Chilling Chat Episode 152: Valjeanne Jeffers

valjeanne-jeffers-author-picValjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College and author of ten books including Immortal and Mona Livelong I and II. Her work has been published in numerous anthologies including, Fitting In: Historical Accounts of Paranormal Subcultures, Sycorax’s Daughters, and The City and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. She was honored as a “Seer” by the HWA Diverse Works Inclusion Committee in 2016 and is a screenwriter for the horror anthology film, 7 Magpies (in production.)

Valjeanne is a remarkable woman. During our interview, she shared some interesting facts about her early life, creating characters, and her upcoming projects.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Valjeanne. You have a varied background. Your parents are English teachers and you have an MA in Psychology. How does this inform and affect your work?

VJ: Because my parents were English teachers, I came in contact with writers at a very early age. They were in and out of our house wherever we lived. I remember my mother cooking for them…poets, writers, artists and I got a chance to sit in on their discussions.

NTK: Wow! What writers?

VJ: This was years ago, so I can’t remember very many names. Quincy Troupe was one I remember. Another regular visitor to our house was Eugene Redmond. I re-connected with him about nine years ago and he published me in his anthology Drumvoices Revue (poetry.) It’s been a huge honor because my poetry appeared in an anthology with some really famous folk.

We did have a library and I was reading Richard Wright and Chester Himes from age 9 or 10. The authors I read had a huge impact on me. Himes and Wright’s use of magical realism influenced my writing horror and science fiction.

NTK: Did this interest in Himes and Wright lead to your writing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective?

VJ: Yes, and I had other influences. Mona Livelong is an urban novel. And, Robert Beck (believe it or not) and David Goines brought this out. You know Robert Beck as “Iceberg Slim.” He’s notorious for his anti-heroes but he’s also a brilliant writer.

Tananarive Due and Brandon Massey are also huge influences, especially when it comes to writing horror.

NTK: Which of their works are your favorite?

VJ: For T. Due, it’s My Soul to Keep (the series.) For B. Massey, it’s Within the Shadows and into the Dark.

NTK: You’ve spoken of Stephen King and Dean Koontz as favorite authors. Which one do you like best?

VJ: Stephen King. Definitely. He has been a huge influence.

NTK: Which of his books do you like the most?

VJ: The Talisman and The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three.

By the way, earlier, you asked about how my MA affects my work. It helped me construct personalities and also “character careers.”

NTK: What made you choose the career of “paranormal detective” for Mona?

VJ: I had been toying with the idea of a paranormal detective for a while and I decided to take the plunge and just do it.

NTK: What’s the process of creating a character like that? Do you decide what she’ll do and won’t do? Do you decide what powers she’ll possess?

VJ: Characters for me are based on people I have known and sometimes, those I see on TV that week. I take someone and add and subtract the things I feel they should have. And, some, (Tehotep from Immortal, for example) come straight out of my unconscious. Both Mona and Karla (Immortal) are based upon a young woman who babysat me in California. She was coping with the death of her mother and brother and raising her two remaining siblings.

NTK: Did Tehotep come from a dream? Or, did he just come to you?

VJ: Tehotep came to me in waking dreams, bit by bit. As far as their [character] abilities go, that’s a process of imagination. Since I decided early on that Mona would be a sorceress, I had to decide what she could and couldn’t do. Her powers had to be limited. If that makes sense.

NTK: Let’s talk a little about Sycorax’s Daughters. How did you become involved in that project?

VJ: Two of the editors, Linda Addison and Kinitra Brooks, contacted me. They said they were publishing Sycorax’s Daughters and asked if I’d be interested in submitting something. Of course, I said yes!

NTK: How did it feel to be included among such original voices? Sycorax’s Daughters is an anthology like no other. All the writers are women of color.

VJ: I was blown away! We made (are making) history and to be a part of this—it’s incredible!

NTK: It was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award.

VJ: Just to be nominated was incredible.

NTK: Could you talk a little about 7 Magpies?

VJ: Yes. What would you like to know? It’s still in the works.

NTK: Is it an anthology film? What is the significance of the Magpies?

VJ: It’s a film anthology. Each person involved contributed a story or poem. We got the Magpies from the creator, Lucy Cruell. It’s based on a nursery rhyme. “One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told.

I contributed an excerpt from Immortal III: Stealer of Souls to the film. All the screenwriting will be done by screenwriters Lucy chooses. Here’s a description of the film from the website:

“The first horror film anthology written and directed by Black (or African-American) women. Authors include: Tananarive Due, Sumiko Saulson, Eden Royce, Crystal Connor, Valjeanne Jeffers, Linda D. Addison, and Paula Ashe. The directors are: Lucy Cruell, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nicole Renee, Robin Shanea, Lary Love Dolley, Meosha Bean, and Rae Dawn Chong.

NTK: What did you think of the adaptation process? Was it difficult bringing your excerpt to the screen?

VJ: Actually, I looked at what Lucy wanted and chose stories I felt were appropriate. She picked the Immortal III excerpt. That one was my favorite too.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What work do we have to look forward to?

VJ: Quinton Veal (my cover artist and guy) and I are planning on releasing Scierogenous II: An Anthology of Erotic Science Fiction and Fantasy. Scierogenous I was well received.

I’m also writing Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective III: The Case of the Vanishing Child.

NTK: Will you include horror stories in Scierogenous II?

VJ: Maybe. We’ve got a great crew so let’s see what they come up with.

NTK: As you know, season thirteen of HorrorAddicts.net is CURSED. Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

VJ: Sorry, I don’t have one.

NTK: If you were to have Mona face a curse, what would it be?

VJ: (Laughs) Girl, I don’t know.

NTK: (Laughs) Ok, thank you for chatting with me, Valjeanne. It’s been a pleasure.

VJ: Thank you so much.

NTK: You can find Valjeanne’s work at the following link:

http://tehotep.wixsite.com/immortaliiiaudiobook

And, you can follow her on Twitter here at: @Valjeanne

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An interview with L.C. Cruell

I recently had a chance to talk to L.C. Cruell who has worked on such independent horror movies as 31 and Cemetery Tales. She is currently working on a new horror anthology called 7 Magpies which features some writers who we have showcased at HorrorAddicts.net in the past:

When did you start writing?

31_PosterLoResSMALLWhen I was but a wee lass. I lived in the country, so we spent a lot of time outside making up games and adventures and trying to see if we could spin at just the right speed and angle to turn into Wonder Woman. I think my very first story was called Strawberry Fields. About a cat named Strawberry who lived in a Field. As you can see my subversive tendencies had yet to make an appearance.

What were your biggest influences?

Films like 2001, The Shining, Star Wars (the originals), Indiana Jones, The Thing (80s), Tank Girl, and lots of great J-Horror, Euro-Horror, and Indie-Horror. Authors like Asimov, Pohl, Atwood, Shakespeare, and King. And, honestly, a lot of non-fiction. I was that level of geek that read encyclopedias for fun. I just fundamentally love knowledge, learning about new places, people, ideas, and possibilities. So, of course I loved all things history, sociology, anthropology, folklore, neurology, physics, astronomy, I just loved all of it. Still do. At my core, I feel that we’re here to learn as much as we can, grow, and then give back, create something new to add to the universe.

What got you interested in horror?

Horror, supernatural, fantasy, sci-fi, all deal with hypotheses and possibilities. They ask questions that start with, “What if…” Those are my favorite kinds of questions. Sometimes, they lead you to mind-blowing places, other times to dark, disturbing, places of warning. Both are intriguing to explore.MV5BMjMyMzc2NTY3NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzA5NjExNzE@._V1_

Could you tell us about your webseries 31?

31 is a supernatural horror/thriller told in 31, 31-second-long cliffhanger episodes about a character that wakes up in darkness and realizes she’s trapped, sealed in a box. She fights to get out only to discover that what lay outside the box is far worse. She has no memory and no ID besides the number “31” branded into her skin. It was initially released as a web event with episodes dropping everyday for 31 straight days at 3:31 each day.

The idea hit me in late September when I was looking forward to the upcoming 31 days of horror movies in October. It was such a trial-by-fire growth experience, as both a writer and director. I had to develop character, move the plot forward, generate suspense, and end on a cliffhanger all in just a ½ page of script! And then do it again, 31 times!!! Every word mattered. Then each episode had to be 31 seconds long, which meant we were in editing cutting down to the frame because every second mattered. It was pure insanity, but somehow it worked. The idea and the script got a lot of people excited so a lot of very talented people jumped on board and helped make it great. We shot it in 2 ½ days for $390 and released it 2 months later- also insane. We didn’t have any money for PR so it was all word of mouth and critical-acclaim. We got dozens of rave reviews and since had international festival selections and wins, Con invitations, YT partnership, and 9 different distribution deals with new subscribers and views everyday.

I’ve developed a pilot version. We’ll see where it goes. (It’s so bloody hard to break in to Hollywood from the outside.) But, I loved every moment of it!

Could you tell us about Cemetery Tales?

Cemetery Tales came about when one of the other directors came to me about putting together an anthology of short films by Atlanta directors. We did an Indiegogo campaign mainly to make ensure that we had the same great DP, Audio Sup, and Editor throughout. The stories are loosely tied together with a death theme and a wraparound I co-wrote. By the time it was finished I was one of the producers and came up with the idea of changing the name from it’s earlier Tales From Morningview Cemetery to Cemetery Tales. My segment I Need You is about a family that’s let the minutiae of life distract them from the act of living, and a house that may or may not eat people.

Because my writing comes from exploring issues and questions, there is always some deeper sociological, scientific, spiritual, supernatural, what have you, idea being explored. Otherwise, I’m not sure what the point would be, you know?

 

Where did the idea for Seven Magpies come from?

I LOVE horror anthologies. I’ve seen all the reruns of all the horror anthology shows from 60s, 70s, and 80s and all the films like Creepshow and even the old British films where in the end everyone realized they were already dead or in hell or something. So, I was so excited when ABC’s and VHS and all the others came along and made anthologies cool again. (Seriously, you couldn’t even pitch something with the word “anthology” before then. I know, I tried.) And as they kept coming, even XX, the all female-directed one, I noticed there were no black women directors, but honestly didn’t think much of it at the time. Until I started to see articles and posts even in my own women horror directors group asking if there were such a thing as black female horror directors.

I was stunned. It had simply never occurred to me that anyone would think there was a space in the world that was not occupied by people from any and every group. What could my gender or race possibly tell you about my relationship with horror, or with anything really? I don’t write characters with race in mind, but I don’t assume they’re all white or black either. They’re just people. We’re just people.

I know it sounds hard to believe but growing up in a small town where everyone knows you for being you made me horribly naïve about this kind of thing for a long time, but eventually I began to realize that “Perception is Reality.” Especially, in Hollywood, which, honestly, if I had known the depth of that town’s issues with gender, diversity, nepotism, and just general restrictiveness, I might have made different choices. A creative’s life journey is hard enough without all that BS. They don’t see us, so they don’t believe we exist, so they don’t think to hire or include us, so others don’t see us and the whole stupid loop just continues. “7 Magpies” is, I suppose, my way of yelling, “We are here! We are here! We are here!” Then after they see us and perceive us, we can all get on with the business of making great films together. Oh and this article helped a lot too:

https://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/916-horrors-scariest-trend-is-the-nonexistent-black-fi/

What are the stories that will be involved in the movie?

They’re so cool. It all takes place one sultry Southern summer when the Magpies (7 birds, 3 women) come to town. The structure is based on (and the stories were chosen to fit) the poem “One for Sorrow” –
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
Four for a birth,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told
The poem along with all the lore and superstitions regarding magpies made it kind of perfect. In the screenplay I adapted stories by Sumiko Saulson, Tananarive Due, Eden Royce, Linda D. Addison, Valjeanne Jeffers, Crystal Connors, and Paula D. Ashe. There are threads woven throughout that unite them all and a wraparound that connects them as well but yeah, great stuff.

 

When will shooting begin? 

seven-magpies

I’m hoping late summer. As soon as we find the right money people to come on board, we’ll dive right into pre-pro. The script, pitch package, everything is ready. The rough budget is $1M with no “names,” but with 7 strong, stellar roles for African-American woman, I’m pretty sure we can get a few names.

What is the hardest part of putting together a production like 7 Magpies?

It certainly wasn’t a lack of eagerness by the participants. Every writer and director I chose enthusiastically jumped on board. The only issue now is funding. Like anyone coming from outside Hollywood in not just location but gender, race, lack of connections, anything that makes you an outsider, the hardest part is getting this great script/idea that directors, audiences, and actors are exited to be a part of to the people who can actually greenlight something. It is not easy. Most gatekeepers do not welcome new names and faces. But, if any such person is reading right now, call me! We’ll find a way. This is too important. It is not just about widening the audiences for the authors or launching the careers of the directors to the next level but of changing that perception and opening those doors for everyone.

Where can we find out more about this production?

@The7Magpies

@GraveyardSister

www.facebook.com/7MagpiesMovie

What other projects are you involved in?

Good god. Everything I can do to get noticed? I just finished shooting Flesh, a thriller that was chosen LCCbiopic.jpg.w180h259for fiscal sponsorship by From the Heart Productions, a 23 year old non-profit, because they believe it will have a positive impact on society and the industry. Seriously, they’re all docs, dramas, and my little horror/suspense/thriller. But that goes back to the ‘everything I write having a message/question woven through it’ thing. I did the same thing as before, wrote a script strong enough to get incredible talent on board. It’s a short that stands on its own but is also the first 15 minutes of the feature version. Mistresses of HorrorTM is a brand with over 10 directors attached that I’m trying to start for any media project from movies to comics that provides “great horror, by women, for everyone.” Cemetery Tales is on the festival circuit now. I have pilots for 31 along with 2 others (The Four and Neph). And I’m currently marketing scripts The Sitter, Crimson, and The Burning (director attached; location secured), among others. In a perfect world, one project scores, and then all the rest tumble through to create that 15-year-in-the-making overnight success story and the names Cruell and Cruell World Productions become synonymous with great horror/genre features, shows, episodes, etc. The name fits. And I’ll do my best. We’ll what happens next.

For more information on L.C. Cruell check out:

http://www.cruellworld.com/

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3145405/

https://vimeo.com/158551687

Sugar Hill: A Blaxploitation Gem by Valjeanne Jeffers

Intro to Celebrating Black Horror History

HorrorAddicts Black History Month

Intro to Celebrating Black Horror History

By Sumiko Saulson

60-black-women-in-horrorI’m proud to be the host of “Celebrating Black Horror History” during the month of February 2016. I would like to invite you, dear reader, to join us for an entire month of guest blogs, interviews, and offerings from the usual delightful staff here at HorrorAddicts.net that honor, highlight and celebrate the current and historical contributions members of the African Diaspora have made to the horror genre. I am excited to have so many talented guest contributors who are themselves, quite accomplished.  They include bestselling author Balogun Ojetade, Bram Stoker award winner Linda D. Addison, the prolific Crystal Connor and Kai Leaks, award-winning author Valjeanne Jeffers,  and many others.

As the author of 60 Black Women in Horror, I am no stranger to the subject of where black people stand in relation to the horror genre.  In fact, I first came into contact with HorrorAddicts back in 2013, when I was working on that very project as an ambassador for Women in Horror Month. David Watson’s 2012 article on African American horror writers was one of my reference materials when I was doing research for 60 Black Women in Horror.

This month, we will be looking at not only at authors, but black contributors to all aspects of the horror genre. We will cover topics as diverse as Lori Titus’ exploration of Black Women in Horror Comics, Eden Royce’s look at Southern Conjure Magic’s Contribution to Horror – the Realities versus the Fictitious, and James Goodridge’s  take on Real World Zombies.

We will look at the black presence (and sometimes, lack thereof) in horror films with Balogun Ojetade’s article on Early Black Horror Films of the 40s and 50s, Alicia McCalla’s perspective on Sembene in Penny Dreadful, Joslyn Corvis’s treatise on Tales from the Hood, James Goodridge’s personal perspective essay On the Dearth of Black Characters in Horror Movies, my piece From Producer to Actor: Wesley Snipes’ contribution to the Blade Franchise, Paula Ashe’s Sister My Sister: An Open Love Letter to Abby and Jenny Mills from Sleepy Hollow, and my look at Horror Legend Tony Todd.

The black presence in horror writing will also be a topic of discussion from both the author and the sumiko-blog-photocharacter points of view, with Linda D Addison’s Genesis: The First Black Horror Writers,  Kai Leaks’ essay on Author L.A. Banks’ Contribution to Horror, Bret Alexander Sweet’s Magical Realism in Toni Morrison (Beloved, Sulu, Song of Solomon), Kenesha Williams’s piece on Author Tananarive Due’s Contribution to Horror, Valjeanne Jeffers’s piece on Author Octavia Butler’s Contribution to Horror, Crystal Connor’s piece on The Inclusion of Black History in Speculative Fiction, and Nicole Kurtz ‘s article on The Representation of Black Women in The Dark Tower.

I hope you will enjoy the upcoming month of black history in horror features. Thank you for joining us.

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Sumiko Saulson’s blog “Things That Go Bump In My Head” focuses on horror fiction writing and features author interviews, writing advice, short stories and editorial pieces. She is the author of two novels in the science fiction and horror genres, “Solitude,” and “Warmth”, and a Young Adult dark fantasy series, “The Moon Cried Blood”, which was originally a novel.  Her fourth novel “Happiness and Other Diseases” will be released October 18, 2014.  She is also the author of a short story anthology “Things That Go Bump In My Head”.  She writes for the Oakland Art Scene for the Examiner.com. A published poet and writer of short stories and editorials, she was once profiled in a San Francisco Chronicle article about up-and-coming poets in the beatnik tradition. The child of African American and Russian-Jewish American parents, she is a native Californian, and was born and spent her early childhood in Los Angeles, moving to Hawaii, where she spent her teen years, at the age of 12. She has spent most of her adult life living in the San Francisco Bay Area. http://sumikosaulson.com/