Strange and Profound: Interview with S.P. Miskowski

Welcome back! Today’s interview is with the incredible S.P. Miskowski. S.P. is a three-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee. Her fiction has appeared widely in such outlets as Black Static, Supernatural Tales, and anthologies including Looming Low, Autumn Cthulhu, and The Madness of Dr. Caligari, among many others. Earlier this year, her novel, I Wish I Was Like You, and her collection, Strange Is the Night, debuted from Trepidatio Publishing.

Recently, S.P. and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as her future projects.

S.P. MiskowskiA couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Writing was never a career decision. I’ve been writing all of my life, keeping journals, constructing little books of my stories with cover art when I was in grade school. Some of my poetry was published in the school newspaper. In college I majored in Psychology and then changed the focus after a year, studying English Literature and Anthropology. Even then I was writing stories, attending an off-campus fiction workshop for the merciless critiques, and occasionally getting published in small press magazines.

After graduation I put together a collection of stories that was lucky enough to be selected for a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. I had an agent lined up in New York. At his suggestion I wrote a novel to back up the collection. The novel was about elderly siblings who had known F.W. Murnau and were reduced to making porn films in the Valley of the Sun in the 1980s. It’s still sitting in a drawer somewhere because I tossed away all of those plans, moved to Seattle, and went for a graduate degree in theatre.

For about 15 years I wrote plays and supported myself editing, teaching, mentoring, and doing temp work. In 2010 I decided to quit theatre altogether, and I recommitted to writing stories. Long story short, writing isn’t a choice. The choice is about how and where and in what medium.

I’ve gone through many phases, jumping into the work of an author, reading several books back-to-back and moving on—from Raymond Chandler to Vladimir Nabokov to Hermann Hesse to Kurt Vonnegut. Some of the authors I return to time and again are Janet Malcolm, Joan Didion, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Daphne du Maurier, Ruth Rendell (her stories and novellas rather than her detective novels) and more recently I’ve become a fan of Megan Abbott. She has a sharp eye and a keen sense for the hypocrisy we embrace as part of our survival kit. When it comes to dissecting female characters and their motives, she’s superb. She pays women the respect of absolute honesty.

I Wish I Was Like YouCongratulations on the release of your novel, I Wish I Was Like You. What was the process behind the book? How long did it take you to complete, and were there any unexpected developments along the way? Also, what inspired you to use 1990s Seattle as a setting? 

Thank you. The process began with notes while fulfilling other commitments. I had a long series of deadlines for stories I was invited to submit to anthologies. While writing those stories I sketched out ideas, images, themes for I Wish I Was Like You. By the time I was ready to make the novel my daily priority I had quite a lot of material and the challenge was to decide what the point of view would be.

I’m not sure when it occurred to me that the narrator would be dead from the first page, looking back over the city as it morphed between 1990 and 2016. But as soon as I had the idea I knew it was wrong, at least according to every writing class and manual out there. “Never open with a corpse.” I could imagine seeing that tip on a Facebook post. I could also hear it in the voice of grumpy teachers I’d known. The more I thought about it, the more it became one voice, a character named Lee Todd Butcher, a washed up crime fiction author teaching at a community college. Once I had both of these characters—the angry, dead narrator and the disheveled teacher spouting the rules of crime fiction, the book sort of took off. From first notes to final draft, it was completed in less than two years.

My choice of setting was fueled by the nostalgia of friends. No one ever believes middle age is going to be a reality. We squander youth arrogantly thinking we’re different from the last generation and always will be. Then you begin to see your friends getting married, having babies, seeking more permanent homes—and bemoaning the ways in which the places they love are changing. At one point I could scroll through the newsfeed on Facebook and read half a dozen “oh no, they’re killing the city” posts in one day.

Of course the big, central element to this disappointment isn’t the city itself but the loss of youth. The city represents what you were when you were just starting out and you were convinced that you would get everything you wanted.

I tried to capture that, to sort of honor it without being sentimental. I tried to describe the Seattle of 1990 for the benefit of those friends who knew it well and for younger readers who will never know that incarnation of the city. I’m less nostalgic than some of my friends but I tried to catch that sense of a place representing one’s early days.

Strange is the NightYour collection, Strange Is the Night, also made its debut this year, so congratulations on this as well! How did you choose which stories to include in the table of contents? Were there any you were planning to include that ended up being cut, or any last-minute additions? 

The stories in this collection portray ordinary life interrupted by something extraordinarily disturbing. Most of them have an urban or suburban setting. I left out anything I’d written with a more folk horror background or a sense of rural isolation to it. Maybe I’ll collect those stories in another book sometime.

There were no cuts, but my editor wanted me to add two original stories so that the final balance was ten reprints and three new pieces. The new ones are “Animal House,” “A Condition for Marriage,” and “Ms. X Regrets Everything.”

I’ve loved your past contributions to Nightmare Magazine‘s The H Word column. How does your approach to writing nonfiction differ from fiction writing? Do you have any plans for forthcoming nonfiction in other venues? 

Storytelling is my natural field. Nonfiction is something I approach with great anxiety. I mentioned some of my favorite authors—Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm—and one of my favorite books is The Orchid Thief. So the standard is quite high. Also, I’ve worked with enough real journalists to have enormous respect for what they do. I could never be a journalist. Earlier on, in college, I learned a healthy respect for the essay form. Although an essay may be mostly personal observation, I feel the need to present information that’s been fact-checked and challenged before it’s let loose in the wild.

I never plan to write nonfiction. I’m content to scribble a blog post now and then. These opportunities sort of came along, and I decided to take a stab at it. The Nightmare Magazine nonfiction editor, Wendy Wagner, was brilliant at making suggestions and gently nudging me in the most interesting direction.

In your work, you craft such nuanced female characters, many of whom are far more complicated and sometimes even less traditionally “likeable” than the average women in literature. You included a fantastic list of your favorite horrible female characters in one of your H Word articles; do you have any more recent additions specifically from speculative fiction that you would add to that list? On a similar note, do you feel that there are more nuanced female characters in fiction today than ever before (even if we do still have a long way to go)?  

I think there have always been some hellish female characters in fiction. For the more nuanced ones I look to recent books. One character I still marvel at is the narrator in Zoë Heller’s novel What Was She Thinking? (a.k.a. Notes on a Scandal). I think the really dark edges and the complexities of the character were sheared away for the film. She ended up being a doddering old schoolteacher with an adolescent crush on younger women. In the book there was a real sense that she wanted to possess and devour and destroy the object of her desire. In the film it seemed she would have been happy to make her tea every day. It’s a good demonstration of how complex female characters are perceived, misinterpreted, and manipulated to underscore traditional values.

I mentioned Megan Abbott’s books. The girls in The End of Everything are among the very few instances in modern fiction where an author got female adolescence absolutely right, and really nailed the confusion and strangeness of that age. In You Will Know Me, Abbott applies the same clear-eyed approach to the American family, in particular the pressures of motherhood during this era when expectations are insanely high. I loved the women in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, and Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott. These authors kick ass when it comes to creating indelible female characters that ring true in every way.

Out of your published work, do you have a personal favorite?

I love the first story in my collection, “A.G.A.” It was originally published in Supernatural Tales edited by David Longhorn. On the surface it’s just two guys talking in a bar. The menace is in the details and in the tales told by one of the guys. These tales open it out and provide an ever-darkening backdrop. It’s one of my simplest stories in terms of the presentation but it’s pretty disturbing in its implications.

What projects are you currently working on?

Over the next six months I’ll be writing five stories to submit to anthologies, and completing a novel that’s underway. JournalStone plans to publish a novel and novella from me in 2018. Fingers crossed. This is the kind of work schedule I love.

Where can we find you online?

You can find my web site if you Google my name, and you can find me on Facebook and Twitter, although I’m posting a bit less these days. Send a friend request. If you don’t look like a bot or a fake identity for a Russian troll, I’ll accept your invitation.

Tremendous thanks to S.P. Miskowski for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Fiction for a Winter’s Eve: Submission Roundup for December 2017

Welcome back for the final Submission Roundup of 2017! As usual, the end of the year brings a ton of great submission opportunities, so if you’ve got stories seeking homes, then perhaps one of these markets will be a good fit!

As always, I’m not a representative for any of these publications, so please direct your questions to the respective editors. And onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Lackington’s
Payment: .01/word CAD
Length: 1,500-5,000 words
Deadline: Ongoing, until filled
What They Want: Open to stylized speculative fiction. The upcoming issue’s theme is Gothics.
Find the details here.

Riddled With Arrows
Payment: .03/word (minimum $5 and maximum $25)
Length: up to 1,500 words for fiction; up to two pages for poetry
Deadline: December 10th, 2017
What They Want: The upcoming issue’s theme is Feasts and Families. That means they’re looking for metafiction about food and family, or works that deal with writing and how it entwines with the theme.   
Find the details here.

The Book Smugglers present Awakenings
Payment: .08/word (up to $800)
Length: 1,500 to 17,500 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2017
What They Want: Open to diverse speculative fiction stories on the theme of Awakenings, which is open to a broad range of interpretations.
Find the details here.

Shoreline of Infinity
Payment: $10 GBP per 1,000 words
Length: Open to 5,000 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2017
What They Want: Open to science fiction stories from female authors for an all-women issue.
Find the details here.

Mantid Magazine
Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,500-6,000 words
Deadline: Submissions open from December 22nd, 2017 to January 1st, 2018
What They Want: Open to fiction and poetry from female-identifying authors in the genres of weird fiction, dark fantasy, fairy tales, quiet horror, magic realism, dark science fiction, avant-garde, and surrealism. Diverse authors and characters welcomed and encouraged.
Find the details here.

Liminal Stories
Payment: .06/word
Length: up to 10,000 words
Deadline: Open to submissions from December 15th, 2017 to January 15th, 2018
What They Want: Open to unusual and evocative fiction of any genre, though weird fiction, magic realism, soft science fiction, and stories that don’t fit easily in any category are preferred.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

Poetic Nightmares: Interview with Christina Sng

Welcome back! This week’s featured author is the incredible Christina Sng. Christina is a supremely accomplished author of both fiction and poetry with her work appearing in a wide variety of venues, including Mythic Delirium, Apex Magazine, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and many more. Her recent books include Astropoetry and A Collection of Nightmares.

Recently, Christina and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, her tips for surviving the rejection of publishing, as well as how her love of gardening figures into her work.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Christina SngFor as long as I can remember, I’ve always been scribbling a poem or doodling a comic wherever I am. It took me decades to realize that I am happiest and most fulfilled when I write. Writing is part of who I am, it is what I do as much as living and breathing is.

Enid Blyton introduced me to magical worlds as a child, Robert R. McCammon showed me the horrors of humanity as a teenager, Sylvia Plath spoke to me as a young adult, and Ben Bova took me to the stars as a new mother.

You are a widely published and extremely accomplished poet, with your work appearing in countless venues, both printed and online. Do you have a certain approach when crafting a new work, or is the process behind each piece entirely unique?

As with everything else in life, I’ve had to make time for writing, even in the days when I had much less commitments. These days I steal time whenever I can and have learnt to write in the oddest places and even through interruptions. But only haiku survives such conditions. Longer poems and fiction require uninterrupted, relaxed, and focused time which is as rare as an automatically folded shirt.

There is always a space carved out for writing and when I am in that sacred space, inspiration hits at all angles, and the story or poem flows.

Often the words write themselves, almost like automatic writing but it is in the editing process, perhaps, where I am more present. Few pass the muster without being edited. But a rare few have, like “After the War”. I have a great fondness for their perfect completeness.

As an author who has been involved in the publishing industry for well over a decade, do you have any tips for writers who are just starting out? In particular, how have you learned to deal with rejection, and how do you manage your time as a writer?

Keep writing and submitting. Always be scrupulously polite and respectful in correspondence. When a piece returns rejected, send it out again right away but first consider any advice an editor offers. I normally give the poems or story a once over before sending it out again, within 24 hours.

A Collection of NightmaresMany moons ago, I received a rejection from the Harvard Review on a poem where the editor had made some suggestions and asked me to resend it after I had made revisions. I worked furiously to improve it as the editor suggested. It was out in the mail (yes, the snail mail era) again within 2 weeks but during that time, a new editor took over and rejected my poem. While the rejection was disappointing, I was buoyed that a Harvard Review editor thought enough of my poem to offer suggestions on improving it. Since then, I’ve taken rejections as an indication of where I am in my writing, if the work needs improvement, and if it is a right fit for the venue.

I’ll be honest. In between caring for the family and home, I have had to steal time from sleep to restore myself and write late into the night. If Margaret Thatcher could be Prime Minister on 4 hours sleep a night, so could I. Well, I make do with 4-6 hours most nights and luxurious days are the ones where I get 7 hours. But truly, most nights, my brain is in a fog so much of my work now are very short pieces.

You list gardening as one of your hobbies when you’re not writing. That being said, do you ever find your love of gardens influencing your poetry?

Oh yes, definitely. I’ve written a lot about humans destroying our beloved Earth, plants taking over and eating everyone, and the irreversible changes happening to our world now. On a more positive note, trying to inhabit new planets and moons but normally not surviving. Rather bleak, I admit, but I’m seeing the self-annihilation of the human species in the next 500 years, a bit more optimistic than Stephen Hawking who cited 100 years.

AstropoetryIf forced to choose, which part of the writing process is your favorite: drafting new ideas, working on a first draft, or polishing an almost finished piece?

All of it, really. The joys are different in each stage. The delight in discovery, the diligence of carving and molding, and the accomplishment of a completed piece.

Out of your published work, do you have a favorite piece?

I have many favorites. “After the War” is one of them, as is “Exquisite”, the opening poem in my book, A Collection of Nightmares. Many early poems I treasure, “The Art of Weaving” and “Postwar”. Of science fiction, “The Leviathans of Jupiter” — this year’s Rhysling nominee, “Twenty Years” — last year’s, and “The Perfect Planet”, which appeared in Apex Magazine. My favorite fantasy poem is “Allegra”, a 2014 Rhysling nominee.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am compiling a horrorku chapbook, a full-length haiku collection, a bumper science fiction collection, and hopefully a short story collection over the next 4-8 years. After selling a historic two flash fictions this year, I’ve been especially motivated to write more and I’m particularly enjoying writing flash and micro fiction. My various hats (fussy things they are) don’t like to be worn at the same time so I have to shift gears whenever writing a different genre.

Tremendous thanks to Christina Sng for being this week’s featured author. Find her at her author website as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy reading!

In the Blood: Interview with Catherine Grant

Welcome back! Today I’m thrilled to feature author and editor Catherine Grant. Catherine’s fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, and she’s served as an editor at both LampLight and Shock Totem.  She was also recently named Assistant Director of NecronomiCon Providence (congrats again, Catherine!).

Recently, she and I discussed her work as an editor, her inspiration as a writer, as well as the release of her new chapbook, Power in the Blood.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Catherine GrantI’ve wanted to be an author since I was a little kid. I wrote stories all the time in grade school and then when I was fifteen I took a crack at writing something longer. There is a single copy of that story that lives with my best friend and I’m hoping it will never see the light of day. In fact, next time I see her I might steal it and burn it.

When I was a kid, I was in love with Roald Dahl. I read Matilda over and over because it appealed to me as an intelligent, sensitive little girl living in a world where adults were terrible and sometimes abusive. Matilda’s frustration, loneliness, and, eventual revenge, was so satisfying to me, that I’d imagine Roald Dahl himself must have dealt with abusive relationships with adults as a kid and knew that pain all too well.

My favorite author now is Jeffrey Ford. His writing is beautifully written, vivid, engrossing, original and he has the ability to craft a satisfying ending better than any author alive right now. I will fight anyone who tries to argue this. I wish to someday be half the writer Ford is. His work doesn’t conform to one genre, it is just good story craft, and I think that is also something I’ve recognized as a goal in my own work.

What initially drew you to horror and dark fantasy? Do you remember the first horror film you saw or the first horror story you read? As a writer, what are your favorite mainstays of the genre, and which tropes do you wish would just go away?

I think I’ve always been drawn to darker subject matter, because it seems more genuine to me and evokes more sincere emotion. I started with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and then somehow skipped straight to reading Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King and Anne Rice. Most of that reading was facilitated by the fact that I had a Little Professor Bookstore within walking distance to the house my parents were renting, and plenty of babysitting money to get whatever I wanted, unchaperoned. This is how I ended up with a copy of Nighmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King at age twelve. That book basically changed my life and made me a lifelong horror fan.

I love any horror story that is really about a family in peril, such as The Shining or The Babadook. One of Stephen King’s strengths is that his horror really isn’t about the monster, it is about the relationships between people and how delicate and complex they are, how easily destroyed or lost to “evil.” I think any “trope” can work as long as it isn’t really about the monster, but about more complex inner and outer conflict that really anchors the story. So, in short, I don’t think any tropes should go away, I think they just need to work harder at capturing audience attention, especially right now when so much media is being done so well.

You are an editor at LampLight, and you have worked as a slush pile reader at other publications in the past. What in particular do you look for in stories? Also, what has editing and reading slush taught you about writing that has helped you as an author?

LampLightEditing and reading slush has taught me so much about my own writing. I recognize more easily what doesn’t work and what will capture an editor’s attention. Editing has taught me a lot about the structure and pacing of short story writing that I don’t think I could have learned by just writing.

As far as what I’m looking for, I seek out stories with a good hook that get me engrossed in the story right away. I love fiction with a powerful, consistent voice. I want the voice to feel like melted butter on a biscuit as I’m reading it, or like gravel underneath my tongue, whatever works best for the tone and subject matter of the piece. It also needs to be emotionally compelling. Pull on my heartstrings. Make me cry or laugh or want to kick someone’s ass.

I’ve read for both Shock Totem and Lamplight Magazine, and both publications were very different in what the senior editors were looking for. I look for pieces that fit with the tone and vision of the magazine, which has been difficult because there have been pieces that I have loved as a reader, but as an editor, they just didn’t fit. This is why I tell writers that “isn’t for us” doesn’t really mean anything as far as quality and should never be taken as an insult. I have rejected some fantastic pieces just because they didn’t fit with the tone of the magazine and I hope those authors re-submitted elsewhere immediately and were published.

In addition to your writing and editing, you are also a reviewer at New York Journal of Books. What drew you initially to reviewing, and do you have any tips to share with other reviewers out there?

Reviews essentially equal support for other authors. I began reviewing just as a way to support fellow writers, both inside the community and outside my social circle. I feel like there’s a huge need for reviewers who have integrity as well. I give honest feedback about my reading experience, even to people I know personally, because I feel like to do otherwise is a disservice to other writers, the community as a whole, and the author.

I never write love letters when I review, but I keep the negative as constructive as possible. Even authors who have books published by large houses appreciate knowing what didn’t work for readers, and for new writers I think this kind of constructive feedback is essential to their careers. However, I avoid being overly negative. If I really dislike a book, I just won’t review it. There’s no sense flogging someone’s work in the public square. It is also a dick move. My advice for reviewers: Don’t be that person.

You reside in Providence, Rhode Island. How, if at all, does being so close to so much horror history inspire your own dark fiction?

I moved to Providence after dating my husband. He lived in this area, and I really fell in love with the city. The writing culture here, and horror influence specifically, has helped to ground me in a community of weird fiction authors that are supportive and a constant inspiration to me personally and professionally.

I will you a secret—I’m not that big of a Lovecraft fan. I recognize his influence in the genre, and the culture. I recognize how important his work is and feel that his legacy deserves to be celebrated, but I’m much more enamored by contemporary authors that are influenced by Lovecraft and are working currently in the genre. I’m not going to name specific authors, because there are so many that I could list, but the work being produced right now is brilliant and beautiful and I’m excited that mainstream publishing is starting to recognize that and reward weird fiction authors for their brilliance.

Out of your own published work, do you have a favorite piece?

Most of my work is highly personal, so this is like picking one of my children. I just self-published a limited edition chapbook from a previously unpublished short story called Power in the Blood that is possibly my favorite right now. It is inspired by a story from Jack Ketchum called “The Rifle” about a mother that realizes her son is a serial killer after finding a hiding spot where he left the corpses of animals he tortured. My story is from the perspective of a son, after his mother makes a similar discovery and kicks him out of the house when he’s eighteen. She then lets people from her church move in with her, and they mistreat her quite badly. So she calls her son and tells him of her problems, knowing full well what he’ll probably do.

Like I said, most of my writing is highly personal. This story is no different. It explores a lot of my angst about religious hypocrisy and familial relationships, specifically between a child and parent. I hope my mother never reads it. Mom, if you’re reading this interview, never read this story, it will just make you upset. I’ve warned you.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on the December issue of Lamplight, as well as reading slush for the June issue next year. Working as an editor does take time away from my own writing, but I wouldn’t stop doing it for anything. I also love collaborating with Jacob Haddon, who is an amazing human being and deserves to be a hundred fold more successful than he is as a publisher. Go check out http://apokrupha.com/ and all the amazing authors we publish, including in the magazine. The latest issue features Damien Angelica Walters and is a fantastic line-up of authors.

I’m working on a couple short stories for various publications that I want to submit to. Nothing I should talk about, but there’s some exciting markets right now that I’d love to be a part of. Short fiction is really my first love, so I try to always keep that skill sharpened by writing shorter work even while working on something larger.

Finally, I’ve been working on a novel that I work-shopped last fall with James Moore and Christopher Golden’s WRITE BETTER FICTION class. If anyone reading this is in the Haverhill, MA area, I highly recommend any class taught by River City Writers to anyone looking to sharpen specific skills or just get an overall critique of their work. I received valuable feedback and a great deal of personal attention from Chris and Jim with my manuscript, so I’m excited to finish that project hopefully by the end of next year and start the editing process.

Where can we find you online?

My website can be found at https://www.authorcatherinegrant.com/, where I can be contacted directly about the limited edition chapbook, or anything else, really. I’m very approachable and am willing to geek out or answer questions, as long as the question isn’t “Will you read/publish my story?” or “Will you buy my story/novel/memoir?” There are proper channels for that, kittens.

My Amazon author page is : https://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Grant/e/B01LZBSYIO. I much prefer that people buy from indie bookstores or from authors directly, but I don’t discriminate, as long as they enjoy my work.

At some point, the NecronomiCon Providence 2017 Memento book will be available here, which features my short story “Strawberry Red,” as well as tons of great interviews, essays and art. If you want one and don’t see one on the site, message the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences bookstore about getting one, or just head on down there and pick one up if you’re in Providence.

I will also have a booth with New England Horror Writers at the Rhode Island Comic Con this November, so readers can buy from me directly at that event. I look forward to seeing all the horror fans there showing us some love.

Tremendous thanks to Catherine Grant for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

Thankful for Fiction: Submission Roundup for November 2017

Welcome back to this month’s Submission Roundup! Lots of very cool writing opportunities this November, so if you’ve got a story looking for a home, then perhaps one of these markets will be the perfect place for it!

As always, a disclaimer: I’m not a representative for any of these markets. I’m merely spreading the word! Any questions you might have about any of these submission calls should be directed to the respective editors.

And now onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

One Story
Payment: $500/flat
Length: 3,000 to 8,000 words
Deadline: November 14th, 2017
What They Want: Open to general fiction submissions.
Find the details here.

Luna Station Quarterly
Payment: $5/flat
Length: 500 to 7,000 words
Deadline: November 15th, 2017
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction written by women-identified authors.
Find the details here.

Behind the Mask: Tales from the Id
Payment: $50/flat (AUD)
Length: 6,000 to 10,000 words
Deadline: November 30th, 2017
What They Want: Open to horror fiction with the theme of masks.
Find the details here.

Enchanted Conversation
Payment: $30/flat for fiction; $10/flat for poetry
Length: 700 to 3,000 words for fiction; any length for poetry
Deadline: November 30th, 2017
What They Want: A fairy tale-themed publication that is open to short fiction and poetry. This month’s theme is elves and the shoemaker.
Find the details here.

Apparition Literary Magazine
Payment: .01/word for fiction; $10/flat for poetry
Length: 1,000 to 5,000 words for fiction; up to 2 pages for poetry
Deadline: November 30th, 2017
What They Want: Open to original speculative fiction. This month’s theme is apparitions.
Find the details here.

Tales from the Lake, Volume 5
Payment: .03/word
Length: up to 6,000 words
Deadline: December 1st, 2017
What They Want: Open to non-themed horror fiction.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW Now Available for Pre-order!

So you may have heard (possibly from this very blog) that I have a novella coming out later this year. I am so super stoked for this. Pretty Marys All in a Row is my first work of longer fiction to makes its debut in the world, and that is completely thrilling and daunting and all sorts of other intense emotions. *cue confetti*

This particular story has lived with me for a long time. It revolves around the Marys of folklore and urban legends (think Bloody Mary and Resurrection Mary), and deals both with their origins in our nightmares as well as what happens when we start to forget them. I’ve loved urban legends since I was a kid, and I’ve wanted to write about them for years, so to be able to fold that love into my work in fairy tales, horror, and dark fantasy is a bit of a dream come true.

Another dream come true? The cover for the novella. Let’s take a gander at it, shall we?

Pretty Marys All in a RowSeriously. That’s my cover. I don’t know how I got so lucky. After adoring the cover for my collection, I really thought there was no chance I’d love my second cover just as much, but hey, here we are, and I couldn’t be happier. Major shout-out to Gawki for their stunning artwork. I honestly can’t swoon enough.

We’re in the home stretch before Pretty Marys is unleashed on readers. The tentative release date is November 28th, though that date may shift a bit as the cover is finalized with the printer. Otherwise, the novella is ready for the world. You can pre-order the book now over at the Broken Eye Books website, and you’ll also receive an advance digital copy.

To say I’m elated and honored about the release of this novella is such an understatement. It’s been an incredibly fantastic process working with editor Scott Gable of Broken Eye Books. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now: I am so fortunate to work with such great editors and presses. How one writer got as lucky as me, I’ll never know, but I’m thankful for it every day.

As we close in on the release date, I’ll of course be sharing more updates about the novella. In the meantime, if you’re on Goodreads, then feel free (*nudge nudge*) to add Pretty Marys All in a Row to your bookshelf. It does a writer’s heart good.

Happy reading!

The Darkest Hour: Interview with Mike Thorn

Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to spotlight author Mike Thorn. Mike is a rapidly rising star in the horror genre. He reviews regularly at Unnerving Magazine under his column, Thorn’s Thoughts, and his debut collection, Darkest Hours, is due out in November.

Recently, Mike and I discussed his genesis as an author as well as what his plans are for the future.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Mike ThornI think I started writing stories around the age of six. I wrote my first novel when I was nine or ten — it was a long and totally unreadable rip-off of both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

There are so, so many writers I respect and admire… but some of the people who come immediately to mind are Kathe Koja, Herman Melville, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Eden Robinson, Nelly Arcan, Jim Thompson, William Faulkner, Hubert Selby Jr., William Blake, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Aickman, Flannery O’Connor, Georges Bataille, Don DeLillo, H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti. If you asked me tomorrow, I’d probably give you a slightly different list! There are too many to name.

What first drew you to horror fiction? Do you have a favorite horror film or horror story that really got you into the genre?

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary was probably my first taste of adult horror fiction. As a kid, I loved reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books (and actually, I’ve recently discovered that some of them hold up quite well!). I think I was interested in fantasy before I got into horror fiction — C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were major discoveries for me as a young reader.

Some of my favorite horror filmmakers are John Carpenter, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, David Lynch, Sergio Martino, Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, Rob Zombie, Wes Craven, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Ronny Yu and Mario Bava.

Congratulations on your forthcoming collection! What was the process like putting together the stories for the table of contents?

Thank you so much! Congratulations likewise on And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of the best debut collections I’ve ever read. It’s a stunning book.

I found that building the table of contents for Darkest Hours was an interesting process in terms of trying to establish some kind of tonal shape or rhythm. When I write stories in isolation, that’s almost always how they exist in my mind — as vacuum-sealed pieces with their own individual lives and forms. But compiling this collection brought to my attention the ways in which things I’d written over the course of two years did and did not connect with one another. When I first read over the manuscript I thought, Damn, this is too relentlessly bleak — nobody is going to want to read this. So I tried to slip in some of my more satirical, less overtly brutal stories at key moments throughout the book.

Darkest HoursYou write an in-depth review column at Unnerving Magazine. What inspired you to get started with reviewing, and how has reviewing shaped your own approach to writing?

For a long time, I wanted to be a film critic… I started writing reviews in high school and I still write on cinema periodically. But in my post-secondary education I studied literature. I decided recently that it might be interesting to put time and attention toward writing in-depth reviews of new horror fiction. It has now kind of taken precedence over my film-related writing.

As for how it shapes my own approach to writing: I don’t think it does in any conscious way. When I’m writing fiction, I’m usually zeroed in on the specifics of the stories themselves: What do the characters want? What is the conflict here? Am I using my setting effectively? Why do I have so many parenthetical phrases in this paragraph? All of that fun stuff.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: plotting new stories, crafting characters, or polishing an almost finished piece?

Probably that final sprint — polishing off an almost finished piece. There’s something so satisfying about that last ironing out of details, when I can finally say that I’ve done everything within my power to make it the best that I can.

Out of your own published work, do you have a favorite piece?

That’s a difficult question! I’m pleased with “Fear and Grace,” which is being published for the first time in Darkest Hours. It’s not a straight genre story, but it deals with horrific incidents and situations. I wanted to represent some of the disturbing nuances of power and human hierarchies. I also wanted to write carefully about trauma and the exploitation of empathy. The story started as a simple situation: two people reconnect in a public place. Observant bystanders might sense some vague unease between these people, but for the most part the two characters’ vexed histories and inner worlds belong only to them. I asked myself, What might this encounter be like? How can I dramatize that tension between external perception and interior conflict? It’s a personal and uncomfortable piece, but I think I said what I wanted to say with it.

I like something that Justin Broadrick often says about Godflesh – I’m paraphrasing, but he describes this brutal music that he makes as defensive rather than offensive. That’s what I’m usually after – not an “assault,” but an attempt to ward off the things that makes me anxious and afraid. This is something I tried very hard to accomplish with “Fear and Grace,” and I think I got as close as I can get.

What projects are you currently working on?

I just finished writing a new short story, and now I’m getting ready to dive into research for my next novel. I know it’s going to deal with that recent historical period of Satanic panic, and will also probably involve the American death metal movement that surfaced in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. A lot of the details are still unclear to me, but I’m enjoying this total openness while it lasts.

Big thanks to Mike Thorn for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find him on Facebook and Twitter as well as on his author website.

Happy reading!

A Fall of Fiction: Submission Roundup for October 2017

Welcome back to this month’s Submission Roundup! There are some very cool writing opportunities in the coming weeks, so if you’ve got a story seeking a home, then hopefully, you’ll find a place in the list below to send it!

But first a quick note: As always, I’m not a representative for any of these publications; I’m just spreading the word! So if you have any questions, please direct them to the respective publications. (Seriously, it seems silly that I always include this disclaimer, but I forgot once and ended up receiving messages demanding answers about the specifics of the submission calls, so yeah. Disclaimer now obligatory.)

And onward now to this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Electric Spec
Payment: $20/flat
Length: 250 to 7,000 words
Deadline: Rolling deadline, but submissions for the next issue close on October 15th, 2017
What They Want: Open to speculative short fiction.
Find the details here.

Riddled with Arrows
Payment: .03/word (minimum $5; maximum $25)
Length: up to 1,500 words
Deadline: October 21st, 2017
What They Want: Open to horror-themed metafiction, poetry, and art. This month’s theme relates to Halloween.
Find the details here.

Fiyah: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction
Payment: Poetry $50; Short fiction $150; Novelettes $300
Length: 2,000-7,000 for short fiction; up to 15,000 words for novelettes
Deadline: October 31st, 2017
What They Want: Easily the best new publication of 2017, Fiyah is producing some of the top speculative fiction you’ll find in today’s market (Case in point: the always awesome Eden Royce’s fantastic story in Issue 2). For writers looking to submit here, the editors are seeking stories from authors from the African diaspora and the African continent. This issue’s theme is Ahistorical Blackness.
Find the details here.

NonBinary Review
Payment: .01/word fiction and nonfiction; $10/flat poetry; $25/flat visual art
Length: up to 5,000 words
Deadline: October 31st, 2017
What They Want: Open to speculative fiction submissions based on the theme of… wait for it… We Have Always Lived in the Castle (i.e. the all-time favorite book of this particular blogger right here). It doesn’t appear that I’ll have time to submit something, so please send in a submission of your own, will you? Do Merricat and me proud!
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

 

Bold and Bizarro: Interview with Autumn Christian

Welcome back! This week’s interview is with the talented Autumn Christian. Autumn is the author of The Crooked God Machine and We are Wormwood, and she recently received a Wonderland Book Award nomination for her collection, Ecstatic Inferno. In addition, her short stories have appeared in Eternal Frankenstein and A Breath from the Sky: Unusual Stories of Possession, among other publications.

Recently, Autumn and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as how she was first drawn into the worlds of horror and weird fiction.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Ecstatic InfernoI decided I wanted to be a writer pretty much when I started reading around 6 years old. I’d never experienced something as amazing as the experience of reading, and immediately wanted to plunge myself into that fantastical world forever. It was a total “Plato’s Cave” experience. Some of my favorite writers are Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Tom Piccirilli, Shirley Jackson, Amy Hempel, Brian Evenson, Faulkner, and Nabokov.

As a storyteller, what draws you to horror and weird fiction? Do you remember the first horror film you saw, or the first horror story you read?

Horror and weird fiction excites me. I’ve always been attracted to the strange and unusual. It seemed to be a sort of gateway to deep mysteries about human nature and our universe. Infinity and possibility are horrifying. Our deepest secrets and impulses are horrifying. I think through horror, we learn more about who we truly are and what we’re capable of.

The first movie that legitimately horrified me was the 1964 stop-motion Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. I used to hide behind the couch when Bumble the Abominable Snowman came onto the screen. I’d dream about him lurking outside as I hid in the attic. If you look on YouTube for the Bumble scenes, you can hear that his roar sound FX is actually truly terrifying. I know that the first horror book was something I read by R.L Stine. I think it was a choose your own adventure called “Don’t Feed the Vampire.” It had an illustration of Fifi The Vampire Poodle on the cover.

At your blog, you do a series of nonfiction articles about your experiences as a writer. On average, how does one of your articles develop? Are the posts mostly extemporaneous, or do you often spend days or weeks ahead of time developing a concept for your blog? Or perhaps is it a bit of both?

I started writing these long non-fiction articles as Facebook posts a few years back. I was a very confused and lost person with deep depression and trauma issues, trying to fumble my way through the world (Like many people). When I first began writing those posts, it was the beginning of me piecing together a cogent understanding of myself and how I related to other people. People seemed to appreciate my writing, but I didn’t write those posts to educate or talk to other people. It was really me trying to communicate with myself, and solidify concepts that’d been swirling around in my brain into something concrete so that I could have a more purposeful and enjoyable life. I started posting them publicly though, because you know, I’m a writer and I have an ego problem.

I will usually write these posts in one sitting, but oftentimes they are concepts that I’ve been contemplating for weeks or months, and then will suddenly “click” into place enough for me to write. Sometimes I’ll get a flash of inspiration from a conversation or something that happened in real life, or something that I read. (I suppose like any other idea.)

The Crooked God MachineYou’ve written both long and short fiction. Do you prefer one length over another? Also, what helps you to determine whether a story should be a shorter form or novel length?

Writing a short story is like enjoying a relaxing night alone in a secluded cabin. Writing a novel is like hiking the Appalachian trail, except it takes longer and it’s bloodier. At the end of a novel, you’re not going to be the same person you were at the beginning, and the journey is going to change you in ways you aren’t yet prepared for.

The format depends on the complexity of the idea, and how much I’m willing to explore it. If I’m going to spend a year or more with a singular idea, I want it to be one I’m genuinely attached to.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: plotting a story, developing voice, or establishing setting?

My favorite part of the writing process is when the outside world becomes quiet and my being is interlaced completely with the keyboard and that singular moment of story.

Out of your published work, do you have a personal favorite?

Right now it’s “Sewn into Her Fingers” that’s in the anthology Eternal Frankenstein that came out last year from Word Horde. It was the first thing I wrote in years that I felt was truly the next step in my evolution as a writer.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a novel called The Edgar Allan Poe Simulator, which is about Poe, video games, life and death, and interdimensional portals. I’m also finishing up a short story about a nymphomaniac who has the magic power to heal trauma through sex.

Big thanks to Autumn Christian for being this week’s author interview. Find her online at her website and her Amazon Author page as well as on Facebook and Twitter!

Happy reading!

A Fairy Tale Ending: Interview with Carina Bissett

Welcome back! Today’s featured author is the talented Carina Bissett. Carina is an accomplished writer, editor, and scholar whose focus is often in the realm of dark fantasy and fairy tales. She has a new story slated for release in the Hath No Fury anthology from Ragnarok, and she is also currently instructing a course on monstrous women in literature (and what could be cooler than that?).

Recently, Carina and I discussed her work as a writer and editor, as well as her plans for the future.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

Carina BissettI wish I had a definitive moment when I actually made this decision. Books have always been at the center of my life, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I actually started writing stories of my own. The stories have always been there; getting them on paper was the hard part. It wasn’t until I first read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter that things started to click for me. Other writers that influenced my early work are Terri Windling, Margaret Atwood, and Liz Hand. Some of my favorite working writers today include Angela Slatter, Genevieve Valentine, Kate Forsyth, Damien Angelica Walters, and Kristi DeMeester. The talent out there is tremendous and I absolutely love reading stories that inspire me to work harder on my own body of work.

Your work is often influenced by fairy tales. What initially drew you as a storyteller in this direction? Do you remember the first fairy tale you ever read, and do you have a personal favorite?

Fairy tales are the foundation on which I’ve built my life. In fact, I still have my first childhood book of fairy tales; the cover is tattered, the binding is broken, and it’s held together with rotting rubber bands. Even though it should be thrown away, I can’t bear to be parted from it. This version is not the clean version so many people equate with childhood. I knew early on about the bloody, dark side of these stories. During the course of my lifetime, I have survived trauma after trauma after trauma, and it was fairy tales that helped me to survive. The first fairy tale I read was “Snow-White and Red-Rose.” (I still have the Golden Book, which was illustrated by Marjorie Cooper and sold with the cover price of 49 cents.) But as an adult and a domestic violence survivor, “Bluebeard” is at the top of my list. Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” is one of my all-time favorite re-tellings, but I also love “The Maiden Thief” by Melissa Mead and “The Glass Bottle Trick” by Nalo Hopkinson. They are both gorgeous renditions of a truly horrific tale.

Congratulations on your recent acceptance into the Hath No Fury anthology! What can you tell us about your story that will be included in the table of contents?

Thank you! “A Seed Planted,” the story selected for inclusion in this amazing anthology, is a feminist “Jack and the Beanstalk”–“Rappaccini’s Daughter” mash-up with a science fiction slant. I started this piece in October 2015 after a floating city was spotted hovering in the clouds above Yueyang, China. It was a mirage, albeit a superior one falling in the category of a fata morgana, but I liked the wilder claims of a portal opening to another dimension. This and my research at the time on poison girls, the vishakanya from Hindu mythology, resulted in the first draft of this particular story.

You recently served as an editor for a special issue at NonBinary Review. How, if at all, has your work as an editor shaped your writing, and vice versa?

In the past, I’ve critiqued any number of stories, something I feel has been beneficial as I continue to work on my own craft. I thought editing the NonBinary Review issue based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen would be a similar experience. I was wrong. There were more than 200 submissions to be read and sorted and read and sorted over and over again, an experience that has given me new appreciation for all of the first readers and editors working out there. Not only was the process about selecting the best pieces submitted, but it was also about striking the right balance to create a certain flow in the issue. As much as I hated it, there were some brilliant submissions that I just couldn’t accept because they just didn’t fit into the whole picture. Although there wasn’t any particular story that I feel has influenced my own stylistic tendencies, I think that by reading quality writing, I continue to grow in my own work. I also believe there is much to be learned from stories that don’t quite work. When I found myself rolling my eyes over adjective heavy prose or nodding off while trying to read a piece that seemed to drag on forever, it served as a reminder to keep an eye out for similar problems that might occur in my own stories.

You are the instructor for an upcoming workshop on monstrous women in literature. How did you go about developing this class, and what are some of the required readings for the course?

I have spent a lifetime studying myth and fairy tales, which are populated with monstrous women and women monsters. The concept for this workshop began more than a year and a half ago when I realized that my protagonists were invariably women in distress, women who overcame trauma by monstrous means. Once I started collating my knowledge, a pattern emerged and I winnowed it down from there. The amount of material is tremendous, so I had to break the course into two parts. This semester I’m focusing on the following categories: Great Goddesses of Death and Destruction, Matriarchal Monsters and First Females, Wicked Queens and Bloody Crowns, Witchy Women and Enchanted Attacks, The Seductive Allure of the Femme Fatale, and Lesbian Vampires and Lost Souls. Each module includes source material, re-tellings, academic papers, symbolism, writing prompts, discussion questions, an image gallery, and other resources. For instance, in the first session, which was set aside for introductions and instructions, we read and discussed academic discourse on transgressive literature and a few select pieces of fiction including “Given the Advantage of the Blade” by Genevieve Valentine, “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine, and “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters. I also offered access to several journal articles for writers looking to dig a little deeper. The actual modules are a much more in-depth exploration on the topics presented and include both required reading and optional reading assignments. At the end of the workshop, participants will have written six stories, two to three of which will receive an additional critique as portfolio pieces.

What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to running the online workshops at The Storied Imaginarium (Monstrous Women: A Feminist Approach to Myth and Magic and Intersections: Nature and Myth), I am working on the third semester of my MFA in creative writing at Stonecoast. I’m thrilled to be working with the award-winning poet Cate Marvin. In addition to the drafting of five new short stories and 20 new poems, I will be working on an academic paper focusing on assembled and disassembled women in literature and film. It’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to dig into the research.

Out of your published work, do you have a personal favorite?

I was involved in a nasty bicycle accident last June and I’m only now recovering from the traumatic brain injury I suffered in addition to the physical injuries (six surgeries and counting), which is why I haven’t written much over the last year. However, I did manage to write “Serpents and Toads,” a Faustian re-telling of “Diamonds and Toads,” which was published this spring in Enchanted Conversations. As a woman who’s struggled with weight for the most part of my life (swinging back and forth from anorexia to obesity), I found it a cathartic experience.

Where can we find you online?

I have published online with NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, The Horror ‘Zine, and a smattering of other publications, but most of these represent my older work. My newer pieces, written since my accident, have a decidedly different style that leans heavily into the realm of fabulism, Links to my stories that were published online can be found at my website at https://carinabissett.com/stories/.

Big thanks to Carina Bissett for being part of this week’s author interview!

Happy reading!