From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Trouble the Waters: Tales from the Deep Blue – Interview with Sheree Renée Thomas, Pan Morigan, and Troy L. Wiggins

Trouble the Waters is an anthology that gathers the tidal force of bestselling, renowned writers from Lagos to New Orleans, Memphis to Copenhagen, Northern Ireland and London, offering extraordinary speculative fiction tales of ancient waters in all its myriad forms. The editors spoke with Fantasy Magazine about the project and their relationships with Black speculative fiction.


Sheree Renée Thomas is an award-winning author, editor, and poet whose work is inspired by music, natural science, and mythology. Her fiction collection, Nine Bar Blues: Stories from an Ancient Future, was a Finalist for the 2021 Ignyte, Locus, and World Fantasy Awards. She is the author of Marvel’s Panther’s Rage novel (forthcoming August 31, 2022)a contributor to Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda, and a collaborator with Janelle Monáe on The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer. She is a co-editor of Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction (Tordotcom) and Trouble the Waters: Tales of the Deep Blue (Third Man Books). She is the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, associate editor of Obsidian, and also edited the two-time World Fantasy Award-winning groundbreaking anthologies, Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora and Dark Matter: Reading the Bones (Grand Central). A 2022 winner of the Dal Coger Memorial Hall of Fame Award and 2022 Hugo Award Finalist for Year’s Best Editor, Short Form, she lives in Memphis, Tennessee near a mighty river and a pyramid. Visit shereereneethomas.com.


How did you become readers of genre fiction? What were some of the first genre books or stories that were important to you, and why? And—should people read those stories today, or do they no longer hold up?

I was born by the river, in a little tent. And just like that river, I’ve been writing ever since.

Hat tip to Sam Cooke! No but seriously, I’m a Memphis-based writer, born near the Mississippi River on a street called Life. We moved on to Seventh, and I lived the early part of my childhood in North Memphis. My family, the city, and its culture are all big parts of how I became a writer. Memphis is known for its music, but it’s also a city of storytellers, and my grandparents and their friends were some of the best. I grew up listening to their stories, the made-up tales and the all-too true. I was fortunate to be raised by artists in a house of books, mostly genre books including epic fantasy, horror (lots of Stephen King), science fiction anthologies, and later F&SF issues and Omni magazine. They fostered a love for reading pretty early in me. I wrote because I loved to read. I didn’t always have paper, so my grandfather would give me the backs of bills and envelopes to write on when I ran out of blank spirals. Whenever he could, he would bring me my favorite pencils and crisp, clean notebooks. Granddaddy always made me feel like my voice was heard.

I remember reading something, and my mom said I was ready to go to the library. There weren’t any comic book stores around us, so the place we went was the place my parents had gone on their book journeys, the library. My first public library card was at the Hollywood Branch, and the librarian was very kind to me. She gave me permission to read adult books as well, so I just explored a number of genres, YA and up, reading The House of Stairs, Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave quintet, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising. I was into Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and gothic works as well as Peter Straub, William Peter Blatty, and Ira Levin.

How did Trouble the Waters come about, how did it develop, and what were the biggest challenges to making this anthology happen?

I was fortunate to hear poet Linda D. Addison perform her poem, “Mami Wata, Goddess of Clear Blue,” at the 2005 World Horror Convention in New York where Linda was the Poet Guest of Honor. Her reading of this fine work was held only a few months before the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina. With grace and power, Linda visibly stirred the audience, and her evocation of the West African water goddess remained a beautifully haunting memory.

Four years later, art historian Henry John Drewal and guest curator David Driskell helped visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art gather a framework for viewing the extraordinary exhibition. My daughters and I traveled from New York City to see this rare exhibit in Washington, DC. Created by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the exhibit displayed breathtaking altars and various creative celebrations of the powerful water goddess whose unmistakable mermaid persona can be seen throughout Africa and the African diaspora.

Between Linda’s New York poetry reading, Hurricane Katrina, and the Mami Wata water spirits exhibition in Washington, DC, the first droplet of an idea was born. My dear friend, the late author and literary patron, Ama Patterson, a co-founder of our Beyond ’Dusa Women’s Writing Group, agreed to co-edit a collection of tales around Mami Wata and various water deities. We were excited about the possibility of diving into works that centered water spirits, mythology, and lore. We exchanged writers’ wish lists, bookmarked stories and articles, and dreamed about what might be. Unfortunately, Ama’s health took a heartbreaking turn, making her work on this project impossible. It is our great loss that dear Ama, a brilliant, gifted writer and a true goddess in her own right, is no longer with us, writing her stories, telling her tales in that wonderful voice that evoked a true sense of wonder.

Trouble the Waters was also inspired by another dear friend, the late Liz Roberts, and the late historian and activist Mrs. Cornelia Bailey, an invaluable voice in the Sapelo Sea Island community. It was in her home, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where we ate Mr. Julius Bailey’s delicious shrimp and grits and witnessed firsthand the beauty and magic of storytelling as a natural force. Trouble the Waters is dedicated to these three amazing women.

How did collaboration work for you, both in terms of who did what, and in terms of whether or not it all went smoothly, or if adjustments had to be made along the way?

I am grateful to have such great co-editors, Pan Morigan and Troy L. Wiggins, and to have found a wonderful, supportive publishing home. With group projects such as editing anthologies, there is always a division of labor, but we decided very early that we would read, discuss, and vote on all of the submissions together. It was a pretty labor-intensive process, with some very tough choices to make among so many fascinating and well written stories, but when we finished, we knew we’d gathered works that truly spoke to us in so many ways.

One thing I recall in our reading is that certain patterns of storytelling began to emerge fairly quickly. I cannot recall the number of auburn-haired, buxom mermaid tales we received, but they were noticeably present, and some had shifted maybe one or two elements in the old folktale. But these made it clear that there were some very specific ideas out there about not only some of this ancient lore, but about seduction and femininity. We wanted to select tales that offered readers a range of entry points for exploring the topic. Some of this work might have familiar elements, but most hopefully offer fresh or intriguing takes, leading the reader’s imagination into new directions. A memorable voice, vivid imagery, compelling characters, and clear prose were just some of the elements that kept me reading and would make me add a story to my revisit pile. There was a lot of overlap in our selections, and that was cool to see.

Are there one or two stories here that you feel are more daring in some ways, or that will challenge readers more?

“At the Opening of Bayou St. John” by Shawn Scarber and Maria Osunbimpe Hamilton Abegunde’s “The Ancestor Abiodun Tells Me About the Time She Forgot Osun” are two stories that place readers firmly in other worlds that require you to read with your whole body, evoking all your senses while inviting you to think on the metaphysical and philosophical (or spiritual) elements of the story. There are layers to uncover in each of these, and I think the effort is rewarding.

Besides the overarching theme of “Water,” which in itself shifts in its application from story to story, do you see other important themes running through many of the pieces in this book?

You’ll meet some lost or broken characters who seek to fill the holes inside them, who struggle to become whole in the face of both internal and external challenges. Transformations and shapeshifters are a running theme for some works, while others examine myths and deities, those from ages ago, some who live with us today, and those imagined in the future. There are of course your watery legends, fairy tales, and other lore, but you’ll meet other water creatures who might be less familiar to you. Some of the works, particularly those from our Indigenous writers, examine eco-justice and environmental change, how to hold on to traditions that serve us in a changing world that rebuilds as it erases that which does not serve us. Some works deeply excavate histories while others embody the power and history of water itself. Technology, music, and worldbuilding (on and off-earth) are in there, too!

Trouble the Waters also features poetry, which can be so subjective, in terms of the way we engage with a poem, or what we get out of a poem. Which poems, for each of you, really stand out in the way it speaks to you, and why?

I think the same can be said of reading any story, or other non-fiction—it’s all subjective, filtered through the unique lens of the reader and what we bring to the work at hand. This idea that each person is going to come away with a definitive reading of a story doesn’t hold up when you read various reviews or literary critiques, or even just chat about the work in community with others. It’s that passionate discourse that makes it all so exciting. Originally, we planned to have only one poem in the collection, the Mami Wata preface poem by Linda D. Addison that inspired the volume, but when we read the beautiful work by poets Jacqueline Johnson and Heather ‘Byrd’ Roberts, we felt they offered a powerful concluding wave on which to send readers on into the deep blue waters of their inner worlds.

Is there anything else you’d really like readers to know about Trouble the Waters?

I think with any anthology, you hope that readers will not only enjoy the celebrated, renowned writers you have included in the collection, those whose storytelling and imaginations we deeply respect and have grown to love, but you also hope they will find new voices to engage them and seek out in the future. It is always a happy surprise and joy to see newer, emerging writers or debut writers get some readerly love, so if you are like me and don’t read anthologies or collections linearly, find a new name and spend some time with them. Either way, we’d love to know what works resonated with you, so if something excites, intrigues, or moves you, do let us know what you think. I know our writers would certainly appreciate that!

This book came out with a publisher that many people, especially in genre, have probably never heard of. This is true of so many important anthologies, though. So Long Been Dreaming by Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan came out with Arsenal Pulp, as did Joshua Whitehead’s Love After The End; New Worlds, Old Ways by Karen Lord came out with Peepal imprint Peekash; and Latinx Rising by Matthew David Goodwin came out from Ohio State University Press imprint Mad Creek, to name just a few. What are one or two books—whether anthologies, novels, or something else—which people may not have heard of, which you feel really deserve more attention? And why?

I was so thrilled to be included in So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy. It remains one of my favorite anthologies and I highly recommend it to read for pleasure and to add to your teaching syllabus. The story I published there was reprinted in The Big Book of Modern Fantasy, 1945—2010 edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and both of these volumes are on my ‘happy shelf.’ Small, indie presses are miracle makers, often working that publishing mojo with only a fraction of the staff and resources of the big houses. We were blessed to find a dynamic home at musician Jack White’s Third Man Books, working with the wonderful editor-in-chief, Chet Weise, who is a great poet and musician who totally saw our vision and welcomed us. They have a great team, innovative with a good, energetic vibe, doing exciting things across genres. While Trouble the Waters is the press’s first speculative fiction anthology, they have published speculative fiction from Betsy Philips, Kiini Ibura Salaam, Dan Hoy, and myself.

Throughout my career I have grown and have been nurtured in a few creative, intergenerational spaces, where I’ve worked closely with fiction writers and playwrights, poets, and speculative fiction writers. Sometimes those communities overlap. Because I have always read in other circles, I did not join the genre community with a sense that I should only be reading the publications that those who are hooked in science fiction and fantasy or horror know like the back of their hands. If I had relied only on genre publications to identify potential writers for my two Dark Matter anthologies, I would not have found some of the wonderful writers I was fortunate enough to publish at that time. I certainly would not have thought to include the works of W.E.B. Du Bois because genre didn’t even think they existed! I think it’s important to read widely, boldly, and consciously inclusively as some very interesting speculative fiction is being published, perhaps more regularly than the past three decades, in other literary journals and publications. But continued strength to those whose editorial work requires them to not only keep abreast of the astonishing volume of genre works that are published each year, but to also keep their fingers on the pulse of the neaux new. You’ve got to get in where you fit in so you can flex something exciting in that TOC every now and then!

What else are you working on? What do you have coming up that readers should know about?

2022 has been an exciting year for new projects for me. I am a contributor to Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda, edited by Jesse J. Holland, that comes out as a trade paperback soon, so get that copy if you didn’t get it as a hardcover, and I am thrilled to be one of five collaborators with Janelle Monáe on The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer, including the story, “Timebox Altar(ed)” which I can’t wait for you to read. I am the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, so look for that at your favorite bookstore or subscribe (print or digital), and I am the associate editor of Obsidian, which received another NEA grant for a special HBCU volume called Heirloom that I guest edited with Danian Darrell Jerry & Danielle L. Littlefield. I also co-edited Africa Risen: A New Era of Speculative Fiction with Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki & Zelda Knight, forthcoming November 8, 2022, from Tordotcom Publishing, and we cannot wait for you to read these great stories from Africa and her diaspora. I do have some other exciting news that is to be announced, so I am just going to hold my peace and try not to burst with joy! Thank you!

• • • •


Pan Morigan is a Canadian/American author of surrealist fiction and a singer/composer. Recent work “Severed Fruit” was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her anti-real play, with original music, I Sing Earth debuted at Hallie Flanagan Theater, Smith College. She edited Trouble the Waters, Tales From the Deep Blue for Third Man Books, with co-editors, Sheree Renée Thomas and Troy Wiggins, and In Jerusalem and Other Poems by Tamim Al-Barghouti for Interlink Books and. As a musician, she has toured globally as a vocalist/songwriter with novelist Andrea Hairston, composer, cellist Adele O’Dwyer, and vocalist Bobby McFerrin, among others. In collaboration with Andrea Hairston, (and as music director of Chrysalis Theater,) she created/performed music and poetry/lyrics for over 30 original plays. She has also worked as a composer/musician with directors, Wang Dao, and Helen Suh, among others. Pan wrote and produced Wild Blue, a recording of original songs. (Hear at panmorigan.com) She’s a recipient of a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in music composition, a New England Foundation for the Arts Meet the Composer Grant, three composer residencies at Blue Mountain Center, and grants with Chrysalis Theater from the Ford Foundation and the NEA to produce/create Chrysalis Theater’s inter-cultural, multi-disciplinary theater works.


How did you become readers of genre fiction? What were some of the first genre books or stories that were important to you, and why? And—should people read those stories today, or do they no longer hold up?

Thanks for inviting us to speak about Trouble the Waters: Tales From the Deep Blue.

I got acquainted with the genre field reading the following authors: Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Jewelle Gomez, and Nalo Hopkinson, as well as by reading folk tales and oral histories from around the world. I list such tales in a question about genre, not because I think those traditional stories are sci-fi or fantasy, but because they belong in my own worldview-spectrum of speculative lit, which is a broad sea. Meanwhile, I also educated myself by reading works from members of my writing group. (More on their books later in the interview . . .) And yes, absolutely all the authors’ works listed above are as current and vital now as they ever were!

Not to be a contrarian, but I worry that this “genre” categorization has been used as a classist, colonialist, genderist gatekeeping dynamic that positions certain work at the top of a literary ladder, with other work relegated to lesser rungs, thus taken less seriously, reviewed less, archived less, etc.. This is still true, if less true than before. I want new words for our creations that operate less like fences and more like skies.

Miles Davis said, “I’ll play it first, then I’ll tell you what it is.” I agree.

Early on, I also experienced many other history-dissecting, future-seeing artists, though I had no labels for them. Some may say they don’t belong in a list of genre works either . . . And that is another conversation . . . I love the word Speculative and prefer it. I’ll call some names. Many are still with us. Some have passed. All are amazing, yet today.

Fiction: Zora Neale Hurston, Leslie Marmon Silko, Buchi Emecheta, Gloria Naylor, N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor, Jim Welch. Poets: Lucille Clifton, June Jordon, Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez, Adrienne Rich. Playwrights: Adrienne Kennedy, Hanay Geiogamah, Thomson Highway, Carol Churchill, Lorraine Hansberry (check out Les Blancs), Anna Deavere Smith (her entire process is speculative, transformative), and Alice Childress, who’s now on Broadway, decades after her death. Read Mad at Miles and Flying West by Pearl Cleage. See the movies Daughters of the Dust by Julie Dash, and Older than America by Georgina Lightening. Look at some visual art: Remedios Varo, Faith Ringgold, Betye and Alison Saar, Adrian Piper, Romare Bearden, Jaune Quick-To-See, Mary Frank and Nancy Spero. Listen to Memphis Minnie (born Lizzie Douglas), the funk queen Betty Davis, Sun Ra, Alice and John Coltrane, and the stupendous songwriter/singer, Buffy St Marie, still performing at 81.

How did Trouble the Waters come about, how did it develop, and what were the biggest challenges to making this anthology happen?

Sheree had the idea to do a book of water-themed stories. She was originally going to edit it with Ama Patterson. Sadly, Ama passed away, and Sheree asked me and Troy to accompany her on the journey. The challenge Sheree set at the top, her vision, was to do an open call. The idea was to find not only excellent authors who’d been publishing a while, but also new and newish authors entering the book universe. Thus, we read hundreds of stories. We did run into some publishing ins and outs along the way, which means it took a long time to get the book into the world. In the interim, a number of the (formerly newish) authors we’d chosen had gone on to much success. So the book had an inevitable feel by the time it was manifested.

How did collaboration work for you, both in terms of who did what, and in terms of whether or not it all went smoothly, or if adjustments had to be made along the way?

Everybody read the gazillion stories, and then we had conversations like, these are the stories I’ll fight you for. We each championed stories we loved. It wasn’t difficult to agree. The process worked. Sheree and I went over the story order multiple times, trying to find a flow. That was interesting, like directing music. One regret is that we couldn’t accept more works!

While this book mostly features original pieces, there are a few reprints. What was the thinking behind this, as opposed to publishing entirely original pieces? Or was it more about showcasing specific works, regardless of them having been published before? In other words, why these particular pieces for this particular book?

We chose works that we felt resonated with our spirits, with our vision for the book, and with the times. We wanted a variety of approaches, voices, and moods. We wanted vivid characters, gorgeous language, generous perspectives, and surprising insights. Above all, we wanted as many takes on the subject of water as possible: fabulous, surreal, metaphorical, satirical, and so on. I believe we got all that and more!

Many of the stories in Trouble the Waters are by authors who aren’t necessarily “genre authors.” Are there advantages to this? Are there disadvantages?

We were looking for the best stories we could find in the vast pile of what was sent to us. Manifesting this book took a ton of time, and the book turned out beautifully diverse, all categories aside. We readers/writers are responsible for our field, aren’t we, in these days of racist book banning—to make sure a diversity of voices is vaunted, reviewed, taught, provided to libraries, not erased. Because, in our time, legislators and voters in Florida and other states make laws to deny Black, Indigenous, and trans/gay parents the choice to have real history taught to their kids and to have books that reflect their kids’ realities. (Jewish folks, also, and I’m sure we don’t know the half of it.) Those book-burners are not making laws stating that Black children must be happy and comfortable living and reading in America, or that Black parents or the parents of gay/trans kids, Indigenous kids, or Jewish kids have the right to suggest or decide what we read in public settings. The question I have is, what will we do? I hope we rise to the occasion as an industry, as artists and readers, to make and support the books we believe in, to support writers, libraries, publishers, and teachers who disseminate complete, honest histories. The recent (slow) diversification of publishing can’t be a flash-in-the-pan “moment.” Let’s make it the new normal, forever. Literature and democracy are twins. Vote . . .

Are there one or two stories here that you feel are more daring in some ways, or that will challenge readers more?

Each story poses challenges depending on its nature, from sharp looks at history, to the invention of entirely alternative histories, to the wonder of writers speaking directly from their deepest roots, to the other wonder of writers taking a risk to reflect on voices “not their own,” to writers engaging with Indigenous sciences and Afrofuturism. Certain authors leave us with mysteries, while others offer sharp critiques of our water-killing ways. I leave it to the readers to decide which pieces resonate with them, and which offer them doses of awe or a bit of delectable confusion. There are stories for many kinds of readers here, and many ways to be challenged by these daring tales. Personally, I like my thinking-habits and biases jangled when I read. I want to leave a book changed. This book will do that for ya, if you give it time.

I am guessing that each of you has your top stories—although it’s a fantastic assortment of tales, and I’m sure you all love the book in its entirety (I know I did!). That said . . . ! If someone were going to read one story, for each of you, which story would you tell them to read, and why?

Each of these stories contains unique aspects, fantastical, surprising, innovative, insightful, beautiful. Each voice is precious to me, and in a sense the stories are not really comparable. They inhabit their own worlds. Editing these authors was an honor. Reading the whole collection is entirely doable. I highly recommend it!

Besides the overarching theme of “Water,” which in itself shifts in its application from story to story, do you see other important themes running through many of the pieces in this book?

Music is a strong theme, the middle passage, love and death, the notion of blood as water and vice versa, the mutability of water and water creatures (including ourselves in that designation). Yes, the many-faced, changeable mystery of water appears again and again in many guises—altering the characters in these stories—and us as witnesses. Water and the natural world, in general, are often treated as sentient in these tales. There are stories here that come from deep rural or urban cultures or from other universes entirely. I think we covered hundreds of years of human/water history here, from historical tales to stories set in distant futures. Quite a journey, worthy of water!

Trouble the Waters also features poetry, which can be so subjective, in terms of the way we engage with a poem, or what we get out of a poem. Which poems, for each of you, really stand out in the way it speaks to you, and why?

I can say what I love in general about all the poems: the imaginative, passionate, poignant imagery and vision, the plain talking and the topical feel of them—like great, classic odes that lead you through a series of reflective, insightful meditations on our times, our histories, and beyond, into the ineffable.

What did you get or learn or find, if anything, from the process of putting this anthology together, which you will bring to other projects?

Publishing can be a long winding road. Lace up your walkin’ shoes and keep on walking.

Is there anything else you’d really like readers to know about Trouble the Waters?

The book was made with a certain value system I’d like to see replicated often, if possible for folks. What I mean is, we could perhaps use more openness to the unknown in publishing. We could be doing more open calls, inviting new voices in the door. (I know many are doing this, but I’m excited for further possibilities!) And I do know this takes much work—which means it takes much love—the money part is a whole ’nother story! But love will help us beautifully transform the world of books, and the world. (I mean a deeply critical love that demands justice.) We’re all made of the same water!

This book says: As publishers, as audiences, we can be available to the unfamous, the new, the marginalized, or unsung voice. We can go digging and challenge ourselves to try new stuff! We know there’s injustice in who gets heard, who is afforded credibility or taken seriously, admired, reviewed, or paid. We shouldn’t take it as a given, or even as a likely, that we’ll be properly informed by social media or the press of what is good, valuable, innovative, or important in the arts. We can become ever-curious, highly independent, cultural sleuths!

This book came out with a publisher that many people, especially in genre, have probably never heard of. This is true of so many important anthologies, though. So Long Been Dreaming by Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan came out with Arsenal Pulp, as did Joshua Whitehead’s Love After The End; New Worlds, Old Ways by Karen Lord came out with Peepal imprint Peekash; and Latinx Rising by Matthew David Goodwin came out from Ohio State University Press imprint Mad Creek, to name just a few. What are one or two books—whether anthologies, novels, or something else—which people may not have heard of, which you feel really deserve more attention? And why?

I’m shamelessly biased. I think more people should get a copy of Nine Bar Blues by my co-editor, Sheree Renée Thomas. Her short story work is some of the most luminous, unique, and powerful out there. She’s also got two poetry/short story collections with the wonderful Aqueduct Press. They are Shotgun Lullabies and Sleeping Under the Tree of Life. Please also read Andrea Hairston’s masterpiece, Redwood and Wildfire. This gorgeous, innovative Afrofuturist + Hoodoo-tale + history, was just re-released by Tordotcom. Read all Hairston’s books, for that matter, starting with Master of Poisons, and on through the five books that Tordotcom will be releasing/re-releasing in the next few years. This author is innovative and mind-blowing. Check out Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by editor/scholar Grace Dillon. Also, Two-Spirit Acts: Queer Indigenous Performances, edited by Jean O’Hara. Mojo: Conjure Stories edited by Nalo Hopkinson is a book to check out.

What else are you working on? What do you have coming up that readers should know about?

I just finished a poetry collection, which I’ve sent out in hope. I’m chasing down the finish-line on a four-interlocking-novel project. (Spec fiction/multiple eras.) I can’t tell you where to get them, or when, yet. I keep writing songs and singing and working for the restoration/expansion of voting rights/civil rights.

• • • •


Troy L. Wiggins is an award-winning writer and editor from Memphis, Tennessee. His short fiction has appeared in the Griots: Sisters of the Spear, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History, and Memphis Noir anthologies, and in Expanded Horizons, Fireside, Uncanny and Beneath Ceaseless Skies Magazines. His essays and criticism have appeared in the Memphis Flyer, Literary Orphans Magazine, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, PEN America, and on Tor.com. Troy is Former Co-Editor of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award winning  FIYAH Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction. He was inducted into the Dal Coger Memorial Hall of Fame for his contributions to Speculative Fiction in Memphis in 2018. Troy infrequently blogs about writing, nerd culture, and race at afrofantasy.wordpress.com. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee  with his wife and entirely too many books. Follow him on Twitter at @TroyLWiggins.


How did you become readers of genre fiction? What were some of the first genre books or stories that were important to you, and why? And—should people read those stories today, or do they no longer hold up?

Shoutout to the librarian at the Hollywood branch library in Memphis who first handed me a copy of Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring. I grew up with a literary diet of my mom’s/cousin’s/aunt’s Popular African American Romance novels, and I loved all the other standard-fare fantasy books that were pushed in my direction, but Brown Girl had what my other stories didn’t: culture and characters that I could name as familiar in a world that was anything but.

Sadly, this was in the mid-1990’s and manga started hitting U.S. libraries in force around that time, so I didn’t come back to genre literature for about ten years. But when I came back, I remembered Brown Girl in the Ring. My research on “Hey, hold up? Is there more of this?” led me to Dark Matter, which led me to the glory that is black speculative fiction.

I did love other books and other stories. The Redwall series of books holds a special place in my heart. For a moment I did love Piers Anthony and Anne McCaffrey and Robert Jordan and David Eddings and Drizzt Do’Urden. But those aren’t the things that brought me fully into the genre. Conan is no Imaro.

How did Trouble the Waters come about, how did it develop, and what were the biggest challenges to making this anthology happen?

It’s really a dream to think that the book is on shelves. I remember sitting on the phone in my living room one day with Sheree while she told me about some things she’d dreamed of working on. Trouble the Waters was one of them.

There were definitely challenges—long nights reading and replying to submissions being just one of them—but I’m just so hype to see the book on shelves and in people’s hands that none of those tough times are staying in my memory for long.

How did collaboration work for you, both in terms of who did what, and in terms of whether or not it all went smoothly, or if adjustments had to be made along the way?

I’m not going to lie, we leaned heavily on Sheree’s editorial prowess. Editing is a difficult job, especially with anthologies. Even for just one person’s vision, a lot of labor is required, and an editor must have a good sense of what will and won’t work for a volume. Then they have to have a good grasp of project and process management to actually execute the idea and adjust to the changes that will inevitably crop up. Sheree came with all of that knowledge and all of the work she did in the community to build excitement and goodwill around Trouble the Waters, and that energy carried us a lot of the way.

Many of the stories in Trouble the Waters are by authors who aren’t necessarily “genre authors.” Are there advantages to this? Are there disadvantages?

Some of the most innovative “genre” work comes from writers who don’t necessarily work in the genre space, especially when you think about authors writing across diverse cultures. So often, what we consider a genre story is classified as something else entirely in a different culture. For me, when I was reviewing stories, I was reviewing how the author approached our theme through their unique lens, and how they included that necessary element of the speculative.

The advantage to including authors who write from a diverse array of perspectives is that you get a diverse collection of stories! I think this is reflected well in the table of contents we were able to build for Trouble the Waters.

Are there one or two stories here that you feel are more daring in some ways, or that will challenge readers more?

These are all very compelling stories. All of them have unique perspectives on theme, unique cultural inspiration, and deeply interesting takes on the necessity of the spaces we find ourselves in with relation to water.

We were able to do something really cool in this volume by making two of the stories be in conversation with each other. They present something like a shared universe or two windows into two separate universes. I actually won’t share the titles of those stories, but they are written by two of my favorite authors, and I really hope that readers discover them and enjoy the surprise.

I am guessing that each of you has your top stories—although it’s a fantastic assortment of tales, and I’m sure you all love the book in its entirety (I know I did!). That said . . . ! If someone were going to read one story, for each of you, which story would you tell them to read, and why?

Aside from the two stories I mentioned above, I’d definitely recommend readers latch onto Jasmine Wade’s “All of Us Are She” and adrienne maree brown’s “Call the Water.” Both stories situate black and indigenous women as the catalyzing forces for change in their worlds, and both use the theme of water to spectacular effect. That said, of course, enjoy the whole volume and share your favorites with us!

Besides the overarching theme of “Water,” which in itself shifts in its application from story to story, do you see other important themes running through many of the pieces in this book?

So many of the stories also touch on the themes of community, of familial and romantic love, and the ways that we are all connected by water, by the rivers of living energy that stretch between us, and also on the inevitable onset of change. All of the editors reference the fact that water is indeed life, and that the mistreatment of water—or water beings—also leads to deep, frightening changes for all involved.

I also loved the deep, dank mood that so many of the stories struck. Many of the authors played well with the idea of water as something impermeable and more massive than our understanding, and these were some of the stories that I enjoyed most. Nalo Hopkinson’s “Whimper” and Lyndsay Gilbert’s “The Half-Drowned Castle” are some of my favorites with this vibe.

Trouble the Waters also features poetry, which can be so subjective, in terms of the way we engage with a poem, or what we get out of a poem. Which poems, for each of you, really stand out in the way it speaks to you, and why?

Of course, my favorite is Linda Addison’s “Mami Wata, Goddess of Clear Blue,” which serves as sort of an invocation for Trouble the Waters. It speaks specifically to the element of longsuffering love and terrifying depths of the things on our planet that are ancient and terrifying, specifically in that cosmic way where they require us to be limited in our understanding of them and exalt them anyhow. The best poetry, for me, captures the in-between of things, and Linda Addison is one of the best in our field this.

What did you get or learn or find, if anything, from the process of putting this anthology together, which you will bring to other projects?

This anthology taught me a lot about the intentionality it takes to get a project like this off the ground and the perseverance it takes to see a project like this through! Editing an anthology is no easy feat—shoutout to my fellow editors Sheree and Pan for really persisting and, at times, helping me to persist when I started to flag or fall behind. We received a lot of submissions for this, and it was beautiful to see just how many people were inspired to send us work. That also helped us all push through and keep this project going, even when we ran into hiccups and roadblocks.

I also learned a lot from Sheree about how to curate a volume of fiction and poetry. The editor’s job is literally to curate a volume of work, but there’s a real art to arranging twenty-five or thirty stories in a way that flows well, gives ebb and flow of tone and style, and still manages to carry a reader through a book in a meaningful and intentional way. I think the calculus we did to align the stories in Trouble the Waters shows that intentionality.

Is there anything else you’d really like readers to know about Trouble the Waters?

I really hope that everyone enjoys the volume! It represents a wealth of love, labor, and effort not just from the editors and publisher, but from all of the authors, the contributors who are both still with us and not, and the people who were riding with the anthology through all of the ups and downs.

This book came out with a publisher that many people, especially in genre, have probably never heard of. This is true of so many important anthologies, though. So Long Been Dreaming by Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan came out with Arsenal Pulp, as did Joshua Whitehead’s Love After The End; New Worlds, Old Ways by Karen Lord came out with Peepal imprint Peekash; and Latinx Rising by Matthew David Goodwin came out from Ohio State University Press imprint Mad Creek, to name just a few. What are one or two books—whether anthologies, novels, or something else—which people may not have heard of, which you feel really deserve more attention? And why?

Small presses, ’zines, and author collectives are where the radical work happens, in my experience, so I’ll highlight a couple of presses and publishers here. I’m a fan of Neon Hemlock, and they are doing some phenomenal work with their novella releases. Similarly, I think that everyone should check out Milton Davis and the work he’s doing with his publishing imprint MV Media.

What else are you working on? What do you have coming up that readers should know about?

I think that a lot of people know about the other publication that I’m involved with—it literally rhymes with FIYAH. Aside from that, I have a few other projects on the horizon. I’ve been able to participate in some exciting research projects on imagination, creativity, and the future. I’m also contributing to Afrofuturism-inspired community projects in my hometown that I’m very excited about. I’m also writing three novels at the same time—we’ll see how that pans out at the end of the year.

Arley Sorg

Arley Sorg is a 2021 World Fantasy Award Finalist and a 2022 Locus Award Finalist for his work as co-Editor-in-Chief at Fantasy Magazine. He is also a 2022 recipient of SFWA’s Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award, and a finalist for two 2022 Ignyte Awards: for his work as a critic as well as for his creative nonfiction. Arley is senior editor at Locus Magazine, associate editor at both Lightspeed & Nightmare, and a columnist for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He takes on multiple roles, including slush reader, movie reviewer, and book reviewer, and conducts interviews for multiple venues, including Clarkesworld Magazine and his own site: arleysorg.com. He has taught classes and run workshops for Clarion West, Augur Magazine, and more, is scheduled to be a guest at both Cascade Writers and the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and has been a guest speaker at a range of events. Arley grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado, and studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in the SF Bay Area and writes in local coffee shops when he can. Find him on Twitter @arleysorg. Arley is a 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate.