Future and Advice: Part Four of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome back to the final part in our Women in Horror Month Roundtable! Today, we discuss the best writing advice these authors have received along with what they’ve got planned next!

So let’s take it away!

What advice would you like to give to women who are just starting out in the horror genre? Also, is there any particular piece of advice you’ve received over the years that has stuck with you?

HAILEY PIPER: Find your sisters in the genre; we uplift each other. Know that taking time and space for you to write is not a selfish thing, because inevitably someone is going to tell you it is. They’re wrong. The piece of advice that’s greatly helped me is to treat rejection as part of writing, not as an adversary. I like that better myself; I’m not about adversaries and conquering. Everything exists in cycles.

JESSICA GUESS: Honestly, just write what you want. Boring white men do it all the time. Don’t hinder yourself by thinking, “Will people get this? Will they like it?” The question is do you like it? Does this story do something for you? If it does something for you then it will probably do something for someone else.

GEMMA AMOR: My number one piece of advice: don’t compare yourself to others. My second piece of advice: other authors are not the enemy. This genre has a wonderful community that works best when we work to lift each other up, rather than tear each other down. I think as a general rule, treat others as you wish to be treated, and just try to build up as regular a routine as you can, writing every single day- it really is the only surefire way to get any significant body of work down. Don’t be daunted by what you deem as the success of your peers or those around you, and keep your eyes firmly fixed on your own work, making it the best it can be. Also, promote, promote, promote- we all have to do it, there is no shame in it, and anyone who makes you feel icky about trying to sell your own work so you can earn an income from it can, quite frankly, get in the bin ( or trash can for your American audience ha). The best advice I’ve ever received from anyone has been the simplest: just keep going, a bit like that fish in Finding Dory. Keep swimming. Don’t give up. You may or may not be an overnight success -if you are, amazing. If not, it takes years and years to build skills and a readership. Don’t be afraid to dedicate yourself to the long haul, and Just. Keep. Going.

L. MARIE WOOD: Write what you want to write.  Basic, right?  But for me no truer words have ever been said.  Writers are often told to write to fit specific markets, to make their characters fit certain categories or to make their stories more mainstream.  I remember that I jumped on that bandwagon once and wrote a story that I didn’t enjoy – not the writing, not the editing, not the reading – not one second ever.  The work was meh because I had been meh throughout the whole process.  I don’t want to feel that way when I write.  I want to feel excited by my characters, pleasantly surprised by their decisions, proud of the outcome.  I think readers like to read stories that make them feel some combination of those things too.  So, write what you want to write and see where that takes you.

Years ago I was told to keep writing.  It was something that a person who had read my first few short stories said.  We met at a signing and they were excited to meet me because they had read my work (!!!).  At the end of the conversation, he said, “Keep writing!” and my mind snatched the phrase out of the air to store in my mental safe.  His parting words make their way out of their locked box when I am busy and haven’t sat down to write in a week or when I am sure I have run out of ideas to write about.  It’s the cheerleading I didn’t know I needed.

Keep writing.

You betcha.

ANGELA SLATTER: Gods, there’s a lot but I think the following are probably most relevant at the moment:

  1. Don’t self-reject from anthologies. Send your work everywhere, do not stop. If no one gets to read your work and see what you can create then it’s going to be very hard to get published. A lot of women writers automatically say “Oh, I’ll never be accepted for such-and-such an anthology” – but you know what? You just might.
  2. Watch what other women writers further on in their career do – and if you can adopt the confidence of a mediocre man or a five-year-old in a Batman t-shirt, then you’re well on your way. Build a network of other female writers and help each other along whenever you can.
  3. Don’t answer reviews.
  4. Never stop learning.
  5. Never give up.

K.P. KULSKI: Write what makes your heart flutter in dark joy. Be true to yourself because writing fiction can be one of most honest things we can do. Also, you are the only one who gets to decide if you have a shot at your dreams, no one else can make that decision for you and once you do, don’t let anyone convince you to give up.

I also firmly believe in pushing each other up, in publishing, as writers and as women. Celebrate the success of others, they worked hard too.

DONYAE COLES: My advice is that there is no limit. Write whatever fucked up thing you just thought about, write it, it’s fine. And also, go ahead and just submit that. Keep submitting, someone will eventually say yes.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: Get involved! I realize I just got done saying you can’t stay plugged in all the time, and social media isn’t for everyone, but every single good thing that’s happened in my writing career has been through Twitter. Join groups like the Ladies of Horror Fiction, read and plug other writer’s books. And don’t be afraid to embrace writing what speaks to you. Make it female as hell, make it gay, imbue it with every part of your personal experience. Make it brutal or quiet or whatever speaks to you. It’s recent advice, but Tim Waggoner noted in WRITING IN THE DARK that his agent told him not to be afraid to write horror, and that was big for me. I’d been twisting myself in knots trying to write something that wouldn’t get endless rejections that boiled down to “too many ghosts.” Guess what? I love ghosts, and I love horror, and it’s my genre. So write what brings you joy.

What’s next for you? What projects are you working on now, and what do you have coming out in the near future?

DONYAE COLES: As I am answering these questions I have a couple of full manuscripts that will be going on submission soon. One is a slasher, the other is Gothic. Fingers crossed, trying to get that book money. I have shorts coming out in a Cemetery Gates antho, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod and Fantasy Magazine so follow me on twitter to keep abreast of those.

JESSICA GUESS: I have short stories out now in Shiver: A Chilling Horror Anthology and We Are Wolves. Right now, I’m plugging away at another novella. I don’t know when it will be done but I think it’ll be a good one.

GEMMA AMOR: I have a whole host of projects I am working on, some I can talk about and some I can’t. I’m currently writing a haunted house book called Six Rooms, due to be published by Cemetery Gates Media soon, and have another collection of travel-themed horror stories coming out as soon as I can get around to finishing it. I have some exciting things in the works with the wonderful NoSleep podcast, and various other podcasts- including working on the second season of Calling Darkness with co-creator and co-writer S.H. Cooper. I’m working on some awesome book cover art for various clients and am keeping my fingers and toes firmly crossed for some exciting projects I’ve been working hard on to come to fruition- half of this game is about waiting for things to land, but I’m getting better at being patient (I’m really not ha ha).

Mostly though, I am just looking forward to a return to some semblance of normality, to meeting some of the community in person, and to rediscovering the joy of writing- so I guess, watch this space, because when this is all over I am coming for you all with a huge bottle of gin in one hand, and hugs aplenty.

L. MARIE WOOD: So many things!  I mentioned that The Promise Keeper is coming out in February.  I will also have a few other releases this year, including the second book of The Realm series called Cacophony, which comes out in October.  I will be presenting at the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference at StokerCon and I’ll be ready for MultiverseCon later in the year.  There are other things that I can’t talk about yet (ooh, so cloak and dagger!) but check me out online to stay up to date:

www.lmariewood.com (there is a blog you can sign up for!)

Twitter:  @LMarieWood1

FB: www.facebook.com/LMarieWood

ANGELA SLATTER: I’ve just sent in the final edits for The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales to Tartarus Press – they’ll publish that mosaic collection in Feb. And my first novel for Titan – a gothic fantasy called All the Murmuring Bones – is due out in March. Next I’m finishing off the novel Morwood (also for Titan), A Holy Darkness (a novella with J.S. Breukelaar), Darker Angels (a novella for Electric Dreamhouse Press), and starting to write The Bone Lantern for Absinthe Press.

K.P. KULSKI: I am working on a project that I’ve shelved many times. I don’t think I knew how to tell the story just yet. After some urging from my old critique partners, I was convinced to pull it back out. It’s the right time, the story entwines Korean folktales, shamanism with Celtic mythos. Something of a portal fantasy, but dark and desperate, filled with brutality and beauty—all seething in the forest.

I am also working on what I think will be a novella but possibly a novelette. The story originally started as a short but grew into something bigger. I’ve been calling it my “the Yellow Wall Paper meets Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away” story and of course, there are witches.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I just finished a total rewrite of a manuscript, SILENT KEY. I’m letting it pickle a bit, then hope to edit and submit this year. I’ve got several short stories coming out in anthologies this year, and would love to put out a short story collection, and I’m working on several collaborations I’m excited about. There’s nothing solid on publications, but hoping that will change soon!

HAILEY PIPER: Right now I’m nailing down details on a work in progress from December 2020, a few short stories that I need to get finished up, and finalizing details for 2021’s releases. In spring, The Seventh Terrace will release my first short story collection, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, and later Rooster Republic via Strangehouse Books will release my first novel, Queen of Teeth, a story of body horror, first in hardcover during the summer and then in paperback around November 2021. And then there’s a smattering of short stories appearing in Dark Matter Magazine, Far From Home, Hymns of Abomination, and more.

Happy reading, and happy Women in Horror Month! 

Rituals and Chaos: Part Three of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for part three in our 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable! Today we talk all about how the upheaval of the last year has affected our authors’ writing as well as the self-care rituals that help keep them on track.

So let’s take it away!

How has the upheaval of 2020 affected your work? Do you find yourself writing more or less often, and have the themes of your writing changed at all?

JESSICA GUESS: I’m writing less. I don’t have any other answer. It’s crazy because I have the motivation to write as well as the ideas, but the will isn’t there. Everything that’s going on plus work, plus taking care of my mom has pretty much taken all the energy I have. Right now, I’m reading more and watching more horror movies to distract myself.

GEMMA AMOR: Gosh, my writing life changed in every single way imaginable. I am a mother, and schools have been closed, so my day job quickly became my second job that was often carried out in the small hours of each morning and that grew so draining my writing certainly suffered as a result. I likened it to trying to wade through cold porridge- everything felt stodgy and bland and just lacking in any spark or vitality. That being said, I did manage to push through and meet most of my obligations, but it was the toughest work year of my career and the toughest year of my life on a personal level, so yes– it came out in my work, which I think was a lot bleaker in tone now I come to think about it. I plan on addressing that with future works, and I want to get back to what I think made my writing pop before this giant coronavirus shitshow came along– having fun with the words again. Because if it isn’t fun, what’s the point? Perhaps easier said than done right now, but it’s there as a goal– have fun writing again.

L. MARIE WOOD: I just finished writing my second novel of the year last night and, while waiting for the manuscript to print because I am old school and intend to mark it up with my red pen, I took stock of my output in 2020… and… I’ve written A LOT.  Just under 300k words and they were a mix of novels, short stories, essays, presentations, screenplays, novellas, and even a poem stuck in there for good measure.  I wrote because I had the ideas.  I wrote in the middle of the night because that was when I had time –- that is usually when I have time, so nothing really changed there.  I did not write about the pandemic or its effect on me or the world around me.  That is not what I normally write about -– it is, indeed, too realistic to provide the escapism I strive to provide and look for in my own reading selections.  So, even thought we suffered considerable strain this year, I did not let that worm its way into my work.  The writing itself – the normalcy of it – was cathartic.

ANGELA SLATTER: I found in the first three weeks of lockdown in Australia, I was kind of lost. There was no inspiration to write, everything felt like we were living in a horror novel – which is very different from just imagining it for the purposes of writing! Like pretty much everyone, I wasn’t sleeping well, lots of nightmares, the constant stress sitting on your chest when you were awake, and of course watching a lot of income dry up as face-to-face teaching and appearances were off the table. But gradually I just kept pushing and the words started to return, so it became a kind of therapy – the only thing I could do, I guess! So, in the end I’ve been pretty productive this year. I’ve probably written more out and out horror this year, with less shall we say metaphorical padding to take the edge off? “The Wrong Girl” (Nightmare, 23 Dec 2020) is one of those stories with a lot of blood and flesh in the teeth.

K.P. KULSKI: 2020 was one hell of a century. I have hopes for 2021 but with this last year under our belts, I’ve learned to be extremely anxious about having hope. My writing time has been dented by what a lot of parents are experiencing, virtual school and trying to balance it all. I also moved in 2020, so that was added craziness.

With that said, I spent a lot of time thinking about racism in particular, which led to thinking more about my own hapa experience and of how much my immigrant mother went through. I poured that pondering and emotional energy into a novella. I’m finding the theme popping up more in my stories, along with a subsequent sense of isolation.

DONYAE COLES: I wrote a lot less in the beginning of everything but I’ve been writing a lot more since September. The themes in my writing haven’t really changed because the things my writing deals with (race, gender, poverty) haven’t really changed.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: My writing has ebbed and flowed a bit this year –- part of it is the mental grind of worry about the pandemic and political situation, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It’s impossible to be unaffected by that, and on top of it, my toddler son has been home from daycare since March. My husband and I are both working full time from home, so my days are long with no breaks until late. I’d been writing only during his naps on weekends, but then his sleeping got erratic and I panicked. I really felt like I’d have to put writing on hold, but then I listened to writers like Hailey Piper, Red Lagoe and Jonathan Janz, who (without the slightest judgment on anyone else) are committed to making it work into their schedules. I found time in the mornings, and in the evenings, and since I’ve been writing everyday now, I feel much more in the flow of it.

Whether it’s fully related to the upheaval of the year or not, I do think my work has become a lot more personal, and observant of the frustrations of my situation. I love being a woman, and I love being a mom, but there are unbelievable rifts between what’s expected of women versus men. I’m not saying that in a man bashing spirit, or writing that way either, but out of a desire to examine my own feelings, express them in a horror palette, and maybe find ways to improve my situation.

HAILEY PIPER: I probably wrote about the same amount of work, but the shape certainly changed. I spent 2019 largely writing short fiction. In 2020 though, I wrote only a few short stories and instead channeled the time and energy into three books. The energy to it changed, too, maybe from lack of public socialization. My approach has become wild and unapologetic. The world is a chaotic place, so why hold back our own feminine chaos?

Writing is a tough business to say the least. Do you have any particular self-care rituals or ways that have helped you cope with being part of an often difficult industry?

JESSICA GUESS: I try not to take things personally. I learned that early on with doing workshops. You can’t take anything anyone says about your work personally. You have to remember that readers are coming to your work with their own perceptions and worldviews and sometimes they’ll put things on your work that you didn’t intend. Or they’ll have expectations that you weren’t trying to reach. I’ll never forget one workshop experience where the instructor accused me of having a racist stereotype of Asians in my short story when the character in question was actually a Black Trinidadian. She accused me of other stuff too that had nothing to do with my story. I was hurt for a while, but I kinda knew that she was putting her own stuff on my work. It wasn’t me. She didn’t even read the story carefully to know the ethnicity of the character she was mad about and she’s a famous writer and creative writing instructor! If she can do that, what do you expect of the average reader?

GEMMA AMOR: Lots. Having strict rules about what I am comfortable engaging with on social media has been the most significant act of self-care I could have initiated for myself and I continue to hold to my rules every day. I have extremely firm boundaries surrounding who I want to communicate and interact with, and that is okay– often throughout my life I have felt apologetic for not enjoying something, or not getting along with certain people. But it’s ridiculous to assume you are going to get everyone to like you or be everyone’s cup of tea– the world just doesn’t work that way. So I stick to my boundaries and it makes me a lot less anxious about myself and my place in the world as a result.

Other than that, I walk, a lot, to take care of both my brain and my body, I will often figure out a tricky plot point that way, or else, in a scalding hot bath. I love baths. I think I might be part-mermaid or eel (or manatee).

I also have about three or four dedicated beta readers/editorial type folk who often help carry me through the difficult part of writing a novel or anything of great length– particularly that stodgy middle bit of a novel that everyone hates– I find that reaching out to them for reassurance and feedback is an incredibly important part of my creative process, and I value them enormously.

It sounds a little hippy as well, but one of the best ways I find to be kind to myself in this often emotionally charged and rather cutthroat industry is to enjoy the work of my peers and help promote them where possible. I literally jump for joy when I see a fellow writer land an exciting contract or tv show or whatever– it gives me hope and a real sense of community, which I personally find really inspiring and fuels me on. I think sometimes people can find that ‘Pollyanna’ attitude disingenuous or frustrating, but one thing I have learned is that the feeling of being isolated (a huge issue for me at the moment what with multiple lockdowns in the UK thanks to corona) really does exacerbate imposter syndrome and your creativity by a significant amount– only the other day I was talking about always feeling on the fringes of things, and never quite belonging to any one place. This is a nasty and insidious ideology that can nip a burgeoning writing career at the bud, and one way I get around these feelings is to immerse myself in other people in my genre. I mean, I just prefer to try where possible to think outside my own personage– having said that, writers by nature spend a lot of time thinking about themselves and talking about themselves because they are quite literally selling themselves to their readers, and as I get older I am increasingly aware of this. I’m not a huge fan of me, me, me, so I try and interact with others as much as possible.

Having said that, the last year has been an absolute slog. I have found reading anything longer than a few hundred words almost impossible, so I feel I’ve fallen behind in purchasing and reading the works of my peers– but I hope to get back on the case soon– the apocalypse can’t last forever, right?

L. MARIE WOOD: Interesting question!  I think that, at the beginning of my career, I would have answered quite differently than I will now.  I can remember going out to dinner to get my mind off of a rejection letter or getting my nails done to try and drive away my frustration over my perceived lack of progress.  Not so anymore.  Rejections will come – they are part of the cycle, and while I don’t like them any more now than I did before, I recognize their role in the general scheme of things.  I still get irritated by them but if I had intended to write when one came in, I don’t throw in the towel for the day and come back later.  Writing time is precious these days, so write, I will… after a few sips of wine and a few deep breaths.

ANGELA SLATTER: I try really hard to recognise when I’m grinding my gears: if I haven’t had a proper rest or just refilled the creative well by reading, going to the movies, binge-watching tv series, taking walks, talking to the dogs, etc. Just generally making a point of stopping until I catch up with myself and feel more focused and inspired.

K.P. KULSKI: Alone time is important to me and can be a challenge to obtain, but I have learned that my introvert soul doesn’t do well without a solitary well refill. I have to take time to myself just to be alone with my thoughts. I take as many opportunities to do this as I can. Reading is always a good source of self-care, either dark fiction or history is my jam.

Another thing that always gives me a sense of peace is reading to my kids. We’ve enjoyed a lot of stories together especially mythology from around the world.

DONYAE COLES: I do a lot of art but I don’t think that’s self care really because that’s just. . . the other thing I do with my time. I read a lot. I knit and crochet. I am a creative or I am a cozy creature doing soft things wrapped in a blanket, there is no in between.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: Stepping away has been the biggest, and most effective way I’ve cared for myself this year. Things happen in the world, in our community that need addressing, and I’m all for that. I don’t believe in putting on a good face and keeping things surface level so that resentments and straight up wrongs fester. But everyone has their threshold. I reached a point of anxiety this summer that stopped me from sleeping for about a month. That’s simply not feasible – it’s miserable, I have no childcare, and there’s no way to take a day off and rest. I realized it’s not healthy for me to be connected all the time, and that I need to protect myself from certain situations. In the same vein, I stopped reading reviews of my work, because it got to the point where it was hurting my feelings. I don’t believe in censorship of reviews – people should feel comfortable voicing their opinions about what they read, and even if my best friend hates my work and gives it one star, we’re still cool. But when it’s taking up head space, it’s time to stop. Oh, also massage, when possible. I am horrible at relaxing, so making myself leave the house and lay still for an hour is immensely helpful.

HAILEY PIPER: Having good friends who understand has been truly helpful. We keep check on each other, hear each other out, offer advice and solace. I’m tremendously lucky to have made friends with such wonderful people in the community. Reading also helps. I crave reading time desperately; it helps shut away everything else. A good reading session is especially cleansing.

And that’s it for Part Three of our roundtable! Join us next week for the conclusion of our Women in Horror feature for 2021!

Happy reading!

Genre Favorites: Part Two of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for Part Two in our Women in Horror Roundtable! Today we discuss what draws these eight amazing authors to the horror genre as well as their favorite reads by women in horror over the last year.

So let’s take it away!

What draws you to the horror genre? Do you feel like horror is particularly suited to address the experiences of women?

JESSICA GUESS: I’m drawn to horror because the stakes are always high. The main character is fighting for their life or the lives of people close to them or their immortal soul or something. For the second part of your question, I mean the genre itself proves that it is suited for women. I don’t know the exact percentage of horror movies with female lead characters, but I’d bet it’s extremely high. Part of setting the atmosphere in a horror movie is having your lead character be in some state of vulnerability. There’s a perceived built-in vulnerability with women because we’re seen as weaker. Added on to that the fact that it is indeed scary to be a woman.

GEMMA AMOR: I really do. This is probably because I lean heavily into the type of horror writing that serves as an exsanguination of my own personal traumas and history and experience, and that, by nature, has involved many themes and issues deemed ‘female’ in nature (I often write about my struggles with postnatal depression, for example). I think if you are looking for other issues that are increasingly being explored in the horror space, everything from motherhood to body trauma to identity crisis to being told to ‘smile’ on a daily basis by people who expect a certain behaviour from a certain section of society- many of these are unique to the experience of being or identifying as a woman, and horror feels like a perfect genre within which to explore that- whether it is by stint of using a ghost as a metaphor for loss or pain, or werewolves or wendigos to explore empowerment, or psychological horror to showcase some of the more complex, nuanced emotions surrounding the loss of a child, for example- this is definitely the most versatile and accommodating genre to address the unique and individual experience of being a woman, in my opinion.

This is partly what draws me to the genre and always has, this, and the fact that within horror, your imagination can really run riot. There are no boundaries with horror- I adore the extraordinary freedom that affords me as a writer.

L. MARIE WOOD: I have always written psychological horror fiction.  Since the age of five I have been interested in the thing that hides in the shadows, the fear of the unknown.  With such a specific sub-genre, one that lends itself to the tenets of thrillers and mystery and suspense so easily, infusing subtle fear into a realistic landscape has always fascinated me.  Indeed, I have always looked at life with my head tilted at an angle because I see the thing lurking behind the tree at the park, even when no one else does.  I don’t know that I think that horror is particularly suited to address the experiences of women, but I do think that it provides a platform for alternative mindsets, for outcomes that are not traditional, for the hero to be the skinny girl in the corner rather than the big, burly guy standing out in front.  In that way the playing field can be made equal, creating opportunities for new approaches in storytelling.

ANGELA SLATTER: Again, I think it’s the link to fairy tales – my reading matter as a kid (and the stories that were read to me by my mother) all came from the old-style fairy stories. Unsanitised, frightening, nightmare-giving bedtime stories. I think horror speaks very deeply to women’s experiences in the world: regarded as “carriers” for children, still subject to death in childbirth in a world with so many medical advances, no control over our own bodies, we’re most frequently the victims of crime – and more often than not we’re murdered by someone who’s supposed to love and protect us. So, yes, it is particularly suited to addressing women’s experiences!

K.P. KULSKI: I find horror to be perfect to externalize the all too often, very personal and internalized trauma that many women experience. It is the mental health toll. The everyday erosion of someone’s humanity. In horror, we can put that on display, erode the flesh of someone physically and we can see the viscera.

For example, maybe every time she’s harassed on the street she loses something of herself. In horror we can make this physical and bring home the depths of the horror of those experiences. It becomes a lot more difficult to argue that something is not painful when there is blood. Horror also allows others to experience the fear and struggle in a personal way.

DONYAE COLES: Gods, I’ve always been here. I think I’m just like this? Probably because my mom let me watch the Dungeon and Dragons cartoon and Billy Idol videos or she listened to Thriller too much. Actually it might have been 80s MTV who knows! I’ve always been drawn to horror movies and ghost stories. Life is full of creep.

I think that horror is really good at unpacking the experiences of women many of which always contain some element of terror long after you’ve come through the other side. I feel like horror stories aren’t ever really over, they’re just asleep for awhile and that’s part of what makes them scary because this thing can always come back. And that’s a lot of the experience of being a woman.

The things we go through aren’t ever really over, they’re just asleep in us and maybe they never wake up for us again but the cycle is forever and we will always, always carry that inside of us, whatever it is. And I think horror tells those stories a lot better than fantasy or science fiction where you leave the planet or you slay the beast but with horror, you know, it’s always ready for a repeat. The book can never be destroyed, the tomb can only be so sealed, the curse has been put to rest FOR NOW.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: What initially drew me to horror was the thrill – I love ghosts and ghost stories, and have always enjoyed that delicious little chill that comes with settling in for a scare. The concept of employing it as a vehicle for addressing the experiences of women has occurred to me much more recently – it came about by accident. I’m not someone who ever thought I was capable of writing short fiction. In 2020 I started to try, because I had a couple of ideas that seemed right for the length. After a false start or two, I realized what was fueling my ideas was the daily truth of my existence as a woman. I wrote a short story about what happens when women are told to smile, and another about body dysmorphia after having a child. I’m older now, and maybe a little more irritable, and some of the things I’m stewing on come out best as a pithy horror story. Maybe it doesn’t solve the intrinsic, societal aspects of what I’m pissed about, but it gives me a constructive vehicle to express how I feel about it.

It’s also been eye opening, and a bonding experience, to read the experiences of other women in a short story format. When we started receiving stories for WE ARE WOLVES I was struck by what a range of tone and subject matter there was, and saw through the eyes of other women what they perceived as horror. I treasure that, and have been seeking out more works of that nature, because the more experiences and viewpoints we’re open to, the better we’re able to understand and appreciate one another.

HAILEY PIPER: Absolutely; we live and breathe horror. Where we go, what we can do, when, what happens to our bodies; it’s all steeped in horror. I think horror comes naturally to us, especially when we look it in the eye and then embrace it. For me, I’m drawn to dark fiction because horror is healing, empowerment, honesty. I find validation in its stories of pain, hope in its triumphs, be they human or monstrous. And any weirdness helps my weirdo self feel like I belong.

There was a lot of tremendously great horror written by women in 2020. What are your favorite horror stories or books by female authors from the last year, in particular works that you wish would have gotten more attention?

JESSICA GUESS: Seeing Things by Sonora Taylor was an awesome read. Sonora’s writing is humorous and terrifying at the same time. I love it. Also, All You Need is Love and A Strong Electric Current by Mackenzie Kiera was another amazing novella from Rewind or Die. There were so many great books by women in that line up—Food Fright, Hells Bells, The Kelping—they were great reads.

GEMMA AMOR: Well, if I’m allowed to do this, it was actually the anthology of female-centric horror stories I co edited with Laurel Hightower and Cina Pelayo called WE ARE WOLVES, published in December 2020. All proceeds of the book go to the survivors of abuse, assault and harassment via various charities (including The Survivor’s Trust), and the story brief was to write about ‘the author’s individual experiences of being a woman,’ and the trauma or horror to be found in those experiences. The resulting collection of stories from a huge pack of women and those who identify as such is one of the most stirring, raw, emotional bodies of work I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I am insanely proud to have helped bring the project to life. I hope to make the first donation as soon as the first royalty payment clears in Feb, and I cannot wait to share the details in the community.

L. MARIE WOOD: One of my favorites reads of the year was Michelle Renee Lane’s Invisible Chains.  The pacing was superb and her vampire… oh, dear.  I wouldn’t mind meeting him to… discuss a few things.  😊  I appreciated the dive into the psyche of the slave who worked inside the mansion rather than in the fields – this perspective is often minimized, if addressed at all.  Add to that the element of magic – such a fantastic read.  I would love to see more buzz about this book.  I am also partial to the vampire anthology, Slay.  Full disclosure – I’m in this one.  That said, the collection of stories here is unique in that they investigate vampirism from different angles, and all through the lens of the African diaspora.  It’s a unique volume that I hope people continue to sink their teeth into (pun intended… and yes, I am that corny!).

ANGELA SLATTER: In this, the Year of the Plague, my reading has been surprisingly thin on the ground – I guess all of my time went into writing and teaching to keep the bills paid in 2020. My 2019 picks, however, are Karen Runge’s Doll Crimes, S.P. Miskowski’s The Worst is Yet to Come, Kaaron Warren’s Oil Into Bones, and J.S. Breukelaar’s Collisions. Oh 2020: Lisa L. Hannett’s Songs for Dark Seasons and Marjorie Liu’s Monstress! In general, always go for Cat Ward, Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Cassandra Khaw, Helen Marshall, Gwendolyn Kiste, Kathy Koja, Lisa Morten, Helen Oyeyemi, Liz Hand, AK Benedict, Marie O’Regan, Alison Littlewood, Linda Addison, Cate Gardner, Livia Llewellyn, Tanith Lee, Tananarive Due, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Robson, Lisa Tuttle, Mariko Koike … obviously not an exhaustive list!

K.P. KULSKI: My favorite book I’ve read this year was Francis Cha’s, If I Had Your Face. It sounds like a horror title, but isn’t technically, but it really hits all the strangeness and horrifying realities of plastic surgery culture, the horrible dehumanizing pressure. That book crumpled me up into a ball and rebuilt me all over again. It’s one of those books that I suddenly think about, like holding a familiar stone, turning it over and over to discover new cracks. The characters were so human and tragic.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Maria Bazterrica is an amazing book and deserves all the buzz. It really makes you think about how society deems who is human and who is not. This is a concept I talk about a lot about when teaching history because it allows a deeper understanding of societies. The concept and the book will make you a bit sick to your stomach.

Patricia Lillie’s collection, The Cuckoo Girls really needs more attention. Lillie is fantastically skilled in writing quiet horror. The reader gets to stand in the lamplight but the monsters are at the edge, just far enough in the shadows to terrify but still mysterious. Her stories are so wonderfully creepy. “In Loco Parentis” and “Mother Sylvia” in particular were chilling. I hope more readers get a chance to discover her work, I highly recommend it!

DONYAE COLES: “The Silence of the Wilting Skin” by Tlotlo Tsamaase. This book was gorgeously written, like a dream and was the horror of a very Black and POC experience, the violence of colonialism and gentrification. It’s classified as science fiction but this was a horror story. I loved it so much.

“Cirque Berserk” by Jessica Guess was great. It was B movie perfection which is so nice to see from a Black woman. So often our work is like, it HAS to have great meaning and this was just fun? It was Black Girl Magic but with bloodshed and I dig that.

“Sed de Sangre” by V. Castro. Erotic horror is one of my favorite things and she just does it really well. It’s bloody, it’s sexy, it’s great.

I also really dug Hailey Piper’s “The Worm and His Kings” and Joanna Koch’s “A Wingspan of Severed Hands”. Cosmic horror done painfully right and these two actually read really great together.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: Oh, my, wasn’t it ever! Definitely a bright spot in an otherwise crazy year. I loved HAIRSPRAY AND SWITCHBLADES by Violet Castro, which came out early in the year through Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series. It was powerful, culturally rich, female led, unapologetically sexual, and packed with action. I loved the different take on the shifter trope, and the bond of the two sisters. The villain, too, was remarkable and well crafted. Cina Pelayo’s INTO THE WOODS AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH was heartbreaking and accessible – a collection of 109 poems about missing women that illustrate how prevalent a problem it is, and how little is often known about them, or done to bring them home. I just read SALTBLOOD by T.C. Parker, as well, which is a fantastic genre blending tale with deft social commentary, mystery elements, and folklore. Very effective, and highly enjoyable.

HAILEY PIPER: Probably the earliest standout was Hexis by Charlene Elsby, which I consumed and adored and have returned to. True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik is a testament to writing about horrid events with gorgeous prose, Lisa Quigley’s Hell’s Bells dug deep into my heart, and then there was the Black Cranes anthology edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn that gathered work by Asian women or women of Asian diaspora, and the stories were incredible. I particularly want to highlight “The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” by Elaine Cuyegkeng; its generational conflict and dissection of expectation and identity absolutely floored me. Crossroads by Laurel Hightower tore at my heart, as did Into the Forest and All the Way Through by Cynthia Pelayo, and I need to stop; I could go on and on.

And that’s it for Part Two in our Women in Horror Month Roundtable! Join us next week for Part Three in our celebration!

Happy reading!

Fearsome and Female: Part One of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome to part one of my annual Women in Horror Month Roundtable! As always, I’m super excited to celebrate Women in Horror Month every February, and this year, I’ve got an incredible group of female authors to spotlight.

So let’s get this fabulous roundtable started, shall we?

Welcome to my 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable! I’m so excited to be talking with all of you! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the horror genre.

JESSICA GUESS: My name is Jessica Guess. I’m the author of Cirque Berserk, the fourth book in the Rewind or Die novella series. I have a blog called Black Girl’s Guide to Horror where I talk about horror movies and books. I’ve been writing horror since around middle school.

GEMMA AMOR: It’s a pleasure to be here! My name is Gemma Amor and I am a horror fiction author, podcaster, voice actor and illustrator from Bristol, in the UK. I’ve been writing full time for around two years, now, and haven’t regretted the decision to go all-in for one second. My written works to date include two short story collections (CRUEL WORKS OF NATURE and THESE WOUNDS WE MAKE), one novel (WHITE PINES), and two novellas (GRIEF IS A FALSE GOD, and the Bram Stoker Award Nominated DEAR LAURA). I am also the co-creator of the comedy-horror audio drama podcast ‘Calling Darkness’, starring Kate Siegel, and regularly feature on the hugely popular NoSleep podcast, a horror fiction anthology show. You can also find me on various other podcasts, a few audiobooks (I recently narrated THE POSSESSION OF NATALIE GLASGOW by Hailey Piper), and my art on a few book covers floating around (including a couple of my own), with more to come.

L. MARIE WOOD: Thank you so much for having me!  My name is L. Marie Wood and I am a psychological horror author.  I’m still getting used to calling myself an award-winning author and screenwriter but I was fortunate enough to win the Golden Stake Award for my second novel, The Promise Keeper, and I’ve had the honor of taking the Best Horror and Best Afrofuturism/Horror/Sci-Fi screenplay awards at a few film festivals, so I guess it applies. My short fiction has been published in several publications including Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire and the Bram Stoker Award Finalist anthology Sycorax’s Daughters.  I am the horror track Director for MultiverseCon, the Director of Curricula and Outreach for the Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction (DWASF.org), and every now and then you might find my nonfiction work popping up in places like Vampfest and the upcoming effort Conjuring Worlds: An Afrofuturist Textbook.

ANGELA SLATTER: My work kind of slips between fairy tales, urban fantasy and horror. There’s always a fairy tale motif in what I do, probably because I regard the original fairy/folk tales as our original horror stories. Stepmothers set to dance in red hot iron shoes, parents deserting children in forests, fathers either eating their children or trying to marry them: horror. I’m the author of four novels, two novellas and ten short story collections.

K.P. KULSKI: It is lovely to participate in this year’s roundtable! Thank you for having me. About me, well, like everyone, I’m a soul wrapped in blood and tissue, the torture of this state began for me in Honolulu, Hawaii. My dad was an American sailor and my mom an immigrant from South Korea, so I’m what some mixed Asian folks identity as, a hapa, which comes with some challenges.

With a parent in the military, I moved around a lot as a kid. As an adult I went on to join the military as well. I served for nine years in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force, which gave me a chance to go to school for my two passions: history and writing.

I am also a mom to two amazing kiddos who are the stars of my life. My husband and I spend most of our time trying to keep up with them. End result, we are very tired.

All my work so far has been in the horror genre, although it often straddles the line between horror and dark fantasy, as well as historical fiction. I’m excited that my debut novel, Fairest Flesh, released at the end of last year. There are also various shorts that can be found in publications such as the Not All Monsters anthology and Unnerving Magazine. I was honored to be among the spotlight poets for the HWA Poetry Showcase. My writer passion is using feminism in my horror, it really is the perfect lens to reveal the painful and all too often common experiences of women.

DONYAE COLES: My name is Donyae Coles and I write primarily weird horror. I def decided I was going to be a writer later in life so I often feel like a little baby writer even though I’m old (I’m in my late 30s). My work tends to be gory, graphic, and very strange. I’m also an artist so in general I spend a lot of time creating. My work tends to be focused on race, gender, and income inequality. The real horror is capitalism, white supremacy, and the patriarchy kiddos. But also sometimes the randomness of a universe that doesn’t care about you, I like to mix it up.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I’m so pleased to be here, thank you! I’m a litigation paralegal and mom to a three year old, and I love bourbon and ghosts. I’ve published a horror novel, WHISPERS IN THE DARK, and a novella, CROSSROADS, and several short stories in anthologies. Last year I worked with Gemma Amor and Cina Pelayo to edit and curate a charity anthology, WE ARE WOLVES, and I’m very proud of it. I’m also one third of the Ink Heist podcast team – we’re a podcast for readers, and interview horror and crime writers, and we usually have a new episode every week.

HAILEY PIPER: Hi, thank you for having me! I’m Hailey Piper, and I write horror and dark fantasy of all kinds, often with a queer agenda. My books include The Worm and His Kings, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow, and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King. I also have a few dozen short stories in places such as Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, anthologies from Grindhouse Press, Cemetery Gates Media, and more. I live with my wife in Maryland, where we spend weekends raising the dead, and you can find me on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays or at www.haileypiper.com.

This is the twelfth year of Women in Horror Month! Do you remember how you first heard about Women in Horror Month, and do you have any special plans for how you’re going to celebrate?

JESSICA GUESS: My novella came out during WIHM last year so I got tagged in some promotional stuff. Before then, I didn’t know there was a Women In Horror month at all. For this year, I’m going to catch up on some books that I missed or didn’t get a chance to finish. I’m reading True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik and I want to finish The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper. I’ll probably also watch a bunch of horror movies but I’m always doing that.

GEMMA AMOR: I think I stumbled across it on Instagram a few years back, being very new to the author scene and very green in general about trends and hashtags and key dates in the publishing and writerly calendar. I love the fact that for a good month, so many of my peers and friends get the boost and lift they need to help raise awareness of them and their work, but I do also wish the onus was as heavy in terms of inclusivity and prevalence of women within the horror genre for the rest of the year, too– it’s not like we cease to exist come March 1st. That being said, I now look forward to the dedicated articles and showcases I know will be circulating throughout February– it tends to be an exciting month for me, now.

Having said that, I have no special plans, per se– just to keep on doing the thing, putting the words down on the page, working hard and lifting as many women as I can, as often as I can– in that sense, it’s pretty much business as usual.

L. MARIE WOOD: I sort of found myself in the middle of Women in Horror Month in the early 2000s.  I can’t remember which  broadcast I was on, but I was brought in as part of this celebration – a celebration I had been unaware of minutes before!  I played along, ‘Woohoo!  Go us!’ and reminded myself to remember that February was important moving forward!

February is my birth month as well as Black History month, so I have always considered it pretty special.  This year the re-release of my vampire novel, The Promise Keeper, will be coming out in February and I will be toasting it as part of my month-long celebration of all things me.

ANGELA SLATTER: I honestly cannot recall! It was a few years ago when someone invited me to participate. I will probably celebrate by writing a horror novella with J.S. Breukelaar.

K.P. KULSKI: For myself, I can think of no better way to celebrate than by writing more horror and continuing being a woman. Luckily, I like both very much. Women in Horror Month really didn’t get on my radar until I was working on my MFA. Progress like this really makes my heart palpitate. Progress and coffee, the fuel I run on.

DONYAE COLES: I do! I was writing a newsletter for this website that doesn’t really exist anymore called Cult Movie Mania like a decade ago. I was looking for my next topic and that’s how I discovered it.

I don’t have any special plans. I do try to consume work by women and boost their books and stories but that’s every month to be honest.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I first heard about it through the Ladies of Horror Fiction – I hadn’t realized it was a thing, and it was so much fun to find all the wonderful books I’d never known I was missing. I imagine I’ll celebrate by reading and lifting up as many women horror writers as I can! I’m so happy to be part of a community that has these kind of recognitions, as a reminder for us to break out of our normal and seek out female voices in horror.

HAILEY PIPER: I first heard about Women in Horror Month in 2018, and I have a distinct memory of that being my first encounter with horror poetry. I grabbed up The Devil’s Dreamland by Sara Tantlinger and I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire Holland, both of which began a fiendish appetite for more dark poems. I can’t say I have special plans to celebrate, as I read women’s horror the most all year, but I’ll definitely be hopping into the Ladies of Horror Fiction reading prompts and trying to hit them all.

And that’s it for Part One of our Women in Horror Month Roundtable. Join us next week as we discuss what draws these authors to the horror genre and their favorite horror books from the last year!

Happy reading!

Wintry Fiction: Submission Roundup for February 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! Lots of great opportunities for February, so If you’ve got a story searching for a home, one of these might be the perfect fit.

First a regular reminder: I’m not a representative for any of these markets. I’m merely spreading the word! Please direct your questions to their respective editors.

And now onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Luna Station Quarterly
Payment: $5/flat
Length: 500 to 7,000 words
Deadline: February 15th, 2021
What They Want: The editors are seeking speculative fiction penned by female-identifying authors.
Find the details here.

Kaleidotrope
Payment: .01/word for fiction; $5/flat for poetry
Length: 250 to 10,000 words
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction and poetry.
Find the details here.

Good Southern Witches
Payment: $25/flat
Length: 2,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking speculative stories about witches based in the southern United States.
Find the details here.

Dark Hearts
Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,000 to 6,000 words
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking horror stories about heartbreak.
Find the details here.

Triangulation: Habitats
Payment: .03/word for fiction; .25/line for poetry
Length: up to 5,000 words for fiction (3,000 words preferred); up to 100 lines for poetry
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: For the latest installment of the Triangulation anthology series, the editors are seeking speculative fiction and poetry that deal with sustainable habitats.
Find the details here.

Dark Carnival
Payment: $10/flat
Length: 3,000 to 8,000 words
Deadline: March 10th, 2021
What They Want: Macabre Ladies Publishing is seeking horror stories about carnivals and circuses.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

THE INVENTION OF GHOSTS is on the Preliminary Bram Stoker Awards Ballot!

So I’m absolutely honored and thrilled and shocked that my occult horror novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, is on the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards.

*cue shrieks of joy*

Now as always, it’s important to note that this is NOT a nomination; this is only the preliminary ballot. Voting officially opens on Monday with the ballot announced next month. But to make it this far is such an incredible honor, and I’m so excited and surprised and humbled about this.

The Invention of Ghosts is among the most personal things I’ve ever written, and it’s a story that’s secretly been one of my very favorites of all my writing, so to say this is exciting is a major understatement. I’ve been seriously bursting with joy ever since the preliminary ballot was released last week, and that excitement is yet to fade.

So before I keep going on and on about this, let’s turn it out to a few reviewers and what they’ve had to say about The Invention of Ghosts!

The Invention of Ghosts captures the essence of Kiste’s impressive body of work to date, in this gripping tale of a protagonist the reader should not turn their back on for a second.” — A.E. Siraki, author and reviewer

“This was an amazing look at the memory and the friendship between the two girls in the book. When the story was finished my heart hurt for awhile.” — The Misadventures of a Reader

“It is a stunning metaphor for how we leave behind—either accidentally, or purposefully—people whom we care about, and a warning against hiding away from the world… Highly recommended.” — Cemetery Dance

The Invention of Ghosts is not only a horror story, it’s a tale of friendship and memories and dreams. It reminds us that as we try to escape our past, we sometimes create a future that is a different kind of a trap. I highly recommend this beautifully rendered tale.” — Suz Jay, author and reviewer

The iMailer newsletter from HWA went out earlier this week, which included a special link to download The Invention of Ghosts, but if you missed that email, then it bears repeating: if you’re an Active or Lifetime member and would like to read The Invention of Ghosts, please email me at gwendolyn@gwendolynkiste.com, and I would be absolutely thrilled to send you a copy!

So many huge congrats to everyone on the preliminary ballot! What an incredible group of authors! I’m truly so thrilled to be among so many fantastic horror creators and friends! And yes, I know I say it each and every year, but what a wonderful year for horror! Here’s to another great one in 2021!

Happy reading!

Writing Revelation: Interview with Donna J.W. Munro

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight Donna J.W. Munro! Donna is the author of numerous short stories, poetry, as well as her debut novel, Revelation: Poppet Cycle Book One.

Recently, Donna and I discussed her new novel as well as her inspiration as an author!

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

I’ve always been a writer, but I think it really clicked for me when I took my first college level writing class. I did it with my husband and my awesome father in law. We encouraged each other and in that class, my icky stories got visceral reactions from the critiquers.  There’s magic in moving people to anger or excitement or fear with the words you’ve crafted. It felt witchy to me, so of course I wanted more. I think that’s when I first started to submit my writing with an inkling that I could become an author.

Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, the dark fantasy/cozy horror masters are at the top of my list of favorites, but Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon probably shaped my storytelling more than anything. I love making the monster an object of love, not pity. Turning the tables in a story and subverting horror into a romance between the subject and the reader fascinates me. Current authors I read with this sort of “turn the trope inside out” mastery include Nalo Hopkinson, Lucy Snyder, and (ahem) Gwen Kiste.

Congratulations on your new novel, Revelation: Poppet Cycle Book One! What can you share about your process for writing this particular book?

This is my first published novel, though I’ve written others. My process is pretty straight forward. I start with an idea. What if the dead could be revived as servants to do the jobs we hate? Then I start to think about who should tell the story. In this first book, my protagonist is a 16 year-old rich girl benefiting from the production of the dead. I had this image of a girl loving this dead thing that followed her and did things for her. I’m a history teacher, so my long fascination with the  screwed up zeitgeist of the Antebellum south informed the society of my book. Kids in the old south loved their enslaved caregivers like mothers and played with enslaved children like they were brothers. But at some point that love had to be crushed out of them so that they could become slave owners.

That process horrifies me. Brainwashed people growing up with this scar on their souls. And how terrible for the enslaved people to have to love these people who’d eventually turn on them.

This story isn’t about southern US slavery, but that zeitgeist shaped the conflict my protagonist is feeling. She’s on the cusp of adulthood and facing that change.

That conflict births all the others in the book.

I like to start my plotting with “One Page Novel.” It’s a brilliant method I learned in a class you can access at The Lady Writers League. There’s even a template for scrivener based on the program that I use to keep track of things.

Other than that, it’s butt in chair, fingers on keys, and suffering right along with my characters.

Your poem, “Call the CCC, Your Psychic Repair Team,” was recently published in the HWA Poetry Showcase, Volume VII anthology. What can you tell us about the inspiration for this particular poem?

That’s a fun story. I love writing short stories, especially flash fiction. Poems are a  mystery to me. I’m stunned by the work Stephanie Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, Anton Cancre, Marge Simon, and Linda Addison are doing. Horror and beauty and words that weave a dream. I’m stunned by them all the time. That said, I do a weekly flash fiction contest at Obsidian Flash where we post prompts and I usually do story after story. One week it was a circle of robed acolytes with their arms raised around a busted up car. The poem flowed out and I giggled the entire time I wrote it.

You’ve written a wide variety of work, from poetry to short fiction to novels. Do you have a favorite form as a writer? How does your approach differ (or stay the same) depending on the length of the work?

I love writing a good short story. There’s nothing like achieving a beginning, middle, and end along with character growth and conflict in 1000 words or less. About three years ago, when I emerged from a serious low point that lasted years, I started the Ray Bradbury approach to short fiction. He said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” That changed my life! Since then, short stories have written me through bad times and depression and isolation. My best medicine is completing a story every weekend, no matter what ails me.

I’m a total pantser for a short story. I look at a prompt and start writing. Usually, something very close to the end product tumbles out of me.

For novels, I’m a plotter at first and a pantser inside of the scenes. Still, I’m much more deliberate in the long works because I don’t have a mind for detail.

Do you have any particular writing rituals, such as writing with music or writing at a certain time of day?

I like loud, old music, anything 60s-90’s I don’t have a ritual because I’m a teacher. I have to write when I don’t have other things going on, sometimes in the morning. Sometimes in classes when the kids don’t need me, I get 500 words in. Mostly I force myself to write between 5 and 7pm because that’s manageable with the rest of my life.

Also I’m lazy so I need the block of time I set out to be like my “job.” Thank goodness for my supportive hubby. I disappear every day and when I come back he tells me how proud he is.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: brainstorming new ideas, working on a first draft, or editing your work?

The longer I’m at this, the more I like the polish. My first draft is usually really complete, but it’s that last 10% that makes the work shine. I have an incredible developmental editor, Anna LaVoie at Literally Yours Editing, who helps me tease out real character depth. I love getting the edits from her… little fixes make all the difference.

Grammar editing? That sucks.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing a story a week and sending them out to find homes all the time. Anyone interested in my short stories can check my website for updates on what’s being published where. Aside from that, Runaway: Poppet Cycle 2 is in polish edits and Revolution: Poppet Cycle 3 is about halfway written.

Huge thanks to Donna Munro! Find her online at her author website as well as Facebook and Twitter!

Happy reading!

Mold, Leeches, and Speculative Fiction: Interview with Rick Claypool

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today I’m thrilled to feature author Rick Claypool. Rick is the author of The Mold Farmer and Leech Girl Lives.

Recently, Rick and I discussed his inspiration as an author as well as his favorite parts of the writing process.

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

I was always making up weird creatures and stories when I was a kid. There was one point when I decided I was going to write a book of short stories based on Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. I was like 10 and I don’t think I got much further than designing a cover with drippy skulls and things. I started taking writing seriously in college, when my professors turned me on to boundary-pushing writers like Samuel Beckett and Kathy Acker. I wanted to write bleak, hilarious books. Bleak, hilarious, and minimalist. I always sort of have one foot in the like, weird speculative fiction camp and one foot in the offbeat literary camp. There are so many authors I’m excited about right now. Brian Evenson, Aliya Whiteley, Oliver Zarandi, Lincoln Michel. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on by Joy Williams and Sam Pink. I could go on and on.

Congratulations on the recent release of your novella, The Mold Farmer! How did this particular story develop?

Thank you! The initial idea for The Mold Farmer was to tell the story of a character caught up in and utterly exploited and pretty much destroyed by a system that doesn’t care at all about humanity. So, capitalism. But capitalism taken even further than its current extremes, because in the post-apocalyptic world of The Mold Farmer, it is these non-human beings who are in charge. They have no qualms about just completely using people up and throwing them away when they’re finished with them. So, more like Lovecraftian horror capitalism. I mean, there have been political cartoons since the Gilded Age depicting capitalists and corporations as monstrous tentacled things, squids and such. Also, there are parts where the main character really really really has to pee, and these were inspired by a time when I really really really had to pee.

Your debut novel, Leech Girl Lives, was released in 2017. What was the inspiration for it?

Capitalism again! Haha. Ok to be more specific, supply chains. Sorry if this sounds super dull. So many products come from raw materials that are extracted from the earth under incredibly dangerous, exploitative conditions and then assembled under incredibly dangerous, exploitative conditions and then sold to us in a way that completely erases this production process, as if rather than some other country with underpaid workers and lax labor laws, they’ve been handed down from some sort of near-future technological utopia. And I wanted to explore all of this through a weird as hell, pulpy sci-fi page turner. So (spoiler alert!) what Leech Girl Lives does is ask, what if instead of people on one continent enjoying the spoils of people being exploited on another continent, it was people from the future enjoying the spoils of people being exploited in the past?

How has 2020 affected your writing, either in the themes you’re writing about or your productivity overall?

Since March, I haven’t been able to write anything besides the reports I write for my day job. (I’m a research director for Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting corporate power.) Because for the most part when I’m not working, I’m parenting. Or panicking. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration. This year has been just so exhausting. I started playing video games again for the first time since I was in my teens. Hollow Knight has been terrible for my productivity. But good for my mental health, I think.

Your work often delves into speculative territory, in particular science fiction with a focus on environmental themes. What draws you to this area of literature?

I like to play around with big ideas. Big ideas and big emotions. And I like making up weird creatures and horrible situations. And the weirder the creatures and the more horrible the situations, the more interesting the story is to me. So I guess science fiction is the category that most lets me get away with doing the stuff I want to do. I get excited every time I find an excuse to add another monster to the story I’m working on. And if I’m interested and having fun writing the story, I think that comes through for readers.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: developing new ideas, working on a first draft, or polishing up an almost finished project?

Developing new ideas. It’s where the surprises live, and it happens at every stage of the writing process. Specifically my favorite part is working through narrative problems, like when I need to figure out a way to get the characters to do something in a way that’s plausible in the context of the story and honest for the characters and also unexpected. I want my readers to think that anything could happen. So when I have an idea that surprises me in a way that makes me laugh out loud and scribble it down and wonder how the hell I’ll ever pull it off, that’s the best.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m about 100 pages into this insane novel about these creatures that have been poisoned by magic pollution. They all live in this shitty town on the moon. Three creatures in particular go on a quest in response to a mysterious message from Earth, a cry for help. All my stuff is kind of weird but when it’s finished I think it’ll be the first of my books you could properly categorize as bizarro. What I’m going for is something like Aqua Teen Hunger Force meets Russell Edson. The working title is Super Worm Moon. I’ve hardly been able to work on it at all over the past year, but I think I just came up with the ending like last week.

Where can we find you online?

Oh crap I need to update my website. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, @weirdstrug. I post too much. A lot of it is just mushroom photos. Really cool mushroom photos though! The website is rickclaypool.org.

Big thanks to Rick Claypool for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

New Year, New Literature: Submission Roundup for January 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! January has a ton of fantastic opportunities, so if you’ve got a story looking for a home, then perhaps one of these markets will be the perfect outlet.

As always, a disclaimer: I’m not a representative for any of these publications; I’m merely spreading the word! Please direct any questions to their respective editors.

And with that, onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Planet Scumm
Payment: .02/word
Length: 2,000 to 6,000 words
Deadline: January 10th, 2021
What They Want: Guest edited by Hailey Piper, this issue of the magazine is seeking speculative fiction stories specifically from cisgender women, transgender women, transgender men, non-binary people, and genderqueer people.
Find the details here.

Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness
Payment: .08/word
Length: up to 6,000 words
Deadline: January 15th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology from Neon Hemlock Press is seeking queer witch stories with a speculative fiction element.
Find the details here.

Electric Spec
Payment: $20/flat
Length: 250 to 7,000 words
Deadline: January 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction.
Find the details here.

Uncanny
Payment: $40/poem
Length: any length
Deadline: January 18th, 2021
What They Want: Open to speculative fiction poetry.
Find the details here.

34 Orchard
Payment: $50/flat
Length: 1,000 to 7,500 words for fiction; any length for poetry
Deadline: January 31st, 2021
What They Want: A new publication that’s seeking dark fiction and poetry that’s intense, unsettling, scary, and/or sad.
Find the details here.

Mythic
Payment: .01/word
Length: 2,000 to 6,000 words
Deadline: January 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to diverse fantasy and science fiction.
Find the details here.

Diabolical Plots
Payment: .10/word
Length: 3,500 words or less
Deadline: January 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction.
Find the details here.

Triangulation: Habitats
Payment: .03/word for fiction; .25/line for poetry
Length: up to 5,000 words for fiction (3,000 words preferred); up to 100 lines for poetry
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: For the latest installment of the Triangulation anthology series, the editors are seeking speculative fiction and poetry that deal with sustainable habitats.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

The Horror, the Horror: 2020 Award Eligibility Post

2020 is officially in the rearview mirror. It still seems strange even writing that sentence but here we are. And here I am, once again with a year in review post. As always, it feels strange putting together posts like this, but at the very least, it’s nice to take a look at the year that was, despite its obvious difficulties.

So here we go, once more unto the breach!

Boneset & Feathers (Broken Eye Books, November 2020)
Witches, witchfinders, ghost birds, oh my! My second novel was released in November from Broken Eye Books! It’s been named a top horror book of the year at Library Journal (also, major shout-out to Becky Spratford, Cody Daigle-Orians, and Stephanie Klose for all their hard work putting together this year’s Library Journal picks in the horror genre). Cemetery Dance has said of the book that “[by] the time you hurtle toward the epic conclusion, you will be wowed and left wanting more from this master storyteller and weaver of magic tales” and Sci-Fi and Scary says it’s “[recommended] for fans of coming of age, witches, and more.” So many thanks to Scott Gable at Broken Eye Books for ushering my witches into the world!

In the Rose-Colored House Where They Died (Thunderstorm Books, November 2020)
My second standalone novella made its debut in November as a limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Book’s Tempest line, and it sold out immediately. It’s all about a house of possessed girls and the dubious exorcists who come to “cure” them. I will eventually include this one in a collection down the road, but for now, it will just be that mysterious novella of mine that only a handful of people have read (which actually sounds like the start of a story unto itself). So many thanks to Paul Goblirsch and Mary SanGiovanni; it was an absolute joy working with both of them on this book!

The Invention of Ghosts (Nightscape Press, January 2020)
Way back in the long ago world of last January, my very first novelette was released through Nightscape Press’s Charitable Chapbook series! One-third of all proceeds from the book go to the National Aviary. Big thanks to Jennifer and Robert Wilson for releasing this strange, surreal tale of hauntings, toxic friendship, and the occult. This story is one I hold close to my heart, so I’m very glad that it sold out its limited edition paperback run. That being said, the eBook version is still available, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, you can still hang out with me and my ghosts!

The Maid from the Ash: A Life in Pictures” (Weird Whispers, January 2020)
This was the first of my short stories from last year, and a personal favorite overall. Told in a series of museum exhibits, a young girl is whisked away from her remote home “for her own good,” only for everyone to realize too late that she—and everybody else—was better off when she was left alone. This story appeared in the debut issue of Nightscape Press’s Weird Whispers. I know that editors Jennifer and Robert Wilson have some great content planned for future issues, so definitely keep an eye on this magazine!

Lost Girls Don’t Cry” (Places We Fear to Tread, Cemetery Gates, September 2020)
The folklore legend of Crybaby Bridge serves as a backdrop for this tale of sisterly love, loss, and strange girls who’d rather be lost than found. This is a fantastic anthology, and I’m so happy that I got to be part of it. It was a wonderful experience working with Cemetery Gates, and I look forward to all the awesome books they’ve got coming soon.

“The Princes She’s Forgotten” (Survive With Me: A Charity Anthology, November 2020)
In this dark fairy tale, a so-called villainess is slayed again and again on behalf of the kingdom’s princesses, only to realize that she must take back her power on her own if she’s going to make it through another night. All the proceeds from Survive with Me benefit the American Indian College Fund. A great cause, a great editor, and a great table of contents!

I also had four short nonfiction pieces published, including “The H Word: The Horror of Solitude” at Nightmare Magazine as well as three articles at the Tor Nightfire blog: a Women in Horror feature, a Historical Horror spotlight, and a list of female-penned horror that need film adaptations. A definite goal for 2021 is to write more short nonfiction, so fingers crossed that I keep to that goal.

And last but in no way least, for the first time ever, my fiction is now available in translation! “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” was translated in Russian for Darker Magazine and Spanish for Crononauta. Then The Rust Maidens made its debut in Spanish through Dilatando Mentes Editorial and in French through Editions du Chat Noir. This is truly one of the most exciting and delightful things to happen in my writing career. I never thought I’d have translations of my fiction, and it still doesn’t seem real even now.

For the first time ever, my work was also featured in a year’s best anthology, and as it happens, two different year’s best anthologies! “A New Mother’s Guide to Raising an Abomination” appeared in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 5, while “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” appear in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020.

As for other good news, there are two tremendous things that happened to me in 2020. First off, in April, I won two Bram Stoker Awards, for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction for “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” and for the brand-new category of Superior Achievement in Short Nonfiction for “Magic, Madness, and Women that Creep: The Power of Individuality in the Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” I’m honestly not sure it’s sunk in even now that I have three Stokers sitting on my shelf. All I can say is thank you so very, very much to everyone who’s read and supported my work; it absolutely means the world to me. Thank you thank you thank you. Seriously.

And finally, the last piece of incredible news from 2020 is that I signed a two-book deal with Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. I’ve been completely in love with Saga Press’s books for years, so it is no exaggeration to say that this is an utter dream come true. The first book, Reluctant Immortals, is due out in 2022. This is a spin-off of sorts of both “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” as well as my horror story, “The Woman Out of the Attic,” which was originally published in Haunted House Short Stories from Flame Tree Publishing and reprinted at Pseudopod. The new book will follow Lucy Westenra from Dracula and Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre as they face off with the toxic men from their pasts, all set to a backdrop of 1960s California. It’s basically everything I love all wrapped up in one book, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

So that’s it for 2020. What an undeniably challenging year it was, but here’s to hoping that 2021 is at least a little bit kinder to all of us.

Happy reading, and happy New Year!