Maurice Broaddus is a fantasy and horror author best known for his short fiction and his Knights of Breton Court novel trilogy. He has published dozens of stories in magazines and book anthologies, including in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Black Static, and Weird Tales. Maurice is also the editor of the acclaimed Dark Faith anthology, nominated for multiple awards. He was originally born in London, England, but has lived in America most of his life. He holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree from Purdue University in Biology (with an undeclared major in English) and comes from a family that includes several practicing obeah (think: Jamaican Voodoo) people. You can learn more about Maurice on his website, http://mauricebroaddus.com/, or on Twitter @MauriceBroaddus.
Iulian: Maurice, thank you so for chatting with us today. Please tell us a few words about non-writer Maurice Broaddus. How was your life growing up? Have you had any particular influences in your life? What jobs did you have you had before becoming a full-time writer? Since writing, have you ever considered any other careers?
Maurice: I was born in London, England. My mother is Jamaican and my dad is African American. I can’t begin to tell you how many discussions around the dinner table began with “The problem with you people is . . .”. I never knew which side of the “you” I was supposed to be on. This was compounded by the fact that other than my home, I was raised in a mostly white environment: special school program and the strict fundamentalist church my parents sent me to, which formed the bulk of my social life. I was over being the “token” in any given social situation pretty early on. That being said, it left me with a sense of always being the outsider in any given circumstance. Even if I were among my own people. This set up a lot of the themes that you commonly see in my stories: The Other/The Outsider, issues of faith, issues of race, etc.
I have a B.S. in Biology and was an environmental toxicologist for twenty years before doing the writing thing full time. I ran a homeless ministry for a few years and when my wife tires of the irregularity of freelance checks, I have taken on a 9-5 gig just for the sake of stability. But writing is what I do (since the 9-5 gigs seem to fire me when I’m on extreme deadline and do nothing but write, on the job and off).
You started strong in mid-90s with an Honorable Mention in Asimov’s Undergraduate award for Kali’s Danse Macabre. How did you get involved with writing? What was (if any) your big epiphany?
I am one of those cliché writers who have to say that “I’ve always written.” When we first arrived in the U.S., I was placed in second grade. But I was obviously bored in the class and they didn’t want to skip me another grade. So the teacher LITERALLY placed me in the corner of the room, put a stack of blank paper on my desk, and told me to just create stuff. In fifth grade I won an essay question (I believe it was on the importance of environmentalism).
During my junior year of high school, my teacher (Mr. Combs!) really encouraged me to take my writing seriously. He started giving me books to read (Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, etc.) to continue to push me.
In college I gave up writing. My mother wanted me to pursue something “practical” and we compromised on a Biology degree. So for two whole years, I gave up writing. This led to two epiphanies: 1) I realized I was miserable when I wasn’t writing, so I began pursuing an undeclared English degree, taking as many creative writing classes as I could; 2) I was randomly assigned an independent studies professor who, as it turned out, did his thesis on Stephen King and Clive Barker. He’s the one who insisted I enter for the Asimov award.
You write mostly horror and fantasy, especially dark fantasy. What draws you to these genres and have you written or considered writing in other genres as well?
Honestly, I think my fourth grade Sunday School teacher had a lot to do with it. He was teaching on Noah’s Ark and the flood one day. I put a bunch of floating bodies on the flannel-graph next to the boat because I figured a world-wide flood meant lots of bodies. He and I immediately bonded. We had a mutual love of comic books and he introduced me to Dr. Who and later Stephen King.
I have written a variety of genres. I’ve done science fiction, crime, and most recently, a lot of steampunk. Basically I will write either what gets me a check or wherever the writing challenge may lie.
What are some of the best works (stories or novels) you’ve ever read?
The Gift by Patrick O’Leary, Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and Beloved (heck, anything) by Toni Morrison.
You are the co-editor of the Dark Faith anthologies. How did you get involved in this project and how cool is it to work on an anthology?
For ten years, I hosted an annual convention called Mo*Con. Each year I invited a few horror, science fiction, and fantasy writers in, and held the convention in a church. We discussed topics related to genre and faith. You tell people you’re having a convention in a church, all they hear is “church” and, again, there are preconceptions to what goes on there. But with the great line up of writers that we had regularly attending Mo*Con, we talked with Jason Sizemore, of Apex Books, about doing a Mo*Con anthology. That project evolved into Dark Faith. I guess you could say that I’ve always been fascinated with hearing people’s stories about faith, no matter where that story takes them.
I think every writer should take a turn behind the slush pile to see what an editor faces every day. From the lack of professionalism, the inability to follow guidelines, to the ideas/stories they see all the time. That was my first major take away lesson. The second was that after we put together the original Dark Faith, we had a better idea of what kind of stories we were looking for. Our writers did also, which was reflected in the (much better) slush pile.
I’m not going to lie: any time you get to work with close friends like I got to with Jerry, it’s a win-win-win. It means a lot of hanging out playing Magic: the Gathering, gossiping, drinking Riesling all without our wives complaining because we’re “working.” If we didn’t have Dark Faith: Invocations as an excuse to do it all again, we’d have had to invent a new project to work on.
What are your thoughts about the future of the anthology? Will there be more in this series? Are you considering editing other anthologies?
We keep debating whether to do a third in the Dark Faith series. Jerry and I did get the band back together and did the urban fantasy meets crime Streets of Shadows anthology for Alliteration Ink.
Let’s talk a little bit about The Knights of Breton Court. How did the idea shape up? Can you give our readers a quick introduction into the story’s world?
The Knights of Breton Court had its origins in a local ministry called Outreach Inc. They work with homeless teenagers. We were working on various art/writing projects and I was trying to get the kids to imagine themselves in different contexts. What struck me was how they couldn’t imagine their lives past next week. So I started imagining some of them caught up in a larger story. What started out as a lark, eventually became a full blown novel. Basically, the book is a re-telling of the legend of King Arthur except set in modern day Indianapolis, told through the eyes of homeless teenagers. I call it “The Wire” meets “Excalibur”.
Here’s the other thing—I love crime fiction. George Pelecanos. Elmore Leonard. David Simon (who, technically, writes non-fiction). With the setting of my take on the Arthurian legends revolving around the lives of homeless teens and gang members in Indianapolis, the series has the pacing of a crime novel rather than a fantasy novel.
When all is said and done, acknowledging my love of horror, the scariest part of the series was the lives of the kids. In the series, magic becomes a metaphor for homelessness: it’s all around us if we choose to see it.
Which character in the series was the most fun to write and which was the hardest?
Green, who was the Green Knight and an elemental in the first book of the series, King Maker, was my favorite character to write. He was responsible for what I called the page 100 test: if a person read his scene on page 100 and could keep going, they were going to be fine with the rest of the book. Otherwise, they would decide that maybe the book wasn’t for them (by way of throwing it across the room or, in another case, calling me up to demand that Green die).
Merle was the runaway favorite of the series. There’s something about a crazy old wizard in a constant argument with a squirrel that people loved.
The hardest character to write was Lott in the third book, King’s War. He was going through a lot: wrestling with his betrayal of King via his fling with Lady G; the team broke apart; the mission on the verge of collapse and he blamed himself. It was emotionally tough for me to write.
For people who might not be aware of your work, which stories do you consider your best? Give everyone a place to start discovering your world.
My best stories might be Cerulean Memories (from the Book of the Dead anthology), Family Business (Weird Tales), or A House is not a Home (Legends of the Mountain State 2). When folks want to jump into what I do, I typically steer them towards the novelette Steppin’ Razor (Asimov’s SF) or the novella I Can Transform You (Apex Books).
What do you do when you’re not writing? Is there anything crazy about your life that you’d like to share?
I am trying to minimize the crazy going on in my life. I’m getting older, plus I’m trying to raise two bi-racial teenage boys. So it’s the quiet life of being a black geek: binge watching (A LOT of) television between games of Magic: the Gathering and Clash of Clans.
What is next for you? Are there any upcoming works we can expect? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I have a novel coming out in 2016 (Black Son Rising, co-written with Steve Shrewsbury) and a short story collection coming out from Rosarium Publishing. I’m working on three more novel collaborations, two novels of my own, and putting together another collection, if that tells you what my writing schedule is like these days.
Maurice, I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview!
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