This year for Women in Horror Month, I am ecstatic to bring you a roundtable feature each Monday with the authors behind Not All Monsters, an anthology by women in horror that will be out later this year from Strangehouse Books.
Thank you so much to the authors who could join me and so generously shared their time by answering these questions. You can check out the bios for all the authors in the anthology here.
Without giving away any spoilers, tell us a little bit about your story in the Not All Monsters anthology. What’s the title? Was there any particular inspiration behind the tale?
K.P. Kulski: I think as women we are all so intimately aware of the threat of sexual violence as well as the emotional destruction of body shaming and beauty standards. Too many of us are more than just aware. “Black Feathered Phlogiston” is about being pissed off as hell. It’s about women who are just done with the whole system. We’ve been eating shit for so long that it changes us. Phlogiston was an 18thcentury pseudo-science word for the element believed to be contained within every combustible. Like something just waiting to be ignited. The black feathers refer to harpies, cause harpies are cool.
Joanna Koch: My story “The Revenge of Madeline Usher” makes no secret about its inspiration. At age eleven, I discovered Poe. I was obsessed. Of course, I didn’t know the word misogyny and didn’t apply any sort of critical framework to his writing. Revisiting “The Fall of the House of Usher” decades later, Madeline’s near absence from the tale shocked me. Her presence haunts the original, yet she never speaks. She has no “screen time” besides the male glimpse. She’s not there long enough to call it a male gaze! I recognized this situation all too well. How many women have I known who were eclipsed by men, regardless of their importance in a family, job, or community? How many have been left out of history, and the arts and sciences?
I wanted to give Madeline a voice, and turn Poe’s (unintentional) misogyny inside-out. I also wanted to play with his style, and indulge myself with elaborate sentence structures and ten pound words. For this story, I let my purple prose flag fly.
Christa Carmen: I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘but he was such a nice guy’ refrain that occurs after the Ted Bundys and John Wayne Gacys of the world are discovered. When Ariel Castro was found to have kidnapped three the women, keeping them locked in various parts of his Cleveland, Ohio home for eleven years, neighbors and family members recalled going to Castro’s house for BBQs and Thanksgiving dinners. Castro’s own inability to see himself as anything but a “nice guy “and “not a monster” is beyond horrifying, and that dichotomy between the way monstrous men see themselves and the actual, barbarous ways they harm the women unfortunate enough to land in their paths was the inspiration behind this story.
The title, “And Sweetest in the Gale is Heard,” is a line from the Emily Dickinson poem “Hope is the Thing With Feathers,” and arose from my musings over what could possibly be strong enough to carry someone through the trauma of being held captive by a vile monster in a basement without egress. I realized that, in a situation so appalling, a feather may be plenty strong enough to place one’s hope upon, when hope is such a fragile thing.
Leslie Wibberley: My story, “Unfettered”, first took life in a story generation class taught by the wonderful Carina Bisset. In these classes, Carina pairs fairy tales, folk tales, or world myths with a scientific theme. “Unfettered” was inspired by the fairy tale The Firebird, and bioluminence. After a long journey that encompassed multiple versions and countless rounds of revisions, it arrived at its final destination. A magical realism tale featuring a former ballet dancer whose career was cut short by a terrible car accident, and the abuse she suffers before her resourcefulness and fortitude lead her to a new world of infinite possibilities.
Briana McGuckin: “The Good Will” envisions an after-life in which gods are dress forms
and the soul is a quilt. It’s a playful take on ancient Greek philosophy. Socrates says that there are “forms,” or blueprints, for everything. There’s a form for a tree – the perfect tree. But there are also forms for truth, justice, goodness – things that confuse us in the mortal world because they are imperfect, clarified to their essential parts.
According to Socrates, when a soul leaves the body, it looks upon these forms and understands what truth, justice, and goodness actually are. When the soul enters another body, it gets distracted and forgets. This is meant to explain learning – how we come to know things we don’t know. Socrates says we are remembering.
So, I sent a character through that process, to meet the (dress) forms, and I based her on my mom – not the events of her life, but her struggle with identity. It felt important to the theme of remembering, because she remembers stuff she wishes she didn’t. But I believe that her knowledge of her past is essential to her deep inner strength because she knows what she survived; she knows she is a survivor.
Jennifer Loring: My story is called “A Certain Age,” and it was inspired by the Filipino legend of the aswang. This creature can represent a number of monsters (vampires, witches, werewolves, etc.), but during the day it blends in with regular people. At night, it shape-shifts to hunt. “A Certain Age” is about racism and misogyny, and always feeling out of place. The aswangseemed like the perfect vehicle for telling that story.
Juliana Spink Mills: My story “The Sugar Cane Sea” started, as many stories do, with an image. A farmhouse I remember visiting as a child in my home country Brazil, nestled like a gemstone in the middle of a sea of shivering, rustling sugar cane. From there, the questions emerged: why would my main character be there? Was this a safe port from a storm, perhaps? And if so, whatwas the storm that drove her there?
There is a lot of farming in the state of São Paulo, where I grew up — sugar cane, yes, but also oranges, coffee, cattle, and others. I visited a lot of farms and sitiosin my years in Brazil, and it was fun to draw out images from my past and stitch them together into something new — and perhaps a little more sinister than my sunny childhood memories!
G.G. Silverman: My story is called “The Miraculous Ones.” Inspiration came from a few places—my love of sea monsters, my Italian heritage (the setting was loosely based on the village my dad came from in Italy), and my experience as a recently disabled person. I wanted to explore the superstitious culture of my heritage, and I also wanted to write a story where baking somehow factored in (my dad was also a baker, in one of his first jobs in America). Plus, I was obsessively watching The Great British Baking Showat the time, and was hungry, A LOT.
Amy Easton: My story is “Wasted”. It was initially inspired by media coverage of convicted rapist Brock Turner but is also a reflection on the assumption that teenage girls hold all the sexual power within intimate relationships, as well as the weird conflation of sex and violence which seems so prevalent in Western societies.
Angela Sylvaine: The title of my story, “Antifreeze and Sweet Peas”, is a nod to Arsenic and Old Lace. Let’s just say poison is involved in both. The inspiration came as I thought about vigilantism. As a woman, I often feel that the system isn’t doing enough and that some of those who are guilty, particularly powerful or seemingly upstanding men, don’t get the punishment they deserve (for example, the many examples of convicted rapists receiving minimal jail time or probation). This tale follows a woman who is uniquely qualified to dispense justice when society fails to stop predators and explores the moral grey area and consequences of being a vigilante.
Annie Neugebauer: “The Problem With Being a Monster” is a quirky story about a monster longing for human connection. It took its own path once it got going (as any good story is wont to do), but I started out aiming for that sweet spot between funny and scary that “Subsoil” by Nicholson Baker lands so beautifully. I think mine ended up more between funny and sad with a dash of macabre, but I’m not mad about that.
J.H. Moncrieff: The title of my story is “The Heart of the Lion”.It was inspired by the real-life death of Cecil the Lion. I’m a huge animal lover, and the thrill killing and poaching of animals infuriates me, so I thought it would be fun to write a story where the animals get revenge.
Jessica McHugh: My story “This Can Happen to You” was inspired by a real-life lottery win. In 2017, a Massachusetts woman won the largest single-ticket jackpot in North American lottery history and took the lump sum. Almost immediately, people were judging her for the decision, and I was so confused as to why strangers thought they deserved an opinion about it. Add in the fact that lottery winners in Massachusetts (and Florida, where my story is set) aren’t allowed to remain anonymous after claiming their money, and I had a bunch of elements perfect for an intrusive horror story.
J.C. Raye: The fine print and the aftermath. That’s “Cake”. Most of the fairy tales we clung to as children tie up the details oh so neatly at the end, don’t they? The pendulum swings one way or another. Main characters are either rewarded for their goodness and sacrifice, thus acquiring that dream come true, or are punished for their wickedness and greed. Here, you’ll find neither. Here, you’ll find the hell which exists between.
Hailey Piper: My story is “Without a Face,” and it follows Mercy Harper at her 30-year class reunion. A horrid incident at a now decades old fencing tournament has kept her away, but circumstances have pressed her to face the past. Only, a fencing mask has no face, and she sees that darkness everywhere she looks. I was inspired both by a fascination with the way a fencing mask obscures the fencer’s face and that attending a class reunion sounds like an absolute nightmare.
Joanna Roye: For “A Portrait of a Girl in Red and Yellow” I was inspired by the true crime tale of the Three Sisters in Black. They were a triad of women who made a living via insurance fraud and eventually murdered their niece by drugging her and drowning her in a bathtub. I was fascinated by the alternate modes of power available to women of that era. How they can be twisted toward cruelty or embraced as secret freedoms.
Kayleigh Barber: People tend to stop and stare at notorious things, but what happens when those things stare back? “Midnight in the Garden of Life and Death” is about Jo, who works at a rather infamous farm near her hometown, and what happens one festival night when curiosity finally catches up with the cat.
Inspiration-wise, I was digging around on the internet, as you do, trying to come up with an idea for a story. Somehow in my searching, I came across a picture of a pitch-black apple. What sort of orchard would grow pitch-black apples? Thanks be to the Google Gods, because after the question popped into my head, I had to answer it.
Sam Fleming: Like many in the UK, I feed the birds in my garden. We Brits spend £200 million (about $260,362,000) on garden birds every year. More than half the UK’s species of birds dine out at our expense. One Christmas, we had family over, and one looked out
and said, “You’ve got a rat.”
Sure enough, there was a large specimen of brown rat performing acrobatics to get to the sunflower seeds. We could either tolerate the rat – which we did until another half dozen appeared – or… Not.
“Pretty Little Vampires” came from that, from experiences I had when I was warden for the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire, and with various would-be witchy types in general. There’s a naivete in certain samples of the pagan population, which I used to think was just ignorance but later decided was willful. I don’t want my characters, particularly not the women, to languish in willful naivete. It’s one thing to start out believing that all is white candles and roses, but it’s another to maintain that belief in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Women are more than capable of dealing with bad things. Even when men are giving them bad advice.