1. What inspired you to write The Children of Clay series?
There’s a scene in the bible where God is speaking with a prophet, Jeremiah. God tells Jeremiah to visit a potter and observe him. What Jeremiah notices is that the potter has exacting standards and any clay pot that did not meet his standards, he destroyed. God then compared himself to the potter, willing to destroy any of his people that exhibited unacceptable imperfections.
This episode always fascinated me and I wondered, “What if the clay pots could speak? How would they defend or advocate for themselves?” I imagined that they would argue that their value lay not in the clay but in what they could carry or contain.
And so I imagined a god who was so transcendent that she cared little for humans but also that she was very fascinated by these beings who mattered little in the grand scheme of things. And the overall arc of the story is a struggle between Ryna, the transcendent god and her counterpart, the demiurge, pure matter, who is presently manifested as Queen Nouei. It is Nouei’s self-imposed task, as the lesser god, to convince Ryna that there is value in the children of clay.
The story takes place in different times: a dystopian world, seven-thousand years into the future, in the present contemporary world, and in a set of parallel worlds. So while it is, overall, a fantasy/supernatural story, it is rooted in current science and politics.
Icon of Clay, the third book in the series continues the story of a woman, Bridget Blade, is a reincarnation of a god, and gets caught up in international intrigue as she struggles to sort out her identity and put her life back together.
2. What inspired you to write Fantasy?
I write science fantasy which means that I can weave science elements into a fantasy context. I like fantasy because of the near total freedom to create and fashion a world of your choosing. Although the challenge is to not make the world so foreign that people can’t relate to it.
The Children of Clay series is contemporary fantasy. So the fantasy elements have to work in a restricted context of science and politics. I enjoy that because you have to think carefully when developing the connective tissue that merges a supernatural/fantasy world with a contemporary society.
3. Does your heritage influence your writing, and if so how?
My heritage is Nigerian-American. I find that Africans live in a world that easily blends the traditional with the technological. The supernatural and the scientific coexist comfortably for Africans. So it is very natural for me to bring science and fantasy together without feeling like such a move needs to be justified.
In The Children of Clay there are a series of parallel worlds, same people, but different probability configurations. This means that the same set of people act differently in different worlds. This gives me the flexibility to write situations that don’t have to be so logically binary and in which I can bring together fantasy and science. So, for instance, in The Clay Queen, we meet the people of a world of zero-probability and someone from the complement world, a world of 100% probability. In both worlds, science would and does coexist with the supernatural very easily, far more easily than in a world of … 50-50 probability configurations.
This gives me the flexibility to create a world that I am comfortable with, in that it doesn’t have to be so logical and binary in the way that the culture imposes on us.
4. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write from a female prospective?
I never assume I understand the female perspective by default, so I primarily work on creating a three-dimensional character. I try to listen and study how women approach things and see if I need to modify the perspective of my characters. I also pay attention to the reactions of my critique partners. Ultimately, if my readers can buy into the humanity of the character, then I feel like I’ve succeeded, even if I fall short on certain aspects of characterization.
I should note that The Children of Clay series features female leads but the very first initial drafts didn’t. Nouei, who is the anchor of the series, was an absent character in a dystopian future. She was a Queen whose presence consisted in her being referred to by her husband who had killed her father. But I was so intrigued by her that I felt I need to develop her character because she had so much more to say. She did. She took over the entire series.
Bridget, who is the reincarnation of Queen Nouei, was similar in the very initial drafts. She was a tertiary character and the main characters were all male. But she had powers and abilities and a presence I needed to explain and eventually the story only fit when I came to realize that Nouei and Bridget were the same person and the series became about them.
So in that sense, I never consciously set out to write female leads, they emerged organically. So my goal has always been to strive to be true the character and in doing so, I hope I reflect authentic women.
5. There are not as many black science fiction and fantasy authors and filmmakers in comparison. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
This is true. In general, it’s going to be a slow process of encouraging more black science fiction and fantasy authors to take the plunge. But it is encouraging that there are black authors currently making waves. That can’t be discounted.
I think conscious steps can be taken all through the process of production in both film and books, to embrace diversity. I think the more people are used to seeing blacks in films on and behind the screen, or in the book production process, the more audiences embrace that.
In science fiction and fantasy, my experience is that characters are white by default unless specified. In my books, I don’t identify my characters as black unless there’s a reason to. The four main characters are black and sometimes when people find out later in the respective stories, they are surprised.
6. What are your thoughts on how Africans are portrayed in popular media?
Yeah, as an African, I tend to notice Africans in popular media. I can’t say that I’m an expert here, but in casting my mind back to films I’ve watched, there are many positive roles and I choose to focus on them.
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2012 and Serenity; John Boyega in Star Wars and Pacific Rim; Djimon Honsou in any number of roles; Idris Elba in Pacific Rim; Freema Agyeman in Doctor Who; Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in a bunch roles; Fana Mokoena in World War Z; Rachel Luttrell in Stargate Atlantis.
I’ve mostly drawn from science fiction and some fantasy, but they jump out at me because they are positive representations of or by characters or actors of black African heritage.
I do get frustrated when Africans/African Americans get typecast into the mysterious or warrior race, e.g., Michael Dorn (Worf) and others as Klingons, and Christopher Judge (Teal’c) and others as the Jaffa. I’m not opposed to these roles, but it would be good to see a broader scope of representation such as in a show like Eureka.
Guinan in Star Trek Next Generation was played by Whoopi Goldberg but the character always felt very African to me. In fact, the most awesome episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” was one in which the timeline had changed and only Guinan sensed it. She insisted to Picard that everything was wrong and that he needed to send an entire ship back through time to certain death.
Of course, Picard was torn, but based on not much else but his belief in Guinan, he sends the ship back in time and it corrects the timeline. At the end of the episode, again, only Guinan had a vague sense that something had been or could’ve been terribly wrong, but wasn’t. That’s the sort of science fiction I like, where often there are no real answers and one has to take a leap of faith based on trust in another person.
7. Is Western culture ready to embrace non-Western fantasy?
He smirks. I suppose we’ll see with Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death being optioned to HBO. I think people enjoy good productions. So if non-Western fantasy is done well and it doesn’t appear that anyone’s trying to make a political point of it, then it’s likely to do well. Western Culture has embraced a lot of Asian fantasy, but African fantasy is still an open question. It’s really an issue of quality, production values, and the audience getting used to it.
8. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
It probably does, but I don’t tend to notice. I don’t like authors imposing a look or sound on the characters, especially when I’m into them and want to imagine them the way I want to. I think my writing is a little minimalist in that sense. I want to leave as much to my reader as possible.
9. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you maintain the balance?
I like watching movies. I love sports: soccer, football, basketball, etc. I love jogging in the morning. I’m fortunate to live in a beach town and I jog to the beach as often as I can. Recently, my sister visited Connecticut from New York and was amazed at the clarity of the night sky. I realized then just how much I had taken the stars for granted. But I absolutely feel blessed that I can go jogging two or three times a week when it is still dark and see a night sky with sparkling stars laid out for me.
10. What’s next for Ono Ekeh?
The Children of Clay series is on its third book, Icon of Clay. There are about five more to go. It’s a story arc I have sat on for almost a decade and it is burning to come out. Most of it is written, but the cleaning up and editing process does take a while. This series is very theological and metaphysical. When it’s done, I have more lighthearted stories I want to explore. I might even venture into the world of vampires, but with more of a humorous take.
Thoughtwards is a blog celebrating forward thought and the diverse thinkers who think them.
M. Lachi is an award winning recording/performing artist and composer, a published author, and a proponent of forward thinking. Having studied Management at UNC and Music at NYU, M. Lachi employs both savvies in her creative endeavors.
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