Following our review of ‘Daughter of Hades’, we asked Mack Little a few questions about her life as a writer
Hi Mack! It’s a pleasure to virtually meet you and it’s also been a pleasure to read your book, Daughter of Hades. I have to admit that I was mislead by the title: somehow, I was expecting either a fantasy or a story set in Ancient Greece. So here’s my first question: why this title?
I don’t feel like I chose this title. Truly, I blame it on Captain Duff, who took the Dutch fluyt ship as a prize. I think because of his limited knowledge of Greek mythology, he only knew the dark and powerful connotation of the name Hades itself. And what better name for a Buccaneer ship—one that invoked fear in their prey and exploited sailors’ superstitions? The ‘Daughter of Hades’, refers to the book’s main character.
Though it was not my conscious intent, I suppose the title could speak to Dinny escaping the accepted morays of a capitalist system to find freedom in an underworld operated contrary to the unjust mainstream economy and cultural ideals. Duff, the captain of Hades and, for all intents and purposes, Dinny’s godfather, is Hades himself. Hades, the renowned. Hades the good counselor. Hades the gatherer of wealth. All these things could be used to describe Captain Duff.
The book is set in the middle of the 17th century in the Caribbean, and back then piracy was flourishing in those seas, but the players had European roots, while you are American and born in the South, another area where racism and inequalities are, unfortunately, still alive and kicking. Why then talking about European slavery of the past instead of focusing on more contemporary or local themes?
I feel that Daughter of Hades does reflect modern concepts of diversity. It foregrounds the ways race, class, gender, and sexual orientation operated in that time period. However, despite my attention to historical accuracy and the attempt to bring in sharp relief little-known details from the past, my story is meant to be entertaining escapist fare.
At its heart, Daughter of Hades is a historical romance. It features the destiny of lovers and swashbuckling pirating adventures. Of all the books I’ve read of that type, none had lead characters who looked like me. When black characters were present in books during the 17th century, they were “slaves”, not enslaved persons with agency. What is more, not all blacks were enslaved. Maroons, self-liberated persons, existed wherever there was slavery. These communities thrived and, in many cases, struck fear in the hearts of whites.
The first buccaneers were maroons, and when white sailors escaped the tyranny of the merchant and naval ships, they deserted and became hunters primarily on Hispaniola [an island in the Caribbean, Ed.]. When buccaneers took to the sea, they maintained relationship with maroons. Blacks escaping slavery were on their crews.
Maroons traded with buccaneers, hunted with them and often raided plantations alongside buccaneers. Given this history, there is space to have black characters at the forefront of swashbuckling pirating romance.
Apart from entertainment, it was important to me to show the different dimensions of black lives in the 17th century. While slavery did exist, I continue to be determined not to make it the focus of my novels, though that seems to be the main takeaway by some readers. None of my main
characters are enslaved. They actively subvert the institution. To me, that is a concept that is ripe for romance and adventure! However, I am equally determined not to ignore slavery or gloss over the injustice and the horror of the practice. It would be an insult to my ancestors not to acknowledge their sacrifice and endurance. It’s because they endured I exist.
We can see from your bio that you had quite an interesting upbringing: you studied Political Science in Spain, lived in Germany, served in the military and now you are on the Board of Directors of the Houston’s Writers Guild. How much or how little did all these choices and changes helped and formed you as a writer and affected your writing process?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was twelve years old. Between then and forty-six years since, everything I have done has been in service to that goal.
All of my experiences, the people I’ve met, and the skills I have picked up along the way go into my writing, particularly all the things I have learned about myself. My curiosity and sense of adventure led me to Spain and Germany, and all over the world. And those character traits guide me in the stories I love to tell.
Joining the Houston Writer’s Guild put me in contact with other writers—critique groups in particular. Critique groups were essential to my finally completing a story. They motivated me, inspired me, and demanded accountability. By accountability, I mean ten pages were expected every week in order to participate. That helped me to create a habit of writing that continues to this day.
On the homepage of your website you write “Why I write. Books and movies about characters who looked like me are read and viewed out of duty to learn something about the past. Books and movies that showcased the pleasures of dreaming, imagination, and escape were stories about people who did not look like me.” Do you think this is still valid today? If so, would you like to elaborate? And what do you think should we do to rectify it?
Absolutely it remains true that there is a dearth of stories with black characters at the forefront in fantasy, romance, horror, and sci-fi—stories that are not predicated on racial injustice or use black pain as entertainment.
George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, who lost their lives to racial and police violence created a renewed impetus for gatekeepers (literary agents and publishers) to ramp up their solicitation for stories that reflect the social ills. Stories that not only retraumatizes blacks who experience these psychological wounds in their day-to-day life, but also reduce the scope of the experience to only their suffering.
No doubt stories examining social injustice are important, but there are very few alternative stories with blacks at the forefront. Indeed, most Black books that provide escapist faire are treated as less important. But I say, books that explore other dimensions of black existence and stories that allow mainstream audiences to imagine black people in a different context are equally important.
Also, Blacks, like any other person, need magic and flights of imagination. Yet stories that don’t fit the mould of black trauma are denied the time and resources needed to make them successful. They’re ignored by the industry, by librarians, by awards committees, by schools, and yes, even by certain readers.
How to solve this problem? The gatekeepers need to curate commercial stories told by black creators. Diverse writers who have already found a place at the table can mentor other writers of color. I would love to see a Black Writer’s Guild that offers workshops, mentorship, and networking opportunities. It would also provide a well of content that the mainstream gatekeepers can draw from. As a creator myself, I keep writing and creating as much as my resources allow.
We know you are ready to publish another book, set in Barbados this time. We only have the title, Shelter in a hostile world, and a brief blurb. Can you tell us a bit more about it? How did you get the inspiration?
‘Shelter in a hostile world’ features a minor character from Daughter of Hades. His name is Badu Obosi. He was once an overseer on a plantation in Barbados. It details his life in pre-colonial Nigeria and highlights Igbo culture and traditions. At the same time, I show his escape from slavery in the aftermath of the slave revolt he instigated. It also touches on the history of an Irish indentured servant, Saoirse, Badu’s wife, who is escaping Barbados along with him.
Speaking of writing and your busy schedule, can you guide us through your writing routine?
As I dream of becoming a writer who supports herself with her craft, I continue to work a full-time job as an IT Analyst. When my workday is done, I pack up my 3-ring binder and research notes and move to my patio where I write my stories longhand. For this, I must have paper made from good stock, a fountain pen, and a couple of fine cigars. Occasionally, I have a glass of bourbon. On the weekend, I type up my notes, filling in the blanks of my research.
What’s the book on your night table at the moment? What are your favourite reads and your reading habits (for example, do you like get cosy on the sofa with a drink or are you one of those readers on public transports with their nose constantly in a book when commuting)?
My favorite read is a good historical novel with lots of adventure and/or romance. I’ve made my way through most of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series. I’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series twice. I still need to read her latest novel.
I’m currently reading My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones for 30 minutes before bedtime. I listen to Nevernight by Jay Kristoff every morning during my workouts.
Plans for the future?
I’ve written an urban fantasy/horror series for which I am currently seeking representation for a game-changer in vampire lore. A young woman struggles with the mystery of her ability to constrain human minds, her supernatural strength, and her lust for violence. However, an ancient species finds her and pulls her into a power struggle between Djinn and the Children of Lylith. As she learns the glorious source of her strength, she finds it was born thousands of years ago with the most powerful female ruler during the time of Solomon. The gifts she found monstrous before, become her greatest asset in fighting evil.
I am currently writing the 4th book in my historical romance series, ‘Love and Peace’. I hope to get that to my publisher by the end of the year.
Any last word?
Daughter of Hades is written by a black author with black main characters, but the story is told from diverse points of view. It shines a light on little known details in Caribbean history. It’s definitely worth a look.
Oh! And the best way to thank an author for an adventure you just read is to write a review. It only takes a sentence or two to support authors.
All books by Mack Little are available at: https://amzn.to/3LErPKX