Category Archives: Q and A with Authors

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!

coffee and brownies

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!

The Rust Maidens Cover Final

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.

cleveland river

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.     

Pretty-Marys-All-in-a-Row

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.

Kiste (1).jpeg

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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#HookInterview: Cemetery Travel Writer and Horror Author Loren Rhoads #LOHF

As a special Halloween treat, I have had Loren Rhoads, author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Bram Stoker nominated editor of the past magazine Morbid Curiosity, drop by to speak with us about her spooky and memorable cemetery travels as well as her other writing. I wish I would have asked her even more questions, but I hope after you read this, you’ll go learn more about Loren yourself too. Feel free to leave comments below for Loren or me if you like!

Enjoy!

Hi, Loren! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s a favorite time of year for those of us who love the spooky things in life—October! My daughters and I have baked some cupcakes for your arrival, chocolate icing with cookie gravestones on the top. Let’s sit out on the back porch and watch the leaves change while we sip hot apple cider and share a few of them.

Graveyard-Cupcakes-4

Though I wish I actually baked these, not this time. LOL! I pulled this photo from the net. We’ll use our imaginations!

Loren: Thank you, Erin! That sounds lovely.  I just love this time of year: my birthday is in October, the leaves change even in California, where autumn is really subtle, and one of my favorite colors is pumpkin orange. October just makes me happy.

Erin: I agree. And happy belated birthday! I’m glad I’ve made cupcakes then. 🙂 Now that we’ve had a few bites, I want to ask you a few questions.

Q: You love to travel to cemeteries and you’ve put out several books filled with essays and destinations for famous tombs and gravesites. Tell us about your books and how did this obsession start?

A:  More than 20 years ago I edited a book of cemetery essays called Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. It came out of my fascination with the different ways people interact with cemeteries.

That book led to a monthly column about my travels to cemeteries around the world for Gothic.Net. I worked there for 4-1/2 years, long enough to put together a collection of my essays that I called Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemeteries. (The second edition came out in Summer of 2017.)

To promote the first edition of that book, I started a blog called CemeteryTravel.com. It focuses on a Cemetery of the Week each Wednesday, plus reviews of cemetery books I’ve read, and travel trips to encourage people to visit cemeteries.

Because of my blog, I was contacted by Black Dog & Leventhal to write 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. It’s a heavily illustrated full-color guide to cemeteries around the world that welcome visitors. That book came out in October 2017.

My whole cemetery obsession started the year my husband and I ended up in London by accident.  We visited Highgate Cemetery and I simply fell in love.

Egyptian_Avenue_Highgate_Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery, Entrance to Egyptian Ave, West / Wiki commons

Q: What is the most interesting grave you’ve visited and why?

A: A couple of years ago, I finally got to Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona. There was one grave marker I wanted to see above all others: El Beso de Muerto. It’s a huge free-standing sculpture of a skeletal death bending over a beautiful young man to touch her teeth to his brow. It did not disappoint!  Just imagine choosing that as the image you wil confront each time you visit your loved one’s grave.

Loren Barcelona

Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona / Photo credit Loren Rhoades

Q: The most frightening and why?

A: I don’t know if I’ve ever visited a frightening grave. Maybe the saddest graves I’ve ever visited were outside the concentration camp Terezin (called Theresienstadt by the Nazis). The gravestones had numbers instead of names, because the corpses couldn’t be identified. That graveyard made the Holocaust real to me in a way that reading about it never did.

Q: Which ones should a traveler put on their itinerary?

A: In the US, everyone should see Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles, and Saint Louis #1 in New Orleans.  Beyond that, there are so many beautiful, fascinating places. Forest Hills in Madison was really pretty. Lake View in Seattle is spectacular. In fact, I can suggest 199 cemeteries everyone should see!

Erin Notes: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is buried at Mount Auburn! This photo is from an old Publisher Weekly column from Alison Morris.

longfellow1

Q: What is the strangest thing you’ve encountered while wandering through graveyards?

A: I went to Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic for my birthday one year.  During the Middle Ages, the graveyard there was one of the biggest in Europe. Someone brought dirt back from the Holy Land to sprinkle around the graveyard, to consecrate it.  People came to believe that if they were buried in dirt that had been touched by holy dirt, they would be guaranteed to entrance to Heaven. People came to Kutna Hora to die, just so they could be buried there.  At a certain point, all the bones in the graveyard were exhumed and placed in the crypt of the mortuary chapel. A woodcarver came along and organized the bones into a chandelier, a couple of chalices, a coat of arms, and four enormous pyramids. Visiting that amazing, beautiful chapel was very thought-provoking.

Q: I mentioned to you that I visited Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland this summer, resting place of President Garfield, Rockefeller, and even Eliot Ness, to name a few. How was trip? What did you see or do there that caught your interest?

A: I visited Lake View the November my dad was at the Cleveland Clinic getting an artificial valve placed in his heart. I found the Images of America guide to the cemetery in the hospital gift shop, which inspired me to borrow my mom’s car one afternoon to explore. I got to see the inside of the Wade Chapel, which was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany who designed those beautiful stained glass windows.  Tiffany didn’t want his delicate murals to be discolored by candle smoke, so he talked to his friend Thomas Edison about wiring the chapel for electricity. It was the first electrified building in Cleveland.

Erin Note: I love Wade Chapel! It’s beautiful and peaceful. I am a Tiffany fanatic and so, since there are many in Cleveland I try to seek them all out, and I had to see this one. Here’s one of my own photos of the window from this summer.

Tiffany Window Wade Chapel

Tiffany Window in Wade Chapel, Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland Ohio / Photo credit Erin Al-Mehairi, July 2018

Q: What do you write about in your essays and stories about cemeteries? What do you think readers are most interested in?

A: I write about everything: history, fame and infamy, iconography and artwork, horticulture, wildlife, ghosts… Cemeteries are incredibly complex mirrors of the societies in which they exist. There’s something to appeal to everyone.

Q: How has the reception been for your 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and subsequent titles? Will you continue to write them?

A: 199 Cemeteries has done really well.  Last I heard, the book was close to selling out its first edition and earning out its advance. I’ve already turned in changes for a second edition, so I’m looking forward to seeing that soon.

Since that book out, I’ve been working on a book about my local pioneer cemeteries.  San Francisco, where I live, was founded in 1776 by the Spanish, but the area exploded in population during the Gold Rush. Those original cemeteries are old and fragile now, threatened by earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides, so I feel like they need to be recorded before they vanish.

After that, I don’t know. No one’s done a definitive guide to the cemeteries of the California Gold Country. Maybe I’ll get to write 199 More Cemeteries to See Before You Die.

199 Cemeteries

Q: Are there special events or visits (or both) that you do over Halloween pertaining to your interest and writing of cemeteries stories?

A: I’ve done a bunch of cemetery lectures in the last couple of weeks: at Cypress Lawn Cemetery, the City College of San Francisco, and at a literary festival in San Francisco called the Litquake. October is always my busiest month. I only got to tour one cemetery this year!

Q: I bet it is the busiest time of year, but sounds amazing. Do you feel any importance writing about graveyards or is it all just for fun and travel?

A: A lot of people write about cemeteries, from historians to cemetery tour guides to genealogists, but I’ve been blessed to be able to combine my love of travel with my fascination for graveyards.

Q: What’s on your own bucket list for graveyards to travel to?

A: My bucket list grows at the bottom!  I’d like to see the Taj Mahal and the pyramids in Egypt and Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia, and the churchyard of the old leper colony on Molokai in Hawaii.  I’ll be traveling to visit cemeteries until I die.

Wish You Were Here cover

Q: Do you write other things or any fiction? What else have your written or are working on writing?

A: Thank you for asking this! I’ve written a series of stories about a young witch named Alondra DeCourval. She travels the world, fighting supernatural monsters. This year I’ve put out three ebook collections – Alondra’s Experiments, Alondra’s Investigations, and Alondra’s Adventures – each with three previously published stories. They’re available on Amazon.

Thorn Coyle, author of the Witches of Portland series, calls the Alondra stories “Sexy, spooky, fast-paced urban fantasy. There’s magic at the heart of each of these tales. Alondra herself is magic wrapped in a human guise.”

In addition, I’m just about to dive into a novel for Nanowrimo. It’s a sequel to my succubus/angel novel Lost Angels, which was published a couple of years ago. It’s time to tell the rest of Lorelei’s story.

Loren testimonial

Q: What are some of the best books in horror by women you’ve read over the last year?

A: I’ve been concentrating on getting books off my TBR shelf this year, which has meant reading a lot of nonfiction. That said, I have E. M. Markoff’s The Deadbringer ahead of me, which I’m really looking forward to. Blood Ink, Dana Fredsti’s second Lilith book, will be coming out next spring. I’ll read that as soon as it’s out.

Q: Any plans for Halloween?

A: My kid is outgrowing trick or treating, so this may be the last year we go.  I’m planning to enjoy it as long as I can.

Erin: It was probably my last child’s last true Trick-or Treat too this year, but she has so much fun she said she’s never stopping.

Thank you so much for joining me, Loren! I’m a huge fan of visiting graveyards and cemeteries, which came to me at a young age when I was doing a lot of genealogy research with my family! They are so peaceful at times and full of history. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I hope to read more of your work and see you back here again one day! We’ll share more cupcakes!

Loren: Thank you so much for having me come by, Erin.  I love to meet kindred spirits!

Erin: Me too!

Loren Rhoads Biography –

Loren

Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.

She is also the author of a space opera trilogy, co-author of a love story between a succubus and an angel, and is working on a series of stories about a witch who travels the world to fight monsters. You can see a longer biography detailing all her work and activities here.

You can keep up with her overall at lorenrhoads.com.

Author Photo Credit: S.G. Browne

Thank you for reading!

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Fresh Off the Hook: Interview with Janet Benton, Historical Author of Lilli de Jong

Last summer I read and reviewed the wonderful book, Lilli de Jong, by Janet Benton. You can read my thoughts on the book in my review I posted last year, right here. I really enjoyed this historical fiction title about an unwed mother in 1883 Pennsylvania who is banished from her Quaker home, and yet, never gives up her fight.

Many others enjoyed it as well as it acquired numerous accolades following its release such as being an finalist for The Langum Prize in American Historial Fiction 2017, a GoodReads Semifinalist, Choice Awards 2017, in Historical Fiction, and many more which you can find below.

Now, in celebration of the paperback release last week, with a new cover you can see below, Janet stops by the site for an interview. Congratulations, Janet! 

Readers, enjoy the interview – it’s fascinating! Come on by and enjoy the discussion and a cool drink with us.

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Paperback Cover

Hi Janet! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m glad you could drop by Ohio today, which isn’t far from you, we are neighbors to the Pennsylvania folks. In fact, I meant to tell you I saw that you went to college at Oberlin. I live just 45 minutes from there and frequent it often. Such a wonderful place.

Can I interest you in some peach iced tea? If you’d prefer another drink, let me know what you’d like. We could sit on the porch since it is summer, but not so hot at the moment. My 14-year-old has been baking muffins over summer break. Mostly blueberry.

Janet: Thanks, Erin! Lovely to know you’re near Oberlin. I haven’t returned since graduation but hope to do so in 2018.

Erin: Have a seat and I’ll pour the iced tea. Let’s talk about your book, Lilli de Jong. This was your debut novel, but yet, you seem like such a seasoned writer. As an editor, both freelance and for a publisher, I read and edit many books and submissions. So I say it with all honesty that your debut work was written with an experienced hand. Have you been writing awhile? When did you start to write Lilli?

Janet: I’ve been telling stories since before I could write, and I’ve spent three decades so far as an editor, writer, and teacher of writing, so I’ve got a lot of experience with words. I started to write Lilli, in tiny bits, a few lines now and then, about a dozen years before the novel was finished.

Erin: I know most writers don’t want to be asked about their inspiration, but I truly would love to let readers into your mind. How did you decide to write this book?

Janet: While I had a newborn baby, I began to learn about mothers of the past, including unwed mothers who were forced by prejudice to give up their newborns, most of whom died. I also learned about the profession of wet nursing and found out that many unwed mothers became wet nurses as a way to earn a living, since they had milk. A voice began to come to me while I was nursing my baby! I go into much more detail in the author’s note at the end of the novel.

Erin: In your research, what was the one item you had most trouble pinning down or working into the puzzle or plot of the novel (without giving spoilers)?

Janet: I’m afraid the one thing that comes to mind would be a spoiler!

Erin: You researched in Germantown. What was that like now as compared to then? What did you find most fascinating?

Janet: There are many buildings still standing that Lilli would have seen (if she had been a real person) in 1883. But many more are gone—and most of all, the meadows, farms, and other relatively open spaces—even ponds and streams—are gone. The area had more small factories then, though, which no doubt created noise and pollution. Overall, it’s less prosperous now, and a lot more crowded.

Erin: I feel this book is so important to our generation and future generations in terms of women’s rights. What is your public stance on various portions of women’s rights and what do you hope to have readers learn about them through your book?

Janet: I am a committed feminist, which means I believe that someone’s sex should not affect their life prospects. I also know that our culture has to do a better job of supporting motherhood, with paid parental leave (for fathers, too) and many other ways of lessening the lifelong financial penalties that mothers pay.

Erin: Your character development is so strong. How did you get into their mind, especially those of Quakers, to really make Lilli and the others come alive off the page?

Janet: That’s the writer’s job—if you can’t do that, you won’t have much of a story. In the case of this novel, though, I only had to get into Lilli’s mind, since she is telling the story in her diary. Her mind and heart were places I loved finding my way into and living in while writing!

Erin: I felt so close to Lilli by the end and so admired her courage and strength. I am the mother of three and not once did I think I wouldn’t do the same! And yet, for so many women  it was so much worse even that what it ended up for Lilli. What stories did you come across that hurt your heart for women of this time period? How do you hope your work helps to share their trials?

Janet: Congratulations on being the mother of three! So many aspects of women’s lives at that time hurt my heart greatly. They couldn’t vote, for one thing. They were paid drastically less than men—the difference was even greater than it is today. Many working women were so poor—working six or seven days a week, 12-hour days—that they could hardly buy food and pay rent on a shared room. And if married, they faced issues related to keeping their earnings, getting a divorce, home ownership, rights to children, and so on. It was also terrible to read how restricted women’s lives were—public speaking was considered shameful, for instance, though many powerful women did it anyway, such as Lucretia Mott, the Grimke sisters, and Sojourner Truth. We still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing women equal rights in all aspects of civic life.

Erin: What plans do you have for more novels? Yes, I am hoping you write some!

Janet: I have several novels in process. I hope to be able to focus on a certain one, which at this point takes place in the present day, by December 2017—after three more months of frequent book events.

Erin: If you didn’t already answer, I saw that you have a degree in religion. I am assuming this helped you choose making your character, Lilli, a Quaker, but do you think you’ll write more books that have a religious bent?

Janet: I think it’s safe to say that everything I write is concerned with issues of meaning, such as, How do we make sense of suffering? What makes life worthwhile? What lessons do we learn from experience? What are our obligations to humans and the earth? How can we love one another better? What do we owe in exchange for this gift of life?

Erin: Also, I am curious, in studying religion, sometimes those seeped in religion did the most judging to the character in your book. How do we bring compassion to everyday lives now instead of judgment? How do we learn from the past?

Janet: Good questions! I think we learn from the past by imagining the lives of those who came before us—imagining them as full, real people, not so different from us. And as far as bringing compassion instead of judgement to what we see in our everyday lives, there’s a powerful message in the expression “There but for the grace of God go I.” Whether we think of God or fate or happenstance as the grace here, we could have ended up in the same difficult circumstance, had we faced the same challenges all along. This is always an accurate awareness to have in the face of others’ suffering. If you take that message to heart, it’s difficult not to have compassion.

Erin: Thanks so much for stopping by Janet. You’re welcome back anytime so keep me abreast of any new releases! Let’s have another blueberry muffin while we enjoy the summer breeze.

Janet: Thanks so much for inviting me, Erin! And thanks to your fourteen-year-old for the blueberry muffins.

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Hardback Cover

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 (Hardcover)
Paperback: July 10, 2018
Nan A. Talese
Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages

Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT.

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

Praise, Accolades, Awards –

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Purchase Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell’s

Praise for Lilli de Jong

“Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father’s selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father’s apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli’s story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother’s love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks.” – Library Journal, Starred Review

“A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history—a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies.” —Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era—and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read.” —Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

“A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time.” —Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker’s Children

“Janet Benton’s remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli’s sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold—though reader, be warned: Lilli’s story may break your heart.” —Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

“[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli’s fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society.” —Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

“The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it’s a testament to Benton’s skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist’s struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A heartrending debut . . . Benton’s exacting research fuels Lilli’s passionate, authentic voice that is ‘as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance’ . . . Lilli’s inspiring power and touching determination are timeless.” —Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a mother’s love.” —Booklist

“I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It’s not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it’s also important . . . Lilli’s life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today.” —Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

“Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!” —Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl

“A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader.” —The Millions

03_Janet Benton.jpgAuthor Janet Benton, Biography

Janet Benton’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television.

She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories.

She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton’s website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

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Interview: Historical Novelist Mary Sharratt on Ecstasy, a novel of Alma Mahler

It’s always a happy day here when critically-acclaimed historical novelist Mary Sharratt, who has been featured here before on her books Iluminations and The Dark Lady, stops by for a chat! We welcome her to talk about her new book of 2018, Ecstasy, which I loved – but I love all Mary’s books, each one different, but wholly mindful of women’s place in history. Ecstasy was an Amazon Book of the Month, a New York Post Must Read Book, and a Chicago Review of Books Best New Book of April 2018.

“Both during her life and after, Viennese artist Alma Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) received countless love letters; Sharratt’s passionate novel is another, one notable for its focus on Alma’s artistic talent and early feminism as well as her beauty. . . . this winning historical novel offers an enjoyable portrait of an ambitious woman whose struggles are as relevant today as they were a century ago.” – Publisher’s Weekly

You’ll see my review within the next week. Today, Mary talks about her book on composer Alma Mahler and writing women back into history. This is one not to miss!

Enjoy!

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Hi Mary! It’s always such a pleasure to have you stop by Oh, for the Hook of a Book to talk about your books and all the women you’re highlighting in history. Finally, spring looks to have made its way to Ohio – we had sunlight and daffodils blooming this weekend. I’m sure we’re still in for rain, after an already long rain and snow season here, but I’ll take a few days of nice weather. I’m not sure how the weather is in England now, but of course, we both know that there is likely chance of rain.

So, let’s sit on the back porch together, listen to the birds in the trees as we speak, and I’ll pour you a Bellini – do you like them? We can have them with some assorted chocolates! I know it’s not afternoon tea, but it’s lovely weather, and there is no reason to not celebrate your wonderful book in such fashion with a chilled cocktail!

Mary: Ooh, a Bellini sounds absolutely delightful, not to mention the chocolate. I’m sure Alma would have loved it, too! And how lovely to sit on the porch after being snowed in in Minnesota on my recent book tour. It’s such a pleasure to be invited back to chat on your wonderful blog.

Erin: Alma did love champagne, I think! Oh, my goodness – I was so glad to hear you made it across the pond to the U.S. for your tour! But snow? I know, it’s really one of the first nice days we’ve had here.

Sit back and relax for a while with me and let’s talk about your newest book Ecstasy, a novel of Alma Mahler, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The cover is FABULOUS – since it’s the cover, the icing on your masterpiece, let’s start there. Who and how did they come up with the art design for such spectacular art? Do you think it’s done its job in helping to sell your book?

Mary: I am so grateful and excited about ECSTASY’S stunning cover. The designer is Martha Kennedy at HMH. She has created quite a few of my covers. She is a genius! The jacket image is from a poster by Alphonse Mucha that was originally created as a perfume ad! He was a contemporary of Alma and Gustav and hails from what is now the Czech Republic—then part of Austro-Hungary. Not only does the beautiful art reflect the Art Nouveau zeitgeist but I think it truly captures the mood of ECSTASY. The large white rectangles with the bold black typeface spelling out the title were meant to evoke piano keys and this motif continues inside the book under the chapter number headings. If you can bear to pull back the gorgeous jacket, you see that the book binding itself is just exquisite. There’s kind of a marbled effect on the cover. The book is such a beautiful object that it’s certainly a selling point! I hope my readers will find the writing inside as beautiful as the cover and design!

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Erin: Oh, I’m positive they will! As for the book content, written again in your elegant and engaging style, what drew you to write on Alma? What did you learn the most about her while researching that allowed you to so vividly create her character for readers?

Mary: As a lifelong Gustav Mahler fan, Alma has always fascinated me. Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.

Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!

But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma really was as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with. Once I sat down and did the research, an entirely new picture of Alma emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale cliché. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.

 

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from PBS.org

 

Erin: Of course, I know that in all the stories you’ve written of women, you’ve brought them back out from their hiding places on the fringes of history, and into the limelight for posterity. Do you feel you accomplished this with Alma? Changed mind, introduced to others, and created a historical legacy? Why?

Mary: I certainly hope so. I hope my readers will gain deeper insights into this ambitious, intelligent, fiercely loving, creative, and complex woman. I hope they will look up her music and appreciate her as a composer and life artist who was so much more than a femme fatale.

If you go to my website, you can download a resource sheet with a link to Alma’s complete recorded songs on YouTube.

Erin: Why do you feel it’s important to re-surface women such as Hildegard von Bingen or Alma Mahler or others? Each woman is different, admired for each of their own gifts and contributions, so what do you feel Alma offers to other women? What will she speak to some of them about?

Mary: I’m on a mission to write overlooked women back into history, because, to a large extent, women have been written out of history. And women like Alma who do stand out and clam their power are often the most maligned. Even an amazingly accomplished polymath like Hildegard von Bingen—she was a visionary abbess, a composer, theologian, physician, and scientist—was nearly written out of history. Historians disputed the authorship of her work and decided it was all really written by some unknown man! Hildegard’s contemporary rehabilitation and resurgence was due to the tireless efforts of the nuns at Saint Hildegard Abbey in Germany. In 1956 Marianne Schrader and Adelgundis Führkötter, OSB, published a carefully documented study that proved the authenticity of Hildegard’s authorship.

Alma has been traditionally viewed through a very male-centered lens. Only within the last decade or so have more nuanced biographies about her emerged and only in German! ECSTASY is currently the only book available in English, to my knowledge, that takes her seriously as a composer and as a woman who had something to say and give to the world besides just inspiring genius men.

What Alma’s story reveals how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers—wives and mothers. How do you stand true to your belief in your own talent if the wider culture is telling you you’re selfish or inferior for wanting to do anything else than take care of others?

Alma was not only a composer. Ultimately she pioneered news ways of being as a woman that was in itself a work of art.  

Erin: In most of your books, and many by other historical fiction authors of today, women helping men, but who weren’t credited or acknowledged, even when they created their own amazing art, literature, music, are the main feature. Can you give us some historical base for as to why they weren’t at the time, and why you think they have advantage to be remembered now? Do you think that women still play second fiddle to men, even in the arts?

Mary: I think men in male-dominated culture just expect women to be their selfless helpmeets. In his twenty-page letter to Alma stipulating that she stop composing as a condition of their marriage, Mahler asked her if she could think of his music as her music from then on. And to a great extent she did. She tirelessly transcribed hundreds of pages of his symphonies and even filled in the notation while he was off in his composing hut working on the next movement. Yet many Mahlerites would be loath to acknowledge her as his collaborator and colleague in this regard.

Women definitely still play second fiddle to men in the arts. I am a passionate classical music fan and go to many concerts and I have never once seen a female composer in the repertoire. Even now in 2018! As for the visual arts, walk into any museum and you’ll see far more female nudes by male artists than any kind of work by female artists. Even in the literary world, male authors are still taken more seriously, more widely reviewed, and more likely to win major prizes. And they probably get bigger advances.

 

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Gustav and Alma Mahler / gustav-mahler.eu

 

Erin: Alma, as many women then, was forced to give up music for marriage. How and why did this happen? How did they find their way back to their true calling and specifically, did Alma, and how?

Mary: Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to give up her own composing career as a condition of their marriage. Bowing to social pressure and faced with the enormous wall of misogyny that told her she was inferior and could never achieve what a man could achieve, Alma reluctantly agreed to his demand, even though it broke her heart. In this way her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of marriage and motherhood? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of motherhood and domesticity. Even now the bulk of this work is placed on women while men can still pursue their careers and dreams.

But, as we see in the novel, Alma eventually does take back her power in a really big way. She would go on to publish three collections of her songs and to see her work performed on stage.  

Erin: For people who aren’t reading your work, or haven’t read it yet, what contributions did Alma make to the musical landscape? Where are here fingerprints still found now? Can she influence future generations?

Mary: Alma mostly composed lieder, or art songs. The lied (song in German) is a musical genre that sets a poem to classical music and is generally performed by a solo vocalist with piano accompaniment. Alma’s lieder, composed under the guidance of her mentor and lover, Alexander von Zemlinsky, are arresting, emotional, and highly original and can be compared with both Zemlinsky’s work and the early work of Zemlinsky’s other famous student, Arnold Schoenberg. Alma’s passionate songs plunge you straight into the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna.

According to her diaries, Alma wrote over a hundred lieder, several instrumental pieces, and the beginning of an opera. However, most of her work was lost when she fled Austria after the Nazi Anschluss. Only seventeen songs remain. The good news is that they are now being performed and recorded.

I certainly hope she will influence future generations of female composers.

Erin: What kinds of struggles did she have as a female composer?

Mary: To start off with, no one took her seriously. Her first teacher, Josef Labor, was very harsh and said things like, “If that’s the best you can do, you might as well give up.” Or if she composed something he halfway liked, he would say, “That’s a very honorable accomplishment—for a girl.” For a long time he refused to teach her counterpoint, because he thought it would overwhelm her delicate female brain. Alma had to be a truly determined creative soul to keep composing in the face of such scathing and unconstructive criticism. Alexander von Zemlinsky, her second teacher, was the first to treat her with respect. Under his guidance she made the leap from being a talented amateur to an aspiring composer bordering on the professional. Then she met Mahler, who demanded that she give it up. I wish she would have married Alex instead, but her parents absolutely forbade the courtship.

Even today some (mostly male) commentators refuse to take her seriously and say she was a just an overrated dilettante. 

Erin: Beyond her work, many men were drawn to and interested in Alma from a romantic point of view. Why were they and how did play out in her life? What did you draw on from this for your novel? How did you find the balance between romance and biographical plot? Tell us about your focus.

Mary: While Alma struggled to be taken seriously as an aspiring composer and fought a constant battle against her own self-doubt, one place where she did receive much praise and validation was in the salon where men admired her for her beauty and charm. But those who were drawn to her beauty sometimes didn’t look deeper than the surface. As a result, Alma felt that she had two separate souls that were constantly at war with each other—herself as a distinct creative individual and herself as an object of male desire. Meanwhile she was under tremendous family pressure to marry.

Alma truly longed to become a “somebody” and make her mark on the world. It seemed that her experience of trying to be taken seriously as a composer was so discouraging that she thought she could more easily make her mark by becoming the muse of a great man. And she was a muse par excellence for Mahler. During their married life she became an indelible part of his every symphony. She was also his feedback sounding board and he took her critique seriously and made substantive revisions based on her advice.

But as far as the romance in the story goes, reclaiming her sexuality was a major way that Alma reclaimed her personal and creative power. She knew could mesmerize and inspire brilliant artistic men, and if her husband over the years began to take her for granted, she could shine her light elsewhere. Her aura of enchantment and seduction was her superpower. It would be a mistake to say she was running from one man to another. By reclaiming her sexual freedom, she was reclaiming her independence and self-determination. I almost see it as a shamanic soul retrieval. She took back her sovereignty.

Erin: Why are so many gifted women, with lots of male suitors, often persecuted by both men and women? Does this happen even today? How perception change?

Mary: Like sexually liberated and unconventional women throughout history, Alma to this day faces a backlash of misinterpretation and outright condemnation. We still have a monstrous double standard when it comes to female sexuality. We still love to slut shame women. Can you imagine doing the same to a man—ignoring Picasso’s art and simply slamming him as a terrible husband and boyfriend with his loose, promiscuous ways? Gustav Klimt could get away with using his working class models as a kind of harem. He reputedly had syphilis and left behind fifteen out-of-wedlock children. But he’s a “great man” so we focus on his art and benevolently overlook his quirks and foibles.

Erin: Vienna, historically, was a place of open creativity in the arts and progressive in its creation, and yet, also very misogynistic and conservative. How did those two things clash? What kinds of research did you to about Vienna at the time and what was one of your favorite discoveries?

Mary: Vienna, at this time, was the capital of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire at the very height of its power. While it was artistically innovative with radical new art, music, and literature, it was also a deeply conservative place. Both misogyny and anti-Semitism were pervasive. In many ways it was a neurotic, schizophrenic culture. Vienna in this period had the world’s highest suicide rate. It was no accident that Freud invented psychoanalysis here—look at all the raw material he had to work with! I went on several research trips to Vienna and did a lot of reading to evoke this sense of time and place. I steeped myself in the art and music of the time.

One of my favorite discoveries were Alma’s friends, Ilse and Erica Conrat. They were from an upper middle class Jewish family and their parents wholly supported their ambitions. Ilse, who was exactly Alma’s age, became a professional sculptor, exhibited in the Secession Museum alongside the work of Klimt, and won major prizes. Erica was the first woman to get a doctorate in art history from the University of Vienna—they had only just opened a few of their academic faculties to women and were far behind the rest of the Western world in this regard. So while Alma sacrificed her music for marriage, she had these two ambitious accomplished friends who were pursuing their dreams. The bitter irony is that I had never heard of the Conrat sisters despite their amazing achievements—they were written out of history. But Alma is remembered because she was so enmeshed in the lives of famous men. It was only through Alma’s diary that I learned these women existed.

Erin: Alma’s life seemed to begin to change when she came to America. What facets of America at the time helped at the time and are they still in place, or are we falling backward?

Mary: An anti-Semitic smear campaign in the Viennese press all but forced Gustav to resign from the Vienna Court Opera. Then he and Alma started a new life in New York where he conducted with the Metropolitan Opera and later with the New York Philharmonic. This move would change Alma forever.

Back home in Vienna, her life of self-sacrifice, of subsuming herself in her husband’s existence, had seemed normal, because it was the norm for the vast majority of Austrian women. But in New York Alma would meet an entirely new breed of women who were far more liberated even than her friends, the Conrat sisters.

Before I did the research for this novel, I had no idea that the person who reinvented the New York Philharmonic for the twentieth century and who became its president was a woman—Mary Seney Sheldon. Nor did I even know of the existence of ethnomusicologist, Native American rights activist, and composer, Natalie Curtis. These women made a deep impression on Alma and forced her to rethink everything she thought women were capable of.

Then, as now, America was plagued with social inequality and yet it was far more egalitarian than Austria with its emperor and rigid hierarchies. America had opened its universities to women decades earlier than most places in the Old World. A woman from a wealthy patrician background could accomplish a great deal. Notably Mary Seney Sheldon was married with children and she was an ambitious high achiever who completely reshaped the cultural landscape of America’s leading metropolis. She and Natalie Curtis held up a mirror to Alma’s self-sabotage, to how she had given away every last scrap of her power. Meeting these women unleashed an alchemical transformation inside Alma that would culminate with her taking back her power and living her life on her own terms.

I hope America continues to be a haven for strong, accomplished women working to change our world. We can’t afford to let it slip backward.

 

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Vienna Court Opera / Wikipedia

 

 Erin: What other women in history do you hope to write about in the future, if you’re continuing on with this writing journey? Or will you write something else next? Tell us what’s happening for you going forward?

Mary: Revelations, my new novel in progress, should be of special interest to fans of my 2012 novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Here I return once more to the realm of the female medieval mystics. Revelations is the story of the intersecting lives of two spiritual women who changed history—earthy Margery Kempe, globetrotting pilgrim and mother of fourteen, and ethereal Julian of Norwich, sainted anchorite, theologian, and author of the first book in English by a woman. Imagine, if you will, a fifteenth century Eat, Pray, Love.

Erin: Oh, I’m VERY excited!! I am so happy for you that Ecstasy has received such major media and outlet praise. Other than books sales, why has this been important to hear and does it inspire you to keep writing?

Mary: Every author needs validation or some kind of proof that their book has reached an audience who finds the book meaningful. I hope my readers will be as moved by Alma’s story as I am. I think the time has truly come for a more nuanced and feminist appraisal of Alma’s life and work, and I hope ECSTASY challenges some of the commonly held misperceptions about her.

Erin: What books are on your own most wanted list for you to read this summer?

Mary: Amy Bloom’s White Houses and Ariel Lawhon’s I Was Anastasia.

Erin: How is life overall and how are the beautiful horses?

Mary: Miss Boo, aka Queen Boudicca, my beautiful Welsh mare, is in fine fettle and enjoying the rich spring grass. She sends pony kisses to you and your readers. The fields over here in Northern England are full of baby lambs and I have daffodils and tulips in my garden.

 

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Miss Boo . Courtesy of Mary Sharratt

 

Erin: It sounds so beautiful, I can’t wait to get back to England one day. Kisses back to Miss Boo! Thank you so much, Mary, for coming and sharing a Bellini with me and talking about your book. You’re welcome anytime! Cheers to more fabulous success of Ecstasy and many more books. Let’s pour another and enjoy the view – cheers!

Mary: Cheers! Or as Alma would say, zum Wohl! It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you, Erin!

02_Ecstasy

ECSTASY BY MARY SHARRATT

Publication Date: April 10, 2018

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Hardcover & eBook; 400 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary

READ AN EXCERPT

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time center stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER & EBOOK –

AMAZON | AMAZON UK | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION | INDIEBOUND

ALSO IN AUDIOBOOK –

AMAZON UK | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION

 

Praise for Ecstasy –

“In ECSTASY, Mary Sharratt plunges the reader into the tumultuous and glamorous fin de siècle era, bringing to life its brilliant and beguiling leading lady. Finally, Alma Mahler takes center stage, surging to life as so much more than simply the female companion to the brilliant and famous men who loved her. Sharratt’s portrait is poignant and nuanced, her novel brimming with rich historic detail and lush, evocative language.” – Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress

“A tender, intimate exploration of a complicated woman, Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY renders in exquisitely researched detail and fiercely imagined scenes the life of Alma Mahler — daughter, wife, mother, lover, and composer — and the early 20th Century Vienna and New York in which she came of age. I loved this inspiring story of an early feminist standing up for her art.” – Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Race for Paris

“Evocative and passionate, ECSTASY illuminates through its tempestuous and talented heroine a conundrum that resonates across the centuries: how a woman can fulfill her destiny by being both a lover and an artist.” – Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers

“Mary Sharratt makes a triumphant return to the page with this masterful portrait of Alma Mahler, the wife of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. Set in a time and place when a woman could only hope to be the power behind the throne, Sharratt brings a meticulously researched and richly illuminated account of a young woman who was a brilliant composer in her own right. Alma may have had to suppress her own talents to support Mahler; however, ECSTASY reveals that she was a woman who “contained multitudes.” ECSTASY is an important work of historical fiction, as well as a timely and topical addition to the canon of knowledge that needs to better represent important women and their contributions.” – Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books

“Alma Mahler’s unexpected, often heartbreaking journey from muse to independence comes to vivid, dramatic life in Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY. Sharratt skillfully evokes turn-of-the-century Vienna and the musical genius of the era, returning Alma to her rightful place in history as both the inspiration to the men in her life and a gifted artist in her own right.” – C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel

“Mary Sharratt has more than done justice to one of the most interesting, shocking, and passionate women of the 20th century. Overflowing with life and lust, ECSTASY explores this flawed but fascinating woman who was not only muse but a genius in her own right.” – New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose

“A deeply affecting portrait of the woman rumored to be the most notorious femme fatale of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY is as heartbreaking and seductive as Alma Mahler herself.” —Kris Waldherr, author of Doomed Queens and Bad Princess

Author Mary Sharratt, Biography –

03_Mary Sharratt.jpgMARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

Her novels include Summit Avenue, The Real Minera, The Vanishing Point, The Daughters of Witching Hill, Illuminations, and The Dark Lady’s Mask.

For more information, please visit Mary Sharratt’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Giveaway –

To enter for a paperback copy of Ecstasy, please enter via the Gleam form at the direct Link: https://gleam.io/skN0R/ecstasy

Giveaway Rules –

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

– Giveaway is open to US residents only.

– Only one entry per household.

– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.

– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Tour Schedule

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Filed under Q and A with Authors, women in history

Review+Interview: My Dear Hamilton with NYT Best-selling Authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

I’m so excited today to be back with a new post on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Why am I jumping for joy? Because New York Times best-selling historical fiction authors, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie are here!! Right now, they are not only physically touring to various events in numerous states, but they are also dropping by around the online world to author and blogger sites. Anyone knows me, knows I love history! Following my review below of MY DEAR HAMILTON: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, we sit down for an interview!

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I’m always very happy to feature Stephanie, as I adore her work, her style, her sense of humor, her intellect, and her supportive nature for other authors, but I’m very happy she’s clued me in to Laura as well. Together, they are a dynamo writing duo of historical fiction of early America, something I love to study and read about, but as well, most of my followers know how much I focus on women in history overall. I’ve always loved Stephanie bringing women of the ancient world to light (her book on Cleopatra Selene is one of my favorite all time books), but now, in the past two years, with Laura, she’s been diving into women of the American Revolutionary period and it’s been refreshing!

I’ll be offering my review here for the book, in short form, first, but please then stay and read the wonderful interview I had with them both. I think you’ll find it as interesting as I did. If you scroll beneath, you’ll find an excerpt too, and further, a giveaway, and all the information you can imagine. Enjoy!

Review –

My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie, exceeded even my high expectations! It was finely tuned, detailed, flowing as movie screen for the mind, rich, conveying, and just overall, a beautiful story of a woman relying on her own inner strength to blossom into a very influential and intriguing female of the time – one readers deserved to know more about!

I sit back in awe of their mastery of the art of historical research and being able to dissect information and facts in order to imagine real people from history in such a way as we feel as if we truly can visualize them. They are believable, relatable, and engaging in such a way that it propels the reader through the story. Characterization is key in novels, and with this novel, I feel their legacies coursing through me. I almost feel I know so much more about the soil of America, the tapestry of people, place, and time, and to know how it felt to be a part of the building of this country. I feel drawn to know more of those featured in the book, but more so, to learn more about others of the time not featured in the book, if that makes sense. It’s a good book that won’t let you forget and draws you in so much.

My Dear Hamilton is around 600 pages, which could seeming overwhelming, especially if you are used to other various kinds of historical fiction and have not yet read work by these authors, but trust me, it won’t feel like you just read that big of a book. It flows so well, with a seamless voice so that you won’t even remember you’re reading two authors, and you’ll find it senseless to put down. I’d earmark a whole weekend in before your summer festivities start, or else take a very long day at the beach. This book will absorb you, but you’ll also absorb it. If you look at it critically, you’ll realize that there is so much factual information needed to be known to write it, but as your reading it, that will ease off you in a way that just lets you get lost in the story. After reading it, you’ll realize you learned so much, but having a lot of fun doing so!

Having a history degree myself, though not a scholar especially in regards to Hamilton, I can tell that most of this book is seeped in real events and written with painstaking formulating, based on reading of real letters, documents, informational sources, etc. in order to create an image of Eliza, Alexander, and other cast of people in the book. Once you immerse yourself in so much information on a person, people, or place, or all, you can then begin to project an image. I feel that is what this book does. Of course, with fiction, you can create scenarios, based on conjecture, encounters that *could* have occurred, but many that are provable as well. With dialogue, it’s always fiction, hypothetical in many cases, though can also be seeped in fact based on the way a person talks in letters or so forth. Anyway, it’s my best guess for anyone wondering how factual this book is for learning, then absolutely it’s very biographical and a great way to learn history in a more relaxed environment; however, there are lots of juicy details too!

The excellent thing is that while writing using the information, these writers do it so well, they infuse passion into the pages. There is drama, struggles, adventures, romance, intrigue, conflict, sadness, and so much emotion. I had a great time laughing actually as they infuse quite a bit of underlying humor into the prose.

Word choice, imagery, descriptive and flowing sentences all will carry the reader away to another time and place. It’s a stellar portrait image of a view of what it was like at this pivotal time in the forming of our country, full of fervor and igniting wills and minds, and Dray and Kamoie are able to show all this to the reader written through the eyes of Eliza. But not only that, we are able to see more clearly the roles of women at this time, not just the group of men known as the Founding Fathers or those surrounding them. More personally, we see Eliza’s struggles with her marriage, with the ups and downs that so many of us can feel, to the downright secrets and critical thinking some of us have had to do. I can appreciate Eliza’s determination, which made me pull for her throughout the novel!

I’m not a huge fan of Hamilton in general, myself, but I certainly am now of Eliza and I did learn a lot about Alexander Hamilton as well! I know about the whole Hamilton musical craze, and would like still adore seeing it, but this book really propelled Eliza’s story to the forefront for me. I want to know more of the women of this time period and how they trail blazed the way for independence early on, even long before ever gaining being able to even vote. So, what am I saying? Basically, that reading this book should be as exciting for you as going to the theater to SEE Hamilton!, because for me it gave me the euphoria of one, minus the music of course. If you’ve seen, or are a fan of the musical, then it’s definitely a great accompaniment to your pleasure of all things the musical brings too.

Personally, I really enjoyed learning that Eliza came from Dutch heritage in New York in the 1600s, as some of my maternal ancestors were of Dutch descent living in New York as well. I wonder if their paths crossed – most likely! I really enjoy learning about Dutch culture, especially in early America, and have been researching it, and I appreciated the nuggets of description from it interspersed in the book. It just is another example of all the little touches that make this book glimmer.

Of note also is that I think it’s wonderful they include so much in their author’s note, a Q and A, notes about how the book differs from the musical, discussion questions, and such. It’s a wonderful way to round out the book into a real experience. And that you can find so much more online on their websites is so much fun.

Dray and Kamoie make Eliza shine. This book is polished. This will be one of my top historical reads of the year, no doubt. I appreciate their detailed research, elegant writing, dancing story line, and the infusion of vigor and heart that their own passion for history brings to the pages. This is bench-mark for historical fiction novels, and undoubtedly, for American History fiction. I highly recommend for money well-spent. I’ll be dropping 5 stars on online sites.

-Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Hook of a Book
Author of Breathe. Breathe.

And now for the interview…..

Interview –

Hi ladies! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I know you are on a whirlwind tour currently to bookstores and libraries in various states, so thank you for swinging by here for a few moments. I’ll put on the teapot, but I know you’re both so busy with the book launch, I’ll be sure to make it a short chat.

What type of tea would you prefer? Did they drink something special in colonial America? Whatever it was, I’m sure it was with sugar or Washington might still have his teeth!

SD: They were fond of rum punch, and we’re fans of it too, but not while on tour! So we’ll settle for a cup of Paris tea from Harney & Sons. Vive La Revolution!

Erin: Stephanie, I love Harney & Sons tea, but you know, I see no problem in sneaking in the rum punch at all – I have a feeling it’s needed! And what better way to celebrate your release!

I almost feel as if I’m overwhelmed with questions to ask, and I’m also trying not to ask things you’ve already talked about a bunch of times, but I’m sure I will. The good thing is, maybe my readers haven’t read the answers yet.

For Stephanie, I’ve known you awhile and been reading your work for some time, watching this unfold, but how difficult was it when you migrated toward writing American History as compared to ancient historical fiction or other categories you’ve written in? Did you feel it less when writing My Dear Hamilton after writing America’s First Daughter?

SD: I had this crazy notion that writing early American history was going to be easier than writing ancient world history because more information was available and I’d have to make less stuff up. So. Wrong. Not only are there a lot of blanks that still exist, but the Founding Fathers kept pretty excellent letters, so there’s a deluge of information and research that you have to get through. Fortunately, it’s all fascinating and I love it! As for writing My Dear Hamilton after America’s First Daughter, I thought it would be easier because Hamilton wrote fewer letters than Jefferson. Little did I know, they were all at least twice as long.

So the moral here is, and let me channel author Kate Quinn for an instant, with my hand on my hip, is that you should never think anything you write will so easy because these historical figures just LOVE to wreak havoc.

For Laura, since you have been teaching American History and have written non-fiction, comparatively, can you talk about how your plunge to historical fiction has been for you?

LK: It’s been really exciting. I’m not new to fiction–I’ve authored over thirty novels in other genres–but America’s First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton were the first books that allowed me to bring together my historical training and my love of writing fiction. Generally, historians readily acknowledge that even writing non-fiction history requires a recognition of the gaps in the historical record and offers at least a little room for (clearly labeled) speculation or imaginings. So nothing about dramatizing the past or extrapolating unknown moments and scenes from sources about a similar event at another time, for example, made me uncomfortable. Just the opposite was true, in fact. Through writing these novels, I’ve become convinced that historical fiction can make valuable contributions to our understanding of the past and can reveal universal truths even when the facts aren’t completely accurate. So it’s been an intellectually interesting experience and I’m completely hooked!

Erin: I totally agree with you! And you can still learn so much!

You write so seamlessly, how is this achieved when I imagine you probably had different writing styles starting out? What have you learned from each other and what do each of you feel the other brings to the projects?

SD: One thing we both share is agility. We’ve both written several other genres. We can write funny, we can write contemporary, we can write suspense or romance or fantasy. And that meant that we were able to adapt to each other’s writing voice. But we also edit each other’s words freely, which means that our words are all interspersed and that helps to smooth out any seams. But we each have complementary strengths that we play to. And we’ve definitely learned from each other. We talk about that a lot. Just one very small example out of many others that I could give is that Laura is the queen of clarity and heartfelt moments. I’ve learned from her when to be less abstract as a writer, when to linger in an emotional moment longer than I might otherwise, and to spell it out. She also makes brilliant connections all the time, and we fire back and forth on how to exploit them!

LK: Hearing that the writing feels seamless is one of our favorite compliments! It was important to us that the books read as if they’d been written by one author, not two. And we were thrilled that none of our friends nor family nor even our editor could tell which of us had written what parts of the books! The way we trade chapters, revise freely, and work together at the same laptop when we get toward the end and are working on revisions and copyedits means that there’s no page in the book that we both haven’t touched, which we think is key to creating that seamlessness. Stephanie’s right–we talk a lot about what we’ve learned from each other. I’ve learned so much from her about crafting the most impactful narrative structure, which includes everything from finding the right prologue to organizing the scenes in a chapter in a way that best highlights the conflict and draws the reader in. And Stephanie is the queen of identifying and playing up themes in a way that makes a book really resonate. So our writing is a true collaboration from beginning to end!

Erin: Yes, I feel I need tissues now, seriously, this is amazing to see writers connecting with such joy and bringing such a labor of love to the readers. I’ve read some of Stephanie’s work already, so yes, I do feel it’s seamless but I can also see knowing this, what each of you added to it to become a single, new author.

Many years ago, when I started my site and working on projects in publishing and in my own writing, all the agents were saying no to American History and especially Colonial History themes. That saddened me, because I wanted to read more from this time period, but not only in non-fiction reading. I was thrilled to see not only more biographical historical fiction start to be published about women, especially women who stood in the shadows of history’s men, but also in American History. When America’s First Daughter hit big last year, I knew maybe the tide would start to turn even more. Besides your book, what else do you contribute to the change in publishing and reading American/Colonial fiction?

SD: Oh gosh, you might be giving us too much credit there, but we certainly would love to think we played a positive role in it! I think right now the country is having a reflective moment; we’re trying to come to terms with who we are and what direction we should be going. It’s difficult to do that without remembering where we came from. So early American history is a natural place to look.

LK: I agree. And early American history is also having a bit of a cultural ‘moment’ with (much more influential!) things like Hamilton: An American Musical, the Outlander TV series, and the recent AMC series, TURN: Washington’s Spies, just to name a few. Really, historical TV series from all eras seem to be doing really well. Think of The Crown, Victoria, Downton Abbey, the White Princess/White Queen series, The Last Kingdom, or even the new The Terror. Clearly, popular culture is opening some doors where historical stories are concerned.

Erin: Oh yes, and I love all those shows, even Sleepy Hollow and Salem!

Do you feel that we need this more than ever now with the political climate? How does this change history’s views of women besides finally memorializing these women more properly?

SD: I’ll let Laura answer the question on memorializing women, but I’d say in terms of the political climate that both parties like to lay claim to the Founding Fathers. But part of our mission has been to demonstrate that no modern political party owns them and that very little about their ideas or their accomplishments was as simple as we like to pretend.

LK: Stephanie and I feel strongly that centering historical women in their own stories is an important enterprise that makes a real contribution–because stories like ours make it clear that the Revolutionary War wasn’t won by white men alone, and the new nation wasn’t built by white men alone, either. All groups in society–enslaved persons, free black people, Native Americans, and women–played important roles in, made sacrifices for, defended, and contributed to the founding of the United States. Certainly, we saw how much Patsy Jefferson and Eliza Hamilton did to make possible the work and contributions of the important men in their lives. Neither Thomas Jefferson nor Alexander Hamilton would’ve been able to achieve all they did without the assistance and contributions of these women. That’s a story that deserves to be told.

Erin: *More Kleenexes please!* Yes, absolutely!! And I just love that you are telling these stories too. Please keep doing so!

As Stephanie I think knows, my 18-year-old American history buff of a son has George Washington plastered completely all over our home and doesn’t go a day without speaking of him – in fact he drinks from a Valley Forge mug every morning. He was this way BEFORE the craze – you know the Hamilton craze, but now it seems it’s cool to like American History! How do you feel the craze for the Hamilton musical, music, the Founding Fathers, and so forth, got its foot-hold, but further, how is it being sustained so dramatically? Did this make your book more fun to write? Did it influence it at all?

SD: I love that your son drinks from a Valley Forge mug! That’s so fantastic. Tell him that I see that I need to up my game when it comes to Founding Father bric-a-brac. We are totally screaming fangirls of the musical and think it is that special and rare kind of art that did a genuine public service. And continues to do so! Laura just saw it again, so she can speak more about that.

LK: Our new My Dear Hamilton was in part inspired by the musical–I doubt this is any surprise! I happened to see it during its first week on Broadway, and the next morning Stephanie and I talked about Eliza and decided to make her our next heroine. And we pitched the idea to our editor that very afternoon–that’s how sure we were! Now, we were already searching for the perfect historical figure after writing about Patsy Jefferson, and we loved the idea of writing next about a founding mother of the north. While writing–or driving to book events–I can’t tell you how often we listened to the musical’s soundtrack, but suffice it to say that we both know the lyrics by heart! That definitely did make it fun. As did discussing the storytelling choices that Lin-Manuel Miranda made in the musical and how we might be making some different choices in our book. We thought readers might find those differences interesting enough that we wrote an essay on the subject that’s available in the back matter of the book!

Erin: I will tell him Stephanie! He’s always inspired by you though and your glee for cool stuff and locations. He just thinks there needs to be a George Washington musical. haha!

I absolutely love to think about travel to all the historic sites in America that have something to do with early American History. I am sure, and I think I saw, that you traveled places in your research for My Dear Hamilton. What was the favorite place each of you visited and why? Did it make it into the book?

SD: Laura can tell you about our favorite that made it into the book, but I’ll tell you my favorite that didn’t. When we were visiting Fraunces Tavern, they had an exhibit that included a sash worn by the Marquis de Lafayette during the Battle of the Brandywine where he was injured in our cause, and it was still stained with his blood! Fraunces Tavern makes it in, but there was no good way to mention that sash!

Erin: WOW!

LK: In writing My Dear Hamilton, we actually visited a number of historical sites. But I think our favorite–in that it was so impactful to us and on a particular scene in the book–was the Trinity Church graveyard. First of all, we found some humor in the fact that there’s a check cashing business on the other side of the street directly opposite Alexander’s tomb. And that seemed…oddly appropriate in some way! But more seriously, when we visited the graveyard for the first time, the Trinity Root sculptor was still there–a huge 9/11 memorial of the trunk and root system of a tree that’d been knocked down on that terrible day. The sculpture was both sad and haunting and powerful and hopeful–because the roots show all the things beneath the surface that you don’t normally see, but which are vital to sustenance and stability. And that made us think a lot about Eliza Hamilton’s character. It felt, at least in part–in both its sadness and its strength–like an analogy for our book. And that sculpture absolutely influenced the tone of the scene we wrote in My Dear Hamilton that takes place in that graveyard.

Erin: That’s totally amazing! Thank you so much for sharing that!

I know there is a gigantic amount of research that goes into writing a book of this magnitude. How did you complete it so quickly together? What are your tips for researching and writing historical books based on true people’s lives like this? Where did a majority of the research come from?

LK: Since Eliza appears to have destroyed most of her own letters, we had to pull resources from everywhere we could find them. That involved significant usage of the Founders Online website via the National Archives, as well as archival research in New York and Albany. We also used a wide variety of papers from other people and institutions of the era, including, for example, Tench Tilghman’s journal, the papers of other members of the Schuyler family, papers of an investigation from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the published recollections of the Washington National Monument Society. That’s just the basics of what you have to do when you choose to write about a real person, though I’m not sure either of us would characterize the research work as having been quick!

Erin: No, it’s NOT quick, and I can certainly understand how time consuming all the research was – but that’s what I mean, to me, I feel it would take 10 years to sift through and also write a book like this, and you both did it all in less than a year! I love hearing the different places you found your information to formulate your characters and book. I’ve been researching a historical fiction book for what seems like forever. I always thinks it’s clever fun to see all the things you can uncover and from where!

In continuing on that, how do you keep on schedule? (Notice I didn’t ask how you stay sane haha)

SD: Hah! Good thing. Keeping on schedule is tough. I’d say between the two of us I’m the more schedule-oriented in that I plan everything out on multiple calendars. But Laura’s scratch it on the back of a napkin method works okay for her too.

Erin: I wish I had your planning skills, Stephanie. Always in awe. I am more of a napkin person myself, Laura. haha. I always hope I’ll get divine advice to change to be more organized to get done more efficiently, but then, I guess it’s all what works for each individual. 

I was so happy for all your success of America’s First Daughter and I’m rooting for you to have as much or more success with My Dear Hamilton. So, what’s next? Will you endeavor to write another next year together or get busy on separate projects?

LK: We’re currently collaborating on a novel on the women of the French Revolution and are having a lot of fun jumping to America’s “sister revolution.” Stay tuned for more on that–we’ll be excited to share when we can!

Erin: Ooooh! I look forward to it!

If you could do a cross-over book featuring a person from American History time-traveling to an ancient civilization, who and where would you choose to feature?

SD: You get bonus points for asking us a question we’ve definitely never been asked before. I’m gonna say Thomas Jefferson to the ancient kingdom of Meroe where the Kandake might have taught him some useful and important things.

Erin: Yay! Very clever!

Bonus question – I mean what was it like to present at the SMITHSONIAN!!?? *drops mic*

SD: AMAZING! Dream come true.

LK: It totally brought out both of our inner history geeks!

Erin: With that, though I’d love to pick your brain more, I’ll let you head out for your next event! Best wishes again for the success on My Dear Hamilton and congratulations to you both for all your hard work! Stop again anytime. Thank you both!

SD: It’s been a pleasure as always, Erin. Can’t wait to hear what you (and your son) think of the new book!

Erin: Thanks, Stephanie. Of course, you can read what I thought here now, and I’m passing along the book to Nassem now. He’s been anxiously awaiting it since the day you announced!

LK: Loved your thoughtful questions, Erin! Can’t wait to do it again!

Erin: Thank you, Laura, I look forward to it!

*Passes more rum punch all around, because…we can…for Liberty!*

Enjoy an Excerpt!

The night before our wedding, the ball at our house was attended by all the best of Dutch Albany society. The Van Rensselaers and the Van Burens, the Ten Broecks and the Ten Eycks, the Van Schaicks and the Douws, and so many others. Neither snow nor ice nor howling wind seemed to deter our New Netherlander friends and neighbors from coming out to the Pastures for the celebrations.

Amidst boughs of holly and the light of countless candles, the grand hall on our second floor hosted festivities that included food and drink, dancing and music, and games and toasts. We danced minuets, cotillions, and Scottish reels until my feet ached and my heart soared. Alexander never seemed to tire, and I determined to keep up with him through every bar and set. I danced with Mac and my brother-in-law, Mr. Carter, a man eight years Angelica’s senior, whose business supplying the army for once permitted him time to join in the festivities. But Alexander could never wait long before declaring himself impatient and claiming me again.

My fiancé appeared more at ease than I’d ever seen him before, and perhaps that wasn’t a surprise, as these days of rest and merriment were the first break from military service he’d had in five years. Indeed, his eyes sparkled as he asked, “May I steal you away for a moment?”

“By all means.” I’d been hoping for a quiet opportunity to give him my gift. He took my hand and led me around the edge of the dance floor as we were stopped again and again by well-wishers, until we finally escaped down the stairs and into the cooler air of the dimly lit sitting room, which afforded us a modicum of peace and privacy. There, Alexander asked me to wait. And while he ducked away I seized the moment to pull my gift from its hiding place in the cabinet next to the fireplace. Alexander returned before I’d barely completed the task—and held a large sack of his own.

“Whatever is that?” I asked.

“He grinned and nodded at what I held in my own hands. “I could ask the same.”

I smiled. “A wedding gift for my husband.”

He feigned a frown and stepped closer. “Your husband, madam? Do I know him?”

Playing his game, I said, “Oh, you know him very well, sir. And your gift is for?”

He came closer yet. “For my wife-to-be. And before you ask, indeed, you know her well. She has a good nature, a charming vivacity, and is most unmercifully handsome”—he arched a brow and closed the remaining space between us—“and so perverse that she has none of those affectations which are the prerogatives of beauty.”

How did he always manage to set my world a-tumble with his words? “Oh, you must be a lucky man, indeed. I hope you’ve shown her your appreciation.”

He barked a laugh. “You saucy charmer!”

I sat in the chair closest to the fire so that I could see by the greater light there, and Alexander pulled up a chair of his own so that our knees touched. With a nervous smile, he placed the heavy sack onto my lap. I untied the its string and worked the coarse cloth over the solid object inside. Impatience rolled off him so forcefully that I had to tease him further by taking great pains to slide the sack evenly off, a little on this side, and then a little on that.

“And to think someone once told me you were the Finest Tempered Girl in the World,” he said with a chuckle.

Jenoff Quote Card

Wife, Widow, and Warrior in Alexander Hamilton’s Quest for a More Perfect Union

From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

Order your copy of MY DEAR HAMILTON today!

A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A Founding Father’s wife…

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her

✭✭✭ ORDER MY DEAR HAMILTON TODAY✭✭✭

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Stephanie Dray, Biography –

 

STEPHANIE DRAY is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year.

Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer and a teacher. Now she lives near the nation’s capital with her husband, cats, and history books.

Stephanie Dray Website |Newsletter | Facebook |Twitter | Dray & Kamoie Website

 

Laura Kamoie, Biography –

Laura Kamoieis a New York Times bestselling author of historical fiction, and the author of two non-fiction books on early American history.

Until recently, she held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction under the name Laura Kaye, also a New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty novels.

 

Laura Kamoie Website |Newsletter | Facebook |Twitter |
Dray & Kamoie Website

 

 

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#HookonWiH: Curtis Freeman Interviews Sadie Lou Who in His Female Horror Reviewer Series (#MotherHorror)

Today in the #HookonWiHM series, the honcho at Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews, Curtis Freeman, interviews horror reader, reviewer, and bookstagrammer, Sadie Lou Who, or as we lovingly like to call her “Mother Horror.” This is the first in his three-part series on women blogging in the horror genre. I’m glad we are getting the word out about other women in horror in addition to all the amazing authors. It takes a community to make the genre shine! Sadie is nothing but pure energy joy and helps so many, not mention really talks up books and authors! She’s friendly, kind, and fun and we all have a great time talking books with her on Twitter and Instagram.

I had been taking interviews by men and women with women in horror, as well as guest articles, throughout the month of February, but I have quite a few still set to post and so I decided to take them all year long. You can find information on this at the bottom of the post. Take it away Curtis – thanks for a great interview with Sadie!

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CHHR: What was the first horror book you ever read?

SH: The first horror book I ever read was Dracula by Bram Stoker

CHHR: What is the scariest book you ever read?

SH: I still think IT by Stephen King is the scariest book I ever read.

CHHR: When did you become a blogger? What made you want to blog about books?

SH: I have actually been blogging FOREVER. I only just started blogging about books though, I’d say like 2 years or so and it started as an overflow to what I was already doing on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads. I felt like I just had more to say than what I was able to get out in just a few “updates” or book reviews.

CHHR: What annoys you the most with your blog?

SH: That I don’t devote more time to keeping it current but I’m really very busy on lots of other social media platforms and the blog seems to have the least amount of engagement. (even when I do update)

CHHR: Do you think there is a gender bias in horror fiction? Explain.

SH: This is a no brainer. Yes. There is a gender bias. If you Google 50 scariest books and read the various lists, you’ll find that it is very heavily dominated by male authors. Here, I’ll do it right now and tell you the first top five off any random list: House of Leaves Mark Z. Danielewski, The Ritual Adam Nevill, The Haunting of Hill House Shirley Jackson (which I think is a classic horror story but it’s not scary), Heart Shaped Box Joe Hill and Hell House Richard Matheson. The next 5 are all male authors. Actually, the next 15-20 books on that list were male authors with the exception of Night Film by Marisha Pessl (which again, I didn’t think was a horror book, actually.)

CHHR: Do you think there is a gender bias in horror book blogging? Explain.

SH: I think there are just very few women reading horror. That’s been my experience anyways. Being very active on Bookstagram (a bookish community on Instagram where readers have individual accounts dedicated to the sole purpose of posting books) and I’d say that most of the females are reading YA Lit or adult, contemporary fiction and then maybe the next largest genre being thriller but the girls reading mostly horror are few and far between. I think that it’s viewed as normal or acceptable for men to like books heavy on violence, horror and gore but that it’s unladylike for women to like that stuff.

CHHR: How can we fix the bias?

SH: Well first, we can stop with the sexist stereotypes that horror is for dudes. Men can start writing horror books that are not misogynistic towards women and create strong female characters that are not always the victims—maybe they’re the heroes. And we can all do a better job celebrating female authors that are writing horror. Off the top of my head, Nadia Bulkin, Kristi DeMeester and Ania Ahlborn.

CHHR: I find it sad that we still live in a world where women authors have to use initials to seem less female. What are your thoughts?

SH: I think this is the publishers. I think the authors have a very difficult time having a voice in the meetings where things like that are decided and it’s really up to the industry to make those changes. I’m hard pressed to come up with a way readers have any influence on those choices at all, unfortunately.

CHHR: What pushes your buttons with your blog?

SH: I guess I don’t have a lot of complaints. I couldn’t think of anything.

CHHR: Do you think the Horror Writers Association (HWA) should start recognizing horror book bloggers?

SH: I mean, that sounds like an amazing opportunity for people like yourself who put a lot of time and effort into their blog and it challenges me, actually, to be more productive with mine. I find more engagement on Instagram and Twitter, actually.

CHHR: How has the horror community treated you since starting your blog?

SH: I love, love, love the horror community. I think it is wonderfully supportive, creative and diverse and I’m glad to be a part of it. People like you, Curtis, have been over the top in meeting my expectations to be welcomed.

CHHR: What makes a good horror book?

SH: Always the characters. Any horror book worth its weight in salt will have engaging characters that the reader can invest in-that way, whatever horror is going on, the story is immediately more dangerous and risky because we fear for our characters. For me, anyways.

CHHR: What scares you?

SH: Ha! Pretty much everything. I have a lot of different phobias concerning spiders, sharks, closed in spaces, crowds, heights but I also have deep seated fears of something horrific happening to my loved ones—having to live through some kind of tragedy or health crisis.

CHHR: Who’s your favorite horror author? You have to pick one or three authors, but it can’t be two.

SH: Stephen King, Nick Cutter and Ania Ahlborn.

CHHR: What books are you most looking forward to in 2018?

SH: Stephen King’s stand alone novel, The Outsider. Paul Tremblay’s Cabin at the End of the World. People should anticipate The Listener by Robert McCammon, I already read it but it’s wonderful. Everyone should buy it. The Hunger by Alma Katsu. Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman.

Sadie Lou IMG_1157Who, or “Mother Horror,” Biography –

Sadie lives in Tacoma, Washington and loves to read horror and anything dark, dark, dark. Most recently, she was the co-founder of Night Worms, a group that reads horror books together online, then post photos and reviews.

Find her mostly on GoodReads, Twitter, and Instagram.

Follow her blog HERE.

About Curtis Freeman –

Curtis

Curtis is a lover of horror books and films and a passionate addition to the horror genre. He reviews at his site Cedar Hollow Reviews and has just begun to interview authors via his YouTube Channel. Curtis even grilled me for over 3 hours one evening. His heartfelt excitement for the genre shows. This is the first in a series of three women horror bloggers Curtis is interviewing for my #HookonWiHM project. You can also find Curtis on Twitter.

Watch for more to come in the #HookonWiH series….

February was Women in Horror Month but we are honoring them all year! It’s time to celebrate and show off what we got! For those of you reading, men AND women both, make an effort to read and watch more horror produced by women this year.

For the #HookonWiH series, or Women in Horror at Hook of a Book, we’ll be hosting interviews conducted by men and women with other women in horror. Watch for those spread throughout the year, and if you want in, contact me! Find more info HERE.

WiHM9-GrrrlLogoWide-BR-website

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#HookonWiH: Author D.R. Bartlette Interviews Irish Author Emma Ennis

Today in the #HookonWiH series, author D.R. Bartlette interviews Irish author Emma Ennis! This is a fabulous interview that I really enjoyed so I hope you do too! D.R. is one motivated lady and I’ve been happy to meet her on Twitter. I look forward to reading her stuff. Not knowing of Emma at all before this, I’m really glad I was introduced through this interview, we have a lot of similar writing and book interests. I mean, Gothic?!

I had been taking interviews by men and women with women in horror, as well as guest articles, throughout the month of February, but I have quite a few still set to post and so I decided to take them all year long. You can find information on this at the bottom of the post. Thank you D.R. Bartlette for the interview!

D – When did you start writing horror?

E – I’ve been watching horror since I was about 5, reading it from a little older. As a consequence I dream a lot, which I consider writing in a way. Writing on my subconscious. Many of my dreams have become stories, and some of my happiest mornings follow one of my epic zombie dreams.

That’s all well and waxy and poetic, says you, but when did you actually first put horror to page? 2009. It was a short story called “Come On In.” People loved it. Said it was chilling. It is one of the stories in my collection, Red Wine and Words. I’d been writing a lot longer than 2009 though, unsuccessfully so, and not horror.

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D – What is it about horror that inspires you (i.e. why horror)?

E – I love the thrill of fear. And by fear I don’t mean the kind where you watch all your loved ones die off around you of some terminal disease. The other kind. The kind that makes a girl with a deathly aversion to heights go do a bungee jump.

Mystery and the unexplained give me the same kind of thrill. I don’t really like horror that’s all neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow in the end. I prefer questions and what-ifs. Monsters don’t scare me; monsters can be killed. It’s psychological horror that bakes my bikkies.

I read a story once in a big-ass anthology of creepy stories. It was a long time ago but the gist is that this man had come to take in a young boy after his sister died. The child was seriously messed up in that he wouldn’t come out of hiding or eat for anyone. I think he starved in the end. Anyway, through the course of the story somehow, it came to light that the mother had resented the little boy because her husband had drowned saving him. So she set out to make the child depend completely, utterly and solely on her. She painted his room with glow in the dark figures to terrify him at night, even playing scary noises at from a gramophone hidden in a panel in the wardrobe. There were lots of other twisted things I can’t remember, but in the end, when the child could not live without her, she killed herself.

The story knocked my socks off. It messed with my mind while highlighting how psychology can be used to mess with people’s minds! And it made me want to mess with other people’s minds, thrill them like I’d been thrilled.

D – Who are your inspirations?

E – The latest  and greats: Conan Doyle, Poe, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker. I love that Gothic feel to horror. Wuthering Heights, The Woman in Black, The Haunting of Hill House, even Jane Eyre was a bit creepy. I wrote a book a few years back that should be released any day now – Walls of Grey, Veins of Stone. Turns out it’s a textbook Gothic horror. Whoodathunkit?

It’s not only books that inspire me. Movies and games do too. In the latter category sit Silent Hill and Resident Evil. In the former there are too many to name, but I would eat up anything by Guillermo del Toro or Joss Whedon. I’m also liking what the Justin Benson/Aaron Moorehead duo are doing – weird, unexplained, but with feels. Kinda reminds me of what goes on in my own head much of any given day.

D – Do you think being a woman brings a different perspective to your storytelling? How?

E – I was recently told by a man who knows his shit, that women write emotion and feelings better than men. I see that. I see that some men have difficulty in showing women’s emotions, and who could blame them? How on earth could you go about unpacking all that if you’ve never experienced it first hand? I would like to say that women tell love stories better than men, but then I remember Joss Whedon and I realise I’d be talking out of my arse if I did say that.

At the end of the day though, male and female are different perspectives. In all walks of life, language, emotion, science. You could have a predominately masculine female who can tell a war story better than a veteran, or a feminine male who’ll write a love story to rival The Notebook. By feminine male and vice versa I don’t mean camp, or butch, and I’m not talking about body shape. But men or women who have a strong connection with the opposite side of their nature.

That got awfully technical, didn’t it? To simplify, I think every writer, whether male, female, child or geriatric, human or greyman, brings a new, different perspective to the world of stories. Demographics bedamned; that’s fake news.

D – Do you have certain themes or motifs that are common in your stories? Why?

E – Love and loss. Darkness. Psychological shenanigans. My stories are usually left quite open. As I said, I’m not fond of plots that end neatly and tied up with a bow. You know the ones – boy gets the girl, girl gets the boy, killer behind bars, detective gets a promotion and a big fat pay rise. Shiver. Happy happy endings make me feel dirty.

I think those stories which are not so clear-cut at the end and leave some questions unanswered tend to stay with us longer. And that’s what I want. I want people to remember my work days, months, years after they’ve finished reading it. So far I’ve had a lot of reports saying I have achieved this with my writing. This pleases me. This is essential my master plan.

Emma Ennis, Biography – 

G27658858_10210555769321702_368162432_nrowing up with siblings who were old enough to have stacks of books & movies Emma really should not have been reading or watching, it was inevitable that things would get mildly deranged in the old noggin. Writing gave the crazy somewhere to go.

 Now, not even an apocalypse will induce her to stop. In fact, when it comes she’ll most likely write about it. Her second obsession being movies, in 2016 she got tired of waiting around for Guillermo del Toro to find one of her books, & started writing her own films. When asked to comment on this she said, ‘You’re welcome’.

Emma lives in Wexford, Ireland, where she indulges freely & copiously in her third & fourth obsessions: cats & red wine. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

Thanks to D.R. Bartlette for her interview with Emma!

D.R. Bartlette, Biography –

DRBphotoD.R. Bartlette is a Southern author who writes smart, dark fiction. A nerdy weirdo who hung out in libraries for fun, she discovered horror at an inappropriately early age, and her mind has been twisted ever since.
She wrote her first short horror story in eighth grade. Since then, she’s written dozens of short stories, articles, and essays from topics ranging from school lunches to the study of human decomposition.
Her first novel, The Devil in Black Creek, is set in 1986, when 12-year-old Cassie discovers an unspeakable secret in the local preacher’s shed.
She lives and writes in her hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she still hangs out at the library for fun. Visit her at her website.

Watch for more to come in the #HookonWiH series….

February was Women in Horror Month (#HookonWiHM) but now we are honoring them all year! It’s time to celebrate and show off what we got! For those of you reading, men AND women both, make an effort to read and watch more horror produced by women this year.

For the #HookonWiH series, or Women in Horror at Hook of a Book, we’ll be hosting interviews conducted by men and women with other women in horror. Watch for those spread throughout the month, and if you want in, contact me! Find more info HERE.

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#HookonWIH: Curtis Interviews Lilyn, Site Founder of Sci-Fi & Scary!

Today in the #HookonWiHM series, the honcho at Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews, Curtis Freeman, interviews horror reader, blogger, and founder of the site Sci-fi & Scary, Lilyn George. This is the first in his three-part series on women blogging in the horror genre. I’m glad we are getting the word out about other women in horror in addition to all the amazing authors. It takes a community to make the genre shine! Lilyn is one of the nicest and yet most brutally honest people working in the genre and she’s always looking on improving her site even amid her already busy regular life. She’s also a great proofreader! I am really thankful myself for all Lilyn has done for me and my clients.

I had been taking interviews by men and women with women in horror, as well as guest articles, throughout the month of February, but I have quite a few still set to post and so I decided to take them all year long. You can find information on this at the bottom of the post. Take it away Curtis – thanks for a great interview with Lilyn!

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CHHR: What was the first horror book you ever read?

SF&S: I haven’t a clue. Probably something Dean Koontz, though.

CHHR: What is the scariest book you ever read?

SF&S: Scott Sigler’s Infected, but for a specific reason. I experienced this as an audio book and would (as I normally do) put it on to listen to as I fell asleep. Well, I wasn’t quite aware of the fact that he was going to make great use of sound effects in the book. I’m used to traditional narration! Anyways, I woke up at like 3 AM one night with the book right next to my ear going “We’re hungry! We’re hungry!” in that overlap of discordant tones. Scared the hell out of me. And I had that happen a few times with this book. It should come with a disclaimer: “Don’t fall asleep listening to it, you don’t know what you’re going to wake up to!”

CHHR: When did you become a blogger? What made you want to blog about books?

SF&S: About 2.5 years ago. Basically, Mira Grant’s book Feed is what turned me on to blogging. Even now it shapes the way I look at things, and how I want to handle the site as a whole. I still love that first book.

CHHR: What annoys you the most with your blog?

SF&S: I can’t make it perfect. Annoys the feck outta me.

CHHR: Do you think there is a gender bias in horror fiction? Explain.

SF&S: In published writing? Hell, yes. Of course there is. However, I think there’s a whole lot of women out there with scary stories tucked away, begging to see the light of day.

CHHR: Do you think there is a gender bias in horror book blogging? Explain.

SF&S: Not that I’ve seen. I know a lot of authors review books as well, so I see a certain predominance of men there, but when it comes to straight up just reviewers? I can name more women horror book bloggers than I can men, so I think it equals out.

CHHR: How can we fix the bias?

SF&S: By doing away with the idea that horror books ‘aren’t real books’ and showing people that it’s okay to have a little fun on the dark side.

CHHR: I find it sad that we still live in a world where women authors have to use initials to seem less female. What are your thoughts?

SF&S: Until we eliminate the idea that the female sex is somehow not as capable as the male sex in certain areas, women are always going to have to be a little tricky to get ahead. I don’t have any particular thoughts as to the trees because I’m looking at the forest, you know?

CHHR: What pushes your buttons with your blog?

SF&S: Authors not reading the bloody review policy and making me waste my time reading the entry forms that I’m inevitably going to reject because they didn’t read the policy!

CHHR: Do you think the Horror Writers Association (HWA) should start recognizing horror book bloggers?

SF&S: Oh yeah, this is the group that Michael Hodges sometimes talks about, isn’t it? They don’t recognize book bloggers? Shame, that.

CHHR: How has the horror community treated you since starting your blog?

SF&S: I’ve met lots of lovely people, and feel treated quite nicely, thanks!

CHHR: What makes a good horror book?

SF&S: A properly edited and proofread manuscript that has been researched as much as possible, with a coherent plot, believable dialogue, and any elements a reader finds scary.

CHHR: What scares you?

SF&S: In life? My living child dying. Having lost one child already, nothing in fiction can compare to that shit. In fiction? Demons and demonic possession.

CHHR: Who’s your favorite horror author? You have to pick one or three authors, but it can’t be two.

SF&S: Bill Schweigart, Danielle DeVor, and William Meikle

CHHR: What books are you most looking forward to in 2018?

SF&S: Courtney Alameda’s Pitch Dark, Jeremy K. Brown’s Zero Limit, and Rob Boffard’s Adrift

SciFi and Scary bio photo

Lilyn George, Biography –

Lilyn George is the founder of the book and film reviews and news site Sci-Fi & Scary, which focuses on primarily independent works.  Insomniac, rabid reader, spoonie, and afflicted by PTSD.  Also, there’s the tentacle thing.

And thank you to Curtis from Cedar Hollow Reviews for his fantastic interview with Lilyn. What a great addition to the women in horror series.

Follow her Sci-fi and Scary site for Science Fiction, Horror, Comics, Film, and More!

Find Lilyn on Twitter too!

About Curtis Freeman-

Curtis

Curtis is a lover of horror books and films and a passionate addition to the horror genre. He reviews at his site Cedar Hollow Reviews and has just begun to interview authors via his YouTube Channel. Curtis even grilled me for over 3 hours one evening. His heartfelt excitement for the genre shows. This is the first in a series of three women horror bloggers Curtis is interviewing for my #HookonWiHM project. You can also find Curtis on Twitter.

Watch for more to come in the #HookonWiHM series….

February was Women in Horror Month but we are honoring them all year! It’s time to celebrate and show off what we got! For those of you reading, men AND women both, make an effort to read and watch more horror produced by women this year.

For the #HookonWiH series, or Women in Horror at Hook of a Book, we’ll be hosting interviews conducted by men and women with other women in horror. Watch for those spread throughout the month, and if you want in, contact me! Find more info HERE.

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#HookonWiHM: Monster Artist and Toronto Native Kendra Sartorelli

With this piece in the #HookonWiHM series, I made an executive decision and took a little deviation. Most of the pieces in the series feature a man or women interviewing a woman in horror in some capacity. This is an interview I sought to do myself to add another dimension to those being spotlighted: artistry! I don’t know if you’d normally think of this woman I’m about to introduce as specifically in horror, when you think of gloom and doom, but she does paint monsters inspired by Stranger Things and The Strain, so to me, she’s in! Some of the monsters could be considered cool or even cute, more than scary, but she paints all types and her interest in carving out this niche in art intrigued me. I hope it does you as well. Please join me in celebrating Kendra and her work by learning more about her in this interview.

Again, I’m celebrating Women in Horror Month by featuring various interviews, or guest articles, on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I thank those who’ve taken the time to interview a woman in horror and to those who’ve answered! Because it’s not just a month long endeavor to support women in horror, please feel free to send them in to me anytime throughout the year too. You’ll find more information at the bottom of the post.

For now, let me introduce you to artist Kendra Sartorelli….

Kendra's professional headshot

Best known for her textured acrylic paintings of original monsters, Kendra Sartorelli is a Toronto-based artist who has been showing locally for several years. She received her BFA degree from OCAD University in 2007 and has since shown her artwork in several solo and group exhibitions, most recently at Super Wonder Gallery, Imagine Cinemas, The Mod Club, Black Cat Gallery, Project Gallery and Propeller. Her paintings can regularly be found on display and for sale at See-Scape Sci-Fi Lounge. Originally from Belleville, Ontario, Canada, she now lives in Toronto with her husband, artist Joel Sartorelli, and manages Above Ground Art Supplies in the Junction.

Interview with Kendra Sartorelli –

Your bio says that you are best known for your acrylic paintings of original monsters! They are almost too cool to be “horrible.” Where do you find the inspiration for your monsters and what is your process in creating them?

My monsters are all original and unique creatures, but they are inspired by a variety of different monsters from popular culture and entertainment.  I use my love of monsters and horror to create new monsters in fine art that I hope will put a smile on the viewer’s face.  My paintings are made using a variety of different acrylic paint mediums, as well as several different painting and sculpting techniques.  I use these different methods to create different textures for the various parts of the monster’s body, such as the eyes, lips, tongue, teeth and skin.  Finishing a monster can sometimes be a long process, but I always try to take my time and aim to create the most interesting monsters I possibly can.

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You have a long list of exhibitions in which you’ve shown your work across Toronto, Canada. What is the response like to your work? Does it match what you hope the response will be?

I find that in general, the response is very positive!  I aim to put a sense of humour in my paintings, and I find that most people smile when they see my work.  People of all ages can love monsters, and I’ve had everyone from children to seniors tell me they love my paintings.  I always love hearing about a viewer’s interpretation of my work.  Different people make different associations with the images, and I love that.

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Are your monsters always scary or do they invoke other emotions or feelings?

I try to create images that are open to interpretation, where the monster doesn’t always need to be scary.  The monster could be trying to scare you, but it could also just be surprised to see you, and be just as scared of you as you are of them.  In my painting “We Need Monsters #3,” which features two monsters facing each other with their tentacles intertwined, I like to think that the monsters could be fighting each other, but they could also be embracing.  One of the beautiful things about art is that everyone will have a different reaction to each piece of work.

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What are your favorite monsters in legend, history, currently?

The monsters that I’m most inspired by are from popular culture, and I especially love movie monsters from the late 20th century and 21st century.  Some of my favourite movie monsters are The Thing, the Alien, and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.  The monsters in my paintings are often reptilian or amphibian in nature, and I find dinosaurs to be inspiring.  I also find inspiration in Cthulu and the work of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as television shows such as Stranger Things and The Strain, and I’m always finding new monsters to love.

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Do you hope or want to sell your work online or internationally? Where do you sell them now?

I have an Etsy store where I sell my smaller original paintings, as well as merchandise such as greeting cards, prints and stickers.  You can find my work for sale there.

You can also order prints and other merchandise featuring my monsters online at Fine Art America.

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What other hopes and goals do you have for your monster line of work? T-shirts, mugs, posters, etc.? Children’s books?

I’m always open to new opportunities for my monsters.  Some merchandise is currently available for sale online at my Etsy and Fine Art America shops.  I’m currently focused on expanding my “We Need Monsters” series of acrylic paintings, and I have several paintings in my studio that I’m working on.

Where are all the places people can find you?

In addition the shops listed above, you can find my work online at my website.

You can follow me on Facebook.

You can follow me on Twitter: @ksartorelliart

If you live in the Toronto area, you can also regularly find my monster paintings on display and for sale at See-Scape, a sci-fi themed bar and games lounge with an art gallery section.  You can find See-Scape at 2840 Dundas Street West, Toronto, (647) 853-9892.

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Watch for more to come in the #HookonWiHM series….

February is Women in Horror Month! Though I agree women should be celebrated on the same level as men every day of the year, I like to partake in Women in Horror projects as a catalyst for spreading the good news and works of women in the genre in hopes that it will carry on throughout the year. It’s time to celebrate and show off what we got! For those of you reading, men AND women both, try to read and watch more horror produced by women this year.

For the #HookonWiHM, or Women in Horror Month at Hook of a Book, we’ll be hosting interviews conducted by men and women with other women in horror. But I won’t only take them in February, I’ll take them all year long. Read the past articles here. If you’d like to participate, let me know.

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#HookonWiHM: Author David Duggins Interviews Horror and Fantasy Author Angeline Hawkes

Today in the #HookonWiHM series, author David Duggins has interviewed author Angeline Hawkes! I adore Dave, but had never heard of Angeline, so very glad he’s introduced another new woman in horror to me. And not only does she write horror, but she’s a fantasy gal too, which is another genre I love. I feel sad I didn’t know her, she’s been writing a long time and has worked with some excellent presses and has garnered high praise. 

I’m taking interviews by men and women with women in horror, as well as guest articles, throughout the month of February, but will schedule throughout the year too in order feature women in horror all year long. You can find information on this at the bottom of the post.

Let’s introduce you to Angeline and then we’ll let Dave take the white page with his interview..

Angeline Hawkes is from Texas, which means she ain’t got no quit in her.  She’s been busy not quitting since 1981.  She works mostly in fantasy and horror, where her publishing credits include stories in Stoker and Origins Award-nominated anthologies, and enough novels featuring monsters and kick-ass warriors to fill a very large transport trailer. 

Sometimes, she writes with her husband, Christopher Fulbright.  Sometimes she writes by herself.  She always writes hard, bright and true, and her characters live in your head for a long time after you’ve read her work.

Her current short fiction collection, Inferno, is available from Elder Signs Press, on Amazon.  Upcoming works include a new horror novel, Cold Is the Mountain, out later this year through Elder Signs, and a short story, “Strange Gods,” in the anthology C.H.U.D. Lives from Crystal Lake Press.

Angeline’s website is http://angelinehawkes.com/

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Interview with Angeline Hawkes

What are you working on now?

Three barbarian/heroic fiction novels all set in my Kabar of El Hazzar world. The novels are in various stages of completion. Every couple months, Christopher Fulbright and I write a new short story or novella for this project or that. We tend to take those opportunities as they come up and write longer works in the meantime. I also have a few non-fiction articles in the works as well.

Has your writing process changed significantly over the years?

Yes. It’s funny because when my four kids were all babies, I wrote my tail off. For some reason I always thought I’d have more time when they were older. I look back at my writing schedule in those days in awe. I don’t know how I did it all! Now that they are older (my youngest is almost 10 years old), I find I don’t have as much time as I did when they were little.

I don’t despair though. As Stevie Nicks says, time makes you bolder, even children get older, and I’m getting older too.  I know some day I’ll look back at this time in my life and remember it fondly even if I’m not cranking out the fiction at break-neck speed like I was ten years ago. I think I’ve moved into the quality over sheer quantity stage of my career. Not that I wasn’t concerned with quality before, but now, I don’t feel the need to place four stories a week. I do what I can. I write when I can, and I let the chips fall.

What advice would you give new writers?

Practice. Write often. Study grammar and sentence structure. Read outside your genre. I think there is a lot to be learned from the old masters: Hawthorne, Dickens, Shakespeare, Hardy, Stevenson, Conrad, O’Henry, Bradbury, etc. Study history. Study PEOPLE. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? People? Every person has a story. Listen to as many of them as you can. Those tales tucked away in your head are the root of character development. Go hang out in a nursing home and spend some time with some of our forgotten elderly. What tales they have to tell!

Stay away from the haters. Storytelling is a gift. Hone it. Don’t be afraid to try a different approach. If something isn’t working, just put it away. You’ll return to it. If you don’t, it probably wasn’t worth the development and time.

Above all, believe in yourself. This is a harsh industry full of constant rejection. YOU have to believe in your talent, believe in your gift. You don’t choose writing. Writing chooses you.

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Amazon Link

Thanks to Dave for providing a wonderful interview!

David Duggins, Biography –

Dave GuitarDavid Duggins is a writer and CG artist who’s been thrashing around in the genre fiction pool for almost thirty years. While he has published short fiction professionally in magazines like Cemetery Dance and Fear, David prefers the DIY approach, and now publishes under his own Silvern Press Imprint.

You can follow or find information on Dave on his websiteHis new novel, Watershed, is available in the Kindle store. You can follow him on Twitter: @dave_duggins

Watch for more to come in the #HookonWiHM series….

February is Women in Horror Month! Though I agree women should be celebrated on the same level as men every day of the year, I like to partake in Women in Horror projects as a catalyst for spreading the good news and works of women in the genre in hopes that it will carry on throughout the year. It’s time to celebrate and show off what we got! For those of you reading, men AND women both, try to read and watch more horror produced by women this year.

For the #HookonWiHM, or Women in Horror Month at Hook of a Book, we’ll be hosting interviews conducted by men and women with other women in horror. Watch for those spread throughout the month, and if you want in, contact me.

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