Shakespeare is a pioneer of what we now consider horror fiction.
I said it.
Before you recline away from your laptop or iPad or whatever you are using to read this article, consider this… the realism that Shakespeare infused in his work – his use of ghosts, his regard for psychological torment, even his sporadic employ of physical pain – is indicative of the horror genre and its many sub-genres, tropes, and tenets.
Many think that Shakespeare’s alignment with the horror genre is coincidental, however, I posit that it is a natural kinship. Shakespeare does what all writers do, both in literary and genre fiction: Shakespeare reports the state of the world through his writing. This is the very definition of art imitating life.
Shakespeare was not the first to do it. Even before his most graphic depiction of what would be considered visceral horror by modern sub-genre definitions, Titus Andronicus, Sophocles had introduced audiences to psychological and physical torture in Oedipus the King (circa 430 BCE) and an unknown poet had dredged a mythical beast from a dark corner in the universe in Beowulf (circa 8th century). Indeed, some might suggest that the Christian Bible is rife with depictions of horror and trauma to rival later genre offerings.
The horror genre lends itself quite neatly to these suggestions; the genre is a veritable playground for campaigns of all kinds. The unique canvas it provides allows for revealing social injustice and calling for change to be laid out at its most base level and in gruesome detail. Shakespeare’s connection with the unnamed, burgeoning genre that would gain a stronghold centuries after his death is evident in his proclivity for speculative writing, which leans decidedly towards the supernatural rather than the cosmic.
Shakespeare’s depiction of human nature and its consequent relationship with what we now call horror is more a sign of the times than literary coincidence. The psychological warfare that Shakespeare engages his characters permeates his body of work, most notably illustrated in Iago’s manipulation of Othello. On close review one can find reflections of this kind of turbulent undercurrent in many modern horror works, whether using the mind against itself or man against man – an example of this is the slow build in The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike. Books of this nature reflect inner turmoil, blatant manipulation, and, sometimes, a ghost of two.
Shakespeare is a pioneer of what we now consider horror fiction… When I said it this time it didn’t sting as much, did it? This paper made you see his writing through a different lens – at the very least, made you think about the possibility of its truth, didn’t it? For you Shakespeare fans, perhaps this assertion pushes the horror genre into review as more than just a genre intended to frighten or one focused on social commentary and/or judgment without redemption; maybe this will entice you to peel the onion a bit. For you horror fans, I know… we already knew.
L. Marie Wood is an award-winning psychological horror author and screenwriter. She won the Golden Stake Award for her novel The Promise Keeper. Her screenplays have won Best Horror, Best Afrofuturism/Horror/Sci-Fi, and Best Short Screenplay awards at several film festivals. Wood’s short fiction has been published widely, most recently in Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire and Bram Stoker Award Finalist anthology, Sycorax’s Daughters.
L. Marie Wood is an award-winning author and screenwriter. She is the recipient of the Golden Stake Award for her novel The Promise Keeper, as well as the Harold L. Brown Award for her screenplay Home Party. Her short story, “The Ever After” is part of the Bram Stoker Award Finalist anthology Sycorax’s Daughters. Wood was recognized in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Vol. 15 and as one of the 100+ Black Women in Horror Fiction.
L. Marie is a fun and vivacious lady. We spoke of writing, vampires, and The Golden Stake Award.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Lisa! Thank you for joining me today.
LMW: Thank you so much for having me!
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
LMW: Believe it or not I was five years old! I started writing a story and it was just… dark!
I didn’t associate the term “horror” to it, but that’s what it was, it was psychological horror. And I still write in that sub-genre today.
NTK: Was it inspired by a book or a movie? What inspires your writing?
LMW: No—it literally came from out of nowhere, which is actually, how I find inspiration now.
Sometimes an idea for a story just comes to me. Could be something I saw–some detail about how someone was dressed or something they did maybe even the weather or catching a glimpse of someone making a facial expression they don’t realize is being noticed. When I go looking for inspiration, I can’t always find it.
NTK: Who was the first horror character you felt represented you? The one you could identify with the most?
LMW: Interestingly enough, the first character that came to mind isn’t from the horror genre, so I am still thinking about that one (Laughs.)
I identify with the villains and Darth Vader’s cool calmness is just so awesome to me, I’ve always wanted to emulate that.You know… should I have the need to subdue someone… you know what I mean! (Laughs.)
Then I was always partial to Bruce Lee—like I wanted to kick like him and the sound effects—heck yes. So, combine those with my favorite horror antagonist—vampires!!—and you have a really kick-ass villain. I can’t say I’ve seen this character yet… maybe Blade…wait—DEFINITELY Blade! And I have to say that I never realized that I am Blade until JUST NOW. I always saw myself more like Jerry Dandridge.
NTK: Did you see yourself as Chris Sarandon? Or Colin Ferrel?
LMW: Definitely Chris Sarandon. He was sooooo smooth.
So I guess I am the female Blade… I’m going with that. (Laughs.)
NTK: (Laughs.) Do you have a favorite horror movie?
LMW: I do! Angel Heart! Being the psychological horror lover I am, I love a movie that has twists and turns and makes me think. I find something new every time I watch that movie!
NTK: That movie is so awesome and underrated! Did you like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the Devil?
LMW: I did, even if it was a little ham-handed… Louis Cypher HAHAHA! He looked awesome though, just enough to make sure you know who he was and what was going on, but easy enough to miss if you aren’t trying to focus on the flick.
NTK: Exactly! Do you have a favorite horror television show?
LMW: Horror Tv shows are difficult. I was a Walking Dead Fan for years and then… I mean, ok and…? I loved The Haunting of Hill House and Lovecraft Country but those are just season-long entries. AHS – I’ve really only enjoyed one whole season – the one with Cuba Gooding Jr…Roanoke.
So… I might have to say no…?
But if the stand alone, one season and one shows count, I will definitely say Haunting of Hill House. Creepy as hell, that one.
NTK: What about favorite horror author?
LMW: That is a harder question than you might realize! I adore Ira Levin’s work, the way he spun a yarn was like no one else. Very casual, conversational, it’s like he is sitting with you on a park bench or while waiting in line at the movies and telling you this creepy thing. I find that my own writing is a lot like that—like we’re having a conversation, only what I am saying is scaring the bejesus out of you. Reading his work just feels good to me.
At the same time, I love Stephen King. His ability to make the mundane spooky is so unsettling and I really love that! Finally, Shirley Jackson has psychological horror in her pocket. Her work just creeps up on you and you don’t even know why you are afraid, but you are. Read “The Lottery”… you may find yourself shivering—either because you might be the one to get stoned, or go along with the stoning and not even know why!
So my fave… Shirley Ira King. Hell of a pen name!
NTK: (Laughs.) That would be! Do you have a favorite horror novel?
LMW: I do, and interestingly enough, none of those three wrote it! Quietus by Vivian Schilling. It is so lyrical! I remember thinking that I wished I could write something so tight, so beautifully done. No purple prose. No fluff. Just amazing control and beautiful execution. I fangirled a bit when I read it and contacted her (this is like 2002 or 2003). Had to tell her it was an amazing experience reading her book.
NTK: That is so awesome! What did she say?
LMW: She was so kind. We actually spoke for a while—she was gracious about the compliment I lavished—I can only imagine that she was red-faced… I was laying it on thick because this book is… chef’s kiss!
She encouraged me to write after I told her I was actually writing my novel. Wonder if she ever read it…? Wow, how cool would THAT be??
NTK: That would be mind-blowing! I hope she did. Speaking of your writing, what attracted you to the Vampire Noire? Why did you want to write a story for SLAY?
LMW: I love vampires. Always have been drawn to them as opposed to werewolves or zombies.
I like to tell my stories from the psychological horror perspective, but sometimes the fear isn’t what you were bargaining for. Vampires let you play, they let you experiment, there is such flexibility with them. I guess I couldn’t resist!
NTK: What inspired your story? Was it something that just came to you?
LMW: Yep—always is. A song did it this time—the rhythm… I don’t even think I ever found out what it was… (Laughs.)
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
LMW: My characters do what they want to do when they want to do it. They routinely defy me.
And I can be as upset as I want to about that, but they do not care. I like to say that I sit back and watch the show and just write it all down for posterity.
NTK: As a person of color, how has your experience in the horror community?
LMW: Good, actually. I have been lucky enough to not have experienced a lot of what I have heard about. I started being active in the community in about 2003 and met some wonderful people from everywhere. Had signings, broke bread, shared stages, etc. I took a bit of a break for a number of years and when I came back in, I encountered the same. But as a person of color, I know that my experience isn’t everyone’s and that there have been some challenges that my fellow creatives have encountered. I can only help to be one of those people who helps pave the way, ease the way, help others along.
NTK: You’ve won some interesting awards. Could you tell us about the Golden Stake and about the UMMFF award for The Black Hole?
LMW: Ahh the Golden Stake Award! Seriously, I love that thing, it is literally a golden stake with blood on the tip!!!!! I wouldn’t even bring it back with me—left it in London to be shipped over so that they didn’t take it from me in customs, because, seriously, how could I have explained it?? (Laughs.)
My second novel, The Promise Keeper, is a psychological vampire horror tale! I must say, it felt AMAZING to go over to London during the 200 year anniversary of the publishing of The Vampyre by John Polidori and WIN this coveted award! We drank cocktails out of syringes later that night—it was a freaking blast!
As to The Black Hole, it is a very timely screenplay about colleagues who compete with each other on the paintball field along with a group of their friends. And let’s just say this… all is fun and games until the paintballs fly. My undergraduate degree from Howard University is actually in Film Production. Years later, I went on to get an MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University that has a focus in Screenwriting. It is my second love and I am back to doing it with a vengeance. This particular screenplay won best Afrofuturism/Horror/Sci-Fi Screenplay at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival.
NTK: Awesome!! You have a novel coming out on October 29th. Could you tell us about it?
LMW: Yes, absolutely! My third novel, The Realm, is about man’s greatest fear and it starts FAST!
There is much running, many things lurking in the shadows, and pure, unadulterated fear waiting for the protagonist and for you, if you dare to read it! This is book one of a series that will keep you on the edge of your seat!
NTK: L. Marie, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
LMW: This year I have been lucky enough to be either an official selection, semi-finalist, or finalist in over fifteen other festivals! I have eight screenplays making their rounds out there—and I am so excited to see that each of them have gotten industry nods!
NTK: Thank you for joining me today, L. Marie! It’s been a pleasure!
LMW: Thank you so much for having me! I enjoyed the discussion!
Addicts, you can find L. Marie on Facebook. Check out her book, The Realm, available now.
“The Realm drops you into a bizarre and disturbing vision of the afterlife where the dead will never rest in peace. L. Marie Wood’s compulsively readable and fast-paced tale grabs you and doesn’t let go. Hang on tight!”
– Kirsten Imani Kasai, Author of The House of Erzulie
In The Realm, L. Marie Wood presents readers with a cast of nuanced characters against the backdrop of an intricate world where nothing is simply black and white or right and wrong. The “sins of the father” takes a refreshing detour from triteness and makes us accomplices to the main character’s ( Patrick’s) endeavors.
Last Febuary to celebrate Black History Month, I did a post on African-American Horror Writers which you can read by clicking here. Some of the authors in that post included L.A. Banks, Maurice Broaddus, Wrath James White, Brandon Massey, Octavia Butler, Jermiah Jefferson and a few others. Since that post went up I’ve had other authors leave comments so I wanted to expand my list. So if you’re looking for a good read I’m sure you will find something by the authors listed below.
First up, I want to mention Tananarive Due. While Tananarive is primarily looked at as a Science Fiction writer some of her novels can also be looked at as horror. In 2012 Tananarive co-wrote a zombie novel with her husband Steven Barnes. The book is called Devil’s Wake, its set in a post-apocalyptic future where a school bus full of young people try to escape the walking dead and human raiders as society crumbles around them. Tananarive Due is also the writer of the African Immortals series which has been compared to Anne Rice’s Vampire chronicles. The storyline is about an Ethiopian sect that traded their humanity to be immortal.
Also I briefly mentioned Andre Duza in my previous post on African-American horror writers. Andre writes hard-core horror mixed with with humor and social commentary. He has written several short stories and novels including Dead Bitch Army about a zombie woman out for revenge after the apocalypse. Another of Andre’s novels is Jesus Freaks which takes place on Easter morning in 2015. Detective Phillip Makane woke up to a world of bleeding rain, a homicidal ghost and thousands of zombies along with two men with powers claiming to be Jesus. Andre Duza has also written the hardcore pulp novella about dog fighting and black magic called Son of A Bitch with Wrath James White.
Just recently I heard of another author named Sumiko Saulson. She has written three novels and a collection of short stories called Things That Go Bump In My Head. One of her novels is called Solitude which is about people who wake up and find they are all alone in San Francisco. The story follows the characters as they try to figure out what happened as they explore the deserted city. One review I read for this book compared it to Stephen King’s The Stand and The Dark Tower. Another one by Sumiko is The Moon Cried Bloodwhichis about a woman named Leticia who is growing up in Los Angeles in 1975 and has just discovered she comes from a long line of witches.
Getting back to the zombie theme you might want to check out George L. Cook III’s The Dead War Series. There are three books in this series, they are set in the future and tell the tale of an army battling the undead. Some of the reviews on this one say its a fun time and not to read it on a full stomach.
Another author with some good horror titles to her name is L. Marie Wood. Her debut novel is Crescendo: Welcome Home death Awaits. This one is about a man haunted by a family curse. When he dreams, people die and now he has to try to break the curse and keep from going insane. Some of her other works include Caliginy and The Promise Keeper.
Next up is Qwantu Amaru who’s book One Bloodwon a 2012 international book award, a National Indie Excellence award and several other honors. One Blood tells the story of Lincoln Baker a man in prison who orchestrates the kidnapping of the daughter of the governor of Louisiana. He also resurrects a family curse which goes back to slavery. This book has received great reviews and has been recommended by Brandon Massey.
Writing more for the young adult audience is A.J. Harper. A.J. started the Night Biters series which is geared towards fans of Harry Potter and Twilight but with much more ethnic diversity and in an urban setting. The story follows 16 year old Jamilah and 14-year-old Omari who arrive in Oakland to live with their aunt and Uncle. They are given a mysterious CD that gives them information about the danger of vampires and they soon became caught up in a street war between vampire gangs.
Another Author that I need to talk about is Tize W. Clark. Tize has been referred to as the new king of horror. His first novel is called The Maze which is a horrifying journey from the streets of New York to the Mountains of New Mexico and back. Another book by a new author is The Dark Side Of Grace by M.L. Cooper. This is a paranormal romance novel about two lovers that try to uncover the truth about their family’s haunted slave past.
Keeping with newer authors, If you are into short horror fiction check out Afro-American Stories Of Fright From The Old South by Darnell Wright which also comes with a down home southern recipe. If you like psychological horror check out Abstract Murder by A.L. Peck. The description of this one says that if you like Pulp Fiction and Silence of The Lambs then you will want to check this one out. One more independent author that was brought to my attention by Sumiko Saulson is Ron Huston whose first novel is called The Rogue Prophet. This is a classic tale of good versus evil set in a place of worship. I also don’t want to forget to mention J. Malcom Stewart who wrote The Eyes Of The Stars which I have reviewed on this blog.
This is an incomplete list of African-American writers and comes mostly from comments made after my first blog post on the subject. If you’re looking for more authors check out Nerdy girl’s blog post here. If you have anyone else to add, please leave a comment.