R.J. Joseph is a Texas based writer and professor who must exorcise the demons of her imagination so they don’t haunt her being. A life-long horror fan and writer of many things, she has recently discovered the joys of writing in the academic arena about two important aspects of her life: horror and black femininity.
When R.J. isn’t writing, teaching, or reading voraciously, she can usually be found wrangling one or five of various sprouts and sproutlings from her blended family of 11…which also includes one husband and two furry babies.
R.J. can be found lurking (and occasionally even peeking out) on social media:
LOHF: I just finished your short story in Black Magic Women. I found that it was an interesting mashup of history and horror. What was your main inspiration for Left Hand Torment?
Thank you for having me and for reading Left Hand Torment. I’ve always been interested in the practice of placage in New Orleans in the 1800s. Wealthy white men would create informal, common-law marriages with free black women and set up households with them. For some of those women, serving as unofficial wives to men with social and economic power meant that some of that power rubbed off on them. They could own property and move around in different social circles than they could alone. As an added bonus, the women often lived in relative independence if their husbands had to take legal wives and spend their time between the households. The practice of the quadroon balls (where the women were supposedly on display for the men to select) seems to be mostly based in legend and romantic fantasies, however, but I couldn’t’ resist using that setting in this story.
LOHF: In reading some of your other work, you use a lot of family dynamics in your short stories I find that really interesting. I find that many women that write horror use family dynamics in their stories. Why do you think that is?
For me, and probably many other women who write horror, there is love and pain in the domestic sphere. I’ve experienced some of my highest moments at home, with my family, but also some of my lowest lows. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the domestic arena, whether I was a homemaker or working full-time outside the house. There’s also inherent conflict within these dynamics. I often feel bound and in opposition with some of society’s expectations of women, especially in regards to family. “Women must do all the housework.” “If the kids don’t do well in life, it’s the mother’s fault.” “Behind every successful man is a long-suffering woman.” It’s exhausting to try and keep up. I’m no Dolly Domestic, so my attempts at crafting and cooking are often nightmarish, in themselves. And underneath that exhaustion, doubt, and pressure is where the demons that plague me live and thrive.
LOHF: It feels like there’s a trend lately in horror authors and readers putting down others for not liking the same types of horror that they do. But everyone likes different things. What type of horror scares you?
I am terrified of spirituality based horror, like demonic possession, or monstrous creations unleased through spiritual ceremonies/rituals. Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist kept me up for nights after I read them. Having the later visuals of the movies made the sleeplessness worse. I believe spirituality is a fluid and living entity that can’t be controlled. And once we lose control on a spiritual level, that’s where the scary stuff happens.
LOHF: We all know that horror is full of different tropes that are overused. Are there any horror tropes you refuse to use in your work? If so, which?
Well, I refuse to have only one person of color in my stories and then kill them off first (I think—hope—we may have seen the end of that terrible trope, anyway). Also, I don’t like the cliché of the female character who is so weak she just can’t manage to run away from the monster without falling and not getting back up, no matter how big a head start she gets, or what surface she’s running on. If my character falls, she’s not just lying there waiting helplessly for the monster to catch up.
LOHF: Have you always been a horror reader or was there is a certain book that started that journey for you?
I started reading horror pretty early. I was probably around 6 or 7 when I first read Carrie by Stephen King. I didn’t understand everything in it, but I knew the cover had a cool girl with blood dripping down her face.
I came from a reading household and there were always books and comic books around the house. My mother was a big romance reader and my father enjoyed sci-fi and horror. They kept the romances away from me for a long time, but I don’t think it occurred to them to hide the horror and sci-fi away from my curiosity. I devoured it all. The Tales from the Crypt comics. The Stephen King novels. The John Saul novels. Everything.
LOHF: What are your top 5 favorite horror novels?
My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Thunderland by Brandon Massey
Dracula by Bram Stoker
LOHF: Are you currently working on any new collections? If so is there anything that you can share with me?
I’m currently doing a lot of academic writing about horror. An essay on black femininity in the movie Get Out for a collection edited by Dr. Dawn Keetley is haunting my desk, in dire need of long overdue revisions. I’m also finishing up a paper on the powerless monstrosity of black females for presentation at the upcoming 2019 Society for Comparative Literature and the Arts conference in The Woodlands, TX.
In between these essays, I’m polishing short stories for a collection I’m hoping to start shopping around to publishers at the beginning of next year.
LOHF: Are there any up and coming ladies of horror that we need to keep our eyes peeled for?
I don’t think Nuzo Onoh is new to horror, but I hadn’t read her work prior to reading her story “Death Lines” in Black Magic Women. This lady tells the creepiest stories that linger well after the reading is done. Also, I hope Crystal Brinkerhoff continues to write horror. She confessed that her story “El Sacoman”, which appeared in Road Kill Volume 2 was her first horror story. I really want to hear more from her voice.
LOHF: The Ladies of Horror Fiction is comprised of book reviewers, so we are always interested in what people are reading. What is currently on your nightstand?
I just picked up Lori Titus’ book Soul Bonded. I’ve been waiting to read this book since she first announced it on Facebook. And because of my insatiable curiosity and need to research stuff, I’ve also just started reading Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing by Isabel Cristina Pinedo.
HWA Poetry Showcase V
Black Magic Women
Imagine horror where black characters aren’t all tropes and the first to die; imagine a world written by black sisters where black women and femmes are in the starring roles. From flesh-eating plants to flesh eating bees; zombies to vampires to vampire-eating vampire hunters; ghosts, revenants, witches and werewolves, this book has it all. Cursed drums, cursed dolls, cursed palms, ancient spirits and goddesses create a nuanced world of Afrocentric and multicultural horror. Terrifying tales by seventeen of the scary sisters profiled in the reference guide “100 Black Women in Horror”.
Warm and cozy feelings of the maternal and all things domestic. Closest to hearth and home…with only faint whispers of the dark and horrific underbelly. The things inside home that aren’t spoken of. Monstrous domesticity.
R.j. is a contributing author to two more anthologies. Check out her Goodreads page here if you want to know more about them. If You would like to purchase the books listed above click on the photos to be taken to either Better World Books or the publishers site.