With two middle grade novels on shelves thus far and a YA novel coming in 2023, India Hill Brown is an author to watch. Her debut, The Forgotten Girl, provided creeps and chills aplenty while dealing with the difficult and forgotten history of segregated cemeteries (R.L. Stine himself said “This ghost story gave me chill after chill. It will haunt you.”), while her most recent novel, The Girl in the Lake, handles the history of segregated swimming pools.
Below, India talks about writing historical horror for adolescents, romance, and the books that inspire her.
Tyhitia Green: Your debut novel, The Forgotten Girl, is a ghost story that dispenses plenty of spookiness but also shines a spotlight on segregated cemeteries, a topic that hasn’t often been discussed. What can you tell us about this project?
India Hill Brown: I chose segregated cemeteries as the subject matter for The Forgotten Girl because of my own family history. I have a Great Aunt and Uncle who are buried in one in my hometown. When visiting, my grandma would always tell me that the cemetery was once segregated. You can even see where the ‘White Side’ of the cemetery used to be. This interested me, because I never even considered the fact that even cemeteries were segregated. After doing research on this particular one, I realized that it was once abandoned as well! It was going to be torn up as a part of an Urban Renewal project, but a woman named Minnie Simmons Williams stopped the process. I then realized how many times this has happened in the US – cemeteries were abandoned and buildings (apartment buildings, college campuses, etc.) were built on top of them. It sounded to me like an amazing ghost story, and a chance to learn about and help others learn about segregated and abandoned cemeteries.
TG: In your latest novel, The Girl in the Lake, you also address a heart-breaking, historically consequential issue that greatly affected African-Americans in the past, and still does until this day. What made you chose this subject matter?
IHB: I chose the subject of segregated swimming pools for The Girl in the Lake, for a few reasons. I am very interested in little known Black history facts and like to incorporate them in my Middle Grade novels. I feel like everything has an origin story. We hear a lot of the stereotype that many Black people can’t swim. Why is that? In doing my research, it’s statistically true as well. But why? A lot of it stems from the segregation of swimming pools. Pools where Black people frequented had acid thrown in them, riots started at them, and more. When pools were desegregated, pools in majority Black areas were shut down due to funding, and White people would choose to swim at pools in Whites Only country clubs. It was harder to find pools or swimming lessons for Black swimmers, and it led to a generational pattern. If your grandparents couldn’t learn how to swim or developed disinterest because of what they went through, they were less likely to teach your parents, and your parents were less likely to teach you. This interested me especially during my time of living in a lake town. I started to visualize what this would look like for a Black family, and decided to craft my story around it.
TG: Do you only write horror or do you write in other genres as well?
IHB: Yes!! My debut young adult novel, Rhythm & Muse, is a romance! I would love to write in a lot of other different genres as well.
TG: Who are your favorite authors and did they inspire your work in any way?
IHB: I have a few! One of my favorite books is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. It was one of those books that I just read at the right time. I loved the setting, and I could relate to Anne the character a lot – she’s a nature-obsessed daydreamer with a sharp tongue. The character and story was written beautifully and thoughtfully, and I always strive to do that. I also love C.S. Lewis – as a Christian myself, I always appreciate the Biblical themes he used in his novels. And I love how classically fantastical the world of Narnia is. His imagination had to be huge and I really strive to use mine daily! Also, Renée Watson. Renée writes the type of books that I devoured as a child: coming-of-age stories about young girls. Kids just being kids: exploring and playing. When I read those books, they make me feel 10 years old again. Although my middle grade novels are horror stories, I do like to incorporate all of these elements into my stories as well.
TG: Do you ever scare yourself when spinning such spine-chilling tales?
IHB: Sometimes!! I remember staying up late one night working on The Forgotten Girl and I dreamed about it. I try to be mindful of being spine-chilling instead of disturbingly scary. If it’s just too disturbing, I do dial it back. I don’t want to disturb children, just give them some fun scares in the middle of my stories.
TG: What can we expect from you next and where can people find out more about you and your work?
IHB: I am currently in the very beginning stages of another middle grade novel – hopefully I can share more soon! My immediate next novel is my YA romance Rhythm & Muse – which will be out Spring ’23! People can find out more about me on my website, indiahillbrown.com. There, you can sign up for my newsletter that I update frequently with events, bookish news, and more. I post blog posts at least once a month about what I’ve been up to. I also share author updates on Instagram and Twitter @booksandbighair. I like to post writing vlogs and update videos on my YouTube channel, too!