Category Archives: Interviews

The Unlanguage of the Weird: Interview with Michael Cisco

Welcome back! This week, I’m pleased to spotlight the fantastic Michael Cisco. Michael is the author of The Divinity Student, The Tyrant, Celebrant, and MEMBER, among numerous other books and short stories.

Recently, Michael and I discussed his latest book, Unlanguage, as well as how he defines weird fiction and what projects he’s working on next.

What first inspired you to become a writer? What is it about speculative fiction or the uncanny that led you to genre writing in particular?

Michael CiscoBeing a writer never seemed like a decision. I wanted to write from a very early age. When I was a boy, I remember being struck by the idea that, while the people, places, and events in the books I loved weren’t real, the writers were. I couldn’t be those people, do those things, or go to those places, but I could write my own.

I grew up reading fantasy, science fiction, and horror. What I think interested me about all of them was the kind of relationship of wonder they established between the world and the reader. My version of The Hobbit came with maps printed on the end papers. I was eight, and I was astonished at the creativity, almost the arrogance, of inventing maps of imaginary places. To create entire languages for these places struck me as an audacious thing. So then I realized this would be “allowed.”

Horror was always important to me, mainly because I had my fair share of fear and that perverse tendency to use the imagination to trump up greater fears for myself, but also because horror was about re-enchanting the world around me, however darkly. If, for example, I’m told that one of those boring suburban houses over there is haunted, then they suddenly become interesting.

I knew I wanted to write as imaginatively as possible, and I felt a condescending disdain for realism that I hope I’ve outgrown now. I knew I wanted to write that kind of fiction, but at the same time my vanity wouldn’t allow me to do anything in the usual way. So I went about writing genre fiction almost deliberately incorrectly, to see if I could create something new.

Your new novel, Unlanguage, just debuted from Eraserhead Press. What can you share about your process for this book? What was your initial inspiration, and how long did it take to develop into the final version? Also, any surprises in the writing process along the way?

Gahan Wilson created a little comic about someone visiting an unnamed, weird foreign country; he’s studying a handbook of useful phrases to learn, and they include “Please come up to my room, as I have been clubbed and am bleeding profusely” and “I think those people over there are lepers.”

I was studying a language textbook that included a series of linked readings connected to each lesson. In one reading, we’re on board a ship. A man goes wild and starts trying to chop the bottom out of the boat with an axe. Pursued by the sailors, he leaps overboard. The main character of these readings asks the captain if he intends to let this man drown in the ocean. The captain replies, “He was a bad man and he’ll die a bad death.” And I thought — this? This is what the writers of this book thought was a representative and appropriate introduction to their language? I enjoyed the story, don’t get me wrong, but it got me thinking.

Since my Tolkien days I’d been haunted by the idea of inventing a language, but this has been done already, and by far better qualified people. Coming up with vocables and arbitrarily assigning them meanings didn’t sing to me, but I have always been mystified and intrigued by other languages and the possibilities for expression that come out in the unlanguage, the non-place between two languages in translation.

So I came up with the idea of an ominous language textbook with linked readings connecting across different grammatical explanations.

UNLANGUAGE took roughly two years to write, which is about typical for me. I spend a year banking ideas, and a year writing them up.

Your work is often classified under the weird fiction label. But weird fiction itself often defies easy definition, with writers and editors having different ideas about what encapsulates the weird. So in that vein, what is weird fiction to you?

This is something I’m currently struggling to do in a critical monograph. I don’t think that weird is the opposite of normal, but that the two are inseparable. My go to example here is the beginning of David Lynch’s film, Blue Velvet. The discovery of a severed, greenish ear in the grass is set alongside a montage of exaggeratedly ordinary images invoking small town Americana. I don’t think it’s enough to say that you can’t have the strangeness of the one without the normalness of the other, because the normalness becomes strange and the strange becomes normal in that movie.

If a story is nothing but weird events, then it ceases to be weird, weirdly enough, because it has turned into something like fantasy. For me, the weird is about the normal, simply by not taking the normal for granted. It’s like the seduction of the ordinary.

Throughout your career, you’ve written a lot of both short fiction and longer works. Do you find your style or approach differs depending on the length of the project? Do you have a preference for short fiction versus longer forms? Also, has this preference changed at all over the course of your writing career?

I much prefer longer forms, and always have. I gather ideas and heap them up with the intention of shoving them all into one thing, instead of breaking each one out into a separate thing. Writing short stories usually entails an adjustment to this approach.

Writing novels, I still start at the beginning and write through to the end, but over time I’ve gotten better at roving around inside the manuscript. I am still experimenting with different approaches to writing short fiction; I have no one set approach there.

In addition to your own fiction, you’ve also written nonfiction, you’ve done translations, and you teach. Do you find that these various elements of your work often impact your fiction?

They all connect. My nonfiction grows out of the preoccupations I have in my own writing. My translations don’t necessarily have much bearing on what I write, except in the broader sense that I draw ideas from the interaction of languages. I have tried writing passages in other languages and then translated them into English, to see if I could add a certain kind of disoriented feeling to the “normal” English flavor. Teaching means encountering all sorts of different people and learning from them; it has made me a much quicker and more ruthless editor of my own work.

What projects are you currently working on?

I have a new novel that is nearly done, called PEST; the theoretical part of my academic book on weird fiction is done, and I’m now doing some case studies to see how well it holds up in application.

Where can we find you online?

Here’s my blog: https://michaelcisco.blogspot.com/

And I tweet.

Big thanks to Michael Cisco for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

Gloom and Heirlooms: Interview with Theresa Braun

Welcome back! This week’s featured author is the talented Theresa Braun. Theresa and I connected last year when we were both part of Unnerving’s Hardened Hearts anthology, and since then, it’s been so much fun to get to know Theresa and her awesome body of work!

Recently, she and I discussed her inspiration as a horror writer, her favorite Women in Horror, as well as her writing rituals and future plans as an author!

What first drew you to horror, and who are some of your favorite authors in the genre?

Theresa BraunWell, I’ve been a bit of a Goth since as far as I can remember. My closet is almost entirely black, with a sprinkling of shades of gray and a bit of red. Also, I’ve always liked reading dark, creepy fiction and watching scary movies. There’s something fascinating about the shadow side of life. Maybe it’s partly the adrenaline high that goes along with dangerous things, like the supernatural or evil people. The element that’s beyond our control is also part of that. So, I suppose the subject matter and the psychological aspect of horror really inspire me.

Some of my favorite horror authors: Stephen King is one, and Edgar Allan Poe is another. I also love lots of classic writers such as Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m also really into what Hulu is doing with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The adaptation is a gripping reminder how relevant that novel still is today. There are many contemporary authors in my TBR pile, which is something I’m working on—reading more current writers. There’s so much to read, so little time…

You’ve written short fiction as well as longer works like Groom and Doom. Do you find your approach differs depending on the length of the story? Do you plot out a piece in advance, or do you allow a story to evolve as you write?

Writing short stories allows you to experiment with various characters and settings, while writing a novel requires that you stick to the same set of characters and situation for a longer haul. Both have their positives and negatives. The publishing process is also quite different when it comes to short stories. You’ve got to do your homework, and more often. However, one of the most exhilarating things about being in a publication with other writers is the added bonus of networking. Connecting with other writers and with editors is important for countless reasons. For example, in addition to knowing you aren’t alone in the face of rejection, lots of times another author will tell you of a submission call you hadn’t heard of or they might recommend that your style fits a certain magazine. It’s a lot of fun to build up writing credentials, while also getting to know new people in the writing community. Often, I’ve bonded with others who have also been in the same collection. (*ahem, Hardened Hearts is just one example*). I’ve really enjoyed that.

As far as hunkering down with a novel? To be honest, I’ve been avoiding that for awhile. It’s possible to get lost in the creative and editing process. When you hit a wall, it can feel insurmountable. I’m forcing myself to face that beast right now with Fountain Dead, which will come out later thanks to Unnerving Magazine. I have a rough outline of markers I want to hit, and pray daily that the new ideas/scenes that I’m working on are leading me in the right direction. Right now I have a white board where I jot down things to keep adding, or new ideas that pop into my mind. So, to some degree things are evolving as I write. I’m hoping the more I force myself to do it, the easier it will be. People who don’t write don’t necessarily understand how much love, sweat, and tears go into a finished product. Some days it’s a creative high, and other days it’s a waking nightmare. As I write more novel length books, I hope there will be more creative high, less waking nightmare.

Your story, “Heirloom,” which appeared in last year’s anthology, Hardened Hearts, has been very well-received. What can you share about your process for this particular story?

Hardened HeartsWe have to write what we know, right? I decided to focus on a few ideas that I’m passionate about. “Heirloom” contains several of those elements. Past lives and how they might affect our present existence is something I think a lot about. And then there’s also the idea that we are constantly evolving and often change to fit the circumstances and dynamics around us. On top of that is this interconnectedness we have with others. I wanted to explore those things, as well as the complexities of empowerment. What does it mean to have power in a given situation, or over another person? With all the talk of gender inequality and the #metoo movement, I thought a lot about who has the upper hand and why. And, does that trump other qualities such as emotional intelligence or empathy? That’s what I set up for my main character, who’s a therapist. Enter a magic mirror (because the supernatural is always fun) that sends her into the past. Add a difficult client who not only threatens her in present day, but also has a role in the past. How does it all play out? Well, that’s the story. A fun fact is that I worked for a few years on this one. Several drafts and several transformations later, and presto…

Do you have any writing rituals? For example, do you write every day? Do you write with music or without? Is there a certain time of day when you prefer to write?

If I can travel, that’s my ideal environment. I like to completely detach from the world as I know it. My whole body and soul get into a different mode. I love to sit at a café in an exotic location or in a hotel overlooking a place I’ve never been. When I’m not traveling, I prefer to write in my bedroom. I pile up lots of pillows and my cats are snuggling nearby. I drink buckets of yerba mate tea or decaf coffee. I can really get into the zone in that comfortable space. Depending on my mood, I’ll play some music, or not. The type of music also changes. Sometimes I’ll put on some M83, and other times it’ll be Marilyn Manson or Nine Inch Nails. By nature I’m a night owl, but my day job forces me to be up around 5:00 a.m., so I have to sort of make it work whenever I can find the time to write.

Daily writing is a fantastic practice, but I can’t say that I stick to it consistently. Life just sometimes gets in the way. So, I switch to editing mode or reading mode, if I’m not writing. Ideally, I would love to write for a minimum of an hour every day. However, when I’m really on a roll, I tend to write for about five hours at a time, sometimes more. It makes me a little delirious, but it’s a wonderful feeling to have been able to spend a chunk of time on a project.

At my blog, I believe that Women in Horror Month should last all year long. So in that vein, as a woman in horror yourself, do you have any favorite female horror authors writing today that you’d like to signal boost?

Oh, dear. I won’t be able to do this list justice, as there are so many female horror writers that deserve praise. Off the top of my head, here’s a list of some who should be read: Kelly Link, Lisa Mannetti, Nicole Cushing, Gemma Files, Helen Oyeyemi, Tananarive Due, Gillian Flynn, J.H. Moncrieff, Christa Carmen, Somer Canon, Catherine Cavendish, Amy Grech, Larissa Glasser, Lee Murray, Patricia Davis, Renee Miller, S.P. Miskowski, Jac Jemc, (someone named Gwendolyn Kiste), and on and on. Seriously, there are so many more worth mentioning. There’s no shortage of talent out there.

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

Isn’t that like asking a mom who her favorite kid is? I’m pretty attached to “Heirloom” for a number of reasons. The layers of the story and the message are pretty important to me. And, you either love or hate something you’ve spent so much time on. I’m also pretty fond of my vampire story “Dying for an Invitation” inspired by a trip to Transylvania. But, I’m really hoping that Fountain Dead ends up being one of my overall favorites. It’s partly a coming of age tale based on a haunted house I lived in with my family up in Winona, Minnesota. I think that being a teenager in itself is scary enough, but this kid has to navigate paranormal activity that threatens his family. It’s up to him to grow up fast and figure it all out before someone gets killed, literally. There are several threads of social judgments and expectations he wrestles with along the way, including gender identity issues and racism. I’m pretty excited about the project and am really throwing myself into it at the moment.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

I’d really like to see some other novels come to fruition by then, as ambitious as that sounds. My constant goal is to find a way where I can write more consistently for longer periods of time. That schedule change would require a shift in the day job situation, however. Although teaching can be extremely rewarding, it makes the writing process an uphill battle. The ultimate fantasy is to write full-time and be able to pay the bills, but there are so many talented writers struggling to get to that very same place. Although I think there is enough success to be had by all, I think it’s harder and harder to make that reality come true. But that’s a whole rabbit hole of a discussion in itself.

Where can we find you online?

I practically live on Twitter at @tbraun_author. My website is undergoing a makeover, but that’s www.theresabraun.com. I’m also on Goodreads and Amazon…

Big thanks to Theresa Braun for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

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!

 

Queen of Tragedy: Interview with Leza Cantoral

Welcome back to this week’s author interview! Today my featured author is Leza Cantoral. Leza is the author of Cartoons in the Suicide Forest as well as the editor-in-chief at Clash Books, which has just released the absolutely incredible Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath.

Recently, Leza and I discussed the Tragedy Queens anthology as well as her inspiration as an author and editor!

What first made you want to become a writer and editor? Who are some of your favorite authors?

I began writing poetry in high school. I don’t think anyone wants to become a writer. It is kind of a shit career. I never wanted to be a writer, it is just the thing I am the least bad at. I am an artist & I need an outlet. I am not that great at painting or drawing or film or willing to do the bullshit to be an actor or filmmaker. Writing is the career the artist takes who has the lowest bullshit threshold.

I started editing Mandy de Sandra as well as nonfiction posts for the yesclash.com site. I learned that editing is so much more than doing line edits. I love working with writers & helping them find their voice & tell their story. As Editor in Chief of CLASH Books I have so much fun doing just that.

Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Lewis Carroll, Hans Christian Anderson, Vladimir Nabokov, Angela Carter, Gillian Flynn, Anne Rice, Poppy Z. Brite, Joyce Carol Oates, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Baudelaire, Clive Barker, Jonathan Franzen, Bret Easton Ellis, Roberto Bolaños, Scott McClanahan, Sam Pink, Kim Addonizio, Melissa Broder, Lisa Marie Basile, Rios de la Luz, Juliet Escoria.

Big congratulations are in order for the Tragedy Queens anthology! Before we dive deeper into the process of creating this gorgeous book, let me ask you this first: do you remember the first work by Sylvia Plath you ever read? Likewise, do you remember the first Lana Del Rey song you ever heard? What was it about these two artists that inspired you to bring them together for an anthology?

‘Lorelei,’ is the first poem of Sylvia Plath that I read that grabbed me. Then I read the Ariel collection & it changed my entire life. That collection always has a strange effect on me when I read it. I think it has mystical powers.

I don’t remember if I heard Born to Die or Cruel World first, but they both grabbed me right away & I was hooked for both albums.

Lana Del Rey has made herself into a channel of feminine archetypes. Her songs are like stories from the perspectives of different characters/aspects of herself as well as American icons like Jackie Kennedy & Marilyn Monroe. Sylvia Plath did that too. She drew from Greek Tragedy, the Tarot, mystical lore, and fairy tales. I wanted this anthology to bring a full range of female voices to life. Male dominated narratives often put women into boxes. You are either a whore or a good girl, a sex object or a scary crone. It is very limiting. I wanted to challenge these stereotypes about femininity & I thought these two incredible artists would be the perfect muses.

What was the process of putting together Tragedy Queens? Did you know exactly what you were looking for going into the slush pile, or did you let the book evolve naturally as it went?

I came up with the title & the idea & put out the submissions call. The call described the themes of the anthology. My inbox was flooded pretty quickly. I was looking for lyricism & strong character arcs. There are some stories that are more on the dreamy/lyrical side, & others that are more plot driven. I did not care about genre, just compelling stories & characters. I left submissions open for quite a while, because I cared more about getting the right stories than publishing this on some kind of schedule. The goal for Tragedy Queens was for it to feel like an album. The stories are the playlist & it is a killer track list.

Of course, you’re also an accomplished, award-nominated author in your own right. 2016 saw the release of your collection, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. What can you share about that process? How did you choose the stories for the table of contents, and were there any surprises along the way in writing the book?

Most of the stories I had written at that point made it in to the collection. ‘Star Power’ was the first story I wrote that felt like my voice. It was a piece of flash fiction that I wrote for a writing workshop, based off a Tarot card prompt. That one & ‘Fist Pump’ were written years ago. The rest were written in the couple years leading up to the release of the collection. I left out a couple that relied a little too heavily on dream logic for their narrative structure. The title of the collection appeared in my mind one day & I wrote a story based off the title. It was more literary horror than the other stories. There are also a couple nonfiction pieces in there. This collection was very therapeutic to write. It is the journey of me finding my voice as well as a love letter to fairy tales, surrealist poetry, & horror movies.

In addition to your writing and editorial work, you run the podcast, Get Lit With Leza. What inspired you to start the show? 

Whenever I go to cons or readings I have such fun conversations with other writers, but I live in a very isolated place, so I do not get to hang out that much. Talking on videochat kinda bridges that loneliness gap. I used to drunk-dial my writer friends, now I get them on my podcast. The podcast is a great way to have a conversation with a cool artist & make something entertaining out of it. I was inspired by shows like Between Two Ferns, The Eric Andre Show, The Tom Green Show, & Da Ali G Show with Sacha Baron Cohen. I like talk show hosts like Crag Ferguson, who are not scared to show their flawed & awkward parts or talk about their dark past. It is very human & I connect with it. Get Lit With Leza began to take shape when I started to think about the charm of the bad interview. I am often not sober when I record episodes. I am not trying to kiss ass. I am just trying to have a real conversation.

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

‘Saint Jackie.’ It’s a short story in the More Bizarro Than Bizarro antho. It is a conversation with the ghost of Jackie Kennedy about relationships, alcoholism, & growing up.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

A poetry collection called Trash Panda, a personal essay collection called Never Cursed, & a novel about badass witches called Operation Bruja.

Big thanks to Leza Cantoral for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her website as well as at Clash Books and her podcast page!

Happy reading!

Beneath the Streets: Interview with Daniel Hale

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m pleased to feature Daniel Hale. Daniel’s fiction has appeared in The Myriad Carnival, All Hallows’ Evil, and Strangely Funny III, among other publications.

Earlier this year, he and I discussed how he became a writer, the inspiration behind his recent stories, and what he’s working on next.

What first inspired you to become a writer? Also, do you remember the first speculative fiction story you ever read?

Daniel HaleI’ve been playing with the idea of writing since I was in high school, though back then it was mostly just one-off scenes handwritten in notebooks that didn’t really go anywhere. I didn’t seriously try it until college when I figured there was nothing stopping me. I suppose inspiration as we know it didn’t really happen until I read Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman, and specifically the introduction in which he explained the work that went into each story in the collection. It made me realize that writing is work, and takes a while and that a story can come from anywhere.

The first book I can remember reading for actual pleasure is One Day at Horrorland by R.L. Stine. One day I hope to write my own original take on a theme park of horror and will dedicate it to him in thanks.

Your story, “Plague Automata,” appeared in The Myriad Carnival, an anthology edited by the talented Matthew Bright. What can you tell us about your inspiration for that particular story?

“Plague Automata” was inspired by the old penny machines that played little tableaus. I liked the idea of these little arcade machines that acted out a story through animate, uncanny sculptures, and wanted to see how they would fit in at a place as strange and unworldly as the Myriad Carnival.

You’ve also had stories appear in two anthologies—Strangely Funny III and All Hallows’ Evil—from Mystery and Horror LLC. I’m a huge a fan of editors Sarah Glenn and Gwen Mayo, so I always love talking about the fiction they publish. So in that vein, what was the process behind those two stories that appeared in their anthologies?

All Hallows’ Evil was the first anthology I ever submitted for, and I’m still deeply pleased by the reception my story, “Pact of the Lantern,” has received. One day that will be a book.

Strangely Funny IIIThe story came from my own fascination with Halloween and the things I learned about the holiday visiting the town of Salem as a boy. It also stemmed from my sadness that so much of the holiday is fading from common practice. I’m still worried that one day my son might not be able to go trick r’ treating the right way, from house to house lit by lanterns. The day trunk r’ treating becomes the norm is the day that I am officially done with the holiday.

Strangely Funny III featured one of my more enjoyable stories, “A Familiar Problem.” It was surprisingly easy to write, too, being so distrustful myself of smartphones and other modern, labor-saving technology. I figured wizards might have the same problems that they think can be solved with the right gimmicky time-saving enchantments.

You are originally from Massillon, Ohio, which has a special connection for me (since it just so happens to be my birthplace). Have you found that the Rust Belt in general or Massillon in particular has figured into your fiction in any way?

My grandparents live in Massillon, and the house of the wizard in “A Familiar Problem” is partly inspired by theirs. I also wrote a few short pieces for the ongoing “Big Trouble in Little Canton” project by Jason Daniel Myers. Oh, and the Buzzbin in Canton became the Din Den in my story “The Miasmatist,” which will be featured in my upcoming collection.

So as yet it’s mostly just been minor places in the area that I’ve borrowed for my stories. My most recent attempt at a novel took place in the area and featured the melon heads and the lizard lady of Akron, and other local bits of folklore.

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

My Halloween stories have tended to be my personal favorites so far. “Pact of the Lantern” and the stories I’ve written connected to it have received the most praise. One of my ongoing projects is a collection of stories that feature Halloween and Christmas stories together.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

The Library Beneath the Streets will be my first published book. Editing with Zumaya Publications is finally wrapping up, and we’re hoping for a release in April at the latest.

I’m also working on two other collections: my holiday collection, tentatively titled Hallowed Days, and Sleepless Nights, a more general collection of mostly unpublished works. It also includes “Faith and Folklore,” my last attempt at a novel, as the penultimate story. I’ve yet to find the right combination of focus and time to write a proper one.

I’ve got a publisher in mind for Sleepless Nights. I’ll keep working on it as I wait for them to open for submissions.

I’m usually working on a short story at any given time. Right now I’m trying for a crossover between two obscure fairy tales, “How Six Made Their Way in the World, and “The Bird, the Mouse and the Sausage.” We’ll see.

Huge thanks to Daniel Hale for being part of this week’s author interview series! You can find him online at his author website and on Twitter.

Happy reading!

In the Red: Interview with Christa Carmen

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight the awesome Christa Carmen. Christa is the author of numerous short stories that have been released in venues such as Unnerving, Tales to Terrify, Mad Scientist Journal, and DarkFuse Magazine. Her debut fiction collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is forthcoming from Unnerving. Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to meet Christa at StokerCon in Providence, and she is truly as delightful and fabulous in person as I’d hoped!

Earlier this year, she and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, the way her stories develop, and 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?

Christa CarmenI’ve been submitting my work for the consideration of publication only within the last two and a half years, but I’ve always considered myself a writer. The idea of writing professionally, writing consistently, writing for something other than my own enjoyment or for catharsis, writing with intent for the work to see the light of day rather than fade and wither in the bowels of a desk drawer somewhere, this was a foreign concept to me for quite a long time.

It’s strange, because I’ve always been enamored of everything to do with books; with the stories themselves, and the authors who wrote them, with movies that were adapted from books and literary series that told sweeping or genre-bending tales, with the illustrations that graced the covers of my favorite novels and the libraries and bookstores that housed them. But the idea of becoming a writer myself was stymied by a longstanding preoccupation with alcohol and drugs. I’m sober now, and have been for a while, but throughout much of the time I could have spent determining if the passion I’d always had for writing could have translated into a viable career option, I was struggling to keep my head above water while the metaphorical eight-hundred pound gorilla clung to my back. I don’t regret that this was the case; while my commitment to writing may have been delayed, the experiences I endured, and how those experiences shaped me as a person, inform my writing today.

As far as some of my favorite authors go, the list is pretty expansive, but I’ll try to keep it brief: Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, Stephen King, Sarah Waters, Jack Ketchum, Ania Ahlborn, Shirley Jackson, Joe Hill, Caroline Kepnes, Ruth Ware, R.L. Stine, Dean Koontz, Jessica McHugh, Michael McDowell, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Roxane Gay, Peter Straub, Agatha Christie, Dan Simmons, Damien Angelica Walters, Mark Z. Danielewski, Harper Lee, H.P. Lovecraft, Annie Hartnett, Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Allan Poe, Sarah Pinborough, J.K. Rowling, & B.A. Paris.

As a horror author, are there certain themes that you find yourself returning to again and again, those concepts that really get under your skin? On the other hand, are there topics or themes you’re eager to try as a horror writer, or even ones you’re not quite ready to explore yet?

When it comes to writing horror, the themes that I find myself returning to are more psychological in nature. We know that what one individual finds horrifying may not even register as a blip on the fright radar to another. While a great horror story might err on the more conventional side of what human beings find scary, I think that the truly frightening stories are those that deal with the darker parts of the human psyche, those parts that many of us repress or deny. Home invasion thrillers can inspire security system checks to rival those of an obsessive-compulsive; zombies and vampires make us read of the latest swine flu outbreak or blood-borne virus discovery with an increasingly mistrustful eye. But psychological horror done right exposes our universal vulnerabilities, makes us experience those unpleasant, unsettled, uneasy feelings we work so hard to avoid.

As for topics or themes I’m eager to try as a horror writer, or ones I’m not quite ready to explore yet, I think it’s pretty safe to say that anything that pops into my head as a subject or theme I could potentially write about, I’m willing to pursue. That’s not to say that uncharted thematic territory won’t require more of a time commitment than a subject or theme I’m familiar with. For example, I have an unfinished horror novel called 13 Sessions, about a thirty-something year old woman who pursues acupuncture as a personal infertility treatment with monstrous results, and an unfinished short story, “I Have No Mouth For I Mustn’t Scream,” about a woman whose pregnancy complications have rendered her mute for the entire forty weeks of gestation, so that should tell you a little something about how confident I am with themes related to that subject.

You have a story appearing in Unnerving Magazine #5. Could you tell us about the inspiration behind that piece?

Unnerving #5The inspiration behind the story appearing in Unnerving Magazine #5, “Red Room,” is probably a great deal more interesting than that of my other stories. The story is about a woman who, despite her fiancé’s belief to the contrary, is convinced she should be concerned by the gruesome photos appearing on her phone, and whose fear proves justified in a rather ghastly, albeit unexpected way.

On April 13, 2017, Tor.com published an article by Emily Asher-Perrin entitled, “The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women.” The piece examines one of the most overdone tropes in horror: that of the woman who feels that something is off, but is disbelieved and brushed off by everyone, right up until the moment the chainsaw begins to rev, or zombies break down the door. The article discusses how every woman knows what this feels like, and how “women know that it’s their responsibility to prevent harm from coming to them.”

Not long after reading this article, something odd happened. I woke up the morning after a wedding to a series of photos on my phone that I did not take. The photos were of two men in a bar, and they had an eerie, old-fashioned feel that lent them a patina of wrongness as palpable as any Instagram filter. The next day, at a post-wedding brunch, the topic of the inexplicable photos came up. The reaction from several men in the group was that, one way or another, I had to have been the cause of these photos appearing on my phone. “You probably just screenshotted them from a website,” or “you must have accidentally downloaded them.” As I mentioned previously, I’m not a drinker, so the activities of the night before were clear in my mind. This complete unwillingness to believe that the photos had appeared through no action of mine collided in my head with the echoes of Asher-Perrin’s article, and “Red Room” was the result.

You currently live in Rhode Island, a state with its own haunted and cosmic horror history. Do you find that your home state often inspires your work, or do you tend to look for creepy inspiration elsewhere?

Rhode Island does often inspire my work! I’d say 95% of what I write takes place somewhere in my home state; the novel that I’m currently working on is set not only in my home state, but in my hometown of Westerly, with much of the action occurring along the coast, in Misquamicut and Watch Hill, and many of my short stories take place in Mysticism, a fictional town that exists somewhere between Westerly and Charlestown, and borrows a portion of its name from Mystic, Connecticut.

I think the consistent use of RI as setting can be attributed to a combination of two factors. First, there is absolutely something haunted and horrific about the smallest state in the US. Especially in the beach communities at the southern part of the state, there’s such a sense of isolation in the winter, of things lurking in the cold and waiting to awaken. Additionally, while I don’t necessarily subscribe to the oft-repeated ‘write what you know’ adage, I find that in terms of place, setting a work of fiction in a locale with which you are intimately familiar makes for fiction that’s more dynamic to read, and more enjoyable to write.

As a short fiction writer, do you have a specific approach when you’re crafting a new story? Do you tend to start with an image or a character or a theme, and write toward exploring that idea? Or does it entirely vary from project to project?

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-SoakedThe reason I wrote that the inspiration behind “Red Room” is worthier of reveal than that of my other stories is because my approach to writing short fiction is usually fairly straightforward. I have a designated ‘Ideas’ notebook with a section for singular, striking images, and when I see something I find haunting or unusual, I write it down. Sometimes an image connects rather quickly with an idea, for example, I took a long course on legends through the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic, and became captivated with the internet legend of the ‘Stairs in the Woods’ (google ‘Stairs in the Woods Reddit’ if you want to fall down that particularly eerie rabbit hole). I’d already been tossing around the idea of writing a story inspired by some of the women on the methadone clinic at which I was a clinician from 2010 to 2013, and when I thought more about the image of a staircase in the forest, and the type of person who might find the idea of walking up that mysterious staircase to an unknown destination appealing, the story unfurled from there.

It’s probably not much different from what Stephen King says about where his ideas come from in On Writing: “…good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.” I’d say that’s a pretty solid explanation for my process.

You were married on Halloween 2016 at the Stanley Hotel (congratulations, by the way!). That hotel, of course, served as the inspiration for The Shining. When did you first visit the hotel, and did anything spooky or strange ever happen to you there? Also, have you visited other horror landmarks in your travels?

Thank you so much! Getting married at the Stanley Hotel was exactly as amazing as my now-husband, John, and I had hoped it would be, and I’m thankful that our families had as enjoyable an experience as we did. We stayed at the Stanley (where The Shining plays on a constant loop on one of the hotel’s television channels) for ten days, and in addition to stalking the Estes Park elk herd (I admit, having become accustomed to regular old white-tailed deer in New England, I was quite taken with the elk, although John might go so far as to say I was obsessed), and venturing into Rocky Mountain National Park on more than one occasion, we participated in as many ‘haunted’ activities as we could fit into our schedule. We played Monster mini-golf and saw Ouija: Origin of Evil at the local cinema. We signed up for a historical tour of the hotel, as well as a ‘spirit’ tour, on which guests are introduced to the “active” phenomena and ghostly folklore surrounding the 100+ year old hotel, and educated on how to interact with the type of activity people have claimed to encounter in the past.

On our second night of vacation, I bought a ticket to attend Illusions of the Past, a theatrical séance put on by the Stanley’s in-house illusionist, Aiden Sinclair, in the Billiards Room of the main building. The show made use of ‘haunted’ artifacts to summon the ghosts of past hotel guests, and the audience got to manipulate actual historic antiquities from events such as the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the sinking of the Titanic.

Feeling bold, I volunteered to participate in a séance, for which I and four other women chose either a black bead or a haunted pearl from an opaque drawstring bag. The illusionist would have no idea who had chosen what, and we were to go around the room declaring “I have the pearl,” despite each participant being uncertain as to whether or not that was true. When the individual who did have the pearl declared as such, the planchette would flip off the Ouija board and into the air, coming to rest on the ground when the spirit had departed.

When it was my turn to state, “I have the pearl,” I did so with lots of hesitation and little amounts of faith. I felt something stir within my hand, a disturbance among the molecules of whatever material my clenched fist concealed. With a screech of metal against wood, the planchette flipped, the room grew cold, and in the mirrored walls behind the illusionist, I watched as something scampered away for the abandoned quarters of the hotel before its presence could be more widely-discerned.

John did not attend Illusions of the Past, however he was in for a supernatural phenomenon of his own. On the night of our wedding, while I stood on the dancefloor with my sister and three sisters-in-law, channeling Winifred Sanderson and belting out “I Put a Spell on You,” John felt a hand on his shoulder, as unambiguous and concrete as the feel of my fingers on the keyboard as I type. He spun around and looked up, expecting his mother or another family member to be standing over him, but there was no one there. An undigested bit of beef, perhaps, or a fragment of underdone potato? Your readers can be the judge as to whether there was more of gravy than of grave about my and John’s experiences, whatever they might have been.

As you mentioned, the Stanley served as the inspiration for The Shining. In 1980, of course, King’s novel became the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s film of the same name. The exteriors of Kubrick’s Overlook were supplied by the Timberline Lodge, located on the slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon. John and I would love to celebrate a future anniversary at the Timberline, and at some point we will undoubtedly return to the Stanley. As for additional horror landmarks, I can’t say that I’ve visited too many other notable locations. I’ve been to Lovecraft Square in Providence and on the Universal Studios set of the Bates Motel, but I’ve really got to up my horror landmarks game! Ooh, I have also been to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA; I read in your Times Reporter interview that you were raised in New Philadelphia, and while I know that’s almost two hours outside the city, I wonder if you’ve had the chance to visit the old, crumbling prison before…perhaps on Halloween, for their “Terror Behind the Walls” attraction? (Gwendolyn’s note: Alas, my New Philadelphia hometown is the Ohio one, not the Pennsylvania one! So I have not yet been to Eastern State Penitentiary. Hopefully some day, though!)

Beyond our shared love of horror, you and I have something else in common: we both have graduate degrees in psychology. As you’re crafting characters, do you find yourself returning to your education as a guide for how to realistically depict behavior? Are there any perhaps unlikely ways that your degree has impacted your writing?

I have a Master’s in Counseling Psychology, and I’ve been a mental health clinician at a detox center, numerous methadone clinics, and I currently work per diem on an inpatient psychiatric unit. I absolutely try to rely on both my education and work experience as a guide for how to realistically depict behavior. I also fall back on my knowledge of psychology in general to inform broader challenges within my writing. I think having a solid foundation in psych helps keep writers from plunging into the pitfalls of stereotypes and overdone tropes. How many times have we seen villains whose sole basis for evil is sociopathy, schizophrenia, bipolar, and/or psychosis? How many times have we seen characters pigeonholed into the ‘bad guy’ role because they’re a ‘junkie’ or a ‘crackhead?’ A lot of my short fiction has dealt with addiction and mental health, and the first novel I ever wrote is sort of a Silence of the Lambs meets Trainspotting, where something sinister goes down at a Maine manor-turned-drug-treatment-center.

What projects are you currently working on?

From January 26th-28th, I attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp to workshop a horror/crime thriller I’ve been plugging away at over the past year, called Coming Down Fast. Last August, I met author and artist Dean Kuhta at NecronomiCon, and I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story called “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge” for Issue #2 of Outpost 28, a Lovecraft-inspired dark fiction magazine Dean invited me to be a part of. I have additional work forthcoming from Quantum Corsets’ Her Dark Voice 2, Black Ice Magazine Volume 2, Space Squid, and Dead Oaks’ Horror Anthology Podcast. I have about ten other short stories in various stages of completeness, and my goal is to finish one a month over 2018, keeping in mind that new ideas will inevitably strike during that time, as well as to participate in a second short story collaboration with author David Emery, whom I met while judging a short story contest through The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break literary magazine.

Tremendous thanks to Christa Carmen for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her author website as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Goodreads!

Happy reading!

Love, Horror, and Fetuses: Interview with Ian McDowell

Welcome back! Today’s interview is with the awesome Ian McDowell. Ian is the author of the Mordred’s Curse series, and his short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Cemetery Dance, Mondo Zombie, Amazing Stories, and Asimov’s Science Fiction, among others. I was fortunate enough to meet Ian last August at NecronomiCon in Providence, and he is a wealth of knowledge, enthusiasm, and fantastic anecdotes about his time in the publishing industry.

Recently, Ian and I discussed some of those fabulous anecdotes as well as how he became a writer, his inspirations as an author, and what he hopes to accomplish next in his fiction.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become a writer . . .

The first thing I ever remember writing was a poem titled “The Enchanted Forest.”

In the enchanted forest where the trees are old
in the enchanted forest where the leaves are gold
there’s a unicorn with a silver horn
in the enchanted forest where the trees are old.

That was probably before my sixth birthday, I think. I recall my mother being still being healthy and active, and putting it up on the fridge.

Ian McDowellI can’t recall anything of the years immediately after she died, but by the fifth or six grade, I’d written a couple of science fiction or horror stories that caused my teachers to shake their heads and ask why I couldn’t write about something nice like dogs or fishing or Jesus. I spent much of high school plotting and drawing sketches and maps for a godawful fantasy epic novel on which I never actually wrote a word other than making up some Cool Fantasy Names. In early college I tried to write poetic Celtic-inflected fantasies that showed the influence of Tanith Lee, Poul Anderson and Peter S. Beagle, but which generally sucked because I had no idea how to plot. I still don’t, but have gotten better at disguising it.

Back when I was in high school, I’d tried out for the role of Mordred in a Fayetteville Little Theater production of Camelot, in which the famous future horror movie makeup master Tom Savini played Arthur. I didn’t get the role. A very talented young man did, but then he disappeared and nobody knew what had happened to him until his headless body was found beside a country road. He hadn’t died from decapitation, but from a hit-and-run (no, not caused by me, I didn’t drive yet), and a dog or other scavenger had stolen the head. That poor kid was better than I would have been in the role, but his understudy was awful, and watching his dreadful performance on opening night, I started thinking about the character, and of retelling the story from his point of view.

I struggled with that through four years of college, but it wasn’t until right after graduation that I managed to do anything with the idea other than a couple of writing class assignments. In the summer before grad school, I sold my first stories, which were set in Camelot and narrated by Mordred, who I initially depicted as a picaresque cowardly lecherous rogue not unlike George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman.

But then I wrote a more serious take on the subject when I was in the MFA writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which went into the past history of Mordred and Arthur and had real pain in it. The fantasy gaming magazines that had been buying my earlier Mordred stories recoiled from this one, saying it was too long and too sad and too pretentious, and when I sent it to Asimov’s Science Fiction, either George Scithers or Darrel Schweitzer sent it right back, saying it “reeked of a modern attitude of fashionable despair.” But then they left the magazine and Shawna McCarthy took over and I sent her an edited and better-typed draft (I was a few years away from using a computer) and she accepted it and it got reprinted in several anthologies and people approached me about turning it into a novel but it took me seven years to do that, for no good reason other than my being a general slack-ass fuckup.

. . . and who are some of your favorite authors?

Before she died, my mother got halfway through reading me The Lord of the Rings, a chapter a night, with my dad taking it up at some point after Gandolf’s encounter with the Balrog. That was a huge influence, even though I only once actually read the book, for a high school paper. She also read Where the Wild Things Are and Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Just-So Stories, which I love more than I love Tolkien.

In the 5th grade, I discovered Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, and they were my literary gods until Junior High, when I suddenly found myself understanding Bradbury, whom I’d always bounced off of before. And Lovecraft led me to Ramsey Campbell, although I didn’t like anything but his earliest and crudest stories until I was in college and understood Demons by Daylight and realized he was our greatest living horror writer. I loved Salem’s Lot and The Shining in college, but then grew increasingly dissatisfied with every Stephen King book after that. I loved Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, but couldn’t finish his novels.

These days, my favorite writers, some still in their prime and some long dead, include Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Fritz Leiber, Ian Fleming (despite all the awful thoughts he expresses in really good prose), Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, M. R. James, T. H. White (his “The Troll” is my favorite short story), Saki, and Sonya Taaffe.

Do you have any specific habits as a writer? For example, do you write at a certain time each day? Music or no music in the background? Likewise, are there any patterns to the way you draft and edit your work, or does each project dictate its own terms?

No real routine. No music. My only habits are bad ones, and generally involve finding every possible reason not to be writing.

You’re an incredibly prolific writer who’s been in this industry for many years. What’s your secret to weathering the storms of publishing? How have you kept going, even through the lean and difficult times?

That’s very kind of you, but I’m not really prolific. In fact, in the early 00s, John Pelan described me as “talented but unprolific.” I took seven years to write my first novel, a year to write my second, and haven’t written one since. Published a handful of short stories in the mid-eighties, and more at a fairly steady rate in the 90s, and couldn’t write any fiction from 2002 until 2014.

Oddly, horror markets have never been that receptive to me, even though so many of my early stories featured either fetus-eating or monsters that looked like giant fetuses. I got into Love in Vein through virtue of knowing Poppy, but while my story is the one everyone remembers, nobody ever reprinted or nominated it for anything. I used to have this weird little quasi-career (hobby, more like it) of selling fantasy, usually with a darker element, to newsstand science fiction magazines, but those hardly exist anymore.

Maybe because it’s something instilled in me by my mother’s early death and my father’s alcoholism and financial instability, I’ve grown up with a habit of dealing with bad times by going on emotional autopilot, and just plodding on, day by day. That’s what I did when I was being treated for leukemia. Dealt more with the hourly minutiae rather than worried about whether I was going to die.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

That’s a tough one. Lots of people have given me great advice that I generally haven’t taken because I’m a fucking dumbass.

Mondo ZombieI do recall a conversation I once had with John Skipp about “Dead Loves,” the story he solicited for the ill-fated anthology that was eventually published as Mondo Zombie, but which I thought of as The Last Fucking Book of the Dead on the Edge of Fucking Forever. I told him I was thinking of an opening scene with a zombie Dolly Parton, but it didn’t have much to do with rest of the story. Skipp said “dude, if you have a damn scene with a zombie Dolly Parton, you stick it in anywhere you can, preferably right up front, no matter what the rest of the story is about. Always lead with Zombie Dolly.” That strikes me as very sound advice.

Probably the best criticism I ever got was “what’s with all the fetus-eating in your stories?” I realized I was falling into a rut, and my characters stopped eating fetuses well before the end of the 20th century.

In addition to your fiction writing, you’re also a journalist. How does the research element of your journalism work overlap or contrast with the research you do for your fiction?

I tend to excel at “journalism” where I can tell tall tales and then question whether or not they really happened, so there’s that. But really, research is research. I’ve not done it yet, but I keep intending to pitch my editor at the Encyclopedia of Alabama an article about the only pirate attack in the state’s history. The research I do, if I do it, won’t be that different from that I did for “Under the Flag of Night,” my Asimov’s story about Anne Bonny. Researching 1860s Guilford County, where I live now, for an article about its REAL Civil War history that made one member of the local “Southern Heritage” bubbasphere threaten to stick a Confederate flag up my ass wasn’t that much different from researching the town of Tombstone in 1881 for “The Hard Woman,” the last novella I sold to Asimov’s.

You’ve accomplished so much in your writing career. What goals remain for you at this point? Total world domination perhaps?

Somebody actually wanting to buy “Black Boy, Black Bird,” the novella I think is the finest thing I’ve ever written, but which everyone rejects for being too literary or too genre, when they think it’s a story at all. It’s sort of a reworking of Old Yeller with a white teenaged girl in the early 70s rural south who has a prehistoric Terror Bird for a pet and meets an African-American teenaged boy from the city, and I think that my problem in selling it may be that it’s more about the boy than the bird, but the real problem might be that it sucks, despite all the damn fine writing I labored over.

Beyond that, I really really want to see a collection of my short fiction get published as a real physical book. I know this is financial insanity, but I’d rather see that happen before another novel, if I ever write one.

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

I think my recent work is much better than my earlier work, but not everyone agrees. “Dear Dead Jenny,” which I wrote for Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish’s October Dreams 2, may be the story other than “Black Boy, Black Bird” and “Archie and Mehitabel” (currently under submission at a magazine that’s published me before) that I’m proudest of. It was the first fiction I was able to complete in over a decade, when the experience of nearly dying somehow made it easier to actually finish something. It draws upon my childhood as Monster Kid growing up near Tom Savini, who did a lot of community theater with my father back in Fayetteville, NC, and whose monster masks I used to borrow.

Unfortunately, that anthology, which was supposed to appear in time for WFC in 2014, didn’t come out until March, 2015, not the best time for a Halloween-themed book. The few reviews I’ve seen called my story one of the best in it the book, but that’s about all the notice it got. It is a pretty traditional ghost story, nothing groundbreaking, but still very personal.

What projects are you currently working on?

“The Long Arm of the Sea,” which is another Anne Bonny story. A novel based on “Geraldine,” my infamous abortion vampire story in Poppy’s Love in Vein, which made more money over a longer span of the time than anything else I’ve ever written (alas, the royalties dried up after the death of Mary Greenberg, who’d handled all that stuff for Poppy). Zombie-Con, a short “exploitation novel” based on a film treatment I wrote for a friend before we realized that shooting a micro-budget movie at a real comic book convention was a nightmare of legalities and logistics. It’s about several cosplayers who find themselves battling undead fanboys at a Southern convention where the crazy British author of the classic graphic novels Watching the Defectives and The Revenger’s Comedy accidentally casts a spell that turns their friend into a voluptuous skull-faced Goddess of the Dead like a Richard Corben illustration come to life, and who turns fanboys into her zombie army.

Where can we find you online?

I really should do a website, but haven’t, other than an old blog I can’t get into anymore. Mostly, I fuck around on Facebook and try to get people to share my articles on Twitter.

Tremendous thanks to Ian McDowell for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

What’s Next: Part Four of Our Women in Horror 2018 Discussion

Welcome back for the final installment of our Women in Horror Month roundtable discussion! These last four weeks went by all too fast!

Last week, in part three, we discussed the best advice our nine authors had to offer to newer writers as well as their hopes for the future of horror. This week, I’m turning the spotlight back to them by highlighting their upcoming work as well as their final thoughts on this year’s Women in Horror Month. So let’s get to it, shall we?

What projects are you working on now, and what releases can we expect from you in the next year?

Wicked WitchesCatherine Grant: I’ll be working on the June issue of Lamplight. I am writing short stories and submitting. I made a promise to myself to write one new short story a week. Nothing new is pending for publication. I am working on a witch novel set in the Bridgewater Triangle that I am hoping to finish this year. I’m also working on another secret project that I’ll be publishing under a pseudonym.

Denise Tapscott: Right now I’m polishing up a short story called “The Price of Salvation”, which deals with bullying, vengeance and redemption.  Bullying is unacceptable, especially in this day and age and I wanted to put an interesting spin on it. I’m not sure if I want to release the story by itself, or with a collection of other short stories, but I definitely want to release it this year.  In the next year you can expect the sequel to Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes called Enlightening of the Damned as well as a novella inspired from one of the smaller characters from Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo Wishes.  It’s a character that speaks to my heart often and I have to share his story with everyone I can.  I need to do a lot of research about the Native American culture for this story; I want to honor their traditions and culture. The horrible situation with the Dakota Pipeline and Native Americans really weighs on my heart;  Water is Life. The least I can do is speak out about it, in a creative way.

Mantid Magazine Issue 3Nadia Bulkin: I have a few stories in anthologies that I’m not sure have been officially announced yet, but my main focus this year will be trying to see if I can get a non-fiction, non-horror “passion project” off the ground.

Carrie Laben: All my best stuff is information-embargoed or uncertain at the moment, but I have at least one new piece of fiction and one essay coming before spring, and as you read this my first novel is in the hands of an interested editor, so fingers crossed! (Gwendolyn’s note: In the weeks since this interview was done, the third issue of Mantid Magazine has officially been announced and released, and it includes a couple of those aforementioned under-wraps stories from Nadia and Carrie as well as tales from Brooke Warra and myself!)

Sumiko Saulson: I am attached as a writer to a film project, 7 Magpies, conceived of by Lucy Cruell. It is seven stories written and directed by black women, a sort of Creepshow or Tales from the Hood format. Not sure when we will see it made. As mentioned before, I am putting together 60 Black Women in Horror FictionBlack Magic Women with Nicole Kurtz and Mocha Memoirs Press. 100 Black Women in Horror is coming out. I am working on two novels – Akmani, the fourth installment in my very dark paranormal romance series Somnalia, and Disillusionment, the sequel to my debut sci-fi horror novel, Solitude. One of them should be out before the end of the year, perhaps both, not sure… it depends on how fast the rest of the writing and editing goes.

Kenya Moss-Dyme: I spent all of 2017 in a weird state of suspension. I had things in progress but just couldn’t find my voice. I’m going to make 2018 count and release those things that are gathering dust. If I take too long on a project – for whatever reason – I lose interest and don’t even want to finish, so that’s what I’m struggling with right now. But I plan to release a new collection of horror with a love-theme, and my long awaited, highly anticipated (haha) urban apoc story, Dead Zoned.

Rebecca Allred: I’m actually on a writing hiatus for 2018 (remember that part about giving yourself permission to take a break?) and currently only have one story slated for publication this year. “Behind the Veil of Pretty Pink Lies” will appear in Pickman’s Gallery (Ulthar Press), and is scheduled for a March release. I’m still shopping a few short stories and one co-authored novella, so that number may still (hopefully!) change.

Anya Martin: Unfortunately I can’t talk yet about my biggest release coming this year yet, but let’s say I am working on some new stories and longer works. Also, I’ll have a flash fiction in Zine Trio from Ladybox Books, that was postponed from last year but should come out in 2018. Aside from writing, I’m continuing to assist Scott Nicolay as associate producer on The Outer Dark podcast, which features interviews with Weird and speculative fiction writers and airs most weeks on This Is Horror. And we’ll be throwing the second annual The Outer Dark Symposium on the Greater Weird Saturday March 24 at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose which CBS News just dubbed one of the 10 most haunted places in the United States, not to mention a movie! It hit me recently that we are the only conference currently dedicated to contemporary Weird fiction. Among the women joining us this year as guests are Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Sumiko Saulsen, Rios de la Luz, Tiffany Scandal, Rebecca J. Allred, artist Liv Rainey-Smith, and filmmakers Heather Buckley and Izzy Lee! We still have memberships available (at least at press time), so I urge any writers and readers of the Weird to come!

Brooke Warra: Stories, stories, and more stories! My monster story, “The Scritch,” will appear in Mantid Magazine’s Volume 3 this month, and you can expect to hear my stories on The Lift podcast, as well as The Wicked Library. Aside from commissioned pieces, I am also writing a novella I hope to finish in the next few months. It’s going to be a busy year!

Any final thoughts on Women in Horror Month for 2018 (or any thoughts about what you’d like to see for Women in Horror Month for the years to come)?

Denise: I love the idea of Women in Horror Month.  I hope that more women are encouraged to celebrate each other, and to allow themselves to be celebrated. How wonderful would it be to have 30 days of women in horror on AMC and many other mediums?  Ladies, we rock.  We should applaud women from the past, present and future for our unique voices.

Nadia: I hope we get to the point where we don’t need it. But that would require much broader change at the societal level.

Carrie: I really hope that when we do this next year, I won’t be exhausted from protesting and marching all day when I finish answering these questions – but I’m not banking on it.

Black Magic WomenSumiko: I really want to get a book reading going on in SecondLife for WiHM! Maybe we can make it happen in 2019, if not in 2018.

Kenya: I was thinking, how cool would it be if the movie channels did marathons of female-centered horror during February? And I don’t mean women as the victim because that’s all of the time, but if, in honor of this month, they showed a specially selected stream of movies like the XX collection, 28 Days Later, AVP, etc. Movies by women, starring women. Or if Amazon prominently featured women in horror on their main page with special deals on our books, just for the month. Maybe one day, the WIHM will be that widely celebrated!

Rebecca: My hope every year is that everyone, myself included, finds a new writer or two and falls in love with their work.

Catherine: I really hope that the horror community can get through another WIHM without some twatwaffle sticking his foot in his mouth. It seems to happen on a regular basis, and instead of focusing on women authors, we all pile on the woman-hater who happened to open his mouth at the right time to catch the attention of the social media pitchforkmobile. Spoiler: He was a douchebag and a misogynist the other eleven months of the year, too. Can we avoid that distraction? Can we celebrate the women in the genre and keep the conversation about the feminine? Don’t let someone steal our voice. In fact, please let that rule extend to the rest of the year.

Strange AeonsAnya: Just again that one day I’d like to think we won’t need Women in Horror Month! But I am certainly excited to see all the interviews and articles that will appear this month putting the spotlight on some talented women!!!!

Brooke: It’s been such a privilege and a pleasure to meet and bond with so many great WIH and I have made what I hope are life-long friendships with those women in the writing community. I am ecstatic about the future we are shaping together and mostly just excited to see what we do with it.

And that’s our Women in Horror discussion for 2018! Thank you to everyone who read the series this year! Here’s to a great Women in Horror Month, and an even better celebration of Women in Horror for the rest of the year!

Happy reading!

Advice for the Future: Part Three of Our Women in Horror 2018 Discussion

Welcome back for Part Three in our Women in Horror 2018 round table!

Last week, in part two, we discussed how political and social upheavals have affected our nine authors’ writing, as well as the underrated stories they’d recommend readers check out. This week, we discuss what advice they have for writers who are just starting out, along with their hopes for the future of horror. So ladies, take it away!

For all the newer female horror writers out there, what would you like them to know? Specifically, what advice do you wish you’d had as an author when you were first getting started?  

Brooke WarraBrooke Warra: Don’t wait to write the things that scare you, don’t wait to be brave in your work, don’t wait for permission or validation. Just write it. Don’t put your ideas on the backburner, waiting for approval from the community to tackle those tropes or those issues. I think when I was first starting out, I would scribble down ideas and think to myself, “I’ll write that when I am a better writer” or “I can’t write about that! What would people think?” and I hate to admit that, but it’s truly how I spoke to myself. I don’t anymore. And I would encourage a younger me, and anyone new to the genre, to just put that pen to paper and write your heart out.

Carrie Laben: If you’re like me, you start out feeling like everyone else is cooler than you and has more to say. They might at that but you won’t know until you press the absolute limits of what you can say and how cool you can be, whatever that means to you. Especially don’t assume that because someone older and/or male told you something in a declarative, confident tone of voice that it’s therefore a fact.

Kenya Moss-DymeKenya Moss-Dyme: Don’t be afraid to be different. The beauty of our chosen genre is that anything goes, there’s nothing too outrageous or unbelievable, because it’s all fantasy and imagination. So don’t be afraid of thinking out of the box, in fact, I highly encourage it. Sure, there’s a million zombie stories already, so make yours DIFFERENT. Sometimes you’ll get an idea and then discourage yourself because you think it’s already been done. So do it again, but make it stand out in the crowd.

Nadia Bulkin: Don’t try to imitate successful writers’ stories. Write the kind of stories you want to write and want to read, and submit to places that you would want to publish you. At the same time, sometimes the only way to find your path is to try different things. Always err on the side of challenging yourself rather than staying in your comfort zone. Be true to your truth. And on the publishing side, submit constantly, edit judiciously, and never ever take yourself out of competition. Give them a chance to reject you. Believe that you have a seat at the table. I think the number one thing is just don’t give up, though that’s way easier said than done. Oh, and there will be a lot of people pushing back against the particular effort to carve out space for women in horror. Ignore those people.

Rebecca J. AllredRebecca Allred: You’re asking me?! I still feel like I’m still getting started! I don’t think I have much advice to offer that you won’t find in any number of places, but the things I’ve found to be most helpful are: a group of people I can trust to give me honest feedback, even when it hurts; giving myself permission to take a break when the words just aren’t coming; and reaching out to other authors who are still in the trenches. I wish I’d done the latter much sooner. I’ve learned so much from just talking shop with other writers, and it doesn’t hurt to have someone behind the scenes who understands what you’re going through when you need to blow off some steam.

Denise Tapscott: I consider myself as a newer female horror writer. My advice for newer writers in general and soon to be female horror writers is please, please, please, read and write. Choose to share your scary stories with the world. It seems overwhelming and frightful at first, but trust me there are a lot of great women (and men) in the world of horror that are supportive. The feeling of finding your tribe is an amazing experience. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the process, learn as much as you can, and ask for help when needed. The world wants to hear your voice and experience your stories.

Anya Martin: Just hang in there, I guess. Get good critical beta readers who will not be afraid to put you through your paces. And if you really try to write from an authentic female perspective, expect some rejections not because the story isn’t good but because some editors—and this isn’t exclusively limited to cis white male editors—won’t get it. Be strong and send that story back out. I’ve also put some stories away for years and then taken them back out and found that they sold with only minor changes.

Sumiko Saulson: You should network with other women in horror. Don’t let the glass ceiling slow you down. Ignore anyone who tells you that women can’t write horror. Shrug it off if anyone says you write soft horror, or tries to euphemize away your style with feminizing adjectives of any sort. You’re going to hear a lot of people say “I just don’t read horror” or “I would read your writing if you didn’t write horror.” Don’t believe them. Getting your friends and family to read your books is like pulling teeth. They won’t read them until someone else reads them first and tells you that they are good, and it doesn’t matter a whit what genre the book is in. They’re just using the fear of the horror genre trope as an excuse. Ask people for their honest reviews, and try not to be offended if not all of them are good. You need reviews to get on the radar of book sellers, and a bad review is better than no reviews at all.

Catherine GrantCatherine Grant: Be fierce. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, even if you get labeled as “that bitch.” I think there are a lot of women in the industry who are afraid of calling out misogyny because they don’t want the drama to affect their careers. They play this game where they try to be sweet, unassuming and friends with everyone to avoid pissing off someone who could keep them from getting a book deal, story acceptance, or award. As a result, they are an ally to no one but themselves. If you are feminine, misogyny will affect your career no matter what you do. Might as well trample the patriarchy while you’re at it.

Looking forward, what is your hope for the future of horror? What would you like to see more of in the genre, and what would you like to see less of? 

Brooke: I’ve really loved that the horror genre has become an art form in its own right, and I would love to see more literary, cerebral horror. I think it’s been grossly underestimated as a valid expression of art and I think we have seen that view change especially over the last few years. I’d absolutely love it if we stopped seeing violence against women as plot devices. We are so much more than the victims of crimes and we so often rise above and beyond those crimes against us. I’m beyond weary of revenge tropes, when the women I know in real life have lived through so much, and used that strength to move forward in life, rather than being consumed or destroyed by it. I’d like to see that perseverance reflected in horror. Where female characters tend to be stereotypes, I think we are ready to see ourselves as well-rounded, complex, strong characters. It’s time.

Carrie: Horror, rooted as it is in primal anxieties, can be profoundly liberating or profoundly regressive. I obviously have a preference as to which I’d like to see more of. On the aesthetic plane, I love that folk horror of all kinds – horror that connects to the rhythms of the natural world and a sense of ancient lore – is having a day in the sun, but with that inevitably comes The Darkderivative and plain bad work. And nothing is worse than the contrast between the whole grand sweep of the cosmos and the linguistic stylings of some twerp who photoshopped a spooky tree onto the inside of their eyelids.

Catherine: I’ve heard that Weird Fiction is the next big thing, and I am really looking forward to opportunities that might bring to Weird Fiction authors that deserve more universal success because they are mind-blowingly talented, but write in a genre that can’t seem to get literary recognition from large publishers. At the same time, I’d like to see less snobbery in the genre regarding pulp and trope-centered stories. There is an audience for stories about glittery vampires, right? Why not embrace that? Why not kick the idea that horror is low-brow and doesn’t sell right in the fucking face in the same breath, because no genre is one-note?

Kenya: I’m really enjoying the return of horror in sci-fi. It used to be that sci-fi was mostly aliens and spaceships, exploring outer worlds. We had Twilight Zone and Outer Limits but those types of anthologies had fallen off in production over the years. The last few years, we had some really great ones, like Galaxy of Horrors: really mind-bending stories that blend those worlds. At some point, you’ve exhausted all of your ideas about horror on earth and you gotta start looking into other worlds – or creating those worlds yourself!

Nightscript IIINadia: I hope for more subversive horror that challenges the status quo. More unsympathetic characters, more critiques of powers-that-be, more unconventional narratives. More interrogation of horror tropes and the reason those tropes exist. More unhappy endings, or as I like to call it, more payment of “the price.” I hesitate to say what I’d like to see less of because I think almost anything can be done well. I personally think that very internal horror based on underlying mental illness is very tough to do because most of us don’t know what severe mental illness looks like. So that’s one I’d like to see folks be more careful with.

Rebecca: I’d like to see a broader range of voices and more experimentation with story telling. Much of what I read these days is good, but in the same way I thought The Force Awakens was good. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery (and I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes try to mimic some of my favorite authors) it leaves readers standing at what at first appears to be an endless buffet, but in reality limits their choices to chicken, chicken, and more chicken.

Gypsy Kisses and Voodoo WishesDenise: I would love to see more character driven stories with a woman’s point of view, where she doesn’t have to rely on a man to save her. Maybe she does the saving. I’d also like to see more scary stories with more people of color with things they find culturally frightening. For example, I’d love to read more stories from an Asian woman that reveals something about her culture or folklore. I want to see far less stories about self-entitled teenagers who are lost in some place they were never supposed to be with gory storylines. We’ve been there, done that (the classics like Jason are always cool, so they are the exception). Someone show us something different. One of my goals is to reflect more people of color, more women, and more non-traditional American stereotypical characters in my stories.

Anya: I’m really excited about the expanding openness to different perspectives. There are more markets open to horror written by women than ever before, as well as people of color and LGBT writers. I’m not saying previous markets were closed per se to women and others, but what we’ve seen is a shift towards editors being more open to publishing stories that don’t fit into over-used tropes and long-held standards within the canon. Also I’d like to see more stories by writers from other cultures and countries make it into English translation. I’d like to see less of the same tropes used again and again in the same ways, especially vampires and zombies.

Sumiko: I would like to see more diversity in horror. If they had enough people of color to represent us as a percentage of the population, the old trope about the black person in the movie dying first wouldn’t be a thing, because there would be more than one black person in the movie. Women need to have more powerful roles than scream queen. The Walking Dead has some issues with its treatment of people of color as disposable, but they are doing a bang-up job of bringing feminism into the genre. Although there is still way too much macho chest banging, the toxic hyper masculine types are usually villains like Negan. Michonne, Carol, and Maggie are all very affirming characters for female viewers. I hated the way they killed off Abbie Mills and Jenny Mills on Sleepy Hollow so that they could make a more traditional, white male-dominated storyline with Ichabod Crane and his less than liberated wife. I loved the fact that the show went off the air afterwards, showing television moguls that this is not what people want.

And that’s part three of our discussion! Next week, we’ll wrap things up by finding out what these incredible authors have in store for the rest of the year and beyond, as well as any final thoughts they have on this month-long celebration!

Happy reading, and happy Women in Horror Month!

The Underrated and the Political: Part Two of Our Women in Horror 2018 Discussion

Welcome back to part two of our Women in Horror 2018 round table!

Last week, we discussed how our nine featured authors became enthralled with the horror genre and what Women in Horror Month means to them. This week, we’re delving into how the current political and social climates have affected their work as well as those tales from other female horror writers that deserve even more attention.

So without further adieu, let’s get started!

Far too often, women are underrated in the genre. So to shine a light on those who aren’t as appreciated as they ought to be, what recent story (or stories) have you read in the past year that was written by a female horror author but didn’t get as much attention as you think it deserved?

Anya MartinAnya Martin: That’s a tough one because there are so many women writing great horror today. In terms of collections from the past year, everybody should absolutely get their hands on Nadia Bulkin’s She Said Destroy (Word Horde) and Selena Chambers’ Calls for Submission (Pelekinesis). I was particularly struck by their powerful realistic portrayals of female protagonists. I hope to see both receive awards nominations this year. Also Christina Sng writes incredibly powerful cosmic horror poetry. Her collection A Collection of Nightmares (Raw Dog Screaming Press) is a must-read, especially if you don’t think poems can profoundly disturb. And for a collection, Sycorax’s Daughters (Cedar Grove Books) features horror stories and poetry by both established and up-and-coming African-American women. I was so happy to see that on the Stoker Awards preliminary ballot and hope it makes the final (Gwendolyn’s note: And it did make the final ballot! HOORAY!). For a more classic author I read last year worthy of discovery, Zenna Henderson is better known for her science fiction People stories, but her horror short stories like “Hush,” in which a little boy creates a “Noise-eater” and his babysitter is helpless to halt its hunger, pack a really tough punch. Start with her collection The Anything Box.

Sumiko Saulson: I’ve been really swamped, but I have managed to read some new and not so new women’s horror… How to Recognize A Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison, Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra by Anne Rice and her son Christopher Rice. You should check out the black female horror writer’s anthology Sycorax’s Daughters, which came out in 2017. I was in an anthology called Forever Vacancy: Colors in Darkness, which includes a lot of black authors, many of them women.

Catherine Grant: KL Pereira’s A Dream Between Two Rivers: Stories of Liminality is a gorgeous, well-written collection that I don’t see on enough lists. Margaret Killjoy’s anarcho-horror-mystery novella The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion was also really well done but I didn’t see it on any lists. Both KL and Margaret write clean, beautiful prose in a very distinct, fresh voice that is engaging to the reader.

Denise TapscottDenise Tapscott: I agree that women are underrated in horror. Female horror authors never get as much attention as they deserve. One of my all time favorite horror writers is Eden Royce. I have an affinity for Southern gothic tales and each of her stories is a treat. When I mention her work to other people, they give me a blank stare. I remind people that there’s more to read than just Stephen King, Then I insist they buy her collection of short stories. Of course, there is also you, Gwendolyn. I love your work! After I drop Eden Royce’s name, I mention you. Your book And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is a great collection of short stories. I won’t drop any spoilers, but there is one story in particular that creeps me out and I love it! I can hardly wait to read Pretty Marys All in a Row. There are many women in horror that inspire me, and both of you lovely ladies stand out in my mind first when it comes to current writers.

Rebecca Allred: Grass by Anya Martin – This was released as a limited chapbook from Dim Shores, so only 150 copies were available, but I really dug it. I hope Anya finds a good reprint market (or includes it in a future collection, hint-hint) so more people can read it.

Nadia Bulkin: I never have a good sense of how much attention anything gets, but I’ll note here a couple stories by authors I hadn’t read before – I really liked “Mental Diplopia” by Julianna Baggott in Tor, a very soulful yet creepy take on an apocalypse, and “The Name, Blurry and Incomplete in His Mind” by Erica Mosley in The Dark, a really nifty interpretation of a broken family.

Carrie LabenCarrie Laben: Chavisa Woods’ incredible collection Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country wasn’t marketed as horror, but it contains some of the most chilling fiction of the year including a story called “Zombie” that contains no zombies and a story called “Take the Way Home That Leads Back to Sullivan Street” that does contain a ghost. There are also aliens and devil-worshipers, and goths of course, and the vast horrors of the geopolitical situation and the tiny horrors of living in a close-knit small town.

Brooke Warra: Oh wow, there are really so many fantastic women in horror, yourself included, whose stories have resonated with me over this last year especially. Without giving too much away about the stories themselves, I recently read Tales from a Talking Board and Anya Martin’s “Weegee, Weegee, Tell Me Do” as well as S.P. Miskowski’s “Pins” have been haunting me ever since. I think both stories, for me, were about the secret lives we often live as women, and being more than the sum of crimes that have been perpetrated against us, but also, in the end, having to bear the consequences for those crimes, and really, that can be more horrifying than anything supernatural in the plot, or at least it was for me, personally.

How, if at all, have recent political and social upheavals figured into your work? Do you feel that horror as a genre is uniquely suited to address the current state of the world, or not?

Looming LowAnya: I’m not sure about horror per se, because some horror can be intrinsically conservative, i.e. maintaining the status quo. But I’d definitely say Weird horror fiction is. The political sphere in the United States is distinctly and disconcertingly Weird. I addressed this directly in my The H Word column, “The Weird at the World’s End” (Nightmare Magazine, Feb. 2017), and Helen Marshall said she sensed a shift already while editing the Year’s Best Weird Fiction, although Trump had not taken office yet in 2016. The challenge may be with the world so Weird, what is Weird any more? I tried to explore the growing sense of unease in “Boisea trivittata,” which I wrote for Looming Low anthology (Dim Shores). That story came out of an infestation I experienced of these seemingly pointless harmless insects which appeared suddenly at my house last January. In my case, they strangely mirrored the building unease for so many of us during the transition of power from President Obama to Trump. In the story, I tried to suggest a fascist shift without making it heavy-handed—which I think is the challenge whenever directly addressing politics in a story, not overpowering the horror or the Weird with too much explanation.

Kenya Moss-Dyme: Horror and sci-fi are perhaps the best genres to address the craziness in the world we live in! When we see social themes occur in comedy, I think it’s too easy to be entertained and then dismiss it. But when we apply an element of horror to something going on in our world, it gets people to pay attention and it unnerves them. They start out thinking, that’s ridiculous, it could never happen. But then, they wonder…could it? Sometimes you need to really scare people to make them listen. I’m working on a couple of things that have strong social themes that might be a little upsetting to read. But if it makes you emotional then that means you’re thinking about it and talking about it, instead of just reading it and walking away.

Sumiko: More and more of my stories seem to resemble the movie Get Out, or an old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode, so I would have to say that I’ve had an uptick in political horror, as well as afrocentric horror. I’ve always written female-centered, multicultural stories. Feminism has commonly been a theme, but increasingly, I find that issues of racial injustice are taking front and center in my stories. It’s a turn off for some of my original audience members, but I’m more popular than ever and being invited to more and more conventions, and to Sycorax's Daughtersparticipate in more and more anthologies, so I guess it’s a trade-off. I am much more competitive as a political horror writer than I was trying to compete with a bunch of mainstream writers and become the next great horror writer or the next Stephen King or Anne Rice. I’m better off sounding like Octavia Butler, even if some find it preachy.

Catherine: Recent political and social upheavals have left me feeling depressed and hopeless, which has affected my work in that it has staunched my productivity. I struggle to form a single, cohesive thought that could translate into a story or novel because I am feeling and thinking so many things at once. Most of my fiction is rooted in a theme that is deeply personal. It is usually a time capsule of a thought that I’ve rolled over in my mind repeatedly, blended with a “what if” scenario. For example, a recent story I wrote is about how siblings often remember their childhoods differently. What if the way they experience a ghost or apparition is affected by how they perceive their memories of that person? I have an inkling that all of what I’m feeling right now about our current administration will eventually roll around in my head until it either is dust or becomes something substantial and is written down.

Denise: Political and social upheavals seem so scary and so painful these days to me, that as a writer I have challenged myself to find a way to address what’s going on. Horror as a genre is perfect for that. We have a larger palette to draw our stories upon.

Rebecca: Parts of my story “When Dark-Eyed Ophelia Sings” were inspired by recent events. And I wouldn’t say horror is uniquely suited to address the current state of affairs, I think sci-fi, bizarro, and other genres also lend themselves quite nicely, but I feel like horror might be the most natural fit for those kinds of stories.

She Said DestroyNadia: I think so much of human existence is horror, unfortunately – the horror we inflict upon each other and upon ourselves. People are cruel. People are desperate. People are afraid. And horror begets horror, of course. I absolutely believe in hope and heroism and virtue; but I believe those things are rare and precious and on a massive uphill battle. That being said, I rarely write directly about things that are actually happening in real-time. I think that’s because I write for the sake of processing, and if events are still ongoing, you don’t have the complete picture yet; maybe also because I believe in putting a little bit of distance between fiction and current events. So I still write about Indonesia in the 1960s-90s through the early years of the post-Suharto era, and then I stop. My story “There Is a Bear in the Woods” (quoting a Reagan campaign ad) is part of an extended alternative universe inspired by a combination of the American Tea Party and the George W. Bush era (which defined my high school and college years), and that’s about as recent as I’ll go. I still believe everything is political, and even a story that doesn’t directly focus on political themes is still written and still read in modern political context. It’s up to the writer to decide how they want to use that fact.

Carrie: Everything that addresses the current state of the world certainly contains elements of horror, so there’s that. For me the source of tension in my writing has always been how precarious life is because the basic assumptions we use to make it bearable are just that – assumptions. I started with the assumption “families love each other” and I’ve recently moved on to the assumption “there’s virtue in hard work” and we’ll see what I termite-chew through next and what collapses.

Brooke: I think now more than ever, the female voice is so powerful and I think horror, and in particular women in horror have the opportunity to address the current social and political climates. Horror has always had the ability to put a face on evils of the real world around us, whether it’s apathy, or prejudice, or violence, horror gives the underdog, the outcast, the preconceived “weak” among us a fighting chance, and so often the things we believe are holding us back turn out to be our greatest weapons in horror. I think it’s a genre that crosses a lot of imaginary lines we draw around ourselves in our daily lives and we can all come together and unite against a common enemy and fight back.

And that’s part two of our Women in Horror Month round table! Come back next week as we discuss these authors’ advice for up-and-coming female writers as well as their hopes for the future of horror!

Happy reading, and happy Women in Horror Month!