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Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Denise N. Tapscott


California native Denise N. Tapscott left her heart in San Francisco, but somehow left her soul in New Orleans. She recently joined the popular podcast Beef, Wine and Shenanigans with fellow writers Steven Van Patten, Marc Abbott and Kirk A Johnson.

As an actress, she can be seen playing the sassy vampire “Tasha” on the YouTube web series The Vamps Next Door.

As a member of the HWA, she published her first novel Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes as well as the short story “The Price of Salvation.” Her second novel Enlightening of the Damned is coming soon.

What inspired you to start writing?

Back in high school, during the summer I’d have insomnia. Rather than fighting to sleep I would write little stories in a journal. Many years later I took an acting seminar with Casting directors and they repeatedly stressed “create your own content” and “do your own thing”. So I decided to write a story that involved characters I wanted to see. One idea led to another and I wrote my first novel, Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

I’ve always found horror exciting. I used to watch the TV show Creature Feature with my mom on Saturday afternoons when my dad was at work and my sister was in her room reading. I love the unpredictable twists and turns thrown at the characters in stories. The stories would scare me but I also know that I was safe because chances are I wouldn’t be in those crazy scenarios.

Do you make a conscious effort to include African diaspora characters and themes in your writing, and if so what do you want to portray?

That’s a good question. I don’t make a conscious effort to include African diaspora characters or themes but they tend to show up organically in my writing. I like to create characters that are somewhat relatable to readers, which includes mannerisms and habits. It’s important to me that there is representation of many cultures, especially black culture. What I try to avoid are themes about slavery or oppression. Sometimes just being black in certain situations is a horror in itself. Plus there are generational wounds that will take time to heal. There’s no need for me to keep picking at those wounds. I prefer to create a suspenseful story with a twist, involving interesting characters.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

Writing horror has taught me that there are different things in the world that people fear. Some are universal, some are not. What I may find scary doesn’t have the same effect on others and vice versa. For example, I used to be afraid of ghosts (and loved it!). When researching African traditional religions like voodoo and hoodoo, I found that as black people we don’t fear ghosts in our homes. There’s a good chance that it may be an ancestor or family member trying to contact you. So now ghosts are fun, and not so scary to me. I took a great writing seminar with Tim Waggoner one year at a StokerCon convention about things that scare us. One element he brought up that sticks with me to this day is that there are things that even your parents can’t save you from. I try to incorporate a little bit of that in a few of my stories, which I hope to publish soon.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

To me, the horror genre has different elements and we see them as cycles. There was a time of suspense, a time of slashers and gore, a time of jump scares and a time of psychological terrors. The newest shade we’re seeing is horror from different cultures, which I think is great. I assume there have always been horror stories from other countries and ethnicities and now they’re back! For example, the movie Parasite from Korea came out, and although it didn’t scare me I thought it was wonderful.

How do you feel the Black community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?

I feel that the Black community has been way underrepresented in the genre as it has been underrepresented in most genres. How many times does the Black guy have to be killed off, and when? Big thanks to Jordan Peele for shaking things up with the many projects he puts out. I feel that with his success, it gives a green light for new stories with Black people in them as well as gives life to older, great authors like Octavia Butler. Her stuff is more sci-fi, but I’d still include her in the horror genre.

Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?

Aside from my own characters? Blade (Wesley Snipes), Christian Brookwater (from Brookwater’s Curse), Ben (from Night of the Living Dead), Parker (Yaphet Kotto in Alien) Alexa (Sanaa Lathan in Alien vs Predator), Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett in American Horror Story) and Veronica in Antebellum. I am disappointed that there aren’t a lot more Black women in horror as lead characters, and I hope to change that.

Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend our audience check out?

I recommend Linda Addison, Steven Van Patten, Marc Abbott, Kirk A Johnson, Eden Royce, Miracle Austin, LM Wood, Kenisha Williams and Sumiko Saulson!! I also have a list of authors that I haven’t read yet, but need to read soon, including Terri Clark, Michelle Renee Lane, LH Moore, Kai Leakes, Mya Laris, and Dahlia DeWinters. There are a lot more on that list too, and I hate that I know I’m forgetting someone wonderful.

What is the one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

Find an organization or group of horror writers to belong to, like the HWA. Being with your tribe is the best thing to help you learn, grow and succeed. From a creative standpoint, horror writers understand you, and you understand them. Other general writing organizations are great for the business side of writing and publishing, but you’ll feel more in tune as a writer when you are with your tribe.

And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give to them?

You will hear this a million times, and it’s true. Read a lot and write a lot. You’ll discover what styles you like and dislike. You’ll see things in other people’s work that you’ll want to avoid, and some things that will take your breath away. It’ll help you define your writing style too. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it every day, just do your best. Don’t give up. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.

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