Thursday, January 29, 2015

Black Women Horror Writers: Interview with Jayde Brooks


January gets you a two for one deal!

I am pleased to say I was offered an advance reading copy of Daughter of Gods and Shadows by Jayde Brooks to be published by St. Martin’s Press on February 3.  But here you’ll find a review of the book (no spoilers, though) and an interview I had with Jayde.

If you’re looking for a sweeping, dark adventure/quest novel, look no further. This story had what I love to read in a book: strong female characters and the ultimate in high stakes – saving the world. Blend that with a Black protagonist and stir in a healthy helping of African culture and you have Jayde Brooks’ new release. Daughter has its roots in 4,000 years in the past, all of it filtered through our modern day heroine, Eden. (Love that name!)

It’s mature, well paced, and tough. While there are horrific scenes, this is not a gore fest. Eden starts the story fragile and awkward and plagued with nightmares. Soon, she finds herself the last hope to save the world. How often is that role assigned to a Black woman? But Eden isn’t sure she’s up to the task. To help decide, Brooks has created a host of characters—djinn, fae, and other supernatural beings—to support, cajole, and push Eden to become what she fears most.

If I had to name a criticism, it would be that the characters used each other’s names too often. When you’re in conversation, especially a heated one, most people don’t call each other by their given names.  But that is a small—no, tiny—comment about an otherwise brilliant work. 

I also appreciated the break from the “strong Black woman with smart-mouthed attitude” stereotype. Eden is shy and awkward and has to grow by leaps and bounds in order the face the challenges in front of her. Taking the “coming into her own” journey with her made me root for her to succeed even more.  

Daughter addresses the question: Yes, you can run from your destiny. But should you? 

Read on for my chat with Jayde about her inspiration, writing process, and next projects.

Firstly, thank you for granting me this interview. Tell us about yourself and your new release.

Thank you for the opportunity to share the news of this new endeavor.  I so appreciate your time.  I’ve actually been writing professionally since 2003 under a different name, but Daughter of Gods and Shadows is my first go at writing science fiction/fantasy.  If I had to categorize it, it’s actually Apocalyptic Dark Fantasy, which is a mouthful, but an accurate description of what one can expect from this story.  In my other writing life, I have more than a dozen books published with more to come, but of all those books this one has been the biggest challenge for me to write, and the most fun.

What was the impetus for the novel Daughter of Gods and Shadows? 

It’s pretty simple, really.  I wanted to write a story about a black girl saving the world.  I have been a sci/fi-fantasy-horror girl my whole life, and when the opportunity presented itself for me to write something, I jumped all over it.  The main character, Eden Moore is like me (the me from a long time ago).  She’s that unlikely heroine that people just don’t see coming and she really is the underdog in this fight.  This character doesn’t want to save the world.  She’s afraid and pensive and sad and bitter, but ultimately, she has no choice but to rise to the occasion of her destiny.  I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for underdogs and she’s about as “under” as they come.

So far, what has been the response to your work?  What challenges did you face with bringing it to fruition?  

Responses are still forthcoming.  So far, all I know is that my editor and her assistant loved the book.  When I’ve mentioned the project to writers I’ve known for years, they seem to be genuinely intrigued.  Response from readers has been one of curiosity more than anything.  The challenges for me in writing this book have been learning what it means to build a brand new world from nothing.  My other books are what I call “fact-based fiction”, meaning, they’re made up stores based in this world we already know, depicting lives of real people who could actually be real. 

Daughter of Gods and Shadows is so far removed from it all that it’s taken a very patient editor, four years and six rewrites of giving myself permission to tear down walls, throw away logic, and just go crazy.  The last and probably the greatest challenge has been in adopting a new pen name and trying like crazy not to give away my “secret identity”.  I’ve worked long and hard to build my core audience for my other books, and I’ve worked long and hard to try and draw in a brand new audience.  I don’t want to run the risk of being judged one way or another for my work and am hoping to have this project judged on its own merits.

I found the voice you used in Daughter of Gods and Shadow to be a fresh and original one. How can authors prevent falling into the usual stereotypes when creating characters and magic systems in their storylines?  

I’m not sure if the voice used in this story is actually a blessing or a curse, to be honest.  But thank you for sharing your observation.  I think that authors really need to know themselves as writers and understand that there’s value in being true to themselves.  It’s easy to pick up another author’s voice especially if you’re a huge fan of that writer’s work and you read it all the time, or if you don’t recognize and approve of your own voice when you hear it.  I try never to read another author’s work while I’m writing, because I do find myself adopting that writer’s tone and cadence.  And I try to keep a good mix of authors that I read, so that I don’t latch on to any one style or voice.  

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

Any story that transports me out of the mindset of being a writer is a great tale.  Those stories that are so captivating and so magical that I forget to analyze or compare them to what I know as a storyteller are great stories.  I have always loved the fantastic, magical and unpredictable.  I love stories that take me out of the realm of reality because I live reality and it’s not always where I want to be.  I like to read Octavia Butler, Tessa Dawn, and N.K. Jemisin.  

I’m also a huge movie buff, so I’m there on opening day when Marvel releases just about anything.  I love all movies produced/directed by Guillermo del Toro, and Star Trek, Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit--whatever.  I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead, the seriously freakish shows like American Horror Story, and more subtle stuff like Sleepy Hollow for light entertainment.  If it’s pure fantasy, I’m there.  Oh, and I do love myself some anime.

I’m right there with you, Jayde!  My DVR is always approaching capacity. 

African culture—names, weapons, mythology—feature heavily in Daughter. What research did you do to create the supernatural elements of this series?

I did all of my research on Google, with the exception of the concept of the ancient world of Theia.  I was watching a documentary one night on how the Earth was made and in that segment they talked about a theory that our moon or moons were formed when a planet called Theia basically crashed into our world, scraping against the outer layer which sent debris hurling into space that eventually formed two moons which later combined to become the one that we have now.  

I found that fascinating, and honestly, before that segment aired, I was really driving myself crazy trying to find a premise for this story that stretched the boundaries beyond what I was already working with.  Most of the other mythology that goes beyond werewolves and vampyres is pretty much stuff that I made up.  For instance the demon in my story is not like the spiritual demons that we know about from religion.  Demon is the name of his species.  He’s not a fallen angel or is led by the Devil or anything.

What scares you? 

It’s ironic that the subject matter of demons scares me.  I would never watch movies like The Exorcist or The Omen or Rosemary’s Baby because I was afraid of the concept of demon possession.  And I’d definitely be afraid of the fast zombies (in the old days, zombies were slow), or thinking zombies.

But mostly, I think I’m afraid of not getting all the ideas for stories that I have out of my head and into books.  That’s the scariest thing of all.  Oh, and spiders, wasps and hornets, and the dark…and water, like large bodies of water.  And sometimes heights, and definitely closed spaces.  But other than those things—I’m good.

How can African-Americans artists (actors, writers, filmmakers) succeed in horror circles? How can women? Do you feel your work has been received differently as an African-American female?

Those questions are pretty loaded and if I knew the answer, I’d be the Shonda Rhimes of science fiction/horror right now.  I do believe that the entertainment industry is driven by money and that the industry will follow the trends that will make them money.  I think that in order to change the industry, African American artists and audiences have to implement this change.  As artists, perhaps we’re not supposed to wait on the entertainment industry to change, but I think it’s important that we be willing to move forward on our own (make our own movies, publish our books, etc.).  If the industry sees that money is being made by these endeavors, they’ll want their piece of the financial pie, so to speak, and will latch on.  And African American audiences have to be willing to show up and support the independent endeavors.  Their support is powerful and is more than capable to implement change and to teach the entertainment industry what it wants to see (in movies, books, etc.).

As for how my work is perceived, I came into this project knowing that I’d have a very difficult time.  Science fiction is a very white male dominated world, and with a cover like Daughter of Gods and Shadows, my work is going to be judged right out of the box.  Audiences are going to make certain assumptions and their going to base their decision of whether or not to buy this book based on those assumptions.  Even with that said, I’m almost inclined to believe that I’ll have an easier time attracting non-black readers than black readers.  And that would be disappointing, but from what I’ve learned about the science fiction arena, so far, I’d be hard pressed to believe otherwise.  I do feel that audiences, particularly black audiences are changing and opening up and wanting to embrace stories like mine.  And that makes me feel hopeful.

What’s your next project? 

I’m currently working on the second book in the Daughter of Gods and Shadows series (this is a trilogy), and it’s called City of Dark Creatures.  This story picks up about six months after DGS ended and in it you will see the continuation of the evolution of Eden Moore and the evolution of Sakarabru’s Brood army.

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

For DGS the most difficult part was the world building and stepping outside the boundaries of logic and reason, reach deep into my imagination and pull out things that couldn’t possibly happen and put them down on paper.  There were moments when I shook my head and said out loud, “That’s impossible,” but I had to push past those thoughts and give myself permission to create the impossible and make it read as plausible.  It was more fun that I’ve ever had as a writer and also the most frightening time I’ve ever had as a writer.  Discipline is another difficult part of writing.  Working in more than one genre, often times I have to jump from one book to another with very little time in between to recoup, and that can be tough, mentally.  But all in all, I enjoy what I do.

What do you do in your spare time?  (If you have any, that is.)  

Writing in two very different genres, keeps me pretty busy so spare time is a luxury I can ill afford to waste.  I try to make good use of it by going to the gym or riding my bike.  Living in Colorado, the weather is usually pretty amazing, so I try and spend as much time outside in it as I can.  

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

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share my work on your blog, Eden.  And to tell you how much I love your name and your voice (I checked out you reading some of your work on your website). I wish I had a voice like that!  Good luck to you with all of your endeavors and I can’t wait to read some of your work and wish you nothing but the best.

Thanks, Jayde!  *blushes* Anytime you want one of your novels on audiobook, let me know!

You can find out more about Jayde and her new book, Daughter of Gods and Shadows, being released on February 3 by way of her blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


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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