WiHM Interview with R. J. Joseph

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My next guest is R.J. Joseph! I am thrilled to share her wonderful perspectives in the answers below, and encourage everyone to check out her work. Happy reading! 

Author Central PicR. J. Joseph is a Texas based writer and professor who must exorcise the demons of her imagination so they don’t haunt her being. A life-long horror fan and writer of many things, she has finally discovered the joys of writing creatively and academically about two important aspects of her life: horror and black femininity.

R. J. is absolutely thrilled to have a story in the 2018 Bram Stoker Award nominated anthology Sycorax’s Daughters and a featured poem in the Horror Writer’s Association Poetry Showcase, V. When R. J. isn’t writing, teaching, or reading voraciously, she can usually be found wrangling one or six of various sprouts and sproutlings from her blended family of 11…which also includes one husband and two furry hellbeasts.

 

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)?

RJJ: Hi, Sara! Thank you so much for having me over to chat. It’s always a pleasure to talk with someone who crafts wonderful interview prompts and questions.

I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a young child, and that has been quite a long time. I devoured everything horror related: books, movies, comic books—everything. But even though I’ve been a lifelong fan, I haven’t always felt comfortable enough to create my own manifestations of horror. It was difficult to reconcile my desire to explore the horrific with my Southern Baptist upbringing and my femininity. I would write things and hide them because I wasn’t sure what their, or my, reception would be. I’d send out the occasional story and get good feedback, but I’d always go back into what I thought was safer space.

Then, I finally found a horror writing tribe at Seton Hill, and those magnificent creatures accepted me as one of their own. I couldn’t deny that part of my creativity any more. Since venturing out, I’ve found that my horror creator persona lends herself best to short stories, poetry, and academic writing. The academic part was a bit of an accident that has worked out pretty well because I love picking stuff apart. I’ve just started on my first screenplay and a novella that has been waiting around in my head for years finally might see the light of day this year.

ST: I love that combination of using the feminine along with a Southern Baptist upbringing to inspire stories. I bet that leads to unique ideas. Good luck with the screenplay and novella, I’ll keep an eye out for them! 

Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

RJJ: Horror is really cathartic, and honestly, living as a black woman has shown me many horrors. I’ve always seen the monster hiding underneath the veneer of regular life, fooling everyone into thinking it isn’t a monster. My fascination grew when I figured out the monsters fool us so many times because we want to be fooled. Sometimes I wanted to be the monster and lean into the freedom and exaltation provided in the shadows. I think it’s easy to want to lean into monstrosity when the monsters have so much power. I like to examine why all the monsters aren’t allowed to unleash that power. Also, I just have an innate darkness. I present as a bubbly, outgoing suburban mom type, but inside beats a murky heart powered by an even darker soul.

ST: Such a poetic answer! I really like the image you paint here, of that freedom the shadows may hold.

We both recently had the honor of having the top 3 featured poems, alongside the wonderful Donna Lynch, in the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume VYour poem “So She Burns It All Down” is a fiery, heartfelt piece that I adored. Have you been writing more poetry? How does your process for poetry compare to writing prose?

RJJ: That was such an exciting honor! I read yours, Amalgamation, and rooted for the monster. She was perfection, exactly the type of monster I long to see more of in the horror genre. I wanted her to finally lean in and accept her power as a beautiful creature, even though I enjoyed the tension that existed within her.

I have been writing more poetry, but poetry is an almost lyrical process for me, one that’s slower than writing prose. First, a character or setting comes to me and I study how the character moves and exists in space or how the setting uses the area around it. This movement provides me with the rhythm of the poem. The words then start to dance to those beats. The way I arrange the words and the way they sound, when it works well, ultimately become a manifestation of that character or place.

Writing prose is based more on my inquisitive nature. I’m full of questions. I can see something and my mind immediately goes to question what I’m seeing and the circumstances surrounding the situation. The stimulus can be as innocent as hearing a noise that intrigues me or walking through a garden looking at the plants. The whole story might come to me all at once, or in vignettes. I play around with it inside my head until I think I can type up a reasonable draft. Sometimes I sit with stories for years before they’re ready to be birthed into the universe.

ST: Thank you for your kind words on my piece, too! I really enjoyed reading about your processes above.

Some of the other recent books you have had pieces published in include Sycorax’s Daughters and Black Magic Women, two really beautiful collections. What were the inspirations for your work in these anthologies?

RJJ: I’m really proud of both of those books and honored to be included alongside the other contributors. Most of my works revolve around various aspects of trying to navigate the societal expectations often placed on black, female beings. In “To Give Her Whatsoever She May Ask”, from Sycorax’s Daughters, I was inspired by the idea that Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 7.18.44 PMsometimes we’re betrayed in ways we can’t imagine, such as by our own bodies and our faith. Ingrid relies on her faith to give her what her body desires and is unable to produce, but when she realizes that may not work, she decides to ask for help somewhere else. I’ve found myself in that position many times, questioning why things didn’t work the way I wanted them to and having a hard time accepting that maybe my desires weren’t meant to be. That faith can be fragile.

“Left Hand Torment”, in Black Magic Women, was my first effort at historical horror. I’m fascinated by historical horror stories and I just don’t see them done a lot by modern horror writers. (This is a good place to tell you I can’t wait to read The Devil’s Dreamland. I’m sure it will give me the creepy, historical delight I enjoy so much.)

I wanted to write about a black woman who was doing something in the past other than Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 7.18.12 PMnavigating chattel slavery. Black women were doing other things throughout history, like taking advantage of social systems and practices to gain social and financial freedom. Placage, a form of common law marriage practiced in New Orleans during the 18thand 19thcenturies between black women and white men, often provided the women entering into these arrangements with binding agreements where they could own property and their children could inherit assets from their fathers. I wanted to tell the story of a young woman in such an agreement, where the desire for freedom and positioning in society led her to the horrors of being considered someone’s property. Her arranged union was a different type of bondage from chattel slavery, but still bondage, nonetheless.

ST: Thank you for sharing some background inspiration for your stories!

What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

RJJ: I wish someone would have told me that some gatekeepers would defend the gates for a really, really long time, and continue to provide fertile ground for sexism, racism, and other bigotry. There have been numerous people of color and people of varying gender expressions allowed to play in the horror arena, especially during the past few years, and I’m excited about that. But it seems superficial. I feel there are still practices in place that make it super hard for us to really break ground and build permanent residences here. I see resistance in places where I would think it wouldn’t exist and I realize that although many of us have done this long enough to not let that resistance stop us from producing and staying in the game, a newer and less experienced writer might not have that same experience. They might be turned off or scared away from working in our industry because they just don’t feel welcome or safe.

ST: Your excellent points go right into my next question.

One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?

RJJ: I hope that more varying experiences and expressions will continue to be embraced within the genre. Get Out was earth shattering because it introduced the idea that racism is a repulsive horror, so works that examine it fit squarely within the horror genre. The terror faced by the parents of the disabled children in Hereditary and A Quiet Place showed that fraught situations which anyone would find dreadful are utterly petrifying for families with disabled members. Stories told through varying gender lenses are necessary so we get a truly diverse array of what scares different people with different experiences.

There are still naysayers who say these voices don’t belong in horror, that social justice efforts are being forced on audiences who only want the same fare they’ve been given repeatedly. These people would rather see the genre cannibalize itself by producing and celebrating the same stories based on the same ideas by the same writers over and over again, growing stagnant in its refusal to mature and represent more citizens of the world. I hope the authentic, varying voices soon start to drown those out. This innovation and freshness is necessary if we want the genre to continue on into perpetuity and gain new fans.

ST: I’m with you 100% on that, and it’s one of the reasons why I am constantly drawn to horror. It provides an outlet to come face-to-face with the very real horrors and terror we create as a society every day. I try to believe that confronting those realities will generate important conversations.

I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

RJJ: I remain in perpetual awe of Linda Addison. She’s simply marvelous. Not only is she a brilliant writer who can create magic from mere words, but she’s a delightful person. I let my membership in HWA drop for a couple of years because I really struggled with whether or not membership and the community provided the support I need as a black, female horror writer. But then I saw Linda in action. I listened to her words and watched what she did. She gives back to the horror community in ways that often go unacknowledged. She’s always willing to give a word of encouragement without the practiced air of someone who just goes through motions. Her kindness is genuine. Also, she manages to provide editorial feedback that doesn’t leave you feeling eviscerated but is honest and always makes the piece better than it was before.

Without knowing of my struggles and doubts, Linda showed that she is and always has been an integral component in building an organization and shaping an industry that will be good for all horror writers. She has single-handedly—and I’m pretty sure, unknowingly—been responsible for me continuing to renew and participate. Through her example, I’ve realized that I want to engage with the community and give back where I can.

ST: Linda is amazing! And like you said, her kindness is so genuine and encouraging.

What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

RJJ: Right now, I’m working on my first draft of an academic essay for the collection Not a Fit Place: Essays on The Haunting of Hill House, edited by Dr. Kevin Wetmore. I’m not sure if we have a publication date just yet, but I’m thrilled to write a chapter about this series. I’m in my element when I get to examine and analyze and put different ideas together.

I currently have a few short stories out with editors, so I’m hoping those find homes. Also, I’m working on a novella and screenplay, as well as pulling together short stories for a story collection to shop around. I hope to have good news on those before the end of the year.

My Amazon author page is where I usually keep releases updated.

Uncovering Stranger Things: Essays on Eighties Nostalgia, Cynicism and Innocence in the Series made it onto the preliminary ballot for the Stoker awards in the non-fiction category this year. I can’t even brag about my own essay in the collection because the others are beyond remarkable.

I’ve enjoyed chatting with you and I look forward to reading more of your work, Sara.

ST: Wonderful! I can’t wait to see what you create in the future. Thank you so much for sharing your insights today.

Keep up with R.J.’s work and thoughts on her social media! Find her on Twitter @rjacksonjoseph and Instagram: @rjacksonjoseph

and on her personal Facebook or official author Facebook

Follow her blog at rjjoseph.wordpress.com

Check back on Wednesday to read about my next guest!

WiHM Interview with Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My next guest is Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi! Erin has so much experience in the field, and is a true champion with all the different hats she wears. I am thrilled to learn more about her work today. Happy reading!

Erin Al-Mehairi Bio PhotoErin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She is an author and has twenty years of experience in her field in jobs as a writer, a journalist, an editor, and marketing and public relations professional/publicist among many other things.

Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving in 2017, was her debut collection and a mix of dark poetry and short stories. Upon publishing it hit #2 in women’s poetry holding for weeks behind New York Times best-selling author Rupi Kaur’s second release. In its past year of publishing, it has hit the Top 5 Amazon paid best-selling lists in women’s poetry and horror short stories multiple times. Her work has been called raw, honest, evocative, beautiful as well as clever, brutal, and chilling by industry professionals, reviewers, and readers alike. She has stories and poems featured in several other anthologies and magazines (Hardened Hearts, Enchanted Magazine, PEN’s My Favorite Story, and Dark Voices) and was the co-editor of the Gothic poetry and short story anthology Haunted are These Houses.

She continues her own businesses, Addison’s Compass PR, in which she’s worked for business and non-profits both, and Hook of a Book Media, the latter of which currently takes up most of her time as she does editing, publicity, and consulting for many authors. Proudly born in England, Erin now writes multiple stories, novels, and poems from the forests of rural Ohio where she frets over her three children and a cat.

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)? 

Erin: My background with horror: For about eight years I’ve been a reviewer, interviewer, journalist in horror (in conjunction with other genres too); a content reader and editor for five or six years in horror (an editor of all things much longer); a publicist for over seven years in horror (in the field much longer).

I wasn’t allowed to watch, read, or talk about horror growing up even though Nathaniel Hawthorne is in my maternal ancestry tree. I am still not allowed to say the word horror to my 80-year-old mother. In her defense she did give me my overall love of reading though and introduced me to Frost, Thoreau, and Dickinson poetry. I was first introduced to Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson in middle school and high school and I loved them. Later, they would resonate with me enough to become some of my greatest writing influences, coupled with study at college of Hawthorne, Joyce Carol Oates, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few.

I wrote some dark poetry off and on in my life (mostly stemming from grief and loss but predominately wrote more about nature, life, love) but didn’t really delve into writing horror elements into my poetry or prose until five years ago when I started a revenge novel featuring Emily Dickinson’s ghost (which I am still writing – forever writing). I expanded to writing more dark poetry three years ago and more short stories in the last few. Before writing horror, my focus was on the historical and middle reader novels I had started. Once I began to get a feel for the exhilaration that comes with writing a twist, surprise ending, or getting my darkness out onto the paper, I couldn’t stop. However, I am a very cross genre writer and my work often features many influences and is hard to put into a category. I’m experimental and like to try new things.

I suppose the only creative outlet I channel horror into is writing – journalistic, poetry, and prose. I do research for fiction writing and articles. I enjoy researching serial killers. Though I like to do various types of art, I’ve not ever done anything horrifying! I do sometimes have to design ads or flyers for horror writer clients in our public relations work and that’s fun and I have art directed quite a few horror covers for publishers and authors.

ST: That Emily Dickinson inspired novel sounds so cool! Please keep writing it, and of course please keep writing your gorgeous poetry 🙂 

Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

Erin: I could probably list all the things you said there as a precursor to the question. Further, I think as someone who is a natural empath and someone sensitive to so many of the forces around us, I am drawn to both darkness and light. I love exploring in my

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work how they intertwine. I love the creative outlet that horror gives, such as loving when I first read something like “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe and the rush I got from the atmosphere, tension, and the ending—same as I get with watching Hitchcock. I’ve infused that now decades later into my own writing, as my challenge in writing, or what makes it the most fun for me, is the adrenaline rush of pulling off a surprise or shocking ending. I like to make people feel uncomfortable sometimes with my writing, and I don’t mind feeling uncomfortable while reading. Give me your every scar on the page and let me bleed mine. If you talked to me on a daily basis or face-to-face, you’d probably not sense this at all in me! Horror writing really lets me have an outlet. I love reading horror, and writing it too I suppose, because of the element of humanity. It’s real, not fake, most of the time. I also like the shock value and the adrenaline rush I get from a good twist or surprise ending in a book or when I am writing a story and I pull one off on the reader.

ST: I so agree with that aspect of horror as an outlet. Great points.

You wear many, many different hats between writing, editing, promoting your clients, and balancing your personal life! I think that’s something a lot of women can relate to since many of us understand what it’s like to adjust to a multitude of roles in life. Do you think these roles have influenced your writing at all in terms of process or even the themes you have written about? I feel like I can see some of this in your collection Breathe. Breathe.

Erin: Most likely, but I feel more like my entire life journey influences the themes I write about. I can see why you’d mention if wearing so many different work hats while balancing personal life influenced my writing – due to breathing and the anxiety element of sometimes being overwhelmed with juggling a work load – but mostly I feel that being a domestic violence survivor, a rape survivor, chronic illnesses, going through motherhood with three children on rocky terrain (as our foundation has been at times), divorce, partnership, abandonment, mental illness in those around me, death of so many loved ones, loss of a pregnancy and dealing with being an age to have no more children…I feel like those things define my writing more, if we are speaking in terms of how my life roles influence my writing.

Breathe BreatheAs for wearing many hats for work, I’ve tended to do that over the course of several decades primarily as a way to escape issues, and deal with sadness or anxiety, which isn’t always a good thing because you become overworked and more tired and more anxious in the end. It’s a quick fix for that moment – a way to let your mind focus on something else, but sometimes it brings along its own issues. And so yes, that ball of bad energy ignites into writing sometimes. Now, I’m working on that – starting in 2019 – as I’ve made time for more fiction and poetry writing, it is starting to be my escape instead for all of it and I’m loving it so much more that way! Wearing all those work hats almost cost me my life last year, and I don’t want to go back to that place again. Motherhood of three might have caused me the most stress in terms of wearing multiple hats, but in the end, it’s my kids who save me from myself every time and make life worth living. They are my most supportive encouragers of my writing too! If I have to slow down and choose less hats, especially being 44, then that’s what it will take to have a better quality of life. Teaching myself to just… breathe.

ST: Thank you so much for sharing those personal influences on your writing. I think it’s important for others, especially women, to read answers like that as we each deal with our own demons and ghosts.

What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

Erin: I never thought about it in terms of advice solely for women, though I get asked the question a lot in general. When I started diving into the horror genre and online social scene of it eight years ago, the men were very friendly and the women more reserved. Also, there were fewer women published. In some regard, I still think the first part is so, even if way more are published. I attribute that now, in my experiences, to the fact that men are more aggressive about their promotion, and women tend to hold back. I would encourage women to not be at all shy to ask other women for interviews, e-mail them to introduce themselves, or surely, read their work, even though the books by males bombard the streams. Of course, I do see that in the last couple of years, women have truly broken-down barriers in the genre to the point that there is more social media exposure now for them and their voices can be heard loud and clear. Reach out to other women and make connections, support each other, help each other, don’t compete. There is more than enough room for everyone in my opinion.

I suppose that would be my advice to all: Don’t compete when you can embrace others, collaborate, motivate, and stay out of the drama. Do not let the drama makers and the trolls in the horror genre get you down. You’ll always have someone who hates you no matter how kind you try to be to everyone, but if you’re a good person who supports others and is hard working at their craft, you’ll have plenty more who will love you. I also want to keep urging women to submit, submit, submit and submit a wide variety of places. I also want to encourage women in horror to keep writing from their hearts, don’t second guess themselves, don’t sit on manuscripts and don’t put yourself or your writing last, and take more chances.

ST: Wonderful advice!

I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

Erin:  Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson is one of the best writers to ever have written, male or female. Some of our best male authors site her as their influence, such as Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Paul Tremblay, and more. Her ability to create tension shirley jackson fearand atmosphere, such that we often attribute to Hitchcock, should be attributed to Jackson! Her voice speaks inside your own head and I’ve never, in all my years of reading, had another be able to do that as well. She is a master of mystery, suspense, foreboding, psychological deconstruction and construction, empathy, and emotion. Jackson primarily wrote while raising four kids in a fifteen-room old farmhouse— can you imagine the chaos? I myself can relate to having to work and write while raising three, and sometimes five, children. As well other parts of her life are an example of my past – her husband, who was a professor, was in charge of the money, only doling her out a stipend he deemed fit, even when she eventually made more than him after “The Lottery.” She was isolated at home and only wrote in her spare quiet moments. A lot of her confinement as such from her husband played into some of The Haunting of Hill House. I think writing was her escape too and her legacy. She also had problems with her health, as I’ve battled, and was on a lot of prescription drugs – often writing some of her best work on them! In my own writing, she (and Charlotte Perkins Gilman) have inspired me to intertwine and tendril these themes—loss, isolation, depression—things that haunt you.

ST: YES, I’m with you 100% on Shirley Jackson. It’s so cool to see her influences on contemporary writers, too.

One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?

Erin: Just from three years ago to now I’ve seen a giant leap in promoting women in horror all year around. More and more females are promoting each other, more men are promoting and supporting women, there are more females in horror, and I think that huge strides have been made in many ways. Editors and publishers in the last few years have made it a point to make sure there is more of a percentage of women in anthologies and that their publishing line is publishing more women. I think that the social media awareness, coupled with the amazing work being pumped out by women, has really started to take hold. I know that myself three years ago I barely knew any women in horror, let alone worked with them. I had a long list of men I worked with and read, even though I’ve always been a huge women’s empowerment person in my daily and regular business life!

I am so happy to be able to work with women in horror now and to be able to call so many friends. A lot of that had to do with women others introduced me to through women in horror projects each February. I hope that this continues to build and grow and will reach across all sections of the horror community, but I am hopeful that it will. I think with reviewers finally also embracing reading women and supporting and promoting them (I found that both male and female reviewers in the past tended toward male authors) that this will only be more of a year-round thing. And I think reviewers probably have not idea how instrumental they’ve been in getting women published by promoting them more and through reviews of our work.

ST: What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

Erin: I’m working on a poetry-only collection featuring water elements, in which the writing is fairly completed (paper and pencil, need to type and edit). Water has always been a huge source of inspiration for me, as stated above, supplying me with energy, both physically and mentally. I feel at peace by the water, but also the anger and danger in its depths. I can channel emotions, and give and take emotions, near the shoreline. I believe water has special power for me. There will be sadness in this collection, but also sea monsters, ship wrecks, and coastal village intrigue. I’m a huge fan of the last three. I hope others like it, but I’m writing it because it’s fun for me! I’m looking for a publisher for it. <– gasp

CoversI’m also working on a short story collection based on the works of Van Gogh I’m really excited about—I love art and so much of it inspires my work, but his particularly has been speaking to me. In larger works, I’m working on a novel still that I’ve been picking away at for years. It’s a revenge novel, featuring an abused woman and the ghost of Emily Dickinson. It takes place in Emily’s hometown. I’m excited for this one and hope to find more time to work on it.

And since writing my Vahalla Lane series in Breathe. Breathe., I’ve had some good response to it and so I’m writing on a novella when I have the chance featuring the story of one of the women, both in prequel and in sequel to what happens.

And I am going to be working soon on a few pieces for several anthologies I was invited into for 2019 and some poems and short stories for magazine invites as well, all so far due this first quarter of the year. I recently received two acceptances on a poem and short story so my year started off nice!

Hopefully, my friend Duncan Ralston and I will start to flesh out some work on a novel together which features our mutual interest in cults. And my other friend Dustin La Valley and I are talking about doing some beautiful collaboration featuring micro shorts.

Besides that, I’ll be editing more novels and coaching authors this year and spend less hours on the publicity realm for them and I will be looking for more options available in which I can curate and edit another anthology.

ST: I am already excited for that next poetry collection! The sea is one of my favorite places, so anything with water elements is going right to my TBR pile. Best of luck! Sounds like you have a busy year ahead, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for any new releases from you.

Thank you so much, Erin! It’s been a blast reading about your work and what’s to come!

Make sure to follow Erin’s social media to keep up-to-date with all the incredible work she is doing. Check out her website, Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

You can also find her on Facebook (personal as Erin Al-Mehairi or Hook of a Book), Twitter @ErinAlMehairi or Hook of a Book, Instagram, Pinterest, and her Amazon or GoodReads pages!

Check back on Monday to see who my next guest is!

 

 

 

 

WiHM Interview with Kathryn E. McGee

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My next guest is Kathryn E. McGee! Not long ago she was a guest on the Ladies of the Fright podcast and I adored her feature on haunted houses. I wanted to find out more about Kathryn’s work. Happy reading!

KathrynEMcGeeKathryn E. McGee’s horror stories have appeared in Gamut Magazine and anthologies
including Dead Bait 4, Horror Library Vol. 6Winter Horror Days, and Cemetery Riots. She has an MFA in creative writing from UC Riverside Palm Desert and is a member of the Horror Writers Association. Her monthly horror book club, The Thing in the Labyrinth, meets late at night at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. She is also co-author of DTLA37: Downtown Los Angeles in Thirty-seven Stories, a non-fiction coffee table book about Downtown L.A. For more information, please visit http://www.kathrynemcgee.com.

 

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)?

KM: Thanks for including me! I write horror fiction. I’ve published a handful of horror short stories and have a novella in the works. I also moderate a monthly horror book club at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.

ST: Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

KM: I’ve always been drawn to the dark and supernatural and love writing in a genre where anything goes. Stories that are bizarre but also relatable give me the sense that there is more out there, there’s always something left to discover. That feeling of the potential in things, what could happen, is so exciting to me. I think horror also offers an amazing opportunity to express ideas through metaphor. Some ideas are too difficult to understand without that kind of abstraction. The haunted house story, for example, offers a wonderful framework for plot and character development. There’s nothing like trapping a protagonist in a bad place with a haunted history and watching them try to sort out their internal issues while lost in an endless hallway, while seeing ghosts appear in the mirror, while avoiding that dead woman waiting for them in the closet that looks a little too much like their mother.

 ST: I’m a fan of the metaphors as well, especially since so much of horror reflects society back at us in one way or another.

I loved your guest spot on The Ladies of the Fright Podcast where you showcased your background expertise on haunted houses and how the way we occupy space can completely change human behavior. Do you have anything in the works for (or have you ever thought about writing) a non-fiction book exploring all the excellent points you discussed on the podcast? 

KM: Thanks for listening to the podcast. It was really fun discussing haunted house fiction—one of my favorite topics. I would love to write a non-fiction book or essay about it at some point. While in my MFA program a few years ago, I gave a lecture on why Screen Shot 2019-02-12 at 10.17.39 PMcharacters tend to stay in haunted houses, as opposed to simply leaving when the ghost shows up or when bad things start happening. I focused on examples like Fall of the House of Usher, The Haunting of Hill House, Burnt Offerings, and The Shining. Since then, I’ve been reading haunted house stories written more recently in an effort to study how the form is evolving. The way we use domestic space is always changing and it’s interesting to see how fiction responds. I just read Dale Bailey’s recent novel In the Night Wood and was blown away by how he did something new with the form. To answer your question, I don’t have any non-fiction in the works, but I’ve been continuing to think about the subject and would definitely like to write something on the topic soon.

ST: That research sounds great! Please do keep thinking about doing something down the road with that topic 🙂 I’d love to read it.

In addition to writing, you also moderate The Thing in the Labyrinth, a monthly horror book club at The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles! Do you think being active in book discussions has helped your writing or inspired ideas within your own writing? Does living in LA creep into your writing, too? I imagine the unique culture of LA must come with some inspirations for horror? 

KM: I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to moderate the book club. We have a really smart and fun group of people attending, and the discussions have been great. Plus, we meet late at night in the dark, which makes it even better. So often you read a book on your own and just move on to the next one. Having to sit down every month and figure out questions to ask the group and ways to tease apart the story—what the author was really trying to get at, how they crafted the narrative—has been really cementing the stories in my mind. We’ve been reading mostly new releases. Staying on top of what current horror authors are doing has given me a ton of fresh ideas. It’s a great way to study the craft of writing. I always go home feeling inspired.

Life in LA can’t help but creep into my writing. One of my best friends finally told me I needed to stop writing stories that start with people driving, but I sometimes find it impossible to think of my characters doing anything else! Also, the city has a ton of unique history. There’s so much here. Lots of potential settings. I work as an architectural historian, so I’m often doing site visits in old buildings and learning about obscure aspects of local history. There’s something new around every corner and I find it to be a constantly engaging environment.

ST: Your job sounds fascinating! The history must be amazing for inspiring new story ideas, and just learning about the obscure aspects in general seems really intriguing.

What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

KM: Just keep writing, keep getting feedback, and write more. It’s terrifying to share your work the first few times you do it. It’s actually scary every time. But you get used to that fear. You stop feeling ashamed when you write something that doesn’t work, because sometimes you write something that does. Horror is such a wonderful vehicle for self-expression. It allows us to express our feelings on some of the darkest subjects. You might think your ideas are too weird or that no one will relate, but there might be someone out there who needs to hear what you have to say. Keep writing, relish the strange.

ST: I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

KM: I think Carmen Maria Machado’s work is amazing. Her collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is so beautifully written. She deals with issues regarding the female experience in a fresh way with stunning prose. Her story, “The Resident,” is my favorite in the collection. I read it as a modern retelling of The Haunting of Hill House and was so inspired by how well it was written that I felt emotional by the time I got to the end.

ST: One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?

KM: I just hope women and diverse authors continue to create the meaningful art they are already making within the genre. While horror can be extremely fun and entertaining, it also provides a wonderful framework for telling important stories with relevant social or cultural messages. I’ve read many books by both men and women this year that have done an amazing job of conveying current topics of critical importance. Samantha Schewblin’s Fever Dream, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, and Jennifer Wolfe’s Watch the Girls are all good examples.

ST: Great points. I loved Tremblay’s novel, and will definitely be checking out those other two works!

What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

KM: I’ve been focusing on longer works and recently finished writing a novella about a haunted studio apartment. I’m also editing a novel, which is a dark thriller set in a historic hotel in Los Angeles. Information about my other work and book club is on my website at www.kathrynemcgee.com. I post about what I’m reading on Instagram @kemcgee30.

ST: Thank you so much, Kathryn! I am already eager to get my hands on that novella.

Make sure to follow Kathryn and her work! It sounds like she has some amazing things brewing. Catch her on Twitter @mckat30 and check out The Last Bookstore!

I HIGHLY recommend the LOTF haunted house episode: https://www.ladiesofthefright.com/podcast/2018/10/30/lotf-23-tropisode-2-haunted-houses-with-kathryn-e-mcgee

Check back on Friday to see who my next guest is!

WiHM Interview with Gwendolyn Kiste

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My next guest is Gwendolyn Kiste! Gwen’s debut novel The Rust Maidens was released in November this past year and it quickly became one of my favorite recent horror novels. I am thrilled to get to know more about her amazing work. Happy reading!

Gwendolyn Kiste Full-Color Headshot

Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of The Rust MaidensPretty Marys All in a Row, and the Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare, Shimmer, Black Static, and Interzone, among others. A native of Ohio, she currently lives on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. Find her online at gwendolynkiste.com

 

 

 

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)? 

GK: I’m a horror fiction writer. Over the past five years, my work has primarily been Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 4.28.13 PMshort fiction, which includes my first collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, which was released through JournalStone in 2017. I’ve also written a dark fantasy novella from Broken Eye Books about the Marys of folklore called Pretty Marys All in a Row, as well as my debut horror novel from Trepidatio, The Rust Maidens, that just made its way into the world this past November.

ST: Congratulations on the success of The Rust Maidens! It’s an incredible debut novel and I madly adored reading it. Your prose in the novel and in And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe is so gorgeous and poetic. Have there been any particular influences or inspirations who have helped you discover your storytelling voice over the years, or has it developed more from any certain techniques or processes you use?

GK: First off, thank you for your kind words. That means a lot, especially since I admire your work so much, Sara!

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 4.27.58 PMIt’s definitely been an incremental process of discovering my voice as a writer. Lots of trial and error, for sure, and the process is still ongoing. Hopefully, it always will be. I have certain inspirations—Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter—but there have been a lot of other influences that have sneaked in there too. Everyone from Edward Gorey, Richard Matheson, and Ernest Hemingway to Sylvia Plath, Edith Wharton, and Jane Austen have had varying levels of impact on me and how I see the craft. With techniques, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is to open up more and just let it flow. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into yourself and explore the uncomfortable or frightening places of yourself. When I look back over all my work so far, readers have responded the most to the stories where I was at my rawest and most honest.

At the same time, there’s also something strange and magical in writing. No matter how much you research and refine, there are times you have no idea where it all comes from. That’s probably one of the many things that keeps me intrigued as a writer, the mystery of it all.

ST: I really like your point about the always ongoing process of discovery — I think that’s definitely what makes writing so unique and magical. There’s always room to grow and learn.

Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

GK: Both my parents are fans of horror, so the genre has always been part of my life. In that way, horror is like home to me. It feels oddly safe and comfortable. But it goes deeper than that, too. I was recently having a conversation with a writer friend of mine, and we were going through lists of things that scared us as children. In the course of that conversation, I realized just how many fears, both irrational and rational, I’ve had over the years. Horror has without a doubt helped me with those fears. Having an oasis where fear is not only acceptable but openly welcome makes it easier to express my anxiety without worrying so much about being ridiculed for it. It allows me to go into those depths and look at what scares me and work through it. Writing doesn’t necessarily “fix” the anxiety, but it does allow me some semblance of control over it. In that way, I feel like I wear the fear, rather than it wearing me. That alone is such a huge influence that the horror genre has: to empower you, even at your most afraid.

ST: I now want a t-shirt that says, “I wear the fear” — love that!

What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

GK: The main advice I have for writers in general is to just keep going. Even when it gets hard, keep moving forward with your work. For female writers in particular, this is probably even more important advice, because being a woman in a male-dominated industry is challenging, to say the least. It can be demoralizing to see yet another table of contents with only one or two (or no) female writers. But that means we need these new voices in the genre.

As for what I wish I knew ahead of time, I’m honestly glad I didn’t know everything that I know now. Sometimes, just jumping in and going for something is the only way to do it. I’m afraid that if I knew then what I know now about publishing, then I might not have wanted to move forward. It can be a hard industry with a lot of rejection and a lot of unexpected disappointments, but there are so many wonderful things about it too. Even on the worst days, I’m very glad I’m a writer, so it’s probably best not to know every bad thing that can (or will) happen, because you can so easily lose sight of the good. And there is good, so much of it fortunately, and that’s worth pushing through the bad.

ST: Those are great points! Even through the challenges, it’s difficult to imagine not being a part of this wonderful madness called writing.

I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

GK: Christa Carmen. Her first collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, was released last year, and it’s one of the best debuts in a long time. The stories run the gamut from heartbreaking and quiet to visceral and supremely intense. Such a huge range, especially in a first book. Christa’s also a personal friend, and one I’m so fortunate to have. Her positivity and support of other writers is so inspiring. It’s one thing to be incredibly talented—and she most certainly is—but to also be such a huge force of good in this industry only makes her that much more amazing.

ST: I really enjoyed Christa’s collection, too. I can’t wait to see what else she does!

One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?

GK: This has been said so many times before, but I think it’s worth repeating here: my hope is that one day we’ll not only not need a Women in Horror Month, but that the notion of having to dedicate a special month to female authors will seem really dated. I want to see a future when women writers are given as much time and space on bookshelves as male authors, and that people will take that as second nature rather than something they need to consciously consider.

Fortunately, in the five years I’ve been writing professionally, I do feel like things have improved. Not as much as we’d like obviously, but with the continued steam that Women in Horror Month has gained and now the year-round dedicated team at Ladies of Horror Fiction plus, of course, all the constant hard work of female authors in the horror community, we’re absolutely making strides. That gives me hope, which is what gets me through and helps me wake up every day and get back to writing.

ST: I’m with you 100% on all of that.

What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

GK: This year’s new releases are mostly short fiction for me. I have stories forthcoming in Welcome to Miskatonic University from Broken Eye Books, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence from Pantheon, and the Haunted Houses anthology from Flame Tree Press, among a few other publications that I don’t think I can officially announce quite yet. In terms of current projects, I’m finishing up a novella that deals with doppelgangers and cinema and the insidiousness of nostalgia, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m also in the early stages of outlining a new novel, as well as in the even earlier stages of putting together my second collection. Never a dull moment in a writer’s life!

As for other writer-related activities, I’m also excited to be heading out to some events in the next few months. I’ll be at The Outer Dark Symposium in Atlanta in March, and at StokerCon in Grand Rapids in May. It’s always helpful and inspiring to get away from the computer screen for a couple days and be surrounded with other writers.

Anyhow, in the meantime, anyone who wants to keep up with me can head over to my website at gwendolynkiste.com. I’m also fairly active on Facebook and Twitter, so you can find me there as well. I tend to talk mostly about writing, movies, witchcraft, and my cats, so be warned! 😊

ST: Thank you so much, Gwen! I’m really looking forward to StokerCon and saying hello to you there. I can’t wait to read your new work that’s coming out this year, too. Cheers!

Make sure to follow Gwen’s links and social media up above. This is a writer whose work you don’t want to miss.

Check back on Wednesday to see who my next guest is!

WiHM Interview with Rachel Autumn Deering

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My next guest is Rachel Autumn Deering! She’s pretty metal, is so much fun to talk to, and is a fantastic writer. Read on!

rad

Rachel Autumn Deering is a rock ‘n’ roll witch with a heart of slime. She lives with a bunch of monster masks in suburban Michigan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)? 

RAD: Hey, it’s my pleasure! Thanks for having me.

It truly feels like I’ve always been into horror. I had an uncle who would babysit me a lot while my dad worked and he was really into creature feature movies and old horror comics and heavy metal music, so I was exposed to darker ideas from a very young age. I think by associating those things with my uncle, who was a generally happy and positive person, I realized horror wasn’t something awful or forbidden or made for bad people, but it was something to be enjoyed on a certain level, you know? I would put on a tape of cartoons and a tape of something like Night of the Demons back to back and could see the value in both. It was never a taboo thing in my family so I never treated the horror genre as anything more than great stories.

Of course some of that stuff scared me stiff, but I loved it. Horror media was something I consumed in a way that seemed to stick with me more than the rest. And those darker themes carried me through my childhood and into my adult life where I applied a horror sensibility to nearly everything I did. My career started with horror comics back in the early 2000s. I was living in Columbus Ohio at the time and writing for a local horror-themed rock ‘n’ roll comic. From there I went on to write and self-publish a horror comic series until that was eventually picked up by a publisher in the UK, and all along the way I landed gigs with various publishers to write comics like Creepy and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy and so forth. I released a really hefty hardcover horror anthology comic in 2014 called In the Dark, and was nominated for the Eisner and Harvey Awards for that work. During my time in comics I also wrote supplemental lore for the horror video game Diablo III, but that’s been my only experience with the interactive media side of things. From comics, I transitioned into writing prose with my debut novella, Husk, and I’ve been firmly planted in the literary garden ever since. I’ve gone on to write a number of short stories for various publishers, design a small handful of book covers, and I’m currently editing a witchy anthology for Titan in the UK with my good friend Christopher Golden as well as chipping away at two new novels, one of them co-written with Irish author Matt Hayward.

And, lest you think I’m not busy enough, I am also the lead vocalist and primary lyric writer in a horror-themed heavy metal band called Cryptlord.

ST: I love your extensive background — I’m also amazed you have time to breathe. Rock on! Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

RAD: I honestly can’t be certain. I don’t tend to analyze the how and why of things I enjoy. I think if I had to venture a guess, I’d say I like the idea that there’s something out there scarier than my fellow man. That no matter how awful people might be, there’s something more to fear in this world. In that way, I suppose horror is a sort of redemptive thing for me. The older I get, the less I write about creatures and the more I have made humans the focus. That tends to be the narrative arc for most people, I think. We get older and we lose our rose-colored glasses, and we shrug off the presumptions of innocence, and we start to see the world in a much more mature (and oftentimes sinister) way. I don’t want that to be true, but at this point in my life that’s how I feel. I’d love to go back to relating to the fun, campy, redemptive sort of horror some day but given the current social climate, I don’t imagine I’ll be holding my breath.

ST: I think you’re spot on with that observation about the narrative arc and how writing changes as we get older. Your bio mentions you are from the hills of the Appalachia. I think Appalachian horror is an underrated subgenre that more people need to explore. The environment is so rich for storytelling. How has the surrounding and culture crept into your work?

RAD: Well, Husk was set in a small Kentucky town with small Kentucky townfolk, so it’s Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.01.53 PMpretty easy to see the influence there. I’ll almost always have at least some passing mention of Kentucky or a small town somewhere, even when the story is set in a larger city. Often a character will have a certain way of speaking that makes them a little more down-home and friendly, especially if they’re the central antagonist. I don’t know why I love a friendly villain, but I’m guessing that comes from the hills in some way, too. People tend to tell me I’ve got a very straight-forward, no-nonsense way of telling a story that somehow finds a way to still be lyrical. That comes from my childhood, sitting around on porches, listening to the adults telling stories about loving and lusting and fighting and fishing. I moved away from Kentucky before I began my writing career, but I’ll always carry Appalachia in my heart.

ST: Along with writing, you have designed book covers (the cover you did for the upcoming book Limbs from Grindhouse Press is still hauntingly fresh in my mind!), and you have extensively written, designed, edited and more in the comics industry. What are the challenges you have faced as a woman in these industries? What changes would you like to see in the future to help make these industries more diverse?

RAD: Outside of the few odd comments about my looks, I haven’t come up against too many knuckleheads myself. And I’m thankful for that because I’ve heard some stories that’ll make you mad enough to fight. It might be that I’ve got that rough and tough lesbian edge that keeps me from having to deal with the nonsense, where someone else who might be a little more soft-spoken and gentle in demeanor would be seen as an easier target. It might just be the company I tend to keep, but it feels like creative industries as a whole are being dominated by forward-thinking, progressive people who show an active interest in making the working world a better place for women. There will always be holdouts and radicals who try to keep women from achieving anything meaningful, but it seems to me that those types are increasingly more afraid to speak out. I think it’s only a matter of time before their kind dies off completely and there will be no more reason to make a fuss about gender in any industry. I know there are people out there who struggle every day with their identity and how it impacts their work-life. I would not, for a second, want to discount their experiences and I’ll be there to stand with them any time I’m needed, but I try to have an optimistic outlook for the future. Here in Michigan where I live, we appointed a woman to every statewide office in this most recent election, and even sent a decent chunk of ladies up to Congress. That’s massive progress, and I find a lot of hope in that.

ST: What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

RAD: I’d say you shouldn’t wait around for someone to give you permission to tell the stories you want to tell. You don’t need a publisher to say it’s okay to write your book. You can distribute your work through Amazon these days and get it out to anybody in the world. Do your own thing, be unique, be the exact type of writer you want to be and don’t ever flinch. Definitely don’t try to hide your femininity or feel like you need to be as macho as the dudes to fit in and be taken seriously.

ST: Great advice. I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

RAD: I like Sarah Pinborough quite a bit. It seems you can’t really put her in a box when it comes to her writing and I like that. She’s definitely horrific, but I don’t think she feels the need to be defined as a horror writer. I read Behind Her Eyes last year and it really had an impact on me. I hadn’t been that thoroughly entertained in a long time, by a book or a movie or anything else. She incorporates elements of thrillers, romance, body horror, paranormal, and everything in between and it makes for a really wild ride. I have her new one, Cross Her Heart, on my night stand now and I’m looking forward to being able to dedicate some time to that.

ST: What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

Screen Shot 2019-02-05 at 7.01.06 PMRAD: I am finishing up the all-female witch anthology, Hex Life, for Titan Books at the moment. After that, I will be writing a non-fiction history book for an existing horror franchise that must remain nameless until after it is announced. I have a number of short stories coming out in various anthologies this year as well as my novel Wytchwood Hollow and the novel I’m co-writing with Matt Hayward called Pestilent. You can find me on twitter @racheladeering to keep up to date on all of those projects and more.

ST: Thank you so much to Rachel for joining us. Check out her website and Twitter to stay updated on her amazing projects!

Check back on Monday to read about my next guest! 

WiHM Interview with Michelle R. Lane

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My next guest is Michelle R. Lane who has a debut novel releasing this year! Read on to find out more.

Michelle-Lane.jpgMichelle R. Lane writes dark speculative fiction about women of color who must battle their inner demons while falling in love with monsters. Her work includes elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and occasionally erotica. In January 2015, Michelle graduated with an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her short story, “The Hag Stone,” appears in the anthology Dark Holidays, available from Dark Skull Publications. She lives in South Central Pennsylvania with her son.

 

ST: Thank you so much for taking the time to share more about your work today. To start, tell our readers a little bit more about your background with horror? What creative outlets do you channel horror into (writing, art work, film, design, research, etc…)?

ML: My primary creative outlet is writing, but horror almost always finds its way into other things that I do. Even if I’m decorating Christmas cookies, I use cutters shaped like tombstones, conjoined twins, bats, and witches. Each year I attend a cookie decorating contest with friends, and several of my cookies won this year, including an Illuminati-themed eyeball cookie and a voodoo doll. One year, I made stuffed voodoo doll ornaments for my friends and family and I still hang mine on the tree. My interest in horror was groomed by my family who were avid readers of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and later, thanks to me, Clive Barker. Saturday afternoons were spent watching Hitchcock films or Hammer Horror on Creature Double Feature. I remember writing some stories with dark subjects as a kid, but I don’t think I wrote my first horror short story or poetry until I was a teenager. At that time, I started devouring every vampire novel I could get my hands on and I’ve never stopped.

ST: Congratulations on your forthcoming novel Invisible Chains with Haverhill House Publishing! That’s very exciting and I can’t wait to read the book. What are your favorite elements that you’ve incorporated into the novel? What was the most challenging?

ML: Thanks, Sara. I’m excited about having my first novel published, but also very nervous. Invisible Chains is a horror novel, but the elements of horror are primarily based in the horrors of historical slavery in America. The novel is a fictional slave narrative told from the POV of a young slave who experiences a lot of terrible things first-hand and witnesses other slaves being tortured and killed. This is an uncomfortable topic and I look forward to and dread having people read the novel.

There were a lot of challenges in writing this book, and even though slavery is obviously horrific, I struggled with whether it would be considered a horror novel by mainstream readers. There are monsters, human and supernatural, there’s magic and rape and torture. All these elements come together to create a horror story in my opinion, but as a woman of color writing about a woman of color, it isn’t always clear where my stories fit even when they have elements of horror in them. I think the challenge for many women of color writing horror, is to simply be considered horror writers and published as such. Fortunately, Haverhill House recognized my work as horror, and have been kind enough to publish Invisible Chains.

ST: Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

ML: Well, aside from being raised on a steady diet of horror fiction – novels, film, and television – being black and female in America can be a horrific identity to occupy. Writing horror seems natural to me. I wouldn’t say that I’m a pessimist, but I often see the darker aspects of life and I tend to expect the worst-case scenario in most situations. Racism and sexism are simply part of being black and female in America. Navigating this landscape can be treacherous at times and when people reveal their true faces, like monsters hiding behind masks, life can seem very much like a dark fairy tale or a horror story. Who do you trust? Is it ever possible to feel “safe”? So, telling the stories of women of color surrounded by monsters seems like the most natural thing to me. But, my stories, no matter how dark the subject, still have the possibility for hope and strength and growth and survival.

Horror, unlike any other genre, allows you to really dig deep into your emotions and show the world through a skewed lens that may make sense to someone going through similar struggles. Horror opens itself to allegory and gives writers a space to explore the darkness inside and outside, and no matter how bizarre or terrifying, you can almost always find a nugget of truth about humans and the society they live in.

ST: Those are wonderfully profound points for all of us to think about. The threads between horror and identity, especially for women and minorities, can truly change how a story is written and how it is perceived to different readers, too. 

What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

ML: Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Don’t worry if your story is going to upset a particular demographic. Write the story you need to tell and don’t be afraid to tell the truth. Tell the truth, because there’s probably someone out there who needs you to tell that story and they might not have the words to tell it themselves. I still struggle with this myself, so it’s a work in progress. Each story I write makes it easier to tell the truth. So, keep writing and don’t worry if your story makes people uncomfortable. That’s kind of the point.

ST: Great advice! I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

ML: At the moment, I’m reading Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth, and I am connecting with this story in ways that are both comforting and disturbing. I’m only half-way through the novel and I am seeing myself in Suzette. While my son isn’t maliciously trying to get rid of me, I see a lot of parallels to what I have experienced in terms of raising a child with behavioral problems that aren’t easily diagnosed. My son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder roughly two years ago, but we are still struggling to get him all the support and resources he needs. I need. I can really relate to Suzette in terms of witnessing behaviors that others may not see and having to fight to get an appropriate diagnosis and support. This is especially difficult as a single mother. So, even though Suzette is living a nightmare, I resent the fact that she is financially secure and has a reasonably stable partner. How screwed up is that?

So, what speaks to me about this novel isn’t just that I can directly relate to the characters, but Stage has this remarkable ability to depict the horrific in everyday life and take it to a level that makes it scarier because you realize that lots of people are living this horror in our current society. And, she does a great job of showing the imbalances between women’s work and men’s work and how women are expected to be perfect no matter what traumas they face. I think it is a wonderfully written modern tale of the horrors of being female in America without relying too heavily on the trope of motherhood and insanity like so many horror films seem to be doing these days. You’d think the only people going crazy in our society are upper-middle class white mothers. I’m here to tell you, that just isn’t the case. Just once, I’d like to see a horror film that features a single black mother struggling to pay her bills while seeking help with her child’s behavioral problems and simultaneously being blamed for them. That will make you crazy.

ST: One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?

ML: I’d like to read more horror fiction written by women of color, trans women, any woman who has a unique perspective on horror and how they relate to it. I’m a bit of a voyeur and I want to see inside other people’s minds and experience their fears through the lens of different cultural experiences and realities.

ST: What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

Screen Shot 2019-02-02 at 7.50.28 PMIn January, my short story, “Crossroad,” was published in the anthology Terror Politico: A Screaming World of Chaos, from Scary Dairy press. The anthology is loaded with great stories that follow the theme of political horror.

My goal for 2019 is to draft the sequel to Invisible Chains, and I’m currently working on a story for an anthology coming out later this year that looks at the monstrous feminine.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know all there is to know about me and what I’m working on. I also have a blog, Girl Meets Monster, where I feature the work other horror writers and review horror fiction, films, and TV shows.

ST: Thank you so much to Michelle for joining us. I so enjoyed reading her responses and thoughts on women in horror. I encourage everyone to follow her delightful blog and keep up with her work. Looking forward to reading Invisible Chains!

Check back on Friday to read about my next guest! 

 

 

 

WiHM Interview with Toni the Reader!

This year we are celebrating a decade of showcasing women in horror! In honor of something so close to my heart, I am featuring ten amazing ladies in horror on my blog all month long to celebrate their incredible creativity and work in the field.

My second guest is book reviewer and podcast host Toni, whom you might know as one of the great minds behind the Ladies of Horror Fiction! I am so excited to get to know more about Toni.

img_20180625_182916-2Toni is the owner of the blog The Misadventures of a Read and one of the co-founders of The Ladies of Horror Fiction. She is also the host of the Ladies of Horror Fiction podcast. She lives in Arizona with a houseful of boys and dogs. She loves anything that is related to horror, dark fiction and coffee.

 

 

ST: First of all, I want to say thank you for being such an integral part of The Ladies of Horror Fiction! It continues to grow and prove itself as an invaluable tool for promoting women in the genre. What has its creation been like for you? What do you envision for its future?

Toni: Thank you! Ladies, keep writing these fantastic books that everyone needs to read! I need some more poetry Sara!!!

The creation of the LOHF has been amazing. We have discussed and mapped out each step to roll things out slowly. The awards have been in discussion since August of last year. We wanted to make sure that everything that we do is thought out and maintain the integrity of the organization.

ST: As a reader, reviewer, podcast host, and more, I’m not sure how you find time to breathe! Is The Ladies of Horror Fiction Podcast the first podcast you have been a part of? How is it different than reviewing and helping to manage the website?

Toni: LOL…breathing and sleep are completely overrated. Yes, the Ladies of Horror Fiction podcast is the first podcast that I have been a part of. I listen to a lot of podcasts and I love the platform. One of my goals last year was to start a podcast. But I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about. When we founded the LOHF it gave me a topic that I am truly passionate about.

I find that I am doing a lot more research into whatever topic I am talking about. When I write a book review, it tends to be more about my feelings or what I get out of the story or writing. Whereas, with the podcast it is more topic based. With the topic I want to ensure that I have done enough research, so I don’t sound like an idiot. LOL. But I love it so much and it has been so much fun.

ST: Do you think women reviewers, especially women who review horror, have any challenges that they have compared to other reviewers? I know as a woman who writes horror fiction, there is always the challenge, or at least the question of, “am I being taken as seriously as male authors?” So, I wondered if women reviewers face anything similar?

Toni: Yes, we do. It is the whole stereotype that girls can’t like horror and there is going to be some horror that is too extreme for our delicate sensibilities. Over the past year we have seen women reviewers get bashed for having opinions regarding some horror tropes that may not be to the reviewer’s taste. It is unfortunate, that in 2019 we still have this divide between men and women in the horror industry.

ST: Women being drawn to horror has always made perfect sense to me as a way to confront our own daily horrors, to unleash the brewing darkness in our heads, and as a way to just have fun with our creativity. What draws you personally to the horror genre?

Toni: I have always read horror. When I was younger it was about the thrill of feeling scared. As I got older, my relationship with horror has changed. It is a place where monsters are fictional instead of on the news.

ST: What is a piece of advice you’d give to women just starting in the field, or what is something you wish someone would have told you before you started getting involved with horror projects?

Toni: The one piece of advice I would give to a woman starting out in the field is not to be afraid. Fear of being successful, fear of failure can totally torpedo so many of our dreams. Just keep pushing through the fear.

Okay, so I have another piece of advice. Historically, women as we are growing up are taught not to push ourselves forward, not promote ourselves. We need to use the tools available to promote ourselves. Talk to people about our work. Use the resources that are currently out there to get the word out.

ST: I know there are thousands of incredible horror ladies out there, but who is one woman in horror who inspires you particularly? What is it about this person’s work or personality that speaks to you?

Toni: There are three women whose work truly speaks to me. Gwendolyn Kiste, Kristi DeMeester and yourself. Each woman work speaks to me in a different way.

DeMeester’s work speaks to me on a familial level. It plays on my fears as a woman and parent.

Kiste’s work is beautiful and lyrical. It presents horror in this beautiful lyrical way.

Your work takes things that are horrific and make them beautiful.

ST: Aw thank you so much! I’m honored to be mentioned with Gwen and Kristi! One of the reasons I enjoy Women in Horror Month is because it gives us a chance to both reflect on how horror is evolving and reacting to societal and cultural changes, and it allows women to highlight the issues and obstacles we are still facing. What are your hopes for the future of women in horror, or just for keeping the momentum going all year long for more diversity within the genre?

Toni: My hopes are women horror writers become more main stream. There are so many amazing women horror writers that need to be shouted about from the rooftops.

Personally, diversity in horror is going to drive the genre forward and out of the shadows. When you walk into a book store there should be more than just Stephen King and Anne Rice. We should have more variety in main stream horror as it opens up different dimensions of horror.

ST: What are you working on this year or what do you have coming out? Where can we find you to keep up-to-date with your work?

screen shot 2019-01-29 at 8.01.55 pmToni: This year we are working on the Ladies of Horror Fiction awards!! (Get your work in ladies!!) We are also working on getting more guest posts from woman that are in the horror industry. We have also added a new series for the podcast where I get to read and talk about the original ladies who wrote horror. Which is amazing. There are many different projects that we are working on so keep an eye on our social media accounts and our blog!!

 

Meet the team behind the Ladies of Horror Fiction here!

Keep up with Toni’s reviews at The Misadventures of a Reader 

and on Twitter @Toni_The_Reader

ST: Thank you so much to Toni for joining us. I enjoyed learning more about the industry from a reviewer’s perspective! I am thrilled to see what all the Ladies of Horror Fiction have brewing for us!

Check back on Wednesday to read about my next guest!