Interview with Jemiah Jefferson
This interview is being included in the 2013 Women in Horror Interview Series. Every February, Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. You can find out more about WiHM here:
Jemiah Jefferson was born in Denver, Colorado. Her childhood consisted of a steady diet of AM radio, New Wave and disco, music videos, Star Wars, horror movies, voracious and indiscriminate reading, and hours of daydreaming; all of these influences can still be found in her writing.
Her first printed work, St*rf*ck*ng, a group of short erotic stories with a touch of celebrity obsession, was published by local small-press rockstar Kevin Sampsell for Future Tense Books.
The hero of nerdy black women everywhere (me included), Jemiah Jefferson is like a superhero: comic book editor by day, author by night. No… seriously, editing comic books is her day job. She works at the editorial department of Dark Horse Comics (my fiance just said “hell ya!). Her Gothic Horror series “The Vampire Quartet” begins in San Francisco with the adventures of Daniel Blum and then follows his extended vampire family across the ocean and back in time.
(Photo by Serena Davidson)
Q. First of all, I wanted to say that just reading your blog is enough to let anyone see how engaging and humorous your writing is. How important do you think humor is in horror?
A. I find humor to be important in everything, even that which is seen as inappropriate… I love a good morbid, tasteless joke after a huge tragedy. It gets life back on track in a way. In horror, a dash of humor can enliven a generally grim story – in the same way, it reconnects the reader to “life”, to the process of getting on with it despite everything, and it humanizes, putting characters on a more even playing field. Not to mention the fact that I, like a lot of other readers, prefers a protagonist (or at least major character) who is funny now and then.
Q. You are a self-described “geek” – do you think that it is a function of the genre that it attracts geeks? I mean that in terms of the geekiness of horror fans.
A. I don’t think that horror attracts geeks more than the general non-geek population; horror is a very popular genre in all walks of life, as far as I’ve been able to determine. Even normals and squares appreciate a good thrill and scare now and then. For the more popular horror authors and films, the majority of the paying audience aren’t geeks. However, it’s very easy for geeks to geek out about horror because it’s such a wide, deep, diverse genre that can depict everything from romance to family stories to politics, but fundamentally is about character – the story of something awful that happens to someone, and how it changes them, even if it only changes them from alive to dead.
Q. You seem to have a well-developed and grassroots and vocal fan base online. I read at least two articles when researching mine where people were all like, “why isn’t Jemiah Jefferson on this list?”. Do you think the internet is helping people to become more aware of you in particular and black women in horror in general.
A. The internet is my major playing field in terms of fan outreach and publicity. I don’t have a lot of money, and I haven’t had much publisher support since the first year of my first novel release, so if I am to have any kind of contact with fans or the like-minded, the internet is the fastest and cheapest way to communicate with them. When an author hasn’t much money or external support, she has to do everything herself, and these days, most people use the internet. I have also been active and vocal in a lot of different “fandoms”, including music, films, television, and genre literature including comic books, and thus it’s all about striking the balance between “Oh, yeah, I wrote some books you might like if you’re into this, because it was inspired by this” and trying not to turn some other locus of fan engagement into something all about me. I have been perhaps too restrained!
Q. Speaking of fans, do you think that fan fiction helps writers in the genre to develop their voices?
A. I am a firm believer in fan fiction as a way of not just engaging emotionally and creatively with a work, but if there’s also a dedication to the craft of writing and composition, getting lots of practice actually doing it is a great way to learn the rules (and how to break them). Fanfic’s got a reputation for being poorly-written, but that isn’t just a characteristic of fanfic; it’s everywhere in published writing. There were shitty books written before fanfic became a better-known phenomena, and there are shitty ones still being written – some of them are fanfic and for some reason have gotten really popular. It’s all about what readers will tolerate.
Q. This is Women in Horror Month. It celebrates women in all aspects of horror, but I want to talk about writing. Women still remain underrepresented in horror fiction, and I was wondering what your thoughts on the matter are. And do you think it is starting to change?
A. I would say that women are underrepresented in publishing in general, and certainly in the books that get a lot of press. However, yeah, I’d say that’s changing. A lot of great horror books are coming out that were written by women; they just don’t get as much press. Also, I think that in the past, women may not have been as interested, or as confident in their work in horror, but the explosion in young adult titles, especially in the realms of “dark fantasy”, are changing that somewhat. Women are definitely present as horror fans, though perhaps more in movies than in books, but I’m willing to bet that that’s changing, too.
Q. It is also Black History Month – and black women writing horror are even rarer. I started to put together a list, and your name is one of the higher profile ones on a very short list of about twenty. Do you have any thoughts as to why black women are so underrepresented in horror writing?
A. I really am not sure; I only know my own story, my own background, and my own interests. I would hesitate to claim that publishers are less interested in works by black women, but there might be something to that; there’s an assumption in the marketing and publicity departments of publishers that an author with a “black” name will only appeal to black audiences, and it’s just not true in my experience, but it’s probably different for others. I’d like to think that this assumption is also changing, but it will take a massive horror bestseller by a female black author to really change the tide. It’s a shame that the world lost L.A. Banks; I think she had the best chance of breaking through that ceiling of any of us. Ideally, that blockbuster best-selling black female author is out there, and her big break is simply yet to come.
Q. I think the “urban fiction” genre is making it a little easier for writers of color to enter the market, but then there seems to be a lot of genre confusion associated with it: for instance, I included L.A. Banks on my list, but some people think she wrote urban fantasy not horror. What do you think about this genre confusion and do you think there is any kind of pigeon holing involved?
A. Again with the “if it’s written by a black person, only black people will want to read it.” I hesitated to use my own name and my photo in my first novel publication, but then I decided to just go for it; I have nothing to hide, and nothing I WANT to hide, and perhaps I could start that sea change happening where black women were taken seriously outside the Toni Morrison, Oprah’s Book Club literature realm, or the (mostly unknown to most audiences) “urban erotica” of writers like Zane. “Urban” is just a marketing euphemism for “black”, because you wouldn’t hear of a inter-city story about Irish kids in Boston referred to as “urban” (or Jame Joyce for that matter; “Dubliners” is urban as hell!) It’s just another pigeonhole, necessary for marketers and the people who shelve books in stores. Perhaps with the decrease in the amount of brick-and-mortar bookstores, the categories will become a little more slippery. Why can’t we all just write literature with elements of shocker, technothriller, romance, philosophy, even travel?
Q. What can readers look forward to seeing next from Jemiah Jefferson?
A. Good question! I’ve been working on BEFORE AND AFTER MICHAEL, my first planned “just plain erotica” novel for the last four and a half years; I keep getting discouraged, or overwhelmed by the other vagaries of life including a stressful job, major health issues, and barely keeping my head above water financially (in other words, the same thing pretty much every other writer is going through), but the novel is almost finished. I hope to find an agent, which I haven’t had since 1998, who may be interested in getting the vampire novels back into print in 2014. I have a couple of other novels written and all-but-finished, but they need to be professionally edited, and in some cases, transcribed from hard copy, before they can be seen by professionals. I just want to sell one of these books. I’ve written a ton since A DROP OF SCARLET, the fourth vampire novel, and I’ve just gotten an idea for a fifth (and sixth) book in the series. I’d love to get the chance, but I really do need to be paid better to do it.
Where to Find Jemiah Online
Jemiah’s website http://www.jemiah.com
Jemiah’s Amazon Author Page
Amazon listing for MIXTAPE FOR THE APOCALYPSE
~ by Sumiko Saulson on February 15, 2013.
Posted in Interviews, WiHM 2013
Tags: Author, Daniel Blum, Dark Horse Comics, Horror, Interview, Jemiah Jefferson, Mixtape for the Apocalypse, novel, novels, scary, supernatural, The Vampire Quartet, undead, vampire, Voice of Blood, WiHM 2013, Women in Horror, Women in Horror Interview Series, Women in Horror Month 2013, Women of Color, writing