Monthly Archives: June 2017

The Ghost in the Turntable: The Story Behind “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends”

Welcome back! Today is all about ghosts, turntables, and bittersweet odes to mothers. Yes, the May/June issue of Black Static is almost in the archives, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to talk about “Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends,” my story that appears in the recent table of contents. And here’s the issue now, with one very red-lipped author holding on for dear life!

Gwendolyn with Black Static

This release is a super exciting one for me. First off, it’s my debut in Black Static! I’ve adored TTA Press for years, and I’ve long dreamed of selling a story to Black Static. It was one of my four “white whale” markets—Nightmare, Shimmer, and LampLight being the other three—so it’s beyond thrilling and humbling to have finally accomplished this goal. And sharing the table of contents with authors like Helen Marshall, Mark Morris, Tim Casson and Joe Pitkin only makes it an even more auspicious experience.

Secondly, this story is also quite a personal one. It was written as a Mother’s Day gift to my own mom. Some gift, right? A lonesome tale about a dead mother who returns to haunt her difficult daughter in the family’s rec room. No offense, ma. Of course, she’d be the first to agree with that “difficult daughter” part, but this is my blog, not hers, so we’ll just move along now…

This is also my first story set in my home state of Ohio. For a long time, I’d shied away from writing stories about the places I’m from; I tend to leave settings more open-ended, in the sort of fairy tale tradition. But in crafting this story, I wanted to give it the specificity of a certain time and place. Given my own connection to the northeastern Ohio area, it seemed like Cleveland in 1980 at the dawn of the Rust Belt era would be an appropriate backdrop for a story about decay and loss and perseverance in spite of everything. I also got to dive into research mode and scour for time-period photographs and anecdotes. There was definitely montage music to accompany Montage Gwendolyn.

Speaking of music, as the title of the story suggests, songs are integral to this tale, serving as the wraparound, as the narrator copes with her loss and her subsequent haunting by listening to tunes from Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and Pink Floyd, among others. Thanks to my mom, I grew up loving music, especially albums on vinyl and in particular 1970s classic rock, so this story gave me a chance to integrate those elements in my fiction. And David Bowie even ended up in the artwork for my story! A Very Ziggy Hooray!

Gwendolyn with Bowie artwork

(As a nobody-cares-but-me side note, all the songs that serve as the wraparound were released in the 1970s, but since I wanted the story to take place in the icy cold of January, it would technically have to be January 1980, since Pink Floyd’s The Wall didn’t come out until fall of 1979. There’s your piece of you-didn’t-want-to-know trivia. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post…)

Unlike so many of my projects that threaten to drag me into the deep and drown me there, this story was an incredibly joyous process. It also had my quickest ever turnaround: from the day I started the first draft to the point when it was finished, submitted, and accepted was only ten days. Seriously. That timeline still seems unreal typing it even now. But part of the reason the story came together so quickly in the early drafts was that this particular tale had truly lived inside me for years. When I was sixteen, I had my very own party room like the narrator in the story (hers is the rec room; mine was the basement). For the curious, check out that Polaroid of the graffiti-tinged walls of my party-spot basement. Though faded from time, they’re still marked up to this day.

Ever since those early-2000s days, I knew I wanted to write about that experience of being young and feisty and trying to find your way in the world, even when it’s hard. Even when you don’t want anyone, especially your mother, guiding your way. Even when you especially want your mother guiding your way, though you’re too sour to admit it. So when it finally came time to write it all down, this story was not only a wonderfully smooth process, but also one that reinvigorated me to return to a previous, unrelated project that had stalled entirely. So yeah. It was definitely a fantastic time. So thanks, Mom, for the inspiration. I owe you one.

Finally, if you’re looking for more horror fiction after reading the May/June, be sure to pick up the new July/August issue of Black Static! With stories from no less than three fabulous female writers that I’ve had the pleasure of spotlighting (Kristi DeMeester, Damien Angelica Walters, and Sarah Read), the issue is sure to be a great one. And yes, it’s true: there’s also an interview with me in there, talking about my collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, so if you’re so inclined, you can check that out too!

Happy haunting, and happy reading!

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!