As the leaves change and the spooky season is in full effect, it is the perfect time to escape into a new world. Whether you’re interested in uncovering the secrets of a small town or discovering the mystical powers of a new world, there is a speculative fiction novel readily available for exploration.
The fantasy genre, along with science fiction and thrillers, has proven popular among readers. Speculative fiction’s book sales grew 45.3% in 2021 and continue to generate over $590 million in sales yearly, according to a report from Words Rated. While the genre is very successful, the stories told weren’t always inclusive. However, Black authors such as Terry J. Benton-Walker are breaking the cycle and crafting stories that amplify underrepresented voices.
From a young age, Benton-Walker loved the idea of telling stories. He describes the art of storytelling as “magic” due to its “very powerful” ability to impact people’s lives and pull on their emotions. Speculative fiction always captured his attention, but like many others, he yearned to read about a character that resembled himself.
“I still grieve the loss of the years that I spent trying to find myself and learning to love myself,” Benton-Walker said. “It took me 37 years to learn to love myself, and I don’t want it to take that long for any other Black queer children.”
As a Black gay man, Benton-Walker is fully aware of his place “at the intersection of Blackness and queerness.” Accordingly, he intentionally includes queer representation in his books. The serial novelist believes that had he read about characters like Clement Trudeau – the Black, gay and confident main character in his debut novel “Blood Debts” — his real-life young adulthood might have been completely different.
The series, which includes “Blood Debts” and its upcoming sequel, “Blood Justice” (out in April 2024), is best described as a contemporary “Game of Thrones.” It follows the story of the Trudeau twins, who are heirs to a powerful, dethroned family. When the pair find out their mother is cursed, they have to come together to find out who is targeting their family. The magical murder mystery is full of world-building, political intrigue and family drama — all while centering Black culture and queerness.
“Since [“Blood Debts” was released], I have seen people become fans of the story and these characters, which has been really cool, especially seeing Black people and Black queer people connect with my art in the way that I intended,” he said. “It’s literal magic.”
One of Benton-Walker’s goals is to showcase our common humanity and that everyone is worthy of respect. To do this, the avid gamer leaned on the storytelling method in his favorite game, “The Last of Us Part II.” With the story, he aims to portray how the cycle of violence can perpetuate intergenerational trauma through the use of different perspectives.
“It all boils down to empathy,” Benton-Walker explained. “By showing the perspectives of people who we might not like, or the villains of the story, we’re not justifying what they’re doing, but we’re humanizing them in a way because we need to understand how the cycle of violence impacts everybody in the community.”
Ultimately, Benton-Walker wants his novels to do two things: shift the mindset of the publishing industry and positively impact the lives of Black people. He hopes his success, along with other Black authors in fiction, shows publishers these stories are marketable and worthy of being told. Mostly, he wants to open doors for other authors who want to give readers authentic Black and Black queer-centered stories.
At the core of every book, Benton-Walker wants his readers to know we all matter. He asserts that his books are not only for young adults but also for adults whose younger selves never had this representation growing up.
“I matter — as a Black queer person, as a Black person, or as a person in general,” he said. “I’m gifting [this book] to our community, and I feel like this is a part of us. It’s for us. It’s for the culture.”
Looking to escape into a new world with a fantasy, murder mystery, or science fiction novel during the spooky season? In addition to Terry J. Benton-Walker, check out these Black authors:
Octavia E. Butler
Roseanne A. Brown
Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Erin E. Adams
Kayla Grant is a multimedia journalist with bylines in Business Insider, Shondaland, Oz Magazine, Prism, Rolling Out and more. She writes about culture, books and entertainment news. Follow her on Twitter: @TheKaylaGrant
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