The Horror Tree Presents…an Interview with Elyse Russell
The Horror Tree Presents…an Interview with Elyse Russell
By Ruschelle Dillon
Ruschelle: This oppressive and swampy summer, The Horror Tree would like to welcome Elyse Russell. She is a writer of comics, short stories and a curator of anthologies. Her latest works include Grey Mother Mountain, Sentience and The Fell Witch. There are also a few ‘secret’ projects going on which we might be able to pry from her lips. I promise not to use the crowbar and rib spreader again. Way too messy. So, without further a-don’t, I set a seat for you, Elyse, on the chunky root next to our best bug eating toad! He’s better than any fly swatter out there when you’re visiting during summer at the Horror Tree. His name is Greg. Just don’t turn your back on him, we know where that tongue has been. Now, let’s get real.
You have been writing since you were a wee little tadpole. Why did it take you until 2021 to dip your flippers into the murky waters of publishing ?
Elyse: Thank you for having me, Ruschelle (and Greg *pats*). Well, unlike our amphibious friend here, I can’t swim. But finally, after years of telling myself “I’d love to get published one day,” I just woke up and decided “IT WILL BE THIS DAY.” I’m not entirely sure what the impetus was, but I’ve been working my butt off ever since and it’s making me happy.
Ruschelle: Your graphic novella, The Fell Witch, is an allegory for postpartum depression. How did the story come about from conception to fruition?
Elyse: I suffered from PPD after the birth of my first child, and then again, even worse, after my second. Around that time, I discovered graphic novels (specifically Red Sonja by Gail Simone and illustrated by Walter Geovani). They were like a haven to me during my darkest and most hopeless moments (strong, bisexual female warrior for the win). When I came through it all to the other side, I knew I wanted to write comics. And I also had noticed that comics didn’t give a lot of page space to motherhood in general, let alone PPD.
I then starting thinking about what PPD would look like if it had a physical incarnation. Thus, the Fell Witch was born.
Ruschelle: Let’s talk about Hell Pigs from your graphic novella The Fell Witch. When I think of pigs from hell I think hot, smoldering porcine. In other words – bacon. Am I close?
Elyse: I feel like maybe there wouldn’t be bacon in hell. That would be counter-productive. Hell Pigs actually aren’t my invention, though I did exaggerate them quite a bit. They were real animals that once lived on our planet. Giant, carnivorous pigs. Go ahead, google entelodonts. I dare you.
Ruschelle: Those piggies are nasty! But I bet they still taste like bacon.
You are an artist! Do you usually ‘see’ and imbue your character or place through sketch paper and colored pencils before you breathe words into their lives?
Elyse: I do sketch and design fashions, but I’m not a professional artist. I enjoy sketching out designs for covers, panels, costumes, etc and then sending them along to Dany Rivera (the artist for Sentience and Fell Witch) with the note “this, but, you know, good!”
Ruschelle: Writers are usually solitary creatures. But you enjoy collaborating on projects. How do you work together to compose and complete a project?
Elyse: I live on Discord, essentially. I see each server as a different “sofa” that I can plop onto and start chatting with different creators. Nothing envigorates my creativity more than getting into a discussion of ideas. It’s a holdover from college, I suppose. I used to get very involved in the classes that involved literary analysis. That’s why comics and anthologies appeal to me so much. They’re both highly collaborative mediums.
Ruschelle: If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and what type of project would you both create?
Elyse: THIS IS SUCH A DIFFICULT QUESTION. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO PICK ONE PERSON? Let’s see…I already work with fantastic artists. I think probably being involved in a project of some kind with Gail Simone would make me pass right the hell out.
Ruschelle: Sentience is a beautiful book of artwork with an ominous science fiction story at the helm. Did the story come first, followed by the art or did they both evolve together?
Elyse: Wait till you see the rest of Dany’s illustrations!!! The story definitely came first. Dany has the remarkable ability to basically see inside my brain. There’s no other explanation for how she nails every single aspect of that steampunk horror world. Would you believe that before she met me, she’d never drawn steampunk or horror?
Ruschelle: I’m going to try to act cool about this- What are these secret projects?!?! They’re now buzzing around your newfound fans heads like the bugs Greg the toad is munching on. We need a few little morsels to fill our bellies too!
Was that too much? Sorry…
Elyse: Haha, not too much! I assume you’re referring to the secret projects I allude to on my website? Well, one of them is with Lindz McLeod, who is a ridiculously talented writer from Scotland. I have Irish ancestry, and we thought it would be…interesting…to perhaps explore SOMETHING creepy surrounding the mythologies of our respective heritages. As for the project with Fell Hound, she mentioned on Twitter once that she wanted to illustrate a light novel, and I pounced. I’m not going to give much away there, but it is ALSO based in mythology and it is also…creepy. Both projects have to do with the dead.
Ruschelle: ‘The dead’ are a favorite topic here at the HT. Your collaborations are female centric. Are you looking to develop a greater body of work formed from and with female creatives?
Elyse: ABSOLUTELY. I very much want to provide platforms for women’s voices, and non-binary voices, as well. With “The Dark Side of Purity,” for instance, I was originally going to just create a collection of my own stories around the central theme (how women really feel about society’s obsession with virginity/chastity). But then, I thought…this would carry so much more weight if the theme were explored from multiple viewpoints. I knew I wanted to do an anthology then, and I started asking talented women and non-binary people I knew if they’d be interested…and they all said yes! And then it got even better when our publisher, Band of Bards, suggested that we donate proceeds from book sales to an organization for reproductive rights. I certainly want to do more work like THAT. And there are of course similar themes running through my other works, as well: strong female leads, motherhood, complex female relationships, and, often, opposing the patriarchy.
Ruschelle: What message are you wanting to give little girls who have just discovered fantastical dragons, strange creatures and unconventional barbarian women, like the ones in your stories and anthology curations?
Elyse: Well, first off, I would hope that no one is allowing their little girls to read the majority of my work! Though I do plan to do some middle-grade comics at some point, if given the opportunity. Most of my writing is wildly inappropriate for children. However, I do think that the presence of stories like mine could be indirectly helpful to young people. And I have written a few online comics that are suitable for young ages. They feature brave girls who enjoy science, and women who aren’t physically perfect.
Ruschelle: You have a daughter! Has she made an appearance in any of your stories?
Elyse: No, although “Grey Mother Mountain” is dedicated to her, and she has written a short comic with me that would serve as the epilogue to “Brunhilda and the Hex Witch,” should I find a publisher. She very much wants to be a writer, and there are pages and pages of her comics all over the house. They’re mostly about dragons. In fact, they’re all about dragons.
Ruschelle: You’re raising her well! So, you are submitting stories to anthologies as well as curating anthologies of your own. What have you learned reading and sorting through submissions to help your own pieces?
Elyse: Two things: firstly, the importance of that first paragraph in hooking the reader’s attention. And secondly, patience. Having worked from the other side of things, so to speak, I know more about what editors are wading through, and it helps me to relax a bit while waiting for submission responses.
Ruschelle: Starting out in the fantastic world of publishing, is there one piece of advice you would love to share? Maybe one you learned only as you were digging into the field?
Elyse: Hmmm. Probably to spread your stories far and wide. It’s simply too stressful to submit one story at a time and wait and wait and wait for the response. When you send something, immediately move on to the next thing and put it out of your mind. It will pop up when it’s ready.
Ruschelle: Does inspiration find you or do you need to hunt down, and hog tie inspiration?
Elyse: Inspiration finds me, usually at weird times, which is why I keep a notebook nearby almost always. There’s one in my purse and one on my nightstand. I definitely get a lot of ideas as I’m drifting off to sleep. Won’t even turn the light on. I just reach over, fumble around for a pencil, and write out the idea in the dark to decipher in the morning.
Ruschelle: I read somewhere that you enjoy donuts and cheese. I too am a lover of things sweet and in the cheese family. Tell us a little bit about these favorite snackies. We all enjoy a little food porn. Oh, being the artist- may we see the etchings too? It’s snack time somewhere–
Elyse: I once had a donut in New Orleans that was so good, my eyes literally crossed when I took a bite. Sometimes, when I’m sad, I think about that donut. Also, goat cheese on bread is just really therapeutic.
Ruschelle: Now I’m hungry for an eye crossing donut.
The Dark Side of Purity, is an upcoming hybrid anthology, mixed with art and prose. Its theme is the societal views on chastity and purity. What piqued your interest to create such a hot topic anthology?
Elyse: It’s been a topic that has been close to my heart for over a decade. I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of women through the years about their terrible experiences with Purity Culture. Some of those stories will never be heard again. And I realized very early on in college that the statistic that 1 in 4 women has experience some form of sexual assault is wrong. It’s a far higher number. That deserves to be talked about and written about and shared in more than just scared whispers in dorm rooms or in cars. People aren’t going to know how much of a problem it is until we all start yelping about it from the rooftops. And I can tell you that I sure wish an anthology like DSoP had existed and been available when I was a teenager. I would have drawn comfort from such a book. It’s my hope that we can provide that comfort to some other young people out there. “We’re here, what’s happening is wrong, and we know it, and you don’t have to stay quiet.” That’s what I’d say. That’s why I wanted to make the anthology.
Ruschelle: Sounds like an anthology we should all rally behind.
What project or projects are you working on that we all can look forward to reading, listening, or watching?
Elyse: I’m wrapping up curating an anthology for Water Dragon Publishing called “The Future’s So Bright…” It’s a collection of hopeful science fiction. We have a nice range of stories in there. Some are hilarious, some are so soft, and others have wonderful adventures. That should be released in August or September, so keep an eye out! Dany Rivera did the cover, too, and it’s stunning.
I’m also working on curating Amongst the Stars, along with CJ Hudson. It’s a science fiction/romance comic anthology and the art is GORGEOUS.
I have another anthology idea that I’m going to start pitching around more to see if I can find an interested press, with a cover already completed by…you guessed it, Dany Rivera!
As for writing, I’ve been working on a couple of short stories for some fun submission calls I saw, and I’ve been fiddling around in my head with outlining a sequel to Sentience.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for hanging out with me here at the Horror Tree! I’ve enjoyed our little chat. I’m certain your newfound fans loved getting to know you as much as I have. So, will you please tell everyone how they might find you on the www?
Elyse: Thank YOU Ruschelle (and Greg) for the wonderful interview with such thoughtful questions! I can be found on Twitter @ElyseRussell13 (BraveLittleTeapot), and at my website: elyserussellauthor.squarespace.com.
- About the Author
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Ruschelle Dillon is a freelance writer whose efforts focus on the dark humor and the horror genres. Ms. Dillon’s brand of humor has been incorporated in a wide variety of projects, including the irreverent blog Puppets Don’t Wear Pants and novelette “Bone-sai”, published through Black Bed Sheet Books as well as the live-action video shorts “Don’t Punch the Corpse” and “Mothman”. She also interviews authors for the Horror Tree website.
Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and online zines such as Strangely Funny III, Story Shack, Siren’s Call, Weird Ales- Another Round and Women in Horror Anthology Vol. 2, Sanitarium Magazine, Dark Voices and Fear and Fables. Her collection of short stories, Arithmophobia published by Mystery and Horror LLC, is available through Amazon & Barnes and Noble. Summer 2020, Black Bed Sheet Publishing will release her dark Novella, The Stain.