Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Jim Potts
Jim Potts, JD is a lawyer and author with a B.A. and Juris Doctorate Degree. He is a former Reserve Captain, a P.O.S.T. Certified Terrorist Investigator, a member of the Open Source Intelligence Team, and was with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for twenty years, achieving the rank of Captain. Potts is a certified Mediator through the Los Angeles County Bar Association and a former Master Teacher for the University of Phoenix (Southern California Campus), having taught undergraduate and graduate levels. His course curriculums included United States Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Ethics, Business Law, and Employment Law. He has represented over one thousand employers and industries regarding State & Federal employment law compliance for forty years.
Potts travels the nation speaking on domestic terrorism in front of political groups, business associations, community-based organizations, schools, businesses, as well as conducts active shooter training for thousands in and out of the workplace.
Jim’s blog, “Listen Up!“, has fans in over 55 countries.
What inspired you to start writing?
I majored in history while attending Howard University and, as a history major, research and writing went hand in hand. At the end of my second year, I took a black history course, and it required a major research project. I did mine on Marcus Garvey. I enjoyed the project so much that after college I researched his life. I obtained his actual trial transcripts and exhibits, went to Jamaica for further research and spent 10 years total gathering information. It was so much material that I decided to right a book on “The Trial of Marcus Garvey.” It never gained traction but it put me on the path.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I have always enjoyed horror movies since I was a child. The black and white movies such as Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Werewolf, Dracula, Night of the Living Dead, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon peaked my morbid interest. As time went on, movies such as The Exorcist, The Omen, and Halloween kept my interest moving all the way to Get Out and Us.
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?
I do. I have several projects with my agent and every one of them has an African American protagonist. Each character has obstacles to overcome, which they do despite the deck being stacked against them. All of these are based on real life people. My intent is to put forth to the African American Community, especially the younger generation, that it is possible to overcome obstacles and not to be deterred from their final objective, goals, and dreams in life.
What has writing horror (or horrific subjects) taught you about the world and yourself?
An unfortunate part of life is that horrific things happen, and it is how we deal with those events that makes us who we are. Some will gain strength of character while others let experiences take a bad toll on their life.
For me, I gained strength after struggling between my personal values and my ethical obligation to assist in the representation of a client, serial killer or not, to the best of my ability. My experience helped mold my professional career and to maintain those values that were taught to me by my parents.
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?
From an overall perspective, I feel the Black community has not been represented very well. There is a move in that direction, though. Jordan Peele, as an example, has made some strides with Get Out and Us. He is making his mark as a writer/producer/director and hopefully will inspire other African Americans to pursue those creative careers as well. Two actresses, Halle Berry in Gothika and Lupita Nyong’o in Us both represented the Black community in standout fashion.
As for representation going forward, I believe the opportunity, as well as the public interest, is there for Black writers to make a bigger mark in the genre. I would hope, and encourage, more African Americans to explore this genre; however, historically speaking (as an Historian by degree) African Americans culturally believe(d) in the supernatural dating back to our roots in Africa. Superstitions still abound in the Caribbean, Africa, and even Louisiana. These type of beliefs may consciously, or unconsciously, discourage Black writers to stay away from the horror genre and gravitate more toward real life experience both negative and positive.
For my part, I am working on a current project that will be my second book within the genre that should be completed by the end of the year. It is also based on true events which I favor in my writing.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
The top of my list is Halle Berry in Gothika and Lupita Nyong’o who did an excellent job as Adelaide in Us but unfortunately was overlooked when the Oscar nominations were presented. Morgan Freeman in Seven and Tony Todd in Candyman.
What is one piece of advice you would give authors today?
The key to writing is to write. Next, write your first draft with your heart and write your second draft with your head and have patience.