Chilling Chat: Episode #215 – Sumiko Saulson


Sumiko Saulson is an award-winning author of Afrosurrealist and multicultural sci-fi and horror. Zhe is the editor of the anthologies and collections Black Magic Women, Scry of Lust, Black Celebration, and WickedlySumiko Saulson Mixy Award Abled. Zhe is the winner of the 2016 HWA StokerCon “Scholarship from Hell”, 2017 BCC Voice “Reframing the Other” contest, and 2018 AWW “Afrosurrealist Writer Award.”
Zhe has an AA in English from Berkeley City College, and writes a column called “Writing While Black” for a national Black Newspaper, the San Francisco Bay View.

NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?

SS: Both of my parents were huge horror fans. They played horror movies and television programs in the home when I was a kid. My mom got mad at my dad for taking her to see Rosemary’s Baby when she was eight months pregnant with me. Her favorite TV series was Dark Shadows, and she watched it all the time when she was pregnant with me, and when I was an infant. I remember seeing It’s Alive at the drive-in theater when I was five. My brother and I saw a lot of old seventies horror classics as little children, so it started very early for me.

NTK: Who was the first horror character you felt represented you, the one you could identify with the most?

SS: Without a doubt, Kevin Foree is Peter in the original 1978 Dawn of the Dead movie. That was the first horror film I saw with an African American protagonist. I was very excited and rooted for him. Afterward, my dad tried to show me the original Night of the Living Dead starring Duane Jones as Ben, but I just found it depressing. He fights through all of the zombies only to be more or less racially profiled and killed at the end. I preferred the triumphant, action-hero-like Peter. I imagine that the scene where he contemplates suicide, then decides to go for it and try to escape, is a nod to the first movie.

NTK: Who is your favorite horror author?

SS: When I was 10, I read my first horror novel, which was Peter Straub’s, Ghost Story. This lead to me reading Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman when I was 12, which lead to a more or less lifetime love of Stephen King. However, LA Banks and Christopher Rice have both usurped his title since. I do not currently have a favorite horror author. Over the past four years, I have had a series of deaths of family members and close friends, and my concentration has become too poor for pleasure reading. I have stuck with assigned readings, which, when I was in college a couple of years ago, lead to an increase in my already large collection of owned and read Toni Morrison novels. I still believe that Sula and Beloved both belong in the annals of horror and perhaps The Bluest Eye as well.

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

SS: The Stand. Heh. I feel so basic right now.

NTK: What inspired your story, “My Clockwork Valentine?”

SS: In addition to the obvious Alice in Wonderland themes, Clockwork Valentine is very heavily inspired by my adolescent love for Edgar Allen Poe. Blanche Lapin—literally, White Rabbit in French—is being stalked through a gruesome ball that has very obvious nods to Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” There is also a pretty obvious nod to “A Tell-Tale Heart” you will undoubtedly notice. And the names of the characters are all French names inspired by Alice in Wonderland characters. It was really fun mixing the two mythologies together, in order to come up with a wholly original piece. But I think that in terms of tone, it’s very much an homage and a love letter to my early horror influence, Edgar Allen Poe.

NTK: As a person of color, how has your experience in the horror writing community been?

SS: It’s been a mixed bag, although there have been a lot of good experiences. I find that the African American and African Diaspora speculative fiction communities – that is, Black Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Weird, Horror, etc.. writers are very supportive of one another. Women in Horror are also very supportive of each other. And there are a lot of allies. But there are definitely glass ceilings in mainstream horror, and the old boy’s club gets resentful when people break through them or try to shake things up. There are still far too many people who believe that only a middle-aged white cisgender heterosexual man is qualified to write horror.

NTK: You are the Social Media Manager for the Horror Writers Association. What would you like Horror Addicts to know about this organization? How does it benefit horror writers? 

SS: As you probably have noticed, since I came on board, the Horror Writers Association’s blog and social media are afire with various ways to showcase, highlight, and promote not only our own writers but writers throughout the horror community. But Halloween Haunts, Summer Scares, and other series specifically highlight the works of members. Additionally, you can post to our calendar, to our email bulletin Quickbites (which nonmembers can subscribe to but only members can promote in), our online calendar, and more! There are local chapters where you can get a lot of support. For example, my local chapter, the San Francisco Bay Area chapter, has a booth every year at the Bay Area Book Festival. It’s a professional association for horror writers, best known for the annual StokerCon, where people can receive the prestigious Bram Stoker Award. Being in a room with so many other horror writers from around the country and around the world is truly invigorating, and an awesome opportunity to network.

NTK: You also received the Richard Laymon President’s Award for Service at the 2022 Bram Stoker Awards. What was it like to be presented with this honor?

SS: It was very exciting and also deeply touching to receive the award. It was an open acknowledgment of all of the work I have put in to make sure that the HWA is inviting to people of all cultures, marginalized groups, ethnic and racial identities, and members of the LGBTQ community, by putting together a series of diversity celebrating interviews. Those interviews are now spreading out to other groups, as people are inspired! So we will have a member spotlight coming up soon, as well as a series highlighting Veterans, and we recently had a Mental Health initiative. None of those were done by me, but I feel that by spearheading the Pride interview series—the first of its kind—last year—I got the ball rolling. And this also brings a lot of fresh new content to our social media and our blog. Anyway, it was nice being acknowledged.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

SS: Somnalia: The Metamorphoses of Flynn Keahi will be coming out on Mocha Memoirs Press next year. I have a short story in an anthology called In Trouble, edited by EF Schrader, which is going to raise money for Planned Parenthood, coming out next year, and a story in Blerdrotica 2: Couples Therapy, edited by Penelope Flynn. Both of those stories center on LGBTQ characters, specifically trans people of color. And I have an essay in Joe Vallese’s exciting It Came From The Closet: Queer Reflections on Cinema coming out later this year. I just came out with a book of poetry, The Rat King. Oh! And last year’s collection of poetry and short stories, Within Me Without Me, recently won the Ladies of Horror Reader’s Choice Award!

Addicts, you can find Sumiko on Facebook, Twitter, and Tik-Tok as @sumikoska. Zhe can be found on Instagram as @sumikosaulson.

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