Category: Interviews

Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Kristi Peterson Schoonover, publisher of 34 Orchard

Interview with Kristi Peterson Schoonover,  publisher of 34 Orchard

There are two types of writing that I really love. Literary stories with prose that takes your breath away and transports you into another world. Then I also love to be scared, made uncomfortable and sometimes even shocked. 34 Orchard is a new literary on-line journal that combines both. The first issue will be unleashed in April, and promises that “the most frightening ghosts are the ones within.”


Kristi Peterson Schoonover is the publisher and brain child behind 34 Orchard, so I took some time to figure out the passion and purpose behind her new venture. 

AF: What do you do as a day job?

I’m a receptionist and run the front end at the local branch of a national firm. My responsibilities have changed over the years—I guess I’m sort of a cross between an operations and an office manager. I chose this field for two reasons: So that my brain would stay untaxed and my creativity wouldn’t get exhausted; I have my MFA and could teach, edit, or go back to the newsroom, but that would wear me out in terms of pursuing my passion, which is writing short fiction. The second reason is that I really need stability; I wanted the steady paycheck, benefits, and vacation time. Having to write and scramble to put food on my table, although I am awed by many of my friends that do it, just isn’t my idea of a good time, or my idea of freedom. If I can’t write whatever I want when I want, and do whatever the hell I want with it, there’s no point. I also couldn’t invest financially and time-wise in esoteric art projects like 34 Orchard—or chair writing-related committees, or help other writers in their walks—if I was freaked out by needing to find an agent who sells my novel by this date or we can’t afford the groceries. I find my life as a writer is much more fulfilling and joyful because it’s not my bread and butter.

AF: What motivated you to start up your small press?

My father was an English teacher, and from the time I could read really well on my own, he’d bring home the short stories he was teaching in his high school classes for me to read. I’ve been hooked on short fiction ever since, but sometimes, in a magazine or collection, I’d find only one—possibly two—stories that really spoke to me in such a visceral, emotional way they haunted me (I actually have a file where I keep all my favorites). I don’t like to use the word ‘triggered,’ but I’ve found the best writing—in film as well—is the stuff that pushes personal buttons; that’s the stuff that can truly affect a reader or viewer—change his perception, or even his life. While that’s all subjective to the reader or viewer, I’d always dreamed of putting out a literary magazine in which every single story just grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. Although I had plenty of experience as editor or curator of other literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, the production part was always taken care of by someone else, so I didn’t think it was possible.

Then, I stumbled across a magazine called Orca. They were publishing amazing work; work that grabbed, work that went out on a limb. Nearly every story spoke to me, and the issues were released as downloadable PDFs. I sat there one night, reading it in bed, thinking, wait—I can do this! A downloadable PDF is no more difficult than my holiday chapbooks I send out every year. So 34 Orchard—which was going to feature work with the same power as Orca’s, just much darker and mostly in the speculative realm—was born.

AF: What sort of stories are you looking for?

When I started 34 Orchard, I had a specific vision in mind, but as the work came in, it morphed into something much more intense … and I just know if something has that 34 Orchard “vibe” when I read it. I’ve had to turn down so many excellent—I mean, seriously, excellent, it killed me to write rejection letters for some of them—pieces of work by both incredibly talented and accomplished writers simply because they didn’t match whatever that “zing” is that 34 Orchard wants. That’s why, in our guidelines, we just ask that writers send us anything dark and intense and let us look at it. It’s not something we can tell someone to write, and it’s also difficult, because no one’s read our first issue yet; there are no examples to follow. So don’t overthink it. Just send.

AF: Is there any profit margin?

People think I’m insane, but no, there isn’t. This is my “hobby,” if you will. The overhead isn’t terribly high—we only pay for the website and the work that we want to publish. We’re always open for donations, and we’ll put $1.99/donation link for each issue, but it’s more important to me to get the work out there. While it’s been said that many magazines fold because they can’t afford to keep going or don’t have an effective business plan for generating cash, I figured out what I used to spend going to events and cons (sometimes to sell my own books), and on trips to Disney World, neither of which I do anymore. All of that travel cost significantly more than a magazine would. I decided how many issues I could afford, time/energy and cost-wise, during the year, to keep it manageable and not all-consuming (I’m a writer, too); the amount of work I purchase for each issue can be adjusted based on how many donations I receive, or how much I’ve set aside during the ten months of the year I’m not purchasing work. So as long as I’m excited about doing this, it’s sustainable.

AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?

I’d like to be able to find some awards (in addition to Pushcart) to nominate what we’ve published; I’d like to join the Community of Literary Magazines and Presses—those are my goals to have met by January of 2022.  My plans for the next two years are just to get this up and running, tweak workflow issues, and publish great work.

Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Jemimah Halbert Brewster of Underground Writers

Interview with Jemimah Halbert Brewster, operations manager and editor-in-chief at Underground Writers.

Underground Writers is an Australian-based zine and resource for writers around the world. It grew out of Perth’s Edith Cowan University in 2009. Four times a year they publish a zine, and the next three issues are looking for stories in the genres of Thriller, Sci-Fi, and Horror.

I submitted a story to them for an upcoming issue, and although it was rejected the editors gave me some wonderful advice. One of Underground’s promises (and what makes them different) is they always give feedback to every submission -accepted or not.

Jemimah Halbert Brewster has a day job as a university administrator, and took the time to answer some of my questions.

AF: What motivated you to start up your small press?

Technically I didn’t start Underground, but I’ve kept it running since 2015 because it fills a real need in the writing community, particularly in Australia, in providing a safe, constructive space for all new and emerging writers to get that first step up into the world of publishing, which can be daunting, cruel, and discouraging when you’re just getting started on that journey. I also love the freedom that we have as a small, not-for-profit organization; we decide what topics we write about for the website, we set our own schedules and deadlines and goals, and this means we can adjust what we do as we please. For example, we’ve had a lot of questions recently about self-publishing books, so we’ve just started a series on that. Last year we received many queries on freelancing and how a writer can set themselves up as a small business, and our Marketing Manager Jess wrote an amazing 16-part series that is everything you could ever possibly want to know on the topic! And, on a more personal note, I keep Underground going for my own joy and passion in writing and editing; it’s amazingly rewarding and only takes up most of my spare time!

AF: What sort of stories are you looking for?

Each issue has a theme or a genre; our most recent issue was Romance, our next issue is Thriller, then Sci-Fi, then Horror, so we expect submissions that fit into these genre requirements as set out on our Submissions page. But more than just complying with genre or theme requirements, we look for stories that are clever, thought-provoking, interesting, well-considered, well-written. This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect; we take our authors through an editorial process before publication so that a story can be developed further, but we want to read that initial submission and see the thought, effort, and creativity that went into it.

AF: How long have you been publishing and how many issues have you produced?

Underground Writers issue 1 was published in October 2009, and in May this year we’ll be publishing our 30th issue. There was a hiatus from 2012 to 2014 when the zine took a break as the previous team moved onto other things, but we’ve been going strong since then!

AF: Is there any profit margin?

Ha, nope! All of our editors are volunteers and Jess and I are always looking for new ways to expand their knowledge and skills so that they keep learning and gaining from their time with us. We are able to pay our writers a gratuity due to the incredible generosity of our Patreon supporters, and we bolster this by providing feedback and a thorough editorial process so that everyone gains something, even if we can’t pay as much as we’d like to.

AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?

We always have plans, and each year we try new things. For example, in 2020 we’re taking on two junior editors for six months who will help us produce content for the website and will help us work on issue 30 and 31. At the end of that six months we’ll take on another two junior editors, and so on. These rotating junior editors will work one on one with authors for those issues, and with our current editors to develop their skills and knowledge. This is something Jess and I have been talking about for a long time, so it’s very exciting to see it happen. We also launched the Underground Bookstore in mid-2018, which was very exciting, and we’re always looking for ways to expand that. Our next step would be to hold workshops or classes in different areas of writing, editing and publishing – we talked with the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writer’s Centre about running some workshops on social media marketing and submissions processes for authors. So that’s an area we’d like to expand into when we have the time!

WIHM: An Interview with Azzurra Nox

Interview with Azzurra Nox, publisher of Strange Girls in Horror


Strange Girls in Horror has just been released in February, during Women in Horror Month. This anthology features 22 female authors bringing their dark tales of “girls who dare to be different”. Vampires, selkies, murderous mermaids, succubus and possessed dolls are just some of the strange ladies within these short stories.


Azzurra Nox is an avid fan of the horror genre, and this is her second anthology featuring an all-female cast. Her first anthology My American Nightmare had a successful debut and was published in 2017. Nox likes to showcase the work of women in a genre she feels is often dominated by men. She is the founder of Twisted Wing Productions, and also an author of a paranormal urban fantasy called Cut Here.


I have a story in this anthology, and took the opportunity to interview Nox about her obsession with the horror genre. 



AF: How did you get interested in horror?


AN: I’ve always been interested in horror. It started around the age of two when I used to watch Elvira’s Movie Macabre.  My dad was also a big fan of horror and so was my mum, so they didn’t mind me watching horror movies at a young age, even cause my dad would always tell me that everything in the movies were just “Hollywood” and unreal, so I never was scared or had nightmares. I always saw them as an entertaining genre. Kind of like how people love to go on rollercoasters, or go sky diving, horror is a genre that helps you explore fear in a somewhat safe setting of your own home.



AF: What kind of writing do you do yourself?

AN: I’ve done all sorts of different writing in the past. But I didn’t return to horror till I published my paranormal YA novel, CUT HERE in 2015. My latest publications have mostly been short stories as those are easier and faster for me to write. This summer, the short story “Fragile Fruit,” that I wrote with Erica Ruhe will appear in the anthology put together by Running Wild Press. It’s a literary short story with some elements of darkness to it, because I always love to explore the darkness in people and situations.


AF: How do you find time to write/do your own publishing?

AN: I actually make time to write. I used to do a lot of writing at night, but since I work a full-time job as a graphic artist that requires me to wake up early in the morning, I’ve found that harder to do. So now I do most of my writing in the early mornings before work and then work on editing in the afternoons. I also have a lifestyle blog that I update twice a week, so that’s another thing I have to plan a week or two weeks in advance. If you have time to binge-watch shows on Netflix, then you can find time to write if you’re serious about your writing. I know that we have far more distractions now than we ever did in the past, but you have to prioritize what is important to you, and writing is important to me so I make the time for it, even if it means that I don’t have time to watch shows.


AF: Do you fundraise, or how do you get the money and assets for your anthologies?

AN: No, I don’t crowdfund for the anthologies I’ve put together. The money that I use for the Women in Horror anthologies have been my own. And the money I made from My American Nightmare were invested in putting together Strange Girls. I know a lot of people do crowdfund and it’s a wonderful way to receive money for projects, and I did that for a short horror film I put together, but ultimately for it to be successful you have to put a lot of time and energy into it, and I’d rather use that time and energy towards the actual project, especially since I am the only one behind the whole publishing process.


AF: What is the best way to market your anthologies?

AN: Marketing takes a lot of trial and error. Luckily, Strange Girls is my second anthology, so I know what worked for My American Nightmare and what didn’t. Some of the best ways to market the anthologies or any book, really, is to have it up on NetGalley as that will help with finding reviewers. If you don’t have the money to pay for that then you can always use Booksprout, only you won’t be able to receive as many reviewers. Book blog tours are another way to get your book out there. And don’t underestimate the power of finding book bloggers and bookstagrammers (book loving influencers on Instagram) that focus on your niche, as they have a very powerful audience. I do a lot of marketing on Twitter too and have found that a lot of the preorders have arrived from there. Plus, if you have your own personal blog that has a decent following, it also helps in self-promoting. You have to be very proactive and seek people out in your genre. This can mean contacting indie bookstores that stock books in your genre to stock your book or newspapers or websites.


AF: How do you find your writers?

For both anthologies, I asked if I could have my call for submission listed on The Horror Tree as they specialize in horror writers and many of the writers I have accepted for my anthologies have come from there. I also put out my call for submissions on both my blog and website, Facebook, Twitter, and have contacted several horror authors asking if they would be interested.


AF: What is really exciting you in the horror field currently?


AN: I’m really loving the emergence of female directors in horror. Even people that you wouldn’t readily think would be in horror like the actress, Romola Garai who just debuted her first featured directed horror film, Amulet at the Sundance Film Festival. And I love seeing all the new horror female authors releasing some very exciting YA titles. Some of the past YA horror I’ve enjoyed have been The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters, The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan, This is Not a Test from Courtney Summers, Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link, and Another Little Piece by Kate Karyus Quinn, just to name a few. 


AF: What are your plans for your press in the future?

AN: I look forward to putting together more Women in Horror anthologies in the future! By far, those have been the most fun to do because writing is a solitary task, but when you work with other authors then you’re able to forge new friendships and I think it’s important for writers to have friends that are writers too because they will be able to understand many of your struggles that your non-writer friends may not comprehend.

WIHM: An Interview with Zoey Xolton

Australian author Zoey Xolton begins her debut collection Darkly Ever After with a piece of flash fiction about a woman named Destiny who ventures into an ominous forest and is never seen again.

Yes, Xolton likes her fantasy dark.

Blood Song Books released Xolton’s collection of microfiction, flash fiction, and short stories on Feb. 4. It features dark fantasy, paranormal romance, mythology, and fairy tales with elements of horror.

“I do actually write a fair amount of horror, on its own; but speculative horror is certainly my favourite, so I find blending the genres comes naturally,” Xolton said in an exclusive interview with Horror Tree. “They all lend themselves to it!

“A paranormal vampire romance, in my mind, inherently contains an element of horror. It’s the love of a monster, a creature of the night, whose primary sustenance comes from sapping the life of humans. It bites, it stalks, and it charms — like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What is not horrifying about that? It all depends on the degree to which you take it, that defines which genre it will most accurately fall under.

“Fairy tales in their original form are notoriously dark; they give warnings and teach lessons to generations of readers and listeners (in oral tradition). They’ve only become hopeful, fluffy, princess tales since becoming commercialised.”

Xolton is a fan of dark fantasy author Anne Bishop and other fantasy luminaries like Terry Brooks, George R.R. Martin, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Dark fantasy is definitely just ‘me’ in a nutshell, because it contains all the trimmings of every genre that I love, all wrapped into one neat package,” Xolton said. “It usually contains paranormal romance, traditional sword and sorcery elements, and in amongst all that, the darkness and the horror dance! The dark creatures, the high stakes, the overwhelming odds, with often just the smallest glimmers of hope … I live for it.

“In my opinion, a good dark fantasy has to contain decent lashings of tragedy. Someone crucial has to die, a beacon, or embodiment of importance must be sacrificed, or fall … and the best part is, sometimes, it doesn’t end happily ever after! Or if there is some form of redemption, or hope, it comes at an incredibly steep price — the kind that leaves scars on the memories of the world and the reader.

“The best dark fantasies stay with me forever, the characters living on, beyond the words which brought them life. I want to achieve that. I want readers to feel emotionally involved, because to me, that is what reading is all about. It’s about living another life, about becoming part of a story beyond your own.”

February is Women in Horror Month, and Xolton appreciates the spotlight on female authors in the genre.

“I think it’s a meaningful gesture that women are being championed in a genre, that traditionally, society doesn’t seem to believe women write in often,” Xolton said. “However, I just don’t know, personally, how much of a tangible effect the event has as a whole — on recognition, or sales — for the authors, themselves. I certainly don’t think there are any negatives to promoting the voices of female authors, regardless. We’re here, and we’re talented!”

Married with two children, Xolton is not only talented but determined to pursue her passion for writing.

“I do love it,” Xolton said. “Outside of my family, writing is my reason for living. I make time for it, no matter what is going on in my life. With kids, I had to learn to make writing a habit. A lot of writers talk about ‘the muse,’ and that they can only write if they feel a certain way. I think if you’re serious about this craft, you can’t allow yourself to be held back by such trivial, constrictive notions. I don’t have a quiet office, or private space, of any kind in which to write. Even if I did, I couldn’t use it. My son is school aged, but my daughter is a toddler and needs constant care and attention. As such, I never get time alone.

“I have a lot of my colleagues asking me how I get so much done. At last count, I’ve been featured in 65 to 70 anthologies and had over 150 acceptances, most of these taking place in the space of one calendar year. The strange thing is people don’t really want to hear my truth — because it’s ugly. I sacrifice enormous, unhealthy amounts of sleep to write. I sometimes go 72 hours without sleep, when I’m on a roll. My logic is: I can sleep when I’m dead! My dreams are more important to me than some relative notion of sanity.

“I write when the kids are collectively louder than King Kong’s destruction in New York City, when Baby Shark is playing for the eight millionth time in a row, and when I should probably be doing some more, mundane, everyday mum tasks. I have dreams to achieve, and time doesn’t wait for anyone, that’s what my children made me realise. Children are additions to your life. They are my world, but they don’t rule it.”

So, when asked to share a piece of advice for writers who visit Horror Tree, a site that helps support authors, Xolton reiterated her own approach. 

“I just strongly advocate pushing your boundaries and making the time to write,” Xolton said. “I suggest ditching the concept of ‘the muse,’ or a ‘mood’, and just taking your craft seriously, and making a habit out of it.

“Bakers, teachers, boilermakers. and technicians don’t just work when they feel like it. If you want to succeed as an author moving forward, I think you have to treat your passion like your job, long before it officially is. Whether you’re tired, busy, or otherwise, you just have to make it a priority!”



Amazon Page:

Twitter: @zoeyxolton



WIHM: We Sat Down With Sarah Gribble And Here Is What She Had To Say!

Selene — Welcome to The Horror Tree, and thanks for agreeing to an interview. First, tell us a bit about yourself.


Sarah – Thanks for having me! I live in Columbus, Ohio, which just got named one of the dreariest cities in the world. (I’m hoping this works out well for my horror career.) I like pizza, pets, and Poe, not necessarily in that order. I have a Jason hockey mask in my office. Also a jar of tiny hands that I hope aren’t real. 


Selene — How long have you been writing, and what about the horror genre draws you? And what scares you the most? 


Sarah – I’ve been writing since I can remember. I just was always scribbling something, even if it came to nothing substantial. About seven or so years ago, I decided to take it seriously and started submitting short stories to every anthology and magazine I could find. 

I stumbled around for a little bit trying to figure out what genre I would focus on. I was leaning toward satire at the time. But the more I wrote, the more horror stories started popping into my head. I’ve always loved horror, so it’s a natural fit, and I’m not sure why I didn’t start there to begin with. Horror is just great fun, I think. You get to explore your deepest fears without actually experiencing them. There’s also a ton of horror that serves as a commentary on societal problems, but it’s wrapped in a nice little package of goosebumps. It’s just fun. 

My biggest fear is floating off into space (“space floating”). Those scenes in movies where an astronaut is space walking and their tether breaks? Yuck! I about have a panic attack over that. I know there’s a miniscule chance I’ll ever have to deal with space floating, but I did tell my husband if we ever have to evacuate the planet as a species, I’m staying here and going down with the ship.  


Selene — Your site describes you as a writer of “horror and dark fantasy.” While I’m sure there is a crossover, what’s the difference between the two genres?


Sarah – Horror and dark fantasy are very similar, but horror’s purpose is to scare, whereas dark fantasy doesn’t have to. Horror can have supernatural elements, but doesn’t have to (like King’s Misery). Dark fantasy exists in a fantastical world that has a dark, brooding atmosphere. I always make sure to tell people I write both because a lot of people are turned off by horror but don’t mind a little bit of dark in their story. 


Selene — February is Women in Horror Month (WiHM). Do you have anything planned?


Sarah – Yes! Not a ton because I’m neck-deep in editing, but my novella, The Hike, is currently on sale for .99! I’ll also be doing a couple book giveaways for my newsletter subscribers ( and possibly something on Instagram. 


Selene — Looking over your website, and your Amazon author page, it looks like you mostly work in the shorter form, except for your new novella The Hike. What do you like about writing short stories?


Sarah – If I’m honest, the primary reason I love short stories is you can finish them in a day! That satisfactory feeling of accomplishing something doesn’t take months to happen with short form. Of course, they also force you to really cut the story down to the bone as well, which is always fun. I enjoy seeing how much backstory and world-building I can fit into such a small space. Sometimes just a sentence can paint an entire picture in your readers’ minds.


Selene – Have you considered writing a full-length novel? Working in the short form means you leave out so many of the details and character development you can play with in a novel. 


Sarah – I’ve actually written three novels! The first one was terrible and is hiding in my basement. The second is a dark fantasy novel called Surviving Death. It’s set in the afterlife (think The Divine Comedy, but darker and with a touch of rebellion) and will be published later this year. And my third is still a first draft. It’s a horror novel set on an island in Lake Erie. 


Novels are a lot tougher for me after working with short stories for so long. I still find that I tend to “write short” on my first draft and have to fluff out a lot of the characters and world-building on my second pass. I’m like the opposite of Stephen King, who insists you should cut something like ten percent from your first draft. For me it’s more like add ten! 


Selene — I have to ask the requisite question, since your story subjects and characters vary so much–Where do you get your ideas?


Sarah – Everything is a story if you pay attention. And anything can be creepy. I once wrote a horror story about mud. I’ve written one about an adult coloring book. Just last night my husband was talking about this awful candy concoction his co-worker brought to work and I started wondering if Halloween candy could possess or control children in some way. I’m not saying every idea is a good one (that Halloween candy thing probably isn’t going anywhere), but once you’ve written a few stories, and if you write pretty consistently, you’ll start to see ideas everywhere. I’m never out of ideas. If anything, I have way too many to write. I’ll die with stories still inside my head. 


Selene – What do you like most and least about writing?


Sarah – I least like editing books. Shorts aren’t so bad, but books are massive things that make your mind whirl around until you want to give up and cry. (But don’t give up!) I prefer writing first drafts where I can just let go and write as fast as possible and not worry about whether there’s a plot hole or if I changed a character’s description halfway through. But my absolute favorite thing is getting published. There’s a sort of high that comes with that that makes all the work so totally worth it. 


Selene — What inspires your characters? I really enjoyed the story “Crimson Ivory” from Crescendo of Darkness–I spent fifteen years volunteering for college radio, and I KNOW many people like those music geeks!

Sarah – Thanks! I had a lot of fun writing that one. There was a themed call for that anthology and I just thought it would be fun. I don’t know much about music—I love it, but was never in the school band and my singing sounds like a cat dying. I wanted to learn something about music so I did some research and out popped “Crimson Ivory”. 


In general, though, my characters just sort of come to me. I don’t do a lot of character planning before I start writing. Some people do all sorts of questionnaires and such and that’s just not for me. (Though I do normally find a picture to print of what they look like.) I find my characters develop on their own as I write. I do like to include little tidbits about real-life people in my stories, though. It makes for a more rounded, less cliché character. 


Selene — Fun question: If you could cast anyone in the movie version of one of your stories, which story and who would it be?


Sarah – This is a wonderful question because when I write a book, I “cast” characters and print out pictures of actors! Short stories I spend less time with, so I don’t think I’ve ever done that for them. How fun to think about! 

Let’s go with a story I wrote called “Thirst” that was published in Hinnom Magazine. The story’s about a waterborne parasite that was trapped in a Greenland glacier. I think Anya Taylor-Joy (she was in Split and The Witch) would be great to play my main character, Maya. She’s just great in general. 


In case anyone’s curious, I had Surviving Death fully cast with the likes of Emma Stone, Naveen Andrews, and Danny DeVito. Dreaming big! 


Selene — I noticed that in The Hike, the desert setting is as much one of the characters as the two couples involved in the action. What makes you decide on the settings of your stories? 


Sarah – I normally choose settings because I’ve been there, or somewhere similar, and something about the place was either fascinating or at least somewhat creepy. The Hike was based on a hike I actually went on a couple years ago. I obviously embellished the terror and added a supernatural element, but a lot of what those four friends encounter, my husband and I really encountered. The bees, the stalking coyote, the tarantulas, the air quality causing sound to basically not move more than two inches from your lips…all that was true. We spent something like six hours in that wash and it was awful. Made for a good story, though! 


Setting is often just as important (if not more so) than character development when it comes to horror. You need to know your setting like you do your friends. Feel it. Live it if you can. And if you can’t, spend plenty of time researching or imagining what it looks like. 


Selene — About a year ago, you edited your first anthology, Curse of the Gods. Tell us about that.


Sarah – I had respect for editors before I editing that anthology, but I came out worshipping them! I’d considered running my own female-centric anthology and when the opportunity came to edit Curse of the Gods, I jumped at it. I wanted to see how much work was really involved before deciding to do my own. And wow! It’s a lot of work! I love Greek myths, though, so I did enjoy the stories. Most of them that made it into the book were centered around female-empowerment. Any of the old myths that pictured women as damsels in distress were turned on their heads and the women were kicking ass. It’s a pretty great read because of it. 


Selene — Curse of the Gods is a re-imagining of Greek myths. What’s your favourite Greek myth? (I’d say mine is Selene but she’s only got one and it’s…questionable!).


Sarah – All the Greek myths are a little questionable! My favorite was always Arachne. For those that don’t know it, I’ll give the short version: Arachne is really good at weaving and brags about it, which upsets Athena. Athena comes down and challenges her to a weave-off, which Arachne wins. Arachne ends up hanging herself. I’ve seen two versions of the ending: In one, Athena takes pity on the girl and turns her into a spider; in the other, Athena turns her into a spider to punish her. I tend to prefer the former version, as Athena is my favorite goddess. The story is just a great origin story for spiders and it’s always interesting to see mortals stand up to the tyranny of the gods. 


Selene – What advice would you give a new writer?


Sarah – Read. It seems kind of obvious that you’d need to read a lot in order to write well, but in my work at The Write Practice, we see a lot of people who want to be writers but claim they only read a couple books a year. Reading is studying. You will not learn the craft of writing if you don’t study the books and writers that have already made it to publication. Read and pay attention. Note story structure, how character development and world-building are weaved in, and even punctuation. Pay attention to everything. Read everything. 


Selene – Thank you again for answering my questions today. Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about here? 


Sarah – I just want to say that I love that you guys do these interviews for Women in Horror Month. While I don’t believe I’ve ever been discriminated against when I’ve submitted to editors because of my sex, I can say that it is a little lonely when you’re the only female in an anthology. (That’s happened to me more times than I can count.) It’s also not fun to get looks of disgust or wonderment from people when I tell them I write horror. 

This entire month is a great way to promote those women out there who love horror, to show them they can write it if they want, and to squash the ridiculous assumption that horror is a “man’s” genre. 

Thanks again for doing this and thanks for having me!

WIHM: Horror Tree Presents … An Interview with S.P. Miskowski

In the midst of Women in Horror Month, acclaimed author S.P. Miskowski begins our interview by invoking the name of Frankenstein’s true creator to make a valid point about the month in question.

“Women in Horror Month reminds me of the need for an extra effort to get readers interested in horror by writers who identify as women,” Miskowski said. “I find this odd since the genre was practically invented by Mary Shelley. But I think the overall effects of the annual celebration have been positive. Readers, editors, and publishers are introduced to new work by living writers they might not know. Having a special occasion like WiHM adds a much-needed spotlight, especially for small press writers who struggle to bring mainstream attention to horror fiction.”

Speaking of a spotlight, the horror community has been shining its beam on Miskowski’s work for nearly a decade. Her 2019 novel The Worst is Yet to Come and 2017 novel I Wish I Was Like You received Bram Stoker Award nominations for Superior Achievement in a Novel. She also earned Shirley Jackson Award nominations for her novel Knock Knock (2011) and for her novellas, Delphine Dodd (2012) and Muscadines (2016).

 “I write because it’s my nature,” said Miskowski, a Decatur, Georgia native now living in Canada. “Storytelling has come naturally to me all of my life. I think all writers need some kind of recognition, even the reclusive ones. All writers are ambitious. Without ambition, we would never bother to write anything down. We would be content to dream up stories and then forget them.

“Writing is a form of communication, not just a form of expression. We want our stories to connect with other people. An award nomination can help, somewhat, by providing an occasion for people to mention your work. An award nomination can get your book title in front of more readers and editors. It’s an opportunity writers ought to enjoy while it lasts. Enjoy the moment and use it to sell books. If you know someone who’s nominated, celebrate and congratulate them. Tangible rewards are few and far between, in our field. What really matters in terms of community is being good to one another.

“Being nominated doesn’t prove your work is better than anyone else’s work but it indicates that there’s a niche and an audience for it, no matter how idiosyncratic your writing may be. If your book or story isn’t nominated, it’s still in good company with all of the works not included on what is, let’s face it, a very short list. Awards don’t confirm that a writer is ‘the best.’ They confirm that you’re doing something interesting and people have taken note. That’s lovely.”

Knock Knock and Delphine Dodd are two of the titles in her four-book Skillute Cycle, chronicling the evil in the backwater town of Skillute, Washington. What keeps her returning to Skillute, a town haunted by its past?

“Without being at all disingenuous, I’m not sure,” Miskowski said. “All of these books came about quite naturally. I didn’t write a series for commercial reasons, and I didn’t start out with the intention of creating this haunted world with its own rules and recurring imagery and connected events.

When Kate Jonez at Omnium Gatherum Media decided to publish Knock Knock, she asked me if I had a series in mind. I told her I didn’t, but I had notebooks full of material — sketches for side stories, brief biographies of characters that didn’t make it into the novel because they were not directly related to the main story. All of this extra stuff seemed to me to fit into three long stories: a prequel to Knock Knock (Delphine Dodd); a concurrent tale about one of the Knock Knock characters trying to escape her fate (Astoria); and a sequel that begins exactly where Knock Knock ends (In the Light). Each novella dances around the events of the novel but then spins out in other strange directions.

“After a novel and three novellas, I thought I was finished with the fictional town of Skillute. Then I was invited to submit a story to an anthology called Sisterhood (forthcoming from Chaosium). Immediately I had this vision of the childhood of a key character from Delphine Dodd, a doctor whose practices and clinic were based on a frightening historical figure. Dr. Graham developed out of my interest in the case histories of female serial killers. For the Sisterhood short story (‘The Resurrected’) I set aside my true crime books and invented a family and an upbringing that could have shaped my fictional doctor. How did she develop a method of treatment for young women that included starvation diets and physical abuse? ‘The Resurrected’ is an epistolary tale in which I imply an answer to that question, I hope without ruining the mystery of the novella.

“My next book was set in Seattle in the early 1990s. It was a ghost story told in first person with second person POV interludes. I think I just needed to get the hell out of Skillute for a while. Also, around that time, several people I knew had begun to refer to my work generally as either folk horror or Southern Gothic. This is fine, all good, but it isn’t the only thing I do. So, I broke loose with I Wish I Was Like You. Different setting and slightly different style, and vastly different idiom and worldview — it set me free, in a way. More important, it was a story I needed to tell for all sorts of personal reasons. I never expected anyone to like it or find it as funny as I did. I was completely surprised by the book’s reception, and I’m still amazed when readers say they love it and find it hilarious. This is very gratifying.

“Coming back to Skillute for two Journalstone/Trepidatio books (The Worst is Yet to Come in 2019 and The Best of Both Worlds in 2020), I had enough distance and perspective to imagine the town as urban dwellers might see it. For the novel, I thought of friends who had been priced out of Seattle, and their search for a less expensive way to raise their kids the way they had been raised. Whether or not this is possible or even desirable is something I deal with thematically. I remembered a friend from San Francisco who said, in 1995, she was going to wait for housing prices to drop before she invested $85,000 in a craftsman home in Seattle. Then we watched the same houses climb to an estimated value of $450,000. Today, they’re probably priced at nearly a million. What do families do in such a market? They move further out. So, this was my story for The Worst is Yet to Come.

“While writing the novel I did the same thing I’d done with Knock Knock. I kept notebooks full of extra material. Another storyline developed around the main action, but it took us too far afield. Eventually I realized this was another complete book, a novella about the opposite of the novel — the third- or fourth-generation families of Skillute. The adult brother and sister who emerged were observers of the newcomers, and their lives were connected to the former urban dwellers in odd ways. So, I decided to make the action in both books concurrent, with the story arcs leading to a violent convergence.

“Through no intention of my own I’ve written six books and a short story set in Skillute. And these disturbing tales keep suggesting new possibilities. To me, the essence of Skillute is that it can only be apprehended in fragments perceived over time. So, I’ll probably visit again — and again.”

Notable authors described Astoria, the third book in the Skillute Cycle, as “part Hitchcock, part David Lynch” and “a unique blend of The Omen and Elizabeth Berg’s The Pull of the Moon.” Which begs the question: Who and what inspire her unique style of writing?

“Hitchcock and Lynch are influences, certainly,” Miskowski said. “More recently I’ve been fascinated with the films of Jordan Peele, Jennifer Kent, and Oz Perkins, rooted in a world we recognize while the horror (much of it created by humans) unfolds around us. In the early 2000s I watched a lot of Japanese and South Korean horror films. These have been a big influence on my sense that you can tell a story of grief, longing, and domestic violence through the tropes of traditional horror.

“A couple of years ago I read Ryū Murakami’s short novel on which the Takashi Miike film Audition was based. I loved the deceptive simplicity of the style, the understated depiction of horrific violence. I’ve tried to accomplish something like this in my most recent Skillute books. I wanted no waste, and little repetition. Readers aren’t led by the nose or coddled; they have to accept the brevity of accelerated action. Terrible things occur and nothing is fully resolved. The extent of the damage precludes a happy ending.

“Over the years, the single biggest influence on my writing has been Shirley Jackson. She does such extraordinary things, and always with great wit and insight. The reader can pick up on her clues, or just ride along on this little adventure. If you do pick up the clues and examine them, she’s saying some pretty terrifying things about human nature.”

Besides writing acclaimed novels and novellas, Miskowski is also a talented short story writer, her work appearing in a long list of high-profile anthologies and magazines. “Alligator Point” was among the twenty-one stories featured in The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Ten.

“As a young writer I was only interested in short stories,” Miskowski said. “I read novels but had no intention of ever writing one. I was a student when Donald Barthelme was still alive. I watched him read from his work, one time. The room was set up for over a hundred people. That afternoon an uncharacteristic downpour scared away the intended audience. I think there were about twenty of us, in this enormous room with an echo. Well, he was brilliant — absolutely unfazed by the turnout and really mesmerizing. Back then I was mostly interested in form and structure. People who discussed my stories in workshop said they were cold, but I was learning what was possible, so I didn’t take an interest in the characters’ heartfelt desires and losses until much later.”

Since Horror Tree is a site that supports authors with markets and writing advice, I asked Miskowski to share a tip to help writers along their journey.

“The note to take seriously is the very specific one that underscores what you already suspected,” Miskowski said. “You have the answers in your head. You are the story. No one can fix the story for you or tell you how to write or why to write. Do it for you, first, but be merciless. Don’t tell yourself how talented you think you are. The story matters more than any attention it might bring.”

Miskowski’s next book, The Best of Both Worlds, is scheduled for release on May 1 by Journalstone/Trepidatio.

“And I’m revising a new novel set in a suburb thrown off-kilter by the rivalry between two women who were once best friends,” Miskowski said. “When it’s done, we’ll see if it’s any good.”

I asked Miskowski what her worst fear is. She shared a dream instead.

“I would never tell anyone my worst fear,” Miskowski said. “But I’ll tell you about one of my most upsetting dreams. I was visiting with friends, just wandering around in the city. We separated and I found myself standing on a patio outside a shop. I turned around and saw my husband, who was also sort of wandering around with friends. We greeted one another and I could tell by his expression and his manner — he didn’t love me anymore. I don’t know what had occurred between us, but it was as if we’d broken up, and on this particular day we had run into one another by accident, and all of the love we had shared was gone. He wasn’t angry, just friendly in that casual, indifferent way that indicates you don’t spend time thinking about the other person. This was the saddest and most disturbing dream I can remember.”



Amazon Page:

Twitter: @SPMiskowski

An Interview with Bitterwood and Dragon Apocalypse Author James Maxey

Jamex Maxey is a Phobos award-winning author (Nobody Gets the Girl) and 2015 Piedmont Laureate, who is best-known for his dragon novel series, The Bitterwood and Dragon Apocalypse sagas. Recently, Jason Ivey had the opportunity to interview Mr. Maxey on behalf of Horror Tree about his work and his other interests.

HORROR TREE:  Looking over your bibliography reveals a fascination with dragons. What would you say makes them so appealing to you?

JAMES MAXEY: There’s a sincere answer and a more cynical one. Both are about equally parts true. The sincere—if nerdy answer—is that I was a major D&D geek from my late teens through my mid-thirties. I moved around a lot during this time, and one of the first things I did when I moved to a new area was to find a gaming store and look for games to join. It was my primary path to having a social life.

Playing AD&D [Advanced Dungeons & Dragons], I sort of hooked on to dragons as the Alpha Monster. I mean, it’s right there in the title. Yeah, I might pit my players against undead lords and wicked queens and the occasional giant, but when it came right down to it my favorite campaigns always built up to a battle with a dragon. As a DM [Dungeon Master], you need to really get into the heads of the characters you’re responsible for. If I used a dragon, I had to really put some thought into its goals and motives and personalities. Accumulating treasure indicated some sort of economic system. The fact they could speak and collected books hinted that as a race they had some sort of culture. Fleshing out these big, scaly beings to give them motives and backstories led rather directly into using these beasts in novels. I’m not ashamed to admit that some of the dragons in my books made [their] first appearances in long ago D&D campaigns.

As for a more cynical answer, well, dragon books sell. I never write a book purely to make money. I really only work on projects I feel passionate about. But, since my dragon books have a wide readership, I get a lot more fan interaction. People ask questions about my worlds that I can’t immediately answer. So, I start pondering on, say, why there were no female sky-dragons or earth-dragons in the first Bitterwood novel, which was an actual reader question. That led to me thinking about the different reproductive strategies of the dragon races, and the fact that female sky-dragons live isolated from the males became a giant plot driver in Dragonforge, and will play an even bigger role in the upcoming Dragonsgate novel.


HT: Bitterwood (The Bitterwood saga) and Infidel (The Dragon Apocalypse saga) are the respective protagonists of their series. Besides gender, how else are they unique? Similar? Which of them seems like the ultimate dragon slayer, i.e. could survive in either of your dragon-universes?

JM: Avoiding specifics, one of these characters doesn’t survive the events of their series and the other does. So, technically, one character wins as the survivor by default.

Stepping back into a more loose interpretation of the question, Infidel would tear through the dragons from the Bitterwood novels without even mussing her hair. She goes head to head with elemental dragons the size of islands in her own adventures. The non-magical, big flying reptiles of the Bitterwood series would get pounded into paste unless they just asked her to please not hit them anymore. She’d probably stop and talk things over with them. She’s a very reasonable person.

Her capacity to make peace with her foes is one of the central differences between Infidel and Bitterwood. Bitterwood is mostly motivated by darkness. He kills dragons because he hates them. If one begged for mercy he’d kill it just a little slower to enjoy its whimpering. Except, ‘enjoy’ isn’t quite the right word. Bitterwood doesn’t have fun in his ongoing war with dragons. There’s a reason the word bitter is part of his name. He’s cold and occasionally—cruel. He kills without remorse. He’s a psychopath. Yet, his focus and skill make him a heroic figure to other humans. He’s defined by his enemies. Since his dark urges find release in the slaughter of dragons, humans think he’s fighting on their side, but he’s not. He’s just driven to kill dragons by his own personal demons. That said, if you’re a human during the dragon age, you probably sleep better thinking that Bitterwood is out there reducing the dragon population.

Infidel, on the other hand, very much enjoys fighting whoever and whatever, but not because she hates anyone. It’s a more childish feeling of triumphing over anyone bigger who stands in her way. She’s dangerous but not sadistic. She’s fallen in among violent men in a savage land and, due to her magical gifts, happens to be really good at putting bullies in their place. She’s carefree but reckless, protected from the consequences of her choices by her enchantments. She’s got a good heart, but due to her upbringing she’s a bit selfish and walled off emotionally. She really only has one friend, and she keeps her past a secret even from him. I think she doesn’t open up and grow as a character until she starts to open up to Aurora. Until then, though she’s well into adulthood, she’s basically crashing through life as a very powerful child.

While you didn’t ask the question, if it came down to a fight between Bitterwood and Infidel, even if she was at the peak of her magical strength and toughness, Bitterwood would still win. Infidel’s powers make her sloppy. Swords bounce off her skin, so she’s never learned to duck or dodge. Her primary sword skill is hacking, which she’s amazing at, but she relies entirely on brute strength. Bitterwood, on the other hand, plans, practices, and perfects his combat skills. Assuming Infidel didn’t take him by surprise and floor him on her first punch, he’d keep out of her reach until he figured out how to use her strength against her. It’s sort of a Batman versus Superman deal. Superman would rely on his powers, but Batman would rely on his training and strategy and win out in the end.

HT: Since you brought up Bitterwood vs. Infidel, I’m curious, who do you think would win in a battle between Smaug vs. Greatshadow (The fire dragon from Dragon Apocalypse)?

JM: You know I’d be rooting for Greatshadow. Greatshadow’s primary advantage would be that he’s not stuck in one body. Smaug might kill one of his avatar bodies, but unless he could track down and vanquish Greatshadow’s soul in the abstract realms, Greatshadow could just make more avatars and keep fighting. That said, if I were tasked to actually write that story, I’d probably go the Marvel route. They’d fight each other for a while, then team-up to go fight the real enemy who’d tricked them into fighting in the first place. Better give up that pipe, Gandolf. A single match is all Greatshadow needs to find you.

HT: Besides your dragon-themed novels, you also do superhero novels too. You have a really unique take on the superhero genre with your characters like: App; the world first open-source superhero who can download body hacks, Cut Up Girl, who can make exploding clones by cutting off her arms, and Nobody, an intangible spy whose life was literally erased by a time-machine accident.

HT: Would you mind telling us more about your unique take on this genre? Do you have aspirations of writing comic books?

JM: I won’t pretend that I’m not a HUGE comic book fan. And, sure, I sometimes think of a great story I could tell if I were writing Superman or Squirrel Girl. But, ultimately, I’m devoted to telling stories in prose rather than pictures. Novels are as close as humans get to telepathy. It’s a very intimate art form, but it obviously has limits. The reason a picture is worth a thousand words is because words can sometimes be just awful at their job. I might need five thousand words of writing to explain the same information you could get from watching a thirty second YouTube video. But, the discipline of fitting infinite content into a confined form is the central struggle of all art. Taking superheroes and translating them into a medium where they aren’t quite as dominant helps me create something new and fresh. It works the other way, too. Bill Sienkiewicz adapted Moby Dick into a graphic novel. P. Craig Russel adapted Salome. They take something familiar and show it in a fresh way. That’s my goal as well.

“Novels are as close as humans get to telepathy.”

— James Maxey

I’ve always had a love of obscure and absurd characters. If DC released a hundred dollar premium hardcover Matter Eater Lad graphic novel tomorrow morning, I’d be reading that sucker by lunch time. So, one of the connecting threads among my superhero books is that I like to focus on characters with crappy superpowers. Or, maybe they have a pretty decent superpower, but have some sort of personal or moral flaw that interferes with their heroes journey.

Big Ape in my Lawless novels is a good example. His power is that he’s a big ape. He’s got some anger management issues and a serious body odor problem. His love life is a mess. He’s got a girl friend whose power is cursing at people until their hair catches on fire, literally. And, of course, he’s covered in fur. But he’s also in love with his best friend Val, though he regards her as off-limits, and during the course of his adventures his faithfulness to Jenny, his actual girlfriend, is put to the test by yet a third woman and it’s not a test he does well on. Again and again Harry (Big Ape) makes terrible decisions. And at the core of his character there’s this existential loneliness. He’s half man, half ape created by a supervillain, and the only member of his particular hybrid species. He tells Val that he won’t die, he’ll go extinct. His never ending battle to find happiness in the midst of all the insanity that surrounds him is what makes him so compelling to write about.

HT: Do you have a favorite horror/fantasy story or author? Was there any specific one that sparked your interest to become a storyteller?

JM: This is a tough one. There are very few authors who I throw myself into entirely. When I was younger, I was a big fan of Piers Anthony, and later I grew to love Terry Pratchett. But, each has such massive catalogs that after a half dozen books or so I felt like I had to move on. My reading tastes are very eclectic. I like big, dense Russian novels, quick and quirky mysteries, hard SF, humor in the vein of Pat McManus, classic novels like Middlemarch [by George Eliot] or Jude the Obscure, westerns, ghost stories, histories, graphic novels… I’m just all over the board on fiction, and my non-fiction reading choices often leave my wife rolling her eyes. Seriously? I’m reading a book about oysters? Circus freaks? Dark matter? Bicycles? The history of fonts? Why does anyone read a history of fonts? I want to read everything, which leaves me weirdly disconnected from having a favorite genre or author. I love browsing used book stores and library book sales and stumbling across a book on a subject or of a genre I never even thought of. I’m a knowledge junky.

As for a book that sparked it all, when I was very young I used to read a series of boy’s science fiction books featuring a young hero named Danny Dunn. I think I can credit them for igniting my love of science fiction. The other book that really pushed me into becoming a fantasy author was, as implied in a previous answer, the 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons DM’s Guide. It laid out the elements you needed to run a good campaign: the characters, settings, goals, and rewards. And, in retrospect, the practice of designing a D&D campaign has a lot of overlap with the skills you need to develop if you want to write novels.

The very first novel I ever wrote was actually a rather pretentious “literary” novel about a homeless man. It was terrible. One of my friends that I played D&D with just flat out asked why I didn’t try writing fantasy since I was so good at being a DM. And, I thought, hmmm. And thus, my life was forever changed.

HT:  If a new reader were being introduced to your work, do have a book/series that you would recommend? Do you have any book/series you would most like to be recognized for creating?

JM: This is another tough question. My supervillain novel Burn Baby Burn is a contender. I wrote the whole first draft in a week, the book just flowing out of me seamlessly, and I still love every word of it. But, it is a story about supervillains who do some terrible things, and it has fairly explicit violence, language, and sexual content, so it’s not for everyone. If I had to pick just a single book with the broadest appeal, Greatshadow is probably the best introduction to my work. It’s got a blend of both dragons and superheroes, just plain bonkers fight scenes, and a lot of humor and a lot of heart. If you like it, you’ll probably find something to like in just about anything I’ve published.

HT: What are some of your upcoming books/projects that readers can look forward to?

JM: I’ve just finished the third draft of a novel called Dragonsgate: Devils. It’s got dungeons and dragons and dinosaurs. It’s the nerdiest thing I’ve written to date, set in my Bitterwood universe, but launching a brand new trilogy.

I’m also writing a book about how to write books. I’ve written over twenty books, taught workshops, served for a year as a Piedmont Laureate lecturing on the art of writing. I’ve written more blog posts and essays on writing than I care to count. I originally intended just to collect my essays and release them as a book, but it felt disjointed. There was no overall masterplan. So I ditched that and am banging out a unified manuscript that provides the secrets to writing fiction and making money from it.

HT: That’s actually a good segue into my final question. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers that you care to offer? Perhaps something learned from dealing with publishers, or other aspects of the writing profession?

JM: Yes. Here’s the central premise of my writing book: Turning your daydreams into dollars isn’t hard. I mean, it’s not simple, but it’s certainly doable if you’ve got an imagination and a basic command of the language. The main physical requirement is a ton of time with your butt in a chair and your hands on a keyboard. I still can’t get over it! People pay me money for making stuff up! I spend my days thinking about dragons and superheroes and somehow this pays my light bill, puts a car in my driveway, a roof over my head, and provides health insu— okay, actually the fact that my wife has a good job provides the health insurance. I’ve found some real world limits on how far I can push this grift [gift?].
Still, if you want to make some money writing books, it’s easy to get lost in the thickets of plotting and publishing and promotion, easy to have your heart sink as you contemplate fourth and fifth and sixth drafts. You’ll tear your hair out as editors quit, and publishers fold, and ten thousand books a day flood Amazon leaving your newly released book washed away in the flood of titles. But it’s okay! Don’t lose sight of the big picture! Writing ain’t rocket surgery. Making money writing fiction really comes down to a tried and true formula:

Daydreaming + Typing = Profit!

It really is that easy. The only things about the process that are even a little, tiny, eensy bit difficult are (1.) The daydreaming, (2.) The typing, and (3.) making a profit. But I’ll explain how to get around these difficulties. It’s why I’m taking the time to write a book, instead of just selling a button that says: “Daydream, Type, Profit,” and calling it a day.

HT: Thanks James for taking the time to speak to Horror Tree!

Mr. Maxey’s  forthcoming novel Dragonsgate: Devils is set to be released in 2020. If you would like to know more about his work you can do so by visiting the following links below.

Dragonsgate: the Worlds of James Maxey: This Facebook group started by a fan is a good place to hear about James Maxey’s upcoming events and newest releases.

James Maxey Amazon Page: This is where you can find all of the author’s available titles to purchase.

James Maxey: This is the author’s official website where you can learn more about him.

WIHM: An Interview With Gwendolyn Kiste

I’m a quote person, and this is one of my favorites:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” In other words, I make plans, but am not afraid to throw them out the window. This is so true when it comes to writing—I usually write a premise, but wind up as more of a pantser. With that in mind, I reached out to some of my favorite horror writers with questions about writing, and their process. Some of these Qs are kinda quirky, and definitely interesting! 

Meet Gwendolyn Kiste, my horror writing mentor. 


What was the first horror novel you ever read? Tell me what made it appealing.



Most of my earliest experiences with horror were with short stories from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Robert Bloch. I’m not sure if Goosebumps, Fear Street, or Christopher Pike books count, but some of those were likely long enough to qualify as novels. Otherwise, I believe the first adult horror novel I ever read was probably Carrie. I loved the way King told that story through such an unusual epistolary format. I was in middle school at the time, and I related so much to Carrie and what she was going through, so that certainly made it a very intense and memorable experience as a reader. 



How do you feel about horror genre blends (like romance/horror), or are you a purist?


I love horror genre blends! Horror-science fiction, horror-comedy, horror-romance—I think it can all work so well! Horror is so malleable and wide-ranging, so it can incorporate virtually any genre very easily. I like to see stories that push at those boundaries. It can help to create such original and unexpected ideas.  


What drew you to the book you’re currently reading?

For once, I’m actually not currently reading something that’s genre-related. I’m working through a photography book called Suburbia by Bill Owens. It was published in 1973 and was a very seminal work of photojournalism of its time. The book has gone on to influence the aesthetic of several films including Edward Scissorhands and The Virgin Suicides. At the moment, I’m working on a short story based in a very similar type of suburbia, albeit one with a supernatural atmosphere, and I’m eager to see what kind of inspiration I can take from this book. The pictures are so incredible and capture such a specific moment in time, so that alone has been really fun to see. 



Who is your favorite female villain? Why?


I love fairy tales, so Maleficent definitely comes to mind, as does the Evil Queen. They feel so grand and timeless and fearsome. As for horror villains in particular, let’s circle back around to Carrie White. She’s an incredible character because she’s both the protagonist and antagonist of the book and film adaptations. That’s a difficult balance to have a villain who’s also sympathetic, but when it works well, as it does in the book and especially the 1976 film, it creates such an unforgettable character. 


How do you watch horror? (i.e. In your pajamas, late at night with lights low and a bowl of popcorn.)


Usually with my husband on the couch. The best nights are when we can just sit back together with pizza and watch something we’ve never seen before, the two of us picking the movie apart and even pausing it every few minutes to talk about it. That stop-and-go viewing would probably irritate a lot of people, but he and I love it, so that’s definitely our thing. 


What are your top three favorite horror movies, and what made them interesting to you?


This is a constantly rotating list, but at the moment, I would go with The Old Dark House because it’s a great classic pre-code horror film with such a perfect cast; Invasion of the Body Snatchers because that story is always relevant, no matter the decade or social climate; and Get Out because it’s not only an amazing film on its own, but it also shows what the future of horror has in store for us. 



Where do you draw the line on violence in your writing?


I try very hard to be sure that the violence is necessary to communicate the theme of the story, and it isn’t just there in a gratuitous or deliberately appalling way. So long as there’s a reason for the violence, especially in a genre like horror, I think it can work well. But I’ve just never been a big fan of shock violence, so that’s why I’m very careful as to where to draw that particular line. 



How do you feel about including profanity, and do you have a favorite cuss word? ☺


It’s funny because I don’t mind using profanity in casual conversation, but I only rarely include it in my writing. I’m not against it, per se, but I do think it can become easy to lean too much on it to communicate emotion, especially anger. Again, like the use of violence, I very much think it can work in horror, so long as it’s used for a specific reason. As for my favorite cuss word, I probably drop a couple dozen casual F-bombs a day, so let’s go with that one!


Tell me about a quirky writing habit you have.


I’m sure I have so many quirky writing habits, but they all seem so normal to me now! My weirdest habit—and honestly one of my least productive—is my constant list making. I create lists for everything: plot points, character names, dialogue ideas, edits. You name it, I have a list for it. The problem arises because sometimes, I’m just making lists to avoid doing the hard stuff with writing. It can be way too easy to feel like you’re working when really you’re just delaying. Plus, my lists start to pile up on my desk until there’s almost no room for them. Speaking of which, excuse me for a moment while I clean up my workspace of all this clutter! 


If you were to set a story in another country, what one would you chose and why?

Hmmm… this one took me a moment to decide. I think I’d probably go with the Netherlands because I spent a bit of time there years ago in college, but I’ve never really incorporated any of that experience into my writing. Plus, there aren’t too many horror stories set there, so that might be a lot of fun to explore at some point! 



What food (or non edible) would you vomit (out of disgust) if you ate it?
Pick 3 characters. Who would: 1. Cook it 2. Feed it 3. To whom would it be fed?


Ha! This is a wonderfully horror-perfect question! I’ve never actually had it, but the whole idea behind headcheese disturbs me greatly. So let’s go with Leatherface as the cook since he’s disturbingly handy in the kitchen; a Stepford Wife as the one who serves it since she could probably even make it look really nice on the plate; and Hannibal Lecter as the person who actually eats it because even with Leatherface’s “special” recipe, I doubt the ingredients would bother Hannibal too much. 



Best writing advice you’d like to share?


Write the stories you want to read. It can be easy to fall into the idea of writing what will sell, and honestly, that’s fine too, but I think you can write marketable fiction that would still resonate uniquely with you if you were the reader. We need more stories in the world that are written by people who are passionate about what they’re doing and who aren’t simply telling the same old stories, so as trite as it might sound, follow your heart, and write what you believe in. There will be readers out there for it. 

How do story endings really irritate you?

Especially with horror, I’m always disappointed if a story takes a sudden and inexplicable turn for the worst, just because the author clearly thinks a horror story needs to end badly. Now plenty of horror stories can and should end on a sour note; if that’s where the tale has been heading all along, then it makes sense and can still leave the reader or viewer with a real sense of resolution. But when it’s very abrupt and just for the sake of getting a reaction, that can be a missed opportunity to do something more creative and compelling with the story. 


Do you hide any Easter Eggs in your writing?

Yes, I definitely do. I love to use small details and images as well as songs and pop culture references as a way to explore and hopefully deepen the reader’s connection with the story and its themes. Even if someone doesn’t overtly catch it, I think some symbols in fiction and film can work almost on a subtle, almost subliminal level. Also, I always enjoy picking apart stories and films for extra layers, so I like to give my readers that same opportunity if they’re interested. 


How do you come up with your titles?

My approach to titles seems to change with each story. In some cases, I start with a title and go from there, crafting a story to match. Other times, the title doesn’t come along until the story is done or almost done. One goal of mine is that my titles haven’t been used before. While titles are not usually trademarked, meaning in most cases writers can use a preexisting one without a problem, I do try to create titles that are unique to my piece. It can be so much fun when you finally hit on the right title for a story; that sometimes feels like the moment when the whole thing comes together at last. 


What writing tools are a must-have?

You know, I’m not sure I feel like there are too many must-have writing tools, beyond a word processing program. That’s one of my favorite parts of being a writer: in other art forms like filmmaking or even most visual arts, you need so many tools just to get started, but with writing, you only need your own mind. It’s so freeing in that way. 


Please give us a blurb about your latest release. Which actress would play Phoebe in your latest novel, The Rust Maidens?

The Rust Maidens is a coming-of-age body horror novel set in Cleveland that follows a group of girls who start to transform into the rust and rot of their city. 


I would love to have Winona Ryder play Phoebe from the 2008 section of the novel. She’s exactly who I was envisioning as I was writing the book. I don’t know about the younger Phoebe from the 1980 section; I’m pretty open on that, but definitely Winona for forty-something Phoebe. She’d be so perfect. 



What’s the best part of what you are working on right now?


My first instinct is to say that the best part is that it’s over halfway done, which is really nice since I’ve been working on my current book for almost a year. But really, the best part is getting the opportunity to craft a longer work that incorporates so many of my favorite things: a fairy tale setting featuring witches, ghosts, and an ethereal flock of birds. Still, I will be very happy when it’s complete, so I can finally share it with everyone and see what they think. Hopefully, that will be soon, but some stories can have such minds of their own, and they take however long they need to be finished. I always say that so long as I’m enjoying writing, that’s all I can ask for.

Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste


Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens, from Trepidatio Publishing; And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, from JournalStone; and the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, from Broken Eye Books. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Shimmer, Interzone, and LampLight, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at

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