Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Gothic Vampiric Tales Of L. Marie Wood


L. Marie Wood does it all. In the realm of horror storytelling, her advocacy spreads in pages you can turn and click. Her insight has led podcasts, panels, and college classrooms. She proposes, that horror, and all the creatures therein, helps us understand our ancestral experiences. To gain knowledge of what lurks in the shadows so it doesn't remain unknown. Wood's intimate relationship with the genre and leanings towards the psychological is why critics have consistently described her work as enchanting.

She's done all the work and has won plenty of awards for it, and shows no sign of slowing down. From Gothic haunts to African vampires, Wood's themes will continue to flourish with a multi-book deal under Cedar Grove Publishing. Here, I prompt Wood for her takes on horror in the Black community, the power of women networking, challenging herself as a creative to stand out in the genre's flooded lore, and why Queen of the Damned sucks.

What have been some of your favorite stories you’ve read as a child and how has your taste for horror fiction evolved as a reader?

I started reading horror fiction pretty early.  I can remember sneaking my mother’s copy of The Shinning from the bookshelf before I was even 10 years old.  I have always enjoyed the classics – stories like Dracula and Frankenstein, The Turn of the Screw have always pulled me in.  Maybe it’s the language used or the curious nod toward psychological horror (my corner of the horror spectrum) that Gothic fiction tends to have that enthralls me… I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am just as apt to enjoy The Monk (this is a crazy story, mind-blowing really, written by Matthew Lewis in 1796) as I am A Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay’s novel from 2015.  The difference now is that I understand more about literary devices, which allows me to appreciate more of the convoluted sub plotting, dense character bases, allusions to events lost to history, and endings that are just a little too pat (deus ex machina used to frustrate me to no end. Okay, maybe it still does).

What inspired the combination in your novel, The Promise Keeper that is the culture of Benin, West Africa, and vampirism?

I always approach my work with two thoughts in mind: how will the story end and how would this look on screen? I’ve always been a storyteller, but got into film production and screenwriting in the 1990s. It is definitely my second love. The aesthetics are important to me, even if the piece that I end up producing will be read rather than seen because of the richness those details provide in description.

I knew that my vampire needed to be unique. There is a lot of vampire fiction in the world and I didn’t want to reproduce something that we have already seen. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose the exotic nature of the vampire. I’ve always enjoyed the sensual vampire more than the monster. It was important to me that I reflect the kind of vampire that would be able to set in motion the scenario that I had in mind. I needed a unique sounding voice a unique look.


I started listening to music from around the world and became intrigued by what I now know is highlife music. I was hearing inflections and tones that I connected with my vampire. I learned where the music was from and what languages were spoken by people that listened to it. Fon was one of them. I started to listen to Fon spoken using translating tools and even calling the Benin embassy to find someone to help me with conversational Fon. It was like music to my ears – my vampire was coming to life. The language dictated the area. The area was rich in folklore that I could use to form a concrete backstory. It was a perfect match.

Crescendo sounds very American gothic in tone with its submersion into the psychological, supernatural, and the biting secrets your character is holding. Describing yourself as a psychological horror author, how have your personal experiences or attraction to these themes influenced the way you’ve been able to write stories that resonate with audiences?

I believe that people have many layers.

My personal experiences have created layers that come together to form the person that I am the same as your experiences, your layers form you. Acknowledging that we are multi-faceted beings, complex and intricate in the most amazing ways, and laying those vulnerabilities bare makes my stories more relatable. The realism that my work carries with it allows people to feel the escapism that they crave when reading fiction while suspending disbelief at a snail’s pace.

The story feels familiar, like something that might have happened to a friend of theirs, or even to themselves. The scenarios the characters find themselves in are plausible and the readers can nod along or disagree with the protagonist’s decisions. Everything is fine until it isn’t. Something scary happens. Now they want out… but not until they know what happens, because the situation that hooked them in the first place was something that could just as easily have happened to them. Shared experiences create common ground. I just use those commonalities to set my stage.

I hear many Black female horror authors talk about respectability politics and the struggle to express their passion for horror fiction in commonly black writing circles, especially as newer writers. Did you have any experience in coursework or social writing spaces at Howard where you discussed this?

My Howard University experience is over 20 years old, so I can’t speak to what new programs they might have, but I did not have coursework or social writing spaces there nor at Southern New Hampshire University, where I earned my MA in English and Creative Writing and am completing my MFA in Creative Writing later this year, along those lines.

With writing being the solitary profession that it is, I am in front of my computer more often than not and not involved with writing groups per se, but I can attest to the fact that, where there may be four sci-fi authors in a writing group or organization, you would be hard pressed to find one horror author.  That said, I have always claimed horror as my genre because that is what I write. I have never felt the pressure of proving that the genre is respectable – there are good and bad examples of that distinction in every genre. What I will do is discuss the wide range of sub genres with someone who thinks that horror is just blood and gore.  Perhaps educating people about the many facets of the genre will change the perception, one person at a time.

When I was a new writer in the early 2000s, I found a community of horror authors pretty quickly.  There were a few African Americans in that group of people that I spoke with on message boards and email (the popular mediums of the time), but most of the group were not. When I would do readings, signings, or speak on panels at bookstores that were frequented, in large part, by African American readers, I was met with resistance that I did not experience at venues with a different audience makeup – that is still sometimes that case. There’s just something about the genre itself that makes the African American community give a side eye.

Why do you think that is?

Perhaps life isn't mirrored as accurately in art in this regard, as it relates to African Americans. In essence, reality is scarier than fiction, so there is no draw to the genre? But honestly, I think that is too surface, too dismissive of an answer. I used to think there was a religious component to the disdain cast toward horror authors (and readers) of color - like there was a line that shouldn't be crossed, a line that could mean any number of things, from godlessness to all manner of depravity, and writing horror - actually liking it - is like dipping a toe in the pool, but I wonder, now, if that is too broad of an answer.

In the end, I think it is a matter of a dislike of the unknown and a misunderstanding of those who are not frightened by that cosmic concept. In a world where having a real understanding of what is going on around us can be elusive, I wonder if African Americans are just not interested (at large) in spending time and thought on concepts that are outside of the realm of possibility. This is a very long way to say I don't know, but there it is.

You once posed the question about the unbalanced validity of male writers in the horror genre versus women, and the ponderance of horror being perceived as “unladylike” for a woman to explore her darker thoughts/ideas. How do women in horror create a larger discussion about gender bias and create an ideology around the idea that the exploration of horror is healthy for the human condition, period?

I always find it interesting that many people assume horror authors are male purely because of the subject matter when women have been writing engaging horror material since the genre’s inception.  I think it says more about a person’s thoughts about themselves and where they fit in the world when labels and silos are perpetuated.

You asked what I think we can do to address gender bias in this way and I say plainly that we have to keep making our presence known. Keep putting out quality horror fiction and producing horror films. Women need to support each other in these efforts and make that support known. Social media is a powerful tool and the best marketing strategy is (and always has been), word of mouth. Women need to tell their social groups about the new horror book they read written by a female author or the new movie they watched produced or directed by a female filmmaker. Women, by and large, have no problem promoting things, whether that is a fashion line or their new favorite song. If we were to dedicate our influence toward female horror creators, the landscape would be vastly different.  Women in horror have always had a message that screams equality in the genre. We just need other women to echo it.

Tell me your favorite book to screen adaptation and your most hated. And why!

My favorite book to film adaptation is The War of the Worlds – so, so good. So scary. The movie doesn’t stick to the book to the letter, but that is okay. The casting is stellar and the visuals really stuck with me.

My most hated book to screen adaptation is Queen of the Damned.

Wow! Okay! No argument here. I did leave the theatre very underwelmed and disappointed. 

I mean, it could have been so good, but it just wasn’t. The movie strove to combine books two and three of The Vampire Chronicles and that was too much material to throw together. As a result, none of the characters were developed very well. I also think that some of the casting choices were questionable.

Are there any horror TV or films that you’re enjoying right now?

I am really enjoying Jordan Peele’s new work in the genre.

Get Out was groundbreaking. Us is a great sophomoric effort. And now he has rebooted The Twilight Zone. Such an interesting time for psychological horror. I’ve been revisiting some classics recently.  Shivers is a fantastic film – as long as you go in realizing that it is campy, you can appreciate the sheer terror of the premise without presumption. The Stepford Wives, the 1975 film, viewed from a modern-day perch opens up a fair amount of nuance that might have been missed before. I’ve also watched my all-time favorite horror film Angel Heart again recently. I adore the pacing of this movie, the tension. I come back to this one all the time.


Look for L. Marie Wood's third novel, The Realm this September.



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