The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Loren Rhoads
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for taking a break from haunting cemeteries to chat with us here at the Horror Tree. You are somewhat of a Taphophile as your books Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die as well as a myriad of other blogs, posts and essays on cemeteries you’ve written affirms. What continues to draw you to the granite and marble bones of our past?
Loren: Cemeteries are libraries of stone. Each grave contains a story. Sometimes there are hints to the story in the iconography or the epitaph or the grave offerings, but you’re never going to be able to piece the whole story together without a whole lot of research. I love that graveyards are full of mysteries: who were these people? How did they end up here? Did they touch people still living?
Ruschelle: You’ve been a member of the Association for Gravestone Studies for almost 20 years. Of all the sites you’ve visited, which one has made the biggest impression on you and your writing?
Loren: That’s a great question. Different cemeteries strike me in different ways. Some are full of lovely sculpture. Some are historic, others are spooky. Sometimes they’re beautifully landscaped or full of birdsong and wild creatures… I guess the one that’s affected me most is Highgate Cemetery. I’m sure everyone knows, but just in case: Highgate was a Victorian cemetery on the edge of Hampstead Heath. It’s up on high ground that overlooks London. In the 1970s, the cemetery was overrun (in real life) by vampire hunters who broke into tombs, staked corpses, and wrote books about it afterward. I discovered the cemetery when I was accidently sent to England during the first Gulf War, but I fell in love immediately. Some of my favorite Christopher Lee Dracula movies were filmed there. In fact, one of the scenes from the new Harry Potter-verse movie was filmed there. Highgate is an incredibly beautiful, atmospheric place with a truly bizarre history.
Ruschelle: Is there a cemetery somewhere on this giant marble you are dying to see? I’m sorry I had to say it. LOL
Loren: I really, really want to see the Great Pyramids in Egypt. I’ve got a big birthday on the horizon, so it’s time to start saving my pennies!
Ruschelle: You have created a notebook for likeminded Taphophiles to take into the field and document their own cemetery discoveries. What makes this book a “must have” for fellow enthusiasts?
Loren: The Cemetery Travels Notebook is a place to keep field notes from your own graveyard adventures. It features 80 lined pages, interspersed with 20 lush full-page color photographs of cemeteries from Paris to Tokyo, with stops at Sleepy Hollow, San Francisco, and all points between.
Ruschelle: You have your monthly Grave Fascinations column appear in the Horror Writers Association newsletter. That is awesome. Has your expertise in the subject found its way into other author’s works?
Loren: Not that I know of yet, but I am hoping! There’s nothing better than to inspire someone.
Ruschelle: Ever come across anything creepy in any of the graveyards?
Loren: I visited Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin a couple of years ago, on Memorial Day. Forest Hill is such a lovely, leafy green place, full of the most incredible symphony of birdsong. I was roaming around alone, as one does, looking for the Native American mounds around which the cemetery was built. Despite the heat of the day, I found myself suddenly covered in goosebumps. There was an odor… the horrible, overwhelming smell of something large rotting. It stopped me in my tracks. Then I noticed the birds had gone silent.
I stood there, nauseated and shivering, and realized that no one knew where I was. I’d come to Madison for a convention, but my roommates had already gone on home, and I hadn’t told anyone else I was going to the graveyard. I had a real sense that something dead was aware of me, daring me to step off the road to investigate.
So I backed away. I kept walking until I heard the birds begin to sing again.
Ruschelle: Woah, that would be creepy as all Hades. Speaking of creepy, you were the creator of Morbid Curiosity Magazine. For 10 issues it was bursting with viscera, violence and the macabre. And all the stories were true! Tell us a little about the birth, life and the death of the Zine?
Loren: My husband and I started a publishing company in the early Nineties and published two books. Then he started a record label called Charnel Music. Because of the label, people used to send him all kinds of fun things. I got to thinking: what kind of things do I want people to send me in the mail? I decided I wanted to read confessional true stories. I never considered anything else for the name of the magazine. Morbid Curiosity fit perfectly.
Since I started the magazine in the days before the world wide web exploded, all of Morbid Curiosity was done by mail: getting submissions, taking payments, mailing out orders. I didn’t sell subscriptions, so I mailed postcards every year to let people know the new issue was available. It took me pretty much 6 months each year to assemble and sell each issue.
I continued on for 10 years, but the whole publication process was pretty much just me in my back bedroom editing, selling ads, doing the layout and design, handling distribution, and fulfilling the mail order. Eventually I had a kid and didn’t have time to fool around with the magazine any more.
Ruschelle: Could there be a rebirth in Morbid Curiosity’s cycle of life?
Loren: People still ask that, but I don’t think so. I burned out hard on doing all the work, even though I had a really terrific stable of authors and illustrators I counted on for each issue. Anyway, publishing print magazines is expensive. Distribution is hard. Back in the day, my two biggest distributors were Tower Records and Borders Books, both of which went out of business owing me thousands of dollars.
Morbid Curiosity lives on in a sort of half-life as a Facebook group where I link to morbid tidbits and collect up essays that would have fit into the magazine. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/Morbid-Curiosity-magazine-152307981457917/ Come join us.
Ruschelle: Done! Okay readers, Morbid Curiosity is waiting for you. If you could meet any author and ask them one question about writing, who would it be and what would you ask?
Loren: Wow. I don’t know how to answer that. I’ve gotten pretty bold about asking living writers questions, so it would have to be someone dead. Maybe I’d ask Manly Wade Wellman for a blurb.
Ruschelle: I have a question that’s been nibbling at my spleen and it’s just who IS Alondra and how is she the center of so many wonderful stories?
Loren: You completely made my day, Ruschelle! Alondra DeCourval is a young witch who travels the world to fight monsters. I’ve been writing about her for years and years. Her stories have appeared in Best New Horror #27, Frightmare: Women Write Horror, The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One, nEvermore: Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre, and many more books and magazines.
Two new Alondra stories are coming out in Weirdbook and Occult Detective Quarterly this year.
Ruschelle: Is there a part of you that’s Alondra? And more importantly, which part? Her left arm? Her eyeballs? I bet it’s the bladder. Most monsters we craft are cobbled from bits and pieces-parts of ourselves.
Loren: Alondra is my love of travel and ghost stories and the real-world history of magic, particularly Dion Fortune’s Society of the Inner Light in the early 20th century. Oh, and my earlobes. Alondra wears her charms pierced through her ears.
Ruschelle: Earlobes! That’s a great answer. Lol! The Alondra’s stories are now available in three chapbooks with two more on the way! What can we expect from your heroine in the coming books or is it a secret?
Loren: One of the upcoming books is a novelette about a firestorm in the Sierra Mountains. They seem to be a fixture of summer now, but I find them terrifying – and Alondra inadvertently goes camping in the middle of one. The other chapbook will be a novella that combines ghosts, the lore of the sea, and great white sharks on islands 25 miles off the California coast. The Native Americans considered those islands the Land of the Dead. Alondra sorts through the hauntings and elemental phenomena to solve the disappearances of two naturalists.
Ruschelle: Your Wake of the Templars Trilogy is Science Fiction! How do you go from terra firma to terra nova?
Loren: I actually started as a science fiction writer, but veered into horror, then wandered into cemetery nonfiction. The trilogy was called grimdark space opera by Publishers Weekly, which I took as high praise.
Ruschelle: How much research did you do while penning your Templar Space Opera?
Loren: Those books took less research than some of the Alondra stories! My space opera research was a lifetime of reading science fiction and digesting the themes.
Ruschelle: Smooshing your love of cemeteries and science fictions together…What do you think graveyards in space or another planet would be like.
Loren: Actually, I’ve written a story about one! The trilogy’s heroine Raena Zacari visits the Monument in Remembrance of the Crimes Committed During the Galactic War, an enormous cemetery satellite where the cremains of people executed for war crimes are stored, along with holograms illustrate their trials and deaths. It’s an enormous place, filled with little square markers that cover the cremains and serve as the recorders. People need to get gps coordinates to find the person they’ve come to visit. The cemetery is staffed by nonhuman docents who spy on visitors and make sure they are not missing the good old days, before the war.
Ruschelle: That is so cool. I love that idea. Speaking of ideas, we writers have a process when we carve flesh from bone. Would you share your writing process?
Loren: I usually manage to crank out a sloppy first draft during Nanowrimo each year, but the rest of the year, I like to have breakfast in a café every morning and write or edit for an hour or two. There’s something about being out in public that makes it easier for me to concentrate.
Ruschelle: Of everything you write and have written, what has been the most challenging?
Loren: I have been struggling to finish the sequel to Lost Angels, the succubus/angel novel I wrote with Brian Thomas. When we originally wrote the book, it was hugely long. In order to find a publisher, I split the text in half at a natural climax. The first book was published in 2013 and revised and republished in 2016, but the second book still isn’t quite ready for publication. I keep being offered shiny new projects – like 199 Cemeteries – which pull me away from finishing Angelus Rose. I need to find a way to settle down and focus on it until it’s finished.
Ruschelle: Are you dabbling in anything new that we should watch out for?
Loren: Well, there are the two new Alondra short stories coming out in Occult Detective Quarterly and Weirdbook, then the two Alondra novelettes will be out before the end of 2018.
Next year, I hope to see published a book I’ve been researching for almost 20 years called Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area. Local history fascinates me – and much of it is deliciously grim. Have you heard about the Donner Party? They were a party of pioneers to California who were trapped by deep snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Most of the survivors were children, who went on to build the state of California. They are buried all around the Bay Area.
Then, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally finish Angelus Rose.
Thank you so much for sharing with us. Where on this world wide web will your new fans find you?
Loren: My home page is https://lorenrhoads.com/. My cemetery work is focused on https://cemeterytravel.com/. I’m on twitter and Instagram as @morbidloren and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loren.rhoads.5.
Thanks so much for your great questions, Ruschelle!