Tell us a bit about how “The Half-Dark Promise” came to be.
Back in 2011, Lincoln Crisler asked me if I wanted to be part of a four-novella anthology he and two of his buddies, Tim Marquitz and Ed Erdelac, were putting together. Lincoln had recently published my short story, “G-Child”, in his meta-human Corrupts Absolutely? anthology, so he was familiar with my work.
I was flattered that Lincoln had asked me to be part of the anthology, but I was also a bit hesitant. Lincoln wanted each novella to be about 20,000 words. At the time, I hadn’t written a short story more than 3,500 words — if that — and I’m a notoriously slow writer. I didn’t want to be the one who screwed up the anthology because I didn’t make deadline or the word count.
Also, those three guys love horror. They play in the dark. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to bring enough dark in my story to match theirs.
I almost told Lincoln I didn’t want to be part of the anthology, but I was very much intrigued by its theme. Each novella would feature a character during a different stage of life: youth, middle age and old age. Lincoln was doing old age, Tim middle age, and Ed youth. Lincoln thought Ed and I could split youth; I would do childhood, and Ed would do those wonderful teenage years.
Since I like a challenge, especially when it comes to writing, and since I enjoy writing children, I agreed to be part of the anthology. It also helped that I went to high school with Ed and I wanted to be in another anthology with him, and that Tim was very welcoming. He’s one of the kindest writers I know, despite how he looks. Everyone should buy all of his books and friend him on Facebook. He’s funny as hell.
Anyway, it took me some time to get into my novella, The Half Dark — which ended up to be just over 10,000 words, so it’s more like a novelette—but by the time I was done, I’d laid some good ground work for what was to become my Half Dark world. That was about three years ago.
Unfortunately, the anthology didn’t do as well as we’d hoped. I’ve always liked The Half Dark and its world, though, and I’ve wanted to expand on it, so as weeks and months went by, I would add new and different world building elements to it. Eventually, I got to a point where I was ready to write “The Half Dark Promise.”
One of the most interesting parts of “The Half-Dark Promise” is your use of Creole. Were there any reasons that you used Creole in certain situations, and not others? (Coming from a multi-lingual family myself, we often use words or phrases in certain languages because it’s just better that way. Is something similar going on, here?)
This may come as a surprise, but I don’t know Haitian Creole. I very much wanted to include it in the “Half Dark Promise,” and in more than just a few instances, but I wanted to do it right. So I researched it.
Let me step back for a moment, though. When I wrote my Half Dark novella, the main character, eleven-year-old Bijou LaVoix, speaks Louisiana Creole. She and her mother are from New Orleans (like my mother), and I wanted to use a language to help make the world a bit more rich. From what I can tell, Louisiana Creole is a language not many people speak, and internet study aids are few. So, my novella had very little Louisiana Creole.
By the time I was ready to write “The Half Dark Promise,” the world of my alternate Chicago had expanded somewhat, and I wanted Haitian Creole to be the dominant language and culture. I also wanted to have it well researched.
It didn’t take me long to find Mandaly Louis-Charles’ website, http://sweetcoconuts.blogspot.ca/. She, and it, is a great resource. I’ve requested her help with Haitian Creole many times, and she’s even narrated another story of mine set in my alternate Chicago for Escape Pod.
Ultimately, though, my lack of knowledge of Haitian Creole limited its use. I definitely wanted the language to give the story and world flavor, but I also wanted it to add to Michaëlle-Isabelle’s characterization. I think one of the most endearing terms in Haitian Creole is “ti chouchou,” which means little darling or little sweetie. I love that Michaëlle-Isabelle’s father calls her that.
In an early draft, I had the Pogo speaking Haitian Creole, but I removed it. Even though the Pogo is of Chicago, them speaking Haitian Creole just didn’t feel right. I didn’t want the Pogo sharing that sort of intimacy with MichaëlleIsabelle. They didn’t deserve that intimacy.
What does the setting of the story – the South Side of Chicago – do for this piece? You’ve written other pieces set in Chicago, too – for any particular reason?
Ever since I’d read Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, and Octavia Butler’s Parable series almost ten years ago, I’ve wanted to write short stories rich in world building and culture, but set in Chicago. At the time, I hadn’t read novels set in Toronto or Los Angeles, or even Chicago. I wanted to do for Chicago what William Gibson did for the Sprawl. I know; ambitious.
But I also wanted to put my experience — the black experience, as lived in Chicago during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s in my stories. Brown Girl in the Ring is so rich in West Indian/Caribbean culture, and I wanted a similar richness in my stories.
At first, I didn’t see cultural richness in my life and experiences. My wife is from Canada, so we decided to move back to the Toronto area to raise our family. Many of her friends are West Indian, and the black experience in Canada is quite different from the black experience in America. I made comparisons I shouldn’t have, and my cultural experiences seemed to come up short.
I knew that wasn’t the case, so I actually sat down and took notes about my life, my experiences, and Chicago. My mother is from Mississippi, but after she graduated high school she moved to New Orleans for a while, and then Chicago. The mother in my Half Dark novella, which is also set in my alternate Chicago, had a similar experience.
One of the things I remember Chicago Public Schools proudly teaching us is Chicago was founded by a black man, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable. There’s even a high school and a museum named after him.
Not much is known about Du Sable, but many historians believe he was Haitian. I thought it would be pretty cool to have an alternate Chicago whose founder and first mayor is a black man, and whose first language is Haitian Creole.
But again, I wanted my experience to be part of the Half Dark world, which is very much a scary place for children, so I tried to recall some scary experiences I had as a child in Chicago. And even though I grew up on the South Side of Chicago as a child of the eighties, my life hadn’t really been difficult or scary. My mom provided a good life for me.
It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns either, though. For a significant portion of my childhood, my mom was a single mother. She worked, and I was latch-key kid. I took two CTA buses from Jeffrey Manor, where I lived, to my school, John T. Pirie. I did this from about second grade to fifth grade before my mom re-married and we moved to the suburbs. Sometimes, I took the bus by myself, but often it was with my god brother and my god sister, who were one and two years older than me, respectively.
I was a bit of an anxious child, so I remember being a bit scared to take the bus by myself, but I got used to it. It was my every day routine. After a while, taking the Jeffrey 6 and the 14 bus to school wasn’t scary.
The only thing I really remember being scared of in real life as a child in Chicago, was the clown.
I can’t remember how old I was when my mom told me this, and it might have even been teachers at school who said it. Either way, they’d told me if I ever saw a clown holding balloons to run away and go fund an adult. Back then, I was quite young when they told me this, and my memory now is a bit hazy, but they’d been referring to serial killer John Wayne Gacy who had dressed up as a clown he called Pogo. I do remember adults being afraid of him, and afraid for the children who walked home alone.
And there was my main piece for my Half Dark world and my alternate Chicago.
I’ve added a few more touches, like the Tell It Like It Is chant MichaëlleIsabelle says in “The Half Dark Promise,” which seems to be very much a Chicago thing, and the promise itself, which elementary schools and high schools make with students for various reasons, including sober proms.
I didn’t want to depict Chicago as entirely negative, though. Chicago is messed up. Big time. There’s some bad shit going on there. It’s a scary place. So, I’ve given my Chicago a truly shit-your-pants boogeyman. I’ve given it a monster that scares both children and adults–the Pogo creature. It’s sinister, it’s Lovecraftian.
But I also wanted to show a South Side of Chicago that has hope. I wanted to populate my Chicago with hardworking people who, even when gazing up at its underbelly, try to make it a better place.. And I believe that’s happening right there, right now.
Have you read anything great recently?
Not too long ago, I read The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi. It’s so outside of my comfort zone as a novel. It went way over my head, the first read, and blew my mind at the same time. I was so confused by it, but I loved it all the same. I’m reading it again, slowly this time, to get a better understanding of what I missed the first time. It’s such a cool book.
Finally, it’s a new year! Any resolutions?
To write more. Plain and simple. Oh, and to write faster.