Category Archives: Book Promotion

The Final Girl: Interview with Claire C. Holland

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author Claire C. Holland. Her debut poetry collection, I Am Not Your Final Girl, which was released in February, absolutely knocked my socks off, and I’ve been raving about the book ever since. So naturally, I had to invite Claire on my blog to talk more about her fantastic new book!

Recently, we discussed Claire’s inspiration for I Am Not Your Final Girl as well as her first experience with horror films and her future plans as an author.

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

Claire C. HollandI’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. My mom is a reading specialist and she deeply encouraged my writing from a young age, and my dad is also a writer so of course he did as well. It’s one of the only things I’ve ever felt I was really good at, so I’m not sure I had a choice. I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time now, but this is my first foray into self-publishing; it’s been exciting!

My favorite authors are the ones who write prose as if they’re writing poetry – I love beautiful language. Janet Fitch, Francesca Lia Block, Laura Kasischke, Nova Ren Suma, Joyce Carol Oates. They’re incredible wordsmiths.

Your marvelous poetry collection, I Am Not Your Final Girl, recently debuted to fantastic reviews. Tell me a little bit about your process in selecting and curating this fantastic group of poems about the female characters of horror. How did you decide which characters to include, and how did you settle on the order of poems in the book?

Thank you so much for your kind words. I started writing the book because I was so consumed by the news surrounding the 2016 presidential election; I felt powerless and angry, and it felt natural to channel those feelings through some of my favorite women characters from horror. I’ve always found the concept of the final girl to be inspiring, and there are so many to choose from today, it was more a matter of narrowing the characters down at first.

The book is split into four sections – Assault, Possession, Destruction, and Transformation – with the characters growing fiercer and the poems becoming more empowered as you read through them. I think I wrote it that way because I was making my own journey through grief and helplessness to a stronger, more proactive state.

How did you first come across the concept of the Final Girl? What was it about this archetype that drew you in?

I’m not sure when I first heard the term “final girl,” but I remember reading Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws when I was younger and finding it a revelation. Even if I didn’t realize it as a teenager, horror was there for me at a time when most of society wasn’t truly there for women at all. Horror gave me these tough, badass women to root for and emulate, and it showed me that there isn’t one “correct” way to be a woman. My favorite characters are often anti-heroines or “unlikable” women, which can be difficult to find outside of horror (though the landscape for complex female characters is getting better). In short, horror and the final girl concept gave me a diverse range of female role models that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I also love that the final girl trope continues to evolve as more and more women enter the horror genre.

Do you have a personal favorite piece in the book? Conversely, was there one that was the most difficult to craft?

The first and last poems in the book – “Rosemary” and “Sophia” – are probably my favorites because they just felt right almost as soon as they were on the page. They were actually the first and last poems that I wrote, and it felt very full-circle to come to that final poem. It’s about Sophia from the movie A Dark Song, and she’s a character that finally achieves a sense of peace after losing her child and going through this incredibly arduous and frightening process to see him again. Corny as it may sound, I felt a real sense of gratitude and serenity after finishing that poem.

The hardest poems to write were the ones in the “Transformation” section of the book. I wanted the final section to be an encouraging call-to-action, but I wasn’t entirely at that point, mentally, when I was writing all of those poems. It was easy, for example, to write the “Destruction” poems because I had so much anger to vent; when it came to doing something about that anger and thinking about the next steps, though, that was harder.

What’s the first horror film you remember seeing, and what was your reaction to it?

I think my first “horror memory” is walking in on my family watching Scream one night when I was supposed to be in bed. I was probably eight years old, and I walked in during the opening, right at the moment when Drew Barrymore’s boyfriend is murdered by disembowelment. I was absolutely horrified and disturbed, and did not handle it well (there was a lot of crying). On the other hand, I remember loving Hitchcock’s The Birds as a kid. Just ask my parents – “pecked to death by birds” was my favorite would-you-rather scenario for years.

I Am Not Your Final GirlI absolutely love the cover design of your book! It looks like a perfect relic of the 80s and 90s VHS heyday of horror! Who designed the cover, and how did the artwork develop?

Thank you! I drew the cover myself and then edited it in Photoshop. I knew I wanted it to be reminiscent of old VHS horror movies and pulp novels, so I culled inspiration from a bunch of different film posters like Halloween and Repulsion, among many others. A little fun fact is that the girl on the cover is loosely modeled after Amber from Green Room. Editing the drawing was the much more difficult part, as I have little Photoshop experience. Luckily my husband is extremely talented in digital media and he walked me through a lot of the editing process. I also consulted a ridiculous number of online tutorials.

I know it’s very early to ask (and almost a cliche when it comes to horror), but are you considering a sequel to I Am Not Your Final Girl? Even if you’re only thinking of a sequel hypothetically, are there any Final Girls you would like to include in a follow-up?

There are absolutely some final girls I wish I could have included, but couldn’t fit in for whatever reason: Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2, Sidney from Scream, Erin from You’re Next. And of course there are fantastic new horror movies with tough female characters coming out all the time these days, so I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult to fill up another book with them. That being said, it’s not in my plans right now to write a sequel. I have another horror-related idea I’m currently fleshing out (which still involves a strong female element), so I’m hoping that might become my next book of poetry. I want to keep going with the themes of I Am Not Your Final Girl, but I also want to mix things up a bit.

What other projects are you currently working on?

As I said above, I’m tentatively diving into another feminist horror poetry project, but I have a lot to think about before it’s a real idea. It’s very different from I Am Not Your Final Girl in terms of form, but I want to try something new. A friend of mine also pitched what I think is a great idea for a horror podcast, so I might make a little foray into the podcasting world (purely for fun). I’m mainly excited to keep meeting people in the horror and poetry communities through my work and the work of others. It’s been wonderful to connect with so many talented people who are passionate about the same things I am.

Tremendous thanks to Claire C. Holland for being this week’s featured author. Find her online at her website as well as on Twitter!

Happy reading!

 

AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE is on the Preliminary Bram Stoker Awards Ballot!

So I’m incredibly surprised and honored to share that my JournalStone collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, made it on the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards Preliminary Ballot.

Wow. Seriously.

Now it’s important to note that this is not a nomination, as it is only the preliminary ballot; voting on the official nominees starts this week, with the final ballot being announced in February. But to make it this far is beyond humbling and thrilling.

It’s been a couple months since I’ve talked too much about the collection on this blog, so I thought I would take a moment and share a few quotes about the book. Because turning it over to reviewers is probably better than me blathering on, right? (And really, I’m still so freaking out excited about the preliminary ballot that I’ll probably just blather right now.)

And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe“I loved this collection. It announces the emergence of a new writer with a strong and distinctive voice, one who is unafraid to take risks, and I can’t wait to see where Gwendolyn Kiste’s wayward talent takes her next. ” — Peter Tennant at Black Static

“Kiste’s collection of short fiction And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is exactly the book that tears you in two… Imaginative, immersive, emotional.” — The Horror Review

“As it happens often in this collection the unlikely digs in its nails and becomes a fact, something to lose, or burn up. There are fairy tale vibes, twisted and reimagined for tales of death, and rebirth, and mystery… Gwendolyn Kiste offers such an original and wrenching distribution it would be difficult to compare her to many others.” — Unnerving Magazine

“An almost mythical ride through the Weird, blending and deconstructing different themes to create some powerful tales and lasting images.” — GreyDogTales.com

“Kiste has a real gift for pulling reality inside out in her fiction, taking situations, fairytales, and storylines that might seem everyday or familiar at first glance, and then twisting them into uniquely imagined, dark, and haunting tales.” — Maria Haskins

The iMailer newsletter from HWA already went out earlier this week, which included a special link to download And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, but just in case you missed that, it bears repeating: if you’re an Active or Lifetime member and would like to read my collection, please email me at gwendolyn@gwendolynkiste.com, and I would be thrilled to send you a copy of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe!

Good luck to everyone on the preliminary ballot! It’s an amazing roster of authors, and I’m so incredibly honored to be among so many horror creators that I admire!

Happy reading!

The Year that Was: 2017 Award Eligibility Post

2017 is almost over, and it was, to say the least, a very, very rough one. These past twelve months went so slowly and painfully that it might as well have been in dog years, not real years. That being said, 2017 was also filled with landmarks for my writing career. That’s rather discomfiting, considering the state of the world, but I guess something positive is better than nothing positive. Now is as good a time as any to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going. So here goes with a 2017 Award Eligibility post!

First off, two very big accomplishments in my writing (as in the biggest achievements so far): my first two standalone books were released this year! My debut collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, came out through JournalStone in April, and has been called “ravishingly beautiful and profoundly haunting” (Maria Haskins) and “not just a good book, but a very special one” (Mike Thorn). Really. People have said those things about it. To be honest, the praise for the book has been so kind and positive that it’s still pretty overwhelming. So thank you again to anyone who picked up a copy. It is greatly, greatly appreciated.

And Her Smile Will Untether the UniverseIn addition to And Her Smile, last month saw the release of my dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, out from Broken Eye Books. It’s all about the Marys of folklore and their strange and increasingly dire afterlives. This is my first work of long fiction, and it’s also been well-received so far. Nick Cato at The Horror Fiction Review called it a “highly imaginative novella [that] features some incredible imagery, gorgeous prose, and a satisfying finale that could easily lead to a sequel,” while author S.J. Budd said “this is a tale you will want to read again and again.” Several readers have compared it to Neil Gaiman’s work, which is crazy exciting and super, super humbling.

Pretty Marys All in a RowIn the short fiction department, 2017 saw eleven original short stories of mine make their debuts. Five of those pieces appeared in my collection, and six were featured in a variety of magazines, anthologies, and other outlets. So for the curious, let’s do a breakdown of those tales, along with links where you can find them and a little bit about each one.

Original stories from And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe:

“The Lazarus Bride”
A struggling couple must confront their own failures as well as an all-consuming fire on a wedding night that won’t end.

“And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe”
A lonely fan discovers the work of a long-forgotten actress, only to realize that she might be reaching out to him through her films almost fifty years after her death.

“Skin like Honey and Lace”
In a mostly deserted carnival town, a young woman with a monstrous secret must cope with a destructive former lover as she desperately tries to build a new life in a dying city

“The Five-Day Summer Camp”
Two sisters head to a seemingly jubilant summer camp where smiles, obedience, and fascistic rhetoric are prized above all else.

“By Now, I’ll Probably Be Gone”
A woman’s sweet ode to her lover slowly sours with the revelation of his possible transgressions.

Hardened HeartsStories released in other venues:

40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover” (Hardened Hearts, December 2017)
Ghastly faculty parties and an unfinished dissertation prove to be the least of a graduate student’s problem when she takes up with a married lover who turns out to be more monstrous than he first appears.

Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won’t Stop Haunting You and Your Friends” (Black Static #58, April 2017)
Leigh just wants to be left alone to mourn the death of her mother. But sometimes, ghosts have other plans. Set in Cleveland in 1980, Leigh copes with her daily haunting through the favorite (and least favorite) music she and her mother shared.

Black Static 58The Twelve Rules of Etiquette at Miss Firebird’s School for Girls” (Mithila Review, January 2017)
New students at Miss Firebird’s School must leave their broomsticks, capes, and bewitched skull souvenirs at home… or else.

Green with Scales, Gray with Tar” (Gaia: Shadow and Breath, Volume 3, March 2017)
After a young girl comes face to face with a monster, she must learn to accept her unlikely birthright as the fearful women in her village both revere and shun her.

A Pocket Guide for Mistress Horne’s Home for Weary Travelers” (Utter Fabrication: Historical Accounts of Unusual Buildings and Structures, September 2017)
In need of an escape from the everyday oppression of the world? Then Mistress Madison Horne might just have a room waiting for you. That is, if you don’t mind sharing her home with a blood-splattered corvid and a Victrola that plays on its own.

A Red Ring for a Winter’s Eve” (The Lift, August 2017)
On the day of her best friend’s funeral, a teenage wallflower makes a terrible choice that leads to an unexpected reckoning.

So those are my brand-new stories for 2017. If you’re nominating for any awards (Stokers, Nebulas, Hugos, etc.) and would like a copy of any or all of these stories, please send me a message, either on social media or at my Contact page. I will be happy to send the digital versions over to you in a hurry!

Looking ahead, next year should see the release of my debut novel, The Rust Maidens, along with “In Her Flightless Wings, a Fire,” my dark fantasy collaborative novella with Emily B. Cataneo that will appear in Chiral Mad 4. I’ve also got several short stories that are already slated for their debuts sometime in the next year, including a coming-of-age horror tale in the star-studded anthology Suspended in Dusk and a fairy tale flash fiction piece in Kaleidotrope. As always, keep watching this page as well as my social media for any updates on these and other releases.

And with that, happy reading, and farewell, 2017!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW, My Debut Novella Coming Soon from Broken Eye Books

You might have seen the announcement earlier this week on the Broken Eye Books website, but if not, then allow me to share a very exciting update: my debut novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, is slated for release later this year!

Inspired by the Marys of folklore, this novella is part fairy tale, part horror story, and part one of those ideas that has lived with me for years (and I’m so happy to have finally been able to get it all down on paper). In this writer’s personal opinion, Pretty Marys is among the very, very best things I’ve ever created, so I’m thrilled that it will soon be shared with the world.

And here’s the official description to give you an even better idea of what it’s all about!

You’ll find her on a lonely highway, hitchhiking at midnight. She calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her by another name: Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to a decrepit mansion on a lane to nowhere, she’s not alone.

In the antique mirror, call her name three times, and Bloody Mary will appear. Outside, wandering through a garden of poisonous flowers is Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary, a nursery rhyme come to gruesome life. Downstairs is another jump-rope rhyme—Mary Mack, forever conscripted to build her own coffin. And brooding in the corner with her horse skull is the restless Mari Lwyd.

They are the Marys, the embodiment of urban legend and what goes bump in the night. Every evening, they gather around the table and share nightmares like fine wine, savoring the flavors of those they’ve terrified.

But other than these brief moments together, the Marys are alone, haunting a solitary gloom that knows them better than they know themselves. That’s because they don’t remember who they were before—or even if there was a before. And worst of all, they don’t know how to escape this fate.

That is, until a moment of rage inspires Rhee to leap from the highway—and into the mirror with Bloody Mary. Suddenly, the Marys are learning how to move between their worlds, all while realizing how much stronger they are together.

But just when freedom is within their reach, something in the gloom fights back—something that isn’t ready to let them go. Now with her sisters in danger of slipping into the darkness, Rhee must unravel the mystery of who the Marys were before they were every child’s nightmare. And she’ll have to do it before what’s in the shadows comes to claim her for its own.

Broken Eye BooksIf you want to read more about the book and my inspiration in developing it, then be sure to head over to the Broken Eye Books site for the official announcement! And of course, tremendous thanks to editor Scott Gable for taking on this project!

Now as we move toward the fall release date, Patreon supporters of Broken Eye Books will receive the ebook first (likely in early September) with a wide release to everyone else down the road. So that means if you’re really eager to read Pretty Marys All in a Row along with all the other great releases available and forthcoming from Broken Eye Books, then consider becoming a supporter of their Patreon.

And naturally, expect me to be discussing Pretty Marys a whole lot more in the upcoming months. I can reveal that I’ve already seen a mock-up sketch of the tentative cover, and it’s incredibly beautiful and eerie. As soon as it’s finalized, I’ll be sure to share it here and promote the fantastic artist who’s designing it! It’s a very fortunate life to work with so many amazing editors, writers, and artists!

Happy reading!

Judge and Jury: Musings on the Bracken Flash Fiction Contest

Welcome back, and happy August! And what a happy day it is indeed, with the release of Issue IV of Bracken Magazine! In addition to the usual roster of incredible fiction, poetry, and art, this issue also includes the winning stories from the micro-fiction contest held earlier this summer. I was fortunate enough to serve as judge for the contest, a role that was both thrilling and excruciating, because all of the stories were so good, which made my job very, very hard in a very, very good way.

Now that the new issue has made its debut, I figured I’d take a moment to give readers some insight into what the behind-the-scenes process of the contest was like. (Think reading, rereading, and rereading again!)

Bracken 4A bit about me as “judge and jury”: I’d never served as a contest judge before, so it was at once a fun and nerve-wracking experience. Obviously, you always want to do great work with anything you try, but when it’s a magazine as fantastic as Bracken, the pressure was on to do right by all the authors who submitted as well as the wonderful editor, Alina Rios. From the start, I knew I wanted to read all of the submissions blind. Speculative short fiction is a small world after all, so I assumed I would probably know a few of the authors. Hence, reading blind ensured that no byline could even subconsciously affect my decision. I also read every entry in full at least twice. I wanted to give each piece my undivided attention. Likewise, I wanted to give each piece a second chance to catch my attention. Fair or not, so much of the submission process really is dependent on how an editor or judge is feeling at a given moment. So to the best of my ability, I ensured that each and every entry truly got its due.

A bit about those wonderful entries: Now I’ve served as a first reader at publications in the past, but I can honestly say that these submissions were some of the very best slush I’ve ever read. I was stunned at the incredible quality of these stories, which only made the process of picking two winners all the more agonizing. So that being said, if you did submit to the Bracken Flash Fiction Contest, believe me when I say congratulations on a fantastic submission. It was an honor to read your work.

A bit about those winners: After much deliberation, soul searching, reading and rereading, I settled on two beautiful and emotionally compelling pieces: “When Mama Calls” as the winner and “Path of Stones” as the finalist. Once I sent my selections to Alina and she contacted the winning authors, she revealed that these entries were written by Maria Haskins and Kathryn Kulpa respectively. Now anyone who is a reader of this blog already knows that I’ve long admired both Maria’s and Kathryn’s works (I’ve even interviewed them both here and here), so it was quite the pleasant surprise to discover they were the winning authors. (It also proved my initial suspicion very right: it is a small publishing world, and I did know at least two of the authors who entered the contest, which made me extra glad that I read all the submissions blind.)

So now that you know all about those behind-the-scenes goings-on, please check out the latest issue of Bracken! It’s a breathtaking issue, and I’m so excited for readers to check out the winning entries of the contest. They’re both such gorgeous tales. And congrats once again to Maria Haskins and Kathryn Kulpa!

Happy reading!

Coming in 2018: My Debut Novel, THE RUST MAIDENS

Yes, that headline is indeed true. Next year, I will be taking the big, thrilling jump into the novel world with my debut, The Rust Maidens.

Seriously. This is going to be a reality.

As if having a novel isn’t awesome enough, The Rust Maidens will be released through Trepidatio Publishing, a division of JournalStone. After the fantastic process of putting together And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, I couldn’t be happier to work with both JournalStone and editor Jess Landry again. It’s an honor, a privilege, and a dream come true as a writer.

Trepidatio Publishing

The Rust Maidens delves into all the horror territory I love best as a reader and writer. There’s body horror, there’s coming-of-age, there’s a bevy of girls who are monstrous and dangerous and incredibly powerful. It’s also at once a love note and a poisoned pen letter to my Rust Belt roots, both the good and the bad of my home state of Ohio. It’s a very personal story, and one that readers will hopefully find very, very creepy.

Anyhow, let’s get down to it with the official description for The Rust Maidens!

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. As the neighborhood withdraws from the attention and paranoia permeates the crowded split-levels, Phoebe and Jacqueline band together with the other unchanged girls, all of them as terrified they’ll be the next to change as they are terrified they’ll be the only girl left behind. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in their untrimmed backyards, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood asunder.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even her own body.

So, yeah. This is real. As you can probably guess, you’ll be hearing much, much more about The Rust Maidens throughout the rest of 2017 and into early 2018 as we announce the official release date and reveal the cover. So keep an eye on this blog in the coming months for even more details! *squeals with horror writer glee*

Happy reading!

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!

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

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

The Five-Day Summer Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!