Dust and Light: Interview with Fred Venturini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you! Rust Maidens was legit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I may be dramatic and drop the tagline:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Spring Inspiration: Submission Roundup for May 2021

Welcome back for May’s Submission Roundup! Plenty of excellent writing opportunities this month, so if you’ve got a story or poem seeking a home, perhaps one of these markets might be a great fit!

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

And with that, onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Mithila Review
Payment: $10/flat for poetry and fiction under 2,500 words; up to $50 for fiction between 4,000 to 8,000+ words
Length: Open to poetry, flash, and short fiction
Deadline: Ongoing
What They Want: Open to a wide range of fiction and poetry, including horror, science fiction, urban fantasy, and weird fiction.
Find the details here.

The Cemetery Gates Society
Payment: $50/flat
Length: 500 to 1,500 words
Deadline: May 7th, 2021
What They Want: Open to flash fiction inspired by true crime stories a la Unsolved Mysteries. This month’s flash fiction contest is judged by Sadie Hartmann.
Find the details here.

Gothic Horror Anthology 
Payment: .04/word
Length: 1,000 to 15,000 words
Deadline: May 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to female-identifying authors, this anthology is seeking fresh takes on Gothic horror. Both fiction and poetry will be considered.
Find the details here.

Humans Are the Problem: A Monster’s Anthology
Payment: .06/word
Length: 1,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: May 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to stories about how monsters are adapting to 21st-century life while breathing new life into the monster trope and showing that humans are in fact the problem.
Find the details here.

Under Her Skin
Payment: $5/poem
Length: up to 50 lines
Deadline: May 30th, 2021
What They Want: Black Spot Books and their judges, Toni Miller and Lindy Ryan, are seeking body horror poetry for the inaugural Women in Horror Poetry Collection.
Find the details here.

Classic Monsters Unleashed
Payment: .08/word
Length: 1,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: May 30th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking reinterpreted stories based on classic monsters, including stories told from the perspectives of secondary characters such as Van Helsing, Renfield, or the Bride of Frankenstein, among others.
Find the details here.

HWA Poetry Showcase
Payment: $5/flat
Length: up to 35 lines
Deadline: May 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to HWA members only, the annual poetry showcase is seeking horror poetry of all subgenres. This year’s judges are Stephanie M. Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, and Angela Yuriko Smith.
Find the details here.

Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas
Payment: $250/flat for short fiction; $25/flat for poetry
Length: 2,500 to 3,000 words for fiction; up to 35 lines for poetry
Deadline: Open from June 21st to June 27th, 2021
What They Want: The editors are seeking dark tales set in South America that explore folklore linked to a particular location.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

Fiction for Springtime: Submission Roundup for April 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! Lots of great opportunities, so if you’ve got a story searching for a home, one of these markets might be the perfect fit!

As always, 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 this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission RoundupMithila Review
Payment: $10/flat for poetry and fiction under 2,500 words; up to $50 for fiction between 4,000 to 8,000+ words
Length: Open to poetry, flash, and short fiction
Deadline: Ongoing
What They Want: Open to a wide range of fiction and poetry, including horror, science fiction, urban fantasy, and weird fiction.
Find the details here.

Blood on Your Hands
Payment: up to $75
Length: 1,000 to 8,000 words
Deadline: April 15th, 2021
What They Want: Lethe Press is seeking previously published homoerotic vampire stories for their forthcoming anthology.
Find the details here.

Grey Matter Press
Payment: Advance and royalties on case-by-case basis
Length: Novella of 20,000 to 40,000 words; Novels of 60,000 to 100,000 words
Deadline: May 1st, 2021
What They Want: Grey Matter Press is currently seeking novellas and novels in the crime, thriller, and grimdark genres.
Find the details here.

Classic Monsters Unleashed
Payment: .08/word
Length: 1,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: May 30th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking reinterpreted stories based on classic monsters, including stories told from the perspectives of secondary characters such as Van Helsing, Renfield, or the Bride of Frankenstein, among others.
Find the details here.

Under Her Skin
Payment: $5/poem
Length: up to 50 lines
Deadline: May 30th, 2021
What They Want: Black Spot Books and their judges, Toni Miller and Lindy Ryan, are seeking body horror poetry for the inaugural Women in Horror Poetry Collection.
Find the details here.

HWA Poetry Showcase
Payment: $5/flat
Length: up to 35 lines
Deadline: May 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to HWA members only, the annual poetry showcase is seeking horror poetry of all subgenres. This year’s judges are Stephanie M. Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, and Angela Yuriko Smith.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

Unfortunate Horror: Interview with Leo X. Robertson

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m excited to feature Leo X. Robertson. Leo is the author of the forthcoming Unfortunates and The Glow as well as numerous short stories.

Recently, Leo and I discussed his forthcoming books, his inspiration as an author, and his favorite part of the writing process.

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

I started writing at 22 because I’d just finished my engineering bachelor degree and I finally had free time to learn about stuff other than humidity calculations and serpentine disinfection tanks. I started writing well by like 27, though this is probably disputable, haha!

Haruki Murakami got me into reading for pleasure at first. These days, Lionel Shriver, Melissa Broder and Curtis Sittenfeld are authors whose every new book I blindly preorder. I just can’t get enough disillusionment!

Your new collection, Unfortunates, is due out later this year from Unnerving. What can you share about the book? How many stories are included in the table of contents, and how did you select which stories to pick? 

It’s a collection of 8 horror stories and one novella, taken from my last five years of writing. Inside you’ll find a haunted performance artist, a few serial killers and at least thirty child ghosts. Several stories are previously published, but there’s as much unpublished material too. “Unfortunates” is the name of the title novella, but of course could apply to anyone in a horror story!

It’s a mix of my favourite stories and ones that found prestigious homes. I could’ve made an entire other book out of material I didn’t include. Though I wouldn’t make that book, because it wouldn’t be any good.

That gave me some confidence in the quality of this collection. For like a week.

Your next standalone book, The Glow, is due out in the fall. What was the inspiration behind it?

It’s a sci-fi novella based on two random story ideas I’d written down. One was a title, “The Cult of Plastic Island”—the other would spoil the ending!

To me, the story is about my own sister. Just like Lily, the protagonist of this book, I would easily risk my life attempting to retrieve my sister from a cult that lived on an island of plastic garbage. I hope that love translates to the reader—not like I would consciously know how to make that happen, but somehow through fiction it just does, right?

What is it about the horror genre in particular that appeals to you? Do you remember the first horror story you ever read or the first horror movie you ever saw?

As is true of all horror writers I’m sure, I use the genre to explore the things that scare me. And I find life absolutely terrifying for all sorts of reasons!

In my horror stories, there’s usually an aggressive tone, lots of hostile forces and manipulative people. It reflects my experience of life from horror’s perspective: it’s too much, too fast, and very loud.

I love connecting with readers because I know they can relate. I’d guess that’s why the horror community is the kindest and most encouraging.

My first horror memory is when my brother and sister rented “The Witches.” I was too young to see it, so I went outside with my dad and shone a torch through the window at them to scare them. I remember this because the mere suggestion that a scary movie had played on our TV scared me at that age. And rightly so! “The Witches” is messed up!

Later, I saw that “Tooms” episode of the X-Files and kept expecting to see glowing yellow eyes in every shadow for like a year!

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

Good question! My method is more or less the same—chaos, confusion, doubt etc—but if I have a longer thing with multiple character perspectives, after a general plotting, I will write it one strand at a time. I’ve found that it’s tougher to write a story like that from beginning to end in order. Switching character perspectives is like restarting your imagination over and over.

I like the satisfaction of creating something long, but I also enjoy the confidence of knowing every word has a purpose that I can only really get from short fiction. Unfortunates is about as confident as I can get that a book of mine is worth reading for that very reason.

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

I’d never thought of it before, but, characters!

I give all my characters some element of myself. They get into all sorts of messes and I think, “Oh it’s not a big deal, you can move past this”—when I almost never so readily tell myself the same thing. I like devising their internal monologues too, which usually consist of endless unanswerable questions—then I think, “They can’t answer that, no one can! So why do I always expect myself to know the answer?” I end up wanting to be more forgiving towards myself and others. I hope my fiction serves that purpose for others—not that I have any idea what it does.

What projects are you currently working on?

I just finished my second feature film, “Burnt Portraits”! It’s a horror film starring myself and actor Sam Crichton. Sam’s mum mentioned that the basement of her art studio looked like a great set for a horror film, so I wrote one and we went and made it there! It is such a good setting and I look forward to people assuming that we procured all the stuff there for our film, but I just wrote a film around what was in there. So many free props!!

I was thinking recently how literally anyone else, if offered the prospect of making a film with their best friend, would’ve created something fun and silly. But no, I made an extremely ambitious, very intense and harrowing film that questions why anyone bothers doing anything. Because that’s what I do. My only regret in finishing it is that I feel like I could’ve enjoyed the process more. That’s what I’ll do next time.

I’ll get back to rewriting a novel I’ve been working on for ages, hopefully finishing in time to make another film with Sam in the summer, time and COVID allowing. (Sam if you’re reading this, it will be a nicer script and easier, I promise!)

Where can we find you online?

I like getting added on Facebook! That’s usually how I find out what writers are up to and message them about appearing on my podcast:

https://www.facebook.com/leo.x.robertson

You can enjoy my Drag Race meme retweets on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Leoxwrite

My blog is here:

Leoxrobertson.wordpress.com

I also encourage just about anyone to consider joining the Stavanger Filmmakers Club. I started it here in Norway so I could make stuff with people in person, but I frequently request international voiceover work, and you can appear as a character on a Skype/Zoom call from anywhere in the world, right?

https://stavangerfilmmakers.com/

I found my people! Everyone is so nice. A guy even made us this website just because he enjoys doing that?!

Big thanks to Leo X. Robertson for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Wings of Horror: Interview with Joanna Koch

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to feature Joanna Koch. Joanna is the author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands and The Couvade as well as numerous works of short fiction.

Recently, Joanna and I discussed their latest book as well as their inspiration as an author!

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

Well, first, thank you so much for having me, Gwendolyn. I admire your work tremendously, and I’m so pleased to speak with you.

I started writing around 2010. I’d always done visual art with modest success, though mostly for the pleasure of self-expression. At some point, art wasn’t fulfilling my needs. It wasn’t saying what I wanted to say. I got really into organic and homestead gardening, the physical and stewardship work involved in that. I wrote a gardening blog (which is now defunkt) to document that journey. My first attempted fiction was on the blog: a surreal fairy tale about sawfly larva transforming into roses through compost. I’d never considered writing fiction before. Once I started, I was addicted I guess.

I have such a hard time naming favorite authors, because I appreciate a wide variety, and it changes over time. I’m in my fifties, so I’ve read more books than I can remember. Currently, I’m really interested in Gary Shipley, Kathe Koja, and Gnome’s experimental open source poetry books with pseudonymous authors. I try to stay in touch with popular horror fiction, but I’m more inspired as a writer by work that’s difficult, that feels like it’s just out of my grasp.

Your new book, The Wingspan of Severed Hands, is out now from Weirdpunk Books. What can you share about the inspiration behind it?

The overt source material referenced in the book includes the Grimms fairy tale, “The Maiden Without Hands,” and Robert Chambers’ King In Yellow mythos stories. The personal inspiration was my desire to create a multifaceted character in a richer way than I’d seen in speculative novels like “Ophiuchi Hotline.” I wanted to explore a character with tons of trauma who survives and thrives after going through hell. I wanted that character’s internal world, which is by definition disturbed and uncomfortable to inhabit, to really stain the pages. Professionally, I’ve spent time with people experiencing some levels of psychotic process, and glimpsed the alternate reality created in minds pushed to the extreme. I wanted to capture that, and more than that, suggest it is not a permanent state. I wanted a narrative demonstrating that change is possible.

You’ll pardon me for going on too long, but it’s really a problem that in our society we give up on people once they are labeled with certain diagnoses. There’s no funding for the kind of treatment that really heals deep wounds, the kind of communal support, almost tribal support, that’s proven to effect slow but permanent change. Instead, the focus is on meds and capitalist goals, like putting people into the workplace when what they need is time and space to heal. Anyone who’s interested can look up The Windhorse Project for an example of the kind of non-traditional approach I’m referring to, and look into ecotherapy as well for more radical psychotherapy ideas.

What is it about horror and the weird that appeal to you as a writer and reader?

At first, I didn’t know I was writing horror. In critiques, I was hearing that my characters behaved shockingly, or subject matter was too distasteful or “unrealistic.” So one day I was reading an anthology of horror for fun, because horror was my go-to “cheap thrill” entertainment. I came across Joyce Carroll Oates. Hers was a kind of horror that wasn’t slasher, that wasn’t necessarily supernatural, and that towed an uncomfortable line between reality and imagination. Full of symbolism and emotion. Unquestionably literature. That’s when I had my “Aha” moment. Horror and the weird can take us places we aren’t allowed to go in normal life. Horror faces hard questions with more courage than therapists, parents, and churches. Horror will not make things easy for you; it’s going to show you the truth. And you feel it, when horror is done well. Rather than letting you sit on the sidelines, horror demands you face moral questions, existential questions, issues of violence and its cause, its meaninglessness; and questions about what you would do to protect those you love or to survive a threat. Horror doesn’t lie, and I love that. That’s the conversation I want to have.

Your story, “The Revenge of Madeline Usher,” appears in the Stoker-nominated anthology Not All Monsters. How did that particular story come into being?

I love Poe, and I first read all of his work around age 11 or 12 when my mother was cleaning a church for a living. I had to wait around several hours after school for her to finish every day, and it was next to the public library, so I spent that year reading Poe and Shakespeare, and then books like Clockwork Orange and Malone Dies while hanging out in the pews! It was perfect. Anyway, I wanted to examine Poe again from my point of view as a writer, and I was shocked that Madeline literally never speaks in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” In my mind, I remembered a central, vital character. Yet she was a ghost. Worse, she was abused not only in the story, but in the text, in the way Poe handled her. No shade on Poe; he was a product of his time. I was busy with another project, but I had to grab a notebook and write Madeline’s “real” story in her own words right away. It was absolutely urgent. I’m incredibly fortunate it was chosen for Not All Monsters by Sara Tantlinger, who is a delight to work with.

Do you have any particular writing habits? Do you write at a certain time of day or in a certain place? Do you listen to music or prefer the quiet?

I’m obsessive, and I always need to have a project occupying my mind. I like to have at least one project running as a background program in my head no matter what else I’m doing. When I sit down to write, I tend towards quiet, so I can hear the words, but it depends on the project. I’ve found that different projects, and the desire to push myself to change and experiment, call for different approaches. So I don’t write every day, or at the same time every day. And sometimes I write or edit for ten hours straight. I edit so much. It’s hard to stop! I try to trick myself into creativity by changing things: fonts, location, handwritten versus computer, and now I’m doing a novella on my phone, which makes me laugh, because I think it’s a terrible idea, and that’s exactly why I’m doing it. I’m all about surrealist games. I asked a friend for words by text message all through a piece once, and the results were amazing. I guess I have no rules except to keep writing.

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

Mood is essential. By this I mean conceptualizing the tone and texture of the piece, getting a feel for it before any words hit the page. The mood is my guiding light, and setting, characters, and plot are malleable elements that serve it. I take a kind of sculptural approach, although if you press me to explain, I’m not sure how to quantify that. Let’s just say I can work my way through all the mechanics of a piece once I get a strong feeling for it in my gut. If I don’t have that, I move on to another project.

What projects are you currently working on?

As I mentioned, I’m experimenting with writing a novella on my phone. It’s a coming of age story set in the early 80s under the threat of nuclear war and Reagan-era religious politics. I’d like to capture the sense we had that the world was going to end, that there was no reason to plan a future or avoid drugs and sex and violence because we were going to die any second. The bomb was going to drop, or the rapture was going to come. This was also exactly when HIV emerged, and suddenly even in the deep south, queer culture could not be ignored, even though the light shone on it was deeply negative. My narrator is trans, and I’m negotiating how they will or won’t express that in a time and place when almost no one was out, when there was no language for discussing gender identity. My teenage characters are getting in so much trouble. They’re experimenting with a nuclear powered drug that might induce time travel, among other things. I like them all so much, and I’m at the point where I’m really sad I have to start killing them off soon. I’m sure you understand!

Anyway, I also recently tasked myself to write one flash piece every day for a week. I’m often a slow writer, so this was a challenge. It resulted in 5 good pieces, and one has already been accepted for publication. Another I’m going to expand into a novella or mosaic novel because I created a big world with magical beasts and a personal emotional charge that doesn’t fit the short format – very exciting. I have a wealth of material and ideas and simply need the time and energy to craft finished works. I very much do not believe in rushing. I’m planning to release a collection in 2022 or early 2023, even though I have the requisite quantity of material now. I came out in 2020, and it changed my writing. I want more of my new work to be included in my first collection, for both quality and queer representation. If I release nothing but old work, it just won’t be queer enough.

Where can we find you online?

I’m on Twitter @horrorsong. My website is horrorsong.blog where I maintain a running bibliography, including a section with links to my online fiction. My favorite free-to-read piece is “Good Paper,” published by Storgy Magazine Online. There’s also an excerpt of my novella The Wingspan of Severed Hands available at Fright Girl Summer.

Thank you so much for speaking with me. It’s been such a pleasure. Take care!

Big thanks to Joanna Koch for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

Stories in the Spring: Submission Roundup for March 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! Plenty of fantastic opportunities this month, so if you’re seeking a home for a story, one of these markets might be a perfect fit.

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

And now onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission RoundupDark Carnival
Payment: $10/flat
Length: 3,000 to 8,000 words
Deadline: March 10th, 2021
What They Want: Macabre Ladies Publishing is seeking horror stories about carnivals and circuses.
Find the details here.

Chilling Crime Short Stories
Payment: .08/word for original fiction; .06/word for reprints
Length: 2,000 to 4,000 words
Deadline: March 14th, 2021
What They Want: Flame Tree Publishing is seeking crime stories for the latest anthology in their Gothic Fantasy line.
Find the details here.

The Periodical, Forlorn
Payment: $15/flat
Length: up to 6,000 words
Deadline: March 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of stories based around the theme of Lost at Sea.
Find the details here.

Eye to the Telescope
Payment: .03/word (minimum $3; maximum $25)
Length: Submit up to three poems
Deadline: March 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to speculative poetry about the Weird West.
Find the details here.

Escape Pod: Black Future Month
Payment: .08/word for original fiction; $100/flat for reprints
Length: 1,500 to 5,000 words
Deadline: March 31st, 2021
What They Want: Escape Pod is seeking science fiction stories from authors of the African diaspora and the African continent.
Find the details here.

Blood on Your Hands
Payment: up to $75
Length: 1,000 to 8,000 words
Deadline: April 15th, 2021
What They Want: Lethe Press is seeking previously published homoerotic vampire stories for their forthcoming anthology.
Find the details here.

Under Her Skin
Payment: $5/poem
Length: up to 50 lines
Deadline: May 30th, 2021
What They Want: Black Spot Books and their judges, Toni Miller and Lindy Ryan, are seeking body horror poetry for the inaugural Women in Horror Poetry Collection.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

Future and Advice: Part Four of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome back to the final part in our Women in Horror Month Roundtable! Today, we discuss the best writing advice these authors have received along with what they’ve got planned next!

So let’s take it away!

What advice would you like to give to women who are just starting out in the horror genre? Also, is there any particular piece of advice you’ve received over the years that has stuck with you?

HAILEY PIPER: Find your sisters in the genre; we uplift each other. Know that taking time and space for you to write is not a selfish thing, because inevitably someone is going to tell you it is. They’re wrong. The piece of advice that’s greatly helped me is to treat rejection as part of writing, not as an adversary. I like that better myself; I’m not about adversaries and conquering. Everything exists in cycles.

JESSICA GUESS: Honestly, just write what you want. Boring white men do it all the time. Don’t hinder yourself by thinking, “Will people get this? Will they like it?” The question is do you like it? Does this story do something for you? If it does something for you then it will probably do something for someone else.

GEMMA AMOR: My number one piece of advice: don’t compare yourself to others. My second piece of advice: other authors are not the enemy. This genre has a wonderful community that works best when we work to lift each other up, rather than tear each other down. I think as a general rule, treat others as you wish to be treated, and just try to build up as regular a routine as you can, writing every single day- it really is the only surefire way to get any significant body of work down. Don’t be daunted by what you deem as the success of your peers or those around you, and keep your eyes firmly fixed on your own work, making it the best it can be. Also, promote, promote, promote- we all have to do it, there is no shame in it, and anyone who makes you feel icky about trying to sell your own work so you can earn an income from it can, quite frankly, get in the bin ( or trash can for your American audience ha). The best advice I’ve ever received from anyone has been the simplest: just keep going, a bit like that fish in Finding Dory. Keep swimming. Don’t give up. You may or may not be an overnight success -if you are, amazing. If not, it takes years and years to build skills and a readership. Don’t be afraid to dedicate yourself to the long haul, and Just. Keep. Going.

L. MARIE WOOD: Write what you want to write.  Basic, right?  But for me no truer words have ever been said.  Writers are often told to write to fit specific markets, to make their characters fit certain categories or to make their stories more mainstream.  I remember that I jumped on that bandwagon once and wrote a story that I didn’t enjoy – not the writing, not the editing, not the reading – not one second ever.  The work was meh because I had been meh throughout the whole process.  I don’t want to feel that way when I write.  I want to feel excited by my characters, pleasantly surprised by their decisions, proud of the outcome.  I think readers like to read stories that make them feel some combination of those things too.  So, write what you want to write and see where that takes you.

Years ago I was told to keep writing.  It was something that a person who had read my first few short stories said.  We met at a signing and they were excited to meet me because they had read my work (!!!).  At the end of the conversation, he said, “Keep writing!” and my mind snatched the phrase out of the air to store in my mental safe.  His parting words make their way out of their locked box when I am busy and haven’t sat down to write in a week or when I am sure I have run out of ideas to write about.  It’s the cheerleading I didn’t know I needed.

Keep writing.

You betcha.

ANGELA SLATTER: Gods, there’s a lot but I think the following are probably most relevant at the moment:

  1. Don’t self-reject from anthologies. Send your work everywhere, do not stop. If no one gets to read your work and see what you can create then it’s going to be very hard to get published. A lot of women writers automatically say “Oh, I’ll never be accepted for such-and-such an anthology” – but you know what? You just might.
  2. Watch what other women writers further on in their career do – and if you can adopt the confidence of a mediocre man or a five-year-old in a Batman t-shirt, then you’re well on your way. Build a network of other female writers and help each other along whenever you can.
  3. Don’t answer reviews.
  4. Never stop learning.
  5. Never give up.

K.P. KULSKI: Write what makes your heart flutter in dark joy. Be true to yourself because writing fiction can be one of most honest things we can do. Also, you are the only one who gets to decide if you have a shot at your dreams, no one else can make that decision for you and once you do, don’t let anyone convince you to give up.

I also firmly believe in pushing each other up, in publishing, as writers and as women. Celebrate the success of others, they worked hard too.

DONYAE COLES: My advice is that there is no limit. Write whatever fucked up thing you just thought about, write it, it’s fine. And also, go ahead and just submit that. Keep submitting, someone will eventually say yes.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: Get involved! I realize I just got done saying you can’t stay plugged in all the time, and social media isn’t for everyone, but every single good thing that’s happened in my writing career has been through Twitter. Join groups like the Ladies of Horror Fiction, read and plug other writer’s books. And don’t be afraid to embrace writing what speaks to you. Make it female as hell, make it gay, imbue it with every part of your personal experience. Make it brutal or quiet or whatever speaks to you. It’s recent advice, but Tim Waggoner noted in WRITING IN THE DARK that his agent told him not to be afraid to write horror, and that was big for me. I’d been twisting myself in knots trying to write something that wouldn’t get endless rejections that boiled down to “too many ghosts.” Guess what? I love ghosts, and I love horror, and it’s my genre. So write what brings you joy.

What’s next for you? What projects are you working on now, and what do you have coming out in the near future?

DONYAE COLES: As I am answering these questions I have a couple of full manuscripts that will be going on submission soon. One is a slasher, the other is Gothic. Fingers crossed, trying to get that book money. I have shorts coming out in a Cemetery Gates antho, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod and Fantasy Magazine so follow me on twitter to keep abreast of those.

JESSICA GUESS: I have short stories out now in Shiver: A Chilling Horror Anthology and We Are Wolves. Right now, I’m plugging away at another novella. I don’t know when it will be done but I think it’ll be a good one.

GEMMA AMOR: I have a whole host of projects I am working on, some I can talk about and some I can’t. I’m currently writing a haunted house book called Six Rooms, due to be published by Cemetery Gates Media soon, and have another collection of travel-themed horror stories coming out as soon as I can get around to finishing it. I have some exciting things in the works with the wonderful NoSleep podcast, and various other podcasts- including working on the second season of Calling Darkness with co-creator and co-writer S.H. Cooper. I’m working on some awesome book cover art for various clients and am keeping my fingers and toes firmly crossed for some exciting projects I’ve been working hard on to come to fruition- half of this game is about waiting for things to land, but I’m getting better at being patient (I’m really not ha ha).

Mostly though, I am just looking forward to a return to some semblance of normality, to meeting some of the community in person, and to rediscovering the joy of writing- so I guess, watch this space, because when this is all over I am coming for you all with a huge bottle of gin in one hand, and hugs aplenty.

L. MARIE WOOD: So many things!  I mentioned that The Promise Keeper is coming out in February.  I will also have a few other releases this year, including the second book of The Realm series called Cacophony, which comes out in October.  I will be presenting at the Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference at StokerCon and I’ll be ready for MultiverseCon later in the year.  There are other things that I can’t talk about yet (ooh, so cloak and dagger!) but check me out online to stay up to date:

www.lmariewood.com (there is a blog you can sign up for!)

Twitter:  @LMarieWood1

FB: www.facebook.com/LMarieWood

ANGELA SLATTER: I’ve just sent in the final edits for The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales to Tartarus Press – they’ll publish that mosaic collection in Feb. And my first novel for Titan – a gothic fantasy called All the Murmuring Bones – is due out in March. Next I’m finishing off the novel Morwood (also for Titan), A Holy Darkness (a novella with J.S. Breukelaar), Darker Angels (a novella for Electric Dreamhouse Press), and starting to write The Bone Lantern for Absinthe Press.

K.P. KULSKI: I am working on a project that I’ve shelved many times. I don’t think I knew how to tell the story just yet. After some urging from my old critique partners, I was convinced to pull it back out. It’s the right time, the story entwines Korean folktales, shamanism with Celtic mythos. Something of a portal fantasy, but dark and desperate, filled with brutality and beauty—all seething in the forest.

I am also working on what I think will be a novella but possibly a novelette. The story originally started as a short but grew into something bigger. I’ve been calling it my “the Yellow Wall Paper meets Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away” story and of course, there are witches.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I just finished a total rewrite of a manuscript, SILENT KEY. I’m letting it pickle a bit, then hope to edit and submit this year. I’ve got several short stories coming out in anthologies this year, and would love to put out a short story collection, and I’m working on several collaborations I’m excited about. There’s nothing solid on publications, but hoping that will change soon!

HAILEY PIPER: Right now I’m nailing down details on a work in progress from December 2020, a few short stories that I need to get finished up, and finalizing details for 2021’s releases. In spring, The Seventh Terrace will release my first short story collection, Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, and later Rooster Republic via Strangehouse Books will release my first novel, Queen of Teeth, a story of body horror, first in hardcover during the summer and then in paperback around November 2021. And then there’s a smattering of short stories appearing in Dark Matter Magazine, Far From Home, Hymns of Abomination, and more.

Happy reading, and happy Women in Horror Month! 

Rituals and Chaos: Part Three of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for part three in our 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable! Today we talk all about how the upheaval of the last year has affected our authors’ writing as well as the self-care rituals that help keep them on track.

So let’s take it away!

How has the upheaval of 2020 affected your work? Do you find yourself writing more or less often, and have the themes of your writing changed at all?

JESSICA GUESS: I’m writing less. I don’t have any other answer. It’s crazy because I have the motivation to write as well as the ideas, but the will isn’t there. Everything that’s going on plus work, plus taking care of my mom has pretty much taken all the energy I have. Right now, I’m reading more and watching more horror movies to distract myself.

GEMMA AMOR: Gosh, my writing life changed in every single way imaginable. I am a mother, and schools have been closed, so my day job quickly became my second job that was often carried out in the small hours of each morning and that grew so draining my writing certainly suffered as a result. I likened it to trying to wade through cold porridge- everything felt stodgy and bland and just lacking in any spark or vitality. That being said, I did manage to push through and meet most of my obligations, but it was the toughest work year of my career and the toughest year of my life on a personal level, so yes– it came out in my work, which I think was a lot bleaker in tone now I come to think about it. I plan on addressing that with future works, and I want to get back to what I think made my writing pop before this giant coronavirus shitshow came along– having fun with the words again. Because if it isn’t fun, what’s the point? Perhaps easier said than done right now, but it’s there as a goal– have fun writing again.

L. MARIE WOOD: I just finished writing my second novel of the year last night and, while waiting for the manuscript to print because I am old school and intend to mark it up with my red pen, I took stock of my output in 2020… and… I’ve written A LOT.  Just under 300k words and they were a mix of novels, short stories, essays, presentations, screenplays, novellas, and even a poem stuck in there for good measure.  I wrote because I had the ideas.  I wrote in the middle of the night because that was when I had time –- that is usually when I have time, so nothing really changed there.  I did not write about the pandemic or its effect on me or the world around me.  That is not what I normally write about -– it is, indeed, too realistic to provide the escapism I strive to provide and look for in my own reading selections.  So, even thought we suffered considerable strain this year, I did not let that worm its way into my work.  The writing itself – the normalcy of it – was cathartic.

ANGELA SLATTER: I found in the first three weeks of lockdown in Australia, I was kind of lost. There was no inspiration to write, everything felt like we were living in a horror novel – which is very different from just imagining it for the purposes of writing! Like pretty much everyone, I wasn’t sleeping well, lots of nightmares, the constant stress sitting on your chest when you were awake, and of course watching a lot of income dry up as face-to-face teaching and appearances were off the table. But gradually I just kept pushing and the words started to return, so it became a kind of therapy – the only thing I could do, I guess! So, in the end I’ve been pretty productive this year. I’ve probably written more out and out horror this year, with less shall we say metaphorical padding to take the edge off? “The Wrong Girl” (Nightmare, 23 Dec 2020) is one of those stories with a lot of blood and flesh in the teeth.

K.P. KULSKI: 2020 was one hell of a century. I have hopes for 2021 but with this last year under our belts, I’ve learned to be extremely anxious about having hope. My writing time has been dented by what a lot of parents are experiencing, virtual school and trying to balance it all. I also moved in 2020, so that was added craziness.

With that said, I spent a lot of time thinking about racism in particular, which led to thinking more about my own hapa experience and of how much my immigrant mother went through. I poured that pondering and emotional energy into a novella. I’m finding the theme popping up more in my stories, along with a subsequent sense of isolation.

DONYAE COLES: I wrote a lot less in the beginning of everything but I’ve been writing a lot more since September. The themes in my writing haven’t really changed because the things my writing deals with (race, gender, poverty) haven’t really changed.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: My writing has ebbed and flowed a bit this year –- part of it is the mental grind of worry about the pandemic and political situation, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It’s impossible to be unaffected by that, and on top of it, my toddler son has been home from daycare since March. My husband and I are both working full time from home, so my days are long with no breaks until late. I’d been writing only during his naps on weekends, but then his sleeping got erratic and I panicked. I really felt like I’d have to put writing on hold, but then I listened to writers like Hailey Piper, Red Lagoe and Jonathan Janz, who (without the slightest judgment on anyone else) are committed to making it work into their schedules. I found time in the mornings, and in the evenings, and since I’ve been writing everyday now, I feel much more in the flow of it.

Whether it’s fully related to the upheaval of the year or not, I do think my work has become a lot more personal, and observant of the frustrations of my situation. I love being a woman, and I love being a mom, but there are unbelievable rifts between what’s expected of women versus men. I’m not saying that in a man bashing spirit, or writing that way either, but out of a desire to examine my own feelings, express them in a horror palette, and maybe find ways to improve my situation.

HAILEY PIPER: I probably wrote about the same amount of work, but the shape certainly changed. I spent 2019 largely writing short fiction. In 2020 though, I wrote only a few short stories and instead channeled the time and energy into three books. The energy to it changed, too, maybe from lack of public socialization. My approach has become wild and unapologetic. The world is a chaotic place, so why hold back our own feminine chaos?

Writing is a tough business to say the least. Do you have any particular self-care rituals or ways that have helped you cope with being part of an often difficult industry?

JESSICA GUESS: I try not to take things personally. I learned that early on with doing workshops. You can’t take anything anyone says about your work personally. You have to remember that readers are coming to your work with their own perceptions and worldviews and sometimes they’ll put things on your work that you didn’t intend. Or they’ll have expectations that you weren’t trying to reach. I’ll never forget one workshop experience where the instructor accused me of having a racist stereotype of Asians in my short story when the character in question was actually a Black Trinidadian. She accused me of other stuff too that had nothing to do with my story. I was hurt for a while, but I kinda knew that she was putting her own stuff on my work. It wasn’t me. She didn’t even read the story carefully to know the ethnicity of the character she was mad about and she’s a famous writer and creative writing instructor! If she can do that, what do you expect of the average reader?

GEMMA AMOR: Lots. Having strict rules about what I am comfortable engaging with on social media has been the most significant act of self-care I could have initiated for myself and I continue to hold to my rules every day. I have extremely firm boundaries surrounding who I want to communicate and interact with, and that is okay– often throughout my life I have felt apologetic for not enjoying something, or not getting along with certain people. But it’s ridiculous to assume you are going to get everyone to like you or be everyone’s cup of tea– the world just doesn’t work that way. So I stick to my boundaries and it makes me a lot less anxious about myself and my place in the world as a result.

Other than that, I walk, a lot, to take care of both my brain and my body, I will often figure out a tricky plot point that way, or else, in a scalding hot bath. I love baths. I think I might be part-mermaid or eel (or manatee).

I also have about three or four dedicated beta readers/editorial type folk who often help carry me through the difficult part of writing a novel or anything of great length– particularly that stodgy middle bit of a novel that everyone hates– I find that reaching out to them for reassurance and feedback is an incredibly important part of my creative process, and I value them enormously.

It sounds a little hippy as well, but one of the best ways I find to be kind to myself in this often emotionally charged and rather cutthroat industry is to enjoy the work of my peers and help promote them where possible. I literally jump for joy when I see a fellow writer land an exciting contract or tv show or whatever– it gives me hope and a real sense of community, which I personally find really inspiring and fuels me on. I think sometimes people can find that ‘Pollyanna’ attitude disingenuous or frustrating, but one thing I have learned is that the feeling of being isolated (a huge issue for me at the moment what with multiple lockdowns in the UK thanks to corona) really does exacerbate imposter syndrome and your creativity by a significant amount– only the other day I was talking about always feeling on the fringes of things, and never quite belonging to any one place. This is a nasty and insidious ideology that can nip a burgeoning writing career at the bud, and one way I get around these feelings is to immerse myself in other people in my genre. I mean, I just prefer to try where possible to think outside my own personage– having said that, writers by nature spend a lot of time thinking about themselves and talking about themselves because they are quite literally selling themselves to their readers, and as I get older I am increasingly aware of this. I’m not a huge fan of me, me, me, so I try and interact with others as much as possible.

Having said that, the last year has been an absolute slog. I have found reading anything longer than a few hundred words almost impossible, so I feel I’ve fallen behind in purchasing and reading the works of my peers– but I hope to get back on the case soon– the apocalypse can’t last forever, right?

L. MARIE WOOD: Interesting question!  I think that, at the beginning of my career, I would have answered quite differently than I will now.  I can remember going out to dinner to get my mind off of a rejection letter or getting my nails done to try and drive away my frustration over my perceived lack of progress.  Not so anymore.  Rejections will come – they are part of the cycle, and while I don’t like them any more now than I did before, I recognize their role in the general scheme of things.  I still get irritated by them but if I had intended to write when one came in, I don’t throw in the towel for the day and come back later.  Writing time is precious these days, so write, I will… after a few sips of wine and a few deep breaths.

ANGELA SLATTER: I try really hard to recognise when I’m grinding my gears: if I haven’t had a proper rest or just refilled the creative well by reading, going to the movies, binge-watching tv series, taking walks, talking to the dogs, etc. Just generally making a point of stopping until I catch up with myself and feel more focused and inspired.

K.P. KULSKI: Alone time is important to me and can be a challenge to obtain, but I have learned that my introvert soul doesn’t do well without a solitary well refill. I have to take time to myself just to be alone with my thoughts. I take as many opportunities to do this as I can. Reading is always a good source of self-care, either dark fiction or history is my jam.

Another thing that always gives me a sense of peace is reading to my kids. We’ve enjoyed a lot of stories together especially mythology from around the world.

DONYAE COLES: I do a lot of art but I don’t think that’s self care really because that’s just. . . the other thing I do with my time. I read a lot. I knit and crochet. I am a creative or I am a cozy creature doing soft things wrapped in a blanket, there is no in between.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: Stepping away has been the biggest, and most effective way I’ve cared for myself this year. Things happen in the world, in our community that need addressing, and I’m all for that. I don’t believe in putting on a good face and keeping things surface level so that resentments and straight up wrongs fester. But everyone has their threshold. I reached a point of anxiety this summer that stopped me from sleeping for about a month. That’s simply not feasible – it’s miserable, I have no childcare, and there’s no way to take a day off and rest. I realized it’s not healthy for me to be connected all the time, and that I need to protect myself from certain situations. In the same vein, I stopped reading reviews of my work, because it got to the point where it was hurting my feelings. I don’t believe in censorship of reviews – people should feel comfortable voicing their opinions about what they read, and even if my best friend hates my work and gives it one star, we’re still cool. But when it’s taking up head space, it’s time to stop. Oh, also massage, when possible. I am horrible at relaxing, so making myself leave the house and lay still for an hour is immensely helpful.

HAILEY PIPER: Having good friends who understand has been truly helpful. We keep check on each other, hear each other out, offer advice and solace. I’m tremendously lucky to have made friends with such wonderful people in the community. Reading also helps. I crave reading time desperately; it helps shut away everything else. A good reading session is especially cleansing.

And that’s it for Part Three of our roundtable! Join us next week for the conclusion of our Women in Horror feature for 2021!

Happy reading!

Genre Favorites: Part Two of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome back for Part Two in our Women in Horror Roundtable! Today we discuss what draws these eight amazing authors to the horror genre as well as their favorite reads by women in horror over the last year.

So let’s take it away!

What draws you to the horror genre? Do you feel like horror is particularly suited to address the experiences of women?

JESSICA GUESS: I’m drawn to horror because the stakes are always high. The main character is fighting for their life or the lives of people close to them or their immortal soul or something. For the second part of your question, I mean the genre itself proves that it is suited for women. I don’t know the exact percentage of horror movies with female lead characters, but I’d bet it’s extremely high. Part of setting the atmosphere in a horror movie is having your lead character be in some state of vulnerability. There’s a perceived built-in vulnerability with women because we’re seen as weaker. Added on to that the fact that it is indeed scary to be a woman.

GEMMA AMOR: I really do. This is probably because I lean heavily into the type of horror writing that serves as an exsanguination of my own personal traumas and history and experience, and that, by nature, has involved many themes and issues deemed ‘female’ in nature (I often write about my struggles with postnatal depression, for example). I think if you are looking for other issues that are increasingly being explored in the horror space, everything from motherhood to body trauma to identity crisis to being told to ‘smile’ on a daily basis by people who expect a certain behaviour from a certain section of society- many of these are unique to the experience of being or identifying as a woman, and horror feels like a perfect genre within which to explore that- whether it is by stint of using a ghost as a metaphor for loss or pain, or werewolves or wendigos to explore empowerment, or psychological horror to showcase some of the more complex, nuanced emotions surrounding the loss of a child, for example- this is definitely the most versatile and accommodating genre to address the unique and individual experience of being a woman, in my opinion.

This is partly what draws me to the genre and always has, this, and the fact that within horror, your imagination can really run riot. There are no boundaries with horror- I adore the extraordinary freedom that affords me as a writer.

L. MARIE WOOD: I have always written psychological horror fiction.  Since the age of five I have been interested in the thing that hides in the shadows, the fear of the unknown.  With such a specific sub-genre, one that lends itself to the tenets of thrillers and mystery and suspense so easily, infusing subtle fear into a realistic landscape has always fascinated me.  Indeed, I have always looked at life with my head tilted at an angle because I see the thing lurking behind the tree at the park, even when no one else does.  I don’t know that I think that horror is particularly suited to address the experiences of women, but I do think that it provides a platform for alternative mindsets, for outcomes that are not traditional, for the hero to be the skinny girl in the corner rather than the big, burly guy standing out in front.  In that way the playing field can be made equal, creating opportunities for new approaches in storytelling.

ANGELA SLATTER: Again, I think it’s the link to fairy tales – my reading matter as a kid (and the stories that were read to me by my mother) all came from the old-style fairy stories. Unsanitised, frightening, nightmare-giving bedtime stories. I think horror speaks very deeply to women’s experiences in the world: regarded as “carriers” for children, still subject to death in childbirth in a world with so many medical advances, no control over our own bodies, we’re most frequently the victims of crime – and more often than not we’re murdered by someone who’s supposed to love and protect us. So, yes, it is particularly suited to addressing women’s experiences!

K.P. KULSKI: I find horror to be perfect to externalize the all too often, very personal and internalized trauma that many women experience. It is the mental health toll. The everyday erosion of someone’s humanity. In horror, we can put that on display, erode the flesh of someone physically and we can see the viscera.

For example, maybe every time she’s harassed on the street she loses something of herself. In horror we can make this physical and bring home the depths of the horror of those experiences. It becomes a lot more difficult to argue that something is not painful when there is blood. Horror also allows others to experience the fear and struggle in a personal way.

DONYAE COLES: Gods, I’ve always been here. I think I’m just like this? Probably because my mom let me watch the Dungeon and Dragons cartoon and Billy Idol videos or she listened to Thriller too much. Actually it might have been 80s MTV who knows! I’ve always been drawn to horror movies and ghost stories. Life is full of creep.

I think that horror is really good at unpacking the experiences of women many of which always contain some element of terror long after you’ve come through the other side. I feel like horror stories aren’t ever really over, they’re just asleep for awhile and that’s part of what makes them scary because this thing can always come back. And that’s a lot of the experience of being a woman.

The things we go through aren’t ever really over, they’re just asleep in us and maybe they never wake up for us again but the cycle is forever and we will always, always carry that inside of us, whatever it is. And I think horror tells those stories a lot better than fantasy or science fiction where you leave the planet or you slay the beast but with horror, you know, it’s always ready for a repeat. The book can never be destroyed, the tomb can only be so sealed, the curse has been put to rest FOR NOW.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: What initially drew me to horror was the thrill – I love ghosts and ghost stories, and have always enjoyed that delicious little chill that comes with settling in for a scare. The concept of employing it as a vehicle for addressing the experiences of women has occurred to me much more recently – it came about by accident. I’m not someone who ever thought I was capable of writing short fiction. In 2020 I started to try, because I had a couple of ideas that seemed right for the length. After a false start or two, I realized what was fueling my ideas was the daily truth of my existence as a woman. I wrote a short story about what happens when women are told to smile, and another about body dysmorphia after having a child. I’m older now, and maybe a little more irritable, and some of the things I’m stewing on come out best as a pithy horror story. Maybe it doesn’t solve the intrinsic, societal aspects of what I’m pissed about, but it gives me a constructive vehicle to express how I feel about it.

It’s also been eye opening, and a bonding experience, to read the experiences of other women in a short story format. When we started receiving stories for WE ARE WOLVES I was struck by what a range of tone and subject matter there was, and saw through the eyes of other women what they perceived as horror. I treasure that, and have been seeking out more works of that nature, because the more experiences and viewpoints we’re open to, the better we’re able to understand and appreciate one another.

HAILEY PIPER: Absolutely; we live and breathe horror. Where we go, what we can do, when, what happens to our bodies; it’s all steeped in horror. I think horror comes naturally to us, especially when we look it in the eye and then embrace it. For me, I’m drawn to dark fiction because horror is healing, empowerment, honesty. I find validation in its stories of pain, hope in its triumphs, be they human or monstrous. And any weirdness helps my weirdo self feel like I belong.

There was a lot of tremendously great horror written by women in 2020. What are your favorite horror stories or books by female authors from the last year, in particular works that you wish would have gotten more attention?

JESSICA GUESS: Seeing Things by Sonora Taylor was an awesome read. Sonora’s writing is humorous and terrifying at the same time. I love it. Also, All You Need is Love and A Strong Electric Current by Mackenzie Kiera was another amazing novella from Rewind or Die. There were so many great books by women in that line up—Food Fright, Hells Bells, The Kelping—they were great reads.

GEMMA AMOR: Well, if I’m allowed to do this, it was actually the anthology of female-centric horror stories I co edited with Laurel Hightower and Cina Pelayo called WE ARE WOLVES, published in December 2020. All proceeds of the book go to the survivors of abuse, assault and harassment via various charities (including The Survivor’s Trust), and the story brief was to write about ‘the author’s individual experiences of being a woman,’ and the trauma or horror to be found in those experiences. The resulting collection of stories from a huge pack of women and those who identify as such is one of the most stirring, raw, emotional bodies of work I’ve had the pleasure of reading and I am insanely proud to have helped bring the project to life. I hope to make the first donation as soon as the first royalty payment clears in Feb, and I cannot wait to share the details in the community.

L. MARIE WOOD: One of my favorites reads of the year was Michelle Renee Lane’s Invisible Chains.  The pacing was superb and her vampire… oh, dear.  I wouldn’t mind meeting him to… discuss a few things.  😊  I appreciated the dive into the psyche of the slave who worked inside the mansion rather than in the fields – this perspective is often minimized, if addressed at all.  Add to that the element of magic – such a fantastic read.  I would love to see more buzz about this book.  I am also partial to the vampire anthology, Slay.  Full disclosure – I’m in this one.  That said, the collection of stories here is unique in that they investigate vampirism from different angles, and all through the lens of the African diaspora.  It’s a unique volume that I hope people continue to sink their teeth into (pun intended… and yes, I am that corny!).

ANGELA SLATTER: In this, the Year of the Plague, my reading has been surprisingly thin on the ground – I guess all of my time went into writing and teaching to keep the bills paid in 2020. My 2019 picks, however, are Karen Runge’s Doll Crimes, S.P. Miskowski’s The Worst is Yet to Come, Kaaron Warren’s Oil Into Bones, and J.S. Breukelaar’s Collisions. Oh 2020: Lisa L. Hannett’s Songs for Dark Seasons and Marjorie Liu’s Monstress! In general, always go for Cat Ward, Priya Sharma, Laura Mauro, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Gemma Files, Cassandra Khaw, Helen Marshall, Gwendolyn Kiste, Kathy Koja, Lisa Morten, Helen Oyeyemi, Liz Hand, AK Benedict, Marie O’Regan, Alison Littlewood, Linda Addison, Cate Gardner, Livia Llewellyn, Tanith Lee, Tananarive Due, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Robson, Lisa Tuttle, Mariko Koike … obviously not an exhaustive list!

K.P. KULSKI: My favorite book I’ve read this year was Francis Cha’s, If I Had Your Face. It sounds like a horror title, but isn’t technically, but it really hits all the strangeness and horrifying realities of plastic surgery culture, the horrible dehumanizing pressure. That book crumpled me up into a ball and rebuilt me all over again. It’s one of those books that I suddenly think about, like holding a familiar stone, turning it over and over to discover new cracks. The characters were so human and tragic.

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Maria Bazterrica is an amazing book and deserves all the buzz. It really makes you think about how society deems who is human and who is not. This is a concept I talk about a lot about when teaching history because it allows a deeper understanding of societies. The concept and the book will make you a bit sick to your stomach.

Patricia Lillie’s collection, The Cuckoo Girls really needs more attention. Lillie is fantastically skilled in writing quiet horror. The reader gets to stand in the lamplight but the monsters are at the edge, just far enough in the shadows to terrify but still mysterious. Her stories are so wonderfully creepy. “In Loco Parentis” and “Mother Sylvia” in particular were chilling. I hope more readers get a chance to discover her work, I highly recommend it!

DONYAE COLES: “The Silence of the Wilting Skin” by Tlotlo Tsamaase. This book was gorgeously written, like a dream and was the horror of a very Black and POC experience, the violence of colonialism and gentrification. It’s classified as science fiction but this was a horror story. I loved it so much.

“Cirque Berserk” by Jessica Guess was great. It was B movie perfection which is so nice to see from a Black woman. So often our work is like, it HAS to have great meaning and this was just fun? It was Black Girl Magic but with bloodshed and I dig that.

“Sed de Sangre” by V. Castro. Erotic horror is one of my favorite things and she just does it really well. It’s bloody, it’s sexy, it’s great.

I also really dug Hailey Piper’s “The Worm and His Kings” and Joanna Koch’s “A Wingspan of Severed Hands”. Cosmic horror done painfully right and these two actually read really great together.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: Oh, my, wasn’t it ever! Definitely a bright spot in an otherwise crazy year. I loved HAIRSPRAY AND SWITCHBLADES by Violet Castro, which came out early in the year through Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series. It was powerful, culturally rich, female led, unapologetically sexual, and packed with action. I loved the different take on the shifter trope, and the bond of the two sisters. The villain, too, was remarkable and well crafted. Cina Pelayo’s INTO THE WOODS AND ALL THE WAY THROUGH was heartbreaking and accessible – a collection of 109 poems about missing women that illustrate how prevalent a problem it is, and how little is often known about them, or done to bring them home. I just read SALTBLOOD by T.C. Parker, as well, which is a fantastic genre blending tale with deft social commentary, mystery elements, and folklore. Very effective, and highly enjoyable.

HAILEY PIPER: Probably the earliest standout was Hexis by Charlene Elsby, which I consumed and adored and have returned to. True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik is a testament to writing about horrid events with gorgeous prose, Lisa Quigley’s Hell’s Bells dug deep into my heart, and then there was the Black Cranes anthology edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn that gathered work by Asian women or women of Asian diaspora, and the stories were incredible. I particularly want to highlight “The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter” by Elaine Cuyegkeng; its generational conflict and dissection of expectation and identity absolutely floored me. Crossroads by Laurel Hightower tore at my heart, as did Into the Forest and All the Way Through by Cynthia Pelayo, and I need to stop; I could go on and on.

And that’s it for Part Two in our Women in Horror Month Roundtable! Join us next week for Part Three in our celebration!

Happy reading!

Fearsome and Female: Part One of the 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable

Welcome to part one of my annual Women in Horror Month Roundtable! As always, I’m super excited to celebrate Women in Horror Month every February, and this year, I’ve got an incredible group of female authors to spotlight.

So let’s get this fabulous roundtable started, shall we?

Welcome to my 2021 Women in Horror Roundtable! I’m so excited to be talking with all of you! Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the horror genre.

JESSICA GUESS: My name is Jessica Guess. I’m the author of Cirque Berserk, the fourth book in the Rewind or Die novella series. I have a blog called Black Girl’s Guide to Horror where I talk about horror movies and books. I’ve been writing horror since around middle school.

GEMMA AMOR: It’s a pleasure to be here! My name is Gemma Amor and I am a horror fiction author, podcaster, voice actor and illustrator from Bristol, in the UK. I’ve been writing full time for around two years, now, and haven’t regretted the decision to go all-in for one second. My written works to date include two short story collections (CRUEL WORKS OF NATURE and THESE WOUNDS WE MAKE), one novel (WHITE PINES), and two novellas (GRIEF IS A FALSE GOD, and the Bram Stoker Award Nominated DEAR LAURA). I am also the co-creator of the comedy-horror audio drama podcast ‘Calling Darkness’, starring Kate Siegel, and regularly feature on the hugely popular NoSleep podcast, a horror fiction anthology show. You can also find me on various other podcasts, a few audiobooks (I recently narrated THE POSSESSION OF NATALIE GLASGOW by Hailey Piper), and my art on a few book covers floating around (including a couple of my own), with more to come.

L. MARIE WOOD: Thank you so much for having me!  My name is L. Marie Wood and I am a psychological horror author.  I’m still getting used to calling myself an award-winning author and screenwriter but I was fortunate enough to win the Golden Stake Award for my second novel, The Promise Keeper, and I’ve had the honor of taking the Best Horror and Best Afrofuturism/Horror/Sci-Fi screenplay awards at a few film festivals, so I guess it applies. My short fiction has been published in several publications including Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire and the Bram Stoker Award Finalist anthology Sycorax’s Daughters.  I am the horror track Director for MultiverseCon, the Director of Curricula and Outreach for the Diverse Writers and Artists of Speculative Fiction (DWASF.org), and every now and then you might find my nonfiction work popping up in places like Vampfest and the upcoming effort Conjuring Worlds: An Afrofuturist Textbook.

ANGELA SLATTER: My work kind of slips between fairy tales, urban fantasy and horror. There’s always a fairy tale motif in what I do, probably because I regard the original fairy/folk tales as our original horror stories. Stepmothers set to dance in red hot iron shoes, parents deserting children in forests, fathers either eating their children or trying to marry them: horror. I’m the author of four novels, two novellas and ten short story collections.

K.P. KULSKI: It is lovely to participate in this year’s roundtable! Thank you for having me. About me, well, like everyone, I’m a soul wrapped in blood and tissue, the torture of this state began for me in Honolulu, Hawaii. My dad was an American sailor and my mom an immigrant from South Korea, so I’m what some mixed Asian folks identity as, a hapa, which comes with some challenges.

With a parent in the military, I moved around a lot as a kid. As an adult I went on to join the military as well. I served for nine years in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force, which gave me a chance to go to school for my two passions: history and writing.

I am also a mom to two amazing kiddos who are the stars of my life. My husband and I spend most of our time trying to keep up with them. End result, we are very tired.

All my work so far has been in the horror genre, although it often straddles the line between horror and dark fantasy, as well as historical fiction. I’m excited that my debut novel, Fairest Flesh, released at the end of last year. There are also various shorts that can be found in publications such as the Not All Monsters anthology and Unnerving Magazine. I was honored to be among the spotlight poets for the HWA Poetry Showcase. My writer passion is using feminism in my horror, it really is the perfect lens to reveal the painful and all too often common experiences of women.

DONYAE COLES: My name is Donyae Coles and I write primarily weird horror. I def decided I was going to be a writer later in life so I often feel like a little baby writer even though I’m old (I’m in my late 30s). My work tends to be gory, graphic, and very strange. I’m also an artist so in general I spend a lot of time creating. My work tends to be focused on race, gender, and income inequality. The real horror is capitalism, white supremacy, and the patriarchy kiddos. But also sometimes the randomness of a universe that doesn’t care about you, I like to mix it up.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I’m so pleased to be here, thank you! I’m a litigation paralegal and mom to a three year old, and I love bourbon and ghosts. I’ve published a horror novel, WHISPERS IN THE DARK, and a novella, CROSSROADS, and several short stories in anthologies. Last year I worked with Gemma Amor and Cina Pelayo to edit and curate a charity anthology, WE ARE WOLVES, and I’m very proud of it. I’m also one third of the Ink Heist podcast team – we’re a podcast for readers, and interview horror and crime writers, and we usually have a new episode every week.

HAILEY PIPER: Hi, thank you for having me! I’m Hailey Piper, and I write horror and dark fantasy of all kinds, often with a queer agenda. My books include The Worm and His Kings, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow, and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King. I also have a few dozen short stories in places such as Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, anthologies from Grindhouse Press, Cemetery Gates Media, and more. I live with my wife in Maryland, where we spend weekends raising the dead, and you can find me on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays or at www.haileypiper.com.

This is the twelfth year of Women in Horror Month! Do you remember how you first heard about Women in Horror Month, and do you have any special plans for how you’re going to celebrate?

JESSICA GUESS: My novella came out during WIHM last year so I got tagged in some promotional stuff. Before then, I didn’t know there was a Women In Horror month at all. For this year, I’m going to catch up on some books that I missed or didn’t get a chance to finish. I’m reading True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik and I want to finish The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper. I’ll probably also watch a bunch of horror movies but I’m always doing that.

GEMMA AMOR: I think I stumbled across it on Instagram a few years back, being very new to the author scene and very green in general about trends and hashtags and key dates in the publishing and writerly calendar. I love the fact that for a good month, so many of my peers and friends get the boost and lift they need to help raise awareness of them and their work, but I do also wish the onus was as heavy in terms of inclusivity and prevalence of women within the horror genre for the rest of the year, too– it’s not like we cease to exist come March 1st. That being said, I now look forward to the dedicated articles and showcases I know will be circulating throughout February– it tends to be an exciting month for me, now.

Having said that, I have no special plans, per se– just to keep on doing the thing, putting the words down on the page, working hard and lifting as many women as I can, as often as I can– in that sense, it’s pretty much business as usual.

L. MARIE WOOD: I sort of found myself in the middle of Women in Horror Month in the early 2000s.  I can’t remember which  broadcast I was on, but I was brought in as part of this celebration – a celebration I had been unaware of minutes before!  I played along, ‘Woohoo!  Go us!’ and reminded myself to remember that February was important moving forward!

February is my birth month as well as Black History month, so I have always considered it pretty special.  This year the re-release of my vampire novel, The Promise Keeper, will be coming out in February and I will be toasting it as part of my month-long celebration of all things me.

ANGELA SLATTER: I honestly cannot recall! It was a few years ago when someone invited me to participate. I will probably celebrate by writing a horror novella with J.S. Breukelaar.

K.P. KULSKI: For myself, I can think of no better way to celebrate than by writing more horror and continuing being a woman. Luckily, I like both very much. Women in Horror Month really didn’t get on my radar until I was working on my MFA. Progress like this really makes my heart palpitate. Progress and coffee, the fuel I run on.

DONYAE COLES: I do! I was writing a newsletter for this website that doesn’t really exist anymore called Cult Movie Mania like a decade ago. I was looking for my next topic and that’s how I discovered it.

I don’t have any special plans. I do try to consume work by women and boost their books and stories but that’s every month to be honest.

LAUREL HIGHTOWER: I first heard about it through the Ladies of Horror Fiction – I hadn’t realized it was a thing, and it was so much fun to find all the wonderful books I’d never known I was missing. I imagine I’ll celebrate by reading and lifting up as many women horror writers as I can! I’m so happy to be part of a community that has these kind of recognitions, as a reminder for us to break out of our normal and seek out female voices in horror.

HAILEY PIPER: I first heard about Women in Horror Month in 2018, and I have a distinct memory of that being my first encounter with horror poetry. I grabbed up The Devil’s Dreamland by Sara Tantlinger and I Am Not Your Final Girl by Claire Holland, both of which began a fiendish appetite for more dark poems. I can’t say I have special plans to celebrate, as I read women’s horror the most all year, but I’ll definitely be hopping into the Ladies of Horror Fiction reading prompts and trying to hit them all.

And that’s it for Part One of our Women in Horror Month Roundtable. Join us next week as we discuss what draws these authors to the horror genre and their favorite horror books from the last year!

Happy reading!