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Women in SF&F Month opens today with a guest post by Ehigbor Okosun, whose upcoming debut novel I’m very excited about! Forged by Blood, the first part of a fantasy duology inspired by Nigerian mythology, is described as “full of magic and emotion and set in a highly atmospheric, complex world in which a young woman fights to survive a tyrannical society, having everything stripped away from her, and seeks vengeance for her mother’s murder and the spilled blood of her people.” It’s coming out on August 8, but while waiting for it, you can read the essay below, “Myth and Magic, Seen and Unseen.”

Cover of Forged By Blood by Ehigbor Okosun

Myth and Magic, Seen and Unseen

Myth is shape-shifting eternity wrapped in godhood and shadow.

The first time I share a story with a friend, I am six or seven. She listens enraptured, pausing me now and then to ask questions or interject: Why doesn’t the tortoise fear getting hurt? Mami wata can only catch you if you jump into water alone. Should we pretend to sleep, and when our parents are abed, wander into the twilight in search of vengeful deer spirits?

We never did bring our offering of sticky buns and cold bean porridge to the moss-covered grove near the flat we’d all piled into for the weekend. We woke instead to promises of milk-smothered custard and packed our planned adventures away for another time. I did, however, spend the next two decades thinking of the last question she left me: “I love these stories. But they’re like us, aren’t they? They aren’t real.”

“What do you mean?” I ask, heart in my throat, belly so full of fear that she knows something I don’t.

“I like these stories. But I never see them in our books. Not even the magic ones.”

I sigh, deflated. “Not everything has to be in a book to be real. And we’re real, you silly. If I poked you in the eye, wouldn’t you feel that?”

She shrugs. “Mum says no home stuff at school. No stories. No talking back even if the teacher says something wrong about me. English only.” She pauses, furrowing her brow in concentration. “Invisibility is the best protection,” she finishes, nodding. “Home stories are only real at home. If we bring them outside, people will smash them.”

“How will they do that?” I ask, defiant, remembering too, echoes of the same advice from my mum. Face your schoolwork. Stand out in test scores—nothing else.

“I don’t want the headmistress calling my parents. So I pretend I’m someone else,” she says. “I tried telling my classmate one of our stories, and she laughed at me. It hurt. So I keep the magic to myself.”

I don’t say anything after that, and with how quickly and slowly the world seems to move at that age, the moment fades. We go on to screaming and chasing each other until stern looks force us to bed. But I lie on the top bunk that night, heart thudding in my chest as the moon cuts through a twilit sky. I hold my hand out against her light, turning it this way and that, flexing. I think of how easy it would be to bundle the food containers stashed underneath the bed and creep out through the back door. Instead, I curl into a ball, whisper for the thousandth time that I am real, and the magic of the stories in my heart must be too.


When I finally get to writing what will become FORGED BY BLOOD, I am plagued with hope and fear. I draft in a few months. But writing seminars preach against that. I’m to put the draft away, let it sit for a year, or five, like some famous author once did. I can’t. My characters accompany me at every waking moment, arguing I don’t spend enough time with them because I’m working other jobs. I argue back that I gave up medical school, courted shame and dishonor, for them. They don’t care. They want to live. They breathe, beg, demand.

I attend my first writing course, a week affair. There’s one face like mine in twenty-five. Someone asks about my writing process while sneering at my age, wondering…
Whether I know anything about life;
If I’m fully Black;
And know the stats of BIPOC* writers;  (*Spoiler, they say something much ruder.)
Why I talk the way I do–Or if;
I’m Hopeful I’ll get lucky like that girl who writes about Orisha and is all over the news.

I read a sample of my work. The class falls silent. We don’t know how to critique this, they say.
But then—
“The protagonist is too—”
“Define what shuku is? I got the gist from the description, but—”
“Too mature. Adult.”
“Young adult. It’s fast-paced.”
“The language, it’s—”
“—confusing. Did the girl become a bird?”
“Isn’t this basically Akata Witch?”
A booming voice drowns all others, “I enjoyed it. I think we all enjoyed it.” Nods and hums around. “We don’t—at least I don’t know why. But I liked it. A lot.”
Then, “Is this inspired by your life?”

“Why do you write?” the instructor asks. I want to tell her it’s the wrong question. That I don’t so much write as tell stories, just like my father, and my grandfather. Like the great-grandmother who held onto scraps of who she was as her own people cast her into the sea, determined to reshape her into something less wild, unruly. I want to be clever. To prove I deserve to be here.

The instructor snaps on without waiting a beat. “We write to satisfy the ego,” she says. Everyone nods, assured, a few casting embarrassed glances like they’re confessing sins. Ego? I’m lost. Hot shame stinging my throat. If this was really about pride, some guttural urge to prove myself, I would’ve stuck to medical school and ochem maps. What would give my immigrant parents more bragging rights than a physician daughter who is also a writer? But the instructor abruptly shifts to the next question—what makes Harry Potter so beloved?


Ego. I mull the word again years later as I work on my edits near midnight. FORGED BY BLOOD is sold and has a publication date. I’ve sent some chapters over to my old friend. I’m struggling to keep awake when she calls me.

“I love it. I love that we get to see Dèmi vulnerable. Doesn’t stop her from doing things that will get her killed. But I get it. She can’t stop running. If she does, she might discover she doesn’t have the energy to keep going. I see her. I see all of us.”

“You see her? Us?” I parrot dumbfounded.

“Yes. This is the shit—oop—never mind I can say shit now—the shit we weren’t allowed to do. To be visible. Dèmi’s raised the same way. I mean, I get why. If people know she exists, they’ll kill her, snuff out what makes her who she is. But she’s still trying. She’s still there. And it’s not just her—it’s Nana, Yetundé, Cree—heck, even Mari is complex. Ugh. I shouldn’t mention Mari. You know I have a thing for bad girls though.”

I laugh, awestruck.

“Don’t get a big head now,” she clucks.


Ego. I hold the word. Caress it. Perhaps that’s the only English word that will satisfy. But I see more in it than pride. Ego is the desire to craft, create. The power of naming and delineating. The magic of making, of declaring existence.

It is breaking the unspoken mold set out for Black female protagonists. That they be fearless and badass and power through their circumstances without losing hope. That they be imperceptible beams that hold up the house itself, without whom the pillar would rot. It is screaming your existence, deciding to be seen—perceiving yourself. It is acknowledging that connection begins when we lock eyes with another, feel a welcome squeeze on the shoulder, have laughs that crescendo together, moments that say all we need to say.

So make your myths. Craft your stories. Hold your languages rich and worthy. Demand to breathe. Rest in the overwhelming bliss of knowing that you deserve to be. And always, turn out and look. You never know who might need your gaze, your words, your truth. It might be the person you never suspected, and sometimes, on wonderful days, it just might be you.


And for those who sit here, eaten up by disbelief, wondering; if the childhood story was real; if children could speak or think like that—ask yourself, what myths are you creating? Who do they serve? And why?

Photo of Ehigbor Okosun Ehigbor Okosun, or just Ehi, is an Austin-based author who writes speculative fiction, mystery thrillers, and contemporary novels for adult and YA audiences. Raised across four continents, she hopes to do justice to the myths and traditions she grew up steeped in, and honor her large, multiracial and multiethnic family. She is a graduate of the University of Texas with degrees in Plan II Honors, Neurolinguistics, and English, as well as Chemistry and Pre-Medical studies and is a Cynthia Leitich Smith Mentorship Award finalist. When she’s not reading, you can catch her bullet journalling, gaming, baking, and spending time with her loved ones. FORGED BY BLOOD, out on 8.8.23, is her debut novel.