Monthly Archives: November 2016

Coming Up Roses: Interview with Nat Sampson

Welcome back! For this week’s interview, I’m pleased to spotlight Nat Sampson. Nat is an accomplished comics artist and author of numerous zines and other illustrated projects. A multi-talented creator to be sure!

Recently, Nat and I discussed their inspiration as an artist and what upcoming projects are on the horizon.

When did you first decide to become an artist, and who are some of your favorites in your field?

Nat SampsonI’ve been drawing consistently since sixth grade, but I only decided to become an artist “for real” in 2013. I was in grad school and realized… school was terrible! Oops, ha.

Most of my favorite comic artists are the folks I know via social media and the big ole web: Jane Mai, Mia Schwartz, Rory Fransis, Carta Monir; I’m in love with the artist collective, FANGRRLZ! As far as “formal” print comics: Okazaki Kyoko, Matsumoto Taiyo, and Ronald Wimberly.

What’s your “typical” day as an artist? Do you have certain rituals (e.g. listening to music or working at a specific time of day)?

I try to get to work as soon as I get out of bed, which can be tough. I wash my hands with a bar of lavender soap before I start drawing! I try to eat beforehand if I’m feeling up to it, and I always have a glass of water nearby to stay hydrated. If I start early enough in the day, I like to take a break two hours in, to walk around and maybe get coffee. Sometimes ya gotta get outside for a bit!

And music, always music while I work! Music helps me to concentrate and develop visual ideas.

The style of your art is bright and striking and at times even subversively cheerful and humorous. However, you never shy away from serious themes in your comics and zines. Your previous work has touched upon topics such as drugs and violence as well as sexuality, identity, and suicide. Is it ever challenging to find a balance between the contemplative, grim aspects of your work and the more humorous elements, or does this balance come naturally to you?

Girls I LovedI think the balance comes naturally. I use humor to cope with my mental illnesses, trauma, dysphoria, etc. It’s sort of like, “If I can’t make light of this, how can I possibly deal with it all?” But then again, a lot of my own laughter and humor comes from the absurdity of how ridiculous, irrational, and frankly terrifying being alive can be. Like, can you believe this shit?!
When it comes to my art, the balance in presentation is a byproduct of my own needs. Zines and comics are cathartic for me, so my work mostly speaks to what I need to do to process what’s going on in my life. In one of my earlier zines, BRAT, I accidentally let it veer from “overtly humorous anxiety-confidence talk” to some heavier mental health concerns. That wasn’t on purpose, but it was what I needed to do, and so I think that’s okay. Some of my really old stuff from grad school is a lot of self-contemplation followed by self-mockery… I don’t think that’s always 100% healthy, but it’s one way for me to relate to myself and my weird lizard brain, so I think it’s okay.

My work is kind of a conversation with myself that goes, “Hey, how about we think about this absolutely bizarre thing you’re doing/feeling/thinking? Why are you doing that? It’s ok for you to acknowledge this thing that’s happening, but really, what the heck are ya doing? Doesn’t something about this strike you as kind of goofy? If it’s not funny at all, what are some other ways we can address it?” And the readers get dragged along for the ride.

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

Definitely MOIST! If you want to talk about the balance between contemplative and humorous? It’s upside down and backwards in MOIST, oh boy. I love it. I also retroactively love “girls i loved”, if only because I didn’t realize how good it was until people started telling me what an impact it had on them as they read it.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I’m writing a big “for real, for real” fiction book that will hopefully come out… sooner or later?! Plus I’ve got some autobio projects that will hopefully be out in the fall. I’ll also be featured in One Beat Zines’ anthology, ‘Performance’! Make sure you check that out!!

Big thanks to Nat Sampson for being part of this week’s interview series! Find their work online at Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and their official site!

Happy reading!

The Author’s Secret: Interview with Catherine Jordan

Welcome back! Today I’m thrilled to present author Catherine Jordan. This interview is quite a special treat for me, because I am incredibly fortunate to be Catherine’s mentor through the Horror Writers Association’s Mentorship program. Catherine and I have been working together since July, and as these things so often go, I find myself learning as much from her as she probably learns from me. Her passion and talent for writing as well as her enthusiasm to gain as much knowledge about the industry as she can inspire me to be a better writer—and I hope—an even better mentor for her.

Recently, Catherine and I discussed her novels through Sunbury Press as well as her work as an editor and writing workshop instructor.

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

Catherine JordanI started writing fanfiction when I was about six. In middle school, I wrote stories to read aloud in English class. I wrote short stories and dark poetry in High School. At Penn State, I wrote for the college newsletter, and continued business writing afterward. I decided to become a professional writer about 10 years ago. I had completed the original version of Seeking Samiel and decided to see if I had the stamina for publication, which I knew involved re-writes, edits, and query letters, and rejection. Five years later, my persistence paid off, and my first novel was published.

Ira Levin is one of my favorite authors because he managed to weave humor into dark topics with his pen’s fine needle. The Stepford Wives is a 145 page classic. The title itself makes me giggle. Yet, how horrifying (and gratifying on some sick level) to be known as a Stepford Wife. Deathtrap, Rosemary’s Baby, A Kiss Before Dying; his writing is concise, precise, and so much fun to read.

Anne Rice is another favorite author because she has integrated her religion, her beliefs and her life into her work without authorial intervention. She brings her characters to life as individuals.

I devoured Gillian Flynn’s books. For some reason, I really love to read about evil women. Gone Girl was a compulsive read. Sharp Objects was one of the darkest books I’ve ever poured through.

Congratulations on the release of your novels, Seeking Samiel and The Book Seller’s Secret, through Sunbury Press! What was your process like when you were writing these books, and did you face any particular challenges during the first draft or subsequent edits?

I’m a pantser—I write by the seat of my pants. Then, when I’m about 3 or 4 chapters in and after I have a firm handle on quest and my main character, I’ll write a premise. The premise helps me stay in check, and keeps me aware of when I’m writing tangents.

The biggest challenge I faced in subsequent drafts of my novels was avoiding clichés and melodrama. My novels are based on true events in South Africa, and those events inspired my horror story. A lot of research was involved, and I wanted to write something creepy and scary, all while weaving fact with fiction. Not easy.

Not only are you a novelist, but you are also a short story writer. How does your approach differ when writing short fiction compared to longer narratives?

My approach to short fiction and novels, to me, begins very similarly—I’m a pantser. However, the process differs with my focus on plot; no subplots and few sublayers, if any, are in my short stories. If I have a theme or a prompt, I can bang out a short story. Editing? Well that process is the same for shorts and novels, no matter what—it’s laborious, and involves judicious use of the “delete” button.

Seeking SamielYou facilitate numerous workshops in the central Pennsylvania area. What inspired you to teach writing, and what is your favorite class you’ve instructed so far?

I never intended to become a writing facilitator; I sort of fell into it. My writing mentor asked me to substitute a class for her. I said yes, though I thought, who am I to teach others? Well, I fell in love. Apparently, I made a good impression, was asked back, and have embraced every opportunity since. My favorite class to teach is critique, because its practicum; it allows students to put all their lessons into practice while receiving constructive feedback. I believe every writer should find a critique group filled with a mix of new and professional writers.

In addition to your work as an author and a teacher, you are also an accomplished editor. What inspired you to become an editor, and do you feel that your work as an editor has shaped your work as a writer?

I was inspired to become an editor through my critique classes. Editing is the next step to critiquing, and I plunged into it when a friend asked me to edit her memoir. I have since then edited anthology collections. The selection process—as well as the back and forth between the writer, has allowed me to see just how important structure (even something as basic as “quest”) is to a story, and how often it’s overlooked. Structure has shaped my writing in such a way that I can go back to my previous works and say, “Oh, well that’s what was wrong with this story.”

What current and upcoming projects are you working on?

Right now, I just completed editing an anthology titled Strange Magic. Launch and promotion are the next steps. I’m working on a personal collection of short stories for all the major holidays, not just Christmas. I’m also writing my third book in the Seeking Samiel series.

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

Currently, as a writer, I’m doing the things I had only dreamed about. Within the next five years, I’d like to turn my novels into scripts—I’d like to get my characters out of my head and off the pages, and onto the big screen! I’d also like to see my books on the “must read” lists. And I wouldn’t rule out being an editor on staff. At the same time, I see myself having assisted many others in their quest toward successful publication.

Big thanks to Catherine Jordan for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her at Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook, as well as her author site!

Also, please check out the HWA Mentorship Program! It’s a wonderful initiative and a highly recommended one!

Happy reading!

Pantheon of Fiction: Interview with Sarah Read

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight writer and editor Sarah Read. Sarah serves as the editor of the acclaimed Pantheon Magazine. As a fiction writer, her work has appeared in Black Static, Stupefying Stories, and is forthcoming from the highly anticipated Gamut.

Recently, Sarah and I discussed her inspiration as a writer as well as what lies ahead for her career.

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

Sarah ReadI decided to become a writer when I was in 6th grade, thanks to my teacher Mr. Evans. I wrote my first poem in his class and he used to let me write during recess. He’d even help me submit my work to magazines. I’m pretty sure the postage for my submissions came out of his pocket. He’d commiserate with my rejections and encourage me to keep trying. I even wrote my first ghost story in his class! He didn’t like that one as much, but he never said it–I could just tell by his eyebrows. I wish I could thank him and tell him the whole ghost story thing worked out.

My favorite authors are Stephen Graham Jones, Helen Marshall, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Anne Rice, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Margaret Atwood, Ray Bradbury, Umberto Eco, Paul Tremblay, Peter S. Beagle, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and lots more. The list grows every year.

You serve as the editor at Pantheon Magazine. How did you become involved with editing, and how has your work as an editor shaped your writing? Also, what advice can you offer writers who are interested in submitting to the magazine?

I’ve been interested in editing ever since my high school lit mag and newspaper days. After college, I spent six years as a magazine editor for a large publisher. Matt Garcia, the publisher of Pantheon, asked me to read slush for him after he’d published a few of my stories–I enjoyed that way more than I think you’re supposed to. People say it’s torture, but I love it. (I actually still read a lot of the slush. Shhh, I can’t help it.) After a while, he promoted me to fiction editor, and then he decided to step more into the background and let me have control over all the red buttons. We still work together quite closely on the magazine, and he oversees the website and production side of things.

Editing helps me analyze a story without getting lost in it–but I still want to get lost in it. It’s much harder with my own work, of course, but I can switch off the writerly part of my brain and view things through an analytical lens. Getting the edit-y part of my brain to shut up is another matter. I have a lot of trunk stories because of it.

As for advice, definitely pay attention to the issue theme. I hate it when I read a lovely story that has nothing to do with that issue and I have to reject it even though I enjoyed it. We ask for an explanation of how the story relates to the theme–even if the tie is loose, if we love the story and there’s a logical argument, we’ll probably take it. Also, we’re on a budget. There’s a set word count limit for each issue, so if your story is over 7k words, it’s probably going to have to be AMAZING to get in. We’re happy to read longer stories (and we’ve taken quite a few), but nine out of ten stories I read that are over 7k words are 4-5k stories with too much fluff.

The theme of Pantheon is Greek myth-themed fiction. When did you first become interested in mythology, and do you have a favorite god or goddess?

I’ve always been obsessed with myth–not just Greek myths, but all kinds. I’d like to someday take the magazine’s themes to other cultures, too. The Greek myths are a blast, and there’s a deity for nearly everything, but it feels too narrow. There are a lot of fun themes out there to play with. I love the idea that humans can explore their curiosity through creative storytelling. Myths hold a special kind of truth that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with reality. I like contemporary stories that have that same touch of truth about them–that feel like they’re tied in to something much bigger than what’s on the page.

I’ve never been religious at all, but I’ll refrain from picking a favorite. That NEVER ends well.

You have previously discussed your love of journals and fountain pens. How do you feel the act of handwriting your fiction affects your work as an author? Also, do you remember your very first writing journal and pen?

Pantheon Magazine Hestia IssueMmmm yes, I LOVE pens and ink and paper. I’m honestly not sure if I love them because I love writing, or if I love hand writing because I get to use my pens. I may never know, but it doesn’t matter. My relationship with technology has never been very good, so the reliability of analog tools is also a bit of a necessity. I have my laptop and Google Drive and flash drives and external hard drives…but it’s good to have that hard copy there on the shelf. My first drafts are slower, yes, but I edit as I type the draft in, so by the time I have a copy to send to beta readers, it’s often the third draft. Plus, I can have a pen and notebook in my pocket always and everywhere. I get a lot of my writing done in stolen moments between things.

I do actually remember my first journal. It was white with wee blue flowers on it. I think I was in first or second grade–it had a padlock that I had to break myself because I lost the key. I mostly wrote about how irritating my brother was. It still exists, somewhere.

Your incredibly creepy horror story, “Magnifying Glass,” appeared last year in the esteemed Black Static. What was the inspiration behind this piece?

That story was written from a prompt given to me in one of my writing group’s WAR battles. The prompt was a character finding (in a very unlikely place) an old envelope that’s addressed to them. The hand prints were inspired by an actual hand print on a window in my old house. I could never wipe it off. It was a deliciously frightening five seconds until I remembered it was a double-pane window–the print was between the layers. And it made me think of how my grandmother never wiped our hand prints off her storm door after we visited, because she liked to see that piece of us still there even when we were far away. Sometimes we’d come at Christmas and see our sticky fourth-of-July hand prints on the glass and hold our hands up to them to see how much we’d grown. And then of course I wondered when the hand print got between my windows–and how much has that person grown? It’s a very old house–what if the person is dead–what if they still come back to their hand print inside the glass? Wonder why they haven’t grown? Probably too many of my stories are born out of my mind wandering while I do housework.

What upcoming projects are you working on?

I’m reaching the end of a manuscript revision for a revise and resubmit request from an agent. I haven’t been writing much short fiction because I’ve been buried in that. I’m hoping to resubmit in the next month or so. Scary! I’ve got a few short stories in the works, though, for some fun projects I’ve been invited to. Matt Garcia and I are also collaborating on a novella. It’s just a skeletal armature so far, but we’ll break out the papier-mache soon.

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

Gosh, three years ago I’d be excited just to think I’d have anything published at all. I’d like for my novel to see the light of day before the next five years is up. And I’d like to crack one of my white whale markets (Shimmer or Nightmare especially).

I’ve really enjoyed working freelance since my youngest was born. I’d like to move more in the direction of editing people’s novels and less toward writing marketing copy for big tech companies.

Big thanks to Sarah Read for being part of this week’s author interview series! Find her online at Twitter, Instagram, and her author site.

Happy reading!

COMING SOON: My Debut Fiction Collection from JournalStone

So I’ve been keeping this big (huge! GIGANTIC!) news under wraps for a few weeks as I finished up the promotion for my Halloween blog. But now, with October firmly behind us, I am beyond thrilled to make a very exciting announcement: my debut short fiction collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, is slated for release in the Spring of 2017 from JournalStone!


Seriously, that means I will soon have a book with my name on it, a table of contents filled with my stories. That seems a little surreal. It’s even more surreal that such an incredible publisher like JournalStone will be releasing the collection. This is the press that publishes work from authors like Laird Barron, Jonathan Maberry, Gary A. Braunbeck, and the newly signed Mike Griffin. This is the press that has won Stokers. And now I’ll be joining the illustrious roster of authors. No pressure or anything, right?

In the coming months, I will be working with editor extraordinaire Jess Landry on the book, and I will of course be sharing more information as it develops. We are still very early in the process, so I don’t want to divulge too many details yet (this author here is a superstitious one after all), but I will reveal this: the table of contents will feature a mix of reprints as well as five brand-new stories original to the collection. With a focus on my horror and dark fantasy work, the collection will revolve around themes of otherness, family, defiance, and grotesque transformations, and truly I couldn’t be more excited to share these tales together in a single collection.

So if you’re so inclined, please be on the lookout for more information coming soon about And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. I will most certainly be hollering from the rooftops about this one!

Happy reading!