The Skull Queen: Interview with Emily B. Cataneo

Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to spotlight the talented Emily B. Cataneo. Emily is a widely published author, and her fiction has appeared in Black Static, Interzone, and The Dark, among other publications. Her debut collection, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories, came out earlier this spring from Trepidatio Publishing, an imprint of JournalStone.

Recently, Emily and I discussed her evolution and inspiration as a writer as well as her plans for the future (which yes, do include a project with me!).

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

Emily CataneoIcebreakers are good! So I first decided to become a writer when I was a little kid obsessed with children’s books written by women about characters who wanted to be writers. I loved those characters, and I also loved reading and making up stories, so I figured, hey, why don’t I do this forever? I think lots of bookish children want to become authors when they grow up, but they forget about it as they grow older. I guess I forgot to forget!

As for my favorites: as a burgeoning young writer, I was deeply influenced by Victorian Gothic authors such as the Brontë sisters and Oscar Wilde, as well as by more modern classics such as Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. The contemporary authors who’ve influenced and inspired me the most are Kelly Link, Karen Russell, Karen Joy Fowler, Margo Lanagan and Catherynne Valente. But I’m always discovering new books that I love; my favorites so far this year were Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night and Clare Beams’ We Show What We Have Learned: And Other Stories.

Congratulations on your debut collection, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories! What inspired you to put together your first collection, and what was the process like as you selected the stories for the table of contents?

Thank you! After returning from my time at the Clarion Writers Workshop last year, I started thinking about the projects I wanted to tackle for the rest of 2016, and one of those projects was putting together a short story collection. I realized I’d published a set of stories in 2014 and 2015 that all fit together and spoke to each other thematically, and that would work well together as a book. Then, lo and behold, Jess Landry over at JournalStone messaged me to ask if I had a collection to submit to her open reading period. Why yes, Jess, I did indeed! I think thematic cohesion is one of the most important elements of a short story collection, and so I selected the aforementioned thematically similar stories, as well as a few others that I’d written around the same time, and sent them off.

Many of your stories deal with fairy tales, turn-of-the-century Europe, and the dance world. What is it about these themes that inspire you over and over again to write beautiful and haunting tales? Also, have you studied dance yourself?

Speaking to Skull KingsI think the origin of aesthetic influence is always such a complicated question, because these preferences are often not logical choices. That is, it’s not as though I make a conscious decision every time I sit down to write that I’m going to draw on fairy tales, early-twentieth-century Europe, and dance, but you’re quite right that I am intrinsically drawn to these as concepts, settings and themes. The best explanation that I can come up with is that these aesthetics remind me of the stories and images that fascinated me as a child, that they appeal to me on a sort of atavistic gut level. And then, of course, my zeal for these aesthetics becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, wherein the more I write about, say, early-twentieth-century Europe, the more I read about it and learn about it and visit Europe, and the more inspired I become to continue to write about it.

As for dance: the funny thing is that I’m absolutely, completely, truly horrible at dance. I am a graceless and clunky wretch who can run in a straight line for ten miles, but cannot bend my feet into anything remotely resembling an arch without my muscles seizing up in excruciating pain. Seriously. That being said, I love performance, opera, ballet: I’m intrigued by the strength of secret muscles and the precision of movement required to dance classically, and of course, the aesthetic can’t be beat. Maybe in another life, I’ll be a Russian ballet dancer myself. But not this one.

Is there a particular time period or theme that you haven’t yet incorporated in your work that you’re looking forward to exploring in the future?

My Clarion classmate Jenn Grunigen challenged me last summer to write some stories with the Emily aesthetic but set in space, or drawing on other soft science fictional concepts. I’ve dabbled with some ideas that meet that challenge, and haven’t finished anything yet, but I’d certainly like to!

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, crafting dialogue, or establishing setting?

The answer varies between short and long fiction. For short fiction, I love establishing a mood and atmosphere via setting more than anything. I’m a very visual person, and drawing on all the images and tableau kicking around in my head, then connecting them with theme and plot and all those other story elements, is one of my greatest joys in short story writing.

But when it comes to novellas and novels, I’m all about developing characters. The great fun of writing a novel is that you get to snuggle in (and by “snuggle in” I mean “go on a harrowing and disturbing journey”) and really get to know your characters, to watch them change and grow in your writerly hands. You feel as though you’ve gone through something with them, by the end of it.

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

My favorite published piece of mine is “Evangeline and the Forbidden Lighthouse,” which appeared in Interzone this month. This story includes a. ocean magic, b. questions of free will versus fate, c. class tensions on the coast of Maine, and d. female friendship. What’s not to love?

What projects are you currently working on?

I usually have one or two short stories cooking up, and right now is no exception, but my current big projects are a revision of my first novel, which is a fairytale-inspired story about four girls and a death omen that takes place in Germany in 1914, and a novelette that I’m collaborating on with Gwendolyn, which involves coercion and magic and ballet.

Big thanks to Emily B. Cataneo for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author website as well as Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading!

Horror in the Garden: Interview with Jessica McHugh

Welcome back! Today, I’m excited to feature author Jessica McHugh. Jessica is a prolific speculative fiction writer of novels, short stories, poetry, and plays. Her work includes Rabbits in the Garden, The Darla Decker Diaries, and The Train Derails in Boston, among many others.

Recently, Jessica and I discussed her evolution as a storyteller as well as what she has planned 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?

Jessica McHugh I’ve always loved telling stories and entertaining people. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I wrote short stories, poetry, and songs—I even wrote a terrible screenplay—but I didn’t start taking it seriously until I was almost twenty. I read a lot while working eleven hours a day in a mall perfume kiosk, but it was collections by HP Lovecraft and my favorite author, Roald Dahl, that kicked my writing into high gear. Once I picked up that pen to write a Dahl-esque story, I was pleasantly doomed. After that, I was writing a new short story every day, and after reading “The Silmarillion,” I was inspired to write a fantasy novel called “Maladrid.” I spent entire shifts at this perfume kiosk building the world of Dominhydor, where I would set four novels. Over the next few years I wrote obsessively, anything I could, trying to find my style, and without any thought of publication. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four and met my husband that I decided to start submitting my work. His love and support made me feel invincible. Still does.

As for my other favorite authors, I adore Bret Easton Ellis, Anne Rice, Damien Angelica Walters, Danger Slater, Michael Arnzen, and still love reading Beverly Clearly.

You’re a prolific writer with numerous short stories, poetry, plays, novellas and novels to your name. Do you have a preferred medium that is your favorite, or do you find that it depends more on the story itself to help you determine which medium to use (or possibly a bit of both)?

I try to let the story determine the medium, but I’ve gotten it wrong a few times. A few years ago, I wrote an entire mixed-media stage play before realizing it worked better as a novel, and I’m still in the process of converting it. For the most part I’m sticking to short stories and novels these days because of deadlines, but I would love to write a full length play again. Publication is fantastic, but it’s difficult to top the joy of watching people bring your characters to life. The Colne Egname Performing Theatre in the UK had their opening night of my play “Fools Call it Fate” last week, and I wish I could’ve been there.

Still, I think novels are my toast and jam. I love getting into the nitty gritty in a way that other mediums don’t always allow.

Do you have a specific routine as a writer? For example, do you write for a certain number of hours per day or have a daily word count that you like to reach? Are you a work in silence kind of writer, or do you prefer music while you write (and if so, what kind)?

Deadlines and inspirado influence my routine. I work on multiple projects at once, so I jump around a lot during the day, but unless I’m doing NaNoWriMo, I don’t aim for a word count; I aim to make my words count. Writing is hard enough that it seems overkill to punish myself if I have an off day and don’t hit a goal. I also consider inactive things like plotting, yoga, daydreaming, and recharging after work/emotion-heavy days to be part of the writing process, so having a word count goal wouldn’t serve me much.

I spend most of the morning and afternoon in my Writing Hut, editing, typing up handwritten work, and grooving to Spotify. I have several playlists tailored for certain stages of writing. My TypeyTypey list is a mix of all my favorite songs and genres for listening (and dancing!) while typing. INKstrumental is for first-drafting, and it’s the playlist I use for creative writing workshops. I also have lists built for an extra nudge of novel inspirado, like pop hits and new releases for the Darla Decker Diaries and 70’s bands for “Hares in the Hedgerow.”

If you follow me online, you also know that bars are a big part of my process. After hours of being in the Hut, I sometimes need to escape, and I love writing during Happy Hour. Well, except for when people bug me, which happens more than I’d like. Still, I love catching sparks of inspirado from strangers’ emotions and conversations, and I’ve written “The End” on several novels while sitting at a downtown bar.

I’d like to say that my workday ends there, but after I greet my husband after work and we have dinner, I often return to a project until bedtime.

You’ve been working in the publishing industry for an enviable number of years now. What advice do you have for authors who are just starting out? In particular, any tips on time management or how best to deal with rejection?

Rabbits in the GardenAuthenticity is key—unless you’re an authentic asshole, I guess. 😉 In all seriousness, you need to be genuine, hardworking, humble, and grateful in this business. I’ve been fortunate to befriend writers and publishers who’ve supported and helped me on this journey, and I believe it’s partly because of my personality. I want to learn and grow as a writer, and I’m thankful for every opportunity I’m given in that regard. I’m awed each and every day that this is my life. I’m poor as hell, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t finish college, and I still make and teach art for a living.

However, I don’t want new writers to emulate my life. It took me a lot of years to work up to tackling multiple projects, and I’ll be the first to admit that my artistic obsessions border on unhealthy. So many writers have so many different methods, that you really need to sample everything to see what works for you. And that takes time. Don’t be in a rush to publish. Experiment and explore and discover what kind of writer you are and what’s going to give you the most joy. In a business that’s fraught with rejection, you’re gonna need that joy as much as possible.

In your vast bibliography, what was the hardest piece to write? Conversely, was there one that was the easiest?

My very first novel “Maladrid” was the hardest to write because I could never edit out 19-year-old Jess. No matter how many times I rewrote it, the writing always came off immature and stilted. I found my footing in the following novels of the Dominhydor series, but “Maladrid” remained a mess.

“The Green Kangaroos” was the easiest, which is funny because it was my first attempt at writing a novel in 30 days for NaNoWriMo. I gave myself plenty of opportunity to crash and burn. But because it’s the most personal of my novels and I plotted every single detail before starting, I flew through it with way too much excitement for a book about shooting drugs into your nethers.

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

Again, “The Green Kangaroos.” First drafting was so much fun, and I really got into the character. Every part of the process was a delight, and though I chickened out sending it to the intended publisher, I was so excited it was the one that allowed me to be part of the Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing family. The special edition of “Rabbits in the Garden” from Post Mortem Press with illustrations from Philip R. Rogers is a close second.

What projects are you currently working on?

Oh dear, so much. I’m still editing “Hares in the Hedgerow,” the sequel to “Rabbits in the Garden,” and I’m about to start a YA horror novella called “Who Died in the House Next Door.” I’m also doing the A Story A Week challenge again (previously defeated in 2014), but this time I’m writing flash stories that comprise a sort-of composite novel called “Webworm.” It’s been really interesting because I didn’t do any outlining, there are no character names, and with every new story I’m discovering new Lynchian subplots. It’s been a wild ride, and I’m only twenty-two stories into it.

Where can we find you online?

I’m on FB at www.facebook.com/author.JessicaMcHugh, and on Twitter and IG as theJessMcHugh. I have a Patreon at www.patreon.com/thejessmchugh where I’m posting unedited “Webworm” stories, and I have plenty of lovely things on Amazon at www.amazon.com/author/jessicamchugh. I love discussing fiction and sharing inspirado, so don’t be afraid to drop me a line. Unless you’re afraid of the word “cunt.” I use it quite a bit, ya beautiful cunts.

Big thanks to Jessica McHugh for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Superlative Prose: Interview with Damien Angelica Walters

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to welcome writer Damien Angelica Walters. Damien is the supremely accomplished author of both short fiction and novels. Her stories have appeared in Nightmare, Shimmer, Black Static, and Apex among others, and she has been nominated twice for the Bram Stoker Award. Her novel, Paper Tigers, was released last year through Dark House Press, and her second short fiction collection, Cry Your Way Home, is due out from Apex Publications later this year.

Recently, Damien and I discussed her evolution as a writer as well as what we can expect next from her illustrious career.

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

Damien Angelica WaltersThere really wasn’t a conscious decision to be a writer, but there was a decision to try and become a published writer. Before that, I wrote mostly for myself. Though I don’t write much poetry these days, the first pieces I had published were poems.

Some of my favorite classic authors are Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, and Peter Straub. With respect to newer authors, I’d go with Gillian Flynn, Alex Marwood, Megan Abbott, Colson Whitehead, and Paul Tremblay.

You are a supremely accomplished writer of both short stories and novels. Do you find that your process differs between the two? Is there one medium you prefer overall as a storyteller?

Thank you. What I prefer is usually whatever I’m working on at any given moment. I try to give my all to the current project whether it’s an 80k novel or a 5k story as I don’t feel one form is of lesser value than the other.

I often write a short story based off a single sentence or two without thinking too much about what happens next, just letting the story emerge as I write and then patching up all the holes afterward. That’s how I wrote novels for quite a while, but last year, I decided to keep a running outline of a novel as I wrote it and was then able to better see the story arc which made editing so much easier. Now I’m attempting to write a full outline first before starting the first draft.

In truth, I find short stories often harder to write because there’s no room for too much backstory, for side plots, for the sort of character development you can tackle with a novel. But you also need to have enough to make a satisfying story. It’s a balance and sometimes it’s hard to find.

Your second collection, Cry Your Way Home, is due out later this year from Apex. How was your approach to this collection similar to your approach when you were putting together Sing Me Your Scars? How was the process different?

Sing Me Your ScarsThe approach was very much the same, although I had a larger pool of stories to select from this time around. Both times, I listed the stories I was thinking of including in a master spreadsheet and then broke down each story by setting, tense, format, ending, etc. A process of elimination followed until I had a list of definites and maybes. With Cry Your Way Home, I enlisted the help of a few people to help narrow the list of maybes. Once I had the final story list, I made the final determination as to the opening, middle, and closing stories and played mix and match until I had a table of contents I was happy with. Then I re-edited every story, and it’s always fun to revisit a story after a long period of time.

The biggest difference between the two collections is that Cry Your Way Home is comprised of all reprints, whereas Sing Me Your Scars was a mix of reprints and original fiction.

Since your first published stories in 2011, you’ve accomplished so much as an author with two published novels, dozens of short stories, and multiple award wins and nominations. What are your goals over the coming years? More novels and collections? Perhaps a novella? Total world domination?

My goals are much the same as they’ve always been: to keep writing and hopefully crafting work that people will want to read. There’s more that I want, of course, but a great deal of it isn’t under my control, so I try not to expend too much emotional energy on such things. I’m not always successful, but I do try.

Now that you’ve been part of the publishing industry for several years, do you find that your day-to-day perspective has changed (i.e. approaching writing more as a marathon rather than a sprint)? Also, how do you keep yourself inspired through the rejection and other setbacks that tend to go hand-in-hand with a writing career?

Paper TigersI’m far more realistic about the business now than I was in the beginning. I think, no matter how much you read and research, you really don’t know what it’s like until you’re in the midst of it. The business can be wonderful, it can be disheartening, and the only thing you can control is the act of writing.

I’ve a thick skin when it comes to rejections, but every now and again one will arrive that takes the wind out of my sails for a few days. Then I get back on the boat and keep going because there’s really no other alternative.

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

With respect to my short stories, I have a few favorites for a few different reasons. “Like Origami in Water” will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first pro-rate sale, “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” because it was my first award nomination, and “The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter” because it started as nothing more than a silly title and a comment about Barbie dolls. But I have a few new favorites, too, that will appear in various publications later this year.

What projects are you currently working on?

As I mentioned above, I’m working on an outline for a new novel and I’m also writing several solicited short stories. Of late, I’ve been contemplating a shift to a heavier focus on novels with the occasional short story but we’ll see what happens.

Big thanks to Damien Angelica Walters for being this week’s featured author! Find her online at her author site and on Twitter!

Happy reading!

Summer Writing: Submission Roundup for June 2017

Welcome back to this month’s Submission Roundup! Today’s post shines a light on some great submission calls, including ones that close at the end of this month as well as those that are still open for a little while, giving you plenty of time to polish up those tales!

As always, I’m not a representative for any of these publications. I am simply spreading the word! Please direct any questions you might have about a particular submission window to the respective publication.

And with that, let’s get started with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission RoundupRiddled with Arrows
Payment: .03/word for original fiction and poetry (minimum $5; maximum $25); $5/flat for reprints
Length: up to 1,500 words
Deadline: June 10th, 2017
What They Want: Open to various genres, the editors seek metafiction and metapoetry about the art of writing itself.
Find the details here.

The Misbehaving Dead
Payment: $15/flat
Length: up to 10,000 words
Deadline: June 13th, 2017
What They Want: For their next anthology, A Murder of Storytellers is open to horror stories about the deceased who won’t stay dead.
Find the details here.

Welcome to Miskatonic University
Payment: .08/word
Length: up to 1,000 words for flash; 3,000-6,000 words for short stories
Deadline: June 30th, 2017
What They Want: Cthulhu mythos stories set at the college campus of Miskatonic University.
Find the details here.

Third Flatiron
Payment: .06/word
Length: 1,500-3,000 words
Deadline: July 15th, 2017
What They Want: This issue’s theme is Strange Beasties. Open to different speculative genres, the featured creatures in the stories can be monsters or not, so long as they are “strange.”
Find the details here.

Mental Ward: Stories from the Asylum Volume 2
Payment: $25/flat
Length: 4,000-8,000 words
Deadline: July 31st, 2017
What They Want: Horror stories set in sanatoriums, mental wards, or psychiatric hospitals.
Find the details here.

A Midas Clutch: Tales of Opulent Horror
Payment: .05/word for original fiction; .02/word for reprints
Length: 4,000-14,000 words
Deadline: January 2018
What They Want: Open to strange and creepy stories about the wealthy. The editors prefer contemporary tales, but will accept stories from different time periods.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

An Oath of Writers: Interview with Wendy N. Wagner

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author and editor Wendy N. Wagner. Wendy is an accomplished writer of both short fiction and novels. When she’s not penning her own stories, she also works as the managing/associate editor of Nightmare and Lightspeed. Earlier this year, Wendy was featured in my Women in Horror Month series, but I’ve never featured her in a solo interview before today, so I thought it was about time to remedy that!

Recently, Wendy and I discussed her forthcoming book, An Oath of Dogs, as well as the types of stories she seeks as an editor.

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

Wendy WagnerI was about seven, and I was reading the book Alanna, by Tamora Pierce. It was the first book I had ever read that shifted PoV characters, and it blew my mind. I suddenly realized that someone had decided to tell the story that way, and that books didn’t just sort of … happen. Before that point, I hadn’t really connected learning how to write at school with writing a book. I realized that what I was doing, making up little stories about unicorns and writing them down, wasn’t that much different from creating a book. It was incredibly empowering. At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and more importantly, that I could.

I love Pamela Dean. I re-read her novel Tam-Lin almost every year, because it somehow conveys everything I love about autumn and learning, and it’s just a beautiful book. I also really love Shirley Jackson. She’s my literary hero. Other people I really enjoy are David James Duncan, Sheri S. Tepper, Frank Herbert, and Octavia Butler. I’m also a huge fan of Stephen King.

You are an accomplished writer of both short stories and novels. Do you find that your process differs between the two? Is there one medium you find easier, and is there one you prefer overall as a storyteller?

There’s one big difference between my process on novels and short stories: With a short story, I usually just jump right in and try to write something, but with a novel, I drag my feet outlining and making sure I really want to write the story. Sometimes I think I have commitment issues!

I feel like once I get started on a novel that writing one is less stressful than writing a short story. All the hard work of building a world and sorting out the characters gets done at the beginning, so then I can just put my butt in my chair and produce words every day. Creating a short story means re-inventing the wheel every time. It’s exhausting. Also, I like having the space to play around inside a novel. It’s really fun to plant little seeds of events and reveals and have them blossom at the end of a novel. So yes, I think I prefer writing novels!

Congratulations on your new novel, An Oath of Dogs, that is due out this summer. What can you reveal about this book and the inspiration behind it?

An Oath of DogsThanks, Gwendolyn! I’m really, really excited about this book.

The novel is the story of a woman, Kate Standish, who, along with her therapy dog, moves to the first planet humans have colonized outside of our own solar system. Standish suffers from an anxiety disorder worsened by the view of the sky, and the new planet, Huginn, rains nearly year-round. The world seems like a great fit, but once she gets there, she learns her new company is involved with a massive corporate cover-up that includes the murder of her boss. The cover-up is also connected to the strange pack of wild dogs that is tormenting the town. To save herself—and her dog—she’s got to solve the mystery before the company gets her thrown off-planet … or worse.

One of the things I wanted to do with Oath was explore the complex relationship between humans and dogs. Today, most dogs are pets or working dogs, but in the past, wild dogs and humans could be enemies. Just look at our language, and you’ll see how we have mixed feelings about dogs—if you call someone a dog, it’s never a compliment. I find that sort of thing fascinating.

In addition to your writing, you’re also an editor at both Lightspeed and Nightmare. How do you balance the commitments of your editing with your workload as a writer? Also, what tips have you picked up from your editing work that have helped you develop your skills as a writer?

Luckily for me, editing and writing are pretty much my full-time gig, so I can really control my schedule. I don’t know if I could have done all of this when I had a day job! I like to spend my mornings working on my own projects—writing and promotional stuff—and then use my afternoons to handle editorial and administrative tasks.

When I started editing, I realized that as an editor, I was trying to approach the work with complete respect and trying to see what the writer most wanted from the work. I see my job as an editor as to bring that out in the work. I try to encourage writers to take their work and make it even more like the dream they had about it. Sometimes when I’m editing my own work, it’s easy to get frustrated with myself and be hard on my work, and when I catch myself doing that, I try to tap into my editor brain.

It’s funny, because when I first really got into writing, all the advice talked about writing drafts quickly to avoid “editor brain.” I know the people writing that advice really meant to avoid thinking too critically of your work so you didn’t discourage yourself. But the more I learn about editors and editing, the more I see that the job of an editor is to be an advocate for story, not a soul-crushing gatekeeper.

Since most readers of this blog are also writers—and since both Nightmare and Lightspeed are two of the most beloved markets in speculative fiction—I have to ask the question most of them have for you: what is it you look for in a story as an editor? Is it a certain feeling or a specific theme that hooks you? Or is it more the voice or the characters that draw you in?

It’s all about the characters.

A story, at its heart, is about a character having experiences. Those experiences are meaningless unless they’re filtered through the responses of a character. The character becomes my eyes, my ears, my heart in that world; I need complete, full access to sensation and emotion to enter the universe of the story. If I can’t access that, then the story is very rarely going to move me, engage me, or even interest me.

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

Oh, it’s definitely An Oath of Dogs. I love the characters and the world, and I find all the jokes funny, and there are some spooky, suspenseful scenes that still get me on-edge. And there’s one scene that I cry every time I read it, even though I’ve now read it six or seven times.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a gothic novella about a haunted seaside mansion, and I’m outlining a dark fantasy novel that’s sort of an American Gods meets It kind of thing.

Big thanks to Wendy Wagner for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author site!

Happy reading!

Dystopia and Unexpected Endings: The Story Behind “The Five-Day Summer Camp”

Welcome back! Today, I’m highlighting another original story from my collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. This time around, we head to a childhood vacation spot that isn’t quite so welcoming as it seems with “The Five-Day Summer Camp.”

The Five-Day Summer Camp

Now sometimes, when I do these behind-the-scenes blogs, I like to give insight into the story’s origin (mostly because I love to read blogs from other authors that discuss inspiration). Then there are times when it seems more pertinent to discuss the story’s development or its quest toward publication, because let’s face it: these beasts can often take on lives of their own. So it went with “The Five-Day Summer Camp,” which—with its two unusual sisters who must endure a world brimming with oppressive terror—might be best described as a little bit Shirley Jackson and a little bit George Orwell.

And Her Smile Will Untether the UniverseFrom the get-go, this was a story that I loved writing. It includes elements of my other work—sisters, outsiders, coming-of-age—but it also takes a different, and at times darker and more precarious, path to get there. That made this one both a challenge to write and a joy to take to fruition as a storyteller. But that was pretty much where the joy ended, because when it was finished, I had no idea where to submit this tale. It’s a bit of a between-genre piece with echoes of dystopia, horror, and the weird. As many of us short fiction writers lament, there aren’t a ton of markets for those stories that bridge those hard-to-define gaps. So last summer after completing this story, I was incredibly morose about its future, fearing it might never see the light of day. I mean, seriously morose (there might have even been some moping involved). After a day or two of my said moping, it was my husband who told me with complete confidence, “Don’t worry. It’s a great story. Just hold on to it until a publisher asks you for a fiction collection.” I promptly scowled and told him in my most dismissive tone, “No one’s ever going to ask me for a fiction collection.” (I probably rolled my eyes at him too, though fortunately we were on the phone at that time and he didn’t see that part.) But it’s true that I didn’t think there was much chance of me having a collection in the foreseeable future. Because when it comes down to it, I’m still such a relatively new writer; my first published story only came out in 2013, so why would anyone ask me for a collection?

But then, someone did. An awesome someone. Less than a month later, my beyond fabulous editor Jess Landry contacted me and asked me to send her a fiction collection. Naturally, “The Five-Day Summer Camp” was included in the book. So basically within a matter of days of claiming I’d never have a fiction collection, I was proved quite merrily wrong, and my husband likes to point this out whenever we discuss this particular story. Well played this time, husband. Well played.

To top it all off, I’ve already had several readers tell me how much they enjoyed “The Five-Day Summer Camp.” Over at her blog just earlier this week, Maria Haskins named it as one of her favorites from the collection and called it “a gut-wrenching story about resistance and rebellion.” If only every tale of author woes ended so happily, right?

I wish I could say this story has taught me something about endurance during the submission process, but truth be told, the next time I have a story that I love that can’t find a home, I’ll probably mope around the house all over again. But it is nice to be able to look back and remember a time like this one when it all worked out in the absolute best way. So maybe that’s something of a lesson in itself.

Happy reading, and happy submitting those strange stories that you love so much! Keep at it, because they’ll find their homes!

Master Class: Interview with James Dorr

Welcome back! Today’s author interview is with the prolific James Dorr. James is an accomplished author of over a hundred short stories published in such outlets as Daily Science Fiction, Abyss and Apex, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, among others.

Recently, James and I discussed his inspiration as a writer, his work as a Renaissance musician, as well as his tips for time management as an author.

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

James DorrHi Gwendolyn.  I came to writing somewhat late, being more involved in visual arts up through college, but doing a little bit of writing on the side (for example, I became art editor on the college humor magazine, but then occasionally did fill-in writing, when an article didn’t come in or something).  But then as a graduate I became editor of an arts newspaper, that had me writing (but doing occasional fill-in illustrating) which led to a job as a technical writer for an academic computing center and several other writing jobs including some non-fiction freelance.  However, aside for occasional amateur work, my actual entry into serious fiction and poetry didn’t come until the lateish 1980s, with my first paid fiction, an S&S story called “The Fourth Attempt,” published in the long-defunct magazine Fright Depot in Spring 1988, for which I received a one dollar bill.  I immediately made a little frame, and it’s still hanging on my wall somewhere, although buried under many, many more recent notices.

For authors, there are four that I would consider mentors:  Ray Bradbury who injected beauty into even his darkest work; Edgar Allan Poe as the master of the combination of love and death, eros and thanatos, that informs much of my own fiction — and, indeed, is a driving force in my upcoming Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, due out this June from Elder Signs Press; Allen Ginsberg for poetry, in combining the ugliness of everyday life with the beatific along with his use of what he considered natural rhythms; and Bertolt Brecht for his theories of “epic theatre,” of artistic distance but at the same time an emotional intimacy as in a play like Mother Courage.

You are a widely published and prolific author with stories appearing in hundreds of publications around the world. What does a typical day as a writer look like for you? For instance, do you write every day, and do you have any specific writing habits (e.g. listening to music while writing, etc.)?

I’m really a very undisciplined person, especially now that I’m retired from my day job.  I also prefer to work in fairly long stretches (some, to be sure, taken up by warm up time because I’m a procrastinator too) so what I do now is still a reflection of habits of a few years ago when most of my new writing was done on weekends, where I could plan for at least four-hour stretches, and weekdays after work were used for editing, marketing, researching, etc. in more bite-sized chunks.  Nowadays walks downtown to the library (my one good health habit, plus faster internet) substitute for days in the office, and “honorary weekends” (that is, days planned for being at the computer all day long, or a good part thereof) can come any time of the week.  As for habits, I don’t listen to music when I write.  I will have the TV on in a different room, though, with perhaps the news on or, in season, football, which I can’t really hear while I’m working (think “white noise”), but if I break to refresh my coffee, I’ll check on the score (or headlines) then.

Since you’ve been so widely published, you’re clearly skilled at being able to consistently produce as a writer. What tips do you have for new writers about time management? How, if at all, have your habits changed as you’ve progressed as a writer?

TombsWell, if on deadline, that’s when honorary weekends come more frequently.  Prior to that, to some extent I could force myself to work occasional longer weeknights — not to be lazy, but too many can lead to exhaustion however, which in the long run is counter productive — or on some occasions write out an informal sort of outline and just make myself slog through, say, a scene a night, an hour at a time.  To new writers out there, though, I’m not the one to ask about time management.

To add to that, though, my “bad” habits may come from my newspaper and magazine college experience, where deadlines had to be planned around academic requirements.  But deadlines came every month anyhow (every week on the arts newspaper, though ideally you might have two teams working on alternate weeks, only stopping in briefly to check on things on the “off” week), and emergencies happened, so one became used to all out spurts of work sometimes when something simply had to be done NOW.

In addition to your writing, you are also a semiprofessional Renaissance musician. Do you find that music often influences your writing, or even vice versa?

I think music does, but in what might be considered an odd way.  Remember that poetry is music too — they both have rhythms, beats — but in my opinion the best poets are also very aware of the sounds of individual words.  Poetry is meant to be read aloud (well, maybe not all of it, concrete poetry for instance, but a lot of poetry).  But prose is made up of words as well, with harmonies, rhythms, and sounds and, even if fiction may not be read out loud, I think music can inform styles of writing.  Think of Hemingway compared to Faulkner.  So in a sense I really believe my interest in music, including in my case hands-on experience performing it, has helped me become a better writer.  (A quick example:  My 2013 collection, The Tears of Isis, has received at least two reviews making a point that there is a difference in styles between various stories, matching styles to the type of story, which they thought was good.  This is something I try to do consciously, and I think a feel for music helps me to do it.)

From your website, I see that something we have in common is that we both share writing space with beloved cats (congrats on the recent addition of your rescue kitty, Triana!). Do you have any favorite anecdotes about writing while trying to share your space and time with a curious feline?

Playing with the cat, petting the cat, what a wonderful way to wind down from a long writing session!  Hi there, Triana.  On a practical level, she’s learned that there’s a space to the left of the keyboard of one computer I use that it’s okay for her to be in (but beware, if a paw gets on the keyboard she may get yelled at) so sometimes she’ll lie there, getting an occasional petting or scratch on the head during brief pauses while I’m working.  (On the other hand, at my writer’s group meeting just last week I pointed out, in a critique of one member’s work, a string of five or six incoherent letters as “the cat’s comment.”  A paw apparently had gotten on the keyboard when I’d gotten up for something, and I hadn’t noticed until after I’d printed it out.)  As a matter of fact, though, I’m at a different computer now, an off-line one I do most of my original composition on, and Triana is fast asleep on a work table just behind me.

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

The Tears of IsisI have two fiction collections prior to The Tears Of Isis, which I’ve mentioned above, Strange Mistresses:  Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves:  Tales of Mystery and Regret, both a little hard to find nowadays but some copies usually are on Amazon (my upcoming Tombs is a novel, however, though also on Amazon for pre-order).  Of the three I’d put The Tears of Isis as my favorite and not just because it’s newest, but because the publisher had given me an almost completely free hand in its creation — selection of stories, the order of presentation, etc. — essentially the editing as well as writing as long as it came in at more than sixty thousand words.  So if a whole book is okay, of what’s published now — which would include a poetry collection, Vamps (A Retrospective), as well — that would be the one.  Of the stories in it, I’ve also mentioned the styles are varied and which I’d like best at a given time might be a reflection of my mood, but certainly these would be among my favorites.

What projects are you currently working on?

This would have to be Tombs:  A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth, pretty much in the homestretch for a June release.  Indeed, much of this afternoon will be taken up by continued proofreading of an advance PDF.  Tombs is a mosaic novel, or novel-in-stories, in the style of books like Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club or, more directly, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles.  It’s the story of a far-future exhausted Earth where, at the outset, a ghoul — an eater of corpses — has been exploring the ruins of one of its greatest cities in hopes of discovering the one thing that made its inhabitants truly human. This is the premise, the quest that introduces us to the book’s sixteen stand-alone chapters, arranged in five sections much like a classic five-act play (about half in fact already published in various venues as separate short stories), and loosely inspired by a pair of quotations from Edgar Allan Poe, of the most poetic subject being the death of a beautiful woman (which also informs, in its way, The Tears of Isis) and of the boundaries between life and death being “at best shadowy and vague.”  So the question implied is, if these statements be true, and in an already dying world, can love be a power to even transcend death?

Where can we find you online?

Probably the best place would be my blog, at http://jamesdorrwriter.wordpress.com.  I also can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/james.dorr.9 and, for those interested, my Amazon Author Page is at http://www.amazon.com/James-Dorr/e/B004XWCVUS.

Big thanks to James Dorr for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

Women of Horror, Dark Fantasy, and the Weird: A Recommended Reading List

Welcome back, and happy Monday! Today, let’s celebrate with some awesome books you should add to your summer reading list. Because why not?

Now earlier this year, I returned to Horror-Movies.ca with an article celebrating Women in Horror Month, and since that list was so fun to write (and hopefully a fun one to read!), I would like to share a few more fabulous horror, dark fantasy, and generally weird books penned by female authors. In particular, since far too often Women in Horror celebrations are confined to one month a year, it’s important to shine a light on those ladies who are working twelve months and around the clock to bring readers the latest and greatest in strange and haunting tales. As a quick note, I was fortunate enough to receive review copies of several of these books, and I can tell you that each and every one of them is most certainly worth checking out!

So let’s get started with today’s Recommended Reading List!

Never Now AlwaysNever Now Always by Desirina Boskovich
Desirina Boskovich has spent the last few years steadily making her indelible mark on speculative fiction. With stories published everywhere from Nightmare and Lightspeed to Kaleidotrope and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, her work has been easy to find and impossible to forget. Now, with her debut novella forthcoming from Broken Eye Books, she tries her hand at longer fiction, and of course, knocks it right out of the park. An incisive story about identity and the tenuous line between dreams and reality, Never Now Always is as brutal as it is beautifully written. Although I don’t want to spoil anything here, suffice it to say that this is one story that will break your heart and open your eyes with its incredible blend of science fiction, fantasy, and the weird. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy stories that are anything but simple and predictable.
Get Your Copy Here.

Feeding the DeadFeeding the Dead by M. Brett Gaffney
Released earlier this year from Porkbelly Press, M. Brett Gaffney’s horror and dark fantasy chapbook is supremely beautiful. The delicate pages and binding along with the lovely cardstock make for a truly magical reading experience. And of course, the selected poetry from Gaffney’s ever-building (and incredibly impressive) bibliography is exquisite. My personal favorites include the horror film-themed, “The Scream Queen” and the dark fairy tale, “Hunter,” but truly, each and every piece in this book is an absolute work of art unto itself. Brimming with hauntings and otherworldly creatures, these poems will stay with you long after you close those gorgeous pages.
Get Your Copy Here.

BoundlessBoundless by Miracle Austin
I’ve said it before, and I will be quite happy to say it again: Miracle Austin is always awesome, always surprising, and always worth reading. So naturally, her latest book—the fiction collection, Boundless—is a rollicking good time. A combination of short stories and poetry, these tales explore darkly fantastic worlds and characters who come to unexpected crossroads where they must make the ultimate choices that decide their fate. But through even the most dire circumstances, Austin’s writing brims with flair and whimsy, making Boundless a supremely enjoyable ride from first to last.
Get Your Copy Here.

Seeking SamielSeeking Samiel and The Bookseller’s Secret by Catherine Jordan
Catherine Jordan is an author to watch. Thanks to Horror Writers Association, I’m proud to call myself the mentor of this fantastic writer, though truthfully, working with her has undoubtedly taught me as much about the craft as I have taught her. Need proof of her immense talent? Look no further than this pair of horror books—the devilish Seeking Samiel and its equally engrossing sequel, The Bookseller’s Secret—which are both enthralling explorations on the nature of good and evil. A perfect two-for-one, I would recommend these titles to anyone who enjoys fast-paced and dark horror that takes inspiration from the varied worlds of Gillian Flynn and Ira Levin. Jordan’s work is ambitious and effective, and her name is one you’ll see for years to come in the horror fiction world.
Get Your Copies Here and Here.

Spells and PersuasionsSpells and Persuasions by S. J. Budd
Over the last few years, S.J. Budd has been making appearances in numerous publications as a short fiction writer, and she’s also a devoted reader and reviewer at her regular blog. Now, in her debut collection, Budd goes all in with these nine beautiful dark fantasy stories of magic and loss. A wide-ranging group of tales, you’ll find broken friendship, lost dreams, and a variety of strange beasts and bargains in these pages. Eminently readable, Spells & Persuasions is the perfect bedside book, one that will unnerve you just enough to ensure you keep the nightlight on.
Get Your Copy Here.

In the Crocodile GardensIn the Crocodile Gardens by Saba Syed Razvi
Saba Syed Razvi is an author I only recently discovered—once again, thanks to Horror Writers Association—and wow, am I so incredibly grateful for having found her work. This beautiful book of poetry, released from Sundress Publications, weaves an intricate tapestry of fairy tale imagery, cultural explorations, and political discourse. Her faculty with language is undeniable, and the ease with which she crafts her words is as lyrical as it is profound. These poems never take the simple way out and instead challenge readers to look beyond and ponder the all-too-difficult world in which we live. A weighty journey to be sure, but quite a beautiful and worthwhile one.
Get Your Copy Here.

Blood RelationsBlood Relations by Lori Titus
With a new and always fantastic book out nearly every few months, it’s no stretch to say that Lori Titus is one of the most talented and hardest working authors in dark fantasy and horror today. She crafts spell-binding stories steeped in history, magic, and mystery. Blood Relations is among her most recent releases, and it’s a beautiful and haunting novel that will burrow beneath your skin and stay there long after you’ve read the final pages. Also, if somehow you’ve missed Titus’s previous novels, including her fabulous Marradith Ryder series, then Blood Relations might be a perfect place to start, since it’s a standalone novel. But really, once you read this one, you know you’ll want more, so be sure to check out all her many other books, each of which is absolutely worth moving to the top of your to-read list.
Get Your Copy Here.

The Kraken SeaThe Kraken Sea by E. Catherine Tobler
Last year, I featured E. Catherine Tobler and her work on this blog, but it bears repeating: read The Kraken Sea. Read her other incredible Traveling Circus stories too. Read pretty much anything E. Catherine Tobler has written or edited. She is a fabulous storyteller, and her fiction should always have a place on your bookshelf. The Kraken Sea in particular has stuck with me since I first read it many months ago. This gloriously strange and gorgeous novella interweaves aspects of Tobler’s wider Traveling Circus universe while still delivering a standalone story, which is no easy feat. But of course, her mastery as an author makes this a highly readable story that gets its claws in you and never lets go. And that cover seriously haunts both my dreams and my nightmares, a perfect combination that fits the tone of this beautiful tale all too well.
Get Your Copy Here.

Happy reading!

Fear in a Flash: The Story Behind “By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone”

Welcome back, and happy Friday! Hopefully, you’ve got some fabulous plans heading into the weekend! Here in Gwendolyn-Land, I’ve sadly been marooned at home with strep throat all week, meaning that the last five days are a blur of doctor offices, giant pink pills, and the proverbial water drinking and rest. A majorly boring way to spend a week, but hey, we authors must soldier on, right? Especially when we’ve got books to talk about!

So it’s now been a month since the release of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. Happy one-month birthday, my book! And as promised in my post last week, let’s dig into the stories that are original to the collection! We’ll start small… as in the shortest of the brand-new tales: “By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone.” Without divulging too much (it’s only 900 words, after all), this is a dark—and darkly humorous—breakup tale that features one of the most whimsically wicked characters I’ve ever created. How’s that for a teaser?

By Now, I'll Probably Be Gone

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I will say it again: I love flash fiction. The table of contents for And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe includes two flash stories, the other being the mother-daughter horror tale, “Find Me, Mommy” (perfect for the impending Mother’s Day holiday, if I do say so!). As for the only new flash story from the book, “By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone” started as a weird love letter to my husband, but immediately turned into something… more sinister. My husband, of course, thinks this is particularly humorous—in a wonderfully diabolical kind of way—and takes it as a serious compliment. So perhaps “a poisonous Valentine” is the best way to describe this story, which contains perhaps the most sweetly caustic voice of the entire collection. Because you need at least one mordant narrator to round out the protagonists, no?

And Her Smile Will Untether the UniverseUnfortunately, in my never-ending searches for places to submit, I’ve found there aren’t nearly enough markets out there for bite-sized fiction. I’m not sure what it is about flash fiction that puts off some editors and readers, but ever since I was young, I’ve always been a major fan, especially of super short horror tales. Packing a creepy wallop in less than 1,000 words has always seemed to me to be quite an underrated skill. Furthermore, as a writer, I’ve found that flash fiction has been incredibly helpful to my own development. I have no doubt that my longer fiction has benefited from my writing flash. The word limit forces me to whittle down a tale to the bare essentials of storytelling while still focusing on character development, plot, voice, setting, and theme (and all those other important elements that make literature so fabulous). So while flash might not be exactly en vogue right now, I will always adore it nonetheless, both as a reader and a writer.

Do you love flash fiction as much as I do? Here are six fantastic markets where you can submit your own flash fiction as well as read other authors’ flash stories!

Grievous Angel
An eclectic blend of tales, Grievous Angel focuses on genre (namely, fantasy, science fiction, and horror). Also, flash fiction stories are capped at no more than 700 words, so plan your submissions accordingly (and keep in mind that the editors accept poetry too!). You never know exactly what kinds of wonderful and strange tales you might find at Grievous Angel, but one thing is certain: the stories are consistently unique and entertaining. So if you’ve got an especially pithy flash story, this might just be the market for you.
Read More Here.

LampLight
Although LampLight’s bread-and-butter fiction tends more toward short stories, that doesn’t mean there isn’t flash lurking in the magazine’s pages. LampLight has long been one of my very favorite horror markets, and I can’t recommend it enough. So if you’ve got a short and terrifying work of “quiet horror,” then get submitting to LampLight; submissions close on May 15th, and won’t reopen until September.
Read More Here.

Mithila Review
One of the newest publications on this list, Mithila Review is only a handful of issues into its run, but already, this magazine is proving itself to be among the very best speculative fiction markets out there today. While the publication does not focus solely on flash fiction—the editors look for a wide variety of submissions, including poetry, short stories, novelettes, and visual art—at least one or two flash stories make the cut each issue, so this is definitely a publication to keep in mind for your super short submissions in need of a great home.
Read More Here.

Bracken
Like flash fiction, there aren’t enough markets for magic realism. Fortunately, Bracken has you covered for both. Word count for general submissions tops out at 2,500 words, so Bracken most certainly makes the list for awesome markets that accept flash fiction. And while the editors are currently open to regular submissions, the magazine is also running a flash fiction contest (judged by yours truly!), so if you’ve got a magic realism tale looking for a home, then consider sending it Bracken’s way!
Read More Here.

Daily Science Fiction
When it comes to flash stories, Daily Science Fiction has long been a favorite of speculative fiction readers—and for good reason. The bite-sized stories featured on the site run the gamut from humorous to deadly serious and include everything from fairy tales and swords-and-sorcery fantasy to hard science fiction and horror. This site is a joy to read and an absolute must for flash writers looking for places to submit their work. After all, it’s quite the badge of honor to have a rejection from this market but just keep on submitting.
Read More Here.

Flash Fiction Online
One of the few pro-paying markets out there that focuses solely on flash stories, Flash Fiction Online lives up to its name, providing an outlet to a wide array of speculative and literary flash tales, all of which are available to readers for free online. Each issue features a terrific table of contents (I love Maria Haskins’ new story this month!). So read Flash Fiction Online (if you aren’t already), and send your best flash fiction to the editors, too. It will be great literary times all around.
Read More Here.

Happy reading!

Even More from the Collection Trenches: Updates Galore!

Welcome back! So it’s now been three weeks since my debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, was unleashed upon the world, and let me just be honest: I’m still every bit as thrilled and honored and ineffably giddy about it as ever. You’d think the enthusiasm might wane with the weeks, but nope. Not at all. Not even a little. After all, a writer only gets a first book once, and I’ve been savoring every moment of it.

And Her Smile Will Untether the UniverseThe paperback copies of And Her Smile are still arriving, so if you’ve ordered one and haven’t gotten yours yet, fear not! They are on their way. Also, I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ll say it again for good measure: if you have a copy of the collection, I would love it if you shared a picture of it! It brings this writer’s heart a tremendous amount of joy to see the book out in the wild with readers!

So what’s new in these parts? Plenty! My podcast interview with the awesome guys at Miskatonic Musings is now available; it was a super fun and wide-ranging episode that covered everything from Ava Gardner to Amish Romance. I was also recently spotlighted over at Unnerving Magazine in a very lively interview with editor Eddie Generous.  We talk outsiders, Shirley Jackson, and The Berenstain Bears, though not necessarily in that order. And finally, a fantastic new review at Hex Libris says the stories in And Her Smile “show a familiar world with deep currents of bizarre beauty, pain, and sheer anomaly running through it that create a tapestry of weird horror unlike anything I’ve read before.” Big thanks to Aaron Besson for those incredibly humbling words!

Starting next week on this blog, I’ll be highlighting each of the brand-new stories in the collection. It will be great to talk more about those tales, since all five of them are quite near-and-dear to my macabre little soul. That means if you like my posts about the behind-the-scenes development of my fiction, then you’re in luck! And if you don’t like those posts, consider yourself warned!

Also, speaking of updates, now is the perfect time to announce that I’m currently a guest judge at Bracken Magazine! That’s right: I’ll be at the helm for the flash fiction contest! The theme is home, and I’ll be looking for beautiful and devastating stories of magic, forests, and faraway places. If this sounds up your alley, then please find all the details here!

So that’s my month so far! A couple big writing announcements are forthcoming (even though I’m bursting at the seams to announce them now!), and I’m also working on a spotlight on my favorite recent releases from a host of talented speculative fiction writers. So head on back here soon for more fiction-loving goodness!

Happy reading!