It’s February, and in honor of Black History Month we have been featuring some of the black authors that are members of the Furry Writers’ Guild. Today will be our last feature for the month, and we will be sharing an interview done with Jakebe T. Lope! He has had stories featured in Breaking the Ice: Stories from New Tibet, Historimorphs, and New Fables. Without further ado, let’s get to the interview.
FWG: Tell the guild and our readers a bit about yourself.
Jakebe: My name is Jakebe T. Lope, though I’ve gone by others in my day. I’ve been in the furry fandom since 1996, so I’m pretty sure that makes me a greymuzzle! I’m a long-time writer and blogger — my blog “From the Writing Desk” is a collection of personal essays about the writing process, my journey with mental health, the furry fandom, Afrofuturism, Buddhism, and politics. Currently, I’m writing serialized erotic fiction through Patreon under The Jackalope Serial Company.
FWG: What is your favorite work that you have written?
Jakebe: I’m really happy with “Nightswimming”, the short story I wrote for Breaking The Ice. It was my first published short story, and I really tried to stretch myself to capture the feeling of isolation within New Tibet and what would make anyone want to stay on that frozen hellhole.
I think the writing that means the most to me, though, are the essays I’ve written about mental health on From The Writing Desk. I come from a background with a serious stigma attached to mental health issues, and it means a lot to me to be open and honest about it, and help others who might be struggling with similar issues.
FWG: What do you think makes a good story?
Jakebe: I think any good story has to end with its reader feeling better about the world they’re living in. Even the stories designed to make us uncomfortable are guides for us to pay attention and work with that discomfort so we’re better able to deal with it on the other side. That doesn’t mean a story can’t just be dumb fun, but even light entertainment needs to leave us with the feeling that the world is a rad place, or it could be if we worked for what we believe in.
It’s really hard to do this without browbeating an audience with some message. I think you need to be honest, fearless, and compassionate in order to achieve it. The best writing fosters that sense of instant, empathetic connection.
FWG: How long have you been in the guild, and what changes have you seen with regards to how writing is handled since joining?
Jakebe: Oh man, I’ve been in the guild for a while — so long I can’t remember when I’ve joined. I think writing has been largely democratized since I’ve joined, and it’s wonderful to see so many new perspectives popping up across the fandom, with so many interesting expressions of what brings us to it. It’s been really encouraging to see.
At the same time, I worry that there’s been a breakdown of the writing community because we’ve stopped listening to each other and become much more ego-driven. In my experience, there’s been less of a willingness to help one another with our craft and the realities of the market. I’d really like to see us return to a spirit of collaboration, guidance, and respect for the craft.
FWG: What does Black History mean to you?
Jakebe: Black history is American history. What my ancestors went through is the shadow side of the version of America we see in our history books and civics classes. A lot of us are shocked about what we’re seeing rising out of our fellow Americans in the current political landscape, but if we pay attention to the history of black Americans and the experiences of other Americans of color, we’d know that these attitudes have been around as long as the Constitution. This IS who we are; we’re just being forced to reckon with it.
At the same time, Black history helps me realize that resilience, perseverance, joy, and a commitment to working for my ideals are all a part of my story. My ancestors passed down amazing values and lessons to me, and it’s a privilege to get to be able to carry those stories and spread them as well as I can.
FWG: Do you feel that your Blackness has affected your writing?
Jakaebe: Absolutely. As a black man in America, you have to make peace with the fact that almost nothing you see is going to be from your perspective. The heroes we grow up watching and wanting to be like don’t necessarily look like us. I grew up queer and nerdy in the inner-city, so I’ve had a really difficult relationship with my Blackness because I’ve never felt accepted by my community. That feeling of being rejected by the dominant culture and my birth culture, of feeling alone and forced to make your own way, it’s always going to be a part of my work. I’m always reacting to that weird tension, of needing to belong but also realizing I never really have, and it shows in my writing. I’m still looking for my tribe.
FWG: Do you feel like the issues that affect the outside world affect your writing within the fandom or not?
Jakebe: They absolutely do. Since I’ve become more politically active I consider it a pretty core part of my job as a writer to find ways to express my perspective to a fandom audience that is largely white. It’s tough, when everyone in the community feels like they’re the underdogs in some way, to have a discussion about privilege or the blind spots they create. Furry literature can be a great way of exploring these sensitive topics in ways that folks are more likely to engage with.
FWG: Do you have favorite Black authors and has their literature affected your writing in the fandom?
Jakebe: YES. Ta-Nehesi Coates is my jam right now; he’s a fellow Baltimore native, and his personal essays have been a North Star for me in so many ways. He’s been killing it on Black Panther, too.
Octavia Butler has been writing amazing sci-fi and fantasy from a racial lens, and I hope to be able to achieve her level of insight and sensitivity some day. Kindred is such an amazing book. It really shakes your image of American slavery, what it would be like to endure that, and what you would do to combat the forces that shaped it.
There’s three-time Hugo Award winner N.K. Jemisin; there’s Nnedi Okorafor, who also won the Hugo Award for her novella Binti; there’s Daniel Jose Older, who is killing it with urban fantasy through an Afro-Latino lens; there’s Samuel “Chip” Delaney, the great old sci-fi Grandmaster who paved the way for all of us in the game right now.
It’s a really great time for Afrofuturist writers, and there are so many exciting stories being told that really break out of the traditional sci-fi and fantasy tropes.
FWG: If you could convince everyone to read a single book, what would it be?
Jakebe: I feel weird hyping this book after talking about so many excellent black writers, but if you haven’t read The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle it is really a singular work. It’s both an homage to really great epic fantasy and a deconstruction of it; at the end of the novel, even though everyone has achieved what they set out to do each character is fundamentally changed in a way that makes them — and the world — so much more complicated. It’s a staggering, heartbreaking novel, and I love it so much. Most people only know the movie, but the book is better by an order of magnitude and Beagle deserves so much more recognition than he’s gotten.
FWG: Any last words for our readers and guild members?
Jakebe: In order to be an excellent writer, we have to spend so much more time listening and observing others. Listening and absorbing other people without judgement is an overlooked skill, and I think the time is ripe for writers who can present an honest understanding of others without dehumanizing or dismissing them. In so many ways, our separation between each other is an illusion. Our reality is connection.
You can find Jakebe’s writing on his blog From The Writing Desk and on his Patreon for serialized erotic fiction. You can also find him on Twitter both at @jakebe and @serialjackalope; as well as on Mastodon @firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you found this interview exciting and informative. We hope to continue these features next February for Black History Month as well as find other ways to feature black authors in the guild. If you have suggestions for how this might be done, please contact our public relations officer here. Until next time, may your words flow like water.