PW: Your most recent novel, The Living Blood, continues the story of Jessica and her immortal husband, David. Did you plan from the start to write a follow-up to My Soul to Keep?
TD: Not when I started writing My Soul to Keep. I was just hoping I could finish it because it was an ambitious project for me: writing about someone who was 500 years old and who had this breadth and span of knowledge that comes with immortality. Later I realized there was more of the story to tell, and I didn't want it to stop.
PW: Why is the scale of The Living Blood so much larger than that of My Soul to Keep?
TD: My Soul to Keep is a very specific story about a single relationship and how immortality factors into it. With The Living Blood I saw an opportunity to do something on a more epic scale, in terms of its theme of good versus evil and in terms of the impact of the immortality-giving blood. And of course I wanted to write about Fana, the powerful child. I'm fascinated by children and how the things that happen to us in childhood linger throughout our entire lives. I wanted to examine how difficult it would be, but how imperative it is, to raise a powerful child the best possible way you can.
PW: How do the novel's apocalyptic events serve these interests?
TD: I wanted the story to have an apocalyptic feel if only to demonstrate the degree of power we're talking about with this child. I think that all kids have that kind of power, though on a much smaller level. The potential for either good to society or ill to society is huge with every single person, and I wanted to find a way to convey that.
PW: Both novels use themes from horror and supernatural fiction. Did you hope to do something through these books that you felt hadn't been done in those genres before?
TD: Unconsciously, certainly. But I came to the supernatural field from the outside. With these books I was trying to find my voice as a writer, and as a black writer. If anything, I was looking at African-American fiction and wondering what I could do here that was different, because as a young black writer coming up it was very clear to me that I couldn't draw on the same background that titans like Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor and Alice Walker did. By looking at the world through a supernatural prism I can step back from my own real-life fears of loss and death, and make them feel a little bit safer when I write stories with characters who are facing things that I'll never have to face.
PW: Between My Soul to Keep and The Living Blood, you wrote the historical novel The Black Rose. How did that experience influence your approach to The Living Blood?
TD: If The Black Rose gave me anything it was perhaps a boost of confidence while I was working on The Living Blood, which was such a big novel I sometimes felt lost in the woods.
PW: Is there any chance you'll write a sequel to The Living Blood?
TD: I really never set out to write a trilogy or create a franchise. I do have a vague sense, as I did after writing My Soul to Keep, that there's more here—for later, though. My next book, which I'm writing with my mother, Patricia Stephens Due, is called Freedom in the Family. It's a mother-daughter civil rights memoir that I've wanted to write for years, and it will include her point of view growing up as a young activist in college, and my point of view as a child growing up in a home where we thought it was normal to go out picketing and attending NAACP conventions. After that, I have an idea for a garden-variety possession/haunted house story. After those two projects it may be time to revisit the immortals. But it will have to be the right story.