Nzondi is a Bram Stoker award winning writer for the category of ‘Superior Achievement in Young Adult fiction.’ His short stories have been published in anthologies and print magazines. One short tale, “Raising Mary: Frankenstein,” was nominated for 2016 horror story of the year for the 19th Annual Editors and Preditors Readers Poll. Additionally, three of his short stories were on the Horror Writers Association Reading list for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards. With a career that spans education, publishing, and now includes his latest novel, Lipstick Asylum, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse about his background and future.
You can learn more about Nzondi by following him on Twitter at @Nzondi3.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Nzondi: Great question! Absolutely. Two of the novels I continue to revisit are Necromancer by William Gibson and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. To this day, my writing sheds traces of influence from those stories. The action/adventure and humor in the Spider-Man comics was especially something I enjoy revisiting. In the late nineties, Bob Gale’s stories in the Spider-Man comics are quite noteworthy of something I revisit whenever I want to go back and re-read some Webhead stories.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a creative? Was there a moment this goal crystalized for you?
Nzondi: I was in a film program at Long Island University back in 1987, studying screenwriting and directing and received a “Spec Deal” at a recording studio in New York to produce my songs. That’s when I knew I was a creative. It crystallized for me when I was paid a per diem, including a paid hotel stay in Detroit to produce and record remixes for the Columbia Recording artists, Inner City. Even though the group broke up soon after one of the songs I produced was released (Share My Life, R&B mix), it was a stamp in my heart that I was up on this earth to create. I just didn’t know at the time that I was in the wrong profession, writing horror and urban fantasy was what I was created to contribute to this world.
Yanes: You are a former Director of Education for NYC schools and the Sylvan Learning Center. How do you think your career as an educator helped you become a better storyteller?
Nzondi: One of the reasons I was honored to work at the Sylvan Learning Center was because I saw how effective it was to helping students perform at higher levels. It’s a very good program, especially if your child is below their grade levels in subjects. Working with children and being a sort of Peter Pan, myself, my writing always includes the sort of personalities I was surrounded by, teaching thirteen-year-olds.
It helped me craft the kind of wonder that a middle-schooler is interested in which now translates to adults who love to escape by reading urban fantasies that touched their own childhood.
Yanes: Becoming a professional writer is kind of like winning the lotto. When did you or will you view yourself as having “made it”?
Nzondi: Personally, my idea of having “made it” is so high up the ladder, that I don’t think I’ve reached that level, yet. However, I’ve never publicly answered this in such detail but this is when I knew there was “something” to my writing.
First, fifteen minutes after submitting the novel which became my first published, I received this reply:
What an exciting synopsis. Thank you so very much for considering
Montag Press as a publishing partner.
We will review you submission and get back to you as soon as we can.
Three days later, I received this reply via email:
Dear Mr. Hall,
We are thrilled, simply thrilled by “The Confessions of Sylva Slasher”
In fact at 3 days, since your submission, our decision to offer
partnership to you has been
our fastest decisions not just by days, but by weeks.
…That’s when I knew I was onto something.
Yanes: Your latest book is Lipstick Asylum. What was the inspiration for this story?
Nzondi: I love zombie stories and I love action/adventure stories, especially those that include fighting and martial arts. Lately, there have been a few Young Adult books and TV shows that captured the resilient spirit of teenagers. Wanting to mix elements of undead horror, action/adventure and the psychological pressures that teens endure with parents, school, friends, bullies and social interactions helped me come up with a plot that involved these elements. I wanted the reader to experience a heroine that had a real chip on her shoulder and my goal was to show you why there was so much turmoil in her life.
Yanes: Cozy Coleman is a great character. How did you develop her? Were there real-life people she is based on?
Nzondi: It’s my belief that every writer base characters of of traits and experiences of people they encounter in real life, mixed with characterizations of stories they were exposed to all of their lives. There’s a bit of Bruce Lee in Cozy, A bit of Shori from Octavia Butler’s horror classic, Fledgling, a bit of Katniss, a bit of Jessica Jones, a bit of Anita Blake, and my sisters. Pretty much, there are traits of all the self-empowered women in my life who had to endure hardships and tough lives, but overcame them. All of those influences mixed up in a concoction of suspense and horror.
Yanes: Lipstick Asylum has a lot of monsters in it. Are there any creatures left out that you’d specifically like to write?
Nzondi: I believe that the monster that many people face is in the mind and it’s created from one’s fears. That’s truly the only monster in Lipstick Asylum, and in any story that entails psychological horror. I enjoy writing about the undead but I especially love writing about the creature called terror and how it drives a character to do things she normally wouldn’t do under less dire situations.
Yanes: In the process of developing Lipstick Asylum from idea to finished book, were there elements that took on a life of their own?
Nzondi: The deeper I delved into how much a mind combating constant stress, guilt and hardships of being a teenager in a world full of adults went, the more a certain darkness started taking over. You could say that darkness, itself, became a character all on its own in Lipstick Asylum and there was nothing I could do about it but let it live.
Yanes: When people finish reading Lipstick Asylum, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Nzondi: It would be wonderful that upon finishing the novel, their soul is fed. I’ve read some books and felt empty because there were questions unanswered but usually after I read a good book, I feel well fed, wanting more. Kind of like when I’ve eaten a really good dessert and even though I’m full, can’t stop from wanting to taste more. If readers felt that after reading Lipstick Asylum, I’d be extremely happy.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Nzondi: Currently, I’m working on an urban fantasy novel that includes my father’s character, Little Zeng, who was the first published Black superhero, dating back to 1963, three years before Marvel’s Black Panther. It still includes elements of horror, of course and afrofuturism. It will be like something no one has ever seen before, yet familiar. I’m getting a real kick out of writing it, and am polishing up the final touches.
Remember, you can learn more about Nzondi by following him on Twitter at @Nzondi3.