Category Archives: Interviews

Cruel Summer: Interview with J.A.W. McCarthy

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author J.A.W. McCarthy. J.A.W has written numerous short stories which have been featured in publications including Vastarien, Apparition Lit, and LampLight among others. Her debut collection, Sometimes We’re Cruel, was released this week from Cemetery Gates.

Recently, J.A.W. and I discussed her inspiration as a writer and why she loves the horror genre so much.

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

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I started writing novels as a kid, always something dark involving ghosts and angsty teens. My mom would read to me and illustrate the stories with her own drawings, so she instilled those interests in me from the start.

I love Shirley Jackson and Angela Carter, of course. Jackson’s Merricat Blackwood in particular has been a big influence on my characters. As for contemporary dark fiction authors, I’ve found inspiration in works by Paul Tremblay, Hailey Piper, Michael Wehunt, Nadia Bulkin, Damien Angelica Walters, Mona Awad, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, to name a few. We’re living in a truly rich time for dark fiction with so many excellent authors working right now. Yourself included! And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is one of the best collections I’ve ever read.

Congratulations on the forthcoming release of your collection, Sometimes We’re Cruel! What can you share about the book? How did you select the stories, and is there a particular theme that connects them?

Thank you! Sometimes We’re Cruel is my debut collection, out August 17th from Cemetery Gates Media. It’s 6 reprints and 6 new stories that focus on obsession and body horror. The collection covers work from the last three years, each connected by the theme of human cruelty. I didn’t set out with this theme in mind; I realized later, as I was selecting stories, that almost all of my work deals with the terrors humans (and the not-quite-human) inflict on each other, intentionally or not.

Why horror? What in particular makes you love the genre? What are your hopes for the future of horror?

I’ve always loved horror and I can’t even pinpoint how that started. I was a voracious reader as a child and my parents didn’t limit my reading, so eventually I found my way to the darkness. Even when I was trying my hand at writing more traditional lit fic, dark speculative elements crept in. Maybe it’s a way to explore and understand why this world can be so awful. When I’m creating the horror, it’s the only way I have control.

I hope to see more women and BIPOC get recognition. We’re getting there, and I think our progress is best reflected in the indie horror scene.

What draws you to writing short fiction? Did you grow up reading short stories, or did you develop an appreciation for them as an adult? Also, what are a few of your favorite short stories?

Aside from fairytales, I grew up reading mostly long fiction. My first serious writing projects as a kid were novels. In fact, I struggled with short fiction as an adult. I’m long-winded, with a passion for elaborate descriptions. When I started writing again, I didn’t expect that I’d be able to write an effective short story. One day I got an idea I had to run with, not expecting it to be successful… but then it was. Before I knew it, short fiction was all I was writing. My critique partners have really helped me sharpen my prose so that I can not only stay within word count but also write with purpose.

One of my favorite short stories is Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. It’s a masterclass in using pacing and small details to build tension.

Recent short stories that lit a fire and inspired me:

“A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room” by Michael Wehunt
“Resilience” by Christi Nogle
“The Smell of Night in the Basement” by Wendy N. Wagner
“Though Your Heart is Breaking” by Laurel Hightower
“Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

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

I have two: Aim High and This Is Not A Competition. When I first started writing short fiction, I didn’t do my research. I just wanted to see my work in print, even if no one else was likely to read it. Self-doubt told me I wasn’t good enough to get into any major publications, that my work wasn’t worth much money. While my early work was not there yet—I think most of us have to sharpen our skills and work our way up—I sold myself short in the beginning. There are so many indie publishers who are passionate, support their authors, and are doing amazing work on a shoestring budget. There is room for all of us.

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

Characters. I don’t outline and I usually don’t have more than a loose plan when I start a story, so I love developing my characters as I go and seeing where they take me. If I can develop interesting and strong enough characters, they will show me their story.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’ve got two novellas that are both two-thirds of the way finished. Both were shelved for the past seven months while I concentrated on my collection. Now that I’ve got time again, I’m eager to get back to them, particularly the one I’m currently calling “Merch Girl”, which is about a woman who sells merch for a nomadic band and her experiences on the road. She’s a monster, a mother, a caretaker resigned to her role, but then she comes to a crossroads when she finally meets someone like her, a woman who reminds her who she really is.

Where can we find you online?

I’m on Twitter and Instagram @JAWMcCarthy, and at jawmccarthy.com. I’m most active on Twitter, if anyone wants to say hi!

Big thanks to J.A.W. McCarthy for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

A Bloody Good Time: Part One of the Violent Vixens Roundtable

Welcome back! This week marks the official release of Dark Peninsula’s Violent Vixens: An Homage to Grindhouse Horror. I’m super excited that my tale, “Sister Glitter Blood,” appears as part of the anthology. Told in the form of a board game instruction manual, the story follows two sisters who stumble upon an unusual game and find themselves drawn into its thrall. As a huge fan of board games–in particular during our quarantine times–this one was a lot of fun to write, and I’m so glad it found such an excellent home in Violent Vixens.

Recently, I talked with the other authors in the book about the inspiration behind their stories! So let’s have them take it away, shall we?

SARAH READ: When I was 16, I stayed in Tuam, Ireland for a week. I fell in love with the west coast of Ireland, so I keep up with it often. The recent news out of Tuam isn’t good. The local Catholic-run mother and children’s home, where unwed mothers were sent to have their babies, before being sent to workhouses or otherwise discarded by society, turns out to have been (shocker) not a nice place. Like so many Catholic institutions billed as harbors for marginalized children, the Bon Secours Mother and Children’s home has been revealed as the site of a mass grave of those same children. Their obsession with female purity birthed a legacy of illness and death, and this small, idyllic town guarded its secret for decades. I wanted to write a revenge story, and write a different ending for at least some of those mothers and children. And a different ending for the people responsible.

PAUL MAGNAN: “The Course of One’s Life On Fire”, to me, is a woman’s struggle with coping with a world that is indifferent at best and openly hostile at worst. Her anger and desperation, even at her own family, who, she feels, continually lets her down, soon pushes her psyche into sheets of angry, blinding red that reaches a critical mass. Once this happens, it is assured she is no longer taken for granted.

MARK WHEATON: KILLER OF HOGS is a bloody revenge story about a rural livestock veterinarian from Central Arkansas, Annie Saunders, who learns through a quirk of genetic testing that the killers of her mother and sister are likely members of an old, tight-knit, Brooklyn crime family. Journeying to New York to slaughter all of them to be certain she gets the culprits, Annie must employ all sorts of unorthodox culling methods common to her profession to get the job done against a veritable army of seasoned, gun-toting killers.

S.K. CAMPBELL: My story, “City Monitors,” takes place in a gritty, neon-striped city, where the streets molt in the heat and the biosynthetic residents slither around like reptiles with schemes. Denver, a jaded and handicapped mechanic, discovers her girlfriend, Minta, has gone missing. She suspects Minta got embroiled in something decidedly infernal. But her investigation may lead Denver to confront her malevolent foster mother, and face the dark truth behind her handicap.

When I saw the prompt for Violent Vixens, I got this image in my head from the movie Planet Terror of a bad-ass woman who had a gun for a leg. I thought it was a good opportunity to write a character with a disability, but have the disability be a component of the genre, as advantageous and gnarly as a gun-leg. It’s a twist on body horror that was entertaining to write, and I hope is entertaining to read.

NIK PATRICK: I wrote “Finger-Lickin’ Bad” under the premise, “what is the most absurd B movie monster concept I can get away with?” The answer of course was chickens. I am the owner of pet hens so you can say they were the inspiration. Especially the way they stand outside the backdoor waiting to be fed just…staring.

I owe the title to the way Bill Paxton delivered the line “finger-lickin’ good” in the vampire flick Near Dark.

ROB E. BOLEY: My story is called “What the Bone Says.” My wife and daughter and I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts. It’s disturbing how many of the cases start with someone finding a body tossed in a ditch, wrapped in plastic. In my tale, the discarded victim hasn’t perished. She finds a way not only to survive but to get her revenge on her attacker, though she perhaps loses her humanity in the process.

SOPHIE LEAH: Sure! “Collette” is a Natural Born Killers-inspired story about two girls (your estranged uncle would call them ‘roommates’) out on the lam – and I guess its underlying theme focuses on how much we will go along with when swept up in love. It’s probably not the most original thing I’ve ever written but it was great fun to write and hopefully it’ll be fun for others to read too.

I actually wrote it a long time ago in a much shorter, much messier, form – then saw Aric’s call for submissions and the whole ‘Violent Vixens‘ // homage to grindhouse thing was so relevant to my interests that I had to submit! My friend and editor (the wonderful Laura Major) helped me push it to a level that was more publishable before I showed it to Aric and it honestly means the world to have made it into the collection. It’s my first ‘proper’ published piece so I’m really nervous but excited about it all.

The real Collette in my life was a girl I knew from uni – an old friend who was a bit wild in her own way, though far less blood-thirsty and troubled than my protagonist. Haven’t spoken to her in some time, sadly, due to my own stuff but one day I’ll get back in touch like: “Hey, how have you been? By the way, I made you into a murderer. Hope that’s cool!”

SCOTTY MILDER: “The Whole Price of Blood” is an offshoot of an idea that I’ve had for about fifteen years. The concept initially came to me when a friend was volunteering in Albuquerque as a trauma crisis advocate. It was one of those ideas that just fell into my head almost fully formed. I tried to write it as a screenplay but—for whatever reason—it never quite gelled; in particular, I just couldn’t get Abigail to come alive (so to speak). I filed it in my mental “maybe later” file, and there it sat for well over a decade until early last year, when I decided to reapproach it as a novel. That did the trick. I’m currently about three-quarters of my way into the novel, for which “The Whole Price of Blood” serves as a prequel.

BUCK WEISS: “The Dressmaker” is about a down-trodden woman fighting back against the men who plan to harm her and her daughter. The type of men who have only ever seen her as an object that they can control. I looked at grindhouse films like Mrs. 45 and I Spit on Your Grave when I was writing it. It is a revenge story where the heroine reacts to take control and stop the violence before it can happen.

SHANNON BRADY: “The Saw House” is an action-horror piece set in post-apocalyptic Texas, where society has collapsed under a plague of demonically Possessed people, and uninfected humans must band together to survive. Daley O’Donovan is a former lone wolf who concedes that it’s time she found a group to belong to. In order to prove her worth to the Golden Eagles and their charismatic leader, she agrees to undergo a grueling initiation trial: just her and her trusty chainsaw versus a pack of Possessed.

Normally, I’m a very slow writer, and it takes me a long time to figure out how to fit everything together perfectly, sometimes well after a deadline for submissions has passed. This story, however, was a happy exception. On hearing the topic of the anthology, the image of a scrappy girl, covered in blood and dirt, wielding a chainsaw, and sprinting through a slaughterhouse came to me after only a moment of thought. (The image of Reina, beautiful and unruffled, watching from above came not long after.) Who these women were and what they were after clicked into place easily, and it all came pouring out in less than a month. It was incredibly fun to write, and I’d be happy to return to their world in future stories.

MATT NEIL HILL: “The Parts that Hurt Me the Most” started off as a very different (and quickly abandoned) straightforward crime tale about someone on the run from the other members of a heist team, although the opening image in the bus station was much the same. I think it was one of those situations where the circumstances of rewriting it changed everything about the story. It took an intense two days to complete from the opening sentence to final revisions, way quicker than anything I’ve written of that length before. The split time frames were a pacing necessity, not just narratively but so that I could take a breather every time things got worse. Because I needed hurt and rage to drive the story, I listened to nothing but Black Dresses’ albums for the memories, with Radiohead’s Videotape on a loop for the road trip sections when the brutality and betrayal had bled out into quiet acceptance. Soundtracking in that obsessive way is its own kind of altered state and I turned off my inner censor and let May do what she needed to do, figuring I could tone it down later if things got out of hand… they did, but I didn’t. After all she’d been through, she’d earned the absence of further cuts.

I think “The Parts that Hurt Me the Most” is my favourite thing I’ve written to date. It doesn’t make any excuses for what it is. From the second I finished it I had no idea if anyone would ever want it, and although that realisation wasn’t great there wasn’t a single thing I wanted to change about May’s journey. I couldn’t be happier with where the story’s ended up and I hope people like it, because I think I need to write this way again…

And that’s all for Part One! Head on back next week for Part Two of our Violent Vixens roundtable!

Happy reading!

Terror and Tidepools: Interview with Nicole Willson

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today I’m thrilled to feature Nicole Willson. Nicole is the author of the forthcoming debut novel, Tidepool.

Recently, Nicole and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as why she loves the horror genre.

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

I truly cannot remember a time when I wasn’t writing. If it wasn’t a comic strip about cave girls and dinosaurs for my grade school magazine, it was Star Wars fanfic, which I didn’t even know was called fanfic back then. I decided to start pursuing publication in high school, when I typed up some of my best stories and sent them off to places like Twilight Zone Magazine. (They didn’t get accepted.) Although I gave up on that dream for a while in my 20s when the rejections got to be too much for me to handle, I never completely lost the drive.

My favorite authors include but are by no means limited to Cherie M. Priest, Erin Morgenstern, Adam Nevill, Neil Gaiman, Alma Katsu, and Gwendolyn Kiste.

Congratulations on your new book, Tidepool! What can you share with us about the inspiration behind the book?

Thank you! I like to say the book is Lovecraftian cosmic horror with a heavy dollop of American Horror Story in the mix. Someone who read it said it reminded them of Hammer horror films, which made me happy all day.

I started thinking about the story while I was walking along the beach in 2015. What if the ocean was full of terrifying creatures and one woman was the only thing standing between these beings and the town they were threatening? Who was she? Why was she the only one who could protect everyone? What if she commanded an extremely high price for her services and the townspeople were getting tired of paying it—what then? That central image evolved quite a bit as my initial idea became Tidepool.

What attracts you to writing dark fantasy and horror? Do you remember the first horror movie you saw or horror story you read?

I’m a fairly anxious person, and writing horror feels like I’m forcing my various demons into a form that I can control and (sometimes) conquer. Given that life feels more and more unpredictable by the day, turning the things that are bothering me into actual monsters is great therapy when I’m feeling especially helpless. Win or lose, at least I’m completely in charge of the outcome.

The first horror movie I have a clear memory of is the 1932 version of The Mummy from Universal Pictures; a local TV station showed weekend creature features, and I think The Mummy might have been the first one I was allowed to watch. Even though I could have outrun that creature easily, it still scared me.

The first horror story I remember reading was “The Cask of Amontillado.” It was so unlike all the other dry, deadly dull stories in my school reader, and the characterization, the growing sense of dread, and the story’s stunning ending made me aware for the first time of the true power of the horror genre.

You’ve also written a number of short stories. Do you find your approach to fiction varies depending on the length of the project, or do you have an established pattern for writing regardless of length?

My processes for both are similar in that I generally start with an idea and then imagine the characters who might be in this particular situation. However, I tend to be a lot more freewheeling when I’m writing short fiction. I might start with the ending and work my way backwards, something I don’t think I’d ever be able to pull off with a novel. Or I might write different fragments of the short story and link them together, whereas I try to work straight through from beginning to end with a novel draft—I’ve found that if I write fragments of the novel, I may or may not do the work involved in connecting them and filling out the entire story.

Do you have any particular writing routines (e.g. writing at a certain time each day, playing music, etc.)?

I tend to keep vampire hours when I’m writing; for whatever reason, I prefer working at night. I don’t generally play music unless I’m feeling particularly inspired by a certain song or if I’m looking for the music to set a certain mood in the story, but I’ll light some candles and incense before I start.

If forced to choose, what’s your favorite part of the writing process: drafting dialogue, creating characters, or establishing setting?

For me, a novel will stand or fall based on how strongly I feel about its characters. Give me good, memorable, vivid, complicated protagonists and antagonists and I’ll follow them just about anywhere. I love developing worksheets and backstories for all my main characters, even if most of what I come up with for them never makes it into the books.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am working through a round of edits for a YA horror novel that I consider a modern-day cross between The Haunting of Hill House and the Bluebeard tale. I also have an adult horror novel about a survival challenge and a vampire soap opera in the works.

Where can we find you online?

My website is http://www.nicolewillson.com and you can also find me on Twitter as @insomnicole and nicolewreads on Instagram.

Huge thanks to Nicole Willson for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

For the Love of Horror: Interview with Amanda Desiree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your hope for the future of horror?

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

Where can we find you online?

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

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

Happy reading!

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

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

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

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

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

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: The first draft always sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what’s next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

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

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

So let’s take it away!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Horror Classic: Interview with Kelly Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on next?

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

Where can we find you online?

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

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

Happy reading!

Slay: Interview with Nicole Givens Kurtz

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

Recently, she and I discussed her inspiration as an author, the release of her fantastic anthology and new novel, as well as her favorite parts of the writing process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Macabre and Uncanny: Interview with Douglas Ford

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

Recently, Douglas and I discussed his new collection as well as his inspiration and favorite parts of the writing process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on next?

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

Where can we find you online?

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

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

Happy reading!

Dust and Light: Interview with Fred Venturini

Welcome back! Today I’m excited to spotlight author Fred Venturini. Fred is the author of numerous books, including The Heart Does Not Grow Back, The Escape of Light, and his latest, To Dust You Shall Return.

Recently, Fred and I discussed his new book as well as his inspiration as an author.

When did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

I can’t remember making a conscious decision. I always wrote stories, and I’m not sure why. I remember playing an NES game, Dragon Warrior, and writing spin-off stories about the game on a legal pad.

My grandmother valued reading. We’d sit on her porch, and she would just read and read, I don’t know how she had the endurance to do it. Her rule was letting me read anything I wanted to, so I gravitated to the dark and weird stuff. I did my 4th-grade book report on CUJO.

So, it’s cliche, but I grew up with Stephen King, the man who launched a million novelists. I’m a Constant Reader. FIGHT CLUB blew me away, and I’ve been a raving Chuck Palahniuk fan ever since. I can’t read enough David Foster Wallace, especially his essays.

And there are just so many great authors right now, and I can’t read everything from everyone. Malerman, Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones. Richard Thomas has a new collection I’m excited about. Gabino Iglesias talks the talk (his Twitter feed is a must for authors and readers alike), but man if he doesn’t turn a phrase with the best of them.

And you! Rust Maidens was legit.

Your new book, To Dust You Shall Return, is due out soon from Keylight Books. What can you share about the book? What was the inspiration for it, and how long did it take you to write it?

My wife writes in a journal. One night, she was jotting something down, looked at me, and said: “If I die, bury this with me. Don’t read it.”

Felt like an invitation to speculate, and eventually, the journal became a MacGuffin of sorts, and a way for a strong-willed female character to take control of tropes and cliches to her own ends.

I also wanted a way to toy with my favorite character archetype, the “reactivated badass” that has popped up in many different genres over the years like westerns (Unforgiven) and sci-fi (old Luke in The Last Jedi).

So, the book is most succinctly described the way Jed Ayres did and I’ve been ripping it off ever since: JOHN WICK MEETS THE WICKER MAN.

A revenge character past his prime shows up in a small town to investigate the death of his wife, and quickly learns this isn’t just any small town, it’s more like a Stephen King, Castle Rock small town ruled by cultists.

The heart of the story is the teen girl who grew up there, caught between two destructive forces, nurturing a dream to escape and lead a normal life.

If I may be dramatic and drop the tagline:

A man ruled by darkness. A town ruled by evil. Only one can survive.

What is it about the horror genre in particular that appeals to you?

I get asked this quite a bit, why horror appeals to me. Especially by my wife. I think I finally wrapped my head around an answer.

First, it’s fun. Horror movies are related to comedies: they’re audience films with a release of built tension. My most memorable moviegoing experiences were seeing films like SCREAM and the first chapter of IT with a date and a packed theater. Reading a Paul Tremblay book and then thinking of it when I have to cross the dark to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night? It’s just hard for any other genre to have a lasting effect on me like that.

Second, it’s healthy! Yes, healthy. King once said horror is a rehearsal for death. I think horror is a way to do “negative visualization” that the Stoics and Marcus Aurelius prescribed.

I think horror fans are a resilient bunch because when you’ve considered what it’s like to be stalked by a slasher, haunted by a ghost, or hunted by a serial killer, putting on a mask to go to Home Depot doesn’t seem so bad. Having a tough day at the office? Leatherface could be mounting you on a hook. Trouble in your relationship? Jack Torrence could be swinging his axe at you.

I’ll never forget being at the World Horror Convention as a panelist and getting to meet heavyweights like Joe Hill, Jack Ketchum, Peter Straub. Everyone was just so . . . nice? Polite, well-adjusted, generous, cool people.

At the artist level, writing horror is therapeutic, a release of negative emotions and tension. It also helps that it is the genre that can really get a reaction out of an audience. That’s why I’ve always compared horror to stand-up comedy: free therapy AND art that can be measured by audience reaction.

You’ve written both short and long fiction. Do you find that your approach varies depending on the length of the project?

I don’t prepare for short fiction writing. I just have a premise, and tackle it. A short story, you can rewrite it and open up new layers lots of times without taking up too much time. It’s like building a watch or crafting a joke.

A novel, I need to know where I’m headed. I don’t outline, but I need to know my characters, I need to know my big midpoint setpiece, I need a general ending in mind. A novel is like a 100,000 piece puzzle. First, you have to sort out all the pieces into little piles where you think they may fit. Then, start testing pieces. Oh, the feeling when they click!

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

Dialogue, no question. I love writing cinematically. I love the first-person POV because it’s all dialogue, right? It’s all dialogue coming from a single character.

Dialogue can do the heavy lifting of crafting character. I like to think that what they DON’T say crafts the most character.

Dialogue can also establish a setting AND the character’s relationship to the setting in one go.

Dialogue is where I can slip humor into the darkest story.

Dialogue is also the one piece that skimmers don’t skip. Fast readers never skip over dialogue.

I just love dialogue. Most of my friends would say I like talking, but dialogue sounds more artistic.

What projects are you currently working on?

I have a backlog of ideas that I’m trying to execute as short stories. I haven’t written and submitted short fiction in a long time, and I think that would be a fun way to spend 2021.

As for a new book, I’m always working on my next long-form story, but in my head. I think walking and thinking is writing, and the time at the keyboard is just transcribing, sometimes.

Big thanks to Fred Venturini for being this week’s featured author. Find him online at Twitter and Facebook!

Happy reading!