The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Marlena Frank

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

 

Marlena – Thank you so much for having me! My name is Marlena Frank and I’m a YA Fantasy/Horror author. I’ve been writing short stories in both horror and fantasy since 2010. Last year I released my YA Horror novella, The She-Wolf of Kanta, through Aurelia Leo. It made a splash for a month on NetGalley and got some fantastic reviews on Goodreads. Just last month, my debut novel, Stolen, was released through Parliament House Press. It hit the Amazon Bestseller list on release day! I was super thrilled as you can imagine!

When I’m not writing or thinking up stories, I’m an active member of the Atlanta cosplay community. I’ve also recently become active in the HWA Atlanta chapter. I also own three goofy cats.

 

Selene – You mainly seem to write in the fantasy and horror genres. What about each appeals to you?

 

Marlena – Sometimes the environment of my horror pieces, especially the really gritty worlds, can feel like going underwater for a bit to get hold of those characters’ perspectives. Those worlds need to be dark, but once I’m done with a piece like that, I tend to lean toward lighter works. Now note, my fantasy is hardly light, it’s just less gory and intense. I write some pretty dark fantasy, as has been noted in several reviews in Stolen. I simply lean toward a darker edge.

 

Selene – You also work a lot in YA literature. What are some differences between writing for a younger audience, and writing for adults?
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The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Em Dehaney

Stacey – Hi, it’s great to have you here! Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?

 

Em – I’m from the UK, I was born in a riverside town called Gravesend but now I live out in the country with my husband and two kids (no pets, other than fish).

 

Stacey – When did you start writing?

 

Em – I’ve always written. When I was little and people asked me what I wanted to be when I was older, I always said “author”. It’s only in the last four years, since my son was born, that I started to take it seriously and try to get things published.

 

Stacey – What genres do you write in and what drew you to them?

 

Em – I don’t really like to be pinned down to one genre, on what I write or what I read. It’s mainly a mixture of horror, historical and dark/urban fantasy. I guess I like the dark, the weird, the magical and the supernatural.

 

Stacey – What do you enjoy most about writing?

 

Em – When a story is finished! Also, when someone reads my work and likes it. There is no better feeling for a writer than getting a message out of the blue from someone (other than your mum or your best friend, they have to say they like it) saying they thought your story was cool.

 

Stacey – What scares you?

 

Em – In terms of typical “horror”, I have had a werewolf fear since I watched An American Werewolf in London when I was far too young. My real-life fear is anything bad happening to my kids. I’m also not a fan of flying, which is a real pain because I love travelling.

 

Stacey – Where do you get your inspiration?

 

Em – I get a lot of inspiration from local history, but I’m like a magpie, picking up little titbits all the time that I can fit into my stories.

 

Stacey – Which authors have influenced your writing along the way?

 

Em – Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, the Poppy Z. Brite books by Billy Martin, Angela Carter, Stoker, Lovecraft, Ben Aronovitch, Roald Dahl,

 

Stacey – What’s your writing process like?

 

Em – Undisciplined! I have two young children so I have to cram my writing time on whenever and wherever I can.

 

Stacey – What was the first story you had published?

 

Em – It was actually a poem called Here We Come A Wassailing, in the 2016 Burdizzo Books 12Days Anthology. It was through this that I met Matthew Cash and became his partner in crime at Burdizzo. We now release a few anthologies a year, with stories from our favourite writers who we like to call our Burdizzo Family, as well as our own novels and short stories. We like to support new and diverse writers.

 

Stacey – Do you have a favourite character from your own works?

 

Em – I have a real soft spot for Mikey, the main character in my story The Mermaid’s Purse. He is a kid with a hard life, an abusive mother and no friends. Things change for Mikey when he finds a baby shark on a trip to the beach, and his life is never the same again. His story can be found in my collection Food of The Gods. I would really like to pick up Mikey’s story as an adult, I’m intrigued to see where he ends up after the events of The Mermaid’s Purse.

 

Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish? Why or why not?

 

Em – The first time I tried to read Stephen King’s The Shining, when I was about 11 or 12, I had to stop reading. The Overlook Hotel was too much for me back then, but I did go back to it and finish it as an adult. Nowadays, I am quite ruthless with books. I don’t have a huge amount of time to read, so what I do read has to grip me. If I lose interest in a book early on, I tend to give up and move on to the next one. My TBR pile is massive, as is often the case with authors.

 

Stacey – What’s the last Horror movie/tv show you watched?

 

Em – I’m loving zombie comedy The Santa Clarita Diet on Netflix. I’ve been catching up on a lot of horror films from around the world that I’ve missed over the last few years, and I really enjoyed the Canadian film Pontypool and Finnish Christmas horror Rare Exports.

 

Stacey – If you could go back in time who would you go back in time to see?

 

Em – I’d love to know the real identity of Jack The Ripper, and to see how his murders were investigated. I used to work in a police Serious Crime Department, so the failures of the Police in this case interest me greatly. What could they have done better? Why did they never catch the killer? Was there some great cover-up or conspiracy?

 

Stacey – What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who is just getting started on their author journey?

 

Em – Never give up. Write as much as you can. Try and finish a story before moving onto the next one (this is a lot harder than it sounds). When I first started writing I joined the site Scribophile, where you post your writing and get it critiqued by other writers, and you in turn critique the work of others. It was a great place to improve my craft, and get used to taking critique. As a writer you need to develop quite a thick skin and get used to rejection, but if you love writing, it is all worth it.

 

Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?

 

Em – This is the opening paragraph from my latest release, After Us.

 

“The dead never stayed buried in New Orleans. The rich built houses to store their cold ones when the end came, to stop the tide of bones. But not everyone can afford a mausoleum. The poor had to place their dead lovingly into the damp earth. Bodies interred below sea level had a habit of reappearing whenever Lake Pontchartrain flooded. Coffins would poke through the sodden earth and embalming fluid flowed through the streets like blood.

No, the dead never stayed buried in New Orleans.”

 

Thank you so much for your time Em! If you would like to find out more, about Em or her work, check out the links below.

 

A perfect corpse floats forever in a watery grave.
A gang member takes a terrifying trip to the seaside.
A deserted cross-channel ferry that serves only the finest Slovakian wines.
From the dark and decadent mind of Em Dehaney come eight tales of seafoam secrets and sweet treats. Nothing is quite what it seems, but everything is delicious.
This is Food of The Gods.

hyperurl.co/oc1tjo

 

The dead never stayed buried in New Orleans.

After Us, The Flood is a nightmare tale set amongst the drowned buildings of Hurricane Katrina.

hyperurl.co/y1yz5v

 

 

 

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Amanda J Evans

Stacey – Hi Amanda, it’s great to have you here! Tell us a little about yourself and where you’re from?

Amanda – I’m Amanda, I’m an Irish author living in the republic of Ireland with my husband and two children.

 

Stacey – When did you start writing?

Amanda – I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I wrote my first book, ‘The Little Elf Fairy’ when I was eight and have been writing on and off since then. I only began to take it seriously in 2016 and have been improving my craft ever since.

 

Stacey – What genres do you write in and what drew you to them?

Amanda – I love to write stories with magic and romance in them and stories that always have a happy ending. I love the idea of good versus evil and that good triumphs. I love stories of hope and worlds with magic and witches, wizards, evil demons. Anything that takes me out of the ordinary.

 

Stacey – What do you enjoy most about writing?

Amanda – For me it has to be the joy of watching the words fill the page and seeing the story emerge. I write as if I’m watching a movie in my head and I never know what is going to happen next. It makes writing more exciting for me and I get to be the first reader of a great new adventure.

 

Stacey – What scares you?

Amanda – Death and failure, and rejection are my big fears. Having lost my father to suicide when I was thirteen the fear of death is something that has gripped me very tightly and I worry about losing someone else I love.

 

Stacey – Where do you get your inspiration?

Amanda – That is a really difficult question to answer. I don’t know where my ideas comes from. I’m what they term a pantser in the writing world, where I don’t plan or plot. I literally pick up my pen and write the words that come to me. My brand is believe in happy ever after and a lot of my stories focus on death and grief and the suffering of those left behind and their unwavering belief in finding a happy ending. I guess you could say my father is the inspiration behind my writing and my belief that happiness is still possible even when you’ve lost everything.

 

Stacey – Which authors have influenced your writing along the way?

Amanda – I grew up reading Roald Dahl, Terry Brooks, Terry Pratchet, and Enid Blyton. I also loved fairy tales and one of my treasures is the complete book of Hans Christian Andersen tales bought for me by my grandfather when I was ten. Reading preferences have changed over the years but I still love books that have magic and supernatural elements in them. I love the new modern fairytale retellings that have become popular especially the darker ones.

 

Stacey – What’s your writing process like?

Amanda – I don’t necessarily have a process. I write every morning. I handwrite everything first so I literally just pick up my pen and continue my story from the previous day. I don’t plot or plan and prefer to let my characters tell me their story. I like to think of myself as a transcriber, putting down on paper what the characters in my head tell me.

 

Stacey – What was the first story you had published?

Amanda – Finding Forever was the first book I published on 31st January 2017. It’s a romantic suspense novella. My first traditionally published story was Moonlight Magic published by Owl Hollow Press in their Under the Full Moon’s Light Anthology in 2018. This was an urban fantasy story featuring a young witch coming into her powers and it was 7,500 words.

 

Stacey – Do you have a favourite character from your own works?

Amanda – I have a few but I think my favorite couple so far have been Kate and Drake from my novel Save Her Soul. Kate is determined to get revenge on the man who brutally murdered her sister and Drake is trying to stop her because she has been cursed. If she gets her revenge, she will unleash hell on earth. This book had so many great twists and turns and a love story that spanned 500 years. It was exciting to write, and Kate was such a strong character even when faced with making the most difficult choice of all. I’m also really fond of the couple in my new book, Winterland, who have a great many challenges to face as well.

 

Stacey – Has there ever been a book you couldn’t finish? Why or why not?

Amanda – I try not to do this and give every book a fair chance. Some books start slow and then pull you in half way through. I like to give every book at least 30% and if I do stop reading or can’t finish a book then it will be for a very good reason. If I can’t connect with the main character or don’t care enough about the outcome. It very seldom happens though.

 

Stacey – What’s the last Horror movie/tv show you watched?

Amanda – Birdbox on Netflix is probably the last one and before that, The Haunting of Hill house which was amazing.

 

Stacey – If you could go back in time who would you go back in time to see?

Amanda – That’s very easy. I’d go back and spend time with my father.

 

Stacey – What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone who is just getting started on their author journey?

Amanda – Take your time. There’s no rush. Don’t get sucked into thinking everything has to happen quickly. Write because you love to write and not to make money. Be gentle with yourself. There will be days where you don’t feel like writing and that’s okay. You don’t have to write a novel in a month or three months. You can take as long as you need, just always remember why you want to write in the first place. Never lose the joy. Ask for help and advice and read. Most writers are very generous with their time and will answer questions. Most of all, don’t give up. If becoming an author is your dream, go for it.

 

Stacey – Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share?

Amanda – Thank you. I’d love to share an excert from Hear Me Cry. This novella was published on the 16th May 2018 and won the Book of the Year Award at the Dublin Writers Conference 2018. It is a dark fantasy romance retelling of the Irish legend of the Banshee.

 

Prologue

Existing in Irish folklore for centuries, Banshee, or bean sidhe, means “woman of the faery”. It hasn’t always been my name, and I haven’t always been the messenger of death. You see, I was cursed, so my mourning call now heralds death. They say love is the cure for all, but it was love that cursed me. You think you know about me, but it’s time I tell the real story.

 

Chapter 1

Border patrol was always boring. Walking up and down along the veil, eyes peeled in case any human should cross. I hated it, especially the south patrol. Nothing ever happened. To make matters worse, I was alone. No one to chat with, the rustling leaves beneath my feet the only sound. It was just me on the border of the Summer and Autumn Courts, walking between the crisp leaves and blooming flowers. I wanted to be where the action was, where the rest of the warriors were stationed. The north. It was colder and rougher terrain, but at least they saw action. I was stuck here watching the leaves fall off the trees, the large branches shielding me from the blazing sun. Nothing to look at but forest and fields of flowers. Poppies as far as the eye could see.

“Why couldn’t I have been sent to the north?” I sighed as I kicked a pile of leaves. “It’s not fair.” I knew why. It was because I was short, slight, and female. But I could take any of the male warriors and they knew it.

I turned to march along the trail again, the sunlight bouncing off the rippling veil that kept the faery and human worlds separate. The humans couldn’t see or feel the veil, but to me it looked like a pool of clear water suspended in mid-air, rippled from the breeze that blew against it. It has a bluish tint to it as well. It was about the only pleasant thing to look at. The trees lost their appeal after an hour and the poppies, if I didn’t see one again for the rest of my life I wouldn’t care. Who needs fields and fields of them anyway? The Summer Queen must have run out of ideas. I scoffed as I marched through the trees. What’s the point in being a trained warrior if I never see battle, never get to kill a human?

I’d never seen a human, but I had heard the stories. Vicious beings who loved nothing better than to capture a fae and torture them to death or, worse, enslave them for eternity. I shuddered at the thought.

“Help! Help!”

The shouts echoed. I jumped, turning on my heels to see where the noise was coming from.

“Help!”

“It’s coming from inside the veil,” I mumbled as I raced forward. My mind conjured up images of fallen fae, my brothers, trapped and pleading for help. Instinct kicked in and I jumped through the barrier between our worlds, awakening all my senses.

My feet sank into lush green grass and I crouched low, blinking rapidly as bright sunlight assaulted my eyes. I tossed my dark curls over my shoulders and turned my head left and right, looking for the threat. It was quiet. Tall oaks trees covered the ground on both sides, a short pathway through them where the veil had spat me out. In front of me was a vast expanse of water, surrounded by hills and mountains. The grass here was greener than I’d ever seen. I pushed to my feet, looking behind me at the rippling veil. I could only see a small opening from this side, the rest hidden in the canopy of trees. No wonder no humans ever made it through to the other side.

“Help!”

I spun. The shouts came from the water. Two hands poked up through the surface, waving frantically before they were swallowed, pulled beneath and into the darkness.

Running toward the embankment, I kicked off my shoes and plunged into the water. Fae normally weren’t very good swimmers…except for me. I loved the water. It called to me on a deeper level, obeying my commands. I don’t know why and no one seemed to be able to explain it either.

I opened my eyes to look through the darkness. Another of my talents. When I saw legs kicking, I forced my body in that direction. The water clung to my clothes, trying to drag me into the depths. The figure started to sink again, arms raised. I was too late.

I pushed myself as hard as I could. Grabbing a fistful of hair, I tugged upward so I could get a firm grasp on the body. I kicked my legs and we rose to the surface. My head emerged and I sucked in a deep breath, my arm secured tightly around the person’s neck. We weren’t too far from shore.

I pulled the body onto the grassy bank and bent over to catch my breath, refilling my lungs, coughing up the water I’d swallowed. I pushed my wet hair back off my face, forcing it behind my shoulders. The water dripped down my back as I tried to calm my breathing.

I looked down at the body. A male. His lack wet hair covered his face but I caught a glimpse of freckles across his high cheekbones. His full lips were blue. I brush the hair out of the way and gasped when I saw his ears. A human male. He was motionless.

I bent down, watching his chest for movement. Nothing.

I knelt beside him and placed my fingers on his neck. No pulse. It shouldn’t have bothered me, he was human filth, but it did. He wasn’t breathing. Death was taking him and I could save him. I shouldn’t want to, but it felt wrong not to try, not to give him a chance to fight.

Sucking in a deep breath, I leaned over and placed my hands over his checked shirt, pumping hard on his chest.

“Come on. Breathe.”

He remained still, his body cold.

“You can’t die. Not on my watch,” I said through gritted teeth.

I reached forward, looking into his pale face. He looked so peaceful, so normal. Nothing like the stories I’d been told. In fact, he looked quite harmless with his rounded ears. I gasped aloud before laughing to myself.

“I’ve rescued a human. Me, one of the queen’s guard, sworn to protect, and I’ve rescued a human.”

The laughter died in my chest. “What do I do? Do I let him die? He’s probably dead already.”

I shook my head, my hands trembling. I couldn’t let him die. Not like this. Battles were different. In battle, I could cut him down in an instant, but he was defenceless right now.

I leaned forward and felt for a pulse once more. I thought I felt a flutter, but it was faint.

“You can’t let him die, Isla,” I whispered.

I knew I’d never forgive myself if I did nothing.

Pumping his chest once more, I waited for him to cough, breathe, something. It didn’t happen.

I inhaled deeply and steadied my nerves before placing my lips to his and blowing air into his lungs. My body trembled as I pulled back.

He suddenly gasped, water spluttering from his mouth. I grabbed him and rolled him onto his side so he could breathe easier. He was heavier than I expected. No sooner had I moved him than a searing pain shot through my body and I collapsed on the ground. Uncontrollable heat coursed through my veins, like fire ripping through haystacks.

I screamed and tried to fight it. He’d tricked me, poisoned me. I should have let him drown.

The pain started to recede, sweat dripping from my forehead as I brushed my dark curls hair away. My throbbing hands felt like red-hot pokers as I waved them through the air. My heart raced. Something was wrong. I felt different, changed. I ran my fingers across my face. It felt the same, strong chin, full lips, small button nose, and pointed ears. The lake danced in my vision, blurred and distorted.

“Go hálainn,” the voice croaked.

I shook my head. A spell perhaps?

“Go raibh maith agat,” he spoke again, but I couldn’t understand it.

My hands tingled as I held them out in front of me. Veins popped out on the surface of my skin, which was red and swollen.

“What have you done to me?” I shouted as I turned to look at the human. “What poison did you use?” My voice was strained, my throat closing in as I sat up.

“Ni thigim. Are you all right?” He sat up and reached for me.

I flinched, but as soon as his fingers touched my arm, the burning stopped, my vision clearing.

“Cé tusa?”

My gaze met his and I gasped. His eyes were so blue, so mesmerising. I was trapped in them. I felt a pull inside me. It was so strong, I couldn’t resist. My hand reached out to touch his face. I couldn’t stop it. The moment my fingers brushed against his skin, my mind exploded. Lights danced, magic flared, and I fell backwards.

“A Cailin, an bhfuil tu go maith?”

I forced my eyes open, seeing his face hovering over mine. “I c-can’t unders-stand y-you,” I stuttered, trying to regain control.

“I asked if you were okay,” he said, his voice like honey, soothing my body and mind.

I swallowed. “What did you do to me? What poison did you use?”

“Poison?” He shook his head. “I didn’t do anything. You saved me. You…” He paused.

My body slowly began to feel like mine again and I sat up to look more closely at this human.

“I don’t understand. When I touched you, something happened. I thought you poisoned me.”

“Why would I do that?” he asked, leaning toward me, my eyes focusing on his full lips.

I jerked back. He stopped. His eyes roamed my body before coming back to my face. Those blue orbs pierced mine, making me feel the pull again. The longing to touch him. It had to be magic, an entrapment spell.

“What did you say when you woke up? Did you cast a spell on me?”

“A spell?” He laughed.

“You spoke strange words.”

“I spoke my language. Irish. I said you were beautiful and I thanked you for saving me. You’re not from these parts, are you?”

My instincts warned me not to answer, so I pushed to my feet. “I have to go.” I looked around for my shoes, spotting them near the water’s edge.

“Wait,” he said, grabbing my arm.

As soon as he touched me, the heat travelled throughout my body. My vision blurred, my body swaying.

“I got you,” he said as he pulled me to him.

His touch felt soothing, my body melding into his. The heat intensified, and darkness took over.

 

Thank you so much for your time, Amanda! If you would like to find out more about Amanda and her work, check out the links below.

 

Amanda J Evans
Romance, Paranormal, and Fantasy Author

Believe in Happy Ever After

http://www.amandajevans.com

 

Find me on:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/amandajevanswriter

Twitterhttp://www.twitter.com/amandajevans

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117144241706669072531/

LinkedIn: http://ie.linkedin.com/in/amandajevans/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajevanswriter/

Books By Amanda J Evans

 

Hear Me Cry – A Fantasy Romance Novella 
Winner of the Book of the Year – Dublin Writers Conference 2018

Amazon: https://mybook.to/hear-me-cry

 

Save Her Soul – A Paranormal/Urban Fantasy Romance

Virtual Fantasy Con Awards 2017 Silver Award for Best Paranormal Book 

Amazon: http://myBook.to/SaveHerSoul

 

Finding Forever – A Romantic Suspense Novella

Summer Indie Book Awards 2017 Winner for Best Thriller

Amazon: http://myBook.to/Finding-Forever


Surviving Suicide – A Memoir From Those Death Left Behind

Amazon: https://myBook.to/survivingsuicide

 

Nightmare Realities – Spooky Short Stories for Ages 9-16

Amazon: https://myBook.to/nightmare-realities

 

 

 

 

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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The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with C.R. Langille

Claire: Hi C.R.! How are you? What have you been up to on the writing front?

C.R.: I’m great! Thank you for asking. At the moment I’m working on an episodic shared-world serial set in a grim, post-apocalyptic fantasy world where all the gods have died. Think if Cormac McCarthy’s The Road had a bastard child with Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire…maybe a pinch of Robert E. Howard in there for taste. I’ve also been finishing up the first draft of the third book in my Dark Tyrant Series.

Claire: Tell me about you! Are you a full-time writer, or do you work in ‘the real world’?

C.R.: I work in the real world as you put it. I’ve been in the military for nearly 20 years now. I’m actually set to retire in September, where I plan on writing full-time. It’s been a challenge trying to juggle writing, work, and family. I’m okay at that juggle. However, I know of a lot of folks who are masters at making it work. It amazes me what people are capable of if they put their mind to something.

Canyon Shadows

Claire: Tell me about your novels ‘Consequence’ and ‘Canyon Shadows.’

C.R.: Consequence and Canyon Shadows are dark urban fantasy books with some heavy horror elements. However, all that aside, the stories are really about how much someone is willing to sacrifice for their loved ones.

They are both set in Utah, my home state. Canyon Shadows deals with a small town I created in Southern Utah of the same name, where an ancient entity known as the Dark Tyrant was imprisoned deep in the mountain when the earth was still young. As time has worn on, the Tyrant has grown stronger and he seeks a way free from his bonds. Consequence, takes place right after the Tyrant has broken free and a demonic apocalypse kicks off across the world.

When I started off to write these books, they were going to be traditional horror novels; however, as I fleshed out the stories, I couldn’t help but add elements of magic and other strange things. I think it stemmed from my love of reading fantasy novels when I was younger. I started really getting into reading with Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books, my absolute favourite still being Homeland by R.A. Salvatore.

I finally embraced it and my books turned into this mix of urban fantasy and horror which I think is really fun. I have a certain scene in Consequence that I’ve been told was traumatizing to a reader.

Claire: As well as being published in magazines, you also self-publish. What do you enjoy about self-publishing?

C.R.: I enjoy the freedom that comes with self-publishing. I set my own deadlines, goals, and objectives. I like being able to release on my own schedule as well. The best part, is all the return comes to me and I’m not sharing any of that royalty with a publishing house. However, don’t get me wrong, there are certainly drawbacks to self-publishing as well. For example, all the cost is now on me (cover art, ISBNs, editing, interior design, etc), not to mention all the marketing is up to me as well. I’ve had to become educated on marketing and I’ve only scratched the surface.

Claire: Tell me about your writing process. Do you set aside time to write, or do you write as your stories come to you?

C.R.: At the moment I try and sneak in writing whenever I can. My schedule is pretty crazy at the moment. I know there are a lot of successful folks who get up super early in the morning and do all their things…well, that isn’t me. I think if I tried to do something like that there would be an incident. As for plotting books, I gave that up a long time ago. It doesn’t work for me. I’d spend all this time and energy plotting out each chapter, and it would derail by the middle of chapter one. The way I do it, is I know the major scenes and the end, so I know where I’m headed, and then I’ll just ensure I write what I need to end up at those scenes.

Claire: I see you also write for younger readers. Is your writing process different for younger readers than it is for adults?

C.R.: Very much so! My stories for adults are way darker than anything I’d ever write for young readers. I have to be careful when I’m writing those stories that they don’t get too scary or bleak. That doesn’t mean I don’t write scary stories for young readers, because I do. I grew up watching scary movies and loving horror from a very young age, and I think it’s important that kids and teens experience those emotions in a healthy way.

Claire: How long have you been writing for?

C.R.: I started writing over 20 years ago for fun, but I decided to get serious about writing 17 years ago.

Claire: You have a MFA: Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. How has that impacted your writing career?

C.R.: Getting my MFA from Seton Hill was one of the smartest things I ever did for my writing career. My first published short story came out in October of 2011 and as you could imagine, I was excited about it. When I was accepted at Seton Hill I thought I knew a lot about writing, turns out I was wrong. I realized pretty quickly that I had a lot more to learn. They also taught at a lot of the back-end pieces of writing like market study, research, querying agents, teaching, etc… The greatest thing about Seton Hill’s program though, wasn’t just the education, but the networking. I met so many awesome people out there that I still converse with today.

Claire: I see you’re a tabletop gamer. Does that help shape your writing?

C.R.: Definitely! I started playing paper/pencil RPG’s when I was in 6th grade. None of my friends at the time had ever played, so it was on me to get the books, learn how to play, teach them, and ultimately run the games. I spent a lot of my formative years creating adventures, campaigns, monsters, and characters for them to enjoy. I still run games today as the DM/GM. There is no doubt in my mind that being able to create fun adventures for people and see how they unfold has helped me with creating stories for folks to read.

Claire. Reading through your blog, I see you’re also an expert in survival techniques, and regularly post about your activities. Does that aspect of your life influence your writing? If so, how?

C.R.: Indeed it does. The Air Force sent me to an outdoor survival school which was amazing and throughout the years I’ve taken other classes and seminars to help reinforce those skills. Whenever I’m writing about a character that is stuck in the wilderness, I pull on that knowledge to help me create realistic scenes. In fact, the main character in Consequence has some of the same training and utilizes his training as he’s fighting his way through the forest.

Claire: You also mention you’re inspired by the Utah outdoors. How do you blend real locations within your stories?

C.R.: I like to draw on real experience in my books. I think it’s that touch of reality that helps turn horror even scarier. There are places both Canyon Shadows and Consequence that are very real. A lot of the times if I come across something unique, or something that sticks out to me, I’ll make a note and incorporate it somehow later. For example, in Canyon Shadows, there is a scene where the character is driving along a lonely road on his way to Canyon Shadows, Utah. Canyon Shadows itself is a fictional place; however, along the way he passes a run-down cabin in the middle of a field. I first saw that cabin when I was a very young boy and always wondered who built it, what its story was, and how long it had been there.

The coolest thing, is that I give enough information in the book, that anyone can go find that place and experience the same things as well. The hunting scene in Consequence is drawn from an area I hunted several years ago. Black Rock in “Brine and Blood” is a real landmark near the Great Salt Lake. The list goes on, but I think adding a touch of realism enhances the story.

Claire: You’re a member of the Horror Writer’s Association. What does being a member mean to you? How has it furthered your writing career?

C.R.: For me, being a member of the HWA is a way of showing that one, I take my writing seriously. I love horror and writing and the HWA promotes both of those things. It’s a great way to network as well and bounce ideas off other like-minded individuals. I like to give back as well, and I’ve participated in the HWA’s mentorship program for the past few years. Basically they will pair up a newer mentor or someone who wants help with their writing, with another HWA member who has some experience. I enjoy being involved in the mentoring program, because just like any good mentoring relationship, if done right both participants can learn a great deal from one another.

Claire: Tell me about your protagonists. Do you base them on people you know? Or are they purely fictitious?

C.R.: My protagonists are mainly fictitious; however, I do incorporate some aspects of real people at times. Not just with my protagonists, but with supporting characters as well. When I’m out and about, or interacting with folks, I am always taking note of interesting mannerisms. During my studies at Seton Hill one of the teachers mentioned people watching as a research skill. Basically, take a notepad and go sit in a coffee shop, or a store or shopping mall and just watch people. You’d be amazed at the amount of interesting things that come from that.

Claire. I see you also review movies. What do you enjoy about reviewing?

C.R.: Reviewing is a way for me to unpack what I just watched. It’s a way for me to analyse my own thoughts on what happened. What worked and what didn’t. Mainly, I love hearing back from people to see if my own views line up with what they were thinking or seeing if I’m way off. I generally only review movies or books that made an impression, so it’s another way for folks to see what influences me as a writer and a person.

Claire: What’s your favourite book?

C.R.: That’s a tough one. My taste in books have changed so much over the years it’s hard to pin down. Some books that have influenced me or left an impression throughout the years are Homeland by R.A. Salvatore, The Shining by Stephen King, and Penpal by Dathan Auerbach.

Claire: You’re stuck on a desert island. Being a survivalist, what would you do?

C.R.: I’m going to stick with the basics and follow a few simple things. Let’s talk about the rule of threes to begin with. This is an over-generalization because extremes can definitely change the timelines, but a person can last three hours exposed in harsh climates, three days without water, and thirty days without food. Therefore, my first priority is going to be finding or making shelter. I am assuming if it is a desert island that heat is going to be the biggest factor, so shade and protection from rain/storms. Depending on what’s around me that shelter could be a debris shelter, a lean-to, or even a cave if such a thing exists. Things I’d be looking for is a location that is close to a water source, fuel for a fire, and food (if all that is possible).

Following that, my next priority is going to be water. Ideally, there is a body of fresh water on this island, which would make things easier. At that point I just need to figure out a method of purification which probably means building a fire.

After fire and water is taken care of, I would need to find food. I’d be looking at local wildlife, insects, and plants to cover that aspect.

Finally, after all of that, I’d be looking for a means of rescue. That means building SOS signs large enough to be seen from the air. Having three large bonfires ready to go at a moment’s notice to signal I need help, or things of that nature.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done and it comes down to having the skills to implement this type of training, and ultimately having the will to live in a survival situation. Nothing is guaranteed, but proper training and the will to live can go a long ways to successfully surviving in an extreme environment.

Claire, I want to thank you for taking the time to interview me. It’s been a lot of fun and I appreciate the opportunity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WIHM: An Interview With Sonora Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another manmade pond in a grove in our neighborhood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonora Taylor, Biography –

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

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