Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Black Women Horror Writers: Interview With Lori Titus


Two authors, one story.

In Fates Keep, at the foot of Mt. Empyreal, snow begins to fall.

As does the battle for the world.

When I first heard about this concept, I was fascinated. Two authors not only working in one world, but writing the same story. Crystal Connor, a trusted name in horror, and Lori Titus, well-established paranormal romance author came up with an idea for a post-apocalyptic novel. Soon, they realized they had different approaches and different visions for the end of the world. Then they had an idea.

Write two books, each under a collaborative pen name.

I reached out to both women to interview them about their books and how horror became a part of their life. The interviews will run with a month or so between them as the authors have said they’ve experienced some confusion from readers in the past about who wrote what (and why and how). Maybe these interviews will provide some clarity.

Up first, Lori Titus’s vision: The Guardians of Man.

Guardians is an epic tale, with multiple interwoven storylines that come together in a visual big screen film-like ending. You’ll find humans, Wolves and Celestials all vying to be survivors at the end of the world. Along with the horror, you’ll find tenderness and an honesty in the characters that I found to be refreshing in this type of apocalyptic work.

This is a well-paced novel with short chapters—needed in a book like this, as there are a great many characters. It’s apparent that Guardians is heavily researched and grounded in realism because it leaves you with the feeling that somewhere out there, this story is happening right now. And you feel lucky that you don’t have to fight this fight.

I don’t want to spoil too much about the books, but take a look at the book trailer for The Guardians of Man by Connor Titus:


First of all, thank you for granting me this interview. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing style.

I am from Los Angeles, and I started writing stories when I was nine. I never stopped writing, but it was a hobby, and pretty much a secret of mine for a lot of years. I started submitting short stories, and quite a few of them got published. One editor wrote me back about a short story that I had written for his site, wanting to know if I would like to serialize it. 

The serial eventually became the basis for my first novel, Hunting in Closed Spaces, about a young girl named Marradith with extraordinary powers. Because of the things that she can do, she’s considered a valued commodity to some, and a dangerous enemy to others.  Marradith’s journey is about navigating between powerful figures that are not so easily categorized as good or evil, finding her place within the system of power players fighting for control. Along the way there are doses of romance, magic, werewolf lore and lots of action.

These days I am always in the process of writing or editing projects, if not both. I have always loved horror, but I also enjoy paranormal (anything with psychics, telepathy, telekinesis, etc.). My mother and sister were both horror fans, so I credit them with my early love of anything frightening or outside the realm of the ordinary.  We used to say that books and movies were supposed to be an escape, so why watch or read something without a sense of imagination?

What inspired you to write Guardians of Man? What is special about this novel and how was it working with another author on a project?

Crystal and I had been talking about working together. I sent her some writing prompts and she responded by sending back the first chapter of a story about townspeople trapped inside their homes as they awaited the first snowfall of the year. After that, we were both hooked. 

We would each write a portion and send the manuscript back and forth. The characters took hold, and from there it was just a matter of hanging on for the ride. The people of The Keep are ordinary people faced with some extraordinary circumstances. The guardians who have been sent to protect them have more than their share of obstacles to deal with. 

Once we reached the middle of the story, Crystal told me her idea: that we should split up, making two separate versions of the story. The point was that this would allow us each to have our own ending, and see how far apart each version ended up. Though we’ve both done research, neither of us has been able to find any other writing team who did this- starting off with one novel and co-authoring two books from the same storyline.

I really enjoyed working with Crystal! I would get anxious every time I sent her part of my copy because I was curious to see how she would add to it. We had a lot of fun playing with (maybe even torturing a select few) these characters. We really did work off of each other’s energy. It was great because not only were we able to share the story, which is something that just doesn’t happen when you’re writing alone, but we were always inspired to bring our very best to the table. We’re both competitive creatures at heart.

The hardest part was the first few weeks after we split from writing together.  In fact we stopped talking to each other altogether because we were afraid something about one of the books might slip out in conversation. After a while we were able to talk to each other about different things, and that made me feel better about keeping secrets about my side of the story.

There is a heavy military influence in Guardians. How did you perform your research for these characters and scenes or did you have existing knowledge to draw from?

Crystal is a veteran and has done heavy research on weapons, so this was one of her skills that came in handy.  It made a lot of sense that our townspeople needed to be mostly military stock; service members would have survivalist training that would be essential under such extreme circumstances. 

What made you choose Connor Titus—your writing partner, Crystal Connor’s last name paired with yours—as a pen name? 

I don’t think that we had talked about using anything other than our own names to begin with. Our manuscript was labeled 'Crystal_Lori Generic Title' to begin with. At some point I put “Titus” on mine, and during the passing of the manuscript between us, it came back as Connor_Titus. I emailed her then and said, “This is it! Connor Titus should be our pseudonym.” I like that both names have a strong sound to them and both are names that can be either first names or surnames. Crystal liked it too, so we went for it.

For you, what makes a great horror tale? What do you like to read?

I think that great horror has to do with appealing to the basic fears that we all experience: claustrophobia, fear of pain, fear of death, loneliness. A really good author knows how to dress these fears up in ways that will make the reader connect, even when the atmosphere is unfamiliar. For instance, being trapped inside your own home can be just as terrifying as being trapped in a boat at sea or in a capsule adrift in space. Horror is about giving a place and time for fears to be explored in a safe way. 

I like to read horror, but I also enjoy other genres. I am always trying to fit in more time to read. Right now I am reading a collection of Gothic short stories in between chapters of a popular mystery novel.

How can African American artists (actors, writers, filmmakers) succeed in horror and dark fiction circles? How can women? Do you feel your work has been received differently as a Black female author?

Personally, I have been pleased with how I have been received as an author. I have found that fans of my work usually span across all kinds of people. I think the most uncomfortable question I ever received was about Shannon Vega, one of the characters from Hunting in Closed Spaces. I had someone ask why I included a character that was Latina. My answer was that I grew up in a big city, and that most of my stories reflect a mix of people.

As a female author, I believe my work definitely has a feminine voice and I think of that as a good thing. I am comfortable with my phrasing and telling of stories, and that comes across to the reader. Because I have mostly worked with small publishing companies, I haven’t experienced the pressure to fit in with male colleagues. Readers can spot phony a mile away. If you’re using a voice that’s not your own, they can feel it.

As African Americans, we have to find ways to make a place for ourselves at the table, rather than waiting for those opportunities to come from outside sources.  Writing and filmmaking both rely heavily on being able to find funding to get things done and networking to help get marketing across to perspective viewers or readers. It’s not easy, but we have seen some breakthroughs in the past few years. Hopefully one success story opens up opportunities for others. Think about how many more women and people of color have chances to be seen because of Shonda Rhimes or Tyler Perry. 

What’s your next project?

I am very excited about the next novel that I am about to release, tilted The Bell House.  After a death in the family, Jenna Bell McBride moves back to her father’s ancestral home. There are two houses on the property, one occupied by her half-sister, Diana. They grew up apart, and don’t know each other well. Between the two, there are many family secrets, and some of the stories that they have been told about each other are not entirely true. The real danger is a malevolent force that remains on their land, bound there by tragedy and the blood of ancestors that came before them. It’s a Southern gothic tale of a modern black family, with issues, revenge, and some very nasty supernatural goings on.

I am currently about halfway through another novel, which I won’t talk about just yet. Other than that, the editing process for the second Marradith novel, The Art of Shadows, will begin within the next couple of months.

What’s missing in fiction?  What shape would you like to see the future of horror take?

I’d like to see more indie authors take the spotlight.  It seems like that’s where a lot of the new ideas are. As far as movies are concerned, it would be nice to see some new manuscripts getting play, rather than these franchises with three or four films already attached. There’s really good things out there being written – it’s just that those books and movies aren’t necessarily getting the attention that they deserve.

How can female authors gain a larger share of the horror fan base?

Female authors have to work to make a name for themselves without changing their style or bending to pressure to make their work more “marketable” for what they think horror fans want. You can’t predict what people will be drawn to, but you can put genuine emotion and joy into your work. Those qualities are always compelling. I think we worry far too much about what separates male and female readers instead of what we find our own happiness in writing. I would tell authors to remember that horror is a very open genre, ranging from subtle, Gothic style horror all the way through extreme, gut wrenching terror. Each author has to find their place within the spectrum, the zone that they feel comfortable with their characters playing in.

What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?

It depends. Some stories have a difficult middle, others have a thorny ending. There have been times where I have put one story down and started writing another before I can get back into the feeling and rhythm needed for a particular manuscript. Sometimes life just gets in the way. There are times when you simply must put aside your story to study for school or complete a project at work. That said, even on a difficult day, I really do love writing. I look forward to getting back to my stories when I am having a bad day, and I daydream about my characters when I’m bored.

Thank you for the interview.  Is there anything else you like to mention?

Thanks for doing this interview with me! I hope your readers will give my work a try.


About the Author
Eden Royce is descended from women who practiced root, a type of conjure magic in her native Charleston, South Carolina. She’s been a bridal consultant, reptile handler, and stockbroker, but now writes dark fiction about the American South from her home in the English countryside. She has written for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Dirge Magazine, and is one of the founders of Colors in Darkness, a place for dark fiction authors of color to get support for their projects. Find out more about Eden’s brand of horror at edenroyce.com or follow her on Twitter (@EdenRoyce)
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