Ask the Author: A Q&A with Montiese McKenzie
By Sonora Taylor
I've been a fan of Montiese McKenzie's work since reading Blood of My Blood (a pick on our Fright Girl Summer reading list). Check out our conversation below!
Sonora: How long have you been writing?
Montiese: I wrote my first complete story at 8. We had an assignment in my 4th grade class to write a story and then we would bind our own books. I should’ve been sued, I used all my classmates as characters and changed no names.
Sonora: Tell us about your vampire trilogy, Awakening of the Spirit. What inspired the adventures of Alexander Rubidoux and Kathryn Spencer?
Montiese: All three stories began as Criminal Minds fanfiction nearly a decade ago honestly. I used to write a lot of wild AUs. I was walking to the store one afternoon and that first scene in the parking garage came to my head. I spent probably a month doing a 50 page draft and craft as I had never even attempted a story like that before. I even called it "My Immortal" after the Evanescence song but had to change it when friends told me that was the title of the worst fanfiction ever written.
Sonora: How do you feel about pop culture depictions of Black vampires? What’s done well? What can be improved?
Montiese: I think there should be more, of course. Definitely more women and I want them to be both the heroes and the villains. Black vampires should have three-dimensions like all good characters. Not just the whore or the extra or whatever, fully realized before and after lives. I think that the mythology is done pretty well in most adaptations I’ve seen. I think for me part of the fun was making up new things.
Sonora: Tell us about your new novel, A Second Once in a Lifetime. What was it like switching from a supernatural thriller to a romance with no horror elements?
Montiese: Actually it was a shock to me to ever write supernatural thrillers. At the end of the day I’m a character driven writer and those characters had a story to tell. Romance is usually much more my speed. It’s not usually overt “romance” but more undertones of that genre than thrillers for sure. I honestly wish I was better at writing thrillers. A Second Once in a Lifetime is a story of a chance meeting in Central Park between the two main characters and how that leads them on a 50 year journey of getting to know each other.
Sonora: Horror and romance have a history of sharing authors. What do you think draws horror writers to romance? Romance writers to horror?
Montiese: I tell people often that my favorite genre is character study. I write stories where a character, friends, a couple, a family take a journey and go through a situation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be scary, sexy, or harrowing but I think when you write about the human condition and give your characters good dimensions, all of those things could come into play. That’s why writing is so much fun.
Sonora: Both romance and horror have problems with amplifying Black voices, both through inclusive characters and diverse authors. What are ways you would like to see either, or each, industry improve?
Montiese: I want more diverse authors. I know Black writers who have so many incredible characters, ideas, and WIPs. They’re faced with so many obstacles getting their foot in the door of traditional publishing. It makes people want to give up and the world losing out on some wonderful reading experiences. I think self-publishing has been such a dream for some Black writers because not only is their work getting out there but they’re also doing great networking with other indie artists. That could lead to traditional publishing or just building a good audience in a new lane.
Sonora: Have you seen any differences in the way you’ve been treated in the industry as a Black woman versus as a queer woman? As a Black queer woman, how can horror, romance, and pop culture be better about amplifying your voice?
Montiese: I’ve seen no difference really. I want there to be more spaces looking for our stories specifically, no matter what genre we write in. give us a little space to shine instead of just wanting the same old stuff in the same old box, like YA, hetero romance, conventional suspense thrillers…there are so many great stories to tell outside the box. We need spaces that cater to writers, not just genres.
Sonora: How can romance do a better job of including asexuals in their love stories? How can fiction in general be better about inclusion and representation?
Montiese: Any character can be ace, any character can be queer. I think the most important thing to write and to encourage is three-dimensional people in stories. Don’t make it all about their race or their sexual identity. Give them a fully realized life and thoughts, and oh yeah they’re ace too. Normalize your queers.
Sonora: What are some clichés about horror’s treatment of Black people that you never want to see again? Of queer people?
Montiese: The destruction of the magical Negro would be fantastic. I hate funerals but I’d go to that one to make sure it was dead and buried. The “token Black friend” can go as well. That’s more among mainstream white writers but aspiring writers are inspired by what they read so the cycles just continue instead of finding something else. We gotta burn some things all the way down and rebuild.
Sonora: Who are some of your favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?
Montiese: Stephen King is my favorite living writer. He, along with Agnes Nixon, taught me that world building is your guiding light as a writer. Characters are fantastic but if they inhabit a boring world then no one cares. I also love Edith Wharton, Nora Ephron, Ira Levin, and Shel Silverstein. My favorite books are Sense & Sensibility, IT, and The Age of Innocence. I also have read the entire Spenser series by Robert B. Parker, continued by Ace Atkins after his death.
Sonora: What are you working on right now?
Montiese: I’m working on a contemporary fiction novel called The Loophole. It features a thirtysomething woman, her married lover, and the rules women have on how they conduct themselves romantically as they navigate the peaks and waves of adulthood. I actually wrote it 17 years ago but I am doing heavy editing now as the author I am as compared to the one I used to be. This main character was the first Black protagonist I ever wrote. I’m proud to share her.
Montiese McKenzie is a lifelong Philly girl who in addition to writing loves travel, cooking, Saturday naps, and intellectually stimulating conversations with her cat, Bella.