Maurice tells us he loves worldbuilding. He likes to build a world and then go back and revisit it. The first story in the collection, Warrior of the Sunrise, takes place in ancient Africa. He also has stories set in a science fiction world of the future. He really likes returning to a character he loves.
The story "Rite of Passage" is told from the perspective of a white captain on a slave ship, and features some really fascinating self-justification by the captain about why, even though he's obviously in the business, he's not as bad as other members of his crew. The prose is really historical and wonderful, and the captain's language contrasts in really interesting ways with the speech patterns of his first mate, Hawkins, who is much more honest about the business that they are in. One of the other stories has a soldier as a lead character, and another has a lady working on a plantation.
I asked Maurice how he developed the historical voices he uses in these tales, and he said "I read a lot of collected stories of emancipated slaves in that era." He wanted to take in as much of the language as possible so he could learn how to use it in the way they would, to reflect their thoughts.
The story "Family Business" takes place in Jamaica, and language use is very interesting there. Maurice said he was paying attention to his family to learn the language style, where people code-switch (change language or language style) depending on who is in the room. Maurice explained that his mother came from Jamaica, Maurice himself grew up in London, and his siblings grew up in America. "I'd just put a recorder in the middle of the dinner table," he says. Apparently, everyone would be self-conscious for about five minutes but then start speaking normally. Listening to the recordings gave him the opportunity to consider slang, how each person speaks, and how their use of language changes. He said he also recorded his son's slumber party once, and it was great to hear their use of slang, what topics they discussed, and what boys think about. He later asked the boys what they had talked about, and found they didn't remember everything accurately. "They had no idea they'd spent a half an hour discussing farts."
The key is talking with people, capturing conversations, studying rhythm and word choice.
I had to ask Maurice about the story that very obviously references Parliament Funkadelic. He said that "The Electric Spanking of the War Babies" was originally published in the Glitter and Mayhem collection that featured disco and roller-skating. He explained that he co-wrote it with Kyle Johnson after an evening discussing ideas over gummi bear flavored vodka while playing Parliament Funkadelic.
I also asked him about the universe featured in Pimp My Airship. Maurice has written a number of stories in that setting, including Buffalo Soldier, which is at Tor.com and features the origin of the Starchild (a clone of Haile Selassie) and his guardian. We got to see some book covers (so check out the video if you're curious). Desmond takes the child so that he can live his own life and not be a pawn of politicians, but is being pursued. The child represents technology, but they head into the Nation-state of Texas and territories on the West coast. In this world, the United States uses steampunk technology, but Jamaica and the First Nations have explored technology that is not steampunk.
The origin of the Pimp My Airship universe was Twitter, where Maurice tweeted as a joke that he was going to write a Steampunk story with all black characters and call it "Pimp My Airship," and suddenly editors were very interested! The question he had reading Steampunk was "Where are all the Black people?" A lot of Steampunk erases them.
When he wrote the story "Steppin Razor" he was asking "Where does Jamaica fit in all this?" In this universe, America lost the Revolutionary War and is still a British colony. In this universe, Jamaica kept all its resources, as did the First Nations, so they have their own technology. Steampunk tech is not the "height" of technology.
When Maurice looks at where he stands in a particular genre, he wants to write stories that he could have grown up reading. Tonya suggested he write a story about Nanny and the Maroons, and Maurice said in fact that he was going to write a tale of young Nanny for the Hidden Youth anthology, but the idea hasn't become a completed story yet. When he studied Nanny's character for "Steppin' Razor" he discovered there was a lot there.
I asked Maurice if the process of putting together the collection influenced his overall thoughts about his writing and his career. He told me that he thinks deeply about what he is doing with his stories. When he has a new job in the community, he gets to hear new stories. He mentioned that the results of the election have been weighing heavily on him as he considers what they means for him as a black man in America, for his community, and ofr him as an artist. He strives to control the narrative of his own community, and thinks a lot about what that should look at. He says he's politicizing his art. His latest stories take place in the same community in Indianapolis with magical realism. He's developing interconnected short stories within the community, considering the diversity of what it means to be Black. He's also looking at how Africa is portrayed and trying to get away from the dominant image of starving kids, controlling the narrative to show a variety of voices. Eventually, he says, there will be another collection of stories all in this one community. He also has enough stories he could do a Steampunk collection.
Thank you so much for being there, Maurice! I hope to talk to you again about more of your work. Thanks also to everyone who attended, and let's all look out for the novella Buffalo Soldier, coming out from Tor.