Black Heritage in Horror: Interview with Tracy Cross
Tracy Cross’s work has been featured in several podcasts and mass market anthologies. Her first book, Rootwork, was published by Dark Hart Publishing in 2022. She lives in Washington, DC, and is an active member of the HWA. She loves disco and shares her latest exploits and information on my blog: tracycwritesonline.com. She is on instagram as tracycrosswrites and twitter as tracycwrites.
What inspired you to start writing?
Subconsciously, it was a lack of representation and a lack of finding the books I wanted. I grew up in the 80’s and there were hardly any black writers, outside of academia. I figured that I’d be my own hero and write my own stories.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I supposed it wasn’t a conscious decision for me to start writing or participating in the horror genre. It was just one of the things that I liked. I didn’t have the patience for romance or mystery. I liked how the horror books I read were anthologies and many of the stories just jumped right into the action. I cut my teeth on “Prime Evil” by Douglas Winters and “The Keep” by F. Paul Wilson. Later in the 80’s, some labels started recognizing more serious horror like Poppy Z. Brite, so it was all about availability. What kind of scary stuff could I get my hands on.
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?
Yes, I make an effort to include characters from the African diaspora, but I also include the influences of the people I grew up with as well. One way to capture a moment in time and share it with everyone is writing, so every character I infuse with a bit of myself or someone I know. It almost makes it feel like I’m documenting my own history, which is nice. Except when I kill you, that isn’t nice.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Writing horror has taught me that if I stick with something, I can do it. I used to joke that I had a short attention span. But, once you plan out a story or novel or whatever, there’s nothing like typing the words-THE END- at the end of it. Writing horror has also taught me that recently, people will read my work and like it. There’s an audience out there that almost matches my wacky sense of humor.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I think that better versions of our stories, as black people, have come out recently. Before, we had a lot of others writing blacks into their work and it felt forced. Some of the characters read like something a person would assume a black person would do or how they would act. And trust me, they were not good nor did it read authentic. Now, we have so many ways of getting our stories out there, there’s no reason for anyone that has a story should be able to share it.
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?
So many folks think they can write black characters and don’t think they need feedback. It’s just the same as when men write women characters and they read horribly. I think in one part, it’s about having a multi cultural cast in your work, but most times the character doesn’t read authentic. I even had a white writer tell me that I was wrong when I said, “This isn’t how a black person would act.” What I hope going forward is that we can all do better. We can have open conversations about race without people being offended and telling you that you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s all about getting the character right so the reader feels heard or can see themselves in the story. I hope more black writers share their work or even join the HWA and hone their work so that many people will get to read and experience it as well.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
I really love the best friend in Get Out because he is that one friend that always questions everything, then when it’s true, he’s the first to say, “I told you so.” (Rod Williams). I also love Tony Todd as the “Candyman” and Wesley’s Blade, but only during battles when Blade goes full-IDGAF mode and really starts fighting. One of my favorite black characters though is Ben from Night of the Living Dead. I love how he just took control so much that everyone was looking at him like, “Well, what next?”
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
She’s not horror, but I feel like I was late to the Zora Neale Hurston party. Although she did do a study about voodoo-she remained true to her anthropological self and documented her people as she saw them. There’s so many new black horror authors out there that are waiting to be discovered. I’d say to give a listen to black podcasts like “Black Women Are Scary” or “Nightlight” where we are highlighted on a weekly, if not monthly basis, and find your own favorites.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Please stop using black tropes in your horror. There are only so many magical negroes and black best friends in the world. We aren’t here to enable your characters to succeed, we’d like to succeed as well.
And to black writers out there just getting started?
Never give up. Somewhere, you have a story that is screaming to be told. People need to hear our stories as told by us and not others. As people age and die, we lose just a little bit more of our past-so why not capture it and share it with the world-no matter how tragic or scary it is.