Continuing our previous conversation, we live in a world, and an industry, of labels. We are resigned to be categorized apparently because people won’t know how to find anything unless it is clearly defined. The recent iteration of this issue seems to be whether or not black writers should be automatically relegated to the black interest section of a bookstore, niche marketed to black people. As opposed to being marketed as a “mainstream” writer. That being said, how do you define yourself?

Linda: Before the publication of Sheree Thomas’ Dark Matter collection, Warner Books (Warner Books) July/2000 there was no such arena as ‘black horror writers’ to play in. I had been writing and publishing in the science-fiction and horror field since 1995 but it wasn’t until the call for fiction for Dark Matter came out that it mattered that I was Black. I also hadn’t gone to many conventions up to then so many others in the genre field didn’t know I was Black either. It was a delightful moment to be accepted in Dark Matter and the beginning of when being a Black writer in horror meant something special.

There was an evening a few years ago where I met Tananarive Due at the Bram Stoker awards here in NY. Her book was nominated and it was great to look across the room and see another brown face. We had a wonderful conversation. As to how I define myself, inside I see myself as a poet first since poetry is always running through me, then I’ll take the label black horror writer/horror writer/genre writer, etc.

L.R.: No, I do not define myself as a black horror writer, just a writer who happens to be black who sometimes writes horror . . .guess that’s too long to put on a book spine, though. It seems like this has been a sensitive topic in the past so I want to be careful saying this, but, I feel like the term horror is used as a blanket label for work they may contain elements of several genres. I haven’t been able to nail down what makes something a work of horror as opposed to a work of fantasy, science-fiction or suspense. I’ve seen the debates on message boards about how you ‘define’ these genres, but, truth be told, I’m not paying attention to the definitions anymore. I feel like the labels get in my way.

L.A.: I am an African American author, but not a “black Horror writer,” if that makes sense. I say that because, my work in The Vampire Huntress Legends series cuts across all racial lines and religions… my characters are from every walk of life. Therefore, the stories are not just horror events that happen to “black people,” but to anyone.

Brandon: I define myself as a writer, period. I’ve written stories that would not be classified as horror, and I’ve even written non-fiction from time to time, so it makes more sense to classify myself as broadly as possible. Besides, other people seem to be willing enough to try to put me in a box of one kind or another, so why should I make it easy for them? I hate being limited by labels–especially those that are race-related.

Lawanna: I define myself as a writer who just happens to be Black, lol. Being Black shapes my viewpoint and my characters are usually Black, but that should not exclude me from being able to write about characters who aren’t. I do not regard horror as my primary genre though–more like “supernatural suspense.”

Wrath: Well, I am quite obviously Black and I am a horror writer but that is not the limit of what I am. If I were a non-fiction writer writing only about my own experiences than I would definitely consider myself a Black Writer. But since I write fiction and it is necessary for me to put myself into the minds and perspectives of different characters I would be extremely limited if I could not relate to other ethnicities. Writing fiction that does not take place exclusively in the Black community or involve exclusively African-American characters means that my perspective has to be broader. I have to be open-minded. If I wrote stories where the only well-developed characters were the Black ones and all the other characters were just two-dimensional stereotypes that would just make me a bad writer. Still, race is inescapable in our society and so I’m sure it does color my perspective more than I’d admit to. Because I tend to tackle very bizarre and extreme subject matter race rarely plays a factor in what I write however. My subject matter allows me a lot of freedom.

Let’s look at the larger issue of whether we as horror writers should limit ourselves to the horror market, marketing ourselves to the horror community?

Chesya: No. I don’t think anyone should limit themselves to the horror market. The genre is relatively small and incestuous. A writer would do herself well to market as widely as possible.

Brandon: First of all, I don’t think that most people have any notion of a “horror community.” I think what we know as the horror community–those hardcore fans who frequent horror message boards, buy small press titles, and attend horror-related cons–is relatively small. These fans are valuable for a writer to have because they are so loyal and passionate about what they like–but I think any writer would do his career a disservice if he limited himself solely to these readers. We should market ourselves to anyone who is willing to hear what we have to say. I have a lot of readers who don’t consider themselves horror fans, but they found something in my work that appealed to them, and they’ve supported me. I never would have gained these readers if I hadn’t bothered to reach outside the horror community. And guess what? Those people who read my books and enjoy them, who aren’t horror fans per se, are going to be more inclined to pick up horror novels by other authors. They’ve learned that they have to look past the labels (or the lurid covers, as the case may be) in order to discover good books.

Wrath: I am coincidentally battling this issue myself as I try to figure out what to do with my latest manuscript. I think it might be too Urban (Black) for the horror market. It is almost a Black Experience novel with some very horrific supernatural elements woven in throughout, though most of the violence is non-supernatural in nature. The dilemma is should I market it as an Urban Horror, Urban Thriller, Black Experience novel, or straight Horror novel. I’ve heard arguments from both sides from people I respect. Being pigeon-holed as a horror author could hurt my sales to African-American consumers who have not typically displayed great interest in the horror genre, while being marketed a
s a Black author could hurt my sales within the Horror genre which has not typically shown great interest in anything non-white with but a very few notable exceptions.

L.R.: It think it’s a good idea to market to the horror community if you’re a horror writer, obviously, but to limit yourself to the horror community is short-sighted, in my opinion. It’s like the kid who wants to be a businessman so he starts a lemonade stand in front of his house. How many thirsty people is he going to get by selling drink in that one spot? He can add Kool-Aid, Pepsi and ice cream to his menu, but he’s still limited by the numerous factors of focusing his attention on a small tract of land. He might have loyal customers, but he can’t go to the next level.

Wrath: I love the horror genre and the horror community. I would personally be quite content to market strictly to those who love and enjoy horror. I just think that some of the issues I’m exploring lately may not find a receptive audience in this genre and there’s also the issue of money. Reaching an audience outside this genre may translate into larger sales. It’s no secret that if you write an Urban Romance or an Urban Thriller you are almost guaranteed more sales than if you were to write a horror novel. I think that may change when more publishers start exploring Urban Horror. I’m kind of stuck though because I just have no interest in writing anything but horror or some version of it.

L.A.: Absolutely not. I sort of straddle the fence between paranormal (the soft horror), romance, fantasy, and horror. My books are scary… but there’s the supernatural, and hot relationships between the characters, and otherworldly fantastic superhero stuff as well 🙂 That broadens your appeal, thus readership, and allows one to write outside the box.

Lawanna: To me, horror is a flip side of fantasy and the scifi/fantasy market seems to be booming. Just go to any major book retailer and compare the two sections. I don’t think that Barnes & Noble even has a separate horror section anymore. My local ones don’t, and when you do find one–at Border’s, for instance–it’s like the King & Koontz show…no knock to them.

Michelle: There’s a lot of competition out there, and if someone publishes my book, I’m going to market it to anyone who might have an interest in it, whether it’s because it’s horror, because I’m black, because I’m female, because we went to the same college, because that person was an
Army brat too, whatever the connection might be. I won’t misrepresent what I write by trying to convince someone who only reads westerns that my latest story could be viewed as the horror equivalent of a gunslinging showdown, because I don’t have the foggiest idea what that’s all about, but if there’s a way to connect with a new readership outside of the traditional horror crowd, I say exploit it.

Linda: I’ve always considered my job as a writer to get as much published as possible. I write works that have been defined as horror, science-fiction, occasionally fantasy. Dark verse has been a popular label. I write and then look at all the markets to see where it will fit. Sometimes I’ll see a market call for a certain theme and write to that. Much of my writing does fit the horror market so I’m always looking at that market. The thing is that I don’t see the market as just one thing. I cruise a lot of magazines, subscribe to some. There’s dark fiction/poetry in many venues that aren’t obvious, like The New Yorker magazine. I like to keep my eyes open.

[to be continued …]

The Black Horror Writers Round-Table Discussion Guide:

Black Horror Writers I – A Little Help from My Friends
Black Horror Writers II – Defining Ourselves
Black Horror Writers III – The Black Market?
Black Horror Writers IV – What We Do
Black Horror Writers V – Black Characters
Black Horror Writers VI – The “N” Word and Other Obstacles

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