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!

Wintry Fiction: Submission Roundup for February 2021

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

First a regular reminder: 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 now onward with this month’s Submission Roundup!

Submission Roundup

Luna Station Quarterly
Payment: $5/flat
Length: 500 to 7,000 words
Deadline: February 15th, 2021
What They Want: The editors are seeking speculative fiction penned by female-identifying authors.
Find the details here.

Kaleidotrope
Payment: .01/word for fiction; $5/flat for poetry
Length: 250 to 10,000 words
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction and poetry.
Find the details here.

Good Southern Witches
Payment: $25/flat
Length: 2,000 to 5,000 words
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking speculative stories about witches based in the southern United States.
Find the details here.

Dark Hearts
Payment: .01/word
Length: 1,000 to 6,000 words
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology is seeking horror stories about heartbreak.
Find the details here.

Triangulation: Habitats
Payment: .03/word for fiction; .25/line for poetry
Length: up to 5,000 words for fiction (3,000 words preferred); up to 100 lines for poetry
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: For the latest installment of the Triangulation anthology series, the editors are seeking speculative fiction and poetry that deal with sustainable habitats.
Find the details here.

Dark 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.

Happy submitting!

THE INVENTION OF GHOSTS is on the Preliminary Bram Stoker Awards Ballot!

So I’m absolutely honored and thrilled and shocked that my occult horror novelette, The Invention of Ghosts, is on the Preliminary Ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards.

*cue shrieks of joy*

Now as always, it’s important to note that this is NOT a nomination; this is only the preliminary ballot. Voting officially opens on Monday with the ballot announced next month. But to make it this far is such an incredible honor, and I’m so excited and surprised and humbled about this.

The Invention of Ghosts is among the most personal things I’ve ever written, and it’s a story that’s secretly been one of my very favorites of all my writing, so to say this is exciting is a major understatement. I’ve been seriously bursting with joy ever since the preliminary ballot was released last week, and that excitement is yet to fade.

So before I keep going on and on about this, let’s turn it out to a few reviewers and what they’ve had to say about The Invention of Ghosts!

The Invention of Ghosts captures the essence of Kiste’s impressive body of work to date, in this gripping tale of a protagonist the reader should not turn their back on for a second.” — A.E. Siraki, author and reviewer

“This was an amazing look at the memory and the friendship between the two girls in the book. When the story was finished my heart hurt for awhile.” — The Misadventures of a Reader

“It is a stunning metaphor for how we leave behind—either accidentally, or purposefully—people whom we care about, and a warning against hiding away from the world… Highly recommended.” — Cemetery Dance

The Invention of Ghosts is not only a horror story, it’s a tale of friendship and memories and dreams. It reminds us that as we try to escape our past, we sometimes create a future that is a different kind of a trap. I highly recommend this beautifully rendered tale.” — Suz Jay, author and reviewer

The iMailer newsletter from HWA went out earlier this week, which included a special link to download The Invention of Ghosts, but if you missed that email, then it bears repeating: if you’re an Active or Lifetime member and would like to read The Invention of Ghosts, please email me at gwendolyn@gwendolynkiste.com, and I would be absolutely thrilled to send you a copy!

So many huge congrats to everyone on the preliminary ballot! What an incredible group of authors! I’m truly so thrilled to be among so many fantastic horror creators and friends! And yes, I know I say it each and every year, but what a wonderful year for horror! Here’s to another great one in 2021!

Happy reading!

Writing Revelation: Interview with Donna J.W. Munro

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight Donna J.W. Munro! Donna is the author of numerous short stories, poetry, as well as her debut novel, Revelation: Poppet Cycle Book One.

Recently, Donna and I discussed her new novel as well as her 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?

I’ve always been a writer, but I think it really clicked for me when I took my first college level writing class. I did it with my husband and my awesome father in law. We encouraged each other and in that class, my icky stories got visceral reactions from the critiquers.  There’s magic in moving people to anger or excitement or fear with the words you’ve crafted. It felt witchy to me, so of course I wanted more. I think that’s when I first started to submit my writing with an inkling that I could become an author.

Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, the dark fantasy/cozy horror masters are at the top of my list of favorites, but Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon probably shaped my storytelling more than anything. I love making the monster an object of love, not pity. Turning the tables in a story and subverting horror into a romance between the subject and the reader fascinates me. Current authors I read with this sort of “turn the trope inside out” mastery include Nalo Hopkinson, Lucy Snyder, and (ahem) Gwen Kiste.

Congratulations on your new novel, Revelation: Poppet Cycle Book One! What can you share about your process for writing this particular book?

This is my first published novel, though I’ve written others. My process is pretty straight forward. I start with an idea. What if the dead could be revived as servants to do the jobs we hate? Then I start to think about who should tell the story. In this first book, my protagonist is a 16 year-old rich girl benefiting from the production of the dead. I had this image of a girl loving this dead thing that followed her and did things for her. I’m a history teacher, so my long fascination with the  screwed up zeitgeist of the Antebellum south informed the society of my book. Kids in the old south loved their enslaved caregivers like mothers and played with enslaved children like they were brothers. But at some point that love had to be crushed out of them so that they could become slave owners.

That process horrifies me. Brainwashed people growing up with this scar on their souls. And how terrible for the enslaved people to have to love these people who’d eventually turn on them.

This story isn’t about southern US slavery, but that zeitgeist shaped the conflict my protagonist is feeling. She’s on the cusp of adulthood and facing that change.

That conflict births all the others in the book.

I like to start my plotting with “One Page Novel.” It’s a brilliant method I learned in a class you can access at The Lady Writers League. There’s even a template for scrivener based on the program that I use to keep track of things.

Other than that, it’s butt in chair, fingers on keys, and suffering right along with my characters.

Your poem, “Call the CCC, Your Psychic Repair Team,” was recently published in the HWA Poetry Showcase, Volume VII anthology. What can you tell us about the inspiration for this particular poem?

That’s a fun story. I love writing short stories, especially flash fiction. Poems are a  mystery to me. I’m stunned by the work Stephanie Wytovich, Sara Tantlinger, Anton Cancre, Marge Simon, and Linda Addison are doing. Horror and beauty and words that weave a dream. I’m stunned by them all the time. That said, I do a weekly flash fiction contest at Obsidian Flash where we post prompts and I usually do story after story. One week it was a circle of robed acolytes with their arms raised around a busted up car. The poem flowed out and I giggled the entire time I wrote it.

You’ve written a wide variety of work, from poetry to short fiction to novels. Do you have a favorite form as a writer? How does your approach differ (or stay the same) depending on the length of the work?

I love writing a good short story. There’s nothing like achieving a beginning, middle, and end along with character growth and conflict in 1000 words or less. About three years ago, when I emerged from a serious low point that lasted years, I started the Ray Bradbury approach to short fiction. He said, “Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” That changed my life! Since then, short stories have written me through bad times and depression and isolation. My best medicine is completing a story every weekend, no matter what ails me.

I’m a total pantser for a short story. I look at a prompt and start writing. Usually, something very close to the end product tumbles out of me.

For novels, I’m a plotter at first and a pantser inside of the scenes. Still, I’m much more deliberate in the long works because I don’t have a mind for detail.

Do you have any particular writing rituals, such as writing with music or writing at a certain time of day?

I like loud, old music, anything 60s-90’s I don’t have a ritual because I’m a teacher. I have to write when I don’t have other things going on, sometimes in the morning. Sometimes in classes when the kids don’t need me, I get 500 words in. Mostly I force myself to write between 5 and 7pm because that’s manageable with the rest of my life.

Also I’m lazy so I need the block of time I set out to be like my “job.” Thank goodness for my supportive hubby. I disappear every day and when I come back he tells me how proud he is.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: brainstorming new ideas, working on a first draft, or editing your work?

The longer I’m at this, the more I like the polish. My first draft is usually really complete, but it’s that last 10% that makes the work shine. I have an incredible developmental editor, Anna LaVoie at Literally Yours Editing, who helps me tease out real character depth. I love getting the edits from her… little fixes make all the difference.

Grammar editing? That sucks.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m writing a story a week and sending them out to find homes all the time. Anyone interested in my short stories can check my website for updates on what’s being published where. Aside from that, Runaway: Poppet Cycle 2 is in polish edits and Revolution: Poppet Cycle 3 is about halfway written.

Huge thanks to Donna Munro! Find her online at her author website as well as Facebook and Twitter!

Happy reading!

Mold, Leeches, and Speculative Fiction: Interview with Rick Claypool

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today I’m thrilled to feature author Rick Claypool. Rick is the author of The Mold Farmer and Leech Girl Lives.

Recently, Rick and I discussed his inspiration as an author as well as his favorite parts of the writing process.

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

I was always making up weird creatures and stories when I was a kid. There was one point when I decided I was going to write a book of short stories based on Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. I was like 10 and I don’t think I got much further than designing a cover with drippy skulls and things. I started taking writing seriously in college, when my professors turned me on to boundary-pushing writers like Samuel Beckett and Kathy Acker. I wanted to write bleak, hilarious books. Bleak, hilarious, and minimalist. I always sort of have one foot in the like, weird speculative fiction camp and one foot in the offbeat literary camp. There are so many authors I’m excited about right now. Brian Evenson, Aliya Whiteley, Oliver Zarandi, Lincoln Michel. I’ve read everything I can get my hands on by Joy Williams and Sam Pink. I could go on and on.

Congratulations on the recent release of your novella, The Mold Farmer! How did this particular story develop?

Thank you! The initial idea for The Mold Farmer was to tell the story of a character caught up in and utterly exploited and pretty much destroyed by a system that doesn’t care at all about humanity. So, capitalism. But capitalism taken even further than its current extremes, because in the post-apocalyptic world of The Mold Farmer, it is these non-human beings who are in charge. They have no qualms about just completely using people up and throwing them away when they’re finished with them. So, more like Lovecraftian horror capitalism. I mean, there have been political cartoons since the Gilded Age depicting capitalists and corporations as monstrous tentacled things, squids and such. Also, there are parts where the main character really really really has to pee, and these were inspired by a time when I really really really had to pee.

Your debut novel, Leech Girl Lives, was released in 2017. What was the inspiration for it?

Capitalism again! Haha. Ok to be more specific, supply chains. Sorry if this sounds super dull. So many products come from raw materials that are extracted from the earth under incredibly dangerous, exploitative conditions and then assembled under incredibly dangerous, exploitative conditions and then sold to us in a way that completely erases this production process, as if rather than some other country with underpaid workers and lax labor laws, they’ve been handed down from some sort of near-future technological utopia. And I wanted to explore all of this through a weird as hell, pulpy sci-fi page turner. So (spoiler alert!) what Leech Girl Lives does is ask, what if instead of people on one continent enjoying the spoils of people being exploited on another continent, it was people from the future enjoying the spoils of people being exploited in the past?

How has 2020 affected your writing, either in the themes you’re writing about or your productivity overall?

Since March, I haven’t been able to write anything besides the reports I write for my day job. (I’m a research director for Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting corporate power.) Because for the most part when I’m not working, I’m parenting. Or panicking. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration. This year has been just so exhausting. I started playing video games again for the first time since I was in my teens. Hollow Knight has been terrible for my productivity. But good for my mental health, I think.

Your work often delves into speculative territory, in particular science fiction with a focus on environmental themes. What draws you to this area of literature?

I like to play around with big ideas. Big ideas and big emotions. And I like making up weird creatures and horrible situations. And the weirder the creatures and the more horrible the situations, the more interesting the story is to me. So I guess science fiction is the category that most lets me get away with doing the stuff I want to do. I get excited every time I find an excuse to add another monster to the story I’m working on. And if I’m interested and having fun writing the story, I think that comes through for readers.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: developing new ideas, working on a first draft, or polishing up an almost finished project?

Developing new ideas. It’s where the surprises live, and it happens at every stage of the writing process. Specifically my favorite part is working through narrative problems, like when I need to figure out a way to get the characters to do something in a way that’s plausible in the context of the story and honest for the characters and also unexpected. I want my readers to think that anything could happen. So when I have an idea that surprises me in a way that makes me laugh out loud and scribble it down and wonder how the hell I’ll ever pull it off, that’s the best.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m about 100 pages into this insane novel about these creatures that have been poisoned by magic pollution. They all live in this shitty town on the moon. Three creatures in particular go on a quest in response to a mysterious message from Earth, a cry for help. All my stuff is kind of weird but when it’s finished I think it’ll be the first of my books you could properly categorize as bizarro. What I’m going for is something like Aqua Teen Hunger Force meets Russell Edson. The working title is Super Worm Moon. I’ve hardly been able to work on it at all over the past year, but I think I just came up with the ending like last week.

Where can we find you online?

Oh crap I need to update my website. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, @weirdstrug. I post too much. A lot of it is just mushroom photos. Really cool mushroom photos though! The website is rickclaypool.org.

Big thanks to Rick Claypool for being part of this week’s author interview series!

Happy reading!

New Year, New Literature: Submission Roundup for January 2021

Welcome back for this month’s Submission Roundup! January has a ton of fantastic opportunities, so if you’ve got a story looking for a home, then perhaps one of these markets will be the perfect outlet.

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

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

Submission Roundup

Planet Scumm
Payment: .02/word
Length: 2,000 to 6,000 words
Deadline: January 10th, 2021
What They Want: Guest edited by Hailey Piper, this issue of the magazine is seeking speculative fiction stories specifically from cisgender women, transgender women, transgender men, non-binary people, and genderqueer people.
Find the details here.

Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness
Payment: .08/word
Length: up to 6,000 words
Deadline: January 15th, 2021
What They Want: This anthology from Neon Hemlock Press is seeking queer witch stories with a speculative fiction element.
Find the details here.

Electric Spec
Payment: $20/flat
Length: 250 to 7,000 words
Deadline: January 15th, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction.
Find the details here.

Uncanny
Payment: $40/poem
Length: any length
Deadline: January 18th, 2021
What They Want: Open to speculative fiction poetry.
Find the details here.

34 Orchard
Payment: $50/flat
Length: 1,000 to 7,500 words for fiction; any length for poetry
Deadline: January 31st, 2021
What They Want: A new publication that’s seeking dark fiction and poetry that’s intense, unsettling, scary, and/or sad.
Find the details here.

Mythic
Payment: .01/word
Length: 2,000 to 6,000 words
Deadline: January 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to diverse fantasy and science fiction.
Find the details here.

Diabolical Plots
Payment: .10/word
Length: 3,500 words or less
Deadline: January 31st, 2021
What They Want: Open to a wide range of speculative fiction.
Find the details here.

Triangulation: Habitats
Payment: .03/word for fiction; .25/line for poetry
Length: up to 5,000 words for fiction (3,000 words preferred); up to 100 lines for poetry
Deadline: February 28th, 2021
What They Want: For the latest installment of the Triangulation anthology series, the editors are seeking speculative fiction and poetry that deal with sustainable habitats.
Find the details here.

Happy submitting!

The Horror, the Horror: 2020 Award Eligibility Post

2020 is officially in the rearview mirror. It still seems strange even writing that sentence but here we are. And here I am, once again with a year in review post. As always, it feels strange putting together posts like this, but at the very least, it’s nice to take a look at the year that was, despite its obvious difficulties.

So here we go, once more unto the breach!

Boneset & Feathers (Broken Eye Books, November 2020)
Witches, witchfinders, ghost birds, oh my! My second novel was released in November from Broken Eye Books! It’s been named a top horror book of the year at Library Journal (also, major shout-out to Becky Spratford, Cody Daigle-Orians, and Stephanie Klose for all their hard work putting together this year’s Library Journal picks in the horror genre). Cemetery Dance has said of the book that “[by] the time you hurtle toward the epic conclusion, you will be wowed and left wanting more from this master storyteller and weaver of magic tales” and Sci-Fi and Scary says it’s “[recommended] for fans of coming of age, witches, and more.” So many thanks to Scott Gable at Broken Eye Books for ushering my witches into the world!

In the Rose-Colored House Where They Died (Thunderstorm Books, November 2020)
My second standalone novella made its debut in November as a limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Book’s Tempest line, and it sold out immediately. It’s all about a house of possessed girls and the dubious exorcists who come to “cure” them. I will eventually include this one in a collection down the road, but for now, it will just be that mysterious novella of mine that only a handful of people have read (which actually sounds like the start of a story unto itself). So many thanks to Paul Goblirsch and Mary SanGiovanni; it was an absolute joy working with both of them on this book!

The Invention of Ghosts (Nightscape Press, January 2020)
Way back in the long ago world of last January, my very first novelette was released through Nightscape Press’s Charitable Chapbook series! One-third of all proceeds from the book go to the National Aviary. Big thanks to Jennifer and Robert Wilson for releasing this strange, surreal tale of hauntings, toxic friendship, and the occult. This story is one I hold close to my heart, so I’m very glad that it sold out its limited edition paperback run. That being said, the eBook version is still available, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, you can still hang out with me and my ghosts!

The Maid from the Ash: A Life in Pictures” (Weird Whispers, January 2020)
This was the first of my short stories from last year, and a personal favorite overall. Told in a series of museum exhibits, a young girl is whisked away from her remote home “for her own good,” only for everyone to realize too late that she—and everybody else—was better off when she was left alone. This story appeared in the debut issue of Nightscape Press’s Weird Whispers. I know that editors Jennifer and Robert Wilson have some great content planned for future issues, so definitely keep an eye on this magazine!

Lost Girls Don’t Cry” (Places We Fear to Tread, Cemetery Gates, September 2020)
The folklore legend of Crybaby Bridge serves as a backdrop for this tale of sisterly love, loss, and strange girls who’d rather be lost than found. This is a fantastic anthology, and I’m so happy that I got to be part of it. It was a wonderful experience working with Cemetery Gates, and I look forward to all the awesome books they’ve got coming soon.

“The Princes She’s Forgotten” (Survive With Me: A Charity Anthology, November 2020)
In this dark fairy tale, a so-called villainess is slayed again and again on behalf of the kingdom’s princesses, only to realize that she must take back her power on her own if she’s going to make it through another night. All the proceeds from Survive with Me benefit the American Indian College Fund. A great cause, a great editor, and a great table of contents!

I also had four short nonfiction pieces published, including “The H Word: The Horror of Solitude” at Nightmare Magazine as well as three articles at the Tor Nightfire blog: a Women in Horror feature, a Historical Horror spotlight, and a list of female-penned horror that need film adaptations. A definite goal for 2021 is to write more short nonfiction, so fingers crossed that I keep to that goal.

And last but in no way least, for the first time ever, my fiction is now available in translation! “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” was translated in Russian for Darker Magazine and Spanish for Crononauta. Then The Rust Maidens made its debut in Spanish through Dilatando Mentes Editorial and in French through Editions du Chat Noir. This is truly one of the most exciting and delightful things to happen in my writing career. I never thought I’d have translations of my fiction, and it still doesn’t seem real even now.

For the first time ever, my work was also featured in a year’s best anthology, and as it happens, two different year’s best anthologies! “A New Mother’s Guide to Raising an Abomination” appeared in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 5, while “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” appear in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020.

As for other good news, there are two tremendous things that happened to me in 2020. First off, in April, I won two Bram Stoker Awards, for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction for “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” and for the brand-new category of Superior Achievement in Short Nonfiction for “Magic, Madness, and Women that Creep: The Power of Individuality in the Work of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.” I’m honestly not sure it’s sunk in even now that I have three Stokers sitting on my shelf. All I can say is thank you so very, very much to everyone who’s read and supported my work; it absolutely means the world to me. Thank you thank you thank you. Seriously.

And finally, the last piece of incredible news from 2020 is that I signed a two-book deal with Saga Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. I’ve been completely in love with Saga Press’s books for years, so it is no exaggeration to say that this is an utter dream come true. The first book, Reluctant Immortals, is due out in 2022. This is a spin-off of sorts of both “The Eight People Who Murdered Me (Excerpt from Lucy Westenra’s Diary)” as well as my horror story, “The Woman Out of the Attic,” which was originally published in Haunted House Short Stories from Flame Tree Publishing and reprinted at Pseudopod. The new book will follow Lucy Westenra from Dracula and Bertha Antoinetta Mason from Jane Eyre as they face off with the toxic men from their pasts, all set to a backdrop of 1960s California. It’s basically everything I love all wrapped up in one book, and I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

So that’s it for 2020. What an undeniably challenging year it was, but here’s to hoping that 2021 is at least a little bit kinder to all of us.

Happy reading, and happy New Year!

A Night for the Devil: Interview with Curtis M. Lawson

Welcome back for the last author interview of 2020! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight Curtis M. Lawson. Curtis is the author of the novel, Black Heart Boys’ Choir, and his new collection, Devil’s Night, among other works.

Recently, he and I discussed his inspiration as a writer, his podcast, Wyrd Transmissions, as well as what he’s got planned next!

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

I spent most of my teen years and early twenties playing in metal bands, where I wrote almost all of the lyrics. When I was 25 my last band broke up I decided that I wanted to explore a more solitary form of self-expression. I was passionate about all kinds of genre fiction and people had always told me I had a way with words, so I decided to give writing a shot. I toyed around with short stories, but mostly I wrote comic scripts at first. I spent about 10 years writing comics without much success.

Eventually I ran out of money to pay artists and wrote a novel called The Devoured, more as a pragmatic choice than an artistic one. I fell into a publishing deal for that first book and it was more successful than any of my comics had been, so I decided to turn my focus to prose. Five years later and I have four novels, two short story collections, and a novella under my belt. I’ve been very fortunate, and it seems like I made the right choice in jumping mediums. I have to credit those years making comics for teaching me how to tell a story though, and for bringing a cinematic element to my work.

As for my favorite authors, there are some of the bigger names you might expect like H. P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch, Kurt Vonnegut, and Neil Gaiman. John Langan, Jeffrey Thomas, and Caitlin Kiernan all immediately come to mind as well.  I also draw inspiration from visual storytellers like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Frank Miller, and Sam Keith.

Congratulations on the release of Devil’s Night! What can you share about your latest book?

Devil’s Night is a collection of short stories that all take place over the course of Devil’s Night in 1987 in Detroit. Each story is a standalone piece, but there are threads that connect them here and there, and they all come together to tell the bigger story of the city itself.

There are several recurring themes, symbols, and a sort of shared mythology between the tales, but each has a unique feel. Because of the structure of the book I was able to explore several different kinds of stories in the collection while keeping the theme consistent. There are some weird fiction stories, a bit of dark fantasy, and a few pieces of visceral horror without any sort of supernatural element. Despite their differences, each serves to more richly paint the picture of the night as a whole and look at recurring themes through different points of view.

Weird House Press has released the book as a signed and numbered limited edition hardcover. It’s a gorgeous book and features 9 full-color interior illustrations by Luke Spooner of Carrion House. It’s the kind of volume I always fantasized about for my work and I’m incredibly thankful to Weird House for investing their time and money to create such a beautiful edition.

Last year saw the release of your novel, Black Heart Boys’ Choir, which garnered a lot of praise and made the Bram Stoker Awards Long List. What was the inspiration for that book?

Black Heart Boys’ Choir is a story of music, madness, and obsession. At its most basic, it’s about the psychology behind mass shootings. That was the impetus for the project. There are plenty of people who are vastly more qualified to talk about gun control and mental health, but I don’t see many folks discussing the deeper roots of the problem. I wanted to explore the inner and outer pressures that push troubled young men to commit these terrible acts of murder and suicide. I wanted to explore the sense of anomie in our society and how generations of adults have failed so many of our children on very basic levels. The book isn’t meant to romanticize these tragedies, nor is it intended to serve as an apologist manifesto for the killers, but I hope that it might get people asking some of the right questions.

Black Heart Boys’ Choir was largely inspired by experiences and feelings from my youth. I like to call it emotionally autobiographical. I drew a lot from the resentments I felt when I was younger and from traumatic experiences I experienced as a kid. The criminal activity in the Scandanavian and German black metal scenes were also a major influence on the narrative and the characters.

You’re also a podcaster with your awesome show, Wyrd Transmissions. What inspired you to create your own show, and what has been the best part of it so far?

Honestly, the show is just an excuse for me to talk with awesome people. I realized a while back that one of my favorite things to do is have interesting, meaningful conversations. I like to talk about art, books, music, and philosophy. Wyrd Transmissions gives me the opportunity to do that, and with a wide array of people with unique, interesting perspectives.

I’ve had so many incredible guests, but the high points might have been my discussions with S. T. Joshi and Ramsey Campbell. Ramsey is a living legend and one of the nicest, classiest people in the business. It was insane to get to chat with him and absorb some of his wisdom and experience. Joshi also has a lot of incredible insight and has served in so many roles in this business, so we were able to hit on a ton of topics. Joshi has been one of my biggest supporters. He’s been incredibly kind and generous to me, so it was nice to have a real conversation with him, rather than an email exchange.

You’ve written a wide variety of work. Do you find that you prefer short fiction or longer fiction? Do you have a different approach depending on the length of the project? 

I enjoy short stories, but I prefer writing longer fiction. My mind naturally gravitates to stories that have a little more going on. The sweet spot for me is that short novel length, just around 50-60k words. It gives me enough time to develop my characters and my world, to establish themes and motifs, and to unravel a plot with twists and turns. I’m a big advocate of brevity, so I try not to overburden the reader with too many asides and I do my best to cut out anything that might cause the story to drag.

My process is much more relaxed for short fiction. With short stories I plan out my beats and major plot points, but I let the rest come about organically as I write. When it comes to something like a novella or longer, I plan it out like a train heist. I have everything from plot points and character arcs to themes and symbolism mapped out on color coded index cards. It’s pretty nerdy, but it works for me.

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

I would have to say developing characters. I sometimes joke that I’m a method writer. There is something very satisfying about figuring out who a character is—their motivations, their insecurities, their mannerism and idiosyncrasies. In most cases the character directs the trajectory of the story, and sometimes they throw a monkey wrench into your outline. It’s kind of cool when that happens and they derail the story in a way that you didn’t expect.  That also leads to my second favorite part of writing, which is the problem-solving aspect of stringing together a narrative that’s logical, well-paced, and emotionally captivating.

What projects are you currently working on? 

There are two projects I’m actively working on. One is a novella for a shared universe project. All I can really say about it is that I’m kind of terrified and thrilled to be included in the author lineup for this one. My name will be appearing with some of the folks I most admire in the horror world.

I’m also working on a new novel for Weird House Press. It’s a Lovecraftian story, drawing upon the Cthulhu mythos and New England’s rich and creepy history. I was reluctant to do something in that sandbox at first, as I have a profound fear of messing it up, but I found an idea that I think is fairly original and captivating.

I know that it’s currently very chic to undermine and deconstruct Lovecraft, and that has been done very effectively by some talented writers, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. The book isn’t going to be a simple pastiche, either. I guess it could be described as a love letter to Lovecraft and to our shared home of New England. I’m hoping that I can channel all the things I admire about Lovecraft’s work and world, reframe them with more modern storytelling sensibilities, and present them in my own voice. Time will tell if I pull it off!

Where can we find you online?

My website is curtismlawson.com, but I’m pretty active on facebook. You can also find me on Instagram @curtismlawson or twitter @c_lawson.

Big thanks to Curtis M. Lawson for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!

To Helminth and Back: Interview with S. Alessandro Martinez

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today I’m pleased to feature S. Alessandro Martinez. He’s the author of numerous short stories as well as the forthcoming novel, Helminth!

Recently, he and I discussed his inspiration as an author as well as his love for horror and his hopes for the future of the genre.

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

I’ve been voraciously consuming books ever since I learned how to read. But as for writing my own stories, I started sophomore year of high school. I remember writing this violent dragon story for my English class. The teacher wasn’t that thrilled about it, haha. I also recall entering a short piece into a Star Wars fanfiction competition that same year, which I won.

Congrats on the forthcoming release of your debut novel, Helminth. What was the inspiration for this book?

Thanks! One of my all-time favorite locations for horror is a cabin in the woods, which is where my novel takes places. (I probably have Evil Dead 2 to thank for that.) There’s just something about the isolation, the absolute pitch-blackness when the sun goes down, the silence, the way the trees can hide the shadowy presences that like to lurk in the dark corners of our seemingly mundane world. The forest is primeval, and a perfect place to discover horror that is way older than humanity.

As for the inspiration for what Rei and her friends find out there, and what happens to them, well…I can’t say without giving some things away. But I can say there are some influences from Lovecraft, Cronenberg, some Barker splashed in there, and maybe a pinch of dark fantasy.

You’ve written a number of short stories over the years. How was the process of writing a novel different (or the same) as writing short fiction?

With a novel, you have much more room for everything. With a short story, you have a word limit, and you need to get everything you want to say into a nice compact package. With a novel, I can take more time setting a scene, giving intriguing backstory, or building up characters’ personalities and their relationships.

What first got you into the horror genre? Do you remember the first horror film you saw or first horror story you read?

I started watching horror movies when I was like five or six. My grandpa would take me to the video store so I could rent whatever I wanted, then we’d go home and watch it in the backroom, because that was the only TV with a VCR. It was almost always a horror movie that little me picked. I’d study all the VHS covers and choose one I thought looked the scariest. So I have my grandpa to thank for letting me do that. Of course, I had plenty of nightmares back then, but it was so worth it. As for books, my mom would let me pick almost anything I wanted at the bookstore. I obviously loved spooky things, so I’d pick whichever book (kid or adult) looked the most intriguing.

I don’t remember exactly what was the first horror movie I saw, but the earliest memories I have of watching horror movies are Child’s Play, The Evil Dead, and Trilogy of Terror. That little Zuni fetish doll that came to life in Trilogy of Terror scared me so much. It kind of still does…

As for horror books, I read tons of Goosebumps and other kid horror stuff. But I also remember reading authors like Stephen King, John Saul, and Bentley Little way, way before I was old enough to.

What are a few recent horror books you’ve read that you would recommend?

I’d recommend Diabhal by Kathleen Kaufman, The Troop by Nick Cutter, Devolution by Max Brooks, The Toll by Cherie Priest, The Nefarious Necklace by Kelly Evans (as K A Evans), and Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare.

What are your hopes for the future of horror?

Horror does seem to have had a big resurgence this last few years, doesn’t it? I see so many new horror movies and shows being added all the time to Netflix and Hulu. We horror fiends even got our own horror streaming service, Shudder. I would love to see this enthusiasm with horror books as well. Get more horror literature into the mainstream!

Also, one thing bugs me to no end: When people do enjoy horror, they want to label it a “thriller” or something. They’re like, “Oh, this was actually good. It can’t pooooossibly be horror.” (Insert snobby accent there.)  I wish people would stop that, haha.

What projects are you currently working on?

The very first novel I wrote is an epic fantasy with necromancers as the good guys. I’m still enthusiastically pitching it and shopping it around. And you know, there might be some…connections between Helminth and that fantasy world….

I’m in the last round of editing the sequel to that fantasy novel, and I’m also working on a cryptid horror novel, a horror/superhero novel, a haunted house novel, and an adventure/horror novel.

Where can we find you online?

You can find me at my website: https://salessandromartinez.com/
I’m pretty active on Twitter: https://twitter.com/The_Morda_Shin
And if anybody is still on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/salessandromartinezwriter/

Big thanks to S. Alessandro Martinez for being this week’s featured author!

Happy reading!