GUEST POST: On Black Elves by Constance Burris

I am THRILLED to have Constance Burris here with a guest post today! I loved her book, Black Beauty, and I have her book Coal high up on my to-read list. Constance is a fabulous, thoughtful writer. Take it away, Constance!


 

I’m a thirty-something-year-old black woman, and I wrote a novel with elves, dwarves, and dragons living the fey realm. Then I really went off the rails and wrote a prequel where magical elves interact with poor, black urban youth in the human realm. For me, this was my way of inserting myself (poor and black) into the (lily-white) fantasy I’ve been reading since kindergarten.

Like a lot of people, I love stories with fey– elves, dwarves, giants, and trolls. But I was never able to see myself in any of the heroes until I stumbled across The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore. As a black nerd, I hungrily devoured any fantasy where I could see myself reflected back. When I discovered Drizzt, a dark-skinned elf, I dark elf trilogyfell in fandom. Yes, the dark elves were still considered evil, and thus it fell into the dark skin equals bad stereotype, but Drizzt was dark-skinned and good.

Eventually, I found the RA Salvatore forums where I could talk with other fans about Drizzt all day every day.

One day, while conversing with who I thought were my people over the love of Drizzt, the topic of who should play him in a movie came up. That’s easy Wesley Snipes, yo! He was popular (at the time) and he had the dark black skin color that would match perfectly with Drizzt.

WesleyAh lawd, all hell broke loose. How could I possibly indicate that a black man could play the role of an elf? What the hell was wrong with me? According to the forum, elves do not have such negroid features like a wide nose, thick lips, or kinky hair. Are you crazy? Elves are tall and slender with straight noses and thin lips. They have Arian features.

Needless to say, I was trolled and bullied out of the forum.

The experience stuck with me.

I decided to write my own story with black elves. To stick with the original canon, I made all of the elves white except for the main elf, who by way of shapeshifting, chose to be black. She still has Arian features. But in Book 2, I will have my negroid elf. He (or she) will have a wide nose, thick lips, muscular build, and kinky hair. I will take these elves that were never intended to look anything like me and create them in my own image.

I’m writing the books I want to read with characters that look like me and mine.

So I want to give a shout out to the bullies in the RA Salvatore forum. Your racist hatred inspired me to write and finish my first book. Good looking out.

For fun, here is the post I wrote when I tried to pitch my first novel to a literary agent.


 

Constance is an environmental engineer by day and a writer of black science fiction, fantasy, and horror by night. You can find her first book COAL here and the prequel BLACK BEAUTY here. She blogs at www.constanceburris.com/blog.

 

Book Review & Giveaway: BLACK BEAUTY

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About the Book
blackbeauty1At Vista Apartment Complex, life drastically changes for four of its residents when they decide to do business with Crazy Jade—the supposed voodoo witch who can grant your wish for a price.

Shemeya wants the confidence to stand up against the girls bullying her at school, but she soon has to choose between keeping her dreadlocs or living a normal life. After catching her boyfriend cheating, Latreece just wants to have the same curves as all the other girls. Ashley will do whatever she can to have “White Girl Flow”, but takes her pursuit too far when she steals from Crazy Jade.

Everyone who comes into contact with Crazy Jade soon learns the true price of her magic—and how horribly wrong it can go.

 Enter the Giveaway!
There is a tour wide giveaway for the book tour of Black Beauty. These are the prizes you can win:

One of Two $10 Amazon Gift Cards(US) or One of Two ecopies of Black Beauty

Here is the link to the rafflecopter giveaway:
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B’s Review of BLACK BEAUTY
Notes on Diversity:
I think a better word for this book than diverse is authentic. This is a book for blerds by a blerd; this is fantasy/horror deeply drawn from and steeped in the lived Blackness. That is literally the crux of all of the stories in this book up until the last two. The reason the book works is because Constance Burris is a Black woman who has lived all her life navigating the treacherous waters of Eurocentric beauty norms.

Virtually all the characters are Black, and they live in a specific locale–one apartment complex in Oklahoma City. The specificities in the book really do add to the authenticity, the reality of it, which heightens the horror embedded in the stories, even as elves start showing up and snakes start sprouting from people’s heads. These stories are deeply, deeply rooted in an intersectional experience of Black womanhood.

Readers looking for representation along other axes of marginalization (queer characters, characters with disabilities, religious diversity) won’t find much here, but the above is incredibly rich.

Review:
Black Beauty is a set of connected fantasy/horror short stories tethered together by setting–the Vista apartment complex–and the apparent magical abilities of Crazy Jade, one the complex’s residents. Word gets out that, for a price, Crazy Jade can fix you up. But all of her dealings seem to come off slightly wrong.

We follow as residents of the apartments fall prey to Crazy Jade, one after another. First Shemeya, who Crazy Jade offers to help to stave off bullies. Then Ashley, who comes to Jade seeking a relaxer for her hair. Andre catches Jade’s bad side after a nasty remark about Black women’s unworthiness. Latreece, like Ashley, comes calling to make herself more attractive. It’s Latreece who finally dislodges Sean, who has a secret, and whose secret reveals the truth of Jade’s power. Then there’s a ferocious showdown. To say anything more than this is to spoil the book.

What I loved about Black Beauty was its ensemble cast. I started with Shemeya, rooting for her, and in her story she’s pitted against Latreece. By the time Latreece’s story comes along we’ve had enough distance and plot from Shemeya that I was open to Latreece’s perspective. She’s still harsh; she’s still a bully, yes, but in her story we learn why. There’s nuance to the characters Burris writes, to the way they engage. There’s a theme of bristling bravado/redemption that stretches throughout, and I, as someone who has a lifelong case of foot-in-mouth disease, can relate to that.

That said, the book went to fast for me, especially the last two chapters. I liked that the ending was messy, that not everything was tied up in a clean bow at the end, but there was a lovely amount of tension and careful reveal in the relationships between the apartment residents in the first few chapters/stories. The last two stories, which are structurally different (in a spoilery way) are full of action and exposition all packed together. I wish there had been a couple of other chapter/stories included in this part of the book to better explain Jade’s motivations, her plans, and let that build and simmer a little longer. Those reveals, I think, needed more space to breathe.

I am deeply curious about what happened after the book ended. I sincerely hope for some follow-up stories in the future. Please say there are follow up stories coming.

4 stars

About Constance Burris

constanceburrisConstance Burris is on a journey to take over the world through fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Her mission is to spread the love of speculative fiction to the masses. She is a proud blerd (black nerd), mother, and wife. When she is not writing and spending time with her family, she is working hard as an environmental engineer in Oklahoma City.

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