Horror Author Faye McCray's Belts: The New Zombie Narrative

My genre literature consumption journey has been downright pathetic. I've always leaned more towards non-fiction and theory which has both paid off and is enjoyable, but very rarely allows me to put down the highlighter and pen. Although sparse, in the past few years I've gained more of an interest in doing the very thing I was too bitter to do in high school with all my disconnect from "canonical" works and way too busy for as an undergrad in college and pick up fiction by authors I truly wanted to support.

Author, professional, mother, wife, and lover Faye McCray's work caught my eye just from her introspective musings on her webpage alone. After noticing that she has a published a zombie short story series still in progress, Dani's Belts, I felt was perfect currently for my time away from my bustle with other work. In short, this series is reminding me of how important leisurely fictional reading is. It expounds your own imagination and sticks with you just as much as your favorite television series.

After reading the second installment in the series Yellow Belt, I wanted to tap into the author's mind to get at how a Black female writer is utilizing one of horror's most popular sub-genre's with, yes believe it, a fresh perspective.

So you went off to become a lawyer despite the writing bug piercing your side. Have you experienced any kind of synergy with the two seemingly opposing professions?

Well, let me just say, I dragged my writer side with me to law school kicking and screaming! Initially, they were extremely at odds.  As a lawyer, you’re trained to see things in a very methodical way.  Get to the point and get there quickly.  As an artist, you have to allow yourself to get lost.  I find my best writing takes place in a thoughtless dream-like state where I allow myself to step into an alternate universe.

As a lawyer, my feet are usually firmly planted on the ground.  Over time, that duality has made for a great self-regulating system.  If I go too far off the deep end with a story, I can usually count on the lawyer in me to hit the focus button and get me back on track.  I’ve also developed a pretty fierce work ethic as an attorney that is awesome at putting any potential writer’s block in check.  George Balanchine once said, “My muse must come to me on union time.”  My lawyer side is all about that quote. 

What zombie narrative has impacted your interest in the subject matter the most?

It is definitely a cross between Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead.  When I saw Shaun of the Dead, it was unlike anything I had ever seen.  It had so many layers and the comedic aspect was amazing.  Believe it or not, I don’t like being scared.  I like that it softened the terror with comedy.   Zombieland did that well, too.  Can we have a moment of silence for Bill Murray? Hilarious.

With The Walking Dead, it is such an incredibly human story.  I root for the characters, and I mourn them when they are gone.  Comedy and humanity were very important elements of Dani’s Belts for me. 

Popular media culture is oversaturated with zombie apocalyptic narratives at the moment. When you first sat down to write White Belt, did you think about how you wanted to approach the scenario differently?

I am so glad you asked me this! For me, I wanted to see someone different in a zombie apocalypse.  Everyone who survives a zombie apocalypse is impossibly tough... especially black women.  Think Michonne in The Walking Dead or Selena in 28 Days Later. They barely flinch in the face of a zombie and adapt to the apocalypse like it has been something they were secretly training for their whole lives.  There is no softness to them.  Just a hard exterior and mildly malleable interior.  

Dani is not that girl.  She is mush.  She is the girl who shuts her eyes in a horror movie and is pretty much convinced she would never survive a natural disaster, let alone a zombie apocalypse.  She is weak in the face of love and she cries… a lot.  I thought it would be fun to put that girl at ground zero of the apocalypse and see how she does.  I figured the story would be over really fast or she’d surprise all of us. 

You mentioned once that your characters truly take on a life of their own and they become as real to you as if they're "sitting in the chair across from me". Your main character in the Dani's Belts series, Dani seems to be experiencing the arc that, judging from the ending of Yellow Belt, is swimming in unknown possibilities.  Did what you envision for Dani when you began to write and what has changed over time?  

Absolutely. Each installment of Dani’s Belts is named after another belt in karate. I knew I wanted each installment to be like a graduation. Albeit subtle at times, her personal victories are important. She earns each belt.  However, as things began happening and she reacts to them, I have been surprised by her complexity. It isn’t a steady climb for her.  She regresses.  She is flawed. She makes some pretty big mistakes. I think it makes her more human.

How important for you is it to write female characters of color in your stories?

I grew up in New York City so my cast of characters is typically pretty diverse.  However, as a woman of color, it’s really important to me to write dynamic women of color.  We are so diverse in thought and experience yet our variety is often underrepresented in the media.  I want to contribute to broadening the landscape.

What is next for the Dani's Belts series?

Well, Orange Belt will be out March 17, and the final installment, Black Belt will be available March 31.  I am also currently working with an awesome illustrator to turn the series into a graphic novel which I am insanely excited about! Hopefully, I will have more news about that soon.  Check me out at www.fayemccray.com for updates and on Twitter @fayewrites.  

You can find White BeltYellow Belt, & Orange Belt currently on Amazon!

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