WiHM 2023: That Darkened Doorstep – The Hive–a place swarming with activity.

That Darkened Doorstep The Hive–a place swarming with activity. 

Diane Sismour started The Hive Writing Group with a retreat at her bed and breakfast in January 2020. Five women horror writers, in varying stages of their writing careers, found each other: Diane Sismour and Dianna Patricia Sinovic met at the Bethlehem Writers Group; Jacque Day and Amanda Headlee met Diane at a Pennsylvania Chapter Horror Writers Association meeting; Catherine Jordan found her way to the group through Jacque’s invite at an online writing group. The group continues to gather at Diane’s bed and breakfast for biannual retreats, and they participate in monthly remote meetings. Five different personalities meshed into a group that turned strangers into friends.

Together, they participate in writing workshops, watch masterclasses, and attend physical and remote conferences. One of their finest accomplishments to date is the anthology, That Darkened Doorstep, published on September 2022 by Hellbender Books, an imprint of Sunbury Press. Catherine approached her publisher and received the green light for the project. As editor, she placed a call for submissions. As a hive, the women participated in vetting and working with the writers, while also contributing their own individual stories. What a fabulous way to knit together (with plans for another book to follow). Between all five women, they have a multitude of horror related publications. 

During Women in Horror Month, these accomplished women (Unfortunately, Amanda Headlee was unavailable to participate.) took turns interviewing each other. 

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

 CJ: I was a teenager out roaming my neighborhood’s yard sales. I loved reading but had yet to discover/determine my favorite genre. Pawing through a pile of books, I saw Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire on a table. What made it appealing? The cover! A pretty little girl as a vampire? Whoa. I went home right away and read it. I was hooked. 

DS: I was twelve when I read my first horror novel. The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury had me thinking far after the read about who I would give up a year of my life for, mortality, and friendships. The cover and the story about friendships drew me to buy the book.

JD: My very first horror novel was ’Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King. Fortunately, my parents, who both enjoyed horror, found it completely acceptable for a kid to read. (In fact, I learned as an adult that my childhood friends referred to my mom and dad as the “horror parents.”) When the TV miniseries, Salem’s Lot, aired in 1979, my parents let me stay up past my bedtime to watch it with them, a real treat considering I was eight at the time. The scene in which the cherubic vampire, Ralphie Glick, scratches at his brother Danny’s window, kept me up for a week, watching at my own window. Something about that raw, primal sensation of fright took hold of me, and I wanted more. My dad kept a rotating collection of mass-market paperbacks, mostly horror, along one wall of our house that he’d trade with my aunt and other interested parties. Shortly after the movie, I swiped the book, ’Salem’s Lot, from the pile and read it. What appealed to me was how deep the book allowed me to venture into the horror. 

DPS: It wasn’t a novel, but a short story: “The Pit and the Pendulum” by Poe. I felt the horror of the dire situation right along with the main character, and I found that fascinating.

Who is your favorite female villain? Why?

CJ: My favorite female villain of all time is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the wife of Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter from the same titled book. She made no apologies for her evil, and she haunted their lives long after she was gone. 

DS: Harley Quinn played by Margo Robbie has enough sanity and enough crazy to make her my favorite villain. In Birds of Prey her role was poignant and fiendish as those two sides of her unraveled.

JD: This is a tough call for me. It really depends on my present mood. The obvious answer is Lady Macbeth. In her, Shakespeare gave us a fine archetype to play with. With that out of the way, the villainous women I find myself returning to again and again are Scarlett O’Hara and Joan Crawford as told by her daughter, Christina, in Mommie Dearest. Why? The answer lies somewhere in the gray area between nature and nurture. Were they just bad seeds? Potentially. But you could equally argue that in each of their respective worlds, society already viewed ambitious women as aberrations. What makes them great villains is their willingness to use and exploit any available advantage, regardless of the bodies they leave in their wake, for the sake of that ambition. 

DPS: Like Jacque, I would put Lady Macbeth at the top, but a more contemporary favorite is Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter series. I loved her name first of all, and then the fact that she was obsessed with the uber villain, Voldemort.

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

CJ: I watch horror Monday through Friday, at least two movies a night, usually after 8pm. I sit in my den alone (my husband doesn’t like horror) with a glass of Pinot noir or an ice-cold lager, and a cat on my lap.

DS: After everyone is in bed, I’ll stay up for hours watching movies. There’s a fine line between whether I’m staying up because I’m not tired or whether a ripple of fear is keeping me awake.

JD: Any way possible, as often as I can. 

DPS: Usually, I watch it on my own, since my husband is NOT a fan of horror. So, on my laptop, with earbuds in place, with a glass of Cabernet.

Why do you enjoy writing horror?

CJ: I’ve always been intrigued by the female villains. I’ve wanted to read a book about a female as strong as she is corrupt, and that’s what compelled me to write one! People often underestimate the amount of emotional and sensory cues within horror, and how deeply they pull the reader into the story. I want to experience a good story, and although I don’t need a happy ending, I do want a lot of meat within the pages. 

DS: Writing horror lets me dig into the darker depth of characters; other genres don’t or just won’t. And it’s challenging to write authentic stories of evil and chaos without sounding cliche.  

JD: I enjoy writing horror for the same reason I enjoy reading, watching, and listening to horror – I’m addicted to fright. Also, from a practical standpoint I enjoy writing horror because it’s really, really freaking hard for me to do. 

DPS: The world can seem like an awfully dark place. Creating fiction allows me to explore that darkness and come to terms with it in some way.

 What horror author would you like to interview in person?

CJ: It’s too late, but I would have loved to interview Anne Rice. I saw her once on the Rosie O’Donnell show and she gave out her home phone number on air! Years later, I walked past her house in Louisiana (Well… I got close. It was gated.) and loitered, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. She was probably inside writing. 

DS: I met Anne Rice at a writers conference years ago. She was such an interesting person. But this is a tough question since I’ve interviewed quite a few people. I’ll go with my favorite interviewee, Jonathan Maberry. His answers were genuine, and he keeps giving time and energy to authors in varying genres and skills. It would be cool to have interviewed Edgar Allen Poe over drinks. His writings worm into my mind and sprout with thoughts.

JD: Hands-down, Shirley Jackson. When she was alive, the world didn’t quite know what to do with her. I relate to that in a lot of ways. 

DPS: Neil Gaiman. I love the way his mind works.

The first Hive Writers Group was four years ago. What keeps your group writing together?

CJ: It’s not just because of the shared genre, but because we’re passionate about writing, and we live close enough to attend conferences and retreats together.

DS: Individually, we’re all strong, authentic writers, but together we make each other better. Also, we’ve all gone through personal issues and have had each other to lean on during those times.

JD: For me, it’s pure chemistry. We’re very different, but overall we work well together. And we challenge one another to be better writers. I’ll admit that as a socially awkward introvert, I was scared to death going into our first retreat. I still get a little scared before each retreat. But I enjoy a good healthy dose of fear, so it works out.

DPS: We’re all different, but we share a passion for good writing – and for making our own writing better. It’s fun to brainstorm together and share our work with one another.

What elements do you think are important/vital to include in a piece of horror?

CJ: A sense of dread, and isolation.

DS: The darkness and the light. If there is only darkness, then there is no hope for a character’s survival.

JD: Love, and comedy. I want to feel the love in the relationships in a horror story. And I want to laugh. 

DPS: Dread, yes, and a sense of the unknown.

Do you write in other genres? If so, what goes into your decision to make a story horror?

CJ: I’ve written YA horror, and slice of life pieces. Basically, I like to write about cause and effect. In horror I call it a comeuppance.

DS: I started in YA mysteries, then RomComs. Later, suspense with Romantic elements, short stories, poetry, mystery, crime, sci fi, but suspense or thrillers with an underlying horror thread are my jam.

JD: I try not to think too much about genre when I’m writing. Mostly, I’m just trying to tell the story that’s consuming me at the present time. But I’ll answer this question another way. A genre I’ve never written but always wanted to, is the good, old-fashioned murder mystery. I stand totally in awe of a storyteller who can captivate an audience with a puzzle. 

DPS: I have written some mystery and literary fiction, but I always gravitate toward anything paranormal, anything unexplained. Like Jacque, I let the story dictate what genre it will be, once I see where it wants to go.

What is your favorite horror film and why? 

CJ: Must I name only one?? A Dark Song, directed by Liam Gavin. The movie starts off sad and dreary, about a lonely mother who lost her only son when he was kidnapped and murdered by teens practicing black magic. She wants to get back at the teens and see her son again. The main character and her guide are self-isolated, and the dread ramps in every scene. This occult movie really surprised me with its ending, and that’s hard to do.

DS: I would not go in the ocean for years after watching Jaws. Not knowing what’s in the depths still frightens me.

JD: Oh, Jaws, for purely nostalgic reasons. My parents took me to the theater to see Jaws in 1975, when it was newly released. I was four. I loved the movie so much that I never tired of watching it. The next year, when I was in kindergarten, my mother came to class and asked the teacher to excuse me from school. She said we were going to see a real great white shark. We went to the parking lot of a shopping plaza and climbed into the back of a tractor-trailer truck. There, behind a glass pane and mounted on two posts, was a dead great white. It was either stuffed or frozen; I can’t remember now. But the sight of it struck an odd, and not even remotely comfortable, note in me. (It would be years before I learned of the mass killings of great whites as a result of that book, and later the movie. Peter Benchley himself reportedly said, “Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today.”) At one point I remember asking my father, “How did they get the shark to do what they wanted it to do in the movie?” Dad replied that the shark in the movie was mechanical and that it didn’t cooperate at all. This is when I began to understand films, and stories in general, as constructed worlds. 

DPS: Alien. I saw it at the theater, by myself; I can’t recall now whether it was because my friends were all busy or because they weren’t interested in seeing it. I love spec fiction/sci-fi as well as horror, and this was both. I loved that it was basically working-class folks just doing their job, not explorers or thrill seekers. And I loved the log line: In space, no one can hear you scream.


What scares you? 

CJ: Not much, really. Haunted houses are fun. Roller Coasters and planes hit my anxiety triggers but nothing an Ativan (or two) can’t handle. Losing my children in any way shape or form—that scares me. But monsters? No. Only the real corrupt, moral degenerates.

DS: I’m afraid of the dark, especially near water. Snakes, creepy crawly insects, and spiders are definitely high on the list. Gargoyles give me the creeps…too many mythoi for my comfort zone. My imagination scares me sometimes.

JD: Where fears are concerned, I’m a jumble of contradictions. Give me the biggest, fastest, baddest roller coaster around. I’ve never met a boat I wouldn’t step onto, and will ride a train anywhere. I grew up flying in small planes piloted by relatives. But when it comes to taking a commercial flight (which are statistically safer than most modes of travel), to borrow from Jordan Peele … Nope. But I was an adult, just out of college, before this fear took hold, and I remember the exact moment. On September 1994, USAir Flight 427 crashed seconds before its scheduled landing in Pittsburgh. It was a sunny day, a routine flight, and it nose-dived into a wooded area just short of the runway. I had grown up near Pittsburgh and was still living there at the time, and I remember the word-of-mouth going abuzz before the news agencies started reporting on it. The local networks broke in with news of the crash, and one of the first people to the scene was a man who called in on his cell phone. The newscaster asked, “Do you see any people?” The man replied, “I see pieces of people.” 

DPS: In the everyday sense, I have a paralyzing fear of heights, and a deep unease around large spiders. In a more abstract sense, it’s the fear of the unknown, especially when the unknown manifested can have a bad outcome.

How does what you fear influence your writing? 

CJ: Back to what scares me—I’m Catholic and I believe in heaven and hell and the afterlife. So, demons scare me. I write about them, about comeuppance, and how/why people get caught in their clutches. Muwahaha.

DS: I’m afraid of the dark, so if I’m writing and it doesn’t make me turn on every light, there’s something wrong.

JD: Ironically, I’ve avoided writing stories that take place on commercial aircraft, because any time I try, I find the writing way too melodramatic. 

DPS: It’s why I enjoy writing horror, especially paranormal, in which the unknown can’t be explained—at least not rationally.

As a writer, do you feel you’ve ever succeeded in tapping into your absolute worst fear? 

CJ: Good question. I’ve definitely touched upon it. Gotten close enough to tackle? I think I might have with my latest project. Maybe that’s why it’s taken me so long to finish it.

DS: There are some works that connect with them. The novel in progress is a deeper dive than any other work completed. 

JD: I started to answer this question a few different ways, and ended up deleting the words before getting here. So, I suppose my answer is, no. My absolute worst fear is of doing irrevocable harm to someone I love. And I suppose the way I deal with that worst fear is avoidance. As one extreme example, I’m so terrified of inadvertently hurting the innocent — or of being unable to prevent harm coming to them — that I’ve never had children of my own. There is a lot of shame wrapped up in that fear, which is maybe why I’ve shrunk from it where writing is concerned. But now that I’ve said so out loud, I have less of an excuse. 

DPS: I’m still working on it.


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