Tag Archives: women horror authors

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

Follow Sonora on Goodreads | Follow Sonora on Instagram

Contact Sonora

 

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Filed under Book Reviews, HookonWiHM, women in horror

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poblenou Cemetery, Barcelona / Photo credit Loren Rhoades

Q: The most frightening and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany Window Wade Chapel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

199 Cemeteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wish You Were Here cover

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

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

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

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

Loren testimonial

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

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

Q: Any plans for Halloween?

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

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

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

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

Erin: Me too!

Loren Rhoads Biography –

Loren

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

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

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

Author Photo Credit: S.G. Browne

Thank you for reading!

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#HookonWiHM: Theresa Braun interviews J.H. Moncrieff about Atwood, a Haunted Island, and Gender Roles

Today, for the #HookonWiHM project, author Theresa Braun has interviewed the Canadian author J.H. Moncrieff! I’m super excited to have both of these women on the site today in promotion of Women in Horror Month. J.H. Moncrieff writes paranormal suspense, thrillers, and horror. I enjoy following her travels especially to all the haunted places. Happily, I’ve recently met Theresa this year as we shared the TOC in the anthology Hardened Hearts together, which published by Unnerving in December 2017.

I’m taking interviews by men and women with women in horror, as well as guest articles, throughout the month of February. You can see information on this at the bottom of the post. For now, take it away Theresa. Thanks for a great interview with J.H. Moncrieff!

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Do you feel the feminist conversation surrounding Margaret Atwood is relevant to the issues relating to female writers and female characters? Does Atwood carry any weight for you personally, since you both happen to be Canadian? 

I have read Atwood’s defence of her stance on the firing of the UBC professor, which fanned the flames and turned even more women against her (which, as a publicist, I could have told her it would. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing), and she raises some valid points. Movements like #MeToo do have the potential to become public witch hunts. And they are the result of a legal system failure: if women’s reports of sexual assault and harassment had been taken seriously, there would be no need for scores of women to go public about the issue on social media (or, at least, less need). However, as women, we need to be extremely careful not to re-victimize the survivors of sexual harassment and assault.

Almost every woman on the planet has experienced one or the other or both, but most of us don’t report it because we still fear the repercussions or assume we won’t be believed or taken seriously. We’re still living in an age where a man who was seen raping a woman spent only three months in jail. Where a police officer said to me that one of the strongest indications a woman was lying about sexual assault was she’d reported it, as most “true victims” don’t. And this was coming from a man most would consider sensitive and enlightened. Where people still get frustrated about the women pointing fingers at their favorite celebrities, but never once get angry at the men for the sexual misconduct and abuse of power.

Atwood argues the pendulum is at risk of swinging too far in the other direction. But perhaps it needs to. Just as many find the “zero tolerance” policy of dealing with domestic violence unfair, and it’s certainly flawed, it’s like that for a reason. Only when we’ve seen genuine progress on these issues, when women are no longer viewed as either sexual objects or prey, can people like Atwood safely call for balance. The problem is that our society has been far too unbalanced for far too long. Publicly critiquing a movement that amplifies survivor’s voices and raises awareness of just how prevalent sexual abuse and harassment are, is certainly going to be seen as anti-feminist, to put it lightly. To respond with guns blazing and a “Screw you, I’ve been called worse!” editorial hasn’t helped matters. The fact we’re both Canadian doesn’t bond us or give her opinion more weight to me, but I am more likely to see her editorials, as Canadian media have always given her a platform and will continue to do so.

Do you consciously include gender issues in your fiction? If so, what are some that you have explored? And are there any that you plan to explore in future storylines?

Monsters in Our Wake features a character who is the only female working on a drillship, and it explores some of the sexism and ostracism she suffered as a result, but on the flip side, the sea creatures in that novel live in a matriarchal society where the females are larger, more powerful, and make the majority of the decisions. Some readers have had a huge problem with this. A man accused me of being “anti-male” because of this novel, and some female readers hated Flora because she came across as weak or timid, while they’d always thrived in male-dominated environments. In City of Ghosts, I explored how women can be their own harshest critics and what can happen when they turn against each other. Again, some women really didn’t like that, and they disparaged how “girl-on-girl crime” has been overdone in fiction.

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But the truth is, I don’t set out to write with a feminist agenda, or any agenda. I write people (and creatures), and people are flawed. Sometimes they’re misunderstood or obnoxious or misguided, and sometimes they’re just plain ugly. While I’ve never been ostracized like Flora was, I have been one of the only women in extremely male-dominated professions and sports, so it was easy for me to feel for the struggles someone less assertive might have. And I’ve experienced a ton of “girl-on-girl crime” in my lifetime–in elementary school, in high school, and in the workplace, both from colleagues and from supervisors. Women are capable of being awful to other women, and refusing to be honest about that would do everyone a disservice.

You have written a lot about characters facing supernatural situations. And you have based several of these novels on real places that you have visited. Which of these has scared you the most? Why?

The scariest place I’ve ever visited was Poveglia, an island off the coast of Venice that is considered to be the world’s most haunted. I don’t spook easily, but I was terrified the entire time I was there. Not only was I completely alone on the island, I was there during a violent thunderstorm. Poveglia has a truly chilling history, which I explored in The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts. Although nothing overt happened to me–I didn’t see a ghost–there were definitely a lot of strange, unexplained sounds and a very strong sensation that something was wrong in that place. It’s very creepy.

Isola di Poveglia

From enca.com / Photo: Flickr.com / tedlum

What future project are you most excited about? Tell us about that.

While I have a lot to be excited about this year–the release of the first book in my new Egyptian series, which was previewed in Temple of Ghosts; the fourth book in my GhostWriters series; a Christmas GhostWriters novella; and a few other projects–I’m probably most anticipating the release of Dead of Winter, which Severed Press will publish this spring. It’s about a famous podcaster who ventures into Russia’s Ural Mountains to investigate what happened on the Dyatlov Pass back in the ’50s. Since The Dyatlov Pass Incident is one of the scariest unsolved mysteries of all time, it was a fun topic to explore and I was really happy with how the book turned out. Best-selling author Hunter Shea gave it a great blurb: “Dead of Winter will freeze your blood! A mystery dripping with terror, the sense of isolation and impending doom kept my heart racing right until the very last line. An instant classic.”

Has there been something that a reader has surprised you with? Something that a reader has come away with that has left you inspired? 

My readers are amazing. I’m still so grateful I get to do this that every positive review makes me teary. One reader emailed me to say Temple of Ghosts helped her get through a difficult time after her daughter’s house caught fire. Another left a review for City of Ghosts that ended with, “City of Ghosts stirs the reader’s childhood fears and mixes them with compassion for all of China’s unwanted little girls.” That really got to me, because I wrote that book for those little girls, but I didn’t think anyone had understood that. When a reader gets you, it’s the best feeling in the world. I bawled. During a recent visit to a book club, the members surprised me with a gigantic gift basket full of goodies like gourmet tea, bubble bath, candles, a hardcover book, a bookmark, pens, etc. It went on and on. It was almost bottomless. I was extremely touched. Book clubs are the best, with or without the gifts.

Check out books from Moncrieff such as:

The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts and Temple of Ghosts 

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Find Moncrieff online:

Website

Books

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

Thanks again to Theresa Braun for conducing the interview!

Theresa Braun, Bio –

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Theresa Braun was born in St. Paul, Minnesota and has carried some of that hardiness with her to South Florida where she currently resides. Traveling, ghost hunting, and all things dark are her passions. Her work appears in The Horror Zine, Sirens Call, Schlock! Webzine, Hardened Hearts, and Strange Behaviors, among others.

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

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

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

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#HookonWiHM: Focus on Author Gwendolyn Kiste Via Calvin Demmer

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

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

Now, without further wait, I’d like to introduce Calvin Demmer who has enthusiastically interviewed the amazing author Gwendolyn Kiste! I am more than pleased to say that I share a TOC with them in the Unnerving anthology Hardened Hearts and very much enjoyed both their stories. Further, I was excited to recently find out that Gwendolyn is originally from Ohio, where I currently live!

Take it away, Calvin – enjoy!

INTERVIEW WITH HORROR AUTHOR GWENDOLYN KISTE –

Gwendolyn Kiste_Black and White Headshot

Was it difficult to select which stories to include in your debut collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe (Published by Journalstone)?

Overall, it wasn’t too terribly difficult, though it was so important to me not only to select the right stories but also to curate them in the absolute best order. This definitely took some time, and I was lucky to have my editor Jess Landry there to help me. All fourteen of the stories that I submitted to her for the collection made the cut for the book, but she helped with the order, opening with the avian horror story, “Something Borrowed, Something Blue,” and closing with the darkly romantic body horror tale, “The Lazarus Bride.” She felt both of those pieces focused similarly on themes of death and rebirth, and worked well in conversation with each other, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

As for other considerations in putting together the collection, several of the previously published stories are available for free online, so I felt it was important to offer readers something completely new. That’s what led me to including five stories original to the collection. Now that’s it been almost a year since publication, it’s interesting to take stock of the table of contents again and realize that I can’t imagine a different order or different stories.

These fourteen tales definitely cover all of my favorite themes: body horror, fairy tales, sisterhood, twisted romantic relationships, and of course, otherness and the role of the outsider in pushing back against the confines of society. I’m so grateful every day to Jess and JournalStone for releasing this book. It’s completely changed my career and brought me to so many more readers, which is the only thing that a writer can ever truly want for their career.

And-Her-Smile-Will-Untether-the-Universe

How did you find the process from writing short stories to writing your novella Pretty Marys All in a Row (Broken Eye Books)?

It was a really wonderful—as well as daunting—experience to make the leap from short fiction to a longer form. In some ways, my approach to short fiction is a bit more free-flow: because the projects are shorter by design, I let them evolve much more naturally and then go back and edit the stories if I find that I ultimately didn’t need certain details or subplots. However, with a novella or any longer fiction, that free-flow approach can become more problematic. What’s easy to edit when it’s only 5,000 words can quickly become a nightmare for a 30,000-word story.

So I would say the main difference for me is how much more planning goes into my longer works. For example, prior to even starting the first draft of my novel, The Rust Maidens, I wrote out an 11,000-word outline. Almost none of those words ended up directly in the novel, but I knew every single direction the book was going to take. Every character, every setting, every scene. There were no surprises at all, which made drafting the book much smoother.

I took a similar approach with Pretty Marys All in a Row, though the outline was a little more informal with a page or two of notes for each chapter that included locations, character goals, and specific starting and ending points for all the scenes. Part of me really loves the spontaneity of letting a story evolve like I do with my short fiction, but when the moment comes midway through a longer project that it starts to become a bit of a struggle, I’m incredibly grateful that I’ve planned ahead. It’s definitely what’s helped to keep me going so far with my longer works.

Pretty-Marys-All-in-a-Row

You collaborated with Emily Cataneo for the novella In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire (which will appear in Chiral Mad 4). How was the experience working with another writer?

I’d never collaborated with another writer before, especially on such a big project, so I had no idea what to expect when we started. Fortunately, Emily and I quickly worked out a good system for how to make the collaboration dovetail with both our visions. Once we had the basic elements for the story—ballet, sisters, witchcraft, turn-of-the-century Europe—we each crafted a point-of-view character, and wrote our alternating sections from our character’s perspective. Then we came together and worked to smooth out any inconsistencies and create a cohesive whole. Ultimately, In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire ended up in novella-length territory, and we were both very excited with how it turned out. When editors Michael Bailey and Lucy A. Snyder accepted it for Chiral Mad 4, I imagine you could hear Emily and I both squealing for joy for a several-mile radius.

Your debut novel, The Rust Maidens, will be published this year. Can you tell us a little about it?

Well, first off, I’m insanely excited and a little nervous about it! Obviously, it’s a big moment for every author to have a novel, but it’s so wonderfully terrifying too. And of course, you want to be sure that it’s the right book for your debut. Fortunately, I think I found a good balance with The Rust Maidens, since it at once includes elements from my short fiction while expanding upon my work in a number of ways that I hope readers will enjoy.

Based primarily in 1980, the book follows one Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood as the economy starts to unravel at the same time that the local girls begin transforming into something otherworldly. I’ve been describing it as David Cronenberg’s The Fly meets The Virgin Suicides. Lots of body horror, gruesome transformations, and coming-of-age themes in the Midwest, which is where I grew up. I never thought I’d “go back home,” so to speak, in my fiction, but once I came up with the concept for this book, I knew it was definitely a direction I was always meant to take. I wanted to write something about the economic losses so many people in the region have dealt with over the years, as well as the ecological disasters that have plagued Lake Erie for decades. To be honest, once I started writing about the Rust Belt, I realized just how much horror haunts the everyday recesses of the area, so it seems very naturally situated for a darkly supernatural novel.

We don’t have an official release scheduled yet for The Rust Maidens, but that date should be coming very soon, so definitely watch my website and the Trepidatio Publishing social media pages for those details!

Who are some of the female horror authors you believe people should be reading?

Honestly, there are way too many to list here, but I will do my best. I’m a huge fan of Farah Rose Smith, Brooke Warra, and Eden Royce in particular. We already mentioned Emily B. Cataneo, but her name certainly deserves to be repeated as well. My editor at JournalStone/Trepidatio, Jess Landry, is also a writer and a fantastic one at that.

Of course, I could go on and on: Lori Titus, Anya Martin, Nadia Bulkin, S.P. Miskowski, Denise Tapscott, Sumiko Saulson, Catherine Grant, Scarlett R. Algee, Rebecca Allred, Carrie Laben, Kenya Moss-Dyme. I usually focus on fiction, but in terms of horror poets, Christina Sng and Saba Razvi are two names everyone should definitely seek out. Truly, there are so many wonderful female horror authors working today, and it’s such an honor to be among their contemporaries

Gwendolyn Kiste_Black and White Headshot

Gwendolyn Kiste, Biography –

Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, her debut fiction collection from JournalStone, as well as the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare MagazineShimmerBlack StaticDaily Science FictionInterzoneLampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others. A native of Ohio, she spends her days hanging out on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh where she lives with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can find her online at gwendolynkiste.com.

Book Purchase Links –

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe

Pretty Marys All in a Row

Thanks so much to Calvin Demmer for highlighting Gwendolyn!

CalvinDemmer

Calvin Demmer, Biography –

Calvin Demmer is a dark fiction author. His work has appeared in Broadswords and Blasters, Empyreome Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, Ravenwood Quarterly, Switchblade, and others. When not writing, he is intrigued by that which goes bump in the night and the sciences of our universe. You can find him online at www.calvindemmer.com.

WiHM8-Website-Logo-Retina

Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre.

 

 

 

 

 

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