Today I welcome Sarah Read, author of the recently released The Bone Weaver’s Orchard and editor-in-chief of Pantheon Magazine, to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so happy she’s joined me and we find out we have quite a bit in common! You’ll find Sarah to be outgoing, kind, and one smart cookie. I hope you enjoy learning about her debut novel (a Gothic horror mystery for adult and YA readers), what she learned writing her first novel, and tips and advice from an editor on submission processes.
Hi Sarah, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so happy you’ve joined us. Come in and we’ll make some coffee, grab some cupcakes from the counter, and settle in for a chat. How do you take your coffee?
Sarah: Hello, Erin! Thank you so much for having me! I’ll take my coffee with milk, no sugar, please. But yeah, I’ll have a whole bunch of these cupcakes!
Erin: Aren’t cupcakes the best?! I made them this morning. I hope you like cherry chocolate! It’s a new favorite of mine.. And milk in your coffee it is, I’ll pour it in. Let’s get started! Your newest release is The Bone Weaver’s Orchard. Tell us about it in your own words.
Sarah: My book is a Gothic horror mystery. There’s an old abbey, which is now the Old Cross School for Boys. There is young Charley and his collection of insects and arachnids—and the other students who don’t care for Charley’s pets. There are secret passages and missing persons and abandoned structures and unnecessary surgeries. There are some old legends come to life, and new legends come to death, and, I hope, some dread.
Erin: This sounds like the perfect read for me. I LOVE Gothic more than just about anything and this sounds like a lot of fun. I read somewhere that this can be read by both YA and adult readers. Can you tell us about that?
Sarah: I hope that it can! I wrote this for the teen me who was bored with the teen horror, which wasn’t very scary, but annoyed by the adult horror, which was full of adults doing adult things. I keep the point of view YA, but I don’t pull any punches on the horror. So far, I’ve heard positive things from both age groups, so I hope I’ve succeeded. Teens don’t need their books softened. They are better equipped to handle horror than adults are. They still believe it can’t happen to them. Adults don’t just know it can—we’re half expecting it.
Erin: I am in love with cover (I think Miko?)!!! I have to admit I agreed to reading this book BEFORE I found out it had spiders. I’ll still read it, but color me creeped out since I have arachnophobia! Does this have anything to do with your own enjoyment of knitting? Spinning webs of your own through your writing? Why spiders?
Sarah: Oooh, yeah. Oops. Yeah, Erin, there are some spiders. Sorry about that. I mean, I’m not, but… Heh. And yes! Spinning, weaving, knitting—these are words that have been borrowed from textiles and applied to story since as far back as we have written records and fabric on our bodies. It’s why, I think, so many spider deities are storytellers, as well. It all…weaves together.
I do love spiders. I used to be afraid of them, but I was forced through some immersion therapy just by virtue of the fact that spiders love me. I find one touching me more days than not. I find them in my clothes and hair. They’ll be chilling out on the light switch I’m about to reach for. They’ll be suspended in the air in the space where my face will soon be. My car is always full of spiders. They scamper across the wheel as I drive. Basically, my options were to get over being afraid, or go entirely mad. I suppose I chose both.
Erin: Haha!!! I live in Ohio in the woods, so I know what you mean! I love the weaving element. What other themes and elements are in your books for both teens and adults? As the mother of daughters 15 and 11, this seems like a book they’d enjoy with me?
Sarah: I hope that they would! There are some overall themes that I think teens will identify with. Adapting to a new school, a new home. On the adult side of that—wondering if there ever is any such thing as home—is it something that can be made, if you can’t find it? There are conflicts with bullies and cruel teachers, homework that must take a back seat to life’s bigger problems, like a missing friend. There are a lot of references to the parent-child bond, but most of the examples here are not pleasant. Of course, they’re all just pretend. Reality can be much worse.
Erin: I think they would love it, not only the themes, but the adventure/mystery element. This is your debut novel, I believe? What else have you written? How did writing short fiction help or hinder the process for writing a novel?
Sarah: It is my debut novel! It’s the first novel I wrote, though there have been others since. Most of my work up till now has been short fiction. I still love to write short stories, though I’m finding more and more of my ideas accordion-ing out into longer structures and becoming novel outlines instead. I’m not sure having written short fiction helped or hindered at all. I like the freedom that short fiction gives me to experiment, and I love being able to languish in the room given by a novel’s structure. I do find sometimes, though, that my brain is stuck in one mode, and it becomes difficult to execute the other. For example, I’m very much in novel mode right now, but I just had to write a short story on a deadline and it was much more difficult than it’s been in the past. For the most part, though, I love doing both.
Erin: I LOVE to write short stories too!! Where do you get the inspiration from for your books and stories?
Sarah: Well, everywhere, I think! It’s a matter of staying observant and engaged with the world when you’re out in it, then hiding away so you can regurgitate everything onto the page. I find a lot of inspiration in the gothic classics my grandmother gave me as a child. I have shelves full of books we’ve shared.
Erin: Yes, I love the classic Gothic books too. It’s so nice you had her to share that with. What other tips and tricks can you say you learned for yourself (or that can help others) while writing a much longer work like this novel?
Sarah: I’m not sure, having written only a few books, that I’ve really figured anything out, haha. One thing I did notice, though, was that with a novel, writing it is only about 1/5 the work. When I write a short story, the first draft is probably half the work, and then revision is half. But novels are beasts to revise. The work is exponential. And when you fix one thing, it sets off a chain reaction of other things you then need to fix. When I was revising Bone Weaver’s Orchard, there was a continuity error with the time of day/amount of light/chiming of a bell. By fixing it in the scene at the beginning, it introduced a new error in the next scene. Fixing that made another. Till I had to add an entire new scene to bump the events to the next day to make the timing work. Then the details in those scenes had to have their cause/effect…. I hated myself there for a few weeks. Oh, and another tip: don’t set your first book in a labyrinth of secret passages! I had to draw a lot of blueprints to make sure I wasn’t breaking the laws of physics.
Erin: That’s so cool though! I love secret passages in books but I can see how that all could get confusing! Who or what is your favorite character? How did you create? Struggles or successes?
Sarah: I’m not sure I can pick! Of course I love Charley. And his bugs. Sam was a lot of fun to write. I found that the characters emerged as I wrote. While I did try to plan things for them, they developed in ways that often changed my plans. It made it fun to write—the story surprised me as it progressed. But it did make for heavier revisions later, as I had to go back and correct inconsistencies and make sure their voices didn’t change too much. For example, Sam started out much older. As things unfolded, I realized I needed him to be a younger man. So there were a few things I needed to rewrite to make that work earlier in the story. These days I plan a lot more ahead of time. The characters still change my plans, though.
Erin: You’re a fellow editor (you edit Pantheon Magazine and anthologies, correct?) and writer as well. I enjoy meshing the two together in my life, even if they are distinctive of each other. How do you feel each one lends to the other?
Sarah: Yes, I’ve been editing professionally for ten years, now. I started off with a large publishing house as an intern, then became an associate editor. While I did that I also began editing Pantheon Magazine on my own time. I left the big publishing company when my youngest was born. I still work for Pantheon, though we’re going on a short hiatus after the release of our Gorgon anthology.
Editing and writing really are two separate creatures. Reading thousands of submissions does help me see what does or doesn’t work in a story, and being a writer helps me understand and empathize with the writers I edit. And when I submit my own work, I have a clearer understanding of the behind-the-desk process, so I’m able to ease some of my writerly anxiety that way. Rejections don’t sting as much, because I never take them personally—because they’re never sent that way. I think I’m also able to edit my own work with more detachment, now. Nothing is precious! Red pen it all!
Erin: What advice as a magazine and anthology editor do you want to give to newer authors as far as submitting stories? How do you get your stories the best look? What do you want to tell veteran authors?
Sarah: Every editor is so different that it’s hard to give general submission advice. The old basic rules still ring true: follow the guidelines, stick to the theme, don’t be a jerk. Don’t get antsy and submit your work before it’s truly finished. I’ve rejected a lot of stories because they just needed one more draft, and we didn’t have time in the publication schedule to allow for a revise-and-resubmit. It’s not only new authors doing this, either. In fact, I think new authors are more likely to take extra care with getting things perfect.
I always like to remind authors that I really, truly want to love their story. I’m not looking for a reason to reject it. I open each story (and I do read every submission that comes in) with the hope that it’ll be exactly what I want. And I’d say easily 75% of the rejections I send are because of a mismatch of theme or tone.
Erin: Having edited an anthology myself, I agree completely with the last statement. I had so many stories that I knew had been written for other anthologies already released that I had read – and must have been rejected – so were submitting to any open call. They didn’t fit the theme I had at all – Gothic by the way!
I believe you have just recently also had an anthology published that you curated and edited? What is it called, who published it, and what can readers find in its pages?
Sarah: Yes! Pantheon Magazine just put out a new anthology called GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE. It contains 42 pieces of flash fiction on the theme of transformation. They’re new myths—some horror, some fantasy, some dark, some hopeful. Change takes many forms. We were lucky enough to get an amazing lineup for this book. We had around 700 submissions and so many were wonderful. My shortlist wasn’t at all short. I think there were over 150 pieces in my maybe pile. Writers really knocked it out of the park—it was agony narrowing the list down. I’m so, so proud of the final result. It just released on February 15 and I can’t wait for people to dig in!
Erin: I’m looking forward to reading it. Another eye-catching cover by Daniele Serra! Flash is something I love to write and read. What was your biggest challenge and your biggest success with it?
Sarah: We did not anticipate the high volume of submissions that we would get for this book, haha. We had to completely overhaul the publication schedule several times so that we could give each submission its due. In the end, it took me six months just to get through it all. Much longer than I liked making people wait for responses—but the submissions were just so good that I didn’t want to rush through. I definitely think it was worth the wait! The final lineup is amazing. So many talented authors sent us their work. The TOC is packed with a diverse lineup of incredibly skilled storytellers.
Erin: I was thrilled to find out that like me you also handwrite your work! People think I am CRAZY. Mostly now I’ve adapted to be writing mostly short stories, poetry, interviews, etc. by hand – or plot ideas or segments in books – on paper with pencil and save the big stuff for the computer to save re-typing time. But I hear you handwrite everything! Tell us about that and your use of ink pens. I adore writing utensils and I want to hear all about it. Any favorite pens you like or would suggest?
Sarah: People think I’m crazy, too! Well. They’re not wrong. I do handwrite everything, even novels and this interview! I usually write with fountain pens, yes. I first started using one in high school, but I really got hooked in college, when I had a professor who wrote with a dip pen and inkwell. He was the coolest human ever, to my nerdy eyes. We bonded over Chaucer and writing instruments.
I’m writing this with a Faber-Castell Neo Slim pen with blue ink in it. Just a standard blue, as this is my work pen right now. Often I use bright orange or sepia tones. Or Turquoise and neon pink. One of my jobs as a stationery enthusiast is writing reviews for Penaddict.com. I’m currently forming opinions on this pen for review. My favorite fountain pens are Sailor Pro Gear Slims, in the bright, fun colors. My favorite notebooks are Midori MD books, especially in the B6 size. I do love pencils, too! So you have to tell me what your favorite pencils are. I’ve developed a love for the Palomino Blackwing ones!
Erin: I like Faber-Castell anything – pens, pencils, markers. I like Ticonderoga pencils – I think the black are cool. But I love to find any pencil with cool décor or style, even if cheap (or stolen from my daughters!). I love orange and turquoise too and writing for a pen site sounds amazing!! I also love any single notebook I can find. I probably should start being more selective. I just love the feel of hand-writing my work. It’s just something that makes my brain think more creatively.
Moving on to talking about Women in Horror Month: Who are some fellow Women in Horror you admire or like the works of? What books have you enjoyed?
Sarah: Oh, there are so many. SO MANY. I’ll list a few authors I’ve enjoyed recently, because the comprehensive list is miles long. Gwendolyn Kiste is amazing. Her collection and new novel are both reading essentials. Jordan Kurella is a genderqueer author whose work is constantly knocking me over with its depth of feeling. Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth is one of the best horror novels I’ve read, hands down. And if you haven’t yet ventured into Sara Tantlinger’s poetry, that needs to be fixed asap. Gemma Files is one of my perennial favorites and she has two new collections out in the past year! And Carmen Maria Machado is writing some of the world’s best contemporary dark fairy tales that will twist your heart in knots.
Erin: With all women out there must do, especially those of us keeping track of kids and a job too, how do you fit writing into your life? Do you have a plan or structure or is it as lightning strikes?
Sarah: It very much depends on the day! This week isn’t looking good, haha. Now that my youngest has started some preschool, I did manage to find a few hours a week where he is at school and I’m not at my day job. Sometimes I get to use those to write! Otherwise, it’s often after everyone else is asleep, or in the five minutes between this and that. I always have a notebook and pen (or five) on me in case I get a few quiet minutes to scribble.
Erin: Have you had any challenges as far as being a female writer in the horror genre? What and how did you overcome them? Advice for others?
Sarah: Sometimes, yes, though on the whole, I find the genre very welcoming and supportive. At least, the nice people are—and who would want to work with the others anyway? There have been a few times when I’ve received “this isn’t the tone we’re looking for” rejections for anthologies that then came out to be all cis white men on the TOC. I once got asked out while trying to discuss business with a male editor. I do feel at times as though men in the industry get recognized for their accomplishments immediately and remain visible while women must prove themselves over and over with each new publication, then disappear from the radar until the next thing comes out. I think things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go. For the last few years, I’ve had the rule that I would not buy any anthology that was more than 50% straight white guys. I’ve saved a lot of money! Too much.
Erin: That’s a great rule!
How about overall books and movies you have enjoyed? Any gender or genre.
Sarah: Guillermo del Toro movies are my favorite movies, with The Orphanage at the top of that list. Probably after that comes a long list of historical dramas like Poldark and Downton Abbey! Any PBS or BBC adaptation of classic lit, especially Dickens. I love a lot of non-horror. And true crime documentaries. 😀
My favorite dude writers are Steven Graham Jones, Steve Toase, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Bracken MacLeod, Richard Thomas, and a bunch of others. And they’re all wonderful humans, too. Much love for them!
Erin: We have so much in common. I loved Shape of Water. I also LOVE historical dramas, PBS and BBC adaptations, Dickens, mysteries, and true crime. I am well-rounded and always felt like I didn’t belong because of that. It’s awesome to know that more women out there like a wide range of things like I do! Oh – also SGJ and Malerman are two of my very favorite male authors.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing or working?
Sarah: If I’m not writing, reading, working, doing chores, playing with my kids, or playing with pens, I’m likely listening to podcasts while working with yarn. I knit, crochet, spin, and weave—anything to do with string, really! I also design my own crochet patterns. I have almost as many published crochet patterns as I do fiction pieces, haha. But, as the above might imply, I rarely have time for that hobby anymore.
Erin: That’s amazing, but yes, I can gather for sure that time for all things is on short supply.
What’s next for you in the next year or two? What are your goals for 5-10 years down the line?
Sarah: Well, I’ll be traveling a bit—visiting StokerCon in Grand Rapids and WisCon in Madison in May. I’ll also be at the Chicago Pen Show in May. May is going to be awesome! I’m also hoping to make it to StokerCon 2020 in Scarborough next year. It’s happening just a few miles from where my book takes place—I think I need to be there!
I have a few short stories that should be out this year, and my debut collection will be out from Trepidatio toward the end of the year. It has a few dozen of my favorite previously published pieces and a handful of new ones, including a new novelette. I’m also hoping to finish up edits and start pitching a new novel soon! And I’m planning to finish my current novel WIP this year, as well.
As for the next 5-10 years, my goals are to get an agent and write a ton more books. I have an idea for a series that I’m itching to get started on, and I’ve also outlined a prequel to The Bone Weaver’s Orchard that I’d love to write. Whatever the case, I know I’ll stay busy! I don’t know how not to!
Erin: That all sounds like a solid plan. I am anxious to see what you do! Thank you so much for hanging out with me and chatting today! I have really enjoyed getting to know you better. Let’s sit back and relax and have a few more cupcakes!
Sarah: Thank you so much, Erin! It’s been lovely chatting with you! I will happily take care of the rest of these cupcakes. 😀
The Bone Weaver’s Orchard, Synopsis –
He’s run away home. That’s what they say every time one of Charley Winslow’s friends vanishes from The Old Cross School for Boys.
It’s just a tall tale. That’s what they tell Charley when he sees the ragged grey figure stalking the abbey halls at night.
When Charley follows his pet insects to a pool of blood behind a false wall, he could run and let those stones bury their secrets. He could assimilate, focus on his studies, and wait for his father to send for him. Or he could walk the dark tunnels of the school’s heart, scour its abandoned passages, and pick at the scab of a family’s legacy of madness and murder.
With the help of Sam Forster, the school’s gardener, and Matron Grace, the staff nurse, Charley unravels Old Cross’ history and exposes a scandal stretching back to when the school was a home with a noble family and a dark secret—a secret that still haunts its halls with scraping steps, twisting its bones into a new generation of nightmares.
“There’s a secret in this book. It’s stunning. It’s dark. And it’s as satisfying as any unknown a horror fan could could ever hope to unearth. So well written, so well paced, Sarah Read’s The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is a thriller with class.” —Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box
Sarah Read, Biography –
Sarah Read is a dark fiction writer in the frozen north of Wisconsin. Her short stories can be found in Gamut, Black Static, and other places, and in various anthologies including Suspended in Dusk, BEHOLD! Oddities Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, and The Best Horror of the Year vol 10.
Her debut novel The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is now out from Trepidatio Publishing, and her debut collection will follow in late 2019. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pantheon Magazine and of their associated anthologies, including Gorgon: Stories of Emergence.
Thank you to Sarah for joining us and to you, readers, for stopping by as well. I appreciate your support of #HookonWiHM and #WomeninHorrorMonth!