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!