Category Archives: Interviews

Lawful Chaos: Interview with Gordon B. White

Welcome back to our last author interview of 2017! This week, I’m pleased to featured the talented Gordon B. White. Gordon is the author of numerous works of short fiction, and his stories have appeared in Nightscript II, Borderlands 6, and A Breath from the Sky, among other publications. In addition to his fiction writing, he is also an interviewer, including his popular Deep Cuts series at Hell Notes.

Recently, Gordon and I discussed his inspiration as an author, his recent time at Clarion, and what he 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?

Gordon B. WhiteWhile I can’t remember when I first wanted to be a writer, I can remember the brief period when I didn’t. I was one of those kids who loves to read – when I was in elementary school, if I couldn’t fall asleep at night by the time my parents went to bed, my mom would let me turn the light back on and read to myself. So of course I would force myself to stay up late, just so that I could read more.

I wrote all the time in school. I remember being bored in my middle school science class and instead of taking notes on chemical equations, I would write scenes of knights and orcs dueling under purple skies. Even into college, I wrote for fun (and wrote poetry for girls) and took creative writing classes and really liked it. For some reason, though, I decided that I was going to push back against everyone’s expectation that I’d be an English major and instead began a period in the wilderness of other social sciences.

By the time I went to law school, I had convinced myself that I should give up on creative writing. That lasted for a few years. Then, during grad school, my father died and all that grief came out in poetry and stories (you can still see it in some of my recent work, like last year’s “As Summer’s Mask Slips”). I couldn’t deny it any more. So I took the work ethic and discipline I’d developed in grad school, using it to write more seriously and research markets. Now here I am.

As for favorite authors, I feel like that’s a loaded question. For every one I name, I’ll be sure to have left a dozen off, greatly offending anyone who is still alive, as well as the estates of the dead. The last thing I want is angry Facebook friends and hungry ghosts on my case.

What in particular draws you to speculative literature? Do you remember the first speculative story you read or film you saw growing up?

I think there are two things that draw me to speculative fiction: First, I love speculative fiction’s ability to dramatize and externalize human emotions and conflicts. There’s so much poetic and metaphoric potential in the speculative, which makes it not only a useful tool, but also a thoroughly entertaining one to employ. By using speculative elements to create implausible situations, writers and readers can then explore thoroughly realistic and cathartic reactions within those confines. I see speculative fiction on a continuum with mythology and religion when it comes to exploring human relationships and conflicts (although speculative fiction is usually less dogmatic about explaining the “why” of things).

Second, I employ speculative elements in my own writing because I feel that I lack the authority to presume to speak for other human beings, yet I desperately want to understand them. By using speculative elements, I can shift reality enough that I’m still digging into human characters acting in real ways, but by being one step off from true, I’m more comfortable with taking that liberty. As an example, while I have anxiety over something like the demands of being a parent, since I’m not one, I don’t feel qualified to really dig those elements out in a realistic “literary” context. Of course, I can write a story about adopting an alien baby or finding a wolf-child in the woods and, with that little bit of a change, allow myself the freedom to explore.

As to my first exposure to the speculative, I grew up with a mix of fairytales, ghost stories, and too many books, so I was awash in it from the very beginning. My memory is also a bit spotty from my misspent early twenties, so, unfortunately, I cannot recall.

You’re a recent Clarion West graduate. First off, congratulations on such a huge achievement! What was the most surprising part of the experience, and any kernels of wisdom you’d like to share with the rest of us?

To me, the most surprising part was that the camaraderie with my cohorts ended up being just as, if not more, important than the instructional aspects. I learned a ton about writing, really honed in on my particular strengths and weaknesses, and stepped up my writing discipline, but going through the experience with fifteen other writers at the same time was amazing. Despite having lots of online social connections with others, the ability to talk and brainstorm and commiserate and argue with my classmates in person was fantastic. I love and miss them all.

As far as kernels of wisdom go, I’d be here for the next week trying to type out my notes if I was going to offer technical advice, but the thing that sticks with me the most is that each of us has to come up with our own definition of success. There’s no one way to be a writer or to have a writing career, and so being overly concerned with comparing your process and your position and your achievements with others can put you on a never-ending Ladder of Sadness. That, and that the only predictor of “success” is persistence.

In addition to your fiction writing, you’re also an interviewer at Hellnotes. What inspired you to start interviewing authors, and how if at all has the process shaped your own writing?

NightscriptI got started doing this back around the time I started writing seriously again and have done a few dozen since then (I have an archive on my site here). I think I saw a Facebook post or an email looking for people to do interviews and I thought it would be a good way to meet authors writing the kinds of things I wanted to write and, if possible, steal their mojo. The mojo-stealing hasn’t quite worked out, but I’ve been very pleased to be able to run into former interviewees at conventions and use our prior discussions as an icebreaker.

I started off doing mostly promotional interviews for people with new books or other projects, but Hellnotes has been kind enough to allow me to do my own feature series called Deep Cuts. In those interviews, I select an author who I admire and think is doing really interesting work, and then we do an in-depth spoiler-filled discussion on one of their free-to-read online stories. I love digging into all the “deep” aspects of a story – structural choices, themes, influences, symbolism, conversations with other works – so I really like sharing my reading of a story with the authors in order to have as much of a dialogue as the format allows.

In doing these, the process of closely reading (and re-reading and re-re-reading) has helped me become more attentive when revising my own work. Part of the process is asking myself, “Why is this story worth telling? What is it attempting to do other than merely existing?” Moreover, it’s shown me that sometimes symbols are unintentional, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They may have been unconsciously inserted by the author or they may exist only in the reader’s eye, but they’re there and they influence the reading. This has made me more attentive to the possible interpretations of things I write, and – although I like some ambiguity – I try to write in a way that guides readers away from potentially distracting unintended interpretations.

Also, I’ve recently become an interviewer over at Lightspeed Magazine, too! I do Author Spotlight interviews for them where I try to do the same kind of questions as in Deep Cuts.

What is your favorite part of the writing process: establishing setting, crafting characters, or writing dialogue?

Of those three, I think it’s probably establishing setting, but that’s an offshoot of how my mind works. I love prose. I’m familiar with the adage that “Story is everything” and greatly envy people who can craft a compelling story with clean, unobtrusive prose, but I have no desire to do that. I love the flow of sounds, the shape of letters on the page. I love poetry and lyrics and rhythm and vocabulary, so all of that is usually at the forefront of my mind when I’m working on a project that really draws me in. Because of that, I typically start with either a speculative premise or a bit of description in prose that I really like, and then I use all my tools to build up the setting using that. In doing so, I can do extra work on building themes and tone and other stuff by hiding them in the backdrop of the setting.

Part of my preference, though, stems from the fact that I don’t have a very vivid visual imagination. I’m not completely aphantasiac, but most of what I visualize is hazy and usually only very isolated details. My drafts sometimes get the “white room” critique, but that’s because that’s how I see things in my mind. However, while I struggle with visualizing settings to translate them into descriptions, I am much more in-tune with assemblages of words and the sort of emotional effects and totality of feeling that they cumulatively elicit from a reader. That’s why neither invisible prose nor visually lush prose speaks very much to me; I need the sizzle and the slam because I feel words more than see sights. As a result, I really like the wide-open area that playing with setting allows.

That’s not to say that I don’t like crafting characters or writing dialogue, it’s just that unless one of those elements is the guiding impetus of a particular story, I tend to let them fall by the wayside a bit. It’s not that I avoid them, I just kind of . . . forget about them . . . and let “good enough” slip through. I’m working on it, though!

Oh, and since I started off by saying “of those three” before making a choice, I’ll let you in on a secret: My absolute favorite part of writing is revision. My mighty struggle as a writer is always to finish first drafts, but when the whetstone comes out, I’m ready to hone.

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

I have a sentimental spot for “Hair Shirt Drag,” which I consider my first “real” publication. It’s the story of a gender nonconforming witch in the rural South and a special coming of age ritual, as informed by RuPaul’s Drag Race. The protagonist in that story is still my favorite character that I’ve ever written. (Hair Shirt Drag first appeared in Sekhmet Press’s Wrapped in Black: 13 Tales of Witches and the Occult, and is reprinted in the charity anthology We Are Not This: Carolina Writers for Equality, as well as a forthcoming audiocast from Tales to Terrify).

I also really like “The Albatrossity Exhibition, or Why I Want to Fuck the Ancient Mariner” which appeared in Milkfist Issue 1. It’s a J.G. Ballard/Samuel Taylor Coleridge mash-up retelling of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in alternatively supernatural and hyper-realistic detail, employing one of my most deliberately non-traditional structures and some of my favorite prose.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, I’m using NaNoWriMo as an impetus to draft a first (trunk) novel about rural small town intrigue and ancestral memory set in an alternate 1990s where magical plants grow from people’s graves. I doubt it will ever see the light of day, but I’ve never tackled a project of novel length and I’m finding it alternatingly wonderful and horrible, so I’m okay with doing my practice behind the woodshed. While I love revision but sometimes struggle with pushing through those rough spots between beginning and end, the NaNoWriMo accountability is very helpful. I know some people dislike NaNoWriMo’s emphasis on word count, but I find that having daily goals fits in very well with my normal writing process. I definitely prefer to get a first draft down as quickly as possible and then spend my time restructuring, rewriting, and (eventually) polishing, so having to hit a certain number of words each day pushes me to get the story down bit by bit.

Other than that, I have some inchoate projects that I’m sure I’ll jinx by discussing, but here goes: A fragmented cosmic horror story involving cave paintings, but told in the form of static panels and non-narrative background information; research (fiction and nonfiction) for a Weird West legal thriller idea; background reading for something involving capital-F Fate in the mold of Greek tragedies; and some sci-fi flash pieces revolving around cyborg art and fashion.

Where can we find you online?

I recently had to do a bit of re-branding by incorporating my middle initial into things, as there is another Gordon White who is very active in chaos magick and other esoteric areas. As a result, things being published since August 2017 are under “Gordon B. White” and so is most of my web presence.

My website is at www.gordonbwhite.com and I hope to start getting it spiffed up soon, although it currently redirects to my original website (www.grizzlyspectacles.com) where you can find links to all my publications and interviews. I’m also on Twitter as @gordonbwhite and on Facebook.

Huge thanks to Gordon B. White for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

Lilies in Bloom: Interview with Vanessa Fogg

Welcome back! This week’s featured writer is the amazing Vanessa Fogg. Vanessa is the author of The Lilies of Dawn, a fantasy novelette from Annorlunda Books. In addition, her short fiction has appeared widely in outlets including GigaNotoSaurus, The Future Fire, Mythic Delirium, and Luna Station Quarterly, among others.

Recently, Vanessa and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as what she hopes to see for the future of the fantasy genre.

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

Vanessa FoggI was one of those kids who was writing, always making up stories; I remember stapling pages together to make “books.” I wrote throughout my childhood and adolescence—short stories, sketches, and wretched poetry. In college, I even minored in creative writing. But I majored in biology, which was another love. After college I took a long break from creative writing as I concentrated on trying to build a scientific research career. I only slowly made my way back into writing, after more than a decade away. I started off submitting a little bit here and there to literary journals. In 2013 I left the laboratory bench for good, and decided to finally take my writing seriously.

Early writing influences: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, Ursula LeGuin, Patricia McKillip. Current authors and works I love: Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy; Sofia Samatar’s Olondria novels and everything else she writes, everything. Ken Liu. Carmen Maria Machado. Aliette de Bodard. Short fiction by Alyssa Wong and Isabel Yap. I could keep going forever.

Your novelette, The Lilies of Dawn, which was released last year through Annorlunda Books, is such a beautiful work of fantasy. What was the inspiration for the book, and what was your process as you were writing it?

Thank you for your kind words!

The Lilies of DawnThis story grew from a single image: a girl standing in her boat on a lake of blooming lotus flowers, staring up at a flock of cranes.

Where did this image come from? Two different sparks. The first one: this travel article about a beautiful lotus flower-covered lake in northeast Thailand. The second spark: a crane sanctuary that my family and I stumbled upon while visiting the Wisconsin Dells. I’d never seen crowned cranes up close before.

The central image came to me, and then I had to work slowly to understand what it meant and to unfold the plot.

As for my process? A lot of brainstorming and mulling of ideas before ever setting anything to paper (or Word document, as it were). I usually need at least the basic plot points and ending set in my mind before I can begin writing. The writing itself is slow, for I often revise as I write. I usually know where the story is going, broadly speaking, but the unexpected twists and details along the way make the journey all the more fun.

You have written both short fiction as well as longer works. Do you find that your process differs depending on the length of the story?

Not really. I suspect my typical Outline-Only-in-my-Head-and-Revise-as-I-Go method would not fly for a novel, but I’ve yet to attempt a novel. I think novel-writing would probably kill me. But as the saying goes: never say never.

In addition to your fiction writing, you also review fiction on your site, It’s a Jumble. What inspired you to start reviewing, and how, if at all, has it affected your own fiction writing?

I’m gratified to see my reviews getting more attention of late. When I wrote those first reviews, I don’t think anyone was even reading. I wrote them for myself, and for the off chance that someone might stumble upon them and be inspired to read the linked story or book. I wrote on the off chance that the author of a story might stumble upon that review and know that someone loved their work. But at the beginning it was really for me. There is a pleasure in analyzing a book or story and trying to figure out what makes it work. Trying to articulate what I loved about it, and why. My short story recommendations tend to consist only of short summaries (because I don’t want spoilers for such short works), but I’ve written more extended analyses for some books. Now that I know that people actually are reading these posts—well, that’s a big motivator now, too! I just want to boost the stories I love, and metaphorically grab others by the shoulders and say, “Read this!”

As for how reviewing has affected my own fiction writing? I can’t point to anything specific, but I am sure it has helped me. To critically review something is to pay attention to it—real attention. It means looking at craftsmanship, at how the story is put together and how it has its effect. That attention to others’ writing can only help my own writing (or so I would think!).

Fantasy is a constantly evolving genre. As a writer whose work is mostly in the realm of fantasy, where do you see the genre going over the next ten to twenty years? What would you like to see more of? Conversely, what would you like to see less of in fantasy?

Oh, what a question. The future is often unpredictable (as this last year of geopolitics has driven home). But there are certainly trend lines, many of which I’ve found hopeful for fantasy publishing if not elsewhere. Literary forms are always evolving, and in speculative fiction I think there’s always been a particular hunger for the new. And what I’ve been seeing the last few years is an impressive influx of talented new voices representing new backgrounds and perspectives that were not represented well before. Tolkien basically established medieval European-based epic fantasy as a genre. I think Tolkien-esque fantasy is still popular, but we are now seeing more and more books and stories exploring fantasy worlds based on other myths and cultures—African, Asian, Central American and South American, and more. We’re seeing these new perspectives, these global voices, extended into urban fantasy and other fantasy modes as well. No one can stop the increasing globalization of our world, and I for one think it’s great to find writers from Singapore, Malaysia, Nigeria, India, and more in the pages of my favorite journals. And of course, there are the many Western-born and-based writers who have cultural connections to non-European cultures and draw literary inspiration from them–of which I am one.

Another trend I notice is the increasing overlap between “literary” writing and “fantasy” writing. I always thought it was a false dichotomy, but the boundaries between the two seem more porous these days, and I know of writers who are publishing in both prestigious literary journals and prestigious genre magazines. I see “experimental” literary techniques appearing in genre work. Style and technique are always evolving, of course. I’m very interested in seeing how these techniques will change fantasy writing. As an example, Sofia Samatar and Carmen Maria Machado are very different writers, but I think they both bring what many would term a certain “literary” feel (though very different “literary” feels!) to their works.

I think overall that fantasy publishing is becoming more accepting of different voices, styles, and stories. I think that can only be a good thing. I think American publishing is becoming more open to voices right here in America which were not well-represented before, and I think that is a very good thing.

Stories are always reflective of the real time and place of their authors—even when they’re fantasies of dragons and spaceships. The political upheaval of this time is certainly going to be reflected in the stories told now. I don’t think we’ll fully appreciate how until much later.

As for what I want to see more of? What I want to see less of? I want to see more good stories. That’s it. Stories of all kinds, stories of all types of people, stories told in mind-bendingly innovative ways as well as more traditionally-told narratives that still delight and break my heart. I want to see fewer boring, cliched, badly written stories. I want stories that surprise and dazzle and move me. That’s all.

What is your favorite part of the writing process: outlining new ideas, crafting a first draft, or polishing an almost finished piece?

This differs for each piece. There have been stories where I loved revising, and it was my favorite part. There have been stories where revisions were painful and like pulling teeth. There were first drafts that went down easy and first drafts that were hard (usually the latter). I will say that background research is most consistently fun. To the extent that research often becomes a procrastination tool against actual writing.

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

The Lilies of Dawn is one of my favorites. But I will also always have a soft spot for another fantasy novelette I published, “Between Sea and Shore” which appeared in GigaNotoSaurus in 2014. This was the first story I wrote after leaving academic science and deciding to finally get serious about fiction writing. I still think it’s one of my best in terms of character development and emotional complexity—there are things you can do at novelette length that you simply can’t achieve at shorter wordcounts. Like Lilies, “Between Sea and Shore” is set in a secondary world which draws inspiration from Southeast Asia, and like Lilies it draws on themes of family, duty, and belonging. There are ways in which I think Lilies and “Between Sea and Shore” are in conversation with each other. Although I guess you can say that an author’s works are always in conversation with one another, at some level.

What projects are you currently working on?

Ooh, I hate talking about works-in-progress because I always think I’ll jinx them! Um, I’m doing some background research for a dark fantasy that might just veer into horror.

Huge thanks to Vanessa Fogg for being this week’s featured author! Find her online at her author site as well as on Twitter and Goodreads.

Happy reading!

Strange and Profound: Interview with S.P. Miskowski

Welcome back! Today’s interview is with the incredible S.P. Miskowski. S.P. is a three-time Shirley Jackson Award nominee. Her fiction has appeared widely in such outlets as Black Static, Supernatural Tales, and anthologies including Looming Low, Autumn Cthulhu, and The Madness of Dr. Caligari, among many others. Earlier this year, her novel, I Wish I Was Like You, and her collection, Strange Is the Night, debuted from Trepidatio Publishing.

Recently, S.P. and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as her future projects.

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

Writing was never a career decision. I’ve been writing all of my life, keeping journals, constructing little books of my stories with cover art when I was in grade school. Some of my poetry was published in the school newspaper. In college I majored in Psychology and then changed the focus after a year, studying English Literature and Anthropology. Even then I was writing stories, attending an off-campus fiction workshop for the merciless critiques, and occasionally getting published in small press magazines.

After graduation I put together a collection of stories that was lucky enough to be selected for a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. I had an agent lined up in New York. At his suggestion I wrote a novel to back up the collection. The novel was about elderly siblings who had known F.W. Murnau and were reduced to making porn films in the Valley of the Sun in the 1980s. It’s still sitting in a drawer somewhere because I tossed away all of those plans, moved to Seattle, and went for a graduate degree in theatre.

For about 15 years I wrote plays and supported myself editing, teaching, mentoring, and doing temp work. In 2010 I decided to quit theatre altogether, and I recommitted to writing stories. Long story short, writing isn’t a choice. The choice is about how and where and in what medium.

I’ve gone through many phases, jumping into the work of an author, reading several books back-to-back and moving on—from Raymond Chandler to Vladimir Nabokov to Hermann Hesse to Kurt Vonnegut. Some of the authors I return to time and again are Janet Malcolm, Joan Didion, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor, Daphne du Maurier, Ruth Rendell (her stories and novellas rather than her detective novels) and more recently I’ve become a fan of Megan Abbott. She has a sharp eye and a keen sense for the hypocrisy we embrace as part of our survival kit. When it comes to dissecting female characters and their motives, she’s superb. She pays women the respect of absolute honesty.

I Wish I Was Like YouCongratulations on the release of your novel, I Wish I Was Like You. What was the process behind the book? How long did it take you to complete, and were there any unexpected developments along the way? Also, what inspired you to use 1990s Seattle as a setting? 

Thank you. The process began with notes while fulfilling other commitments. I had a long series of deadlines for stories I was invited to submit to anthologies. While writing those stories I sketched out ideas, images, themes for I Wish I Was Like You. By the time I was ready to make the novel my daily priority I had quite a lot of material and the challenge was to decide what the point of view would be.

I’m not sure when it occurred to me that the narrator would be dead from the first page, looking back over the city as it morphed between 1990 and 2016. But as soon as I had the idea I knew it was wrong, at least according to every writing class and manual out there. “Never open with a corpse.” I could imagine seeing that tip on a Facebook post. I could also hear it in the voice of grumpy teachers I’d known. The more I thought about it, the more it became one voice, a character named Lee Todd Butcher, a washed up crime fiction author teaching at a community college. Once I had both of these characters—the angry, dead narrator and the disheveled teacher spouting the rules of crime fiction, the book sort of took off. From first notes to final draft, it was completed in less than two years.

My choice of setting was fueled by the nostalgia of friends. No one ever believes middle age is going to be a reality. We squander youth arrogantly thinking we’re different from the last generation and always will be. Then you begin to see your friends getting married, having babies, seeking more permanent homes—and bemoaning the ways in which the places they love are changing. At one point I could scroll through the newsfeed on Facebook and read half a dozen “oh no, they’re killing the city” posts in one day.

Of course the big, central element to this disappointment isn’t the city itself but the loss of youth. The city represents what you were when you were just starting out and you were convinced that you would get everything you wanted.

I tried to capture that, to sort of honor it without being sentimental. I tried to describe the Seattle of 1990 for the benefit of those friends who knew it well and for younger readers who will never know that incarnation of the city. I’m less nostalgic than some of my friends but I tried to catch that sense of a place representing one’s early days.

Strange is the NightYour collection, Strange Is the Night, also made its debut this year, so congratulations on this as well! How did you choose which stories to include in the table of contents? Were there any you were planning to include that ended up being cut, or any last-minute additions? 

The stories in this collection portray ordinary life interrupted by something extraordinarily disturbing. Most of them have an urban or suburban setting. I left out anything I’d written with a more folk horror background or a sense of rural isolation to it. Maybe I’ll collect those stories in another book sometime.

There were no cuts, but my editor wanted me to add two original stories so that the final balance was ten reprints and three new pieces. The new ones are “Animal House,” “A Condition for Marriage,” and “Ms. X Regrets Everything.”

I’ve loved your past contributions to Nightmare Magazine‘s The H Word column. How does your approach to writing nonfiction differ from fiction writing? Do you have any plans for forthcoming nonfiction in other venues? 

Storytelling is my natural field. Nonfiction is something I approach with great anxiety. I mentioned some of my favorite authors—Joan Didion, Janet Malcolm—and one of my favorite books is The Orchid Thief. So the standard is quite high. Also, I’ve worked with enough real journalists to have enormous respect for what they do. I could never be a journalist. Earlier on, in college, I learned a healthy respect for the essay form. Although an essay may be mostly personal observation, I feel the need to present information that’s been fact-checked and challenged before it’s let loose in the wild.

I never plan to write nonfiction. I’m content to scribble a blog post now and then. These opportunities sort of came along, and I decided to take a stab at it. The Nightmare Magazine nonfiction editor, Wendy Wagner, was brilliant at making suggestions and gently nudging me in the most interesting direction.

In your work, you craft such nuanced female characters, many of whom are far more complicated and sometimes even less traditionally “likeable” than the average women in literature. You included a fantastic list of your favorite horrible female characters in one of your H Word articles; do you have any more recent additions specifically from speculative fiction that you would add to that list? On a similar note, do you feel that there are more nuanced female characters in fiction today than ever before (even if we do still have a long way to go)?  

I think there have always been some hellish female characters in fiction. For the more nuanced ones I look to recent books. One character I still marvel at is the narrator in Zoë Heller’s novel What Was She Thinking? (a.k.a. Notes on a Scandal). I think the really dark edges and the complexities of the character were sheared away for the film. She ended up being a doddering old schoolteacher with an adolescent crush on younger women. In the book there was a real sense that she wanted to possess and devour and destroy the object of her desire. In the film it seemed she would have been happy to make her tea every day. It’s a good demonstration of how complex female characters are perceived, misinterpreted, and manipulated to underscore traditional values.

I mentioned Megan Abbott’s books. The girls in The End of Everything are among the very few instances in modern fiction where an author got female adolescence absolutely right, and really nailed the confusion and strangeness of that age. In You Will Know Me, Abbott applies the same clear-eyed approach to the American family, in particular the pressures of motherhood during this era when expectations are insanely high. I loved the women in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough, and Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott. These authors kick ass when it comes to creating indelible female characters that ring true in every way.

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

I love the first story in my collection, “A.G.A.” It was originally published in Supernatural Tales edited by David Longhorn. On the surface it’s just two guys talking in a bar. The menace is in the details and in the tales told by one of the guys. These tales open it out and provide an ever-darkening backdrop. It’s one of my simplest stories in terms of the presentation but it’s pretty disturbing in its implications.

What projects are you currently working on?

Over the next six months I’ll be writing five stories to submit to anthologies, and completing a novel that’s underway. JournalStone plans to publish a novel and novella from me in 2018. Fingers crossed. This is the kind of work schedule I love.

Where can we find you online?

You can find my web site if you Google my name, and you can find me on Facebook and Twitter, although I’m posting a bit less these days. Send a friend request. If you don’t look like a bot or a fake identity for a Russian troll, I’ll accept your invitation.

Tremendous thanks to S.P. Miskowski for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Poetic Nightmares: Interview with Christina Sng

Welcome back! This week’s featured author is the incredible Christina Sng. Christina is a supremely accomplished author of both fiction and poetry with her work appearing in a wide variety of venues, including Mythic Delirium, Apex Magazine, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, and many more. Her recent books include Astropoetry and A Collection of Nightmares.

Recently, Christina and I discussed her inspiration as a writer, her tips for surviving the rejection of publishing, as well as how her love of gardening figures into her work.

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

Christina SngFor as long as I can remember, I’ve always been scribbling a poem or doodling a comic wherever I am. It took me decades to realize that I am happiest and most fulfilled when I write. Writing is part of who I am, it is what I do as much as living and breathing is.

Enid Blyton introduced me to magical worlds as a child, Robert R. McCammon showed me the horrors of humanity as a teenager, Sylvia Plath spoke to me as a young adult, and Ben Bova took me to the stars as a new mother.

You are a widely published and extremely accomplished poet, with your work appearing in countless venues, both printed and online. Do you have a certain approach when crafting a new work, or is the process behind each piece entirely unique?

As with everything else in life, I’ve had to make time for writing, even in the days when I had much less commitments. These days I steal time whenever I can and have learnt to write in the oddest places and even through interruptions. But only haiku survives such conditions. Longer poems and fiction require uninterrupted, relaxed, and focused time which is as rare as an automatically folded shirt.

There is always a space carved out for writing and when I am in that sacred space, inspiration hits at all angles, and the story or poem flows.

Often the words write themselves, almost like automatic writing but it is in the editing process, perhaps, where I am more present. Few pass the muster without being edited. But a rare few have, like “After the War”. I have a great fondness for their perfect completeness.

As an author who has been involved in the publishing industry for well over a decade, do you have any tips for writers who are just starting out? In particular, how have you learned to deal with rejection, and how do you manage your time as a writer?

Keep writing and submitting. Always be scrupulously polite and respectful in correspondence. When a piece returns rejected, send it out again right away but first consider any advice an editor offers. I normally give the poems or story a once over before sending it out again, within 24 hours.

A Collection of NightmaresMany moons ago, I received a rejection from the Harvard Review on a poem where the editor had made some suggestions and asked me to resend it after I had made revisions. I worked furiously to improve it as the editor suggested. It was out in the mail (yes, the snail mail era) again within 2 weeks but during that time, a new editor took over and rejected my poem. While the rejection was disappointing, I was buoyed that a Harvard Review editor thought enough of my poem to offer suggestions on improving it. Since then, I’ve taken rejections as an indication of where I am in my writing, if the work needs improvement, and if it is a right fit for the venue.

I’ll be honest. In between caring for the family and home, I have had to steal time from sleep to restore myself and write late into the night. If Margaret Thatcher could be Prime Minister on 4 hours sleep a night, so could I. Well, I make do with 4-6 hours most nights and luxurious days are the ones where I get 7 hours. But truly, most nights, my brain is in a fog so much of my work now are very short pieces.

You list gardening as one of your hobbies when you’re not writing. That being said, do you ever find your love of gardens influencing your poetry?

Oh yes, definitely. I’ve written a lot about humans destroying our beloved Earth, plants taking over and eating everyone, and the irreversible changes happening to our world now. On a more positive note, trying to inhabit new planets and moons but normally not surviving. Rather bleak, I admit, but I’m seeing the self-annihilation of the human species in the next 500 years, a bit more optimistic than Stephen Hawking who cited 100 years.

AstropoetryIf forced to choose, which part of the writing process is your favorite: drafting new ideas, working on a first draft, or polishing an almost finished piece?

All of it, really. The joys are different in each stage. The delight in discovery, the diligence of carving and molding, and the accomplishment of a completed piece.

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

I have many favorites. “After the War” is one of them, as is “Exquisite”, the opening poem in my book, A Collection of Nightmares. Many early poems I treasure, “The Art of Weaving” and “Postwar”. Of science fiction, “The Leviathans of Jupiter” — this year’s Rhysling nominee, “Twenty Years” — last year’s, and “The Perfect Planet”, which appeared in Apex Magazine. My favorite fantasy poem is “Allegra”, a 2014 Rhysling nominee.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am compiling a horrorku chapbook, a full-length haiku collection, a bumper science fiction collection, and hopefully a short story collection over the next 4-8 years. After selling a historic two flash fictions this year, I’ve been especially motivated to write more and I’m particularly enjoying writing flash and micro fiction. My various hats (fussy things they are) don’t like to be worn at the same time so I have to shift gears whenever writing a different genre.

Tremendous thanks to Christina Sng for being this week’s featured author. Find her at her author website as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy reading!

In the Blood: Interview with Catherine Grant

Welcome back! Today I’m thrilled to feature author and editor Catherine Grant. Catherine’s fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, and she’s served as an editor at both LampLight and Shock Totem.  She was also recently named Assistant Director of NecronomiCon Providence (congrats again, Catherine!).

Recently, she and I discussed her work as an editor, her inspiration as a writer, as well as the release of her new chapbook, Power in the Blood.

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

Catherine GrantI’ve wanted to be an author since I was a little kid. I wrote stories all the time in grade school and then when I was fifteen I took a crack at writing something longer. There is a single copy of that story that lives with my best friend and I’m hoping it will never see the light of day. In fact, next time I see her I might steal it and burn it.

When I was a kid, I was in love with Roald Dahl. I read Matilda over and over because it appealed to me as an intelligent, sensitive little girl living in a world where adults were terrible and sometimes abusive. Matilda’s frustration, loneliness, and, eventual revenge, was so satisfying to me, that I’d imagine Roald Dahl himself must have dealt with abusive relationships with adults as a kid and knew that pain all too well.

My favorite author now is Jeffrey Ford. His writing is beautifully written, vivid, engrossing, original and he has the ability to craft a satisfying ending better than any author alive right now. I will fight anyone who tries to argue this. I wish to someday be half the writer Ford is. His work doesn’t conform to one genre, it is just good story craft, and I think that is also something I’ve recognized as a goal in my own work.

What initially drew you to horror and dark fantasy? Do you remember the first horror film you saw or the first horror story you read? As a writer, what are your favorite mainstays of the genre, and which tropes do you wish would just go away?

I think I’ve always been drawn to darker subject matter, because it seems more genuine to me and evokes more sincere emotion. I started with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and then somehow skipped straight to reading Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King and Anne Rice. Most of that reading was facilitated by the fact that I had a Little Professor Bookstore within walking distance to the house my parents were renting, and plenty of babysitting money to get whatever I wanted, unchaperoned. This is how I ended up with a copy of Nighmares and Dreamscapes by Stephen King at age twelve. That book basically changed my life and made me a lifelong horror fan.

I love any horror story that is really about a family in peril, such as The Shining or The Babadook. One of Stephen King’s strengths is that his horror really isn’t about the monster, it is about the relationships between people and how delicate and complex they are, how easily destroyed or lost to “evil.” I think any “trope” can work as long as it isn’t really about the monster, but about more complex inner and outer conflict that really anchors the story. So, in short, I don’t think any tropes should go away, I think they just need to work harder at capturing audience attention, especially right now when so much media is being done so well.

You are an editor at LampLight, and you have worked as a slush pile reader at other publications in the past. What in particular do you look for in stories? Also, what has editing and reading slush taught you about writing that has helped you as an author?

LampLightEditing and reading slush has taught me so much about my own writing. I recognize more easily what doesn’t work and what will capture an editor’s attention. Editing has taught me a lot about the structure and pacing of short story writing that I don’t think I could have learned by just writing.

As far as what I’m looking for, I seek out stories with a good hook that get me engrossed in the story right away. I love fiction with a powerful, consistent voice. I want the voice to feel like melted butter on a biscuit as I’m reading it, or like gravel underneath my tongue, whatever works best for the tone and subject matter of the piece. It also needs to be emotionally compelling. Pull on my heartstrings. Make me cry or laugh or want to kick someone’s ass.

I’ve read for both Shock Totem and Lamplight Magazine, and both publications were very different in what the senior editors were looking for. I look for pieces that fit with the tone and vision of the magazine, which has been difficult because there have been pieces that I have loved as a reader, but as an editor, they just didn’t fit. This is why I tell writers that “isn’t for us” doesn’t really mean anything as far as quality and should never be taken as an insult. I have rejected some fantastic pieces just because they didn’t fit with the tone of the magazine and I hope those authors re-submitted elsewhere immediately and were published.

In addition to your writing and editing, you are also a reviewer at New York Journal of Books. What drew you initially to reviewing, and do you have any tips to share with other reviewers out there?

Reviews essentially equal support for other authors. I began reviewing just as a way to support fellow writers, both inside the community and outside my social circle. I feel like there’s a huge need for reviewers who have integrity as well. I give honest feedback about my reading experience, even to people I know personally, because I feel like to do otherwise is a disservice to other writers, the community as a whole, and the author.

I never write love letters when I review, but I keep the negative as constructive as possible. Even authors who have books published by large houses appreciate knowing what didn’t work for readers, and for new writers I think this kind of constructive feedback is essential to their careers. However, I avoid being overly negative. If I really dislike a book, I just won’t review it. There’s no sense flogging someone’s work in the public square. It is also a dick move. My advice for reviewers: Don’t be that person.

You reside in Providence, Rhode Island. How, if at all, does being so close to so much horror history inspire your own dark fiction?

I moved to Providence after dating my husband. He lived in this area, and I really fell in love with the city. The writing culture here, and horror influence specifically, has helped to ground me in a community of weird fiction authors that are supportive and a constant inspiration to me personally and professionally.

I will you a secret—I’m not that big of a Lovecraft fan. I recognize his influence in the genre, and the culture. I recognize how important his work is and feel that his legacy deserves to be celebrated, but I’m much more enamored by contemporary authors that are influenced by Lovecraft and are working currently in the genre. I’m not going to name specific authors, because there are so many that I could list, but the work being produced right now is brilliant and beautiful and I’m excited that mainstream publishing is starting to recognize that and reward weird fiction authors for their brilliance.

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

Most of my work is highly personal, so this is like picking one of my children. I just self-published a limited edition chapbook from a previously unpublished short story called Power in the Blood that is possibly my favorite right now. It is inspired by a story from Jack Ketchum called “The Rifle” about a mother that realizes her son is a serial killer after finding a hiding spot where he left the corpses of animals he tortured. My story is from the perspective of a son, after his mother makes a similar discovery and kicks him out of the house when he’s eighteen. She then lets people from her church move in with her, and they mistreat her quite badly. So she calls her son and tells him of her problems, knowing full well what he’ll probably do.

Like I said, most of my writing is highly personal. This story is no different. It explores a lot of my angst about religious hypocrisy and familial relationships, specifically between a child and parent. I hope my mother never reads it. Mom, if you’re reading this interview, never read this story, it will just make you upset. I’ve warned you.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on the December issue of Lamplight, as well as reading slush for the June issue next year. Working as an editor does take time away from my own writing, but I wouldn’t stop doing it for anything. I also love collaborating with Jacob Haddon, who is an amazing human being and deserves to be a hundred fold more successful than he is as a publisher. Go check out http://apokrupha.com/ and all the amazing authors we publish, including in the magazine. The latest issue features Damien Angelica Walters and is a fantastic line-up of authors.

I’m working on a couple short stories for various publications that I want to submit to. Nothing I should talk about, but there’s some exciting markets right now that I’d love to be a part of. Short fiction is really my first love, so I try to always keep that skill sharpened by writing shorter work even while working on something larger.

Finally, I’ve been working on a novel that I work-shopped last fall with James Moore and Christopher Golden’s WRITE BETTER FICTION class. If anyone reading this is in the Haverhill, MA area, I highly recommend any class taught by River City Writers to anyone looking to sharpen specific skills or just get an overall critique of their work. I received valuable feedback and a great deal of personal attention from Chris and Jim with my manuscript, so I’m excited to finish that project hopefully by the end of next year and start the editing process.

Where can we find you online?

My website can be found at https://www.authorcatherinegrant.com/, where I can be contacted directly about the limited edition chapbook, or anything else, really. I’m very approachable and am willing to geek out or answer questions, as long as the question isn’t “Will you read/publish my story?” or “Will you buy my story/novel/memoir?” There are proper channels for that, kittens.

My Amazon author page is : https://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Grant/e/B01LZBSYIO. I much prefer that people buy from indie bookstores or from authors directly, but I don’t discriminate, as long as they enjoy my work.

At some point, the NecronomiCon Providence 2017 Memento book will be available here, which features my short story “Strawberry Red,” as well as tons of great interviews, essays and art. If you want one and don’t see one on the site, message the Lovecraft Arts & Sciences bookstore about getting one, or just head on down there and pick one up if you’re in Providence.

I will also have a booth with New England Horror Writers at the Rhode Island Comic Con this November, so readers can buy from me directly at that event. I look forward to seeing all the horror fans there showing us some love.

Tremendous thanks to Catherine Grant for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

The Darkest Hour: Interview with Mike Thorn

Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to spotlight author Mike Thorn. Mike is a rapidly rising star in the horror genre. He reviews regularly at Unnerving Magazine under his column, Thorn’s Thoughts, and his debut collection, Darkest Hours, is due out in November.

Recently, Mike and I discussed his genesis as an author as well as what his plans are 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?

Mike ThornI think I started writing stories around the age of six. I wrote my first novel when I was nine or ten — it was a long and totally unreadable rip-off of both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

There are so, so many writers I respect and admire… but some of the people who come immediately to mind are Kathe Koja, Herman Melville, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Eden Robinson, Nelly Arcan, Jim Thompson, William Faulkner, Hubert Selby Jr., William Blake, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Aickman, Flannery O’Connor, Georges Bataille, Don DeLillo, H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti. If you asked me tomorrow, I’d probably give you a slightly different list! There are too many to name.

What first drew you to horror fiction? Do you have a favorite horror film or horror story that really got you into the genre?

Stephen King’s Pet Sematary was probably my first taste of adult horror fiction. As a kid, I loved reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books (and actually, I’ve recently discovered that some of them hold up quite well!). I think I was interested in fantasy before I got into horror fiction — C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were major discoveries for me as a young reader.

Some of my favorite horror filmmakers are John Carpenter, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, David Lynch, Sergio Martino, Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, Rob Zombie, Wes Craven, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Ronny Yu and Mario Bava.

Congratulations on your forthcoming collection! What was the process like putting together the stories for the table of contents?

Thank you so much! Congratulations likewise on And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of the best debut collections I’ve ever read. It’s a stunning book.

I found that building the table of contents for Darkest Hours was an interesting process in terms of trying to establish some kind of tonal shape or rhythm. When I write stories in isolation, that’s almost always how they exist in my mind — as vacuum-sealed pieces with their own individual lives and forms. But compiling this collection brought to my attention the ways in which things I’d written over the course of two years did and did not connect with one another. When I first read over the manuscript I thought, Damn, this is too relentlessly bleak — nobody is going to want to read this. So I tried to slip in some of my more satirical, less overtly brutal stories at key moments throughout the book.

Darkest HoursYou write an in-depth review column at Unnerving Magazine. What inspired you to get started with reviewing, and how has reviewing shaped your own approach to writing?

For a long time, I wanted to be a film critic… I started writing reviews in high school and I still write on cinema periodically. But in my post-secondary education I studied literature. I decided recently that it might be interesting to put time and attention toward writing in-depth reviews of new horror fiction. It has now kind of taken precedence over my film-related writing.

As for how it shapes my own approach to writing: I don’t think it does in any conscious way. When I’m writing fiction, I’m usually zeroed in on the specifics of the stories themselves: What do the characters want? What is the conflict here? Am I using my setting effectively? Why do I have so many parenthetical phrases in this paragraph? All of that fun stuff.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: plotting new stories, crafting characters, or polishing an almost finished piece?

Probably that final sprint — polishing off an almost finished piece. There’s something so satisfying about that last ironing out of details, when I can finally say that I’ve done everything within my power to make it the best that I can.

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

That’s a difficult question! I’m pleased with “Fear and Grace,” which is being published for the first time in Darkest Hours. It’s not a straight genre story, but it deals with horrific incidents and situations. I wanted to represent some of the disturbing nuances of power and human hierarchies. I also wanted to write carefully about trauma and the exploitation of empathy. The story started as a simple situation: two people reconnect in a public place. Observant bystanders might sense some vague unease between these people, but for the most part the two characters’ vexed histories and inner worlds belong only to them. I asked myself, What might this encounter be like? How can I dramatize that tension between external perception and interior conflict? It’s a personal and uncomfortable piece, but I think I said what I wanted to say with it.

I like something that Justin Broadrick often says about Godflesh – I’m paraphrasing, but he describes this brutal music that he makes as defensive rather than offensive. That’s what I’m usually after – not an “assault,” but an attempt to ward off the things that makes me anxious and afraid. This is something I tried very hard to accomplish with “Fear and Grace,” and I think I got as close as I can get.

What projects are you currently working on?

I just finished writing a new short story, and now I’m getting ready to dive into research for my next novel. I know it’s going to deal with that recent historical period of Satanic panic, and will also probably involve the American death metal movement that surfaced in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. A lot of the details are still unclear to me, but I’m enjoying this total openness while it lasts.

Big thanks to Mike Thorn for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find him on Facebook and Twitter as well as on his author website.

Happy reading!

Bold and Bizarro: Interview with Autumn Christian

Welcome back! This week’s interview is with the talented Autumn Christian. Autumn is the author of The Crooked God Machine and We are Wormwood, and she recently received a Wonderland Book Award nomination for her collection, Ecstatic Inferno. In addition, her short stories have appeared in Eternal Frankenstein and A Breath from the Sky: Unusual Stories of Possession, among other publications.

Recently, Autumn and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as how she was first drawn into the worlds of horror and weird fiction.

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

Ecstatic InfernoI decided I wanted to be a writer pretty much when I started reading around 6 years old. I’d never experienced something as amazing as the experience of reading, and immediately wanted to plunge myself into that fantastical world forever. It was a total “Plato’s Cave” experience. Some of my favorite writers are Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Tom Piccirilli, Shirley Jackson, Amy Hempel, Brian Evenson, Faulkner, and Nabokov.

As a storyteller, what draws you to horror and weird fiction? Do you remember the first horror film you saw, or the first horror story you read?

Horror and weird fiction excites me. I’ve always been attracted to the strange and unusual. It seemed to be a sort of gateway to deep mysteries about human nature and our universe. Infinity and possibility are horrifying. Our deepest secrets and impulses are horrifying. I think through horror, we learn more about who we truly are and what we’re capable of.

The first movie that legitimately horrified me was the 1964 stop-motion Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. I used to hide behind the couch when Bumble the Abominable Snowman came onto the screen. I’d dream about him lurking outside as I hid in the attic. If you look on YouTube for the Bumble scenes, you can hear that his roar sound FX is actually truly terrifying. I know that the first horror book was something I read by R.L Stine. I think it was a choose your own adventure called “Don’t Feed the Vampire.” It had an illustration of Fifi The Vampire Poodle on the cover.

At your blog, you do a series of nonfiction articles about your experiences as a writer. On average, how does one of your articles develop? Are the posts mostly extemporaneous, or do you often spend days or weeks ahead of time developing a concept for your blog? Or perhaps is it a bit of both?

I started writing these long non-fiction articles as Facebook posts a few years back. I was a very confused and lost person with deep depression and trauma issues, trying to fumble my way through the world (Like many people). When I first began writing those posts, it was the beginning of me piecing together a cogent understanding of myself and how I related to other people. People seemed to appreciate my writing, but I didn’t write those posts to educate or talk to other people. It was really me trying to communicate with myself, and solidify concepts that’d been swirling around in my brain into something concrete so that I could have a more purposeful and enjoyable life. I started posting them publicly though, because you know, I’m a writer and I have an ego problem.

I will usually write these posts in one sitting, but oftentimes they are concepts that I’ve been contemplating for weeks or months, and then will suddenly “click” into place enough for me to write. Sometimes I’ll get a flash of inspiration from a conversation or something that happened in real life, or something that I read. (I suppose like any other idea.)

The Crooked God MachineYou’ve written both long and short fiction. Do you prefer one length over another? Also, what helps you to determine whether a story should be a shorter form or novel length?

Writing a short story is like enjoying a relaxing night alone in a secluded cabin. Writing a novel is like hiking the Appalachian trail, except it takes longer and it’s bloodier. At the end of a novel, you’re not going to be the same person you were at the beginning, and the journey is going to change you in ways you aren’t yet prepared for.

The format depends on the complexity of the idea, and how much I’m willing to explore it. If I’m going to spend a year or more with a singular idea, I want it to be one I’m genuinely attached to.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: plotting a story, developing voice, or establishing setting?

My favorite part of the writing process is when the outside world becomes quiet and my being is interlaced completely with the keyboard and that singular moment of story.

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

Right now it’s “Sewn into Her Fingers” that’s in the anthology Eternal Frankenstein that came out last year from Word Horde. It was the first thing I wrote in years that I felt was truly the next step in my evolution as a writer.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a novel called The Edgar Allan Poe Simulator, which is about Poe, video games, life and death, and interdimensional portals. I’m also finishing up a short story about a nymphomaniac who has the magic power to heal trauma through sex.

Big thanks to Autumn Christian for being this week’s author interview. Find her online at her website and her Amazon Author page as well as on Facebook and Twitter!

Happy reading!

A Fairy Tale Ending: Interview with Carina Bissett

Welcome back! Today’s featured author is the talented Carina Bissett. Carina is an accomplished writer, editor, and scholar whose focus is often in the realm of dark fantasy and fairy tales. She has a new story slated for release in the Hath No Fury anthology from Ragnarok, and she is also currently instructing a course on monstrous women in literature (and what could be cooler than that?).

Recently, Carina and I discussed her work as a writer and editor, as well as her plans for the future.

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

Carina BissettI wish I had a definitive moment when I actually made this decision. Books have always been at the center of my life, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I actually started writing stories of my own. The stories have always been there; getting them on paper was the hard part. It wasn’t until I first read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter that things started to click for me. Other writers that influenced my early work are Terri Windling, Margaret Atwood, and Liz Hand. Some of my favorite working writers today include Angela Slatter, Genevieve Valentine, Kate Forsyth, Damien Angelica Walters, and Kristi DeMeester. The talent out there is tremendous and I absolutely love reading stories that inspire me to work harder on my own body of work.

Your work is often influenced by fairy tales. What initially drew you as a storyteller in this direction? Do you remember the first fairy tale you ever read, and do you have a personal favorite?

Fairy tales are the foundation on which I’ve built my life. In fact, I still have my first childhood book of fairy tales; the cover is tattered, the binding is broken, and it’s held together with rotting rubber bands. Even though it should be thrown away, I can’t bear to be parted from it. This version is not the clean version so many people equate with childhood. I knew early on about the bloody, dark side of these stories. During the course of my lifetime, I have survived trauma after trauma after trauma, and it was fairy tales that helped me to survive. The first fairy tale I read was “Snow-White and Red-Rose.” (I still have the Golden Book, which was illustrated by Marjorie Cooper and sold with the cover price of 49 cents.) But as an adult and a domestic violence survivor, “Bluebeard” is at the top of my list. Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” is one of my all-time favorite re-tellings, but I also love “The Maiden Thief” by Melissa Mead and “The Glass Bottle Trick” by Nalo Hopkinson. They are both gorgeous renditions of a truly horrific tale.

Congratulations on your recent acceptance into the Hath No Fury anthology! What can you tell us about your story that will be included in the table of contents?

Thank you! “A Seed Planted,” the story selected for inclusion in this amazing anthology, is a feminist “Jack and the Beanstalk”–“Rappaccini’s Daughter” mash-up with a science fiction slant. I started this piece in October 2015 after a floating city was spotted hovering in the clouds above Yueyang, China. It was a mirage, albeit a superior one falling in the category of a fata morgana, but I liked the wilder claims of a portal opening to another dimension. This and my research at the time on poison girls, the vishakanya from Hindu mythology, resulted in the first draft of this particular story.

You recently served as an editor for a special issue at NonBinary Review. How, if at all, has your work as an editor shaped your writing, and vice versa?

In the past, I’ve critiqued any number of stories, something I feel has been beneficial as I continue to work on my own craft. I thought editing the NonBinary Review issue based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen would be a similar experience. I was wrong. There were more than 200 submissions to be read and sorted and read and sorted over and over again, an experience that has given me new appreciation for all of the first readers and editors working out there. Not only was the process about selecting the best pieces submitted, but it was also about striking the right balance to create a certain flow in the issue. As much as I hated it, there were some brilliant submissions that I just couldn’t accept because they just didn’t fit into the whole picture. Although there wasn’t any particular story that I feel has influenced my own stylistic tendencies, I think that by reading quality writing, I continue to grow in my own work. I also believe there is much to be learned from stories that don’t quite work. When I found myself rolling my eyes over adjective heavy prose or nodding off while trying to read a piece that seemed to drag on forever, it served as a reminder to keep an eye out for similar problems that might occur in my own stories.

You are the instructor for an upcoming workshop on monstrous women in literature. How did you go about developing this class, and what are some of the required readings for the course?

I have spent a lifetime studying myth and fairy tales, which are populated with monstrous women and women monsters. The concept for this workshop began more than a year and a half ago when I realized that my protagonists were invariably women in distress, women who overcame trauma by monstrous means. Once I started collating my knowledge, a pattern emerged and I winnowed it down from there. The amount of material is tremendous, so I had to break the course into two parts. This semester I’m focusing on the following categories: Great Goddesses of Death and Destruction, Matriarchal Monsters and First Females, Wicked Queens and Bloody Crowns, Witchy Women and Enchanted Attacks, The Seductive Allure of the Femme Fatale, and Lesbian Vampires and Lost Souls. Each module includes source material, re-tellings, academic papers, symbolism, writing prompts, discussion questions, an image gallery, and other resources. For instance, in the first session, which was set aside for introductions and instructions, we read and discussed academic discourse on transgressive literature and a few select pieces of fiction including “Given the Advantage of the Blade” by Genevieve Valentine, “eyes I dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine, and “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters. I also offered access to several journal articles for writers looking to dig a little deeper. The actual modules are a much more in-depth exploration on the topics presented and include both required reading and optional reading assignments. At the end of the workshop, participants will have written six stories, two to three of which will receive an additional critique as portfolio pieces.

What projects are you currently working on?

In addition to running the online workshops at The Storied Imaginarium (Monstrous Women: A Feminist Approach to Myth and Magic and Intersections: Nature and Myth), I am working on the third semester of my MFA in creative writing at Stonecoast. I’m thrilled to be working with the award-winning poet Cate Marvin. In addition to the drafting of five new short stories and 20 new poems, I will be working on an academic paper focusing on assembled and disassembled women in literature and film. It’s an exciting project and I can’t wait to dig into the research.

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

I was involved in a nasty bicycle accident last June and I’m only now recovering from the traumatic brain injury I suffered in addition to the physical injuries (six surgeries and counting), which is why I haven’t written much over the last year. However, I did manage to write “Serpents and Toads,” a Faustian re-telling of “Diamonds and Toads,” which was published this spring in Enchanted Conversations. As a woman who’s struggled with weight for the most part of my life (swinging back and forth from anorexia to obesity), I found it a cathartic experience.

Where can we find you online?

I have published online with NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, The Horror ‘Zine, and a smattering of other publications, but most of these represent my older work. My newer pieces, written since my accident, have a decidedly different style that leans heavily into the realm of fabulism, Links to my stories that were published online can be found at my website at https://carinabissett.com/stories/.

Big thanks to Carina Bissett for being part of this week’s author interview!

Happy reading!

Never and Always: Interview with Desirina Boskovich

Welcome back! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Desirina Boskovich. Desirina’s work has appeared in numerous outlets including Clarkesworld, Nightmare, and Lightspeed, among others. Earlier this summer, her new novella, Never Now Always, debuted from Broken Eye Books.

Recently, Desirina and I discussed her evolution as an author as well as her inspiration for Never Now Always.

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

DesirinaI first decided to become a writer at age 5. I think I had just discovered chapter books. I don’t quite remember how I learned the term “writer” – maybe I asked my mom where books came from – but somehow I found out about the job title and instantly decided I would become that.

Favorite authors… there are the classics such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ursula LeGuin, Shirley Jackson, William Gibson, Jeanette Winterson, David Mitchell. In the past few months I’ve been reading the crap out of some page-turners, which seem to be just what I need in these trying times. I am loving Megan Abbott, Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, Ruth Rendell and others in the thriller/mystery genre.

What draws you to speculative fiction? Do you remember the first speculative story you ever read?

The first speculative story I read was definitely The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, followed by the rest of the Narnia books. My parents read a few of these to me and my sister before I was old enough to read them myself and I read the rest as soon as I could (probably just after I decided to become a writer). I did not have a good childhood and these books were my comfort and escape. I’ve written elsewhere about my love for those books and the influence they’ve had on me. They definitely imparted a love for the weird, fantastical and uncanny.

I always gravitated toward science fiction and fantasy as a young reader. One book that I still remember is This Star Shall Abide by Sylvia Engdahl. That story blew my mind.

I think now I’m drawn to speculative fiction for the same reasons I’ve always been – my underlying conviction that the world we see is a very small sliver of what is, that we’re sleepwalking, mostly, and the universe is vast and terrifying and beautiful and much stranger than we could possibly imagine. I want a piece of that, as much as I can find it. And often it feels to me that the language of magic, of fantasy, of horror, of the weird, is truer and more familiar to me as a depiction of my life than anything that pretends to be “realistic.”

Never Now AlwaysWhat was the inspiration behind Never Now Always? As you were writing the early drafts, did that initial vision evolve, or did the finished story match how you first imagined the novella?

I started with this idea that I wanted to write about something I personally find unsettling, even horrifying. What I thought about then was the horror of trying to hold onto an important part of my mental landscape, a memory or a story or a knowledge about myself, and not being able to. Knowing I would lose it, or knowing I’ve lost it, and the powerlessness of that, the invasion, the loss. So I ran through a few scenarios and ended up with this one. I had the basic outline of the novella before I started drafting. I think the finished story turned out pretty close to that, except it took me a long time to find a language that felt natural to my characters and their world.

You’ve written both short and long fiction. What factors help you to determine what length a project should be?

I think when I write short fiction I’m writing toward a single powerful image or emotion or scene – sometimes the ending, not always. The rest of the story is designed to support that, to bring it about. I want it to be short because I don’t want to waste any words getting to that moment of power.

With a novel, I start with a set-up that intrigues me and I see where it goes. I usually don’t know what the end will be. So I have to write a while to find my way there.

In your work, you’ve explored themes that focus on identity, loss, and childhood. What draws you to these ideas in particular, and are these the themes that you see guiding your work in the future?

I grew up in an abusive home and my childhood was traumatic. I think from my earliest I’ve been trying to navigate this great loss at the center of it all – a life lived without the anchor of safety in childhood, of parental love. It is a great loss because it’s something that I think every human demands instinctually, from the moment we’re born or perhaps before, we want our parents to love us and make us safe. You can grow up without it but you know always that you missed out on something irreplaceable. And that, I guess, feeds into identity. I am who I am because of that past, in ways good and bad. I try to lean into the good and I do my best to leave behind the bad.

I think my work will always center on these themes, but hopefully I’ll find new ways to explore them. Lately I’ve become obsessed with psychological thrillers about women, that explore family dysfunction and buried traumas through the framework of suspense, danger and bloodshed. I really want to write one soon and I think that’s a very interesting way to delve into the same ideas.

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

One is “The Island,” published in Nightmare Magazine, which explores the themes mentioned above. Another is the more recent “The Voice in the Cornfield, the Word Made Flesh” from F&SF, which is something I really pushed and stretched myself to write.

What projects are you currently working on?

I am halfway through the second draft of a novel, which I hope will be finished soon. It’s weird science fiction that’s a little bit cyberpunk and a little bit eco-apocalypse.

I am also collaborating with Jason Heller on a nonfiction book titled Starships & Sorcerers: The Secret History of Science Fiction, which will be published by Abrams Books. The book will be illustrated and contain tons of gorgeous imagery, and contributions from a bunch of very smart people, too.

Tremendous thanks to Desirina Boskovich for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find her online at her author site as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

Happy reading!

Beyond the Shores: Interview with Sam Cowan

Welcome back! Today, I’m pleased to spotlight Sam Cowan. Sam is the founder of Dim Shores, a specialty press for chapbooks and other publications that focus on weird fiction. Previous titles have included Anya Martin’s Grass, Kristi DeMeester’s Split Tongues, and Michael Griffin’s An Ideal Retreat, among other releases.

Earlier this month, Sam and I discussed the genesis of Dim Shores as well as the hotly anticipated anthology, Looming Low.

Sam CowanA couple icebreakers to start: when did you first decide to become an editor, and who are some of your favorite authors?

I don’t really consider myself an editor. I select manuscripts, and I proofread and copyedit them, but that’s about it. As for favorite authors, today it’s Thomas Ligotti, William Gibson, S.P. Miskowski, and Cody Goodfellow. It changes day to day, depending on what I’m reading and thinking about.

What inspired you to start Dim Shores? Additionally, what first drew you to weird fiction, and where do you see the genre heading in the future?

I read “The Call of Cthulhu” in an anthology when I was 11 or 12 and it really stood out to me. That got me interested in Lovecraft, and from there it just progressed. I had not heard the term “cosmic horror” but that is what grabbed me so hard, that feeling of insignificance. 30-something years later I attended NecronomiCon Providence 2013 and for the first time met other people, in person, who were interested in the same kinds of things I was. The experience really charged me up.

In 2014, I went to the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland (much closer to home for me) and saw many of the same people, and met more new folks. I was friends with Michael Griffin and wanted to do something fun, so I bootlegged all of his stories I could find online and put them in a chapbook, with an introduction by Justin Steele (another convention friend). I enjoyed the process of making the chapbook and started thinking about doing it for real. It took a little while to get going, but Dim Shores debuted in March 2015.

Weird fiction is a broad term and I think it will only get broader. The voices and perspectives will continue to get more diverse, a very exciting prospect for writers and readers alike.

Looming LowLooming Low, the anthology that you’ve co-edited with Justin Steele, is due out later this year. The authors in the table of contents are magnificent, and the cover art is truly stunning. What can readers expect from the stories within?

Thank you! Marcela Bolívar and Yves Tourigny both nailed it. Their styles are very different but both pieces evoke a feeling that something strange and probably dark is about to happen.

Looming Low is unthemed. Our guidelines called for unsettling, literary speculative fiction and that is exactly what we got. The 26 stories vary greatly in length but there is a certain tone that carries through. Some stories could probably be considered dark fantasy, and a couple blur the line between science fiction and horror, but they all exist in the same general emotional space.

Justin and I agreed at the start that we would only include stories that we both felt strongly about. There were a few we disagreed on so they didn’t make it in, but for the most part we were in sync. We planned to whittle the TOC down to 20 entries but couldn’t get lower than 26, there was so many great stories.

The first issue of Resist and Refuse recently debuted through Dim Shores. How has putting together a magazine been the same or different from your usual workload at Dim Shores?

The process and experience of making Resist and Refuse was very different. I usually work on one or two chapbooks at a time, so I’m dealing with two or four people. Resist and Refuse involves about 25 people and was a more difficult project logistically. It was an impulsive reaction to the last election cycle, not just to Trump but to the proudly ignorant movement that gave him the win. I was horrified and wanted to do something and this is what I ended up doing.

It was also quite different in that the page size is considerably larger (8.5×11, chapbooks are 6×9) and there are many more graphics. The chapbooks include three interior illustrations that generally take up a whole page. To make R&R feel more like a periodical I added a bunch of photos, art, and pull quotes to fill up pages. There are still some holes but I’m happy with it.

Split TonguesAs an editor, what advice do you have for writers out there? Anything that you see frequently as an editor that writers shouldn’t do, or perhaps things you see writers doing well that they should keep doing?

As a copyeditor my only suggestions are about technical issues. There is no need to double-space sentences, and for the love of all that’s good in this rotten world, don’t use a tab or even worse a bunch of spaces to indent a paragraph. Word has an auto-indent feature, it’s great. Run spell check before you submit a document. And If you are purposefully using incorrect grammar somewhere, mention that to the editor.

I love your posts on Facebook when you’re editing work for Dim Shores while having a beer at the local pub. That seems very much like you’re doing publishing the right way. So keeping with that theme, have you found that certain writers’ works pair particularly well with certain styles of beer?

I read different types of work but my beer palate is pretty limited. I usually drink IPAs, sometimes red or pale ales, and occasionally I enjoy a good stout. I find that pretty much everything pairs better with everything else when beer is involved. I do sometimes drink scotch when I read Laird Barron though, it just seems right. Reading and editing while eating and drinking at the pub was one of my favorite things. Despite my dutiful patronage, the pub recently closed. I’m waiting to see if someone else opens it back up, fingers crossed.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m in the process of gearing up for NecronomiCon Providence 2017. Looming Low is at the printer now and will debut at the convention. There will be a launch event on Saturday, August 20, at 6:00 with readings by Michael Griffin, Livia Llewellyn, Anya Martin, and Michael Wehunt. I’m still putting together the details for that but should be fun.

After I fulfill all of the Looming Low orders I’ll focus on the next three chapbooks: Coffle (Gemma Files, art by Stephen Wilson), Curses (Anna Tambour, art by Nick Gucker), and Pwdre Ser (Kurt Fawver, art TBD). Coffle is already in progress, most of the layout and the cover art is already done.

Where can we find you online?

Awkwardly, Dim Shores doesn’t have a real website at the moment. I had a WordPress site but destroyed it while trying to add features via code. I’m still not sure what i did. That said, dimshores.com will take you to the web store, and will eventually lead to a new website. For now most news and information is relayed through the Dim Shores Facebook page, as well as an email list. Dim Shores is on Twitter, but I don’t like Twitter and don’t do a whole lot there. I am very new to Instagram and haven’t posted much yet but it seems better than Twitter, we’ll see.

Tremendous thanks to Sam Cowan for being this week’s featured interview!

Happy reading!