Hanging with the Grandmaster of Steamfunk: An Interview with Maurice Broaddus

Hello book lovers! It is I, Jasmine.

In May of 2019, our very own R. Jean Bell, @bex-dk on Twitter and in the INKubator Community, reviewed a book that took her breath away. Now, if you know her, there’s one thing you will agree with. She devours books. Like at least one a day. The sheer volume she absorbs makes her a fierce critic and we have never known her to rave over a book. Ever.

Of course we INKlings had to see what all this fuss was about and we went in search of the aforementioned book. This mystical holy grail of speculative literature that had managed to appease our Bex. It was called Pimp My Airship. Written by Maurice Broaddus.

Strange. Beautiful. Shocking. Surreal. Apex Book Company

When we got the opportunity to interview Mr Broaddus through the Apex Back Catalog Blog Tour, a second miracle occurred. Our Bex was swooning. I kid you not. By this time, I had breezed through the book myself and must confess to moderate fangirling of my own.

So we fanned our faces until the blushes subsided, and got to work. As usual, the INKlings all pitched in and pooled their brainpower to come up with some awesome questions for our victim guest.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

INKlings: Names and the act of choosing one is significant to your characters and a recurring element in your stories. What can you tell us about your process for naming your characters?

Maurice: Identity, figuring out who we are, is a theme in many of my stories. Naming demonstrates an important power dynamic, because there are the named and those with the power to name. That plays out over and over again. There are three primary ways I go about the process of naming my characters:

1) names I have studied and know the meaning of (and I match them to the character)

2) interesting names I come across (which I then keep in a NAMES document for use later when I’m in a pinch for a name)

3) when my middle school students bug me to put them in a story (sigh)

INKlings: What advice do you have for other minority authors for finding their voice or niche as an author?

Maurice: Be more you.

The world doesn’t need an iteration of a previous author, their books are around. We need your unique voice. Know yourself, learn your culture, understand your worldview and values and put as much of you into your stories as possible.

INKlings: Have there been times you have felt pressured to tone down, modify, or white wash the voices of your characters, whether overtly or by the rejections? If so, can you tell us a bit about your experiences and either how you dealt with it or how you wish today you had dealt with it?

Maurice: Sort of. I’ve had editors complain about my character names or my dialogue. Most times I simply note the potential bias and quit sending stuff to them (until the editor changes).

There were a couple markets that I was determined to get into that surprised me with eventual acceptances. I noted that while my characters default to black in my mind, when I’m writing them, most readers default to reading them as white unless explicitly coded otherwise. In the stories that got accepted, I purposedly hadn’t explicitly coded them to see what would happen. I took note of that, too (read: I cashed the check, took my acceptance, and haven’t subbed to them since).

INKlings: Do you find that you write more about things you know and have experience with, or more about things you don’t know and concepts that are (at least initially) unfamiliar to you?

Maurice: Both. The current story I am working on is set in ancient Africa and involves an encounter with gods. Neither of which I have much experience with, but it’s a great excuse to explore history, culture, and worldbuild. However, the main characters are experiencing grief and exploring the idea of faith, which I’m quite familiar with.

INKlings: Would you rather be full of yourself or full of someone else?

Be. More. Me.

INKlings: According to your bio, you actually completed college before highschool. That’s really impressive! What would you recommend for others seeking to gain such an accomplishment?

Maurice: To not be drinking with friends when writing and posting your bio.

INKlings: Which story made you fall in love with speculative fiction? Why?

Maurice: The Uncanny X-Men #136 – the first comic book I ever read. 20,000+ of comics collected since.

“Julius Caesar and the Werewolf” (John Gardner) – taught me a lot about character voice. And the ability to stick monsters anywhere at any time.

INKlings: Are there books you read again and again?

Maurice: Futureland (Walter Mosley)

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler)

The Gift (Patrick O’Leary)

Magic for Beginners (Kelly Link)

Sandman (Neil Gaiman)

Watchmen (Alan Moore)

Pimp My Airship Cover ArtINKlings: I’m still in the beginning stages of reading Pimp My Airship, and I was curious what your inspiration for the story and the main characters was?

Maurice: Editors reaching out to me wanted to see it after I tweeted a joke about writing the original short story. At the time of the joke, the story didn’t exist.

I drew inspiration from three sources: Parliament Funkadelic (as my approach to steampunk, thus producing “steamfunk”); Chauncey DeVega, who used to interview a character named Brother X-Squared (thus 120 Degrees of Knowledge Allah); and my friend J.J. (whom I dedicated the book version to since Sleepy is me putting him through his paces and the novel my excuse to make him laugh).

INKlings: Are you planning to write a sequel or more adventures for Knowledge Allah, Sleepy, and Deaconess Blues?

Maurice: Oh…I could be persuaded. Revolutions spread. There’s nothing like having to deal with the fallout of success.

INKlings: As editor, reader and writer, do you have any pet peeves that make you want to dig your eyes out with a spoon when you come across them? How about some that provoke a somewhat milder response?

Maurice: Time travel! (No lie, I can’t stand them. They are rarely done well/without holes)

To a MUCH lesser extent, cliched depictions of faith or its practitioners.

INKlings: You are suddenly inundated with cephalopod stories. Hundreds of them in a seemingly never-ending flow of sucker-studded tentacles. What do you do?

Maurice: Do they talk? Sadly, it was not exactly a well-guarded secret that I love talking animal stories. That’s why so many made the shortlist for the Apex Books anthology that I co-edited, Dark Faith.

INKlings: What is your opinion on the octopus riders, and is it true that your move to Indiana was in part an attempt to escape their influence?


higher clearance level required

INKlings: Who would win in a fight: Phillip Pullman in a Zeppelin or Neal Stephenson in the Goodyear Blimp?

Maurice: Never underestimate Neal!

INKlings: Pretend, for a moment, that you’re pulling up in front of a packed house where they’ll be announcing the winner for Novel of the Year, of which you are a nominee. Congratulations! Many of your peers and all the very attractive and intelligent editors are watching you arrive. As you step onto the sidewalk and turn back towards your very pimped out ride, is it more likely that it has an ace of spades playing card in the spokes or pink tassels hanging from the handlebars? Why?

Maurice: That’s actually a toss up. Here’s the thing, no matter how pimped out my ride, I will always roll with my Powerpuff Girls floor mats.

Well, all good things must come to an end and that goes for interviews too, no matter how awesome they are. Thank you so much, Maurice, for being a great sport.

We look forward to more adventures of Sleepy, Deaconess Blues, and (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. Please accept the title of Honourary INKling. I’m afraid someone already ate the cake. I’ll refrain from name calling. They know who they are.

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About Maurice Broaddus

The fashionable Maurice BroaddusA community organizer and teacher, his work has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Weird Tales, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Uncanny Magazine, with some of his stories having been collected in The Voices of Martyrs. His novels include the urban fantasy trilogy, The Knights of Breton Court, the steampunk novel, Pimp My Airship, and the middle grade detective novel series, The Usual Suspects. He co-authored the play Finding Home: Indiana at 200. His novellas include Buffalo Soldier, I Can Transform You, Orgy of Souls, Bleed with Me, and Devil’s Marionette. As an editor, he’s worked on Dark Faith, Dark Faith: Invocations, Streets of Shadows, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror, and Apex Magazine. His gaming work includes writing for the Marvel Super-Heroes, Leverage, and Firefly role-playing games as well as working as a consultant on Watch Dogs 2. Learn more about him at MauriceBroaddus.com. [Photo by Chandra Lynch of ANKH Photography]


Warning: Don’t Believe the Hype!

All the poet called Sleepy wants to do is spit his verses, smoke chiba, and stay off the COP’s radar—all of which becomes impossible once he encounters a professional protestor known as (120 Degrees of) Knowledge Allah. They soon find themselves on the wrong side of local authorities and have to elude the powers that be.

When young heiress Sophine Jefferson’s father is murdered, the careful life she’d been constructing for herself tumbles around her. She’s quickly drawn into a web of intrigue, politics and airships, joining with Sleepy and Knowledge Allah in a fight for their freedom. Chased from one end of a retro-fitted Indianapolis to the other, they encounter outlaws, the occasional circus, possibly a medium, and more outlaws. They find themselves in a battle much larger than they imagined: a battle for control of the country and the soul of their people.

The Usual Suspects cover artThe revolution will not be televised!

Fans of Jason Reynolds and Sharon M. Draper will love this oh-so-honest middle grade novel from writer and educator Maurice Broaddus.

Thelonius Mitchell is tired of being labeled. He’s in special ed, separated from the “normal” kids at school who don’t have any “issues.” That’s enough to make all the teachers and students look at him and his friends with a constant side-eye. (Although his disruptive antics and pranks have given him a rep too.)

When a gun is found at a neighborhood hangout, Thelonius and his pals become instant suspects. Thelonius may be guilty of pulling crazy stunts at school, but a criminal? T isn’t about to let that label stick.

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This blog post was brought to you in cooperation with the Apex Back Catalog Blog Tour. We were so honored to get the chance to talk to Maurice Broaddus and share it with you. Great news for those of you longing to pick up some amazing Broaddus words. Apex is offering 25% off everything in the Apex store all month long with discount code SEPTEMBER. So this is a great time to pick up Pimp My Airship, I Can Transform You, Orgy of Souls, and the Dark Faith volumes directly from Apex, as well as any other Apex book. If you’re on twitter, search for the hashtag #backcatalogblogtour to find all the reviews and interviews throughout the month.

If you want to read more about Pimp My Airship, also check out his guest post on the Apex blog from earlier this month, “Steampunk as Afrofuturism.”

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