It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to catch up with Brandon Massey. We first met at HorrorFind IV where we were on what was probably the first “black people who write horror” panel. I had two stories published in his (controversial to some) anthology series, Dark Dreams. And then he generously became a part of my discussion with black horror writers. Several books and a marriage later, Brandon appears to have hit his stride and is now a full time writer.
Maurice Broaddus: Your career includes six novels, a collection, three anthologies as editor, and a novella collection with L.A. Banks and Tananarive Due. Going back to the beginning, what were you doing at that time and how’d you come to the conclusion to pursue writing full time?
Brandon Massey: When I took the plunge into full time writing, I was working as a systems analyst and writing in the mornings and evenings, around my day job. I had just published DARK CORNER, my second novel, and had landed a deal for DARK DREAMS and two more novels. I figured—what the heck, I’ve got five books under contract for decent money, and I’m a single guy. If there was ever a time to take the plunge, it was then.
MB: What inspired you to begin writing? What was your first published story? Were there some early career missteps (or at least things you wish you had avoided)?
BM: I’ve been a lifelong reader, thanks to my mother. She encouraged me to read and always kept tons of books in the house. I found that I had a knack for writing when I was in elementary school, and knew that I would one day pursue writing and publishing stories.
My first story appeared in Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, a magazine edited by the late SF editor Algis Budrys. I was twenty-two at the time. He paid me $200. It was a confirmation that I had potential!
As far as early career mistakes—I spent too much time revising and sending out my first novel, THUNDERLAND. Although I did eventually publish the novel with Kensington (after ten years!), I think that instead of getting bogged down in near-endless revisions, I would have been better served by moving on to new projects. I guess I was stubborn!
MB: Let’s be frank: most writers are lucky to see one major release much less six. To what do you attribute your enduring success? Who do you market your novels to? Do you feel a pressure to market to the “black audience” or the “horror community”?
BM: I’m not sure I’ve reached the point of enjoying “enduring success.” Six novels is not that many. Now, 40 novels—that’s doing something!
When I do promote something these days, I promote my books to whomever is interested in them. For the most part, that is readers who enjoy thrillers, the broadest base I can possibly reach.
But I don’t feel pressure to market to a black audience or a horror audience, or whatever. Actually, to tie in with what I just said, I don’t do much active promotion at all anymore. As an individual writer with limited funds, I can do only so much to spread the word; mostly grassroots activities like sending out updates via my online newsletter and posting on forums and social networking web sites.
The publisher really has much more influence when it comes to promotion. They have the money and the established channels to break out a book. I try to push them to get the books into the right places, so that interested readers can discover them.
MB: You used to define yourself as an “African-American writer of Supernatural Suspense.” Is this a distinction you no longer feel the need to make? Is this a matter of not wanting to be pigeonholed? Do you think we’ve reached that point where we aren’t defined as “black” writers?
BM: I used that label for myself when I didn’t know any better. These days, I’m just a writer, period. A writer’s race shouldn’t be used as a marketing tool, because in the long run, it will limit your audience. Most importantly, a good story is a good story, regardless of the ethnicity of the writer or the characters.
MB: What inspired you to do the Dark Dreams anthology series? I’ve read some writers declare this a case of “reverse racism” or “affirmative action for black writers”. Is this even something worth commenting on?
BM: All I will say on this is that the books were well-published, well-reviewed, and most of all, were well-received by readers—the only people who matter in the end.
MB: You’ve never been one to lock yourself into labels. Horror. Thriller. You don’t spend a lot of time promoting in the hardcore horror circles. Do you worry about your name not being bandied about much in the horror circles or is that even a consideration for you?
BM: It’s really not a consideration. I write the kind of books I enjoy reading and try to promote them to the readers who seem most interested in my kind of stories. I’ve heard good feedback from “hardcore” horror fans as well as from people who’ve never read a horror novel in their life. Labels might be useful for publishers, but I’ve found that most people just want a book that gives them their money’s worth.
MB: Do you have much of an online presence (message boards, Facebook, Myspace) or do you not worry about those arenas of marketing? How has e-publishing impacted how you do things?
BM: I do most of my online promotion through my web site, and recently Facebook. I actually get more email through Facebook than I do from my web site, which is surprising, but it’s a great tool for social interaction.
In terms of e-publishing, it hasn’t changed my approach to writing or marketing in any substantial way. The growing popularity of the Kindle is exciting, and my books appear to be finding an audience through that new avenue, but overall, sales are still nowhere near print sales.
MB: You’ve been generous with your time and advice when it comes to upcoming writers. Who are some of your role models? Not just in terms of your writing, but also in how you’ve chosen to go about your career. Have you had any mentors along the way?
BM: Dean Koontz has always been a role model. He’s a guy who started out poor, and literally wrote his way to fame and fortune, and he’s done this while still remaining down-to-earth. He’s given me some invaluable advice. Doug Clegg has also been a great help to me, always willing to share his insights into the sometimes-wacky publishing business.
MB: Tell me a bit about your upcoming projects and where we can read you next.
BM: Other than CORNERED, my newest thriller, I’m working on a series character. I don’t have a publication date set yet, but readers can check my web site for updates.
You can learn more about Brandon Massey and his work by visiting brandonmassey.com.