Step into the Cradleland of Parasites

Cradleland

Did this month even happen? I’m not entirely convinced it did. I am, however, very tired and feeling that whole quarantine brain fog thing often. In better news, my forthcoming third collection of poetry, Cradleland of Parasites, is just about done! I’m on the revision/editing stage right now, which is my favorite of the writing stages! When I sent my publisher a proposal last year (I think in the fall) to see if he’d be interested in a poetry collection inspired by the Black Death, obviously I never thought I’d be researching bacteria, Medieval burial rituals, different ways plague spreads, and the earliest cases of biological warfare during a time of real pandemic, but here we are. The contract was signed, I was determined, and now I just hope it gathers some interest instead of great dismay and sadness. Then again, maybe now is the perfect time to step into the Cradleland of Parasites…

 

Cradleland of Parasites

You will walk in blood after the birth
and the very violence of such a thing,
how an origin shreds through membrane
how copper stains your lips and tongue,
will terrorize each atom in your body.

Sickness has always been here,
waiting in light and dark, hovering
in your air, and swimming through
each breath and drop of water,

did you ever think something as microscopic
as a germ could hurt this much?

You will take my hand when the air aches
when clouds have only acid lakes to absorb,
before your organs break down into dust
before life exits your body in an angry burst,
shut your eyes, tell me what bacterium curses you.

In the cradleland of parasites, beginnings
are always brutal, the way plague rips
venomous disease from contagion’s womb
spilling her gore across a vermillion wasteland,

does love still exist in this place where flesh
spills open and the maggots come to feast?

You will walk in blood after the birth,
taste spores sprouting through atmosphere,
remember the origin must always be violent
remember humankind will not survive this,
we will rebuild our cradleland from their bones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2019 in Review

10907979-7F60-45BA-A881-07E7078CA2D6I keep struggling with how I want this post to start. When I reflect back on this year, even though some really great things happened, there is also a sense of relief in this year being done. 2019 came with fantastic high points, and stressful, anxiety-inducing challenges that led to some rough lows for me. Some of the most impactful lessons I learned this year were that I need to be busy — I like being busy and it helps me thrive, but at the same time if I don’t learn to manage my stress better, I am afraid I’ll drive myself into an early grave because of how damned awful stress can be on your mind, body, and willpower. I hope 2020 shows me a better way to live (honestly being an overworked adjunct has just chewed up my soul, so send me good vibes in my job search for this year, please); again, I like being busy, but I don’t like being so overworked and underpaid that I feel desperately hopeless. I recently felt so guilty that I did not make my small Goodreads goal this year, but then I remembered how long I spend reading hundreds of student papers, journals, projects, and more in order to provide substantial and helpful feedback, so hey, fuck that guilt.

I want 2020 to be a year of hope, and a year where I do not feel guilty for things like the above example. While some things are out of my control, I will do everything in my control to make it a year that I can embrace and look forward to. I like keeping my private life private, and while I share a bit on social media, it’s been really peaceful to keep much of my life to myself and to those I love. I am immensely grateful to my friends and family who have been incredibly supportive this year and all years. And of course it’s been a blast getting to know more authors, readers, and reviewers through social media — I hope to meet so many of you in person soon!

Here are a few of my highlights from 2019, and a few things I am really looking forward to in 2020!

2019 in Review:

Screen Shot 2019-12-03 at 10.41.20 AM*StokerCon in Grand Rapids, Michigan was probably the highlight of my year. I wrote a recap of that here, so I won’t echo too much again, but in a nutshell I got to hang out with some of my favorite humans in existence and The Devil’s Dreamland took home a freaking Stoker Award, so it doesn’t get much more surreal and amazing than that. I also got to sit with Gwendolyn Kiste who has become such a sweet friend and watch her win an award for The Rust Maidens, which was spectacular!

*The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes was included in Night Worms! (yay!)

*My debut novella, To Be Devoured, was released in July by Unnerving! I was nervousTo Be Devouredjune2019 about this book, so to see positive (and repulsed) receptions and reactions of this sick and twisted glimpse into my prose has been incredibly motivating. Thank you to everyone who picked up the book and dared to dine with the vultures.

*To celebrate the tenth year of Women in Horror Month this past February, I did 10 posts (9 of them feature interviews) with some incredible ladies in the genre that I hope you will check out if you did not before!

*Having my short story, “Smeared Star in Your Hands” be selected from over 700 others to be included in The Twisted Book of Shadows (I doubt myself a lot as a short story writer, so this was an amazing moment)

*Some other writing-related things I enjoyed this year included this podcast interview by Unnerving’s Eddie Generous with myself and Gwendolyn Kiste, guest editing an issue of Eye to the Telescope that featured an infection theme, writing up a post called “Killing the Tortured Artist” for the Ladies of Horror Fiction, doing this in-depth interview by David Cowen who asked such wonderful questions, and chatting about Pet Sematary with the Ink to Film Podcast!

I was fortunate to do a few other podcasts and posts this year, all of which are compiled here (plus other years) if you are interested.

*Shortly after StokerCon, Mike Arnzen and I collaborated on getting the HWA Pittsburgh Chapter up and running! We had our first two meetings this year and are greatly looking forward to the future of the chapter. Thank you to everyone who has attended meetings, helped organize events and readings, and been as enthusiastic as we are for this creation! If you are local and interested in joining the HWA and our Pittsburgh Chapter, email us at hwapittsburgh@gmail.com

 

Bring on 2020:

What am I working on for 2020? Right now it feels like a million things, but let me share what I can…

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 6.23.47 PM*My third poetry collection, which is inspired by the Black Death and other plagues and diseases is coming along (I should be able to share more about this soon!) — you can read a poem from the collection below!

*I am currently working on a really cool collaborative project, but that’s all I can say for now 🙂

*I am so looking forward to working with my mentee through the HWA Mentorship program! (*waves* hi Angela!)

*Also looking forward to FINALLY attending Scares That Care! I will see you in Virginia this summer if you’re going — please come say hi!

*One of my biggest goals this year is to write a novel I’ve been plotting; if I can get a draft done by the end of the year, I’ll be thrilled

Not All Monsters*And finally, perhaps what I am most excited for….NOT ALL MONSTERS! (!!!!) This gorgeous book brought to you by Strangehouse Books will be out in Fall 2020. It is all full of deliciously dark stories by women who write horror, and I cannot wait to get this beautiful beast into your hands. Check out the TOC here.

It has been an honor to be the editor for this project, truly. Huge thank you to Nicholas Day and Don Noble for their organization, team work, art work, and for being lovely humans.

 

 

*All in all, 2020 is shaping up to be busy. I am excited for the challenges, for the late nights and early mornings, for new adventures and for something that I hope continues to give me courage. I wish you all nothing but amazing successes in the new year.

And finally — thank you to everyone who voted on my Twitter poll for which poem I should share from the new collection. I hope you enjoy reading this piece, “Blackbirds, Black Death”

 

Blackbirds, Black Death

Blackbirds outside my window
have you come to take me away?
My sister is dying, but together we waste
and count the days, the days, the days…

I’d rather follow you into the skies
away from choking black smoke,
away from dark soil where death blooms
on grotesque petals and charcoal stems
swell until blood drips down the stalks.

Bells sing distorted songs in the distance
chiming again for departed souls, striking
melodies against the harsh growl of thunder,
but sister still dies, crinkled like a lifeless spider
in my arms, for she is dead, and I am dead
in this place the blackbirds call home.

When blackbirds come to drain my blood,
their beaks stuffed with straw and juniper
I offer my eyes as penance for sin, to combat
God’s severance, but we are despised
and left nothing but rot, and ruin, and rats.

When blackbirds come to take her away at last,
we decompose together, imprinted memories
stain childhood blankets, infection reeks
from frayed threads as doctors dressed in black
pretend they are birds, but it is too late,
and I no longer count the days, the days, the days…

We twine together and choke, smoldering embers
of our home reach across the floor
colored in our bloodletting, yet the smoke
smells like mint as the blackbirds retreat,
and we will never follow them into the skies.

Because when blackbirds come, they are but men
buttoned up in masks, coats, and presumptions
that they know better, they know a cure,
but they know nothing except death,
the scent of putrid bodies mixed with herbs,
the swelling of buboes before they burst.

Sister, we once planted imaginary gardens
for imaginary birds, but now blackbird men
have materialized from that secret place
and stand guard outside my window,
have they come to take me away?

Dear sister is dead, so together we waste
and count the days, the days, the days…

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Reveal: The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes

Coming very soon from Strangehouse Books…The Devil's Dreamland full rez.jpg

 

“Tantlinger’s chilling poetry, inspired by life/lies of a serial murderer, unfolds in the imagined voices of his victims, and the man himself, in a city reduced to ashes and rebuilt for him to bleed. The poems entice to try understanding this devil: what does he gain from such horror? In the end, after he is hanged and buried, the haunting last poem plants the idea: evil is more than one man and isn’t easily destroyed.”

—Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

“In this morbidly creative and profound crime documentary, Sara Tantlinger delivers one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years. What America’s Ripper, HH Holmes, built with his creatively sick “murder castle” in 1890’s Chicago, Tantlinger creates today with this book, rich with seductive language and unflinchingly exploratory in its multifaceted structure. It’s brilliantly constructed to get inside your skull and pry apart your morbid fascination with life, death, perversion, avarice and murder, awakening you to the evil that hides in plain sight around us all. Readers will thrill to find themselves spilling down its terrifying trapdoors and careening down its greasy dark slides, until they find themselves imprisoned inside the black gloom of a deviant dungeon of nightmarish evil that they’ll never be able to forget…or escape. An amazing autopsy of the unholy!”

—Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

“A fascinating and absolutely riveting journey into the life and times of one H.H. Holmes. Sara Tantlinger’s powerful and vivid prose takes you into the depths of Holmes’ dark universe and what you see will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”

—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

Friday the 13th — Academic Style

Having a Friday the 13th in October was too fun for this horror writer to pass up, even in the classroom. I had my Composition & Culture students discuss the pros and cons of what would happen if social media suddenly vanished from campus, and then we took a look at some horror films (and the excellent show Black Mirror) that portray social media/technology as an ultimate and relatable in-your-face evil as compared to the more metaphorical/societal evils vampires, demons, witches, and other baddies in horror tend to represent. (Check back later for another post on this comparison because I think it’s a fascinating one to delve into).

For some creative fun, I brought in my pal and poetry colleague Mike Arnzen’s Fridge of the Damned Poetry magnets and challenged my students to use the poetry bits to create something inspired by our social media conversation (because poetry is fun!) I was both impressed by each group’s abilities to provide a great analysis to convince me how their poems tied into our earlier conversation, and quite happy to see the overall engagement in creating poetry because, as anyone who has met me knows, I believe in the power of poetry and doing any kind of creativity, always. With about 10ish minutes on the clock, I set the challenge, played some spooky soundtracks in the background, and they got to work.

Check out each group’s poem below! And while they are dark and I love horror, I obviously like some social media (I mean, I am blogging about this after all), but I very much believe in the importance of discussing our social media-obsessiveness, and maybe poking fun of our habits can lead to some introspective moments of reflection and encourage us to put the phones down and enjoy the fall foliage or read a book beneath the autumn sunlight. Or write wacky poems with friends.

Tommy's group

“Fear is human…” Tommy, Devin, and Cory show us how sometimes people are childish on social media, but hurtful comments can seal into one’s mind. And sometimes, social media claims our very souls…duhn, duhn, duhn…

Sam's group

Sam, Megan, Josh, and Kylie give us some abstract lines to show how time disappears when on social media. It can hook us in, render us numb, and end with the shrieks of the innocent.

Mike's group

Demons within chocolate? Oh yes. Mike, Kate, and Camila delve into how sweet someone can seem on the internet versus the inner demons that may be lingering beneath the surface.

Lauren's group

Lauren, Katie, Allison, Teegan, and McGarity present a dark analysis of the fragility of our nerves when on social media, and how despair can grab us when we dangle our hearts on the internet.

Azaria's group

“broken humans / in agony” — the glare may hide some words, but Azaria, Alma, Nelson, and Brooklynn don’t glare away from showing how broken people can break even more inside the noisy world of social media.

Kelsey's group

Kelsey, Lexi, Mackensi, and Kamyron chop us up with this abstract and detailed piece on the potential darkness lurking when we give too much of ourselves to social media.

Andrew's group

The glass machine, is it social media or is it humanity? Andrew, Taylor, Gabby, and Trent provide some interesting thoughts on different elements on various social media in this one.

Josey's group

“swallow you dead” — it certainly can. Owen, Liz, Anna H., Anna M., and Josey provide us with these final thoughts on the costumes we sometimes wear on social media compared to our true selves.

 

 

 

Double the Madness: Mike Arnzen Interviews me about “Love Me Like a Murder Scene”

Last summer I was very pleased to have my poem “Love Me Like a Murder Scene” published with The Five-Two.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.45.25 AM.pngThe poem is making an appearance again for this year’s National Poetry Month! Gerald So, editor of The Five-Two, has been celebrating the month with a fantastic blog tour called 30 Days of The Five-Two.

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 9.42.26 AM

Happy horror writers.

I am thrilled to be a part of this tour. Mike Arnzen, who is currently my mentor in Seton Hill’s Writing Popular Fiction program, interviewed me about the poem and made a fun page over on Gorelets
where you can hear the interview (we cackle about love and murder a lot).

During my undergrad at Seton Hill I had an independent study with Mike where I concentrated solely on horror poetry. It’s very exciting for me to still be able to share my twisted poetry with the professor who encouraged me to keep at it…even if I’m still obsessed with the Gothic romanticism that I suspect began to drive him a bit mad 🙂

But I promise I’ve branched out a bit and have some interesting poetry projects complete…hopefully I’ll be able to post more on that in the future.

Cheers, love, and murder,
Sara