J. Oliver Madison spent his recesses playing “Men in Black” with his best friend at Kyrene de la Colina Elementary School in Ahwatukee. He and his partner fired deadly fingers at each alien on the playground, identifiable by their curly shoelaces.
Madison’s active imagination hasn’t diminished at all since then, but now he exercises it in a more productive way. Earlier this month, he released the sequel to his first published book and the next installation in his Karma Chronicles trilogy, “Sapphire Moon.” The story follows Carmella Anderson, a high school student trying to live a normal life while concealing her identity as Karma, a ninja in training responsible for defending her city.
“She’s got a lot of bark to her, but she’s also got a lot of bite,” said Madison. “She doesn’t wait around to get saved. She does the saving.”
Writing through the first person perspective of Karma was challenging, but ultimately the character clicked for him.
“Karma is an extension of myself,” said Madison. “She’s not afraid to be weird. She’s not afraid to kick butt.”
She’s also not big on labels. One of the major themes of the story deals with defying stereotypes and a variety of levels. Though she’s a loyal friend, Karma is relentlessly individualistic, questioning the confines prescribed by her social circles. Though subtle, she breaks racial stereotypes, too.
Growing up, Madison noticed that representation of racially diverse people in the media he and his friends enjoyed was minimal, and portrayals of minority characters that did exist were token and often adhered to some kind of racial stereotype. When a minority was lucky enough to be the main character of a story, he found it was regarded as only relevant to that minority. Madison wanted to remedy this problem.
“It was a big deal for me growing up,” said Madison, who was often the only black kid in a group of mostly white friends growing up. “I was kind of like the token,” he said. His friends occasionally made racial jokes and he was sometimes told that he “didn’t act black.” He felt like he was expected to behave in a way that didn’t line up with his true self.
Madison wishes now that he’d had someone to tell him not to worry about labels, stereotypes and expectations and just be himself. That’s what he’s trying to show his readers with Karma, “a great character who just happens to be black.”
The story is fast-paced and action-packed. Karma navigates new romances, maintains friendships, deflects the vengeance of rival ninjas and investigates a nefarious secret society.
“I wanted to make reading fun and more comic-like in a way,” said Madison, who has been a longtime fan of cartoons, comic books, and young adult literature. He hopes the style will appeal to reluctant readers. In keeping with the comic book culture, he encourages his fans to submit fan art and cosplay, proudly displaying entries on his website.
Madison will tie up his trilogy with “Crimson Blade,” which he hopes to publish early next year. After that, he plans to get started on his next trilogy, Black Jack.
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