Derrick Ferguson: Who is Balogun Ojetade?
Balogun Ojetade: Balogun Ojetade is a cool dude.
He is an author; a father of eight children; a husband; a Steamfunk / Steampunk; a filmmaker; a screenwriter; an actor (sometimes); a master instructor of indigenous African martial arts; a creator of role-playing games and a traditional African priest.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
BO: I live in Atlanta, Georgia.
I am owner and technical director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, which has representatives in Atlanta, Macon, Ga and London, England.
To keep the bill collectors away, I avoid answering the phone, I run very quickly and I stay in the good graces of my beautiful and loving wife, who is the hardest working photographer in the business.
DF: When did your love of science fiction, heroic fantasy and speculative fiction begin?
BO: My love for science fiction, fantasy and horror began when I was two years old, when my sisters decided to conduct an experiment and see if they could teach their two year old brother to read by getting him hooked on comic books, starting with Thor, Superman, Beetle Bailey, Archie and the Fantastic Four. Their experiment worked and I have been in love with speculative and imaginative fiction ever since.
DF: You’re an instructor of African Martial Arts. When and where did you begin training?
BO: I began training in April, 1972 in Chicago, Illinois, under the tutelage of my father, who spent over a decade living and training in West Africa, when he was employed as security for the U.S. Embassy in Dakkar, Senegal. I have been training daily ever since. I began formally teaching my own students in 1992.
DF: You’re also heavily involved in film as a writer, director and fight/stunt coordinator. Tell us about your film projects.
BO: I majored in film, with a concentration in screenwriting, in college. I have always loved films and filmmaking, but for years, I did not have the time or resources to create my own, so I concentrated on other endeavors. In 2001, I was asked to develop a one act play based on a popular poem I wrote entitled The Good Ship Jesus. I developed the play and performed it myself as part of the National Black Arts Festival. The play – and I – received rave reviews, so I decided to pursue acting. I won roles in a few martial arts films and a few plays, always observing the techniques of the directors, actors and fight / stunt coordinators.
In 2001, I was given the opportunity to produce a martial arts thriller screenplay I wrote entitled Reynolds’ War. I jumped at the chance and the film has gone on to become an underground hit in the U.S. and in West Africa. After that experience, I formed my own production company, Roaring Lions Productions, and recruited some of the best talents in film to work with me to create quality works of Black science fiction, fantasy and horror for film. We have created two films – A Single Link, a martial arts thriller about a woman who is raped and discovers her rapist has gone on to become a mixed martial arts champion. For closure and empowerment, she decides she wants to fight him and she goes on to become the first woman to fight professionally in co-ed mixed martial arts and a symbol for victimized women worldwide; and Rite of Passage: Initiation, an excerpt from a Steamfunk television series I – and Milton Davis are developing.
DF: Before I get into “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” I think we ought to talk a bit about Steamfunk. What is Steamfunk, where did it come from and where is it going?
BO: In order for people to understand Steamfunk, we must first give a brief definition of Steampunk. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy, characterized by a setting – in the past, present or future – in which steam power predominates as the energy source for high, industrial technologies. Think the television show Wild, Wild West, the graphic novel / comic book series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the movie The Golden Compass.
Steamfunk is a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the Steampunk philosophy and / or Steampunk fiction.
DF: “Moses: The Chronicle of Harriet Tubman” is a wonderful reimagining of a genuine historical icon as an action/adventure hero in a story that moves like an out of control freight train going downhill. Where did this concept come from and can we look forward to more?
BO: I have always been a fan of Harriet Tubman and knew that the first novel I ever wrote would have “General Moses” as the hero. In researching her life for a poem I wrote a few years ago, I came to realize what an amazing woman she really was and that she seemed to possess uncanny abilities, such as psychic visions, nigh superhuman strength and the ability to change her appearance where no two people gave the same description of her. Even to this day, there are only five photos of Harriet Tubman known to exist and many we that were once believed to be her have been proven to be someone else.
Finding out these things incredible about Harriet sparked my already wild-as-hell imagination and the concept for Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) was born. I am writing books 3 & 4 at present and Harriet will make a cameo in my story, Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron, which appears in the upcoming Steamfunk! Anthology.
DF: Tell us about Sword and Soul and “Once Upon A Time In Afrika”
BO: For a definition of Sword and Soul, I will quote the subgenre’s founder, the incomparable author, friend and mentor, Charles R. Saunders: “Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years. The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’. Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”
Once Upon A Time in Afrika is my Sword and Soul novel. Desperate to marry off his beautiful but "tomboyish" daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of the powerful empire of Oyo consults the Oracle, which tells him that Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament, inviting warriors from all over the continent. Just a few of the warriors chosen are her lover, Akin, who enters the tournament in disguise, a wizard seeking to avenge the death of a loved one and a vicious dwarf with shark-like, iron teeth. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament, a powerful evil is headed their way and they will be forced to decide if they will band together against the evil, flee, or confront the evil as individuals.
DF: Tell us about your science fiction gangster epic “Redeemer”
BO: Redeemer releases in November, 2012. It is about an assassin who decides to leave his life of crime – and his crime family – behind and build a family. His boss, a ruthless gangster and technophile, uses the assassin as a test subject in the first attempt at time travel. He is sent thirty years into the past. Distraught at first, he accepts his dilemma and decides to save his teenaged self from a life of crime by preventing the events that led him to choose that life. His attempts, however, bring him into direct conflict with a younger version of his former boss and the brilliant and brutal man who trained him in the arts of death.
DF: And if all this wasn’t enough, you’ve also co-created a Sword and Soul Role Playing Game called Ki-Khanga. Give us the background on that.
BO: I have been a player and Gamemaster of pen-and-paper role-playing games for over thirty years, starting with Dungeons & Dragons and then adding Traveller, Champions, Marvel Superheroes and a host of others to my collection. All of these games were very Eurocentric, however and I was always asked by my friends to create scenarios set in Africa. In 1987, issue # 122 of Dragon Magazine featured an article by Charles Saunders entitled “Out of Africa”. The article was about the deadly and mysterious creatures of Africa. This article planted the seed in my head to create a role-playing game set in Africa. Not a supplement set in Africa, but a stand-alone role-playing game – something very different from the games that were already on the market.
Chasing women, partying and (occasionally) school led to me abandoning the project for several years.
By the time I decided to return to the development of the game, I found myself married and raising a family. In 2006, the idea for the game would not leave me and I began its development. In 2011, I told author and publisher Milton Davis about the game and he asked me to send him the system I created. He –and his son Brandon, an experienced gamer, liked my concept but felt the system, which had no random generator, needed one. Not wanting to use dice, like most other games, I decided to use playing cards as the random generator. I revamped the system, which Milton liked and we began building the world of Ki-Khanga and writing stories to familiarize people with that world. The system is fully developed and is in the play-testing phase now. After several play-tests, which have gone well, we are now working with illustrators to create visual representations of the nations, people, creatures and technology of Ki-Khanga.
DF: A common complaint of writers is that they have difficulty writing action/fight scenes. As a martial artist what advice can you give for writers in writing authentic and exciting fight scenes?
BO: I wrote an entry on my blog on this very subject awhile ago. You can find it on my website at I think the most important thing to remember is to remember that a good fight scene is about momentum and rhythm.
I provided executive protection for the actor Jackie Chan many years ago and he gave me some advice on choreographing a fight scene that I use in my writing. “
Each move should flow from where the last one ended. If your hero throws a spinning back kick, where is her weight when she lands? Is he standing straight or bent at the waist? In what direction is his body leaning? The next blow he delivers should follow the same line of momentum. If he kicked in a clockwise motion, his next kick will also probably be clockwise.
Try to act out fight sequences in order to figure out momentum and balance, which creates rhythm. Throw a side kick and observe how your weight shifts, or what area of your body is exposed.
I often act out entire fight scenes with my wife. We are both career martial artists, so she humors me. However, if you do not happen to have a spouse that is a martial arts expert handy, watch movies for ideas.
DF: Do you think it’s desirable for writers to chase “mainstream” audiences or is that just a dream always out of reach?
BO: Many writers have successfully gone “mainstream” and are happy. I have no desire to go the mainstream route of major publishing and acquiring an agent, as I desire to maintain creative control of my work. As an author of Black speculative fiction, I know of writers who have been told by major publishers that if they changed the hero of their story from a Black person into a white one, they will publish the book. I have heard many other such horror stories and I refuse to allow myself to become a victim of that madness. The route I have chosen may take more work for me to reach the masses, however, the rewards are much greater in the long run.
DF: What is A Day In The Life of Balogun Ojetade like?
BO: I awaken at 4:30 am and exercise for an hour, then I shower and meditate / pray. I start writing at 6:00 am and write for about three hours before I take a break to chat with Milton Davis on Facebook or his Wagadu ning site. At 11:00, I hang out with my three-year old daughter and we have lunch at noon. My daughter and I watch movies together until she takes her nap at 2:00pm and then it’s more writing and social networking for me until my wife and my other children return home from school and work. At 6:30pm, I head out to my martial arts school and I teach from 7:00pm until 9:00pm. I return home around 10:00pm, eat, talk with the wife and then go to sleep. This is my normal routine, with slight variations if special events or family outings are forthcoming.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know about you?
Balogun Ojetade: I am a hard-working, creative guy who is very approachable and enjoys intelligent discourse. I am easy-going unless I encounter sexism or racism and then the…other side surfaces. So if you see me giving someone a verbal or written beatdown on some social network or at some panel discussion, know that otherwise, I’m a pretty cool dude.