Category Archives: women in horror

National Poetry Month: Sara Tantlinger Brings Us Poem on the 1893 World’s Fair and a Discussion on Involvement of Serial Killer H.H. Holmes #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

Natl Poetry Month pen

April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more by writers I admire and adore, and also some new poetry writers as well, so stop by often. Tuesday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here and yesterday we read some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich, which you can enjoy here.

Today, Sara Tantlinger joins us with a poem from her Bram Stoker Award nominated recent collection The Devil’s Dreamland, which features poems surrounding serial murderer H.H. Holmes. We are able to read the poem below as well as a discussion by Sara about the themes and locale of the piece – the 1893 World’s Fair – and H.H. Holmes and his involvement in it. As some of my historical fiction friends know, I am a World’s Fair and carnival fanatic. I love anything revolving around it!! Mix that with my obsession with true crime, you’re making me shiver in delight. That means I really enjoyed Sara’s poem and article – I hope you do too!

Thanks, Sara!

crescent moon

An H.H. Holmes Poem Analysis
by Sara Tantlinger, author of The Devil’s Dreamland

Thank you so much to Erin for hosting some poetry fun on her website for National Poetry Month! I am excited to contribute with a poem from The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and to provide a little backstory and history on the poem. The piece is titled “World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)”, referencing the very fair that helped make serial killer H.H. Holmes famous.

Without further ado, please enjoy the poem!

World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)

1893, we celebrate the 400th anniversary

of the barbaric slaughtering

Christopher Columbus brought

unto a new world,

but you will find no anger

toward his history here

as the fairgrounds take form, as visitors

flock in droves to taste the excitement

flickering in the air like pixie dust

 

People keep dying,

workers falling from buildings

accidents in the form of skull

fractures and electrocution

all this death contained within

designing the great fair,

 

yet a madman paces inside

his castle, creating spaces

where supposed accidents

will swallow visitors whole

 

a madman forges his dreams

into piping hot realities

where his World’s Fair Hotel

promises spectacular service

so very close to the fair itself

 

Opening Day comes upon the city

in jovial bursts of color,

mouthwatering scents of exotic

pastries and delicacies from themed

exhibits stationed around the park,

thousands of visitors holding their

breath for President Cleveland

to push a button that ignites

a hundred thousand

glowing lamps across the fields,

illuminating neoclassical figures,

the work of men named Tesla

and Westinghouse

 

Dr. Holmes turns away men at the door,

citing reasons of already being booked

to capacity, yet the young women

stroll right in, are welcomed,

intoxicated by their own freedom

blushing at the handsome doctor

who offers great prices,

who offers warm touches

 

they do not see how excitement alerts

trembles into his fingertips,

eager to taste innocence, summon

screeches from their tender tracheas

lick away saccharine death from dying lips,

listen to the snapping of a windpipe,

 

hungry to snuff out light from

wide eyes,

hungry to cut the lights open,

sever the heart to see how it beats

beneath such fine skin,

glowing like the thousand lamps

across the enchanted fairgrounds

(Originally published in The Devil’s Dreamland, StrangeHouse Books, 2018).

About the Poem –

The fair of 1893 was a magical time. The undertaking and thus construction of everything the fair needed to be successful was an exasperating project. I wanted the poem to reflect the enchantment this exposition offered. After all, people arrived in the thousands during the fair’s run – people from all across the globe. Over 20 million people ended up attending the fair altogether!

This was Chicago’s chance to show the world how beautifully they recovered from the Great Chicago Fire. Gone was the soot and wreckage of the fiery aftermath, and in its place stood a gleaming white city, warm and inviting. However, the poem also needed to honestly reflect what the fair organizers and architects didn’t want anyone to see….

1893 Worlds Fair

While the shine of the fair easily put forth its best face, a true darkness lingered beneath the food, exhibits, new buildings, rides, and everything else the celebration displayed. Construction workers died during the assembly of the fair. A fire broke out in July killing over a dozen fairgoers and firefighters. The White City was a fairytale. Outside the fair, animal corpses rotted on the streets. Stockyards and factories filled Chicago with smoke and filth. Garbage piled up along roads. Poverty and disease were no strangers here. And of course, a madman paced inside a castle fit for Bluebeard himself.

While it’s unlikely H.H. Holmes is responsible for hundreds of murders, he evolved into a tall-tale of someone who invited hundreds of women to stay at his hotel where he supposedly killed them all. This has never really been proven. While the fair showed great strides in science (like Tesla’s work), forensic evidence was not quite evolved enough to give us the solid facts we need to know everything Holmes might have done. However, we are quite sure he did take Minnie Williams and her sister Anna to the fair (I have more poems about their fates in my collection). So, for this piece, I took both fact and fiction, truths and exaggerated ideas, and spun them into a version that fits the Holmes of my book. Either way, this is one fair I think we should all be glad is far in the past.

H._H._Holmes.jpg

Sara Tantlinger, Biography –

Tantlinger_ap2019Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the author of Love For Slaughter and the Stoker-nominated The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, both released with StrangeHouse Books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA.

Her debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be published in July 2019 with Unnerving. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com

The Devil’s Dreamland, Info –

The Devil's Dreamland full rezH.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century. Many of which occurred within his legendary “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America’s first serial killer.

In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man’s own lifetime.

There’s plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in The Devil’s Dreamland.

“…chilling poetry…” —Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

“…morbidly creative and profound crime documentary…one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years.” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

“…fascinating and absolutely riveting…powerful and vivid prose…will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

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National Poetry Month: Poetry from Bram Stoker Award Winner Stephanie Wytovich #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more so stop by often. Yesterday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here.

Today, please enjoy some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich. I dare you not to feel.

Thanks for sharing with us, Stephanie!

crescent moon

Surgical Fantasies of the Past Ten years
Originally Published in Yes, Poetry

I tattoo incision lines on my stomach,
dream about surgically removing my ugliness.

At sixteen, the girls put laxatives in my peppermint tea,
laughed at me in the mirror when I tried to scream away my calories.

At 26, I cried in the shower when my skin didn’t fall off,
vomited the memories of my ex telling me I was diseased.

Inside, my lungs are a crawl space filled with candy wrappers,
my ribs broken from too many bathroom breaks ending in blood.

There are 206 bones in the human body,
Tell me, how many are in a monster?

 

____

 

Emergency Masturbation Fantasy
Originally Published in Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare

I masturbate to an empty chair

My hand moving up and down

like yours never did

I try to see your face

Scream your name

But     I       can’t

And I wonder if you exist

If my memories are from photographs of people I never met

Whose stories I don’t know

I climax to your eyes

Taste the saliva on your lips

But       I           don’t

Because you’re an empty chair

And my box is broken

Like yours never was

I should stop blaming myself

Quit bleeding for sport

But       I           won’t.

 

___

 

Post-Traumatic Spiders
Originally Published in Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare

My doctor scribbled in her notepad,

“What do you want to talk about today?”

I was already crying

I ate all the cough drops on the table when she wasn’t looking

Her dog was asleep on my foot

I just left my one-night stand in the parking lot.

Frustration wore on her face like the foundation she forgot to wear

“Are the nightmares back?”

I spun my ring around my thumb

I thought about how you said I wore too much jewelry

I tongued the scar on the inside of my cheek

The tarantulas are everywhere.

Her right foot tapped against the carpeted floor

“You know it’s okay, right? That none of this is your fault?”

I didn’t believe her

I felt its legs crawling up my shoulder

I watched it watch me.

I could have stopped it. I could have said no.

 Fifty minutes passed like fifty seconds

“Same time again next Wednesday?

I nodded my head

I picked the spider off my cheek

I swallowed the web it had spun around my mouth

The silk tasted like semen and blood.

Stephanie M. Wytovich, Biography –

Wytovich Headshot_4Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Fantastic Tales of Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction.

Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich on her blog and on twitter @SWytovich​.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is her most recent collection. Read about it here!

Sheet Music Front CoverSheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, Info –

Roll the windows down, wipe the blood off your cheek, and turn the music up. Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare by Stephanie M. Wytovich is a collection spattered with dirt and blood, sage and corpses. The poems inside are confessionals and dirges, their stories the careful banter of ghosts and sinners over tequila at the bar.

These pages hold the lyrics to the beautiful grotesque that Wytovich is known for, but here she writes with a raw honesty that we haven’t seen from her before. This new direction takes readers to hospital rooms and death beds, shows the mask that was skinned off her face time and time again. There’s a brutality to her lines that cuts with the same knife she fantasized about it, her blood and tears mixed in with stanzas as she talks about suicide and abuse, heartbreak and falling in love.

Written during a time when the road was her home, these poems were sung under the stars and screamed in the woods, carved into trees. They are broken bottles and cigarette butts, stale coffee and smeared lipstick, each its own warning, a tale of caution.
Listen to them carefully.

They very well might save your life.

Find it on GoodReads to Add or Buy.

Stop back tomorrow for a post from Sara Tantlinger. Then, join us next week when we highlight a bunch more wonderful poetry. Have a great week!

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Interview: Author Gina Marie Guadagnino on Debut Novel The Parting Glass, Featuring Irish-American Characters

Interview, Author Gina Marie Guadagnino of The Parting Glass

Hello everyone! After over two weeks of respiratory illness in our house, and all time spent recovering, taking care of home and others (partner, kids, parents), the brakes going out on my car and needing fixed, and then mad crazy catching up on my actual freelance publishing work load that pays the bills, I was able to get back to the Oh, for the Hook of a Book! site today. Alas, I missed putting up my usual St. Patrick Day post with books, movies, and treats. I did make Irish Stew on Sunday though!

I read The Parting Glass by Gina Marie Guadagnino before succumbing to the ick, which meant I read just prior to its March 5 release date, and it fittingly has Irish characters set in mid-1800s NYC! I’ll have a review, and others, I’m catching up on, but I was able to conduct an interview with Gina in which we talk about her books, themes (Irish immigrants, LGBT+ characters), and how she writes historical and dark fiction like me. She even gives writers some good advice, with this being her debut novel.

Enjoy the interview and let us know what you think in the comments!

________________________

Hi Gina! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m very happy you’ve joined us today. Not only is it Women in History Month, but it’s the celebration of the release of your debut novel, The Parting Glass, which is a book that combines quite a bit – an NYC historical setting, plight of Irish immigrants and the scene of the day coupled with their various relationships, intrigue, as well as love and LGBT+ themes. We have much to explore, especially since I’ve come to learn you are also a writer of dark fiction like me as well.

Parting Glass Cover

First, come in and join me. In honor of your arrival, though it isn’t relative to what Irish-Americans would eat or drink in 1837, the time period of your book, I’ve baked my Irish Soda Bread with raisins and brewed some fresh Irish coffee. If it’s too early to make yours with whiskey, then just tell me how you’d like it. Have a seat in my plush library chairs and I’ll be in.

Emma's Soda Bread

Acutal photo of the Irish Soda Bread my 15 year old daughter and I baked this weekend for St. Patrick’s Day!

Gina: Hi Erin! Thanks so much for having me. I should be good like my protagonist Maire and refuse a belt on a workday, but how often does a girl get to publish her debut novel? So I guess you can make mine a double! That soda bread smells delicious, by the way.

Erin: Mmm, it does – and cheers to special occasions! Now that we are settled, let’s begin. I work, write, and read in history as well as dark fiction and so you’ll find a mix of those peers and readers following along with our talk. First, The Parting Glass is your debut book. Tell us about it in your own words and your inspiration for writing it.

Gina: When I started writing The Parting Glass, I had recently moved to Florida so that my spouse could pursue a PhD, and I was really missing New York. I had either lived or worked or studied on Washington Square for the ten years previous to our move, and all I could think about was going back, so I started writing a short story set on the Square. My primary focus is on historical fiction, so I started thinking about the kinds of people who would have lived and worked there when the brick row houses were new. At first, my goal was to expose the various strata of individuals in a single house, with almost a Downton Abbey kind of feel, but quickly, the stories of Maire, Seanin, and Charlotte came to the fore.

Washington Square drawing

Houses on Washington Square North, New York / Image sent by Gina

Washington Square North

Washington Square North / Image provided by Gina

Erin: It’s described as having an “Upstairs Downstairs” feel regarding its use of characters that are the hired help intertwining with the NYC elite they worked for at the time. You’ve studied American history, and Irish history, do you feel most people today realize that this concept didn’t end in the New World even as late as the mid-1800s? (These days, I don’t! lol!) What do you feel most people lack to understand about society in NYC then and how the Irish immigrants fit into it?

Gina: I think that most people have a general idea that American retained a robust servant class throughout the 19th century, yes. The massive influx of Irish peasants fleeing the Great Hunger in the 1840s and 50s resulted in a disproportionate number of Irish domestic servants in the latter half of the 1800s, but The Parting Glass takes place in the 1830s. I tried to use the temporal setting to explore the diversity of New York’s servant class, using the Walden’s household as a microcosm. You have Irish immigrants like Seanin, of course, but you also have New Yorkers of English and Scottish extraction, like the housekeeper and butler, Mrs. Harrison and Mr. Buckley. Then you have former slaves, like Mrs. Freedman and her deceased husband, Frank. Mrs. Freedman her son Young Frank, and the scullion Agnes all would have been slaves before they were freed in New York’s Emancipation Act of 1827. Most of the rest of the servants are people who would consider themselves “native” New Yorkers – so you see that, at the time The Parting Glass takes place, Irish immigrants played a much smaller role than they would only a decade later.

Erin: Interesting! What are the types of struggles on the surface that some of your characters are struggling with in society? What public persona is each trying to retain, no matter their social standing?

Gina: In terms of Society with a capital S, Charlotte and Prudence are the characters struggling most with the chafing expectations of maintaining their social standing. Charlotte never questioned that the trajectory of her life would include a grand society marriage before she met Seanin, while Prudence’s love of music had previously made marriage seem a dull prospect. The irony here is that when Prudence actually does fall for someone who would make a society match desirable for her, the potential groom is infatuated with Charlotte. Meanwhile, amongst the society of servants, Maire is struggling to fit in, pretending that she is not Irish. The irony for her is that her brother, who is open about his Irish ethnicity, is better-liked amongst the Walden’s servants than she is.

Erin: What are the challenges they are facing and hiding under the depth of surface? Your characters lead double lives – why did you choose to unravel these themes within your work? What did you hope to show in the parallels?

Gina: I really wanted to subvert the historical marriage plot with which we’re all so familiar. So many books about women set in the early 19th century fixate on the need for women to marry to secure their places in society. Even when those women are conflicted or have other mitigating factors in their lives, respectable marriage is still the ultimate goal. I wanted to explore women for whom that goal was unsatisfactory: queer women for whom marriage was not an option, women who prized art and autonomy over matrimony, women who prized love over status, sex workers who were ambitious about staying sex workers. I wanted to use the hidden narratives to express the unexpected ways in which women like Maire and Liddie were less burdened by societal expectations than more privileged women like Charlotte and Prudence whose lives were laid out before they were born.

Erin: I feel you were courageous in writing these characters, even today. Which was your favorite character to write? Which was the most challenging?

Gina: Liddie was by far my favorite character to write. She’s witty, ambitious, and practical; she doesn’t suffer fools. I had been thinking about writing a character like her for quite a while – 19th century sex workers and brothel owners are a fascination of mine – and she fit so seamlessly into The Parting Glass. Because I love Shakespeare, I gave her a theatrical origin story so that I could have her spouting some of my favorite Bardic quotations. Charlotte was actually one of the hardest characters to write. She’s naturally placid and aloof, very self-contained, and since we only see her through the eyes of the other characters, it was hard for me to strike the right tone with her!

Erin: Of course, your book is well-researched and intelligent in its foundation, but it’s not completely heavy on the themes of the dueling sociality of the characters (meaning it’s an entertaining, captivating read), but also explores love and forbidden desires. What did you decide to push the boundaries of writing and themes for readers? How did you?

Gina: You know, this might sound strange, but I really don’t think I was pushing too many boundaries here. Love and desire are really very basic human emotions that color so much of what we do. That was true a thousand years ago, it was true in the 1830s, and it’s true today. I think that you can write a book with intense political themes and then complicate matters with affairs of the heart and have the whole thing harmonize because that’s just what humans do.

Erin: Of the themes in your novel, what are the primary connections and correlations that you hope readers will leave with? Are you a believer that as people vary, that will vary?

Gina: I hope that people will leave the story aware of how little has changed in our society with regard to the way we legislate women’s bodies, the bias with which we treat immigrants, the marginalization of LGBTQ+ people, etc. And I hope that, being struck by those parallels, people are galvanized to do something about it.

Erin: Your book has been described as having tinges of Sarah Waters, due to its exploration of lesbian characters, but also Edith Wharton mixed with Emma Donoghue (via the amazing author Kris Walderr). To that end, do your characters develop with us in understanding themselves? Does a greater feminine achievement exist or is it a searching of mean for all various people within your characters?

Gina: I think Maire definitely develops along with the reader in terms of who she is and what she’s capable of. Without giving too much away, Maire starts off the book having completely suppressed all her desires in life beyond her desire for Charlotte, and even there, she has ceded her claim to her brother. She is, in many ways, the perfect servant because her mistress’s desires are her own. She doesn’t even believe she has the right to the sexual desire she feels for Charlotte. Over the course of the book, as the secret life Maire has build begins to unravel, as she meets other women who are willing to risk their comfort or their station to achieve their goals, she slowly comes into her own.

Erin: You’ve achieved something all writers search for with a debut novel, to be published traditionally by an exceptional house. How did this process happen for you? What do you feel helped you to accomplish this? (And congratulations!!)

Gina: Thank you! (clink Irish coffees!) It was a slow process. It took me five years to write and revise the novel – I think by the time I got around to querying agents, I was using draft 5. And then it took me about 18 months – and 181 query letters! – before I was offered representation by the amazing Alexandra Machinist at ICM. Alexandra truly believed in this novel – in its messy characters and complicated themes – and she had a vision of the type of editor to whom it would appeal. Trish Todd at Atria (formerly Touchstone) connected with the novel right away, and in our first call together, I knew my book was going to be in great hands.

Erin: In addition, what tips would you have for aspiring novelists?

Gina: I know that everyone says “be tenacious; don’t give up,” and while that’s obviously true in my case, I will also say “find the right allies.” Not every novel is right for every agent or every publisher. So figure out what your core message or values are, and find others who share them. Those are the people who will help propel your vision.

Erin: In looking through your website, I noticed that you not only write short stories like me (I have published a collection of dark poetry and stories and have contributed so anthologies in the genre), but that you’ve written dark fiction as well! I think dark fiction lends itself well to short works. What have you enjoyed about writing darker stories? Which has/have been your favorite(s) you’ve written?

Gina: The thing is, I never actually sit down and say to myself, “okay, I’m going to write something dark.” I set out to write something historical, or something with a supernatural element, or even something comical, and then they just come out dark anyway! I’m not sure what that says about me! Perhaps ironically, the one time I did try to write a truly dark story – about a woman who is unable to remember whether or not she committed a murder – I was unable to get it published. But that was years before Girl on the Train and that whole genre, so maybe I should try submitting it again!

Erin: You should! I was thinking I wanted to edit an anthology of women and crime, and this would be perfect. Now I just need someone to publish it and let me curate it. haha!

I’m wondering if you’re like me in how your writing and reading adventures cover a wide array. Are there darker elements you’ve brought to your longer or historical fiction like The Parting Glass? If so, what or why not? (In my personal opinion, I feel like the obsession element leans toward that!)

Gina: Obsession can be very dark, and lead people to dark places, so that’s certainly an element in my longer fiction, as in The Parting Glass.

Erin: Do you feel you will continue to write dark flash or short story pieces? What about a novel trending more towards dark fiction or horror?

Gina: Can I tell you a secret? I kind of hate writing short stories! It’s so hard for me to be concise and wrap up a short story neatly or satisfyingly. I have enormous respect for talented short story writers because that style of writing is such a struggle for me. In general, I tend to write longer work, with rare and occasional sparks that become standalone short stories. My current work in progress is something I’m calling a “reverse gothic novel.” In a traditional gothic novel, the characters believe that horrific and wild and sometimes supernatural things are happening around them, but in the end, there is a perfectly logical (if sometimes far-fetched) explanation. My latest novel, which takes place in the 1810s, is about a family who prides themselves on being so logical and rational that they never suspect that the events unfolding around them are as wild and outrageous as they really are!

Erin: That sounds fun and Gothic is my thing. Keep me updated!

I believe that you are completing more graduate studies, but in Irish studies this time? What have you studied previously and why, and also, why now Irish studies? How does this help you, or will help you, in your writing? Do you plan to write more historical novels?

Gina: I did my undergraduate work in English with a double minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Irish Studies, and I also have my MFA in Fiction. I plan to write many more historical novels set in Ireland and the Irish diaspora, and I wanted to pursue a degree in Irish Studies to support the research I do for my novels. I find the academic work I do deeply inspirational, and I already have so many avenues I want to explore as a result of my studies.

Erin: Some easier questions now! What are some of your favorite historical reads? What are some of your favorite dark fiction reads?

Gina: Well, we’ve already mentioned Sarah Waters and Emma Donaghue; they’re obviously high on the list. I love the works of Lyndsay Faye – particularly her Gods of Gotham trilogy. For medieval historical fiction, Nicola Grifith’s Hild and Ariana Franklin’s Mistress of the Art of Death – the latter of which definitely qualifies as a dark read! I also love Jo Baker’s Longbourne, and Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, which certainly has some dark elements to it. And speaking of Kris Waldherr, as we were a moment ago, her debut novel, The Lost History of Dreams, is a delightfully dark historical work, out next month!

The Lost History of Dreams

Erin: We have a lot of reading interests in common! Since it’s Women in History month, who is a woman of history that you feel more people should know about and why?

Gina: I’m going to go with Asenath Hatch Nicholson, who I just learned about in my Irish Women’s History class. She was a social reformer and philanthropist (despite often being in dire financial straits herself) who was deeply concerned with the plight of the Irish in Five Points, and eventually became instrumental in the relief efforts during the Great Hunger. She was a fascinating and complicated woman with a mind of her own. While I don’t agree with all of her political or religious views, she was a true humanitarian, and a unique spirit. Go look her up!

Asenath_Nicholson

Asenath Hatch Nicholson / Image provided by Gina 

Erin: And since it’s March, and St. Patrick’s day was something we recently celebrated (one of my favorites!), can you share with us a favorite St. Patrick’s day recipe, story or legend, or something unique for readers?

Gina: This might sound a little out there, but go with me. My all time favorite Irish dessert is something I once had in a pub in Dublin in 2001. It was a huge slice of soda bread, topped with a scoop of Guinness ice cream, covered in dark chocolate whiskey sauce. Over the years, I have tweaked various recipes until I have perfected my own version of it, which I’ve attached. If you have a soda bread recipe of your own that you love, feel free to substitute that. And, like Ina Garten always says, if you don’t want to make your own Guinness ice cream, store bought is fine!

Irish Soda Bread:

3 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

3 tbs caraway seeds, plus more

1 cup raisins

1 ½ cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, caraway seeds, and raisins. Add the buttermilk. Dough should be sticky, but easy to handle. Knead into a ball with floured hands. Place in a floured pan or cookie sheet, flouring only under the loaf to prevent burning. Flatten into a 7-inch circle with your hands. To allow expansion, cut a deep cross from side to side in the top of the dough with a sharp knife dipped in flour. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the bread is crusty brown. Cool before slicing.

Guinness Ice Cream:

12 ounces Guinness stout
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half and half
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
6 raw egg yolks, sterilized

In a large saucepan, simmer the Guinness until reduced by 3/4 in volume, about 8 minutes. Combine the cream, half and half, and sugar in a medium, heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the pan and add the vanilla bean halves. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat.

Beat the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk 1 cup of the warm cream mixture into the egg yolks. Gradually add the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream, to the rest of the warm cream. Whisk thoroughly until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing down against the surface to keep a skin from forming. Chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Remove from refrigerator and add the Guinness reduction, whisking until well blended. Pour into the bowl of an ice cream machine and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until ready to serve.

Dark Chocolate-Whiskey Sauce:
2 cups whipping cream
¼ cup honey

¼ cup whiskey
20 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, combine cream and honey over medium heat until just simmering. Reduce to low and add the chocolate and vanilla, whisking until smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in the whiskey. Let stand until cool but still pourable. Serve over Guinness ice cream.

To Assemble:

Lay a thick slice of soda bread at the bottom of a bowl. Add a generous scoop of the ice cream and smother the whole thing in chocolate-w

Erin: WHAT?!! Irish Soda Bread sundae. Oh, my! Thank you for the recipes!

What else do you have planned for 2019 or beyond besides anything you might have already mentioned? What is the future looking like for you? What are you most looking forward to?

Gina: I’m actually headed to Ireland soon on a research trip for novel number three. It’s going to be set in Donegal during the Great Hunger, and I’m hoping start drafting it this summer. I haven’t been to Ireland since 2006, and I’m really excited to be heading back. I’ll be there for over a week, and in addition to my research in Donegal, I’m looking forward to visiting some old favorite spots, and getting to a few new places I’ve always wanted to visit.

Erin: Where can everyone find you online to connect?

Gina: My website is www.ginamarieguadagnino.com, and I can be found on both Instagram and Twitter at @mymarginalia – because you can’t spell marginalia without Gina!

Erin: Thank you so very much Gina for enduring all my questions! I have an overactive curiosity for people, places, things. I hope that you will stop by again in the future and wish you the best of luck with The Parting Glass and all things in the future. Let’s kick back and enjoy a few more drinks before you go!

Gina: Thank you so much, Erin! It’s always such a pleasure to sit down and talk with people like you who have such a deep appreciation for the historical! Thanks for making this a fun visit!

Parting Glass CoverThe Parting Glass, Information –

Pub date: March 5, 2019
Publisher: Touchstone
Hardcover; $26.00
ISBN: 978-1501198410

Will a brother and sister’s steadfast vow withstand their wild devotion to the same woman? THE PARTING GLASS, a tempestuous nineteenth century love triangle threatens all that one secretive servant holds dear, is Gina Marie Guadagnino’s lush and evocative debut.

Posing as a lady’s maid in 1837 New York City, Maire O’Farren must tread carefully. The upper echelons of society despise the Irish and Maire, known to her employers only as Mary Ballard, takes great care to conceal her native lilt and lineage. Nor would the household be pleased with a servant who aids her debutante’s midnight assignations with a stable groom. Least of all would they tolerate a maid who takes a stronger liking to her charge than would be deemed entirely suitable for her sex.

Maire tends to wealthy young heiress Charlotte Walden’s every whim and guards her every secret. Though it pains her, Maire even delivers her brother Seanin to her beloved’s bed each Thursday night, before shedding her clandestine persona and finding release from her frustration in the gritty underworld around Washington Square. Despite her grief, Maire soon attracts the attentions of irreverent and industrious prostitute Liddie Lawrence, who soothes Maire’s body and distracts her burning heart.

As an English baron and a red-blooded American millionaire vie for Charlotte’s affections, Seanin makes calculated moves of his own, adopting the political aspirations of his drinking companions and grappling with the cruel boundaries of class and nationality. As Seanin rises in rank in a secret society and the truth of both women’s double lives begin to unravel, Charlotte’s secrets soon grow so dangerous even Maire cannot keep them. Forced to choose between loyalty to her brother or to her lady, between respectable society or true freedom, Maire finally learns that her fate lies in her hands alone.

Deeply researched and finely rendered, THE PARTING GLASS captures the delicate exuberance of nineteenth century high society, while examining sexuality, race, and social class in ways that feel startlingly familiar and timely. Perfect for fans of Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Emma Donoghue’s Slammerkin, Guadagnino’s captivating upstairs/downstairs historical fiction debut will leave readers breathless.

Gina Marie Guadagnino, Biography –

Gina Marie Guadagnino Author Photo by L.M. PaneGina Marie Guadagnino received a BA in English from New York University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School.

Her work has appeared in the Morris-Jumel Mansion Anthology of Fantasy and Paranormal FictionMixed Up: Cocktail Recipes (and Flash Fiction) for the Discerning Drinker (and Reader).

She lives in New York City with her family.

Praise for The Parting Glass

Downton Abbey meets Gangs of New York in this darkly compelling debut. A claustrophobic love triangle of stifled desire and class warfare plays out to deadly, devastating effect. A gem of a novel to be inhaled in one gulp.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of THE ALICE NETWORK

“Knotted thickly with secrets both fervid and calculating, to read THE PARTING GLASS is to enter a jungle of passions and lies. Immaculately researched and gorgeously written, this book is noteworthy for its grasp of the agony caused by hiding cracks in the human heart. A thoughtful, lyrical, sensuous, moving tour-de-force.” —Lyndsay Faye, author of JANE STEELE

 Purchase –

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Interview: On Writing Dark Obsession, Chatting with Author Latashia Figueroa #HookonWiHM #WIHM #Horror

Today I welcome Latashia Figueroa to the site! This amazing lady is always a breath of fresh air and positivity, so laid back –  until she’s slaying on the page! Maybe you’ve enjoyed her dark tale of obsession, Ivy’s Envy? The second in the Want & Decay series, Thomas’s Want, will be published soon.

In full disclosure, I’m working as Latashia’s editor and I love assisting her in this regard – just recently adding her to my client list as I’m editing Thomas’s Want. I can’t help but want everyone to know about her if they don’t already. She’s a great woman to round out my women in horror month tenth anniversary spots I’ve been featuring for February. I hope you enjoy learning about her as much as I did – if you like suspenseful horror, you’ll surely get along with Latashia!

Latashia

Hi Latashia, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so happy you’ve joined us. I should let everyone in on the fact that I’m your editor, but it doesn’t make me bias at all when I say I enjoy your work! I love how you bring suspense to your dark thrillers and horror – page turners! Come in and we’ll have drinks and a few snacks and settle in for a chat. What’s your drinking pleasure?

Latashia: Hi Erin, thanks so much for inviting me. I’m an IPA girl. Dog Fish Head or Two Hearted Ale would be nice. Thanks!

Erin: Two Hearted Ale it is! Seems legit to wrap-up February, though it has more to do with the river I think — that’s okay, I love the water too! I’m not an IPA girl myself, luckily I can make any drink magically appear! Ha! For me, I’ll go to my stand-by of rum and coke. 

johns-bells-two-hearted-ale

Cheers!

Let’s get started! You used to work in NYC fashion scene, so what drew you back to writing?

Latashia: Yes, I worked in NYC for years and lived there for a few years as well. I’m actually right across the river now, and I am always in the city. I consider NY my second home. But, back to your question. The NYC Fashion scene was exciting, but grueling, and often, unrewarding. When the company I worked for downsized, instead of heading back to find another job in fashion, I decided to follow my passion. I know, very cliche. I’ve been writing since I was a child. My mom reminded me of this. Yes, I knew I would not be making the money I made in fashion, but the dream is more important. My husband, thankfully, encouraged me as well.

Erin: Give me the scoop, did you meet characters in NYC that you secretly place in your books?

Latashia: Haha, no,not at all. My characters are strictly from my imagination. I did have a young muse for one of my stories. A beautiful little girl who I adore. Her eyes, lovely and haunting. She never got upset when she was disciplined, she just stared at you with those eyes. I would wonder, “What is she thinking? What’s behind those eyes?” That’s how my story Wrapped in Small Flesh and Bone, one of the stories in my short collection, This Way Darkness, was born.

Erin: Where do you get the inspiration from for your books and stories?

Latashia: Strictly from my head. A scenario will just pop in my mind and if I can’t get rid of it, that means the story wants to be heard. I simply oblige by writing it down.

Erin: That happens to me too – all the time! Ha! Your books Ivy’s Envy, and the upcoming Thomas’s Want, are derived from the darkness of obsession. Tell us about them in your own words.

Latashia: Sometimes, obsession can be mistaken for love. It is not the same thing, though people have convinced themselves that it is. Obsession is a dangerous thing, and the stories never end well. The Want & Decay stories follow the entangled lives of three people tormented by lust, jealousy, madness, and murder. Ivy’s Envy is the first installment, Thomas’s Want is the second, and Deana’s Decay will be the last.

ThomassWantFromLH

Recently revealed on Instagram – Cover Reveal for Thomas’s Want! Cover work by Lynne Hansen.

Erin: I believe you also have a short story collection, This Way Darkness? What are those stories like?

Latashia: Yes, This Way Darkness is my first debut short horror collection, and I am very proud of it. The stories are much more horror driven.

Erin: Do you feel that horror reaches into the everyday life often these days, tilting more of the thriller and suspense novels to the dark side?

Latashia: You know, horror is a genre that can be crossed with many genres. Romance, suspense, and especially thrillers. I think horror makes stories more exciting. I am not a reader or watcher of
romance (sorry guys). But add horror or thriller element to the story and I’m in.

Erin: Do you enjoy looking at the human psyche and pulling out characters and stories? I know I enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing psychology into my works.

Latashia: Yes, absolutely. The human mind is interesting and very fragile. It doesn’t take much to push someone over the edge of what we perceive as normal. I think humans are much scarier than any monster that can be thought up. And honestly, when I turn off my light at night, I’m not scared of what creature is lurking under my bed. I’m thinking about the neighbor I got off the elevator with who gives me a smile and a “have a good night,” before he slowly closes his door.

IvysEnvyFinalFromLH

Erin: Yikes! Haha! Yes, I agree. What are some of your favorite horror novels and movies? And why?

Latashia: Oh, wow. That’s quite a list, Erin. Here’s just a few:

Rosemary’s Baby, both the novel and the movie. Ira Irvin’s tale of Manhattan witches, and Roman Polanski’s screen adaptation, are just sensationally creepy. And it’s done without the blood and gore that horror is known for. The story is subtle and steady with a double-edged climax. *Spoiler Alert!!* Not only has Rosemary Woodhouse been right all along in her belief that her neighbors are witches and her husband has helped orchestrate the unholy contract for his own personal gain, but in the end, Rosemary is committed to becoming a mother to what she has brought into this world. *End Spoiler*

Rosemary's Baby

Burnt Offerings, by Robert Marasco. The book and the made for tv movie is a favorite of mine. A slow burn with great atmospheric tension about a house that slowly comes alive at the cost of the summer renters.

Pet Semetary by the King himself.

Halloween, by John Carpenter. This movie will always be a favorite of mine. Michael Myers represents so much. “The shape,” as he was called in the script, is a terror that stalks you and no matter how much you try to run, try to escape, he/it is there. Relentless in his pursuit of you. Terrifying.

Erin: Who are some fellow Women in Horror you admire or like the works of? What books have you enjoyed?

Latashia: I enjoy Linda Addison, Tananarive Due, Anne Rice, Shirley Jackson. I have taken a real interest in women screenwriters and directors as well. Jennifer Kent, screenwriter/director of The Babadook and Karyn Kusama director of The Invitation and Destroyer.

The-Invitation-Karyn-Kusama

Karyn Kusama on set of The Invitation

Erin: I loved The Invitation! How about overall books and movies (not just horror) you have enjoyed? Any gender or genre.

Writers: I like Liane Moriarty, A.J. Finn, Ruth Ware, B.A. Paris, Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen (they make a good writing team). I also enjoy reading stories from my friend John F.D. Taff.

Movies? There are so many. I really enjoy the classics: All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? ANYTHING Alfred Hitchcock. I really enjoy movies by M. Night Shyamalan; I feel critics give him a hard time. He’s original and imaginative. My new favorite, Jordan Peele, he understands horror. No one can dispute how terrifying and original Get Out is. I’m looking forward to his upcoming movie, Us. Mr. Peele is also rebooting Rod Serling’s classic The Twilight Zone … Yaaaay! I’m also into binge worthy series as well: True Detective, Ozark, and Sneaky Pete. I adored Killing Eve, looking forward to season 2.

Erin: Wow, we have a lot of things we like to read and watch in common! This could have easily been a good portion of my own list. I am really excited to see what Peele does with The Twilight Zone re-make on CBS.

With all women out there have to do, how do you fit writing into your life? Do you have a plan or structure?

Latashia: I freelance occasionally, my schedule is unpredictable. But, I try to just get up and write. If I’m not in front of my laptop, I carry a notebook around. I could be having lunch with a friend or dinner with my husband and I’ll just stop and write a sentence or a paragraph. It has to get written down or else, it’s gone and I’m cursing myself for not capturing it.

No, I do not plan or structure, I just write.

Erin: Me either. So many I talk to do outlines and have writing times and plans. I write when it strikes me, just as you said, whether it’s at dinner or in the car. It’s really the only way to fit it in. You know, exactly how you said with our jobs, unpredictable. But I am trying hard to make progress at my age with some planning. Haha!

This Way Darkness

Have you had any challenges as far as being a female writer? What and how did you overcome them? Or do you feel that women have challenges overall – what is your advice?

Latashia: I feel like I had more challenges in the corporate world than I do in the writing community. There will always be challenges. All you can do is put your best work forward, your best voice.

Erin: I feel some of that too, especially in the small town I’m living in. What’s next for you in the next year or two? What are your goals for 5-10 years down the line?

Latashia: I don’t plan that far ahead, life is so unpredictable. I go step by step and try to enjoy as I go. I am working on a story right now that I plan to submit to an agent. We’ll see what happens.

Erin: Living in the moment can be a good thing! What do you like to do when you’re not writing or working?

Latashia: I practice Yoga every day, the stretching and the flowing movements helps me to think more clearly. I also take a hip-hop class once a month on Saturdays. I love cooking and eating. So if I’m not in the kitchen whipping up something healthy and hearty, hubby and I are out discovering a new restaurant.

Erin: Sounds amazing! Thank you so much for hanging out with me and chatting today! It’s was fun to introduce readers to you and your thoughts. Talk soon! 😊

Latashia: Thanks, Erin. You’re awesome.

Erin: Back at you!

Latashia Figueroa, Biography –

LatashiaLatashia Figueroa began telling tales at an early age, writing short stories for her mother to read and review. She worked in NYC’s Fashion Industry for over ten years before returning to her love of writing.

She is the author of the short stories collection, This Way Darkness: Three Tales of Terror, the adult thriller Ivy’s Envy (Want & Decay Trilogy, #1) and the upcoming Thomas’s Want (Want & Decay Trilogy, #3).

Latashia is a nature and animal lover. She practices yoga daily and dreams of owning a farm someday …and skydiving over it.

Visit Latashia Figueroa on Instagram (@frayedpages), Twitter (@latashfigueroa), or her website.

IvysEnvyFinalFromLH

About Ivy’s Envy (Want & Decay, #1) –

Latashia Figueroa’s riveting Want & Decay Trilogy follows the entangled lives of three people tormented by lust, jealousy, madness and murder. In this first book, Ivy’s Envy, Ivy James has had a history of violence with the men she falls for. Her grandmother and parents know what Ivy is capable of when things don’t go her way.

Now Ivy has become obsessed with Thomas Miles, a man who works at her office. She is certain that Thomas loves her too. But there are people who stand in the way of Ivy and Thomas finally being together, like his wife, Deana. Determined to have the love that is their destiny, Ivy will go down a very dark and twisted road to make Thomas hers, and hers alone. But Ivy is not the only one who has dark secrets, and everyone involved will soon learn that pursuing love and passion to the extreme can lead to terrifying consequences.

“I loved this tale of familial obligations, misplaced love and failed seduction. It’s twisted and effed up and that’s how I like my horror to be. Bravo to you, Latashia, bring on the next book!”  – Char at Char’s Horror Corner

“The story was simply all-consuming the entire way through. While I’m usually “too good” at guessing the final outcome well in advance, I have to applaud the author for coming up with something so unique–yet at the same time, perfectly fitting–that I never had even a clue about what was to come. The second book in this trilogy can not come soon enough for me! I’ll be picking up everything I can from this author.” – Kim, Horror After Dark

Add to GoodReads
Purchase on Amazon (currently on sale as s 2/28/19 for $1.99)

Thanks so much to Latashia for rounding out our Women in Horror Month series for February (though there is more to come in March)! I hope you’ve all enjoyed learning about so many women in horror this month along with me!

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Interview: Debut Author and Anthology Editor Sarah Read! #WIHMX #HookonWiHM #Horror

Today I welcome Sarah Read, author of the recently released The Bone Weaver’s Orchard and editor-in-chief of Pantheon Magazine, to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so happy she’s joined me and we find out we have quite a bit in common! You’ll find Sarah to be outgoing, kind, and one smart cookie. I hope you enjoy learning about her debut novel (a Gothic horror mystery for adult and YA readers), what she learned writing her first novel, and tips and advice from an editor on submission processes.

Hi Sarah, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so happy you’ve joined us. Come in and we’ll make some coffee, grab some cupcakes from the counter, and settle in for a chat. How do you take your coffee?

Sarah: Hello, Erin! Thank you so much for having me! I’ll take my coffee with milk, no sugar, please. But yeah, I’ll have a whole bunch of these cupcakes!

cherry chocolate

Erin: Aren’t cupcakes the best?! I made them this morning. I hope you like cherry chocolate! It’s a new favorite of mine.. And milk in your coffee it is, I’ll pour it in. Let’s get started! Your newest release is The Bone Weaver’s Orchard. Tell us about it in your own words.

Sarah: My book is a Gothic horror mystery. There’s an old abbey, which is now the Old Cross School for Boys. There is young Charley and his collection of insects and arachnids—and the other students who don’t care for Charley’s pets. There are secret passages and missing persons and abandoned structures and unnecessary surgeries. There are some old legends come to life, and new legends come to death, and, I hope, some dread.

Erin: This sounds like the perfect read for me. I LOVE Gothic more than just about anything and this sounds like a lot of fun. I read somewhere that this can be read by both YA and adult readers. Can you tell us about that?

Sarah: I hope that it can! I wrote this for the teen me who was bored with the teen horror, which wasn’t very scary, but annoyed by the adult horror, which was full of adults doing adult things. I keep the point of view YA, but I don’t pull any punches on the horror. So far, I’ve heard positive things from both age groups, so I hope I’ve succeeded. Teens don’t need their books softened. They are better equipped to handle horror than adults are. They still believe it can’t happen to them. Adults don’t just know it can—we’re half expecting it.

theboneweaversorchard_cover

Erin: I am in love with cover (I think Miko?)!!! I have to admit I agreed to reading this book BEFORE I found out it had spiders. I’ll still read it, but color me creeped out since I have arachnophobia! Does this have anything to do with your own enjoyment of knitting? Spinning webs of your own through your writing? Why spiders?

Sarah: Oooh, yeah. Oops. Yeah, Erin, there are some spiders. Sorry about that. I mean, I’m not, but… Heh. And yes! Spinning, weaving, knitting—these are words that have been borrowed from textiles and applied to story since as far back as we have written records and fabric on our bodies. It’s why, I think, so many spider deities are storytellers, as well. It all…weaves together.

I do love spiders. I used to be afraid of them, but I was forced through some immersion therapy just by virtue of the fact that spiders love me. I find one touching me more days than not. I find them in my clothes and hair. They’ll be chilling out on the light switch I’m about to reach for. They’ll be suspended in the air in the space where my face will soon be. My car is always full of spiders. They scamper across the wheel as I drive. Basically, my options were to get over being afraid, or go entirely mad. I suppose I chose both.

Erin: Haha!!! I live in Ohio in the woods, so I know what you mean! I love the weaving element. What other themes and elements are in your books for both teens and adults? As the mother of daughters 15 and 11, this seems like a book they’d enjoy with me?

Sarah: I hope that they would! There are some overall themes that I think teens will identify with. Adapting to a new school, a new home. On the adult side of that—wondering if there ever is any such thing as home—is it something that can be made, if you can’t find it? There are conflicts with bullies and cruel teachers, homework that must take a back seat to life’s bigger problems, like a missing friend. There are a lot of references to the parent-child bond, but most of the examples here are not pleasant. Of course, they’re all just pretend. Reality can be much worse.

Erin: I think they would love it, not only the themes, but the adventure/mystery element. This is your debut novel, I believe? What else have you written? How did writing short fiction help or hinder the process for writing a novel?

Sarah: It is my debut novel! It’s the first novel I wrote, though there have been others since. Most of my work up till now has been short fiction. I still love to write short stories, though I’m finding more and more of my ideas accordion-ing out into longer structures and becoming novel outlines instead. I’m not sure having written short fiction helped or hindered at all. I like the freedom that short fiction gives me to experiment, and I love being able to languish in the room given by a novel’s structure. I do find sometimes, though, that my brain is stuck in one mode, and it becomes difficult to execute the other. For example, I’m very much in novel mode right now, but I just had to write a short story on a deadline and it was much more difficult than it’s been in the past. For the most part, though, I love doing both.

Erin: I LOVE to write short stories too!! Where do you get the inspiration from for your books and stories?

Sarah: Well, everywhere, I think! It’s a matter of staying observant and engaged with the world when you’re out in it, then hiding away so you can regurgitate everything onto the page. I find a lot of inspiration in the gothic classics my grandmother gave me as a child. I have shelves full of books we’ve shared.

Erin: Yes, I love the classic Gothic books too. It’s so nice you had her to share that with. What other tips and tricks can you say you learned for yourself (or that can help others) while writing a much longer work like this novel?

Sarah: I’m not sure, having written only a few books, that I’ve really figured anything out, haha. One thing I did notice, though, was that with a novel, writing it is only about 1/5 the work. When I write a short story, the first draft is probably half the work, and then revision is half. But novels are beasts to revise. The work is exponential. And when you fix one thing, it sets off a chain reaction of other things you then need to fix. When I was revising Bone Weaver’s Orchard, there was a continuity error with the time of day/amount of light/chiming of a bell. By fixing it in the scene at the beginning, it introduced a new error in the next scene. Fixing that made another. Till I had to add an entire new scene to bump the events to the next day to make the timing work. Then the details in those scenes had to have their cause/effect…. I hated myself there for a few weeks. Oh, and another tip: don’t set your first book in a labyrinth of secret passages! I had to draw a lot of blueprints to make sure I wasn’t breaking the laws of physics.

Erin: That’s so cool though! I love secret passages in books but I can see how that all could get confusing! Who or what is your favorite character? How did you create? Struggles or successes?

Sarah: I’m not sure I can pick! Of course I love Charley. And his bugs. Sam was a lot of fun to write. I found that the characters emerged as I wrote. While I did try to plan things for them, they developed in ways that often changed my plans. It made it fun to write—the story surprised me as it progressed. But it did make for heavier revisions later, as I had to go back and correct inconsistencies and make sure their voices didn’t change too much. For example, Sam started out much older. As things unfolded, I realized I needed him to be a younger man. So there were a few things I needed to rewrite to make that work earlier in the story. These days I plan a lot more ahead of time. The characters still change my plans, though.

Pantheon

I pulled this photo from the Pantheon Magazine Facebook Page

Erin: You’re a fellow editor (you edit Pantheon Magazine and anthologies, correct?) and writer as well. I enjoy meshing the two together in my life, even if they are distinctive of each other. How do you feel each one lends to the other?

Sarah: Yes, I’ve been editing professionally for ten years, now. I started off with a large publishing house as an intern, then became an associate editor. While I did that I also began editing Pantheon Magazine on my own time. I left the big publishing company when my youngest was born. I still work for Pantheon, though we’re going on a short hiatus after the release of our Gorgon anthology.

Editing and writing really are two separate creatures. Reading thousands of submissions does help me see what does or doesn’t work in a story, and being a writer helps me understand and empathize with the writers I edit. And when I submit my own work, I have a clearer understanding of the behind-the-desk process, so I’m able to ease some of my writerly anxiety that way. Rejections don’t sting as much, because I never take them personally—because they’re never sent that way. I think I’m also able to edit my own work with more detachment, now. Nothing is precious! Red pen it all!

Erin: What advice as a magazine and anthology editor do you want to give to newer authors as far as submitting stories? How do you get your stories the best look? What do you want to tell veteran authors?

Sarah: Every editor is so different that it’s hard to give general submission advice. The old basic rules still ring true: follow the guidelines, stick to the theme, don’t be a jerk. Don’t get antsy and submit your work before it’s truly finished. I’ve rejected a lot of stories because they just needed one more draft, and we didn’t have time in the publication schedule to allow for a revise-and-resubmit. It’s not only new authors doing this, either. In fact, I think new authors are more likely to take extra care with getting things perfect.

I always like to remind authors that I really, truly want to love their story. I’m not looking for a reason to reject it. I open each story (and I do read every submission that comes in) with the hope that it’ll be exactly what I want. And I’d say easily 75% of the rejections I send are because of a mismatch of theme or tone.

Erin: Having edited an anthology myself, I agree completely with the last statement. I had so many stories that I knew had been written for other anthologies already released that I had read – and must have been rejected – so were submitting to any open call. They didn’t fit the theme I had at all – Gothic by the way!

I believe you have just recently also had an anthology published that you curated and edited? What is it called, who published it, and what can readers find in its pages?

Sarah: Yes! Pantheon Magazine just put out a new anthology called GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE. It contains 42 pieces of flash fiction on the theme of transformation. They’re new myths—some horror, some fantasy, some dark, some hopeful. Change takes many forms. We were lucky enough to get an amazing lineup for this book. We had around 700 submissions and so many were wonderful. My shortlist wasn’t at all short. I think there were over 150 pieces in my maybe pile. Writers really knocked it out of the park—it was agony narrowing the list down. I’m so, so proud of the final result. It just released on February 15 and I can’t wait for people to dig in!

Gorgon Cover V2 (1)

Erin: I’m looking forward to reading it. Another eye-catching cover by Daniele Serra! Flash is something I love to write and read. What was your biggest challenge and your biggest success with it?

Sarah: We did not anticipate the high volume of submissions that we would get for this book, haha. We had to completely overhaul the publication schedule several times so that we could give each submission its due. In the end, it took me six months just to get through it all. Much longer than I liked making people wait for responses—but the submissions were just so good that I didn’t want to rush through. I definitely think it was worth the wait! The final lineup is amazing. So many talented authors sent us their work. The TOC is packed with a diverse lineup of incredibly skilled storytellers.

Erin: I was thrilled to find out that like me you also handwrite your work! People think I am CRAZY. Mostly now I’ve adapted to be writing mostly short stories, poetry, interviews, etc. by hand – or plot ideas or segments in books – on paper with pencil and save the big stuff for the computer to save re-typing time. But I hear you handwrite everything! Tell us about that and your use of ink pens. I adore writing utensils and I want to hear all about it. Any favorite pens you like or would suggest?

Sarah: People think I’m crazy, too! Well. They’re not wrong. I do handwrite everything, even novels and this interview! I usually write with fountain pens, yes. I first started using one in high school, but I really got hooked in college, when I had a professor who wrote with a dip pen and inkwell. He was the coolest human ever, to my nerdy eyes. We bonded over Chaucer and writing instruments.

I’m writing this with a Faber-Castell Neo Slim pen with blue ink in it. Just a standard blue, as this is my work pen right now. Often I use bright orange or sepia tones. Or Turquoise and neon pink. One of my jobs as a stationery enthusiast is writing reviews for Penaddict.com. I’m currently forming opinions on this pen for review. My favorite fountain pens are Sailor Pro Gear Slims, in the bright, fun colors. My favorite notebooks are Midori MD books, especially in the B6 size. I do love pencils, too! So you have to tell me what your favorite pencils are. I’ve developed a love for the Palomino Blackwing ones!

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Palomino Blackwing Pencils!

Erin: I like Faber-Castell anything – pens, pencils, markers. I like Ticonderoga pencils – I think the black are cool. But I love to find any pencil with cool décor or style, even if cheap (or stolen from my daughters!). I love orange and turquoise too and writing for a pen site sounds amazing!! I also love any single notebook I can find. I probably should start being more selective. I just love the feel of hand-writing my work. It’s just something that makes my brain think more creatively.

Moving on to talking about Women in Horror Month: Who are some fellow Women in Horror you admire or like the works of? What books have you enjoyed?

Sarah: Oh, there are so many. SO MANY. I’ll list a few authors I’ve enjoyed recently, because the comprehensive list is miles long. Gwendolyn Kiste is amazing. Her collection and new novel are both reading essentials. Jordan Kurella is a genderqueer author whose work is constantly knocking me over with its depth of feeling. Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth is one of the best horror novels I’ve read, hands down. And if you haven’t yet ventured into Sara Tantlinger’s poetry, that needs to be fixed asap. Gemma Files is one of my perennial favorites and she has two new collections out in the past year! And Carmen Maria Machado is writing some of the world’s best contemporary dark fairy tales that will twist your heart in knots.

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Erin: With all women out there must do, especially those of us keeping track of kids and a job too, how do you fit writing into your life? Do you have a plan or structure or is it as lightning strikes?

Sarah: It very much depends on the day! This week isn’t looking good, haha. Now that my youngest has started some preschool, I did manage to find a few hours a week where he is at school and I’m not at my day job. Sometimes I get to use those to write! Otherwise, it’s often after everyone else is asleep, or in the five minutes between this and that. I always have a notebook and pen (or five) on me in case I get a few quiet minutes to scribble.

Erin: Have you had any challenges as far as being a female writer in the horror genre? What and how did you overcome them? Advice for others?

Sarah: Sometimes, yes, though on the whole, I find the genre very welcoming and supportive. At least, the nice people are—and who would want to work with the others anyway? There have been a few times when I’ve received “this isn’t the tone we’re looking for” rejections for anthologies that then came out to be all cis white men on the TOC. I once got asked out while trying to discuss business with a male editor. I do feel at times as though men in the industry get recognized for their accomplishments immediately and remain visible while women must prove themselves over and over with each new publication, then disappear from the radar until the next thing comes out. I think things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go. For the last few years, I’ve had the rule that I would not buy any anthology that was more than 50% straight white guys. I’ve saved a lot of money! Too much.

Erin: That’s a great rule!

How about overall books and movies you have enjoyed? Any gender or genre.

Sarah: Guillermo del Toro movies are my favorite movies, with The Orphanage at the top of that list. Probably after that comes a long list of historical dramas like Poldark and Downton Abbey! Any PBS or BBC adaptation of classic lit, especially Dickens. I love a lot of non-horror. And true crime documentaries. 😀

My favorite dude writers are Steven Graham Jones, Steve Toase, Josh Malerman, Paul Tremblay, Bracken MacLeod, Richard Thomas, and a bunch of others. And they’re all wonderful humans, too. Much love for them!

Erin: We have so much in common. I loved Shape of Water. I also LOVE historical dramas, PBS and BBC adaptations, Dickens, mysteries, and true crime. I am well-rounded and always felt like I didn’t belong because of that. It’s awesome to know that more women out there like a wide range of things like I do! Oh – also SGJ and Malerman are two of my very favorite male authors.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing or working?

Sarah: If I’m not writing, reading, working, doing chores, playing with my kids, or playing with pens, I’m likely listening to podcasts while working with yarn. I knit, crochet, spin, and weave—anything to do with string, really! I also design my own crochet patterns. I have almost as many published crochet patterns as I do fiction pieces, haha. But, as the above might imply, I rarely have time for that hobby anymore.

Erin: That’s amazing, but yes, I can gather for sure that time for all things is on short supply.

What’s next for you in the next year or two? What are your goals for 5-10 years down the line?

Sarah: Well, I’ll be traveling a bit—visiting StokerCon in Grand Rapids and WisCon in Madison in May. I’ll also be at the Chicago Pen Show in May. May is going to be awesome! I’m also hoping to make it to StokerCon 2020 in Scarborough next year. It’s happening just a few miles from where my book takes place—I think I need to be there!

I have a few short stories that should be out this year, and my debut collection will be out from Trepidatio toward the end of the year. It has a few dozen of my favorite previously published pieces and a handful of new ones, including a new novelette. I’m also hoping to finish up edits and start pitching a new novel soon! And I’m planning to finish my current novel WIP this year, as well.

As for the next 5-10 years, my goals are to get an agent and write a ton more books. I have an idea for a series that I’m itching to get started on, and I’ve also outlined a prequel to The Bone Weaver’s Orchard that I’d love to write. Whatever the case, I know I’ll stay busy! I don’t know how not to!

Erin: That all sounds like a solid plan. I am anxious to see what you do! Thank you so much for hanging out with me and chatting today! I have really enjoyed getting to know you better. Let’s sit back and relax and have a few more cupcakes!

Sarah: Thank you so much, Erin! It’s been lovely chatting with you! I will happily take care of the rest of these cupcakes. 😀

The Bone Weaver’s Orchard, Synopsis –

theboneweaversorchard_coverHe’s run away home. That’s what they say every time one of Charley Winslow’s friends vanishes from The Old Cross School for Boys.

It’s just a tall tale. That’s what they tell Charley when he sees the ragged grey figure stalking the abbey halls at night.

When Charley follows his pet insects to a pool of blood behind a false wall, he could run and let those stones bury their secrets. He could assimilate, focus on his studies, and wait for his father to send for him. Or he could walk the dark tunnels of the school’s heart, scour its abandoned passages, and pick at the scab of a family’s legacy of madness and murder.

With the help of Sam Forster, the school’s gardener, and Matron Grace, the staff nurse, Charley unravels Old Cross’ history and exposes a scandal stretching back to when the school was a home with a noble family and a dark secret—a secret that still haunts its halls with scraping steps, twisting its bones into a new generation of nightmares.

“There’s a secret in this book. It’s stunning. It’s dark. And it’s as satisfying as any unknown a horror fan could could ever hope to unearth. So well written, so well paced, Sarah Read’s The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is a thriller with class.” —Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box

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Sarah Read, Biography –

SRauthorpicSarah Read is a dark fiction writer in the frozen north of Wisconsin. Her short stories can be found in Gamut, Black Static, and other places, and in various anthologies including Suspended in Dusk, BEHOLD! Oddities Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, and The Best Horror of the Year vol 10.

Her debut novel The Bone Weaver’s Orchard is now out from Trepidatio Publishing, and her debut collection will follow in late 2019. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pantheon Magazine and of their associated anthologies, including Gorgon: Stories of Emergence.

She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association. When she’s not staring into the abyss, she knits. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @Inkwellmonster or keep up with her on her website.

Thank you to Sarah for joining us and to you, readers, for stopping by as well. I appreciate your support of #HookonWiHM and #WomeninHorrorMonth!

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Interview: Producer, Actress, Screenwriter Comika Hartford #HookonWiHM #WIHMX #POC #Horror

Today, I welcome Comika Hartford to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Comika is a writer, actor, producer, and phenomenal lady and I am so happy to have been able to interview her as part of my women in horror series for February, which fittingly is also Black History Month. This award-winning woman is certainly making history for women in her field! I usually stick to books here, but we all like film as well, so I felt it would interest readers. Professionally her work in the genres of horror and psychological thrillers interest me and we’ll talk some about that below.

Comika has been working in her career for some time now and has numerous credits to her name. Besides being a TV and short film producer and screenwriter, she’s also an actress. She had a reoccurring role on Saints and Sinners and has been a guest star/co-star on shows such as CSI: Miami, Nash Bridges and in short films such as First Impressions, Hoax, and Unlucky Stars.

As you’ll see during the interview, she’s not only intelligent, but very outgoing and extremely funny!

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Hi Comika, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you’ve joined me from Los Angeless in cold, snowy Ohio today – I hope you brought some of your warmth along with you! Come in for some hot coffee and we’ll settle in to talk. How do you take your coffee?

Hey Erin! I’ll have a Vodka and cannabis latte with almond milk. It’s cool if you don’t have almond milk.

Erin: The only milk I drink IS almond milk! Ha! It might be the cannabis I’m short on. Tell us a little more about you and your work so anyone doesn’t know you can become acquainted!

Comika: Well I started writing and performing with Rhodessa Jones’ Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco before attending Emerson college. I specialize in horror/thriller screenplays with a social commentary edge.

Erin: That’s so amazing! I love the poster for Bango as well as the film. But for others, tell us what’s Bango about? Where can one watch?

Comika: Thank you! Bango is actually the first episode of a horror anthology I wrote set in a creepy California suburb called HINTERLAND ZOO where every house is the nightmare next door. It’s about a quiet couple taking a walk on the wild side that goes sideways real quick! You can watch it on Amazon Prime & our website www.bangofilm.com takes you right to it.

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We’re pitching the rest of the anthology later this year so please leave a review on Amazon if you end up watching. Every review helps. And please feel free to be completely honest, if you dont like it just say why… My favorite review so far is “What psycho wrote this?” Mmm… Delicious.

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Erin: You’ve also written and acted in a horror web-series turned film The Grey Area and it’s won so many awards! Congratulations! Can you tell us about it?

Comika: Yes, The Grey Area has been upgraded to a feature film; It was a lot of work to push that through but it’s on! We just shot the second chapter last November with Zorina Juan directing and my partner in crime Eric Shapiro, who directed Bango, producing and keeping blood off the furniture.

Erin: The Grey Area sounds fun. I know you’ve described it as “the female version of Supernatural that meets the West Coast version of Law & Order on the streets of San Francisco.” With it being a psychological thriller, it’s sounds totally like something I want to check out!

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What’s it like writing and/or producing films or shorts compared to acting in them?

 Comika: Hmm… Sorta like the difference between running a restaurant or dropping in for a meal!

 Erin: Do you ever direct? Or aspire to? Why or why not?

Comika: Nah. I love my director allies, but I don’t envy their job. Directing is like trying to organize changing Baby Godzilla’s diaper. No really! Think about it: There are a lot of people around. Lots of destruction. Lotsa crap to deal with. At least one crying monster. And if it doesn’t come off well… it’s all your fault!

Erin: Haha!! I don’t think I want that job either. And which of all the above do you like better in general and which do you prefer in horror?

Comika: I love writing. I prefer that over everything in any genre!

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Winning an Award for The Grey Area. Photo supplied by Comika Hartford.

Erin: What do you feel women bring to the horror genre that is more distinctive than men? How do you feel women shine in the genre?

Comika: Mmm… well being a woman involves a lot of blood and dealing with rape culture so… Yeah. Horror is kinda our genre. We own it.

Erin: What do you think most people of either gender can do better to support women in horror?

Comika: Watch our movies! There’s a lot of great work happening. The Soska sisters are doing a remake of Cronenberg’s Rabid, Aislinn Clark’s The Devil’s Doorway is on Hulu, and Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer looks creepy af!

Erin: What types of themes do you explore or want to explore in your screenwriting?

Comika: I like to explore religious themes and mythology; I am very intrigued by the idea of vengeance- based deities.

Erin: What is a piece of writing or book or film or all by a woman in horror truly touched you, was memorable to you, or inspired you?

Comika: Kasi Lemmons’ Eves Bayou! It still messes me up.

Erin: Who are some women in horror you admire and who would you recommend to others to get to know?

Comika: Nikyatu Jusu came out strong at Sundance with Suicide by Sunlight. She is definitely someone to watch.

Erin: Have you ever thought of writing short stories or a book in the horror genre (or any other genre)?

Comika: I think I’d like to write a kid’s show… Seriously!

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Comika acting! Photo supplied by Comika Hartford.

Erin: What are some of your current or upcoming releases?

Comika: Well I’m working on a screenplay about Black vampires that travel to the Americas during slavery to rescue their kidnapped relatives. It’s called Legacy and much like American history it’s filled with blood, torture, and genocide… Yeah. Good times!

Erin: Oh, wow! And though true, the film sounds like fun! I can’t wait to hear updates on that.

Where can everyone find you to connect?

Comika: You can find me at comikahartford.com which connects to Facebook, I’m @blamethewriter on Instagram, and you can follow our progress with The Grey Area at:

www.enterthegreyarea.com

Erin: Thank you so much for joining us today, Comika! It was such a pleasure and please feel free to stop back by anytime! 😊

Comika: Thanks Erin… Um, can I have the rest of this Vodka to go?

Erin: Of course you can, how else would you juggle all the horrifying stuff you have on your plate? Please stop back by for me when Legacy is set to air.

Thanks to Comika for joining us!

Comika

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Interview: Sara Tantlinger on Serial Killer H.H. Holmes, Writing Poetry, and Why We Love Horror #HookonWiHM #WIHMX

Today is the second part of a two-part interview I’ve conducted with horror writer and poet Sara Tantlinger, the first being about writing and publishing at The Horror Tree, a site that focuses on being a horror author’s resource. Additionally, I had this interview scheduled and ready to post today as part of my #HookonWiHM series for the 10th anniversary of Women in Horror Month, but I had to come back to edit my interview to offer my congratulations to Sara as it was announced this weekend she secured a Bram Stoker Award nomination for best poetry collection for The Devil’s Dreamland, which we will be discussing below!

I was beyond excited to read The Devil’s Dreamland, which I devoured with a carnal interest I am almost ashamed to admit. It’s a marvelous collection. Most readers know I have a bachelor’s degree in history and LOVE it, as well as am obsessed with learning about true crime and serial killers, so this collection was right up my alley. I’ve always been intrigued with H.H. Holmes, who after coming to Chicago, changed his given name to take on the Holmes, I’ve heard, as a homage to Sherlock Holmes (the fictional detective named by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his famous stories). But I’m more interested in the psychology of how people turn out to be serial liars, thieves, and murderers, especially when they come from so-called religious households or if there was speculation of abuse.

I’m thrilled to talk to Sara about her interest in H.H. Holmes, her research, her writing – particularly in poetry form, and so much more. I think this will appeal to a wide range of readers I have coming to my site – history or true crime enthusiasts, horror fanatics, and those who write or read poetry. I hope you ALL enjoy it as much as I did!!

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H.H. Holmes / Photo from Wikipedia

Hi Sara, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am so glad to have you here with us. It’s snowy and freezing in both our neck of the woods these days. Shall we have some coffee to start? How do you take yours? And I’ll just pull out some warm cinnamon rolls from the oven. It will just be a minute while I frost them.

Sara: Hi Erin! Thank you so much for having me. Mm, cinnamon rolls are one of my favorites! I’ll throw a dash of vanilla creamer in my coffee and be all set.

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Erin: Now that I sound very much like a 1950s housewife, it’s the time I pull out the knife and stab the cinnamon roll…just kidding. But we are here to discuss your newest poetry collection today, The Devil’s Dreamland, and your work in horror. It’s Women in Horror Month so what better time for this all to come together.

Sara: Ha! A lot of my baking ends up with someone, I mean, something getting stabbed. I love Women in Horror Month – it’s so fun to highlight what these amazing ladies in horror are up to. I’m thrilled to be here talking about The Devil’s Dreamland and more!

Erin: I agree. Let’s get started. I’m anxious to hear about the notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes and your desire to write about him for your new poetry collection, which released late last year. What motivated you?

Sara: Well, I really wanted to do something different than my first poetry collection. I watched a documentary on H.H. Holmes, ended up going to a haunted house that was Holmes-themed, and found myself wondering more about the madman after reading Devil in the White City, so it felt like the universe kept giving me signs to write this collection.

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Sara with her collection! Photo provided by Sara Tantlinger.

Erin: Just who was H.H. Holmes? How did you go about researching his life and times before you started writing the collection? What interesting things did you come across?

Sara: H.H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett, and he was an expert conman and liar. Thus, pinning down who exactly he was is nearly impossible. The accounts of his life conflict, even the memoir he wrote in prison is saturated in idyllic lies. The research was fascinating though. I am now the owner of an ungodly number of books about H.H. Holmes, so my library looks pretty sinister right now. I read just about everything that mentioned Holmes, but even after publishing the collection I learned of MORE research out there involving him.

In addition to historical texts and more fictionalized versions of Holmes, I researched newspapers from his time period, read his own writing (a prison memoir and confession), and even found some records of the court hearings and testimonies that occurred before he was executed.

It was all interesting to me, but I think one of the things that fascinated me the most was that he left his “wives” (there were three, but only one of the marriages was legal) alive. He murdered mistresses and other women, but his three wives and two children, he let alone. He let them live.

Erin: Wow – I didn’t know he was a polygamist, and yes, that is peculiar that his murderous endeavors didn’t carry over with this wives as well!

Of course, writing poetry is very different than writing a book, something most people might think you’d do when researching a serial killer’s life. Why did you choose poetry? Was it difficult to condense into poetry? What was your process in telling your story with your poetry?

Sara: There are a ton of books out there on H.H. Holmes, but I did not see any other poetry collections in existence about the man, so I thought it’d be interesting to try something different. Even when I first had the idea, I knew it’d be my next poetry collection.

There was some difficultly condensing all that I wanted to include down into poems because I probably could have added another 100 poems to the batch about everything Holmes did or tried to do, but I wanted to keep some mystery. Otherwise, poetry allowed me to serve up these jagged slivers of tales because poetry demands that each word counts. Every rhythm, line, image, and more must be sharpened down into what needs to be there without an excess, otherwise the poem loses its ability to puncture wound itself into your mind and fester.

From there, my process became telling a cohesive narrative through the poems and different viewpoints included. I wanted the story to make sense, and I wanted the reader to think about each piece, but at the same time some enigma needed to be kept because that is who Holmes was, a mystery never meant to be completely solved.

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H.H. Holmes. Photo provided by Sara Tantlinger.

Erin: What was the intent you had in mind for readers to walk away with once reading The Devil’s Dreamland? What did you walk away with after writing it?

Sara: I wanted to create a poetry collection that appealed to both regular readers of poetry and those who may be more skeptical. I wrote the collection in a more narrative style, going through Holmes’ life and including different viewpoints from his accomplice, victims, and others.

After writing it, I walked away with pride, which is something I don’t always allow myself to do. Writers, don’t constantly chastise yourself and your hard work! That’s something I am still working on, but with Holmes, I just put so much into that book that I finally let myself feel the sweet sense of accomplishment as it ended.

I also walked away with the Devil whispering sweet, bloody nothings into my head, but, that’s a different story…

Erin: Ha! Many reviewers felt you were able to mix the morbid, grotesque, and horror with the beauty of your words quite nicely, leaving them satisfied with the collection by the end, when you’d think, mostly they’d be unnerved. What drives people to want to read about the macabre, and within writing, what does a writer need to do to soften it “just enough.”

Sara: Hmm, that’s a good question. Personally speaking, I love the macabre because it’s like this grotesque mirror reflecting our most morbid curiosities back at us, inviting us to reach inside ourselves and pull out that darkness to share with others. Bonding with those who share that fascination makes our weirdness feel more “socially acceptable,” but also allows us to build a really cool, twisted community.

I don’t usually try to soften my work because I like working with raw, gritty ideas and images. That said, I have personal boundaries with certain things I would never write about – things I just do not see a need to write about, or to read about, but of course that’s all personal preference. Otherwise, I definitely encourage writers, women especially, to push boundaries and write the stories they really want to, even if that means some people are going to hate it.

Erin: What was something that shocked or surprised you in your research or something you didn’t end up including (or both)?

Sara: I was mostly surprised at how H.H. Holmes was able to get away with the fraud he did for so long. It worked in the 1800s, but what he did would never work today. He really thought everything through in terms of his cons, seductions, murders, and the construction of the Murder Castle. I think that is partly what intrigued me so much about him, how he was able to escape punishments and debts by using his words. Talk about the power that words can hold…

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Murder Castle in Chicago / Image from Wikipedia

Erin: Do you enjoy reading or watching TV or movies about serial killers? If so, what other things did you find interesting? (I am obsessed with watching and reading about true crime!)

Sara: I am definitely infused with some sick curiosities when it comes to learning about serial killers or other strange murders (I binged Making a Murderer way too quickly). I think it’s this morbid vicariousness that allows us to peek into the darkest parts of humanity without bloodying our own hands or souls. The Zodiac killer is another one I continue to be fascinated by – it’s hard to describe why we want to know these gruesome crimes and facts. Maybe we feel like we’re part of the mystery and are amateur sleuths helping to solve something.

Erin: Now that you explored mixing historical true crime with horror poetry, do you think you might try one again? Why or why not?

Sara: I don’t think I would want to do something too similar to the Holmes collection, so if there’s other inspiration I come across and I mix those genres again, I’d go for it. In the meantime, however, I really want to try new things and challenge myself in other ways.

Erin: Earlier in 2017 you also released Love for Slaughter, which is perfect to bring up since February is also the month of love. You slashed and slayed and bit and bled in this one and people loved every minute of it. Can you tell me your thoughts behind it and what went into it? You’re such a nice person, where does all that dark passion come from?

Sara: Love For Slaughter was inspired by this idea that something as beautiful as love can actually be really vicious and bloody. I researched the idea of Folie à Deux (madness shared by two), and read stories about couples doing terrible things to each other, all these crimes of passion, so to speak. I always love playing around with something pure and asking myself how I can slash it up into gory, ghastly bits. I think my interest in dark passion stems from a love of dark literature like Wuthering Heights and The Awakening, or even The Picture of Dorian Gray – they show these darker parts of love and what it can do to an individual who loses parts of themselves for the sake of love, or for the sake of a perceived love. There is something universal about heartbreak, so I wanted to bring that out in my poetry in all the most twisted ways.

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Love for Slaughter. Photo provided by Sara Tantlinger.

Erin: I love those books too! What is it about people, do you think, that they appreciate the dark corners of horror, love, and life? What makes them feed on your imagery and words?

Sara: Sometimes reading horror feels like you’re getting away with something. There’s a thrill lurking in those depraved corners, inviting all of us to imagine the worst parts of humanity without committing the acts ourselves. To me, it feels natural to feed off that black spark of forbidden excitement, and that’s one of the reasons I write horror.

On the other side of that, horror is a place of cathartic writing. There are stories where we can share our phobias, grief, heartache, and more with each other. Being able to write about these aspects and provide human connection through tales of horror is a really special thing.

Erin: How do you feel about the state of women who write in horror? Is it improving, what needs improved, thoughts on how to improve readership and support of women?

Sara: Women are doing amazing things right now, and always, in the horror genre. I do feel like publishers, editors, and so forth are doing better to use their positions to seek out more diversity in the market, but nothing is perfect yet. There are still battles to be fought, and I have no doubt women will keep prevailing through these obstacles. The most important thing we can do is support each other, recognize our allies, do better to support minorities and women of color in horror, and continue to create the work we truly want to be creating and sharing.

Erin: Who are some of your female influences in prose or poetry and why?

Sara: Oh gosh there are so many! I’m going to try and limit myself here. A classic inspiration for me comes from Kate Chopin. The Awakening profoundly changed how I think about life, and from there I consumed Chopin’s writing and was so happily lost in her beautiful words. She captures this dark honesty of the female spirit in her stories, which isn’t surprising given the things she went through in life, but she fought for her independence. She inspires me all the time.

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A contemporary poet whom I adore is Sierra DeMulder. Her books destroy me. She’s another brutally honest writer, using unique, vivid imagery in her poems to unabashedly address womanhood, sexuality, love, loss, and more. I admire her greatly and highly encourage anyone to watch the videos of her reading her poetry live. It gives me goosebumps every time.

Erin: What about overall influences, mentors, inspirations in reading and writing?

Sara: Some other influences and inspirations for my writing would have to include (classic) Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, Sylvia Plath, and Walt Whitman; and (contemporary) Linda Addison, Mike Arnzen, Clive Barker, Caroline Kepnes, Gillian Flynn, and Catherynne Valente.

Erin: There are a lot of women writers out there purging so many past issues on paper, instead of hiding them away. I’m glad writing can give them this platform. Why do you think women are continually the “monster collectors” and “dragon slayers” so to speak? What in their personalities allows them to write with such clarity and how do you teach young writers to channel the passion into focused work?

Sara: I think our history as women, our fight for equality and representation, all that we have endured collectively, are elements deeply rooted in our brains and very blood. The fight of our ancestors and our fights today to make our voices heard and respected is what makes us so driven to purge out the inner turmoil on paper with raw, visceral imagery and emotion. This is something unique to us that can never be manufactured. I hope young writers today continue to feed off that energy and wield it as a powerful weapon within their words and stories. I encourage them to keep telling their truths no matter who it may anger along the way because we got your back, my horror sisters.

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Erin: I know that you’re editing an anthology that is filled completely with women for StrangeHouse books. Can you tell us a little about that – the idea, the process, the title, etc. When can we expect it?

Sara: Yes! The anthology is titled Not All Monsters and is being planned for a 2020 release. I can’t say too much yet (I’m also still narrowing down the stories I want), but over the next few months the final TOC will be revealed as we spotlight the individual authors who will have stories in the anthology.

But from what I’ve read, and from the stories I’ve fallen in love with, this is going to be an anthology that empowers women of horror so much through its words, and I am ecstatic about that.

Erin: What’s next for you? Will you write a novel or short story collection or stick to poetry?

Sara: Well, you may be seeing more prose from me this year if all goes to plan. Otherwise, I am planning on sticking to my current historical horror WIP about Ranavalona I of Madagascar. There will absolutely be more poetry in my future, but I’m not sure what theme I’ll focus on for the next collection. I can’t wait to find out when it hits me.

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Queen of Madagascar – Ranavalona I / Image from Wikipedia

Erin: The historical horror work sounds amazing. I can’t wait to read it. Thank you so much for joining me for coffee and the chat, Sara. I know there is so much more I could ask you but you’re a busy gal! You’ll have to come back again sometime soon. 

Sara: Thank you, Erin! I have enjoyed your questions and the coffee so much!

Sara Tantlinger Biography –

Tantlinger_2019Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. Her dark poetry collections Love for Slaughter and The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes are published with StrangeHouse books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA.

Sara’s poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several magazines and anthologies, including the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. II and V, the Horror Zine, Unnerving, Abyss & Apex, the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, 100 Word Horrors, and the Sunlight Press. Currently, Sara is editing Not All Monsters, an anthology that will be comprised entirely of women who write speculative fiction. The anthology is set for a 2020 release with StrangeHouse Books.

She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and find out more about Sara at her website!

Sara’s Latest Collection –

TDDThe Devil’s Dreamland

H.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century. Many of which occurred within his legendary “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America’s first serial killer.

In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man’s own lifetime.

There’s plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in The Devil’s Dreamland.

“…chilling poetry…” —Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

“…morbidly creative and profound crime documentary…one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years.” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

“…fascinating and absolutely riveting…powerful and vivid prose…will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

Purchase on Amazon

Add to your GoodReads

And don’t forget to check out my first interview with Sara at The Horror Tree, in which we focus on writing and publishing. 

For more #HookonWiHM, or women in horror, here on Oh, for the Hook of a Book!, go HERE.

 

 

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Filed under HookonWiHM, Q and A with Authors, women in horror

Interview: Sonora Taylor Open Up About Themes in Novel Without Condition #WIHMX #HookonWiHM

Hi Sonora, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you’ve joined me, and I look forward to talking to you today. I know we are both “foodies” and so if you brought some Duck Donuts or some Georgetown Cupcakes from D.C., I’ll make the enchiladas for lunch. It’s freezing here so let’s whip out the coffee with something a bit stronger, like rum or Kahlua, or I bet you even know something better because you are always giving me tips about the good stuff…?

Sonora: Thanks for having me over! I did indeed bring some donuts, but – not to be that local – I thought you might enjoy these cupcakes from Baked and Wired a little bit more. I also brought pupusas, and yes, load me up on some rum and coffee (though I take no responsibility for what I start saying after a couple drinks).

Erin: I had Georgetown Cupcakes a month ago when I was in D.C.(yummy!), but my son actually recommended we go to Baked and Wired next time – which sounds divine!!A girl after my own heart with the rum and coffee. And pupusas! We’re in trouble.

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Pupusas for lunch – we are doing this in person next time! For now, we’ll imagine. Thanks for the photo Sonora! Pupusas with tamale, rice, beans, and spicy slaw from El Rinconcito in D.C. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Let’s settle in at the table and watch the snow pile up around us while we warm our bellies with food and spirits and our mind with conversation. Let’s get started! I recently had the pleasure of reading your first horror novel (though I know you’ve written shorter horror works) called Without Condition, which features a young, female serial killer as the lead. Can you tell the readers about it in your own words?

Sonora: Absolutely. The elevator pitch version is that Without Condition is about a serial killer navigating through her first relationship. In a bit more detail, it’s about a young woman named Cara Vineyard who lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm in rural North Carolina. She works at a brewery during the day and drives her truck at night. Sometimes on those drives, she’ll pick men up – which usually means those men will die. Her life gets complicated, though, when she meets and falls for a man named Jackson. As they grow closer, Cara isn’t sure he’ll feel the same way about her if he discovers all of her secrets.

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Erin: Readers can read my review of Without Condition HERE. Your story deals with a lot of themes, one of them being children who come of age into adults holding onto the feelings they had from being ignored, bullied, or isolated in their formative years from fellow students or sometimes family. Why did you decide to use this topic as your propellant for revenge?

Sonora: It was a motivation for Cara that made sense to me, and something that I think many of us deal with in varying capacities. I think we sometimes take for granted the sticking power of bad experiences in childhood, especially things like bullying, name-calling, or being dismissed by teachers. It’s often ignored unless it gets physical, or else not taken care of until it’s too late and already well-settled in. In Cara’s case, it’s so settled in that, when she doesn’t have those external sources of bullying or anger, she still feels their effects and hears them as if they’re still happening.

I wanted Cara’s back story to both be realistic and not rooted in what we usually see with fictional women who kill. Two of the most tired tropes I see for women doing bad things are either revenge for being raped or assaulted (is it still considered fridging if it applies to motivating the woman?), or else vengeance on behalf of a child or partner. I won’t lie, when I was doing research on female serial killers for the book, I was actually a bit disappointed to see that one of the most common motivations was assisting their boyfriends or husbands. Don’t know what that says about me!

But in all seriousness, I felt like the bullying and Cara’s inability to let go were realistic motivators that readers would recognize; and while I don’t think it’s an excuse for Cara’s killing, it’s an explanation that, for some readers, may be scarily close to home.

Erin: Another theme presents about parenting in broken homes, children who don’t know their fathers, and abandonment issues that young people sometimes deal with – how did you form your character’s personality to identify with these themes and why? Do you feel your protagonist’s lack of father turned her against men?

Sonora: I looked at it mostly as how Cara grew up being used to loneliness, worrying that the people she cares about may disappear, and the quiet urge for something a little bit more than what she knows – all of which play some part in how she turned out, both for better and for worse. The male family figures in her life were both like fathers and yet they disappeared early on. She doesn’t remember her great uncle, but she still gets the sense that he’s missing. She remembers her great uncle’s friend Terry a lot more because he played the role of a father figure and friend, then disappeared.

Men in Cara’s life seem to provide her with calmer, more stable relationships; but their ends are more of a disruption to her than what she encounters with women. Her friends in school are mostly boys, and it’s when boys start gossiping about her that she becomes both angry and hurt; while girls picking on her was more of a constant prickle (much like her relationship with her mother).

I think Cara’s actions against men are based more on feeling betrayed by the men she’s known and loved than from her lack of father. Cara wants to know who her father is, but because she’s never known him and Delores never talks about him, he’s not really a missing figure to her the way Terry is. I also can’t say Cara would’ve turned out differently if her father were around. Even if in some alternate universe where her father was in her life – be it in the same house or just with frequent visitation – he would’ve floated in and out of her life and not been as close to her as Cara is with her mother. Neither Cara’s desire to wander nor her love of driving come from Delores.

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Illustration for Without Condition. Artwork by Doug Puller.

 

Erin: From your protagonist’s mother to her boyfriend, themes of unconditional love abound in this story, even sometimes when to a reader it shouldn’t. What ideas were you hoping to bring to the table about love as your implemented this into your book?

Sonora: I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to love someone unconditionally even when they’re doing things they shouldn’t be doing, namely with parental love and romantic love. Whenever I hear about a serial killer, there’s almost always someone that still loves them even when their crimes are laid out. Mothers defend their children who are on trial, women write letters or stand by their men when accused, etc. I’m both appalled and fascinated by this, and while Without Condition isn’t a direct response to that, it was certainly influenced by that.

I also thought it’d be interesting to explore that from the perspective of the person receiving that love, and what unconditional love means to them. Cara is not entirely devoid of feelings, and though she’s put up a shield to keep herself from feeling vulnerable, she still wants things like friendship (granted on her terms), approval, and love. What I found interesting about her as I wrote, though, is that she doesn’t really crave or strive for those things with friends and family, but she does with Jackson. This in turn scares her not just because of what she has to hide, but because she’s not used to feeling this way around another person. Falling in love is a unique experience from other relationships, and in a dark way, I found it kind of fun to examine that fear so many of us have when falling in love, but through the eyes of someone who actually has something terrible to hide.

Erin: In part of my review back to you I said that the book was like if King’s Carrie had gone on to become a serial killer and lived a backwoods country life. That initially went back to the being bullied in high school theme, but talk about revenge and why you decided to make your novel revolve around it?

Sonora: In certain lights, revenge can be seen as the result of not being able to let go. The book explores Cara’s inability – both voluntary and involuntary – to let go of the grievances she’s accumulated over the years. It gets to the point where her anger is so much a part of her that, when the sources of her anger disappear or leave her alone, she feels lost. Her response, then, is to almost relish it when she’s provoked or angry again. It’s both sad and dangerous, especially for the people she chooses to take that anger out on. She sees her victims as a means to an end, and it’s an ending that doesn’t ever seem to really come – much like the mental torment she feels from her experiences in school.

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From Sonora: A collection of beer I picked up on my last trip to Asheville. Papa’s Secret Brewing – the company Without Condition protagonist Cara works for – is fictional, but North Carolina’s beer scene is thriving. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: Speaking of backwoods country life, your novel takes place in a small, rural town of North Carolina. How do you describe what it’s like there both visually and within the personalities of the people? Why do you feel your protagonist didn’t fit in?

Sonora: Leslie, a fictional town in North Carolina, is on the outskirts of the outskirts of Raleigh. It’s not entirely farmland – there are small strip malls and a few restaurants that one would consider the downtown area – but the places of business tend to be off the side of the main road and surrounded by trees; and while everyone doesn’t know everyone else, most everyone knows of most everyone else. As such, while Cara and her mother aren’t incredibly active members of the community, Cara was known when she showed up for the first day of school – and unfortunately, she was known mostly by vicious rumors about her mother that were the result of Delores coming to live in Leslie when she was single, seventeen, and pregnant.

Because Cara spent most of her formative years on Vineyard Farm with her mother and Terry, she doesn’t really know how to respond to new people saying mean things to her right away. And because she’s used to being alone, it’s easier for her to retreat and give up on trying to make friends than to try and win over people. I think that, combined with her being blunt and acerbic, all make it harder for her to fit in. Her default is distrust, and in such a small and quiet town, it’s hard to escape what the few people there think of you – especially when what they think has taken permanent residence in your mind.

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Cox Mountain trail, which is outside of Chapel Hill and Durham in North Carolina (and about 90 minutes from  my protagonist Cara’s hometown of Leslie). Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: Your protagonist’s mother was also an interesting supporting character. How did you create her personality and what would her back story be like? Have you thought of writing a prequel using the mother’s life?

Sonora: I haven’t thought of a writing a prequel, but that would be interesting! Delores was often a tough nut to crack because, as you’ll see in the book, she doesn’t like to talk about herself or her past. It was actually pretty challenging to write her scenes with Cara because she’d usually either clam up or go on offense. I can see where Cara got her tendency to give up on people rather than dealing with their shit. As damaging as that is for both Cara and Delores, I do feel sorry for Delores. As she alludes to in the book, she didn’t feel loved in her family home. She lived with both her parents and three brothers, and the nicest thing she got from any of them was indifference. Her uncle Leo was the only relative who treated her like family, so she saw Vineyard Farm as a sanctuary from everything she hated about her home. I think Delores assumed that Cara would feel the same way about Vineyard Farm, and thus, would never want to leave the farm or her. But Cara isn’t Delores.

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Mountaintop view of Chimney Rock, North Carolina; which is outside of Asheville (and about an hour or so from Without Condition character Jackson’s hometown of Pinesboro). Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: The femme fatale in literature is almost supernatural, though your character is only into murder and doesn’t have powers. How fun was it to spin the serial killer motif into a modern-day femme fatale that no one would expect? What were your challenges in creating her? What did you feel your successes were while writing it?

Sonora: It was challenging to write a serial killer anti-heroine that felt so little remorse for what she does. Usually when you see a killer protagonist, they’re conflicted about what they do. They see killing as something they’re forced to do, something that’s just a job, something they do to pay a debt, etc. This does not apply to Cara. To her, killing is as natural a way to blow off steam as driving her truck, smoking, or taking a few deep breaths. I kept her this way because honestly, I found the absurdity of this, of her kills taking the same spot in her mind as making a mental note to buy cigarettes, to be darkly funny. But, I also found this made for a scarier narrative. She doesn’t care that she’s killing people beyond basic things like hoping the cops don’t find the bodies. She doesn’t even begin to care until she meets Jackson, and even then, it’s in the context of worrying she’ll lose him, not because of any sudden moral awakening.

This also presented a challenge, though, in asking both myself and readers to care about Cara for the duration of the narrative despite this lack of remorse. I wanted to do this, but without creating so much sympathy that it seemed what she’s doing is okay, or romanticizing serial killers or anything like that. I wanted understanding for what motivates her to kill, and I wanted her to be interesting in the context of her actions being scary, being unsettling, and being the result of failings around her as well as her own shortcomings. I think I was successful in that, but ultimately, it’s all in how readers read it – and every reader is different!

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Truck outside of dairy farm in Orange County, N.C., much like Cara drives, even though she lives on a pumpkin farm. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

 
Erin: I have to say I didn’t really “like” Cara at all, but understood her and felt she was in complete development at the same time.

It seems Valentine’s week was the perfect week to release this book. Did you plan that? Haha! Should men buy this for their girlfriends? I’m just kidding. Did you do fun plans for promotion? I think that you should give away a free knife with each order by a woman. 😉

Sonora: I did plan that! I admit I was feeling a little mischievous by planning to promote it as “perfect for Valentine’s Day,” though really, Cara and Jackson’s relationship is pretty romantic. Plus, the book has some pretty hot sex in it, if I say so myself. There’s one scene in there that was so steamy, I started singing “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” to myself, ha ha.  I also consider it to be both horror and romance (with coming-of-age for good measure), since romantic love is the driving force for a lot of the things both Cara and Jackson go through.

Men should totally buy this for their girlfriends, or boyfriends. Women should buy it for their boyfriends or girlfriends. Everyone should buy it for everyone. Buy my book! (Okay Erin, you may want to cut me off from the rum-and-coffees).

I think a free knife would be too expensive – er, I mean, too dangerous to give out. But maybe I’ll send some paperback copies in a shoebox. Maybe as a Mother’s Day promotion. Heh heh.

Erin: As a mom, I am not sure how I feel about that promotion!! haha!

I know you also had a short story in the anthology from 2018 called Quoth the Raven, which was stories in homage to Edgar Allan Poe. What is the name of it and what’s it about? Did it model any Poe story? I was excited to see this anthology make the preliminary ballot for the Stoker Award!

Sonora: My story is called “Hearts are Just ‘Likes.’” It’s about an Instagram influencer who thrives on being seen online, but must reconcile that with having to hide the fact that she’s murdered her boyfriend. It’s a modern version of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I like that story because all of the horror is inside the narrator’s paranoid mind, and most of that paranoia comes from the fear of being seen. Social media has created almost a new form of paranoia, a willing placement of ourselves into Foucault’s panopticon where we feel we must perform our lives in the context of having it be presentable to whoever’s watching us online. I thought that was a perfect state of mind to explore for a modern retelling of a Poe classic.

Quoth the Raven was actually my first acceptance ever. I was so thrilled, not just for the acceptance, but because I adore Poe and was really happy to be included in such a fun and unique tribute to him.

I too was excited to see Quoth the Raven on the preliminary ballot, and not just because I’m in the anthology. It’s a wonderful collection – I was so impressed with all of the stories. Strictly as a reader, I highly recommend it!

Quoth the Raven

Erin: I love “Tell-Tale Heart!” One of the stories in my own collection had inspiration slightly from it. Of course I love Poe. Your story sounds amazing – and that’s so true, about the online world.

What is your favorite Edgar Allan Poe short story of all time and why?

Sonora: “Hop Frog,” because it’s the only Poe story that scared me so much that I almost couldn’t sleep after I read it. It’s actually very hard for a book to scare me. Audio and visuals are more effective, and even then, it doesn’t really linger unless it’s a combination of immediate scares and chilling moods. So, when text manages to scare me, it holds a special place in my heart. The ending of “Hop Frog,” (*spoiler alert*) where the protagonist commits a murder right in front of everyone and they have no idea … hoo, I got the willies just remembering it, and I haven’t read the story in almost 20 years.

Erin: What were some of your favorite books you read in 2018 overall (can be any genre!) and what are some by women in horror?

Sonora: My favorite book I read in 2018 was Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee. It’s about two sisters, one of whom is bipolar. The story is told from many points of view: the sister with bipolar disorder, the sister who is also her caregiver, and two of the afflicted sister’s boyfriends. It did a really good job showing the toll of mental illness on the person afflicted, the caregiver, and the people who love them; but without malice or lack of dignity. I highly recommend it.

Everything Here is Beautiful

I also loved Educated by Tara Westover. We read it for my office’s book club. At first, we were all kind of reluctant (we go by PBS’s book club recommendations so we always have an objective third party choosing the book), but most of us ended up being floored by the book. Westover has an amazing talent for writing about the horrors of her upbringing without writing them as horror. She doesn’t tell you how to feel or, really, how she feels beyond what she felt in that moment.

I also enjoyed Whiskey and Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It elegantly weaves points-of-view and time periods to tell a story about new love and lost love, all with beautiful prose.

I did read some women in horror too! I read Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado early in the year. I liked the collection a lot, and find her writing and ideas to be fascinating. My favorite story in the collection was “Inventories.” I also enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite; and The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

Erin: Just coming in recently to the horror genre, how do you feel in regard to the treatment or level of support of women in horror, both from women and men both, since it’s women in horror month? What is positive and what can everyone do better?

Sonora: I feel like it’s getting better for sure, but there is still a sense of “Oh yeah, her too” when it comes to thinking about women in horror. A lot of times when people are asked about favorite and/or great horror writers, people will automatically list men – King, Barker, etc. – and then pause and think before adding women (I admit I’ve been guilty of this too). It’s unfortunately the product of a culture that promotes white, straight, cisgendered men as the default or universal; with all others as their own genre. My gender isn’t a genre. What I write is a genre (and many genres at that).

But on a positive note, it’s definitely better; especially online and in the independent scene. I’ve loved being introduced to so many talented women horror authors online that I never would’ve found on my own: Christa Carmen, Loren Rhoads, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Larissa Glasser, and you, Erin; just to name a few! I also see both women and men promoting each other online, which is nice.

One thing I think everyone can do better is reading more women and people of color. I feel really disheartened when I scroll through Goodreads and I see friends reading man after man, or white man after white man, or white man after white woman … you get the gist. Expand! There are so many voices out there in every genre, and with the access that the Internet, independent publishing, and self-publishing have all provided to reading so many more voices, we have a great opportunity to do so.

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Erin: Happy to have met you too, thank you! I look forward to checking out some of your past short story collections. What writing plans do you have for 2019? What are your goals to make that happen?

Sonora: I’m planning to release another short story collection, a longer one than my last two. I’ve written some longer pieces and I’ve also written a lot of flash over the past year. Right now, the collection is called Little Paranoias: Stories. I have three works-in-progress left for the collection, and I want to finish them by May so I have time to read over everything one more time before sending them all to my editor in June.

Once that’s out for edits, I’ll either work on some more short fiction or, hopefully, get cracking on my next novel. I have some ideas that are percolating, but I’m not going to start it until my short stories are done.

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The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: I know you like to travel, see sites, and have fun in the world from going to NYC and Hershey Park this year to a past trip to Prince Edward Island. What is your top choice to travel to that was/is the home and/or museum of a famous author? Why?

Sonora: I had to rack my brain about this a bit because I don’t usually pick travel destinations based on writers! But in thinking about it … I’d actually love to visit Omaha, Nebraska; home of Rainbow Rowell. I like reading her descriptions of the downtown area. I also want to visit because one of my favorite chefs, Isa Chandra Moscowitz, has a restaurant there called Modern Love.

If you don’t mind me sharing a quick aside – this past summer, my husband and I went to Dublin. We visited the Writer’s Museum, and they have a first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, along with notes and other books by him. I completely fangirled in the museum (quietly, of course). James Joyce who? I’m here for Dracula!

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From Sonora: The first edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker. I might’ve squealed a little bit when I saw it – it’s one of my favorite books! Photo by Sonora Taylor

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Bram Stoker Display at the Writer’s Museum in Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Sonora Taylor.

Erin: That’s amazing! I’m looking forward to visiting the Poe Museum in Baltimore!

What favorite foods and/or drinks make you write, and which makes you go into a coma? Haha!

Sonora: I don’t eat when I write, which my stomach hates, ha ha. I wrote a good portion of Without Condition before work in the morning, so I always had breakfast after writing – and I specifically craved whole wheat toast with Earth Balance and Trader Joe’s pink grapefruit marmalade on writing days. Just thinking about that breakfast makes me think I should be writing the book!

I usually just drink water when I write. I don’t follow the Hemingway rule of “write drunk, edit sober,” mostly because I’m getting old and being drunk means falling asleep. I have found that re-reading my work while buzzed makes me less of a harsh critic, so maybe that should be reversed?

Baked macaroni and cheese puts me into a coma, but a delicious, melty, bread crumb-topped coma; so it’s worth it. I make a delicious pumpkin macaroni and cheese in the fall.

Erin: Ugh! First of all, there is no Trader Joe’s near me, but next time there is I’m getting that marmalade. Also, mac and cheese for the high five! I had that last night haha! But adding pumpkin…mmm…I’ll have to try that this Fall.

Tell us where everyone can connect with you at below. I enjoyed first getting to know you doing the monthly Ladies in Horror Photo Prompt Challenge. I think so many more ladies should do that – it keeps the writing flow going! If you want to share any of your links from that, feel free to do so below too.

Sonora: I love the prompt challenge too! It’s great for creativity, as getting a picture prompt each month challenges me and gets me out of my comfort zone. It’s also a great way to discover new authors every month. You can find my collected stories so far right here.

I’m also all over the place online, though I’m most active on Twitter and Instagram. Give me a follow, especially if, in addition to writing and books, you like hockey, beer, and/or jokes.

Website

Twitter

Instagram

Facebook

Goodreads

Erin: I think you forgot food and travel, which are things that drew me to you outside of our writing interests!

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Sonora looking out over the water at Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Photo provided by Sonora Taylor.

Thank you SO much for coming over and hanging out with me. I think this lunch is in the coma category, not the energy for writing one. Let’s sit back and hang out with another cup of coffee. I look forward to seeing where your writing takes you in the future!

Sonora: Thank you for having me! This was all delicious, both the food and the conversation. I’ll definitely take another cup of coffee, though maybe I’ll skip the rum on this one.

Erin: Never enough rum, Sonora!

About Without Condition

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

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

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

Purchase Without Condition on Amazon

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

Shelve Without Condition on Goodreads

Sonora Taylor, Biography –

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

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

Follow Sonora on Facebook | Follow Sonora on Twitter

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Contact Sonora

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, HookonWiHM, women in horror

Hooked on Reading: 35 Favorite Books I Read in 2018! #amreading

Over 35 Favorite Books I Read in 2018!

Better late than never is my new motto. Plus, hey, it’s still in the first quarter. I wanted to post a list of some books as reading recommendations I read and really liked in 2018. I discovered after the fact that 30 are by women! It’s not a “best of” list, as with my work and home schedule I didn’t nearly have enough time to read all the books I wanted to in order to do a proper comparison, but a best of what I personally read.

My Best Books 2018 final

When I did read in 2018, it often was books I was editing or a publicity client’s book, and so, you’ll see none of those on this list because I think it’s more ethical to not include books you might have made any money with by association. I am sad to not include some, but I feel it’s the right call. I don’t want to be perceived in offering any bias. These are books I sought out for my own reading interest or pleasure that I really liked (but that’s not to say that books I worked with and/or on this year are not some of my favorites I’ve read from the year either) or were anticipated ARCS.

There were many books I know are worthy or I know I’d have loved if I’d only had time to get to them, but that doesn’t mean I won’t read them in 2019. Also there are some books I started in 2018 but finished in 2019 so they won’t be on this list. Some of the titles below were not published in 2018, but I simply read them then. Therefore, it’s a list of favorite books I read in 2018. It shows you that I have a wide array of interests; I am very happy and proud of the fact that I read widely, cross-genre, both trad pubs and indie, and with diversity and inclusion in mind. To me, this only helps my own writing and editing and allows me to bring much more insight to the writing work I do with others.

One more note, because I am sure some will wonder why there aren’t more indie titles and that’s because I work so much in the horror genre in editing and publicity that I did read quite a few, I just can’t list them, as I said before. Also, there are indie and trad published books that just simply didn’t make the list. If a book didn’t grab me in the first five pages this year, I didn’t pick it up again. I didn’t have time. Also, keep in mind I read book submissions, beta read books, read books prior to and while editing, and read almost 600 short story and poetry submissions for an anthology project as well this year – most all of that horror. So while I read horror, I read so much of it in other ways, I switched gears in some of my pleasure reading (and I was sent very little straight horror ARCS as I am in other genres – go figure?). Though I love fantasy and sci-fi as well, I wasn’t able to read much of it this year due to time.

Some of these favorites below were given to me as ARCS, especially in the historical fiction genre, some were titles I found in trad magazines or watched the buzz about and requested from my library, maybe some I bought. Any print ARCS I am given usually find preference and I understand I still have plenty in my pile that I didn’t get to this year – many I truly want to read. Several I was given at the end of the year and have since read, but that will be January 2019 and the reviews are to come. I’ve switched and organized my schedule to hopefully begin to be more caught up on ARCS this year and be responsive to others, but work, my own writing career, and family always comes first. Please don’t fault me for reading a few books for my own pleasure here and there too (and yes, I ask this, because people do say stuff). I was sad this year I didn’t have more time for reading, but I managed to squeeze in some during insomnia, waiting in the car or other places for my children, or on weekends. I just didn’t have time to type up reviews for all as when you work for yourself time is money. This year one of my goals is to get up more reviews in a timely fashion!

Now that I hopefully have all the disclaimers out of the way, here are some books and collections I enjoyed in 2018:

Horror/Thriller/Fantasy

the-Chalk-ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor – I read this debut thriller shortly after it came out, mostly because these types of thrillers are some of my personal go-to books when I want some entertainment. This one was getting a lot of positive buzz. I highly enjoyed it and read it in one night. I was captivated throughout and she surprised me in the end.

The-HungerThe Hunger Alma Katsu – I’ve liked Alma’s work for a LONG while, probably before most people in my circles knew her name. I highly anticipated The Hunger, due to it having several factors that make me raise my hand: history, extreme cases in history, and survival. I’m primarily an historical fiction reader, so couple that with my next love of horror, and I’m happy. Alma’s writing is so professional, clean, and interesting. I loved the complexity about it. I highly recommend for fellow fans of Dan Simmons.

MelmothMelmoth by Sarah Perry – I just loved the description of this next book by Perry (the follow-up, but not linked, to The Essex Serpent) and so it was on my highly anticipated list. Perry is a very skilled writer and I love the intertwining of so many cool places around the world (set in Prague – I mean I’m silently screaming) and again, through flashbacks, an historical aspect. I mean if you truly love 18th century gothic to its core like me, this one will suck you in and most likely dry and you’ll need to recover. It’s fantastical and unique.

ProvidenceProvidence Caroline Kepnes – I mean CAROLINE. Caroline has a very original sort of writing. The type that you could pick up a book blinding and know it’s her writing as you start to read it. She’s funny, dramatic, soul crushing, and inspiring all at once. I mean the gamut of emotions I experienced reading this book left me wondering just how I truly did feel – terribly sad and broken? Inspired by devotion? Light humor always takes away the gloom realities of Caroline’s books and I love reading her for it. There are many popular authors I won’t name who are trying to do the same thing (ahem, sorry men) and it doesn’t work even 90% as well as Caroline doing it. I really enjoyed reading it.

The Forgotten GirlThe Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers – This is a page turning read that was just a lot of fun, with twists, turns, and originality. Youers gives great voice to his characters and you truly feel for them, even though the story is being unfolded at a very fast pace. You can’t help but want to know what happens to them and want it to end well, but you’re just not sure if it will at the same time – or if they will ever be the same. It has a lightness to it, as a read, and some humor of course. The plot propels the reader.

UNBURY CarolUnbury Carol by Josh Malerman – I don’t think I really love anyone’s work in horror at the moment more than I love Malerman’s. To me, he transcends writing and puts it into some other plane of creative existence. Literary, without being too posh, horror that doesn’t wreck your emotions in the way many horror books do – by being in your face – but subliminally strokes your insides until your weeping in places you didn’t realize or searching for lost places inside yourself or others. He knows how to tell a tale, but within it, he’s trying to get a glimpse at humanity himself. At all those lost questions. He’s phenomenal and he’s only getting started. Unbury Carol was not a favorite to some, but to me, it was my favorite so far! I can so relate to Carol on various levels and it just really spoke to me. Couple that with the fact I like deconstructed fairy-tales (Sleeping Beauty here) and even westerns, I was sold from the start and enjoyed every moment of it.

Siren and the SpecterThe Siren and the Specter by Jonathan Janz – This could also be put under Gothic category. I’ve read all of Janz’s books over the years and this was one of the best I’ve read of him flexing his paranormal fingers. He writes a solid haunted house story with an original plot. I’d say he truly keeps showing his mastery at the southern gothic style and should be receiving way more accolades for his work than he is – he really should have made the Bram Stoker ballot this year. He writes with intelligence and creates meaningful, complex characters, wrapping them up in just the right amount of scares. Ominous, atmospheric work.

(In full disclosure, his last two books were with the publisher I worked with so I promoted those books, as well as he’s been my personal client at times when he needed publicity support, but I felt I could give one tiny inch past my ethical presence on this one since I am not associated with Flame Tree and I didn’t work on this particular title. Plus, I REALLY loved it!)

The Night MarketThe Night Market by Jonathan Moore – I have loved Moore’s work since his first crime thriller/horror novel Redheads, and then, first in his next loosely-connected series of three books, The Poison Artist (one of my top favorite reads ever), from which The Night Market is the third book. I’ve neglected, as with many reviews in 2018, to get a review written and up, so I will remedy that in 2019, but suffice to say that this was one of my favorite books of 2018 – and it came in the first month of the year. Moore is precise in his plot, creative with characters and setting, unique in his mysteries, and yet, also manages to put in such cool scientific and forensic work too. The Night Market has him at the top of his game with his captivating suspense and decadent prose. This one, being set in a near future San Francisco, has a different appeal from the previous too so might enchant fans of dystopian and sci-fi as well.

Damned by the AncientsDamned by the Ancients (Nemesis of the Gods #3) by Catherine Cavendish – It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Cat Cavendish is one of my favorite horror suspense and/or gothic authors. In this series, she’s combined several other favorites of mine by using history, art, and Egyptology as her base for some captivating thrills. Though top on my list as personal fun reads, I hadn’t gotten to the first two books yet, but opted to dive into the third since it came out this year. You can read them stand alone, but I am sure they are better in order. At any rate, I’ll be going back to the other two for sure after I read my copy of her highly anticipated The Haunting of Henderson Close, which came our January of 2019. Damned by the Ancients has an intricate plot, good historical research, mesmerizing characters, and a pace that can quicken the heart of any reader because it’s also very scary!

methodThe Method by Duncan Ralston – This book, a Kindle Scout Winner from 2017, was just way better than I even thought the concept might be from reading the back cover copy. This was a psychological suspense thriller that is also categorized as horror, because it’s more violent mid to end; terrorizing. He combines it all nicely, leaving you uncomfortable, unsure, and wanting to know with every page, from the very first page, what is about to happen next and who you can trust. The characterization, plotting, and suspense all are stable foundations for a very entertaining read. Would be a great film (in fact he’s just finished writing the screenplay)!

Gothic Mystery and Mystery

The Death of Mrs. WestawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware – Have you heard me say how much I love Ruth Ware? I’m President of the Ruth Ware Fan Club. Not really, but I’d be happy to if anyone wants to form said club! I was really looking forward to what book she was putting out in 2018 after reading The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game in 2017. I was thrilled to find this one a little more on the gothic side as well, which I love of course. Ruth always gives me a good mystery and this one didn’t fail to twist, turn, and surprise me. I always identify with her main character. It’s a great summer read.

RebeccaRebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – This was a re-read for me that I picked up after many, many years so I could try to do the read-a-long with the Ladies of Horror Fiction. I read it all again within a couple days because I couldn’t stop. I just love this book as much as ever. There are so many things I could say about the novel – from its mystery to its atmosphere to its clever clues placed within scenery and characters, Du Maurier reminded me again why she’s a big influence on my own writing.

The AtrocitiesThe Atrocities by Jeremy Shipp – What a very strange novella that I had to read twice. I picked this book up as it seemed very different, surreal maybe, and gothic. Maybe much like Slade House. I’d say that all held true. Shipp’s mind is imaginative and flowing – almost like you’re reading a dream state. It was an experience for sure that I’m glad I tried, and I’d certainly recommend if you like literary horror that colors outside the lines like me.

The Body in the LibraryThe Body in the Library by Agatha Christie – I never tire of Agatha Christie and love reading her books, books about her, watching the movies, etc. I enjoyed reading The Body in the Library as a fun summer read and re-visiting the mystery with Miss Marple. I am largely a Poirot fan in general as it pertains to Christie’s detectives, and Miss Marple needs to shine more in this title, but overall I enjoyed the plot. I picked it up…well, because of the library of course. I enjoyed her descriptions and humor as always and the fact that it seemed very modern even though it was written decades ago.

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel by Alyssa Polombo

SpellbookI love anything “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as most people who know me will agree. I was eager, both in reading previous books by Polomobo (and liking them) and because this re-telling of Sleepy Hollow was from Katrina’s point of view and added the new twist of the disappearance of Ichabod on All Hallows Eve. Polombo introduces the character of Charlotte, who is the witch friend of Katrinia, and together they use magic to search for him. It was a fun read perfect for last October. It’s a little more on the romance/sex side than what I normally like in books and it was hard to know what category to put it in. Fellow horror readers didn’t think it was horror, though obviously it has horror and paranormal elements, it has witches and magic, it’s a mystery, and historical readers claimed it as her other works feature women in history (and the setting), plus it has this romance and some suspense as well. It’s an entertaining read encompassing all these things and is probably most likely suited for mainstream readers, not genre readers.

Domestic Thrillers/Suspense

The WifeThe Wife by Alafair Burke – I have followed Alafair Burke’s career since her first book. Though I haven’t read all of them in between, I’ve read quite a few. This one was SUPERB. Alafair’s writing never disappoints. Just what I needed for an escape into something else. I highly recommend this one for your next snowed-in or summer read if you like family crime or thriller dramas. It will suck you fully in and leave you astounded at the end.

Bring-Me-BackBring Me Back by B.A. Paris – Another stand out thriller from Paris that kept me guessing. I loved the including on the Russian nesting dolls in this one – and since I received this as an ARC, a doll showed up in my mailbox too (THRILLED!). It’s signature her if you’ve read her other books, though if you’ve read all her other work before this one, it might start to feel a little bit same in some respects. Nonetheless, it was a fun summer read I really enjoyed. Of course, her twists and turns always surprise me.

sometimes_i_lie.jpg.size-custom-crop.0x650Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney – Another in the vein of the thrillers I like, this title might be at the top for one of my best novels read last year. And it’s a debut, so I look forward to more to come from her. I feel it was a little cleaner and tidier than some of the other popular domestic thrillers (my editor eye coming out I guess) and that it flows and ties up things more smoothly. Plus, I felt I was in this character’s head with her! From my GoodReads review: “Page-turning quick read that hooked me and had me guessing. So many twists, made me think and go back to re-read parts. Excellent psychological thriller. Very enjoyable!”

the perfect strangerThe Perfect Stranger Megan Miranda – This was totally another fun summer read that took just a night to get through because I wanted to find out what would happen. It was so entertaining and it was one I truly enjoyed reading. Memorable characters and page-turning suspense. This is a great read for long summer evenings or on vacation. I will read anything Miranda publishes.

 

Historical Fiction

Tiffany BluesTiffany Blues by M.J. Rose – I am a HUGE fan of Tiffany glass and have had a decade long interest in reading anything having to do with the Tiffany family. As past reviews over the years on my site indicate, I’m also an enormous fan of Rose’s writing and books as well. Once I finally got a chance to sit down with this book, I breezed through it in no time at all. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the book, the mystery intertwined with romance, and the descriptions. I still owe a full review for this one on my site and I’ll still get to it this year.

The Lost Season of Love and SnowThe Lost Season of Love and Snow by Jennifer Laam – Jennifer is wonderfully smooth historical fiction author. It’s easy to get swept away in her novels and it suddenly be the next morning (which is in fact what happened to me). Of course, I love any fiction that has to do with Russia – this one of course even showcased a favorite poet, Alexander Pushkin! I read this over a year ago now, in January 2018, and I still owe a review on my site. I really must do that because if you like historical fiction, stories of women in history who were with powerful men, slight romance, and/or even want to learn a take on the life of Pushkin, this is highly recommended by me. Beautiful, tormenting, and sad, it’s also light-hearted in its pen because of Jennifer’s sweet writing skills.

Trial on Mount KoyaTrial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann – Susan is one of my most beloved historical mystery fiction authors. I love her descriptions of Japan and her characters – I’ve come to feel like I know them. This one I did get a review up on the site for and you can find it HERE. It’s book six in her fantastic series. You can find review and interviews with her throughout the years on my site by putting her name in the search bar.

MyDearHamilton-500x750My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie – I mean this book is a NYT best-selling national sensation and it’s well-deserved. It’s historical fiction at the very finest. You can read my full review and interview from this year here.

The Romonov EmpressThe Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner – Again, I love anything surrounding Russian history in literature. I also am a giant fan of Gortner and read all his books. If you like historical fiction, you can’t get much better than reading Gortner. This book was OUTSTANDING. I am late on a full review of it as well, but I’ll still have one up for those interested this year. It’s never too late to add this one to your collection.

Ecstasy-by-Mary-SharrattEcstasy by Mary Sharatt – Mary is also an author I look forward to every year and she never disappoints. This historical fiction book was a highlight of my year. Her writing is so deep yet so delectable, it’s like eating a really good meal (and I love a good meal). I always am swept away by her writing. If you like stories of strong women in history, this one is another to add to your list. Alma Schindler, wife of Gustav Mahler, but brilliant composer in her own right, is explored in ultimate ode to the beauty of women’s perseverance for their own talents and passions.

Collections

The Purple Swamp HenThe Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories by Penelope Lively – If you’ve never read Booker Prize winning London author Penelope Lively, you need to rectify that immediately. When I first started reading Lively, I wondered about the style of writing in the stories (this published in 2017 and she’s towards the end of her career). I took a breath and re-trained my brain to go with her flow. I was glad I did, as it took on a whole new cadence that I really enjoyed. Sharp, perceptive, witty, and emotionally captivating, I was drawn in to each one differently. These are stories I could re-read again.

Anthologies

The Devil and the DeepThe Devil and the Deep edited by Ellen Datlow – I love anything that has to do with water and that carries over to literature. In fact, I have a collection of “water associated” books! I think Ellen Datlow is one of the finest editor and curators in the business and I really enjoyed over half of the stories in this anthology, if not all of them on some level. I feel she did a great job at funneling a wide array into the anthology and as well was inclusive as far as authors. I still owe a review on this one too – which hopefully I’ll get done soon. It was only one of a few anthology reads for me this year, which is a shame as I LOVE anthologies, but it was the favorite of those I read.

Poetry Collections

I-Am-Not-Your-Final-GirlI Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire Holland – One of my favorite books of poetry this year, Claire’s debut work really humanizes and values all the strength of the final girls in so many horror movies we’ve watched over the years, taking them for granted. No more, as she gives them their due, with a swift blade for a pen and a black heart for those against these women. I need to present you a further review for this one soon as well, but I highly recommend it – to anyone. If you’ve never read poetry, so what? Read it.

Lessons on ExpulsionLessons on Expulsion by Erika L. Sanchez – I have a lot to say about this poetry collection and so at some point I’ll be posting a stand-alone review, but honestly, this TORE MY GUTS out and really made me feel for women and children in Mexico. From sex workers, murder, narco- traffickers, rape, abuse to artists and love, this is all about survival. I was just BLOWN AWAY. Consider eyes opened. This was my favorite poetry collection of 2018 – and one of my favorites ever read.

Your Heart is the Sea by Nikita Gill – “People aren’t born sad, we make them that way.” That is a line from the poem “Why We Are All Afraid to Be” from Gill’s latest collection. Your Heart is the Sea 2I read everything she puts out because it’s beautifully heart-wrenching and soul cleansing and reminds me a lot of things I’ve been through, things I’ve written about myself, and yet, offers hope to hold onto at times as well. This collection came out in December 2018, and I was drawn to it because as most people know, I love the sea. There are so cool illustrations inside, but the poetry is the highlight of course. Her honest rendering of humanity and the heart gives me purpose.

WarWAR: Dark Poems by Alessandro Manzetti and Marge Simon – The back cover copy states, “I appear as strife of many kinds, from Stalingrad to Scotland. Africa to Afghanistan, the civil war of Italy and the War Between the States, ghostly wars, drug wars, the battle of the sexes, World Wars I, II and visions of a holocaust yet to come. It’s all herein and more, with poems both collaborative and individual.” This collection takes us around the gamut of the globe, our relationships, and our hearts to parch our dehydrated tongues and bolster our internal defenses. I love historical work – mixing historical with horror is something I enjoy – so being able to read this historical horror poetry collection was grand. It’s something I aspire to – both Manzetti and Simon are master poets, bring vividness to the page. 

fierce-fairytalesFierce Fairytales: Poems and Stories to Stir Your Soul by Nikita Gill – All of Gill’s collection have qualities of female empowerment, as does this one, all wrapped up in references to fairy tales. I love fairy tales, but since they are a little cliché and delve into stereotypical references, Gill re-molds the pieces giving us some empowering stuff. I loved what Gill did with these poems and the cover is beautiful as well as her own original art which graces the inside pages.

to-make-monsters-out-of-girlsto make monsters out of girls by Amanda Lovelace – Lovelace’s collection of poetry books are must- haves for any strong female who has been through a lot and is coming out swinging. Her collection from 2018 offer no less empowerment and words to survive by. This one particularly hit home to me as a domestic abuse survivor. The poetry is all about being in a relationship like this and completely moved me. Deep, dark, emotional, but there’s also healing.

Sea of StrangersSea of Strangers by Lang Leav – Leav is an inspiration writer on love and life and heartache and personal growth after break-ups. This collection has poetry written in stanza, some short essays, some quotes – all types of poetry that breaks your heart again or soothes it or both at the same time. Probably her best so far. She’s much more inspirational and empowering than dark in anyway and offers enough light that her poems and quotes are very sharable.

The-Poet-X-by-Elizabeth-Acevedo-309x468Poet X by Elizabeth Acevado – I first entranced learning of Acevado in my son’s college magazine from George Washington University. They featured her this year, and the book, as she is an alumnus from there with a degree in performing arts. A child of Dominican immigrants, raised in NYC, she now lives with her husband in Washington D.C. Something about the connection drew me to her, but upon reading her words, she mesmerized me all on her own. I educated and found out she is a renowned slam poet, then she went on this year to win a National Book Award for Poet X, which was highly deserved (I had been rooting for it when I heard it was nominated). This is primarily a YA book, catalogued as such, but anyone can read it – it’s just that the characters are young. It’s a book told solely in poetic verse about a young girl in Harlem discovering slam poetry and using it to understand her mother’s religion and her own coming of age. It’s a lovely, but strong, book of female empowerment and how words can truly help us in so many ways. LOVED IT!

If They Come for UsIf They Come For Us by Fatimah Asghar – I have been trying to incorporate reading with diversity in mind. Not just women, of course, but works and poetry stemming from other cultures as well. This book, written in various flashbacks and time periods over the course of Indian’s history of colonization, was eye-opening. Even having a history degree, I was not aware of the atrocities bestowed in the 1940s upon India during their occupation. Asghar grew up in the more modern eras, but she intertwines life of her ancestors and her own modern world as an immigrant in America and offers a horrible bird’s eye view. Her writing is fierce, angry, visceral, haunting, but overall so very important. I absolutely am humbled by this poetry, a little terrified at humanity, but so very glad I read it.

Most Disliked Book of the Year

Strange WeatherStrange Weather by Joe Hill – Of the books I read this year, completely, but still didn’t like, the short story by Joe Hill takes the cake. I absolutely abhorred his story ideas, his comedy, his snark, and his overall writing. I think I maybe liked one of the stories, but it felt like maybe his dad had already done it and/or several movie scripts somewhere down the line – “been there, done that.” I know some people liked it, but I just didn’t connect.

Best Liked Book of Others I Couldn’t Like

Final Girls

The Final Girls by Riley Sager – I tried to read this book three times, and each time I was so bored, I never made it past the fifth chapter. I won’t be reading anything from him again, no matter the buzz. I loved the idea of it but I just couldn’t get into the writing.

Most Anticipated Book I Didn’t Get to Read

The outsider.jpgThe Outsider by Stephen King – I got through 30 pages of it before it was due back at the library (too  many holds!) but was so busy didn’t bother to check it out again. Will wait to buy it and then read it. Looking forward to it though, because I was enjoying what I read of it.

 

Stay tuned for our FAVORITE READ LISTS in YA and Middle Readers as Emma (15) and Addie (11) weigh-in with me on the books we each enjoyed most!

Happy Reading!

About Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi –

Erin Al-Mehairi Bio PhotoErin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has twenty years of professional experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently an author, writer, journalist, publicist, and an editor.

Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving in 2017, is her debut collection of dark poetry and short stories and was an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Hot New Releases in Women’s Poetry and held both that and the top ten of horror short stories for months. She has poetry and short stories featured in several other anthologies, magazines, and sites and was the co-editor for the gothic anthology Haunted are these Houses.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her books at Amazon, or GoodReads. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter (@erinalmehairi), and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, Feature Articles, New Books I've Found, poetry, women in history, women in horror

Original Fiction for #HookonWiHM: Girl, Waiting by Marge Simon #wihmx

Today I am thrilled to publish a flash fiction or prose poem – as you will – from the incomparable Marge Simon! Simon is a writer, poet, and illustrator living in Ocala, Florida. A Grand Master Poet of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, her stories appear in Daily Science Fiction, Polu Texni, Silver Blade, BeteNoire, and anthologies such as Chiral Mad 4 and Tales from the Lake 5. Simon is a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner.

 I want to sincerely thank her for submitting this haunting piece to Hook of a Book in celebration of Women in Horror Month X!

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Girl, Waiting

by Marge Simon

The bench is cold, the station deserted. She has no idea when the next train will arrive, or even if there are any trains left, still running. She knows she must get away from here, but she doesn’t remember why.

The floor is littered with refuse –used condoms, cigarette butts. All around her is a dark fantasy out of Dahlgren, a depraved city of fallen angels, where the roads that lead here have no exit. She begins to count the tiles on the floor.  She feels inexplicably dirty, defiled.

Distant and low, then louder – the wail of a train horn. The floor quakes with the rumble of wheels on steel. She jumps up, rushes to the rattling doors in time to see it thundering by. Then silence.

She returns to the bench. She has no idea when the next train will arrive. With a sigh, she resumes counting the tiles on the floor. The bench is cold. Her skin itches. She begins to scratch her arms. Over and over, until the skin gives way and blood oozes to the surface.

Another train and yet another rumble past, but none will be stopping here. She is too weak to stand, but she remembers now. They never do.

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Find out more about Marge Simon and her work at www.margesimon.com.

Follow along or read more about Women in Horror this month and all year long by clicking HERE or by following this site. If you’d like to submit or be a part of #HookonWiHM, or a part of my site in the future, contact me at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

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Note: Art obtained free from Internet as part of a Facebook Cover program.

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Filed under HookonWiHM, women in horror