What originally got you interested in writing horror?

Linda: My mom and I used to stay up late on the weekend watching scary ‘B’ movies on television when I grew up in Philly. I loved reading fables and fantasy, then later when I went to the library; science-fiction. I always loved scary movies. My mother is a wonderful storyteller. As the oldest of nine children it felt very natural to make up stories to entertain my brothers and sister. I was tagged as a ‘daydreamer’ by my teachers. My earliest memories are of daydreaming about flying animals and magic. I started out writing more fantasy and science-fiction. Somewhere around 1995 I started writing horror poetry and fiction. For me, it took a certain level of security inside to face the chilling things I started writing about.

Wrath: I started reading horror because I’d always read about UFOs and the Loch Ness Monster and Sasquatch. I was fascinated by the possibility that monsters might actually exist. I would watch Creature Double Feature and Dr. Shock with my Mom every Saturday morning. It was my escape from the streets. Werewolves, zombies, and vampires seemed a lot cooler to me than crackheads, muggers, and drug dealers. I read fantasy and sci-fi too but they just seemed a little too divorced from reality. I wanted to escape but not quite that far.

Michelle: I became interested in horror because my dad had a huge horror collection when I was growing up, and something about it spoke to me. My only other options were “typical” kids literature, which bored me, my mom’s medical books, which fascinated me, and my mom’s romance books, which, even at 10, I could see followed the same basic plot time and time again. But I think way back in the beginning it started with fairy tales. I still can’t get enough of them. There’s always something slightly dark and “off” about them, and they’re trying to teach you a lesson. I want my writing to make you think about something in a new way. And if you learn something about the world or about yourself, all the better.

L.R.: I had an uncle who exposed me to sci-fi and horror very early in life. Truthfully, I’ve always wanted to write comic books, but exposure to the EC comics reprints back in the late 80’s/early 90’s turned me onto horror stories.

Chesya: I’ve always been interested in dark stories. I grew up with stories of haunted woods and family legends of headless Indian ghost and thing of that sort. It was simply natural that I started writing about it.

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). I know we’ve talked about the black community’s embrace of horror, but that then begs the question where are our black writers?

L.A.: My personal opinion, based on no scientific data at all, purely anecdotal… is that black folks, from cultural upbringing, “Don’t play that.” We are, down deep at the core, very wary of sitting with dark subject matter too long and allowing that to fester in our brains. A movie–okay, 2 hours and you’re in and out and laughing (like a roller coaster ride.) But to concentrate on it the way one has to as a writer, takes some serious intestinal fortitude to overcome all that “church” upbringing and the fears of “messing with evil.” The other reason is, if you don’t see yourself successful in it, because there are few role models, then you don’t feel its accessible. But if a black Stephen King popped onto the scene, I bet a lot of African American horror writers and folks who like to read that sort of thing would come out of the proverbial closet.

Linda: Actually I see a small increase each year in the number of black writers in horror. Being any kind of writer is difficult. There is little support in our society for writers especially in the genre field. The publication of books along the Dark themes show young writers that there is a possibility of getting published, this is more than I ever had growing up. By looking at the books on the shelves of book stores there is a definite increase in urban/romance books by blacks.

Michelle: I think there hasn’t been a big enough, “break out,” black horror writer to make it seem like a viable option for black writers. It took me a long time to see writing as an acceptable career goal, and even though horror and science fiction feel like “home” to me as a writer, in terms of making a living, new black writers are seeing “girlfriend” and “life in the ‘hood” books fly off the shelves. I also think if you’re already struggling to be taken “seriously,” dealing with the derisive comments about horror will turn you away. I’ve actually had people tell me, “you don’t look like a horror writer,” or, “I used to read horror when I was younger, but then I grew out of it.”

Chesya: I think there are. Look at the Dark Dreams series, and Dark Matter. The genre is still dominated by middle ages white males, but then too, most things are.

Wrath: There are less Black writers in horror because there is less money in horror. Horror is a labor of love and therefore a luxury. Most Black people in our society don’t have time for luxuries. If there’s more money in writing Romance you are going to find more Black writers writing romance. It’s just simple economics. I doubt that there’s a Black author writing right now who hasn’t considered writing an Urban Horror just to make a few dollars for a change. That’s why there’s more Black people boxing and playing basketball and football than kickboxing or wrestling. There’s less money in those sports. You don’t see collegiate wrestlers riding through the ghetto in brand new Escalades and you don’t see them on TV every week either. In addition to the money there’s the prestige. “I write Black Erotica or Urban Romance” will definitely get you more play in a nightclub than, “I write horror.” Where are our Black writers? Writing Romance.

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.
Is it more difficult for a black writer to become established?

Wrath: I think it would be more difficult for anyone writing about characters that were not white on any consistent basis to become established outside their own communities. As I said earlier, people like to read about characters that look and act like them. Since Caucasians are the majority you will always get further with Caucasian characters than African-American ones. I watched a documentary on Black actors in the movie industry and there were some very frank discussions about how a movie with a black actor as the lead will gross half as much as a movie with a white lead actor. I suspect the same is true of books. And I would venture to guess that the same discussions take place in the larger publishing houses.

Brandon: Any black writer with talent and drive who has a salable manuscript and who knows how to take advantage of current market conditions, can get signed to a major publisher and start building a real career. There are more opportunities for black writers than there have ever been before. Getting established isn’t easy for anyone, obviously, but I do think that the market is very open to work from African American writers.

Linda: I spent many years sending work out and being rejected. It wasn’t because I was black, since the editor couldn’t see my color by my stories, even if there were black characters in the story. The stories were judged by plot, characters, storyline, editorial needs and quality of the writing. There are a lot of very good writers not getting published no matter what nationality. The market place is very competitive. Once I started attending genre writing conferences I actually found most people in it very respectful of me as a writer.

Michelle: I’m not sure I have enough experience in the field yet to answer this. But when I was growing up, my mother would tell my sister and me that people would see that we were black and female first, so we had to work that much harder for them to get past the physical. The advantage of writing is that you can hide behind pages that don’t necessarily reveal your race, gender, religion, etc. But writers that hide can’t promote their work, so don’t reach the audience they have the potential to reach. Sooner or later you have to come out from behind the curtain, and some people may not be able to get past what they see to get down to reading your work.

L.A.: I think yes and no. Right now, there’s a black Renaissance in writing, where African American authors have been expanding title selections in record numbers. But at the same time, that expansion is in the very overcrowded niches of urban fiction, baby-momma-drama books, girlfriend novels, and the like. Sci-Fi, Horror, fantasy, political thriller, espionage, mystery, suspense, are all waiting to be opened up. It’s not just a “horror” problem… there are still (even after the passing of the late, great Octavia Butler) only a handful of premier Sci-Fi writers of color… Sam Delany, Stephen Barnes, et al, few horror writers, Walter Mosley (and like 3 others) in mystery… you see what I mean? We have to bring the stories out. I think our perpective is new, edgy, different, and we always set the standard for whatever art-form we adapt to — whereas white writers have a very difficult time differentiating themselves because all those genres are filled to the hilt for them. It’s a double-edged blade.

[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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