When you’re in the art/creative industry, you tend to make connections that stay with you for years and years. Upon creating Is’nana the Were-Spider, I met Brent Lambert, a journalist on the other side of the country who wanted to interview me about my upcoming project. Brent was one of the first people to interview me and showcase Is’nana. Along the way, we grew to become crazy close, and he is someone I would consider a legitimate brother.
From early on, I learned he was a writer whose dream was finally getting published. Every year, I’d listen to him talk about his ideas, and unlike many people I know with ideas, he was actually pursuing them, his drive and motivation never faltering. Even when I would visit him, he’d constantly set concrete times just to write with no distractions as I’d sit and smile, watching him work.
After years of friendship, I can finally return the favor, being one of his first interviewers for his first novella, A Necessary Chaos.
From his site, “Brent Lambert is a Black, queer man who heavily believes in the transformative power of speculative fiction. He resides in San Diego but spent a lot of time moving around as a military brat. He used to manage the social media for the award winning FIYAH Literary Magazine and was a part of an anthology produced with Tor.com titled Breathe FIYAH.” This year marks the first release, A NECESSARY CHAOS…
Greg Anderson Elysée: And heeeere we go! A Necessary Chaos! Tell us what it’s about?
Brent Lambert: It’s a story that revolves around two Black gay men who have been faking a romance for years in order to spy on each other. One works for a corporatist government and the other is part of an anarchist group. Both of them are capable of lethal magic and when they get the order to kill one another, they start to realize there might be real feelings between them. And they have to decide whether to honor those feelings or their loyalties.
Elysée: Well don’t be stingy. Give us the tea about these two characters? Who are they individually?
Lambert: [Laughs] Okay, I wasn’t too sure how spoilery I could be. But Vade and Althus were both basically child soldiers, each of a different kind. Vade was raised to be a Whisper, which is essentially a high-level government assassin and Althus was a poor kid pulled into straight up warfare without much training at all.
Vade is the smooth operator, keeps himself clean cut and kind of believes in playing within the power structures that currently exist. Althus is the rebel and wants to see it all come down. He doesn’t trust the world.
Elysée: What inspired this story?
Lambert: I’ve answered this one so much that I think Bryson Tiller might see a jump in streams! [Laughs] But the story was inspired by Bryson Tiller’s song “Next to You.” When I first heard it, the vibe of it inspired this sultry strip tease scene in my head, but for some reason the people involved in it were also trying to kill each other. I didn’t know what would become of the scene so I just jotted it down and held on to it until Dave Ring of Neon Hemlock approached me.
Elysée: So from that initial inspiration from that song to jotting it down on the notebook, how long did it take for you to finally settle down and say, “Alright, I’m going to flesh this out and get it published”? Especially over all your other ideas, which I’m sure you have a lot [Laughs].
Lambert: Honestly, this moved pretty quick just because Dave reached out to me with ideas about doing a novella I’d say only a couple of months after the initial idea came to me. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to do anything with it, but then the offer came along and I had to get to work fast.
Elysée: You’re a writer all about world building. You’ve even helped me a little with a project I was having trouble with, teaching me some world building tricks. Can you tell us about the world you’re transporting us to?
Lambert: This world has magic and technology akin to Final Fantasy 7 and 8 (Edea is my queen forever!!!). Like, you got motorcycles and airports, but you also have magic and monsters. There are three major governments: the Amos-Morbine Compact, the Enoch Consortius and the Phobeta Courts. They have all managed to access different kinds of magic couched in these awful ass dimensions, but the resource has allowed them all to ascend to global dominance. It’s sort of a cold war between them because no one really wants to make the first move to set off a global conflict. So it’s all spies, proxy wars, puppet governments, etc.
Elysée: Based on this elaborate world, is this the last time we’ll be visiting this world? Be it with the main leads or maybe other folks inhabiting this world? Or are you ready to move onto the next world-slash-book?
Lambert: For right now, it’s the last time I’m visiting it. I was contracted for just the one book so we’ll see what demand looks like, what time looks like, etc.
But when I build my worlds they’re always going to be this big and elaborate. One of my goals with any of my stories is that I want the reader to feel like “Yeah, this main story is important, but I can tell there’s a hundred different other ones going on.”
I do have an idea for what a sequel would potentially look like and what a prequel could look like too.
Elysée: While I feel like we’ve sort of seen similar types of premises, like modern action Romeo and Juliet inspired pieces like Underworld or even Mr. and Mrs. Smith, this one not only involves magic but also two Black gay men instead of the usual hetero couple. Why do you feel it’s important to create these two queer characters in a high fantasy and sci-fi story? As well as them being Black?
Lambert: Because we don’t get to have fun enough in genre fiction stories. It’s always got to be pain and trauma and slavery allegories, which are totally fine and totally necessary. I have zero problem with their existence. I just want the buffet to have a little more variety ya know? Like, why can’t we just swing wands, ride dragons and kill dark lords without it having to be so heavy? I think A Necessary Chaos is a fun, light read in that regard and we get to see Blackness that isn’t centered on trauma. I mean, I still say a few things in the process, but I tried to keep it fun. Blackness deserves fun too. Play and joy should and must be part of the Black geek experience too.
Elysée: Why “chaos”? What are you trying to say with that word there?
Lambert: I feel like the word “chaos” has a lot of negative connotations associated with it, but I think sometimes when things are chaotic is when they’re the most free. If you think about some of the darker times in history, it usually comes from some person or group trying to create what they think is a perfect order and has nothing to do with chaos. The destruction and mayhem is a result of say the Nazis trying to create a “master race” or another group trying to ethnically cleanse a group they see as unclean and not in order with their society.
So I guess I wanted to challenge the idea that chaos is inherently bad and ask people to think about how chaos might be a tool for positive change.
Elysée: Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a writer? When would you say the interest began and what led you from there to where you are now?
Lambert: So I didn’t like reading as a kid. Did not want to do it until my Dad brought me my first X-Men comic. Man, I was HOOKED! I wanted stories. More and more of them. My parents tell me they always knew I was going to end up doing something creative because at Christmas time I would play with the wrapping paper and make stuff out of it more than I would play with the actual gifts. I think my creativity got me through a lot of the rougher parts of my childhood.
As a kid, I made my own little comics and sent them off to Marvel. I was bold as hell thinking they were about to scoop me up to work for them! But they were amazingly sweet and sent me encouraging letters every single time. I need to find those letters because I want to thank whoever wrote them for keeping my fire lit.
Then Animorphs came along in middle school and it was like I had a second creative awakening. I wanted to write books now! I would staple together sheets of paper and just write things. It wasn’t until 7th grade when my English teacher told me she thought I could really be a writer one day. We had this assignment to write a report about discovering an alien world and I went all the way in! Like way beyond what the assignment required and she asked me to stay after class to tell me I could be a writer.
I would love to say I kept on believing, but the angst of being a Black queer teenager in the rural South killed my soul in some ways. I turned to fanfic and nestled a community there where I wrote all my favorite Marvel folks, but I stopped thinking about wanting to write my own books. I was too busy worrying about all the horrible things that come along with thinking you’re fundamentally wrong and broken.
It wasn’t until college when I decided I wanted to try again. David Anthony Durham’s ACACIA and China Mieville’s PERDIDO STREET STATION were sort of my third creative awakening. I read those books and was like “one, I didn’t know I could do this as a Black and two, I really, really like this weird stuff.” So from there I just kept grinding, and here I am now!
Elysée: Aight, you gotta tell us now: What was one – or a few – of the stories you sent to Marvel?
Lambert: I honestly don’t remember much. I do know it was all original characters. The only one I kind of remember was like this Ms. Marvel based character who had Loki-styled horns [Laughs]. I’m sure if I went to my Momma’s house and dug around I could find some of the stories.
Elysée: Can you see yourself wanting to get into comics? Or do you feel you found your place with prose?
Lambert: I think the best thing any writer can do for themselves to stay in this game long term is to diversify their skill set. So with that said, nothing is off the table with me. I’d love a crack at comics eventually. I’ve been blessed with people advocating for me and setting me up with opportunities at the right moment. I’m sure a comic one may roll itself into my path one day.
Elysée: What have been the challenges you’ve faced in bringing this story to life?
Lambert: My personal life decided to give me hell. Two things kind of happened back to back right when I started drafting this thing. One, I lost a writing mentor in Derrick Ferguson. He passed away and I don’t think I properly dealt with how much his loss wounded me. I just kept pile driving through the writing because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. If anyone is reading this and finds themselves in a similar spot; don’t do that. Don’t be me. You’ll do damage to your soul. Take the time to grieve.
The other thing was that I found myself having feelings for a guy for the first time in a while. And they were completely unrequited. So the last thing I felt like writing after that kind of rejection was two guys in love with each other. It was like digging the knife into my own wound. There were some not so great days of drafting.
But what I can say is that those challenges in writing the novella did inevitably force me to do some internal work and I am the better for it.
Elysée: What has been a pleasant surprise from you as you formed this world and story?
Lambert: That I can write decent sex scenes! I will always admire romance writers for their ability to portray intimacy. I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, but judging by early reader reactions I did an ok job. So I’m happy to know I have that in the writing repertoire now!
Elysée: You freak.
Lambert: I meannnn…I got experiences and that’s about as far as I’ll go [Laughs]. But yeah, what I’m just as happy about is that the sex scenes all pushed plot and character in some way. I didn’t want to have them be superfluous and serve a real purpose.
Elysée: So the book is being released around your birthday? Is that right? How’d that come about? And how does that make you feel?
Lambert: It came about because of how many times the book got delayed! Which was mostly due to those previously mentioned issues. It took a while to form the book into something I could be proud of. It just so happened between me finally nailing it and the publisher print schedule, it just fell on my birthday week.
I just take it as a cosmic sign it was meant to be. I wish the journey had been smooth and without bumps, but I think we all wish that on every journey. This took exactly the path it needed to take and I’m going to trust that.
Elysée: You have other projects you’re involved in. A few anthologies. Can you tell us about them and what’s in store for us ready to discover your crazy mind?
Lambert: ALL THESE SUNKEN SOULS is dropping October 17th. It’s a YA Horror anthology full of Black writers. The stories in it are just really fantastic. My contribution is about an asylum for prophets and a boy trying to get his Mom’s help with dark dreams.
FIGHTING FOR THE FUTURE came out over the summer. It’s an anthology where Cyberpunk and Solarpunk cross. My story there was me infusing rave culture into some corporate rebellion antics.
And right now, the Kickstarter for I WANT THAT TWINK OBLITERATED is going on. It got funded in 32 hours but there are still lots of stretch goals. It’s basically taking the old pulp SF and Fantasy stories but putting through a lens of non-traditional masculinities. I’m constructing my story right now and building the world is so much fun. All I can say is that it’s a gay marriage between Conan and Vampire Hunter D if subversion was doing the officiating.
Elysée: I just want to say I am so excited and proud of you. And I can’t wait to finally have this damn book in my hands!
Lambert: Thank you! I’m loving the feedback I’ve been getting on it so far. I’ve always known there’s an audience for Black gay characters in speculative fiction and I’m glad to see I wasn’t wrong.
Order A NECESSARY CHAOS here today!
Greg Anderson Elysée is a Brooklyn-born Haitian-American writer, educator, filmmaker, personal trainer, and model. Elysée previously wrote for theOuthousers.com, where he ran his own column, (Heard It Thru) The Griotvine, showcasing independent creators of color and LGBTQ creators, as well as writing for Bleeding Cool.
Elysée’s original comic series “Is’nana the Were-Spider” is a seven-time Glyph Award Winner.
His other work includes “Akim Aliu: Dreamer: Growing Up Black in the World of Hockey,” published by Scholastic Inc. and Kaepernick Publishing, “OneNation: Stronghold,” published by 133art Publishing, “I Dream of Home” in the Lion Forge graphic novel collection and Eisner Award-winning “Puerto Rico Strong,” and “Tyrone and Jamal” in the GLAAD Award-winning “Young Men in Love.” He lives in Brooklyn.