Interview with Author Eden Royce9 min read
A freshwater Geechee from South Carolina, now residing in England, Eden’s short fiction has appeared just about everywhere: FIYAH, Podcastle, Fireside Fiction, Truancy Magazine, Siren’s Call, and the anthologies Sycorax’s Daughters, The Big Bad, The Big Bad II, Cinched, Steamy Screams, and Strange Tales of Horror, just to name a few. Fans of southern gothic horror, your personal southern gothic library is not complete without Eden Royce’s collections, Spook Lights and Spook Lights 2. If longer fiction is more your thing, try her Containment series of dark science fiction novellas.
A connoisseur of horror and southern gothic, Royce has been in and around these kinds of stories her whole life. Growing up in the Gullah-Geechee culture that spans from the Carolinas to Florida, she grew up breathing storytelling, dancing, singing, root working, and conjuring of her family and community, and her fiction reflects all of this. She turns traditional horror on its head by putting her protagonists in positions where they can stare at their fears directly, and by doing so, take back control. Life is scary, life is awful, life as a black woman in the south can be a horror story. It’s how you respond to those horrors that causes the story to go one way or another. Just the act of writing dark fiction allows you to take control of your fears, to run towards the monster instead of running away from it. Royce’s southern gothic dark fiction transports you—you’ll hear the breeze, you’ll feel the oppressive humidity, you’ll be there.
In “For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough,” the main character is sick of being afraid, sick of feeling lost. Instead of running from her fear or denying it, she goes to have her future told by a woman who reads cards. If she knows what’s coming, what’s around the corner, at least she can prepare for it, right?
My experience with Tarot decks is limited to an appreciation for the artwork and the sort-of symbology. I never felt like I related to the Five of Cups, or the Tower, or Fortune, you know? I think the narrator of the story is worried about the same thing—how is some picture on a card that doesn’t mean anything to her supposed to make her feel better? Luckily, these are not traditional Tarot cards, but a deck ideal for a Southern Girl. The further I got into this story, the better I felt. I felt like the narrator was gaining control over her life; I felt like Butter was finally able to use her gifts; I just felt better and better about life in general and that I had gained some control over my own life. This deck of cards was exactly what the narrator needed. I guess it was exactly what I needed, too.
Eden was kind enough to chat with me about what inspired “For Southern Girls When the Zodiac Ain’t Near Enough,” her writing process, the Gullah-Geechee International Film Festival, and more. If you like what you read in this interview, you can learn more about Eden at her website, EdenRoyce.com and on Twitter at @eden-royce
APEX MAGAZINE: I love that this story is written in second person. Why did you go with second person perspective? When you are writing a story, do you craft it differently based on if you are using first, second, or third person perspective? How do you know which perspective is the right one for that particular story?
EDEN ROYCE: Thanks so much! I don’t often write in second person, but it just fit “For Southern Girls,” somehow. This story, and the reading within, is a bit of what I’ve learned over the years—about being a southern woman, about how the world perceives me and the place I’m from, and how to live well and succeed in spite of it.
I do craft differently depending on the point of view I’m using. Second person works well when I want to give the feeling I’m talking to a character and the reader is listening in—almost eavesdropping on the conversation. First person lets me use a character’s assumptions, reactions, and internal dialogue, which can be incredibly different from what they end up saying or doing. Third is what I most often use, allowing me to play a bit more with setting and atmosphere.
It can be a challenge to decide which to use, but I’ve written an entire story in one perspective, then ended up changing it because it didn’t feel right. But with “For Southern Girls,” it was second person from the moment the story idea appeared in my head.
AM: Talk to me about the reading of the cards, these cards and signs that are like nothing I’ve been exposed to previously. These signs, Rice, Cast Iron, Turtle, etc., what was the origin of these signs that are so specific to the life of the protagonist?
ER: A few years ago, I wanted to have a logo designed for my website that really spoke to my style of writing. The artist I spoke with asked me what I wanted for an image. When I struggled to express it, she asked me to write up a list of things that made me think of my hometown of Charleston. I came up with a list of about twenty-five symbols that made me remember my upbringing, and what made me nostalgic for the South.
While the logo never panned out with that artist, I kept the list and pulled it out when I was writing this story. Then I chose twelve symbols and they became the signs on the cards. To me, they spoke not only to the core of what the protagonist lives through daily, but also reflected our past and our future.
AM: Butter seems more thankful than the protagonist. Why is that?
ER: Messengers have it tough. My grandmother used to interpret dreams, but she had a select few people she’d do it for. Like Butter, she knew people don’t always take having their life read all that well. Few people like to be told what to do, how to live their life, even when they’ve specifically asked for advice. Butter is appreciative that the protagonist weathers the storm of emotions that come with such a reading and is confident she took the advice of the cards.
It’s difficult when you see someone struggling and you know—seer or not, deep inside, sometimes you know—things would be better if the person just … well, insert whatever that thing is here. Anyone that can see the future of someone has a huge burden to carry. It’s somewhat lifted when you believe the person will take your words to heart.
AM: What inspired this story?
ER: I knew I wanted to write something for the Zodiac call the moment I read about it. I researched so many zodiacs from various parts of the world, but none of them resonated with me on a deeply personal level, which I felt I needed to create the story I wanted. One where the protagonist seeks to make sense of a future that feels nebulous, uncertain, and frightening.
AM: What is your writing process like? How long does it take you to go from “I’ve got a great idea!” to a finished story? Do you outline ahead of time, or do you let the story and characters tell you where the story is going to go?
ER: The time needed varies wildly. I’ve written a short story in a day. I’ve also come back to partially written stories that are years old and finished them.
For shorts, I don’t outline. I do take notes, though—usually handwritten; I love notebooks and smooth writing pens—on ideas that spring to mind. They could be from a song lyric or from a quiz show. I also dream quite a bit, so I keep a notebook and pen beside the bed, in case I need to record tidbits. Dream ideas tend to disappear quickly.
Once I have an idea, I write the opening line. I adore opening lines—they can really get a reader settled in for a great experience. I try to never underestimate their importance. The ending tends to come next, along with a bit of dialogue from a character or two. Then everything else.
Some days, the “everything else” comes easily and the words just flow. Other days, not so much. That’s when I really have to decide: Do I push on or do I shelve this for now, then come back to it? I’m currently about 50/50 on that decision.
AM: Southern gothic fiction, and your style of southern gothic in particular, offers prose that are immediately transportive. Reading your fiction, I can feel the hot humid air, I can hear the buzzing of the insects, I can feel the oppressive air that barely moves through a room. You never come out and say “the air was oppressive,” or “the cicadas were buzzing,” the feeling is just magically there. What is your writing process like to create such atmospheric prose that so effortlessly and subtly communicates these environs?
ER: Thank you so much! Setting is incredibly important in southern gothic. Creating the right atmosphere can be right up there with plot and characterization. I put myself in the scene and imagine what it would be like to experience that specific location. I try not to be heavy-handed with it, though. Selecting those few details to convey the mood I want to create can be the most fun part of the process.
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AM: You grew up steeped in Gullah-Geechee culture. How did your youth shape your creative process and your fiction? How did your youth shape the kind of fiction you seek out to read and enjoy?
ER: The Gullah-Geechee culture is a storytelling one. We all grow up listening to stories from our elders, and from each other. Early on, we learn how to weave tales and even share real-life experiences in an engrossing way. It’s a part of that African and Native culture we’re born from. Where family and friends gather under the cool shade of the porch, sweating as much as our glasses of lemonade or sweet tea, entertaining each other.
I was always an avid reader from a young age. I read anything I could get my hands on, from classic children’s literature to mysteries and fantasy. At that time, there weren’t many books with characters of color, even fewer that reflected my Southern upbringing. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor made a powerful impression on me as a young girl. I remember walking up to the stand of books at the library and seeing the cover for the first time and I wanted to read it so much. Seeing a character on a book cover that looked like me, even down to her pigtails, was such an impactful moment.
Because of that experience, I know the power media has. It’s incredibly important to me to show the South through the experience of people of color in what I write. So often, we’re regulated to secondary and tertiary characters in the genre. Even now, when you search Wikipedia for southern gothic writers, you won’t find any names of Southern writers of color. Hopefully, one day I can change that.
AM: You recently blogged about the International Gullah Film Festival, and the event will be taking place this November in Georgetown, South Carolina. Can you tell us more about this important Film Festival and all that it celebrates?
ER: The International Gullah Film festival (TIGFF) is so much more than screening movies. It’s a place where screenwriters can bring their scripts featuring the rich history of the Gullah-Geechee culture and get the chance to have a table read. It’s a place where youth can learn how to tell their stories of the South using film as a medium. It gives them to chance to learn camera angles, screenwriting, everything they’d need to bring their vision to life. Screenwriter and author Rasheedah Prioleau also runs a two-week summer film camp for aspiring young filmmakers, where the films they create are screened at TIFF. So few Southern youth, especially in the Gullah-Geechee Corridor, get the opportunity to have this experience.
It’s an important festival because it brings the focus to those voices and visions of the South too few have ever heard or seen.
AM: What’s next for you? Do you have plans for another volume of Spook Lights? (please say yes!)
ER: I’ve been asked about doing Spook Lights 3 a few times! I have some ideas for another short story collection, but it’s all still percolating. A few more of my short stories will be out with other publishers this year, so I hope you’ll look for them online. Most of my time lately has been taken up with longer works. And I may have some information to share on that front soon!