Monthly Archives: May 2016

Circus Comes to Town: Interview with E. Catherine Tobler

For today’s author interview, I’m thrilled to spotlight writer and editor E. Catherine Tobler. She is not only an incredibly accomplished author with novels, novellas, and scores of short stories to her name, but she is also the fantastic senior editor at Shimmer. So much greatness, so little blog space!

Recently, she and I discussed her upcoming novella, The Kraken Sea, out next month from Apex Publications, along with her future plans for her awesome Traveling Circus universe as well as her Folley and Mallory steampunk series.

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

E. Catherine ToblerI don’t know that I ever really decided to be a writer. Growing up, I wanted to be a teacher or an astronaut, but the more school I explored, the worse teaching seemed to be, and I could never fully wrap my head around math. In high school, I took an extra credit assignment which was to write a short story about anything we wanted. I wrote a horror story and earned an A+, and never really stopped writing.

As to authors, I start with Ray Bradbury, because he took me to Mars for the first time. Kage Baker taught me how to love time travel and androids. Lewis Carroll taught me about portal fantasies. Laura Kinsale taught me about humor and romance. Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters introduced me to Egypt, and Elizabeth Hand keeps taking me to Highly Unexpected Places I Love. Nick Mamatas taught me about pacing and how to fly without scene breaks. Molly Tanzer showed me it was okay to flirt with ghosts.

Your novella, The Kraken Sea, is slated for release in June from Apex Publications, and it’s already garnered positive reviews from sites including Publisher’s Weekly. The story, which is part of your Traveling Circus universe, features monsters, trains, and time travel. In your work, you have an impressive track record of combining seemingly disparate elements into cohesive stories. You seem completely unafraid to make bold, genre-blending choices. When you’re writing, do you ever worry that certain elements won’t work together, or that those choices might be difficult sells since they don’t fall along established genre lines?

Absolutely. I have a circus story in submission right now that is from the steam train’s point of view (because naturally the train is possessed by the spirit of–oh, that’s a spoiler, ssshh), and I have no idea if it works. I wrote about school shootings in “Silencer, Head Like a Hole Remix” (Interzone #259), and never thought the story would sell given its real-life horror content.

No matter what one writes, there is always the worry that it won’t work. But the other side is, what if it does? Throw the element in, see what happens. Writing is fluid and never has to be linear. If the element doesn’t work, take it out. Put the element somewhere else, what does it do there? Maybe the element works upside down.

Mostly, jump off the cliff. You’ll figure out a safe way down or you’ll hit the ground–but what if you break on through and keep going? One doesn’t have to die at the bottom.

Your Traveling Circus universe is a wonderfully ambitious project. The stories, which have been published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Dark, Giganotosaurus, and other venues, are standalone pieces, but they create an engaging series if read together. After The Kraken Sea, can you reveal any of your future plans for this world and these characters?

The Kraken SeaI haven’t been writing the stories with an actual plan, she said with a nervous grin.

The first story, “Vanishing Act,” really came out of nowhere, the character and voice a tribute to a good friend. I had no plans to write a series, but then I wrote a second circus story, and realized that if I was very quiet, other voices began to make themselves known.

That said, there are a few aspects of the circus I haven’t explored yet—and The Kraken Sea was a big one, Jackson’s genesis!—but as I finish more stories, I see the ends of more threads peeping up from each, hints of what’s to come if one reads closely enough.

Congratulations are also in order for the recent release of The Honey Mummy! This is the third book in your Folley & Mallory steampunk series, and the second to be released from Apokrupha. What was your inspiration in creating this series, and how has the transition been to a new publisher? (I love those beautiful covers by the way!)

Aren’t those covers amazing? We were very lucky to find Ravven and her wonderful work because she’s a perfect fit for the atmosphere of the series.

Jacob Haddon and Apokrupha have been wonderful to work with. I wasn’t entirely sure what would become of the series when Masque/Prime said they weren’t interested in continuing the journey—I had so many more stories to tell—but then there was Jacob saying “hey, I dig what you’re doing, how can I help?” And here we are!

I have always loved Egypt, and my first thought for setting a book there was actually something in the distant future, where my archaeologist heroine would try to preserve the past as technology and the world took over. But I realized it might be better to tackle that issue in another time (see, put the element somewhere else, see what it does!). Eleanor Folley is anchored in a very modern future-is-rushing-toward-us world, but feels the pull of an even more ancient world. How does one preserve that ancient world, even as the modern age rushes in? How does one protect artifacts so they aren’t lost and so the people these artifacts belong to are still noted, honored, respected? Given that Folley has a deeply personal stake in those questions, it’s been great fun.

Many readers also know you as the senior editor of Shimmer. What inspired you to expand into the editing field, and what advice do you have for other editors out there? Likewise, do you have any tips you can share for writers submitting to Shimmer?

As with so many things, I never planned on getting into editing. I applied to read slush at Shimmer because I was told it would be good for my writing. It was absolutely great for my writing (and if writers ever have a chance to read slush, jump on that opportunity). The longer I stayed at Shimmer, the more I took on, until eventually I edited my first issue (#15!), and I just kind of stayed…

I am not sure I have advice for other editors–I am still a small fish in a very big genre ocean. But tips for writers when submitting include reading the guidelines, following the guidelines, and not to expect a critique in any editorial response. Critiques are for writing groups; editors don’t generally send them, unless we are asking for a rewrite.

2016 has already been an incredible year for your writing career: a novel, a novella, and your 100th story sale (and beyond). In terms of upcoming releases, is there anything else we should be looking for?

The next Folley & Mallory adventure arrives in October. The Clockwork Tomb will finally see this pair exploring a tomb, though it’s not at all what they expect. I also have more short fiction coming from Clarkesworld and Beneath Ceaseless Skies (another circus story!). This summer, my short story “The Indigo Mantis” will kick off The Book Smugglers’ Year of the Superhero.

Where can we find you and your work online?

For all things me, my website is This includes bibliographies, story and book lists, and my occasional blog, where I talk about writing, inspiration, and cake. I’m also on Twitter @ecthetwit, where I am generally full of nonsense.

Thanks, Gwendolyn!

Big thanks to E. Catherine Tobler for being part of this week’s author interview series. Check her out at her aforementioned website, and be sure to keep up with the latest issue of Shimmer!

Happy reading!

Strange and Funny: Interview with Paul Wartenberg

Welcome back! As a nice change of pace here on my blog, today’s featured interview is between editor Sarah E. Glenn and author Paul Wartenberg. Way back in early 2015, I first launched this author interview series with several of Sarah’s interviews with her authors from Mystery and Horror, LLC. So this is truly a return to form, and a particularly welcome one: Sarah and Paul recently worked together on Strangely Funny III, the sequel to Strangely Funny II which was the first book to feature my fiction. In a way, this blog is very much like coming home!

Now enough about me, and on to the main event! Author Paul Wartenberg has been published in various anthologies, including Strangely Funny, Mardi Gras Murder, and History and Mystery, Oh My! He published his own anthology, Last of the Grapefruit Wars, and has self-published shorts and novellas such as The Hero Cleanup Protocol and Body Armor Blues as ebooks. He’s also a devoted cat owner, which always wins you points on my blog.

Below Sarah and Paul discuss the inspiration for his Strangely Funny III story, “Minette Dances with the Golem of Albany,” as well his upcoming plans as an author.

Sarah Glenn: How did you get the idea for your story in Strangely Funny III?

Strangely Funny IIIPaul Wartenberg: I’ve been fascinated with the legend of the Golem of Prague, and had been wondering how I would write a story about it wandering about a modern-age urban city. Would it still be something of a protector of its community? Has its long age given it any insight into the human condition that it otherwise did not know before? Could it have gained a soul?

I then considered what it could be like for Golems to be made elsewhere… and then I remembered my birth-state of Georgia is well-known for its red clay. The idea of a red-skinned (“redneck”) Golem from my hometown became too tempting to ignore. I wanted to have a Golem, and I wanted to use the background from my earlier vampire story to try and expand my “playground” so to speak with other vampire characters.

SG: Who are your current favorite authors? What do you enjoy about them?

PW: I’ve been reading Lee Child for some reason. The Jack Reacher stuff. I’m usually not much of a thriller reader, but there’d been a lot of checkouts of his work at my library so I took a look. It’s sort of like reading Die Hard as written by Hemingway. Otherwise I’ve been keeping up with my regular readership of Tim Dorsey for the bizarre Florida-esque humor and various graphic novels.

A Serious TankSG: What is your favorite writing snack food/drink?

PW: I drink iced tea, lots of. Have to cut back on the sodas. As for food, I snack between writings, I loathe getting crumbs and grease on the keyboards.

SG: What are you working on next?

PW: Struggling with the NaNo novel project from last November, and getting short stories finished for the Florida Writers Association’s annual anthology projects.

Big thanks to Sarah E. Glenn and Paul Wartenberg for stopping by my blog today! Read Paul’s latest ebook, A Serious Tank on a Clockwork World, and be sure to pick up a copy of Strangely Funny III, from Mystery and Horror, LLC!

Happy reading!

Nightlight Horror: 5 Terrifying Tales of Childhood

Big publication news! Last month, my horror story, “Find Me, Mommy,” appeared in the gorgeous double issue of LampLight. As always, the LampLight cover art is amazing, and with awesome stories by fellow writers including JS Breukelaar, Tim Deal, Gene O’Neill, and more, this issue is a perfectly glorious tome.

LampLight Double IssueThis marks my second appearance in LampLight—after my body horror tale, “The Clawfoot Requiem,” debuted in the March issue last year—and needless to say, it is such a tremendous honor. LampLight is one of the very coolest horror fiction publications out there, and I’ve been a huge fan for years, so to work with editor Jacob Haddon for a second time is just too awesome. I’m so thrilled “Find Me, Mommy,” which is one of my darker tales, found a fantastic home.

A flash piece clocking in at just under 1,000 words, “Find Me, Mommy” follows a mother whose little girl Emma Jo plays hide-and-seek. However, Emma Jo is so good at the game that she can slip into the shadowy places of the world nobody else can see. In that darkness, there’s something waiting for Emma Jo, and soon, her mother must find a way to bring her daughter back again or lose her forever.

So you know. Normal childhood stuff.

Speaking of childhood… For me, there is little scarier than the uncertainty of these so-called formative years. No matter what the truisms try to tell us about youth being a wondrous time of innocence and joy, let’s face it: being a kid is terrifying. Heck, being an adult is pretty scary too, but still, nothing can compare to the dread of childhood. There’s this big world out there and a far bigger universe, and you’re just so small, and because of that, everybody’s constantly steamrolling you, all in the name of protecting you. If that’s not ready-made for horror, then nothing is.

Starting when I was a young tyke myself—I was around eight years old when I began actively seeking out horror fiction—I’ve discovered a few particularly terrifying stories about childhood that got lodged under my skin and stayed there. So in honor of the release of “Find Me, Mommy,” here are my favorite tales of childhood terror, the ones that always give me goosebumps. *shudders*

“The Professor’s Teddy Bear” by Theodore Sturgeon
Theodore Sturgeon was a master at mind-bending fiction, and nowhere is that prowess as unabashedly on display as in this gloriously odd yarn about a little boy and his parasitic monster teddy bear. “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” is almost difficult to explain, in particular if you want to describe something and not sound like an outright crazy person. Time shifts, a child laughs, and a teddy bear quaffs blood like wine. All this and more! Seriously. Find this tale. Read it. Even if you’ve already read it, read it again. This is weird fiction at its most unabashedly brilliant.
Pick up a copy of “The Professor’s Teddy Bear” here.

“Graveyard Shift” by Richard Matheson
There are very few stories that I can pinpoint as the genesis of my life as a horror writer, but Richard Matheson’s sucker-punching “Graveyard Shift” is one of those life-changing works. I could pontificate about this tale over and over (and to be honest, I kind of already have), but it bears repeating here. This is also a rather appropriate tale to reread in May. After all, Mother’s Day was less than a week ago, and if you think your mother was bad, then check out the matriarch in this tale, who would, um, to say the least never earn any awards for her parenting skills.
Pick up a copy of “Graveyard Shift” here.

“The Boogeyman” by Stephen King
“Children of the Corn” might be the obvious pick from the King oeuvre, but in my mind, nothing beats “The Boogeyman” when it comes to creepy children stories. It’s always cool to see an author take something as familiar—and arguably even hackneyed—as the Boogeyman and make it decidedly their own. That’s what King does here, and the result is a story that is tragic and haunting and everything a good horror story should be.
Pick up a copy of “The Boogeyman” here.

“The Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury
There are evil children, and then there are dyed-in-the-womb evil children. Bradbury takes diabolical kids to the max with this tale of a mother who knows something’s very wrong with her newborn son—and a newborn ready to unravel his family’s life at every creeping turn. Not one for the faint of heart, and a story that nobody but Bradbury could write. I read it as part of The October Country, which is my all-time favorite single author collection of horror stories. But in whatever book you locate “The Small Assassin”—it’s also available in Dark Carnival and The Stories of Ray Bradbury—just find it and read it. There’s nothing quite like it.
Pick up a copy of “The Small Assassin” here.

“The Scritch” by Brooke Warra
This story marks a first on my blog. “The Scritch” has yet to make its official debut in the world, but I was fortunate enough to read an early draft of Brooke Warra’s forthcoming tale of childhood loss and terror. You might think this is a strange choice since it’s not available, or heck, outright nepotism since I know Brooke personally (we worked together on A Shadow of Autumn after all). But I promise you “The Scritch” is on this list because I can’t get it out of my mind. This is the type of story that lingers, brimming around the edges of your waking hours and seeping into your nightmares. The tale follows a little girl who lost her sister down a well and will stop at nothing to pull her—or something else—out again. As soon as I finished reading it, I could think only one thing: wow, I wish I’d written that story. And in my authorial world, there is no higher compliment.
Keep up with Brooke’s Facebook author page here.

Happy reading!

Dead and Loving It: Interview with Andrea Janes

Welcome back to another author interview! This week I’m pleased to spotlight Andrea Janes! I first discovered Andrea when I was writing at Wanderlust and Lipstick and I spotlighted her New York-based tour company, Boroughs of the Dead. Since then, she and I have crossed paths again as horror writers, and I figured it was about time to highlight all the great work she’s doing!

Recently, Andrea and I discussed her role in macabre tourism as well as her burgeoning fiction writing career.

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

I don’t think it was my decision to make! I learned to read when I was three — my big sister taught me — and wanted to be a writer by the time I was six. We grew up total bibliophiles, and I think we just always knew that literature would be a huge part of our lives. My sister’s now a professor of Canadian literature at the University of Toronto. That being said, I haven’t been writing steadily for the past thirty years. I took a few breaks here and there like my half-decade studying and working in film, and the two years I took to start and build my tour company, Boroughs of the Dead. I’ve spent as much time trying to figure out how to make a viable living as I have working on the actual craft of writing.

As a reader, I’m not really a completist so I tend not to think of my favorites in terms of authors but usually more in terms of individual books or stories — except for Poe, M.R. James and Shirley Jackson, whose fiction I think I may have read in their entirety. But some other authors and books I’ve loved, latched onto, and become obsessive about include: W.G. Sebald, Dorothy B. Hughes, Elena Ferrante (the Neapolitan Trilogy), Lawrence Block, and Donald Westlake/Richard Stark (the Parker books); Stoner, The Woman in White, Moby Dick… oh man, this could be a really long list. What all these have in common was that my first encounter with them was revelatory, either for the way these authors wield language — whether stripped down hardboiled genius or overflowing lyrical gorgeousness —  or for their works’ sheer hugeness of theme, story, emotion. (In the case of The Woman in White, the character of Marian Halcombe had a lot to do with it!) And humor, I really appreciate a sense of humor, which is actually what I think I love best about Edgar Allan Poe.

As mentioned in the intro, I first discovered you when I was writing at Wanderlust and Lipstick and spotlighted your macabre tour group, Boroughs of the Dead. How, if at all, has your work in tourism affected your writing, or vice versa?

You know what’s funny? We don’t really get as many tourists as we do locals on our tours! So I never really think of what I do as tourism, which is weird, I guess, because it is, really. Anyway, to answer your question: editing! Pacing! Winnowing down a story to its essence, cutting extraneous details. Nothing like a live audience’s eyes glazing over to tell you when you’ve gone into too much backstory! The instantaneous feedback is invaluable.

You are one of the many amazing authors slated to appear in the forthcoming Shadows at the Door anthology. What can you reveal about your story?

I can reveal that it’s based on one of my more memorable trips to the post office! Actually, there’s a lot of very personal stuff in that story, like observations about my own neighborhood, and the fact that the main character is a film archivist (I do love silent film, and I was watching Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, which is an homage to lost silent films, while I was writing it). There’s a lot of stuff in there where I try to connect the dissolution of a psyche under the strain of living in New York City and the fragments of silent film the protagonist tries to put together. There’s a lot of stuff about the many layers of life and death in this city, the way we all pile on top of each other, inhabiting each other’s old, used spaces — as well as some commentary on how a lot of these layers can go completely unnoticed if you’re not looking for it. Finally, I tried to show how miniature cities exist within New York, subcultures within subcultures, worlds within worlds, and how you can live within them and still be an outsider. The supernatural element to the story is deliberately vague. I wanted the ghost in this story to be both literal and an amorphous entity that isn’t quite nameable — just one of many strange encounters that a person can have in this city where the dead and the living live side by side.

Do you have any rituals as a writer, or any specific tips for how you work through writer’s block and/or creative slumps?

Boroughs of the DeadNot really; I try various things. Right now I’m trying to get as much writing done as I can before I give birth to my first baby, who is due on May 18th. So I’m doing this thing where I set my cell phone timer for twenty minutes and write in these small increments, which helps me get started. Once I get on a roll, hours can pass and I won’t notice — but it takes a lot of warm-up to achieve that semi-liminal state of consciousness where the words start to flow. The 20-minute timer thing helps me relax into it without putting crippling pressure on myself.

But normally I don’t really force myself to work through major bouts of writer’s block. When I have a creative dry spell, I just go and do something else for a while. I’m sure if I was on deadline it’d be different and I’d have to think up a solution right quick, but I don’t have that pressure so I don’t overthink it. As long as I get a certain amount of stuff done within a reasonable amount of time, like one short story a year, I don’t worry too much.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

I’d like to really buckle down and hone my craft a little more than I have so far. A lot of the time I feel like I’m not where I should be yet, technically, as a writer. I’m still in the middle of writing my first novel-length ghost story and it’s been a huge challenge for me. Just the sheer unbroken momentum it takes to finish a novel is such a luxury of time and energy, and it’s so hard not to get sidetracked in this life of many and varied pressures and distractions. I’d like to finish the novel and be proud of it. I’d like to just keep getting stronger and more assured, and read my own work and not cringe. At this point in my life I’m a lot more interested in the work itself than anything else. If the career stuff comes, it comes, and that’s great. If it never comes, but I find at the end of my life that I’ve done right by my inner six-year-old and written something worth reading, I’ll be happy.

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

I really like “Morbus,” which is in the collection Boroughs of the Dead. It’s a humorous story in which a thief agonizingly dies of cholera in a mansion loosely based on J.P. Morgan’s, and features a sassy demon. And “Newtown Creek” in the same anthology, because it grew out of a childhood nightmare of mine and is kind of close to my heart. I probably worked the hardest on my one and only Weird Western, “The Last Wagon in the Train,” which was published in the Tenth Black Book of Horror and got an honorable mention in one of the Year’s Best Horror anthologies.

Big thanks to Andrea Janes for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her at her author website as well as at Boroughs of the Dead, the place to go for New York City’s best ghost tours!

Happy reading!

Horror Star: Interview with Tabitha Thompson

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today I am thrilled to spotlight the awesome Tabitha Thompson. Tabitha’s horror fiction has been featured in multiple issues of The Sirens Call, and she is currently hard at work on new stories that are sure to be as amazing as her previous work!

Recently, she and I discussed her inspiration as an author as well as her current projects and where she sees the trajectory of her career headed in the coming years.

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

Tabitha ThompsonAlthough I’ve been writing stories since I was 5 and started horror fiction when I was 16, I never thought of myself becoming a writer honestly until I was published at 23. Even to this day however, I still continue to gain knowledge and find my voice when writing and I have found it to become more than a hobby but a passion. I can honestly say however that I didn’t find writing, it found me, and as of late it hasn’t let me go. Some of my favorite authors are Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, Toni Morrison, Pheare Alexander and Shane McKenzie.

Do you have any rituals as a writer (e.g. writing at the same time of day or at the same place)? Also, do you have any tips for how you work through writer’s block and/or creative slumps?

I have to admit, it’s rare that I have a set ritual, given that I’m pretty flexible when it comes to my writing, but I always start off with coffee, in my book coffee is life. But aside from that, before I start writing, I listen to motivational videos and do yoga, meditation and prayer to get a healthy mind, body and spirit. Now although factors like work take up some time, I try to write at least anywhere from 1,000-1,500 words in the evening. My tips for dealing with writer’s block and creative slumps is I would take a break from writing and listen to music, preferably rock or classical, and read various books to keep the creative juices flowing.

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

My favorite part of the writing process is celebrating that I haven’t gone gray or completely insane afterwards. Jokes aside, I love plotting the story and developing characters simply because I become easily inspired by a simple conversation, actions or emotions from other people as well as my own personal experiences.

Sirens Call Issue 18What projects are you currently working on?

Even though it has been a while since I’ve released any new stories, for this year, I’m currently working on a few stories titled “Black Sheep”, “Evil, I”, and “Haunted”. I like the direction each of the stories is going and it makes me even more excited to finish them and put them out.

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

My favorite published story has to be “West Nile”. It’s my first apocalyptic story where the protagonist is written in the first person and can resonate with readers. Given that I live in Florida, a tropical state that is notorious for mosquitoes in the summer time, the story shows the worst case scenario of a simple mosquito bite. Once I’m done with my other projects, I’m planning to write an extended version of that story.

Where would you like to see your writing career in five years?

In five years, my goal is to be able to write full time, have a #1 bestseller, and to make an impact in horror fiction. As ambitious as it may seem as a black female writing horror fiction, which is considered a rarity, I would love nothing more than to not only change the game but to inspire and motivate other girls to take a risk and follow their own creative path with no regrets whatsoever. Plus I would love to prove that not all of us black females write literature that involves the hardcore streets, but we can also write some hardcore horror.

Huge thanks to Tabitha Thompson for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at her author site as well as on Facebook and Twitter!

Happy reading!