WIHM: A World Without Horror

A World Without Horror

By: L. Bachman

Sit back, inhale with your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Now that you’re in a better more comfortable position I want you to do something for me. Imagine for a moment, if you will, a world without horror.

Now that you’re picturing it in your mind’s eye you’ve probably imagined a world without wars, starving children, or intolerance. You may have pictured an ideal location–a utopia if you will, of bliss and happiness. With skies above the shades of the palest of blues and the most romantic of pinks and purples. Clouds dotting along ignorant of anything other than peace and calm, even ignoring the blazing brilliance of a sun rising or perhaps setting depending on the mood upon which you’re imaging. Now that you have pictured this beautiful moment in time, you’re also picturing a world of unadulterated fantasy.

Horror is born of the darkness that rises after the sun sets. Life everlasting breathed into it from the chattering of teeth from your bedroom closet. Even that little repetitious tapping of the glass that wakes you from your slumber. It is the crossroads of our fears and the unknown. At that point we have unfiltered life experience and for the writer of horror, this prime location is the feeding ground for our darkest muse. The creature inhaling our primal gut reactions, perhaps from a long-forgotten ancestral reaction of warning or doom, and exhaling them into page upon page of thrills, chills, and tormented woe, but I ask you: why do we need to have horror in the world? Why can we not have peace?

The world is harsh and unrelenting, and we, the horror creators, reflect that. No matter if we write of its ghost stories or its murderers or create the fear in another arena, we are a reflection upon the world in which we live–the world you live. Horror is a necessary evil so that one may face their fears in the comfort and privacy of their home, in the safety of numbers at a cinema, or so we learn and grow from the things that scare us most in the world.

In several cultures and throughout history, it’s a rite of passage for a child to become an adult by facing their fears. If you can face the thing you fear most nothing can stop you, right? It could help put things in proportion, at least it’d make one think. Horror is a necessary evil. It helps us cope and helps us overcome. I speak from experience, let me share with you a story you may not know or may have heard since I have shared it before.

My younger life was abusive. I woke most days wondering what was going to happen to me, a reaction from years of abuse at the hands of a family member that overtime became a constant state of being, my ‘normal’. I won’t go into the details of my abuse here, just setting the stage for my point to be made. My youth was abusive and as I grew my abuse came and went whenever that family member was around. I shared my teen years with lots of memories, experience, and with moments of times that I genuinely thought I was going to die. With all that I have overcome surviving such an existence when I wrote in my younger years, I was coping with surroundings I felt utterly out of control of. I created worlds that I could control so writing for me became therapeutic, even if I didn’t have the wisdom and vocabulary at the time to explain this properly.

My writing style grew as anyone practicing a skill will grow. I began writing horror truly not realizing I was writing in horror. My logic was: This doesn’t scare me so it’s probably not scary, fantasy at most. It wasn’t until a published author and friend I had made looked over my work and said that it was horror that I even realized.

Now, for most, my life experiences could be considered horror. For me, I had dealt with it, overcoming it like so many that face horrors in their life. Now, do I credit my life for getting me into horror? No, but it has helped me face fears that I didn’t understand were fears. A life without horror, to a degree for me, would be a dreary one. I wouldn’t know how to react in many situations that may come and go in my life. I learned not to panic when the fires get bigger. I have learned that to breathe in the method I asked you to do at the beginning, it’s a meditative method I picked up to calm my heart rate and to realign myself when need be, and to calm.

So, in the month, that we in the literature recognize so many that contribute to horror in all the branches from the tree, I enjoy it because I recognize that a world, for me, without horror would’ve made me less of a person. It has taken me to some scary places, but it has also given me the candlelight in the dark so it’s not so bad after all.

L Bachman

At a young age, L. Bachman started creating stories and art. This form of expression led to becoming a published author with the stories Maxwell DemonHuman Ouija, and Harvest. She has also been included in several anthologies. In March 2016, her short story, The Painting of Martel, was included in the anthology Painted Mayhem. Following its release, she was once more included in an anthology, And the World Will Burn: A Dystopian Anthology, with her work The Gaze of Destruction. She will once again be included in a December 2016 anthology called Crossroads in the Dark II: Urban Legends with a short story, A Farmhouse Haunting.

Bachman first gained attention in the independent publishing community with her cover design of the collection entitled Murder, Mayhem, Monsters, and Mistletoe: An Anthology. This led to her working with several authors, including Lindy Spencer and Rae Ford. Following her work on the anthology, she wrote The Blasphemer Series: Maxwell Demon in January 2015. It was nominated for Indie Book of 2016 by Metamorph Publishing, along with her bestselling short Human Ouija.

Her graphic arts provided the beginnings of her portfolio. Testimonials of her clients can be seen on her graphic design website, Bachman Designs. When she is not working in the graphics arts sector of the independent publishing industry, she works for the publishing house Burning Willow Press, LLC. They took notice of her portfolio after she provided a graphic design for author Kindra Sowder, CEO of Burning Willow Press. L. Bachman now is a full-time staff member working in the graphics department of the publishing house doing promotional media… videos, promotional materials, and cover design. Through her work with Burning Willow Press, she’s provided materials for the likes of Kerry Alan Denny, SL Perrine, Jay Michael Wright II, and James Master. She continues to work independently for her own clients, having plans to continue her independent writing.

After the passing of her father in April 2016, she dedicated The Blasphemer Series: Harvest to him, dubbing him one of her biggest supporters, if not her biggest fan. In honor of him, she continues to do charitable work and supports active duty military personnel. Her submission to the anthology Painted Mayhem raised money for military personnel suffering and living with PTSD. This also led to her donating some of her work to “Authors Supporting Our Troops”, an event held by author ArmandRosamilia that sends copies of books to active duty military.

Between her publishing and her graphic arts work, she has been a featured guest for many book releases held by other authors, interviewed multiple times by blogs, featured on many podcasts, such as “Unfleshed” with TJ Weeks in September 2015, and has been a returning guest on “Armcast” with Armand Rosamilia and “The Darkness Dwells”, just to name a few.

She continues to write from her home in Northern Alabama where she lives with her husband, the poet and writer DS Roland, their son, Damien, and one very judgmental rescued elderly cat named Mouse. Bachman continues to educate authors interested in improving their writing and marketing skills, as well as holding onto her mission of empowerment, inspiration, and aid to young writers.

Website: www.lbachman.com

Instagram: authorbachman

WIHM: Plant Horror – Or That Impressive Hogweed Is NOT Harmless!

Plant Horror – Or That Impressive Hogweed Is NOT Harmless!

By E. A. Black

 

Most people don’t think of plants as particularly harmful. It’s not like they’re going to uproot themselves, chase you, and attack you. Oh, wait, I’ve seen that movie… J

 

In fact, nature is brutal. It’s not always nice and pretty. You may twirl around in your New Age clothing in the woods to be closer to nature, but nature is also watching you. And waiting to pounce.

 

Plant horror is an interesting and frightening horror genre. I’m an amateur gardener and I’ve seen my fair share of wicked plants. There are the commonly known ones like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and Venus flytraps, but some of the more obscure ones can scare the hell out of you. I live in Massachusetts where the giant hogweed reigns. It resembles a large Queen Anne’s lace and wild parsnip, but it is not harmless. This plant’s sap is highly toxic and causes blisters and scars. It’s so vicious it can blind you. Websites have advised if you see this plant to avoid it at all costs. Do NOT touch it!

 

Poison hemlock affects the respiratory muscles. This is the plant that Socrates chose to ingest when accused of impiety and corrupting young men of Athens.

 

Ingrid murdered her lover, Barry, in the book “White Oleander” when she discovered he was cheating on her. The poison she used included oleander sap. Symptoms of ingesting this sap include nausea, vomiting, excess salivation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (may contain blood). There is also irregular heartbeat or racing heart that slows to a dangerous rate.

 

According to a Smithsonian article, scholar T. S. Miller wrote, “First, the traditional Western understanding of how the world works places plants at the bottom of a pyramid that contains all living things. In plant horror, they disrupt this seeming “natural order” by rising to the top as apex predators. Second, plants are at the bottom of the pyramid precisely because they are so very unlike humans. We can see ourselves in animals, even animals unlike us. But it’s much harder to see yourself in a rose bush, or even a Venus flytrap. They’re creatures from another world, a cellulose world, which is right next to us and which we depend on—but there’s no way to know what they might be thinking, or what, given the right circumstance, they might do.”

 

Books and movies that delve into plant horror include the following:

 

The Ruins – Travelers to Mexico discover nature run amok such as murderous vines that creep all over you (and inside you). Caustic sap burns their hands. The locals won’t let them leave the area because they’d carry the contagion into villages with them.

 

The Day of the Triffids – Triffids are large, venomous, carnivorous plants that can uproot themselves and chase you. Triffids pass on poison through stingers.  The protagonist suspects these plants were bioengineered by the Russians, and now triffids are a worldwide threat.

 

Little Shop Of Horrors – Audrey II is a man-eating plant that not only talks but also breaks out in blooms with its victim’s faces inside. Influences may have been John Collier’s “Green Thoughts” and Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Reluctant Orchid”.

 

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers – Spores from outer space mimic humans in the form of gigantic seed pods that impersonate individual victims. The story starts with a doctor’s patients who suffer from Capgras delusion – the belief that their loved ones have been replaced by exact replicas. Determining who is human and who is a pod person provides much fear for this story. You’ll never look at sleep quite the same way again after watching or reading it.

 

The Happening – M. Night Shyamalan’s movie about mass suicides caused by toxic plants.

 

Rappaccini’s Daughter – Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic short story about a man who watches his neighbor’s beautiful daughter Beatrice milling about in her father’s rare flowers garden. He is entranced, but the woman is not quite what she appears to be.

 

Other movies that include plant horror are “Creepshow”, “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”, and “Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors”.

 

I’ve written a plant horror short story recently, and I’m looking for a home for it. This story includes vines I describe as “flapping their blooms open and shut making squicky sounds like pulling your foot out of mud. It was a nauseating, mushy kiss.” I based the vines on pumpkin blossoms, which are large, pulpy, orange, and very alien-looking. I strongly suspect that the author of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has seen pumpkin blossoms. Those blooms in the movie look suspiciously like them.

 

Next spring, when you see the greenery sprout from the ground and the blossoms bloom and the sweet smell of the flowers greets you, remember that Lily of the Valley can cause heart palpitations and a small animal that drinks water a foxglove has been sitting in can die from it. The heart drug digitalis was originally derived from foxglove. Even your Christmas poinsettia is poisonous. Pleasant dreams!

E. A Black

E. A Black had enjoyed telling scary stories to a captive audience since she was a child. She grew up in Baltimore, the home of Edgar Allan Poe who has inspired her to write. Due to her love for horror and dark fiction she joined Broad Universe, a networking group for women who write speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Zippered Flesh 2, Zippered Flesh 3, Teeming Terrors, Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2, Wicked Tales: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers Vol. 3, Heart of Farkness, and more. She won a Best Short Story mention on The Solstice [email protected] 2017: The Best Of Horror for Invisible, which appears in Zippered Flesh 3. In addition to horror, she writes erotica and romance as Elizabeth Black. Friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, where she posts as Elizabeth Black. Check out her web site at eablack-writer.blogspot.com. Sign up for her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/b76GWD She lives on the Massachusetts coast in Lovecraft country. The beaches often call to her, but she has yet to run into Cthulhu.

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WIHM: Channeling Character Development Through Acting

Channeling Character Development Through Acting

By: Robyn Alezanders 

“Write what you know” is a funny, tricky one for horror writers – nevermind the fantastical or supernatural elements we may create for our stories, but what about mundane yet no less sinister characteristics? How do we believably convey terrifying, unsettling thoughts, actions, and behaviors  if we’re (hopefully!) not enacting it ourselves? It’ can stifle our passion for the genre….

 

As one of those writers who’s more of an introverted, quiet type, yet always fancied being in front of people, I recently accomplished the bucket list goal, and personal challenge, of acting. A dream role debut, I played a vampire Vixen/Bride in a community theatre production of Dracula, one of four women who were nameless, but each portraying a distinct persona: a classic looking pale “ballerina” (she did a creepy dance around a sleeping Jonathan Harker); a royal beauty (voluminous curls and a hint of glitzy makeup); an assertive femme fatale with white eyes and blotchy decomposing skin; and me – a “bloodhound,” with yellow wolf eyes, and flaming red hair to match the blood all over my dress, neck, hands, and mouth. Simply by appearance, I was the most feral, vicious of the group, the one that exudes the monstrous side of vampires, alongside the vixens’ simmering sensuality.

 

I had had a notion about theatre that people were simply assigned roles, and just went right into rehearsal. But, pleasantly, surprisingly, we spent quite a bit of time analyzing characters, together and individually, our own and who others were portraying. And even as rehearsals progressed and it seemed as if we all understood our characters, we still continued to discuss and theorize motivations, histories, and intentions. It became a fascinating psycho-analytical foray that inspired and excited me to hear what everyone thought regarding their roles and how they interacted with and affected others. Adding to the intrigue was that we had to stay in context to the time period, and apply insight (social conformities, expectations, mannerisms, etc.) as it pertained to late 1800s’ Europe- that alone was a terrific exercise in character development!

 

The big scene for my Vixen occurred near the end of and closed out Act 1. The four Brides seductively descend upon Harker, until Dracula interrupts our frenzy before we can indulge our bloodlust. Two Vixens scurry off, while I and another have our hunger pacified with a baby that the good Count has nabbed. It’s a jolting sequence that encompasses pack mentality, hunting prey, anger, impatience, and the one-two sucker punch combination of sexual desire and the need to kill and eat. I had to get into the mindset of a creature driven by hunger – licking, touching, cooing at, and trying to hold down our coveted snack, then defiantly hissing at Dracula and imploring him to give us something, then ravenously tearing apart and eating a “live” infant (cut up doll, crying sound effects, and edible “bloody guts”) sleeping in a picnic basket.

 

How did I thus do it? At first I had considered method acting, but cast mates suggested not to, so that I didn’t miss out on the fun camaraderie that everyone indulged in between scenes. So while I joked and gossiped and took photos while awaiting direction or discussion, I also created a specific trigger – a playlist akin to what I typically do when writing, compiling songs that evoked deadly yet alluring vampiresses. I avoided softer music the days of performances and added my own distinctive details to my portrayal – sniffing the air like a predator would, and giggling “all mine!”as I skipped away with the basket of baby. I exerted more purpose into the way I possessively caressed Harker, and how I held onto Dr. Van Helsing (during a fight scene between Vixens and the male heroes), and tried intimidating him into submission (until he broke the spell and “stabbed” me into scuttling off.) As rehearsals got closer to performances, I found myself settling into character much more, and with each stage presence, became stronger, more confident, more real in portrayal.

 

 

You can break from writing, edit, and redo sentences. With theatre, you have to be and stay in the moment, and go with however the flow of the scene dictates. Delving deeper into my psych, as I had never before, eliciting a newer energy vibration, and awakening another jigsaw piece to who I am is how I channeled introspection into a different art medium. Literally stepping into a physical role, rather than just through words, has elevated my comprehension. Actively working on being a scary woman for the last four months, a character who’s meant to terrify, to attract while simultaneously repulse, has taught me how to better craft one in a story. I learned how to truly transform myself into someone who represents an iconic staple in horror, and to find the magick to effectively bring her out to an audience. Based upon the reactions and post-show comments, I did it quite well – made people uneasy, fearful, uncertain; in some instances, to get up and leave once intermission allowed so. It’s an amalgamation of sentiments that form the highest compliments for someone in horror, and reinforces the notion that I have achieved yet another step in making a formidable mark.

 

If you’re struggling with character development, or want another perspective on breathing life into fictional personas, consider theatre. It will sharpen your writing, make an unforgettable impression, and may even turn you on to another wonderful outlet for your artistic spirit.

Robyn Alezanders

Robyn Alezanders made her horror debut with the short story, “ Soul Stains,” in Des Lewis’ critically acclaimed Nemonymous 5, and earned an Honorable Mention in the 19th Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Her work has also appeared in The Mammoth Book of the Kama Sutra, Eternal Haunted Summer, and New Spirit Journal. She hopes to pursue more theatrical roles after Dracula, and to further explore the intricacy of haunting women characters. Find her on FB, posting about scary stuff, vegan baking, her jedi master chihuahua, and whatever else is on her creepy yet loveable mind.

WIHM: Scores for Horrors: The Underappreciated Queen of Hammer and Amicus Horror

Scores for Horrors: The Underappreciated Queen of Hammer and Amicus Horror

By: Cat Kenwell

As a young child, my Dad would allow me to watch every Universal horror movie that played on the one TV station we could pick up out in farmland. But by the time I entered my teens, I began to feed on the technicolor blood of Hammer Horror Films. They were campy, scintillating, haunting, and bursting with sex and gore.

Back then, if you’d asked me about the Hammer dames, I’d gleefully proclaim Ingrid Pitt and Barbara Shelley as my favorites. To me, they were strong women who often amused themselves by pandering to their male co-stars…even as victims, they seemed in on the game.

But for Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d talk about the other Horror Queen of the Hammer ‘genre’—that is, Elisabeth Lutyens.
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WIHM: Female Horror Authors Who’ve Inspired Me: Influences and Favorites

Female Horror Authors Who’ve Inspired Me: Influences and Favorites

By: April A. Taylor

As a female horror author, I’m often asked when my love of the genre began. My earliest memories involve watching the Creature Feature movies and the Thriller Double Feature on local Detroit channels in the early 1980s. Everything from the original Universal Monsters to early Hammer Films filled the tiny black and white television set in my bedroom.

At the age of six, I was also blown away by Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Soon, horror posters adorned my walls, and I voraciously consumed any children’s horror books I could find. My first favorite book, which I’d go on to read countless times and still own multiple copies of, was My Friend, the Vampire (better known as The Little Vampire) by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg.

Movies had caught my attention, but the world built by Sommer-Bodenburg completely captivated me. Unlike the two later films based on her internationally best-selling series of books, the characters in My Friend, the Vampire were gnarly, wild beasts who had trouble controlling their urge to drink human blood. This made the budding friendship between the two main characters, Tony (a human) and Rudolph (a vampire), even more endearing, and it satisfied a part of me that very much wanted to have a monster as my best friend (aside from my beloved My Pet Monster, of course).

Some of my earliest artistic endeavors were based on Sommer-Bodenburg’s work, including paintings and fan fiction. By the time I turned 10, my reading level had accelerated to a point where I gained special library privileges. Once the adult side of the library was at my disposal, I ran headlong into the world of horror literature.

I vividly remember sitting in my family’s garage devouring the first three books in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I also remember laughing years later when I reread them and picked up on all the sexual content that had flown right over my young head. I also read a lot of fiction by male horror authors – Clive Barker became my favorite – but the experience of reading fiction by women inspired me to believe from a very young age that I, too, could become a horror author one day.

Classic literature by notable names such as Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson were among my earliest, and quite possibly strongest, influences. To this day, Frankenstein is still my all-time favorite horror novel, and many reviewers have pointed out the similarities between my tone/writing style and Shirley Jackson’s seminal work, The Haunting of Hill House.

It’s no coincidence that my first published horror novel (The Haunting of Cabin Green) centered around a haunted building and a tortured protagonist who may or may not be insane. It’s also no surprise that I grew up writing horror stories that took a more literary approach to the genre. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy a quick, easy splatterfest – those can be really fun, and I’ve written several of them.  From an intellectual level, though, nothing satisfies me more than reading (and writing) literary horror.

As a result of my literary preference, I’ve fallen in love with the writing style of modern female horror authors such as Alma Katsu and Damien Angelica Walters. If you haven’t read The Hunger and Paper Tigers by these authors yet, I highly encourage you to check them out. They kept me fully engrossed and, in both instances, made me strive to take my own writing to a higher level.

When it’s time to let my hair down with a good, old-fashioned gorefest, no other author fits the bill quite as well as Ania Ahlborn. She inspires me to feel free to always push the limits of what horror is and how it can be used to elicit a reaction from readers. Ahlborn is also an inspiration for how she self-marketed her indie debut, Seed, all the way to the top of Amazon’s Horror category, which was followed by a publishing contract.

Speaking of indie female horror authors who know how to market their work to a wide audience, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Darcy Coates. Her particular brand of easily digestible ghost stories has conquered Amazon’s algorithms, thereby catapulting the Australian author into the Top 10 Best-Selling Horror Authors list on an almost daily basis. Whether her books are your forte or not, there’s no denying her meteoric rise and how much she can teach every female horror author about marketing.

This month, I encourage all of you to give at least one new female horror author a try. Everyone from indies to those who have a lucrative publishing contract has something unique to offer the world of horror, and some of them may end up changing the genre forever, just like Mary Shelley and Shirley Jackson. Happy reading!

April A. Taylor

April A. Taylor is an award-winning, multi-genre author. Her debut Gothic horror novel, The Haunting of Cabin Green, was named one of the ‘Best Horror Books of 2018’ by PopSugar, Inquisitr, BoredPanda, and Ranker. It has also been a #1 Amazon Best-Seller in Gothic, Ghosts, U.S. Horror, and LGBT Horror.

April is a strong believer in writing inclusive stories that represent the world around us. Her other works include the Alexa Bentley Paranormal Mysteries, the Midnight Myths and Fairy Tales series, and the upcoming Corvo Hollows: A Psychological Thriller.

April lives in Michigan with the love of her life and their two cats. If her life was a cartoon, she’d be Lisa Simpson. You can learn more by visiting her website at www.aprilataylor.net or following her on Twitter (@aprilataylor), Facebook (@aprilataylorhorror), and Instagram (@aprilataylorwriter).     

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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