Archive for January, 2013

Cities of Refuge Ministries Now Live

red-house-business-card-logo-altOkay, since my friends keep pulling the “Tommy ain’t got no job”* routine on me, I figure I ought to explain what I’ve been up to the last few months.

So about a year ago, a friend of mine approached me to do a transitional housing ministry. At the time I was doing full time freelance writing, but my wife had indicated that she would like to see a more predictable and steady income stream. I figured this would be a good stop gap measure: doing part time ministry work (even though I swore I was “out of the game”) while doing full time writing.

God love wives: mine laughed at us from the beginning. She thought it was cute the way we thought this was going to be a part time endeavor, when the truth was that this was a ministry that cut close to both me and my partner’s hearts: ministry to the poor, racial reconciliation, working with the arts. We were going to be doing full time hours for part time money because we loved the work. I hate it when she’s THAT right.

The second thing I learned is that apparently, despite all my “being Mauricenary” talk when it comes to writing, I have a reputation around the city for doing ministry work for nothing. Every time I bumped into a pastor buddy of mine and told them what I was up to, they’d get this real solemn look in their eye and they speak to me in real serious tone: “Maurice, please tell me that you’re getting paid for this.”

Anyway, at the beginning of the summer, we had a home that had been remodeled with one guy living there. By the end of the summer, we had half a dozen guys living there. The model is family, as we have a bunch of guys from various backgrounds (re-entry, recovery, homelessness), who had been used to being lone wolves, suddenly forging a community. The entire endeavor is about building relationships.

Core-Indy-Social-Logo By September, we realized that we’d been so busy DOING the ministry, we hadn’t done anything in terms of the little things, like naming it. Thus Cities of Refuge Ministry was born. The overall vision is to keep buying and rehabbing houses, using some for transitional housing and others to provide home ownership opportunities for some of our neighbors. We will concentrate in one neighborhood, to help revitalize it. We use the rehabbing projects to employ our neighbors, but we are setting up other microbusinesses to help employ them also.

Anyway, I say all this to explain what I’ve been up to (I’m the Executive Director of Cities of Refuge Ministries) and to say that our web site is finally up and running.  You can also follow us on Twitter.

 

 

 

*And now, a Martin flashback …

Bring Me to New York

KnightsOfBretonCourt-300dpiAuthor and teacher extraordinaire, Kevin Lucia, is doing a series of fundraiser events in order to raise money to have me come out to speak to some of his students at Seton Catholic Central High School. I thought I’d let you all know to see if we could help out (I know, not TOO self-serving):

1) There’s the IndieGoGo. From the site…
For the past four years, Seton Catholic Central High School in Binghamton, New York has been fortunate enough to enjoy visits from a variety of acclaimed poets and writers who’ve donated their time and effort to work with our student writers: Daniel G.Keohane, Andrei Guruianu, Bryan Davis, Norman Prentiss, Claudia Gabel, Rio Youers, and Phil Tomasso. For the past two years, we’ve also had the extreme pleasure of hosting creative writing workshops taught by Tom Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson, as a well as an illustration workshop with Danny Evarts.

This year, acclaimed horror and urban fantasy author Maurice Broaddus was slated to visit Seton Catholic Central High, but our usual grant sources dissolved due to budget cuts shortly after Maurice agreed. The purpose of this group is to “quarterback” fund-raising efforts among the Seton Catholic Central High School community and the horror community, as well as Maurice Broaddus’ readers. Among these efforts is a Barnes & Noble Book Fair – running in-store January 25th – January 27th, and online through February 1st. Other fund-raising efforts – book auctions, and a Kickstarter page – will be listed here, also.
2) There’s a Barnes & Noble event. If anyone wants to purchase anything online at BN.com from January 25th through February 1st, if they use the following promo code: 11008356, that will count toward their totals. More details can be found on Kevin’s site.

I fully expect my friends to pitch in. Any excuse to ship me out of their hair …

Mama – A Review

Mama-movie-poster“No Child Left Behind”

With Pacific Rim looming in the summer distance, anything with the name Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) attached to it catches one’s attention.  Mama is a feature-length expansion of a three-minute short that director Andy Muschietti made with his sister, Barbara. Mama is one of those movies designed to make people yell at the screen.  Every horror convention gets pulled out the bag of tricks with plenty of plot hinging on “just cause” moments (as in “why did he do that?”   Just cause).  Yet despite the premise, all of the bad horror movie tricks, and the endless stream of clichés, Mama manages to wring an effective movie.  For that we can probably thank its director, some truly creepy imagery, the occasional clever twist by the screen writers, and an impressive cast.

The story opens with a dad in full family annihilator mode, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones) on a killing spree, taking out his business partners and his estranged wife.  He takes his two daughters out in the woods (setting the pattern for “just cause” plot points in this movie, where they promptly get lost.  He prepares to kill them in the old spooky cabin he stumbles across when something takes them.

“I do believe there’s a place for human remains and it’s not on a shelf.”

When the girls are found, a custody battle on two fronts ensues.  On the physical front, Lucas’ brother Jeffrey (also played by Coster-Waldau) and his selfish punk rocker girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain), pitted against his sister, Jean (Jane Moffat).  The couple is awarded temporary custody, under the proviso that Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) is allowed to study the girls.  To expedite this process, the family is given a creepy old house to live in that they keep for these occasions (because 1) every hospital has a “in case we find feral girls out in the woods” halfway house and 2) let’s face it, there’s not a lot of “run through the house” capability in a one bedroom apartment).

“A ghost is an emotion bent out of shape.”

mamaOn the spiritual front, we have the battle of two moms.  In Annabel, we have the woman who had no intentions of ever playing mom attempting to bond with the girls and develop maternal instincts.  While she is trying to establish trust, communication, and stability, we have ghost mom, Mama (7-foot-tall Spanish actor, Javier Botet) interfering in that relationship.  Mama, who wants to be a mom so bad she was ready to kill to do it, presents a most disturbing spectral image.  Hunched over, disjointed, a mask of pain and rage, despite her early reveal, her skeletal, spidery movements provide half of the creepy atmosphere of the movie.

The other half is provided by the girls.  When they are first discovered, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nelisse), can barely speak and aren’t socialized.  While Victoria slowly begins to open herself up to the possibility of human contact and love, Lilly is having no part of it.  But that’s the beauty of Lilly’s hypnotically horrific performance.  She maintains her child-like innocence in the face of the reality of the horror she’s embracing.  The whole movie could have just been us watching Lilly the whole time and it would succeed in creeping out the audience.

We’re all looking for a home where we could feel safe, a place of belonging and rest.  We spend much of our time trying to stave off the travails of the human soul, the loneliness and sorrow; fill a hole, desire, and thirst only God could satisfy. God has made His home, a place for us to return to, a place He calls us to.   The thing is, we have to be able to negotiate the difference between true love, that place to call home, and its counterfeit, the jealous, possessive thing that demands us for its own reasons.  Love fights for you, the way a parent fights for their children.  And love heals through the very power of presence.

The script could have used one more draft to eliminate the “what was the point of that?” moments, such as the fact that Lucas might as well have stayed in his coma since he served no purpose other than to set up the custody battle and the death by “just cause” that occurs to many characters.

mama lil girlMama plays in familiar del Toro territory, that intersection of pain and dark fantasy and examining how children deal with trauma.  The weakness of it is its reliance on cheap “boo moments” (the entire community needs to have their buildings re-wired and their batteries checked).  It simply doesn’t have to.  In fact, the boo moments actually distract and break the mood the movie attempts to sustain by taking us out of the believability.  That may sound strange when talking about a movie about ghost moms suffering for extreme post partum depression.  For any horror movie to work, there has to be a buy in by the audience.  With Mama, the buy in comes pretty easily as you have a ghost who can’t let go.  The moments designed solely to make you jump out of your seat basically point to the story and says “we got you!”  Thus pulling us out of the movie, because we DO feel got.  Stripped of those things, you would actually have a stronger movie.

In case you missed the Apex Publications newsletter…

 

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Dark Faith: InvocationsDark Faith: Invocations

DEVOTIONALS
Apex has a lot going on with our faith-based anthology Dark Faith: Invocations, both on our blog and on Goodreads!

Back in 2009 after we released the first Dark Faith anthology, we ran a series of ‘devotionals’ by the anthology’s authors. These were highly popular and entertaining, so we’ve decided to do a second series for the second anthology. They’re scheduled to run through March (three a week… there are a lot of stories, ya know?) Monday-Wednesday-Friday. We began on Sunday with Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. Today we posted Jay Lake’s devotional.

Links:
Read Katerina Stoykova-Klemer’s devotional
Read Jay Lake’s devotional

To follow ALL the devotionals, bookmark this link:
http://www.apexbookcompany.com/tag/dark-faith-devotional/

GOODREADS READ-A-LONG
Concurrently, Lesley Conner is hosting a Read-a-Long event on Goodreads for Dark Faith: Invocations. On Monday-Wednesday-Friday, she will lead a discussion on a different story from the anthology (starting at the top of the table of contents and working her way down). On Monday, the group discussed “Subletting God’s Head” by Tom Piccirilli. Today the group is discussing “The Cancer Catechism” by Jay Lake. Come by and join the discussion. The anthology editors have been stopping by. Expect many of the authors to jump in and talk about their stories. It’s a great way to interact with some fantastic writers and other smart-minded readers.

Go here to join the Apex Publications Goodreads group and partcipate in the Dark Faith: Invocations Read-A-Long!

Of course, reading the stories enhances both the devotionals and the read-a-long. The great news is that the book is available in print and digital formats at affordable prices!
BUY DARK FAITH: INVOCATIONS!

All My Babies’ Mamas … do what now?

all my babies mommasSo Oxygen had an hour to kill in the spring and decided All My Babies’ Mamas was “daring” (gotta love press releases) enough programming to fit the bill.  I was all set to write a piece about it because I was of two minds about the show.  On the one hand, my heart immediately agree with the commenter Tay on Shadow and Act because, at first blush, I fear this can’t help but amount to coonery and buffoonery that only serves to make us look bad.

Okay, well, that actually is where I still stand.

However, when I ran across this article which has given me pause to reflect a moment, especially this quote:

Stop owning the idea of black dysfunction. Stop repeating that “we” act this or that way. Stop believing that every ill-advised or socially unacceptable act of an individual black person (or 20 black people or 1,000) is a blight on the whole of the black community or YOU personally. Stop pretending that all black behavior is endorsed by the black collective. That racist America thinks this way is no endorsement. But taking to comments sections to proclaim loudly your disgrace at how other black people are living is an endorsement of credit-to-your-race type thinking as well as the idea that the caricatures the media treat us to really are representative of our race.

Stop it with the black shame.

 

As I black artist, this is the tension I am constantly caught in:  representing well for the community and being true to my craft.  Not to say that you can’t do both, but there is this “weight”, a pressure, to do right by the community, real or imagined.  Sometimes, it can’t help but mess with my head and make me second guess my characters or stories.  That may be a blog for another day.

For now, I’m glad we got rid of cable because this is exactly the kind of reality show train wreck my wife insists on watching.

Fambul Tok – A Review

fambul tok posteraka Forgiveness is hard

“The family tree bends, but it does not break.” –Sierra Leonean proverb

Whereas Django Unchained is a revenge fantasy in response to human tragedy, Fambul Tok is a documentary examining the repercussions of a more recent horror.  Sara Terry brings her journalism experience in her directorial debut, slowing laying out a story of what it looks like to do the work of forgiveness.

From 1991 – 2002, civil war engulfed Sierra Leone.  With a legacy of hate and colonialism that no amount of reparations can make right nor bring healing, this was a country already beleaguered by poverty, government corruption, and an ill distribution of wealth (the reality of blood/conflict diamonds had the spotlight shown on them in the eponymous movie).  Three factions ripped the country apart, and in their wake: women were systematically raped, children were forced into war, villages were decimated (one person noted that in their village, even their dogs were killed), many people had forced amputations, and thousands were killed and over two million people were displaced.

Thirteen people were indicted and held responsible for the war (over $200M spent on trials for ten of them).  Everyone else associated with the violence and atrocities were given blanket amnesty.  So ex-combatants, empowered with amnesty, returned to their native villages to live alongside the very people they abused.  This doesn’t include those people who were viewed as collaborators.  And everyone had to pretend that they were fine when the reality was that seeing their abuser triggering old wounds, bumping into old hurts and setting of an emotional cascade.  The abuser themselves may be wallowing in their own brokenness, not forgiving themselves or being able to find reconciliation with their own people.

A Truth and Reconciliation Committee met from 2002-2004 modeled on the South African one convened post-apartheid, but that was a western process.  Few people were willing to testify, after all, they had amnesty.  After that, the conventional mindset was “it’s over.  Let it go.”  John Caulker, a community organizer, pushed for grassroots reconciliation, to deal with the deep wounds facing his community with the hopes that people would find healing through a series of ceremonies based truth-telling and forgiveness called Fambul Tok.

Bonfire, KpangakonduFambul Tok, is Creole for “family talk.”  Their culture wasn’t steeped in individualism, but one of community.  Every member of the community felt the responsibility to make sure a child grew up properly.  This is a culture built around conversation, with story-telling in the evening to talk about the day’s events.  So it was an extension of this ritual of storytelling that had people confronting their abusers within the power of a story circle, telling their stories and being heard.

“Forgiving is being able to forgive, to forget when someone does wrong to you and to look for the future.” –Sahr

War tore apart their communities and broken relationships were the highest cost, creating stumbling blocks for moving forward.  However, war didn’t destroy the culture of forgiveness.  Vengeance/justice is easy, but the idea of prisons was a foreign concept to them pre-colonialism.  A proverb went that “there is no bad bush where we can thrown a bad child”, so it was incumbent on the village to help transform any offender in to a resource to help rebuild the community they helped destroy.

While no one can force reconciliation, the problem with blanket amnesty was that it was a waving of a magic wand, letting everyone off the hook without cost.  No one had to deal with their own issues much less the issues of those they had hurt.  No one had to say “I wronged you” and essentially it was forgiveness for nothing as the forgiven didn’t even have to demonstrate remorse.  The entire film is an examination of what it means to forgive.  They do so for the sake of the community, for the chance to move forward.

“Any step we take moving towards light, coming back to who you were before…being part of the community is not going to be easy.” –John Caulker

Terry follows Caulker as he goes from village to village convincing the people to engage in these healing conversations.  In the opening sequence, a woman told of how she was raped by 15 men, one of whom was her uncle.  After she told her story, she brought him in front of the group.  He told his story, then asked for her forgiveness.  And she forgave him.  They held hands, sang, and danced as a part of the ceremony.  This isn’t a case of holding hands and singing kumbayah around a campfire, but doing the real work of forgiveness and reconciliation.

The process began with confession in the presence of the community.  Such public confession was not about naming and shaming, but bringing sin to light so that everyone knew.  As such, they had to create a sacred and safe space for this to take place.  Even for those confessing, as they carry the guilt and shame, living in the darkness of their deeds, feeling ever marginalized, as if all fingers pointed at them.

Confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation were only the beginning.  Reconciliation is the restoration to right relationship, but that doesn’t mean that trust was instantly restored, that memories were easily forgotten, and that guilt had been washed away.  But it was an initial step allowing them to be able to come together.  From there they could spend time with one another and bridges had the opportunity to be (re-)built.

Fambul_tokNot everyone forgives.  Some want to do to their abusers what was done to them.  Some people freely admit that they can’t live alongside some of the men who perpetrated crimes against their village.  Stories are inconvenient reminders of past wrongs.  If, in the hearing, something nags at your conscience, forgiveness and reconciliation haven’t been achieved.  It takes time to work through it thoroughly.  Haven’t specifically forgiven because the heart remembers the details which is why the story telling, the sharing of those details of hurt (and the abuser hearing those details) is so important.  They can share specifically how they were hurt, how it impacted them, and the hearer knows what they are specifically forgiven for.  Some relationships or abuse situations may never find resolution fully.

It is said that not forgiving is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.  Forgiveness is letting go of the poison, releasing them from the control they had over how you live.  Fifty five story circle bonfires had been conducted, with over 600 people testifying before over 20,000 of their neighbors, at a cost of $1M dollars.

Fambul Tok is a hard movie to watch.  It wasn’t filmed in dramatic fashion.  There are no exaggerated blood effects.  Just story after story of atrocity and having to witness the pain of the telling and the hearing, but to be heard and known is the point.  To everything there is an end and the people were looking for a way forward to be able to eat from the same bowl again.  The mystery of forgiveness is profound and there is healing to be found in it.

Django Unchained – A Review

aka, VenDjango_Unchained_Postergeance is easy

I don’t want to unduly upset or unsettle any of my white friends, but I’ve daydreamed about killing white people.  After watching Roots.  After thinking about the crack of the whip on the back of slaves.  After reading about lynchings.  After thinking about hoses being turned on us.  After I tried researching my family tree and had to sift through receipts.  After every time I’ve heard the word nigger.  Do not delude yourself into thinking that the pain isn’t more fresh that you’d like to believe no matter how post-racial the age you think we’re in.  This is why Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, while every bit a spaghetti western, feels like an empowerment vehicle, capturing a zeitgeist people are too blind to acknowledge.

After Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds, it would be easy to see Django Unchained as their love child, yet another chapter in Tarantino’s revenge fantasy series.  Like with Basterds, he is walking that line of writing an entertaining romp against the backdrop of genocide level human tragedy as too much lingering on the brutality of the time and the film could end up feeling exploitative.  Considering the state of race relations in this country, especially in the wake of a contentious presidential election, this is made doubly problematic.  His brand of pastiche, borrowing whole-handedly from westerns like Sergio Leone’s archetypal Man with No Name (as portrayed, for example, by Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) might not seem the best way to delve into this territory.  On the flip side, I don’t recall anyone getting mad than none of the Eastwood trilogy comments on slavery.

“The way the slave trade deals in human lives for cash, bounty hunters deal with corpses.” – Dr. King Schultz  (Christoph Waltz)

django-unchained-jamie-foxxBeginning in 1858, two years before the Civil War, Django  (Jamie Foxx) is purchased by Dr. Schultz in an honest transaction.  Schultz becomes the moral conscience of sorts of the movie, established from the beginning by not moving to violence unless provoked.  Once provoked, however, he handles his business in a ruthless and bloody fashion.  The movie never shrinks from violence or blood, hallmarks of a Tarantino film, but the garish displays of blood isn’t the disturbing part of the violence.  We become quickly inured to the nearly cartoonish splashes of blood.  However, the quieter displays, the revelation of the slaves’ scars, the treatment of the slaves, the violence becomes brooding.

Dr. Schultz enters into a partnership with Django, inducting and then educating him in the bounty hunting business.  Like slavery, it’s a “flesh for cash business” which not only proves quite profitable but allows Django to get revenge on the slaveowners who imparted the scars to him.  As that happens fairly early in the movie, the rest of the movie revolves around Django reuniting with his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington).

“I’ve never given anyone their freedom before, but now that I have, I feel vaguely responsible for you.” –Dr. Schultz

Slavery as practice in the Americas, however, had two distinguishing features:. The dynamic shifted so that it was a matter of capital motives moreso than conquest; and it was practiced along racial lines, justified by the “inherent” inferiority and dehumanization of African peoples. As a slave, your name, your body, your time, your mind, no aspect of your life was your own.  Not even the choice to be or stay married.  Couples could be separated at a master’s whim.

Django Unchained unfurls in the way of spaghetti westerns, revealing the hero’s motivations via flashback.  However, a little goes a long way when it comes to depicting the brutality of slavery.  His journey leads him to the plantation, Candieland, where its patriarch, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an expert in Mandigo fighting, buying and selling men specifically for this bloodsport (and thus bringing to mind the blaxploitation era, slavery-based film, Mandingo).

djangoThere is still the lingering specter of deriving entertainment, much less outright laughs, against the backdrop of slavery.  There is a scene involving the Ku Klux Klan that recalls a Mel Brooks movie and the N-word is dropped some 109 times, in many instances to laughs (with Samuel L. Jackson as a live action Uncle Ruckus named Steppin, I mean, Stephen).  Despite the voyeuristic horror of the brutality, Django Unchained is a long way from a movie like, say, Mandingo.  Django Unchained consistently uses a person’s racism against them, including reducing bigots to buffoons in the aforementioned KKK scene.  Like with Inglourious Basterds, the last 20 minutes of the movie is completely a bloodbath of revisionist comeuppance (the movie, in fact, being a very long countdown to it).

Slavery is an inconvenient horror for many because it punctures the central conceit of the American Dream in that the freedom promised was built, literally, on the backs of slaves.  In Django Unchained, Tarantino uses blaxploitation era movies and remixes them through Corbucci and Peckinpah to create a wonderfully entertaining revenge fantasy.  And the movie should be taken simply as that.  It can’t truly comment or wrestle to the totality of the horror because that horror is too real and too immense to be dealt with in the movie that was constructed.  Vengeance is easy to grasp and derive a vicarious (and very human) thrill response to.  It’s ultimately not real, but it’s easy and satisfying in the moment.

[Wondering what it would be like to tackle an immense human tragedy a different way, I thought I’d check out the movie, Fambul Tok.]

 

 

 

Writing Goals 2013

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do like to set goals for myself to  keep me productive.  First, let me see what goals I set for myself last year:

I have two short stories in the back of my skull that need an excuse to be born.  I only have three stories out there actively searching for a home.  So I’m going to set my goal for six short stories.

On the novel front, I have three definite projects:  Scout (my first sci-fi novel attempt), Pimp My Airship (I need to commit to doing this … and soon), and a Middle Grade detective novel (children’s books have my interest of late).  Then I will return to my collaboration with Wrath James White before he crawls through teh Interwebz and chokes my procrastinating ass or figure out what I need to do with Steppin Razor.

Next is the report card.  I don’t know what two short stories were percolating in the back of my head, but neither of them got written.  Stories I wrote were:

-Being in Shadow (Appalachian Undead)

-Voices of the Martyrs (done on spec for a theme anthology)

Family Dinner (Punchnel’s)

-The Invitation (not really a short story, but as the text for an illustrated children’s novel, it runs about short story length)

 

As for the novels:

-Scout became Nomad and is under consideration at a couple houses.

-Special  Ed:  The Usual Suspects is my Middle Grade novel that has been sent to my agent

-Wrath:  Wrath James White received my section of our novel collaboration.  Any delay is now officially on him.

 

But that was it.  I didn’t get as far as I thought I would.  I blame some of this on the freelance projects I picked up.  Plus, we did get Dark Faith:  Invocations put to bed. So I basically wrote half as much as I thought I would.  Thinking through my 2013 goals:

-I will begin the year with Steppin’ Razor (novella), The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (my Pimp My Airship novelization), and a short story set in my steamfunk universe.

-I have four stories I “have” to write, but I’d like to get six completed.

-I will complete my half of the Wrath book.

-I have a movie script I need to get going on.

-I have two novels and two short stories to dust off, revise, and get into the publication pipeline.

I’m pretty sure that’s it, but I’m leaving myself some flexibility.  I never know when a new project will pop up or if a project will demand me to revisit it.  Plus, well, the day job.  Hopefully some of the projects I have in the pipeline will actually see the light of day in 2013 (speaking of, the piece of art above is there for foreshadowing purposes).  Here’s hoping you see a lot of me.