A Whole New World: An interview of Speculative Fiction author Brent Lambert

Brent Lambert is a Black, queer man who heavily believes in the transformative power of speculative fiction across media formats. As a founding member of FIYAH Literary Magazine, he turned that belief into action and became part of a Hugo Award-winning team. His most recent book, A NECESSARY CHAOS, is a novella from Neon Hemlock Press. Brent contributed to the cyberpunk/solarpunk anthology FIGHTING FOR THE FUTURE and the Black horror anthology ALL THESE SUNKEN SOULS.

PrideIndex recently enjoyed an enchanting conversation with Brent; he shared his muse for A NECESSARY CHAOS, his writing process, and the importance of being authentic as a writer.

PI: Today, I am conversing with Author Brent Lambert. Brent, please briefly tell us about yourself and your journey thus far.

BL: I am Brent Lambert, a San Diego science fiction and fantasy author. I have been pursuing publishing for about the past six or seven years. And I have released my first novella, A NECESSARY CHAOS, on October 3, 2023. It is a Black Gay science fiction fantasy. It was published through Neon Hemlock Press, a Queer focused science fiction and fantasy press based out of Washington, DC. They are a smaller press with a focus on publishing work by Queer authors that write science fiction and fantasy. They also have a heavy emphasis on publishing Queer authors of color.

PI: You used the term novella, and I automatically summon Latin vibes. What made you decide to go the novella route?

BL: Well, it’s actually a publishing industry terminology. A novella is anything between seventeen thousand and forty thousand words. If your word count goes beyond forty thousand, you move into being called a novel. I went with the novella format because it allows you to tell a story succinctly. It’s only a couple hundred pages; most people can read that in an hour or two. It’s an excellent way to get people who are reluctant to read and check out the book.

PI: Let’s talk about your book, A NECESSARY CHAOS. Where did you find your muse for this book?

BL: The initial seed of the idea that ultimately became the novella was a Bryson Tiller song called “Next to You.” It’s a sultry, sexy R&B song, and as I listened to it, I had this image of two people involved in a sultry moment, but they’re trying to kill one another. A kind of Mr. & Mrs. Smith vibe found its way into my imagination while listening to this song, and that blossomed into building this world for the novella.

PI: Whenever I hear science fiction, I automatically equate it with the late, great Octavia Butler and Afrofuturism. Would your work be considered Afrofuturism too?

BL: I would say no, it’s not. This novella is genre-bending because it has science fiction and fantasy elements. I feel Afrofuturism has a particular focus and lens, and it is very tuned into specific issues in terms of Blackness and exploring how it extrapolates into a futuristic setting. Whereas Blackness is definitely in my book, it isn’t necessarily the primary focus. It has more to do with allowing Black characters to exist in these future settings without it having to be trauma porn. I think Black audiences that are into science fiction and fantasy often feel the only outlets in which they get to see themselves are filled with trauma and racism. Sometimes, it’s good to just be able to escape all that and just be Black. Why can’t a Black person ride a dragon or have an adventure? Why does it permanently have to be attached to racism, trauma, or slavery? Black adventure is my focus. That’s why I don’t really see my book as Afrofuturism. I’m not explicitly tuned into the issues that Afrofuturism explores.

PI: Let’s talk about your writing process. How do you nurture ideas from conception to when you get them on the page?

BL: Consumption. Taking those things that I consume and applying the “what if?” I get the ideas I want out on the page and create the worlds I want to make my living in the world I’m in now. It’s not just reading books, watching TV or movies or whatever. Those things are also important, but just living life, being social, observing people and their conversations, and asking, “What if Black people could ride dragons?” What does that look like? Then, you fall down the rabbit hole and begin building upon that. I see my brain as a blender; I put in the various things I’m consuming, and when I want to write a story, I turn the blender on and see what kind of smoothie comes out. That’s why my stories tend to blur the lines of genre and the expectations of what it should be. I just take everything in, and it all gets blended.

PI: What a great analogy. If you could make a smoothie using your writing style, what kind would it be? Citrus? Alcoholic or non-alcoholic or none of the above?

BL: Alcoholic with citrus. I say that because everything I write has some truth that people don’t usually speak daily. Like they say, what people say when they drink is what they really mean. That’s why I would say alcoholic for sure. When I create and write, I try to process and discover what I want to say and what I may have been trying to avoid saying. I’ve run into this in multiple projects where I’ve gotten to the end of a draft or revision and realized that the story exposes a part of myself that I hadn’t expected to reveal when I started.

As for the citrus, that kick and flavor come with being authentic. If you’ve spoken to a lot of Black writers in the genre space, we’ve all gone through a phase of not believing that being authentic would be the thing that could help us build a career or make us fail. We’ve all agreed that once we are genuine and decide to make Black stories, they will be in your face, and we don’t care. That’s when we started finding those inroads in publishing.

PI: Who would you say your books speak to? Who does your writing speak to?

BL: First and foremost, I write for me, and I am unapologetic about writing for Black Gay men. I write for us. We need more representation in science fiction and fantasy. Honestly, it only feels like a blip on the radar. I think I could write for gay men my entire life and publish one hundred books specifically focused on Black Gay men, and it still wouldn’t put a dent in the lacking amount of representation we’ve had in the preceding years.

PI: Do you think you are obligated, as a Black Gay man or author, to tell stories and have Black Gay characters for a Black Gay audience?

BL: No. You know, I don’t feel an obligation. In fact, it’s an honor. There have been so many other writers before me who, for various reasons or barriers, whether structural, economic, or different, did not have the chance in this space to write stories for Black Gay men. They may have wanted to and but did not get the opportunity to. It is an honor that I’m in a space where I can write for people like me. I don’t feel like it’s a weight around my neck. It is a privilege that I get to tell these kinds of stories.

PI: Name three people who influence your artistic style most.

BL: To name three off the top of my head, P. Djéli Clark, David Anthony Durham, and Max Gladstone.

PI: Why those three?

BL: I have a story for each one. There was a period when I almost entirely gave up on writing and trying to get published. I just felt I couldn’t write White characters well enough to pass, and it didn’t seem like they want any Black characters. That was the space I was in. This may be for someone else. I had a coworker who knew of my love of the fantasy genre, and he had me check out a book he thought I’d like. It was a David Anthony Durham book titled “Acacia.” It was the first in a trilogy written by this Black man. He wrote an epic fantasy on par with anything George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones, has ever produced. I read “Acacia” and thought, “Oh, I can do this as a black man. It is possible.” That book left an impression on me and gave me the motivation to go forward and continue pursuing writing.

Then, I ran into P. Djéli Clark, this fantastic, imaginative world builder. He just brings Blackness into fantasy in ways that make lightbulbs go off every time I read his stories. He had a story with a Black knight, and he had a grill. I thought, “I’ve never seen grills in fantasy, but why not?” He wrote stories that were so imaginative and so Black. I contacted him, and he invited me into this writer’s group. Everyone in the group tried to better themselves as writers and break into magazines and other publications. Even outside of his writing, he’s greatly influenced that front. He showed me I could create these fantastic and wildly imaginative worlds and be as unapologetically Black as I wanted.

As for Max Gladstone, funny enough, I named two Black men, and then here comes Max, a straight White man. Max is just brilliant on so many levels. He’s such an intelligent man, and reading his fantasy also made me understand that fantasy doesn’t always have to occur in some pseudo-medieval or pretechnological setting. It can happen in a very urban, modern world and still feels like epic fantasy. Those three authors have really influenced me in terms of how I approach the kinds of worlds I want to create with my storytelling.

PI: Typically, when I ask artists who influenced them, they don’t always include people they’ve met or spoken to. You have a different situation.

BL: Yes. I’ve spoken with all three of them. Actually, I’ve talked to Dave Anthony Durham. We’ve exchanged communication, and he’s had a considerable influence in helping me break into the industry. Max Gladstone was also my mentor after I learned about his books. He even knew who I was. It was a complete happenstance that he ended up becoming my mentor. I submitted my name to the Science Fiction Writers of America, and they have a mentorship program. The program pairs you with someone, as it happened, they linked me up with Max, and I was losing my mind. He was an incredible mentor and gave me the confidence to continue pursuing my writing. I am fortunate that my influences are people I’ve had opportunities to converse with.

PI: Let’s talk about other things you do, such as FIYAH Literary Magazine and Breathe FIYAH flash fiction anthology in collaboration with Tor.com. Tell us about that.

BL: Well, with FIYAH. I need to update my website because I’m no longer with them. That is a recent development. The story behind FIYAH is that when I was breaking into the industry, there was a report published in 2016 by Fireside Fiction magazine regarding diversity in science fiction. They looked at various science fiction magazines and ran the numbers to see how many Black people these magazines published. When I tell you these numbers were terrible. They found that out of 2,039 speculative fiction stories published in magazines the previous year, only thirty-eight were by Black writers. That was only 2% of the stories published that year by all of these science fiction magazines.

They were full of excuses. “Oh, well, we don’t care about color.” That was the first one. They always run with that, or “There aren’t enough of them submitting.” They had nothing but excuses. To be honest, the excuses were infuriating for many of us. What is this madness? Then we collectively decided that if they wanted to act like we were not here, we would make our own magazine and show them we were here. There are plenty of us out here blowing the doors off with our prose and imaginations.

We then created our magazine to extend the original FIRE! magazine published during the Harlem Renaissance. We changed it up and called our magazine FIYAH. We saw ourselves as the spiritual child of that magazine. When we started, I was helping them with social media. Initially, people assumed it would just be some vanity project that would fade away. It became and still is a juggernaut for advice and short fiction. We actually won a Hugo Award in 2021. That was a big moment and solidified our legitimacy in the industry. We didn’t need the award to solidify anything, I already knew we were legitimate, but it never hurts to get an award.

With the anthology, FIYAH magazine actually collaborated with Tor.com during the summer of 2020, when the entire country was dealing with the fallout from not only the murder of George Floyd but Breonna Taylor and the massive nationwide protests. Tor.com reached out and said they would love to collaborate with us. They wanted to work with us to create a flash fiction anthology. DaVaun Sanders and I were the editors who spearheaded the anthology project called Breathe FIYAH. We got some really great pieces out of it. They all spoke to the moment of being angry and having this fire you had to escape. It was a really cool anthology. I love FIYAH magazine, and I love the mission. I’m grateful and glad that it is successful enough for founders like me to step away and pursue other things. It has the infrastructure to keep the magazine going. That is a true sign of success when you can walk away from the thing you helped build, and it can still be great. I love that magazine.

PI: What are you working on right now?
BL: I have a couple of stories I’m working on. I’ve just received edits for a short story that I have coming out and an anthology that will be released in the next couple of months. It’s an anthology about Queer takes on pulp science fiction and fantasy in the same vein as Conan the Barbarian or Buck Rogers and other pulpy adventurous stories that used to come out. I love saying the anthology title because it’s such an out-there-in-your-face name. It’s entitled “I Want That Twink Obliterated.” I know that it’s from a funny meme on the internet. I don’t know what it is; I just laughed at it. It’s not my title, but when the editors came to me and asked if I wanted to be a part of this anthology, there was no way I could say no with a title like that. I’ll get to laugh about this for the rest of my life. Of course, I was on board. There’s no way I wouldn’t be a part of this. I have a story in it, and I’m proud of it. If I had to describe it, it’s a Vampire Hunter D meets Conan the Barbarian mash-up. It’s a nomadic adventure story told through a great gay lens.

I also have another anthology to announce in the next few weeks. That one will be sword and sorcery-focused, with some relationship-focused stories featuring the singular Macho Man-type character. I’ll have something in that. I have a couple more things that I can’t talk about yet because they have yet to be announced.

I’m also working on my own full-length novel. A quick description is that it’s about a nation of magical Black gay people who have isolated themselves from the continent that rejected them. They then find themselves being pulled back in as the continent is potentially conquered by someone, they can’t immediately determine is friend or foe to them. That is what is on the docket and keeping me busy.

PI: What does the future hold for you?
BL: The way I feel is that I’m like a cockroach when it comes to this industry. You can’t kill a cockroach, even with a nuke. I’m not quitting, and I’m not going away. You can’t step on me. I will keep showing up and being in your face. Hopefully, each of these anthologies does well. I feel perfect about them. Outside of that, I would love to get a book deal with my current project. It has that potential. My hope is that this becomes my actual career. I want to keep writing no matter what. I love it too much to stop. That’s where I would like to see myself in the next couple of years.

PI: Brent, thank you for your time and speaking with me today.
BL: You’re welcome. Thank you. I just appreciate the opportunity to talk about my work.

Brent Lambert is a confirmed author at LavendarCon, a book festival celebrating LGBTQIA+ authors and stories. LavendarCon takes place June 29-June 30 in Washington, DC click here for more information.