“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So i don’t think you have choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” -Nina Simone.
Nina Simone didn’t include writers in her list, but she likely wouldn’t have excluded them. Novelists like James Baldwin and Toni Morrison have done exactly what Simone described for years. As an author, I consider it my duty to do the same. So in Achilla the Strong, Angel of War, and Strike of the Mantis, I made an effort to touch on racism and sexism as overarching themes with multiple narrowed focuses. Achilla the Strong and Angel of War focused on Connecticut’s dog-whistle racism, the kind that is blatant behind closed doors, but only obvious to those on the receiving end in public. Achilla Johnson experienced that in high school and saw the truth behind the underlying bigotry in New England through Roberto “Blue Eyes” Gabrielli before she executed him out of revenge for murdering her father.
“Yeah uppity’s the word. I hated that porch monkey with a passion because he thought he was better than he was; always raising his hand in class and running for student office and speaking and organizing shit he had no business getting involved in. He must’ve thought he could make up for being a moolie by putting up some front, but I know your kind too well to fall for it. I just couldn’t prove it until now. Looking at you, I see the proof. You’re all alike, and Brendan was the worst because he thought he was better. Monkeys can’t help being criminals, even when they dance and sing like your father did.” -Blue Eyes, Angel of War.
Subtle racism wasn’t new to Achilla, even if she didn’t realize it. Ailina Harris dragged her through it her whole life. She was convinced that the Johnsons were her property and treated them as such without uttering a single racial slur. Ailina was a sociopath, but she also represented the antisocial nature of racism in America: the manipulation, the dishonesty, the lack of empathy for fellow human beings. Despite her external beauty, only her enemies and victims knew her internal ugliness, and they often found out too late. Achilla grew up with Ailina and still didn’t get the full extent of her antisocial personality until the second book when she finally revealed her true colors and intentions.
“You were born to help me release my father out of this tank, and help us take our rightful place. I told Brendan that you would always belong to me. My only regret is that he isn’t alive to see this. Oh, I would’ve loved to see the look on his self-righteous face. It serves him right for leaving me. I was the best thing he’d ever had. The best! I gave him everything that no other woman could, and then all of a sudden, he just left me because I wasn’t some perfect little angel. He had no objection when I gave him my body, but the second I do something he doesn’t like, he just leaves me! No more!You won’t escape either! One way or another, you will return to me and do what you were born to do. If I have to turn all of your little humans against you for you to come to your senses, then so be it. I won’t rest until you come back to me, Achilla! Oh, and despite what you like to think, I am your mother!” – Ailina Harris, Angel of War.
Strike of the Mantis took the conversation across the country to Chicago, a city known for its racial discrimination in law enforcement. Sandy provided a lens into that world as a FBI agent, and Achilla as a civilian running from the law. However, Achilla was far from innocent or wrongfully accused. She went on a vendetta against Xerxes’ operation and killed multiple people around the United States. In the eyes of the law and humanity, she deserved punishment, but the government made a deal and “flipped” her for its purposes, showing that even those who are supposed to enforce the law will make exceptions for the sake of an agenda. The CIA, FBI, and even local law enforcement needed Xerxes locked up and Ailina and Ares gone. Restricting Achilla, the only person capable of stopping them, was counterproductive.
“We don’t engage in vigilantism, but we saw no point in stopping you if it distracted Xerxes.”- Agent Kelly Bryant, Strike of the Mantis.
So that leaves us with Words of the Serpent, which takes place in Connecticut again, but it will touch on country-wide issues of race and systematic oppression including law enforcement, politics, and even the media. Achilla will be forced to navigate all three, and so will her family. How they do so will differ as the Johnsons grow in different directions. Either way, their responses will reflect the times, and even though I drafted this story before Donald Trump became president, it will certainly apply to our current political climate, especially when it comes to differentiating between journalism and propaganda.
“Control the narrative. Journalists are like weapons. They’re only as good or bad as the sources and outlets using them.” -Sandy Carvalho, Words of the Serpent.
If the Hamilton cast ticked off Trump, this will story will leave him infuriated, but don’t just take my word for it. Pre-order your copy here.
Reflect well, my friends.