Archive for September, 2009

I Hate(d) Nicknames (aka Re-Born Identities)

MoBro.

Wrath James White calls me this (only he and one of my uncles call me this). To this day, nicknames make me uneasy or at least uncomfortable. Granted, Wrath’s huge and thus gets away with a lot, but I’ve also begun to come to terms with the idea of nicknames. It doesn’t quite bother me like it used to because he’s like my big brother showing affection – I had gotten to the point where I couldn’t tell a well-intended nickname from a bad one.

Back in fifth grade, I was given the name “Crunch”. Now, I was the only black male in our class and as such, apparently I reminded a few of my mouth-breathing brethren of a Crunch bar. To this day, I doubt many of the folks I went to high school with even remember or knew the origins of the nickname since by then it had become strictly a term of endearment.

The “nicknaming” did not stop with Crunch, and became a source of amusement as the kids sought to outdo one another with their creativity at oral bullying. I was determined to not let their words hurt me, even making a joke of the issue. I carried around a list, filling up a page with three columns worth of “nicknames”: from Crunch(y) to Alabama Porch Monkey to Sambo (with some of the agile minds even putting the phrase “little black sambo” to a lilting melody)*. Granted, guys can be harsh with one another, riding each other, busting one another out of a sign of camaraderie and equality. But this was different and my little fifth/sixth grade brain trying to muddle through this acceptance through belittling, dehumanization, and the constant reminder of my “otherliness”.

It’s the analogous logic that leads some to take back the word “nigger” so that it loses its ability to hurt and we can make it our own … ignoring the reality that defending the use of that word only rationalizes the internalization of hatred. It perpetuates the legacy of hate, in one powerful word encompassing the history of slave ships to Jim Crow. The word is the penultimate form of dehumanizing, the spit-in-your-face kind of assault to one’s sense of dignity and self-worth.

The internalization of the hatred can eat away like a cancer. You learn to start absorbing hate, it becomes a standard way of dealing with accumulated hurts. Possibly even believing such hateful things actually define you. So this cycle of naming and internalizing continued until one day my teacher, Mrs. DuVall—also black—stumbled across the list.

“What’s this?”
“Nothing.”
“Looks like a list.”
“Just some things the kids call me.”
“Do you know what this is? What they’re saying about you?”

She then wadded up the list and threw it away. Just like that. People in power have the ability to name, to define, and I needed to take back any sense of power. The names don’t define me. My identity is not in hate, theirs or my own learned/absorbed (self-)hatred. We need to wad up the lists we’ve accumulated over the years—the ways our families, “friends”, or colleagues have contributed to developing our false selves—and throw them away. So I never tolerated any distortion of my name. I was always Maurice. Not Mo. Not Maury. Just Maurice.

Now since the first Mo*Con, I’ve been learning to re-embrace or rather better tolerate the nickname “Mo”. Because I know it now comes from a place of connection and familiarity.

I have no idea where this came from. It might be after effects from reading Wrath James White’s story, “Scab” (from the Dark Dreams III: Whispers in the Night anthology). I probably need to get back to writing my novel.

*When I called BFF Jon to help jog my memory on some of the other nicknames, his response was this: “Why are you needing to know fifth grade nicknames? The only one I can remember is Crunchy and I’m sure you already knew that one. There were plenty of others, none I would have taken the time to remember, because most of them were pretty stupid and racist by the morons we went to school with.” *Wadding up the list … again.*

Look What My Nipples Have Done*

At the World Horror Convention I did my first reading: my essay “Man-O-Gram,” first published in Morbid Curiosity #8. Morbid Curiosity, a non-fiction market for true life tales of horror, sadly came to an end with it’s tenth issue, but my essay has been included as part of the best of collection, Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Stories of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual is now available from Scribner. This collects 40 stories from the cult nonfiction magazine, Morbid Curiosity. These are the editor’s favorites about growing up Mormon in the bathtub of the dead, assisting a friend’s suicide, attending a Black Mass, and, well, my essay. Though this violates my rule on sustaining the author’s mystique, I thought that I would give a sneak at the beginning of the story here:

The plastic plate of the x-ray machine lowered with a whir as I stood against the cold metal beast, naked from the waist up. All I could do was stare at my breast while it was positioned to be compressed between the plates wondering “how the heck did I get here?”

Early in her pregnancy, my wife’s doctor diagnosed her with a condition called placenta previa. While the doctor explained to both of us the nature of the condition, all I heard was “You can’t have sex with your wife.” Seven long months later, my wife was still recovering from her C-section. As a first time mother settling into a routine of nursing, any broach of her bosom area was met with the rebuke of “Those aren’t for you” and my hands getting slapped. At that point, I didn’t trust myself bumping into furniture. My Saturday nights were reduced to TV watching and cold showers.

Before the Divinyls’ “I Touch Myself” gets cued, let me get on with my story. One day in the shower, I spied my wife’s breast self-examination chart. Okay, it had been there the length of our marriage, but every time I stepped into the shower, all my mind registered were pictures of breasts and every time it took a minute for me to realize why they were there. Today was different. I looked around (because that’s what you did when you are about to do something potentially embarrassing) and performed the self-exam.

I felt a lump.

Now would also be the time to mention that I suffer from hypochondria. Unfortunately, it was matched by my great dislike for doctors, so I sat around a lot obsessing about what I might have, while not actually going anywhere to do anything about it.

I noticed a pain in my bosom (I’m trying to say bosom as often as possible, not necessarily to avoid offending anyone, but to try and hide my soon-to-be-copious use of – read: obsession with – the word “breast”). The pain was so great, I decided to … call my sister. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds: my sister was in nursing school. (Well she was taking English and speech and other pre-requisite stuff.) She told me that it might be an ingrown hair or an infected spider bite. So I was like “cool”.

The next day, the pain in my bosom woke me up. I decided to squeeze my breast. White liquid started came out from around my nipple.

The story only gets worse from here. To laugh at my terror, go pick up the book:

The book’s home page

The book’s home page at Scribner

The book’s trailer

The Amazon page

*This is probably why I’m rarely asked to blurb stuff.

Living With a Writer

There she is, front and center. Do you see the glee on my wife’s face? Matched only by the devilish glint in Christie White’s eyes. You bear witness to the “what the hell was Wrath James White (and apparently Monica O’Rourke) thinking putting our wives together as the tag team of evil” on the panel the Seven Deadly Sins of Living With a Writer: the Highs and Lows of Life With A Writer at KillerCon. I am still torn about whether this was the worst idea ever or the most insightful panel I’ve witnessed in a while.

It sprang originally from a panel at Mo*Con IV where we were discussing what it was like as writers to be married to spouses who were fellow writers. Apparently the non-writing spouses wanted a voice in the matter. An interesting phrase was used by Karen Lansdale. She referred to what she called “the curtain,” the all-too-visible expression on our faces we get when it’s obvious that we’re in our heads writing.

This became evident to me on two occasions within the past week or so. My youngest son, Malcolm, employs a screech (it’s the most awful sound you’ll ever hear) when it’s time for me to help him with his homework. He says it’s to get my attention because he knows I’m writing. In other words, he’s learned already that he has to pierce the curtain. Even my boss recently commented that he recognizes the look of when my mind is no longer on the job, but rather working out plot points and character arcs.

We ask a lot of our spouses, wanting them to support us in different ways. To read our work, maybe even edit it, or let us run ideas by them. To us, that’s including you in the creative process, that part of our lives. Sometimes it’s a matter of taking care of the banalities (realities) of life, from having a career, providing little things like financial support and insurance benefits. Sometimes it’s a matter of giving us room to write by taking the kids out of the house so we can have peace and quiet to concentrate.

We can say “we’re working” all we want. Yes, hanging out on a message board and on blogs is work because it’s a matter of networking and interacting with fans Hanging out at a room party is work. Reading is work. Playing Scrabble on FaceBook counts as work (ok, a bit of a stretch, but I do play with my agent). As Leslie Banks pointed out, we’re like entrepreneurs in the middle of a business launch in terms of how much time, energy, and finances we pour into our career. Many times this is our second job (or even third for some of us).

Then there are the little things—which are bigger than we’d like to recognize things—that also take a toll. What we call “at least being there” as quality spouse or family time, they see as either just the back of our heads or just our eyes above the cover of our laptops as we write. We also ask them (sometimes just expect them) to give up a slice of their privacy as they find out that parts of their life has been shared within a bit of fiction. Be it arguments or personal situations. Many of us have had that … “corrective memo” … delivered to us that what was put in a story wasn’t meant for public consumption. (Does this sound familiar: “but honey, no one will know that you said this or this happened to you.” * “But I’ll know.” This scene may or may not be followed by a night on the couch.)

And they have to put up with our moods, the emotional frisson of creation, or what my wife may call my silent cry for the need for medication. (The “existential terror” sounds too grandiose for what she simply refers to as my “mood”.) The process is like giving my personal demons shape and substance, the accompanying mix of anger and depression that comes as I leap from inside one character’s head to another. Even friends find me especially hard to read if I’m not present in the moment but rather half in a character’s head wondering how’d s/he’d respond in that situation.

And I appreciate how great my wife has been about understanding all of this and put up with me. At the same time, I’ve promised to try to do better at being present with her and the family, learning to be in the moment and raising the curtain. It’s funny how any of us can be at home yet functionally absent, focused on whatever side project or work we’re doing.

Plus, there’s no winning an argument when I have to say at any point “seriously, honey. I was googling ‘autoerotic asphyxiation’ for research for my novel!”

Supernatural Season Four – A Review

“The Journey of Two Brothers”

I’m playing catch up on season four of one of my favorite shows, Supernatural, as episodes of season five stack up on my DVR. As the inheritor to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel brand of television horror, the season opens with the episode Lazarus Rising, with Dean (Jensen Ackles) returning from Hell (reminiscent of one of Buffy’s season cliffhangers and openers). His brother, Sam (Jared Padalecki), recipient of special powers due to the blood of a demon, hadn’t kept his promise to not train his special abilities. Sticking to the formula, the season builds towards the confrontation with the “big bad,” in this case, Lucifer himself.

Caught in the world of angels and demons, the brothers find themselves suddenly aware of the reality of angels—since demons were a given in their world—thus front and center of the battleground of spiritual warfare. In this cosmological battle between good and evil, the angels (Castiel and Uriel) as well as the demons, as spiritual, free moral agents, also make choices and have actions which have consequences in our world. This spiritual aspect to evil takes on a personal dimension in the form of Lucifer, aka, Satan.

“The adversary” is a force not equal to God, not God’s shadow self, nor the demonic-in-Yahweh as some people try to explain him. He would be a created being, the most powerful of the spiritual “principalities and powers,” the highest of what some cultures would call a god. Boyd then takes it one step further: what we see as evil is the collateral damage of humanity and creation being caught in a cosmological battle of spiritual forces. The reality of this war sends the brothers on two different journeys.
“This is your problem, Dean. You have no faith.” –Sam

For Dean, faith is a tricky thing. He becomes a living testimony of how as much as our rational minds demand proof, we can ignore what we’ve seen or intellectualize it away. For example, in three seasons, Dean has fought demons, been to hell, seen the miraculous, the transcendent dimension to our reality intruding upon our normal world quite often. Yet he struggles with the idea that angels exist. Why? Because that would definitively indicate that God also exists. Which raises an entire host of questions he’d rather not wrestle with.

“If there is a God out there, then why me?” –Dean

Like how he doesn’t believe he should be saved. That God would care about him at all, much less send an angel to snatch him from the pit of hell. Or the idea that he has any significance to God at all, much less that God has work for him to do.

“It doesn’t matter what you are. It only matters what you do.” –Sam

Sam has a different set of issues with these smite first, ask questions later, style of angels. He struggles with the thought that he’s simply a nice guy with something evil in him. Like the rest of us, he struggles with his dual nature, his fallen/cursed aspect vs. the man he’s trying to be and knows is capable of being. His powers represent a slippery slope of temptation into sin. Since this dual aspect of himself is something he has to deal with, his goal is to take a curse and make something good out of it. And he’s not alone. He has his brother, his fellow hunters, and other folks who speak into his life. Together they participate in a mission from God, a mission Dei, to help and save people from monsters.

Supernatural is filled with genuine terror moments. This season seems especially taut and focused on character. With Ben Edlund (The Tick, as well as a veteran of Angel and Firefly), Supernatural is easily the best horror and one of the most entertaining shows on television. None of that sparkling vampire crap everyone seems so fond of these days.

KillerCon 2009 Report

For folks who don’t know, Wrath James White and I are basically like brothers. Overly competitive brothers who like to one up one another. Orgy of Souls was written that way. In what constitutes the rest of our real life, I do a chili, he has to do a chili. He gets a book deal, I have to get a book deal. I do a convention, he has to do a convention. And par for course, KillerCon was Mo*Con on steroids.

As he didn’t learn any lessons after so often mocking me during my Mo*Con prep, I watched he and his co-chair, Monica O’Rourke, ran around madly seeing to everyone’s needs. (The lesson to have remembered: you don’t have to worry about programming gaffs because when in doubt, you have food, booze, and, well, Vegas. The conversations will take care of themselves.) The short and clearly sanitized summary, for those who didn’t just follow my twitter, work got done, new friends were made,
old friends were hung out with.
Plus it’s always good to meet with your agent in the flesh for a change.
This con had a series of firsts for me. I did a reading of some of my fiction (“Night of the Living Baseheads” the story that became the basis/a sub-plot in the first book of The Knights of Breton Court: Kingmaker). Don’t get me wrong, I’d been building up to it, having done some non-fiction readings (“Man-O-Gram”) and a few poems, but never a story. Though I could live without Wrath and Monica bragging about popping my reading cherry …

Also, though I’m use to doing a couple of panels, my wife Sally sat on a panel, the “what the hell was Wrath thinking putting his wife and mine on the” Seven Deadly Sins of Living With a Writer panel. That experience will require a separate blog post.

And the convention was in Las Vegas. With most cons, we rarely leave the hotel so the city hardly matters as long as there are bars/restaurants nearby. This time, we were rarely in the hotel. Of course, the Broaddus’ were personally hosted by Wrath and Christie, for which we are very grateful (and they were the consummate hosts).
With only two tracks of programming, one would think that the con would be more of a relaxicon. Yet between running back and forth to the Strip and trying to take in so much while there, KillerCon needed a few days to recover from (read: I can’t wait til the next one).

And “teh wife” has a more complete album of the event on her FaceBook.

Barbara Vey was live blogging the convention. You may want to check it out.

Life in the Broaddus Creative Mind

When I was in second grade, my teacher (Ms. Rainey) didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t exactly a bad or troublesome student, but I was the only black student in my class and obviously bored. Ms. Rainey had an overloaded class and had her hands full catching kids up to the current curriculum in class much less deal with students who were ahead of the curve. So she put me in a corner with a stack of paper and told me to just “create whatever appealed to” me. So I wrote, drew, created little books and just let my imagination and creativity run wild.

[As opposed to my brother, who was also bored, but his teacher—who shall remain nameless—had low to no expectations of blacks, males in particular, and all but said so. So through neglect, she stripped away any interest he had in school that he’s only regained as an adult.]

I was reminded about the state of my desk as I wandered into the room of my eldest son, Reese. He has his own desk in there, surrounded by books and stacks of paper. Within easy reach were trays of markers, pens, pencils, crayons, beads, and clips – things he’d need at fingertip access to in order to create at a moment’s notice. Everything was collected and separated by sandwich bags (which reminded me of the shelf of cereal boxes I used to use as my filing cabinets for all of my projects and “research” when I got home). All about were half-finished projects and preparation for new projects amidst the organized chaos that is a creative mind.

I had entered the forbidden zone since I had to clean it because when I’m in MY creative throes, I am compelled to clean and organize. No worries, I preserved the order and condensed it to his desk, getting rid of only the trash and toys and cups that tend to accumulate during … creative bursts.

Just something I wanted to note. On the flip side, we spent the evening trying to convince my youngest son that “Cock” was not the best way to shorten the name for his pet rock, “Cock-A-Doodle”. Of course, I suppose that I probably ought to be more disconcerted by him talking to and petting a rock …

Context 2009 Report (Much Belated Due to Deadline Constraints)

I make no bones about it: I love ConText. It’s one of my favorite cons to go to, not just because it’s a convenient drive for me to go to, but because they have great guests of honor such as Chris Golden, Jason Sizemore (you’ll note that Geoff Girard considers himself a Guest of Honor wherever he goes), and Steve Gilberts

which draw some great folks (Gene O’Neil, Gord Rollo, and the Brothers Grin aka Doug Warrick and Kyle Johnson).

and it’s a great atmosphere. This year they changed hotels and this new one was AMAZING (of course, the free breakfast buffet helps. Open Letter to All Con Organizers: you want to keep writers happy, it’s pretty easy. Supply free food and drink. We’ll always consider it a successful con after that).

Plus, this is one of those cons (read: affordable) where I can take the family. Now, teh wife gets that cons—despite the pics of schmoozing and the occasional drink—are still work for me, but as she’s not much of a reader has felt left out of this part of my life. Because of Mo*Con she now knows a lot of the folks who also make it a point to make it out to ConText. So I can do my thing, she and the boys can do their thing, and we can do our thing. At least that’s how it’s supposed to work on paper. The reality woks out more like the tale of two cons.

While I’m hard at work being interviewed by the Funky Werepig crew (who I was previously interviewed by)

Let’s check in on teh family

While I’m hard at work networking
let’s check in on teh wife, who had teamed up with her friend/co-conspirator/fellow author’s widow, Jill Gordon (wife of my co-editor of Dark Faith).

The advantage to family is that Sally could do her own networking (though I told them I’d quit referring to them as the “Artist Widows”), Reese could help out at my author’s signing, and I’m not above pimping out my sons in the name of marketing.

In short, this was the best ConText ever (which is doubly surprising considering how great the previous ones have been). But be warned, those not built for con life: it takes out even the best of us and leaves us spent.

Off to Killer*Con

Sorry. It’s been a flurry of activity trying to get my stack of piling up reviews written, work through the myriad details regarding the Dark Faith anthology, and writing a novel (not to mention that there are a lot of blog topics swirling around in my head that won’t leave me alone until I post them). Anyway, those are the main reasons for the blog silence, though I maintain a steady stream of gibberish via my Twitter.

And this weekend I’m off to KillerCon. Here’s my schedule for those looking for me:

FRIDAY

2:00PM: Seven Deadly Sins of Marketing and Self-Promotion. Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy: How to promote yourself and your work. Moderator: Matt Schwartz. Panelists: Brian Keene, Gabrielle Faust, Gene O’Neill, Maurice Broaddus, Lori Perkins

SATURDAY

10:00AM Seven Deadly Sins of Characterization: Writing Believable Characters While Avoiding the Tropes: Moderator: Bill Gagliani. Panelists L.A. Banks, Hal Bodner, Maurice Broaddus, Adam Coats.

4:30PM Reading by Maurice Broaddus

7:00PM Male or Female? The game show that challenges the audience to guess the gender of the author of a passage of classic or current horror. Can you tell the difference? Moderator Matt Schwartz. Panelists Allen K, Maurice Broaddus, Rain Graves, L.L. Soares [For the record, I am going to SUCK at this game!]

And in a scary turn of events:

Saturday

11:00AM Seven Deadly Sins of Living With a Writer. The Highs and Lows of Life With A Writer. Moderator: Jeannie Eddy. Panelists: Karen Lansdale, Christie White, Mark Worthen, Kelli Dunlap, Derek Sullivan. and now SALLY BROADDUS!!!

*GULP*

Devil’s Marionette Reviews

I have no idea what this means or their criteria, especially since Nick Kaufmann has gotten TWO of these, but now I’m obligated to do something vaguely horror novel related … so I’ll talk about ME!

Just like I did with Orgy of Souls, I will keep an updated list of reviews of Devil’s Marionette as they come in. An early review has stuck with me, however. I normally don’t engage reviews/reviewers as they took the time to read my work and so they are entitled to whatever opinion they have. But this one really got under my skin (in a good way!). I think because it mirrors my experience when writing the novella:

By Michele Lee from the Book Love site [4 out of 5 stars from the Amazon site]

I have a mental list of movies I’ve seen, and I don’t regret seeing them, but I never want to see them again. What Dreams May Come, Philadelphia, A.I and Funny Games all have their places on this list. Slowly I’m forming a list of books that I’ve enjoyed and would recommend, but never I want to read again. Devil’s Marionette by Maurice Broaddus is definitely edging its way onto this list.

There’s nothing technically wrong with this novella about the cast of a black skit show/sitcom descending into madness. The characters are raw, pain-filled and clear and the story itself is unfurled with the casual unstopablility of an oncoming freight train.

But there’s a weight here that threatens to crush the reader as well as the characters.
Broaddus’s novella starts right at the end of things and offers little in the way of background, or explanation, instead focusing on each individual breakdown of an otherwise talented and intelligent black cast. The crew aren’t being crushed by the white network bigwig (despite his efforts at dominating them), though, it’s their own connection to parasitic performers of the past that pulls them into more than personal darkness. Here it feels like the odds are so astoundingly set against them that defying the curse of the black performer is like trying to defy the laws of physics.

Yet despite this immersive, and painfully open experience of being each character as hundreds of years of hatred and racism crushes down on them, the reader is left with the same feeling as someone who witnesses something beautiful or terribly in a quiet woods. It’s almost as if this pain is clear and known, but we are not supposed to speak of it, or even admit that we know it’s there.

The aura or spirit of this book far out shadows the actual story within the pages. It’s left me feeling not thrilled, or entertained, but uneasy, a perfect tone for a horror novella to strike, but one not that makes experiencing it an entirely pleasant experience.

***
The RawSistaz Review

Sally Baffles Me

I suppose I’m long overdue for an update on my life as some folks have been wondering. To be straight, we’re still working through things, taking life together day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month.

After going very public with our situation, I mentally braced for the worst: expecting the relief of public humiliation, the security of the pillory. I’d go to church, sit by myself, then leave. Only in the last two weeks have I even taken Communion. I was accused of wearing a look which came across as arrogance or impenitent. It’s not like I can claim that a charge of arrogance would ever be misplaced with me, but ironically, the look has been that of a person ashamed to be seen in the church. Ashamed to be seen with his wife. Ashamed to be seen with a community he served so hard and betrayed so dearly. A person entirely uncomfortable with the idea of people loving him and with the idea of people forgiving him. It’s one thing to talk about it and know about it, it’s entirely another thing to experience it. And the whole thing has me … baffled.

Because after we blogged, prayers came in from around the world. The horror community wrapped itself around us. Meals were cooked for us. Folks dropped us notes which were not only really appreciated, but carried us through some dark moments. There were those who dropped everything to come sit with us. Those who planted themselves firmly in “my cave” not only to hold me to account and keep asking me the hard questions, but to make sure I got back up, dusted myself off, and keep on the path of becoming who I am meant to be and live.

I don’t know what to do with any of that. I seriously don’t know what to do with or how to process the love shown to me. Which brings me to the title of this blog, though I might be better off saying that love baffles me. Sometimes I feel like a kid being force fed medicine: being held down, thrashing about like the most uncooperative of patients … while those surrounding me patiently love me back to health.

There are times when the shame and guilt threaten to overwhelm me, days when I was drowning in it. And it became easy to believe that God had washed His hands of me or that was too dirty and guilty to be in His presence. It became easy to forget that the Doctor was in, and He came for the sick, to treat the wounded (even those with self-inflicted wounds). He then reminded me that I was right where I’d always been: in the cup of His hand, showing me what it means to be loved.

Love stays right there with us even during the ugly and dark times. Love sees the person you are meant to be and helps moves you along toward becoming that. Love doesn’t let you off the hook, nor does it want you to define yourself by your sin or failures. You can’t outrun love.

There are times in our lives when we don’t listen to our hearts, to what we know to be true. We may betray ourselves. Our friends. Our family. Our community. God. We become lost. There’s no way to undo the mess I’ve caused in people’s lives and the hurt Sally has had to go through, all the damaged relationships surrounding us, all the broken Shalom, all of the betrayed trust. There’s no way for me to go back and undo years of bad choices. Lord knows I wish I could. Just like I know that forgiveness takes time. All I can do is attempt to live a life of repentance.

I still find it difficult to believe in and listen to love. And there still may not be a happy ending at the end of this story. But I have learned this much: in chasing after a dream, it’s easy to miss the beauty and love in front of you. And I pray to one day be worthy of it.