Midnight Movie Madness: Part Two of the Violent Vixens Roundtable

Welcome back for Part Two in our August roundtable! We’re celebrating this month’s release of Violent Vixens: An Homage to Grindhouse Horror, which made its debut last week and is already earning rave reviews. Today, I’m talking with eleven of the fabulous authors from the anthology about their favorite cult films and their best memories of the drive-in and midnight movie screenings.

So let’s take it away, shall we?

SARAH READ: My favorite drive-in movie memory is seeing Jurassic Park when I was 10 years old. It was nighttime in rural Colorado, and the only thing you could see was this giant, illuminated T-Rex stalking through the landscape. I also saw Twister at that same drive-in a few years later. There was a thunderstorm during the show, and then the scene where the tornado rips through the drive-in played (and bonus points that the movie they’re watching is The Shining–right at the axe-to-the-door scene). I guess I like it when the scene and setting blur a little and make things more immersive or scary!

I don’t know that I could pick a favorite cult classic horror movie. I like a lot of them! But the one I’ve certainly seen the most is The Exorcist.

ROB E. BOLEY: Probably my favorite cult classic is actually pretty recent. It’s the 2006 slasher mockumentary Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. It’s a crying shame that more people haven’t seen this movie, because it’s truly a brilliant balance of horror and comedy. I’d say it’s mandatory viewing for any fans of the slasher genre. Another favorite is John Carpenter’s They Live. It’s maybe more sci-fi than horror, but wow, it’s scary how the film only gets more relevant with each passing year!

I’d say my favorite drive-in memory is the time a few years ago when my wife and I took my daughter to see a special screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Dixie Twin Drive-In here in Dayton. It was her first time seeing the movie, and I’ll never forget doing the Time Warp amidst all the parked cars. Unfortunately, it rained later, so we had to watch the rest of the movie in the car.

SOPHIE LEAH: My favourite horror movie // movies seem to vary at any given moment as I constantly watch new stuff or become particularly attached to old loves. As far as more ‘culty’ favourites go, I’ve always had a soft-spot for Rob Zombie’s The Devils Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses. I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t wonder what 3 From Hell would’ve been like had Sid Haig not died. Others – off the top of my head – would be: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Terrifier, I Spit on Your Grave, Inside (2007), A Serbian Film, Last House on the Left, From Dusk ’till Dawn, The Hills Have Eyes – I could go on and on. I’m also a huge fan of extreme cinema in general, which is pretty cult-based in itself (we seem to congregate a lot over at effedupmovies.com). The nastier, the better.

Unfortunately – all that said – I have no real experience with actually going to Grindhouse, or attending a drive-in movie, as here in the UK they’re not such a thing as they are over in the US. I guess my last fond ‘grindhouse’-esque experience was a first date at London’s Prince Charles Cinema (where they sometimes do Friday the 13th marathons) where we watched Kill Bill: Volume I and the volume with all the talking back-to-back. If that counts at all? I would love to go to America one day and do various horror-related things over there (from the Saw escape room in Vegas to Hollywood’s Museum of Death and more), so hopefully there’s still time to make some more spooky memories there!

MARK WHEATON: Not sure how culty it is anymore, but I’ve always been fond of The Devil Rides Out, based on the Dennis Wheatley novel. The great twist of having some innocent kid discovering that his girlfriend is getting caught up in a cult only for his own uncle, played by Christopher Lee, to turn out to be a more powerful practitioner of magic is so much fun. As for a favorite drive-in movie memory, I grew up next to a South Dallas drive-in, so remember countless nights seeing but not hearing endless movies projected onto screens a block over once the stars were out. Everything was quiet, both audience and picture, like some mysterious communion. It’d make anybody romantic about drive-ins.

MATT NEIL HILL: In terms of favourite cult classic horror movies, I’ll always have a soft spot for Evil Dead / Evil Dead II, and John Carpenter’s The Thing is perhaps the one I’ve watched the most. But Near Dark is the one that springs to mind in connection with this story—its explosive and remorseless violence, but also the quiet, melancholy moments; the simultaneously feared and longed-for dusk and dawn, the whispering dust and the letting of blood.

Growing up in the UK I have no drive-in movie memories, but I remember signing up for an all-night movie marathon at a comic book convention in London in the mid ‘80s. They played about six or seven movies I think, although I slept through a lot of them and can only really remember Crimes of Passion, Ken Russell’s lurid neon psychosexual drama starring Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins. It left an indelible impression on me—as you’d hope any movie with a death by vibrator would—before I drifted off into dreamland.

S.K. CAMPBELL: Besides the ridiculous romp of Planet Terror, I enjoy campy horrors like Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. We don’t often think of horror as funny, but grindhouse movies and parodies like Young Frankenstein really take advantage of the potential there. Both comedy and horror raise tension in their viewers, and have this inherent exaggeration of their subjects. So the genres can be married with fabulous effect. To that note, some of my favorite midnight movie moments have been because the audience laughed during what was supposed to be a horrifying scene. I have a fond recollection of a close-up of an demonic eyeball in The Grudge, a lingering shot which caused an eruption of giggles in the theater.

NIK PATRICK: My favorite cult classic horror is Behind the Mask. I hope more people watch that mockumentary classic.

My best memory of a midnight film was a one-weekend late showing of Midsommar Director’s Cut. I had watched the original version the prior month alone, so it was fun going with friends this time. My friends had not seen the original version so it was my job to tell them what was new afterward. The characters who were unpleasant in the original version were even more so in the Director’s Cut. This of course is a plus in the horror genre.

SCOTTY MILDER: My favorite grindhouse film is and will always be The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But—like many children of the 80s—I came along just a little too late to catch it at the drive-in. Instead, I watched it on a washed-out VHS tape that I rented (way too young, thanks to the wildly irresponsible teenage clerk) at our local Safeway. I was nine or ten at the time, and the movie definitely bent my brain sideways. I made a secret dub and watched it over and over and over again until I finally got my hands on a legit copy when I was in high school. I did catch it in my late 20s during a Halloween midnight-movie showing. It screened as a double feature with Eaten Alive, and that was a truly glorious experience.

BUCK WEISS: I grew up in Southern Illinois, where Sammy Terry ruled the midnight movie every week. When I was seven, I had a friend stay over, and my mom let us stay up to watch Son of the Blob! I made it about halfway through before I was too freaked out to go on. It scared me to death and started my love of horror and grindhouse films. My favorite drive-in memory was seeing the movie Signs at a Drive-in surrounded by cornfields on all sides. Everyone was a little more on edge, knowing that anything could be standing just within the rows.

SHANNON BRADY: The cult classic that popped into my head first was Repo! The Genetic Opera. Set in a future where organ failures are an epidemic, a corporation promising cures becomes powerful enough to rule the world. If customers fall behind on payments for their new organs, Repo Men are deployed to repossess company property with lethal force. It’s one of my favorite horror musicals and by far the goriest I’ve ever seen. I think it’s very much a love it or hate it movie, and I fell instantly in love with it in high school.

My drive-in experience is sadly limited. The only time I’ve ever been to a drive-in movie was with my family in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which we were hoping for a nice time while the theaters were closed, but ended up leaving early due to the promised safety restrictions not being followed at all. The movie we’d gone to see was The Sandlot, but when we got home my brother and I watched Dead Alive in our basement instead, so it was a considerably different viewing experience than expected. I’ve never seen a midnight movie screening, either, so that and a proper drive-in are two things I would love to attend someday.

PAUL MAGNAN: One of my favorite cult grindhouse movies is Death Race 2000. I’m talking about the original 1975 movie, not the recent remakes. The movie was made by grindhouse king Roger Corman and is set (well, obviously) in the year 2000. The world economy has collapsed in 1979, and the United States is now run by a totalitarian government. A violent, televised sport is created to placate the masses (a common theme for dystopian movies during this time. Another example is Rollerball). Thus, the Death Race. Each year, a number of drivers, with navigators, drive specially designed killing machines cross country, and the more people they kill with their cars, the more points they accrue. In a charming plot twist, children and the elderly are considered extra points. Also, they are not adverse to trying to kill each other.

In this, the 20th annual Death Race, the favorite to win is a driver called Frankenstein (played by David Carradine). He is dressed all in cool black leather, with a mask that hides most of his face, with only a hint of horrendous scarring underneath. This is Darth Vader before Darth Vader. Apparently, he has survived multiple catastrophic crashes, yet keeps coming back for more. This year, however, there is a new twist: a resistance to the government has formed, and they are taking out the Death Race drivers one by one. This, according to the TV announcers covering the race, is hilariously blamed on the French (there is a lot of dark humor in this movie). Another plus is that one of the other drivers is a young Sylvester Stallone, who plays a character called Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, a ’30s type gangster with a huge knife affixed to the hood of his car, which he uses to good effect when he takes out a man operating a jackhammer. The movie does have a bit of a surprise ending, and I highly recommend it.

Drive-in movie memory: oh, so many. Yet one that has stuck with me was when I had gone with my parents to a local drive-in to see Barbarella. I think my father wanted to see Jane Fonda in a barely-there space suit, and I’m sure he enjoyed the opening credits strip sequence. As it was 1968 and I was only 6 years old, I was probably playing with my toys in the back seat of the car at the time. My mother, not a movie person and undoubtedly not having any idea what this movie was all about, was probably looking back at me to make sure my eyes were off the screen during these credits. I did watch some of the movie, which went way over my head. But there was ONE SCENE that scared the living crap out of me and gave me nightmares for weeks. Even now, over 50 years later, I remember the fear my 6-year-old-self felt quite keenly: Barbarella, in the snow, meeting up with these creepy-ass children, who place her behind steel bars. They activate a horde of porcelain-faced dolls with sharp, steel teeth in jaws that snap open and shut, who wail like the damned and walk forward as she struggles against the bars. Once they reach Barbarella, the dolls continue to wail and take chunks out of her with their teeth, as the creepy, evil children smile and look on until Barbarella is rescued by adults. Yeah, dad, thanks for bringing me to see this movie.

And that’s our roundtable! Thank you so much to this awesome group of authors, and please check out Violent Vixens: An Homage to Grindhouse Horror, out now from Dark Peninsula Press!

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!

Summer Writing: Submission Roundup for August 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! Lots of fabulous opportunities in August and beyond, so polish up those stories and send them out into the world!

As always, a disclaimer: I’m not a representative for any of these markets; I’m merely spreading the word. Please direct any questions to their respective editors.

And with that, onward with August’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Arthropod
Payment: $20/flat
Length: up to 7,500 words for fiction; up to 45 lines for poetry
Deadline: August 7th, 2021
What They Want: Open to speculative fiction and poetry about arthropods (e.g. insects, arachnids, crustaceans).
Find the details here.

Xenocultivars: Stories of Queer Growth
Payment: .08/word
Length: up to 10,000 words (up to 7,000 words preferred)
Deadline: August 7th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking speculative fiction featuring queer characters and themes of plants and growth.
Find the details here.

Chromophobia
Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,500 to 6,000 words
Deadline: August 31st, 2021
What They Want: This new Strangehouse Books anthology edited by Sara Tantlinger is seeking horror stories inspired by color from female authors.
Find the details here.

Ladies of Horror Fiction Scholarships
Payment: $100 scholarships
Deadline: August 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to all women authors, the Ladies of Horror Fiction are currently offering ten $100 scholarships.
Find the details here.

Lackington’s
Payment: .01/word CAD ($25 minimum)
Length: 1,500 to 5,000 words
Deadline: August 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to stylized speculative fiction on the theme of Botanicals.
Find the details here.

Kaleidotrope
Payment: .01/word for fiction; $5/flat for poetry
Length: 250 to 10,000 words
Deadline: August 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction and poetry.
Find the details here.

New Gothic Review
Payment: $50/flat
Length: 1,500 to 5,000 words
Deadline: August 31st, 2021
What They Want: Original short stories that explore the Gothic tradition in the 21st century.
Find the details here.

A Woman Built By Men
Payment: .05/word
Length: 2,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: September 5th, 2021
What They Want: Open to all female-identifying authors, this anthology from Cemetery Gates is seeking horror stories about women built or shaped by men.
Find the details here.

 And finally, an early warning call!

Negative Space 2: A Return to Survival Horror
Payment: $50/flat
Length: 2,000 to 7,500 words
Deadline: Open submission period from September 1st to October 1st, 2021
What They Want: Dark Peninsula Press is seeking short stories about survival horror, such as Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and The Mist.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

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!

Summer and Fiction: Submission Roundup for July 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! Plenty of fabulous writing opportunities out there this month, so if you’ve got a story looking for a home, perhaps one of these markets might be a great fit!

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a representative for any of these publications; I’m merely spreading the word. Please direct your questions to their respective editors.

And with that, onward with July’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

The Cellar Door, Issue 1: Woodland Terrors
Payment: $25/flat
Length: 2,000 to 7,500 words
Deadline: July 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to horror and thriller stories that take place in or near the woods.
Find the details here.

Chosen Realities
Payment: $100/flat for short fiction; $45/flat for poetry
Length: 2,000 to 7,500 words
Deadline: July 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction and poetry from authors of color.
Find the details here.

HWA Horror Scholarships
Payment: Scholarship amounts vary
Deadline: August 1st, 2021
What They Want: Sponsored through the Horror Writers Association, there are currently multiple scholarships available, including for horror nonfiction, dark poetry, women in horror, and more.
Find the details here.

Asian Ghost Stories
Payment: .08/word for original fiction; .06/word for reprints
Length: 2,000 to 4,000 words
Deadline: August 1st, 2021
What They Want: Flame Tree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy line is seeking ghost stories from authors of East, South, and Southeast Asian heritage.
Find the details here.

Kate Bush: An Anthology
Payment: $15/flat
Length: 1,500 to 4,000 words
Deadline: Open from July 13th to August 3rd, 2021
What They Want: Open to original weird or dark fiction inspired by the work of musician Kate Bush.
Find the details here.

New Gothic Review
Payment: $50/flat
Length: 1,500 to 5,000 words
Deadline: August 31st, 2021
What They Want: Original short stories that explore the Gothic tradition in the 21st century.
Find the details here.

A Woman Built By Men
Payment: .05/word
Length: 2,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: September 5th, 2021
What They Want: Open to all female-identifying authors, this anthology from Cemetery Gates is seeking horror stories about women built or shaped by men.
Find the details here.

And finally an early warning call!

Chromophobia
Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,500 to 6,000 words
Deadline: Open from August 1st to August 31st, 2021
What They Want: This new Strangehouse Books anthology edited by Sara Tantlinger is seeking horror stories inspired by color from female authors.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

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!

For the Love of Genre: Part 3 of Our June 2021 Author Roundtable

Welcome back for Part Three in our June author roundtable! Today, I talk with these nine featured authors about some of their favorite books from the past few years as well as what they hope for in terms of the release of their own new books.

So let’s get started!

All of you write in the horror and dark fantasy genres. What have been some of your favorite works of horror, both films and books, that have been released over the last few years?

GABY TRIANA: You know, I enjoy stories about haunted houses and I hadn’t felt like I’d seen a really good haunted house movie in a long time when James Wan came out with The Conjuring. It was a slow-burn, classic tale of haunting with just enough special effects to make it creepy without going over the top. Add that it had a gritty 70s tone, and I felt like I was watching the classic movies I grew up with. I know that’s earlier than what you meant, but I find myself watching it over and over again. I also really enjoyed Midsommar, which had me revisiting The Wicker Man.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: Definitely the short story collection WOUNDS by Nathan Ballingrud and the film HIS HOUSE on Netflix.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: There are so many to choose from! Goddess of Filth by V. Castro, Children of Chicago by Cynthia Pelayo, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow by Hailey Piper, Boneset & Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste, and Somer Canon’s A Fresh Start are all books that I really enjoyed. Of course, Death’s Head Press is putting out some wonderful books as well. The other books in the Splatter Western series are incredible. There are many more that I’m missing, but I’ll stop there. Filmwise, I enjoyed Terrified (Aterrados) and Mandy, and I just watched the Joe Lansdale documentary, All Hail the Popcorn King, which was a real treat.

STEVE TOASE: Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia
Vicious Creatures by Sarah Gordon
Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey

The 2017 film Ghost Story
Midsommar
Get Out
Us

EDEN ROYCE: I am so behind on my reading and film watching – it’s a shame! But a few films come to mind: Sweetheart, Head Count, His House, and Lace Crater. As for reading, I’d say Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith, a wonderfully spooky (and award-winning) middle-grade novel; Nine Bar Blues by Sheree Renée Thomas, a stunning collection of Southern Gothic tales that include horror, folklore, dark fantasy, and a touch of whimsy; and I Spit Myself Out by Tracy Fahey, a fantastic collection of short horror based around the female body from puberty to menopause.

V. CASTRO: For films I have to say Hereditary, Us, Raw, Get Out. For books there are too many!

So many women in the indie horror community have produced top quality work. All the women emerging in the horror community are amazing. They all deserve a big round of applause especially because they lift each other.

EV KNIGHT: Two favorite books that immediately come to mind are Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia and The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. Both are very gothic in nature which for me is a draw. I like the atmosphere and the slow burn of a good creepy tale. The Taxidermist’s Lover by Polly Hall is another one. It actually reminded me a little of your novel The Rust Maidens in its literary prose type of writing that I absolutely love and envy as I can’t manage to write about terrible things in a beautiful way like that.

As for films, the 2020 film Relic had me holding my breath several times without realizing it. The claustrophobic scenes were done perfectly and the theme of the story, the beautiful but unsavory ending was just perfect.

A film from a different end of the horror spectrum that I absolutely loved was Spontaneous which is listed as comedy/sci-fi but for me, it’s more horror than sci-fi. Either way, its perfect and engaging, terrifying and thought-provoking.

Lastly for films a 2019 release called Freaks, a Canadian film about a little girl who is kept inside her home for the first seven years of her life by a paranoid father. This is one of those films where you find yourself questioning reality the whole way through. Loved it.

I’d of course be remiss if I didn’t mention Lovecraft Country—the HBO series that has me anxiously awaiting season two.

MARIA HASKINS: The most recent horror novel I read was Stephen Graham Jones’s The Only Good Indians, and I absolutely loved it. It was riveting. I also read an ARC of E. Catherine Tobler’s novella The Necessity of Stars, and while it’s a science fiction story rather than horror, it has some dark and shimmery threads of quiet, unsettling horror running through it. Another ARC I read recently was Cadwell Turnbull’s upcoming novel No Gods, No Monsters. It’s out later this year and it is stunning. Really audacious storytelling and a fresh take on monsters and cosmic horror. A new thing for me is anime! Inspired by my daughter, I’ve been watching Demon Slayer, and I’ve really loved getting into that world and those characters and seeing how that show twists and turns the usual tropes of demons and demon slaying on its head a bit.

S.L. EDWARDS: *cracks knuckles* This is the part where I get to plug other folks? This is the part where I plug other folks.

I’ll start with someone who I just had a conversation about today: Mer Whinery. Mer writes about southeastern Oklahoma, where a lot of my family is close too. And his stuff is just…so horrifying and charming and dangerous all at once. He has the ability to really set a tone and create a sense of terror, more than almost any writer I know. If anyone hasn’t read it yet, I really recommend starting with The Little Dixie Horror Show and going from there.

Sarah Walker was also someone I talked about today. She’s recently done a bang up job as one of the editors on A Walk in Darker Wood, a folk horror anthology which contains a lot of my other favorites. William Tea, another friend of mine, needs to come out with his debut collection already. And William, if you’re reading this: I write the intro. You hear me?

Then I’ll just name off a few folks I think are mandatory reading: John Langan’s Wide Carnivorous Sky remains one of the greatest weird horror collections of all time. S.P. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You is one of the most compelling, emotional and devastatingly original novels ever. Period. I’ve never seen a writer break every rule like that. Nadia Bulkin’s She Said Destroy was also eye opening. Just, incredible stuff. Those three are my “big three” contemporary writers. Not that we don’t have other phenomenal writers, but they never fail to make my jaw drop when I read them.

We’ve got…a lot of people I think have produced some stories that I really, really enjoyed. Jonathan Raab, Erica Ruppert, Alana I. Capria Linares’ Mother Walked Into the Lake was another phenomenal one. Laura Mauro made me feel actual emotions with her collection Sing Your Sadness Deep and I was on a plane. That was embarrassing. Can Wiggins always manages to knock it out of the park, so if you see her in anything, please pick it up. Sean M. Thompson wrote an alien novella I rather enjoyed. John Linwood Grant, who has the ability to produce great fiction in a variety of genres. I’m not unconvinced he didn’t make some deal with a Yorkshire devil for his writing talent. Matthew M. Bartlett. I could go on.

Films? I recently watched La Llorona directed by Jayro Bustamante. The film is absolutely tragic and horrifying, because yes, there is La Llorona. Obviously the supernatural is there. But the greater tragedy is that beyond that, the story may as well be true. Without giving too much away, the film was inspired by the trial of General Efrían Ríos Montt, who briefly served as president of Guatemala during the nation’s civil war. Ríos Montt was a monster, even by dictator standards who was convicted for genocide against the Mayan people in his own country. However, there was…some complication with the verdict, I honestly don’t know much beyond that, and he did not die in prison. The defense of not just Ríos Montt, but for many heads of states who grossly violate the human rights of their citizens is that there is a greater conflict, some internal enemy, that needs fighting. General Videla of Argentina, the only Argentine military dictator to die in prison, claimed at his trial “Yesterday’s enemies are today’s government,” and never apologized for his actions in the nation’s dirty war. We are…regrettably, even seeing this now in the United States, where we have a very loud faction saying that violence against specific groups and protest movements is legitimate because of some connection to “Marxism.” La Llorona I think, does a very good job of showing us what nations will try to let themselves get away with if given enough cover. And what people will find themselves complicit in, if they’re not careful.

What’s your biggest hope for your new book? What would you like to see during the course of the release that will make you personally feel like it’s a success?

GABY TRIANA: I hope MOON CHILD resonates with readers on a deep, emotional level. I put my heart and soul into the story, dug into anger I’d repressed, in a way I hadn’t done with any other book before. The haunting happening at the Sunlake Springs is a direct reflection of the turmoil inside of Valentina’s soul, stuff that’s been bubbling under the surface all her life. I really hope readers connect with her anger, regardless of her situation.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: I want at least one person to connect with Iraxi, understand her plight and feel emboldened by her choices.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: I already feel like it’s a success because it’s being read. It seems like an obvious thing, but you never really know if people will read what you put out there. I’ve never had the dream of quitting my day job and being a best-selling author, but I would like to see my work have meaning for people in the way that some of my favorite authors’ work has for me, to see it resonate with them in some way that makes them feel seen or understood.

STEVE TOASE: I think the first big success was getting published by Undertow.

As I’m not that well known as a writer being with a publisher where people trust their quality means readers will pick up TO DROWN IN DARK WATER because it’s an Undertow book as much as because it’s a Steve Toase book. With writers like Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro, Simon Stranzas, Georgina Bruce, and the much missed Year’s Best Weird Fiction, people trust Michael Kelly to put out good books. Knowing he liked something in my work enough to put out a collection felt like a huge achievement.

I think any collection means people are going to have stories they click with and stories they don’t, but if people find something that they enjoy, then it will be a success. I’m very lucky that the reviews so far have been really good, and I was so happy to get a positive review in the American Library Association’s Booklist. Libraries play a huge role in getting books to people who may not be able to buy a copy outright, and librarians can be key in matching books to readers.

EDEN ROYCE: I’ve already realized my biggest hope for my book – I really wanted my mom to love it and feel it captured the South and our people in a realistic, yet magical way. She inspired much of the story and my long talks with her were some of the highlights of creating Root Magic.

V. CASTRO: I feel the praise before the release has already made it feel like a success considering the subject matter. This is a book about a hate crime against a Mexican woman. This is about her vengeance and redemption.

Being a Mexican American woman writing her history and truth makes me feel like a success.

The next step is to see it made into a film.

EV KNIGHT: I hope that Children of Demeter shows off my versatility as a writer. I know my first novel The Fourth Whore was intense and gory. Some of its subject matter turned some readers off. I hope those readers give Children of Demeter a chance as it is so different. I wanted to write a unique “haunted” story which I think I have. So for me, success looks like positive reviews that note the differences between the two books and their different types of horror.

MARIA HASKINS: It sounds basic, but I just hope some people read it! And I hope people will connect with the two new stories in it, “Blackdog” and “Dragon Song”. “Dragon Song” is my very first viking-horror-fantasy tale, and “Blackdog” is a story that I’ve worked on for a long time, basically since 2015 or so. To me, it’s almost like a superhero origin story in a way. I’m just excited to see what people think about my stories, old and new, when the collection comes out.

S.L. EDWARDS: I hope people have fun reading it. And that they tell me so. It may sound odd, given the other topics I’ve covered in this interview and the subject matter in the book. The book deals with depression, with isolation, with cancer, electoral politics and polarization, and so on. But the stories were a sort of therapy for me. I think the kindest thing someone ever said about Whiskey was that it “read like a writer going through some shit.” Which was true, and remains true. But I had fun going through some of this shit. And I hope that readers do too.

Huge thanks to these fabulous authors for being part of our June author roundtable! Please pick up their books and support their work!

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!

Books and Inspiration: Part 1 of Our June 2021 Author Roundtable

Welcome back! All this month, I’ll be spotlighting a brand-new roundtable featuring nine fantastic authors who have new books out this year! From short fiction collections to novels, and from horror and westerns to the witchy and the weird, we’ve got so much talent and such a wide array of books to spotlight!

So let’s take it away, shall we?

Congratulations to all of you on your new book releases! What can you share about your new book and the inspiration behind it?

GABY TRIANA: Thank you! My latest gothic horror novel, MOON CHILD, is The Shining meets The Craft. A young woman becomes the fifth member of a coven needing her help opening a spiritual portal inside an abandoned Florida hotel. The inspiration behind the story was more my own spiritual journey away from Catholicism which is characterized by Valentina.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: Thank you! FLOWERS FOR THE SEA is about a pregnant woman trapped on a boat with the last of humanity. It all started from a prompt and took off from there when I thought about the horror of pregnancy without the wild circumstances. Even “easy” pregnancies permanently change so much of your body and it bugs me out that people go through it.

EV KNIGHT: My new book is titled Children of Demeter. It is about a vanished cult from the 70’s who worshiped the Goddess Demeter. They lived on a commune and since their sudden disappearance, nothing has grown on the land. Sara Bissett, a sociologist trying to escape her own past, buys the place with the intent of writing a book about the cult. Strange things begin to happen making Sara question her sanity and the stories told about the cult by the people in town.

The inspiration came from an idea I was playing around with as I wanted to write a haunted house story. I wondered if the house could become a womb and those inside, rather than developing/evolving, would instead devolve/change into something less human. From there, the story just took off and “evolved” into its current iteration.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: Thank you! Shadow of the Vulture is number 9 in Deaths Head Press’s Splatter Western series. (The books are not related and can be read in any order.) My book takes place on the border of Texas and Mexico and is told from a Tejana perspective. The focus is primarily on women: a shape-changing witch, a soldier and her dead friend, a healer who wants to be a vulture, and a cantina owner. There’s a mix of knife fighting, gunfighting, and brujería. Juana, the ex-soldier is the main character. She is angry and ruthless and brutal about the way her world has been impacted by colonization. The story was inspired by stories I heard growing up, books I read on Chicana feminism, and books on Texas history written from Tejano and Mexican American perspectives.

STEVE TOASE: As a collection there are many inspirations behind the stories, but some of the main themes are grief, loss and inevitability. Rather than the jump scare I tend to write a sense that the story is heading to an outcome and that feeling of helplessness (which I think is more horrifying) builds the terror in the story.

For specific stories I tend to draw on lots of different sources. These include family hobbies and day trips, as well as places we’ve visited. Folklore has always been a huge influence on my writing, so the myth of Baba Yaga found its way into The Jaws of Ouroboros, and traditional ideas about borders inspired Grenzen, a story set on the motorway between West Germany and West Berlin at the time of the Cold War.

EDEN ROYCE: Thank you so much! It feels like it’s taken forever, but it’s finally here!

Root Magic is a Southern Gothic novel set in 1963 in my home state of South Carolina. While it was written for a middle-grade age group, readers of various ages can enjoy this take of magic and mystery, haints and hags, all woven together with historical themes still relevant today; racism, school integration, police brutality, and a return to the practices of folk magic and herbalism.

I read and watch movies in my (ever dwindling) spare time and it has always been difficult to see rootwork and conjure magic portrayed on screen and in books as evil. Especially by people who don’t know the reasoning behind why these practices have such negative connotations.

It goes back to colonization where people were enslaved and brought from various countries on the African continent through the Transatlantic Slave Trade to what is now the United States. Enslavers wouldn’t allow these people to practice their religions or spiritual rituals under penalty of severe abuse, even death. Enslaved people were also not given medicines. So these disenfranchised people had to hide their prayers, ceremonies, their use of herbs and roots from those enslavers. And when you hide to do something, even something innocent, your actions are seen as wrong.

I wanted to do my part to show these traditional medicines and practices aren’t the evil many take them to be. So I wrote Root Magic to show rootwork in the manner it was always intended: a way to protect and heal the rootworker and those they loved.

V. CASTRO: The book I would like to talk about is The Queen of The Cicadas from Flame Tree Press. When the reboot of Candyman was announced I thought of what a Latinx version would be like. Immediately my mind went to my great grandparents who were migrant workers. The experiences of Mexican Americans and Mexicans are not often told through our own voices and I wanted to do that. BUT HORROR.

I also want to mention it began as a novella and morphed into a novel after multiple rejections.

MARIA HASKINS: Six Dreams About the Train is my short story collection. It contains 21 stories, 2 of them previously unpublished, and I’m ridiculously excited that Trepidatio Publishing picked it up. I owe a big debt of gratitude to author Angela Slatter who encouraged, supported, and helped me get the collection together in 2020 when I was dealing with a lot of stuff in addition to the pandemic. It was a tough year, but working on that collection, and finishing the two unpublished stories for it, was one of the things that helped keep me going.

S.L. EDWARDS: Thank you! Well, The Death of An Author is a collection of weird fantasy and Cthulhu mythos. They are stories that I liked, but did not fit with the overall tone of my debut collection, Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. The stories have a pulpier feel than the stories in Whiskey, skewing more towards Clark Ashton Smith than Edgar Allan Poe.

If I were to pitch it, I would say the book has sword and sorcery, weird westerns, vampires, dragons (lots of dragons) and overall feels on the whole more optimistic than “Whiskey” did. The characters fight back, more like action stars than terrified horror protagonists. You have gunslingers, pizza delivery drivers with combat training, hospice nurses, and even a telepathic shark monster.

The second half of the collection really focuses on what I call my “Congressman Marsh cycle,” which spun out of my political panic in 2016 and thereafter. Most of those stories will be original to this collection and were sort of responses to the news that I saw. They are, admittedly, much harder stories to read now and I do sort of expect some ridiculous one star reviews on Amazon motivated by some people who are unwilling to admit that they saw the same damn things we all saw. But I can’t do much to stop that.

How long did your new book take to write? Did anything happen along the way that changed the course of the book or its release?

GABY TRIANA: I wrote MOON CHILD across four months in 2020 between ghostwriting projects.

ZIN E. ROCKLYN: In total, I’d say the book took about two months to write, but spread over about two years, lol. I had a R&R (revise and resubmit) that took some time for me to find my way through, but I managed!

EV KNIGHT: The book took about three months to write and one to edit. I took a month-long break while writing it to write my novella Dead Eyes for Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series.

Covid, of course seemed to affect everything when it came to the publishing part, but also, there was a lot of political and civil unrest in this country for awhile and it just didn’t feel right to be publicizing my book when attention needed to be drawn to liberty and justice FOR ALL.

REGINA GARZA MITCHELL: It took me about a year and a half to write this fairly short novella. My day job is pretty demanding (and is actually a day/night/weekend job since I teach evenings and online), and part of that work involves research and writing. That doesn’t leave much time or space for other types of writing, so my fiction writing time is pretty limited. As I was writing, I was also working on a research project that influenced the trajectory of the book, so you’ll see some nods to Gloria Anzaldúa in the story. It took longer than expected for me to write the book, and I had to ask for an extension…and then COVID hit, and my writing time went out the window. So I submitted my book quite a while after the original deadline, but Jarod and Patrick at Death’s Head were incredibly kind about it and easy to work with.

STEVE TOASE: It’s taken a few years to get to the point where I felt happy pitching a short story collection. Basically, I wanted to have enough material to be able to make a choice rather than publish everything I’d ever written. The past few years have been good in terms of selling stories. I think the big development for me in terms of the book’s direction was having stories in Shadow and Tall Trees 8 and Weird Horror #1. This meant I was hitting that sweet spot for Undertow; getting the right note of weirdness and horror.

EDEN ROYCE: I wrote the first draft during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Root Magic didn’t start out life as a novel. I initially wrote it as a collection of short stories because the idea of writing long form fiction was so staggering to me I needed an abbreviated time – and apparently an international writing event – to push through and get the work completed. I’d written up my outline/notes beforehand and wrote furiously for a month. After that, I let the manuscript sit a while then wrote sections to connect the separate stories into a novel.

As far as things that happened along the way, I had a title change and had my release date pushed back from Fall 2020 to January 2021.

V. CASTRO: The first draft took me a few months to write. I’m a fast first drafter, but after multiple rejections it became clear I should expand the story to novel length.

Never get stuck on rejections because sometimes it is exactly what you or the story may need!

At the same time American Dirt was released so I had a lot to say about identity and hate. Many of my emotions are expressed in the book.

MARIA HASKINS: The collection includes stories from 2015 and onward. Putting it together in 2020 was a challenge for a lot of reasons, but it was also a project that felt doable for me. I had a really hard time working on brand new fiction because the year was such a dumpster fire, but going through my old stories and putting the finishing touches on the two new stories was less of a challenge. It was also interesting for me to look at my work as “a collection”. It made me feel a sense of pride and accomplishment as a writer that was sort of slipping away during that year.

S.L. EDWARDS: The book, ironically, was ready to go almost immediately after Whiskey and Other Unusual Ghosts. I think one thing we should talk about more, though, and I know this happens to other writers but I don’t see it being normalized is what you might call “the first book blues.” After Whiskey’s publication I was feeling much more confidant about my writing. Maybe in retrospect, overconfident. I’d like to think I wasn’t arrogant, but I had much bigger expectations than were justified.

Then, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, the publisher had to close and I was left in 2020 what felt like entirely alone. Something similar happened with The Death of An Author, in that there was an interested publisher, but the deal just didn’t get worked out. Again, no fault of anyone. But indie press does not make a lot of money for the most part.

So the release was delayed. New stories were added. A lot of new material was added, ironically some of it coming from out of my really dark moments in 2020. I was, for instance, one of the last passengers to come back from Bogotá on a commercial flight before the world shut down. I had only learned in one day that Colombia’s government planned to close the country and my airline did not notify me in advance that they had cancelled my flight. So, the day was just one of dread and panic I’d never really experienced before. It’s a very, very visceral and hard memory for me to this day. One day, I’d like to go back to Bogotá to get a bit of closure.

But this informed stories like “The Last Mayflies Out of Bogotá,” which will be original to the collection. 2020 also informed some of the rewrites of earlier stories which are included in the collection. It did not, ironically, inform my story “A Slower Way of Starving,” a story about two pizza delivery drivers in a town contained during the spread of a pandemic. That story was written for the now infamous pizza anthology, well before COVID. It was rejected, but now you all get to read it if you want to.

And that’s it for Part One in our month-long roundtable! Head on back next week as we discuss more about these authors’ fabulous new books!

Happy reading!