It is one of the most iconic scenes in modern cinematic history: Indiana Jones is in a desperate race against the Nazis, a lone hero battling against the entire German war machine to prevent an ancient artefact of immense power from falling into the wrong hands.
Of course, as is often the case, the truth is stranger than fiction. Nazi Germany really was obsessed with uncovering ancient texts and lost knowledge, and had a special division devoted to the pursuit of artefacts: the Ahnenerbe. This shadowy organization began as a prehistoric research institute, devoted to exploring German ancestral heritage. From inception, the group’s founders were obsessed with the legend Atlantis and the mystical powers of “Blood and Soil.” Himmler soon incorporated the group into the feared SS, but they remained an ideological factory, a thinktank, with fifty different branches and more than one hundred research projects in the field—archaeological expeditions and excavations seeking proof or propaganda that could advance the worldview that Germans were the master race.
Norse mythology spoke to the men of this new, resurgent Germany. The sagas recalled an age of unity, a timeless purity that existed in Northern Europe. The popular imagery of Vikings as a fierce warrior culture, willing to defend their lands in the name of Valhalla, resonated with the SS: the double sig-runes they used as their insignia represented victory. The Ahnenerbe craved links to the bold, brave North.
One such link was the venerable Snartemo sword, found on a farm in 1933 by two farmers, buried in a hidden tomb dating back to the early 6th century. Inside the tomb were rare fabrics, bear claws, and a magnificent sword. A sword with a gold-plated hilt, entwined with ornate geometric patterns.
In Hitler’s own words, this ancient symbol “signified the mission allotted to us—the struggle for the victory of Aryan mankind.” Germans had become obsessed with swastikas the moment Heinrich Schliemann discovered the hooked cross on the site of ancient Troy in the 1870s. They linked it to similar shapes found on German artefacts and concluded that it was a “significant religious symbol of our remote ancestors”—the remote ancestors that gave legitimacy to Himmler’s outlandish claims, pseudo-science, and fake history. The swastika was like the Nazi North Star.
In 1936 an International Congress was held in Oslo, with a special exhibition of the Snartemo sword discovery as the main attraction. The Ahnenerbe were, unsurprisingly there in force, following their guiding star towards glory. So much so that some Norwegian archaeologists foresaw a problem, and, with great pragmatism, hid the Snartemo sword and its swastika hilt in a vault of a remote bank. Only a few academics knew of the plan, and these Norwegian Indiana Joneses kept their secret well. The invading German forces were never able to find the original and made do with a replica, recreated from drawings.
Not so long ago, the swastika meant something very different. In the years following the sensational discovery of Troy, the symbol popped up everywhere, in vogue as a good luck charm: in Rudyard Kipling’s signature, on Coca-Cola pendants, Carlsberg beer bottles, American army shoulder patches, and even Boy Scout merit badges. Charles Lindbergh had one emblazoned on the nose cone of the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.
The swastika genuinely does have a long history, used as sacred symbol in pre-Christian religions by Hindus, Shintoists, Odinists, and Druids. The sign usually represented the sun, and the original Norse name for it was the fylfot. Vikings used it as a decoration on a bucket found on the Oseberg ship dating to 800 AD. A version of a swastika, the sun cross, adorns the top of the Gosforth cross which is central to the novel, The All Father Paradox. The antagonist of the novel knows the power of symbols only too well: ““This leathery old binding, these spindly tattoos, they tell a saga. These marks are the birthright of my people; they bind me to the dead.”
Today, continuing Nazi connotations mean that swastikas are beyond redemption in the West. But in many senses, the same ideological war once waged by the Ahnenerbe continues on other fronts. Norse symbols, once coveted by the Nazis for their raw power and ancient heritage, are now contested by rival groups of pagans, Neo-Nazis, and advertisers seeking to exploit them for their own benefit. Vikings themselves have become a symbol, representing at best adventure, risk, individual spirit, and daring and at worst, xenophobia, purification of ethnicity, and male violence. There is a berserker rage felt keenly by those white males who feel under siege by immigrants and #MeToo, an anger that some modern politicians have encouraged (and it is a sentiment that the antagonist in the novel is happy to exploit too).
But this imagery is largely mediated through popular culture rather than from the original folklore of North Germanic pre-Christian Europe. Simply put, the way we perceive Vikings today has little to do with the reality of the Viking Age and everything to do with the way we want to see ourselves. It is the greatest of ironies that Vikings, once demonised as the scourge of Europe, are now a talisman for those who are mortally afraid.
Perhaps it is time to stop hiding in the illusions of the past and start building a future built on practical reality. If the story of the Snartemo sword teaches us anything, it is that when people try to use their heritage and symbols as weapons, the true sons of Vikings will just sensibly and quietly spirit them away.
The modern Ahnenerbe
In the dying days of summer 2018, posting and commenting as @vikingverse, I came across an Instagram post. Using the tag #VikingFacts and the slogan “Facts. Not Revisionism”, the account was proclaiming that:
- “The Aesir are your ancestors and not gods”
- The reference to gods is an “Abrahamised mistranslation.”
It seemed the Ahnenerbe were still peddling their own warped reality. Imagine: Thor, Odin, Loki and Heimdall—all part of the family. The DNA testing kit business would go into meltdown.
I wondered, did the poster really believe his post? On what grounds?
There is a long tradition of linking myth with real historical events or personages. It’s called Euhemerism, and it supposes that historical accounts become myths as they are exaggerated in the retelling, accumulating elaborations and alterations over the centuries.
It’s a great propaganda tool in any argument. The early Christians, hostile to paganism, embraced euhemerism in attempt to undermine the validity of pagan gods. Cohortatio ad gentes, they would cry—”Those to whom you bow were once men like yourselves”.
Several centuries later, presumably to curry favour with King Hákon Hákonarson, Snorri Sturluson euhemerised Thor as a prince of Troy in the prologue to his Prose Edda, thereby linking his King to the very cradle of civilization and the Norse gods in one deft sentence. In all likelihood, this one book helped Himmler “join the dots” to his hoped-for past glory and predecessors.
I pointed out some of this background to the poster, mentioning that Æsir is the plural of áss, which is attested in other Germanic languages, like the Old English ōs, and for good measure, adding that the word had been traced back through its Indo-European roots to Sanskrit. It quite definitely meant God, I posted, and the Christians hadn’t meddled with etymology.
There was a momentary flurry of abuse, and then I was banned, my comments deleted. The rest of the account drips with misogynism and machismo—I should have looked more closely. After some research, I found out that the owner of the account is a Frenchman. Suffice to say he doesn’t speak Old Norse, or have a military background, or any of the other things he claims.
I like to think there is a different between writing fantasy and living it, but clearly for some people, the line is somewhat blurred.
Ian Sharpe was born in London, UK, and now lives in British Columbia, Canada. Having worked for the BBC, IMG, Atari and Electronic Arts, he is now CEO of a tech start up. As a child he discovered his love of books, sci-fi and sagas: devouring the works of Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett and George MacDonald Fraser alongside Snorri Sturluson and Sigvat the Skald. He once won a prize at school for Outstanding Progress and chose a dictionary as his reward, secretly wishing it had been an Old Norse phrasebook. The All Father Paradox is his first novel.
Q: What made you write The All Father Paradox?
Ian Stuart Sharpe: I think it was preordained.
Not in a crazy way, you understand. You just learn to spot the signs, to realize that something is off-kilter. For example, in the year 793AD, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, there were plenty of foreboding omens. “Excessive whirlwinds”, lightning. Fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. As if that wasn’t bad enough “great famine followed.”
And then, at the beginning of another long, drizzle-bound British summer what should show up but a “ravaging of wretched heathen men” who promptly destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne and kickstarted the whole Viking Age. Some might argue that if the monks at Lindisfarne had been a little better at reading the tea leaves, we might not be here, discussing this book.
“Never before has such terror appeared in Britain…The heathens poured outthe blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”
It must have seemed like the end of the world.
In my case, it was June 2016AD. My eSports company had just been ground into the dust by a doomstack of unfortunate events. Trump was already the presumptive nominee for the Republican party and then, to add to the sheer caprice of the moment, the UK voted for Brexit. I felt something like a monk at Lindisfarne, wondering which way the wind was blowing, and whether Norsemen might arrive on the tide. And that’s not a political comment, more a reflection of all the churn and change.
The world suddenly was full of “Holy F*ck!” moments. My reaction to it all was to become a new Anglo-Saxon Chronicler, to hold up a cracked mirror to the end of the world as we knew it.
Q: Why should others read the book?
ISS: There is an early episode of the British TV series Doctor Who, in black and white from 1965. I remember it from reruns: a rogue Time Lord plans lure the Harald Hardrada’s Vikings to the coast and destroy their fleet with an atomic cannon. This Time Meddler insists his plan will stabilise England and benefit Western civilisation.
It’s a nice idea. The thought that you could make the world a better place. The notion that you could reclaim what was was rightfully yours. Change the past – kill Hitler before he rose to power and save a generation from slaughter. Save the world, resurrect the girl – it worked for Superman.
What if? It’s a question we should all ask. We should all walk a mile in another man’s shoes, open ourselves to a little alternative perspective. Or else the world is just little bits of history repeating.
Q: What makes this story unique?
ISS: Who doesn’t like a nice Norse saga, full of Vikings raping and pillaging?!
Well, that’s not this book. Not all of it anyway. The fact is that the Scandinavian civilization had a rich and vibrant culture – unique art forms, a deep oral tradition, a sprawling trade network, a yearning for adventure and prestige. This is a book full of characters drawn from the pages of history, but it is really a story of a civilization.
On numerous occasions, the Norse came within a hair’s breadth of seizing the great cities of the age: London, Paris, Hamburg – and the greatest prize of all, Constantinople, the City of the World’s Desire. Imagine if the Trickster God had been with them, rather than against them. The What If in question isn’t far-fetched.
Those “wretched heathen men” could have ruled Europe, and likely the world.
Moreover, most Viking books dwell on the past, but I wanted to examine a Norse present. I wanted to transplant a warrior culture, built on slavery, but with a democratic bent and one where women were often heralded rather than hidden. And I wanted to examine how their myths and icons might grow without the influence of Christianity, the world of seidr and spirits, and see how it stretched over the centuries.
Q: How does it compare to other books like it in the genre?
ISS: There aren’t that many perspectives on Norse culture and civilisation that really highlight their true legacy. I recently took my family on a tour on Denmark, visiting hill forts, museums and re-enactments. I was amazed at how little they knew about these people. Viking were the bad guys. (Just ask Doctor Who). They wore horned helmets. They were raiders and barbarians. Even the best “Viking literature” doesn’t do more than reinforce old tropes.
That’s because history is written by the victors, and the Vikings, for all their legendary heroics, well, they lost.
But the Vikings are still with us, if you know where to look. The Old Norse rót is still apparent among the tangle of Anglo-Saxon, French and Latin. The language of the Vikings may have become subdued over the centuries but make no mistaka about it – from byrðr (birth) until we deyja (die) – the raw energy of the Norse shapes many of our words. Just look at a Viking the rangr way, and he might þrysta (thrust) a knifr into your skulle.
For the more literary, even the word Kindle comes from the Norse kynda – to light a fire. And that’s an important part of the book. Just as Tolkien had his Elvish (and he borrowed much of his lore from Old Norse stories), the All Father Paradox is peppered with Old Norse. It might look strange. It might make you pause and think.
And that’s exactly why it is there.
So put the book on your Kindle, and set fire to what you think you know. It beats the other ways into Valhalla.
Pre-order now so you don’t miss a moment!
In doing a bit of research looking for a dark-fantasy-related topic for this article, I sought something that I knew at least a bit about, something I felt strongly about, and something where I could add meaningfully to the conversation. Many things were considered, from angles on escapism vs. exploration, to writing some kind of how-to. Then the search engine offered me a Pinterest collection, women in dark fantasy.
All the boxes on my requirement list could be check off with that topic. Excited, I clicked it, expecting Ellen Ripley (Alien), Sarah Connor (Terminator), Aeowyn (LotR), Sarah Williams (Labyrinth), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series) Buttercup (The Princess Bride).
The images that came up were all art of scantily clad, large-breasted and small-waisted women.
I called myself naïve and a mental conversation began.
On one hand, I totally understand why the sexualized images persist and who they are for.
On the other, I cried, “Will we ever get past this?” But honestly, even my naïve side doesn’t think we will. Those characters have a place and there will always be readers who want stories that contain them.
In the midst of this frustration, my next thought was, “I’m straddling that line myself.”
It’s true. The cover of Jovienne (my seventh novel, the first of the Immanence Series, was released last year; it is currently unavailable unless you buy it either used or directly from me – but that’s another story) featured a young winged woman standing atop a building and wearing lingerie. It’s a striking cover and I’ve heard many admiring remarks about it. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it equally now. As book covers go, it’s a great one. But maybe I’m biased because I know that inside those pages, when Jovienne is given ‘sexy’ armor, she rejects it. It’s a plot point.
Fantasy and Science Fiction are well known as genres where perceptions and social constructs are often reexamined, where the best- and worst-case scenarios are explored, respectively, as aspirations and warnings. They are also the genres filled with damsels in distress who are rescued by virile, womanizing heroes.
As a teen, I devoured as much Sci-Fi and Fantasy as possible. I was ravenous for it. Some of my favorites were Laurana and Goldmoon and even Kitiara of Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance. They were strong and capable and given respect. And there’s Del, from the Sword Dancer series by Jennifer Roberson. But when those stories ran out, and over and over the books I picked up featured a hero and not a heroine, I began to write my own.
Always, my stories have seemed to step away from what was typical.
In my first series, Persephone Alcmedi is definitely not the average UF heroine. She’s demure and unassuming, and she wears a tee shirt, hoodie, jeans, and hikers. She’s a heroine who doesn’t have sex in every book, and one whose power – and the overarching plot – is linked to her pagan spiritual journey. An additional difference is that most UF novels were set in a closed world or an open world, but I split the difference and gave them a recently opened world – meaning people had mixed reactions to vampires and werewolves being real, and the government was struggling to figure out things like legislation and special law enforcement.
As for my upcoming work, my short story that will appear in the second Blackguards anthology, Knaves features an older knight who happens to be a woman, and she is facing something that, while not unique to modern life, is something which I have not seen addressed in fantasy.
I know where the genre has been, and it has come far, but there is yet a long way to go. I am excited to be a part of the genre, to have produced work that reflects those changes, and I am eager to see where we go next.
About Linda Robertson
Linda will be appearing at International Horror Hotel and Film Festival June 2 and 3 in Richfield, Ohio, at DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend and World Fantasy Convention Nov. 1-4 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Working as Linda Reinhardt she composed, created, and produced an original musical score for Jovienne, which is available on Spotify and iTunes.
Fan page: lindarobertsonbooks
Earlier this year, I met the only student Katy Kellgren ever had. He told me he just about had to bully her into being his teacher. This amazing, multiple award-winning voice actress with hundreds of audiobooks under her belt truly didn’t believe she knew anything that anyone would want to learn.
And yet, I totally understand why. Because I felt exactly the same way.
As writers, we tell everyone that “Impostor Syndrome” never goes away. It’s true, in a sense. The more we work, the more we learn to recognize it when it pops up—and then we tell it to go away. I mean heck, I winged my fairy tale talk at the Library of Congress. Sure, I wrote up an outline and jotted down a few notes, but fairy tales are something I’ve studied my whole life and genuinely love to talk about. The “OMG WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, YOU IDIOT?? THIS IS THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS!!!” didn’t hit me until about 3/4 of the way into my talk…and by then it was time for questions.
Where that Impostor bugger really loves to rear its ugly head is when you’re starting something new and different. Who are you to think that anyone will follow you down this path your forging? Sure, you’ll make it to the top of that mountain, but what if you turn around and they’re all laughing instead of cheering? That’s right, show up on [Famous Author]’s doorstep, hotshot—she’ll either love you or hate you! And teaching? I mean seriously! Who the heck are you to think that you know anything that anyone wants to learn?
Well, you might be Katy Kellgren. Or you might be me.
In the last few months, it seems like every time I check in on social media, another friend has made a movie deal. Or a TV deal. Or comic book. Or they’re writing for a property I would give my left arm to be part of. Or they sold foreign rights in twenty countries. Or they just shared a picture where some super famous performer is reading their book to his/her kids.
We all reach an age at some point where everyone around us is getting married or having kids, right? Well, when you’re a writer, you reach the age where everyone around you is suddenly Announcing Big Deals. And YES I am happy for them. Immensely! And YES, I get that comparison is the thief of joy. My time will come! But when I posted the link to my online writing workshop for teens, that Impostor voice seeped through the cracks.
Who are you? the Impostor said. Your bestselling book was published 12 years ago. No one remembers you. You haven’t walked a red carpet. No movie stars retweet your posts. Where’s your coloring book? Where’s your HBO series? No one wants to learn from a Nobody.
I could lie and tell you that voice wasn’t constantly in the back of my mind, poking at my ego with its malice. But I won’t. No, I heard that voice loud and clear. But you know what? I did it anyway. And not a ton of kids signed up, but that’s okay. Because SOME DID.
Besides, I told myself, smaller groups are better. Fewer students to forgive me if I screw up, so less pressure for me to put on myself. I’ll feel more comfortable. Stretch my legs. Work the kinks out.
By the end of the first online session (of four), I could feel the magic. I missed working with kids, yes, but more importantly, I had never worked with young writers before. And I don’t ever want to stop working with them for the rest of my life. You know how some teachers say that they feel “a calling”? I do believe I’ve found mine.
AND HERE IS WHY:
—Writers are always asked “If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?” (When I asked Anne McCaffrey this, she said, “To have more sex while I’m young and beautiful.”) My answer is always: Write more. Never stop. And finish what you start. Now…until they invent the TARDIS, I can’t actually go back in time and tall my teenage self this. BUT I CAN TELL THEM. I can tell them all of that, and more!
—I was a teen writer. Would you believe that I actually forgot this would make a difference? I remember what it’s like to have parents who tell you to “major in something that will get you a real job.” I remember form letters from editors telling me never to use a pseudonym. I remember staring at that novel and KNOWING that I wasn’t old enough to write it. Knowing that I just didn’t have the experience yet to tell the story the way it needed to be told. Knowing that I had not known enough pain and hardship and broken hearts and death. I remember how the stories still wanted to be told, regardless, and how my friends wanted me to write them all, no matter what.
—I had that Cinderella story. I peaked early, both as an actress and a writer. Of course, I didn’t know it at at the time—that’s the curse of peaking early in one’s career. You don’t know how to handle it until it’s too late. But if writing is what you want—if it’s what you really want—nothing will be able to stop you. In the meantime, you lean the hard way how to buckle down and teach yourself a work ethic. You watch friends come up from beneath you and rise above you in record time. Sometime they stay your friends. Sometimes they don’t. You begin to recognize which projects are wort spending time on…and which people, too.
That last bit came directly out of all that vile nonsense the Impostor voice had been spewing. It made me laugh to think that all those reasons I was telling myself I had no business teaching young people was exactly the reason why I should be teaching….especially young people.
It’s true. The Impostor never really goes away. But my teens will learn its tricks, and they will learn them far earlier than I did. AND THEN THEY WILL RULE THE WORLD.
Want to know more about Alethea Kontis’s upcoming classes? Follow her on social media (Twitter @AletheaKontis, Facebook @AletheaKontis) and check out her Eventbright profile here: https://www.eventbrite.com/o/alethea-kontis-16376673838
New York Times bestselling author, Alethea Kontis, is a princess, voice actress, a force of nature, and a mess. She is responsible for creating the epic fairytale fantasy realm of Arilland and dabbling in a myriad of other words beyond. Her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups across all genres. Host of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” and Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con, Alethea also narrates for ACX, IGMS, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders. Born in Vermont, Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie. Find out more about Princess Alethea and the magic, wonderful world in which she lives here: http://www.patreon.com/princessalethea.
I like fairies—not a difficult admission for a fantasy writer—and I don’t mean the safe Victorian ones with gossamer wings that spread sparkles when they walk. I mean the ones that steal little children and make Faustian bargains. They were ancient and magnificent and knew worlds beyond our own. Is it any wonder they acted like gods?
What attracted me to the idea of fairies weren’t the fairies themselves. It was the idea that they were hidden, usually in plain sight, and only the initiated would be able to find them. It was a test of worthiness and the outcome was never guaranteed to be a good one. Catching a leprechaun earned you a pot of gold, but if you weren’t careful it also came with a curse. No one ever said adventure was a good idea.
But as I got older, I was pulled away from the fairy world. I could say I outgrew it, but that sounds sad, like someone who no longer catches wishes on the wind or searches for four-leaf clover. No, I moved away from fairyland because no one there looked like me. My roots are Latina and I knew very early that all those fairies—pixies, gnomes, sprites—were not mine. They were Northern European with pale skin, long, straight hair and bright, light eyes. Just as I knew I would never be compared to Snow White, I knew fairies were just as far from reach.
That didn’t stop me from wanting to write myself and people like me into the stories. I wanted a mythology, folklore that looked like the fairyland I’d grown up loving. And then I discovered something wonderful. Fairies are for the rest of us. The trick is to expand the idea of what constitutes a fairy
One of the early inhabitants of Puerto Rico was the Taino. They had a rich culture and heritage and during my studies I discovered something that looked familiar—beings that only walked the mortal realm after sundown. They were shapeshifters, pranksters, and could be benevolent (when moved to be) or malevolent (when crossed by mere mortals). During the day they lived in a realm called Coaybay, which was considered “the other side of the island”, as though people could get there. The ruler of their realm was called Marquetaurie Guayaba and he had a dog Opiyelguabirán who guards the entrance to Coaybay. In the stories the realm was only for the dead when their goieza, or souls, left their bodies. Then the goieza were judged and the good ones became hupia, while the bad ones became Maboya. Both could be identified by the lack of a navel and were attracted to guava.
The more I read, the more I saw similarities to other fairy stories I’d read. Their changeable nature. The ability to do kind and cruel things. Having a kingdom, tantalizingly close to the world of man, complete with a ruler. Only emerging at night and having a distinguishing feature. These were spirits of the dead, but they never moved on and after centuries they forgot where they came from and became spirits of the forest, the rain forest. It sounded like fairies to me. And I wondered, what if I had been asking the wrong question? Maybe every culture has a fairy and I didn’t know because it’s not out there to find. But it is. I just had to look for it. Kind of like fairies—close at hand, but only for those who know what to look for. They don’t make it easy, but if you’re one of the chosen, you may get a glimpse of a fairy that looks like you.
About a Smuggler’s Path by I.L. Cruz (coming soon!)
In Canto, magic is a commodity, outlawed by the elites after a devastating war and brokered by smugglers on the hidden market. But some know it’s more—a birthright.
Inez Garza moves through both worlds. She’s a member of an old, aristocratic family and she works for the hidden market as a magical arms dealer. Inez must keep her smuggling of magical contraband a secret for her sake and her family’s safety. Her worlds stay separate to hide her real purpose—funding The Heir Apparent, an underground group determined to return magic to the people at any cost.
But the discovery of a relic from before the war threatens her delicate balance.
Inez’s inherent magic, which lives in all the Canti, has been awakened by an ancient cowry shell. Now the Duchess’s daughter and smuggler must add another title to her already precarious position—mage, a capital crime. This could bring her to the attention factions at home— both the rebels she secretly supports, and those at the highest levels of government, doggedly holding to the status quo to avoid another magical war—and abroad.
And Inez must decide who she can trust and what her powers mean for her future and the future of Canto.
“Mr. Broaddus, you need to start a Creative Writing Club.” Thus began a four week campaign in which different members of my eighth grade class wore me down and I agreed to run an after school program. We ended up with nearly a dozen intrepid souls in our merry band, including two sixth graders. Each one with a story (or novel or series of novels) in progress.
Maurice BroaddusThe timing of the call to write for the Knaves anthology couldn’t have been more perfect.
It gave me an opportunity to write alongside my students, which is always one of my favorite ways to teach creative writing because it demystifies the process in very practical ways (minus the profanity when I got stuck…though my kind-hearted middle school students offered to fill that in for me, but for the sake of me wanting to keep my job, I declined their helpful offer).
So that out time together wouldn’t degenerate into “goofing off with Mr. Broaddus” (I’m not admitting that on rare occasion my time with my eighth graders may have slid into this), I outlines a series of topics for us to discuss: brainstorming, world-building, plotting, beginnings, scenes, middles, dialogue, endings, and revision. The thing about eighth graders, especially ones who believe that after school they are “off the clock,” is that they “listen” in different ways. To the casual observer, it may have looked a lot like them insulting one another, throwing paper wads, attempting to listen to music, and cruising the latest Fortnite skins. However, when it came time to write, they were all business.
With this in mind, I wrote “Daughter of Sorrow.” This story features a heroine named Rianna (I’m not admitting that I had a student named Rianna who declared herself my favorite student. I will say that if you notice in any of my work produced between the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018 the phrase “Rianna is Queen,” know that she was prone to “editing” my drafts). She’s facing the prospect of going to high school. And as many people have rightly assumed, high school is a place full of assassins. So it’s handy that her father happens to be one who has been training her and allowed her to tag along (remotely) on some of his missions.
Writing is often a very solitary art form, which has always frustrated me a little because I hate the idea of extended periods of isolating myself to create. So whenever possible, I have tried to find ways to make my art/process as communal as possible. Surrounding myself with eighth graders to brainstorm and plot is a lot like attempting to write in the Thunderdome. On the flip side, they poured that same energy and passion into their own work, too. In our final meeting, we did readings of our work. And it was obvious they really paid attention. In fact, in a moment I still think back on with pride, it was one of our sixth graders who wrote a piece so profound it ripped out our hearts and sent us spiraling into our feels.
So “Daughter of Sorrow” is dedicated to my Creative Writing Club who are eagerly awaiting to see it in print (and whom I have promised to buy copies for). They were my critique partners, they were my editors, and they were my inspiration (I won’t lie: I bawled like a baby at their promotion ceremony). However, right after their graduation, my sixth graders came up to me and said “Mr. Broaddus, you need to start a Creative Writing Club.”
About Maurice Broaddus
Maurice Broaddus is an exotic dancer, trained in several forms of martial arts–often referred to as “the ghetto ninja”–and was voted the Indianapolis Dalai Lama. He’s an award winning haberdasher and coined the word “acerbic”. He graduated college at age 14 and high school at age 16. Not only is he credited with inventing the question mark, he unsuccessfully tried to launch a new number between seven and eight.
When not editing or writing, he is a champion curler and often impersonates Jack Bauer, but only in a French accent. He raises free range jackalopes with his wife and two sons … when they are not solving murder mysteries.
He really likes to make up stories. A lot. Especially about himself.