Dark Dreams: A Collection of Horror and Suspense by Black Writers edited by Brandon Massey seemed to come and go within the tight knit community of the horror market. Well, I should say, the small press horror market. It’s rarely, if ever, discussed when the topic of great anthologies of the year are discussed. None of the stories receive much attention. When people at the Shocklines message board, for example, ask what is an anthology with some fellow Shockliner’s in it, this anthology is not brought up. Almost makes one wonder.
A long time ago, I once posed the issue to the genre whether or not we, as black writers, would be better off trying to break into the largely ignored black (audience) market rather than concentrate on being well known in the horror community. Maybe the debate isn’t limited to whether or not black writers, as opposed to all of us horror writers, should pigeon-hole ourselves into the relatively small horror buying market that barely seems to keep the small presses afloat. After all, isn’t the point to reach as large an audience as possible? What is a black thing is the issue may be more important for us since we as black writers, we as a black audience, and our stories are largely ignored in the genre.
I hear editors call out for culturally diverse writers and voices. They may say that they want an ethnic voice, but not necessarily an urban one. Maybe it is simply a matter of marketing to your audience. I do know one black writer who refuses to write black characters because this person is afraid of alienating her potential market. I think that this mindset springs from the fact (illusion) that the horror market is essentially a community, a community that ends up marketing mostly to each other (which is debatable).
So as my friend and I continue to think through our best career paths, we were wondering at what point we would have made enough of a name for ourselves in the horror market/community to make that leap into other markets. Adding black book conventions to our convention schedule rather than doing exclusively horror conventions, thus aiming to grow the horror market by going to an untapped market. For one thing, the romance market had written off the black reading public until someone waited to exhale for that very market and made oodles of money. Now I can’t throw a rock in my local bookstore without hitting a display of the latest black romance books.
For another thing, that would hopefully, though doubtfully, silence those who criticize the “black writers only” anthologies. With all the different theme anthologies, I can’t believe that idea would get criticized as exclusionist, unnecessary, silly, or even insulting. (Well, yeah I can: affirmative action. You say those two words and I get to hear all the “my white dad got passed over for a promotion by a less qualified” minority du jour. Same criticisms, different context). My heart wants to believe that we are to the point where people judge works based on the work itself. Yet my gut tells me that it boils down to fear of someone else cutting into an already shrinking pie, rather than being seen as someone trying to bake a bigger one. The quiet insinuation is that the final product must be inferior or else these writers would have gotten their stories into other markets.
Back to Dark Dreams.
The first story in the anthology features a story by black romance writer, Zane. Brandon convinced her to write a horror story. Why? To grow the pie. Take Zane, someone outside the genre, take her huge following and ease them into reading horror. Those same readers then get exposed to Tananarive Due, Linda Addison, Brandon Massey, and Chesya Burke. At the Baltimore Horrorfind 2004, I went to a Dark Dreams book signing at Zane’s book store. I watched as the contributing writers wore their hands out autographing several hundred copies of the book.
Dark Dream is due to be a series of books. Heck yeah, for matters of full disclosure, I’d like to get in one in the future (though, allow me to assure you that they probably aren’t reading my blog). In the mean time, I am making notes on the best way to carve out a career. And how best to grow a my own market.
The way all (horror) writers should.