Author Archives: gwendolynkiste

For the Love of Horror: Interview with Amanda Desiree

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Amanda Desiree. Her debut novel, Smithy, is earning rave reviews and rightfully so. I was fortunate enough to meet Amanda at StokerCon in 2018 when we were on a classic horror panel together. It was such a joy to hear her unique insight into the genre then, and so I figured it was long past time to feature her here on my blog.

Recently, she and I discussed the inspiration for her new novel as well as why she loves the horror genre.

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

From a young age, I enjoyed telling stories. In elementary school, I would make up stories and pretend that I was reading them aloud to a classroom of students the way our teachers read to us from picture books. By the time I was in middle school, I was motivated to actually write my own book instead of imagining that I had written a book. I read a number of young adult and middle grade horror series like R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street” and Engle and Barnes’ “Strange Matter,” and I had ideas about how those books could be improved. I started outlining my own horror series for young readers when I was in the sixth grade, but I didn’t work up the nerve to actually try writing a book until I was in the eighth grade. My first attempt was handwritten in a spiral bound notebook, but my hand cramped too much so I switched to dictating my books on tape instead. Even then, my real ambition was to become a parapsychologist. Writing was going to be a side gig, a secret life. I planned to release my books under a pseudonym. Eventually I had to compromise some of my dreams. I never did become a parapsychologist, although I did major in psychology in college. The dream of writing never faded though. Over time, I became more focused on bringing a book into the world. I’m so glad to finally have achieved that goal.

R.L. Stine remains a sentimental favorite. He definitely had a formative influence on my early writing. Richard Matheson was a magnificent and versatile writer in different genres and different formats. I love his formula of taking a realistic situation and inserting a drop of the mysterious. Books like “Stir of Echoes” and “I am Legend” feel psychologically real, no matter how fantastic the situation becomes. I adore Robert McCammon’s works. Most of my favorite writers have written at least one stinker, but nothing I’ve read from him yet has disappointed me. McCammon’s prose is gorgeous, his characters are well-rounded and sympathetic, and his stories are compelling no matter what the genre. Josephine Tey is another author who straddles different genres. Although she’s primarily known as a mystery writer, her books aren’t standard whodunits. They’re character studies wrapped in a problem to be solved. She only wrote eight books In her lifetime; but most of them are amazing. Though I’m not keen on short stories, I read a collection by E. Nesbit some years ago and fell in love with it. She has a gift for succinct descriptions that capture the essence of a character or scenario.

Congratulations on the release of your debut novel, Smithy! What can you share about the inspiration behind the book?

“Smithy” developed through a lucky coincidence. I’ve always been interested in real ghost stories. About six years ago I was reading a book by Roger Clarke called “A Natural History of Ghosts” that retold a number of the stories I had read about as a child but with more detail. For instance, I learned that when ghost hunter Harry Price decided to investigate reputedly haunted Borley Rectory, he recruited assistants who were independently wealthy because he expected them to pay their own room and board at the house. At the same time I was reading Clarke’s book, I happened to watch “Project Nim,” a documentary about a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky. Nim was the subject of a Columbia University primate language study that partially took place in a mansion off-campus. The research assistants lived in the house with Nim, taught him sign language, and raised him as if he were a human child. Unlike Price’s assistants, these researchers had access to the Delafield house courtesy of the university. In comparing these two studies, I started to consider what might have happened if Project Nim had taken place in a house like Borley Rectory with a reputation for being haunted. Animals are supposed to be able to see ghosts. What if an animal could also communicate with the ghost or communicate to other people about the ghost?  The more I played out that imaginary scenario, the more motivated I became to write the story that eventually became “Smithy.”

In addition to your fiction, you also write a lot of nonfiction work on horror films. What draws you to nonfiction writing and reviewing? How is your approach to writing nonfiction different from (or similar to) writing fiction?

I’m an opinionated person and I also like to share what I know; writing reviews or informational pieces gives me the chance to do that. The biggest difference between writing non-fiction and fiction pieces is that I know off the bat how the non-fiction pieces are going to end. I’m a planner, so I use outlines both in my fiction and non-fiction writing. I won’t necessarily scribble out notes for a movie or book review, but I’ll generally follow a structure: start with a plot description, discuss my likes and dislikes, and introduce related information of interest. For instance, I might compare a remake of a film to the original, or discuss how an author’s personal life influenced their writing. When reporting about an event, I’ll write in chronological order. However, when writing fiction, I’ll often write scenes out of order, starting with what inspires most or what feels least intimidating. To the extent my fiction writing is based in reality, I’ll try my best to check my facts, and I’ll frequently double-check dates or other details for my reviews and articles.

What is it that draws you to horror? Do you remember the first horror film you saw or horror book you read?

My first “horror” movie had to be either “Mr. Boogedy” or its sequel, “The Bride of Boogedy,” Disney television films about a zany family of practical jokers who move to a weird New England town and into the local haunted house, which once belonged to a pilgrim sorcerer nicknamed Mr. Boogedy. It’s mild to look at now, though the Boogedy make-up in the original film is rather intense for a child, almost like Freddy Krueger’s. I may have peeked through my fingers during the close-up of “Mr. Hamburgerface” or when his shadow suddenly rose up to menace the kids, but I watched those movies over and over when I was four and five. I’m not sure what about them attracted me. Maybe on some level it was fun to be scared. I read my first “horror” book at a young age, too. It was “Bumps in the Night” by Harry Allard, an illustrated chapter book about anthropomorphic animals holding a séance. My mother got it for me through my school’s monthly book order catalog; I hadn’t even noticed it when I was reviewing the catalog, but she must have had some reason for thinking her first grader would enjoy a ghost story.

I actually find horror to be more alluring than scary. Supernatural elements introduce the possibility of grander and more mysterious things than we typically encounter in the real world. Horror stories that unfold in realistic modern settings especially appeal to me because they feel as if they could happen. And if they happen to normal, everyday people, maybe they could happen to me. More than any other effect it has, horror stimulates my imagination.

What’s your hope for the future of horror?

I hope to see the horror genre become more mainstream and respected. I see more bookstores featuring a separate horror section these days, and that’s a step in the right direction. However, these sections usually devote most of their space to the works of two or three high-profile authors. Imagine going to Barnes and Noble’s Mystery section and finding it consisted solely of Agatha Christie, Michael Connelly, and a handful of anthologies. Horror is just as diverse with just as many subgenres as mystery, fantasy, romance, or science fiction. I’d like for the general public to recognize that and also recognize that many different people write horror. Perhaps in the not too distant future, horror sections won’t consist of two shelves of books by authors from Maine but will reflect the full range of the genre.

If forced to choose, what’s your favorite part of the writing process: planning/researching a project, writing a first draft, or polishing an almost finished piece?

Writing a fresh story is definitely my favorite part of the writing process. When I’m able to translate my thoughts onto the page and actualize them into a scene, when I see the pieces come together in a complete story, it’s exhilarating. Being able to create something is the most energizing feeling in the world–when the writing is going well and the words are flowing smoothly. I’ve learned, through revising “Smithy” especially, how grueling and pitiless the editing process can be. That’s a skill I’m still working to develop. Research can sometimes be grueling too, even when the subject is engaging. I think primate language is interesting, but there came a point when I did want to read about something else. The research process also makes me anxious. I know there’s no way I can become an expert on a subject and I worry that I’ll miss something important and a reader will come to me one day and say, “You got this part wrong.” As a reader, I feel irritated when I come across incorrect information or find that an author has overlooked something. It breaks my suspension of disbelief. I hope that my work carries a satisfying balance of realism and speculation.

What projects are you currently working on?

Both of my current projects have been inspired by classic horror works. I’m polishing up an old manuscript that’s a prequel/retelling of “King Kong” from the point of view of the native islanders. I’m also finishing up the first draft of a sequel to “The Turn of the Screw” in which Flora, now a troubled adult, seeks the truth behind her brother’s death.

Where can we find you online?

My website desireesbooks.com is where you can read more about the books I write and topics of interest related to my writing. I also contribute reviews to the Facebook groups “Sci-Fi and Horror Movie Playground,” “Sci-Fi and Horror Book Playground,” and “Sci-Fi/Horror TV Show and Old-Time Radio Playground.”

Big thanks to Amanda Desiree for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Lessons and Future Plans: Part 4 of Our June 2021 Author Roundtable

Welcome back for the final part of our June roundtable! Today, I talk with these nine featured authors about the lessons they’ve learned over the years as well as what they’ve got planned next!

So without further adieu, let’s get started, shall we?

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far as a writer?

GABY TRIANA: Write for yourself. If you set out with a person in mind you want to impress, be that an editor or a family member or that girl who made fun of you in 11th grade, you won’t get satisfaction. Write the story that you want to read, and others will join you on your journey.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: The first draft always sucks.

EV KNIGHT: Just keep going. Keep writing even when the rejections come, because they will and they do, you have to believe in yourself and keep going.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: Never give up. Most people are not going to be successful right away. A lot of rejection is involved, and you have to take the valuable lessons from that and ignore what doesn’t fit. Not everyone is going to like your work, and your job is to do the best you can with it until you find the right fit. It might look different than you expect, but that can be a beautiful thing. Along with that lesson is another one: define your own success. It is easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others and feeling “lesser” because of it. The only goals you need to worry about are your own.

STEVE TOASE: Be inspired outside writing. It’s very easy to get focused on reading books in your genre, which of course is important but the fresh ideas to make your work distinctive come from other places such as art, place-names or even old postcards.

It might just be a fragment of a sculpture or a song that sums up a particular mood, but these other influences make ideas sing.

One of the stories in To Drown in Dark Water was inspired by part of a painting, and another by a post from Messy Nessy Chic collecting together photos of abandoned greenhouses. At university I studied archaeology and we covered dendrochronology. That information about the fluctuations in tree rings due to growing seasons was the inspiration for DENDROCHROMATIC DATA RECOVERY REPORT 45-274, my story in Analog about trees used as computer servers where the growth rings are data sectors.

EDEN ROYCE: Be patient. That has never really been my strong suit, but I’m realizing more and more that having patience in this industry is crucial and it rarely goes amiss.

V. CASTRO: To be yourself and don’t compare your journey to anyone else. Social media can make this difficult because there are always announcements coming through the feed. Don’t be discouraged because you never know their journey or what they have gone through to get there.

As a woman this can be especially frustrating, but I think publishers are becoming more inclusive.

MARIA HASKINS: That writing for me is a bit like when a cartoon character runs off a cliff and is still able to stay in the air as long as they believe they’re on solid ground. When doubt, and self-doubt crawls in, it’s easy to feel like you’ll plummet into the abyss. I have to just sort of ignore it when it gets bad and that’s not always easy. I think for me, the lesson I’ve learned is if I keep doing the work, writing the words, thinking about the words, even when it’s hard to find the time for it, even if I take only small steps forward, I can still get somewhere. Doubt is part of the process, and I just have to work through it.

S.L. EDWARDS: Don’t be hard on yourself. It is very, very easy to do so. I sold no new stories in 2020. And it just…really cut into my ego to the point that I very publicly flirted with just giving up. Better writers than me have quit, after all.

But maybe tell yourself that the voices in your head may just be damn liars.

So what’s next for you?

GABY TRIANA: I’m working on a weird occult detective horror series featuring an older woman protagonist, and I have a short story coming out in Weird Tales #365. Life is good!

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: More writing! I hope to have my next novella (a weird western) done soon!

STEVE TOASE: I’m currently preparing for a commission with Les Ensembles 2.2 for Esch2022 European Capital of Culture in Luxembourg. For that project I’m paired with a composer and we’ll be collaborating to produce some site specific work.

I have a couple of novels and a novella I’m currently trying to find homes for.

I have a new novel in the planning stages set in the same world as my short story Flick of the Wyvern’s Tale. I’m also still regularly writing short stories with work coming out in Nightmare and Nightscript in the near future. As long as I’m busy, I’m happy!

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: I am shopping around a nonfiction book about the author Ruby Jean Jensen. I’m finishing up a story for an anthology that is due in July, and I have a story appearing in Nightscript 7 this fall.

EDEN ROYCE: I’ve already turned in my second middle-grade book and am waiting for edits. I have a fun horror project upcoming that I’m super excited about and I’m currently writing a YA Southern Gothic horror novel.

V. CASTRO: I have an agent now so I will be shopping around another novel. The rest is up to the universe.

EV KNIGHT: I’m quite excited about my next two novels. The first of the two is about halfway completed and is a twist/retelling of Dracula with a focus on the female heroes by way of “newly discovered journals and letters”.

The second is a fictionalized take on a true story from my hometown that occurred when I was seventeen. I was inspired by Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door mixed with a little of King’s Gerald’s Game and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. This one is in the research/outlining stages but it is starting to look like a terrifying “this could actually happen to someone” story.

MARIA HASKINS: More writing! I’m working on a novella, and I might have a collection of flash fiction in the works as well. I also have a story in an anthology coming from Laksa Media this year. The story is called “When Resin Burns to Tar” and it’s in the anthology Seasons Between Us.

S.L. EDWARDS: Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts 2.0! Scarlett, Yves and I are working again on a rerelease of the book for 2022. All of Yves’ original art will be included, and I’ll be writing some new stories to make it worth the time of collectors. But if you collect my stories…please don’t ever tell me that. You’ll make me blush.

Beyond that, there is another project due for a tentative 2022 release. At the time of writing, I can’t talk about it, but it is a dream and I am working with a dream publisher on it.

After that? Who knows? I’m in no rush and I’m not going anywhere either.

Huge thanks to these fabulous featured authors! Be sure to check out their new books, and keep your eye out for what they’ll be releasing in the future!

Happy reading!

For the Love of Genre: Part 3 of Our June 2021 Author Roundtable

Welcome back for Part Three in our June author roundtable! Today, I talk with these nine featured authors about some of their favorite books from the past few years as well as what they hope for in terms of the release of their own new books.

So let’s get started!

All of you write in the horror and dark fantasy genres. What have been some of your favorite works of horror, both films and books, that have been released over the last few years?

GABY TRIANA: You know, I enjoy stories about haunted houses and I hadn’t felt like I’d seen a really good haunted house movie in a long time when James Wan came out with The Conjuring. It was a slow-burn, classic tale of haunting with just enough special effects to make it creepy without going over the top. Add that it had a gritty 70s tone, and I felt like I was watching the classic movies I grew up with. I know that’s earlier than what you meant, but I find myself watching it over and over again. I also really enjoyed Midsommar, which had me revisiting The Wicker Man.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: Definitely the short story collection WOUNDS by Nathan Ballingrud and the film HIS HOUSE on Netflix.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: There are so many to choose from! Goddess of Filth by V. Castro, Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow by Hailey Piper, Boneset & Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste, and Somer Canon’s A Fresh Start are all books that I really enjoyed. Of course, Death’s Head Press is putting out some wonderful books as well. The other books in the Splatter Western series are incredible. There are many more that I’m missing, but I’ll stop there. Filmwise, I enjoyed Terrified (Aterrados) and Mandy, and I just watched the Joe Lansdale documentary, All Hail the Popcorn King, which was a real treat.

STEVE TOASE: Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia
Vicious Creatures by Sarah Gordon
Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey

The 2017 film Ghost Story
Midsommar
Get Out
Us

EDEN ROYCE: I am so behind on my reading and film watching – it’s a shame! But a few films come to mind: Sweetheart, Head Count, His House, and Lace Crater. As for reading, I’d say Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, a wonderfully spooky (and award-winning) middle-grade novel; Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas, a stunning collection of Southern Gothic tales that include horror, folklore, dark fantasy, and a touch of whimsy; and I Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey, a fantastic collection of short horror based around the female body from puberty to menopause.

V. CASTRO: For films I have to say Hereditary, Us, Raw, Get Out. For books there are too many!

So many women in the indie horror community have produced top quality work. All the women emerging in the horror community are amazing. They all deserve a big round of applause especially because they lift each other.

EV KNIGHT: Two favorite books that immediately come to mind are Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia and The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. Both are very gothic in nature which for me is a draw. I like the atmosphere and the slow burn of a good creepy tale. The Taxidermist’s Lover by Polly Hall is another one. It actually reminded me a little of your novel The Rust Maidens in its literary prose type of writing that I absolutely love and envy as I can’t manage to write about terrible things in a beautiful way like that.

As for films, the 2020 film Relic had me holding my breath several times without realizing it. The claustrophobic scenes were done perfectly and the theme of the story, the beautiful but unsavory ending was just perfect.

A film from a different end of the horror spectrum that I absolutely loved was Spontaneous which is listed as comedy/sci-fi but for me, it’s more horror than sci-fi. Either way, its perfect and engaging, terrifying and thought-provoking.

Lastly for films a 2019 release called Freaks, a Canadian film about a little girl who is kept inside her home for the first seven years of her life by a paranoid father. This is one of those films where you find yourself questioning reality the whole way through. Loved it.

I’d of course be remiss if I didn’t mention Lovecraft Country—the HBO series that has me anxiously awaiting season two.

MARIA HASKINS: The most recent horror novel I read was Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians, and I absolutely loved it. It was riveting. I also read an ARC of E. Catherine Tobler’s novella The Necessity of Stars, and while it’s a science fiction story rather than horror, it has some dark and shimmery threads of quiet, unsettling horror running through it. Another ARC I read recently was Cadwell Turnbull’s upcoming novel No Gods, No Monsters. It’s out later this year and it is stunning. Really audacious storytelling and a fresh take on monsters and cosmic horror. A new thing for me is anime! Inspired by my daughter, I’ve been watching Demon Slayer, and I’ve really loved getting into that world and those characters and seeing how that show twists and turns the usual tropes of demons and demon slaying on its head a bit.

S.L. EDWARDS: *cracks knuckles* This is the part where I get to plug other folks? This is the part where I plug other folks.

I’ll start with someone who I just had a conversation about today: Mer Whinery. Mer writes about southeastern Oklahoma, where a lot of my family is close too. And his stuff is just…so horrifying and charming and dangerous all at once. He has the ability to really set a tone and create a sense of terror, more than almost any writer I know. If anyone hasn’t read it yet, I really recommend starting with The Little Dixie Horror Show and going from there.

Sarah Walker was also someone I talked about today. She’s recently done a bang up job as one of the editors on A Walk in Darker Wood, a folk horror anthology which contains a lot of my other favorites. William Tea, another friend of mine, needs to come out with his debut collection already. And William, if you’re reading this: I write the intro. You hear me?

Then I’ll just name off a few folks I think are mandatory reading: John Langan’s Wide Carnivorous Sky remains one of the greatest weird horror collections of all time. S.P. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You is one of the most compelling, emotional and devastatingly original novels ever. Period. I’ve never seen a writer break every rule like that. Nadia Bulkin’s She Said Destroy was also eye opening. Just, incredible stuff. Those three are my “big three” contemporary writers. Not that we don’t have other phenomenal writers, but they never fail to make my jaw drop when I read them.

We’ve got…a lot of people I think have produced some stories that I really, really enjoyed. Jonathan Raab, Erica Ruppert, Alana I. Capria Linares’ Mother Walked Into the Lake was another phenomenal one. Laura Mauro made me feel actual emotions with her collection Sing Your Sadness Deep and I was on a plane. That was embarrassing. Can Wiggins always manages to knock it out of the park, so if you see her in anything, please pick it up. Sean M. Thompson wrote an alien novella I rather enjoyed. John Linwood Grant, who has the ability to produce great fiction in a variety of genres. I’m not unconvinced he didn’t make some deal with a Yorkshire devil for his writing talent. Matthew M. Bartlett. I could go on.

Films? I recently watched La Llorona directed by Jayro Bustamante. The film is absolutely tragic and horrifying, because yes, there is La Llorona. Obviously the supernatural is there. But the greater tragedy is that beyond that, the story may as well be true. Without giving too much away, the film was inspired by the trial of General Efrían Ríos Montt, who briefly served as president of Guatemala during the nation’s civil war. Ríos Montt was a monster, even by dictator standards who was convicted for genocide against the Mayan people in his own country. However, there was…some complication with the verdict, I honestly don’t know much beyond that, and he did not die in prison. The defense of not just Ríos Montt, but for many heads of states who grossly violate the human rights of their citizens is that there is a greater conflict, some internal enemy, that needs fighting. General Videla of Argentina, the only Argentine military dictator to die in prison, claimed at his trial “Yesterday’s enemies are today’s government,” and never apologized for his actions in the nation’s dirty war. We are…regrettably, even seeing this now in the United States, where we have a very loud faction saying that violence against specific groups and protest movements is legitimate because of some connection to “Marxism.” La Llorona I think, does a very good job of showing us what nations will try to let themselves get away with if given enough cover. And what people will find themselves complicit in, if they’re not careful.

What’s your biggest hope for your new book? What would you like to see during the course of the release that will make you personally feel like it’s a success?

GABY TRIANA: I hope MOON CHILD resonates with readers on a deep, emotional level. I put my heart and soul into the story, dug into anger I’d repressed, in a way I hadn’t done with any other book before. The haunting happening at the Sunlake Springs is a direct reflection of the turmoil inside of Valentina’s soul, stuff that’s been bubbling under the surface all her life. I really hope readers connect with her anger, regardless of her situation.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: I want at least one person to connect with Iraxi, understand her plight and feel emboldened by her choices.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: I already feel like it’s a success because it’s being read. It seems like an obvious thing, but you never really know if people will read what you put out there. I’ve never had the dream of quitting my day job and being a best-selling author, but I would like to see my work have meaning for people in the way that some of my favorite authors’ work has for me, to see it resonate with them in some way that makes them feel seen or understood.

STEVE TOASE: I think the first big success was getting published by Undertow.

As I’m not that well known as a writer being with a publisher where people trust their quality means readers will pick up TO DROWN IN DARK WATER because it’s an Undertow book as much as because it’s a Steve Toase book. With writers like Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro, Simon Stranzas, Georgina Bruce, and the much missed Year’s Best Weird Fiction, people trust Michael Kelly to put out good books. Knowing he liked something in my work enough to put out a collection felt like a huge achievement.

I think any collection means people are going to have stories they click with and stories they don’t, but if people find something that they enjoy, then it will be a success. I’m very lucky that the reviews so far have been really good, and I was so happy to get a positive review in the American Library Association’s Booklist. Libraries play a huge role in getting books to people who may not be able to buy a copy outright, and librarians can be key in matching books to readers.

EDEN ROYCE: I’ve already realized my biggest hope for my book – I really wanted my mom to love it and feel it captured the South and our people in a realistic, yet magical way. She inspired much of the story and my long talks with her were some of the highlights of creating Root Magic.

V. CASTRO: I feel the praise before the release has already made it feel like a success considering the subject matter. This is a book about a hate crime against a Mexican woman. This is about her vengeance and redemption.

Being a Mexican American woman writing her history and truth makes me feel like a success.

The next step is to see it made into a film.

EV KNIGHT: I hope that Children of Demeter shows off my versatility as a writer. I know my first novel The Fourth Whore was intense and gory. Some of its subject matter turned some readers off. I hope those readers give Children of Demeter a chance as it is so different. I wanted to write a unique “haunted” story which I think I have. So for me, success looks like positive reviews that note the differences between the two books and their different types of horror.

MARIA HASKINS: It sounds basic, but I just hope some people read it! And I hope people will connect with the two new stories in it, “Blackdog” and “Dragon Song”. “Dragon Song” is my very first viking-horror-fantasy tale, and “Blackdog” is a story that I’ve worked on for a long time, basically since 2015 or so. To me, it’s almost like a superhero origin story in a way. I’m just excited to see what people think about my stories, old and new, when the collection comes out.

S.L. EDWARDS: I hope people have fun reading it. And that they tell me so. It may sound odd, given the other topics I’ve covered in this interview and the subject matter in the book. The book deals with depression, with isolation, with cancer, electoral politics and polarization, and so on. But the stories were a sort of therapy for me. I think the kindest thing someone ever said about Whiskey was that it “read like a writer going through some shit.” Which was true, and remains true. But I had fun going through some of this shit. And I hope that readers do too.

Huge thanks to these fabulous authors for being part of our June author roundtable! Please pick up their books and support their work!

Happy reading!

Advice and Cover Art: Part 2 of Our June 2021 Author Roundtable

Welcome back for Part Two of this month’s author roundtable! Today, I’m talking with my nine featured authors about their amazing cover art as well as the most surprising thing they’ve learned since becoming an author.

So let’s take it away!

Let’s talk about cover art. Who’s the artist for the cover of your book, and how much input did you have on the development of your cover?

GABY TRIANA: The talented Lynne Hansen designed the cover for MOON CHILD. Having read the book, she felt that the Sunlake Springs Hotel and the surrounding creepy setting was very much its own character (it is), so she chose to feature this aspect on a gilded tarot card. Lynne asked me to send samples of other books I felt mine fit in with, and I didn’t care what she came up with as long as there were lots of symbols related to witchcraft, astrology, or even just the metaphysical.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: The cover art was done by the incomparable Xia Gordon. I had input with the overall mood and colour scheme by submitting what influenced the piece. I chose some abstract art and the iconic image from the CHILDREN OF MEN film.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: My cover art is amazing, and I hope to get a print of it framed at some point. Justin Coons has done the artwork for the entire Splatter Western series, and I am in awe of just how well he has managed to capture each book. I had input, which was a nice surprise. Justin shared his initial sketch ideas with me, and I shared pictures that had inspired some of the characters. I didn’t actually have to contribute much, as he read the book before starting his work and captured the feeling I wanted. It was a new experience and great fun to see the sketch turn into a painting as it progressed. I am proud of the cover art and honored to have worked with him.

STEVE TOASE: The cover artist is Stefan Koidl who does stunning artwork. His style is very similar to Simon Stålenhag but more horror than SciFi. I’ve not seen much of Stefan’s artwork on book covers yet (Michael Marshall Smith used two of his pieces on his recent collection), but I can see him becoming a lot more popular in the future.

I had a huge amount of input on the cover. Undertow have a reputation for beautiful covers (such as C7 Shiina’s artwork on Priya Sharma’s All the Fabulous Beasts) and the development process is really collaborative. Michael Kelly and I sent each other work by different artists to get a feel for our tastes and what would work on the cover, narrowing down to Stefan’s work. We both loved the piece and the image of bodies floating up to the surface fitted really well with the stories in the collection.

Also a big shout out to Vince Haig for the design work, which really raises the book to the next level.

EDEN ROYCE: The artist for my cover is the amazingly talented Jen Bricking. She did an incredible job of rendering the characters and the feel of Root Magic. It was built into my contract that I would have “input” on my cover design. In my case, that meant looking at the artwork of several artists and giving feedback on the styles I liked. I also got to send in a collage of pictures that captured the look of my characters and the world I was writing about. I was also able to view some rough sketches of the cover early on.

V. CASTRO: The cover was out of my hands. Flame Tree Press has their own process, but I was extremely excited about it. The color is wonderful.

MARIA HASKINS: I don’t know what the cover art will look like yet, but I’ll share it as soon as I have it!

EV KNIGHT: The amazingly talented Lynne Hansen designed the cover for Children of Demeter and I really couldn’t have asked for a better artist. I had a lot of input on the design but she took it to a whole new level. I cannot wait for the cover reveal because Lynne designed something the likes of which I have never seen on a horror novel cover before and it is eye catching and absolutely brilliant.

Thus far, I have published two novels with Raw Dog Screaming Press and was given the opportunity to give input on my cover which I, as a bit of a control freak, love. But the artists are professionals at their craft and both offered something I couldn’t have dreamed up on my most creative day. I’m very lucky and very humbled to work with a publisher that surrounds you with the best team to make your book really stand out.

S.L. EDWARDS: The incredible Yves Tourigny! He’s so dreamy. I am actually very lucky, because Yves is great to work with and an incredible talent. Scarlett R. Algee of Journalstone let me pick my artist, and Yves listened to my description of what I had in mind. His stuff is great, and what kills me is how varied his art can be. He’s really one of the most talented people we have in weird fiction right now.

You’ve all been part of the publishing industry for a number of years now. What’s been the most surprising part of being a writer, something that you wouldn’t have ever expected before you embarked on this career?

GABY TRIANA: I never expected to switch genres 2/3 of the way through my 18-year career. I started out in YA contemporary and thought I’d always be in YA contemporary, even though my first love was horror and continues to be. But I figured if this is the door through which I entered, this is where I’ll stay. Not so. I tried my hand at adult romance as well, and now I’ve found my true writing self in horror.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: Can’t lie, I expected writing to become easier. Foolish, I know, lol.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: The most surprising part to me is how hard you have to work to promote yourself and how much relies on social media. That is not a comfortable space for me in general, and I struggle with trying to maintain privacy while still being out there as authentically as possible in a space where I have to have a general public persona, a professional persona, and a writing persona. I’m just one person – a fairly shy one – and I’d rather be a hermit and hide away from the self-promotion aspect. At the same time, I’ve met some great people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I love the support that most writers are giving each other. That is something I think is incredibly important.

STEVE TOASE: I have a couple of different facets to my writing. I also freelance for magazines like Fortean Times, but for this I’m going to concentrate on fiction.

For me it’s the rejection process. It’s often framed as a battering part of writing, but I think there are positives. If you’re submitting to the same places it gives you a chance to build up a level of recognition with the editors, even if they’re rejecting that particular work. I know editors have said that one of the pleasures of a job is seeing new work from a writer change over the years as they improve and understand the tone of that particular magazine.

I always try to submit to the professional markets first. They generally reply quickly so there is still plenty of chance to sub to other markets if they decline to take a story (don’t self reject!). This means if you’re improving your writing, they’re going to notice, and you will start getting feedback. I can honestly say that I’ve ended up on friendly terms with editors through the submission process even though they’ve never taken one of my stories.

EDEN ROYCE: All of it, really. It’s so different from my former career, which was incredibly conservative and heavily regulated. But if I had to choose something I’d say it’s how much your work can impact people without your realizing it. I’ve had incredible feedback where readers have said how much it meant to see someone like themselves on the page.

V. CASTRO: I am so grateful how open minded and welcoming the horror community has been. I don’t write the usual tropes. The support is as priceless as the friends I have made.

MARIA HASKINS: Lots of things. Like, how many amazing writers there are out there. I sort of knew it, but being immersed in the speculative fiction genre as both a reader and a writer, there are just so many amazing people working right now. Also, the other thing I didn’t expect was that my insecurity apparently never goes away. Even when I’ve achieved things I wasn’t sure I could achieve, things that would impress the heck out of me before I dove into this, there’s still that nagging doubt about whether I’m really a writer or whether someone is going to call me out as a fraud. I’ve realized that’s just part of the package though, and really common for a lot of people.

EV KNIGHT: When I embarked on this career, my goal was to have a novel published. That was about the extent of my knowledge and foresight. What I didn’t realize is how much is involved in “branding” yourself and promoting your work. Like I actually believed, I could write a book, send it off to an accepting publisher, and then get to work on my next book without ever really interacting with the public until Oprah called me up to be on the show and talk about my best-selling novel. LOL. Seriously. It’s been tough juggling a very intense and time-consuming day job with the full time, very different job of being a novelist. It’s a strange dichotomy to be this confident professional who makes life or death decisions every day and has been doing so for the last twelve years to this noobie writer with a boat-load of imposter syndrome trying to sell myself and my work as a professional writer. I’m still working on that.

S.L. EDWARDS: I think the most rewarding thing, by far, is making friends with other writers who I admire. And, also, getting to read folks who are your peers. It’s an odd thing to become a friend and peer of your favorite writers, particularly when you spent the greater part of your life being a reader rather than a creator.

And that’s it for Part Two of our author roundtable. Head on back here next week as we discuss more about these authors’ new books!

Happy reading!

Books and Inspiration: Part 1 of Our June 2021 Author Roundtable

Welcome back! All this month, I’ll be spotlighting a brand-new roundtable featuring nine fantastic authors who have new books out this year! From short fiction collections to novels, and from horror and westerns to the witchy and the weird, we’ve got so much talent and such a wide array of books to spotlight!

So let’s take it away, shall we?

Congratulations to all of you on your new book releases! What can you share about your new book and the inspiration behind it?

GABY TRIANA: Thank you! My latest gothic horror novel, MOON CHILD, is The Shining meets The Craft. A young woman becomes the fifth member of a coven needing her help opening a spiritual portal inside an abandoned Florida hotel. The inspiration behind the story was more my own spiritual journey away from Catholicism which is characterized by Valentina.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: Thank you! FLOWERS FOR THE SEA is about a pregnant woman trapped on a boat with the last of humanity. It all started from a prompt and took off from there when I thought about the horror of pregnancy without the wild circumstances. Even “easy” pregnancies permanently change so much of your body and it bugs me out that people go through it.

EV KNIGHT: My new book is titled Children of Demeter. It is about a vanished cult from the 70’s who worshiped the Goddess Demeter. They lived on a commune and since their sudden disappearance, nothing has grown on the land. Sara Bissett, a sociologist trying to escape her own past, buys the place with the intent of writing a book about the cult. Strange things begin to happen making Sara question her sanity and the stories told about the cult by the people in town.

The inspiration came from an idea I was playing around with as I wanted to write a haunted house story. I wondered if the house could become a womb and those inside, rather than developing/evolving, would instead devolve/change into something less human. From there, the story just took off and “evolved” into its current iteration.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: Thank you! Shadow of the Vulture is number 9 in Deaths Head Press’s Splatter Western series. (The books are not related and can be read in any order.) My book takes place on the border of Texas and Mexico and is told from a Tejana perspective. The focus is primarily on women: a shape-changing witch, a soldier and her dead friend, a healer who wants to be a vulture, and a cantina owner. There’s a mix of knife fighting, gunfighting, and brujería. Juana, the ex-soldier is the main character. She is angry and ruthless and brutal about the way her world has been impacted by colonization. The story was inspired by stories I heard growing up, books I read on Chicana feminism, and books on Texas history written from Tejano and Mexican American perspectives.

STEVE TOASE: As a collection there are many inspirations behind the stories, but some of the main themes are grief, loss and inevitability. Rather than the jump scare I tend to write a sense that the story is heading to an outcome and that feeling of helplessness (which I think is more horrifying) builds the terror in the story.

For specific stories I tend to draw on lots of different sources. These include family hobbies and day trips, as well as places we’ve visited. Folklore has always been a huge influence on my writing, so the myth of Baba Yaga found its way into The Jaws of Ouroboros, and traditional ideas about borders inspired Grenzen, a story set on the motorway between West Germany and West Berlin at the time of the Cold War.

EDEN ROYCE: Thank you so much! It feels like it’s taken forever, but it’s finally here!

Root Magic is a Southern Gothic novel set in 1963 in my home state of South Carolina. While it was written for a middle-grade age group, readers of various ages can enjoy this take of magic and mystery, haints and hags, all woven together with historical themes still relevant today; racism, school integration, police brutality, and a return to the practices of folk magic and herbalism.

I read and watch movies in my (ever dwindling) spare time and it has always been difficult to see rootwork and conjure magic portrayed on screen and in books as evil. Especially by people who don’t know the reasoning behind why these practices have such negative connotations.

It goes back to colonization where people were enslaved and brought from various countries on the African continent through the Transatlantic Slave Trade to what is now the United States. Enslavers wouldn’t allow these people to practice their religions or spiritual rituals under penalty of severe abuse, even death. Enslaved people were also not given medicines. So these disenfranchised people had to hide their prayers, ceremonies, their use of herbs and roots from those enslavers. And when you hide to do something, even something innocent, your actions are seen as wrong.

I wanted to do my part to show these traditional medicines and practices aren’t the evil many take them to be. So I wrote Root Magic to show rootwork in the manner it was always intended: a way to protect and heal the rootworker and those they loved.

V. CASTRO: The book I would like to talk about is The Queen of The Cicadas from Flame Tree Press. When the reboot of Candyman was announced I thought of what a Latinx version would be like. Immediately my mind went to my great grandparents who were migrant workers. The experiences of Mexican Americans and Mexicans are not often told through our own voices and I wanted to do that. BUT HORROR.

I also want to mention it began as a novella and morphed into a novel after multiple rejections.

MARIA HASKINS: Six Dreams About the Train is my short story collection. It contains 21 stories, 2 of them previously unpublished, and I’m ridiculously excited that Trepidatio Publishing picked it up. I owe a big debt of gratitude to author Angela Slatter who encouraged, supported, and helped me get the collection together in 2020 when I was dealing with a lot of stuff in addition to the pandemic. It was a tough year, but working on that collection, and finishing the two unpublished stories for it, was one of the things that helped keep me going.

S.L. EDWARDS: Thank you! Well, The Death of An Author is a collection of weird fantasy and Cthulhu mythos. They are stories that I liked, but did not fit with the overall tone of my debut collection, Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. The stories have a pulpier feel than the stories in Whiskey, skewing more towards Clark Ashton Smith than Edgar Allan Poe.

If I were to pitch it, I would say the book has sword and sorcery, weird westerns, vampires, dragons (lots of dragons) and overall feels on the whole more optimistic than “Whiskey” did. The characters fight back, more like action stars than terrified horror protagonists. You have gunslingers, pizza delivery drivers with combat training, hospice nurses, and even a telepathic shark monster.

The second half of the collection really focuses on what I call my “Congressman Marsh cycle,” which spun out of my political panic in 2016 and thereafter. Most of those stories will be original to this collection and were sort of responses to the news that I saw. They are, admittedly, much harder stories to read now and I do sort of expect some ridiculous one star reviews on Amazon motivated by some people who are unwilling to admit that they saw the same damn things we all saw. But I can’t do much to stop that.

How long did your new book take to write? Did anything happen along the way that changed the course of the book or its release?

GABY TRIANA: I wrote MOON CHILD across four months in 2020 between ghostwriting projects.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: In total, I’d say the book took about two months to write, but spread over about two years, lol. I had a R&R (revise and resubmit) that took some time for me to find my way through, but I managed!

EV KNIGHT: The book took about three months to write and one to edit. I took a month-long break while writing it to write my novella Dead Eyes for Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series.

Covid, of course seemed to affect everything when it came to the publishing part, but also, there was a lot of political and civil unrest in this country for awhile and it just didn’t feel right to be publicizing my book when attention needed to be drawn to liberty and justice FOR ALL.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: It took me about a year and a half to write this fairly short novella. My day job is pretty demanding (and is actually a day/night/weekend job since I teach evenings and online), and part of that work involves research and writing. That doesn’t leave much time or space for other types of writing, so my fiction writing time is pretty limited. As I was writing, I was also working on a research project that influenced the trajectory of the book, so you’ll see some nods to Gloria Anzaldúa in the story. It took longer than expected for me to write the book, and I had to ask for an extension…and then COVID hit, and my writing time went out the window. So I submitted my book quite a while after the original deadline, but Jarod and Patrick at Death’s Head were incredibly kind about it and easy to work with.

STEVE TOASE: It’s taken a few years to get to the point where I felt happy pitching a short story collection. Basically, I wanted to have enough material to be able to make a choice rather than publish everything I’d ever written. The past few years have been good in terms of selling stories. I think the big development for me in terms of the book’s direction was having stories in Shadow and Tall Trees 8 and Weird Horror #1. This meant I was hitting that sweet spot for Undertow; getting the right note of weirdness and horror.

EDEN ROYCE: I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Root Magic didn’t start out life as a novel. I initially wrote it as a collection of short stories because the idea of writing long form fiction was so staggering to me I needed an abbreviated time – and apparently an international writing event – to push through and get the work completed. I’d written up my outline/notes beforehand and wrote furiously for a month. After that, I let the manuscript sit a while then wrote sections to connect the separate stories into a novel.

As far as things that happened along the way, I had a title change and had my release date pushed back from Fall 2020 to January 2021.

V. CASTRO: The first draft took me a few months to write. I’m a fast first drafter, but after multiple rejections it became clear I should expand the story to novel length.

Never get stuck on rejections because sometimes it is exactly what you or the story may need!

At the same time American Dirt was released so I had a lot to say about identity and hate. Many of my emotions are expressed in the book.

MARIA HASKINS: The collection includes stories from 2015 and onward. Putting it together in 2020 was a challenge for a lot of reasons, but it was also a project that felt doable for me. I had a really hard time working on brand new fiction because the year was such a dumpster fire, but going through my old stories and putting the finishing touches on the two new stories was less of a challenge. It was also interesting for me to look at my work as “a collection”. It made me feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as a writer that was sort of slipping away during that year.

S.L. EDWARDS: The book, ironically, was ready to go almost immediately after Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. I think one thing we should talk about more, though, and I know this happens to other writers but I don’t see it being normalized is what you might call “the first book blues.” After Whiskey’s publication I was feeling much more confidant about my writing. Maybe in retrospect, overconfident. I’d like to think I wasn’t arrogant, but I had much bigger expectations than were justified.

Then, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, the publisher had to close and I was left in 2020 what felt like entirely alone. Something similar happened with The Death of An Author, in that there was an interested publisher, but the deal just didn’t get worked out. Again, no fault of anyone. But indie press does not make a lot of money for the most part.

So the release was delayed. New stories were added. A lot of new material was added, ironically some of it coming from out of my really dark moments in 2020. I was, for instance, one of the last passengers to come back from Bogotá on a commercial flight before the world shut down. I had only learned in one day that Colombia’s government planned to close the country and my airline did not notify me in advance that they had cancelled my flight. So, the day was just one of dread and panic I’d never really experienced before. It’s a very, very visceral and hard memory for me to this day. One day, I’d like to go back to Bogotá to get a bit of closure.

But this informed stories like “The Last Mayflies Out of Bogotá,” which will be original to the collection. 2020 also informed some of the rewrites of earlier stories which are included in the collection. It did not, ironically, inform my story “A Slower Way of Starving,” a story about two pizza delivery drivers in a town contained during the spread of a pandemic. That story was written for the now infamous pizza anthology, well before COVID. It was rejected, but now you all get to read it if you want to.

And that’s it for Part One in our month-long roundtable! Head on back next week as we discuss more about these authors’ fabulous new books!

Happy reading!

Fiction Fun in the Summertime Sun: Submission Roundup for June 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! Plenty of great opportunities this month, plus three early warning calls that won’t be opening until later in the summer!

As always, a disclaimer: 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 with that, onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Field Notes from a Nightmare: An Anthology of Ecological Horror
Payment: .03/word
Length: 1,000 to 4,000 words
Deadline: June 30th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology from Dreadstone Press is seeking horror and dark weird fiction about environmental and ecological horrors.
Find the details here.

Baffling Magazine
Payment: .08/word
Length: up to 1,200 words
Deadline: June 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to speculative queer fiction. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror are all welcome.
Find the details here.

HWA Horror Scholarships
Payment: Scholarship amounts vary
Deadline: August 1st, 2021
What They Want: Open to members of Horror Writers Association, there are currently multiple scholarships available, including for horror nonfiction, dark poetry, women in horror, and more.
Find the details here.

The Deadlands
Payment: .10/word for fiction; $100/flat for nonfiction; $50/flat for poetry
Length: up to 5,000 words for fiction; 1,000 to 4,000 words for nonfiction, up to three poems
Deadline: Ongoing for fiction and nonfiction; June 14th, 2021 for poetry
What They Want: This brand-new publication is currently seeking speculative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that deals with themes of death.
Find the details here.

Eye to the Telescope
Payment: .03/word ($3 minimum; $25 maximum)
Length: up to three poems
Deadline: June 15th, 2021
What They Want: This issue’s theme is Indigenous Futurisms and is open to Indigenous writers around the world.
Find the details here.

Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas
Payment: $250/flat for short fiction; $25/flat for poetry
Length: 2,500 to 3,000 words for fiction; up to 35 lines for poetry
Deadline: Open from June 21st to June 27th, 2021
What They Want: The editors are seeking dark tales set in South America that explore folklore linked to a particular location.
Find the details here.

And finally, a few early warnings for submission calls that don’t open until later in the summer!

The Cellar Door, Issue 1: Woodland Terrors
Payment: $25/flat
Length: 2,000 to 7,500 words
Deadline: Open from July 1st to July 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to horror and thriller stories that take place in or near the woods.
Find the details here.

Kate Bush: An Anthology
Payment: $15/flat
Length: 1,500 to 4,000 words
Deadline: Open from July 13th to August 3rd, 2021
What They Want: Open to original weird or dark fiction inspired by the work of musician Kate Bush.
Find the details here.

Chromophobia
Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,500 to 6,000 words
Deadline: Open from August 1st to August 31st, 2021
What They Want: This new Strangehouse Books anthology edited by Sara Tantlinger is seeking horror stories inspired by color from female authors.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

Horror Classic: Interview with Kelly Robinson

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Kelly Robinson. Kelly is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of numerous non-fiction articles appearing in publications such as Scary Monsters and Rue Morgue, among others.

Recently, she and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, her love of silent film, her research process, as well as what she’s got planned next.

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

In a way, I’ve always been a writer. I was reading at age 3, which almost seems freakish, so by the time I was in schooI, I’d already been reading a while. My kindergarten teacher used to have me read books to the class while she sneaked out for smoke breaks! I started writing soon after, writing stories, poems, and scripts for puppet shows that I would come up with and perform for the class. I was always obsessed with the Scholastic Books order forms, and I made up one of my own, making up titles of books my friends could “order,” and then making and drawing books by request for the titles they wanted. (One was called The Girl Who Snuck Into the Boy’s Bathroom.) I talked my teacher into letting me single-handedly make a school newspaper, which I duplicated on one of those old ditto machines with the smelly purple ink. It was called The Classroom Clammer, which had nothing to do with clams, but I guess I was going for “clamor.” It featured news stories like “Robbie is moving!” and “D.C. has a lot of cats!” So, when I say I’ve always written, I really mean it.

My taste in writing ranges from old comic books to classic literature, from the humor of P.G. Wodehouse to the bleak, noir worlds of Cornell Woolrich and Horace McCoy. I enjoy things that are difficult, like Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, which uses language that is almost like a code to be cracked. As far as favorites, I often cite Martin Amis, A.S. Byatt, Doris Lessing, Octavia Butler. My taste in horror skews weird. I like demented things like Jon Bassoff’s Corrosion, the weirdness of David Mitchell’s Slade House, or anything by Tony Burgess, who is some kind of a freak genius. But then, I’m just as happy reading ghost-y 19th century authors: J.S. Le Fanu, Théophile Gautier. My favorite short story is Joe R. Lansdale’s “Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back.”

Oh, and I should mention non-fiction, since I’m a non-fiction writer. I love writers like Joan Didion whose essays are smart and provocative, with such beautiful prose. I’m in awe of horror writers/researchers like Gary Rhodes who do deep, deep research, turning up brand new information about very old things.

You’re a two-time Bram Stoker Award nominee for your excellent nonfiction articles. What draws you to writing horror nonfiction and in particular to writing about classic horror?

I’ve always been interested in the story behind the story. I think I’m just a question-asker by nature. For me, the thing itself isn’t enough. I want to know the origin of the thing, you know? And that curiosity extends to the books I read and the films I watch. Nothing happens in a vacuum, so even the oldest horror films were inspired by something. Today, horror films have the entire history of the genre to inspire them, but the further back you go, to say, the 1890s, those films had to draw from non-film sources. Some of them came from books, obviously, but also from stage plays, vaudeville acts, comic strips. Some short films were even inspired by popular catch phrases of the day.

As far as classic horror, I do like all kinds of horror, but I’m particularly drawn to silent film. I think that goes back to what I was saying about wanting to know what’s behind everything. I like seeing the horror film in its infancy, before it became so imitative. I particularly like writing about obscure or even lost silent films, because they are so far removed from the world of the internet. Some of the films I write about have barely any trace online, except for maybe an IMDB listing, which is often filled with inaccuracies. When I first started writing about the 1913 film The Werewolf, there were only a few references to it online. (Now there are many, the majority of which are sourced from my own work, whether credited or uncredited.)

Do you remember the first horror movie that really captured your imagination?

My parents weren’t particularly horror fans, so I didn’t get a lot of exposure to them at a young age. My brother and I surreptitiously watched Jaws on HBO and thought it was just the greatest. I remember seeing a thriller called Paper Man that had a scene where someone is crushed by an elevator and it haunted me for decades, until I recently rewatched it and found it is pretty silly. I was captured by horror lit long before film. I devoured books about witches, vampires, and mummies. My favorite books on those subjects were non-fiction, even back then. I had a children’s book on werewolves that contained Medieval woodcuts, and one on vampires that included that famous Vlad the Impaler woodcut of people on spikes. (They don’t make kids’ books like that anymore!) The fact that they were non-fiction books made me feel like vampires and werewolves were a real part of history. So, when I was much older and could choose movies for myself, I gravitated toward the subjects I’d always been drawn to.

What kind of resources do you seek out as you’re working on your nonfiction articles? At this point, do you have a specific research strategy, or do you find that every article requires its own approach?

Some of the films I write about, as I said, haven’t left a big trace. I liken it to detective work when I write about certain lost films. The best resources are movie magazines from the silent film era, and also historic newspaper articles. Finding reviews in small-town newspapers is like striking gold, because, while magazine pieces are cool, they’re puff pieces, and they often exaggerate the film’s appeal. Reviews give a much more realistic picture. I’m sort of a no-stone-unturned researcher, because you never know what source might lead to an interesting fact. When I was writing on Attack of the Mushroom People, I investigated the natural resources on the tiny Japanese island where some of the filming took place, and discovered that it is home to actual bioluminescent mushrooms—something I’ve never seen reported anywhere else.

Nonfiction is an area in every genre that often doesn’t get enough love. What advice do you have for other nonfiction horror writers out there who are looking to get started in the industry?

It’s funny that non-fiction is overlooked, when it’s the type of writing people encounter the most. You may not read a novel every day, but you probably look at news articles, click on some humor pieces, read some reviews. Those things don’t just appear out of the ether! It’s funny that novel writing tends to be so much more romanticized.

My best advice for starting out in non-fiction is to think about what you can bring to the table that’s new. What’s the point in writing yet another article about something that’s been covered over and over. That doesn’t mean you can’t write about well-tread subjects, but think about what you’re bringing that’s not been said before. Unearth a new fact. Tackle a film from a new angle. Make a comparison that others might not have thought of. Questions are also a good starting point for articles. If there’s something you’re wondering about, chances are good someone has wondered about it, too. Find out the answer, and tell everyone else.

While I’m sure it’s hard to pick just one or two, what are your favorite underappreciated classic horror films that you wish more people would see?

That’s a tricky question, because the term “classic” suggests a film has already stood the test of time. When I’m trying to hook people on silent horror, I always suggest The Unknown from 1927. It stars Lon Chaney as an armless circus performer who shoots guns and smokes cigarettes with his feet. It has so many bizarre twists that it is never dull for a second, and it’s easy to forget that there’s no dialogue. I’m also a fan of The Hands of Orlac from 1924, starring Conrad Veidt of Caligari fame. It kicked off the hands-with-a-mind-of-their-own trope, inspiring two remakes: Mad Love with Peter Lorre in 1935, and The Hands of Orlac with Christopher Lee in 1960.

In addition to your nonfiction, you also had a poem, “Caligari,” appear in last year’s HWA Poetry Showcase. What can you share about the inspiration for this piece?

I’m new-ish to poetry, which I hadn’t written much since childhood, but I’m very much enjoying it, as it allows me to play with words in a very precise way. I’m working on poems for all my favorite classic horror films, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari seemed like a good place to start, as the somnambulist character is so iconic. That was my starting point—the idea that Conrad Veidt’s face is so recognizable, so often reproduced in silent film books, but do people really understand what he’s about? And that he’s not the villain?

What are you working on next?

I am thrilled to have just signed a contract with 1984 Publishing to write a book on an absolutely insane cult film from the 1980s. I can’t announce the title just yet, but when I can, you will probably hear me yelling about it.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me on Twitter at @KellyRobinsonHQ, where I mostly crack lame jokes, and I’m always eager to have Patreon followers.

Huge thanks to Kelly Robinson for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Slay: Interview with Nicole Givens Kurtz

Welcome back! This week, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Nicole Givens Kurtz. Nicole is the author of numerous short stories and novels, including Kill Three Birds and A Theft Most Fowl, as well as the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology, SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire.

Recently, she and I discussed her inspiration as an author, the release of her fantastic anthology and new novel, as well as her 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 realized I was a horror author after I wrote my first scary story in 10th grade. It involved a Thanksgiving dinner gone horribly wrong. I fell in love with the horror genre when I was 4. Where the Wild Things Are was the first horror book I read, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. I graduated to King in elementary school along with Poe and then to others later in life like Shirley Jackson, L.A. Banks, and Tananarive Due. . My favorite authors are Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Octavia Butler, and Robert B. Parker.

Congratulations on all the success of your recent anthology, SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire. What can you share about your inspiration to create this anthology?

The inspiration for SLAY came about due to many conversations I have had with authors about the lack of Black vampire stories in the wake of L.A. Banks’s death. Sure, there have been other Black vampires, but they remained on the perimeter, in the background, window dressing. We wanted stories like Banks wrote, that centered Black people, Black vampires and Black slayers in the forefront. What would that look like now? So, the idea was born to seek out short stories for an anthology to answer that question and to fill the void.

Even more congratulations on the recent release of your new book, A Theft Most Fowl, which is earning rave reviews. What inspired your Kingdom of Aves series, and how was writing the second book in the series different than the first?

Around March 2020 when the United States was going through a lockdown, I wanted to write something fun. I wanted to write something for me. Something that I would like. I enjoy reading everything that I write but I wanted something lighter. If you think about my Cybil Lewis series it takes place in post-apocalyptic D.C. She is very pulpy noir-ish. Right, it’s kind of gritty and the same is true for my Minister Knights of Soul series, again it takes place on Veloris, an ice planet it is very dark and gritty. Sorcery, magic space opera-ish but it is still dark and gritty….I wanted something fun! And I wanted something fantastic and I wanted to like build a world and be more intentional about the world I was building. Thus the Kingdom of Aves was born. The second book draws its influence from heist stories unlike the first one that deals with a serial killer. It was different in its approach, its plot, and its mystery.

You’ve written in numerous genres, including horror, fantasy, and weird western. Do you have a particular favorite genre? Also, do you decide in advance what genre you want to write next, or do you allow the project to develop as you go along?

I always know before I start a story what genre it is going to be because I plan out the story, My favorite genre is mystery/horror writing, if I am honest. My next project is a 80s style slasher horror novella set just outside my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. The title is “Leave a Pretty Corpse.”

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?

The best writing advice I was ever given was to be patient with the story.

Which part of the writing process is your favorite: brainstorming new ideas, creating a first draft, or polishing an almost finished piece?

My favorite part is always the brainstorming. I love generating the idea and coming up with the story. That’s the exciting part! The labor comes when attempting to funnel that amazing idea onto paper and executing it. That’s the real work in writing.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on the horror novella, “Leave a Pretty Corpse,” and my on-going cyberpunk thriller, “Lucky Glow: A Fawn & Briscoe SF Mystery” for my Patrons at Patreon. I am also currently editing titles for Mocha Memoirs Press, as well. We recently released two new horror titles, L. Marie Wood’s “Telecommuting” and Stephen L Brayton’s “Night Shadows.”

Where can we find you online?
I am online at Twitter, @nicolegkurtz, at Facebook as facebook.com/NicoleGKurtz, at website http://www.nicolegivenskurtz.net, and at Patreon http://www.patreon.com/NicoleGKurtz

Tremendous thanks to Nicole Givens Kurtz for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

My Schedule for StokerCon 2021

So tomorrow is the official kickoff for the fully online StokerCon!

*cue lots of streamers and confetti and celebration*

Needless to say, I’m super eager to see everyone, albeit virtually, and I’m also incredibly excited to be featured on five panels as well as an author reading! Eeeeeee!!!

So without further adieu, here are the places I’ll be haunting this weekend!

Reinventing the Classics: How Modern Horror Is Transforming the Tropes
I not only pitched this panel, but I also got to be the moderator for it! Alongside panelists Christa Carmen, L. Marie Wood, Gordon B. White, Naching Kassa, Lee Murray, Rhonda Garcia, and Carina Bissett, we talk all about our favorite classic horror monsters as well as how those monsters are being reinvented in the 21st century. (On Demand)

American Female Gothic
The fabulous Christa Carmen moderated this awesome discussion of Gothic literature and how it reflects the female experience. From haunted houses to haunted bodies, this panel covered a wide range of gothic horror, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, which is always a good sign. So come and see what we all had to say about spooky settings and spooky women! (On Demand)

Steel City Horror
Our HWA Pittsburgh Chapter got together and recorded this wonderful panel that should help give everyone some insight into what makes Pittsburgh among the major horror capitals of the world. We talk all about the history of the genre in the Steel City as well as how the Rust Belt surroundings and local lore influence our love of horror. (On Demand)

Horror as a Fairy Tale
Moderated by the amazing Cynthia Pelayo, we discuss the horrifying side of fairy tales and how the genre is still using these original bedtime stories to this day. Hear all about our favorite fairy tales and why they still resonate, especially with women’s experience in the horror genre. (On Demand)

History of the Gothic: Horror Folklore
And if you’re really eager to catch me live, then you’re in luck! I’ll be a panelist alongside Alma Katsu, Lisa Kroger, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Andy Davidson and moderator Kevin Wetmore. It’s such an excellent group of authors to be part of, so I can’t wait to hear what everyone’s got to say about horror folklore! (Saturday, 5/22 at 6pm)

Author Reading
Finally, I’m also doing a reading of my fiction! I chose excerpts from both The Invention of Ghosts and Boneset & Feathers, so expect baleful spirits, broken friendships, broken birds, and lots of witches. So you know, the usual from me! (On Demand)

And if that wasn’t enough, the Bram Stoker Awards will be held virtually on Saturday night! I’m incredibly honored to be nominated for a Stoker in the Long Fiction category for my limited edition novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, from Nightscape Press. This is my fifth (!) Stoker nomination, and even typing that sentence seems surreal. I don’t actually know quite how that happened, but I’m forever humbled and grateful for it. Good luck to everyone on Saturday, and seriously, what a year for horror!

So that’s my schedule for the weekend! I’ll probably also be hanging around the virtual bars, so if you see me there, definitely say hello! It will be good to interact with everyone this weekend!

Happy reading, and happy StokerCon!

Macabre and Uncanny: Interview with Douglas Ford

Welcome back! This week, I’m excited to spotlight author Douglas Ford. Douglas is the author of the collection, Ape in the Ring and Other Tales of the Macabre and Uncanny, as well as numerous works of short fiction.

Recently, Douglas and I discussed his new collection as well as his inspiration and 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?

Thank you so much for this opportunity! I’ve pretty much always aspired to write, starting at a young age, like around seven or eight, when I put together a community newspaper in my parents’ garage. My friend and I wrote all the content, including a sports section where we talked about our t-ball team, and we went around and sold it to neighbors for pennies. I had a romantic idea about writing and being a reporter that probably came from Superman’s alter-ego, Clark Kent. I was the kind of kid who didn’t aspire to be Superman, but rather Clark Kent since he had such a cool job. Later, as a teenager, I would write short stories that imitated what I read in The Twilight Zone magazine and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, all of which was pretty terrible. I still have my first rejection from Asimov’s that I received when I was around 17. I’d always wanted to write horror and speculative fiction, but my adult inspiration came when I read two short stories for the first time: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Those stories lit a fire in me, and so I would acknowledge them as favorite authors, along with Shirley Jackson, Charles Beaumont, and Brian Evenson. Short fiction is my life-blood, and I gravitate towards those authors, along with writers we don’t always associate with genre fiction, like Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison.

Congratulations on the recent release of your collection, Ape in the Ring and Other Tales of the Macabre and Uncanny. How did you choose the stories that appear in the book, and do you have a personal favorite?

Thanks! The stories in that collection come from work I’d published in the last decade, mostly in the small press, and the decision to include them simply came down to them being some of my favorite pieces. It’s hard to identify a favorite–when people read the collection, almost everyone mentions different ones as favorites, with “Wasps” probably mentioned most often. But if pressed, I’d probably say that the title story, “Ape in the Ring,” means the most to me since it’s the first story I wrote that is set in a fictional area of Florida called Vissaria County. It was also the first story I wrote where I felt like I found my voice, something I realized when I had the opportunity to read it out loud to audiences. It’s also weird and nasty, with questionable parental figures, a motif that I seem to come back to over and over again. That, and apes, though the titular “ape” in the story might be something else, but I want to avoid spoilers in case anyone wants to read it.

You also have a new book due out in the fall. What can you share about the inspiration behind it?

It’s a novel set in Vissaria County, which I just mentioned. I’m a proud horror nerd, and in some sense, that novel is essentially me free-basing on the genre elements I adore. I let myself have fun with the characters and the narrative, which as one early reader has pointed out, has a stronger than usual southern gothic vibe. It’s also a love-letter to the kind of Euro-cult horror films I love, with a character through which I paid homage to the late, great Jacinto Molina, who went by Paul Naschy in his films, many of which involve a recurring werewolf character. Likewise, this novel involves lycanthropy, witches, black masses, and lots of other fun stuff, even possibly a Skunk Ape, which is Florida’s version of Big Foot. It’s called Beasts of Visssaria County and will appear in late 2021 from D&T Publishing.

What draws you to the horror genre in particular? Do you remember the first horror movie you ever saw or horror story you read?

As a kid, I would grab every issue of Tomb of Dracula I was lucky enough to find, and at some point, someone gave me a kid’s version of Poe’s works, printed on really cheap paper with lurid illustrations. I was most drawn to its version of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and that’s still my favorite Poe story. My parents let me stay up late to watch scary movies on the tube, and the one I remember seeing first was Son of Frankenstein. The best part was that my parents would wait until the movie was over and hide in the hallway when I stumbled to my bedroom. They would jump out of the shadows and scare the hell out of me, which definitely added something to the experience of watching the movie. I really love them for doing this. I can’t say for sure what draws me to the horror genre. Maybe I still crave that feeling of knowing something lurks in the shadows and I want to tease it out into the open so that it’ll reveal itself.

You currently reside in Florida. How, if at all, does your home state influence your writing?

A big part, certainly, since I have a good portion of my work set in Vissaria County. Aside from all the stuff about Florida Man, Florida is just strange and swampy. It’s a diverse state, not just in terms of people, but in land and history. With climate change and rising sea levels, there’s even a sense that it’s sinking, fueling the sense that we’re surrounded here by nature in forms that are both beautiful and terrifying. For me, it often generates the feeling of the sublime that Edmund Burke talked about and which is so important to horror and weird fiction.

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

I was re-reading King’s Tommyknockers recently, and there’s a line about how creative people hear voices, and that’s me: I tend to start with characters who manifest themselves in the voices I’m hearing. Hence, I tend to start with characters and how they sound, how they talk, and from there, I learn about what they’re feeling and what they want. In the fiction I write that works best, it begins there, with the characters teaching me about themselves, and I try to listen.

What are you working on next?

I’m finishing up a novella for Madness Heart Press, another story about Vissaria County, this one a love story involving a couple with a pet leech. It’s called Little Lugosi: A Love Story. Where Beasts of Vissaria County has many hallmarks of the southern gothic, this one has folk horror qualities that I enjoyed playing with. I also recently finished a short story that fictionalizes the creation of Coral Castle, a strange, long-standing roadside attraction in South Florida. I’m pretty happy with how that one turned out, so hopefully it finds a home in a magazine or anthology.

Where can we find you online?

I can be found on Facebook as well as Instagram and Slasher. Give me a holler–or a howl!

Big thanks to Douglas Ford for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!