(Originally posted on the MVMedia Blog)
1). Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born by the river, in a little tent. And just like that river, I’ve been writing ever since.
Hat tip to Sam Cooke! No but seriously, I’m a Memphis-based writer, born near the Mississippi River on a street called Life. We moved on to Seventh, and I lived the early part of my childhood in North Memphis. My family, the city, and its culture are all a big part of how I became a writer. Everyone in Memphis is a good storyteller, and my grandparents and their friends were some of the best. I grew up listening to their stories, the made-up tales and the all too true. I was fortunate to be raised by artists in a house of books. They fostered a love for reading pretty early in me. I wrote because I loved to read. I didn’t always have paper, so my grandfather would give me the backs of bills and envelopes to write on. Whenever he could, he would bring me my favorite pencils and crisp, clean notebooks. Granddaddy always made me feel like my voice was heard.
2). What works influenced you?
My favorite books and stories were Gothic. I think Vincent Price and his amazing performances influenced that. I couldn’t watch The Fall of the House of Usher without wanting to read it. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, later Susan Cooper, Madeleine L’Engle, Peter Beagle, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor were all important to me. There were years when I never missed a single work by Stephen King. Never! The Third Life of Grange Copeland was one of my favorite books by Ms. Walker, it, like Song of Solomon lingered with me, and Gayl Jones along with Ntozake Shange were revelations. When I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, I just gave up on science fiction for a good while. I immersed myself in Black women’s writing. Margaret Walker, Sherley Anne Williams, Wanda Coleman, Bebe Moore Campbell, J. California Cooper, Tina McElroy Ansa, Lucille Clifton, Ai. Black women writers filled some empty spaces in me that I didn’t know I had.
3). If you had the choice, would you be a vampire?
Nope. Too messy and trifling. Even though the idea of exploring the world indefinitely has its appeal—never enough time to read all the good books, see all the sights and tings—what about love? What about your family? They can’t travel with you. They are gone. I want to be where my loved ones are. I want to see the smiling faces of my family, friends, and ancestors.
4). Who is your favorite vampire?
Ganga from Bill Gunn’s Ganga & Hess is my favorite vampire, as depicted in the original director’s cut that thank goodness, someone had the good sense to preserve and protect. I love that movie! Have watched it many, many times, and each viewing reveals something else. The beautiful, sultry Marlene Clark (Lord Shango) stars as Ganga Meda and Duane Clark (Night of the Living Dead) is Dr. Hess, a Black anthropologist who is turned into a vampire after he’s assaulted with an antique African blade. The knife was looted from a mysterious kingdom led by Queen Myrthia. Spike Lee did his version of the film, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The production design was wonderful and helped generate interest in the original for a whole new generation of viewers. I love the spirituality explored in Bill’s movie, the gospel music created by Nina Simone’s brother, Sam Waymon, who also co-starred in it, the blues of Mabel King (from What’s Happening!!), whose voice and cameo made me go back and look up the story of her life. I never knew she was a musician until I saw Bill Gunn’s film.
5). What do you like the most about SLAY?
I love that readers can enter so many different worlds. SLAY features vampires from throughout Africa and the African diaspora, all written by some great writers. When I think of black vampires, not many come to mind. William Marshall gave Blacula its dignity and backstory when he created the storyline of the African prince meeting with Count Dracula to discuss the slave raids and its impact on his people. Eddie Murphy and Angela Bassett made A Vampire in Brooklyn a go-to fun dark comedy and horror (shout out to Kadeem Hardison whose Renfield-like character remains hilarious and a highlight of the movie). Charles Michael Davis as Marcel Gerard in The Originals has a pretty full character arc as a Black vampire. Midnight Texas, Twilight, the amazing Tara from True Blood, also had Black vampire characters, but we didn’t get to be immersed in their worlds. With SLAY you’ve got a myriad of Black vampire characters to explore.
6). What inspired you to write Love Hangover?
Nicole Kurtz’s invitation to write for SLAY was a great excuse to try my hand at writing my own version of a vampire. I wanted to set the story in an era I was always curious about. Since I was born too late to get down in the 1970s nightclubs of the Disc era, writing “Love Hangover” was an excellent way to enjoy some great music and discover the interesting history that comes from research.
7). Tell us a bit about your story.
“Love Hangover” is about all the red flags we miss when we are infatuated, falling in love and lust. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves about the people we are sexually attracted to, the images we create that gloss over the darker edges of reality. The pedestals we prop up for celebrities and the beautiful ones, as Prince described them. Set in the glittering, neon-lit nights of the New York City nightclubs, the story takes place on a fateful night in 1979. Frankie falls hard for Delilah Divine and it’s not quite the adventure they thought it would be.
8). What do you hope to accomplish with Love Hangover?
I want to transport readers to a time that perhaps they never experienced or imagined, while making them think about the ways we humans struggle to connect. I also want you to stop hatin’ on Disco music. Without Disco there is no House and without House, well … Luther said a house is not a home without love and all of this music was about love. Read the story, enjoy it, and think about how we can all love ourselves and each other better.
9). Will there be more stories about these characters?
Absolutely, yes! Delilah Divine is a character that is loosely connected to characters in “Head Static,” a short story, and to “Shanequa’s Blues—Or, Another Shotgun Lullaby,” a novelette. Both are original works featured in my debut prose collection, Nine Bar Blues: Stories from an Ancient Future that was released in May by Third Man Books.
10). How do we keep up with all things Sheree Renée Thomas?
Visit https://www.shereereneethomas.com and sign up for my mailing list or follow me on Facebook/Instagram: @shereereneethomas and on Twitter: @blackpotmojo
11). What advice would you give to writers?
Read wildly and widely, as voraciously and purposefully as you write. Read for fun, then read like a writer. Imagine the world with your work in it. See it, as Octavia E. Butler reminded us, and be all about the creation of it. New life takes nurturing. Imaginations do, too. Don’t give up on yourself. Take breaks as you need it. Manifest by putting your words and vision on the page. Write the jacket copy of your bio, the way you’d hope to see it in your first published story, poem, movie, or first book. Display or store it somewhere close to you, a visual talisman that helps you imagine a way forward. Spend more time exploring your voice and the stories that make you think and feel, that create a sense of wonder in you. Be easy on your first drafts. They are good because they are a beginning. Keep writing and have faith that one day, you will reach the end. Then start all over again. Revise and reimagine. When you finish, do like August Wilson, write the first line so a new story, a new journey can begin.
Read NINE BAR BLUES: Stories from an Ancient Future by Sheree Renée Thomas