Words of Wisdom
What inspired you to write your book?
Honestly I just wanted to see if I could complete something. Before writing Planet Dead, I wrote a lot of poems and started writing a lot of stories, but I never finished them. So in 2010 I decided I was gonna write a series of short stories and post them to Facebook, to keep me accountable. My friends really liked them, those stories were the backbone of the Planet Dead universe. They made up Planet Dead book 1, The Briggs Boys, and Love Bites.
What really inspired me to push the book to completion and to continue the series was my need to show people that Black women can be final girls. That minorities are survivors and can overcome horror just like White characters. I wanted to use Planet Dead to create something in the horror genre that I wasn’t seeing.
What is your writing process like?
I owe all my books to apps like Google Docs, DropBox and Scrivener because I get a lot of my work done on my phone. I’m the type of person that will work on my book any free moment I have. I’m trying to get to a point where I wake up early and work from 9-5 but I’m at home full-time now and sometimes life doesn’t allow me to do that. I have a son with autism and my focus and reason for being home is to be with him, so if he wants to build a fort in the living room and watch Puppy Dog Pals all day, then that day isn’t gonna be a big writing day. So while I have a computer I write mostly on my phone and get words down whenever I can.
I also have to thank my Wife because there are days that she just locks me in my office and tells me to work.
How many hours a day do you write?
If it’s a good writing day I would say 5 hours. I’m self-published so sometimes when I’m in my office I’m not writing, I’m mostly handling the business part of it all, but days when I’m in the zone and really getting work done, I would say I go about 5 hours.
What does literary success look like to you?
I think literary success for me personally, would be paying my bills with my royalties. If I could use my book money to pay my rent then I feel like I’m a mega success. I have other goals and dreams, like having my book turned into a movie or something but at the core of it, I just want to do what I love and be able to take care of my family while doing it.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Being Black in a genre and industry that is historically White dominated. It’s hard because when you speak on it, you get a lot of writers and readers who say “I don’t see color” which doesn’t help the issues that people of color are going through. It’s nice that you don’t care what race the author of your book is, but that doesn’t stop a publisher from turning down a book because they don’t believe Black people read or that having a Black female on the cover of your book reduces your sales.
I know Black creators who are doing a lot of work to make an impact in the horror genre and they’re overlooked. I was once told it’s not because I’m Black it’s because Black people don’t read and Black authors don’t write well… These are mindsets that you have to deal with when coming into the industry as a Black author, things that White authors don’t have to deal with. So yeah, that’s the hardest part, knowing your stories are just as good or better at times but you have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition. That all your choices in storytelling can be labeled political or polarizing but you’re just writing the life you know.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
A little bit of both. When I sit down at the desk and I’m knocking out words, just getting lost in the zone, I feel it’s very energizing. There are times that I feel like I could write all day and not need sleep because I’m so hyped up by the story and the process. Then there are days that I’m falling asleep at my keyboard, those are normally editing days but yeah there are times when it feels like I don’t want to see another word or touch another key.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t worry about the money or what people might think. God will take care of you, chase that dream and use the skills that you have been given to bring joy to people. Don’t think about it, just start. It’s gonna be scary but you love scary things and you are gonna love this, trust me.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I do a little research, I don’t get too deep into things. Like I’m not the kind of author that’s counting bullets or letting you know the calibers of bullets being used. For the most part I research locations, cultures, myths and things that really make my stories what they are. I don’t get lost in the research because I’m going to make it mine anyway, I’m gonna put a spin on it. I don’t need to know how big the building is, I just need to see what it looks like, cause odds are I’ll be describing it differently and taking readers to new parts of it, for my story. I guess if we break it down I’m more DC than Marvel when it comes to writing… I’m building Gotham not rebuilding New York, I want you to get lost in my city but with a nod to the ones you know.
What advice do you have for other Black writers?
It’s hard! It’s not always about race, but nonetheless it is hard. It’s hard to write a book with faces and smiles like your own and be told it’s POC propaganda. It’s hard to put yourself out there and be overlooked because of things you can’t control, but it’s never going to change if you don’t create and push through it anyway. We can’t break glass ceilings if we’re not willing to walk into the buildings. So take that story that you’ve been talking about or that story you wrote and push it. Work at it! Put in the work and get lost in the process and the details, make sure you work hard and don’t give anyone a reason to tear your work down because like it or not there are people out there wanting you to fail. Don’t give them what they want. Do you and let them watch you rise.
Website: Author Sylvester Barzey