The Magical Negro Trope: How Best Intentions Can Sometimes Go Wrong

A few months ago I wrote about my journey through uncharted waters and how I was completely planning on avoiding dangerous topics in my writing. This post referred to the most recent installment of the Mythical Menagerie series, in which I’ve made Amari Kerubo, a black woman, my main character. After completing this novelette, I patted myself on the back for successfully avoiding the quagmire of racism and sexism (although I’m still awaiting feedback from my beta readers) and I was quite pleased with how that story turned out.

My idea of what Amari Kerubo looks like | © Unknown

However, while recently listening to a back list episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, the presenters were talking about story tropes and they mentioned one that immediately turned my veins to ice (much to Ambrose David’s amusement, no doubt). This particular trope is called the Magical Negro and refers to a person of colour appearing on the (often white and male) main character’s journey to give them some sage advice that will help them in their quest.

And I couldn’t help but wonder – was Amari a Magical Negro?

After all, she did come into Ambrose’s life when he was struggling to make ends meet and set his feet on the path that would eventually lead to fulfilling his quest (well, the quest for Part 1, it gets more complicated later on). Did I make the mistake of unwittingly writing a stereotype, when all I really wanted to do was to write inclusively, to create diverse characters? Have I internalised society’s view of black people to such an extent that I unsuspectingly made the same mistakes as my predecessors – all with the best intentions?

TV Tropes defines the Magical Negro as a character from a minority group, usually black, who “step[s] … into the life of the much more privileged (and, in particular, almost always white) central character and, in some way, enrich that central character’s life.” This black character has spiritual wisdom and/or supernatural powers, and yet only acts in a guiding role, leaving the central character to save the day.

Wikipedia says this type of character exists because “most Hollywood screenwriters don’t know much about black people … [s]o instead of getting life histories or love interests, black characters get magical powers.” Furthermore, “[t]hese powers are used to save and transform dishevelled, uncultured, lost, or broken whites (almost exclusively white men) into competent, successful, and content people within the context of the American myth of redemption and salvation.” They continue: “[a]lthough from a certain perspective the character may seem to be showing blacks in a positive light, the character is still ultimately subordinate to whites.”

This worries me, because upon first glance, it does seem like I’ve stepped into this trap: Amari is a black woman with supernatural abilities who supports Ambrose, a white male, on his journey to redemption.

But I think I’ve delved a little deeper in Part 3.5, where she has become the protagonist. We see Amari struggle under white authority, but we also see her rise above it. We see her history, where she comes from, what it’s like for her as part of a diaspora, and how important her culture is to her. We see her affinity to nature, but we also see her use both magic and technology to achieve her goals. Above all, we see her as a leading lady who tackles her own quest head-on, while ultimately still supporting the journeys of the other characters around her.

Have I managed to rise above the stereotype? I don’t know, but I hope so, and with this new knowledge of this particular trope, I will definitely endeavour to do better next time.

Can you name an example of a character that an author wrote with the best of intentions, but that fell into the stereotype trap? How would you advise writers to steer clear of clichéd tropes to create characters that are truly diverse and inclusive?

Change of Plans

I’ve had a bit of an epiphany a few days ago.

This is a special birthday year for me, one with a 0 at the end, and I thought to myself if I want to get a novel published before that birthday, I’d better get a move on. I looked at the planned instalments I have left to wrap up the story for the Mythical Menagerie series, the tempo at which I write, and the amount of time spent in between each instalment for marketing and recovery and realised that I won’t be able to make it.

© I Am Baker

So… I won’t be publishing any more novelette-length sequels for the series until the entire thing is complete. Once it’s done, I will compile it all into one novel (title to be confirmed, but subtitled Mythical Menagerie: The Complete First Series) and release that novel wide on all platforms.

This decision has some consequences:

  1. Readers who have already bought the first three instalments (or some of them) are going to be upset that they would now have to buy another novel that contains a large section that they have already read and paid for.
  2. I won’t be getting paid for reads from Kindle Unlimited for the rest of the series.
  3. I won’t have anything new to release for the next 6 months.

It also has some perks:

  1. I won’t have to pay for covers for the additional 4 instalments that I envision right now.
  2. I won’t have to spend money and effort advertising novelettes when most people are interested in novel-length fiction.
  3. I will have a novel ready much sooner than anticipated.
  4. I get to rebrand my cover art genre appropriately.
  5. I get to write a blurb that covers the entire storyline.

Here are my thoughts on how I should proceed:

  • Complete the rest of the series in the same way – a sequence of instalments of novelette length, which will be combined into a single series, much like a TV show.
  • Decide whether or not Part 3.5 (seen from Amari’s point of view) should become Part 4 and be included with the rest (seen from Ambrose’s point of view) or if I should keep it aside as an additional reader magnet.
  • Get a genre appropriate cover for the novel (because although I love my current covers, after much research and expert opinions, I have to concede that they do not do what they’re meant to – which is to draw urban fantasy readers in).
  • Publish the novel wide and start running Facebook and Amazon ads.
  • Offer readers who have already bought the first 3 instalments a discount on the full novel (not sure how to do this at this point, but there must be a way – perhaps just a limited-time promotion and make sure they are aware of it…).
  • Take Beginner’s Luck (Part 1) out of KU so I can make it free as a series starter and update the blurbs on Part 2 and 3 so that it’s clear that there is a full novel now available. I’m not sure if it’s possible to remove them completely… I’d lose a few reviews if I do, but it might be for the best.
  • Alternatively, rebrand all the instalments and release them all separately in KU as I have been doing to get the best of both worlds (story available in KU and wide, but as separate entities to adhere to KU requirements).

Although my deadline for all of this is June 2019, realistically the crossover will probably only happen by July, since the big birthday I mentioned will be celebrated with an overseas holiday (as is my habit – you can read about this year’s plans here, if you’re interested) and I won’t be online to deal with any marketing that needs to happen in that time. I’m okay with that – it might not be before the big birthday date, but it will be in the birthday year, and that still counts!

If you have any thoughts or advice, I’d appreciate some feedback! I’m especially interested to know how you would handle the already-bought conundrum to avoid angering readers who have spent money already.

What I’m Currently Working On: Mythical Menagerie Part 3.5

I finished the first draft of Part 3.5 of my Mythical Menagerie series on 30 November 2018. I planned to take a week off and then dive into edits, but then December happened and I found myself consumed by a reading frenzy. Apart from my monthly flash fiction piece and the odd blog post or two, I didn’t write anything!

Now it’s January, a new year, and I want to get cracking again. The plan is to finish the edits by the end of January, have my betas review it in the first two weeks of February, another round of edits, and then hopefully have it ready for release by end of February or early March, at the latest.

What my life feels like right now…

While all of that is happening, I also need to decide on the title (I have something tentative in mind, but I’m still unresolved) and come up with a cover idea, which is going to be tricky this time around (not a lot of photo-realistic images of griffons available, as far as I can see. I wonder if my cover designer will be able to photoshop an image for me..?).

You’ll notice that the story is Part 3.5, and not Part 4, and this is because it’s not told from my main character Ambrose Davids’ viewpoint, but from Amari Kerubo’s, the current Keeper of Exotic Animals. It’s not part of the main storyline (although what happens in it will give some background that informs the plot for Part 4) and therefor I won’t put it up for sale on Amazon either. The idea is to give it away as a freebie to my newsletter subscribers. There’s just one catch: it contains massive spoilers for Asrai’s Curse (Part 3), since it takes place during much of the same timeframe. I really don’t want anyone to read it unless they’ve read the previous three installments first.

So, I’ll probably make it available to anyone who is subscribed to the newsletter and who can give proof that they’ve bought Asrai’s Curse. Or maybe I’ll just place a huge spoiler warning in the front that will urge readers to read the rest first. I’m not sure what would be best.

In the two weeks that the betas are busy reading, I’ll also start plotting and planning Part 4. I have a broad idea of what needs to happen, but the finer details still elude me. I’d also like to finish planning the rest of the series – another two installments should do it.

Do you have any ideas on how I should make this story available to my readers? Should I ask for proof of purchase first, or provide it to all of them with the spoiler warning and hope that will suffice?

January 2019 Instagram Challenge

My writing group is hosting an Instagram challenge in January 2019. If you’ve read my post about this year’s goals, you’ll see that I want to get more involved with Instagram’s book reading community, so I’m jumping at this opportunity.

Obviously, most of it is geared towards writing and your current work-in-progress, so although I mainly use Instagram to document bits of my life, January’s posts will be centered around Part 3.5 of my Mythical Menagerie series.

I’ve already started capturing images for this challenge, and it is so much fun! Some of them I’m finding quite … challenging 🙂 At this point in time, I have no idea what I’m going to do for a song lyric or a writing playlist, since I tend to write best in either complete silence or the white noise of a coffee shop, and my writing is hardly ever inspired by music; I’m more visually inclined. But… I guess this is what it’s about – getting creative!

The challenge is open to anyone with a public Instagram account, so feel free to join in. You can follow me here on Instagram, or use the #dragonwritersjan hashtag to see what others are posting.

Are you on Instagram? Are you taking part in the challenge? If so, leave your details in the comments below so we can all check out your writerly images.

Looking Ahead to 2019

It’s that time of the year again when most people invoke Janus, the god of doorways, of beginnings and endings, and reflect on the year past and plan for the year ahead. My feed reader is inundated with end-of-the-year round-up posts, and while some might think this tedious, I find it fascinating to see what others have been up to or are striving to achieve. I believe that we can only grow if we have goals to aim for and, even if we don’t achieve those goals, they are what spur us onwards to greater heights.

Janus, Roman god of doorways | Adolphe Giraldon, Wikimedia Commons

So, how did I do with the writerly resolutions I set for myself in 2018?

Complete the free magnet story to be sent out to email subscribers

Done! And it’s been an incredible success, I’ve had nothing but good feedback for Keeper of Exotic Animals. If you’ve read it, I’d be enormously indebted to you if you’d leave a review on Goodreads. If you haven’t yet – you’re missing out 😊 Sign up for my email list to get your free copy now.

Complete the second (and subsequent) instalment(s) of my Mythical Menagerie series

Done! Sort of. Banshee’s Wail (Part 2) and Asrai’s Curse (Part 3) have been published on Amazon and are available for free to KU readers. The first draft of Part 3.5 has been completed and is awaiting revision. The rest of the series will continue to be a 2019 project.

Redesign this website to be less generic and more personal to me

Done! I shudder to recall the original design, which was bland and boring. This site now has Una the unicorn as its main feature, and I love it!

Publish one short story every two months

Err… I didn’t quite manage this. I am a slow writer it seems, plagued by self-doubt and writer’s anxiety, and I have a two-year old son who takes up all my time when I come home from the day-job. So no, this didn’t quite happen as I’d hoped.

Blog one piece of flash fiction every month

Done! I still write a flash fiction story every month, although I no longer publish it here on the blog. These stories go out to my newsletter subscribers as an exclusive thank you for their support.

Finish the first draft of (one of) my novel(s)

Nope, this didn’t happen either, since all my efforts went into the Mythical Menagerie series this year. I hope to rectify this next year.

Increase my email subscriber list to at least 500 readers

Done! My list reached just under 800 subscribers at one point, although they have been slowly unsubscribing as the months pass and currently I have just under 700 subscribers. I found it incredibly disheartening at first, but I’ve come to realise that quality is much more important that quantity. I’d rather have fewer people on that list who truly enjoy my writing than loads who are just there for the freebies.

Additionally, this year I also achieved the following:

  • Hit the Top 1 position on Amazon with Beginner’s Luck for free reads in its genre during a release promotion
  • Created a book trailer for Spirit Caller, a fantasy short story
  • Optimised my email subscription auto-sequence
  • Implemented Book Funnel for freebie and ARC delivery
  • Attended webinars about Scrivener and book marketing and creating courses
  • Read 63 books (and counting)

I’m quite pleased to say that generally I did very well with 2018’s goals! I hadn’t realised that until writing this review, so I’m enormously chuffed with myself right now 😊

There are so many things that I still want to get done in 2019 though. These are my main objectives:

  • Complete all instalments of the Mythical Menagerie series
  • Compile the completed series as a single novel to be published wide
  • Continue writing a monthly flash fiction piece
  • Write bi-weekly blog posts as part of a content marketing strategy
  • Complete the first draft of a full fantasy novel
  • Grow my email list to 1000 subscribers
  • Release an audio book version of one of my short stories

I recently listened to an eye-opening podcast by Yaro Starak about FREEDOM (of finance and time and mind), which is ultimately my main objective. One of the things he mentions is that you should focus on one thing and do that very well, and outsource the rest. I think that’s very valuable advice.

My one thing should be writing, and I should always focus most of my time towards getting words on the page. However, once that’s done, and I’ve created something I can be proud of, I need to find a way of letting people know about that. I don’t have the financial freedom to outsource anything just yet, and to be honest, I quite enjoy all the marketing-related activities that come with being an indie author, although it’s a continuous learning curve.

To that end, I also have these additional sub-goals that may fall by the wayside if I decide they detract from my main focus:

  • Increase followers and their engagement on my Facebook page
  • Use Instagram more effectively to engage with the book reading community
  • Create a monthly video for my (much neglected) YouTube channel
  • Create some sort of writing or reading course for passive income

Wow. I think I may just have my hands full next year! I’d better get started on some of these right away…

Do you set make New Year’s resolutions or set goals for the year ahead? Did you achieve your 2018 goals? What are some of your plans for 2019?

Why I Didn’t Do NaNoWriMo In 2018

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is the biggest social writing event of the calendar year. I’ve attempted it four times, won once, and generally encourage every writer (and even a few non-writers) I know to try it for themselves. Even if you don’t make the expected 50k word count, it remains a lot of fun and usually leaves you with at least some salvageable words to work with.

But, after much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, I decided not to participate this year.

And I’m so glad I didn’t.

This looks pretty relaxing | © Pixabay

NaNo places a lot of stress on a person. It’s bloody hard to keep up the pace of writing 1667 words per day, especially if you’re already working full time and have little children in your life. Just finding the time to make up the quantity of words, and then feeling horrible about their quality, is enough to set my teeth on edge.

I’m not trying to make an excuse for not writing, I’m just saying that this year I really didn’t need that kind of pressure.

Instead, I plodded along at my own pace. Some days writing my usual 500 words, others firing up at 2k per day, mostly plodding along at 300 words per day. Sometimes a week or so passed without any words at all.

And that’s just fine.

I know it’s not a professional mindset and I won’t be winning any awards for being prolific. But this tempo suits me. Like many creatives, I suffer from depression and occasional anxiety, and sometimes my well is just dry and I need to spend my free hours refilling it (usually by reading someone else’s books instead of working on my own). Sometimes, instead of racing against the clock or a specified word count, I’d really rather just sleep until I’m able to face the next day again. They say one should prioritise writing, but writing can never be a priority if you don’t prioritise yourself first.

In any event, in the month of November I managed to write just over 10k words, the complete first draft of the next instalment of my Mythical Menagerie series. And I did it at my own pace without the pressure of a near-insurmountable 30-day deadline, or the dejection that comes with not meeting an almost impossible target.

It may not be the arbitrary amount of 50k that most other writers raced towards that month, but it is a fully plotted, fully written coherent first draft that I’m pretty proud of.

And that’s a win no matter how you look at it.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? How did it go?

Uncharted Waters

I’m sailing in uncharted waters, covering territory that is completely new to me.

And here be dragons.

Not the good kind, the warm and fuzzy Falkors of the world, no. The Smaug that threatens to devour you should you so much as set one foot wrong or show a peek of your vulnerable and squishy hobbit body. The kind that could set the Twitterverse aflame and spiral downward in a torrent of hate mail and death threats.

Rough seas | © Pixabay

I kid, of course. Hardly anyone is aware of my work, so that kind of calamity is highly unlikely to occur, but at heart I’m a bit of a drama-queen. You know, the introverted one that seems outwardly composed but inside the monkeys are loose and the lion has eaten the tamer and the clown is crying incoherently.

I digress.

For the first time ever, my main character is a person of colour. An African woman, to be exact, in a position of responsibility. During the course of the story, something goes terribly wrong (as does tend to happen in most stories), she reports back to her superior (as most people do) and there is a scene where she spends time with her family (also not unfamiliar ground).

However, these plot points have the potential to be a quagmire of disaster. Notably racism (and reverse-racism) and classism. I realise this story is a great opportunity to delve into these topics. I could discuss how a black woman experiences the world, how she is treated by her white boss, how she feels about white people in return, how her family treats her, and how a highly-educated woman engages with her rural and more traditional background.

I’m not going to.

Yes, there probably will be subtle shadows of these topics in my story, and if I were trying to write a literary masterpiece or chase writing awards, then certainly I would engage much deeper with these themes.

But I’m not.

I write escapism. I want my readers to sit down for an hour or two and be entertained, not struggle with moral dilemmas or confront entrenched worldviews. Yes, I do want my stories to make people think and perhaps reconsider their attitudes, but I do not want to force my perspective on anyone and I do not want to preach. I hate when that happens to me and I most certainly will not (knowingly) do that to anyone else.

So, I’m sailing carefully past reefs and whirlpools towards quieter currents.

Will this story be ground-breaking and garner much acclaim? No, probably not.

Will it be entertaining? You bet it will!

Do you enjoy books that tackle serious topics or do you steer clear of them?

Ambrose’s Cardiff

In ASRAI’S CURSE, the third installment of the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series, Ambrose Davids races against the clock to try and find a cure for the curse that is turning his veins to ice. He travels to Cardiff, land of daffodils and dragons, chasing a slim hope of finding a relic that could save his life.

Cardiff, capital of Wales, is a city close to my heart, since I spent two years living and working there many years ago. I wrote about my most recent visit on my travel blog here, and those of you who’ve read the novelette will recognise many of the sights Ambrose encountered in one memorable day I’ve had. It’s a city many neglect when they visit the United Kingdom, but it’s one of my favourite places on earth.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes of Ambrose’s Cardiff to get your imagination going. Enjoy!

© Cardiff Castle

© Unknown

© Unknown

© The Travel Tester

© Unknown


© Suneé le Roux

(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to Cardiff?

My Five Favourite Dragons in Literature

When someone asks me what my favourite genre is, I always reply with: “As long as it has a dragon in it, I’ll read it.” I don’t know what it is about these scaly reptilians that I love so much, but they fascinate me. Winged, wise and sometimes wicked, I can’t resist a good dragon story.

Hear me roar! © lin wu / ArtStation

So here are five of my favourite dragons. For this list I stuck to named dragons only and I left out any from books that I haven’t read in years and can’t remember well (such as George RR Martin’s dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire), and there are many that probably deserve to be on the list but that I haven’t been acquainted with yet. Most importantly, the dragon has to have personality like any other character to make this list.

Without further ado, here are my top five literary dragons:

Temeraire – Temeraire (Naomi Novik)
Who doesn’t immediately fall in love with the little hatchling that bonds with Captain William Laurence and becomes one of the Aerial Corps’ best fliers? I also love the relationship that develops between dragon and dragon handler throughout the novel and the alternate historical setting in which their story is set.

Kalessin – The Farthest Shore (Ursula le Guin)
The eldest dragon of Earthsea, possibly the creator of the world, who carries Ged on his back and deigns to speaks to both Tenar and Tehanu. Magnificent and daunting, yet kind and trustworthy, Kalessin is what all dragons should be like in my mind.

Falkor – The Neverending Story (Michael Ende)
I have yet to meet a child of the 80’s who doesn’t adore Falkor. The fluffy luckdragon is Bastian’s faithful companion on a quest to save the Childlike Empress. But more importantly, we all just want to cuddle him.

Toothless – How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell)
I’ll admit, I haven’t read the children’s series yet, and I imagine the story probably differs tremendously from the 2010 animated film (which I adore), but Toothless needed to be on this list. One of my favourite dragons, this night fury is the goofy and fiercely loyal best friend we all wish we had.

Smaug – The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)
Of course, no list like this would be complete without the real King Under the Mountain, Smaug the Chiefest of Calamaties, the Unassessably Wealthy. Arrogant, vicious, incredibly intelligent and proud, Smaug is probably the most memorable dragon of our times.

And as an added bonus, I’ll add Angharad, the Welsh dragon from Asrai’s Curse, the third installment of my Mythical Menagerie short story series. Why? I guess you’ll have to read and find out…

Did your favourites make the list? If not, let me know about them in the comments below!

(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but if you choose to buy by clicking on a link I will get a small commission to buy more books with. Yay!)

Recommend a Book

All writers started out with a love for reading and I’m no exception.

Some of the best writing advice I’ve been given is to read widely and so I do try to read quite broadly (good chick-lit is one of my guilty pleasures and my Bachelors degree in English has forever instilled an appreciation of the classics within me), but fantasy will always be my first love.

Book love | © Kate Ter Haar / FlickrSince

I know exactly how important word of mouth and book recommendations are, and because I think sharing is caring, I’ve decided to highlight a few of my favourite books in a regular series. If you follow me on Facebook, I try to post a recommendation every Tuesday, so have a look there, and I’ll do a short roundup in a blog post every once in a while.

These recommendations won’t be limited to the fantasy genre, because I think most readers like to read broadly as well, but they will definitely be books that I enjoyed and rated 4 or more stars on Goodreads. I’ll also try to highlight indie authors, but you can expect some traditionally published books to be in the list too.

So without any further ado, here are some books that I loved and I think you should check out if you want to add something to that never-ending TBR list.

High fantasy lovers, here’s an indie book I really enjoyed. It’s not often I give a 5/5 star rating, so you’ll know I mean business with this one. Add Ben S. Dobson to your favourite authors list today. If you like portal fantasy and Arthurian romances, then I think you’ll enjoy this book by Suzannah Rowntree. She has such an amazing style of writing, lyrical and evocative – I loved it! (And her newsletters are pretty interesting too.) I absolutely adore this book! It’s YA and there’s no fantasy in it, but it’s based on The Little Mermaid and is proudly South African, set in Cape Town. Devoured it in one day and scored it 5/5 stars. Joanne Macgregor is one of my favourite local authors. Do yourself a favour and check this one out.

(Please note: This post contains affiliate links. It doesn’t cost you anything extra, but if you choose to buy by clicking on a link I will get a small commission to buy more books with. Yay!)

Have you read any of these recommended books yet? What did you think of them?