Black Women Horror Writers: Interview with Lynn Emery
This post is a bit of a deviation from my usual horror author posts. But there is a reason. (At least there is this time.)
Lynn Emery considers her work to be in the thriller genre, and I agree with her assessment. The reason I wanted to feature Lynn on the Female Horror series of blog posts is due to how the media views the subject matter she writes about.
Voodoo, and those who practice it, is so often seen in movies and television as evil and frightening to the general public. So I felt that Only By Moonlight was the perfect title to read and review in order to present another side of the topic; one that places these practices in a positive light. For many people—some of my family included—conjure magic, hoodoo, and the like are a way of life. Maybe one that is not always understood by current writers and filmmakers. And because of that lack of understanding, these beliefs can be vilified and turned into fodder for horror books and movies.
Emery does it right. She presents a series of books featuring LaShaun Rouselle, called “a voodoo priestess” by those around her. In practice, LaShawn is a Catholic and draws much of her strength and focus from her religion. There are several scenes where she grabs her rosary and prays for guidance before going out to confront evil.
Lynn was kind enough to speak with me about her writing process, success, and what voodoo means to a native Louisianan.First off, thank you for granting me this interview. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing style.
I live in Louisiana, born and raised. I’m a licensed clinical social worker having worked in a variety of places including a psychiatric hospital, correctional facility, and in child welfare. I’ve conducted investigations, including a death (natural causes, but to determine if there was negligence). I’ve had the experience of talking to killers, prostitutes, and drug dealers.
I sold my first book to Kensington Publishing in 1995. I also wrote for HarperCollins and Penguin/Putnam. I published twelve books traditionally, and now publish independently. In 2000 BET produced and released a made for television movie based on my novel After All.
My writing style is simple - I don’t think in terms of first draft. I write as though when I reach the last sentence, I’ll hit “print” and go to press. Of course in the new age of digital indie publishing, substitute “upload”. This means when I start writing I write clean; no notes that I’ll research something later or fix a plot point, etc. later. I’ve always written that way. This just came natural to me.
Later I read Lawrence Block’s book on writing From Plot to Print, and he advised doing it that way to avoid sloppy writing. It forces you to think through plotting, the beginning, middle, and the end. I felt a rush of relief because I was writing my first novel at the time. Block also said to think of your first book as practice, first books don’t sell. That popped my little new writer balloon, but I kept writing. Several months later I sold Night Magic before it was finished (the editor who bought Night Magic knew because I was honest). I pretty much ignored the rest of his advice! LOL
When did you start writing and what drew you specifically to horror?
I started writing as a kid, like a lot of authors I know. My first love of horror came from watching vintage horror movies. Then I discovered horror and mystery comic books as a kid. Still I never considered writing horror. I wanted to write mystery novels. I started my first one at age ten.
I didn’t think of A Darker Shade of Midnight as horror to be honest. I think of the series, which includes Between Dusk and Dawn, and Only By Moonlight, as paranormal thrillers. I don’t mind if others see them as horror novels. In hindsight after I wrote it, I realized that Between Dusk and Dawn definitely fits that genre label more than anything else I’ve written. What drew me to write those books was exploring the intersection of human and supernatural evil. I also became intrigued by LaShaun Rousselle as a character. She was a villain my first book Night Magic. I decided to write her story to show how what happened at the end of Night Magic changed her.
What inspired you to write “Only By Moonlight”? How does your heritage influence your storytelling?
Only By Moonlight is a part of the LaShaun Rousselle series. In this book the evil she inspired (Night Magic) comes back again, this time the entity targets her fiancé, Chase. Southern culture is expressed in the way I tell stories, very visual and lots of dialog. Also southerners are very much into history, especially family history. So my stories tend to always reach back into the past as a way to explain why current events are happening.
“Only By Moonlight” has significant voodoo elements. As a native of Louisiana, do you feel that many writers and filmmakers portray voodoo inaccurately in books and film? How do you address this in your work?
Voodoo isn’t generic, and is practiced in different ways depending on the region. Even in Louisiana, people in rural Creole/Cajun parishes have different practices than those in New Orleans. Most vintage movies out of Hollywood of course were silly when it came to voodoo and zombies. A lot of the voodoo on display in New Orleans is mostly for tourists. The real practitioners, especially in rural Louisiana, are secretive. They don’t advertise. To find them you have to “know somebody who knows somebody”. Even then they’ll be sure you can be trusted to keep your mouth shut about a consultation. I just write what I know.
Voodoo isn’t a common term in south Louisiana. I grew up hearing things like “somebody is burning candles on me”, references to gris-gris or mojo, and other references to what a lot of folks outside the state call “voodoo”. You may notice that in the LaShaun Rousselle novels I don’t use the word that much. When I was a baby, my sitter was an old Creole lady. She taught me to not leave my hair in a comb or brush. She would clean them, roll the hair in a ball and burn it in an ashtray. That way “nobody can put something on you, baby”. Another risk of not burning hair, according to Miss Olevia, was mice or rats would take it, make a nest and you’d have terrible headaches. LOL. This is all part of my culture, so it’s what I write.
For you, what makes a great horror or dark fantasy tale? What do you like to read?
I like to read the human side of people doing horrible things. I’m not into the monsters with dripping fangs, or bodies being ripped apart. The best horror or fantasy has great characterization with strong internal and external conflict.
What scares you?
Not selling books! Just kidding (sort of LOL). What scares me is the normal face of a “monster”. The lover, husband, relative you think you know, but don’t know at all; also the beautiful “monster” that has an almost supernatural ability to seduce people into doing what they want, following them, etc.
The most drop dead gorgeous man I’ve ever seen was a violent murderer who had bouts of psychotic episodes. I don’t exaggerate when I say he was beautiful. Tall, dark and deadly. People stared at him when he entered a room. Looking into his eyes froze my blood. He was released from prison. Not sure what happened to him. Just hoping he’s not in my neighborhood.
How can African American artists (actors, writers, filmmakers) succeed in horror and dark fantasy fiction circles? How can women? Do you feel your work has been received differently as a Black female author?
Success has different meanings, and that’s not a cliché. So I’ll have to assume you mean financial success, since in American culture becoming rich and famous is considered “success”. Let’s talk AOC, Authors of Color, because the world is not black and white. To succeed, we need to keep writing and marketing just like any other artist. We need to attend the big Cons, which more and more of us are doing. Authors like Milton Davis, Balogun Otejade, Cerece Rennie Murphy, and Crystal Connor are also submitting to be on panels. Networking is key. Male or female, it’s the same.
As for being a Black female, I haven’t noticed any difference in the horror/fantasy/paranormal world. But I haven’t been going to Cons, doing blog tours or making any of the rounds. Just writing.
What’s your next project?
I’m currently writing the second book my in Triple Trouble Mystery series. Once I finish the book, I’ll write three more LaShaun Rousselle books.
What’s missing in fiction? What shape would you like to see the future of horror take?
There is nothing missing in fiction. How could it be? There are more writers putting out books than ever. Any genre, cross genre, characters, plots you fancy I can bet a key word search will get you what you want. I have no designs on saying how horror should develop. To me that would be a waste and frankly a bit arrogant. I mean, who am I to make pronouncements? LOL Humans are endlessly creative. All I have to do is follow along and keep waiting. What people come up with in fiction (movies and TV) never fails to delight me. If I don’t see what I want, I’ll write it. Chances are dozens of people will do the same.
How can regional and cultural horror become more mainstream and recognizable to the wider horror fan base?
We have to keep producing quality work, with quality packaging and market what we’ve created. It’s that simple. Proselytizing about diversity, that people of color are just as talented, etc. means squat IMO. Find people who want a good story, sell it to them with quality as I just mentioned and build our audiences. There is no magic to it.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
Sigh- mustering my creative energy after working all day. That’s my challenge. Writing is not only mentally exhausting, but physically exhausting as well.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I go scuba diving in caves and zip line in the jungles of Costa Rica in my spare time. I’m kidding of course. LOL. I do mundane stuff, so boring I’m embarrassed to list it.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
The Kaleidoscope Author Collective was formed in February 2014. We’re AOC, Authors of Color, who write horror, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers and mystery fiction. We produced our first catalogue and a digital copy is available. Our first project is to spread the news about our books to physical bookstores across the USA. We don’t have a website, but plan to create one. I’ll be happy to share a copy of the catalogue with any booksellers or book lovers.
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)