Black Heritage in Horror Month 2024: An Interview With Kenya Moss-Dyme
What inspired you to start writing?
Probably my love for reading! I’ve always loved books and learned to read at age four. I was one of the kids who read every book in the classroom library and got special permission to read at advanced levels. So, when my elementary school held a writing contest, I was eager to enter a story that I’d handwritten about a cricket astronaut who wanted to go to the moon (I’ll never forget that!). I won the contest and went on to enter each year – usually winning at least 1st or 2nd place throughout my school years. My first adult piece was the short story “Patchwork”, which I typed (on a typewriter) one day at work. I snail-mailed it to my retired high school teacher in Arizona and she gave me valuable feedback and lovingly kept it in her files for over 25 years. When we reconnected on Facebook, she sent it back to me and I published it as a “novelette” back in 2013. It now resides in my collection titled The Mixtape (2016).
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
As far back as I can remember, I preferred the movies and television shows that leaned more toward mystery and crime; usually things that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I can’t explain the draw, I guess no different than anyone who is drawn to comedy or romance, it just seems to pull me toward it. I started reading children’s horror books around age eight. The earliest horror books that I recall reading in middle school were “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe. These were mostly assigned to me in school and then I’d go check out the rest of Poe’s catalog to devour. After that, I believe it was Magic by William Goldman and then it was all horror all the time! I breezed through everything written by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon. Horror books were just more exciting to me although I did also read suspense, thriller, and romance.
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 intentionally feature black characters in my stories, either as the MC – or, if it better fits the particular story – then another essential character. Because who else can write authentically in that space? In my youth, there weren’t a lot of well-known women horror writers – especially black women horror writers, so there were not a lot of black characters in the books I read. If they existed, they definitely were not main characters. I read almost exclusively white male. authors but I still knew that I wanted to write horror that represented my social circle. I want to read about people like me fighting demons, casting spells, battling evil, and sometimes becoming the very monster that we’re chasing.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
That the line between fantasy and reality is like a nanofiber thin. Almost non-existent. Some of the worst things that I can imagine and attempt to write about, there’s a real news story of that very thing happening – or something disturbingly close to it – happening somewhere in the world. I’ve learned that my imagination is not as crazy as I’d been led to believe all of these years! I guess writing about it in a fictional manner helps me analyze it and, in a sense, manage it, or else I’d go mad. I’ve often taken personal stories and weaved them into a horror story where I get to call the shots. Perhaps it’s a form of therapy. Work it out on paper so I can let it go in real life.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I feel like boundaries have been pushed and that’s a wonderful thing. Horror – and entertainment in general – has always aligned with what’s going on in our world, therefore I’m enjoying seeing more content where women are not just the hapless victims in the story. Perhaps with the increased popularity of the superhero genre, creatives are more comfortable building stories around powerful women even in horror. One very impactful change has been the increase of indie horror writers, as more tools and platforms become available for use. And there’s REALLY GOOD work out there, overwhelmingly so. Really pushing the boundaries with the most creative and out-of-left-field themes that I’ve seen in horror! It’s not just haunted houses anymore. I love that people aren’t afraid to develop their ideas, no matter how outrageous that idea may seem.
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 am quite happy that we’re moving past the “black guy/girl” dies first trope. Black characters are at the forefront of the stories and they are important characters that are fighting and saving and must make it to the end. I hope to see more world-building with black characters where we’re not just a part of the world but we drive the world. More connection between the stories and real life, in a non-political way. Not that politics aren’t important but we are more than just political and social props.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
I have a collection of black horror Funko Pops. If it’s a favorite movie or one that’s popular, I’ll either search for it to add to my collection or I’ll have it custom-made. My favorites include Sam (Keivonn Woodard) from The Last of Us – even though he wasn’t there for a long time, his character was both groundbreaking and heartbreaking. I had a custom-made of him! The character Red (Lupita Nyongo) from the movie Us, and Selena (Naomie Harris) from 28 Days Later, just to name a few.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
No one else can tell our stories so don’t let anything make you doubt yourself. I often see commenters say that there’s not many black horror writers and I have to jump right in and point out, YES, WE ARE HERE! So many readers are looking for black indie horror authors but they don’t know where to look. I had an urban publisher tell me that black people don’t read horror and he tried to discourage me from writing and publishing my first horror collection. I’m glad I didn’t listen to him. To black writers who may feel frustrated that they’re not being seen, you must keep that flame burning and keep filling up all the spaces. Because we are needed and don’t ever let anyone make you feel that you shouldn’t be doing what you love.
As a child, Kenya Moss-Dyme realized that her entertainment choices leaned more toward ghosts and goblins than princesses and fairy godmothers. She began writing short-form horror in her teens and won several scholastic writing awards. Prey for Me – the hard-hitting story of a monstrous child- Abusing Preacher – was her first published full-length novel back in early 2014, followed by Amazon’s best-selling dark romance, A Good Wife. She firmly planted her foot in the horror genre with the Halloween 2014 release of Daymares, followed by Devil Inside, The Mixtape and The Forever Souls. Subsequent appearances include the anthologies, Winter’s Chill, Forever Vacancy, Black Magic Women, and Deadly Bargain. She enjoys writing about zombies and supernatural entities the most. But there’s nothing scarier to her than HUMANS and their unimaginable depths of depravity. That’s what she loves to explore in her writing, characters that are like the people you think you know, but you really don’t know after all. When not staring at a blank page trying to force the words to come, you might find her shooting the undead or playing Beat Saber in her Meta Quest VR headset.