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Interview: Haunting and Horror Writer Pamela Morris Talks Books, Women in Horror, and Historical Locations #WIHM #womeninhorror #historicalhorror

Tomorrow is the last day of February and the closing of Women in Horror Month, but I know that I for one won’t stop celebrating women all year long. Stay tuned in March for a little announcement on how I will do that even more on schedule than I have before on this site, even though a majority of people featured here has always been predominately women.

Today, join me for a last segment in my mini women in horror month series. Pamela is a cool horror writer I met online years ago through our mutual friendship with horror author Hunter Shea. She likes her ghouls and haunts and history and so this will be a fun and interesting interview to read. Enjoy!

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Hi Pamela, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you could join us. I have strong coffee or tea, whichever you’d prefer, or stiff drink. Take your pick, and if the former, tell me how you take it.

Pamela: Hey, Erin. It’s nice to be here. *checks the time* Coffee sounds great, with a double shot of Jameson and some whipped cream sounds about right after that chilly walk over here.

Erin: That sounds incredibly wonderful! Let’s carry them into the dining room and begin our chat!

I’ve known you for quite a few years, meeting you online from Hunter Shea. I know you are a fan of the paranormal and write many books in that vein. Can you tell my readers a bit about that and what you write?

Pamela: I have always been interested in all things occult and paranormal. It was something I grew up being very curious about and was never discourage away from learning. I’ve also been an avid reader all my life, so I guess the two just went hand-in-hand. First you read it. Then, in my case, you start writing about it. My first paranormal story was a three-page tale titled “The Strange Well” that I wrote when I was ten.

As I grew older, the stories got longer until now, I focus mainly on novels. My first two supernatural novels also happened to be murder-mysteries and are set in Barnesville, the fictionalized version of the small town I grew up in. Barnesville is home to a secret coven of witches who keep an eye on things. Currently I have four books set in Barnesville and there will be more eventually. These books lean towards the YA crowd.

In addition to The Barnesville Chronicles, I have a psychological horror that is very dark and deals with some taboo subject matter: abuse, rape, incest, murder, etc. Not YA in the least. Lastly, I wrote ghost story where a lot of the story is told from the perspective of the three ghosts involved. You don’t just see or hear what they are doing, but you get to know them as they were in life and why they are doing what they are doing, not just to the living but to their fellow trapped spirits.

Erin: What is your newest book and what’s that about? What did you find the most fun about writing that one and why?

Pamela: Last year I released a novel and a short story. The novel was the second part and conclusion to “The Witch’s Backbone” one of my Barnesville books. It’s very much a coming-of-age type tale. Five kids living in a small town decide to find out the truth about their local urban legend. The legend involves a witch named Rebekkah Hodak who is rumored to haunt a narrow ravine just outside town. It’s said that if you go to where her body was found, see her, and meet her gaze, you’re cursed to die an early, and possibly gruesome, death. One of the kids, twelve-year-old Tara Fielding, accidently sees what she believes to be this witch. Her panic and belief in the legend are what spawns the organization of a camping trip into the nearby woods. Horror ensues.

The short story is all about my personal fear of spiders, “Because, Spiders.” It’s about a nine-year-old girl whose fear is even greater than my own. She’s convinced there’s a giant spider hiding in the shed behind her house and she’s pretty sure it caught and ate the neighbor’s dog, too.

Erin: Do you feature any strong female in starring or supporting roles in your novels and stories? Tell us about a few and what their traits are?

Pamela: Most of my lead characters are women. In The Barnesville Chronicles, that would be Nell Miller. She’s the local small town librarian, who also happens to be a member of the coven mentioned earlier. She’s very out about being Pagan and confident in her magic abilities. She’s a bit of an instigator, always wanting to know more, do more, take action. She’s no Nervous Nellie, that’s for sure. She’s not one to turn down a challenge and will often drag her reluctant friends into helping her out.

In “Dark Hollow Road”, the psychological horror, one of the lead female characters is Mary Alice Brown. She’s the eldest of four and after the death of their mother, she’s the one responsible for taking care of all the rest. She struggles a lot with all that entails, including dealing with their abusive, alcoholic father. She does her best to protect them from him, even if that means she gets hurt in the process. She’s very shy, not well educated, and the victim of a lot of bullying both at home and around town, but she retains her sense of what is right and wrong, she has her hopes and dreams. She’s a fighter.

Erin: I love mysteries and historical research as well. How do those two loves of yours factor into your work?

Pamela: Every year for many, many years I’d get at least four Nancy Drew books for Christmas. I’d have them read by the end of January and craving more. That’s where my love of mysteries started and what greatly influenced what I write. Later I’d graduate to Agatha Christie and Wilkie Collins, but Nancy Drew was really the one that taught me that a mystery doesn’t always have to involve a murder.

My maternal grandmother was really interested in family genealogy so I think that may be where my love of history started. She liked antiques and all that. From 2004-2011, I was an American Civil War reenactor. That required a lot of research to know what the heck I was doing or talking to others about as my living history persona. The two main ghosts in “No Rest For The Wicked” are from that time period. I like to keep things as historically accurate as I can so all the research I did for my reenacting, was poured into them. The witches of Barnesville are descendants of the people accused of witchcraft in Connecticut from 1647 to 1663. No Salem witches for me – too typical. I wanted to be different, at last a little bit anyway. So, yeah, lots of real history worked in to everything I write – including that secret Barnesville coven that allegedly existed in my real hometown when I was a teenager!

Erin: What is one piece or location of history you’d like to explore of have explored for your writing or just for general interest? What interesting things have you found?

Pamela: Probably the Salem Witch Trials. I wrote my final high school English paper on the possible causes of the events that took place there. At the time, my mom was working at the main research library at Cornell University and that gave me magical access to the collection of documents housed there on the topic. I got to sit in a locked room with nothing but a pencil, paper, and some of the original document from which I took notes. With those and a few other books I owned at the time, I put together my paper. In 1989 my first husband and I went to New England for our honeymoon and decided we needed to spend the day in Salem. It was a rather whirlwind tour of the place, but still pretty neat. It wasn’t until many, many years later that I’d learn one of the women accused was a distant relative! It was also much later while doing some genealogy research for a friend that I learned about the Connecticut Witch Trials that preceded Salem by about thirty years. It was from this research that I drew the founders, and first coven members, of fictional Barnesville.

Erin: That’s so cool!! How hard do you feel it is to write mysteries and tie up all the points? How do you do so? Outline? What are the challenges and what are the rewards?

Pamela: Only my first two books were murder-mysteries and it was a lot more difficult than I’d initially thought. I’m normally a pantster (meaning I don’t outline … at all), I just write and kind of know where I’m headed or want to head. The mysteries wouldn’t allow that much freedom. Not only do you have to know who committed the murder, why, and how – but you have to come up with believable alibis for all the suspects, the reasons they might have committed the crime, and a secret they have that would cause them to lie about their whereabouts or motivations. Good grief! Plus, if you’re going to touch on police procedures that’s another layer of research to look into. All this is a bit more restricting than I like being, but … the reward of pulling it off, for misdirecting successfully, and it all still making sense in the end feels great.

Erin: You grew up watching horror, I believe. What are some of your great influences and what do you prefer to watch now? Same then with the reading, let us know reads you’ve loved and those who influence your work.

Pamela: Yes, I’ve been watching Horror since I was a wee thing. It started with the local Saturday afternoon horror show, “Monster Movie Matinee’. With the cartoons over, it was time to sit on the floor with a little tray of lunch and take in the creature feature. They showed mostly Universal movies – Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dracula, Abbot and Costello Meet The Wolfman, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken – family friendly horror, I guess. I grew into the Friday and Saturday night programming after that, darker stuff that started after the 11 o’clock news. Hammer Pictures, a lot of Christopher Lee. I love me them vampires! “Let’s Scare Jessica To Death”, “Night of the Living Dead”, “The Haunting of Hill House”, and “The Legend of Hell House”, “The Other” and “Dark Secret of Harvest Home” are the most memorable ones. Once in a while they’d have a great Made-For-TV movies on. “Night of the Scarecrow” was terrifying to me and my novel “Secrets of the Scarecrow Moon” was directly inspired by it. Elements of “The Other” also come into play in my book. Lastly, being from Rod Serling Country in Upstate New York, I adored both Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.

Oddly, I have a harder time coming up with books that influenced my writing. The style of certain authors inspired me, but maybe not so much the stories themselves. Tanith Lee, a British author, had a collection of kind of Horror\Sci-fi stuff that involved twisted fairy tales. Before her, I’d never heard of doing such a thing. I thought it was super cool and tried my hand at it with varied success. The fine art of short stories eludes me, though I keep trying. I liked Stephen Kings whole ‘small town – weird secret’ theme, too. That can be found in the Barnesville books. Of course, there’s good old Nancy Drew, again. I really enjoy books that make me think more about what’s going on, stories that misdirect the reader and have a lot of unexpected twists, endings that make me sit there and go, “Huh. I never saw that coming at all.” That’s what I try to do.

Erin: I’m a history buff too, and I know you were a Civil War re-enactor for a decade. What role(s) did you play? What was exciting about it? What type of horror or haunts did you learn? Have you used any of your time doing this in your writing?

Pamela: I played the wife of a field embalmer – aka an undertaker. It was very uncommon at the time, but not unheard of. It was also a very lucrative business. A lot like selling life insurance. My job was to gather the personal items of the deceased, write the letter home to his family, and mourn the poor soul appropriately. That involved sitting next to the coffin while dressed in black, wearing a black veil, and weeping (or pretending to weep). Those Victorians viewed death a lot differently than we do, mourning and a proper Christian burial was paramount. Embalming was a new science – formaldehyde hadn’t been invented yet so there was a variety of embalming fluid recipes. All very morbid to a lot of people. A lot of visitors wouldn’t even stop at our display. As I mentioned earlier, the two main ghosts in “No Rest For The Wicked” are from this time period and the man, Beauregard Addams, was the owner of a funeral parlor as well as having been a field embalmer and surgeon during the war.

Erin: That’s so interesting! Also, a mutual fan of road trips, do you take any to historical or haunted locations?

Pamela: No, we have not intentionally sought out haunted or historical locations. My husband isn’t into the whole paranormal or horror thing as much as I am, though I did manage to drag him to Granger, Texas to see the house used in the 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It’s not far from where his mom lives. So, that was cool. I also dragged him out to Terligua in West Texas for the Day of the Dead in the cemetery there. He humors me in all my ghostly, cemetery, haunted weirdness ways.

This summer we are hoping to make a delayed trip out to Boston Harbor to see the USS Constitution, might swing by Salem, but I want to go to Danvers, Massachusetts to see the homestead of Rebecca Towne Nurse who was one of the woman accused and hung for witchcraft back in 1692. She was also my 7x great aunt so I’m kinda curious about all that. We also plan on swinging over to Plimoth Plantation followed by Fall River to see Lizzie Borden’s old stomping grounds then west to wander through Sleepy Hollow for a bit before heading home.

Other road trips are much shorter, day trips or a weekend long adventure on the motorcycle. Anything beyond a four hour ride gets a bit sore on the old bottom!

Erin: Oh nice! That came in once near where son is in DC (the USS Constitution and other tall ships) and he loved it. He’s huge on that stuff (me too). That sounds like some amazing road trip stuff! I want to do all of that too. haha!

What are you working on now and what are your plans for the near future in terms of your writing?

Pamela: I am just finishing up the 4th draft of what I’m calling a Texas Gothic Horror titled “The Inheritance”. It should be ready this summer. I’m a big fan of the classic Gothic genre, old stuff, like Bram Stoker, Poe, and Wilkie Collins and really wanted to write something along those lines. But, I also wanted it to be contemporary, so I set it in the West Texas desert, added some bad ass bikers, and a band of really pissed off Apache spirits. Good times! This was great fun to write! And using the traditional plotting schemes of a Gothic novel really made things zip along. The most fun maybe was doing the research for this – ya know, actually being in the West Texas desert and taking notes, soaking it all in. Creating the biker gang was a blast, too.

Erin: What tips do you have for other women in horror in support of each other or sharing work?

Pamela: I’m really happy that I’m seeing more and more female writers in the Horror genre. There were so few that I knew of as a kids and for as much as I loved King, it would have been every nicer to have had more women to look up to.

I’ve always written what I loved to read and that’s the first thing you need to do, male or female. If you love monsters and freaky creatures, write about them. If you love vampires, write about them. If you love ghosts facing off against bad ass biker chicks, write about them! Your personal passion will come through in your writing. Start there and run with it. Read other female Horror authors. I’ve found their work so much more relatable. Where the men tend to go for the more violent, blood-slinging slasher, women, at least in my readings, tend to be more subtle and devious. But, hey – if you’re a lady and enjoy wielding that machete or ax, swing away!

Enjoy yourself and with any luck at all, those who read your work will enjoy reading it as much as you did writing it. It’s all about having fun after all, right?

Erin: Thanks so much for joining us today, Pamela! You’re welcome anytime, especially if you’ve got a good haunting story. Haha! Let us know where readers can find you, please.

Pamela: It was great chatting with you, Erin. All my titles can be found on Amazon and everything is available in both paperback and Kindle formats. I also have a website, pamelamorrisbooks.com. There are a few free short stories there and a blog where I babble about crows and other random weirdness, sometimes Horror-related, sometimes not. On Facebook, I can be found at Facebook. Folks are welcome to Like an Follow me there, of course. I’m pretty active on Twitter if folks want to follow me there, @pamelamorris65.

Thank you for having me over and letting me babble on about my work. I must say, you make a mean Irish coffee. And with that, in the words of Morticia Addams, “Have a delightfully dreary day!”

Erin: HAHA!! Anytime. It’s rather snowy here so I shall have a freezing night for sure. 😀

Pamela Morris Biography –

PamelaMorris_2019_2Raised in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, but forever longing for the white sands of her birthplace in New Mexico, Pamela has always loved mysteries and the macabre. In high school she quickly found herself labeled ‘That Witchy Chic.’ And school dances? Forget about it! You’d be far more likely to find her at the local small town library on a Friday night or listening to a Horror movie soundtrack in her darkened bedroom.

When her nose wasn’t buried in a vampire novel or any number of books penned by her favorite authors such as Poe, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Bram Stoker, Tanith Lee, Shirley Jackson, and Wilkie Collins, Pamela was probably watching ‘Monster Movie Matinee,’ ‘Twilight Zone,’ ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker,” and a myriad of Hammer Films that further fed her growing obsession with Horror.

All grown up now, Pamela has raised two children and enjoys drawing and painting, watching bad B-Movies, remaining ever vigilant to the possibility of encountering a UFO or Bigfoot, an taking road trips with her husband on the Harley. She feeds the local murder of crows in her back yard and still hasn’t quite figured out how she became the Cvlt Leader for The Final Guys Podcast.

TWB1_Curse_CoverFrontThe Witch’s Backbone – Part 1: The Curse

It’s 1980 and the dog days of summer have settled over the small farming community of Meyer’s Knob. Five friends have spent their time at the local creek swimming and gathering crayfish, riding bikes, and mostly just trying to avoid boredom.

When tomboy Tara Fielding reports she’s spotted what she believes to be the witch of their local urban legend, and is now subject to that legend’s deadly curse, her friends rally ‘round and decide they’re going to prove there’s no such thing. After lying to their parents about where they’ll be, the friends head out to The Witch’s Backbone where, the legend claims, the witch waits for foolish travelers who dare pass that way at night.

What the group witnesses during this late summer field trip and what they find out after they return to civilization, does little to put anyone’s mind at ease, least of all Tara’s. Not only do they now believe this long-dead 19th century witch is real, but that she has friends who are still practicing the Black Arts, friends that will see to it that the legend’s curse is carried out.

Are there evil witches stalking the woods and sun-starved ravines between Meyer’s Knob and the neighboring town of Barnesville? Or have the kids just let boredom, the oppressive summer heat, and their own imaginations get the better of them?

Link to Amazon

NRFTWfront_coverNo Rest For The Wicked

 Theirs was a hatred that lived beyond the grave.

A powerless domestic who searches for escape. Naked and screaming, the ghost of Sadie Price wants nothing more than to strike terror into all who dare enter Greenbrier Plantation.

A murderous wife who seeks justice. Lucy thought shooting her philandering husband and his mistress would bring her peace, but her subsequent suicide only creates a more hellish existence for her in the afterlife.

A sadistic doctor who refuses to relinquish control. Dr. Addams stalks the house and grounds of Greenbrier Plantation using his dark powers to control his Earth-bound spirits and anyone living who dares get in his way.

Can peace ever come to these tortured souls or are they eternally damned to walk the earth as proof that there really is no rest for the wicked?

Link to Amazon

DarkHollowRoad-FrontOnlyDark Hollow Road

 A past filled with terror.

On Dark Hollow Road, Mary Alice Brown and her siblings know little more than poverty and abuse at the hands of their father. Getting rid of their tormentor seemed the answer to bringing joy back into their lives. But when that doesn’t work, Mary takes it upon herself to see that justice is served.

A present full of dread.

After an unusual visit from an elderly woman looking to borrow sugar, the theft of his coloring book, and complaints about other kids bothering him in the middle of the night, six-year-old Brandon Evenson, who lives within sight of the house on Dark Hollow Road, goes missing.

A future obsessed with revenge.

Desperate, Brandon’s parents seek answers from Lee Yagar, a local who’s warned people time and again of the dangers lurking at the old Brown place. But, Lee’s suggestion that Mary is involved in Brandon’s abduction makes little sense.

Mary is presumed dead, as she’s not been seen in decades, but is she? And is the house truly as empty and abandoned as it appears to be?

A psychological horror driven by hate, fear, and every parent’s worst nightmare.

Link to Amazon

WiHM11-GrrrlBlack

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

Interview: Hauntings with Writer Janine Pipe #WIHM #womeninhorror

Thanks for following along here this month and joining me to meet these fabulous women in horror! As a goal, I try to not only feature accomplished and established women of horror (the top names) ONLY, especially being around myself with this site for nine years, but also to support those upcoming writers of all backgrounds who are working hard at their craft and visibility. It’s not about views for me, but about supporting others.

Today, I would like you to meet Janine, just as I did recently. This is the first year she’s heard of women in horror month, which makes it clear we still need to promote it, and she, as well as I, met women in horror we didn’t know before through the awareness campaigns. I have every year. This year, I met Janine. She picked up the ball and ran with a whole month of features on her own blog with women in horror. I very much appreciate her interview with me. Now, I’d like to introduce you to her.

Stay tuned for a few segment in the #WIHM series to come.

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Hi Janine, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m glad you could join us as part of women in horror month. Please let me know your choice of coffee, tea, or drink, and if the former, how you take it? I’m hoping you pick tea as I have English Breakfast tea brewing and shortbread. But whatever you like is fine, you’re the guest!

Janine: Thank you so much Erin for inviting me. I’m a latte lady, but since I am British I would love a cup of tea. And shortbread sounds delightful.

Erin: Great, I love lattes too! Next time we’ll have those. Let’s carry this all into the library and have a seat to chat.

When do you first discover you wanted to write horror? What type of horror do you write?

Janine: I think that because horror has always been my favourite genre to read, it was just a natural progression to writing it too. I started with shorts and poems in my teens. Life sort of took over and writing fiction went on the back-burner, but over the last year I have started again in earnest. I write both supernatural and classic horror, often with a twist. I also like lore, urban legends and creepy pasta.

Erin: What are some of the first goals you have for yourself as a writer?

Janine: To be published in print. To see my name on Amazon or when I walk into Waterstones. To know people are reading my work. But I also know this isn’t an easy game and it will take some time. I mainly write short stories so I tend to submit to anthologies. I have the semblance of an idea for a full novel though, once I get the time to do it.

Erin: You have some of your stories read on podcasts or radio? How did that come about? Were they stories you already had written, or did you write stories specifically to be read on air? 

What was it like the first time you heard your stories being read out loud like that? 

Janine: The first story, “The Boy,” which was featured on Ghost Stories the Podcast, was also the first short I had written for many years. I submitted it and just hoped they might like it. Same for my second, “Adam,” which was read aloud on Tales to Terrify. The third, “The Christmas Ghost,” I wrote specifically for audio and that was on a Patreon episode of Graveyard Tales. I have become friendly with Tyler, the host of Ghost Stories the Podcast, and recently had a second story used. That was based on fact and again was written specifically for the show. Almost an origin story for my writing.

The radio interview with BBC Somerset came about as I saw the presenter tweet out that he was looking for spooky tales about Somerset for a Halloween radio special. We got to chatting and he thought it would give the show an extra boost to have an actual ghost writer come on and talk about local legends.

I won’t lie, the first time I heard my work read aloud, I cried a little. It was pride. A sense of, wow, I wrote that? It felt great.

Erin: From reading a little of your blog, I see you like ghost stories – reading, writing, and real ghost stories? What do you love about ghosts the most in any of those areas or all?

Janine: I will let you in on a little secret – I am terrified of ghosts. That sounds crazy for someone who is fascinated with them and writes about them I am sure, but it actually helps me. I can spook myself sometimes with my stories. What I like most about them is that they are (often) believable. Which is equally why they scare me so much. I am 99.9% sure that I will never meet a vampire, but I have actually witnessed paranormal activity…

Erin: Yes, that’s what scares me about it too! Are you from the UK or America? I’m just prefacing that because I want to ask who you feel has the better ghost stories and why? (I’m originally from England – personally I think the UK stories are better just because the ghosts have had many more years to percolate in their haunting there haha!)

Janine: I am UK born and bred. I suppose due to the history, we are bound to have more stories here and there are some good ones, But because I love the US, I actually prefer American stories. Boston is one of my most favourite places in the entire world, and we did a fantastic graveyard and ghost trail there. NYC also has a plethora of hauntings, and the deep south. I find these fascinating, especially around the Carolinas.

Erin: I love Boston too and all the hauntings in the older and historic cities we have. But the US is only about 250 years old and these stories come from these time frames. I suppose that’s why I like the First People’s legends and stories. I love the stories that come from England and Ireland, seeped in such deep, deep lore. I suppose it’s all intriguing!

What’s the best haunting story you’ve come across reading?

Janine: I suppose it has to be the Enfield hauntings, and 50 Berkley Square in London. Mainly as I fist read about them as a child as it terrified me haha.

Erin: I’ll have to look those up now.

Do you like other types of horror for reading and/or writing?

Janine: Oh yes, I like most types of horror, especially what I refer to as classic horror (monsters, lore etc.) and slasher/serial killer stuff. I like vampire and werewolf stories, and early King books.

Who are your writing influences and why?

Janine: As I just mentioned, Stephen King is my main writing influence, especially his earlier work and books like It. I love nostalgia and varying time-lines. Part of that stems from being an 80’s child myself.

Erin: Who’s books inspire you today and why?

Janine: My latest literary hero is the fantastic C J Tudor. I have read all three of her books, and they are phenomenal, and have been likened to King again. Her writing style reminds me of the way I write, and I can only hope and pray that one day, I might be even half as good as she is at creating a masterpiece.

Erin: I love CJ  and her books too. She an excellent dark thriller writer. I don’t think she is too much like Stephen King myself, because I think she writes tighter, which is a compliment. haha! I love many of his works though too. CJ is one I know will also give us a good read, and beyond that, a humble and cool person. Keep aspiring! It happened to her almost overnight so you never know.

What is the biggest current challenge you’re finding as you start your writing career?

Janine: Time and rejections. Time as with a lot of people starting out, because I have a job, a family, a house to run. And rejections just suck. I know they are part of a writer’s life and I need a thicker skin pronto, but it still burns to hear – no thank you time and time again.

Erin: Yes that’s true. I think it’s time for any of us no matter how long we’ve been writing especially if we have other work and a family. It’s the same for me. Rejections will always suck, but also it’s not always about you or your writing, but what an editor is looking for as a whole and the puzzle of an anthology or their yearly calendar. There are so many writers out there, and with the publishing market not being profitable, it just makes it hard for them to take on too many. That’s why so many are going to self-publishing these days and it works. Keep that positive thinking going and persevere.

What has been the best part to you about being a writer? Have you had any help whether schooling, writing help books, websites, people?

Janine: The best part is seeing a story come together, and people actually enjoying it. I have had some help via other writers. I am very lucky to have met another horror writer and publisher in my own home town, Graeme Reynolds. He is my unofficial mentor, and will edit and check through work for me.

Erin: What’s next for you with your writing. Your big plans for 2020?

Janine: To continue the blog, keep submitting to anthologies and hopefully, see my name in print.

Erin: I realize you are also a huge Disney fan. It’s amazing how diverse the interests are in those who write horror. What do you like most about Disney and your favorite movies? Do their stories or characters ever inspire your writing?

Janine: Oh I LOVE Disney!!! I have been writing for Florida based blogs and websites for years. Our house is like a Disney Store. What do I like most? That’s a tough one. For me, it is not just about the movies, or the rides at WDW. I love to know about the history of the parks. I love the trivia. Actually, my daughter is the first published author of the family. She is one of the reviewers in The Unofficial Guide to WDW for Kids haha! I guess my most favourite thing about Disney is kind of cringy. But it is how I feel when I am there, in the parks. I feel happy, relaxed and like I am Home.

My favourite movies are The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog and Fantasia. My favourite rides are The Haunted Mansion and The Tower of Terror.

Thus far, I have steered clear of anything Disney related in my work. Another reason why I like CJ Tudor so much? Another huge Disney fan. As is Brian Moreland!

Erin: That’s so cool! I like Disney so much too as do all three of my kids, even my son, who is now in college loves The Lion King. They do have a way of making you feel wonderful. Though I live in the states I’ve never been to Disneyworld though!

How long have you known about women in horror and how has the month, or social media, allowed you to meet more women in horror? How has it been?

Janine: I will be 100% honest, this is the first year I had heard of it. I think it is a fantastic thing. I have met some fabulous people I might not have interacted with via social media had it not have been for this. I think that it is an amazing way to help promote women who’d for some reason remain underrepresented in horror.

Erin: That’s so good to hear. So many question if we should still have it and this is a good reason why!

You have a great site where you post stories, reviews, and interviews with other horror authors, primarily women this month! Were can readers find that? Where else should they follow you?

Janine: Thank you! I try my very best to post daily, you can find me at Janine’s Ghost Stories.

Follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/disneynine and Facebook.

Erin: Thanks so much for coming by Janine. Stop by anytime. I’ll be rooting for your writing success!

Janine: Thank YOU Erin, it has been my absolute pleasure.

Janine Pipe, Biography – 

Janine PipeJanine has loved to write spooky stories and tales with a twist since she was at school. She is a huge fan of Stephen King, first devouring Salem’s Lot at the tender age of just nine. Her work is heavily influenced by this. She also loves C J Tudor and credits fellow Swindon horror writer Graeme Reynolds as an unofficial mentor.

You can find her stories on Ghost Stories the Podcast, Graveyard Tales and Tales to Terrify. She shares some of her original shorts and flash fiction on her blog, Janine’s Ghost Stories, where she also reviews and interviews authors of horror.

She loves to chat about all things horror and Disney related over at @Disneynine on Twitter.

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Interview: Michelle Renee Lane about Diversity, Race, New Orleans, and Her Book Invisible Chains #WIHM #WIHM11 #diversityandinclusion

As promised, I finally have some content coming for women in horror month! I have several interviews, which will start today with Michelle Lane, a couple guest articles, and some reviews. Women writing horror is not new, but it’s a phenomenon that’s hitting like a wave. There is so much to share and learn. I know each year I’ve met someone I hadn’t heard of before. The reviews that don’t get snuck in will appear during the roll over to March. I have no problem featuring women all year.

Without further commentary from me, let’s begin. I wanted to invite Michelle here today so I could learn more about her myself, and hopefully, let you learn along with me. I’ve been interested in her work since the release of her book last year, Invisible Chains from Haverhill, and I’m always about supporting other women and diversity. I really would love to talk to more women of color about their experiences and how it influences their writing. I hope you enjoy learning more about her with me because she gave some wicked interesting answers. Invisible Chains just today became a Bram Stoker Award nominee, and with its historical horror elements (and New Orleans vibe and vampires and strong female protagonist…I could go on), I’m anxious to read it.

Hi Michelle, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so glad you could join me for Women in Horror Month. I’ve really been looking forward to talking to you. I have some coffee or tea? Let me know your pleasure and how you take it, please. Or a cocktail if you prefer!

Michelle: Hello Erin, thanks for having me. I drink a lot of coffee and I enjoy tea, but it’s been a rough couple of weeks. So if you’re making cocktails, I’d love a Bourbon and ginger. And, you should probably make it a double.

bourbon

Erin: Excellent – a lady after my own heart with the Bourbon! We’ll just bring this in and sit down so we can chat. Let’s get started.

I first was introduced to you via my friend and client Stephanie Wytovich when she interviewed you a year or two ago. I was excited to hear of your book Invisible Chains at the time it came out and now that it’s been listed on the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. For those readers that don’t know of the book, would you mind telling us about it?

Michelle: Sure. Invisible Chains is a supernatural slave narrative. When I say that, a lot of people ask what that means. So, like a traditional slave narrative, it’s told in first person POV in the voice of a young female slave, Jacqueline. What makes it supernatural are the elements of magic, monsters, and travel between worlds, or at the very least dimensions. However, the true horror found in the novel comes from the historical violence experienced by slaves under institutionalized slavery in America. I tried to place this institution under a microscope and focus in how the system of slavery negatively affected men and women, both Black and White. Jacqueline lives in a world where violence is always on the table – sexual violence, physical torture, psychologically damaging and dehumanizing verbal abuse, and the ever-present threat of death.

Erin: Where did your inspiration for your book come from?

Michelle: I thought I wanted to write a book about vampires. I have been obsessed with vampires since I was very young and my gateway drug to vampire fiction was a copy of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire I received as a Christmas gift when I was eleven. I read everything Anne Rice wrote after that, including the books she wrote under her nom de plumes, Belinda and the first three books in The Sleeping Beauty Quartet. I fell in love with her vampires and wanted to write books like hers. That is until I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories, and Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Vampires are great, but I wasn’t seeing myself in vampire fiction, and for the most part, I didn’t like the depictions of people of color in horror novels and films. When I read Morrison, Gomez and Butler, among other women of color writers like Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Audre Lorde and Tananarive Due, I saw myself and connected with their words and their characters who were women of color. I still wanted to write about vampires, but from a different perspective. I wanted to tell the story of a young woman who survives what seem to be insurmountable challenges while dealing with grief, abuse, and extreme poverty as she creates a place for herself in the world on her own terms using her intellect and power.

Erin: How did you choose the setting of New Orleans and how much research into it and the time period did you do, and how?

Michelle: When I was nineteen, I met a girl at a party, and we started talking about what we were currently reading and our favorite books. At some point in the conversation we both realized that most of the books we were talking about were set in New Orleans. Neither of us had ever been there and she suggested a road trip. Like most conversations I had while partying, I assumed that while her enthusiasm for the trip was real, I didn’t think she meant that we would really go. But, the following week, she contacted me about getting youth hostel passes and picking dates. During Winter break that year, she drove us from Pennsylvania to Louisiana. It was my first trip to the city, and it was amazing. I’ve visited the city several times since and made a point of getting to know as much as I can about the food, cultures, history, and my favorite part, the ghost stories and haunted history. I haven’t been to New Orleans in several years, but it is one of my favorite places on Earth and one day, I hope to make it my home.

A lot of research went into this book, including reading about slavery in general, slavery in New Orleans specifically, what people ate, what they wore, what things cost, etc. The house that Jacqueline works and lives in is a house I’ve toured twice, the Gallier House, located at 1132 Royal Street. I read actual slave narratives to get a sense of how they were told/written. I read as much as I possibly could about Voudon, Hoodoo, and the West African pantheon of gods. I tried to incorporate the Creole French spoken by slaves. I studied maps of plantations from the 1850s. I re-watched a lot of vampire movies and TV shows to capture the appearance, demeanor, and personality of my antagonist. While his name comes from a person I knew in real life, he’s a compilation of characteristics from Aidan Turner’s John Mitchell on Being Human (UK), Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ Dracula on NBC’s adaptation of Dracula.

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Gallier House New Orleans / Wiki Commons

Erin: That’s ALL amazing, from wanting to live in New Orleans, to the research, to creating your characters.

Let’s talk now about the formulation of your characters. Which one was your favorite to write? Which one was most challenging? How did you decide to form them and did that also include research into history, culture, dialogue, etc.?

Michelle: My favorite character to develop and write was my antagonist, Carlos Velazquez, a Spanish vampire whose backstory I’ve only begun to tap into. I have a lot more to say about him and hope to start working on either a short story or novella told from his POV, and then I’d like to work on the sequel to Invisible Chains. He uses Spanish words occasionally in his dialog, and while he appears to be White and wealthy, he is quite aware of the injustices suffered by people of color under slavery.

Jacqueline was the most difficult, because I wanted to get her voice just right. I wanted her to sound intelligent and authentic to her time period and station in life. Some reviewers have pointed out anachronisms in her use of language, but I made every effort to avoid that. What made that especially difficult is the fact that while this story is set in Antebellum New Orleans, there are a lot of parallels between Jacqueline’s time and this time. Racism, sexism, poverty, sexual abuse, violence, controlling women’s bodies, policing brown bodies – these are all things that are still very much current events. My voice and emotions would sometimes get tangled up with hers.

She lives a dual life and must wear masks to keep herself safe. She can’t appear to be too intelligent around Whites, because if they find out she can read and write, she will be punished severely. Incorporating Creole French into her dialog was necessary in my opinion to give her voice authenticity. She must balance her speech between self confidence and being subservient, which is a tightrope walk many people of color have had to navigate.

Erin: Your plot also includes a mystery. How difficult was it to write that type of plot and tie up all the points in a debut novel? Did you outline?

Michelle: You know, I didn’t realize I was writing a mystery until I was more than halfway through the book. So, when that finally occurred to me, I went back through the book to make sure that things made sense and that there weren’t any missing pieces. Honestly, I’m still not 100% sure I accomplished that. I rarely use outlines while I’m writing, but because there are so many plot points, themes, and characters, I would sometimes outline what should happen next in the story. Scenes or snippets of dialog usually come to me first, so I had to figure out how to connect all those pieces. I began to think of the book as a quilt that I needed to stitch together. Scenes and dialog have started to present themselves for the second book, but I think outlining will be a must to maintain continuity with the first book and keep things on track for where I believe the story is headed.

Erin: I’m a pantser too so I totally get it! But I can see why with a mystery or a series an outline would be advantageous.

Your lead is a creole slave, and primarily, I believe, readers are following her journey. You’re a strong woman yourself who’s been through a lot and is a single mom. How much of yourself or other strong women did you write into Jacqueline? What kind of traits are you proud of giving her?

Michelle: That is an excellent question, Erin. I really appreciate you asking it. I think for a lot of women, being strong isn’t optional. Depending on who you are and your economic status, women deal with sexism, racism and classism on a daily basis. Microaggressions pile up faster than you might think and add an extra dimension to the stresses associated with work and parenting. Throw sexual relationships into the mix and that’s another level of stress even if you’re enjoying yourself.

There is a lot of me in Jacqueline, and while I was writing Invisible Chains, there were times I needed her to be stronger than me to face the challenges I created for her. Writing this novel was an extremely cathartic process for me and I cried during and after writing certain scenes. The extremely dysfunctional relationships Jacqueline has with certain characters are reflections of relationships I have had and needed to find the strength to avoid in the future. I’m proud of her because she doesn’t give up no matter how bad things get, she faces and slays her demons, and learns to believe in her own strength and power. And, slowly, she allows herself to trust others, which is no small task when you have been abused your entire life.

Erin: I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I want to address these points so that people can grasp diversity a bit better. As it’s Black History Month as well as Women in Horror month, your book ties in perfectly to those awareness campaigns. How important is it that voices not only for women in horror but for women of color in horror are heard? Why do you feel your protagonist as a person of color is important to the genre?

Michelle: I recently wrote a Women in Horror Month guest post for The Horror Tree that was featured on their website February 17, titled “Redefining the Horror Genre.” In the article, I began by examining the famous Lovecraft quote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” I argue that for people of color, women, and anyone who lives on the margins of society, there are plenty of things to fear in the real world. Fearing the unknown seems like something reserved for people privileged enough to not have to feel like they’re in danger every day. There are plenty of things to fear, past and present—racism, sexism, slavery, the Holocaust, the systematic rape of women in extremist cultures, child abuse, gay bashing, the murder of transgendered people, or the genocide of native cultures world-wide—that make fearing the Elder Gods seem a bit ridiculous.

By including more diverse writers and characters in the horror genre, fear becomes more personal, more tangible, and in the words of second-wave feminist Carol Hanish, “The personal is the political.” Gender and race politics are important aspects of daily life for many of us, so for horror to be relevant and horrific, I think it needs to meet people where they live.

Our ever-changing sociopolitical climate is having, in my opinion, a positive effect on horror fiction. As more diverse voices emerge within the genre, I think that we will have more stories that redefine horror on a very personal level. Stories that look at identity politics as well as horrific experiences that can only be told from the POV of people who have experienced them.

Erin: Speaking of all of that: How about the inclusion of slavery into your work? How important do you feel that it is in history and culture today to include these events not only in the historical genre but in other genres, reaching other readers?

Michelle: Slavery happened. It is part of our history. It was terrifying and violent. A lot of people would like to believe that slavery wasn’t so bad for the people who suffered under it. Bullshit. People were tortured and killed. There’s nothing idyllic or romantic about this gruesome chapter in human history.

Here’s an idea for a story: The ghosts of slaves haunt a plantation house that has been renovated and rebranded as a place for destination weddings and terrorize the bridal parties. Honestly, I don’t care how many coats of paint you use or how many rose garlands you hang, there is something very dark about using a place where human beings were sold and treated like animals as the spot to celebrate what is meant to be one of the happiest days of your life.

So, yes, I think it’s still important to talk about slavery in its historical context as well as how it has shaped our current economy, political system, and social interactions in the United States.

Erin: In your bio and on your site, you talk about writing about women of color who battle their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. What do you mean by that and how do you feel you do that in your writing?

Michelle: You know, I’ve been thinking about my bio a lot lately. I do write stories about women of color who are dealing with issues of identity, past trauma, and often the reality of every day, plain old racism that is just part of living while Black and female in America. We all have our demons — trauma, addictions, obsessions, failed relationships, greed, lust, and any of the other five deadly sins. Confronting our demons is never easy, but when we take the time and make space for that process, healing can begin. I’m not sure that we’ll ever be able to heal the wound that slavery and racism have carved into the American consciousness, but talking about it and reading stories written by diverse writers can help open new doors to understanding and allow for people to build community around healing from these issues.

That bit about falling in love with monsters relates to the fact that I enjoy love stories, but if you write horror and dark fantasy, those romances don’t always have happy endings. Vampires, werewolves, and demons can be quite attractive in their own ways and they make more interesting sexual partners than the nice guy who bags groceries at Trader Joe’s, at least in fiction.

I read a lot of paranormal romance and there are common themes in that fiction, especially vampire romance, in which vampires are depicted as being ideal mates. But when you examine these relationships more closely, vampires are really narcissistic, controlling and often abusive partners. I’ve been writing a blog series about that very subject over at Speculative Chic, “With This Ring, You’ll Be Dead: Violence Against Female Protagonists in Romantic Vampire Fiction.” And still, I find monsters very attractive and write about some of my favorite monsters on my own blog, Girl Meets Monster. And, they will continue to show up in my fiction, because I love writing about monsters. Because they often occupy the role of outsider, I believe they make good companions for my female characters who are often just as damaged.

Erin: I read your recent article on Medium “I was a Teenage Tragic Mulatto.” It was a brave piece, and as a fellow woman, and woman of abuse, I’m really proud of your strength in sharing your story. How do you feel more of these stories could be heard and understood better? How do you feel you fit as a woman of horror AND as woman of color in the horror genre?

Michelle: Again, I think that having a more inclusive genre that allows space for diverse voices with new perspectives on what horror means, will enable people to tell their stories. Not everyone is comfortable sharing the details of their own traumatic experiences. Thank you for referring to that piece as being brave. I struggled with whether or not to share it. It was a piece I had been thinking about writing for months and I finally sat down and wrote it. I shared it with two of my friends who I trust to be honest with me, and they both thought it was good and gave some feedback that made the piece stronger. That story could have easily been a piece of fiction, but honestly, that story makes its way into my fiction one way or another, because it is part of me and my female characters are a reflection of me.

For a long time I struggled, like most creatives, with the idea of imposter syndrome. I questioned whether or not I was really a horror writer, because people kept telling me that my story wasn’t a horror story. They wanted it to be historical fiction, which it is. They wanted it to be dark fantasy, which it is. They wanted it to be women’s fiction, whatever the hell that is. But now that other people have read it, reviewed it, and expressed how uncomfortable and emotional and terrifying the story was for them, I have no doubt that I wrote a horror novel. I am a horror writer.

Erin: Yes!!! I’m tired of people trying to define horror for others!

What can other women of horror do to support women of color in the horror genre (or in general)?

Michelle: Read and review our books. Invite us to participate in opportunities like this that showcase our work. Befriend them at conferences and have real conversations over cocktails. Invite them to submit to your next anthology, even if it isn’t strictly about race or gender identity. Ask questions and share your stories.

Erin: I love your blog.

Michelle: Thank you. I love writing for it and giving other writers the opportunity to talk about their work and what their writing process looks like. It’s fun and I get to learn new things and meet new writers.

Erin: What other writing have you done, or do you plan to do? What’s next for you?

Michelle: What’s next? Well, I have a short story in the charity anthology, The Dystopian States of America that will be released on March 3, 2020. There are two more parts to the series I’ve been writing for Speculative Chic, and I expect to be writing other things for them, including a review of Grady Hendrix’s soon to be released novel, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, which I’ve been dying to talk about for months. I’m hoping to write more articles for Medium, and I’ll be submitting more short stories over the next few months.

People keep asking me if I’m working on the sequel to Invisible Chains. Technically, I am. I even have a working title, Blood Work. I’ve started doing research, I’ve drafted a few chapters, and I’ve introduced some new characters, but I haven’t set aside dedicated time to work on the manuscript. Not yet, at least. But I’m hoping to start working on the book in April, if not sooner.

Erin: Thank you for joining me here on my site and know you’re welcome anytime! Best of luck both to you and to Invisible Chains. And thank you for supporting other women and writers on Girl Meets Monster. Can you let people know where they can find you there and elsewhere?

Michelle: Thank you for having me, Erin. You asked a lot of thought-provoking questions and I really appreciate your interest in supporting other women writers. Yeah, so people can find my blog, Girl Meets Monster here: https://michellerlane.com/. You can check out my author archive at Speculative Chic here: https://speculativechic.com/author/chellane72/. And, you can always drop by and say hello to me on social media. I’m on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Michelle Renee Lane, Biography –

Michelle_Lane_PhotoMichelle Renee Lane writes dark speculative fiction about women of color battling their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. Her work includes elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and occasionally erotica.

Her short fiction appears in the anthologies Dark Holidays, Terror Politico: A Screaming World in Chaos, and The Monstrous Feminine: Dark Tales of Dangerous Women. Her debut novel, Invisible Chains (2019), is available from Haverhill House Publishing.

Invisible Chains, Synopsis –

invisiblechains_v2c-cover-2 (1)Jacqueline is a young Creole slave in antebellum New Orleans. An unusual stranger who has haunted her dreams since childhood comes to stay as a guest in her master’s house. Soon after his arrival, members of the household die mysteriously, and Jacqueline is suspected of murder.

Despite her fear of the stranger, Jacqueline befriends him and he helps her escape. While running from the slave catchers, they meet conjurers, a loup-garou, and a traveling circus of supernatural freaks. She relies on ancestral magic to guide her and finds strength to conquer her fears on her journey.Women in Horror

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“This assured first novel delivers emotional and visceral beats to delight and disturb in equal measure.” – Frazer Lee, Bram Stoker Award finalist

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Watch for more upcoming Women in Horror pieces and/or go to view schedule of pieces from previous years HERE. If you would like to feature a woman in horror ANYTIME of the year on my site by doing an interview with them or an article, please contact 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!

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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

Follow Sonora on Goodreads | Follow Sonora on Instagram

Contact Sonora

 

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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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Review: Without Condition by Sonora Taylor #WIHMX #HookonWiHM

Review: Without Condition by Sonora Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Without Condition

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

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

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

Purchase Without Condition on Amazon

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

Shelve Without Condition on Goodreads

Sonora Taylor, Biography –

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

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

Follow Sonora on Facebook | Follow Sonora on Twitter

Follow Sonora on Goodreads | Follow Sonora on Instagram

Contact Sonora

 

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

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

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

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

#HookonWiHM Information

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

How you can participate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s do this!

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

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Filed under Feature Articles, HookonWiHM, Q and A with Authors