Interview with L. Marie Wood, author of “The Promise Keeper”
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:
L. Marie Wood has had a love for writing horror and suspense tales since she was a child. A Rockland County, New York native, she attended Howard University in Washington DC and, after graduating with a Communications degree in 1995, began writing with a focus on publication. Initially, her approach was through poetry, where she succeeded in publishing over twenty pieces under the pen name Elle Wood. She went on to write four screenplays and a novella before settling down to write the horror novel that dwelled within her for years. Her debut novel, Crescendo,received critical acclaim from such entities as Midwest Book Review and Buried.com.
The 2003 novel was called “a highly complex work” by Book Publicity, LTD. L. Marie Wood’s first short story collection, Caliginy, was released in November 2003 and was also nominated for a Stoker Award (2003). She has published over 100 short stories in anthologies and collections, both in print and online, such as The Black Spiral (alongside such horror greats as F. Paul Wilson and Sephera Giron) and on professional webzines such as Sinisteria.
A young girl, on the cusp of sexual maturity, in what is now known as Benin, West Africa, is seduced by a beautiful stranger, a man the likes of which she has never seen before. Their encounter changes her forever. She becomes an asiman, a vampire: one of the undead.
The Promise Keeper comes to her, willing her to do his bidding — to keep an unspoken promise. He probes her mind and plants suggestions so she will follow his plan, until she fights back. She runs, her travels taking her to Europe and the Caribbean over centuries to escape him. She finally settles in New York City, convinced that she has eluded him… until she falls in love.
The Promise Keeper is a story of love, despair, murder, and deceit. It is also a vampire tale like no other. Could you keep this promise?”
Q. When I was putting together my article “20 Black Women in Horror Writing” I noticed that many horror writers choose not to use the genre label, but instead use the broader one “Speculative Fiction”. Do you think that reflects an attitude about the genre?
A. Absolutely. Sadly, horror is a genre that is still associated with stereotypical antagonists and predictable storylines. Likewise, it is a genre that most people would rather watch in a movie than read. The subtleties that reading good horror fiction can provide are missed in lieu of quick scares on the movie screen designed to make you jump. In that way, I believe that all literature suffers from popular cinematic trends. The many subgenres go unnoticed and vampires and zombies take forefront. Hence, if one is not interested in those antagonists, many think the horror genre has nothing to offer them. Many authors feel the need to distinguish themselves from genre norms to gain readership; a trend that has been on the upswing for years. What I would like to see is a shift in said norms to include quiet and psychological horror alongside visceral and gothic, to paint a broader picture of what the genre has to offer.
Q. You are closely associated with the genre label, and have even been nominated for one of it’s best known awards. How do you feel about horror? What made you decide to embrace writing in the genre?
A. I had no choice – indeed, horror chose me! I have been writing stories with a horror twist since I was 5 years old… little passages that always had an unexpected twist and always had some supernatural element. It is as much a part of who I am as is the color of my eyes. With that said, I love the genre. There are some subgenres that are not my particular taste, but overall, I love what the genre can do to the imagination. The way that it can awaken something inside, something that won’t go back where it came from once loosed (I am still afraid of mirrors after read an anonymous piece about reflections when I was a child!) is powerful to me. It keeps me coming back for more.
Q. Women are underrepresented in horror fiction, and black women even more so. Do you think that is beginning to change?
A. My honest answer to that is I don’t know. Black women are writing horror, without question. But getting readership, creating buzz, getting large press publishing deals is quite difficult for all writers, but especially in this group. In the past, I was told that because there was already one Black female horror writer on staff, they didn’t think they needed another one. I hope to see this dynamic change.
Q. You are very prolific, with an impressive body of work that includes half a dozen short story anthologies in addition to your novels, “Crescendo” and “The Promise Keeper”. What keeps you inspired?
A. Life. Story ideas come from everywhere. I love to watch people but my method is not as blatant as it sounds. Any outing provides the chance to observe behavior. All behavior can be seen in a positive or negative light. As a psychological horror author, I enjoy the twists and turns the mind can take, so I watch to see where the world takes me. For instance, I am on a train right now heading east through rural country with a smattering of stores every couple of miles. Barren trees revealing a two lane road travelled by few cars. A young man walking through the woods. There are so many places I could go with that.
Q. Let’s talk about your second novel, “The Promise Keeper”. It’s protagonist Zaji hails from what would become Benin. She is an asiman, a vampire-like creature of African legend, traditionally able to enter the bodies of animals. Did you have to do a lot of research about the asiman to craft this modern tale based upon ancient legend?
A. Yes, but to me, to write anything, you must first research. Authenticity is key, even if you don’t intend to follow the same footsteps as what is already in place. My research focused around the Fon language, more so than the asiman legend, however the legend provided a base for the character. The rich culture, historical religious construct, and lore contributed to the formation of Zaji’s homeland in “The Promise Keeper”.
Q. Is Zaji like or unlike the vampires in modern lore? As an asiman, do her powers and weaknesses differ from the European vampire legends?
A. Zaji is has more in common with a modern vampire than the historical depictions, however there are definite similarities with the latter as well. Zaji can walk during the day and can sustain herself without partaking of blood for longer periods of time. Zaji can consummate relationships and control her anger. But like her ancestors in Europe, blood calls to her and love is her undoing. Her maker, however, The Promise Keeper himself, is unlike any vampire ever written because he is, in fact, more than a vampire. He is something more sinister, more terrifying.
Q. Benin holds an important place in history – particularly in art history because of the Edo people of the pre-colonial Benin City-State and the Benin Empire, which demonstrated a greater level of sophistication in understanding of the human anatomy and imbued the sculpture with finer suggestion of human spirit in it’s subtle facial expression than was known in most of the world at that period of time, during the late middle ages. Does your story involve the Edo and the Benin Empire?
A. Loosely. The culture serves as a backdrop for the larger story that is Zaji and her interaction with a beautiful stranger.
Q. Where can our readers find you and your books on the internet?
A. Goodreads is my current web presence, as well as the L. Marie Wood reader group on Facebook. My books can be found on Amazon.com (paperback, Kindle), Google Books (Nook), and E-Volve Books (paperback, Kindle, Nook).
Q. Is there anything you’d like to tell the readers that we haven’t covered yet?
A. My third short story collection, “Anathema”, was released by E-Volve books at the end of 2012. It is a grouping of 35 short stories of varying lengths and in several sub-genres. I hope you enjoy. Thank you very much for the interview! I truly appreciate being selected and I look forward to reading your article.