Brandon Massey has published two novels, Thunderland and Dark Corner, a vampire epic. He began his career with POD and e-publishing but was picked up by Kensington Books. For more information about him go to his web site.
Philip Madden: You advertise yourself as an "African American writer of Supernatural suspense." Why do you find it necessary to label yourself like that? Other writers in the speculative genres don't. Do you feel you have to justify being black and writing horror stories?
Brandon Massey: The publishing business is highly segmented into very distinct markets. There is a "romance fiction" market, a "mystery fiction" market, a "horror fiction" market, and an "African American fiction" market. My books are published by Dafina, the African American imprint at Kensington Publishing. Since I was placed in this African American fiction category, even though I write horror and suspense, it has been necessary to label myself as an "African American horror writer" for the time being, to appeal to the core African American audience that my publisher pushes my books toward.
My ambition is to simply be known as a horror writer -- actually, just a writer, period. But the reality of the business is that you have to "get in where you fit in" and use that as a stepping stone to where you ultimately want to go. I'm grateful that readers outside the African American community have been discovering my work. I've been getting the best of both worlds, in a sense, and that's cool.
PM: Why are writers from ethnic minorities not interested, as a rule, in the more fantastic side of writing?
BM: I wouldn't go so far as to say they're not interested. There is a lot of interest. Check out Dark Matter, an anthology of speculative fiction by writers of color; a sequel to this anthology was just released, too. I have my own anthology coming out in fall 2004, entitled Dark Dreams, which will feature horror stories written by writers of color.
The interest is there, but the opportunities have not always been there. I think that is slowly changing, and we'll be seeing more ethnic diversity in the SF, fantasy, and horror genres in the very near future.
PM: Do you write horror/supernatural suspense specifically for the African American audience, with characters they can identify with?
BM: I write horror/supernatural suspense for readers who enjoy horror/supernatural suspense fiction. My stories tend to have black characters because, quite simply, as a black person, I can paint those characters most realistically and confidently. My characters deal with issues and situations that any reader, regardless of ethnic background, can identify with.
PM: Do you think we will see more black writers working in this genre or are you the exception?
BM: You will see more black writers entering the field. Tananarive Due has been around for a while and has several acclaimed books under her belt. L.A. Banks has launched a series of vampire slayer novels. Robert Fleming has a short story collection coming out in March. I'm no longer the anomaly that I was a few years ago.
PM: Do you think there will be more interest in horror with black characters? For example, Stephen King dealt with the ghost of a raped and murdered black woman in his novel Bag of Bones. Could the subject become more popular?
BM: It could be. However, I wouldn't want to see writers throwing black characters into their horror stories just because it's become popular. The book is the boss. If the story would benefit from a black character, or an Asian character, or whatever, then the writer should add this character to the tale. But I would hate to see writers jumping onto some kind of "horror with black characters" bandwagon, in a misguided attempt to be commercial. First and foremost, as a writer you should write about the stories and characters that excite you, fill you with passion and emotion.
Also, I must add that since our world is constantly growing more diverse, with people of various ethnic backgrounds represented at almost every level of society, if you want your fiction to mirror real life, you should inject some diversity into it.
PM: What attracted you to the genre?
BM: I've always loved horror novels and movies. I write the stories that I enjoy reading. I love the imagination that you can bring to a horror story; I love exploring the supernatural and the downright weird side of life; I love the shiver I get when reading or watching something chilling. I'll continue to work in the genre as long as my passion and love for it is there.
PM: You began your publishing career in e-publishing, an option becoming more and more open to new writers. Do you think what you achieved could become more common? How difficult is it to promote yourself through e-publishing?
BM: I think new writers first getting published electronically or via POD (print-on-demand, which is what I did), then being published by major publishers, could potentially become a popular trend. I-Universe, a POD company, has formed an arrangement with Kensington that allows them to introduce their most commercially appealing writers to an editorial board at Kensington, to see whether these writers could be published successfully in a traditional format. I think you may see more publishers doing this, using e-publishing as a sort of "minor league" before they bring these writers to the "big boys."
The challenge lies in the fact that since anyone can publish electronically, it is becoming extremely difficult for an e-published writer to gain any attention. The internet is deluged with e-books and POD books. For a writer to stand out, his book needs to be high quality, well-edited, and he needs to have a helluva marketing campaign. The competition is fiercer than ever.
PM: Will it overtake traditional paper publishing?
BM: I don't see this happening any time soon. The general public has not really embraced e-books; e-book reading devices are still too expensive and unwieldy. In a few years, as the technology improves, I think you'll see more people reading e-books, but I think we're a long way off from replacing paper publishing. The entire publishing industry would have to remake itself in order for that to happen, and dramatic change like that always happens slowly.
PM: Would you encourage any new writer to begin his/her career through the electronic format?
BM: Actually, I wouldn't recommend a writer start this way, since as I mentioned, the market is deluged in e-books and it would be extremely difficult to gain attention. I encourage writers to start the traditional way -- submitting manuscripts to agents and editors, attending writers' conferences and networking with industry professionals. If you don't have to e-publish to get a book in print, why should you? Test the traditional avenues first. I think e-publishing should be a last resort.
PM: Some of the old features of horror and stories of the supernatural now seem bland and banal. I think everyone is fed up with vampires. What will the horror stories of the new century focus on?
BM: I certainly don't think people are fed up with vampires. The vampire fiction market is thriving more than ever; it's become a genre unto itself, especially with the vampire slayer type books. Vampires aren't going to fade away any time soon.
As far as the more traditional supernatural monsters -- ghosts, werewolves, evil spirits -- I think they will be around for a while yet, too.
The key approach to making vampires and other supernatural creations interesting to modern readers is giving them new angles, placing them in fresh circumstances. You have to give supernatural tales a contemporary sensibility. I think you'll see more writers striving to accomplish this.
Stories revolving around human monsters will continue to be popular, too. Reading these stories is like reading something out of the newspaper, so they have a "wow, this could really happen" flavor.
As we go forward, I just see room for a variety of horror stories. We're limited only by the imaginations of the writers spinning the tales.
Copyright © 2004 Philip Madden
Philip Madden is a teacher and freelance writer currently based in Turkey at Anadolu University. His poems, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in Turkish Daily News, Skyline Publications, Poetry Depth Quarterly, Taproot Literary Review, The Journal, Scorched Wings, as well as in various ezines. His previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive.
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