Tananarive Due was born in Tallahassee, Florida, to parents who were prominent civil rights advocates, and later in college, she majored in journalism. She worked as a reporter at the Miami Herald while writing her first horror novel The Between and another called My Soul to Keep. Due says, “The advance for my first novel, The Between, had been slightly higher than my annual salary as a reporter for the Miami Herald. My next, for My Soul to Keep, was higher still.”
Due says her publishers were trying to push her as the next Terry McMillan, but her stories were much different. She found the horror community to be welcoming toward her work, though. “It was a surreal experience to publish my first novel…I was given a book tour and a nice advance…And then the Horror Writers Association discovered me and this was my first entry into that world of what is known as ‘fandom,’” says Due. “Going to that Horror Writers Association meeting felt like going to a family reunion for the white side of your family that you’ve never met. It was estranged and thrilling.”
Due has been attracted by the ideas of death and fear since an early age and found an outlet for it in her writing. She still does to this day. “My fascination with mortality began at a young age, and I have been trying to process it ever since. I don’t have the ability to pretend it away, and less so since I lost my mother in 2012,” says Due. “This awareness has driven my ambition, my faith, my writing. I write stories of unimaginable crisis to process my fears of loss, illness, death. I write to witness the amazing inner strength of my characters. The zombie apocalypse is fiction, but every generation suffers its apocalypse. We are the walking dead.”
With the success of her first two novels, Due quit her job at the Miami Herald in 1998 after working there for a decade. But it got difficult for her once her creativity was monetized, and she had to produce novels in order to support herself. “‘Celebrated author’ and ‘rich author’ are not synonymous—and never have been…Most novelists you read and admire have day jobs, often as college English or writing professors. I have been teaching part-time in an M.F.A. program at Antioch University Los Angeles since 2007, and I have private writing clients. Writers also earn income through speaking engagements and writing workshops,” says Due. “But it’s a piecemeal and unpredictable living.”
Besides horror lit, Due has also written historical fiction in the vein of Alex Haley. She used his research for her YA novel The Black Rose about Madam C. J. Walker who became the first black female millionaire from selling her hair care and beauty products. But Due says her work tends to be more on the scary side. “Horror is just a label. But I like to write scary stuff. I don’t know why. If I want to write about a woman in a difficult relationship, her lover is an immortal. If I’m reuniting a character with her grandmother, Grandma has been dead for years. I can’t help myself. Sometimes I wish I could,” says Due.
“The scariest book I’ve written may be a novel called The Good House. It’s my only book about characters facing a force that’s evil through and through—so evil it had to be put to sleep hundreds of years ago, and my characters accidentally woke it up.”
Though Due hasn’t published a novel in a while, she’s working on one now based on horrific history involving one of her own relatives. “I am, at last, researching a new novel. My working title is The Reformatory, and it will be a historical supernatural suspense novel set in 1930s Florida. As for The Reformatory, I’m not going to say much else about it except that it’s from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy who get caught up in the horrors of the era’s criminal justice system,” says Due.
“My research into the abuses against children at the Dozier School in Marianna, Florida, has been a vivid reminder of how so-called ‘horror’ in fiction is mild compared to the horrors in history.”
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