Category Archives: Fiction

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!

Rising Talent: Interview with Denise Tapscott

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to feature author and actress Denise Tapscott. Denise is the writer of Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes, the first book in The Zenobia Tales series.  Her books, Enlightening of the Damned and Lotus Flowers of the South, are both forthcoming.

Recently, Denise and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, the role that her favorite cities play in her work, as well as her artistic plans for the future.

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

Denise TapscottI became an unofficial writer when I was in high school. During the summer months, I would have insomnia. I thought a smart way to use my time was to write a gangster story. It never saw the light of day, but writing helped get through the sleepless nights. I also had an English teacher who was very impressed with my work in writing exercises she gave us; she used to bring samples of my work to workshops she attended. I officially became a writer in 2009 after Michael Jackson died; it made me realize that if I suddenly died the next day, no one would know the stories that bounced around in my head.

My favorite authors are Stephen King, Eden Royce and Jim Butcher.

Your first novel, Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes, debuted earlier this year, and you have two more novels forthcoming. What is your process when writing a book? Do you spend a lot of time in the planning/researching stages before you start writing, or are you more of a “dive right in” writer who researches and develops organically as you go?

My process when writing a book is a bit between diving right in, and outlining. Usually a character will speak to my heart or an experience in real life will spark a story. From there I make a basic outline (so that I have some focus) and then I do research as things come up organically.

In addition to your writing, you are also an actress. How did you get involved with acting, and have you found that your acting impacts your writing (or vice versa)?

I have always done some kind of acting. My mother used to tell me about how when I was around 5 years old, I played one of the children at the holiday party in The Nutcracker Suite. My sister and I did community theater at a summer camp with an emphasis on the Arts. Our little play was called “The Mindbenders and the Stargazers”. I didn’t pursue acting seriously until I was in college. Acting definitely impacts my writing. As an actor you have the freedom and tools (thanks to a writer) to bring characters to life. Its exciting as a writer to create the characters that perhaps some day an actor will bring to life.

Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo WishesYou say in your bio that you left your heart in San Francisco and left your soul in New Orleans, which is a really beautiful sentiment. How have the places you’ve traveled or where you currently live impacted your writing? Are there any places you’re eager to write about that you haven’t incorporated into your work yet?

Visiting New Orleans has had a huge impact on my writing. I like to think Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes is like a love letter to that city and its culture. Each and every time I visit that city (and I try to visit every year) I learn something new. Sometimes, in the moments when I’m kinda stuck with a character or plot, vivid memories will pop up and break through the hole I got myself stuck in. One example is the food that comes up in my novel; I kept casually mentioning certain dishes, like gumbo. One of my beta readers really wanted to know more about the actual dish, not the fact that the characters had dinner. Remembering how much I loved eating gumbo at one of my favorite places on Bourbon Street, I decided to fly to New Orleans and do some research. I was so inspired to make gumbo sound authentic that I took a cooking class at The New Orleans School of Cooking. My gumbo came out pretty tasty, and I learned how to make a few other dishes. As for other places I’m eager to write about that I haven’t incorporated into my work yet? I’d say France. Without revealing any spoilers for my next book, I could certainly do a great deal of research in Paris.

Which of the following is your favorite part of the writing process: developing characters, establishing setting/mood, or crafting dialogue?

My favorite part of the writing process is developing characters. It comes from all the acting classes, workshops and seminars I took in the past.

What are your creative goals for the next five years?

My creative goals for the next five years would be to have two more novels published, possibly a collection of short stories, and shoot a movie based on a short story I’m currently working on.

What projects are you currently working on?

Speaking of current projects I’m working on, I’m polishing up a short story called “The Price of Salvation” and I’m working on the second and third installments of Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes. There are other characters that keep me up at night, so I also have to find their voices and craft their stories. I foresee a lot of travel coming up for research purposes. Research and more gumbo.

Tremendous thanks to Denise Tapscott for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her website as well as on Twitter and Facebook!

Happy reading!

A Summer Vacation of Writing: Submission Roundup for July 2017

Welcome to this month’s Submission Roundup! Today’s post has a ton of great opportunities for you fiction writers out there!

As always, a quick disclaimer: I am not a representative for any of these publications. I’m simply spreading the word! Please direct any and all inquiries directly to the respective publications.

Now onward to this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Flame Tree Publishing
Payment: .06/word
Length: 2,000 to 4,000 words
Deadline: July 7th, 2017
What They Want: For the upcoming editions of Flame Tree’s anthology series, the editors are looking for stories that fall into one of the two following categories: “Pirates and Ghosts” and “Agents and Spies.”
Find the details here.

Unnerving Magazine
Payment: .01/word
Length: 400-2,500 words
Deadline: July 14th, 2017
What They Want: Original horror fiction with the theme of Halloween and/or classic monsters.
Find the details here.

Intelligence in Fiction
Payment: .08/word
Length: up to 5,000 words
Deadline: July 15th, 2017
What They Want: The Machine Intelligence Research Institute is seeking fiction about artificial intelligence. With very specific guidelines, be sure to check out all the relevant details before submitting.
Find the details here.

Electric Spec
Payment: $20/flat
Length: 250 to 7,000 words
Deadline: July 15th, 2017
What They Want: Open to fantasy, science fiction, and horror fiction.
Find the details here.

Sharp and Sugar Tooth
Payment: .06/word
Length: up to 5,000 words
Deadline: July 31st, 2017
What They Want: Part of Upper Rubber Boot’s Women Up to No Good series, the editors are seeking “creepy, seductive stories about the dark side of culinary life.” Authors must be female, non-binary, or a marginalized gender identity; diverse, female protagonists are encouraged.
Find the details here.

The Beauty of Death
Payment: $100/flat
Length: 4,000-5,000 words
Deadline: September 1st, 2017
What They Want: Horror stories that fit the theme of “death by water.”
Find the details here.

Retro Future
Payment: Not specified, but at least SFWA minimum rates (.06/word)
Length: Not specified but they accept both flash fiction and short stories
Deadline: September 1st, 2017
What They Want: The theme for Issue 4 is resistance to oppression, and all submissions should be in a progressive pulp style.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

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

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

Gwendolyn with Black Static

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

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

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

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

Gwendolyn with Bowie artwork

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

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

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

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

Happy haunting, and happy reading!

The Skull Queen: Interview with Emily B. Cataneo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

Happy reading!

Horror in the Garden: Interview with Jessica McHugh

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

Recently, Jessica and I discussed her evolution as a storyteller as well as what she has planned for the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

Where can we find you online?

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

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

Happy reading!

Superlative Prose: Interview with Damien Angelica Walters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

Happy reading!

Summer Writing: Submission Roundup for June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy submitting!

An Oath of Writers: Interview with Wendy N. Wagner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about the characters.

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

Happy reading!

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

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

The Five-Day Summer Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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