Black Heritage in Horror Month 2024: An Interview with Nicole D. Sconiers
What inspired you to start writing?
When I was a kid, I used to sit at the feet of my great-grandmother, Sallie, and listen to her tell stories. She had a way of captivating the listener with her tales of growing up down South, protecting her property from the Klan with a nine-shooter Winchester rifle she called Ole Betsy. I developed a love for storytelling by osmosis, just absorbing the colorful language and the joys and horrors of everyday life she shared with me.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of human nature. When I was eight or nine, I started reading Dean Koontz and Stephen King novels and, in some way, I sympathized with the monster. I knew what it felt like to be misunderstood, to be both feared and rendered invisible. I was an introverted kid who felt voiceless, so curling up with a creepy book at first felt like a refuge. But later, I began to see horror as a way to exorcise my own demons through the written word.
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?
Because I grew up loving horror but never saw myself depicted in the stories I read, I think I make a conscious effort to center Black folks, particularly Black women, in my writing. While pursuing an MFA in creative writing, I began to see how horror could be a lens to examine social justice issues – racism, police brutality, violence against women, and body/hair politics. I am most fascinated by marginalized characters who are not only struggling to be seen, they’re fighting the monster in the basement or the one hiding under the bed. My characters are flawed but complex and they’re trying to make sense of the world while fighting for their place in it.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
To paraphrase Stephen King, “Monsters live inside us and sometimes they win.” There are monsters who are stripping away women’s rights, banning books, whitewashing history, and dismantling affirmative action. This whole anti-woke movement has revealed a lot of demons who feel threatened by any social justice movement that resists bigotry and promotes tolerance and inclusion. Sometimes I’ll read an article about some injustice in the world and instead of feeling powerless, I’ll channel that anger into a short story or a screenplay. Writing horror has taught me that we can’t let the monsters win.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Horror was considered the domain of cis white men, so I’m thrilled to see women, people of color, queer writers, and other marginalized folk claiming the genre as our own. Who knows more about horror than the disenfranchised? With Get Out, Jordan Peele helped usher in an era of racial horror, so it’s intriguing to see stories with white supremacy as the monster people of color are forced to battle. The personal is political. As a Black woman, I’m always going to write stories centering on Black women trying to resolve some type of trauma in their lives. That trauma might be race-based, but it won’t always be. And I think in the coming years, we’ll have horror stories about the pandemic, about isolation, about culture wars, and climate change through the lens of the disenfranchised.
Who are some of your favorite Black characters in horror?
There are too many to name. I love the character of Phoenix Smalls in Tananarive Due’s novel Joplin’s Ghost. I think Phoenix represents so many young people chasing stardom no matter the cost. Jane is a kick-ass character in Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation. A Black girl fighting zombies in an alt-antebellum America? Yes, please! In terms of TV and film, Letitia, Ruby, and Hippolyta from Lovecraft Country are such fierce characters who stare down monsters. I adore Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in Us as the troubled but formidable character Adelaide.
Who are some African diaspora horror authors you recommend to our audience check out?
I recommend the Ashon Ruffins novel, Descent of a Broken Man. You don’t always see horror stories about Black men managing their mental health. Descent of a Broken Man does an excellent job of discussing mental health in a meaningful way. And it’s an entertaining read! Vaughn A. Jackson’s Touched by Shadows is a great book about a Black teen girl with psychokinetic abilities. I also recommend Eden Royce, Dicey Grenor, Erin E. Adams, Sumiko Saulson, Kai Leakes, Balogun Ojetade, Zin E. Rocklyn, Lori Titus, and C.Y. Marshall.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Keep writing and keep dreaming. The world needs your stories.
And to the Black writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Find a supportive community. I am incredibly grateful to have writer friends who encourage me, who critique my writing and who help me grow. Writing is lonely work, but it’s less lonely when you have a community who empowers you and wants to see you shine.
Nicole D. Sconiers is an author and screenwriter who blends horror, speculative fiction and humor in stories centering on complex Black heroines. She is the author of Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair, and Rage, a speculative fiction short-story collection that has been taught at colleges and universities around the country. Her work has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, Speculative City, NIGHTLIGHT: A Horror Fiction Podcast, PodCastle, the Black Futures edition of Spelman College’s literary journal, Aunt Chloe: A Journal of Artful Candor, and other publications. Her short stories were published in the anthologies Black from the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing, December Tales, and Sycorax’s Daughters, which was a Bram Stoker Award finalist. Her short story “A Bird Sings by the Etching Tree” appeared in the New York Times bestselling book Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror, edited by Jordan Peele and John Joseph Adams.