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…

 

 

 

 

 

Open Call: Infection Poetry

Calling all speculative poets! I am so excited to be guest editing an issue of Eye to the Telescope. My theme is INFECTION. Check out the guidelines here and submit your deadly contagions and viruses. Please read the guidelines carefully — The INFECTION issue’s open call ends June 15 before a different editor and a different theme take over for the next round!

Eye to the Telescope 33, Infection, will be edited by Sara Tantlinger.

Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 6.23.47 PMInfection is defined as an invasion of an organism’s body tissue, or the presence of a virus within a system. These disease-causing agents and their spreading toxins can lurk anywhere, whether at the bottom of a deadly swamp, floating in space, or perhaps already waiting in the body for the right time to conquer their host. Send me your diseases and pathogens, whether it’s an Earthly virus or from the realms and stars beyond. Tell me about the bacteria lurking beneath your skin, the sticky sickness deep in your gut, or how the infection of love drove you to madness.

Any format of speculative poetry is welcome—free verse, formal verse, etc. are all wonderful as long as the ideas are original, evocative, and send an infectious idea into my brain that I can’t stop thinking about. Get creative with those contagious agents using bodies as homes or breeding grounds, and really make me think about what kind of suffering and darkness they can inflict.

See full guidelines here

Character Poems by EL 231

For National Poetry Month I had my Popular Fiction undergraduate students write a poem from the POV of any of the characters from the books we’ve read so far:

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
Indigo by Beverly Jenkins
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Carrie by Stephen King

I adored their poems and asked if I could share them — about half the class gave me permission to share their work, so I am thrilled! I hope you enjoy reading the creative works from these young writers as much as I did. Click the link below to view the PDF!

EL 231 Student Poems: Click Me!

Step into my Murder Castle…

Holmes jacketMy second poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, is now live on Amazon!

If you might be into some serial killer poetry, check out my book on Amazon and Goodreads.

Here’s a sneak peak from one of my poems in the book titled “Scarlet Siege”

 

Scarlet Siege

Insanity splits through the air
like a serrated knife cleaving
melons in half, juice pools out,
lightly blood-tinged, flowing into
the mob mentality of fair-goers
flies stick to the glistening liquid
churning out tiny spawn to harvest
inside the mind of crowds

stop and sample the new
flavors of candies,
watch in awe as Tesla
sparks electric excitement,
conducting lightning through
his body like a melody,
marvel at the Ferris Wheel,
that monstrosity of a ride
hovering between adrenaline
and a drop straight down to skull-
cracking fear

within the White City’s celebration,
the water stays pure, the air cool,
horrors belong on the outside
where suicides have popped up
like cherry-tinted daisies,
where horses drop dead
in the streets from exhaustion,
muzzled and blinded
they never stood a chance,

where blood runs thick enough
to brew gurgling tarns
around the great fair,
drown all the attendees
beneath a scarlet siege,
consume that split of insanity
cleave the city in half as it bleeds

Friday Fun Facts: Serial Killer Edition

My next poetry collectionThe Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, will (hopefully) be out in a few weeks! Dr. Holmes and I can’t wait to welcome you into our nightmares…

But for now, I thought I’d list some of my favorite “fun facts” about Holmes that inspiredScreen Shot 2018-10-19 at 12.25.31 PM a few pieces in the collection. Holmes is a tricky case — many of the “facts” we assume were actually tall tales that morphed into a kind of accepted truth; however, playing around with those blurred lines and blending historical horror with fictional interpretations was deliciously morbid and fun for me to do in this collection.

1. Holmes was “married” to three women at the same time. Only the first marriage to Clara was legal. He would later go on to “marry” Myrta Belknap and Georgiana Yoke though he had never divorced Clara. Holmes killed several women, including a few mistresses, but he never killed any of his three wives. This inspired my poem “Three Wives Dressed in Black,” which makes an appearance toward the end of the collection as Holmes sits in his jail cell before his public execution.

2. While the rumors and ideas linking H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper as the same person are amusing and intriguing to think about, I’d never buy into it. Logistically speaking, from what we know of Holmes and where he was in the states and when, I think he would have had to been able to teleport to truly commit the Ripper’s acts. While some may be able to speak around this, the number one reason I would never credit them as being the same is because of how different their killings were.

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 12.26.51 PMThe Ripper was vicious and intimate. He literally reached inside of his victims and had his fun with their organs or slicing off women’s breasts (I imagine the Ripper is a deeply fascinating case to all the Freudians out there). Holmes was never that intimate or messy. In my head I imagine his neatness likens to that of NBC’s Dr. Lecter on Hannibal. Holmes was cowardly in his approaches though, using chloroform or gassing victims to their deaths. He was more fascinated by the psychological approach, by seducing and charming before quietly extinguishing lives rather than tearing someone apart into a gooey bloodbath. I have two “Holmes vs. The Ripper” poems in my collection, and they were two of my favorite to research and write.

3. While in prison, Holmes wrote two notable texts. One was a rather idyllic memoir that he crafted in hopes to gain public sympathy and to try and convince people that he was

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 12.26.09 PM

Georgiana Yoke, Holmes’ last wife, at his trial. 

being falsely accused of all these crimes. After that failed to work and he was convicted, Holmes wrote a rather odd “confession,” in which he wrote of murdering people who were in fact proved alive. There are some really interesting analyses out there that go through who he may have actually murdered vs. who he, for some reason, claimed to have killed but did not. I found access to both the memoir and confession, which easily inspired the voice I use for Holmes within my collection, and inspired many poems toward the end within the sections where he’s in prison. What struck me the most was Holmes’ undeniable intelligence and merits of literacy within his writing. An articulate madman with a pen, wielding words with expert manipulation, is truly a frightening thing.

4. Appearance wise, Holmes was considered handsome at the time. His blue eyes get noted often, but I also came across in my research that he may have been cross-eyed, which inspired my poem “Strabismus,” and a few others in the collection. One eye on the victim, one searching elsewhere…studying the shadows…looking for the devil.

5. After leaving Chicago, Holmes eventually went to Texas where he engaged in more money schemes and fraud, as he did in Chicago and elsewhere. He also attempted to construct the Fort Worth Castle, a building similar in strangeness and massiveness to the famed “Murder Castle” in Chicago. By this time, numerous lawyers, unpaid workers, and members of law enforcement were trying to find Holmes to get some answers for their missing payments. Holmes would leave Texas, soon after embarking on the wild chase across the states that would lead to his arrest, but of course not without a few more dead bodies along the way. I have a section of poems in my book that go through this chess board pursuit, and I can’t wait to take you along for the ride.

So wait patiently. Buy your train ticket. The good doctor is already there, seated quietly in first class, drinking his tea and eyeing you as you walk past…one eye on you, the other on the shadows…searching…waiting…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Holmes, With Love (and murder)

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 12.21.54 PM

Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes. *source*

In 2015 I watched a documentary on Netflix titled H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. I took notes, fascinated, wanting to do something with this savagely strange killer…a couple years, an MFA degree, and some publications later, I finally found precious time to sit down and research Holmes for my next poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, which should be out later this year.

So until then, let me offer you some Valentines, H.H. Holmes style, while I continue researching and writing and dreaming in the darkness. Who better to do romance than a serial killer doctor who had three wives at once, courted mistresses, and stuffed some of them into trunks after killing them?

Ah, amour!

Actually, a couple years ago the Pittsburgh ScareHouse featured a Holmes “murder hotel” theme in their Basement that I went to for Valentine’s Day. You had to sign a waiver before entering since the Basement allows the actors to touch you. Thus, I was electrocuted, blindfolded, shoved in a safe, slightly strangled, chained up by the H.H. Holmes actor, and more! It was great!

Please enjoy these love notes from my muse, this strange, manipulatively charming,

Screen Shot 2018-02-14 at 12.21.19 PM

What do you mean everyone doesn’t have stacks of Holmes books and a Holmes coaster? (In my defense, some of these were gifts, ha.)

swindler of a man…or, of a devil, as he would have you know….Try these out on your loved ones and let me know how it goes.

*Roses are red, your lips are blue, I’ll hide your body so well, and poison your daughter, too. For Julia and Pearl

*I want to strip off your clothes and your skin

*With a body like that, you’d make a beautiful research cadaver

*I’ve never met anyone like you. Be my fourth wife? No, it’s okay, I left them alive and only killed the mistresses. I swear!

*Love isn’t refundable, now sign your property and life insurance over to me
-(Holmes was a notorious conman and loved money)

*What’s the key to your heart? *pulls out dissection knife*

*Love is like chloroform, sweet-smelling at first, but then you wake up naked and chained in the basement…

P.s. Artist Holly Carden designed this cool as hell illustration of the Murder Castle here. You should check it out.

The doctor and I bid you farewell, for now. We can’t wait to invite you back into the nightmare dreamland later…