrated books including Skin Folk, Sister Mine, The New Moon’s Arms, and her explosive debut Brown Girl in the Ring, a dystopian science fiction adventure set in near-future Toronto featuring an African-Canadian heroine and the orisha gods of Nigeria and Benin.

The bonus edition for Patreon subscribers features an extra 40 minutes of conversation, so sign up, why doncha?

For more information including recipes, visit MFGALAXY.org.

Jul 28, 2016

Thirty actors, writers, film makers, cartoonists, singers, MCs, DJs, and academics answer the question: Does racial tension ever disappear for you?

 

  • T.E.D.D.Y.
  • Wes Borg
  • Joy Lusco Kecken
  • Michael Muhammad Knight
  • Thomas Wharton
  • DeWayne Copeland
  • A Lee Martinez
  • David Simon
  • Ishmael Reed
  • Scott Wilson
  • Waymatea
  • Robert Chew
  • Shawn Taylor
  • Isaiah Washington
  • Sonja Sohn
  • A Peter Bailey
  • Wendell Pierce
  • Lisa Yaszek
  • Abdi Samatar
  • Lester Kenyatta Spence
  • Jamie Hector
  • Amir Sulaiman
  • Gene Luen Yang
  • Stephen Notley
  • Jitu tha Jugganot
  • Ann Vriend
  • Runoko Rashidi
  • Sharon Lewis
  • Seith Mann, and
  • Clark Peters

 

A couple of important links:

David Simon refers to conflict with Charles Roc Dutton while making the miniseries The Corner. For further reading, check this article.

I asked A. Peter Bailey about African youth in the US (and Canada) believing that education is “White,” and learned later for the outstanding sociologist Algernon Austin and his book Getting It Wrong that such claims are mostly a myth. Listen to my interview with Algernon Austin here.

 

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Jul 19, 2016

I've been asking the question for over two decades. Now here the responses in part one of a special two-part series on MF GALAXY featuring, in part one (be sure to download parts 1A and 1B):

Angela Davis

Billie Jean Young

Billie Jean Young

Ernest Dickerson

Lorraine Monroe

Chuck D

Reginald Hudlin

Michael Parenti

Mario Van Peebles

Ralph Nader

Andre Royo  

Bill Fletcher

Vern Thiessen

Kenneth T. Williams

K Tempest Bradford

Jim True-Frost

David Barsamian

David Mills

Neil Grahn

Darryl Lenox

Wendell Pierce

William B. Davis

Robert Wisdom

Ted Bishop

Charles Saunders

Clark Johnson

Titilope Sonuga

Juan Cole

John Jennings

Ron Pederson

Seth Gilliam

Ed Burns

NK Jemisin

Christian A. Brown

Janine Jackson

Algernon Austin

Wab Kinew

 

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Jul 12, 2016

John W. Campbell Award-winning novelist Mur Lafferty is the author of the six-volume Afterlife series, the Shambling Guides series, Playing for Keeps, Merry Christmas from the Heartbreakers, and Marco and the Red Granny. She’s been a podcaster since the beginnings of podcasting, starting in 2004, and she’s won the Podcast Peer Award and three Parsec Awards. Last year, she was inducted into the Podcaster Hall of Fame for shows such as Geek Fu Action Grip, I Should Be Writing, and her writing business show Ditch Diggers. She holds an MFA in popular fiction. She’s also an avid pro-attendee of fiction conventions, and annually publishes a beginner’s guide to preparing for con season.

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Mur Lafferty discusses:

  • What it is about novel proposals that is so profoundly unsatisfying she might switch to writing on-spec permanently
  • The craft of revision, and her latest method for jumpstarting a stalled manuscript
  • Cloning vs. inventing for character creation, and her favourite book to explore character archetypes
  • Why she’s hate-watching The Bachelorette
  • Why she says that reality TV is populated by narcissists and extremist TV pundits are sociopaths
  • Why working with an editor is like experiencing the five stages of grief, and
  • What happened when an editor asked her to make a sex scene more graphic

 

Lafferty spoke with me on July 07, 2016 by Skype from her home in North Carolina.

 

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Jul 9, 2016

Gail Sidonie Sobat is a singer, teacher, author of eleven books, and organiser of YouthWrite, one of Canada’s most successful and enduring creative writing workshops for young people. She’s taught internationally and at the post-secondary level, and is profoundly devoted to writers, the writing community, and teens and kids in distress.

In this episode of MF GALAXY, Gail Sobat discusses:

  • How YouthWrite encourages students to develop writing skills and experience across writing disciplines
  • Mental hacks to overcome writing blocks and guarantee page output
  • How being a teacher has helped her create better and more truthful characters
  • Why she says she has an ethical duty to listen, and
  • Her excellent business advice for writers seeking to build a career for the long run

 

Continuing from the previous episode of MF GALAXY, is part 2 of my conversation with comic book and video game writer Andrew Foley. Andrew Foley writes for Beamdog Game Studio in Edmonton, and wrote the graphic novels Parting Ways (illustrated by Scott Mooney and Nick Craine) and Done to Death, illustrated by star-artist Fiona Staples. He’s also the writer of the graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens.

In this episode, Foley discusses:

  • How comic book scripts are similar to screenplays
  • The Marvel Method of writing as a scam to make artists do most of the work
  • What makes Alan Moore an insane genius
  • How a car accident led Foley to create his graphic novels Parting Ways + Done to Death
  • Why working with superstar artist Fiona Staples wasn’t enough to guarantee their graphic novel stayed in print, and
  • His career advice for anyone who wants to enter and stay in comics.

Andrew Foley spoke with me live onstage at Authorpalooza 1 in October 2014 at the University of Alberta.

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Jun 29, 2016

SG Wong is the creator of the Lola Starke hardboiled detective series set in Crescent City, California, in an alternate history in which China colonised North America. Arthur Ellis Award-finalist Wong is also a sparkling stalwart of Edmonton’s literary scene as an organiser of writer conferences. She’s one of those outstanding individuals whose endless energy benefits everyone in the community. In this episode of MF Galaxy, SG Wong discusses:

  • How a major publisher of her first novel did almost nothing to sell their own book
  • The impact of going indie on her work and creativity
  • How writers must view their own work
  • Under what conditions writers should conduct seminars in schools
  • Her approach to world building her magnificent alt-earth setting of Crescent City, and
  • How writers should approach writing characters who possess an ethnic, racial, or other identity unlike their own.

Along the way, Wong refers to Gail, meaning the novelist, writing teacher, and literary organiser Gail Sidonie Sobat. SG Wong spoke with me live onstage at Authorpalooza 3 at Devaney’s Pub in Edmonton in April, 2015.

SG Wong reads from Die On Your Feet

Next, from Authorpalooza 1 from October 2014, is comic book and video game writer Andrew Foley. Andrew Foley writes for Beamdog Game Studio in Edmonton, and wrote the graphic novels Parting Ways (illustrated by Scott Mooney and Nick Craine) and Done to Death, illustrated by star-artist Fiona Staples. But to some, Foley is best known as the writer of the graphic novel Cowboys & Aliens, and that’s the subject of “Andrew Foley’s True Hollywood Stories.”

Jun 24, 2016

Here’s what Stephen King has to say about Tananarive Due’s best known novel, My Soul to Keep: It’s “an eerie epic [that] bears favourable comparison to Interview with the Vampire. I loved this novel.”

When one of the best-selling and most-loved novelists of all time praises your work like that, you know you’ve arrived. But success wasn’t overnight for Tananarive Due. After working for years as a journalist, she took a leave to co-write Freedom in the Family, a memoir of the 1960s US human rights struggle from the perspective of her mother, Patricia Stephens Due, who’d been an activist in it.

Due is the author of twelve novels, including The Living Blood, Devil’s Wake, and Joplin’s Ghost, and the short story collection Ghost Summer. Due has won the American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and the Kindred Award. In 2004, along with Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, Due received the “New Voice in Literature Award” at the Yari Yari Pamberi conference co-sponsored by New York University's Institute of African-American Affairs and African Studies Program and the Organization of Women Writers of Africa. In 2010, she was inducted into the Medill School of Journalism's Hall of Achievement at Northwestern University.

With her novelist husband Steven Barnes, Due writes the Tennyson Hardwick mystery series in partnership with actor Blair Underwood. She holds a journalism degree and an M.A. in English literature from Leeds, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar.

She currently teaches screenwriting at UCLA and in the MFA programme at Antioch University ,Los Angeles.

In this episode of MF GALAXY, Tananarive Due discusses:

  • How learning screenwriting can make you a better novelist
  • Why anyone aspiring to be a novelist should master the short story first
  • Why, even as a creative writing teacher, she won’t read your novel
  • How novice writers mis-use so-called witness narrators
  • Ongoing racist barriers in Hollywood, but a surprising breakthrough in some writers’ rooms for women, and The origins of psychological realism in contemporary science fiction and fantasy

Due spoke with me on June 6, 2016 by Skype from her home in Los Angeles.

 

Writing blog www.tananarivedue.wordpress.com

Website www.tananarivedue.com

Jun 14, 2016

The “brain drain” from Africa’s 55 countries is the cause of much lamentation—sending legions of doctors, engineers, and other professionals to serve the West at the exact moment they can lead economic growth at home.

But Titilope Sonuga is part of the unheralded but very real “brain train,” the expatriates who are moving back home with education, skills, and networks they’ve gained abroad.

Sonuga has ridden that train. She’s lived on two continents, had a career in Canada as a civil engineer, co-founded Edmonton’s thriving Breath In Poetry performance collective and hit stages with her work across the country, relocated to her family’s home country of Nigeria, become an Intel spokesperson to encourage women to use information technology, performed her verse at the inauguration of Nigeria’s president, and ascended to television stardom in Nigeria.

Not bad for a thirty-year-old, huh?

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Titilope Sonuga discusses:

  • How she came to perform at the presidential inauguration for a country of 180 million people
  • Her approach to rehearsals for spoken-word poetry performances and how she addresses anxiety
  • The purposes of Intel Nigeria’s campaign She Will Connect, and why the tech giant asked her to be its spokesperson
  • The many reasons that artists should embrace science and technology, and how her engineering mindset lives in her poetry aesthetics, and
  • The perks of getting famous by being a star on one of Nollywood’s most beloved television shows.

Sonuga spoke with me by Skype from her apartment in Lagos, Nigeria on November 15, 2015.

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Jun 9, 2016

Although Saskatchewan-born songwriter, piano player, bassist, and singer Colleen Brown now lives in Ontario, she spent most of her musical education and career in Edmonton. She’s released five albums, including her 2004 debut A Peculiar Thing, 2008’s Foot in Heart, and 2015’s Direction. Brown has opened for acclaimed musicians including Randy Newman, Jim Cuddy, and Hawksley Workman, and she’s toured the United Kingdom and Germany. While she’s often compared to Joni Mitchell, her voice and her musical approach are truly her own.

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Colleen Brown discusses:

  • The horror of what recording artists call demo-itis
  • The Canadian artistic tradition of competitive hoop-jumping, otherwise known as applying for grants
  • The importance of the right kind of feedback from the right kind of person
  • Learning how to deal with con artists and overpromisers, and
  • How best to help fellow musicians trying to earn a living

Colleen Brown spoke with me by Skype from her home in Ontario on April 26, 2016. We began by discussing the turmoil of recording studio disasters.

Jun 1, 2016

Vancouver-based comics artist and writer Faith Erin Hicks has been publishing graphic novels since 2007, and her best known books include Brain Camp, Friends with Boys, and The Last of Us. She’s just released the historical adventure work The Nameless City, set in medieval China. Her work features girls and boys in contemporary, realist, and horror scenarios, and is funny, heartfelt, and exciting. Part of the energy and character in Hicks’s drafting comes from her animation training, which also emphasised the importance of what animators call “acting” in pictures. In 2011, she won the prestigious Eisner Award for The Adventures of Superhero Girl.

Hicks’s latest work is The Nameless City, published by First Second. It’s the first volume of a trilogy set in Mongol-occupied China. It’s about a street girl named Rat and a military brat named Kai who learn from each other about how much bigger life is than their own deprived worlds, and how they run head-first into a plot to assassinate their city’s ruler.

In spring 2016, Hicks was touring North America to support The Nameless City, and in April she came to Edmonton as the guest of Happy Harbor Comics, through which she conducted workshops around the city and in St. Albert.

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Faith Erin Hicks discusses:

  • The intended audiences of The Nameless City trilogy
  • The remarkable speed at which she created the thumbnails—or prototype comic pages—for The Nameless City
  • Her switch from contemporary realist and horror to historical fantasy adventure
  • Reactions from East Asian readers and creators to the book’s Chinese context, and
  • The significant difference between the “girl stories” that female and male graphic novelists are creating

 

Hicks spoke with me by Skype on April 29, 2016. She began by discussing the superstars of animation and graphic novels who’ve raved about The Nameless City.

faitherinhicks.com

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May 24, 2016

The core contradiction of North American science fiction and fantasy fandom is that while often describing itself as a bastion for people who faced rejection from small-minded people, for decades it offered plenty of rejection of its own.

North American fan culture was dominated by European men and boys, predominantly middle class and straight, with Western, Northern, and ancient Southern European cultural reference points. While obsessed with physical sciences and militarism, it was largely ignorant of social sciences and popular struggles for justice.

Even to this day, as plenty of fans attest, fandom was a closed shop where alleged outsiders could ride the starship in small numbers, but could never by the helmsman or the captain.

While some abusive and oppressive fans still cause havoc for others as with the Gamergate and Hugo Award Rabid Puppies scandals, many fans have brought many changes. And inside that fan-vanguard are feminist participants and creators who are changing the culture and changing the content.

Cosplay has moved from mass-produced and monotonous Star Trek uniforms to superbly hand-crafted costumes from thousands of storyworlds. Convention artists tables are no longer simply sales-spots for a few men, but rows and rows of women with outstanding art, particularly of female characters in exciting, fun, and non-sexist portrayal. Women are creating science fiction, fantasy, and superhero comics, graphic novels, documentaries, feature films, costumes, video games, conventions, and more. They’ve evolved the scene from what it used to be, into where it’s going for the 21st Century.

In E-Town, that leadership belongs to the Lady Geeks Unite. On the first Thursday of every month, they meet at Happy Harbor Comics for Lady Geek Nite. They host a range of events that include table top gaming and role-playing games, documentaries and discussions, and costume creation workshops, and annual events such as a Christmastime fan-craft sale.

For a few months I was embedded at Happy Harbor Comics to write a play about it for Workshop West, and I got to attend many meetings of the Lady Geeks and learn of their mysterious ways. So on May 14th, 2016, I sat down at the store with lady geeks Sylvia Douglas and Sylvia Moon to talk about what they do.

Sylvia Douglas is an arts administrator, writer, and indie filmmaker who works for FAVA, the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta, and she’s a board member for the Alberta Media Artists Alliance Society. Sylvia Moon is a graphic designer who helped organise Lady Geek Nite since its inception; she even designed its logo. She was one of the artists who created the World’s Biggest Comic during the final two days of the Royal Alberta Museum’s original location.

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, the two Sylvias discuss:

  • How Lady Geek Nite began and why it’s so important
  • How Lady Geek Nite empowers women and girls who’ve otherwise found themselves silenced in male-dominated fandom
  • The illogic of sexist snobbery against cosplay
  • The debate of self-expression vs. objectification
  • Who’s better: Ripley or Barbarella, and
  • The evolution and devolution of Wonder Woman over the decades

 

www.LGNYEG.wordpress.com

 

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May 17, 2016

Malcolm X is an icon of Pan-Africanism. Born May 19, 1925 to a Pan-Africanist family active in Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, Malcolm survived the racist murder of his father and his own descent into crime and prison. He emerged as a minister for the Nation of Islam, one of several organisations born from the US government’s destruction of Garvey’s UNIA.

While committed to the NOI’s religious doctrine, Malcolm X developed a secular, revolutionary, political ideology that combined Garveyism with the Original World liberation struggles raging against imperialism throughout the 1950s and 60s. So respected was he that after he broke from the NOI in 1964, Malcolm X formed the united front Organisation of Afro-American Unity and won observer status on behalf of African Americans at the newly-formed Organisation of African Unity. While Nation of Islam assassins murdered him in Harlem on February 21, 1965, extensive evidence points to involvement of the United States government as Karl Evanzz details in his monumental work The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X.

On today’s episode of MF GALAXY, we’ll hear from Evanzz and also from Malcolm X associate A. Peter Bailey, who was the editor of Malcolm X’s newsletter The Blacklash, later the editor of Ebony magazine, and eventually the co-author with Malcolm X’s nephew Rodnell Collins of Seventh Child: A Family Memoir of Malcolm X. I spoke with Evanzz and Bailey in 2005 for the 80th anniversary of Malcolm X’s birthday. They’ll offer their responses to the then-unfinished final work by Manning Marable, later published as the controversial Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Marable claimed, among other things, that Alex Haley, the author of Roots and co-author of Malcolm’s Autobiography, was collaborating with the FBI against Malcolm X’s interests. We’ll also hear Evanzz and Bailey on three chapters deleted from the Autobiography, whose contents Marable claimed were explosive.

Karl Evanzz is one of the planet’s leading Malcolm X scholars and also the author of The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad. He was once an online editor at The Washington Post. Both men spoke to me by telephone from Washington DC in May 2005.

But first we’ll an excerpt from a February 21, 2005 Democracy Now! interview with Manning Marable, former head of Columbia University’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies. He authored a dozen books, including How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America. We’ll then hear Bailey’s and Evanzz’s reactions.

For links to Malcolm X books, including a discount ebook offer for The Judas Factor, and a video of editor Jared Ball discussing his book A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X, visit mfgalaxy.org.

And to hear the half hour patrons-only extended edition of this focus on Malcolm X, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.

By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes:

  • Malcolm X discussing his political ideology and why he urged people to keep their religious life private
  • Karl Evanzz on Malcolm X’s final political evolution and how he thinks some biographers have misrepresented it.
  • The disturbing case of an attempt to auction an item literally stained with Malcolm X’s blood for $50,000, and
  • Director and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson discussing the aesthetics and effects of the 1992 Spike Lee feature film Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington, for which Dickerson was director of photography

 

May 9, 2016

Although best known for her role as the Baltimore homicide investigator Kima Greggs, Sonja Sohn is also a performance poet; her second film role was in Marc Levin’s 1998 indie film Slam, which she also co-wrote. She went on to appear in John Singleton’s Shaft reboot, and in Martin Scorcese’s Bringing Out the Dead. Of combined African-American and East Asian heritage, she won a 2008 television supporting actor Asian Excellence Award for her work on The Wire.

In 2008 she campaigned for Barack Obama, and in 2009 she founded reWIRED for Change (http://rewired4change.org), a Baltimore-based NGO that seeks to help at-risk youth. In 2011, she won the Woman of the Year award from the Harvard Black Men’s Forum.

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Sohn discusses:

  • How she as a writer responds to the scripts she’s given to act
  • The experience of inclusion in and alienation from African Americans and Asian Americans
  • How her character Kima Greggs was a badass at work but a kitten at home
  • Her opinion of author Walter Mosley’s self-appointed mission to create what he calls Black Male Heroes, and
  • How The Wire characterises African American women

Sohn spoke with me by telephone on September 11, 2008. She began by discussing her experiences and influences as a poet, and the poetry scene in the US as she knew it in 2008.

 

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May 2, 2016

Joy Lusco Kecken began her professional screenwriting career as an intern and script coordinator for NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street, and went on to freelance for the show. She served as a script coordinator for HBO’s The Wire, for which she also directed one episode and wrote three; she served as a story consultant on the 50 Cent bio-pic Get Rich or Die Tryin’, wrote for Standoff and The Division, directed the documentary We Are Arabbers, and wrote and co-directed the award-winning short film Louisville starring Andre Braugher.

In this episode of MF GALAXY, Lusco Kecken discusses:

  • How the multifaceted role of script coordinator on Homicide and The Wire helped her build her writing career
  • How her experience as a script coordinator partly interfered with her work as a director for The Wire
  • How a teleplay “beat sheet” works
  • The research she conducted with police, in the community, and even in jails, in order to serve her material faithfully
  • How she used her own life experiences in some of the most powerful moments of her scripts, and
  • Why a beloved character from The Wire was slated to die and who stopped the killing

Along the way, Lusco Kecken cites Wire series co-creators and writers David Simon and Ed Burns, both of whom I’ve interviewed about their work on The Wire. Keep listening for those conversations on upcoming episodes of MF GALAXY. She also cites The Corner, the controversial collaboration between Simon and the late David Mills whom I also interviewed, the miniseries that depicts the miseries of people with addictions on a Baltimore street corner.

Lusco Kecken spoke with me by telephone on January 25, 2008. She begins by discussing the work of a script coordinator and how it shaped her career.

 

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Apr 25, 2016

Cathleen Rootsaert is a remarkable creator. She wrote plot and dialogue for the video game Mass Effect 3 by BioWare, and edited dialogue for the studio’s Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 2 games. In the late 1980s, along with rising improv stars Wes Borg, Neil Grahn, and Paul Mather, she co-founded the legendary Edmonton comedy troupe Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, which had a brief run as a CBC television series.

She’s the playwright behind Mimi Amok, After You, Legacy, Make Me and Mama Mia! Me a Mama? which won the Sterling Award for outstanding new work. She also won the 2005 Alberta Playwriting Award for Abigail in Twilight. She appeared on the Ken Finkelman series The Newsroom and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival special I’m Becoming a Mother. She’s a core member of the two-decade strong live improvised soap opera Die Nasty!

In this episode of MF GALAXY, Cathleen Rootsaert discusses:

  • How improvisation helps writing
  • Understanding body mechanics of speaking and how actors talk
  • How to develop the ear to find the voice
  • The different kinds of laughs writers must understand
  • The mechanics of long-form improv, whether stretched over a theatrical season or in one 50-hour show
  • The game mechanics of improv
  • The Three Dead Trolls experience of working in TV comedy and facing the proverbial “suits”
  • How sketch comedy prepared her to write video games
  • Why she wishes she’d had more stomach for failure when she was younger
  • Her advice on editing scripts and relationships
  • How, despite not being a science fiction fan, she writes for one of the most successful science fiction video games ever made, and
  • How she dealt with resistance to including humour in Mass Effect 3

Along the way, Rootsaert refers to “beats” in a script, which is a specific stage playwriting term referring to how long it takes characters to seek their goal for a scene before changing their tactics.

 

Apr 18, 2016

Kenneth T. Williams is one of Canada’s most accomplished playwrights. His work ranges from the grim to the hilarious, and is endlessly provocative. His many plays, several of which have been published, include Café Daughter, Gordon Winter, Bannock Republic, and Suicide Notes, and celebrated actors such as Lorne Cardinal and Tantoo Cardinal have appeared in his plays Thunderstick and Three Little Birds, respectively.

Williams has been the playwright-in-residence for the Drama Department at the University of Saskatchewan, where he also teaches playwriting. He splits his time between Edmonton and Saskatoon. Williams hails from the George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, and is the first Indigenous person to earn an M.F.A. in playwriting from the University of Alberta.

In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Williams discusses:

  • The vital importance of curiosity for writers
  • Why character motivation and action is indispensable
  • What he means by the need to “eliminate Red Shirts” and why “everyone must drive the Death Star”
  • Why he disputes a star of Canadian Literature who denounces humour in writing
  • How he knew he was ready to teach playwriting
  • The indispensability of workshopping
  • What it means to be a text-based character-driven playwright, and
  • Why a script must be able to adapt to any stage

Williams spoke to me by Skype in November, 2014 from his office at the University of Saskatchewan.

Apr 12, 2016

Vern Thiessen’s plays are among the most produced theatre in Canada, and his work has delighted audiences across the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. His many dramas include Lenin’s Embalmers, Apple, and Vimy.

He’s written for young audiences, worked on a commission for the late Leonard Nimoy, and created an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. He’s won the Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award, the Alberta Playwrights Network Competition, and Canada’s highest literary honour, the Governor General’s Award.

Despite coming from a Mennonite family in Winnipeg, Thiessen spent seventeen years in E-Town and won the Canadian Jewish Playwriting Competition for Einstein’s Gift. For seven years he also directed youth and community engagement theatre education in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. He’s since returned to the Big E where he’s the Artistic Director of Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre.

In this episode of MF GALAXY, Vern Thiessen discusses:

  • His experience of community-social theatre engagement in New York
  • How, despite competition from other media, theatre endures and in some ways triumphs over those other forms
  • The link between immersive theatre and video games
  • The effect of the Edmonton International Fringe Festival on theatre across Canada
  • Why Thiessen is a devoted pantser
  • Why he wants to leave audiences inconsolable
  • The imperative of revision and his dynamic strategies for it, and
  • Why writing plays is easier than writing novels

Vern Thiessen spoke with me in November, 2014 at Workshop West about his aesthetics and writing strategies that have made him one of North America’s most celebrated theatrical voices.

Apr 5, 2016

Tom Fontana is the writer/producer and/or showrunner on St. Elsewhere, Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, Copper, The Jury, The Beat, The Bedford Diaries, and The Borgias.

He’s also one American television’s most celebrated writers. He’s received the Cable Ace Award, the Humanitas Prize, an Edgar Award, the Austin Film Festival’s Outstanding Television Writer Award, first prize at Switzerland’s Cinéma Tout Ecran Festival, three Emmys, three awards from the Writers' Guild, four from the Television Critics Association, and four Peabodys. And all this, if his website is to be believed, without using a single computer--Fontana claims to write longhand on yellow legal paper.

Long before HBO’s The Wire took all the credit for long-form, serial innovation in US television addressing racism and oppression in the United States, there was the work of Tom Fontana. Long before Denzel Washington was an A-list money-magnet, he was guided by Fontana’s pen as Dr. Philip Chandler on the acclaimed St. Elsewhere.

Andre Braugher was frequently lauded as the finest actor on US television for his work as Detective Frank Pembleton on the Fontana-driven Homicide. Oz showcased Eamonn Walker as Muslim Minister Kareem Said, Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje as Simon Adebisi, Harold Perrineau as Augustus Hill, Ernie Hudson as Warden Leo Glynn, and muMs da Schemer as Poet.

In other words, Tom Fontana, a Euro-American writer, has created some of the very best African-American, Nigerian, and Muslim characters—and in the last two cases, some of the only ones—on US television. He also created an archetype we’ll hear about later in the show: what I call “the Malcolm X Professional.”

Tom Fontana spoke with me via telephone from his office in New York at the end of March 2003, shortly after the US Academy Awards and during the illegal US invasion of Iraq, events that arise during our conversation, and which include Ari Fleischer, then a spokesman for US President George W. Bush, and Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore who’d then just made a speech critical of Bush at the Academy Awards. Our conversation focuses on Fontana’s strategy for creating such iconic and dynamic characters.

tomfontana.com

tomfontana.com/scripts

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Mar 29, 2016

Christian A. Brown is an epic fantasy author and indie publisher who’s earned the praise of Kirkus Reviews, Clarion Reviews, The Huffington Post, and a former supervising producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show. The former fitness trainer is also an active blogger on numerous topics, including gender and sexuality, and on his mother’s experience of cancer.

Christian Brown spoke with me by Skype on December 30, 2015 via Skype. We discussed:

  • How he distinguishes between cruelty and clarity in an editor
  • The clichés of high fantasy, including sexism, and what he calls “the need for male wenches”
  • How fantasy fiction ignores LGBTQ issues, how his own writing employs psychological realism, and why he needs to surprise himself
  • The business of writing and indie publishing, handling returns as an indie publisher, and why you need to own your ISBNs

During the discussion, I alluded to the concept of hypomania and mentioned the theory of multiple intelligences, but forgot the name of its framer—Howard Gardner (https://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences). We began by discussing Brown’s preferences for how an editor should work with him.

www.christianadrianbrown.com

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To hear the patrons-only extended edition of my conversation with Christian A. Brown, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.

By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Christian A. Brown discussing:

  • How there’s no such thing as writer’s block
  • The routine he employs to meet his quota of ten pages per day
  • Why you should quit while you’re ahead
  • Ways to remove obstacles to flow
  • The importance of Stephen King’s On Writing
  • Why indie publishers need to defer to certain professionals
  • The importance of investing in your career, including what you should pay for and what you shouldn’t, and
  • How he as an indie novelist got radio and TV coverage and distribution in Canada’s biggest book chain
Mar 22, 2016

Ice-T is one of the best-known artists from what is now widely known as the golden era of hip hop—the 1986 to 1992 span that saw the widest assortment of lyrical content and the climax of political and Africentric work.

West coast artist Ice-T brought a mixture of allegedly autobiographical stories and fictional ballads named “crime rhymes,” while also engaging in incisive social commentary against racism, media, and government.

In 1992, Ice-T’s musical career nearly imploded under attacks from White police, Charlton Heston, Al Gore’s wife Tipper, US vice president Dan Quayle, and President George H.W. Bush. Ice-T’s heavy metal band Body Count released the revenge fantasy ballad “Cop Killer,” about brutal and murderous racist police.

Having survived the onslaught with the support of The National Black Police Association, Ice-T continued to grow his acting career, which had begun with the 1984 US film Breakin’, grew through 1991’s New Jack City, and later hit its height on television’s Law & Order: SVU.

In the year 2000, Ice-T performed in Edmonton at club then called Red’s. In this episode you’ll hear what he had to say, including:

  • How he’d changed over the years
  • The personal price of political speech
  • How hip hop is overintellectualised
  • Whose opinions are irrelevant for him
  • His experience of the Million Man March
  • The unconventional means needed to help unconventional youth
  • His ongoing relationship with female criminals
  • His thoughts on Will Smith
  • What he doesn’t put into his body, and
  • His reflective and hilarious stories of being a touring musician.

A few of notes: I have no way of knowing what claims Ice-T made of his past are actually true; creating a fictional onstage persona is almost as much a key element of hip hop as it is of pro-wrestling. At one point Ice-T describes having been a pimp; I don’t know if his claims are true, but certainly now as a husband and father, I marvel at my failure sixteen years ago to have asked him about the inherent depravity of such a degrading and misogynistic profession. You are a grown-up, so decide for yourself if you want to listen.

That being said, for those of you who subscribe to the EXTENDED EDITION PODCAST, you’ll hear the commentaries on Ice-T’s remarks, also recorded in the year 2000, by E-Town community activists Darren Jordan and Kelly Fraser.

Also, when I recorded this interview in the year 2000, I’d never heard of Kid Rock. That’s important to know to understand the sarcasm of Ice-T’s comment and my confusion at his answer.

Finally, Ice-T let me interview him immediately after his show. There’s no question that any artist, or speaker, walking offstage after an intense performance is in a mind-state that isn’t suited to honest reflection, but to spectacle and artifice. But note while you’re listening how Ice-T slowly calms, becoming quieter and possibly more sincere. He was generous with his time, and for that I thank him.

 

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To hear the half-hour of patrons-only bonus material about my conversation with Ice-T, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.

By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes community activists Darren Jordan and Kelly Fraser from a Terrordome interview in the year 2000 discussing:

  • Ice-T’s abilities as a social balladeer
  • How his onstage performances address and discuss women
  • How Ice-T compares with Dead Prez and Eminem
  • Whether Ice-T has matured
  • The tendency to dismiss critics as bourgeois
  • The peak of Ice-T’s social commentary
  • What “keeping it real” in song actually means for a rich celebrity, and
  • The discord between Ice-T the man and the persona

 

Mar 14, 2016

It’s one of the most innovative and best-written Western animated series ever made, Avatar: The Last Airbender. Brian Konietzko and Michael DiMartino created its three seasons, which ran from 2005 to 2008. While technically aimed at children and teens, the series had a vast adult following that continues to grow via DVD, and because of its sequel series The Legend of Korra.

Distilled to its essence, Avatar: The Last Airbender is about a Dalai Lama-style boy monk with super-powers. He’s a bender, a person who can shape the four elements to his will. In this world, each element has a nation: the Air Nomads, the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, and the Fire Nation. Young Avatar Aang, born an Airbender, awakes in a world in which the Fire Nation has destroyed the balance among the nations by waging a war for global conquest.

Young Aang already knows air-bending, but if he’s to defeat the Fire Nation armies and its Fire Lord, he has less than a year to master the other elements, or face a planetary dictatorship that is now invincible. Avatar is a lushly animated and intelligently-written series with memorable and touching characters. It’s alternately deeply philosophical and hilariously slapstick.

Sifu Kisu is the martial arts consultant for the series. He’s the man who designed the distinct bending moves for each of the four nations and all the lead characters, and choreographed all the weapons fighting, based on his own decades of training in Chinese and other East Asian fighting systems. Avatar without his enormous impact wouldn’t be the same—try imagining Star Wars without the Force and light sabres. In the show’s final season, the creators transformed Sifu Kisu into a character named Sword Master Piandao, voiced by Robert Patrick, best known for playing the T1000 in Terminator 2.

Sifu Kisu has led a fascinating life. In addition to his decades of training in and teaching of martial arts, he’s been in the US armed forces, served as a body guard to foreign dignitaries, and worked in Hollywood; as an African-American super-achiever in martial arts, he’s befriended many of the most accomplished African-American practitioners of various fighting forms.

Sifu Kisu and I discussed:

  • How Sifu Kisu came to be the fight choreographer and martial arts consultant and concept designer for Avatar: The Last Airbender, even though at the time he was on a self-imposed exile from Hollywood
  • How Sifu Kisu worked with the producers, directors, and artists to translate his martial arts moves into animation, and how he invented the multi-martial system for the series’ elemental bending
  • How Kisu used the martial arts of Jingis Khan to design the martial arts for the evil fire bender Azula
  • How Sifu Kisu ended up as a character in the series named Sword Master Pian-Dao, and the impact of Avatar on the world of martial arts
  • Sifu Kisu spoke with me by telephone from his home in Los Angeles on February 20, 2012, and as you’ll note by his references to The Legend of Korra, that series was still in production.

We began by discussing Sifu Kisu’s pitch to Hollywood for his own animated martial arts series, which embodies his ideals for how martial arts can improve humanity.

 

To hear the half-hour, patrons-only extended edition of my conversation with Sifu Kisu, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.

By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Sifu Kisu discussing:

  • How he began learning East Asian fighting arts and the discipline required to perform literally thousands of kicks per day
  • Why he believes his advanced martial arts training saved his life without him having to throw a single kick or punch
  • What martial arts taught him about the difference between his ideal self and his real self
  • Sifu Kisu’s experiences with Hollywood stars and major martial arts masters including Dr. Moses Powell and Ron Van Clief, and how he almost got the starring role in The Last Dragon
  • Overcoming Hollywood racism
  • The martial arts difference between fighting on screen and fighting on the street, and how his Northern Shao-Lin kung fu fighting system addresses grapplers and grappling, the core theory of Northern Shao-Lin, and real danger in the world of martial arts

 

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Feb 29, 2016

The word “psychopath” strikes terror. While most people imagine psychopaths to be extremely rare serial killers, in fact, most psychopaths are not murderers, but exploitative and terrorising managers, bosses, politicians, drug dealers, pharmaceutical CEOs, family members, clergy, atheists, police, teachers, and others we’ve met and under whom we’ve suffered.

The Canadian researcher Robert Hare is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject of psychopathy; he developed a screening test called the Psychopathic Check List (Revised) or PCL-R, and estimates that approximately one percent of people, or around 70 million humans, are psychopaths.

But Robert J. Sawyer thinks otherwise. Sawyer is one of Canada’s most celebrated novelists with endless awards and accolades. His carefully-researched science fiction novels have earned acclaim across the globe. And his latest novel, Quantum Night, theorises that psychopaths aren’t one percent of humanity, but two-sevenths—that is, about two billion people.

And wait: it gets worse. That another four billion people are not figuratively, but literally mindless—so-called “philosopher’s zombies” or P-Zeds who speak and act just like we do, but who have no interior life whatsoever: the talking dead.

Sawyer’s latest novel—which I regard as his best ever—is as intellectually provocative as it is chilling, and as he revealed to me before any other media source, it may be his final one. The book is about a Canadian psychologist, Jim Marchuk, who realises that psychopathy may be a quantum mechanical event that will end the world—unless he can end it first.

Rob Sawyer spoke with me by Skype from his home outside Toronto on February 23, 2016. We discussed:

  • Why, if humanity is two-sevenths psychopathic, the world isn’t in even worse shape
  • What rights the mentally-dead should have, if any, if they actually exist, and
  • How the model for Jim Marchuk—contemporary philosopher Peter Singer—advocates against eating animals but for abortion and infanticide.

Along the way, I cite the DSM-V, or the fifth edition of the North American “bible” of psychological diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Full disclosure: Rob Sawyer and I have been friends for over a decade.

We began by discussing the novel’s fascinating and disturbing central idea: that psychopathy and intelligence itself arises from a quantum-mechanical setting in the microtubules of neurons.

sfwriter.com

Cross-Canada book tour

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Feb 29, 2016

Born in East Harlem in 1936 to Puerto Rican and Italian parents, Benedict Fernandez became one of the most celebrated photographers in the United States, in large measure through his documenting some of the most powerful images of the human rights struggle of 1960s and 70s United States, and especially from visually documenting the final year of the life of Martin Luther King.

Fernandez has earned numerous prestigious awards for his work, including a Fellowship of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in China, a US National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Various museums around the world house his work in their permanent collections, including the Smithsonian, the US National Portrait Gallery, the Schomburg Center, the University of Tokyo, and the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Fernandez has published several books of photographs, including IN OPPOSITION: Images of American Dissent in the Sixties, and I AM A MAN.

During African History Month in 2001, Fernandez came to give a lecture during an exhibition of his work at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. He spoke with me afterward to discuss:

  • Should photographers ever put down the camera and get involved in what they’re shooting?
  • His upbringing in the turf wars of Spanish Harlem
  • How dyslexia led to his career in photography
  • Why, despite being a Guggenheim Fellow, he found himself disinvited to a panel on addiction in the inner city
  • How Fidel Castro rescued him from realtor racial profiling, otherwise known as red-lining
  • The meaning of what Fernandez calls “mental poverty”
  • How he became Martin Luther King’s official photographer during King’s final year, and what King was like in person, including what he ate and why he bragged about his polyester suit, and
  • The meaning of having photographed one of the most iconic figures in human rights history, and his resistance to the marketing of King’s image

 

Along the way, Fernandez cited two former King associates: Andrew Young, later mayor of Atlanta and American ambassador to the United Nations, and Julian Bond, later a Georgia State Assemblyman and Chair of the NAACP.

benedictjfernandez.com

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