Black Heritage in Horror Month 2024: An Interview with Kai Leakes
What inspired you to start writing?
My inspiration to write came from just growing up and aching to see myself reflected in the stories that I loved. I used to have to do a cognitive dissonance as a child where I’d replace the white characters with BIPOC and myself because I became over-saturated with being given stories about children who did not look like me. It also didn’t help that I loved books so much that I was reading out of my grade level. This led to me developing my own stories In my mind. As I grew up, I continued that same pattern into my teens until more books by authors of color in my age range at that time came about which fueled my inner storytelling.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I became drawn to horror by two situations. 1. My obsession with vampires and 2. Due to my cousins who were absorbing everything horror at this time during the early 90’s.
That is how I fell into it that way. I stayed a stickler for anything speculative horror. That meant vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and haunted houses.
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?
Going back to my inspiration of why I write, of course, I make a conscious effort to include my African diaspora and learn outside of my African American culture to include my lost African culture and other Black global cultures within my stories. This adds multicultural diversity and inclusion that is important and needed in stories. It provided community. So far, I have had a vampire and shifter short that includes the Asiman and Wume. My Sin Eaters series intertwines nodes to West African mythos and religion. I have a dark fantasy mermaid short that connects the history of the transatlantic slave route with that of monster hunting. Same with a dark fantasy steamfunk short that is about demon hunting linked to Yoruba mythos and African American folklore.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
For me I still feel like a relative newbie with writing horror, because my horror writing comes from a place of fantasy writing with links to romance. So it’s taught me to pull deep into myself and draw out layers of how I see the world around and as well as relationships around me. I am a Libra so my stories always give a balance of darkness and light when I write my horror-focused tales.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I think the root of the horror genre has stayed the same. The only thing that changed in the past couple of years was that the gatekeepers allowed more BIPOC voices to share our types of horror and present them on a more global viewing and publishing platform. However again, that has still been very limited and selective. It is still a hard battle in this field as well.
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 have to answer this, like this, every genre of art has an underground, and horror is no exception. This links back to the question about horror changing over the years as well. Black horror has always been a thing. Our storytelling has always been linked to a cultural underground functioning that has and will always keep us thriving and allow our community to be able to represent however we can. So, to look around in these past years at the voices that have been able to make it beyond the underground and move past the gatekeepers, I think our representation in horror has been going beautifully. It’s been making me very proud. My hope is that we just continue to keep crafting as we do. Keep telling our stories because we going to be alright.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
My horror scope of favorites leans into the fantasy end of horror, so…Every Black girl growing up in the 90’s fave is Rachel True’s character ‘Rochelle’ from The Craft. She’s one of my many favorite characters. However, if I have to be honest. My very first favorite Black character before her was Brandon Adams’s ‘Fool.’ For um, adolescent reasons on top of just loving the movie The People Under The Stairs. Next to those three, is Aaliyah’s ‘Queen Akasha’ from Queen of the Damned, and Blade, again, I am a vampire girl, all day, every day.
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend to our audience to check out?
I always, ALWAYS have to give a recommended shout-out to L.A. Banks. She is my inspiration and the foundation that got me here. Tananarive Due. She, along with L.A. Banks are my personal writing Queens Council and are griots in this work. Last but not least, Brandon Massey, he’s a masterclass as well.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
I say write because you love to create those lovely tales of darkness in whatever form.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Create because it’s your passion and write to bring change to the literary world by sharing our voices, our culture, and our images even with people who deject and say they cannot connect with us. Our stories are universal and deserve to be heard. It’s not easy to do this but don’t let it consume you. Do you in your own way and at your own pace.
St. Louis native, hopeless romantic, and vampire lover, author Kai Leakes began her obsession with all things fantasy, romance, sci-fi, and the dark as a teen. Kai is the creator of the popular dark fantasy/horror series ‘Sin Eaters: Devotion Books/Chronicles novella and her own Dark Fantasy/Horror Collection: A Darkness Within. Kai’s unique passion for romance with a touch of darkness has allowed her to be featured in the HWA award-nominated horror anthology Sycorax’s Daughters, and SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire. With fantasy, and romance always on her mind, watch out for the darkness and magic that always follows.
You can find Kai on Facebook, X, Instagram, BlueSky, Tumblr and TikTok.