WIHM: An Interview With Sara Tantlinger

Hi Sara, and welcome to The Horror Tree – the writer and author resource! Since that’s the site’s target, we’ll be mostly talking about the process of writing and publishing here today. I’m excited to pick your brain (very gently of course)! Let’s begin.

Erin: Tell the readership a little about your background, your published poetry titles, your work, etc. for them to create a foundation about who you are…

Sara: Thank you so much for having me!

I started dabbling with poetry in middle school after reading Edgar Allan Poe for the first time, and also as catharsis for dealing with middle school in general, especially after my dad passed away when I was twelve. My angsty, broken poetry was my outlet for the emotions I never talked about, but I never realized it was something I could hone and even publish until my undergraduate studies in college.

Since then, I have continued to deeply love reading and writing poetry. Cultivating that love stemmed from having great mentors, peers, and friends who helped me edit, revise, and strengthen my craft. My two poetry collections are Love For Slaughter and The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes. I have dozens of individual poems out there in publications too such as Abyss & Apex, The Sunlight Press, Twisted Moon Mag, and the HWA Poetry Showcase!

Erin: You have published your two poetry books, The Devil’s Dreamland most recently, and obviously enjoy writing poetry, but with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, you must dabble in writing horror short stories or novels as well. How does your mind focus over to writing longer lengths? Is it challenging? Or maybe writing poetry helps your prose?

Sara: Oh yes! I wrote a horror/dark fantasy novel for my MFA thesis and have been writing more short stories over the past two or three years. My goal this year is to actually focus on more prose, which includes editing that thesis novel again.

Poetry has been a huge help. It teaches you how to be concise, to make every word count, to create descriptive and emotive language, and to add rhythm to your words. These lessons from poetry have been instrumental in my prose. Sometimes starting with a poem when I’m feeling stuck or struggling with writer’s block can really help. I like to write poems from the viewpoints of the characters in my prose work, too – it can help me get a stronger feel for who each character is by what they might choose to include or not include in a poem.

Writing longer works is definitely challenging for me though. After my MFA program, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever attempt a novel again, but I’m currently (finally) working on a novel that I am ecstatic about. I am positive it will take me a while to write (it took me over two years to write my MFA thesis novel, after all), but using my confidence from poetry has been a huge help.

Erin: What other stories interest you to tell at length and why? What will your process be to get them onto paper? Do have any tips or tricks that help you succeed at writing goals?

Sara: With poetry, I don’t have to usually outline my ideas as much, but with prose, outlining has become an absolute must! I have story ideas jotted down all over the place, so when I finally choose to roll with one, I always try to outline and keep asking myself questions. I attended a great workshop during my MFA where the instructor encouraged us to keep asking questions of our work and to push past what our first answer would be – this exercise helped me a lot in working around clichés and tropes by questioning what else could happen rather than always going with the first idea or answer that sprang to mind.

Erin: I’m assuming as well that you like research, historical research too, by the publishing of The Devil’s Dreamland. Is that true – do you love research or is it just something has to be done for the end goal? If you like it, what fascinates you about it?

Sara: I absolutely love research. I am prone to getting lost in the research rabbit hole and never emerging. It is so, so fun, but at the same time, I can struggle with knowing when to stop the research and get on with the writing.

The Devil’s Dreamland was a trip to research because I was so desperate to try and understand this man (H.H. Holmes) from the late 1800s with shady records, who was an exquisite liar, and who was just kind of beyond understanding. I had a blast trying though and ended up being proud of the pieces I did connect, the research I did discover – it all came together to create a unique poetry book that can also appeal to true crime and horror fans in general (I hope!).

Erin: What tips do you have for other writers in regard to research? Predominately horror writers are often quoted as not doing or not needing to do a lot of research for their content (as other genres) but do you think that this is changing? Do you find more people delving into the past for story ideas?

Sara: I always research something for my work, even if it is a small piece of information, so I have no idea what these writers are doing, but I do think you should always fact check yourself while writing. Sometimes research is using Google or going to the library, but sometimes it is having a conversation with someone of a certain expertise or background that can help add creativity, realism, and truth to your work. I can’t imagine not embracing research on some level.

Right now, I am aiming to write a historical horror novel that takes place in 1800s Madagascar, so, needless to say research is necessary to add accuracy for the story I want to create. However, sometimes you do need to let certain things go (as I am constantly learning with historical fiction/horror) because if I’m spending five hours researching what glass and windows and gowns might have looked like during this time period and not doing any writing, then that’s where it becomes an issue because I’ll never get the book done! Beta readers experienced in history or the culture you are researching are going to be amazingly helpful.

I do think there is a solid interest in true crime and historical horror right now. Perhaps there is nothing more terrifying than what we as human beings have done to each other in the past; and maybe, given the chaos of current times, reaching into past terrors is our strange way of trying to cope with or warn others about history repeating itself, and about what we are still doing to each other now.

Erin: Being a fellow poet myself, I know that often we are seen to just be writing poetry of our “feelings,” but that’s not always the case. I know myself I do a lot of research for some of my poems if they are based on a myth, legend, historical place, etc. I love to look at images and read about it to get a better “sense.” Obviously, research of serial killer H.H. Holmes for your publication The Devil’s Dreamland was necessary for you. What types of things did you research, read, look at, etc. before you started or while writing your collection?

Sara: I love to look at images, too! It really helps with poetry since you are trying to create something sensational with just a few words. For The Devil’s Dreamland, I did research newspaper headlines, profile sketches, and supposed blueprints of Holmes’ Murder Castle, all of which were eerie and inspired ideas. I read The Devil in the White City, which was fun, but definitely embellished on Larson’s interpretation of Holmes more than I was looking for, so I turned to Adam Selzer’s amazing and extensive research on what was thought to be true and what remains unknown. I really recommend his research to anyone who wants to understand the minute details of Holmes’ case. I also read horror legend Robert Bloch’s American Gothic, which is an inventive fictionalized version of Holmes’ story with Holmes being renamed “G. Gordon Gregg” – I loved it!

I did watch a few documentaries and listened to a podcast or two about Holmes, as well. And, of course, I had to read Holmes’ prison memoir and “confession,” both of which he wrote in jail. I read both of them numerous times, and then proceeded to research analyses of the works to help decipher what he was lying about in his writing, which was a lot! He was a con-man through and through.

Erin: How did writing The Devil’s Dreamland differ from Love for Slaughter? How are they different but how are they alike?

Sara: Love For Slaughter was much more emotional, aiming to focus on the idea of Folie à Deux (madness shared by two), and how love and lust can drive one to the brink of obsession and insanity. It is a bloody, sensual nightmare with visceral depictions of the ways love can consume us. Each poem is meant to have its own story of brutal lovers, but all the pieces fit into the theme.

The Devil’s Dreamland, on the other hand, has a more narrative arc and reads like a story, which I think helps it appeal to people who may be wary of poetry. It is cold, calculating, and dark – much how I interpreted H.H. Holmes to be. I think both collections have some similarities with themes of madness, but I wanted my second collection to be as different from the first as possible. It was important to me to show others and myself that I am capable of writing two very different collections but putting equal time and consideration into both.

Erin: You also teach writing, are a writing coach, and edit poetry – how do you feel about poetry structure today? Are you hard and fast to rules or more of a creative thinker? What is some advice you give to first time writers who want to tackle dark or horror poetry?

Sara: I encourage anyone to write poetry the way they want to – following structure and rules can be a fantastic exercise and challenge, but I love seeing what writers do with free form, too. However, even if you aren’t writing a villanelle or a sonnet, you should still thoughtfully choose your words, read the work aloud to see what the rhythm and flow is like, and evoke the senses as much as possible. It is also so important to read and study the forms and structures of classic poetry as well as the more contemporary free verse poems I see (and write) a lot. Understanding the history of poetry and its development over time can really give you a strong foundation.

To anyone thinking of tackling dark/horror poetry, my main advice is to read as much as possible, but try to discover your own voice along the way – no one is really looking for a mimic of Poe because no one is ever going to write like Poe! Read, write and write some more, and then read and read some more. Talk to poets you love and round up some honest beta readers. Also, one thing that drives me crazy, edit and revise your poetry! Just because it is a short work, does not mean it escapes the need to be edited or heavily revised.

Erin: Then, what is some advice you might give to first time writers of prose?

Sara: Outline! I was a “panster” for the longest time, but becoming a plotter and outlining more has easily helped me create stronger stories. My advice is pretty similar to the above advice with poetry – read good work and know what is happening in your genre. Find a short story you love and dissect it. What does the writer do that captivates you? Analyze the structure, the dialogue, the setting, everything. I also recommend investing in good craft books; I come back to the ones I used in graduate school time and time again.

Erin: How do you think horror writing is evolving?

Sara: One of my favorite aspects of horror writing is that it so often reflects societal and cultural times back at us, like a really disturbing mirror. Women and minorities are angry, and we aren’t going away. I think new work will continue to evolve and stem from these constant oppressions, violence, and dismissal of voices. Literacy is power, and giving writers an outlet like horror to express and address these critical issues is going to have a huge impact on the genre – an impact I look forward to.

Erin: Do you feel like horror is becoming more inclusive to minorities and accepting of diversity? How can writers do a better in the genre in terms of this with their interactions, promotions, acquiring, or even writing characters?

Sara: I think we’re getting there but have a long way to go. I still see too many anthologies using the same writers over and over again, which often does not include much diversity at all. Mostly, I hope to see those in positions of power use their privilege to help promote and seek out diversity. I also think writers can do better by taking the time to interview or talk with people from diverse backgrounds, attend workshops on diversity to learn more about writing characters outside your own race/sex/gender/etc…, and by reading more work from diverse writers.

Erin: I think women in horror are doing some amazing things at the moment. What do you think women writers in horror bring to the table for readers? How can men support them?

Sara: Women have been dealing with inescapable horror since our existence – I think that makes us positively terrifying to behold. When we have that chance to bring those experiences to the table, and to cultivate the darkest pieces of our lives and minds into horror writing, it can create truly powerful and moving work. Womanhood is a complex, strange, and constantly changing thing – yet sharing such moments and twisting them into the characters we create can really affect readers in important ways

Men can support women in horror in so many ways – something small like helping to promote, share, or direct readers to a woman with a great work is always appreciated. There are many male editors and publishers out there who can continue (or start) to reinforce the importance of diversity and promote open calls to online groups of women writers, too. In horror, we all benefit from each other’s success and promotion of the genre.

Erin: You’re in the middle of curating an anthology for StrangeHouse that is all female. Why did you decide to make this a women-only anthology and how did that go in terms of submissions? Is there more female talent out there than the genre is realizing?

Sara: I am so excited for this anthology! Nick Day, who co-owns StrangeHouse, and I were having a conversation one day about some guys on a social media forum who were crying about diversity and women and how difficult it was to get diverse writers into an anthology (eye roll). The whole thing was just gross. Nick had a fabulous idea for StrangeHouse to publish an all-female anthology in response to this nonsense, and he asked me if I’d be interested in editing the book and kind of being in charge of it, so I of course said yes! I love editing, and being able to do something to specifically help bring attention to women in horror makes me so happy and proud of these writers.

Erin: How is the process going overall doing this for the first time? What challenges do you have and what has thrilled you? What will it be called and when is the release?

Sara: The anthology is titled Not All Monsters and should be released in 2020. I have edited for much tinier slush piles before, but I did not expect nearly 300 submissions for this anthology. However, I am glad women from all around the globe have been sending in work for me to read.

Narrowing down what stories to include is beyond difficult. The ladies who submitted really brought their A-game to this open call, and it is going to be heartbreaking to send rejections out, but I am positive those stories will find homes, too. So while passing on stories and deciding what fits the theme best has been a challenge, it has also been amazing to discover new names and keep them on my radar to see what these women do in the future – I have a feeling they will continue to create amazing work.

Erin: What is some advice you can give to writers in terms of making their work publishable AND presenting it as publishable? What do editors want to see and maybe not want to see? Tips?

Sara: Follow the guidelines! For the love of all that is holy or unholy, follow the guidelines, and follow proper manuscript format. Please.

Otherwise, proofread, edit, and revise your work before sending (beta readers are invaluable sources, too). When there are numerous typos on the first page, it is really off-putting to keep reading. It definitely helps to get the story done, take a few days away from it, print it out, and then read it again on paper. I always catch my own mistakes more when I take some time away from a work and print it out to read on a different medium than the computer screen.

And, this is a total pet peeve, but when there is no greeting, no subject, and just nothing in the email but an attachment, it makes me a grumpy editor, too. Put in the subject, say “Dear editor,” and at least sign your name on the email – it looks more courteous and professional rather than just shoving a manuscript at someone and running away.

Erin: And finally, one fun question. What is your favorite writing spot?

Sara: Anywhere that has snacks and coffee! (I love Panera). Usually I just write downstairs in the giant squishy chair and am often joined by my big, nosey cat, Zorro 🙂

Erin: Thank you so much for answering all my grilling questions, Sara! I wish you all the best in 2019!

Sara Tantlinger Biography –

Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. Her dark poetry collections Love for Slaughter and The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes are published with StrangeHouse books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com

Sara’s poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several magazines and anthologies, including the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. II and V, the Horror Zine, Unnerving, Abyss & Apex, the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, 100 Word Horrors, and the Sunlight Press. Currently, Sara is editing Not All Monsters, an anthology that will be comprised entirely of women who write speculative fiction. The anthology is set for a 2020 release with StrangeHouse Books.

Find out more about Sara at her website!

Sarah’s Latest Collection –

The Devil’s Dreamland

H.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century. Many of which occurred within his legendary “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America’s first serial killer.

In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man’s own lifetime.

There’s plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in The Devil’s Dreamland.

“…chilling poetry…” —Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

“…morbidly creative and profound crime documentary…one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years.” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

“…fascinating and absolutely riveting…powerful and vivid prose…will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

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WIHM: An Interview With Sonora Taylor

Hi Sonora, and welcome to The Horror Tree! Since this site is a writer’s resource, these questions will be catered toward that area. I’m so happy you’ve joined us! Let’s get started.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your writing life, and what works you have out there or are working on:

Sonora: Thank you! I am a fiction writer living in Arlington, Virginia; just outside of D.C. I’ve been writing off and on my whole life, but got serious about it in 2016. I’ve written two novels: Please Give, a contemporary fiction novel that was loosely inspired by my work in the non-profit sector; and Without Condition, which is out February 12 and follows a serial killer navigating through her first relationship.

I’ve also written several short stories. I have two collections available: The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, and Wither and Other Stories. My short fiction has also been published by Mercurial Stories, The Sirens Call, and Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven.

Erin: I recently had the pleasure of pre-reading Without Condition, and it was an entertaining ride into revenge in rural North Carolina. 1) Tell readers about the book. 2) What was your inspiration for writing a novel featuring a female serial killer?

Sonora: Without Condition follows Cara Vineyard, a 22-year-old woman who has a deadly side gig. Only her mother knows that she’s a serial killer. Her mother not only knows, but proudly displays souvenirs from her kills on a bulletin board in the house. Things get complicated when Cara meets and falls for a man named Jackson, who doesn’t know her secrets. She knows her mother loves her no matter what, but she isn’t sure Jackson will feel the same – and she doesn’t want to find out.

I was first inspired by an article about the band Ghost. The lead singer, Tobias Forge, used to perform anonymously under various names – Pope Emeritus I-IV, Cardinal Copia, etc. – but he came forward with his identity recently. He said one of the reasons was because his mother was so proud of him that she kept bragging about him to her friends and neighbors in Sweden, and he figured he couldn’t keep it a secret for long.

For those unfamiliar with Ghost, the lead singer frequently performs while dressed as a Satanic priest and in full skull makeup. I found it hilarious imagining this man’s proud mother saying, “That’s my son!” That led to me thinking about what it would be like if the child in question was actually doing bad things and the mother was still proud. I thought of a serial killer, and then to mix things up, I decided to make the killer a woman. The story grew from there, especially once I thought up the woman’s boyfriend.

Taken on a drive down I-40, heading towards Asheville. One of Cara Vineyard’s favorite roads to drive on.

Erin: I believe this is your first horror novel. How did you formulate a plan to write the novel, what was your process, and how did you plot it out to completion?

Sonora: This is my first horror novel, yes. As far back as I can remember writing, my work has always fallen either into contemporary fiction – slice-of-life, etc. – or horror. I actually had some ideas for a second novel that weren’t horror at all. One was a story about a young film studies professor. Another is one I’d still like to write, about two women taking a road trip to different breweries – think The Trip, but with women and beer.

I was trying to write these stories – and getting stuck – while waiting for my editor, Evelyn Duffy, to send back her edits for Please Give. When we met up to discuss Please Give, she told me that, while she enjoyed the book, she thought my talents were more pronounced in my horror. She encouraged me to keep writing horror and to consider a longer horror piece. It was shortly after that when I saw the Ghost article I mentioned before, so I was encouraged to see the idea through to a novel when I realized it was growing beyond my initial, contained idea of a mother who was proud of her murderer daughter.

Because I was editing Please Give, I wrote an outline – only about half of which made the final cut (heh) – and also wrote the first two chapters while I was feeling inspired. I took some time to think about key scenes, write notes, and flesh out some characters (which I’ll talk about further below).

I enjoyed seeing this book grow, especially because it didn’t come to me quite as easily as Please Give. Please Give had plenty of challenges, but sitting down to write and coming up with ideas wasn’t one of them. I think writing a first novel, for all its rewards, also sets you up for quite a challenge with the second book because now you have expectations, both from others and yourself. I’m glad I saw it through, though, because I like seeing how my writing has changed and seeing all the different kinds of stories I can tell.

A truck outside of a popular dairy farm in Orange County, North Carolina. My family and I get ice cream here in the summer.

Erin: Since you live in the Washington D.C. area, and your book was set in North Carolina, did you have to do much research for the descriptive elements of your setting? It certainly felt like the rural south when I read it!

Sonora: I’ve lived in the D.C. area most of my life, almost 21 years as of this interview. However, I also lived in North Carolina for eight years, when my dad was transferred to Durham. We lived in Chapel Hill, I went to high school in Durham, and I went to college at NC State in Raleigh (go Wolfpack). I’ve also spent time in Garner, Clayton, Carrboro, and Asheville for visits; and we regularly drove through Eden and Burlington on our way to visit my relatives in Roanoke, Virginia.

I’ve never lived in a town as small as Leslie (Leslie, Pinesboro, and Egret’s Bay are all fictional N.C. towns, by the way; but every other town mentioned is real). I’ve visited towns that small, though; and the places where I lived were next to towns like Leslie. I based a lot of the look of Leslie on my memories of those places. I also drew on my memories of long drives, hanging out in Raleigh, and spending a lot of time in the woods. My parents and I love hiking. I was a frequent visitor of B Umstead Park in Cary and Eno River Park in Durham. My neighborhood in Chapel Hill was surrounded by woods, and held manmade ponds that my parents, dog, and I liked to walk around, mostly to watch the geese in the winter.

Eno River Trail in Durham, North Carolina. A great place to hike.

Erin: How did you form your characters? Both your protagonist and her supporting cast of characters? Which character was the easier to write? Which was the hardest?

Sonora: I came up with Cara and Delores first, since my initial idea was a proud mother of a daughter that wasn’t doing things worthy of that pride. I knew the story would be from Cara’s point-of-view, but even as I wrote the world around her, I found her to be a tough nut to crack. One challenge I had to overcome was to avoid infusing her with the personality of people I’d written before, especially Beth, the protagonist of Please Give. Early drafts had Cara being more anxious and more sorrowful about what other people thought of her. I knew deep down, though, that a) this wasn’t Cara’s personality, and b) rewriting the same character, but as a serial killer, wouldn’t be interesting for either myself or my readers.

However, to get to that point, I had to write Cara’s story; and as such, I had to write the people around her. Jackson came to me next, and he was probably the easiest character to write. Despite his tendency to get quiet when he’s angry or afraid, he tends to wear his heart on his sleeve, at least when he’s around Cara. He’s not afraid to talk about his life or his fears the way Cara and Delores are. I definitely had to trim down a lot of his dialogue when I was revising – that man can prattle.

I had the opposite problem with Delores. She was the hardest character to write, because – as you’ll see in many of her scenes – getting her to say anything about herself is an almost impossible task. I often grew irritated when writing her scenes with Cara because Delores would either go on offense or refuse to speak. Thus, I was really satisfied with the scenes where she finally did open up (and where I, as the writer, felt it fit her character).

I came up with Cara’s job because of how much the transitory nature of being a delivery girl suited her (and not just for finding victims), and also as a nod to North Carolina’s craft beer scene. I ended up finding a good supporting cast with her coworkers. They went through quite a bit of fluctuation – how many coworkers she had, who they were, etc. I liked that there were people apart from Cara’s mother, boyfriend, and victims that we could see her interact with.

Most of the other characters came through when I finally sat down and wrote her back story, which I’ll talk more about below!

Manmade pond in my old neighborhood in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I loved growing up near trees and water, even if the bodies of water were small.
Erin: Did you have any breakthroughs while writing your book? How did you work

Erin: Did you have any breakthroughs while writing your book? How did you work though any hiccup areas with your writing?

Sonora: I did! It’s always the best feeling when you get past a hiccup area – it’s like a puzzle that finally has enough pieces assembled that you can just drop in the rest without thinking. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about too many of them in-depth because they are spoilery. But I had two that I’m happy to talk about.

One, as I mentioned above, was coming up with Jackson. When it was just Delores and Cara, I had a good idea for a short story, something that was a darkly funny one-time punch. “Oh, ha ha, a mom displays souvenirs from her kid’s kills like tests and drawings. This could go somewhere.” It ended up going to Cara meeting a man that she gets serious with, but who doesn’t know as much about her as her mother does. From there, I found the theme of unconditional love and what it means to say you love someone no matter what. The rest of the story spun out from there.

The other was settling on Cara’s back story, and one that I was satisfied with. This was a portion I had to force myself to sit down and write in order to be able to finish the book. I’d written several portions of the book before this one, but I was getting stuck. I actually had a few different back stories noted and outlined; but as I wrote the rest of the story, they didn’t feel right. I knew, though, that I needed to establish Cara’s why and how if I was going to ask my readers to follow this person for an entire narrative – and of course, I myself wanted to know.

Rather than continue to write her back story in piecemeal, I forced myself to work from beginning to end, Cara as a child to Cara’s first kill. This helped me meet two characters that were only (or mostly) in her past, yet proved to be pretty important parts of her present. It also gave me a sense of how she was treated by her peers and her teachers, what her life was like in Leslie, and how she interacted with her mother when she was more under her mother’s control.

Writing out her back story helped the rest of the narrative, especially the parts I was stuck on, to fall into place. It wasn’t until I wrote other parts that I could see Cara’s history more clearly. This in turn helped me finish the book and round things out in a satisfying manner.

Another manmade pond in a grove in our neighborhood.

Erin: What challenges do you find in self-publishing your work? I almost forgot that it was honestly. How do you do such a good job of making it look so presentable? Any tips and tricks? Any lessons learned to share with others?

Sonora: The biggest challenge is marketing. You have to Always Be Promoting, and the hardest part about that for me is talking about my own work in ways that sell. I get self-conscious about constantly reminding people that my books are for sale, and get even more self-conscious about what to say that doesn’t sound generic, or like I’m patting myself on the back too much.

I find ways, though; and also push past my own fears and just put it out there. I like to hop onboard hashtags or relevant holidays. I also really appreciate people on social media who ask authors to reply with their books. I need to remember to do that myself. I also try to make sure I’m talking about the book as its author first and foremost – what it was like to write it, sharing my excitement over seeing people buy it and read it, sharing pics of me with my proof copies, etc. Yes, it’s marketing; but I also do it because I genuinely want to talk about those aspects of writing. Those are thus a little easier to do in terms of marketing my work.

My biggest tip is to let people who are professionals at each stage of creating the book – the editing, the cover art, and the formatting – do it for you. If you’re a great graphic designer and/or cover artist as well as a great writer, that’s awesome. I’m neither an artist nor a designer, and I’ve read too many horror stories about what happens when a Word doc gets formatted by Amazon. So, I pay someone else to do it. I frequently work with Doug Puller, who does the formatting for both ebook and paperback, and also draws my covers and the title page illustrations.

Even if you’re a great editor, most will tell you to hire another editor to edit your book. I frequently work with Evelyn Duffy of Open Boat Editing, and she’s great. My work has always improved after she gives it her once-over.

My biggest lesson has been allowing myself time to promote the book ahead of its release. For my first couple books, I put them online very shortly after Doug finished formatting them. This didn’t give me much time to get them out for advance reviews or even to settle down and think of ways to market them. I waited to do that after they were available. They haven’t suffered, but I also wish I’d taken some time to nurture them between being finished on my end and being out in the world – if for nothing else, to help with my own sanity come release day. It’s definitely much more peaceful to not be scrambling to put the finishing touches on everything days before release!

Title page illustration for Without Condition. Art by Doug Puller.

Erin: You also write short horror fiction and had a story in the anthology Quoth the Raven, the anthology in homage to Edgar Allan Poe that just recently made the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards. What was the title of your story and what was it about?

Sonora: The title of the story is “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” which takes “The Tell-Tale Heart” and moves it to Instagram. It follows an influencer who thrives on being seen online, but must reconcile that with hiding the fact that she’s murdered her boyfriend. I’ve always liked how the horror of “The Tell-Tale Heart” is all in the narrator’s mind, and how his paranoia comes from how he thinks he’s being seen. I think living our lives online, and performing our lives for an audience, creates its own brand of paranoia; one that translates well into such a story.

Erin: Now that you’ve written several types of work, do you prefer to write short fiction or novels more? Which do you find more of a challenge and why?

Sonora: I don’t have a preference for one or the other. I write more short stories, but that’s kind of a given considering the length. Almost all of my ideas start as short stories, with some growing into novels. After finishing Please Give, I got more ideas that started as novels; but it’s been harder to sit down and follow them through, even when I start to write.

Because of this and other reasons, novels are more of a challenge for me to write. I feel like a lot of my ideas can be wrapped up in 2,000 – 5,000 words. I also find it harder to make sure something is interesting for the length of a novel. Does the premise wear out its welcome after a certain length? How can I increase the stakes? Once I latch onto an idea and how to expand it, writing a novel becomes easier. But more often than not, I find it easier to sit down and write a short story.

In general, I try to just sit down, write, and see how long the story will be. I’m usually steered in the right direction, both by my own writing and by Evelyn’s edits afterward. This is also why I don’t like outlining – it makes me feel pressured to make something longer or shorter than it may end up being.

Photo 8 Caption Umstead-trees: “Trees at B Umstead Park. I spent most of my life near the woods, both in Virginia and in North Carolina.”

 

Erin: Since this is a special edition interview for Women in Horror Month, talk about some of the female author influences or inspirations in horror you’ve had over the years or women you want to read more of while perfecting your craft? And why.

Sonora: So, I admit that while I enjoy reading horror, my formative horror reading years were bad at including women! I’ve been trying to read more horror and dark fiction by women in my adult years, though; and have also found inspiration from women who may not write traditional horror, but who have a knack for darker prose.

One influence is Flannery O’Connor. I like how she’ll present something horrific as mundane – she allows the horror to speak for itself. I’m also inspired by Gillian Flynn. I like how all of her characters are flawed, and there’s no answer as to who’s right or who’s good – not to mention no easy way out from the horrors her characters encounter.

Two other women I admire weren’t known for horror, but their melancholy prose was an influence on my work as well: Edith Wharton and Anita Shreve. They wrote in cold, heavy ways; but you never felt sad or depressed while reading their work. You saw it as just so – which, depending on the story, could be the scariest part.

Erin: What female writers in horror working today do you admire and why?

Sonora: I’ve been excited by all the recent works by women who write horror and dark fiction. I like Carmen Maria Machado a lot. I’ve also only read one book a piece by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Han Kang (My Sister, the Serial Killer and The Vegetarian, respectively), but I greatly enjoyed both.

I’ve also been thrilled to discover so many great women horror authors online and in the indie author scene. I love the short stories of Sheri White and Christa Carmen, and really enjoy Loren Rhoads’ cemetery travel books.

Erin: What are some of your most favorite short stories or books by women in horror you’ve read?

Sonora: A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, “Inventories” by Carmen Maria Machado, The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, and “Ashes to Ashes” by Sheri White; to name a few.

Erin: People still tend to cringe or look away when you say you’re a woman who writes horror. Do you find this in your life? If so, what do you tell people? Why do you write horror?

Sonora: I haven’t found this in my life, no; but I’ve definitely witnessed it. One of the things that irritates me is when people go out of their way to say a work of horror written by a woman isn’t horror. You’ll see things like “dark romance” or “haunting tale” and I think, why not call it horror? I’m fine with “dark fiction,” but otherwise, I think you should call it what it is, and make people realize that what they’re reading by a given woman is absolutely horror.

I write horror because I’m drawn to it, and because the story ideas I find interesting enough to follow through on tend to be dark. I like taking innocent things and giving them a sinister twist – sometimes darkly funny, but always dark. That’s what I like to read and watch, so it makes sense that it’d be what I like to write too. I believe in the mantra of writing what you yourself want to read.

Here I am almost twelve years ago, lounging on some rocks at B Umstead Park outside of Cary, North Carolina. I loved hiking there with my friends when I was at NC State.

Erin: What can the genre do to continue to support female writers?

Sonora: While my issues with genre classification happen at the marketing level, horror publishers in particular should take care to ensure they’re not marketing their women writers any differently from the men. Are they playing up things like naughtiness, or how shocking it is that a woman wrote this? If so, stop. Women have been writing horror for years. Focus on their talents as a writer, not the fact that a GIRL is writing about blood and guts.

While this is more of a service for women readers, I’d also like to make a plea to not rely on assault, rape, or sexual trauma to give a woman character her motivation. I’m so tired of reading horror stories or horror comics where a woman is raped, groped, or otherwise sexually traumatized to get her story going; and in ways her male counterparts almost never are. There are plenty of other ways to drive women in fiction to madness.

Erin: What is up next for you in terms of your writing career?

Sonora: I’m finishing up three short stories in progress, which will be included in my next short story collection. I plan to release a longer collection than my last two, one with 17 pieces so far (both flash fiction and longer short stories). Once I finish those, I’m going to see if the ideas I’ve been getting for my third novel will come into fruition on paper.

Erin: Thanks so much for talking with me today on The Horror Tree! We all wish you the best best in your writing career for 2019 and beyond.

Sonora: You’re welcome! Thanks for speaking with me.

Sonora Taylor, Biography –

Sonora Taylor is the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was published in Camden Park Press’s Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call, a bi-monthly horror eZine; and Mercurial Stories, a weekly flash fiction literary journal. Her second novel, Without Condition, was released on February 12, 2019. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

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Read about Without Condition and Add to GoodReads HERE!

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Steve Stred

Welcome to The Horror Tree, Steve! As a resource site for writers, most of the questions will focus on your writing style, processes, and tips for other authors or aspiring writers. Let’s get started!

Erin Al-Mehairi: Describe your writing style and types of things you write for other writers/readers:

Steve Stred: I write dark, bleak, sorrow-filled horror.  I’m not sure why, but this is what interests me most.  I want to create an atmosphere that envelops the reader and makes them feel what the characters feel.  My stories do not end with “and they lived happily ever after.”

Erin: How did your style evolve?

Steve: I don’t know if my style has evolved.  I would say it’s become more efficient.  A huge part of that has been from conversing with some authors and reading really good releases.  Justin M. Woodward and J.Z. Foster really took me under their wings after I approached them and they made fantastic suggestions about improving my product.  Hand’s down the biggest influencer on my writing has been David Sodergren.  He became my de facto editor and the lessons he’s taught me have resonated.  To know going forward he’s in my corner is such a relief really.  I’ve always processed info a bit differently, at least I think so, so when someone tells me something I implement it immediately.  I think it all started from my sports and athletics days.  I’ve always been referred to as highly coachable, and I think my brain just made that transition to the writing world!

Dim The Sun

Erin: Dim the Sun is your newest release, a collection of dark poetry (which took you out of your normal “writing box”) coupled with a horror short story, and you’re selling it to raise funds for an athlete hoping to represent Canada in the upcoming winter Olympics! What did you learn about your writing or writing process from writing it?

Steve: I think Dim the Sun was a result of three things really.  The first being, I read your release, Breathe. Breathe.  It really kicked my butt about my snobbish views I had developed about poetry.  I used to write poetry all the time.  All the time.  I was in a death-metal/punk type band for a few years and I wrote all the lyrics, which is poetry, but for whatever reason, I didn’t consider it poetry.  Three of the ‘poems’ are the lyrics from three of the old songs.  “(I’m Not) Ready to Die,” “Ashes of Redemption” and “Psychological.”  We had a song called “Darkness” as well but these weren’t the lyrics that are featured in the poem.  The poems in Breathe. Breathe., said so much with so little.  Just violent, visceral paintings.  That’s what jolted me.  So I wanted to push myself beyond simply writing super bleak stories.

The second reason for releasing this wanting to have something out at the end of the year to keep myself in people’s eyes, haha!  Lastly the biggest reason was putting myself out there for my friend Rob Derman.  He’s the man behind the fundraiser.  I tried to make it as an athlete and make it to the Olympics before.  Stating that goal out loud to the world and then physically and mentally attempting to do it is the hardest, loneliest, most stressful thing you’ll ever do.  Everyone will tell you; you’re not good enough, strong enough, fast enough.  Rob was there for me when I had a few emotional breakdowns.  He was there for me as a coach, mentor and a friend when I felt alone and isolated.  He gave up his own time to help me reach my goals.  So when I needed a kick in the pants and knew what he was going to be doing, I used that as motivation to get it released and put it out there.

As for what it taught me about my writing and writing process, it really made me focus on singular words and different variations of saying the same thing but differently.  If you follow!

Erin: You mentioned that to take a crack at writing poetry, you tried to write one each week during your writing time. Did you see a natural progression in them by the end of a few weeks? Did it seem to start flowing easier?

Steve: Yeah, when I decided to do this I wanted to test myself about if I could do it and if so, was it something I would want to have released.  Poetry can be highly, highly personal, and sometimes you don’t want to have others read it.  But you know what, I write a lot of stuff that’s highly personal, just masked as fiction.  I mean, my novel Invisible is 40% autobiographical.  I talk about suffering from depression, spending time in the hospital, attempted suicide.  All super personal.  The ending is based 1000% on one of my biggest fears (which I won’t spoil for anyone).  Stories like For Balder Walks, Jim, Wagon Buddy, all of that has big elements of Steve in it.  Isolation, fear of the unknown, etc.  So I figured it wouldn’t be fair to censor this aspect when I don’t censor any other aspect.  I didn’t find any of it started flowing easier.  I think I found myself more emboldened as time went on to put down words that maybe were a bit more personal.  Of course, there is still fiction ‘stories’ in each poem, but everything I release has a lot of me in it.

Erin: Will trying new things like poetry help your prose in the future?

Steve: That’s a tough one.  I think maybe over all it will just help we work towards different ways to turn a phrase.  I speak differently anyways.  I don’t know if it’s because of where I grew up or how my folks spoke or what, but even now I will write something and a beta reader or Sodergren will comment on the phrase and I’ll realize that no one else in the world says it like that!

Erin: Your short story in Dim the Sun was visceral, tension-filled horror. Is all your work as foreboding and full of dread? Where does this dark writing stem from?

Steve: Short answer – Yup.  I have exceptions to that, such as Jim and Mr. Tross, but they are not happy tales.  Jim is a story about a man who finds out he only has three days to live but doesn’t know how he will die.  And Mr. Tross is a tale about the character transforming over his life and the struggle of having a family and a kid.  They are sad stories, filled with sorrow.  But as I said, I write bleak stuff.  I think a lot of it came from where I grew up.  I had a great childhood, but I was born and raised in a very small town in the middle of nowhere.  It snowed a lot, my dad worked a lot and I had 3 younger sisters who lived with us, so I was the only boy.  I had some friends but for the most part, it was just me and my imagination.  I’ve also experienced a lot of crumby stuff and I think that all works towards my overall tone.  Plus, I personally just like dark, visceral, grotesque carnage!  I draw huge inspiration from nature and the woods, and what lurks there, and I can relate that all back to where I grew up.

Erin: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with any of your writing (and did you persevere)?

Steve: The biggest challenge I think was simply releasing that first thing.  The first thing I put out for public viewing was my story For Balder Walks.  It’s a frightening first step.  I went through KDP on Amazon and clicking that Submit for Publishing button could have made me puke.  I mean, I felt infinitely proud at the fact I created THIS thing that I wanted to share, but then it’s out of your hands and available for everyone.  When you are an indie author, you learn a lot of lessons along the way, but that first step of clicking submit.  Wow.  I remember that vividly.

Erin: What is your biggest pet peeve about the writing process and how do you handle it?

Steve: Oh that’s easy; having a thousand things I want to write and only a finite amount of available time!  I mean, marketing yourself and promoting your releases and begging folks to buy your stuff, read it AND review it, is always a hard aspect of doing this, but I have a folder on my cloud drive with about 50 word docs with a paragraph description of an idea, and god knows when I will get to them!

Erin: You have a busy full-time job and a family which includes a young son. What are some suggestions you have for other writers as to finding consistent time to write?

Steve: I think I use a lot of my background from being an athlete for this.  I’m pretty regimented with my schedule.  Monday to Thursday I get an hour lunch at work, so I eat within the first 10-15 minutes and then write the next 45 minutes straight.  Or edit or whatever needs to be done.  I have two 15 minute breaks as well which I use to do things as well.  Friday’s I only get a thirty minute lunch, so I have three 15 minute blocks of writing.  So I think prioritizing time is ideal.  If that means waking up a few minutes early or staying awake a few minutes later than normal then do that.  If it’s truly your dream to write something and release something, find the time.  No excuses.  How much time does a typical person spend each day on the various social media platforms?  Lose 15 or 20 of those minutes and put down 1000-2000 words in that time.

I typically lay out most of my stuff in my head beforehand and know where the story is going, so I can write down anywhere from 2000-10,000 words in a day.

I’m the same with reading.  I love reading and have started to spend a bit of time reviewing books.  Some on my own but most through the fantastic Kendall Reviews site.  People always ask how I read so much.  Schedule and prioritize.  I read 45 minutes a night on the book for review and then 45 minutes on two other books.  Depending on how the chapters fall, it’s usually 25 minutes on one and 20 on another.  I read nice and fast so within the 90 minutes a night of reading, I can usually read between 100-200 pages.

Erin: How do you deal with writer’s block or those times a manuscript throws up a road block?

Steve: I don’t know if I have ever had real writer’s block before.  I say that because if I get to a spot on a work in progress and get stumped, I will simply put it aside and work on something else.  So while I may get to a road block on one thing, I can detour around it by switching lanes.  I will come back to it sooner than later, but sometimes letting something sit works best for me.  I also don’t mind working on multiple things at one time.

Erin: Do you edit during or afterwards? How many drafts do you usually go through before sending to an editor or putting up for release?

Invisible

Steve: That’s changed over the course of my young writing career.  Previously I would write it down, then edit it as best I could, then re-write it and then edit it as best I could.  But it’s apparent I’m not that proficient at editing overall.  Now though, the lessons learned from Sodergren, Woodward and Foster have paid off big time.  I even notice that as I write it’s written at a higher level than before, if that makes sense.  Even my beta readers/street team have commented on that.  I’ve made the mistake before of releasing stuff too soon, too fast, excitedly wanting to have it out there for folks to read, and it just had way too many errors.  So I made sure to re-edit it and fix those mistakes.  That’s a blessing I guess of the indie author.  As for number of drafts, that’s really changed over time.  My novel Invisible I think was ten drafts, which is the most I’ve ever done for a release.  Typically I would say three or four.

Erin: What technology and how many devices do you use to write? How effective is it for you? If it’s something other than Word, can you explain likes/dislikes, advantages/disadvantages?

Steve: Just two really.  The computer at work (or the rare times at home) and my phone.  If I use my phone, I just email it to myself.  I find it easier to then copy and paste it into a word doc.  And I simply use Word.  It’s here, it’s on my computer and boom, there we go!  I have had most of my recent stuff formatted by J.Z. Foster and he uses Vellum, which made the finished product look phenomenal, but I couldn’t tell you any pro’s or con’s at all about that program.

Erin: Do you belong to any writing groups, in person or online? If so, do you find them helpful?

Steve: I wish I was in a writing group in person.  Truly, I simply don’t have time to attend any.  I’m on a few online pages that I follow for tips, tricks etc. (Indie Author Coalition, 20booksto50k, etc.) but that’s it.  I do find them helpful, but I mostly stay on the periphery.  Rarely do I ask questions.  For the most part, what I need answered has been asked before several times over so I will spend some time searching things out.  If there is something I specifically am looking for to be answered, I will usually message another author and ask their thoughts or what they’ve done.

Erin: What propels you to keep writing? When you have a low point, where do you find encouragement?

Steve: Great question.  I think what propels me to keep writing is the joy I get from creating something.  Seeing where my mind takes a character and developing that story line.  I’ve always written just for me, and the fact anyone out there has read any of my stuff, likes it/hates it or wants more is mind-blowing.  I’ve also always written to make my son proud.  So that one day he might hold one of my books and think ‘Wow, that’s so cool that my dad did this.’

When I have a low point, I find encouragement from all the other fantastic folks from the various platforms.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.  All the readers who read and the writers who write.  I’m one of the rare folks who don’t get social media envy.  I truly want to see what awesome things you are up to, what things folks take their kids too and I want to congratulate everyone when they get good news!

Much like music, reading and writing have literally saved my life at various points over the years.  I think I owe it back to the art to keep trying to create my perfect release.

Erin: What’s the BEST writing day you ever had and what made it so?

Steve: The best day of writing is always those days when I type THE END.  It might be draft 1 or draft 5 or whatever that story needed, but every single time I type THE END, I get excited, because I’ve just created something.  I am always proud of that thing I’ve created, but what a feeling when you type that.

About Dim the Sun

Dim the Sun is a collection of 14 dark poems and one bleak horror short story.  Focusing on pain, fear, anger, depression and anxiety Steve Stred brings you deep into his mind to share some truly unnerving moments.  This is Steve Stred’s first collection of poetry he has released.

GoodReads

Amazon

Dim the Sun Proceeds to Olympic Hopeful

Steve’s friend Rob (spoken of above) coached at the recent Winter Olympics, and after that experience, he decided to come out of retirement and try to qualify for the next Games in 2022 as an athlete in the Skeleton again. I wanted to be able to help him in some way, just like when people helped me before. Because of that, all proceeds from this will be going towards Rob and his journey, which isn’t much, but as self-funded athletes know, every little bit helps. You can purchase Dim the Sun, with proceeds going to Rob or if you would like to donate directly to Rob you can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/2022-olympic-dream-phase-1

Author Steve Stred –

Steve Stred is an up-and-coming Dark Horror author.  Steve is the author of the novel Invisible, the novellas Wagon Buddy, Yuri and Jane: the 816 Chronicles, and two collections of short stories—Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery and Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick.  His most recent release is the dark poetry collection Dim the Sun.

Steve also has a number of works on the go and enjoys all things horror, occult, supernatural, and paranormal and is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada, where he lives with his wife, his son, and their dog OJ.

Find him online at stevestredauthor.wordpress.com

Twitter.com/stevestred

Facebook.com/stevestredauthor

Instagram – stevestred

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

An Interview on Writing with Gwendolyn Kiste, Author of The Rust Maidens

Hi Gwendolyn! I’m so happy to have you stop by to chat with us. As you know, The Horror Tree is a resource for writers, so the questions today will primarily focus on your writing and processes in order to showcase your personal stamp on the profession. Let’s chat about writing!

Erin Al-Mehairi – Describe your writing style for other writers/readers:

Gwendolyn Kiste – I would say that my style takes direction from fairy tales and folklore as well as some classic 20th century authors like Ray Bradbury, Angela Carter, and Shirley Jackson. Readers have used the word, lyrical, more than once in reviews of my work, so that might be a good descriptor too. It’s funny, because this seems like it should be an easy question, but I feel like I’m just the writer, and it’s up to the reader to decide exactly what kind of author I am!  

Erin – How did your style evolve?

Gwendolyn – Over the last two years, I would say that I’ve honed my style and really decided the kind of writer I’d like to become, at least for the moment. Especially with genre, I’ve winnowed down my work a lot more. In the beginning, I wanted to explore everything in terms of genre and style, but as I was putting together my first collection at the end of 2016, I really started seeing what seems to work best for me as a writer. So while I certainly plan to take forays back into science fiction and other genres, for the time being, horror, dark fantasy, and the weird are the places I feel most comfortable and excited to explore.

Erin – The Rust Maidens is your newest release (Nov 2018) and debut novel. What did you learn about your writing or writing process from writing The Rust Maidens?

Gwendolyn – So much really. A novel is a whole different experience than a novella or a collection of short fiction. With a short story, I can keep all the moving parts in my mind without taking a huge amount of notes. A novel, however, involves managing a tremendous amount of information, especially with a historical book that will need time period details checked and rechecked. Editing a novel is also a more intense experience than a novella or a collection, in part because of length and also because with a short fiction collection, you’ve often had the previously published pieces through edits already, so they’re more print-ready, so to speak.

Also, since I developed this novel with Trepidatio rather than submitting an already finished book, it went through edits at an earlier stage than I’m used to. Perhaps I shouldn’t put this in print anywhere, but the first draft needed some real work, which I very much knew when I sent that draft in, but wow, I seriously shudder when I remember that version. Many of my now favorite moments in the book were underwritten or entirely absent in that first draft.  It took some real work to get it to where it is now, but what an incredible process overall. Intense and draining and something that I’ll carry with me and how I write for the rest of my career.

Erin – After being Bram Stoker nominated for your collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe in 2017, how did that impact the writing you’ve done since? Empower you? Inspire? Or do you feel pressure?

Gwendolyn – It’s truly such an honor, and in particular, to be nominated for my first book, it feels like something I want to keep earning, if that makes sense. Ideally, I would love for that nomination to be something that doesn’t seem like a weird anomaly in ten years. I don’t want it to be an accomplishment from some writer who never did anything else. Like “Gwendolyn Who?” So it definitely keeps me inspired to keep striving to be the best writer I can be. But truly, so many things make me want to keep striving. My family, my fellow writers who are working so hard and inspire me every day, the readers who have reached out to me to say that they’ve enjoyed my work. I want to work as hard as I can to write stories that keep everyone entertained. I mean, no pressure, right?

Erin – What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with your writing (and did you persevere)?

Gwendolyn – Getting over my fear of rejection has probably been the biggest challenge. When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer so badly, but after a few comparatively minor setbacks, I stepped away from writing for a long time because I knew I couldn’t handle the rejection of the industry. However, six years ago, I decided I couldn’t let that fear keep me from trying something I’d always wanted to do. So I’ve worked on dealing with how many times you’ll be told “nope, that story is not for us.” That’s not to say it’s ever easy exactly, but I definitely have a better perspective on things now, which has made that inevitable part of the writing process more bearable.

Erin – What is your biggest pet peeve about the writing process and how do you handle it?

Gwendolyn – I’m impatient by nature, so sometimes, when I get to the fine-tuning point, especially in a first draft when I just want a complete story, I have the instinct to rush to the end. But it never works out, since that just means I have way more work in the subsequent drafts. So I guess my pet peeve is getting the little nuances and final beats finished in the first draft, when all I want is to be able to read the story from top to bottom. As for handling it… I wish I had some great trick I use, but mostly I just grumble my way through it. Lots of scowling and reminding myself that it’s part of the journey. If I’m in a particularly impatient mood, I might step away for an hour or a day and come back to the piece with fresh eyes. That way, it feels a little less like banging my head against the laptop keyboard. 

Erin – How do you deal with writer’s block or those times a manuscript throws up a road block?

Gwendolyn – Apart from my aforementioned coping mechanism which involves copious amounts of scowling, I have no problem stepping away from a manuscript for a day, a week, or a year if needed. If something’s not working, then I take a break. I’m not a “write every day” kind of writer, so if I feel stuck with ideas, I’ll take some time and reconnect with literature or films that I love. I’ve often found that studying the things that inspire me most can remind me what I love about storytelling. Then I’m reenergized to start again.

Erin – Do you edit during or afterwards? How many drafts do you usually go through before sending to an editor?

Gwendolyn – For most stories, I go through about three drafts, though of course it depends on the project. I do edit a bit as I go, but most of my editing doesn’t happen until after a full first draft is finished. I personally find it much easier to rework a whole piece rather than try to fix it up piecemeal. That first draft can be crucial for seeing the shape of the story and what direction I want it to take. Once I’ve got that figured out, editing is a much smoother ride.

Erin – Do you belong to any writing groups, in person or online? If so, do you find them helpful?

Gwendolyn – I’m actually not part of any writing groups currently. I most definitely think writing groups can be immensely helpful, but at this point, I haven’t found any locally in Pittsburgh that I’ve been able to attend. As for online groups, that’s still a possibility, but I also haven’t located one yet. We shall see, I suppose!

Erin – One of the great things you do on your blog for fellow writers is a Submissions Round-up which lists some of the open subs/markets you find every month or so. What are the best ways you’ve found to find these submission calls?

Gwendolyn –  Well, we’re in fact on one of my favorite sites right now! The Horror Tree is an absolutely amazing resource! Not a month—and often not a week—goes by that I’m not on here, checking out what’s up in the submission world. I also peruse Dark Markets, and in the past, I’ve used Duotrope and Submission Grindr. Throughout the month, I keep an eye out on social media and jot down notes on any cool submission calls I see. Then when the deadlines get close, I add them to the month’s Submission Roundup post. It’s definitely a multipronged approach, and I’m always sad when I realize too late that I overlooked a great submission call, but unfortunately, it can happen. So I just keep an eye out and see what I come up with each month.  

Erin – What is your advice when pitching a piece or body of work in the submission process?

Gwendolyn – Keep it simple. When I initially pitched my novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, to Broken Eye Books, and my novel, The Rust Maidens, to Trepidatio, I tried to streamline the overall ideas to their simplest parts. Too much too early can look like a mess in the pitch phase. It’s also easier for the writer if you don’t create something so elaborate that it becomes unwieldy. So a streamlined pitch, at least in my experience so far, is the way to go.

Erin – What’s the BEST writing day you ever had and what made it so?

Gwendolyn – The one that jumps to mind happened just this past summer—the day I sent the final edits of The Rust Maidens to Jess Landry, my editor at Trepidatio. It was the Saturday of Readercon in Massachusetts, and it was the end of a very long day of meeting with other writers and attending panels and all the other exhaustion/fun that goes with these events. I’m not sure how many writers actually write at cons, but I decided that I didn’t want to wait until I got home to officially wrap up the novel. So that evening, I completed the edits on the book, which were really only a few minor tweaks by that point. Then after I hit “send” on the email, I immediately put on my favorite ridiculous bunny-print mini-dress and went downstairs with my husband to celebrate with drinks. In all fairness, there wasn’t a ton of writing that day, but to be in an atmosphere surrounded by literature and other writers when I put the finishing touches on my first novel really felt like everything fell into place. It’s surreal to complete a book anyhow, and having that moment there at a writing convention, just seemed too perfect.

Erin – Best advice for fellow writers?

Gwendolyn – Keep going. Keep writing what you believe in. Write the stories that resonate with you. Write the stories that you wish existed in the world. Write what you love, but don’t be afraid to push yourself. But above all, no matter how difficult it gets, if you still love the craft, just keep going. Everything else will work out in the end.

Erin – Thanks so much once again, Gwendolyn! I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future. 😊

Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated fiction collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books; and her debut novel, The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, LampLight, and Three-Lobed Burning Eye as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Chilling Horror Short Stories anthology, among others.

A native of Ohio, she currently resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can also find her online at her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Gwendolyn’s latest release is The Rust Maidens, is from Trepidatio Publishing, and can be purchased via JournalStone or on Amazon.

“Kiste makes her novel debut with this dramatic and absorbing story… This is a tale of friendship, monsters, and growing up, a lyrical and character centered story filled with danger and horrible consequences” — Booklist

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why–except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens–and her own unwitting role in the transformations–before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

 

The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Eric S. Brown

Hi Eric, and welcome to Horror Tree! I’m so glad I get to finally sit down and talk to you. It’s been quite the lengthy experience researching all your many books and tracing your career. Coffee or what type of drink to start?

Eric: I’m a coffee person too though I typically prefer mine cold and black. 

Erin: Wonderful, we’ll have coffee then, yours cold and black, mine hot with plenty of cream and sugar. Now that we’re settling, let’s jump right in! Firstly, Eric Brown is a common name even in writing and film, so let’s set it straight which Eric YOU are Eric S. Brown. Tell us a short bit about yourself and what you do.

Eric: I’m a professional horror and science fiction writer living in rural North Carolina. I’ve been a comic book collector since I was four years old, am a diehard BSG fan (or Colonial if you prefer) and am married with two children and two cats. In the last seventeen years I have had over one hundred novels and novellas published along with over five hundred short stories. I’ve also edited a handful of anthologies and currently write ongoing columns for both a local newspaper and Altered Reality Magazine. I’ve written for places as large as Simon and Schuster and Baen Books and places as small as Great Old Ones Publishing and MoonDream Press. As long as there is a paycheck involved, I will write for just about anyone. I became a writer because of my love of genre fiction and comics but it was reading the works of David Drake that taught me how to write. The man is my personal hero of the writing world and I have had the pleasure to meet and work with him on various projects several times. And I suppose I should mention that some of work has been adapted into film. “Bigfoot War” was the first (and most infamous) of those but “Werewolf Massacre at Hell’s Gate” and “Cult of the Shadow People” were produced by a smaller company as well.   

Erin: I’ve scoured through your Amazon and GoodReads and other such pages and my eyes started to bug out realizing how many books you’ve written. From bigfoot to underwater creatures, what is your favorite to write about?

Eric: My favorite changes all the time. I spent eight years writing mainly just zombie stuff, then several more years doing pretty much nothing but Bigfoot horror. This year at least, Mecha, vampires, and psionics have been what I have enjoyed most. I had wanted to do a novel that combined all three of those for a long while but never found a publisher crazy enough to take something like that on until I met Chris Kennedy. His company is truly amazing. I had already done a short story and a book for his Seventh Seal Press imprint set in the best-selling Four Horsemen universe, so I pitched my idea to him and we settled on a deal for a novel entitled “Psi-Mechs Inc”. I wrote the first Psi-Mechs Inc. novel in about a month. When it was released, it did well and was expanded into a trilogy including the sequel novels “Darker Nights” and “The Vampire War.” Chris’s Blood Moon Press imprint released the entire trilogy this year. After that, I went on to write a purely SF novel for Theogony Books, entitled “Miranda’s War,” that is set for release this December 21st. I owe Chris a lot not just for having faith in my work but convincing me that I could write full length novels. Up until “Psi-Mechs Inc.,” I had never written a full-length novel on my own without a co-author but thanks to Chris, I’ve hammered out four already this year. 

Erin: Where do you get your ideas for them from and how do you structure your work. Do you outline or write at will?

Eric: I grew up a horror, SF, and comic book geek so I like to think I am pretty well versed in those genres. Coming up with ideas isn’t really a hard thing. I just think about what I would like to see out there as a fan and run with that. In addition, I have gotten to a point with some publishers like Severed Press where I just write whatever sort of book they happen to need at the moment. Sure, it takes some creativity out of things in a sense but it allows me to write full time knowing I will Lord willing have work that is waiting for me when I finish whatever current project I am doing. As to outlining, I have done it but I usually don’t and certainly never on anything smaller than a full length novel. 

Erin: What advice do you have for other writers who want to write good action sequences into their books?

Eric: Read David Drake, especially his Hammer’s Slammers series. The man couldn’t write a bad action scene if you held a gun to his head and threatened his life over it. Reading his work is how I learned to write action. 

Erin: I saw that the first book in your Bigfoot Wars series was made into a feature film by Origins Releasing. What was the process for you like? What did it entail?

Eric: It all started kind of strange. Studio 3 Entertainment was making a new “Legend of Boggy Creek” film and the director was looking for someone to do a novelization of it. At the time, “Bigfoot War” was huge and fairly unique. He found me because of that book and not only hired me for the novelization but optioned “Bigfoot War” at the same time. Two years went by and I figured nothing would ever come of the option then one day I got a call out of the blue telling me that the project had been given the greenlight. I had my contract a day or two later and got paid for the rights that summer. It was a pretty amazing experience to sell movie rights. I think every writer hopes for that on some level. I however made the mistake that a lot of writers just getting into movies make and allowed the number of zeroes on the check to blind me to the fact that I would have no creative control on the project. I hated the movie but remain thankful for it to this day because that check bought my family and I a lot of freedom for several years. And keep in mind that beyond signing the contract and cashing the check, I had no involvement with the movie whatsoever.

Erin: I saw that one of the executives during the announcement of the film in 2013 said “It seems that interest in Cryptozoology and creatures such as the Bigfoot is timeless and evergreen. It never dies.” Do you think that’s still true, and if so, why?

Eric: I think so. People are always going to be fascinated by the unknown whether that is space travel or monsters lurking in the woods or sewers. There is a great escapism to spending your time reading, watching, or dreaming about those types of things. 

Erin: Just this year, you’ve released I believe at least ten creature novellas and novels mostly all from Severed Press, from Sasquatch to Kraken. I am most excited for Terror Krakens, as I love anything ocean or sea horror/thriller. Firstly, how are you so prolific? What is your writing schedule entail that you can publish so many books?

Eric: Actually, I have had fifteen new books released this year as well as an anthology I complied for Crystal Lake Publishing. I have two more books slated for release by the end of the year as well. As to how I am so prolific, well, I have bills to pay and kids to feed. Not much of a choice really. One had to work to keep the money coming in. It doesn’t hurt that I really enjoy what I do most of the time either.  I don’t really have a set writing schedule. I just get try to dive straight into writing as soon as my wife and kids are out the door in the morning. I like to aim for at least three thousand words a day but that doesn’t always happen. Some days it’s a struggle to get just a thousand and others I can do five thousand or more easily. I’ve been told I am a fast writer, but I don’t see myself that way. I tend to think I am a slacker and know that I could do more than I do if I didn’t read so many comics, etc.

Erin: Oh, wow I counted wrong then. That’s a lot of books! Secondly, how do you research for these various titles and provide examples?

Eric: Yeesh. I don’t really research at all for my monster books unless it’s military jargon or weapons.  I’ve been doing monsters for so long now I am comfortable just writing most of the time. For other books like “Casper Alamo” though, I really had to learn a lot. I wanted to retell the story of the Alamo with Mecha vs. Aliens while keeping it as close to the real-life battle as I could and spent hours learning about the Alamo and its defenders. 

Erin: You also released “Beyond Night” in collaboration with co-author Stephen L. Shrewsbury, which I found interesting myself upon its release as it has fantasy, action, sorcery, horror, historical fiction all rolled into one novel (meshing a lot of my favorite genres together). In the back-cover copy for the title it states: It’s Bigfoot War mixed with Lovecraftian horror on the edge of the Roman Empire. How do you come up with scenarios like this and how do you convince a publisher to take something like on?

Eric: As I have mentioned, I love the works of David Drake. Dave has written a good deal of Roman books over the years and I really wanted to take a stab at following in his footsteps in that regard. Dave is a real scholar while I am just a geek who writes stories so that where Shrews came in. He knows his history, so we tackled that one together. “Beyond Night” is a very Robert E. Howard/David Drake style book. As to how I convinced the publisher, I have no idea. I just asked them and they said yes. I guess looking at my past books they hoped I knew what I was doing. 

Erin: How much research and planning went into it? How did Stephen and you handle co-writing this? What was the process?

Eric: Shrews (Stephen) carried the weight and did all the hard work on the novel. History is his thing. I just came up with the story idea, turned him loose on it, and added a lot of angry beasts tearing folks apart. 

Erin: You have co-authored many other things with various authors as well over a 17-year career. Do you like working with a co-author? What are the positive merits you love and what are the challenges?

Eric: I love working with other writers. It’s always cool to blend two different styles of writing and ways of approaching a given story. The most challenging part for me is usually waiting on my co-author’s next section to come in. I can be pretty driven to get things done and move at a decently fast pace. 

Erin: What would you tell someone who is hesitant to co-write a book with someone else?

Eric: As long as you make sure the person you’re working with is someone you’re comfortable with, there shouldn’t be anything stopping you from doing it. Just know that the book is a team effort and expect to be ready to compromise when you need to. 

Erin: I noticed you often mix history into your various books and it’s safe to say you write across several genres with many of your books. What do you think this lends you as an author as opposed to someone who writes strictly only one genre?

Eric: Nah, not really. I just write what I enjoy whether that’s Roman soldiers, old west gunfighters, or the battlefields of World War II. I’ve always enjoyed reading period stuff so writing it was just something that came naturally to me, I guess. As to your question, I have always believed that a writer can write anything if they put effort into it. Having a varied background in my own fandom though I think may allow me blend things in ways that other writers might not. 

Erin: To go back to the beginning of your career for a moment, many say in 2003 with your first book, you become an expert on the zombie genre. How did evolve? And then how did (it seems it did) your work evolve out of the zombie genre?

Eric: I count it as 2001 with the publication my first story in Burning Sky magazine # 9 which was indeed a zombie story. When I started out, I wanted to be a Military SF writer like David Drake but lacked his real-life military background. At the time, I lived and breathed zombies. I watched all the movies and read most of what few books there were back then as it was before zombies were mainstream. And since it was my zombie stories that sold, those are what I wrote. Don’t get me wrong, I loved writing them too. After eight years of writing tons of zombie stories, people in the small press just started calling me “the king of zombies.” Of course, again this before or right as they were making a comeback. 

As the sub-genre really got popular again, I switched over to writing Bigfoot Apocalypse books like “Bigfoot War.” I credit a lot of folks thinking I am an expert to Jonathon Maberry’s book “Zombie CSU.”
I had taken some extensive time away from writing when my son was born and was shocked when Mr. Maberry wanted to interview me in the book. I ended up having a larger interview in it than Robert Kirkman (mind-blowing but true!) After that, Simon and Schuster hunted me down and picked up the rights to “War of the Worlds Plus Blood Guts and Zombies.” I didn’t even have an agent. I had to get one just to work with them even though they came to me. That was the peak of my time writing zombies and by then I was tired of them as a writer and moved on to Bigfoot horror and other things. 

Erin: How did it feel to write a book with H.G. Wells? *wink* In all seriousness, you did technically as I noticed your “War of the Worlds Plus Blood Guts and Zombies” you had written years ago, in which you interspersed content in the way of “Pride of Prejudice Zombies,” correct? That’s pretty interesting! What was that writing process like and how did you make it flow so seamlessly? Were there any rules you had to follow?

Eric: Well, he was dead so I pretty much had control. I was hired to rewrite “War of the Worlds” into a serious zombie apocalypse novel, not just a parody like the ones that were being cranked out at that time. It was a very easy gig. All I had to do was rewrite an existing novel adding lots of undead and gore along the way. I want to say it took me about two weeks to do it. It was a crazy small amount of work considering what I got paid. As to how I made it flow, I just re-read a lot of Wells before I started and did my best to mimic his voice. 

Erin: How important do you think it is for an author to find a saleable niche? Do you write what you love or write what sells and in your case is it both?

Eric: I write what pays the bills first and foremost. As a family guy I have to. That said, I really look forward to when a publisher agrees to let me do something I want because of the sales on the things I did for them. Even while I am cranking out whatever books the publishers I work with need, I am usually dreaming about the next project that’s something I just really want to do like “Bigfoot War” and “Psi-Mechs Inc.” were. 

Erin: Of your various series, which monsters do you like best personally: Bigfoot, Megalodon, Kraken, Kaiju, etc. and why?

Eric: I owe a great deal of the success I have had in my career to “Bigfoot War” and it was a very personal book for me as well. That said, I like writing mecha and genre bent, war stories in general more than anything else. 

Erin: Which ones are most popular with the public or readers?

Eric: “Bigfoot War” remains the most popular of everything I have done even surpassing my mass market novel with Simon and Schuster or the stories I have done for Baen. “Bigfoot War” was very unique and different when it was released all those years ago and it’s still, I am told, a very fun horror read today. 

Erin: This year also saw the release of your collected stories of The Monster Society from Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, whom you wrote stories for under his 1632 Grantville Gazette universe. Because I love history, it sounds intriguing to me. Can you tell me a bit about both, the latter first, and then about your collected stories you released this year….

Eric: I am a fan of Baen Books largely because of David Drake and though he’s my favorite, he’s not the only Baen author I read. I had read and liked Eric Flint’s 1632 series and randomly met the editor of the Grantville Gazette at a con. He asked me to try my hand at a story and before I knew it, I had over a dozen stories published in the Gazette. Nine of those were about a group of kids who are heavily into LARP (live action roleplaying) and made up a series entitled The Monster Society. The series was shockingly well received by readers of the Gazette despite being more of a coming of age tale that just happened to be set in Flint’s world than any actual alternate historical events. And as you mentioned, the collected edition of them was just released by Ring of Fire Press this year. If you’re the sort of person who enjoys stuff like “Stranger Things,” odds are you will enjoy them too. 

Erin: I know I’ve exhausted you with these questions, but I think researching how much content you put out exhausted me. 😊 In all seriousness, do you do this for your actual day job? If so, what advice can you give to other authors about writing process, quotas, and the business to help them formulate decisions on becoming a full-time writer?

Eric: Writing is my day job. It’s not always easy but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I feel very blessed to pay the bills making up stories. If you’re a new writer just write every day, as much as you can, and don’t be afraid to send your work out to editors. Don’t waste your time with writing groups, family members, or friends reading it. Get it into the hands of someone who can buy it. 

Erin: Any rituals or quirks to your writing process?

Eric: Yes. I write in my car. It started when I was the assistant manager of a video rental store and would write in the parking lot outside of it before going home every night. My car just became my “zone” for writing and has stayed that way ever since. I also like to listen to music while I write, mostly Rush. 

Erin: What’s next for you in 2019?

Eric: Not sure yet. I am at work on a new Bigfoot book currently and my next SF novel, “Miranda’s War,” is slated for December 21st release at the end of this year. I guess we’ll have to wait and see together.

Erin: Thanks so very much Eric for being patient with me and answering all these questions. Congratulations on such an extensive career and best wishes for the future!

Eric: Thanks for having me over. This was fun.

 

Eric S Brown Biography –

Eric S Brown is the author of numerous book series including the Bigfoot War series, The Psi-Mechs Inc. series, the Kaiju Apocalypse series (with Jason Cordova), the Crypto-Squad series (with Jason Brannon), and the A Pack of Wolves series. Some of his stand alone books include War of the Worlds plus Blood Guts and Zombies, Casper Alamo (with Jason Brannon), Sasquatch Island, Day of the Sasquatch, Bigfoot, Crashed, World War of the Dead, Last Stand in a Dead Land, Sasquatch Lake, Kaiju Armageddon, Megalodon, Megalodon Apocalypse, Kraken, Alien Battalion, The Last Fleet, and From the Snow They Came to name only a few. His short fiction has been published hundreds of times in the small press in beyond including markets like the Onward Drake and Black Tide Rising anthologies from Baen Books, the Grantville Gazette, the SNAFU Military horror anthology series, and Walmart World magazine. He has done the novelizations for such films as Boggy Creek: The Legend is True (Studio 3 Entertainment) and The Bloody Rage of Bigfoot (Great Lake films). The first book of his Bigfoot War series was adapted into a feature film by Origin Releasing in 2014. Werewolf Massacre at Hell’s Gate was the second of his books to be adapted into film in 2015. Major Japanese publisher, Takeshobo, bought the reprint rights to his Kaiju Apocalypse series (with Jason Cordova) and the mass market, Japanese language version was released in late 2017. Ring of Fire Press has released a collected edition of his Monster Society stories (set in the New York Times Best-selling world of Eric Flint’s 1632). In addition to his fiction, Eric also writes an award-winning comic book news column entitled “Comics in a Flash” as well a pop culture column for Altered Reality Magazine. Eric lives in North Carolina with his wife and two children where he continues to write tales of the hungry dead, blazing guns, and the things that lurk in the woods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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