Q&A with Speculative Fiction Writer Thaddeus Howze
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist. His speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He’s author of Hayward’s Reach and Broken Glass. He is also the creator of a series of articles called Writing Craft: Mastering the Urge to Write.
Thaddeus is a writer and editor for two magazines, the Good Men Project, a men’s magazine challenging social norms for men in modern society. He also writes for Krypton Radio, a media station and online magazine, writing articles on popular culture, science, technology and superheroes. He has also appeared in numerous publications including Black Enterprise, Gizmodo, Huffington Post, Polygon, Panel and Frame and the BBC. He is one of the founding members of the Afrosurreal Writers Workshop and was a Teaching Fellow at Chapter 510: Department of Make Believe.
He has appeared on a variety of podcasts and convention panels as a comic historian and inspirational writing coach promoting Afrofuturism and speculative fiction writing. Before his career as a writer, Thaddeus was a technology executive who worked in the Bay Area as the Chief Information Officer and Vice President of Information Services for John F. Kennedy University.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s our Vice President?
Our speaker chair Cristina Deptula asked him some questions so you can get to know him in advance of our meeting this Sunday where he is the featured member. He will give a brief reading prior to Sage Cohen speaking on how to focus and finish your writing.
Questions for the “Answer Man,” Thaddeus Howze
What is ‘speculative fiction?’ Is all sci-fi and fantasy speculative?
Speculative fiction is an umbrella term used to encompass any aspect of the supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements. The speculative aspect of the term plays with things which may or may not be real, realized, or even of this world. Thus speculative fiction can cover any genre of science fiction, any genre of fantasy or horror. It also encompasses those conditions where the genre is less firmly connected to a single perspective such as magical realism, African-futurism or Afro-futurism.
How does real life, real social events or your personal life, fit into and inform your writing?
My real world can inform my writing but does not have to. As a writer of speculative fiction as well as a variety of nonfiction such as journalism, essay and science-based thought-experiments, I have plenty of outlets for my creative fiction and my more serious non-fiction work. There used to be a clear dividing line between what I wrote for fiction and what I wrote for the real world but of late, let’s say the last five or so years, I’ve come to the conclusion there is plenty of opportunity for my real world science, technology and political frameworks to enjoy being rewritten into my speculative fiction.
There is already a precedent for speculative fiction being used to talk about real world issues from the halls of science fiction television’s signature series, Star Trek, which featured stories full of social, cultural and political overtones questioning the nature of humanity, the role of society and the future of the species if we cannot change our political means of communicating. Star Trek discussed race, religion, the military, espionage, social welfare, and a host of other topics in its three year run before syndication. It’s many spin offs continue that proud tradition breaking barriers and redefining televised science fiction tropes and expectations.
As a multi-genre reader and writer, I am unafraid of taking ideas from the real world and extrapolating them into my speculative fiction, often taking what might be a controversial idea and pushing it to it’s logical but unfortunate resolution, as a way of thinking a problem through. This is speculative fiction’s primary appeal to me as a writer. I am not constrained by what is possible, only by what I can imagine and make into a cogent and structured story narrative for a reader.
How do you switch between the many genres that you write? Does one genre inspire others?
I grew up reading every kind of speculative fiction imaginable. I played no favorites so I was able to enjoy the range of the genre from space opera where vast interstellar, intergalactic or even interdimensional civilizations juggle the art of being civilized with their need for resources, ideas and creativity as their growing stellar empires came across other civilizations with different needs.
While older speculative fiction had a habit of showcasing alien invasion as a metaphor for colonialism or imperialism, I prefer to use it as a chance to imagine the challenge of meeting our intellectual relatives from beyond the stars, natives of a biology completely different from our own. In my mind, the differences between science fiction and fantasy are a matter of degree and effort placed on the writer. Star Wars functions as both a star-spanning, space opera or a story about interstellar magical realms, complete with space wizards (see: Jedi), mercenaries and psychic powers. Many of my favorite stories talked about the similarities between the two and would occasionally even overlap them to prove the point.
My favorite is the Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman. It posits a world where scientists crash land on a planet and are forced to colonize the world, only to discover a background sentience written into the world itself, capable of providing wish fulfillment to anyone who could connect to that environment. The colonists and early settlers, not believing in magic, were often consumed by creatures from their nightmares, because they could not make the connection between their scientific backgrounds and this new and terrifying experience. This series was magnificent in its depictions of both magic and science and how they interacted in new ways.
I always try to learn from my writing, particularly if I write in a genre I enjoy, to one I might have written less, but may have enjoyed reading. I find if I want to write in a new genre, I need to spend time reading representative works to capture the flavor and essence of a story told in that genre. Readers can tell if you are unclear or uncomfortable writing in a genre; this means every bit of research makes a difference in the quality of the resulting story.
What’s interesting to you about reviewing fantasy and action films? What draws you to that genre, and what sort of unique perspective do you bring to it?
I review films, anime and television series primarily as a means of working through my understanding of stories and storytelling through the analysis of another writer’s work. My goal, besides sharing my enthusiasm for the genre, is to see if I can learn and discern how this story works its magic and use what I learn to my advantage later in my own work.
There are a host of questions I try to cover when I am reviewing a story, always looking for how the writer intrigued or engaged me as a consumer first, then as a writer and finally as a reviewer. Believe it or not, these are not always the same thing. I can love a story as a consumer but hate it as a reviewer. My list of questions include:
What sorts of social responsibilities do you think writers have in terms of writing what’s interesting to them vs what’s going on in the world?
I think writers and artists in general, have no particular obligations to talk about the real world at all unless it is interesting to them. For many writers, writing is their escape from reality and they often move as far away from the real world as their imagination can take them.
I am completely okay with a writer taking me on a fantastic journey which may have nothing to do with the real world as long as it is internally consistent and remains interesting to partake of. Short stories like “They’re Made of Meat” cross the line between alien interaction and scientific curiosity perfectly adding science-based geek humor right on top. The story removes the hubris so often seen by human characters in speculative fiction stories and instead creates a dichotomy with the discussion of whether creatures made of organic tissue can even be considered living at all.
If a writer wants to tell stories which reflect some aspect of the real world such as climate speculative fiction which I write on occasion, my only consideration is they make an effort to do their research to enhance the options they have of telling a good story. One of the reasons I write speculative fiction and journalism-style writing is to make sure I am working on my craft and yet still talking about the real world and its many challenges. It is easy to find oneself writing stories which are divorced from the world because our world is awful, but I think every writer, sooner or later finds a way to cross the real world with their imagined one, if for no other reason, to make sure they are still in touch with what’s important in reality.
Does a writer have to do that? Not at all. Some of my favorite writers never wrote about the real world except in the most cursory of ways, preferring to create an alternative reality, complete with its own rules, behaviors, norms and opportunities to study the Human and non-human intellects which populate their pages. Even when they do this, their work is often a deeper analysis of the Human experience through their writing about the Other, the fictional perspective looking at the Human experience in comparison to the character’s own way of life. Learn more about Thaddeus Howze at his website here or get tickets to our February Zoom event, so you can ask him whatever your heard desires.
Get to Know Thaddeus Howze when he Is Featured at our February Meeting
Karma is president and web mistress for the Berkeley California Writers Club. She runs Future Is Fiction Communications, where she helps authors and other creatives spread the word about their projects. She writes poetry, and essays. She loves writing about music and politics.