Black Women Horror Writers: Interview With Crystal Connor
In January of this year, I read The Guardians of Man by Connor Titus, a sweeping “The end of the world is here. Are you ready?” story. There are two books by Connor Titus featuring the Mt. Empyreal clan and their fight for survival. These are standalone novels, not a sequel or prequel.
Connor Titus is, in fact. a collaboration between two authors: Crystal Connor and Lori Titus. I featured Lori, the lead author of The Guardians of Man on the blog earlier this year. Now it’s Crystal’s turn to lead the charge for the book, In The Foothills Of Mt. Empyreal: The End Is Now.
Angels and Demons are at war. Humanity struggles in the middle of these two warring powerhouses. Can humanity be saved? I don’t want to spoil too much of Connor’s epic tale of Armageddon, but I can see where the two authors’ visions diverged. And the ending will stun you. I mean, wow…
What begins as a technological Armageddon quickly descends into the actual final battle. Crystal’s version is printed in a way that is reminiscent of the Bible, two columned, beginning with a stunningly detailed illustration, and peppered with a calligraphic font. It is obvious from the procedures and the clear-headed discipline from some of the characters that Crystal has successfully used her own military background to craft the Mt. Empyreal clan. The language and the actions feel realistic and believable. It makes you as a reader pull even harder for the group’s survival, even in the face of insurmountable and otherworldly odds.
To quote Connor on this sweeping end of the world horror novel: “At first, (Connor and Titus) meant to co-write just one book like every body else but once we realized that we wanted to go in two different directions we used what we had written together as the foundation and then wrote rest on our own.” Crystal and I have known each other for several years now although we’ve never met in person. I was first introduced to her work in a horror anthology we were both published in, Strange Tales of Horror.
I’ll have the privilege of working with her on the 7 Magpies project—a horror film anthology that is the first of its kind: written and directed by Black women. But we’re still in the planning stages of that project. Until then, I’ve managed to catch up with Crystal for an interview on The End is Now, her inspirations, and her fierce marketing techniques.
First of all, thank you for granting me this interview. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing style.
Of course! Are you kidding how could I not? At this point it really is anything for you because you are one of the people who has been cheering me on from almost the dawn of my career.
What inspired you to write The End is Now? What’s special about this novel and how did you decide it was a project that should have two authors, then subsequently two individual books?
I’m not really sure what inspired us to write In the Foothills of Mt. Empyreal. Lori (Titus) and I had been talking about doing a joint project for almost a year before we got started, and then when we did. We didn’t have a goal, title, or any idea what our story would be about.
Lori sent me some writing prompts and I used every single one to write the first few chapters and that’s how we got started. I have to admit that I cheated a little bit. Because of the feedback I was planning on expanding a short story from my anthology, …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! called "The Parish". Incidentally, all of the writing prompts Lori sent me was the perfect opportunity for me to do it. So I took the same elements from "The Parish" and used it for the foundation of The End is Now and added some things to it to allow the story to grow.
I think what makes it special for Lori and I is how effortlessly it bloomed and the insane amount of fun we we were having for the first 30 chapters. It was basically round robin; we didn’t know what was coming and as a result, we were reaction writing.
And it was around chapter 30 that the tug of war, so to speak, started because we both had two very different ideas how the story should go. And that whole entire time we never stopped to talk about who would be the lead author who and have the final say on the story’s tone, pace, and subject matter. We still hadn’t come up with a title yet. This was something we should have done from the very beginning but I am super glad that we didn’t because that’s what allowed us to make the decision to write two stand-alone books.
I tend to write the ending of a story from every early on but you can’t do that when your collaborating with another author who has a completely different idea. The problem, and as you know because you’ve read both books, isn’t really a problem at all because both ideas were equally awesome and I did not want to sacrifice one for the other. So I asked Lori how she felt about using what we wrote together as a base and writing the rest of the story solo, so that we would have two books about the same event, involving the same main characters, taking place in the same location but ultimately being two different stories. She loved it and that’s how we ended up co-writing two books.
The title was important because you don’t have to read both books so we wanted to figure out a way to tie both our books together because of course we want people to read both books. I suggested that In the Foothills of Mt. Empyreal be in both titles since that’s where the story takes place and Lori came up with our pen name which is both our last names.
What research did you perform for The End is Now or are the characters and scenes fictionalized versions from your own experience?
Most of the research I did for The End is Now was religious folklore, which of course is different from actual religious scripture. I also brushed up on several stories from the Greeks and Romans, and looked up some major global natural disasters.
You are a powerhouse of marketing your work. How can female authors gain a larger share of the horror fan base?
Man, I try to be, lol. The whole marketing element has been and continues to be a baptism by fire. I just keep trying new things and seeing what works and what doesn’t. What seems to be a huge help, especially at book signings and conventions is additional merchandise. I had some graphic tees made up with my logo and my slogan, 'A Trusted Name in Terror', and they sell like hotcakes. People who are hoping that I have a successful career but will never read any of my books because they don’t read/watch horror books/movies have bought tee shirts, sometimes multiple tees at a time.
How can female authors gain a larger share of the horror fan base? I am going to share with you what was told to me and this is true for any author.
There have been a lot of people who have pulled me along on my path of making a name for myself and growing my fan base. One of the most profound things that Zombie novelist Timothy Long said to me was, “the easiest way to get people to not know who you are is to not attend conventions.” Another person who changed my way of thinking was Lynn Emery, author of the LaShaun Rousselle mysteries, told me the best way to grow a fan base is to have inventory. In other words for a writer to be successful they have to have a lot of books published so that when the fans come back for more there’s more for them to come back to.
But as far as female horror writers in particular, I would encourage women not to write under a masculine sounding pen names. I know how this must sound while promoting two books written under a gender ambiguous pen name but those are our real names and we have no problem letting everyone know we wrote those books.
How can African American artists (actors, writers, filmmakers) succeed in horror and dark fiction circles? How can women? Do you feel your work has been received differently as a Black female author?
This is an interesting question and it reminds me about something a fan of mine wrote on my wall a few days ago. He said and I quote (by copying and pasting), “I realize the best thing that people of color can do is be themselves in all things. If you want a positive representation of who you are, just be yourself and be the best you can be. The rest will follow.”
That to me for some reason was profound. After the publication of my first book The Darkness, I tried to capitalize on the black female horror writer angle but it wasn’t working because I wasn’t doing it right. The most fundamental things we can do to succeed in this industry is one, take the marketing seriously and stay on top of it because no matter how kick ass the story is, no one is going to know about it if no one knows it has been written. It’s not like the Field of Dreams. They won’t come just because we wrote it. We have to stand on a pedestal screaming like carnival barkers.
The second thing is to know who your target audience is. Just thinking your fan base are ‘horror fans’ isn’t going to cut it because there are gazillion sub-genres and sometimes horror stories/movies/art give no fucks and is posted up with science fiction, romance and sometimes even comedy. Now I was guilty of this too, but we need to understand that success and competition have nothing to do with each other when it comes to how successful we become because we are not competing with each other. It’s not like products that people are loyal to, like drinking water if the restaurant you’re eating at doesn’t have Coke, or being a Crest adult because you were a Crest kid because no one on earth reads one author exclusively. Some die hard Stephen King fans have read Twilight too. People who love high speed car chases and explosions will laugh themselves to tears while reading comedy. Now with that in mind in order to really succeed in this industry is to help each other. People who like my work will like yours too. Always look for ways to cross promote and recommend other authors that you like because if you like them, most likely your fans will like them too.
Constantly promoting is hard and you don’t want people to roll their eyes when they see you coming or skims over your Facebook posts because like the Jehovah’s Witness because the only thing you talk about is your book and your latest review. But it has to be done. The good news is you can be as creative as your work. A couple of years ago I started really engaging people who are following me on my fan page.
Now not all of my family and friends are horror fans but the people who like my fan page already know that I write horror, so instead of posting every single review I just post all things horror. Pictures, merchandise, movies, other fans pages and other authors. I still post things related to my work on my personal wall, but you have to find a balance.
What’s your next project?
I have two. I am working on a novel that centers on a powerful family and the other is the first book in my next series called, The Realm of Nine.
You’re also a horror movie lover. Do they inspire your writing? How is the experience of writing different for a movie lover?
Oh my gosh I super LOVE horror movies! I love screaming at the people on the screen, I love the really-good-didn’t-see-it-coming jump scares and I love the subtle atmospheric elements that take it to the next level. All good story-telling inspires me because I always close the book or eject the DVD thinking to myself that’s how I want to write. Not to tell the same story but to write at the level of excellence.
What’s missing in fiction? What shape would you like to see the future of horror take?
For mainstream, big budget productions I think what’s missing is the bravery to take a risk on new ideas. Everyone is so busy jumping on the coattails of what was successful in the past that there’s just a handful of stories being retold over and over again. And no matter what you add, substitute, or remove at the end of the day, chicken and rice is still chicken and rice. If that isn’t bad enough, the American remakes of foreign movies and TV shows are the worst.
When it comes to indies, mostly movies, what’s missing is the link from a film premiering at a festival to being ready available to be rented by the general population. Film festivals, even local ones, are expensive to attend. I would LOVE to go to SXSW (South by Southwest) but there’s no way I am going to divert funds from a convention appearance to go to a film festival. As a result, there are tons of movies that are sitting on my movies-I-want-see list that I will never get to see because they were only shown at a film festival.
Who is your main inspiration?
There is no main source. I’m inspired by the smallest, sometimes oddest things and they come from everywhere. An overheard, one-sided cell phone conversation, the expression on someone who's lost in thought, the terrifying things little kids say, small birds hunting moths. Sometimes it feels like I am bombarded with ideas and sometimes I go months with ‘radio silence’ but during those times of silence, I still write because I write every single thought and idea down in a spiral notebook.
What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
Building immense and multifaceted worlds? No problem. Creating complex interesting characters with depth? No problem. Naming my characters? Problem! I have no idea why. The Spectrum Trilogy spans 258,840 words, 774 pages, and crosses the horror, science fiction, and high fantasy genres. It took three years to complete and I have five characters all with the variation of the same name: Eilig, Erryk, Eric, Erykah, and Airka. I didn’t even realize it until my fans pointed it out.
Thank you for the interview. Is there anything else you like to mention?
No! Thank you so much for your support and the signal boost. It’s been a hell of a ride and you have been there from almost the beginning and I don’t even know how to begin to tell you how grateful I am for that.
One other thing that I would like to mention is that I have a forever free audio book of my anthology, …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! on the Podiobooks.com they have all kinds of books in every genre and the best part is, all the books posted on the are legally author authorized free! Here is the link to mine and while you’ll there take some time and explore. You never know you might just meet your next favorite 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)