Interview with R. J. Joseph, author of

The Book

rk2_cvrA hanging tree takes the law into its own limbs in “The Tree Servant.” A mother’s love is tested by the walking, crawling and thumb-sucking dead in “Mama’s Babies.” A famous author lays his process bare in “A Writer’s Lot.” Not for the faint of heart, this terrifying batch of Texas horror fiction delivers a host of literary demons who will be hard to shake once they get comfortable.

The second volume of the critically acclaimed Road Kill Series from Eakin Press, featuring seventeen Texas writers. Some of the writers are established and have been published in a variety of mediums, while others are upcoming writers who bring a wealth of talent and imagination. Edited by E.R. Bills and Bret McCormick, this collection of horror stories is sure to bring chills and make the imagination run wild. Writers include Jacklyn Baker, Andrew Kozma, Ralph Robert Moore, Jeremy Hepler, R. J. Joseph, James H. Longmore, Mario E. Martinez, E. R. Bills, Summer Baker, Dennis Pitts, Keith West, S. Kay Nash, Bryce Wilson, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Stephen Patrick, Crystal Brinkerhoff and Hayden Gilbert.

The Author

IMG_0024R. J. Joseph is a Texas based writer and professor who must exorcise the demons of her imagination so they don’t haunt her being. A life long horror fan and writer of many things, she has recently discovered the joys of writing in the academic arena about two important aspects of of her life: horror and black femininity.

When R. J. isn’t writing, teaching, or reading voraciously, she can usually be found wrangling one of various sprouts or sproutlings from her blended family of 11…along with one husband and two furry babies.

R. J. can be found lurking (and occasionally even peeking out) on social media:

https://rjjoseph.wordpress.com/

The Interview

Q. “Where My Girls At: The Absence of Black Femininity from Vampire Culture” and  “Damnation Be The Tie That Binds: The Bondage of Black Femininity in ‘Get Out’  both reflect your views regarding black female representation or lack thereof in horror. Can you tell us about your academic work regarding the horror genre?

A. One of the things I’ve always been acutely aware of, as a lifelong black female horror fan, is how few of the heroines and monsters in horror stories look like me. I would watch movie after movie, and devour all the books I could find, and even though some of these characters were women, they were rarely ever black women. I always wanted to be the monster, because the monster is the strongest being in the story. I wanted to see a black woman get her due as a powerful monster. What I ultimately want is to see the socially created monstrous black woman—because we’ve been given the title of monstrous within society, but none of the sympathy other created monsters are afforded–gain the actual power and sympathy that other monsters get.

Q. What do you think can be done to alleviate misogynoir in horror?

A. One of the biggest things we can do to alleviate the hate for the black woman is first amplify the voices of black women within the genre. If more of us are allowed to write the stories, they will be in our voice, and audiences can learn from the stories we tell about ourselves and our worldview. I think there also has to be some accountability from society that acknowledges that black women have been vilified without much recourse, and an examination and accounting of that vilification has to happen before folks start to see us as human and as being worthy of positive attention and respect.

Q. With titles like “A Woman’s Work,” “Give Her Whatsoever She May Ask” and “Mama’s Babies” your creative fiction also seems to be very centered around the black woman. What are the protagonists in those stories like?

A. Most of the protagonists of my stories struggle with the joys and tribulations of navigating life in a brown body with a vagina, much as I do. They fight fitting into the categories that society wants to place them in, specifically the roles of wife and mother, while cruelly being denied the tools they need to fully embrace and live these ideals in the way they desire. In “Mama’s Babies”, Zenobia Thompson loves her babies but feels the pressure of being a married single parent to three small children, one of whom is disabled. She longs for freedom from her domestic bonds, but when that freedom calls, she finds the decision difficult to make. Sasha, from “A Woman’s Work”, holds the ultimate power to demolish everything around her, but rather than unleash that power, she restricts herself and instead shrinks to fit the wife and mother roles she thinks she should want. Sasha also has to learn that being a good mother doesn’t necessarily translate into being a good wife to a bad husband. All Ingrid wants in “To Give Her Whatsoever She May Ask” is to have a baby, by whatever means necessary. She struggles with the idea that marriage and motherhood may not have been in the cards for her.

Q. The old horror movie trope says that the black character never makes it to the end of the movie. Do you think increased black representation on the production side – writing, directing, producing – is starting to change all that?

A. Absolutely! I think the ultimate goal for any group is to see members of their group thrive and succeed. We have to be able to see ourselves in stories to be able to invest in those stories. One of the issues with not having a lot of black representation on the production side is that we don’t get to root for those characters because they’re rarely developed as whole beings and they don’t make it too far in the story before they’re killed off.

Q. How do you feel about non-black folks portraying black characters in terms of writing the other? Do you think they can have a positive role in alleviating the absence of black characters in general and women in particular, and should they?

A. This is one of those double-edged swords I think about often. On the one hand, great power and unlimited opportunities are available to non-black people in publishing and filmmaking. They can literally write and tell any story they want and their efforts will be received as being better, or even more authentic, than genuine lived experiences. This happens even when all other things considered are equal. Those storytellers are the ones the industry desires, uplifts, and pays. What would be great is if they took those opportunities and empowered black people to tell our own stories. That would be using their influence and positioning in a positive way to bring more female and black artists into the arena.

Unfortunately, many of them won’t do that. I have a huge issue with the current state of affairs in this regard because I’ve seen where black, female writers have these brilliant stories to tell and they have incredible writing abilities and yet their stories aren’t purchased. Publishing and film industry gatekeepers tell them their stories won’t sell or that voices aren’t authentic enough, which really translates into “What we want to give our audiences is the stereotype of what we think you should be rather than who you really are”. If they do make sales, the money doesn’t add up. And the whole awards process is a whole other aspect of this effort to “disappear” black artists from our art.

Q. What are you working on now that you want to tell our readers about?

A. My essay, “I’m That Chick Who Starts the Conversation” will appear in King Shot Press’ January 2018 release, Nasty. Also, I’m currently gearing up for two co-authored paper presentations with my colleague, Elsa Carruthers, at StokerCon 2018 and the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts 2018 conference, discussing femininity and the horror genre. We’re hoping to parlay these papers into a book on the same topic. Also, I have a chapter in the 2018 collection of essays, Stranger Things: Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence, coming out from McFarland. On the fiction front, I’ve finally started on a long put off novella which just might be working itself into a full-fledged novel.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. It’s an honor to discuss these most perfect interview questions with you! Your work is supremely important and I appreciate that you continue to do it.

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~ by Sumiko Saulson on January 1, 2018.

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