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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The enduring popularity of Isis

Isis remains one of the most popular titles out of all the books I’ve self-published. At book fairs and book signings, the book continues to stir interest among readers and casual passersby. Eight years after publication and almost a decade after I wrote it, I’m still trying figure out what about the book makes it popular.

I wish I could talk to readers and pick their brains. Do they like Isis because it’s inspired by Egyptian Mythology? Do they like the action and adventure in a fantasy setting? Is it seeing a strong black female heroine as the lead character in a story? Is it my cover? What about those elements makes people pick up the book? What endears them to the story?

With the book continuing to be popular with readers, I’m thinking about doing some more Isis stories. I originally planned a series like Harry Potter and Twilight way back in 2002, with an expanded universe of characters but scrapped those plans when I was told by early readers the book read too much like a comic book for them.
Would you buy an Isis doll
Instead of a Disney Princess
for your kids?
I wasn’t trying to write a comic back then, but an all-ages fantasy story I felt would appeal to young African-American readers, especially black girls who I felt were in desperate need of their own heroine. I mean white girls had Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Xena Warrior Princess, She-Ra and the Disney Princesses, but little sistas had no heroines of their own. It saddens me to watch young black girls try to play Hannah Montana or Disney Princess with yellow scarves as imaginary blonde hair, when there are heroines available from their own history readily available to adapt into stories for the black audience.

With Isis I wanted to make the Egyptian gods and Egyptian mythology accessible to younger readers, and make the genre of fantasy fun and exciting for African-American tween and teen audiences. I wanted to give black girls their own character they could relate to and identify with. A superhero. A goddess. A princess. A woman with hair like theirs, problems like theirs and dealt with the issues they faced. Someone who made them feel proud of being black and being themselves.

Recent portriat of Isis by me.
And since I was writing the book with younger readers in mind, I’ll admit there was a bit of comic book influence. When I was writing the story back in 1999, I followed the models of superhero storytelling established by Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and the Late Jack Kirby while throwing in some of the contemporary elements of fantasy storytelling I learned watching Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi’s Xena: Warrior Princess and Joss Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But is that a bad thing?

Tapert, Raimi and Whedon created some of the strongest heroines in the fantasy genre with Buffy Summers and Xena. In between the action scenes of the storylines they showed the strong bonds of love and friendship between women with Buffy and Willow, and Gabrielle and Xena.

And from what I’ve seen Black women often share the strongest bonds of friendship like those characters; many sistas love each other like “sisters”. When I was younger (26) I often wondered why didn’t anyone show that relationship with black female characters? Moreover, I wondered why wasn’t there a black female superheroine who reflected what sistas were really like? And why couldn’t we have an action adventure series that featured the adventures of a strong black woman? Why can’t there be a fantasy series with a black female hero in the lead role?

Recent concept art of Isis
by me.
With Isis I sought out to do what Tapert, Raimi, and Whedon did for white audiences with Buffy and Xena, but with African-American characters in the lead roles. My goal was to create a contemporary fantasy story with action and adventure that made a commentary on the modern black family. In my re-interpretation of the Egyptian legend I wanted there to be an emphasis on black culture and black history, while showing the building of a relationship between a father, stepmother and a stepdaughter, with an emphasis on the relationship between the stepmother and the stepdaughter.

For some, that’s comic book.

But when I was writing the story I saw legions of fans that loved characters like Buffy Summers and Xena and still follow them to this day.

Just like readers still seek out Isis today. To date, it’s still my best-selling title.

I never did any promotion or sales for Isis in eight years it’s been in print yet it still sold and still sells today. I’ve always wanted to do more to promote the book, but I never had the money. I always wanted to do more to develop the series, but I never had the time. But with the series continuing to garner interest among casual readers for so many years I’m wondering if it’s time to actually do something serious with Isis and her cast of characters.

I love the characters and I’m eager to work with them again. However, the only issue I have with writing Isis stories again is adapting them to my new writing style. The way I wrote at 26 isn’t the way I write at 37. If readers compare the simpler style of writing I used in Isis when I was younger to the more complex style I used in All About Marilyn or The Cassandra Cookbook now, then they should understand it’s going to be a challenge getting back into the Isis groove.

Coming Soon!
What do you think of
 this cover?
In the meantime, I’ve pondered releasing a new Isis title as my sixth book. I have an Isis story ready for print; Trial of the Goddess. It’d be short, (about 84 pages) but I feel that size is much easier for younger readers to handle, and a jumping on point for new readers to start the Isis series. Trial is a prequel detailing the events of Isis’ trial before she was banished to the Island of Solitude. I feel it’d be a way to re-introduce Isis and the Egyptian gods to new readers and get them excited about the character.

With the tenth Anniversary of Isis’ publication coming up in two years I want to do something special to celebrate it. On and off I’ve been working on a new edition of Isis where I revise grammatical issues and clean up some of the dialogue in the first book. If I have enough money, I want to release that new edition as my seventh book.

1 comment:

  1. Kudos Shawn. The answer to why people like Isis is yes to all the questions you ask. I'd like to see much more about this subject.