Valentine’s Day Writing and Book Choices: For Love, For Readers, For Writers, For Healers, For Dreamers

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I’m about to present some poetry and prose surrounding dark love! But first, I must say I am looking forward to a special Valentine-themed dinner tonight with my family! I’ll be making homemade pink alfredo sauce to top tortellini, which both of my daughter’s adore, salad with strawberries cut into hearts, and a decadent dessert. Probably chocolate, of course. What are your plans?

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Valentine’s Day feels a bit different to me this year. It’s the first year in fifteen years I haven’t been helping at least one of my three children make individual, homemade Valentines for their classmates, valentine boxes, cookies for the party. It’s actually hit me somewhat hard – I always enjoyed this time with them.

I’m also missing my son very much who is away at his first year of college, but he will be able to pick-up a little box filled with love from home soon (hopefully the mail room at George Washington University will begin to actually give students their mail in a more timely fashion). After years spending time solely as a family, or my son sometimes cooking us dinner while the girls were our waitresses, Tim will be taking me out for our own date this weekend and I’m looking forward to that too.

My middle daughter, who is now fifteen, is having fun working on costumes and make-up with her high school’s production of West Side Story, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet of course (which she’s also reading in honors English 9), both tales of love so right and gone so wrong.

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I am so happy to have a family like mine, as they understand love gone wrong, and how much healing I’ve had to do, but also they know love done right.

So now on to reading and writing….!

In February (as a whole) we talk about love, don’t we tend to? Even love gone awry? I suppose we can talk, read, and write about it any time, I know I do, so it’s always a good time in my book and today is no exception (and well, IN my own writing love is not always a good time). Whether you spent Valentine’s Day happy in love, alone and happy, or crying, it takes on many forms and is often fodder for writers like me to explore. I wrote a sad poem about someone in unrequited modern love this year, but it was rejected by the literary site I submitted it too. Rejection – happens in love and writing. I still love the poem and will find it a home. Until then, there are some other of my writings you might enjoy!

valentines-day-candy-hearts-4014974I did have a story accepted by The Horror Tree for their Trembling with Fear series, which is online but also will be made into a print anthology. This short story, “Sinking Hearts” was titled by my 11 year old, though don’t let that fool you, it packs a punch.

This is total love gone wrong and what revenge might unfold. It’s FREE to read in honor of Valentine’s Day on their Love is in the Air (or not) series, right HERE!

My poem “Chained by Love,” was featured in the February 2018 issue of Enchanted Conversation: a fairy tale magazine. My gothic-themed poem showcased the love between moral Raymond and sea serpent/mermaid Melusine in medieval France folklore. You’ll see their happiness takes a different turn. You can read it for free in the magazine HERE. I’d like to again say thanks to them for choosing my piece to publish and for putting out such a gorgeous edition.

“A beautiful, tragic fairy tale.” – Author R.J. Crowder

“Very powerful, Erin. I loved it.” – Bram Stoker Nominated Author Jeremy Hepler

“Well done. Enjoyed it!” – Illustrator and Writer Michael Mitchell

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I had a story called “The Heart of the Orchard” featured in the anthology HARDENED HEARTS, which released from Unnerving in December 2017 (but perfect read for February). It was widely reviewed, shared on social media with positivity, and I’m pleased that my story has been doing quite well too. My story is like a crime/serial killer/revenge story wrapped up with a fairy tale vibe. It’s a little bit of something I’ll always do to have a bit of the feel of grim fairy tales in my work. I grew up with Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and other folklore inspiring me and it’s not unusual it transferred into my work. The darker the better, but for me, it’s a way of dealing with trauma and fears. It’s totally the dark side of relationships and what they can lead to…

In this anthology there are all types of stories from love that hurts, to love gone wrong, to weird love, to the love of something unusual, to the loss of a loved one, but always each will get you feeling. Here is the synopsis:

17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths. Love brings pain, vulnerability, and demands of revenge. Hardened Hearts spills the sum of darkness and light concerning the measures of love; including works from Meg Elison, author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), Tom Deady, author of Haven (Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel), Gwendolyn Kiste, author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and Pretty Marys All in a Row (and Bram Stoker Nominated Author) and more. Hardened Hearts dips from speculative, horror, science fiction, fantasy, into literary and then out of the classifiable and into the waters of unpinned genres, but pure entertainment nonetheless.

Praise for my story in Hardened Hearts, “The Heart of the Orchard” –

“The Heart of the Orchard by: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – Loved, loved, loved this one—the setting, the tone, the writing—all of it was great!” – Literary Dust

‘The Heart of the Orchard’ by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi is another of the strongest works in the anthology. A dark fairy tale focussing on a young woman with a scarred past who is offered help in her quest to succeed with her fruit orchard by a character known only as The Orchard Man. She gratefully accepts his assistance in the form of herbs for her sleeplessness and fertiliser for her peach trees.” – This is Horror

“THE HEART OF THE ORCHARD by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. This read almost like a warped fairy tale, and as we all know, fairy tales can often be quite grim.” – Char’s Horror Corner (in listing the tales that stood out for her)

“THE HEART OF THE ORCHARD by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – This one deserved its own book also! A+” – Book Dragon Girl (in listing her favorite stories)

I was also thrilled that for some, my story resonated, or they found it worthy of special mention. I know that my story, besides having some fantastical components, can also be unsettling because it’s based on some trauma I experienced in my own life. I channeled this into my character. I think it is the ultimate in hardening a heart and it was what propelled me to write it to match the theme.

You can check it out HERE! 4.18 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.

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In my dark poetry and fiction collection, BREATHE. BREATHE., being in relationships is explored because I wrote my emotions about living in a domestic violence situation for many years into some of my poems. If you like love gone wrong, stories about domestic relationships, whether to connect or get a bird’s eye view or for suspense, and you like books like Gone Girl, Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder, Big Little Lies, and other such, you may want to give some of the poems and stories in my collection a try. For the stories, I’d especially recommend my “Vahalla Lane” mini-series of fiction.

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Other Suggested Titles

You might also check out my friend Sara Tantlinger’s poetry collection Love for Slaughter, which is not for my faint of heart readers (it has lots of bloody verse). It’s gritty, dark, undigestible but unputdownable too. It’s intelligent but gory in the details, messy as in love and life. It’s very hard to look away.

This debut collection of poetry from Tantlinger takes a dark look at all the horrors of love, the pleasures of flesh, and the lust for blood. For discerning fans of romance and the macabre, look no further than Love for Slaughter.

Find it on GoodReads HERE.

Love for Slaughter

If you’re healing from love gone wrong, you might try DragonHearts, which is a new release from three of today’s best-selling poets: Nikita Gill, Amanda Lovelace, and Trista Mateer. They weave an empowering tale in their collaborative poetry collection through the combination of prose and poetry, use fairy tales and myths to create something that is both timeless and extremely relevant to present-day issues, such as the #MeToo movement, reclaiming your voice, feminism, and the shared power of self-love and solidarity. This book is a reminder that romantic love does not need to be the main plot of your story, sometimes friendship is.

Another set of poetry and words that tears out your heart, puts band-aids on it, makes you feel and weep, and makes you feel alive and real.

Check it out HERE!

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For my other followers, friends, and fans who don’t read as much poetry and prefer novels, but still want some gothic and historical reads, pre-order HERE for yourself or your Valentine The Lost History of Dreams by my friend Kris Waldherr, coming in April from Atria! Kris is a fabulous artist and writer, who puts words on the page like she inks color on a canvas.

Check out this pre-blurb: Wuthering Heights meets ‘Penny Dreadful’ in Kris Waldherr’s The Lost History of Dreams, a dark Victorian epic of obsessive love, thwarted genius, and ghostly visitations. Eerily atmospheric and gorgeously written, The Lost History of Dreams is a Gothic fairy-tale to savor.” – Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK and THE HUNTRESS

The Lost History of Dreams

Or if you can’t catch West Side Story yourself somewhere, and don’t want to delve into the language of Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet, you can read the tragic love story of Abelard and Heloise through The Sharp Hook of Love by Sherry Jones! Find it HERE!

Among the young women of 12th century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.

But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Nôtre Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.

As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.

You can see my past review of it HERE.

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Or if you just like your romance on the dark thriller side, read YOU by Caroline Kepnes. This totally an example of love done wrong, gone wrong, but gives you all the suspense you need to eat an entire box of chocolates. It’s a favorite of mine from Atria/Emily Bestler Books.

From the cover copy:

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

You can find it HERE.

YOU book

If you don’t have time to read the book, check out the series of same name on Netflix, which is stellar. It’s was of the my favorite shows I’ve watched in some time. It’s great for a weekend binge and those chocolates… maybe wine… with or without someone to share it with!

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Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, however or with whomever you celebrate! At the least, buy yourself a box a chocolates, and better yet, A BOOK! LOVE is the universal language. 

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Review: Without Condition by Sonora Taylor #WIHMX #HookonWiHM

Review: Without Condition by Sonora Taylor

When Sonora asked me to blurb her new book, which is her first foray into writing a horror novel, I said yes without any hesitation! Sonora is someone who is involved in the Ladies in Horror Fiction Project (run by Nina D’Arcangelo) with me and I enjoyed her flash fiction. Without Condition was something I was anticipating to read as I followed her final progress on it, and now, it released to the world today!

I pleasantly discovered while reading it though that it had many more layers than I originally thought. Not only is it horror but has lots of dark romance as well, and while romance is not usually my thing, it fit in well with this story and I enjoyed it. If you have a dark Valentine, this might be perfect for the big day this week.

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If King’s Carrie had turned into a serial killer, and your setting was the backwoods country life, you’d have Without Condition. It’s a murderous mayhem of revenge and fix culminating in horrifying shows of unconditional love. I’ll never look at a beat-up old truck without apprehension again.

Yep, that my main blurb I provider her, but I wanted to take a moment on my site here to offer a few more thoughts. Overall this novel is a simmering read that is a character-study on the female protagonist, Cara. The novel deals with her dark side, the relationship she has with her enabling mother, and then her romance with a man she falls for (which is rare, as she really only has loved two men in her life – this new boyfriend and a past uncle who she felt abandoned her, even if he gave her his knife and taught her at an early age how to wield it). It’s a horror novel dealing with a serial killer, but it’s also dark romance, and there isn’t as much pages of action as there is fullness of story.

The novel to me deals with themes of bullying, revenge, loneliness, abandonment, simmering rage, and even LGBT+. It also deals with love and acceptance. But don’t get me wrong, Cara is not one to be messed with and so there are some violent scenes as well! How Sonora writes them makes us feel that it’s normal for Cara to be doing them! As a writer who has written dark scenes myself of women exacting revenge on men, I was a little cheering her on. I thought Sonora did this very well and captured her feelings on the page – so she had great character development with Cara. I could watch her vividly as through a lens. I could feel when she needed a “fix” – stress relief through killing.

I also loved her descriptions of setting in the backwoods of North Carolina. It was somewhat new to me, the reading of a book where I could visually something so modern day southern, but growing up rurally myself, it was also relatable in some ways from things I see and people I’ve encountered. It was very authentic in its details and nuances and helped to carry her plot along well.

If anything, I feel she could have fleshed out the boyfriend character a bit more. I was unsure of him and how or why she fell for him so hard. I wanted him to be more memorable. But overall, the ending with him and her was interesting, though a little bit flipped me on my head too – it was more diabolical than I anticipated, but it worked well! I’m interested to see just where they’d be headed in the next ten years.

Thanks so much to Sonora for sending me an advanced copy! It’s perfectly error-free to my eye and is a testament to self-published books – many are done well and you won’t know the difference. It’s polished, edited well, and her original cover art done by artist Doug Puller (who I believe did her interior book and e-book design and formatting as well).

Have some dark murder and romance for your Valentine’s Day this year! Also, I’ll have two interviews with Sonora coming up this month in which you can get to know her better – right here at Hook focusing on the content of her book as well as one on The Horror Tree which focuses more on writing.

About Without Condition

Without-Condition-CoverCara Vineyard lives a quiet life in rural North Carolina. She works for an emerging brewery, drives her truck late at night, and lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm. Her mother is proud of her and keeps a wall displaying all of Cara’s accomplishments.

Cara isn’t so much proud as she is bored. She’s revitalized when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. Every day they spend together, she falls for him a little more — which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes on her late-night drives, she often picks up men. Those men tend to die. And when Cara comes back to the farm, she brings a memento for her mother to add to her wall of accomplishments.

Cara’s mother loves her no matter what. But she doesn’t know if Jackson will feel the same — and she doesn’t want to find out.

Purchase Without Condition on Amazon

Read the first chapter, “Dead End,” in Issue 42 of The Sirens Call

Shelve Without Condition on Goodreads

Sonora Taylor, Biography –

sonora-taylor-2Sonora Taylor I the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes’,” was published in Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine; and Mercurial Stories, a weekly flash fiction literary journal. Her second novel, Without Condition, release February 12, 2019. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband.

Follow Sonora on Facebook | Follow Sonora on Twitter

Follow Sonora on Goodreads | Follow Sonora on Instagram

Contact Sonora

 

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Review: Hibernate With Me is a Darling Children’s Picture Book!

Today, I’m starting off the week talking about a beautiful children’s book. For anyone who enjoys picture books or has small children to buy for or read with, HIBERNATE WITH ME is pure joy. It can do nothing but put joy on your face and warmth in your heart with its delightful art and lyrical prose. It releases tomorrow, February 12, 2019 from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Hibernate with Me Cover

Hibernate With Me, by Benjamin Scheuer and illustrated by Jemima Williams, is the perfect bedtime or naptime story for anyone with small children or grandchildren, but it’s lovely for libraries, school, or daytime centers as well to help children feel safe and secure in their environments. The lovely use of bears allows for any child and caregiver to enjoy the books – plus the bears are darling!

Though my children are a bit older than the age range of 4-8 (my girls are 15 and 11), we still enjoy looking at picture books together. They’ve even taken up my obsession of wanting to collect them. So yes, if you are an adult who likes picture books like me, the art and poetic words of this story make it one you’ll want to keep on your shelf.

As a published poet myself, I can see very much how the words to the story are a poem. The author Benjamin Scheuer writes in a rhyming way of course, because he’s a song writer – so this is also something that can be (and has been) turned into a beautiful lullaby. I definitely hope they might release a CD of bedtime songs for children. He captures the themes of caring for a young child, such as giving them enough space to roam while keeping a watchful eye and understanding moods and uncertainties small children go through while navigating life. He does all this with limited words that he’s chosen carefully to rhyme and flow with each other – almost like hug for the reader themselves.

Illustrator Jemima Williams’ art is a treasure. Working formerly on the animated show Peppa Pig, I think you can see her experience in this work as her art has action and movement just perfect enough that these bears could be made into a show of their own. Honestly, her artwork is some of the more adorable animal and nature art for children I’ve seen in some time and I’m now a big fan and will be following her work because I love her style. My daughters and I loved particularly her use of the monarch butterfly, which tells a story itself of transformation and consistency, and her dandelions, which say no matter how one changes, or if you seem a weed or flower, one can be there for you. Williams’ art is so warm and inviting.

Overall, we had a so many smiles reading this story together! My daughters were exclaiming quite often, “Oh that’s so cute! That’s so sweet!” And yes, we hugged afterwards. Who says pre-teens and teens can’t love their parents? haha!

I highly recommend this book for almost anyone who loves art and a good rhyming poem or song for children. In this day and age, love like this soothes the heart.

And the accompanying song video is absolutely adorable, filled with drawings from the book and artfully sung, I think you’ll want to watch it over and over again!

Hibernate with Me Cover

About Hibernate with Me

Hibernate with Me is a gentle reminder that no matter how sad, small, or scared you feel, you are always worthy of love, and that brighter days are always ahead.

Sometimes you feel small. Sometimes you feel shy.
Sometimes you feel worried, and you might not know why.

Sometimes you want nobody to see.
Darling, you can hibernate with me.

If you feel scared or lost, or even just a little shy, love means there will always be a place to hibernate together.

A place that’s cozy, warm, and safe.

Author and Illustrator Biographies
Benjamin Scheuer and Jemima Williams –

Author and Illustrator Photo

Benjamin Scheuer is a Drama Desk Award–winning singer-songwriter and playwright. He toured his solo show The Lion around the United States and Europe, giving more than five hundred performances. His album Songs from The Lion was released in 2016 (Warner/ADA) along with four animated music videos, which have been shown at film festivals around the world. With photographer Riya Lerner, Scheuer created the book Between Two Spaces, the proceeds of which raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Scheuer lives in New York City with his wife, illustrator Jemima Williams, and their dog, Porthos.  Visit him online at BenjaminScheuer.com.

Jemima Williams is a British illustrator and writer who worked for nearly a decade on the BAFTA Award–winning animated show Peppa Pig. She illustrated Andy Nyman’s The Golden Rules of Acting and has been a frequent contributor of illustrations and writing to the online women’s magazine Standard Issue. Jemima lives in New York City with her husband, Benjamin Scheuer, and their dog, Porthos. Visit her online at JemimaWilliams.com.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for allowing me to kick off their tour of this title around the online world! If you want to see more about the book, follow along for the next few weeks at the sites below.

Online Tour Schedule

Monday, February 11 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book!

Tuesday, February 12 – Carol’s Notebook

Wednesday, February 13 – Pretty Deadly Reviews

Thursday, February 14 – Katie Reviews Books

Friday, February 15 – MaiStoryBook

Monday, February 18 – Mundie Kids

Tuesday, February 19 – Good Books & Good Wine

Wednesday, February 20 – Bookworm for Kids

Thursday, February 21 – Dr. Bookworm

Happy reading!

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Read My Free Flash Fiction: “A Mother’s Hope”

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I just wanted o share with you my flash fiction story published in January for the Ladies in Horror Fiction photo prompt project. I was given this above photo with a gargoyle! Set in the 1930s, challenging myself to write a short in that setting was the most fun. However, the tale is of haunting and loss – you’ll see. Let me know what you think!

FREE to read HERE: “A Mother’s Hope”

Also…..

Women in Horror Writers: You can write your own flash prose or poem for my site as part of my #HookokWiHMx celebration. Just see Option 4 from my Women in Horror Month post yesterday! I look forward to reading your work!

Have a great weekend!

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It’s #HookonWiHM: What I’ll Be Doing for Women in Horror Month and Four Options for YOU to be Involved Too! #WiHMx

Today starts Women in Horror Month! I know that not everyone who follows my blog likes horror, speculative, or dark fiction, but stick around, you might be surprised by who you meet (and next month is Women in History Month, so it will be your turn).

It’s time to celebrate what women in the horror genre have to offer!! I’ll be conducting full interviews with some fabulous ladies myself – up to 10 – such as Sara Tantlinger, Sarah Read, Catherine Cavendish, Sonora Taylor, Karen Runge, Comika Hartford, and a few more that I need to confirm, here on my site as well as The Horror Tree! They are authors, artists, filmmakers – so many women work in various avenues in horror! I’ll be using #HookonWiHM hashtag as well as #WiHMx, since Women in Horror Month organization is celebrating 10 years in 2019 and that’s their official hashtag.

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BUT you can do something too, just like last year! Read on….

#HookonWiHM Information

As February is Women in Horror Month, besides doing interviews myself, I’m hosting interviews done by others of women in horror and I’m taking articles. You can see who I hosted last year by clicking on the link above or going to the tab at the top of the home page anytime.

How you can participate:

Option 1: Everyone, male and female: choose a date in February as your deadline, interview a lady in horror by asking at least three questions, then send in her bio, photo, and info on her work, as well as all that for yourself, then e-mail it all to me at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

Option 2: If that doesn’t strike your fancy, you (male or female) can also turn in a guest article about a lady in horror, either working today or a classic author long taken from us. Just e-mail it to me with your own bio and headshot too.

Option 3: If you’re a woman in horror, you can run a guest article of your choosing on my site or ask for a mini-interview (I’m filled on full interviews. These are just about 5 questions, same to all, might be posted together with others).

Option 4 (NEW): You can write me a drabble or flash fiction piece to post. 100 for drabble or up to 300-500 for a small flash. Send it in with your bio and photo.

Remember, women in horror not only includes authors, but those working in film, art, blogging, podcasting, promoting, editing, and more.

Please be sure to sign up and suggest dates for me. One, for you to keep yourself on deadline, and two, so I can stay better organized. Again, e-mail hookofabook@hotmail.com.

I’ve much on my to-do list, so I won’t hold your hand or send out reminders, but I do want to make this showcase shine!

I’ll also be doing some review catch up, recommended women in horror reading lists, and some activities to support women – but that won’t be abnormal for me, because it’s what I am always doing anyway.

Let’s do this!

Don’t forget to go to the Women in Horror Month main site for all the news, deals, and events near you or online! There is always so much happening there. Then watch social media too for others celebrating and join in with all the other amazing people who are spreading the love!

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Guest Article: The Ghost With The Bandage and Other Apparitions by Catherine Cavendish

Today I welcome back a very special writer friend, Catherine Cavendish. If you follow my site, you probably have read some very interesting guest articles from her here in the past, and without fail, she’s written one again that’s sure to spook you! Of course, she is talking about ghosts, in celebration of her newest release, THE HAUNTING OF HENDERSON CLOSE, from Flame Tree press. I am so very happy for Catherine about this release and I can’t wait to dig in. It’s one my most highly anticipated novels of the year as well my favorite cover so far. I’ll also have an interview with Catherine in the near future so stay tuned!

Enjoy…and be spooked…

The Ghost With The Bandage and Other Apparitions

by Catherine Cavendish, author of The Haunting of Henderson Close

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Famed as Scotland’s spookiest castle, Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire was the home of the Leith-Hay family for nearly 300 years since it was built in 1650 and is now a favourite location for ghosthunters. The Most Haunted TV crew filmed an episode here, with medium Derek Acorah. He proclaimed that a tree in the grounds had been used for hangings, and rope marks are indeed visible in the branches.

But who are the ghosts? Probably the most commonly seen is the ghost of former owner John Leith III who came to a most ignominious end when he was shot in a drunken brawl in Aberdeen in 1763. In critical condition, he was brought home to Leith Hall where he succumbed to his injuries three days later. He seems unable to move on though and appears wearing dark green trousers and a shirt. A filthy once-white bandage is wrapped around his head, covering his eyes and he wanders around, seemingly in great pain and distress at his injuries. Novelist Elizabeth Byrd reported seeing him on July 16th 1968 in the bedroom in which she was staying. She said he appeared as solid as a living man but when she shouted at him to go away, he simply vanished in the direction of a window behind a dressing table. After that experience, she refused to spend another night in that room. I can understand why!

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John Leith III

A ghost of a woman wearing Victorian dress has also been reported, although her identity remains a mystery. There have been sounds of a lady laughing, sudden changes in temperature, heavy footsteps and the feeling of being touched by invisible hands.

Leith Hall is positively crowded with apparitions and others include a governess and a young child as well as a young soldier. There are strange smells, including camphor and food, the sound of children playing – some have even been seen. The ghosts come from different eras in the Hall’s long and colourful history.

In 1746, Jacobite Andrew Hay of Rannes hid there, fleeing from the massacre of the Battle of Culloden. He eventually made his escape to France and was pardoned by King George in 1746 – documentation to this effect is still in existence in the Hall. Fast forward to World War I and the Hall became a temporary military hospital where soldiers who had been dreadfully injured were housed and cared for.

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Henrietta Leith-Hay gifted Leith Hall to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945, remaining there until her death in 1963. It is open to the public from the beginning of April until the end of September. If you go there, expect the unexpected. In the dining room, the atmosphere has been reported as being so heavy, it is almost suffocating. You may not want to remain in there for too long. Likewise, the bedroom where Elizabeth Byrd had her frightening encounter has been known to exude a claustrophobic and heavy atmosphere that visitors have found off-putting. Some visitors who have stayed there have felt as if they were being smothered in their bed or, in some cases, have experienced nightmares where they felt hands squeezing their throat. They have also felt someone was in the room, even though there was no one but them there.

A painting in the drawing room – The Flight into Egypt – appears to give visitors a start too. Poor Elizabeth Byrd had a sighting here as well. She saw a large man with a beard in the picture. She pointed it out to her fellow guests – but only she could see it.

So, not for the faint-hearted perhaps, but well worth a visit. The house is different. It’s quirky and full of fascinating objects, along with its host of ghosts.

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For ghosts of a different kind, here’s what to expect from The Haunting of Henderson Close:

Ghosts have always walked there. Now they’re not alone…

In the depths of Edinburgh, an evil presence is released. Hannah and her colleagues are tour guides who lead their visitors along the spooky, derelict Henderson Close, thrilling them with tales of spectres and murder. For Hannah it is her dream job, but not for long. Who is the mysterious figure that disappears around a corner? What is happening in the old print shop? And who is the little girl with no face? The legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real.

The Auld De’il is out – and even the spirits are afraid.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Flame Tree Press

Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

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Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. In addition to The Haunting of Henderson Close, Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.

Her novellas include Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife

She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

You can connect with Cat here –

Catherine Cavendish

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10 Pieces of My Writing from 2018! And 8 That You Can Read for FREE!

Hi Friends!

Coming off the heels of the end of 2017 bringing about my debut poetry and fiction collection Breathe. Breathe., and contributor stories in the anthologies of Hardened Hearts and Project Entertainment’s My Favorite Story, I found myself writing even more in 2018! So what did 2018 bring in terms of my creative writing….

Not only did I finish, with paper and pencil of course, my next poetry-only collection (which will be in the typing and editing stages for early 2019), but I wrote many stand alone poems and stories for various magazines and projects, some which are already published and others which I’m working on submitting this year (I’ve already submitted two – fingers crossed!).

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Me trying to WRITE at the library with the crazy person pacing back and forth while rapping out loud to the music in his headphones! haha!

I wanted to share some of my writings from this year that are available for free at links below. A good portion are from a women in horror writing monthly challenge, which helped keep my juices flowing, so I have so much thanks for Nina D’Arcangela and her team for running this project and giving us a platform for our work.

I was also featured in several anthologies as a contributing author as well as a co-curating editor, and you’ll find more information on them at the links below too!

I want to remind people that some of these are horror or trend toward darker fiction, but some of them are fairytale, or fantasy, or just writings that anyone can read!

It was a strange year full of more personal and professional strife, changes, and issues – and most of all, some semblance of transformation. I don’t even know how I got done half of what I did! I appreciate so very much those who’ve continued to support me both personally and professionally, those that keep Breathe. Breathe. continuously alive online with reviews and praise, and to friends who’ve stood by me through it all. We live and learn who our friends are in this business, and what I’ve learned the hard way just might be fodder for a future dark fiction collection.

Read my Poetry and Short Stories FREE online at these links – 

Poetry:

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Chained by Love” – Enchanted Conversation: A Fairytale Magazine, Feb. 2018 Issue. (Note: As far as I can tell this poem is also eligible for Rhysling nomination in the over 50 words category and I’d be honored for any SFPA members to take a look at it.)

A Land of Autumns” – SpillWords Press, Nov. 2018. 

Life’s Shadow” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, June 2018 (Note: Should be eligible for Rhysling)

Sacrificial Invitation” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, Nov 2018 (Note: Should be eligible for Rhysling)

Mummy Poetry – You can read two of my mummy poems right here on my own site! They were two of my favorite to write all year!

Short Stories:

Purple Hex Society” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, May 2018

The Witch’s Cottage” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, Oct. 2018

The Insistent Reporter” – Spreading the Writer’s Word, Ladies of Horror Flash Project, Dec. 2018

Anthologies:

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Cover by Luke Spooner

Wrapped in Battle” – Poetry, Dark Voices Anthology, Lycan Valley Press, July 2018. I dedicate this poem in memory and honor of all my female family and friends who’ve fought cancer, as the proceeds of the anthology go to breast cancer research organizations. This is an all-female anthology and I am so thrilled to be a part of it with so many other fabulous women dark fiction authors. My poem finishes up the collection. It’s currently available in print only, but should be available in e-book later this year.

Purchase – Amazon

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Haunted Are These Houses” – co-editor, Gothic Poetry and Short Fiction Anthology, Unnerving, Sept. 2018. I read almost 600 poetry and short story submissions as co-editor of this anthology, had the great honor of bringing in and editing Catherine Cavendish’s short story to it (she’s one of my favorite women authors in horror), and was in final, the poetry editor, curating the poetry selections from some of the finest poets in the dark fiction and horror communities such as Bruce Boston, Stephanie Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, Christina Sng, and more.

Purchase – Amazon

Add to GoodReads

If you enjoy my work, I love hearing comments and thoughts! Thank you so much for supporting me in my work in 2018. I am looking forward to an even more productive 2019 with my writing – stay tuned for a post on that soon.

Warm wishes,

Erin

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Happy New Year 2019! (Also, free haunting holiday story to read.) #HappyNewYear

I hope you have had a wonderful holiday season full of happiness, food, family, and relaxation, but most of all love! As for us, we had a wonderful Christmas. We were able to drive the eight hours to Washington D.C. and see the sites for a day or two with my son, who attends college there (except for the National Christmas tree I so wanted to see up close – but a gentleman climbed to the top of it and security shut down the lights and were in droves everywhere just at the time we headed down to see it!), and then, bring him home with us in time for Christmas Eve and Day. It’s been a house full of love and laughter since he’s been here with us. I am enjoying my time with my son again. And I am loving having my daughters on break from high school and middle school as well. We’ve spent so much quality time together. On a sad note, I also lost someone very dear to me a few days after Christmas and I’m still processing that.

I will possibly message more on some of the sights and sounds and life here from the end of 2018, and as we begin 2019, talk about my entire insights from 2018 and my goals for 2019 as well. Plus, I’ll have some great book reviews and interviews too, but for now…

…I just want to wish everyone a very HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope for ALL there is success, health, happiness, joy, love, inspiration, and friendship. I hope there are more quiet times, more writing time, more discovery of art and nature, more one on one with people you know or meet.

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Cheers to the beginning of a much better year. I am anxiously awaiting 2019 to be better than this year I am soooooooo happy to put behind me! If you’re still in my life, or want to be, and are coming along for the ride, I welcome you with open arms.

Also, FREE STORY!!

I have a 1,000 word Christmas story, a haunting Christmas story in fact, in the vein of the old Victorian fireplace ghost stories, to share with you too if you haven’t yet seen elsewhere for yourself on the Ladies of Horror flash project site. I’ll share that below, and though the initial photo prompt was the impetus, I’ll share in another post soon some photos of the place (Kingwood Gardens and Mansion in Ohio) that inspired even more of the story. I hope you like it!

Read my story here: “The Insistent Reporter”

Best New Wishes for a Happy New Year!

Erin

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Guest Article: Four Activities to Teach Your Kids About Other Cultures by Anna Levine

Today I welcome Anna Levine to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Last week, my daughter’s and I reviewed her picture book All Eyes on Alexander. We loved it and you can see that review HERE! Now, she offers us some educational ideas to be done with children after reading the book. Thanks, Anna!

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Where in the World…?
A few fun activities to learn about different cultures!

All Eyes on Alexandra is a picture book about a crane that flies from Europe to Africa. Let Alexandra introduce your child to the world.

1. Play the migration game. The Smithsonian has a wonderful on-line migration game. Fun questions teach about the habits of a Wood Thrush that migrates from Costa Rica to Maryland. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/play-migration-game

2. Follow the Leader. Alexandra leads her family in their Vee. Here’s an opportunity to talk about good leaders, people who take responsibility and have the courage to trust themselves and develop their potential.

3. Choose a continent and take a closer look. How many countries are there? How many languages? What’s the climate like? What foods are eaten there and what do they grow? Try cooking up something you’ve never tried before. Experiment with the taste of a culture while listening to the music popular in the country you’ve chosen.

4. Every day’s a holiday! Find out what holidays are celebrated on which days of the year in different countries around the world. Celebrate with the colors, food, and music of that country.

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About All Eyes on Alexandra –

 In All Eyes on Alexandra, young Alexandra Crane is terrible at following her family in their flying Vee. She can’t help it that the world is so full of interesting distracting sights! When it’s time for the Cranes to migrate to Israel’s Hula Valley for the winter, Alexandra is excited but her family is worried. Will Alexandra stay with the group, and what happens if a dangerous situation should arise? Might Alexandra—and the rest of the flock—discover that a bad follower can sometimes make a great leader?

Based on the true story of Israel’s annual crane migration.

Print Length: 32 Pages

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Publisher: Kar-Ben Pub

ISBN-10: 1512444391

ISBN-13: 978-1512444391

All Eyes on Alexandra is available to purchase on AmazonBarnes and NobleTarget and Thrift Books.

Author Anna Levine, Biography –

Author photoAnna Levine is an award-winning children’s book author. Like Alexandra Crane, the character in her latest picture book, she loves to explore new worlds.

Born in Canada, Anna has lived in the US and Europe.  She now lives in Israel, where she writes and teaches.

You can find Anna Levine online at –

Author website

Twitter: @LevineAnna 

Instagram: @booksfromanna 

About the Illustrator, Chiara Pasqualotto,

artistChiara Pasqualotto was born in Padua, in northern Italy, currently teaches illustration and drawing classes to children and adults, in particular in Padua during the summer at the Scuola Internazionale di Comics and in Rome.

Since 2008 she’s been living in Rome and working with illustration professionally: her first picture book, Mine, All Mine! was published in 2009 by Boxer Books (UK), since then she published with Oxford University Press, Giunti, Terranuova and some American publishers (Paraclete Press, Tyndale, LearningAZ, Kar-Ben Publisher).

You can find Chiara Pasqualotto online at –

Artist website

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Enjoy reading with your kids and have a good week!

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Interview: Gwendolyn Kiste and I discuss The Rust Maidens, Cleveland, the ’80s, Body Horror, and Fairy Tales. #LOHF

Today I welcome Bram Stoker nominated Gwendolyn Kiste to talk about her new novel The Rust Maidens and our connection of place, Cleveland! Hi Gwendolyn, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you’ve finally arrived (and back in your original home of Ohio!) and could take a few minutes to chat with me. Obviously, it’s winter now, so let’s step in to my home and library and I’ll pour us some coffee, do you like cream and sugar like me, or how shall you take yours?

Let me know while I go and take the homemade mint chocolate brownies from the oven. It’s a recipe passed around especially for writers, of course!

Gwendolyn: Thank you so much for having me, Erin! Homemade brownies sound like a perfect way to start an interview! As for coffee, I always take mine plain, thank you!

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Erin: Black it is! Let’s snuggle into my big comfy chairs, relax, and talk about your newest book, your first novel, which released recently from Trepidatio Publishing, called The Rust Maidens! Congratulations on becoming a novelist! For those not in the know, I’m going to post the synopsis quick right here!

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The Rust Maidens –

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

I’m intrigued by you and your fabulous writing in any regard, but I was at first drawn in to wanting to read and discuss The Rust Maidens since it takes place near where I live, Cleveland, in 1980. I believe you are originally from Northern Ohio as well, so tell us about the novel and what about this location inspired your novel?

Gwendolyn: I love Ohio. Though I live in Pennsylvania now, I always say that I’m an Ohio girl at heart. It’s such a misunderstood state in some ways. There are people who think of it only as a Rust Belt state, others who consider it all cornfields, and some who think that it’s just boring, wide open spaces. It’s funny, because to varying degrees, all of those things are indeed true, but there’s more to Ohio than just those descriptions. In its own way, Ohio is a kind of misfit, and as a perennial misfit myself, I feel like it’s a place where I’ll always belong.  

Erin: How much of the Cleveland landscape is involved in it, or is it just a place and time?

Gwendolyn: The city of Cleveland is absolutely crucial to this particular story. It’s a character of its own, in a way. There’s such a rich and strange history of the city. Everything from Eliot Ness and Bessie, the Lake Monster, to the river catching on fire and the Rust Belt decay are in the DNA of Cleveland, lurking somewhere in there. As for the landscape itself, the book includes the steel mills, the lake, and several other landmarks that people from the area will recognize.

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Photo by Erin Al-Mehairi, summer 2018. View of Cuyahoga River from the park at Settler’s Landing. The river flows out into Lake Erie.

Erin: Why the year 1980? Does it have any significance? How much of this time period in the area did you have to research to make a period piece authentic?

Gwendolyn: Something I’ve often observed is that the first year in a new decade is always something of a liminal time. The decade hasn’t had a chance to really develop yet, which means that first year tends to look and feel a lot like the years that came immediately before. I initially noticed this while watching the show, Mad Men. The series starts in 1960, which at that point still feels very much like the 1950s. It’s not until the series moves forward several years that the events and trends we normally associate with the 1960s start coming into play. In this way, the first year in a decade seems to have a kind of identity crisis, and since identity as well as being stuck in between are so integral to the novel, that seemed like an ideal time to base the novel.

I had also just come off researching Cleveland in the late 1970s and early 1980s for my story, “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends.” I originally wanted to set that story in the late 1970s, but I also wanted to incorporate Pink Floyd’s “Mother” into the story because it reflected so much of what the main character was going through. That song, however, didn’t come out until late 1979, and since my story didn’t start until January, the earliest it could be set was in 1980. Hence, another reason for that year.

After doing all the research for that story, I didn’t want to let go of Cleveland in that era yet. That was when I decided to combine that time and place with another idea I’d long had for a novel about girls in some kind of strange metamorphosis. Once I hit on the idea of setting it in Cleveland, the concept came together very quickly, and I pitched it to Jess Landry at Trepidatio. Then we were off from there!  

Erin: What was the most significant piece of history you found about the Cleveland-area while researching? What about the most shocking? Without spoilers, did either of them make it into your novel?

Gwendolyn: One fascinating piece of history I found was that there was a series of storms that occurred the summer of 1980 when the novel takes place, including something that was called the More Trees Down Derecho. The name was coined because people said if the storms continued that there would be no more trees left to come down. And yes, perhaps that storm does indeed make it into the novel at one point.

Erin: Of course, you and I know we live(d) in the rust belt, and why. But can you give readers a better understand of it and how it affected your novel? How do you feel the rust belt has changed, and changed people, from 1980 to now?

Gwendolyn: It’s interesting, because I think in some ways, it’s changed, and in some ways, it’s exactly the same. I would still say that the city has never entirely recovered economically. But no matter what, somehow, Cleveland endures. It’s that journey through those past struggles into today that really define Cleveland as I see it and also the version of the city that appears in the novel. It’s still struggling but always fighting. That’s a story unto itself, and one that informed how it plays a part in The Rust Maidens.

Erin: Were any of your characters personalities affected by their environment(s)? Without spoilers, why and how?

 

Gwendolyn: The environment probably affects the characters in this novel more than anything else I’ve ever written. I always try to interweave the setting as much as possible in my work, but with The Rust Maidens, 1980s Cleveland is as much a character as the girls themselves. The decay and hopelessness that have permeated many areas of Ohio impact all the characters in the book, and that effect is ultimately reflected in the metamorphosis that serves as the centerpiece of the story.

Erin: I’m sure you chose the title, as per the summary for the book, since the main characters are trying to figure out why other girls they know are transforming into actual metal and glass. Why does body horror interest you? What was the compelling factor or theme that you might be trying to convey in this novel (you have a degree in psychology, so I am assuming you’ve planted this someone in the book!) in relation to that transformation?

Gwendolyn: Body horror works so well with themes of identity and belonging, which are topics I constantly explore in my fiction. In particular, when you’re young, you’re still trying to figure out who you are, and to have your own body turn against you at that point as happens in The Rust Maidens would only make that exploration of identity that much more horrifying. In this way, body horror becomes the physical manifestation of the changes we all go through at some point, only magnified through the horror genre’s lens.

The Rust Maidens Cover Final

Erin: I read somewhere you said that when approached about Daniele Serra doing your cover art for your book you agreed because you felt he could most capture the industrial feel your book included while also staying true to your whimsical side. In my opinion, he was pretty much spot on. You’ve had covers as very bright, black and white, and now muted. Do you feel that your writing style has changed as well? How has fairytale, folklore, and horror of Pretty Marys, and the emotional, heart-wrenching stories in And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, blended together or impacted The Rust Maidens?

Gwendolyn: When Jess Landry suggested Daniele Serra for the cover art, I was already familiar with his work, but of course, I looked again at his portfolio, and yes, I very much felt that his style has this incredible balance between the ephemeral and the whimsical along with a very strong edge that seemed like a perfect blend for the industrial landscape of Cleveland. The final cover is just so beautiful. I love it so much, and couldn’t imagine anything else on the cover of my first novel.  

As for my writing style, I do feel like each of the covers matches the tone of the book. There is the stark black and white of the collection, which mirrors its emotional arcs that are extreme at times. Pretty Marys has the lightest, most humorous tone, and the bright cover matches that, while also hinting at the darkness of the book too. Finally, the melancholy feel of The Rust Maidens is absolutely reflected in the muted colors of Daniele’s cover. I’ve said it elsewhere before, but I feel like one very fortunate author to have book covers that so perfectly encapsulate my work. It’s wonderful to be able to say that.

Erin: How does the content of The Rust Maidens differ from your debut collection and your novella? What makes it unique? For return readers, what does it offer that identifies it as another Kiste masterpiece?

Gwendolyn: Wow, Kiste masterpiece is putting a lot of pressure on it! Hopefully, that’s how at least a few readers will describe it, but we shall see!

So much of my work deals with coming of age as well as outsiders fighting to find a place in the world. Those elements are absolutely present in The Rust Maidens, so in that way, returning readers will be able to see the connection to my previous work. As for what makes it unique, I feel like I’ve put my own past and my blue collar and Ohio roots at the forefront in this story more than before. It’s truly so personal to me, and it’s even a little more on the melancholy side than much of my other work. So while it draws from my previous fiction, it’s certainly treading some new ground at the same time.  

Erin: Do you cross and flow between genres and sub-genres fairly easily? Do you like to describe yourself as a horror, fantasy, or literary author or just write what you feel and that works for the story? Maybe you don’t like labels at all?

Gwendolyn: I would call myself primarily a horror and dark fantasy author. Not all of my work falls strictly within the confines of horror, but almost all of my work, especially recently, could fall under the horror and dark fantasy labels, broadly defined. Those are the genres that feel most like home to me. That being said, I would love to see genre labels become something of the past, or at least that fiction isn’t so strictly relegated to one category or another. Many of my favorite stories as a reader don’t fall easily into any one genre, so I think there’s a lot to be said for stories being allowed to develop organically and not being shoehorned into something they’re not.

Erin: I first met you online when we shared a Table of Contents in the anthology Hardened Hearts from Unnerving. You created one of the most interesting pieces in the book, about someone who falls in love with a creature. I did a Rumpelstiltskin-esque piece murder mystery that took place in an orchard. Upon reading more of your work outside of Hardened Hearts though, I realized you must live and breathe fairy tales and legends as much as I do! How has your love of them worked into your other stories—whether in your novella, your short story collection, or any published standalone stories?

Gwendolyn: Fairy tales are interwoven throughout so much of my work. I’ve done a Snow White retelling with “All the Red Apples Have Withered to Gray.” My novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, is all about the Marys of folklore: Resurrection Mary, Bloody Mary, Mari Lwyd, Mary Mack, and Mistress Mary Quite Contrary. Elsewhere in my fiction, I’ve played with the stories of Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, The Little Mermaid, and Baba Yaga as well. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve met too many fairy tales that don’t inspire me in some way! Because they’re so familiar from the get-go, you can use the reader’s preexisting knowledge of the tale and jump right into the heart of your story. Exposition can be the bane of writers, and in this way, crafting fairy tale retellings helps to bypass some of those problems. Plus, many of the stories we’ve grown up with were told in such ways as to emphasize a dubious moral. Reworking those ideas can feel at once familiar as well as very liberating.     

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Erin: Are there fairytales you’ve thought of writing as a re-telling in the future?

Gwendolyn: I would absolutely love to do something with the story of Bluebeard. I’ve been kicking around an idea for over a year of reworking that one, but I haven’t quite been able to click all the pieces into place yet. Hopefully something on that front will happen in the coming months, because it seems like it could be rife with possibilities.

Erin: I know you’ve listed some of my own writing inspirations such as Shirley Jackson, Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, and Ray Bradbury. How and why do you feel drawn to these authors (or any others you can list below if you wish) and how have they helped define your work or make you a better writer?

Gwendolyn: All of those authors you mentioned are so unafraid to put themselves and their raw emotions about life out there for the world to see. What’s also so captivating is how they each do it in radically different ways. Shirley Jackson explores the dark underbelly of a seemingly proper world, and she never flinches away from that. Kate Chopin pushed back against the boundaries of a very rigid society to interrogate what it means to be a woman and an outcast in a world that tells you that you don’t belong. Sylvia Plath was an emotional tour-de-force, but one that no matter how urgent and intense her writing became, she always seemed entirely in control of her razor-sharp prose and poetry. Ray Bradbury was never afraid to talk about what it’s like to be a kid and what it’s like to be afraid. He also never seemed to worry about becoming too sentimental or nostalgic; he allowed his own memories and love of childhood, carnivals, space, and coming-of-age to completely shine through in his work.

So I suppose with all that in mind, these authors inspire me to be braver in my work and to take chances by putting myself completely on the page every time I write. They show me that you can’t hold back, not if you want to create something that really affects people. Perhaps it will even be too much for some readers. That’s okay. It’s better to go all in than to write something that maybe doesn’t even make you feel something. When it comes to art, don’t play it safe. That’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from the writers I love.

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Erin: One of my other main interests is also the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as you’ve also mentioned, as well as loving the Roaring Twenties. Have I told you how much I like you yet today? 😊 Are you considering writing a period piece in this vein and era? A collection of stories? And the most important question, would you every consider a collaboration? *wink*

Gwendolyn: I would absolutely love to write a story set in the 1920s; that would be too fabulous (or should I say, that would be the bee’s knees!). I love historical fiction that’s set in the twentieth century, in part because it feels modern enough to be accessible but old enough that it truly is part of our history at this point. I’ve already written a turn-of-the-century collaborative novella with Emily B. Cataneo called “In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire” (editor’s note: In Chiral Mad 4 anthology), and I also wrote a Dust Bowl vampire story way back in 2014 that appeared in History and Horror, Oh My! That one was a lot of fun to research and write, though I haven’t reread that story in years now. It was only my third published story, but it was one I was very proud of having pulled off. As for collaboration, I’ve already done one as mentioned above, so I certainly think lightening could strike twice with that! A definite possibility! 😊


Erin: Last year you published your novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, AND your collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, which went on to garner a Bram Stoker nomination in Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. First of all, how much did that help to validate your writing for you? Secondly, how hard was it to wait after that exhilaration for your novel, The Rust Maidens, to come out since it was almost a year later? Did you feel excited or added pressure?

Gwendolyn: I do have to say that 2017 was a very exciting year for my writing. To have two books come out in the same year and to have those be my very first books really was an amazing experience. The Stoker nomination just blew me away. It still feels like a dream that it even happened. I definitely had a great time with the releases of both And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and Pretty Marys All in a Row.

And Her Smile

That being said, it was nice to have almost a full year before the release of The Rust Maidens. It gave me some room to keep promoting the first two books and also to take a bit of a breather from the constant promotion cycle. I always worry that if an author releases too many titles too quickly, readers will just burn out. Even one book a year could be a lot. Releasing three books in about a year and a half is certainly intense. Still, it has been so exciting to see The Rust Maidens make its way into the world. A first novel is a truly wonderful and unique experience for an author. It’s great to be experiencing that right now. I’m trying to savor it, because I know it will all be over so fast.

Erin: What have you felt about the overall positive early response to The Rust Maidens (besides of course feeling wonderful). For instance, are they hitting the notes of what you wanted to convey via The Rust Maidens? Why and how do you feel your writing is impacting others besides your beautiful prose? Any themes people are particularly drawn to in this novel and/or in your other work?

Gwendolyn: I feel so very fortunate that the early response has been so positive. No matter how much you toil over a story, you never know what’s going to happen when you set it loose on the world.

Though it’s probably not super surprising for a writer to say this, The Rust Maidens is a very personal book for me, and I’d been so close to it for so long that by the end of the process, I was afraid that it had become too personal. That maybe I would be the only one that would be able to understand what I was trying to accomplish with the story. It’s been a very good feeling to see that readers have really connected to the novel.

A theme that I often come back to is coming of age as well as body horror. This novel combines both as we follow these girls who are undergoing this profound metamorphosis. Also, while it’s not there quite as much as in my other work, there is something of a fairy tale element in the novel. It’s more of a Gothic kind of fairy tale, but there is this rather mythic quality that I worked to interweave throughout the book, so I feel like that will be familiar to those who have read my other stories.

Erin: The Rust Maidens is also essentially a coming of age story, as you noted. Growing into a young adult in the 1980s is certainly different than now. What lessons do you think people in the 80s learned that those of us coming into our twenties in the 90s or 2000s haven’t and then what did we learn that those now aren’t?

Gwendolyn: One thing that always strikes me as a huge generational gap is technology. While obviously every generation can say that to some extent, with the internet, it’s become a very big shift. Those growing up in the 1980s wouldn’t have had the access to immediate knowledge and virtual connection with one another like we have now. That being said, today, we’re more likely to take that instant gratification for granted. We also often have more trouble today connecting in real-life with one another because we’ve become so accustomed to an online world, which can offer the illusion of social support but sometimes doesn’t always pan out the way we hope.  

postcard cleveland

’80s Postcard!

Erin: Do you like to read coming of age novels yourself? Any favorites? Any of them inspire you to try your hand at writing yours?

Gwendolyn: It’s been over twenty years now, but when I was much younger, I remember reading Stephen King’s The Body after seeing Stand by Me, the film adaptation of the story. I loved both versions so much, and there was something so haunting about them that it made me feel like adolescence might be somewhat ghostly and strange unto itself. That’s probably the first coming-of-age book I recall reading, but it’s certainly not the last. I also adore Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ray Bradbury can make coming of age look so haunted and enchanting as well.  

something wicked

Erin: So back to discovering how Cleveland fit in your novel…it feels different than any other city, at least to me. What are some only Cleveland-scene things you put into your novel?

Gwendolyn: I feel like the main thing about Cleveland that appears in the novel is the landscape. The lake, the river, the skyline with the former steel flame. I wanted the book to have a feel of a working class Ohio neighborhood, so some of the details are more general to any factory town in the Rust Belt. Of course, though, Lake Erie is definitely front and center. My own alma mater, Case Western Reserve, also gets a shout-out in the novel. There are certainly little details here and there that firmly place it in Cleveland, but at the same time, I hope that it’s accessible to those who have never been to the Midwest.  

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Photo by Erin Al-Mehairi, summer 2018 / Cleveland Skyline Against Lake Erie near Edgewater Beach

Erin: You live near Pittsburgh now, on an abandoned horse farm, which sounds like a story within itself, but what do you miss about home? What are some of your own personal favorite things about Cleveland and the surrounding areas?

Gwendolyn: Honestly, I just love Ohio in general. I adore the city skylines, the abandoned landscapes, the lakes, the rivers. Heck, I don’t even mind the endless cornfields. It’s certainly a place I will always consider home. Cleveland is wonderful specifically for how haunted it feels. The Flats are strange and fabulous, and in my teens and twenties, I saw so many great bands there. There’s Tower City downtown, which always seemed so nostalgic to me, just like the shopping spots you’d see in retro Christmas cards and ads. And since I went to Case Western, that holds a special place in my heart too.

tower city aug 2018

Photo by Erin Al-Mehairi. View of Tower City, lit up in Red, White, and Blue for Cleveland Indians that night. I was there for Shakespeare Festival!

 

Erin: The question everyone asks, but I really want to know. WHAT’S NEXT? What are you working on now or are looking forward to working on?

Gwendolyn: I’m finishing up some short fiction right now, and then I’ll be working for a bit on a new novelette. After that, I’ll be looking once again to outlining and drafting a new novel. I don’t want to discuss too many specifics, since I’m so superstitious about talking about a project before it’s fully formed, but I’m super excited about the new story ideas I’m working on. So stay tuned, I guess!

Erin: I really should close this interview before night falls. Thanks very much for patiently answering all my questions and congratulations on all your success! We have more to talk about another time, so I hope you’ll come back to the site. Also, I can’t wait to finally get to meet up for real coffee with you in the coming year!  😊

Gwendolyn: Thank you so much for having me, Erin! This has been so much fun talking with you!

Gwendolyn Kiste, Biography –

Gwendolyn Kiste HeadshotGwendolyn Kiste is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and her debut horror novel, The Rust Maidens. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, and LampLight, among other publications. A native of Ohio, she resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can find her online at gwendolynkiste.com.

Find Her on Social Media –

facebook.com/gwendolynkiste

twitter.com/gwendolynkiste

The Rust Maidens, Synopsis –

The Rust Maidens Cover FinalSomething’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

Find it –

GoodReads
Amazon
Barnes and Noble 

Or ask your local independent bookstore to order it for you!

*BE SURE TO STOP BY THE HORROR TREE site for a follow-up interview I had with Gwendolyn, but this time focus more on the craft of writing since The Horror Tree is an author’s resource website!*

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