Essayist and author LaTanya McQueen discusses incorporating a horror premise into literary fiction and the process of writing her debut novel, When the Reckoning Comes.
LaTanya McQueen has an MFA from Emerson College, a PhD from the University of Missouri, and was the 2017-2018 Robert P. Dana Emerging Writer Fellow at Cornell College. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Coe College. She published an essay collection, And It Begins Like This, and has been featured in Best American Essays, Carve Magazine, and Bennington Review.
In this post, LaTanya discusses having a horror premise in literary fiction, the process of writing her debut novel, When the Reckoning Comes, and more!
Name: LaTanya McQueen
Literary agent: Monika Woods, Triangle House Literary Agency
Book title: When the Reckoning Comes
Publisher: Harper Perennial/HarperCollins Publishers
Expected release date: August 3, 2021
Genre/category: Literary Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: A haunting novel about a black woman who returns to her hometown for a plantation wedding, and the horror that ensues as she reconnects with the blood-soaked history of the land and the best friends she left behind.
Previous titles by the author: And It Begins Like This
What prompted you to write this book?
I was interested in the idea of writing about the white gaze and, specifically, white fear. If you take the hook/premise—ghosts of slaves are seeking revenge and murdering the slave-owning descendants—that’s a horror premise. But the horror element, the piece of it that elicits fear, is one that is specifically a white fear. Historically, our country has made laws, policy decisions, even thinking about the ways black communities are over-policed—part of that is coming from white fear of Black Americans. So I thought it could be interesting to center a book that used that in its premise while also critiquing it in a way to discuss white supremacy. In the book, one of the things we begin to learn, that the real horror is the violence that’s been done toward Black Americans to maintain white supremacy.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
I started writing When the Reckoning Comes in March of 2018, and worked on it for the next three months, finishing the first draft at around the end of June. I got an agent soon after, and we spent the next year revising it.
The overall structure of the novel stayed mostly the same. It was a matter of expanding and rearranging certain chapters, a lot of character development work, and dealing with plot inconsistencies.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I think the biggest misconception, at least for me, was I thought once I turned in the final revision of the book I was done, but I wasn’t! There’s copyedits, of course, but a lot goes into marketing planning and promotion I didn’t expect.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I was surprised with how fast I was able to write it. I’d written another novel before, one I couldn’t get agent representation for, and I worked on that book for several years. I think what was different this time around and what worked was that I stopped caring so much about publication, if I’d ever get there or not. I focused on the book I wanted to write with just that being the end goal. I did what I wanted without thinking about if it would match other’s expectations or desires, and when I did that, the writing came pretty easily.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
At its core, this is a novel about the way in which characters are seen—how others see them, how that perception affects their own sense of self, and their own relationships with others.