Monthly Archives: December 2020

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, 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:
I’m pretty active on Twitter:
And if anybody is still on Facebook:

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

Happy reading!

Horror and A Sinister Quartet: Part 2 of the Mythic Delirium Roundtable

Welcome back for part two of the Mythic Delirium Roundtable! Today we talk a little more about these authors’ collaborative book, A Sinister Quartet, as well as their favorite horror films and how 2020 has affected their writing!

Since this book is more horror and dark fantasy, what’s your favorite horror film? Do you remember the first horror story or horror film that really captured your imagination?

C.S.E. COONEY: I remember a babysitter making me watch The Fly when I was four or five years old. I hated it, and wanted to leave the room, but she wouldn’t let me. It scared me for years! Not my favorite. I could probably watch it now and lance the boil of those early demons—but why spoil a perfectly wretched memory? Anyway, there are several horror films I’ve loved recently: I loved The Babadook and The Devil’s Backbone for their unapologetic primary metaphors—the monster in our own homes, our bodies, the phantom bomb in our midst—and I loved Midsommar because in so many ways it didn’t seem like horror at all. It seemed like paradise at a terrible cost, which is a little how I imagine Gelethel.

AMANDA MCGEE: Oh dear. So I can’t actually watch most horror films because I have too many nightmares. Like I will occasionally watch horror but I can’t do it alone and I have to be in the right headspace. But I will tell you that the first horror film I watched that really rattled me (and put me off of horror for a long time) was Resident Evil. I have a huge issue with zombies, actually. Super freak me out. It took watching Shaun of the Dead to get me to stop having nightmares about zombies, even years later.

JESSICA P. WICK: Hmm! Favorite horror film is tough, partly because I’m a huge wuss, so how do we define favorite here? Rewatchability? The degree to which it haunts me? I really liked the original Let the Right One In, ditto The Hunger with David Bowie, but if Pan’s Labyrinth — my all time favorite film — counts as horror (and I’d say it does), then Pan’s Labyrinth all the way. That movie has everything I want from darkness. As for what horror film first really captured my imagination, what a good question I’m not sure I have an answer to. The first horror images that really captured my imagination were the illustrations by Stephen Gammell from Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark, and one illustration of Odile by Trina Schart Hyman in Swan Lake. I was so scared of the Odile page and so fascinated-scared by the gruesome Gammell pictures.

MIKE ALLEN: It’s hard for me to pick a favorite horror flick because I enjoy many deeply flawed movies and can nitpick supposedly great movies, but my blighted soul often circles back to the Robert Wise-directed version of The Haunting, which I watched for the first time on grainy VHS as a jaded grown-up, and it still got under my skin.

My extremely traumatic first encounter with horror happened when I was in third grade, and our well-meaning teacher read us Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” for Halloween. Visions of that dismembered old man with the pale blue vulture eye consumed me. I didn’t shake the night terrors until my teen years, when I started to delight in the creative process behind horror. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were the key to that transformation. Bonus points to the first horror movie that I deliberately went to see in a theater: Return of the Living Dead. BRRAAAIIINNNSS!

2020 has been an intense year on so many levels. How if at all has this year affected your own writing, either in productivity or in what themes you’re exploring in your work?

C.S.E. COONEY: 2020 in many ways has been incredibly productive, partly because it had to be. Both my husband and I are writers, and both of us were on constant deadlines, so in a way, writing became one of the stabilizing forces of 2020, even when everything else was melting down. I’ve not had much writing time to process current events; much of what I’m working on is several drafts old or to spec, but I have found some solace in journaling and poetry—when I can find the time at all.

AMANDA J. MCGEE: So 2020 has been ironically really productive for me. It might be the most productive writing year I’ve had for a while if we’re just counting new words. I think this is because the way I deal with stress historically is to read and write it out. Also not being able to go to the gym or hang out as much with friends means I don’t have my other coping mechanisms. I’ve mostly been writing more light-hearted stuff this go round, for obvious reasons. It’s a lot harder to put my characters in really disturbing situations when I am personally a little overwhelmed, so that’s been the biggest issue I’ve faced.

JESSICA P. WICK: 2020 has been just an awful gloom of uncertainty, occasionally punctuated by the hot radiance of anger. It’s been a struggle to write and to read. I think wistfully of those old stories of The Writer or The Artist, spilling their pain onto the page and shaping masterpieces. That’s not how I work at all. If I look back over the last few years at my projects, I’m often drawn to the question of how to do what is right. I write a lot about ‘good neighbors,’ about expectation and goodness, image and what it really means, a lot of careful what you wish for, consequences exist but they’re often unintended. I don’t think this awful year has changed any of that. I’m still interested in writing characters who are ultimately hopeful although they might not be in a very hopeful world.

MIKE ALLEN: I have to say, the stress of the pandemic and the roil of civil unrest and electoral uncertainty ground my writing down to a level of near nonexistence. (In a sense. In my day job, I’m a newspaper reporter, and in that role I’ve written plenty.) Most of my writing and publishing-related effort has gone into promoting A Sinister Quartet and my new collection of horror fiction, Aftermath of an Industrial Accident, and advertising and selling other titles in the Mythic Delirium Books catalog.

I have in 2020 managed to write a handful of new short stories, one of which I sold to Lackington’s. And it’s another “Button Bin” story, this time a prequel, called “The Feather Stitch.” It crosses over with another quasi-popular story of mine, “The Cruelest Team Will Win,” and thus ties in another monster mythos that I originally conceived as completely separate. I seem to be doing that more and more in my dotage — linking stories that originally I had no intention of tying together.

As an aside, I feel a need to step more fully into my editor hat here (hello, mixed metaphor) and note that C.S.E.’s “The Twice-Drowned Saint” in Sinister is very much of the 2020 moment in its plot and themes.

What do each of you have planned next?

C.S.E. COONEY: I have to finish edits for my novel Saint Death’s Daughter, which is coming out in Spring 2022 with Solaris. I have an idea for an 8-episode radio play/podcast called The Devil and Lady Midnight. I have a concept album I’d like to complete called Ballads from a Distant Star. I’d like to finish up a collection of novellas called Dark Breakers—which means finishing a novella I started for it, and also one last short story. I’d like to start the next novel in my Saint Death trilogy. And, oh! Various and sundry!

AMANDA J. MCGEE: Plans…yeah. I don’t have anything set in stone right now. No contracts. I’m working on a novel that ambushed me back in August. Kind of a Labyrinth meets Lord of the Rings scenario, for lack of a better way to describe it. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve got another couple of novels at various stages of editing I need to get polished and out to query. So hopefully one of those projects goes somewhere, but I’ve been focusing on making new words this year more than anything.

JESSICA P. WICK: My plan is to finish what I call ‘the swashbuckly novel,’ which is a tale of revenge, atmosphere, carnivorous mermaids, fate witches working for a decadent government, sleeping curses, bureaucratic evil, dangerous nationalism, theatre troupes, pirates, repartee both with words and blades.

I’ve also been playing with drabbles expanding some of the folklore from my horror story, ‘The Husker,’ which is up at Strange Horizons, and I’d like to put together a collection of oddities …Possibly to go along with a poetry collection. That’s my big 2021 goal: Put out a collection of poetry.

But there are other things I’m working on (in theory), too. A murder ballad card game, a novel about Brinedrift House (it will involve devils), a horror story about a goose. You’d think I wouldn’t need to write more. Say ‘goose’ and have people sagely nod ‘ah yes, the devil bird,’ but I have a goal of getting my friend Christa to never look at geese the same way again.

So many plans! I just hope I’m ready for 2021.

MIKE ALLEN: I have a fully drafted novel, working title These Bloody Filaments, that I haven’t touched since January, in part because of the 2020 miasma, in part because I felt like I had to see how this election turned out in order to choose the directions the revisions should go, as racism and police brutality figure strongly in its warp and weft. I hope to find the strength to get back to it soon. In the meantime there’s an older novel to perhaps dust off, a new novel idea to start on, other stories to finish, future Mythic Delirium Books to discuss — and of course more promotion for both Aftermath of an Industrial Accident and A Sinister Quartet.

Where can we find you online?

C.S.E. COONEY: and @csecooney on Twitter and Insta.

AMANDA J. MCGEE: You can find me all sorts of places! My website is, where I blog weekly, and I’m also on Twitter (@skylit1) and Instagram (@amcgee.writes) and I have a Facebook page, and technically even a Patreon where you can read little snippets of things I’m currently scribbling on.

JESSICA P. WICK: You can find me online at, foamlyre on instagram, and @lunelyre on twitter.

MIKE ALLEN: As a publisher at, as a writer at, on Twitter at and on Facebook as

Tremendous thanks to the authors of A Sinister Quartet for being part of this very fabulous roundtable!

Happy reading!

My Upcoming December Events

It’s finally December, which means the year is at last winding down. But even as quarantine marches on, I’ve been doing my best to keep myself busy over here, if for no other reason than to avoid the existential dread of 2020. So if you’re looking for something fun to do this month as you avoid existential dread as well, here are a few very cool places you can catch me virtually for the rest of the year!

Skeleton Hour: Witchcraft

First up, I’m absolutely over the moon to be part of this month’s Skeleton Hour! This is a fantastic monthly series, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of December’s event. And to make it even more exciting, the topic is all about witches! I’ll be part of a panel discussion with Alexis Henderson, Pam Grossman, and Zoraida Córdova, with Lisa Quigley as our moderator. This one is happening on Wednesday, December 9th at 10pm EST (or 7pm PST), so definitely sign up to hang out with us for a bewitchingly cool event!

The New York Ghost Story Festival

Then on Thursday, December 10th at 7pm, I’ll be joining Hysop Mulero and Rudi Dornemann for Daniel Braum’s awesome The New York Ghost Story Festival! Thursday will be the kickoff evening of the festival, and it’s going to be so fun to be involved! I’ll be reading from both The Invention of Ghosts and Pretty Marys All in a Row! You can join us over at the live YouTube page right here!

The Outer Dark Quarantine Readings series

This week, I was also thrilled to spend some virtual time with the incomparable Anya Martin, as we recorded for an upcoming Outer Dark episode. I got to talk about my time in quarantine as well as my favorite books from 2020. I also did a short reading from Boneset & Feathers, so that was exciting too! This episode is slated to air later this month, likely around December 17th, and will also feature a reading from Daniel Braum! It’s always a joy to be part of an episode of The Outer Dark, so definitely keep your eyes peeled for this one!

And that about wraps it up for December events! I hope everyone is doing well and staying safe.

Happy reading, and happy holidays!

Holiday Fiction: Submission Roundup for December 2020

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

First a quick disclaimer, as always: 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

Payment: .08/word for fiction; $40/flat for poetry
Length: up to 7,500 words for fiction (5,000 words or less preferred); up to six poems
Deadline: December 8th, 2020
What They Want: Open to a wide variety of fantasy fiction and poetry, including dark fantasy.
Find the details here.

Payment: $15/flat
Length: Up to 5,000 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2020
What They Want: Open to a wide array of speculative fiction.
Find the details here.

We’re Here: The Best Queer Speculative Fiction 2020
Payment: .01/word
Length: up to 17,500 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2020
What They Want: Reprints of stories published in 2020 that deal implicitly or explicitly with queerness.
Find the details here.

Payment: .08/word for fiction; $50/flat for poetry
Length: Short fiction from 2,000 to 7,000 words & novelettes up to 15,000 words
Deadline: December 31st, 2020
What They Want: Open to Black authors, FIYAH is currently seeking fiction and poetry for their forthcoming unthemed issue.
Find the details here.

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.

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: Open to speculative fiction and poetry that deal with sustainable habitats.
Find the details here.

Happy reading, and happy submitting!

A Sinister Quartet: A Roundtable with Mythic Delirium

Welcome back! This month, I’m thrilled to feature a two-part spotlight on Mythic Delirium and their new collaborative book, A Sinister Quartet! This expansive omnibus features a brand-new novel from acclaimed author C.S.E. Cooney, a novella from Mike Allen, and the debut novellas from Jessica P. Wick and Amanda J. McGee.

Recently, I talked with all four authors about this fabulous new project, from its inspiration to why they’re writing in the horror genre!

Tell us a little about your latest project A Sinister Quartet. What inspired your particular story in the book?

C.S.E. COONEY: I feel like I always say this–only it isn’t always true!–but this one came from a dream I had. I don’t remember much about the dream, but I remember I was living in Rhode Island at the time, with my mother. I remember the scene with the sacrifice pretty vividly, and later a wild attempt at escape that ended by drowning in a river. I remember it had something to do with the movies, the desert, and strange angels. After my first (failed) attempt, I contacted a filmmaker friend of mine–Magill Foote–for some resources on the history of cinema, a subject I know very little of, hoping to give my secondary-world fantasy a bit of foundational structure through late 19th/early 20th century technology.

AMANDA J. MCGEE: I wrote “Viridian” about a year after my honeymoon in Vermont, where we had some excellent adventures. Vermont was just one of the places we visited, but we had so many odd and serendipitous experiences there I knew I wanted to write about it at some point. About a year after that I lost my favorite new aunt-in-law to cancer, which rekindled some old memories of similar losses that I found myself suddenly dealing with. The whole process of getting married was oddly stressful, though it turned out well, and I think I had that in the back of my mind when I started working on the story. It’s not exactly what I intended to throw in when I set out to write a Bluebeard retelling but I guess the best writing is personal.

JESSICA P. WICK: I wanted to write about a sister and brother and have their relationship be the important one in a story. I also wanted to write about a katabasis, a fairyland, and people making decisions that weren’t good for them. Then Ravenna pretty much just took over the story and told it to me. There’s definitely some Tam Lin influence here, maybe also a little of my trip to Central Europe. I know when I began writing “An Unkindness,” I had no idea how it was going to turn out, or even what was really wrong with Ravenna’s brother. Next project, I want to focus on a story about ladyfriends who are grown ass adults with lives.

MIKE ALLEN: “The Comforter” continues the story begun in (and expands the monster mythos invented in) my horror tales “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker.” I didn’t write “The Button Bin” with intent to write a sequel, much less multiple sequels, but at the end of “The Quiltmaker” there are two children left alive whose situations are . . . let’s say, markedly different, yet related. After the publication of “The Quiltmaker,” I started wondering what would happen if, a few years later, one child tried to contact the other, which led to the couplet “how you and I are kin / my mom stole your mom’s skin.” The rest of it grew tendrils from that morsel.

I perhaps made a risky choice in presuming that “The Comforter” is so strange that it won’t matter that much if readers come to it without having read the earlier stories, but reactions so far seem to indicate I made a winning bet, whew!

How did A Sinister Quartet develop? Had you done a collaboration like this before, or was this your first time putting together a project with other authors?

C.S.E. COONEY: Mike Allen has probably answered this, but we’d been playing with the idea of combining our novella forces for a while, and either shopping something out or putting something together ourselves. It burgeoned from there into something rather more symphonic. I’m so pleased, both to have virtually “met” Amanda J. McGee and her wistful, lucid prose, and to see more work by Jessica P. Wick, of whom I’ve long been an ardent admirer, out in the world for others to slaver over.

AMANDA J. MCGEE: This is my first time participating in any kind of anthology really. It’s been a project of firsts for me — first published novella, first time working with a small press (or any press for that matter), first contemporary work. I’ve really enjoyed all of it. Mike, Claire, and Jess have been wonderful to work with, and I don’t think “Viridian” would have been as strong of a story without their input.

JESSICA P. WICK: The credit for A Sinister Quartet coming together as well as it does all goes to Mike Allen, who I’m sure will have more intelligent things to say about its making. I was familiar with Mike’s button bin world (pause here for a deep shudder) and I’ve long been an ardent fan of C. S. E.’s work, but I had no real idea what I was getting into with their pieces here, and this was my introduction to Amanda McGee’s awesomeness. The fact that these works all echo one another and seem to be playing on the same themes — to me, that was just a really marvelous surprise. Mike Allen’s a sharp, apparently tireless editor and co-creator, and I’m really just honored to have Ravenna included in the project.

MIKE ALLEN: I’ve worked with both C.S.E. Cooney and Jessica Wick before, as both publish-er (the Mythic Delirium zine, the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies, C.S.E.’s World Fantasy Award-winning collection Bone Swans) and publish-ee (C.S.E. edited my novel The Black Fire Concerto for Haunted Stars, Jess published my poetry in Goblin Fruit), while Amanda McGee is a new recruit. I consider A Sinister Quartet the unofficial sixth volume in the Clockwork Phoenix series.

As for how it came together, to try and keep it concise: about four years back C.S.E. and I had discussed appearing together in a book that would’ve been like one of those old Ace Doubles, two novellas (in her case it ended up being a full novel!) back to back with two front covers. That proposal never got off the ground — but I made the call that the book that could have resulted deserved to see daylight in some form, and set A Sinister Quartet in motion without quite knowing yet it was going to be a quartet. At about this same time, I read an early draft of Amanda’s “Viridian,” and C.S.E. put Jessica’s “An Unkindess” in front of me, and I saw threads that could connect.

Each of you has written in numerous genres, including fantasy and science fiction. What inspired you to write this book that focuses more on horror?

C.S.E. COONEY: I didn’t set out to write horror. I’m not sure I ever set out to write any particular genre; it’s only, I sort of see the world mythically, even the one I live in. That we’re living in dark times, that the dream upon which my story was based had embedded nightmarish aspects, and that I knew I’d be in a collection with Mike Allen—whose own “gross-outs” of fiction are epic—and therefore decided to up my own grotesque game a bit, probably all informed my prose on a subliminal level.

AMANDA J. MCGEE: It’s funny because I don’t know that I intended to write horror when I set out. I saw “Viridian” as more of a contemporary fantasy ghost story thing. I wasn’t sure how to market it. Mike, of course, immediately saw it for what it could be. I didn’t think of myself as a horror writer before that but I can see horror elements in some of my previous work now. It’s kind of freeing actually.

JESSICA P. WICK: I think I’m finally coming to terms with the fact that my natural inclination is just to wander my stories through the Dark. I give credit to fairy tales and a love of mischief and a hope/despair relationship with the human race, all of which lends itself well to telling darker stories. But I certainly didn’t think before, just for example, writing a certain scene in “An Unkindness,” ‘I want to make sure this is so horrific that when I express squeamishness irl to someone they’ll exclaim ‘YOU, who’s so cruel to [REDACTED]’ in tones of disbelief.’ (And yes, that did happen to me. And made me laugh. But it was unexpected.)

MIKE ALLEN: You may have noticed my co-authors laying the blame for this at my feet, hah, hah! I am certainly the capital-H Horror writer in the set, though I don’t limit myself to that.

It kind of goes back to the seed of the whole project — had that original proposal come to fruition, the book would have come out from a house known for horror and the Weird, and my half of the “double” was always going to be “The Comforter,” which is cut from the same mercilessly nightmarish cloth as its predecessors. It made sense for the other stories included to incorporate macabre turns and dark themes.

Huge thanks to the authors of A Sinister Quartet! Head on back here next week for Part 2 of our roundtable discussion!

Happy reading!