Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Black Women Horror Writers: Interview With Janet Eckford


Disclaimer:  A few days before this post was to go live, I found out from Janet Eckford, the author of the collection Whispers in the Dark, that her contract with her publisher was over and she was removing the book from sale. Since this was after I’d read the collection and interviewed her, I was at first needless to say, surprised, then disheartened. I asked her if she’d found another publisher, but she said she didn’t have immediate plans to re-publish.

She asked if that would pose a problem. Honestly, I wasn’t sure.  I wanted this series of posts on women writers in horror to be a way of recognizing what we as women of color are doing in the industry (and possibly making a book sale or two.) Also, me going on and on about a book that the readers of this blog can’t buy is a bit of a bait and switch.

After discussing it with Ashlee Blackwell, the founder of Graveyard Shift Sisters, I decided to move forward with posting this book review and interview. Partially because I want to support Janet’s work as a female writer of dark fiction, but mostly because I’d love for her to re-release this collection for all to enjoy.

It’s difficult as a writer sometimes to stay motivated. Few reviews, precious little feedback, sometimes even smaller financial compensation. Some Black women horror writers I’ve spoken with also have to content with family and societal pressure because we write dark fiction. We come across a lot of: “Girl, what’s wrong with you?” and “You need to go to church more.

To those people, I say, “Learn to separate the author from their work.” Writers are creators of worlds. We conceptualize, we imagine, we ask the what ifs. If there’s a murder down the road from you, more than likely your friendly neighborhood horror author isn’t the culprit. We’re hard at work with our noses to the screen writing the next big thing. But we’ll probably use it in a story somewhere down the line.

With that I’d like to extend my best wishes to Janet with placing and/or updating her collection of horror short stories. What follows is the original post I wrote for Whispers in the Dark by Janet Eckford.


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Anyone who follows my blog or this series on the Graveyard Shift Sisters site knows I love short stories. For years, shorts stories were considered anathema; serious writers didn’t waste time on them. Publishers didn’t want them. It was full-length novels or nothing. Thankfully, that is changing as “Olive Kitteridge” a short story collection by Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009. There has been a resurgence of love for the short story format. Mainly due to the popularity of e-readers, changes in publishing cost, and the growing interest in indie fiction.

But I’ve always loved them, and not just for their perfect length to read before bed or on the train ride I used to have into work. Short stories are a great introduction to a new author’s work and a fantastic way for authors and readers to stay interested in and connected to characters between novels. 

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.


Janet Eckford has figured this out. Her collection of short stories, Whispers in the Dark is single-minded tales of horror. There is no distraction from her goal in these thirteen (appropriately) tales. The readers meet the main characters and are drawn instantly into their world, where you quickly find the concern—the issue, the horror he or she is dealing with—and you’re experiencing the fear and the uncertainly with each turn of the page.

These stories have no titles, there are only numbers, so the readers has no idea what will happen or what to expect before diving in. I liked the unexpectedness of it.  That to me is horror—dealing with the unknown or the unexpected.

Eckford is also successful in taking routine events—a trip to a used bookshop, working from a home office—and turning them into nail-biting, fear drizzled experiences. Something I like to see in stories is what Eckford does well: she treats the reader like an adult. I don’t need every detail spelled out for me in a book, especially not a horror collection. I don’t want an exact description of the creature or a blueprint of how the killer got into the house. What matters is the killer’s here, now what are you going to do about it?

Whispers doesn’t spoon-feed you; it lays out the storyline with enough room for your imagination to maneuver. And I like that. Also, these stories aren’t heavy on a character’s physical descriptions. The reader is slid into the story quickly, like a sunny side up egg onto a warmed plate at your favorite diner. You have a sense of security for the briefest of moments, then it is snatched away. 

Whispers in the Dark was a fantastic read and it was over way too quickly. I caught up with author Janet Eckford and chatted about horror and the short story format.

Read her mind below:

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

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.


You’re also a romance/erotica author. When did you start writing horror and what drew you specifically to dark fiction? 

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.

I’m sorry to hear this, Janet, but it is all too common. As a horror author myself, I’ve heard similar negative comments form other WOC.  Just to let you know, WOC horror lovers are out there and this blog is to help us find our audience! If you’d ever like to dip a toe in the water of the horror circles out there, message me. I’m happy to lend a hand.

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.

You can find out more about Janet and her work by checking her social media channels below: 

Website: http://janeteckford.com/
Twitter: @JanetEckford


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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