Author Spotlight: Roseanne A. Brown
Roseanne “Rosie” A. Brown was born in Kumasi, Ghana and immigrated to the wild jungles of central Maryland as a child. She graduated from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor’s in Journalism and was also a teaching assistant for the school’s Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House program. Her journalistic work has been featured by Voice of America among other outlets.
What is your book about?
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin is set in a fantasy world inspired by West African folklore, and it follows two protagonists, a refugee named Malik and a princess named Karina. When Malik’s sister is kidnapped by a vengeful spirit, he is able to win her freedom only if he kills the princess, so he enters a marriage competition for Karina’s hand to get close enough to kill her. However, what Malik doesn’t know is that Karina is planning to sacrifice her future husband for a spell that will bring her dead mother back to life. The book is a dual POV, so we follow each character as they try to outmaneuver the other without realizing, and of course, things go off the rails when they finally meet and realize they have more in common than they first thought…
Or for a shorter pitch, it’s what would happen if Aladdin and Jasmine had to kill each other and were also Black as hell. Plus throw in some court intrigue, ancient magic, and a strong dash of romance. And stabbing. Lots of stabbing.
What was your inspiration for your book?
The inspiration for A Song of Wraiths and Ruin came to me back in 2016 when I was thinking a lot about my own mental health and stigma against mental illness in the Black community. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “If a ghost tried to possess me right now, it would be like ‘There is a lot going on in here. You can have this back.’” And I immediately had an idea for a character who actually dealt with the supernatural in this way. That character became Malik, and the book only grew from there!
I’ve always loved fantasy but fantasy didn’t always love me back. Finding fantasy books centered on Black girls was nearly impossible. I wanted a story that had all of the epic action, adventure, romance, magic, and backstabbing that fantasy had to offer but that featured characters and cultures more in line with the people I had grown up around. Thus, the idea for A Song of Wraiths and Ruin was born.
What character do you look forward to readers falling in love with (or hate) the most?
I really hope readers fall in love with my protagonists but for different reasons. Karina is the kind of Black girl I’ve spent my entire life looking for in media. She is passionate and fierce, but she is also very hurt and angry and lashes out. However, she is never “The Angry Black Girl”. Writing a work where a Black girl could harness her anger and her harsh, jagged edges but still be the heroine, still be loved and desired and wanted means the world to me.
And Malik is the kind of Black boy character I feel hasn’t had much chance to shine in the media. He isn’t hyper-masculine, he isn’t particular strong, he definitely isn’t a manly man. His greatest assets are his empathy and his compassion, his ability to connect to other people. I hope readers love him and that young boys see him as an example of what non-toxic masculinity can look like.
What are the kinds of stories you want to write?
I want to write epic adventures that Black children can lose themselves in. It is always my aim to write as inclusively as possible, and I love when readers of different backgrounds say they related to something I wrote, but my priority will always be Black children. They deserve the kinds of epic, sprawling, Star Wars/Harry Potter/ LOTR level narratives that center them and their experiences. I want Black kids from all corners of the diaspora to feel welcome in my work and to know their existence matters and holds literary merit.
I also love writing stories with strong romantic subplots, because Black love in all its many forms has never gotten the due it deserves period. First love, found family love, epic love, enemies-to-lovers, platonic love, familial love, star crossed lovers–I want all my love tropes and I want them covered in all manners of melanin and all kinds of orientations.
How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?
It’s very important that I keep my writing time sacred. This was the case even before I was agented or had a book deal. In the same way people understand that an athlete isn’t available when they’re at practice, the people in my life know I’m not available during writing time, even when to them it seems I’m just typing away on a computer. The exact time I write tends to vary. When I was teaching in Japan, I was up at 5:45 A.M. so that I could get an hour in before I had to get ready for work. Now in the time of coronavirus, I’m finding the writing happens best in the evening when I’ve gotten all my other responsibilities out of the way. But what always stays the same is writing time is always for me and the writing.
Any advice for up and coming writers?
Follow your bliss. Take note of the things that inspire any great emotion in you, whether positive or negative, and find ways to incorporate that into your work. While it’s true that pursuing a career in any kind of creative arts will require you to be aware of the market, your work will come across as soulless and insincere if you don’t incorporate things that you genuinely love. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because your wildest and weirdest ideas are usually where the best stories will come from.
A Song of Wraiths and Ruin
“Good evening, Your Highness. You look as lovely as ever.” Tunde’s voice was even, yet there was an icy tension in the air between him and Karina. The princess’s gown tonight was pure white lace over the shoulders with sleeves reminiscent of butterfly wings that trailed nearly to her knees. Strings of beads and gem filigree were woven through her silver hair, which was tossed effortlessly over one shoulder. Now that he was seeing Karina up close, mistaking her for a servant felt like having mistaken the sun for a candle.
Karina lifted an eyebrow at Malik’s discarded arrows. “Would you like some assistance with that? I am no expert, but I have taken my fair share of archery lessons.”
Keenly aware of the Mark trailing his spine, Malik nodded. Karina wrapped her arms around his, moving them into position.
“Keep your stance even and your bow arm rotated straight.” Heat rushed to Malik’s face as her thumb brushed the inside of his wrist. “Pull the bowstring back to your anchoring point like this.”
She drew his hand back, the tension running from their fingers up through the string. The smell of rain had returned, making Malik dizzy once more in a way that had nothing to do with the wine in his system. He could have the spirit blade out and through her throat before anyone had the chance to stop him. Was it worth it to do just that, even with all these people around?
“Check your aim and”—Karina tilted her head up, her breath warm against the shell of his ear—“you shouldn’t have lied to me.”
A jolt ran through Malik’s body as he let the arrow fly. It crashed into a pot, shattering it into dozens of jagged pieces. In the dead center sat an egg that was rotted black and covered in maggots. Nyeni blew a raspberry.
“Great shot, but bad luck!” the griot said with a cackle.
Malik could feel Karina’s touch lingering against his skin even after she stepped away. “Not bad for a couple of beginners. Now, Champion Adil, would you do me the honor of accompanying me on a walk?”
“I…” Now that they both knew who the other was, the easy air that had grown between them during the raid was gone. Karina was as beautiful as the stories said, but so were leopards, and Malik wouldn’t have known what to do if left alone with one of those either.
“Relax, I am no threat to your virtue… though I have had you on your knees once already,” said Karina with a smirk. Tunde coughed violently, and the heat rushed to Malik’s face even though he knew she was only referring to when he fixed her dress.
Unable to refuse, Malik took the arm Karina offered him, and they walked toward the lake. The courtiers whispered as they passed, and Tunde stood off to the side, looking everywhere but at them.
Malik glanced at Karina out of the corner of his eye, only to look away when she looked back at him. There were too many witnesses around, too many guards who would attack him for attacking her. But the brightness of the Midway hid hundreds of dark corners, and if he could lure her into one…
“Is something the matter?” Karina asked.
Breathe. Stay present. Stay here.
Malik shook his head, wishing he could shake her scent from his nose. “I’m fine.”
Karina smiled, though the expression didn’t reach her eyes. “It’s so strange walking with you now. I couldn’t imagine a more different setting from our first meeting.”
“Are you referring to the raid or when you crashed into me?”
“You crashed into me. And both. Though I suppose this is our first true meeting. By the way, I must congratulate you on your performance during the Second Challenge. My steward in particular was so impressed that he hasn’t stopped talking about it.”
“It was nothing, Your Highness.” He was taller than the princess, though not by much. If it came to a fight, how easy would it be to overpower her? Why did imagining that make him feel ill?
They had reached the edge of the pleasure lake now, and the music from the dock washed over them. Karina dipped her toe into the waves lapping the shore. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?”
“Truly.” And a frivolous waste. Every family in Oboure could have survived on this much water for years. It didn’t make sense how hoarding all this was allowed when Ziran was going on its tenth year without rain.
“It’s impressive and intimidating and mostly meaningless. Just like its owner.” Karina looked up at Malik. “Just like your life will be if you win Solstasia.”
Tunde had warned him that the palace might try to rig the competition. Perhaps this was her way of trying to intimidate him. “I don’t understand what you mean, Your Highness.”
Karina’s eyes grazed over his face, and for a second, Malik saw the red her blood would be when he slit her throat.
“Dance with me.”
Malik wasn’t sure he’d heard her right, but before he could protest, she pulled him onto the dock. The music had changed once more, and Malik’s eyes widened in recognition.
“You dance the zafuo here?” The zafuo was a traditional Eshran dance usually done at celebrations like weddings or naming ceremonies. Two people danced with a scarf between them, and to complete it correctly required an implicit trust between the partners. Malik had only ever danced it with his family, and even then, not that well.
“Ziran is a trading town. Every culture finds its way here eventually,” replied Karina.
Malik’s eyes narrowed. So Eshran culture was welcome in Ziran as long as actual Eshrans didn’t come with it.
A servant handed Karina a long scarf embroidered with a pattern reminiscent of the sky during a storm, and she wound one end around her wrist as Malik did the same. A large circle had formed around them of curious onlookers, their eyes like needles against the back of Malik’s neck. As soon as he’d gotten the scarf in place, the dance began.
From the very first beat, Karina had control of the scarf, and Malik was forced to move at her pace lest he trip over his own feet. Twist and turn, up and down, back and forth. The song was about a scorned woman getting revenge on the man who had lain with every woman in the village behind her back, and the level of power and fury in the singer’s voice sent chills down Malik’s spine. Karina moved with the music as if she’d been born into it, and if he’d had the chance, he might have watched her dance the rest of the night for the pure euphoria on her face as she did.
The rhythm of the music was infectious, and soon the whole circle was dancing along with them. Karina looped the scarf around Malik’s neck, and he pitched forward. Laughter rang out, causing Malik to grit his teeth. The zafuo might be popular in Ziran, but this was his culture, his history. He was ready to lose at any number of things, but not this.
“Not to be rude, Your Highness, but is dancing the only reason you pulled me aside?” he asked, twisting back and stretching the scarf taut, then over his head and together again so they were inches apart.
“Not quite. Why do you want to win Solstasia?”
Seconds passed, and Karina’s eyes narrowed. The small trust that had grown between them crumbled with each moment that Malik did not answer the question. He needed to win Solstasia, but did he want to?
For a single moment, Malik imagined life as Karina’s husband, standing by her side with all the wealth and power of Ksar Alahari behind them.
Except she’d be marrying Adil, not him. Winning would mean living the rest of his life as another man, hearing his children call him by a name that was not his and—
No, that was not the issue with this fantasy. Nadia was. If she was to live, marrying Karina was a thought that could not even cross his mind.
“I never expected to be in this situation. But now that I am, the outcome doesn’t scare me as much as it could.”
Malik saw his opening and twirled Karina around, pulling her flush against him with her back to his chest. Surprise flashed across her face, followed by a grin. She reached her hands around his neck, forcing his hands to her waist, and she pushed her hips back against his in time to the beat. Stars danced in Malik’s eyes as he moved his hips forward in turn, and he was suddenly very grateful Mama was not there to see this.
“You know, now would be a great time for you to kiss me,” she whispered, and Malik’s world froze. His eyes flew to her full lips, which curled wickedly once more. The music swelled to a climax, and Karina flipped them around. Without Malik noticing, she had unraveled his end of the scarf and now held both ends. To anyone looking from the outside, they were still dancing together as normal, but she was in control now.
Something shuttered in Karina’s gaze when she looked at him again. “You’re nicer than the boys who usually try to court me, so I will warn you once. Do not involve me in whatever fantasy you’ve devised for yourself. Going forward, you should seriously consider what happens when Solstasia ends—and the life you’ll be leading when it does.”
They had reached the very end of the dock, the lake a frothy black sheet several feet beneath them. They were both breathing hard, danced almost to the point of exhaustion, yet Malik’s body buzzed with energy, his pulse blooming outward, warm and alive. Karina leaned forward, forcing Malik’s back over the edge, her amber eyes as hard as the claws of the gryphon embroidered on her family crest.
“You wanted my attention, Champion Adil. Now you have it.”
With that, Karina flicked her wrist and sent Malik crashing into the icy water below.