Acclaimed horror author and horror historian Tananarive Due, has just released her newest chilling novel of horror short stories, The Wishing Pool

The Wishing Pool and Other Stories is Due’s second short story novel. Set in Florida, where events of creeping dread impact its citizens, with nightmares supernatural and surreal, with monsters, external and internal. Divided into four sections, readers are treated to fourteen different terrors. With many of the stories with a child protagonist fighting in a vicious world for survival.    

Since releasing her first novel The Between in 1995, Due has made a name for herself as an award-winning author, educator, and scriptwriter of Black horror and Afrofuturism. As a respected horror historian, most notably for her expertise in Black horror, she was an executive producer for Shudder’s wildly popular Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. Teaching Black horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA, her Black horror cinema class went viral with the visit of speaker/modern horror icon Jordan Peele. Due also frequently collaborates with fellow writer and husband Steven Barnes, including their podcast Lifewriting: Write for Your Life.

Due shares with us what started her interest in horror, how an interview with Ann Rice inspired her first novel, her use of a child protagonist in her stories, and how The Wishing Pool came to be.  

Bonilla: What started your interest in horror?

Due: It all goes back to my mother. Her name was Patricia Stevens Due. She was a civil rights activist, a very serious lifelong activist, whether it was in the streets trying to desegregate lunch counters, movie theaters, or in our schools, advocating for us as students. She loved horror. She was always watching horror movies. 

I was watching horror with her at an inappropriately young age, as many of us were, who are horror fans. You get infected early. People either love it or hate it when that happens. But I was one of those who loved it. To me, it was a roller coaster ride. 

As I've gotten older, especially after the death of my mother in 2012, I believe she used horror to help address her trauma. Her racial trauma and her trauma from the civil rights movement, which has gone largely unrecognized for that generation. There's an entire civil rights generation that was its own version of the Silent generation because they were fighting a war that was unacknowledged. They were going to jail, being arrested, and being subjected to these stresses that in a way was supposed to make them feel ashamed. Some people never discussed it with their families. They didn't want to talk about it. I really believe that horror was the perfect antidote for my mom, so that she could feel better about the real-life terrors.

How does horror appeal to you?

What appeals to me so much about horror is watching characters fight to survive. It's just that basic. Thrillers have some of that too. And sometimes there's a thin line between horror and a thriller, because not all horror is supernatural. Horror is very unique in the sense that very often the only point of the story is whether or not these characters will survive. Not whether you're going to change your life or not. Or if you're going to divorce your husband. Am I going to live another day? Or what do I have to do to live another day? 

I love that moment in horror movies when the gaslighting ends, and the character who's been perceiving the problem finally gets listened to and there's a meeting. I don't like meetings in real life, but I love meetings in horror movies, because that's when they're going to figure out what to do. That's the turning point. 

Before you can fight something, you have to believe in it. You have to acknowledge it. I love that moment when everyone's on board. When we all acknowledge this and what are we going to do. And if they survive, great! But the point isn't whether or not they survive. The point is the fight to survive.

Which authors influence you as a writer?

This changes to different phases of my life. I tend to think back to my early development as a writer, to those writers who both influenced how I would think about writing horror and those writers who gave me permission internally to write horror. I hate to sound cliché, but of course I grew up reading Stephen King. My mother gave me a copy of The Shining when I was 16. I was in love. It felt so real. It was almost like it was breathing in my hands. From then on, I devoured a lot of Stephen King. 

But I found as I was going through college and graduate school, I wasn't seeing a lot of Black writers. I wasn't seeing a lot of Black characters. So slowly, even though as a child, I started out writing about little Black girls. However, by the time I graduated, with my master's in English literature, I was writing white protagonist and not even so it would be more commercial. I wish it almost had been a conscious decision. I think it's more insidious that it was an unconscious decision, that looked and felt like literature to me, was white men having epiphanies. Or maybe if I stretched it, white women having epiphanies.

I also want to shout out Gloria Naylor. Her novel Mama Day really helped me see myself both as a Black woman and as a young writer to think, “This is the kind of story I could write”, because it was very well written on the craft level. But it also had a metaphysical bent. It was just accessible to me. That’s what I needed to take the blinders off my eyes and realize that I could exist in my own writing, which sounds weird to say, but that's where I was. Toni Morrison is another writer who was influential with Beloved and Sula.

How was your early experience as an aspiring horror writer?

When I was an undergraduate, maybe a freshman or sophomore, in a creative writing workshop, we were all asked to discuss who our favorite writers were. And I said Toni Morrison and Stephen King. People were like, “Oh, my God, she said, Stephen King, out loud”. That made me shy away from horror, until 1992 with my interview with Anne Rice. 

What was it like to interview Ann Rice?

In 1992, I had the chance to interview Ann Rice for the Miami Book Fair. One of the things I was doing as a developing writer was after that I figured out that I can write Black characters, but do I have permission to write horror? Anne Rice was the epitome of a woman writing horror at that time, she was a rock star, with long lines around the block. While I was doing my pre-interview research, I came across this huge magazine story, basically accusing her of wasting her talents writing about vampires. 

Well, first of all, I was interviewing her to answer personal questions that I wanted answers to, never mind the readers. It's fine if they can get answers too, but I'm talking to Ann Rice. I'm going to talk about what I want to talk about. 

And the thing bothering me was, “How do you respond to criticism that you're wasting your talents writing about vampires?” Then, I braced for her to be offended by the question, but she just laughed and said, “Oh, that used to bother me”. Then she gave me this most amazing response, on the phone about why horror matters. She said this and it was in the Miami Herald

“Everybody knows who Jane Eyre is. Mary Shelley, everybody knows who she is. Everybody knows who Frankenstein's monster is. These are great, powerful, heroic images that really allow you to go outside of yourself to really talk about questions that change you. That's what Homer did for people when people went down to the corner tavern to listen to him. They didn't know Achilles. They didn't ever see the Walls of Troy. But they sat there and listened to him talk about these enormous heroes and these enormous conflicts. It was not just escape, but it was an escape that improves you. You go back feeling different, and that's what literature should do.”  

How did this interview influence your writing?

I almost get goosebumps now. No wonder I had written my first novel within nine months of that interview. It gave me that last piece. I thought, “Okay, I can write Black. But will I embarrass my parents, who are now in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame, who show up in my college textbooks, if I'm writing horror?” And Ann Rice gave me the answer. No, I won't. She also told me her books were being taught in universities. That was the other piece. So you can be respected writing horror. That had not been my experience. 

When I look at the short stories I was writing during my developmental period, as a young woman, it was all these sorts of Epiphany based contemporary realism, someone realizes their life isn't working. So, they're going to do something to change it. That’s what I was reading. I really was a horror writer, who was not allowing myself to express myself. So, when Anne Rice said those beautiful words, between that and Hurricane Andrew that devastated Miami in 1992, I came up with the idea, “What if you nearly drowned as a child, and you woke up between different realities?” That was my novel, The Between

I wrote it like lightning. I stopped hanging out with my friends after work. I stopped rollerblading up and down South Beach afterwards, which is how I was spending my time. I focused on it. I worked on it before I left for work in the morning, after I came home at night, and I banged it out in nine months.

Who are some of your other favorite contemporary horror authors?

For most of us of my generation, really, all generations of horror writers that we read Stephen King. He is in many ways our first teacher, especially in terms of how to create characters, who are real and that your readers care about. 

Since that time, I have to say in the current horror renaissance that we are experiencing, I can hardly name how many writers I absolutely love like the novel I just read called The Spite House by a brand-new novelist named Johnny Compton. It came out of nowhere. I loved it. It scared me. It's hard for me to feel scared. I'm often intrigued and impressed. But to really scare me, that's tough to do on the page. But he did that. 

Stephen Graham Jones also definitely did that with The Only Good Indians. I had to actually stop reading that for a while. I also had to stop reading Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay for a while, but I finally finished it. I love Alma Katsu, Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, and Gabino Iglesias who came out with The Devil Takes You Home, last year, which I blurbed. I thought it was fantastic. It's such a beautiful time for horror writers of all kinds. As readers and viewers, we get to experience horror from different directions. 

It's not the same old reheated trope that I've seen done a million times. It's a new mythology. It's a new cultural interpretation. It's a new way to be scared, is how that feels. As artists who are creating in this environment, it's a very rich time filled with opportunities, some of which we've never had before in television and film. In the 1990s that's when I started publishing, because there was a Renaissance. But this renaissance feels deeper, wider, and less likely to contract, the way the 1990s Renaissance did.

In The Wishing Pool’s introduction, you mentioned an interest in having children as your protagonists, like your short stories “Shopping Day” and “Caretaker”. Why do children make intriguing protagonists? 

I love that question. In fact, I have an upcoming novel, The Reformatory, which also has two child protagonists. One is twelve, and one is seventeen. The thing that I love about Robert, who's the protagonist in The Reformatory and all of my child protagonists, is that with their interactions with the uncanny it doesn’t freeze and paralyze them, because they're still learning about the world every day. 

It's like when you give an iPhone to a five-year-old. They can figure it out in two minutes. If you give an iPhone to an eighty-year-old, they have to unlearn everything they know about phones and how they're supposed to work. That's a metaphor for the world. Children are learning every day how the world is supposed to work. They think, “Okay, this is new information. How do I pivot? How do I embrace this?”. Whereas as we get older, we're just more set in our ways. We're not as courageous in our imaginations as children are. And that's what makes children great protagonists.

A lot of these stories are wrestling with coming-of-age moments. I have moments that I don't go into, but at about twelve-years-old, I see that as the line of demarcation when I had a coming-of-age moment. Not in a good way, but it was what it was. And perhaps that's something I'm working through still with my work over and over and over again. I'm writing stories about children who are meeting the moment their childhood ended and their meeting the moment when they had to step up, make adult decisions, and had to fight. 

What stories were the most challenging to write for this book? 

Two come to mind. One is “The Biographer”, because it was an idea I had since my pre-Ann Rice days, when I was sort of influenced by Franz Kafka. I liked Kafka a lot when I was in college. I wanted to write kind of a Through the Looking Glass story about a world where being a biographer was this sort of venerable position. And it was expected that every one of note would be assigned a biographer, through some kind of a system. But I didn't have anything beyond that. 

It never went anywhere. It's one of those stories that I might have written three pages. As I look back on it, I think that's because I was in my 20s. I had not experienced enough life yet to understand what it would mean to have a biographer. 

Now that I'm a bit older, that piece fits perfectly. We've just lived through a pandemic, and I also learned a lot more about story structure. I don't want to give the story away, but I don't think it's that much of a spoiler. The Biographer’s arrival signals that you're about to die soon. It was right in front of me, but I hadn't seen it. I was too close. Then of course, the twist, I got some advice from my husband on that. I thought, “Oh, that's a good twist for the ending.” That one literally took more than twenty years to come together by the time I revisited it. 

The second one would probably be “Rumpus Room”, because it was a deadline. Most of the stories, except for “The Biographer” and “Rumpus Room” had been published previously. So I was in a position where I had to create two or three new short stories. And it sounds great when you agree to do that. But it's very different when you're in the middle of it and realize, “I don't even have an idea for a story.” 

And again, it started very small. There was some weird fungus growing in the shower. I thought, “Where did that even come from? How disgusting is that!?” I took pictures, trying to identify how it even got through the tile. I was so confused by this thing. It was almost like a supernatural occurrence. I knew I wanted to frame a story around that. But it took a while for the story to emerge. I kept picking and picking at it. 

I finally thought about what the fungus represents, who is the protagonist, who is best to interact with this fungus, and what it represents. And at the core of it, which is something else that really appeals to me about horror is, “What is the transgression that has opened the door to a supernatural event?” In a lot of my horror, and if you watch horror movies, you can see this, like in the 1980s, where the joke was if you smoked or had sex, you're going to die. In a way, that still holds true, but it's more subtle now. So very often, it's either a transgression or a trauma that opens the door to the horror. One of the most common traumas is grief, because grief is so universal. 

Grief is such a horror. For many of us, it’s the first horror we experience. It's the impossibility that someone you love is no longer in the world. I still can't wrap my mind around that. I combined both in a character who's in grief, and has committed a transgression that she needs to reckon with, in order for her to solve this supernatural puzzle that she's been confronted with. The story turned out getting longer and longer and longer, until it was a novelette. I'm not writing three stories. I'm only writing two, because this one is like two stories or one. 

The Wishing Pool is split up into four sections. How would you describe the themes of each part and how did you develop them?

In my Gracetown Stories section, over time, I had developed a fictitious town, which I would say was more inspired by William Faulkner and his fictitious town Yoknapatawpha County, than it was by Stephen King and his fictitious town. I wanted to create a fictitious County where magical things happen. 

I have returned to Gracetown for this book and my whole novel The Reformatory takes place in this fictitious town. So there's that section of the stories that take place in that space. There are some near future stories which represent my little drops of science fiction. I'm not primarily a science fiction writer, but I do sometimes write science fiction in the section Future Shock. In the sense that it's near future. And let's face it, when you're paying attention to current events, the near future does not look promising. So, those often do come across as horror stories because of the trajectory of where our behaviors are leading us. 

The Wishes section is more general spooky stories that don't necessarily take place in Gracetown. The Nayima Stories section came out of some stories that were from my first short story collection. The prompt originally was to write three stories about the end of the world. Those stories primarily are in my first collection, but I kept writing about Nayima, because I was very fascinated by this idea of a survivor of a pandemic. This was long before COVID that I created her. At times, she had to wrestle with her own humanity. I'm very happy for readers who are familiar with Nayima and her previous stories. I wanted to give her a chance to have some fun. 

One of the stories, “One Day Only,” is about a woman who wants to do a stand-up comedy routine in the face of the apocalypse. I just think, “You go girl! Steal your fun! You deserve it!” Because we all know from the other stories that you are going through hell later in life. 

I wanted to revisit Nayima later in life, as an older woman whose body and mind are failing her, in a survival situation. She has to choose whether she wants security or freedom. I think that was a question that a lot of us were pondering, especially during the previous presidential administration. But really, it's always the question. It's security or freedom. 

Also, that she was enabled to open her heart as a caretaker, after a lifetime of bruising experiences with other people. She could have just been a hermit for the rest of her life. But unexpectedly, because it's the near future, she realized that she had a biological child who'd been grown in an artificial womb, in her 60s. Now, she's raising this child and what that's like and what that gives her. But also, what it costs her.

Both Stephen King and Joe Hill have blurbs on the back cover of The Wishing Pool. How does it feel to be reading King at sixteen, then having him and his son talking about your work?

First of all, it’s kind of sobering that I've been around this long, because that Stephen King blurb is from my second novel, that came out in 1997, My Soul to Keep. And now, to have Joe Hill, a writer in his own right, who also embraces my work is somewhat surreal, but it's also very exciting.

What do you see as the future of Black horror and Afrofuturism in literature?

The sky's the limit. It's very bright right now. It's so vibrant between young adult authors and authors all over the world. Afrofuturism is on the rise. I think it's just a rich time for all of us as artists and as readers. That it won't even be a conversation in a few years. Someone is writing science fiction and they're of color, or they're marginalized in some ways.

The era we're in now is demonstrating that these kinds of universal ideas, questions of survival, and leadership are really something that we're all engaging with. And that we can all engage in together.

Do you have any other upcoming projects? 

My novel The Reformatory comes out in October. 

What are some of your favorite horror films?

This is the hardest question to answer. The quality is increasing so much. I'm a huge Jordan Peele fan and everything that he’s done. Get Out is maybe my favorite horror movie, for a variety of reasons. Some of them having to do with the movie itself, and some of them having to do with the impact of the movie. For all those reasons Get Out may be my favorite horror movie and maybe the most impactful horror movie of my lifetime. 

There's a Thai possession film on Shudder called The Medium, which is a perfect example of a kind of film that's coming from a different culture. So the scares hit differently. I've seen demon stories, one after the other, after the other. I thought this new take on a demon story was absolutely brilliant. I want to shout out another Shudder movie called Slash/Back, which is a small horror movie about Indigenous kids fighting to survive.

I love a little dark film called The Dark and the Wicked which uses grief as the entry point. Sometimes, you really want the grim stuff and that is a grim film. I love Hereditary for its grimness. I love Midsommar for its grimness. 

And all the rest like The Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, Alien, and the list goes on. I love them all. I also like cheap horror movies. Not that they look cheap or feel cheap, but in some ways, my favorite horror movies are the ones where you didn't have to spend a lot of money to make them. It's all imagination and casting.

I do love those horror movies that also teach where I'm learning about a little piece of history I didn't know about. I'm learning about a culture I didn't know about. Low budget filmmakers are superheroes. It’s so hard to get movies made and they figured it out. Usually without help from a lot of people. And they just did it. That's hugely inspirational to me. I can't wait until I have my own.


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  • Justina Bonilla
    About the Author - Justina Bonilla

    Justina Bonilla is a freelance writer from Orange County, California, home to Disneyland. And yes, her favorite Disneyland ride is The Haunted Mansion. In her free time, she volunteers as a blog writer for the non-profit arthouse The Frida Cinema.

    She specializes in Latino and horror media, with her writing appearing in numerous outlets, including The Hollywood Reporter and LatinoLA. Her favorite horror sub-genres include the Golden-Age of Hollywood, Pre-Code, Latino, musical, comedy, cult, arthouse, fantasy, Spanish, Hindi, Czech/Slovak, and anything Roger Corman.