More than that, the short story format is a different art form than the novel. A specialization. A sharp, laser focus on one incident in a main protagonist’s existence. The short story is single minded—it has one dominant character who has a challenge and the story details it’s eventual resolution.
I'm very much an eclectic person and I think my writing is a reflection of that. I love to tell a good story and more often than not, that's housed within the genre of romance, but there are times when the story wants to be dark, with no happy ever after, and I've found horror is a good outlet for that. These stories are usually compact and short, but I do have dreams of devoting myself to longer prose.
I've always loved the genre of horror and when I started writing I figured I squeeze in some love for the genre. I started writing little shorts on Friday 13th and Halloween one year with a horror theme and realized it would be fun to try and put them together in a collection. Short stories have been near and dear to me, and being able to craft something dark and menacing without over the top gore was a challenge I was interested in.
I find so many people tell me they don’t like horror because of the gore. Horror is so much more than blood splatter. The Gothic style of horror is more my speed: the unsettling, the disturbing, the creepiness… You’ve shown that well in your collection. What was the impetus for the collection Whispers in the Dark?
I'd started with 13 days of horror on my blog one year for Halloween, which resulted in my collection of 31 shorts called, Into the Realm of Mystery and Night. I'd had so much fun trying to craft those stories I'd set the goal to do it again the following October. Unfortunately, restraints on my time prevented 31 stories, but I was able to do 13.
Why short stories? How do you make horror scary in only a few pages?
I really love short stories and I've always found it fascinating when someone can create a moving and believable beginning, middle, and end in the least amount of words. I was also greatly influenced by a collection of short stories called, Dark Water. It's a collection of Fantastic Literature, and absolutely superb in it's ability to showcase the bizarre, macabre and all things chilling. It's not technically a collection of horror, but the stories for me were a great inspiration because they illustrate how horror doesn't have to always be the monster in your face. When I wrote my two collection of shorts I wanted to build anticipation of what goes bump in the night, the feeling of being watched, and the crawl of skin when one realizes they are not alone in a darkened room. It's all so contained and intimate when done in a few pages, and for me I feel like that makes it just a little worse.
Whispers has thirteen stories, none of which have titles. Why the decision to go with chapter numbers instead of individual names for stories?
I created titles in my collection, Into the Realm of Mystery and Night, and this time around I was more interested in the esthetic of just having the story. The reader has to countdown the days to the final Halloween tale. There are no expectations based on title, the story is what it is. It also reminded me of when I'd tell ghost stories to my sister or friends. You only have the story to ground you and that for me, can be a lot more terrifying.
So far, what has been the response to your work? What challenges did you face with bringing it to fruition?
Well, honestly, these have been my least commercially successful books. I knew this going in, particularly because I don't have a history of writing horror, and my fan base are mostly romance readers. I was fortunate my publisher Mocha Memoirs Press was okay with putting out books they knew weren't going to sell as well as my contemporary romance. Once I got over a little bit of my apprehension of doing this just as an exercise for the love of the genre, the hardest part was writing the stories. I wanted them all to be unique, and really reflect the "camp fire" storytelling feel I was going for.
In Whispers, I found your characters and their situations to be relatable and therefore, more unsettling. How can authors prevent falling into the usual stereotypes when creating characters and plotlines in their stories?
Real life is the scariest thing for me and I've worked in a field where I'm never shocked at how horrific human beings can be to each other. I'm also a huge fan of supernatural horror and the idea of what happens when the veil between the living and the dead is crossed, so a few of my stories explore that as well.
I believe to avoid stereotypes one has to think about the authenticity of what they are trying to create. Even in the most fantastical story, there needs to be something relatable to the readers lived experience. Stereotypes exist to drive a narrative on occasion but they shouldn't be the entirety of one's narrative.
For you, what makes a great horror tale? What do you like to read?
I like my mind being engaged in what is happening in a story. I'll confess I haven't read much horror lately because my free time is spent cleansing my mental palette with happy things. When I do read it, I like the anticipation of what's to come. In a sense, I'm into the foreplay (ha!), and when the big reveal comes I'm "ready" for it but not wholly committed to knowing what is going to happen.
What is the difference in the way you approach a horror story versus a romantic one? What are the specific challenges of creating a frightening tale?
As with romance, I will say that sometimes I am often too focused on being authentic in my horror writing and that can slow my process when it comes to crafting stories. I feel so connected to telling a truth even in fiction that it can stall the creative process and yet I still do it because for me that's what makes a good story.
What scares you?
I think feeling out of control or having my control taken scares me most. I think that's why I'm often drawn more to supernatural horror. If there is a villain of flesh and blood, and I can possibly fight, even to my death, I feel like I have a chance. When you create a character that can touch me, but I can't touch them, or can see me, and I can't see them, I start to freak out. I've often joked its not the dark I'm afraid of but what's in it, and if an author or film maker can capture that essence of my fear, I'm hooked.
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?
I haven't traveled in horror circles so I don't know if I'm the best to speak on this. In fact, I've probably avoided it because of some of the negative experiences I've heard from women and in particular women of color. In all honesty it's hard for me in mainstream romance circles as a WOC romance author, I'm hesitant to take on navigating a new circle that doesn't actively promote visibility of authors like me.
What’s your next project?
I constantly have projects on the back burner, but there is a romance I've been working on some time that is quite dark and a little menacing. I pick it up and put it down because I haven't quite figured out how to merge horror and paranormal aspects of the story. Fingers crossed I'll eventually get my act together.
What’s missing in fiction? What shape would you like to see the future of horror take?
This is such a lovely and complex question and all I can say is non-normative narratives. I'd like to see stories that authentically showcase the diversity we have in our society. I'd like to see more supernatural themed horror that isn't from a Judeo/Christian or Western European pagan perspective. I'd like to see horror that doesn't have to rely on a Torture Porn narrative to make the viewer scared. I also think I have to commit more to seeking these things out and highlighting them as well. I know it exists; it's just about making sure it gets highlighted.
I agree with you there, Janet. Check out some of the earlier Graveyard Shift Sisters posts and I think you’ll find a place to start. We as women of color who participate in and love the horror genre must also share with others the writing and films we love.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
In all honesty finding the time. I constantly have storylines percolating in my head, but transferring them to paper or my computer screen becomes a challenge. Each year I say I'm going to get better about setting aside time, and well...*whistles*
What do you do in your spare time? (If you have any, that is.)
I'd say sleep but that makes me sound super lazy. Although, sleep is a magical, magical thing. When I have the spare time, and I'm not motivated to write, I do read quite a bit, try to catch up on shows I've missed throughout the year, knit or crochet, and spend time with my husband and dog.
Thank you for the interview. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Thank you so much for this opportunity to pontificate on what I find important! Ha! I look forward to comments or questions that your readers have for me.
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