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Celebrate Culture with Black History Month

Uncomfortably Dark will be hosting interviews and author tributes in honor of Black History Month all month long! 

As Black History month kicks off, Uncomfortably Dark will be featuring black authors, book lists and author tributes to those that have inspired them. Be sure to check out this page every Saturday for a new Black Author spotlight.

 

Extreme Horror Author
Andre Duza

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Abstract Waves

2/26/2022
An Interview with Andre Duza

In our final interview for Black History month, we have the incredible Andre Duza from Central PA. Andre was one of my first author friends when I began roaming the FB author groups, looking for my tribe or at least a friend or two. Andre welcomed me with open arms, kindness, and good advice. He let me ask questions, vent, and even rant and rave.If you don’t know Andre, you should take the time to say hello. Not only is he an amazing author but he is also a stuntman, a trained martial artist and actor, as well as a husband and father of four.In his interview today, for the first time in years, Andre opens up about his life, his past, and his writing on a very deep and personal level. I’m deeply humbled that Andre chose to share his story with us. 

When did you begin writing professionally?

When I was a senior in high school, I got a job writing 30-second short stories for a 1-900 phone service. It was something like 1-900-scares. It was a pretty good gig, and my stories were doing well. As a result, the owner was pressuring me to produce. It was around the time when I was studying for my SATs, and I just couldn’t handle it. So, I quit. Kind of regret that decision. The owner of the company had connections in the movie industry. I don’t remember his name, but I often wonder if he ever went on to do anything.

Next, I worked, for several years, as an editor/copy writer before my first novel was published in 2004. During that time, I wrote articles for a few healthcare magazines, and trade publications. And I wrote ad copy for the kinds of drugs you hear advertised on TV where the list of side-effects is worse than the condition it treats.


What made you want to become a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you make a conscious decision one day that you were going to be an author?

Life decided for me.


Is there one book more than any other that inspired you to become a writer? Or was the inspiration a person, a relative or a favorite teacher?  What was it about the book or the person that inspired you so much?

I was 8-years-old, on my way to church, when I was abducted by a serial pedophile and raped, at gunpoint, for hours. Years of therapy followed. My therapist, Dr. McMillan, used to have me write my thoughts down in a journal. After a while, I got bored with the journaling, so I would embellish, making up all sorts of dark, fantastical shit. Dr. McMillan would be annoyed with me. He’d tell my mom, “This wasn’t the assignment I gave him, but he’s got a vivid imagination and he really does show some promise as a writer.”

That’s where it all started.


Are you an avid reader?  If so, what do you like to read the most? 

I read everything, man. I’ve always been an inquisitive dude, so I need input, like Johnny Five. Clearly, I have a preference for the darker side of things. Growing up, I was more into paranormal stories that were presented as fact, than horror fiction. Remember that Time Life series with the late-night commercials? “It’s in the book.” I was all over that kind of shit. And those lurid, True Detective Magazines that you would see on the magazine rack at the supermarket, back in the day. They were sort of the precursor of murder shows on the ID Channel. Actually, I’m pretty sure half of the stories in there were fiction.

When I did read fiction, I was drawn to writers like Joe Lansdale, Richard Laymon, Skipp & Spector, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Octavia Butler, to name a few.

Until I was introduced, by family members, to stories like Anansi the spider, writers like James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Blaxploitation films, all the stories I had read or was taught in school, and the movies/TV shows that I loved, were mostly populated by white people. As a result, the default protagonist, in my head was like… a white guy named Steve or James or some shit.

Sadly, that’s not all that uncommon. At least with my generation. Once I woke up from that, I sought out and devoured books and movies populated and/or created by people who looked like me. There weren’t many to choose from, especially in the mainstream, and when we were represented, we were usually relegated to one lane that didn’t allow for much diversity in storytelling. I’ve always been a weird dude, who thought outside the box. So, I craved that kind of vibe in storytelling. I was like, “Where are the black George Orwells or Philip K. Dicks or Hunter S. Thompsons?”


What does it mean to you, to be a black creative, to be a role model for young authors and creatives of color, which are looking to get into the horror field, in any role?

On the surface, I just want to continue telling stories that entertain readers, and that pays the prose forward to future like-minded writers, regardless of race. But, if I had a subconscious goal that I aspire to, it’s to create worlds, myths and legends that are accessible to everyone, but that are rooted in African and other non-white cultures. Hopefully, by doing that, I’m able to inspire young black weirdos out there, who might not fit into to the social norm relative to their environments, or whose outside-the-box thoughts, ideas, and stories might draw unfair scrutiny and criticism from their peers.

I was soooo that dude.


Whom do you most admire in Black history/culture and why, living or dead?

I’ll put it to you this way. If I had my own, personal, creepily-animated Council of Black Elders, like Billy Batson in the 1970s Shazam TV Series, it would include Shaka Zulu, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jesse Owens, Jack Johnson, Muhammed Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Zakes Mokae, Jim Kelly, Bob Marley, Jimmy Hendrix, Screaming Jay Hawkins, KRS One, Chuck D, MF Doom, GURU (from Gangstarr), and the leader of The Riffs Gang from The Warriors. Not the actor. The actual character.


What other black authors/screenwriters/actors/producers, do you believe deserve more recognition in the field?

Just off the top of my head… Melvin Van Peebles. Gordon Parks. Harry Belafonte, Grace Jones, Yaphet Kotto, Carl Franklin, Angela Basset, Keith David, Jeffery Wright, Jeff Reddick, Richard Wright, Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, Walter Mosley, any of my contemporaries in this interview series. Etc., etc., etc.


What challenges, if any, have you personally faced as a black creative in this field?

Go to YouTube and type “Dead Mike is black y’all” into the search bar. That video is what it’s like being a black creative. But not from the perspective of the creators. Not me, at least. I’m just a dude who creates, but that’s pretty much what the industry thinks of us.  

When I was a teenager, I applied for a job at the B. Dalton bookstore in 30th Street (train) Station here in Philly. Or maybe it was Waldenbooks.

Anyway, I would purposely walk through the station on my way from West Philly to Center City to go to the movies, usually by myself. I always loved the architecture, and I was drawn to the idea of the train station as a portal to far-off places, and opportunities. Conversely, going into a bookstore back then was like taking a hit of something potent. I loved the smell of books. The way they felt in your hand as you flip through the pages. The while nine. Still do.

The thought of working in a bookstore in the train station was like, “Win! Win!”  

I was already writing by then, and I remember coming up with this eloquent, but long-winded, and probably pretentious as fuck-sounding ‘Objective’ on my resume. At one point, during the interview, the manager says, as she’s looking over my resume, “Be honest with me. You had one your parents write this objective.”

“No. I wrote that,” I say.  

We had already discussed my love of writing, mind you.

“No. You didn’t,” she says.

If I could translate the smug expression on her bloated face, with it’s high-blood-pressure hue, it would read “There’s no way YOU could’ve written THIS.” 

I was being sort of coy about it up to that point, thinking that she’d eventually acquiesce and take my word for it.

Nope. Instead, she persisted and eventually got pretty hostile.

She’s like, “I know you didn’t write this. Just admit it. I’d be more likely to hire you if you were just honest with me.”

It was one of those moments where I wished there was a fourth wall to break with a dead glare. I sat there staring at her, through her, while going over potential responses, in my head. Finally, I just said, “You know what? Fuck you!” Then I got up and left.

You run into the ancestor of that kind of sentiment as a black creative. It’s a little better now, but there used to be this preconceived notion that black voices/perspectives were undesirable, unworthy, unmarketable, other. Someone who looks like me couldn’t possibly create something as deep and meaningful, and relatable across racial/cultural/gender lines as our white counterparts. So, why even give us a chance?

I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t really dealt with that thing too much among publishers with whom I’ve worked. But I’ve certainly dealt with it in the movie industry.

Several times.


What one piece of advice would you give to other black creatives in the industry?

Keep writing/creating. Keep pushing forward. Be true to your voice, no matter how weird it is. Own that shit. It’s what makes you unique. The trick is finding a way to make that weirdness relatable. Or not.    


If you had to pick just one of your books as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

Couldn’t say that I really have a favorite, but Technicolor Terrorists stands out to me because it’s the first book where I felt like I really had a handle on my voice. It’s also the one cover that I wish I could redo. The artwork by Nick Percival is great, but they’re basically just characters from Killer Klowns. I feel like it gives the book a fan-fic vibe. Nothing against fan-fic, mind you, but that’s not what Technicolor Terrorists is.

Besides, the Ton Brothers, and all the other characters from the Toxic Brothers’ Traveling Carnival deserve their own cover.


I know you are also an actor/stuntman and martial artist. Can you tell us a little about your journey into becoming a martial artist and how that evolved into your acting career?

Martial Arts

Before the incident, when I was 8, I was this naïve kid who looked at the world through rose-colored, Disney-fied glasses. I was funny, and probably already had the creative gene, but I was ill-equipped to deal with the world around me.

Afterward, I was terrified of men. It was so bad, that I once pissed myself when my mom’s coworker asked me to help him with some mundane task one day when she had taken me to work with her. Now, this was a guy I had known for years. He was just trying to make me feel useful by giving me a job to do, like he had done 100-times before. But the rape changed all that. I still remember the look on his face as I stood there, frozen in shock, with a quickly-spreading piss-stain soaking the front of my pants. It was awful.

It was such a traumatizing moment, that I suddenly went blank. I didn’t feel anything, and I liked it. I saw this as a positive thing. I would get my older friends to buy me weapons from Asian World of Martial Arts, and I’d walk around armed to the teeth, hoping that someone would try something. I would put myself in dangerous situations and then try to override any type of fear that I felt. Then, I would come out on the other end feeling empowered. In my mind, I was trying to conquer fear, itself. But I think I had become a little addicted to it. Or more specifically to the feeling of empowerment upon overcoming my fears. But after having a gun pointed at your head and being told that you’re going to die, for a few hours, not too much affects you. I was essentially chasing the dragon.

I was also dealing with serious anger issues, which was usually directed at male authority figures. My mom was struggling to find positive male role models for me and/or some kind of outlet for my worsening rage. She got me involved in a Big Brother-type program that was run by the church. I started spending time with a guy named Bob Harris and his family. Bob was a former boxer who went by the name “Babyface.” He thought boxing might help calm me down.

From that point forward, I sought out any info I could find on fighting and self-defense. My goal was never to be a victim again, and to ultimately hunt down the piece-of-shit who did that to me when he was released from prison and unleash unholy hell on him. That shit I wanted to do to him was worse than anything I could write. Thinking about it still makes my fists ball up. I had it all planned out in painstaking detail. The main thing was that I wanted him to see me coming so that he recognized me, and then had time to process what was about to happen to him. Good thing I never followed through on that.

Anyway, this was long before the Internet. My cousin Fernandez gave me a book on Shotokan Karate, and I studied that thing front-to-back. I’ve always been a good mimic, so I got to the point where I could throw a decent front, roundhouse, and side kick. Of course, my form was awful, considering that I had learned from a book. I tried to get my mom to enroll me in several different martial arts schools, but back then, she viewed martial arts as this weird, foreign thing, and cock-blocked all that.

It wasn’t until college that I started training for real in anything other than boxing. I found out that there was a group of martial artists that would spar in the wrestling room (called the combat room) in the on-campus gym. I had trained myself to the point where I had a few decent combos (Jab/cross/front-kick or Jab/cross/hook/roundhouse kick or fake-jab skipping sidekick), and I knew enough about body-movement and footwork from boxing that I was able to hang with them for the most part. I mean, I got my ass handed to me a few times, but I always viewed it as a learning experience.  

Then, I found out that a fellow bouncer at the bar I worked at was a 2nd Dan in Taekwondo. He was studying for his 3rd Dan test and was looking for a training partner. So, I’m like, “You teach me Taekwondo, and I’ll train with you.” I trained with him for about two years. After that, I trained for another two years in a style that was a hybrid of Chinese Kempo and Pai Lum Kung Fu. After college, I came back home and trained for 15 years in a Southeast Asian style of Kung Fu called Spirit Fist. Then, it was full-circle back to boxing with Bob Harris, who sadly died in 2017.

Acting

Over the years, I’ve had a few potential movie deals based on my books come and go. During that process, I’d be invited to industry events (like Sundance) or parties, etc. People in the movie industry would always assume that I was an actor. “You’ve got an interesting look, and sort of a cool vibe about you. You should think about pursuing it.”

So, I did. But I was real half-assed about it at first because I lacked confidence.  

Stunts

I attended a seminar on fight choreography for film that was being taught by legendary Shaw Brothers actor, Lo Meng. Being a huge fan of old-school Shaw Brothers Films and of Lo Meng, it was an experience that I’ll never forget. After the seminar, I became friends with the guy who put it together, who was a former stunt coordinator. His ulterior motive for the seminar was to find new talent for a film he had planned. I started working with him, but he never finished the film. That actually happens a lot in the movie industry. Then, I branched out on my own and did small stuff here and there for a while. I eventually linked up with Robert Samuels, who is a protégé of Sammo Hung, and the first African American member of the Hong Kong Stuntmen’s Association. He’s worked with everyone from Sammo, to Yuen Biao, to Colin Chou, to Yuen Woo Ping. I did a few projects with Bobby and R4Films. It was the typical stuntman climb, just like in the old days of the Hong Kong Cinema. You start out as the anonymous body in the background. You jump out, do your few moves, and get your ass kicked by the lead, while somehow trying to stand out without looking like you’re trying to stand out. Over time, Bobby and I became friends. He recognized my talent/potential and made the first official member of The Samuels Action Stunt Team.    


What films/movies/shows have you worked on, and which was the most notable for you?

I’ve had very small roles in big projects like Hustle starring Adam Sandler, and the ABC series, For Life. I played a possessed hitman and performed stunts in Alpha Rift starring Lance Henriksen, a kung fu fighting homeless person in a film called Booted, a gang leader in the series Warrior’s Clan, a married woman’s murderous lover in the TVOne murder show For My Man, to name a few.

I’ve been everything from a blind, axe-wielding assassin, to an evil witch, to a ninja, to another gang member. Needless to say, I tend to get typecast as the villain. But I’m good with that. I’m all about playing the villain. It allows me to play around with the idea of what I might’ve been like without all the therapy and martial arts, and to sort of revisit and work through some of those old, unresolved issues in a safe way.    

I’ve got a few projects lined up with the stunt team. Can’t say much about those yet. In the meantime, we’re currently finishing up Shadow Fist 2: Axe Gang, which is the sequel to the action short Shadow Fist. I’m the Assistant Action Director on this one, so I got to design some of the choreography. The series is an homage to old-school Shaw Brothers Kung Fu films. 

I was all set to direct my first feature. A film called Holistay. Although, I secretly hated that titled and rallied to change it to Transversal. We were supposed to shoot this month. We were all cast, crew-ed up, and ready to go. But the project fell apart in typical Hollywood fashion.

Most notable moment so far is a three-way tie between…

  1. Being instructed by Lo Meng at the Fight Choreography Seminar.

  2. Fighting Bobby Samuels on film, who’s fought Sammo Hung on film, who’s fought Bruce Lee on film.

  3. Whipping out a joint at Horrorfind ’06 and getting several 80s Horror Movie Icons and one legendary Splatterpunk writer high.  


What else would you like my readers to know about you?  Feel free to include anything that I might have missed or talk about any future projects.

I have a few screenplays being shopped around by my agent. One of them is a TV series based on my novel WZMB.

Look out for the collab I did with Nick Cato called Il Cinema De Lucifero. The novella is currently looking for a publisher.

I’m editing a charity anthology with Wrath James White called Burn Tha Motherfucka Down! (Anti-fascism, Anti-racism, Extreme Horror tales of Justice, Anarchy, Revolution, and Revenge).

I also wrote an essay on the controversial 1981 film Nightmare (aka Nightmare in a Damaged Brain) that will appear in Nick Cato’s book about the film. Should be hearing details about that one pretty soon.

Other than that, I’ve got several novels in various stages of completion. Titles like…

- SunPhobic

- Ice Cream Gunslinger

- EDM-Bolism

- Iron Butterfly

- Metropolitoxica

- Neo-Nazi Occult Comedy Jam


So, stay tuned…


Andre's Bio:

Andre Duza is an actor, stuntman, screenwriter, martial artist, and the author or co-author of over 10 novels, a graphic novel (Hollow Eyed Mary), and the Star Trek comic book Outer Light. He has also contributed to several collections and anthologies, including Book of Lists: Horror, alongside the likes of Stephen King and Eli Roth.

Andre has appeared in several movies and TV Series, including For Life, For My Man, Final Contact, Booted, and Alpha Rift starring Lance Henriksen. He is a member of the Samuels Action Stunt Team lead by Action Director Robert Samuels, who is a protégé of legendary Hong Kong Action Star Sammo Hung, and the first African American member of the Hong Kong Stunt Men’s Association.

Andre also wrote, co-produced, and starred in the award-winning proof-of-concept short-film Tagati, which is currently airing on Amazon Prime Video. 

He currently lives in Philadelphia with his wife and four children.

 
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Wavy Circles

2/19/2022
Sylvester Barzey

I recently connected with horror author, Sylvester Barzey, author of the Dead Planet books and wanted to interview him for Black History Month. He had quite a bit to say. 

What made you want to become a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you make a conscious decision one day that you were going to be an author?

I’ve always loved writing and creating words in one way or another, but I never thought of it as a real career until I joined the military. Before my deployment it was just a hobby, something I shared with my friends and family from time to time, but mostly just a way to get the stories out of my head.

When I was deployed to Afghanistan I was really depressed. I felt worthless and without a purpose, so I returned to a project that I started and told myself I was going to finish it, because I never finished anything I started.

While I was deployed, I made it a mission to finish something, I started reading more books, working out and writing my first novel “Planet Dead” which was a zombie book I started in 2010 but I really focused on it during my 2012 deployment. I got feedback from other soldiers, and it was really good, so I tried to find an agent for a week, the book wasn’t done, and I had no idea what I was doing, so I got a lot of rejects. I decided to focus on my writing and learn how I could publish my work and I learned about self-publishing and decided that’s what I wanted to do, because I hated hearing no.

So, I have to thank Afghanistan, The Army & all those poor Agents that I sent trash to for pushing me to publish myself.


When did you begin writing professionally?

2017 was when I published my first book and got my first check from Amazon and I’m still cashing those checks.


Are you an avid reader?  If so, what do you like to read the most? 

I would like to consider myself an avid reader, but I’ve seen bookstagrams and Goodreads and my 3 books a month is nothing compared to those readers. I do a lot of audiobook reading and I normally read motivational books, self-help and horror, those are the only genres you’ll find me in.


Is there one book more than any other that inspired you to become a writer? Or was the inspiration a person, a relative or a favorite teacher? 

The book that really put me on the path for publishing would be Bobby Adair’s Slow Burn: Day One. That book just really took me on a ride. I laughed out loud and really felt for the characters and when I was done with that book I thought “I want to give someone this feeling with my books”


What was it about the book or the person that inspired you so much?

I was working my 9-5 job, writing and trying to keep my family happy while staying above water with my bills. For a few moments of my day, I got to escape everything and just have fun. That feeling really stuck with me and it was what I wanted to give my readers, just being able to escape your day to day life and have fun.


What does it mean to you, to be a black creative, to be a role model for young authors and creatives of color, which are looking to get into the horror field, in any capacity?

It means a lot to me. I have a little Black boy growing quickly before my eyes and I want to be part of the change that is happening within the media to give the Black community representation. I grew up watching horror and seeing nothing but White faces surviving, and I want to do my part to show Black horror fans that we are survivors as well. I want to be the change that I needed growing up, so it means a lot.


Whom do you most admire in Black history/culture and why, living or dead?

That’s a hard one, I feel like there are tons of iconic Black people that I look up to. Will Smith, my older brothers Chris & Greg… but I think Muhammad Ali might be the one I look to the most when it comes to trying to overcome everyday battles or just overcome my own laziness. He focused on being the best boxer in the world. Every match he went into he believed he was the best boxer in the world, it didn't matter what happened. Through his focus on his path in life, he made a great change in the community beyond just being the greatest boxer. I believe if I know my why and stay focused on just making the best book I can, then everything else I want to do will fall into place.


What other black authors/screenwriters/actors/producers, do you believe deserve more recognition in the field?

There are a lot of Black authors out there that I feel should get more love like; Felix I.D. Dimaro, Samone Johnson, C. N. Phillips, Jean Nicole Rivers, Alexzander Christion, Victoria Wilder, and Kiki Johnson. I’ve met a lot of amazing writers from a lot of different genres along the way, so I can say for a fact, that if there is something you’re into, there is a Black person creating it for the community.


What challenges, if any, have you personally faced as a black creative in this field?

The genre I write in is considered a White dominated genre. The authors are normally older White males, and the readers are older White females. I find that at times my views as a Black man in America can sometimes get in the way of me making sales or building a following as fast as my White peers.

For one I’ve had people who didn’t want to read my book because they just felt it was gonna be ‘POC Propaganda’ in their words. I’ve had authors tell me my sales were low because I had a Black female on the cover.

I got removed from a group for posting about Juneteenth. Some people see a Black person on the cover and say “this book is not for me” because they are so used to seeing a White face looking back at them. So, the challenge is pushing forward knowing that I’m gonna be taking a loss in profits to make the change that I feel needs to be made.


What one piece of advice would you give to other black creatives in the industry?

Just keep your eyes on your lane. Grind hard and push out the best stories and content that you can, don’t get too lost in who sold more or who got this deal or that deal, everyone’s path is different and being a Black creative you already know that you have to overcome things that most of your creative peers won’t have to overcome. So don’t be discouraged by all the shine around you, just take the tools you see them using and work it for yourself. Your shine is coming.


If you had to pick just one of your books as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

I get asked this a lot and I would have to say Planet Dead 2. I wrote that book the summer my father died and if I didn’t have it to pour my emotions into and to work through the pain that I was dealing with, I don’t know if I would even be here today. It really did pull me through a dark point in my life.


Tell us about your Planet Dead series and how you developed the concept for the series?

Planet Dead is about Catherine Briggs, an ex-military badass who is searching for her family during the zombie apocalypse. Catherine gets separated from her family on day one of the zombie outbreak and they believe she’s dead, so no one is coming for her. Now she must travel from Atlanta to Savannah Georgia in hopes of finding her family. It’s really about a mother doing whatever she has to do to find her family. Along the way she comes into contact with people who need her help and people who want her dead, and being a mother/soldier, she has to put her mission aside to right the wrongs that she’s coming across but every second she takes to save the world, is one less second, she has with her family.


I wanted to write a badass final girl, I wanted someone that you could drop into the pits of hell and know they were gonna find a way out. I modeled Catherine off of Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. So much so that when I started writing the book Catherine was a White woman.

I remember I was sitting with my wife reading about a movement in independent comics to have strong Black characters and I was like “I wanna do something like that” and my wife asked “Why don’t you? Why isn’t Catherine Black?” and the first thing I thought was, she can’t be Black because every great final girl I’ve ever seen was White. I realized at that moment that the genre that I loved had brainwashed me into thinking the color of your skin decides if you are a survivor of a horror story.

 I changed the book right then and there and never looked back.


Your wife is also very involved in what you do, and you have a podcast together, Black Geek Couple.  Can you tell us about creating the podcast, and talk about some of your favorite experiences with it?

 My wife is my rock, I couldn’t do any of the things I do without her. We made a YA book together and that was fun, so we started looking for something else we could do together. I just got done doing my own podcast and we thought why not make one together. We talk about horror and all this stuff together already, why not just record it. So that’s what we did, we just got done with our first season and I loved it.

It’s really just an excuse for me to hang out with her and hear her laugh and talk about things that we love. I love getting to hear her views on things and when we are recording, she lights up so much and just becomes another person and I love it.


What has been your proudest moment thus far in your journey and why was that moment so important?

It sounds so basic but there is a Facebook group called Zombie Book of The Month, and since 2017 I’ve always wanted to win but most of the time, I don’t even get nominated but this year with my novella “Planet Dead: The Briggs Boys Mixtape” I got nominated and I won. It was a really big deal for me because it was just one of those things that I wanted, and I thought would be so cool and I finally got it.


What do you aspire to leave behind as your legacy and what message would you want to tell the world as a black cultural leader?

 I want to leave different worlds with strong Black heroes. I want to leave books on top of books of scary universes that kids who enjoy reading under the covers can get lost in. I want to have people think of zombies and post-apocalyptic fiction and think of me or my characters.


The number one message I want people to take from my work is Black people are survivors, we have been for years. I want the Black community to look at horror and see themselves overcoming the monsters in the darkness, because we are survivors, and we will forever be that.


What else would you like my readers to know about you?  Feel free to include anything that I might have missed or talk about any future projects.

I just want to say thank you for having me, it’s always nice to connect with other Black authors and just grow the tribe and the community. I have so many goals for this year writing wise, I just think people need to keep an eye on me because I plan on blowing things up. I have a Gatsby retelling that I want to do and more Planet Dead books. A lot of good things are coming.



Sylvester's Bio:

Sylvester Barzey is a best-selling horror and fantasy author who grew up in Bronx, NY and was later transplanted to Lawrence, GA. A military veteran with an addiction to all things horror, Sylvester’s goal is to shine a spotlight on BIPOC characters within the horror/fantasy genre.


Birthplace: Bronx, NY

Residence: Lawrenceville, GA

Published Books: Planet Dead 1-3, Planet Dead: The Briggs Boys Mixtape, The Realm, Stitches: A Collection of Horror Short Stories, Generation Slayer

 
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02/12/2022
John Lawson

Founder of Raw Dog Screaming Press

John Edward Lawson was born in Washington, DC and currently divides his time between Bowie, Maryland and Broadkill Beach, Delaware. Over 500 stories, poems, and articles published worldwide.

While he has been called “The forgotten black man of horror” he also regularly publishes science fiction, bizarro, thrillers, erotica, and literary fiction.

As co-founder of Raw Dog Screaming Press John received the 2018 HWA Specialty Press Award. He is former editor-in-chief of The Dream People and currently serves as vice president of Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Lawson and our discussion is below:

What made you want to become a writer? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did you make a conscious decision one day that you were going to be an author?

The strange thing is that I learn the same thing, over and over, from so many others who made writing their career, and we’re more or less all the same: it began at a very young age as a hobby that always seemed a viable eventual career path. For as long as can remember I was making things, mostly art, but there were little stories I would make to amuse myself and friends. Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-type things, fan fiction, cartoons, eventually transitioning to short stories and comic books when I was 16. My father was the head of the library binding section for the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, so he was always working on famous or important books, and there were books all over my childhood home—both my parents were voracious readers—and it just seemed natural to write all the time.


When did you begin writing professionally?

The second week of August, 1999 is when I began writing full-time. While there were numerous publications along the way, it wasn’t until December of 2000 that I received professional rates. That, alongside the accompanying award nomination for the story, cinched it for me. There was no going back! Plus, things were changing in all sorts of ways with electronic submissions and publications becoming part of the industry, so somebody like me living outside New York or Los Angeles without industry connections could actually make a go of it.


Are you an avid reader?  If so, what do you like to read the most? 

I’m a voracious reader of articles, research papers, and nonfiction books. My love of learning drives this habit, but it’s largely practical in nature given the wide range of subjects and perspectives I write about, not to mention my tendency to write in just about every genre. For instance, I dabble in languages—currently Mandarin, Swedish, Lenape, and Yoruba— for fun, but also to bring realism to my dialogue, proposed evolutions of language in future settings, or even just having a better grasp on how language and communication work in different societies so made-up words don’t come off silly. Beyond that I mostly end up reading unpublished work for blurbs, contest judging, and publishing consideration at my press.


Is there one book more than any other that inspired you to become a writer? Or was the inspiration a person, a relative or a favorite teacher? 

In 1990 I took my first cross-country trip with my parents, and in the airport my mother offered to pay for a book of my choice to read on the trip. It was titled "The Proving", and it wasn’t great by any means, but it was my first experience reading adult horror and opened up my imagination to what was possible. In short order I then read the fiction collections of Clive Barker and Stephen King, along with the anthologies "Prime Evil", "The Book of the Dead," and "Dark Forces". That’s when I gave it my first go, at 16. Of course, I was jumping the gun. It wasn’t until reading Fight Club and Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk in 1999 I fully committed and made writing my career.

What was it about the book or the person that inspired you so much?

The initial creative spark in 1990 came from realizing you could flesh out, and immerse people in, a remorseless and bewildering world of unspeakable things happening. I had a fairly grim upbringing, so this was my first literary experience that really made any sense to me. With Chuck Palahniuk, I was blown away by the amount of irreverent and clever content artistically condensed so just about every single line had impact. It was inspiring to see 1,000 pages of impact delivered in just 200 pages, and I was able to see myself maybe able to write a full-length book using that approach.


What does it mean to you, to be a black creative, to be a role model for young authors and creatives of color, that are looking to get into the horror field, in any capacity?

There is heavy responsibility in everything you do publicly as a black person. Even more so as a brand, be it entertainer, community pillar, or artist. For my part, I enjoy being able to contribute in this way. There’s a lot of talk about community organizers when it comes to us, and for sure community is what it’s all about. Science shows us prosociality—people working together—is how prehistoric people survived, while the rugged loner types didn’t make it. Look at our history in the United States, or any colonial state. It all comes back to community. So, we have to network with each other, share resources, celebrate and publicize each others’ wins so people grow more accustomed with seeing horror being black, and build the community we need in order to thrive in horror, or any other field. My experience doing that has been an honor. I’ll warn you, though, all that effort takes away from time creating, making deals, and so forth, so be ready to watch folks who don’t have to go through all that rack up more successes. And black men, don’t forget black women, black immigrants, black LGBTQIA, and black disabled folks all face more barriers than we do, so lift them up.


Whom do you most admire in Black history/culture and why, living or dead?

Harriet Tubman. Maybe it’s because I’m a Marylander, but I mean come on. She performed superhuman feats of strength on a regular basis, freed untold numbers of enslaved folks, went on spy missions and rescue missions during the Civil War, preserved through her years of enslavement despite her freed black husband being against any effort for her to also gain freedom, and she did it all with a lifelong traumatic brain injury that would cause her to freeze up in a trance for minutes on end at random day and night. Imagine doing the things she did when our people weren’t just facing death and torture; Nat Turner’s body was never recovered because he was eaten. Beyond the popularized horrors of slavery, we were seen as livestock and our hair was used to stuff furniture, our skin made into leather, and we were at times eaten outright. But still she, and so many others, kept moving against the system.


What other black authors/screenwriters/actors/producers, do you believe deserve more recognition in the field?

Bob Kaufman was one of the main forces behind the Beat movement, but you’d never know it. Read his poetry for some wild Afro-Surrealism. James Baldwin was celebrated in his day, but he seems to be passed over these days despite the gritty dark relevance, and eloquence, of work like Going to Meet the Man. In the contemporary scene you have amazing authors like R.J. Joseph, L. Marie Wood, and Craig L. Gidney consistently delivering country-hood fusion, psychological horror, and weird fiction respectively. And in the film scene I don’t think Boots Riley gets enough credit for his surreal, hilarious body horror Sorry to Bother You, just as Donald Glover and his team on the Atlanta series aren’t celebrated for their consistently intense absurdity that mirrored much of Get Out before the film even hit theaters.


What challenges, if any, have you personally faced as a black creative in this field?

A lot of the same challenges I faced in the private sector: being dismissed, talked over, mistaken for somebody else, having my ideas taken and used by somebody else after I’ve been dismissed or talked over. Additionally, people not believing I’m me in person because the person they corresponded with via email wrote properly and thus must be white. Or, being told not to include so many other cultures, instead focusing exclusively on white interests and characters. That’s all somewhat obvious, though, but what you don’t realize is the generational wealth imbalance really hits hard when you’re a freelancer. There’s a much shorter window of opportunity for you to establish yourself when you come from my background. We just don’t have the resources—or friends and family with the resources—to fall back on during lean times.


What one piece of advice would you give to other black creatives in the industry?

Take up space. Be seen. Don’t lower your voice or back out of opportunities just because others are uncomfortable with you bringing something to the table they wouldn’t. At the first Writing Genre While Black event I hosted, when I had Bill Campbell, publisher behind Rosarium Books, on for an interview he said something important so many of us feel: we’ll know we’re equal when we can be mediocre. For the time being, though, I say keep being exceptional. These days that doesn’t necessarily mean untenable output, just keep advancing your skills and make self-care and health central to everything you do. Remember, it’s about longevity, and we historically have enough strikes against us with resource theft/denial and systemic health system bias, so surviving long enough to “make it,” and do so with good quality of life, is an accomplishment that escapes even many of our famous black creatives.


If you had to pick just one of your books as your favorite, which one would it be and why?

I’m one of those writers who cringes when they think of their past work, but you know what? When I go back and flip through passages from my first novel, Last Burn in Hell, I always end up enjoying the read. I also had a fiction collection, a poetry collection, and an anthology I edited all published in the same year, plus my child was born, plus there was a slew of my short fiction, poetry, and articles all published worldwide around that time, so a lot was competing for my attention and it tends to blur together 17 years later. But Last Burn still stands out.


Tell us about your experience with founding Raw Dog Screaming Press. It is highly successful and is one of the most respected horror presses out there. What has been your challenges and what has been some of your proudest moments in this journey into publishing?

Thank you for the kind words! The transition these past two decades has been surreal. We began with just $1,000 and the goal to provide space for authors doing unexpected, cross-genre work. Back around 2000 the gate-keeping was unreal; you had to write what fit neatly into one of the categories on the limited bookshelf space in brick-and-mortar stores, the unpopular PDF format was the only eBook option with no centralized distributors for it, and self-publishing would kill your career. Surviving those first few years, when retailers and reviewers didn’t understand we were using print on demand as a distribution model for traditional publishing instead of self-publishing, that was tough. Then surviving the financial meltdown of 2007-2009 that wiped out so much of the publishing sector, that was rough—but also very freeing. Midlist authors with credibility self-published successfully after being cut from the big companies, and from that tumult cross genre work became more acceptable, so people began appraising us differently. The culmination of that recognition was the Horror Writers Association awarding us the 2018 Specialty Press Award. And, as much as I have done for the company, none of it would be possible without the work of co-founder Jennifer Barnes.


What has been your proudest moment thus far in your journey and why was that moment so important?

Learning that other writers are fans of my work still blows me away to this day and inspires me to do more. Whether it’s those in the scene who enjoy—or are devastated by—my poetry, or draw inspiration from my photography, or who listen to my music while they write, all of it inspires me. When you set out on this journey you dream of one day have a wide readership or maybe accolades, and while I have been of a few very niche bestseller lists my real audience turned out to be other creatives. Which, in a way, might be a more difficult accomplishment. Regardless, it’s one I’m proud of.


What do you aspire to leave behind as your legacy and what message would you want to tell the world as a black cultural leader?

You can do it. You belong. Your heritage is so much richer than we are taught. You deserve more here in the present day. You can give more to the future. You are here right now because your ancestors believed all this and more to be true of you. You have everything you need within yourself to live up to their expectations.


What else would you like my readers to know about you?  Feel free to include anything that I might have missed or talk about any future projects.

I’m excited that we’re able to bring a slew of new books to readers this year, including Chasing Whispers by Sudanese Australian Eugen Bacon, Daniel Krause’s The Ghost That Ate Us, sequels to our Stoker Award-winning Writing in the Dark—a workbook and a poetry guide edited by Stephanie M. Wytovich—and Brenda S. Tolian’s debut Blood Mountain. With my other businesses, the AllAccessCon virtual event company and the Broadkill Writers Resort for workshops at the beach, I’m involved in launching a streaming TV app like Netflix…but for everything related to books and the publishing industry. It will be available on Apple TV, Roku, Android, Apple devices, Amazon Fire, Chromecast, Android TV, Fire TV, and online this spring. 

Beyond that, I’m finally getting into podcasting, so there will be a series of announcements surrounding that. Subjects include black academics in genre fiction, poetry, writing courses, serialized fiction, and diversity in publishing, so at least five separate podcasts lined up at the moment.

And, as I said, I have a background in visual art—which those who follow me online might have guessed from my photography and photography products—and recently I’ve begun a really cool collaboration project based around my photography. So, hopefully there will be news about that in the near future. For the time being I’ll keep taking creepy photos of urban decay and the like and sharing them online. There are other things in the works, but I can’t discuss them yet. Stay tuned!

John's Bio:

His novels include Last Burn in Hell and New Mosque City, while his fiction collections include Paramourn: Unfortunate Romances (Wonderland Award honorable mention), Devil Entendre, Truth in Ruins, Lawson vs. LaValley, Discouraging at Best (Wonderland Award finalist), and Pocket Full of Loose Razorblades (containing the Pushcart Prize nominated “Expectations of the Needy”).

The poetry collection Bibliophobia will be published in 2022; other poetry collections include Wholesome Terror: Lawfully Combative Verse, SuiPsalms (Elgin Award nominee), The Troublesome Amputee (Stoker Award finalist, double Dwarf Stars Award nominations, double Rhysling Award nominations), The Plague Factory, The Horrible, and The Scars Are Complimentary.

Anthologies John edited are Of Flesh and Hunger, Sick: An Anthology of Illness, and Tempting Disaster.

Short film adaptations of his poems include Why the Big Cat’s Eyes Are So Pretty, Where the Heart Isn’t, and Raw Dog Screaming. He worked on the award-winning short films Uberman: An Experiment in Consciousness and Party Girl as producer.

When he isn’t on the road as a guest at or planner of conventions, such as this year’s StokerCon and WorldCon, He is busy hosting virtual conferences for AllAccessCon, or teaching workshops at places like Broadkill Writers Resort, Clarion West, and Speculative Fiction Academy.

He graduated from Omega Studios School of Applied Recording Arts and Sciences certified in audio production techniques for advertising, as well as music business and artist management. While he no longer owns Rack & Ruin Studio, he is still an active musician, crafting lyrics and music for the horror soundtrack-inspired Rage Inducer. The Rage Inducer project has spawned nine singles and EPs, with a full-length album being distributed in April 2022.

 
Graphic Spiral

2/05/2022
Jean Nicole Rivers

Our first author spotlight for this month is Jean Nicole Rivers. 

Jean Nicole is a National Black Book Festival award-winner and author of three psychological horror novels, Black Water Tales: To the Moon and Back, Black Water Tales: The Unwanted and Black Water Tales: The Secret Keepers.


Currently, she is finishing her first dark thriller novel, Lies on Bristol Lake.

She teaches an online beginner writing course titled, Simply Writing: An Aspiring Author’s Guide to Developing A Solid Writing Process and FINALLY Writing Their Novel.


I had the chance to speak with her recently and this is what she had to say. 

What made you want to become a writer? 

I have always loved reading and I always knew I wanted to write books.


When did you begin writing professionally?

About 12 years ago I made the decision to write my first book.


Are you an avid reader?  If so, what do you like to read the most? 

Avid is a strong word because I know people devour books. I probably read 1 to 2 books a month. I’ve become a bit of a book snob and I feel like I am still chasing that high I had when I was a teen needing to get my hands on every new Fear Street book. I haven’t found an author that rocks my world like that as an adult, but I am still on the hunt.


Is there one book more, than any other that inspired you to become a writer? Or was the inspiration a person, a relative or a favorite teacher? 

Books and stories in general inspired me. Each time I finished a book, I knew I wanted to write one.

What was it about books and reading that inspired you so much?

I just love the stories as they allow my imagination to rule the world, even if it is only for approximately, 300 pages.


What does it mean to you, to be a black author, to be a role model for young authors of color, that are aspiring authors?

It’s important. We have so many stories to tell and I love encouraging young Black writers to start telling these stories that are going to change the world.


What challenges, if any, have you faced as a black author?

The biggest challenge that most of us face is resources. Considering the publishing industry has a serious problem when it comes to Black women in decision making positions, Black books have to please white males before they can even get close to the major financial, marketing and distribution resources that the publishing industry has at its disposal.


Whom do you most admire in Black history/culture and why, living or dead?

In Black culture, I most admire young Black girls. They are #BlackExcellence in everything from their style, creativity, strength and ambition. They are unmatched.


What other black authors or screenwriters do you believe deserves more recognition in the field?

So many but there are not many of us horror writers and I love Brandon Massey’s work and am anxiously waiting on the movies that need to be made from his dark tales.


What one piece of advice would you give to other black/brown authors/ artists in the industry?

Keep writing for Black people.


Do you only write horror stories or do you cross-over into other genres?

Most of my work is horror, but I am finishing my first dark thriller novel, Lies on Bristol Lake. In the future, I would like to start a cozy mystery series.

What was your earliest experience with horror? Movie, book, a real-life moment or nightmare?

I couldn’t tell you. My mom and one of my aunts loved horror, so I have been watching them ever since I can remember but one of my earliest memories was going to see the original Child’s Play in theaters with my aunt.


What is your favorite thing about being in the Horror industry?

It’s ALL my favorite. I love horror books, movies, villains, tropes, etc. All of it.


Can you tell us about your Black Water Tales series and where the concept come from for these novels?

I’m from a very small town in IL. When I was young it was picturesque. I learned that some of the most heinous things take place in the most unlikely places, and I think that is what makes Black Water such a terrifying place.


I understand that you also write screenplays. Your screenplay, If I Die, has won multiple awards. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what was that process like for you?

I have written a few short screenplays for some of my super short thrillers. If I Die is about a young woman who goes to a garage sale but finds much more than she bargained for. This was shot and can be found on my YouTube page. It was a great experience, especially shooting the short film and being able to bring this story to vibrant life on camera.


How does screenwriting differ from novel writing, and do you prefer one over the other?

I am not an expert at writing screenplays, but the process seems a bit more technical than writing books. With books, I’m simply telling a story and letting the reader figure out how to envision it, with screenplays you provide the vision as well.​

​ 

What do you hope to leave behind as your legacy and what message would you want to tell the world as a black cultural leader?

 My legacy is my imagination which is documented in my books. My message is, tell your story.


What else would you like my readers to know about you?  Feel free to include anything that I might have missed or talk about any future projects.

Be sure to be on the lookout for my new dark thriller, Lies on Bristol Lake.

 
 
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Authors Honor Those That Inspired...

See below for some inspiring tributes from authors around the genre, on those black creatives and leaders that inspired them.

 
White Waves

2/26/2022
Honoring RuPaul

by Rowland Bercy, Jr.

“Sashay! Shantay!"
I thought I’d go a less traditional route and honor someone I have admired and followed since the beginning of his career; RuPaul Andre Charles, known mononymously as RuPaul.  Emmy Award winning host, and producer of RuPaul’s Drag Race, who just happens to share my birthday; November 17, and is without a doubt the most commercially successful drag queen in the United States.  In a world that seems to promote and embrace toxic masculinity, continuously pressuring men to behave or act a certain way, it is inspirational to see a successful, black man who embraces camp and extravagance.
RuPaul; an effeminate, African American, gay male has managed to beat the odds stacked against him since birth and has capitalized on the famous quote “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” subsequently creating for himself a multi-million-dollar empire centered around his love of drag.  In doing so, RuPaul has correspondingly launched countless other queen to super-stardom.  Propelling them from the shadows of the LGBTQIA+ nightclub scene and into the light of day.
In his search for the queen with the most Carisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent, RuPaul not only manages to bring glitz and glam to a sometime dreary, and drab world he also manages to hammer home several important life-lessons, ranging from acceptance, to body positivity, diversity, and self-love.  In addition, he oftentimes speaks quite candidly about matters plaguing today’s society, as well as the LGBTQIA+ community.  Everything from bullying, to depression, trans rights, cancer, AIDS/HIV, as well as other societal issues, which are often swept under the rug and spoken about in hushed tones.
To see someone so confidently living in his truth and helping others along the way is just what this world needs given its current situation.
There’s a well-known quote RuPaul says at the end of Drag Race which goes, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna’ love somebody else.” A simple, but impactful saying which I strive to, and would encourage others to live by, always. 
With this in mind, I have one thing to say…
You better work!

 

2/26/2022
Honoring Jordan Peele

by Sue Rovens

What can one say about the first and only Black American to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (for the 2017 film Get Out), an award that has been given out since 1940?


Plenty.


Jordon Peele’s career has been nothing short of long and winding. While majoring in puppetry at Sarah Lawrence College, a New York liberal arts school, his interests would eventually turn to improv comedy. His then-roommate, Rebecca Drysdale, who would later become a writer for Key & Peele, joined forces with him early on. The duo found local success in the comedy world for a time.


Soon after, Mr. Peele landed a place with Boom Chicago, an international theatrical group based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It was during a performance at Second City where fate took things by the hand. Michael Keegan Key met Jordon Peele and comedy, as this generation knows it, would never be quite the same.


For five glorious seasons, the comedic team of Key and Peele shined during Mad TV’s run. However, when contracts were up in 2009, their mutual agent suggested they break out on their own. The television show Key and Peele entertained audiences from 2012 to the latter half of 2015, producing 53 episodes in all.


Aside from the large swath of comedy Peele has given the masses, his current ventures into the horror realm are leaving audiences wowed, shocked, and eager for more. A lifelong fan of the genre himself, Peele utilizes his love of horror and the macabre and combines it with current social justice issues, creating a new twist on some old themes.


The 2017 hit Get Out was more than just another horror flick. The film put a microscope on racism, never shying away from the hard-to-swallow truths which probably left some audience members feeling uncomfortable. Personally, (spoilers ahead), I was absolutely floored by the scene where a backyard house party turned into a silent bidding war for Chris (played by actor Daniel Kaluuya). The stilted and racist dialogue between the party guests, the “house-help”, and Chris completely caught me off-guard. I never expected them to literally speak those words to a person of color in a movie that was set in current time (as opposed to fifty or more years ago). Today’s microaggressions are bad, but these statements were like something out of the 1930s. For Peele to pointedly write these scenes, including such dialogue, and create these characters speaks volumes about his talent and ability at getting to the heart of important matters.


The movie Us (2019), also written and directed by Peele, pairs the horror genre with the concept of inequality – basically stating that there are “two Americas”. Nothing these days could be more obvious, but here again is a man who refuses to candy-coat the battles we are facing in our current society. While I personally preferred Get Out over this film (just a matter of taste), the battle between the families (the haves vs. the have nots) was quite chilling. Peele makes sure that the audience is cognizant of the fact that while they might be on the fortunate/lucky side of life in America (regarding education, financial means, and employment), those that are not shouldn’t be looked down upon. Privilege is not something to flaunt, but rather to acknowledge. Always be mindful of others is a fair take-away from Us.


“I have a definite world of things that I’m exploring and trying to say with this film, all relating to our duality as human beings, and the guilt and sins that we bury deep within ourselves.” - Jordan Peele


Monkeypaw Productions, founded by Jordon Peele, is the company behind these two films. Monkeypaw is also host to several other offerings such as Lovecraft Country (a little horror-ish, a little sci-fi), Candyman (2021), and an updated version of the Twilight Zone (2019-2020).


Later this year, Peele is set to release his third horror gem – Nope (due out on 7/22/22). Details are almost nil at this point, but the teaser poster is below. 

Jordon Peele is a man to watch, to follow, and to admire. He has not only given audiences years of laughter with his comedy, but now, perhaps even more importantly, is utilizing his time and talent to highlight key social issues and injustices through the genre of horror. In addition, yet no less important, Peele continues to provide more opportunities for people of color throughout the entertainment industry.


Writer, director, producer, and company creator – Jordon Peele is forging ahead, easily becoming this generation’s Rod Serling. If his name is attached, I know I’m in for a quality and entertaining ride, and I will certainly learn something about society (and myself) along the way.

 

Coming Soon!

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Diagonal Lines

2/26/2022
Reflections of a Dream

by D.E. Grant

When I was asked to write about someone who inspired me, the first question I asked myself was “Who inspires me and why?”  I immediately came up with some of the same people that are usually held up in front of us:  entrepreneurs, statesmen, entertainers and athletes.
However, my focus turns to other equally gifted men and women of color, such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, who excels in the field of physics, or women like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, “living computers”, who were the true brains behind one of the greatest operations in aeronautics history.  In light of all these brilliant people and so many more such brave pioneers and inventors who have broken the glass ceiling, I discovered who truly does inspire me, and in that, what inspires me.
As a huge sci-fi fan, I always wondered about and wanted to travel into space.  To be able to roam among the stars had always been a dream of mine but was unable to fulfill.  I looked toward living through others to fulfill that dream for me, to hopefully find the hope that people like me would someday reach out and grab our place in the cosmos.
The dream I wanted to live vicariously through became a reality in 1992 when Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to travel into space.  I could only imagine the wonders she witnessed while out there, the vastness of it all.  
To be the first woman of color to open the gates for others to walk through truly did, and still do, inspire me.  Her intelligence and determination moves my childhood dream into the reality she lived in, to go not only beyond herself, but beyond the forces that hold us here on Earth.  The knowledge that we can and have our place among the stars inspires not only myself but can drive others to realize we have no limits to where we can go, that we belong wherever we plant our feet, and that the stars are not representative of the end of our journey, but just the beginning.

 
New World

2/19/2022
Honoring Octavia Butler

by Nikolas P. Robinson

As an author and a horror author, in particular, it stands to reason that I'd opt to focus on a voice within that genre of fiction. It would be the easy path to focus on someone like Victor LaValle, Wrath James White, or Linda Addison when thinking about African American authors who have impacted me as both a writer and a lover of literature. I'm not big on taking the easy path.


I would have to say that my introduction to African American horror literature was an atypical one, in that most people wouldn't think of Octavia E. Butler when they imagine the horror genre. While it makes perfect sense that Butler is considered a pivotal voice within the fantasy and science fiction literary world, I suspect that most readers would be hard-pressed to dismiss the horror embedded in much of her writing.


My exposure to her writing began with Dawn, a post-apocalyptic novel that takes place hundreds of years after a nuclear war has ravaged Earth. Isolated, confused, and increasingly terrified, Lilith finds herself gradually confronted with the truth of what happened to her home world, her prejudices regarding gender and sexuality, and the utter alien-ness of her captors/saviors. In the end, as is often the case, it turns out that human beings are the real monsters. The remaining two books in the trilogy don't convey the same horror themes prevalent within Dawn, but I can't help but credit that first book as being one of my first experiences with what I would consider African American horror.


Her novel, Parable of the Sower, was similarly rife with elements that I would confidently consider horror or at least horror-adjacent. This book was another post-apocalyptic story. Parable of the Sower is narrated from the perspective of a young woman who suffers from a unique illness--due to her mother's drug use during pregnancy. Lauren experiences a form of hyper-empathy that forces her to feel the sensations experienced by others, and in the world of this story, those sensations consist mostly of pain.


The concept of feeling the often debilitating pain of other people in a world on the verge of a total environmental and societal collapse is nightmare fuel if I've ever encountered it. On top of all of this, the story includes right-wing fascist cults, roving bands of cannibals, the return of slavery as an institution, and widespread murder and sexual assault. Fans of horror would be hard-pressed to disagree that Butler incorporated many of the elements we've come to associate with horror in this novel.


It's fitting, perhaps, that Butler's final novel was the unique vampire tale, Fledgling, focused on a culture of vampires that attempts to live in a sort of symbiotic relationship with humanity. This final novel explores themes of identity, revenge, bigotry, and genetic experimentation with the same nuance and expertly-crafted character study Octavia E. Butler was known for in all of her previous literature.


Embracing the lessons learned through her life experiences, from a childhood spent assisting her mother with cleaning the homes of white families--while always entering through the back door--to her college years during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, Butler had plenty of real-life horrors to draw from. It's no surprise that themes of racial disharmony, bigotry, and injustice repeatedly found their way into her writing, no matter how optimistic and far-reaching her vision might have been. Her fondness for writing about "the other" with care, sympathy, and compassion--while never pretending that everything would turn out right--is the thing that always stood out for me.


I suspect that we have to credit Butler's success within the wider science fiction community for opening the door to many of the black authors who came after her, regardless of the genre. Anyone writing genre fiction owes a debt to Butler for stubbornly wrenching open doors and paving the way for previously marginalized voices.

 
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2/19/2022
Honoring Duane Jones & the Revolution

Written by Tylor James

It was an era of cultural upheaval. A young, liberal generation arose from the graves of their parent’s conservativism and flooded the streets, famished and aching for a new way of life.


A life without war, without draft cards, without hate and prejudice.   


The kids sought a revolution—one of love and peace and brother/sisterhood.


In 1968, the Chicago Democratic Convention exploded with violence, L.B.J. sunk troops deeper into the muck of Vietnam, Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and riots raged in the streets. The revolution of love and peace couldn’t have been further from reality. However, we can credit Night of the Living Dead (1968) for creating an artistic revolution within the noble tradition that is cinema fantastique.


As the most successful low-budget, independent film of its time, Night not only created the modern zombie archetype, but more importantly featured the first Black man to play the lead in a horror film.


Enter: Duane Jones, actor, professor, theater director, revolutionary.


Born in New York City in 1937, Duane would later graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a B.A., study at the Sorbonne in Paris, teach literature at Long Island University, and become a stage director at Maguire Theater (NY). These are only a few of his professional accomplishments.


By all accounts, on behalf of those who knew him personally and professionally, Duane Jones was a disarmingly eloquent and charming gentleman, as well as fiercely intelligent, articulate, and talented.


I argue here that without his portrayal of Ben in Night, the film would still have been interesting and original—but it would not have been revolutionary. In my humble opinion, Duane Jones carried Night of the Living Dead to its ultimate success. Not only because he was the first Black man to play the lead in a horror film, but because of the innovative liberties he took in drastically changing the character of Ben as written in John Russo’s original screenplay.


Ben (aka, TRUCKDRIVER in the script) had been written as a backwoods character who, despite his nobility in attempting to help the struggling and catatonic Barbara, is otherwise gruff, stupid, and illiterate.


Here is an excerpt from the original Night of the Living Dead screenplay:

TRUCKDRIVER: “Don’t you mind the creep outside . . . I can handle him . . . there’s probably gonna be lots more of ‘em . . .  soon’s they fin’ out about us . . . ahm outa gas . . . them pumps over there is locked . . .is there food here? . . . Ah get us some grub . . . then we beat ‘em off an’ skedaddle . . .”


Compare this with Duane’s performance of the dialogue in the final film:


“Don’t worry about him. I can handle him. Probably be a whole lot more of them when they find out about us. The truck is out of gas. The pump out here is locked; is there a key? We can try to get out of here if we have some gas. Is there a key?”


Director George Romero has stated on several occasions that Jones was cast simply because he was the best actor to audition for the part—it hadn’t anything to do with color.


“It never occurred to me that I was hired because I was black,” Jones reported in a rare interview. “But it did occur to me that because I was black, it would give a different historical element to the film.”


And that it did.


Jones’ Blackness added a metaphorical dimension and emotional rawness to Night’s already tragic conclusion. The team of rednecks with their guns and dogs shoots our brave and heroic Ben in the head—utterly symbolic of the racial tensions and prejudices of the nineteen sixties; an era when de-segregation and Civil Rights protests were (relatively) new.  


Indeed, even the scenes in which Ben engages in fights—both verbal and physical—with Harry Cooper (effectively performed by Night’s co-producer, Karl Hardman), is representative of not only Black vs. White, but of a younger, more open generation in conflict with the older, more conservative one.


Ben argues for staying upstairs, where there’d be chances for escape should the ghouls break through the barricaded windows.


Harry Cooper, equally stubborn and dogmatic, argues they should all hide down in the cellar where there are no windows and only one door.


This conflict illustrates a grander theme, one which is featured in all of Romero’s Dead films—even in times of crisis and tremendous danger to the human species, we humble primates seem unable to remain civil, unable to agree, unable to work together toward the common good. This is less of a social critique than a sad, yet true, historical observation.


What Duane Jones brought to Night of the Living Dead in terms of talent and originality cannot be underestimated. He began a revolution in horror cinema, coinciding with the artistic revolutions in music and art that were prevalent throughout the 1960’s.


It should be noted that Jones felt concerned that only his work in Night would be remembered. His only other lead performance, as Doctor Hess Green in the 1973 film, Ganja & Hess, should not be missed. I urge fellow readers of Uncomfortably Dark to go watch it. It is an intriguing film, featuring yet another excellent performance from our treasured thespian.


His other film appearances include Losing Ground (1982), Beat Street (1984), Vampires (1986), and To Die For (1988, released posthumously).

Unfortunately, Duane Jones died of cardiopulmonary arrest on July 22, 1988, at the relatively young age of fifty-one. The performances he’s left us with, however, are indelible.


For those interested in learning more about Duane on a personal level, for those eager to sample his eloquent and charming stories, I highly recommend listening to his interview with journalist Tim Ferrante, on December 13th, 1987. Available at the link below:

 
Night Sky

02/12/2022

Honoring Frederick Douglass

by Daemon Manx

Recently, I had the opportunity to help a student with a very thought-provoking essay prompt in which they were initially asked to reflect upon the question, “What defines a Hero?” This started me thinking as well and we began to collaborate ideas as to what we both thought the title entailed. Certainly, a hero would be classified as a person who performs heroic acts, but for the sake of critical thinking we had to dig much deeper. There can be no denying that the men and women who choose occupations such as firefighters, police officers, EMT workers, doctors and nurses would all be considered heroes. Still, both the student and I felt that our own definition required that we continue to dig even deeper as to what the title meant to us.

Finally, we decided, and it is certainly not limited to such, that a “Hero is an individual who chooses to pursue a course of action, with the focus of the greater good of others, and themselves in mind. They are steadfast in their resolve, despite whatever adversity they may face, whatever obstacles are in their way, regardless of the consequences they might incur due to their actions.”

With this definition in mind, it is easy to think of the countless men and women who fit the bill. Certainly, everyone who fought for freedom and civil liberties and equal rights must be included. And among that list of great men and women, Frederick Douglass must be recognized.

I am so impressed with the story of Fredrick Douglass because his struggle for freedom is accentuated with his focus on the written word. The ability to read and write is the greatest tool we as human beings possess. It allows us to communicate, to teach, to tell stories, and to record our own history. Douglass knew the importance of this ability and knew the ability to master it was the path to freedom.

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery and separated from his mother who he later learned was the only black woman in Talbot County able to read and write. At the age of eight Frederick first began to learn how to read in secret from the teachings of Sophia Auld. However, once her husband learned of this, he put a stop to the studies. He too knew there was power in the written word.

But Frederick continued to persevere and took to trading his food to the white children in town in exchange for reading and writing lessons. He did this despite the harsh conditions and abuse he faced, and the punishments that would follow if his actions were discovered.


In 1833 Douglass was sent to live with farmer John Covey who was known as a slave-breaker, and infamous for his abusive practice and treatment. Six months after Douglass was sent there, he decided he was no longer going to take the farmer's abuse. The men engaged in a two hour long physical confrontation where Douglass beat Covey into submission and walked away the victor. Douglass would never stand to be treated as such ever again.

Then in 1834, Douglass began to share the knowledge he had gained and started a Sabbath school where he taught other men how to read and write. At this point he knew he had to escape the south and make his way north. He made plans to escape but was discovered and sent back to live with the Auld family.


Finally, in September 1838 Douglass escaped. Dressed as a sailor he boarded a train to Wilmington, and then by steamboat to NYC. There he declared himself a free man and changed his name, but New York still was not a safe place to live so he moved to New Bedford Mass.

He remained an avid reader and discovered an abolitionist newspaper called, The Liberator. He became a member of the American Anti-Slave Society and traveled the country promoting abolition and continued to share his own experience as a slave under the horrific conditions he endured.

Frederick Douglass would go onto write three autobiographies and open several of his own newspapers, and as tension about slavery increased in the country, he would open his Rochester home as part of the underground railroad. And when the Civil War broke out, Douglass fought for the inclusion of black soldiers in the Union Army. He met with Abraham Lincoln at the White House to fight for better pay for black soldiers and to discuss the future of the soldiers should the Union Army lose the war.

After the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass continued to fight for the community’s rights. Supporting the Fourteenth Amendment he knew that citizenship needed to be protected by suffrage. He would later become the first Black U.S. Marshall in1877, Recorder of Deeds for the District of Columbia, and U.S. Minister Resident and consul general to the Republic of Haiti.

Douglass remained an advocate for social justice. His prolific deeds resulted in him becoming the most photographed American man in the 19th century. Later he served on the board of trustees at Howard University.

Although, I didn’t want this to end up sounding like a book report, it would have been impossible to convey my respect and admiration for Frederick Douglass without sharing his life’s work and countless accomplishments. From one man’s fight for freedom, and struggle to conquer education, the single most inspirational story of an American Legend was born.


Frederick Douglass realized the power held in the ability to command the written word. He seized every opportunity and chance to take that power and control it. Then he utilized this knowledge to fight for himself and to fight for others. All this he did with disregard of the consequences, knowing full well it could easily cost him the greatest price. It was a price worth fighting for.


It is for this reason I chose to write about a true American Hero, a man who exemplifies the definition of the word in every possible way. A man who fought for something that is far too often taken for granted. Not only freedom to read, write and express, but for freedom itself.

Frederick Douglass 1818-1895

 
Lit Candles

02/12/2022
Impacts & Insights

by James Carlson

When Candace Nola asked me to contribute an article to help Uncomfortably Dark observe Black History Month, I was honored. Then, only minutes later, I found myself filled with worry and uncertainty. Let’s be honest, like the rest of the arts and entertainment world, the horror writing community has always been heavily comprised of white males, a majority to which I belong by default. Of course, I could rail against the marginalization and underrepresentation of Black people in the genre. But, as a White male, expressing such sentiments might seem disingenuous from my place of privilege, no matter how well intended. As such, I can only say that I personally celebrate diversity not just in horror but in every facet of society. And it is my hope that more and more Black voices join the genre in the coming weeks, months, and years. Horror, after all, is decidedly better for their contributions.  


After chatting briefly with Candace about this article, I went directly to my bookshelves for reference. How many black authors had I read over the last year? It didn’t take long to count them. The total: three. A title by up-and-comer Rowland Bercy Jr, another by bizarro horror’s Andre Duza, and one by the mighty Wrath James White. This realization wasn’t encouraging. Surely there had been others.   My mind continued traveling this vein of thought, picking up speed as it went. I even went so far as to consider my book selection process. It never dawned on me to choose a title based on an author’s ethnicity; I typically base book purchases on the merit of cover art and intriguing synopses.


That’s when it occurred to me that I don’t know the backgrounds of a lot of authors whose work I appreciate. I mean, while it may seem nice and woke to consider the genre a rich melting pot where color doesn’t matter, such thinking does marginalized creatives a great disservice. Their place is hard-earned and must be considered lest we diminish the struggles that have led up to this point. That is also to say, there is no better way to give an oppressive history the middle finger than to acknowledge it existed, to acknowledge that it still exists today, and rally behind those determined to overcome it.


In the spirit of celebrating Black voices in horror, I thought it best to give a mention to a few authors who have made their mark on the genre.  First, you would be hard-pressed to find a horror fan who isn’t at least a little familiar with Octavia E. Butler. Of course, the late Butler’s work was primarily categorized as science fiction, though she often inserted horror themes throughout. Take her book The Fledgling, for example. Its sci-fi take on vampires lent it plenty of originality. Though some refer to her novel Kindred as horror, Butler herself saw it as “a kind of grim fantasy.” Regardless of how you label her work, Octavia E. Butler is certainly a name that will live on in American literature.


Another recognizable name in horror is Tananarive Due. Not only is she an educator and award-winning author, Due also acted as executive producer for Shudder’s documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Her brand of horror tends to marry speculative fiction with supernatural elements, which she employs to great effect. Due’s titles include The Between, The Good House, and Ghost Summer: Stories, among others. In the Horror Noire documentary, Due made a statement, profound in its simplicity and marked by a heavy truth: “Black History is Black Horror.” That line has echoed through my mind since first viewing the film, and I suspect it will stay with me.


Next up, we have Linda D. Addison, whose poetry and prose in the realms of horror, fantasy, and science fiction have won her not just one Bram Stoker Award but five. Addison’s titles include Consumed, Reduced to Beautiful Grey Ashes, Being Full of Light, Insubstantial, and The Place of Broken Things (w/ Alessandro Manzetti). Additionally, in 2021, Addison contributed a piece titled Shadow Dreams to the Titan Books release Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda.


The first time I went to a convention was in the late 1990’s and there were very few Black attendees and even less on panels and presenting their work. Now there are more Black horror writers in the area of fiction/poetry/non-fiction, as well as Black publishers and self-publishing options. Increasing efforts are being made to present more diversity in the area of convention guests of honors and traditional publishers, but there’s so much more that needs to be done. I have continually said that the gatekeepers (editorial staff, etc.) have to become more diverse to see bigger changes in what’s being published.

My resume is filled with awards and honors for my writing and work in the genre, for which I’m deeply grateful. I take this light and try to shine it on as many other equally talented people as possible.”

Linda D. Addison, award-winning author, HWA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and SFPA Grand Master.

    

Diving into the extreme end of the horror pool, we have Wrath James White. First, let’s look at White’s wholly impressive resume, in which he lists such titles as World Class Heavyweight Kickboxer, professional kickboxing and mixed martial arts trainer, distance runner, performance artist, and former street brawler. But, in horror circles, he best known for having created some of the most disturbing stories of today, including 400 Days of Oppression and The Resurrectionist. The latter was adapted for film and released under the title Come Back to Me (2014). White is also the co-founder of the Splatterpunk Awards, along with Brian Keene.


I helped create the Splatterpunk Awards because of the clear bias against authors of extreme horror when it came to being nominated for awards. A few months ago I asked if maybe an award should be created for BIPOC authors as well. Perhaps even our own writing organization. It should be a scandal that, since the Bram Stoker Awards began in 1987, only one Black author has ever been nominated for Best Novel, Tananarive Due for My Soul to Keep in 1997, and no Black horror authors have ever won it. It took over 30 years for a non-white author to win Best Novel. Owl Goingback for Coyote Rage in 2018. Despite all the brilliant BIPOC authors currently writing in the genre, we remain ignored and overlooked. I think the bias is clear, and the need for people of color to create our own horror author awards is, unfortunately, even clearer.”   


Wrath James White, author of 400 Days of Oppression and The Resurrectionist


Another author I’ve come to appreciate in recent years is Andre Duza. When Deadite Press released his short collection Don’t F(beep)k with the Coloureds, I immediately bought a copy and gave it a read. Afterward, I couldn’t help but agree with Brian Keene’s blurb on the back cover: “Andre Duza is one of the most exciting new voices in horror fiction. His prose hits like a fist of razorblades. Get in line early and enjoy the hell out of the ride.” When he’s not penning his next bizarro horror tale, Duza works as a fitness trainer, martial arts instructor, actor, and stuntman. His titles include No Gig is Too Small, Jesus Freaks, Technicolor Terrorists, Son of a Bitch (w/ Wrath James White), and WZMB, among others.

Lastly, we have award-winning newcomer Rowland Bercy Jr, whose handful of splatterpunk and extreme horror titles have already caught the attention of the genre. Like many others, I discovered Rowland’s work when word of his book Unbortion was circulating around social media. Curious, I purchased a copy. As its title suggested, Unbortion proved a strange and bloody little tale, entertaining and disturbing in equal measures. More recently, I read Bercy’s horrifically fun contribution to Uncomfortably Dark’s Baker’s Dozen anthology, Homegrown Comeuppance. Speaking of anthologies, Matt Shaw’s new extreme horror compilation Battered, Broken Bodies feature’s Bercy’s tale A Nec“Romantic” Love Story. He also co-hosts the Written in Red podcast alongside fellow authors Aaron Beauregard, Carver Pike, and Daniel Volpe. His other titles include Payback is a Witch and Pre-Thanksgiving Stress Disorder.     


 “While it is painfully obvious that there is underrepresentation of black voices in the horror genre, I cannot help but to wonder if this bias is, at least in part, unconsciously self-inflicted. Possibly derived from POC feeling the need to represent themselves in a particular light to a continuously judgmental world.

I myself, as an African American author of what some would consider ‘extreme horror,’ have often found myself concerned about what my family or friends would think if they were to read some of the material I have written. It took me reading the work of Wrath James White to understand and appreciate the fact that it is ok for a POC to step outside the very limiting box that society created for us and venture into a world that has thus far been dominated by Caucasian individuals. 

This is only my opinion, but for some reason it appears that POC are sometimes hesitant to partake or indulge themselves in the ‘edgier’ side of genre writing.  If it’s not some popular, mainstream work of writing, in many cases, it’s not being appreciated or enjoyed the way it could be by POC.”


Rowland Bercy Jr, author of Pre-Thanksgiving Stress Disorder and Unbortion


There are several other Black genre authors I’d like to mention in this piece, but, sadly, I’ve already exceeded my word limit. If you’re a horror fan who is interested in observing Black History Month, do a little research on the genre. Also, support Black authors by buying and reviewing their books. Believe me, there are a bunch of quality titles to choose from.

 
Trees

02/05/2022
Honoring Langston Hughes

By Mike Ennenbach

On the Lasting Influence of Langston Hughes. 


I am no scholar, just an avid reader that has discovered what he likes and has dived headfirst into it. A poet and scribbler of tales that dislikes most poetry and finds a lot of stories to be half-assed as best as everyone rushes to be seen. Being self-taught means, I have found writers I wasn’t ready for before discovering the ones that bridged the gap for those that followed. I didn’t realize it, as a white kid in love with hip hop music, that I had always loved poetry. I just needed an 808 to bring it to life. My favorite poets growing up were Ice Cube, KRS One, Kool Moe Dee, and Run DMC. I didn’t know how much of a debt these posts owed to the granddaddy of lyrical poetry, Langston Hughes.


By the time I got to him, my first impression was how underwhelmed I felt. This was simplistic. A lot of rhyming. I read his collected works slowly. But then, I saw his magic. He wasn’t writing poetry; he was writing jazz in spoken form. Soon, I was pulled along with his maestro ability to simplify complex ideas, to make you feel something in the sparsity of his prose. This wasn’t simple poetry at all, but scat spat in silence with no back beat. It was genius.


It was the base of what would become Beat and then eventually the hip hop I loved so dearly. I tore it apart with my hungry teeth, letting the rhythm pulsate across me. In a field dominated by stuffy, white people that buried all meaning in indecipherable metaphors, Langston gave slices of love and faith, of hope and sorrow, in his undeniable style.


As we celebrate Black History Month, ignoring that it took a century after the supposed freeing of the slaves, to make them a part of the society that they had been held apart from since being unceremoniously brought to this land of false freedom, we still look at poetry as a niche white activity for the most part, ignoring the power of Langston and the generations of poets spitting bars over deep bass and scratches.


Every time Killer Mike or POS projects a line that shines a light on the discrepancies of society, I see Langston Hughes pioneering a movement. There have been so many voices of marginalized peoples snuffed in the books written by the ones with the loudest voices, but Mr. Hughes still rings clearly through the fog.