January 5, 1966 |
Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.
|Genre||Science fiction, mystery|
|Spouse||Steven Barnes (husband)|
I characterize myself a little bit as a reluctant filmmaker. I learned from watching my friend in college stay up late at night, at 2 A.M., just to get the lighting right, and I thought, 'You know what, if that's what it's going to be like, I think I'm just going to write,' and I did that.
As a very young writer – kindergarten through about fifth grade – I most often wrote about black characters. My very early stories were science fiction and fantasy, with kids stowing away on spaceships and a girl named Tilly who was trying to get into the 'Guinness Book of World Records.'
One thing I know that's true about horror fans of any color is they like to be scared. And the easiest place to be scared is in a new thing.
I've been a novelist since 1995 and have had novels in and out of option, and watching that process just made me realize that I have to live by what I teach my students, because I teach screenwriting at Spellman.
I believe black characters in fiction are still revolutionary, given our long history of erasure.
I tell my students based on my experiences in Hollywood, sure, you can always move to L.A. and try to work with the system, and people do that, but chances are if you want your story in film with characters of color, you will have to make that movie yourself. Find a way to make it yourself. Not just screenwriters, but also producers.
Inspired by Alex Haley's 'Roots,' at the age of 11 I began a handwritten Middle Passage story called 'Lawdy, Lawdy, Make Us Free.' I was raised by civil rights activists with a very strong sense of racial history and consciousness.
I would say that in my black readership, more of my readers tolerate the horror aspect of my work, you know. 'I don't usually read this kind of stuff, but.'
My biggest luck was the Terry McMillan era, because what happened after the phenomenon of 'Waiting to Exhale' is that publishing woke up. They said, 'Wow. Black people do read.'
Somehow, I realized I could write books about black characters who reflected my own experiences or otherworldly experiences – not just stories of history, poverty and oppression.
Sure, we think it would be great to live forever, but it really wouldn't.
The great thing about journalism is that there is so much exposure to all kinds of people who can turn up later as characters, whether you intend it or not.
I started out with almost entirely black fans except for a little handful of people in the horror writers' community, and those people really liked horror, you know. They will go to any lengths and read whomever they can find because they like that feeling of being scared.
I grew up believing that my parents helped change the world. I was so in awe of them, and I wondered how I could measure up. I mean, how do you change the world – again?