Posts Tagged ‘Grey Matter Press’

Hi Everyone,

The Suspended in Dusk 2 anthology was picked up by a new publisher, Grey Matter Press.   As with part 1 of the series, Suspended in Dusk 2 is anthology of horror and dark fiction that continues examines themes of change and the moments between the light and the dark.

I’m very thrilled to announce that January 2018 will see the publication of Suspended in Dusk 2.

Just check out this sexy terrifying cover, created by the incredibly talented Dean Samed:

055-5_5x8-Standing-Paperback-Book-Mockup-SID_lowrez

The book features and fantastic introduction from British Fantasy Award and World Fantasy award winning author Angela Slatter, in addition to 17 stories from some of the best horror and dark fiction writers today.

Table of Contents:

Introduction – Angela Slatter
Love is a Cavity I Can’t Stop Touching – Stephen Graham Jones
The Sundowners – Damien Angelica Walters
Crying Demon – Alan Baxter
Still Life with Natalie – Sarah Read
That Damned Cat – Nerine Dorman
The Immortal Dead – JC Michael
Mother of Shadows – Benjamin Knox
There’s No Light Between Floors – Paul Tremblay
Another World – Ramsey Campbell
The Mournful Cry of Owls – Christopher Golden
Riptide – Dan Rabarts
Dealing in Shadows – Annie Neugebauer
Angeline – Karen Runge
The Hopeless People in the Uninhabitable Places – Letitia Trent
Wants and Needs – Paul Michael Anderson
An Elegy to Childhood Monsters – Gwendolyn Kiste
Lying in the Sun on a Fairytale Day – Bracken MacLeod

I know Grey Matter Press and myself are really looking forward to getting this fantastic book into the hands of readers in a few months time! Stay tuned!

 

 

Advertisements

Nailing with hammer

I’ve read a few short stories in my time. How many hundred, it’d be hard to say. Having written my own short stories and having read so many written by other people, it is pretty clear to me that the hardest aspect of short story writing is nailing the beginning. If I had to make a wild-ass guess, I’d say maybe 3% of writers know how to start a short story.

This is going to be a lengthy post because, frankly, it’s something I’m super passionate about. What I cover here is probably the number one issue that makes me, as an editor, want to stop reading a submission.

Invariably, authors fall into three categories:

  1. Those who start writing BEFORE their story has actually begun.
  2. Those who start writing AFTER their story has actually begun (much rarer, in my opinion); and
  3. Those who begin writing at the start of their story.

I’ll get back to these categories a bit later on.

So what, or when, is the start of the story?

I’ve often heard people say “Start the story as close to the end as possible”. This was certainly one of the 8 pieces of advice the great Kurt Vonnegut has given. I guess this makes a kind of sense, but, personally, it never seemed particularly actionable advice to me as I always found it to be interminably vague. How does someone really know where the end of the story is when they’re just starting to write the dang thing? Hell, if you believe that guff about “Pansters and Plotters”, then probably 50% of people don’t even know what the end of their story will be when they start writing.

One might, of course, argue that this is a form of editing advice, more than it is writing advice. I.e the author should write the story and then return to the beginning and pare things back until they reach the true start of the story. This makes a bit more sense, I suppose—but for the newer writer who still has no idea how to determine the true start of the story, of what value is it to them?

Over time, mostly because I’ve always found it comparatively easier to determine, I’ve started to consider the true beginning of the story to be the “Inciting Incident”.

An explanation of the Inciting Incident excerpted from NarrativeFirst.com:

The Inciting Incident (or “exciting incident” as someone once referred to it) is the event or decision that begins a story’s problem. Everything up and until that moment is Backstory (emphasis mine); everything after is “the story.” Before this moment there is an equilibrium, a relative peace that the characters in a story have grown accustomed to. This incisive moment, or plot point occurs and upsets the balance of things. Suddenly there is a problem to be solved.

Mark Morris, editor of the Spectral Book of Horror Stories vol 1 & vol 2, whose collection Wrapped in Skin was recently published by ChiZine Publications, says:

I guess if I think about it I always start a short story from the very first incident of that story. So for instance, in my story The Name Game, which is set entirely at a dinner party in which my protagonists, a husband and wife, are meeting their new neighbours for the first time, I started the story with the couple knocking on the door of their hosts’ house – and then any background stuff which is relevant (e.g. they’ve just moved in to their new house) will become apparent through dialogue or short, explanatory sentences attached to either an action or a piece of dialogue which pushes the story forward.

I recently had a great chat with Anthony Rivera, publisher and editor at Grey Matter Press, and after prefacing his comments with the statement that there is no one right way to start a story, he said:

It’s possible to write an effective short story in a number of ways and how it “starts” depends on the piece itself — slow burn or whatever. But, if one is looking to grab the reader’s attention quickly, I would agree with your Inciting Incident approach. I might even go one step beyond and say, if possible (which of course it’s not always, nor does the strategy lend itself to every short story), start in the middle of said “incident”.

Ansen Dibell, aka Nancy Ann Dibble, science fiction writer and a former editor of Reader’s Digest, mentions in her book Elements of Fiction Writing – Plot:

The Greeks, as translated by the Romans, called it in medias res: In the middle of things. Starting there, in the middle of things, is even more necessary if your story is going to have negative motivation—that is, if it is one in which your chief character, the protagonist, is reacting against something that has happened. Stories arising from reactions have a past that will try to encumber the story’s beginning if you let it.

That kind of built-in past is called ‘exposition’—the necessary explanations that are needed to understand what’s going on now. Because exposition is, of its nature, telling rather than showing, it’s intrinsically less dramatic than a scene.

Richard Thomas (editor, author of several novels and collections, including the collection Tribulations from Crystal Lake Publishing, says in his article on dramatic structure:

This is where the story begins. It is your narrative hook, the tip of the iceberg, early hints at theme, character, setting—and if done right, the conflict. This is where your Inciting Incident happens, that moment in time where the story really begins, that tipping point beyond which things will never be the same. Whether your story is a straight line, a circle coming round, or some other structure, you have to start someplace. As mentioned in previous columns, starting in media res, Latin for “in the middle of things,” is a great way to grab your audience’s attention. You are setting the stage here, so paint a picture, give us the backdrop, and start the thread (or threads) that will run through your narrative. I can’t tell you how often I’ve stopped reading a story because the opening paragraph was random, boring, or confusing.

Personally, I often think of the Inciting Incident not necessarily as a problem or necessarily a direct challenge that protagonist is faced with, but more of an “event”. The Event (as I like to think of it)  may be immediately problematic or challenging to the protagonist, or the challenge/problem/change that it sparks may be less obvious and not immediately apparent. This is where I believe the quote from NarrativeFirst.com is  actually so brilliant. If you view “exciting” with the meaning “to arouse, to stir up” rather than “to make happy and eager” then this quote makes perfect sense. The Inciting Incident is like someone (or some thing!) plunging into a body of water, stirring the sediment off the pond floor. Until that Event occurred, the water was calm, still and clear. Thus the purpose of the The Event is to create movement, or as I call it elsewhere, Locomotion.

For me, thinking of the Inciting Incident as The Event is extremely useful. When I think of an “incident” (or incitement, for that matter!) I immediately think of something that has gone wrong, something terrible, an emergency, overt conflict. The start of your story is not necessarily terrible; is not necessarily something going wrong; is not necessarily over conflict. There start of your story, however, is an event of one kind or another though. Thinking of it in this way widens the scope so that the starts of the story is no longer only about the explosion or gun going off, but rather the start may be any event of true plot importance. This then opens wide the possibilities for slow-burn stories as well as tales that grip you by the short and curlies form the first line.

What is the result of completely missing The Event—or worse, having no Event at all?

When the beginning of a story strays too far from the Inciting Incident, stories tend to fall into either Category 1 or 2 mentioned earlier.

For Category 1 beginnings, the authors have begun writing before their story has actually begun. In this case, everything before that incident is backstory, a form of prologue, which in the short story world can be a kiss of death for the reader (especially the editor you’re submitting your story to). I somewhat snarkily refer to this as “The Pre-Incident Waffle”.  Quite often those authors guilty of Pre-incident Waffle are also offenders of the crime of The Post-Incident Waffle, as well.

Generally speaking, starting close to, or at, The Event will also ensure the story is a memorable one for casual readers and fans. It will be an interesting story that is immediately going places and will encourage readers to continue reading and keep turning those pages.

In another piece, I talk about “Locomotion” and use a freight train as analogy for a story. Backstory is just that, back story. Back story is missing the train. It may be interesting information but doesn’t advance the plot of the actual story you’re trying to tell at all. Think about it—you jump in a train expecting to go forward to your destination, not backwards for a few stops before it starts moving forward once more!

For Category 2 beginnings, as mentioned previously, the author has begun writing AFTER their story has begun. This is actually the more disastrous of the two categories, in my opinion.

When a story has no Inciting Incident, when that initial event that is meant to upset the humours of your protagonist, or present them with a challenge, or push them into action, or cause to step out into the wide world, doesn’t exist—it risks becoming a sequence of events that happen for no reason; or a series of events that just unfold (see: slice of life or vignette). We live in a world of cause and effect. When something happens to us, we respond to it. Our circumstances change. Our story begins to evolve and write itself. Whether we consciously know this or not, we know it at a subconscious level. When you come across a story where that conflict was merely alluded to, or worse still, absent… there is no cause and effect. There is no conflict or incident, no response by the protagonist, no push that propels your story train forward along the tracks.

Category 3 beginnings have the author starting close to, at, or during the Inciting Incident. This means that from virtually the moment the reader begins with the tale, that plot is moving forward. From here on in, your story might be a slow burn to the heavens (or hells), or it might be a rollercoaster ride, but either way, your reader is locked in from the get-go.

To conclude, by way of cautionary advice, I’d like to share some advice from Nick Mamatas. For those who don’t know him, Nick is a former editor of the speculative fiction magazine Clarkesworld; is the editor of the science fiction and fantasy imprint Haikasoru; and is an author of various short stories and collections, and novels such as the forthcoming I Am Providence (pre-order it here). The following advice from is his collection of essays Starve Better. I’ll interject here and there in bold where I think he’s touching on something I’ve talked about:

The cult of advice has misled many a short story writer. Here’s an insidious piece of advice you’ve surely heard before: Your short story has to start strong, with a hook.

On one level, it isn’t even bad advice. Often, writers do just sit down and start writing. They have no idea how to begin a story, so they often begin at the beginning—with their protagonist waking up. Or perhaps with a lengthy bit of scene-setting, or the weather (Simon: literally the two most common bad starts to a story, in my opinion) or a snippet from a historical artifact or newspaper article. Pages and pages of background information, or the results of research, or tooling around with breakfast foods, keep the reader from getting to the story for pages and pages(Simon:  I think this what I call the “Pre-Incident Waffle”). The most common variations are especially deadly—I once had a streak of five stories in a row that featured a protagonist awaking confused in a strange room. Even if the fifth story was actually very good and absolutely required such an opening, I was already poisoned by its competitors. (Don’t fret, though; I walked my dog and came back to the fifth story after a short break. It was terrible.)

The flaw of the “Gotta have a hook!” advice is that it leads to a secondary error on the part of many writers. Having heard that new writers tend to have a few pages of nonsense up front and that stories have to be engaging from the get-go, they often create an energetic first paragraph full of gun fights, monsters, characters cursing (“Fuuuuck!” or “Oh SHIT!” are very common story openings these days), and various other “hooks.” Then, almost invariably, the author reveals that the gunfights are on TV, the monsters from a dream, the cursing character has woken up with a back spasm or is simply stuck in traffic (indeed, “stuck in traffic” might be the new “just woken up”) and then we have the several pages of nonsense before the story actually begins (Simon: I think this is what I refer to elsewhere as the “Post-Incident Waffle”). Rather than correcting the error of a boring beginning by eliminating the boring beginning or by changing the story’s structure so that it is interesting from beginning to end, they simply added some “action” up top.

I believe this advice from Nick is cogent and gels pretty well with my own beliefs on the matter, in that it advises the writer to eliminate the boring beginning and move to the start of the story and once that start is found, to eliminate the following pages of garble that are so common afterwards. Nick also makes a great point that the opening of the story need not be a string of explosions or curse words; rather, as I’ve stated previously, it should be The Event.

website-logo
Welcome back to Women In Horror month(s) at my blog. One of this evening’s interviews is with publicist, editor and writer, Erin Al Mehairi.  I bumped into Erin via facebook around the time around the time I started thinking about doing this interview series. She’s fast become one of my fav online peeps. She does publicity and editing for some of the great horror authors you all know and love and I expect you’ll be seeing some of her own fiction in print soon enough! Thanks for stopping by, Erin!

Erin AlMehairi

Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

Erin: I’m a reader, a writer, an editor, and an author of past published poetry and many articles, a journalist, an aspiring novelist, a publicist, a PR/Marketing professional, a photographer, a mom, a baker, and a candlestick maker. Well, not the last one….but I like the smell of them, especially coffee ones.

This will be my longest answer of the interview…here goes…

I was born in England, but I’ve lived most of my life in the United States on the East Coast. I carried dual citizenship until I was 18. I’m as proud to be British as I am being an American.

I’ve been writing my whole life, my young scribbles culminating in winning my local newspaper’s essay contest when I was in middle or high school, and I’ve had the bug ever since. I’ve been pretty much writing full-time in some way since I started at university back in 1992. It wasn’t long after I began my college career that I knew I’d never do anything else again that didn’t include writing. I came out with bachelor of art degrees in English, Journalism, and History.

Due to circumstances in my life, besides a year or so of working as a reference librarian, I went into public relations, marketing, and media relations as my career, while attempting freelance journalism on the side. There’s a lot of in- between years in which I mostly wrote articles and/or edited for the multiple magazine tabloids and newsletters, press releases, magazine articles, ad copy, and non-fiction work. After hours, when I couldn’t sleep, I wrote poetry when the mood struck me. I was also a workaholic then too and volunteered in my community, so besides the fact that I wrote thousands of words a day at work and in the community, I also began raising children, off and on as a single mom of a baby and a toddler, and was much too tired to have any energy to give to myself for creative writing.

When I DID write poetry in the midst of all that, I wrote of nature, love, and grief and fantasy or magical themes. My essays were usually of people or places or feelings or inspirational words for others.

About seven years ago, I decided to leave my full-time public relations and marketing job and branch out on my own full-time by opening my own business, Addison’s Compass Public Relations. That way, I could seek out my own work in the field, as well as be there more for my three small children. I’ve been doing it ever since, and now, the kids are a bit older so it’s easier. I started my business right after representing Ohio as Young Careerist of the Year at the Business and Professional Women national convention and receiving a Woman of Achievement Award from the county I live in. At the time I decided to do this, the economy in America was tanking, but I knew it was right for me to take the risk for my kids and I had a lot going for me. I included them in my work. I was pleased to even talk about this in the highly-regarded entrepreneur and business magazine “SUCCESS.” However, selfishly I felt, I also wanted to make time for writing my own books.

Since I had a bit more time for reading and writing of my own in the evenings as I struggled with insomnia, I also started a site soon after (Oh, for the Hook of a Book!). It allowed me to write about something fun I enjoyed (books!!) and my own creative writing processes. The book site grew exponentially and this month it celebrates its five-year anniversary! I still feature various genres, but you’re likely to find mostly historical or gothic, peppered with horror and mystery, and the occasional children’s book post.

This led to my business in books, which is called Hook of a Book Media and Publicity, and I do editing and publicity for authors and publishers. I’ve been loving assisting horror authors lately with marketing consulting, tying together contacts, securing media contacts and spots, publicity tours, and more. It’s very busy, but it’s fun.

As for the editing side, I’ve been editing since I was in high school, being an editor of our high school paper and then in college, taking classes in editing for both majors in Journalism (AP style) and English (Chicago Manual of Style), and serving as Senior News Editor of our university newspaper and as an editor for the university’s Poetry Press. I’ve edited almost everything over the years: articles, marketing pieces, magazine type tabloids and newsletters, resumes, ad copy, and books and poetry collections.

I’ve edited and content read all types of books such as new adult, sci-fi, thrillers, historical, and horror. I do a lot of horror, thrillers, and sci-fi currently. I really like working with new writers and helping them grow. If I love an author’s work, and feel good about our work together, I’ll totally be their champion.

Besides writing my own interviews and reviews for my site, I am also a journalist at the horror entertainment site, Beneath the Underground. I interview celebrities in horror and sci-fi indie films, as well as directors and authors.

I have 3 children, a boy and two girls, all under the age of 16. I own my two businesses and I write on the side. I like chocolate and coffee a lot, as well as cooking. I love nature and the outdoors, especially the lake, but also the ocean, rivers, creeks, etc. I have A LOT of interests, but I love going to treasure hunt for used books and paperbacks, hanging out in bookstores, and going to museums when not hiking or doing something outdoors.

Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where something made you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?  

Erin: I grew up not being able to watch horror or scary sci-fi, though my Dad watched it, and when he did, I wasn’t allowed in the living room. So I missed out on the old episodes of the sci-fi show “V” in what, the 80s?, which led to why, as an adult, I was so mad when they canceled the new episodes a few years back (way too early). I loved it! Ha! I did however get to watch lots of Scooby-Doo, which I still do, and read children’s books featuring witches. I learned to be curious about all sorts of monsters on Scooby-Doo, but even more, that evil human nature could be overcome by a group of meddling kids. Today, I still watch it with my girls. It’s one of our favorite things to do on Saturday mornings together.

In high school I started loving to study writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Charles Dickens, and in getting my university English degree, studied many of these classic authors for class and on my own. In addition, I love Oscar Wilde, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Shelley, and Washinton Irving. Later, I really liked Shirley Jackson, V.C. Andrews, and Daphne du Maurier. I was writing poetry then and I mirrored them, and Poe, in my writing (still do). They have all been a huge influence on me. As I said, I’ve written for years, but my horror and dark writing and poetry was more a secret. I only shared some of my poems that honored people I lost, were about love, or many, about nature.

Once I met many more people in the writing, and especially in horror writing genres, on social media, I came to be open more and more about my writing about five years ago. I realized that most of the people writing horror also are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I write dark fiction and poetry for myself to dissuade my fears, deal with emotions, as a funnel for pain, and to survive. It’s like breathing when you’re locked in a room filling with water and the only way out is to put pencil to paper.

The last few years, and especially in 2015 and as goals for 2016, I said I’m just going to write more dark poetry and put it out there and see what happens. The response was good. I decided it was alright for me to write horror stories, so I’m just doing it and putting those out there too. Anyone who doesn’t like me anymore for it…well, they aren’t taking the time to understand. I have to write from my heart and the best way for me to stay in the light is write about the darkness. Get it out onto the page and get over it.

It’s been a long journey for many reasons, with mostly a lot of toxic people in my life, but now my muse is finding her footing again. So yes, I’m good with writing it now and plan to do it much, much more.

Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies? 

Erin: One of my favorite horror books is “Dead of Winter” by Brian Moreland. The isolated area he wrote the novel in, set in the late 1800s in the middle of winter, with his amazing pacing and creation of a foreboding atmosphere, all worked to scare me to pieces. I told him it exhausted, but I mean that as a compliment.

The “Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe….Ahhhhhhh! Scarred me for life, but I love his work. My childhood scare was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. The headless horseman frequented my nightmares. However, now I love it and I love the television show too!

Q. What is your favourite horror film?

Erin: I really don’t know. I really liked “Sinister” and I like movies like Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Really like “The Silence of the Lambs” and anything Hannibal. If “Phantom of the Opera” counts, I love that too. Sorry, I can’t ever pick one of anything.

Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?

Erin: I haven’t written any books or stories in horror that have been published. *Pulls out her hair* I consider myself an author as I’ve had published poetry, essays, and thousands of articles published, yet not in the horror genre, and because I’ve worked on such large chucks of my own things and completed some stories I need to publish…soon. I can’t wait to do so.

Q. Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling?  E.g Film, Short story, Novel, Audio drama or Podcast, Audiobook

Erin: Oh, for my own writing? Poetry and short story. For reading? Poetry, short stories or anthologies, novellas, and novels.

Q. What are you working on at the minute?

Erin: I finished up writing with pencil and paper (I know!) a story a week or so ago which is 6,000 words. It needs typed and edited. I suppose could most be described as a modern Twilight Zone-type story with some Hitchcock droplets. I just started another short story because I want to make a submission deadline. It features a lake theme which resembles another several stories I’m writing which are best described as gothic and take place near the water. I’m writing dark poetry for a collection I want to put together this year of my poems. My novels are sitting on the back a bit, but the main one is my novel of revenge featuring Emily Dickinson. The reason I’m not getting as much writing done is because I edit other authors so I’m busy reading their work, beta reading others, reviewing others, interviewing others, and as well running my busy publicity book business as well as my other marketing business. Oh, and my three kids. Probably something else I’m forgetting about, like taking time to sleep or eat….no I eat…who am I kidding? Eating candy for dinner counts, right?

Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?

Erin: I can only pick one? I can never pick ONE anything. I’d have to narrow it down and say my favorite classic female writer is Daphne du Maurier. She wrote so many amazing short stories, such as “The Birds,” which was of course, turned into a film by Hitchcock (he also did a few of her others), as well as gothic novels that have stood the test of time like “Rebecca.” If you don’t think she is horror, try to find her story “The Apple Tree” or even “The Doll,’ which showed her ahead of her time. She’s a great inspiration to me in terms of creating atmosphere and psychological thrills. But I’ll cheat and say I like Shirley Jackson too. In fact, I’ll cheat further and say that there are many modern women horror writers I need to read as well, but definitely Damien Angelica Walters comes to mind as well as Jennifer McMahon and Catherine Cavendish.

Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with? 

Erin: Right now, I’m running my own Women in Horror project of almost 30 women with my co-host David at The Scary Reviews. We have them all featured in mini-interviews. I have enjoyed getting to meet so many new female writers I hadn’t even heard of before. I would love to do some sort of anthology with women that takes the works of some of the classic female horror writers, and using them for inspiration, create an anthology as an ode to them. I think it would be wonderful to do a collection of poetry featuring women who have been in pain over something in their life: abuse, loss of a child or baby, loss of innocence, rape, mental illness. As for anything other than my own ideas, I’ve not heard of anything. People are trying to say equality means showing no difference in men and women. However, to me, it’s about doing these things (special women things) to embrace our uniqueness. If someone doesn’t want to buy it, they don’t have to, if they don’t want to be in it, they don’t have to, but for some female readers, it could be a huge connective piece for them.

Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?

Erin: Currently, I’m editing a short story collection for a horror author so that takes up some reading time. I just finished up a historical fiction novel (a genre I often review and love and am also writing a book in) about the Borgias, called “The Vatican Princess.” I recently read David Bernstein’s “A Mixed Bag of Blood,” which comes out March 1 from Sinister Grin Press and I loved it. Before that, I read Jennifer McMahon’s “The Night Sister” and really liked it as well (some Hitchcock references!), “Slade House,” by David Mitchell, and “The Poison Artist,” by Jonathan Moore. I’m probably forgetting some.

My TBR pile across the genres I read is HUGE. However, I am looking forward to reading “Mister White” by John C. Foster, which is going to be out from Grey Matter Press in April. I have an advanced review copy I’m highly anticipating sinking into.

Q. What films are you looking forward to?  

Erin: I was looking forward to “The Witch” and I just saw that this weekend. I know many people didn’t like it or get it. I admit during the movie sometimes I was like “what?” and at the end I was also like “woah.” However, after I let some time sink in with it, I actually felt it was well done. The acting was very good. The effects were rich. They kept the scenes so tight that you almost felt as if you were in the movie itself without knowing it. I love going to plays set on intimate stages so it really felt a lot like that to me, which was stellar. I didn’t realize I left feeling an ominous, foreboding feeling, but I later realized it had attached to me. In fact when I turned off the light to go to bed that night, and my mind wandered to it, I actually felt a few chills. Maybe I didn’t have the initial scare I wanted, or as was advertised, but really it had a residual effect. Which I suppose was the point of the whole film, evil creeps in and takes you when you least expect it or when you feel you are fighting hard against it. The isolation, the paranoia, and what that does to human nature enough to let evil in, really has stayed with me.

Beyond that, I’m looking forward to watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for a second time! The new “X-Men” is something I’ve been anticipating since the last one ended. I haven’t seen “The Revenant” yet, but I am a huge Leo fan.

It’s not really a film, but I’m enjoying the television adaptation of Stephen King’s book called “11.22.63” and I was super excited for “The Vikings” to return to TV here in America last week.

Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?

Erin: I’ve always felt that it was harder for women to prove themselves in the workplace, and really, in all areas of life. I’ve seen a lot in my 20-year career. Sometimes men also feel that they do treat women equal, in appreciation maybe, or sometimes not, but honestly, we still aren’t often allowed in the “good ole boy” groups. Some, even in horror, don’t see they do it. Even on social networking, however, guys will more likely comment on other guys stuff or talk horror books with other guys. I suppose also other women play into this because they don’t like their husbands/boyfriends being friends with women, but really, that’s just nonsense. So yes, I feel there are subconscious things that happen that even if they don’t know it happens, it does. I suppose this then tapers offer into things like who they read or support without even knowing it. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good or appreciative to women, but….there is still a divide.

As for more specific with horror, I think more women need to be nominated and awarded (some are but the percentage is one-sided for things like the Stoker). However, some of the women nominated are so so good.

Personally, I am friends with many men. I work with a lot of them, I have mostly men clients because that is who approaches me, and feel they appreciate and trust my experience and respect me.

Q. Why is Women in Horror month important? 

Erin: I used to think it was important for men to appreciate and see what women in horror bring to the table. Maybe the genre is 80% men, but it might be trending less. However, I see many men supporting women with promotion, which is good. I hope many male authors also take the time to READ women authors as well. Where I see the most breakdown lately, and I’m sorry to say, is that I don’t think WOMEN in horror KNOW other WOMEN in horror or promote them. Now, I think the month is important to serve as a ‘meet and greet’ for everyone to know what amazing women are up to, for both men and women to realize! I know I feel less alone! Hopefully, getting to know women writers, or more writers as a whole, will lead to more promotion and conversation throughout the year.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Erin: Just because you wrote a book, or even 15 books, (and if you don’t have a degree or background in career writing) does not make you a writer if you’ve never vetted them with an editor, beta readers outside of family, or general readers. Start with one and go through the process with an editor who is experienced and a professional. Their changes will help you LEARN and SHOW you where your writing break downs are, and trust me, you won’t see them for yourself. Everyone has patterns they can’t see.

Read segments of your work out loud. Often. Do you write like you talk? Does every character sound like you? Then stop that immediately and evaluate your dialogue and the voice of your novel. Are you showing us through descriptive work or just telling us like you are giving a book report?

Don’t give up, but understand that writing first of all takes some talent. Unfortunately, it’s true. Anyone can write something, but only a select few of them are talented writers. Some people will have a quick success and there won’t be any formula that made it happen. Some will get it through hard work. Whatever you do, remember that whining gets you nowhere.

Be willing to take criticism. Understand that it’s a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and that you must not do it alone. Also, realize that it is a long, hard road sometimes and you’ll never get the answer to most of your “why” questions! Let it go. Do your best. Hire a team to support you. Find writer friends to support you. TAKE YOUR EGO OUT OF IT.

Start making fans before you even release your book. Don’t play catch up. Create anticipation. Again, if you don’t know how to do so, ask an author you see do it well or hire someone with the know how to consult with you or promote you.

Be inspired and find a way to stay inspired.

Look me up. I love to make new friends.

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi Links:

Website

Facebook (Profile)

Facebook (Hook of a Book)

Twitter

Linkedin

Pinterest

Goodreads

Look me up on Instagram too!

 

 

 

sharon

Hi everyone! One of today’s WiHM interviews will be with the super talented and super nice editor, Sharon Lawson.  Sharon is one half of the powerhouse Bram Stoker-Award-Nominated editing duo at Grey Matter Press, alongside Anthony Rivera. Grey Matter Press are quickly impressing writers and readers alike with their fantastic horror anthologies and fine quality books.

Everyone, meet Sharon Lawson!

Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

SL: Before I became an acquisitions editor for Grey Matter Press, I was first an accountant and then a stay-at-home mom. I have lived in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois most of my life, and I recently had to deal with the terrors of my only child going off to college.

Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where you something mad you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?

SL: I have been drawn to dark literature from a very young age. Maybe it’s that I have always been a glass-half-empty kind of person. I will always be grateful to my friend Anthony Rivera, who asked me to join him in starting a publishing company. After having a career in accounting, I jumped at the chance to be able to express my creative side. It has been a fantastic experience.

Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies?

SL: My favorite story is “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Aside from the superb prose, the reader is pulled into this seemingly innocuous plot and then the true nature of the story hits you like a smack to the forehead. It is completely shocking.

Q. What is your personal favourite of your own work? Answering as an editor.

SL: As an editor for Grey Matter Press, I have co-edited seven anthologies with Anthony Rivera. It is hard to pick just one book, but I think our first, Dark Visions: A Collection of Modern Horror – Volume 1, will always be a sentimental favorite, and it received a Bram Stoker Award nomination for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.

Q. Would you ever write something? You’ve obviously got editing chops. You look at great fiction everyday and get to read fiction by the very best of the best. Ever wonder whether you’ve got a story of your own in there? 

I would love to have some writing talent, and I have had friends and family tell me I should write, but I honestly don’t think I have it in me. I can’t conceive of being able to fill pages and pages with something entertaining. I am much more comfortable with helping authors polish their work, although I do battle an affection for the comma. I hope to end that co-dependent relationship very soon.

Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling?  E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook

SL: I like novels and short stories a lot, but I have become a big fan of the novella. It often feels like the ideal length for horror.

Q. What are you working on at the minute?

SL: This will be a rather busy year for Grey Matter Press. We are excited to be releasing our first full-length novel this spring, Mister White by John C. Foster, and an all-new anthology coming out this summer. We have a lot more in store for later this year.

Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?

SL: Shirley Jackson, of course, has been a favorite forever. Of more current female authors, I really like the work of Sarah Pinborough. I have enjoyed quite a few of her novels.

Q. Are there any projects involving other women that you’re looking forward to or would like to get on board with? 

SL: In our upcoming anthology, Peel Back the Skin, we are thrilled to be featuring stories by esteemed authors Nancy A. Collins, Yvonne Navarro and Lucy Taylor. And we will soon be making an announcement of a solo project with an up-and-coming female author.

Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?

SL: My TBR pile is way too big to detail for you, but I am most looking forward to Stephen King’s short-fiction collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.

Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the  challenges have you faced that are complicated by your gender?

SL:I haven’t faced any challenges as a woman in this industry. I had a lot more problems back when I was an accountant. I don’t feel that anyone, least of all anyone I work with, has treated me differently because I am a woman. And I can honestly say that we at Grey Matter Press are blind to gender. We want stories that entertain, and we don’t care if the author is a man or a woman, young or old, American or from a foreign land. We are in the business of selling books, and I don’t understand why any publisher would turn down a great story based on any sort of physical criteria.

Q. Why is Women in Horror month important/important to you? 

SL: I think it works best if it inspires female authors to write the kind of horror they want to write, whether it be gothic horror or splatterpunk.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

SL: To all authors, I would say be bold. Don’t hold back. Make sure your manuscripts are edited and/or proofread by someone other than yourself before submitting to an agent or publisher. But most of all, do a lot more showing and a lot less telling.

Sharon Lawson Links:

Website:  www.GreyMatterPress.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sharon.lawson.9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawsonsk

 

website-logo
Welcome back to another WIHM Interview!  Today we have Karen Runge visiting my blog.  Karen Runge is one my favourite authors. We first crossed paths in Jack Ketchum’s horror class at Litreactor.com. The work she presented in class was so good that I invited her to put a story in my debut anthology Suspended my Dusk. Karen has since gone on to sell to Shock Totem and we even co-wrote a story together, High Art, that was collected the Death’s Realm anthology from Grey Matter Press.

Probably one of the more twisted women in horror, I give you: Karen Runge.

krunge.jpg

Q. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

KR: I’m a horror writer, dark literature writer, wannabe poet and artist… well, a lover of all things creative. I’m native to South Africa but was born in France, and have been past resident of several other countries too over the years. Okay, this is already too complicated! I don’t have a straight-lane background. But since we’re both in the lit world, I’ll try to keep it there. I’m primarily a short story writer, but have a novel coming out this year as well as my own short story collection. Maybe I write because I’m trying to make sense of such a muddled history and background? I wouldn’t be the first!

Q. What draws you to horror generally, and was there a defining moment where something made you think “Fuck it, I’m writing a horror story!”?  

KR: Essentially what draws me to this marvelous, diverse genre is its depth. People who aren’t into horror tend to think that its fans and creators are lunatics, sickos or psychos, or just generally very shady people. Not at all. Horror, first and foremost, is an exercise in empathy. From schlock to high-end dark literature. What they all have in common is that if it doesn’t make you feel, it’s not working. Horror tells hard truths from all angles, and from what I’ve seen it’s the only genre that does so without flinching. Sincerity can be brutal. But it’s also honest. I admire that. No, I adore that.

My “Fuck it!” moment probably happened when I was very, very young—too young maybe to even know that word! My older brother, in true bully-little-sister style typical to that age, used to take horror story collections out of the library, read them, and then retell them to me (with heavy embellishments)—hoping to make me cry, give me nightmares, I don’t know. It kind of backfired because I loved it! My first ‘horror stories’ were drawings I did of werewolves and beasties based on the stories he’d told me. I can’t have been more than six or seven years old, but already I was obsessed. Down the years my English teachers quickly came to know that any creative writing assignments I handed in would be more than a little… well, let’s say quirky. Thankfully they encouraged me, and there weren’t too many awkward teacher-parent conferences!

Q. What is your favourite horror story and what about it specifically rustled your jimmies? 

KR: That’s tricky. I read horror from all edges, and when I’m impressed I get so drawn in I forget the others for a while. I guess there may be a few, from different stages of my life. I read Stephen King’s IT when I was about thirteen, and I was so struck by it that to this day I still have dreams with a distinct Derry-town feel. I know, it’s so common to list Mr King as the jimmy-rustler. But hey, it’s true. That one hit me hard because the horror I’d read up until then (and loved) had been very pulpy. That book was the first to show me how very serious and adult horror can be, even when talking about a psycho alien ‘clown’. It completely shifted my perspective on the true nature of horror as a creative medium. Joyce Carol Oates’ MAN CRAZY took it even further–into abuse cycles, physical and psychological trauma… the first time I recognised what I’d argue is a horror story without the supernatural bend. Latest on my knee-jerk list was Stona Fitch’s SENSELESS. It’s what some would describe as Torture Porn, but there’s a storm of very intent, focused intellect driving it. Again, one to show that what you assume a genre or sub-genre is can be very different when done right, by the right hands. Which I think is sheer magic.

 

Q. What have you written? And what is your personal favourite of your own work?

I’ve had a bunch of short stories published—first appearing in South Africa’s Something Wicked, on to a few little ezines, on to Pseudopod, Shock Totem… and from there the very excellent Grey Matter Press. My favourite short would probably have to be GOOD HELP, the story I wrote in the workshop we took together, dear Simon. Not because it’s the best writing I’ve done, but because as a story it was probably the most concise. That one came out in Shock Totem #9 – my first 100% pro-published story. So it has a special place in my heart.

Q. Do you have a favourite form or media for story telling?  E.g Short story, Novel, Audio drama or podcast, audiobook

KR: I’m a hardcore book junkie. I love the feel, the smell, the story that builds within the story each time you turn a page. I’m all for coffee stains and dog-eared pages. They show that a book has been read, really read—which means loved. I listen to podcasts at least three times a week when I’m mucking around, doing housework or whatever. But without actual books… my life would not be complete. And so of course I love seeing my own name, my own stories on paper. It’s a thrill that never loses its potency.

Q. What are you working on at the minute?

KR: Edits! Oh joy. I started what might maybe be a new novel a few weeks back but, as I mentioned, I’ve got two books coming out this year that are demanding my attention. I’ll get back to the real work soon, very soon, because this one keeps on nagging me and I think that means she’s serious about being written. But for the moment, it’s all about the red pens.

Q. Who is your favourite woman writer?

KR: I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oates. I simply cannot choose between the two. I loved Lionel Shriver’s WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, but that’s the only book of hers I’ve read. I’ve been obsessed with Sylvia Plath since I was about twelve. What do these women have in common? They talk real, they talk deep, they talk disturbing. They’re not afraid of their own intelligence, and their works are super powerful. Any artist—never mind woman—who can create like that has my full attention. Not to mention my admiration.

 

Q. What book/s are you reading at present and what is in your TBR pile?

KR: I’m currently reading Sidney Sheldon’s THE NAKED FACE. I’ve never read any of Sheldon’s work before, so I’m taking my time with it to see what all the fuss is about. I’m also due to reread LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN by Hubert Selby, Jr. The one that sparked a court case over its obscenity, and almost got itself banned. Or did? I think it actually did, somewhere. Yes, that one. I first read it when I was about eighteen and its unflinching rawness beyond impressed me. I’ve thought about it often over the years. So, it’s time for a revisit I think. I also have a pile of dark lit books on their way to me from the States… South African bookstores don’t understand that the Horror section should not necessarily be the exclusive domain of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. So I’m really, really looking forward to getting my hands on them. When they finally do arrive, I’ll probably give up sleeping altogether just to make time for them!

Q. What challenges have you encountered that are unique to being a woman in the horror genre, or can you describe some of the challenges you faced that are complicated by your gender?

KR: There’s a reaction I sometimes get from men. A kind of You?? No way! reflexive double-take when I mention I write horror, collect disturbing films, or even just say anything that doesn’t fit the corset confines of what they assume I must be into / like / do as a woman—or as I appear to them, as a woman. You have to work harder to get people to accept that, yes, you really do like this. Yes, you really do do this. That you’re not just posing to get in with the boys or look cute or what have you. The irony is that women have created this problem themselves, by posing/feigning their interests to get attention. It’s created something of a vicious circle I think. When I was younger I’d get a bit worked up about that—being talked down to, being misunderstood (or even disbelieved) on the basis of my gender. Now I just shake it off and get on with it. Over the years I’ve developed something of a I’ll show ’em attitude, as opposed to tears or helpless outrage. Never a bad thing, right?

Q. Why is Women in Horror month important/important to you? 

KR” Because of the above-mentioned—guys just don’t expect to see women in the darker edges. We’re supposed to be planning weddings, mooning about having babies, scrapbooking… something. We’re not supposed to cheer when someone gets taken out in brutal fashion in a Slasher film. We’re not supposed to be first in line at horror conventions. WiHM is in place to shift that over a little, wake people up to the fact that maybe the girl in the flowery dress has a shelf full of Stephen King novels at home. Maybe the babe with the big blue eyes has a penchant for cannibal films. But I do also have to say here that the men I’ve come to know in horror lit circles have been incredibly open and supportive. No, that’s not right. They’ve been normal. Totally normal. Not a blink at the fact that I’m a female with a desperate fascination for the hardcore macabre. Thanks, guys! So the tide is already shifting, which is more than encouraging. Let’s keep at it though, because we do still have a ways to go.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write it, don’t be afraid of it, just do it. Do not stress about what other people will think of it. Write to express yourself. Do it for you.

IMG_20150502_114504

Hey everyone, as part of the Death’s Realm anthology blog tour with Grey Matter Press, here is a short piece about the fear and hope of death.

The End of the Story (or is it?)

I was never particularly interested in death—until I was. I was never an existentialist—until I was. I was never concerned with death and how it affected a story, indeed, my own story—until I was! Maybe this comes with approaching old age? I see the silver strands popping out here and there when I look in the mirror. None of which I had before wife and children, although I’ll begrudgingly admit they’re probably not entirely to blame.

As a child I loved nothing more to sit on my father’s knee and have him read to me. We read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Three Men in a boat by Jerome K Jerome; still the funniest book I’ve ever read.

At this time in my life, dying was just a thing for wrinkly old loved ones. Grandmas and Grandpas. People I didn’t know well, who were there one minute and gone the next. Funerals were places where parents dragged you along in itchy clothes you didn’t like. Everyone stood around looking sad and then went home afterwards and got on with living. Or, incongruously, went to someone’s house for the “Wake” where people talked and ate and drank, often more merrily than would seem appropriate. “Wake” was such a silly name. They were dead; They weren’t going to wake up. In later years, I pondered that it probably had something to do with that which “comes after” the funeral… like the wake of water that follows behind a passing boat or ship. I’ve never bothered to look it up. I like life to retain some mysteries, and find a measure of comfort in knowing some of the things I don’t know.

I was raised on epic and high fantasy and Catholicism. This is a curious blend, to some degree. Aside from the common atheistic snerk that religion is by nature fantasy, there are interesting parallels between what one another teach about death.

David Gemmell said:
“Old age is not as honourable as death, but most people seek it.” (Fall of Kings, David Gemmell)
And this seemed quite fitting and fit well with the cushy upper-middle class world I lived in, where the only people who died were incredibly old first.

Similarly, I was taught in church:
The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendour of old men is their gray hair. (Proverbs 20:29)

Yes, dying wasn’t something to be feared, it was just something splendid old people did. And I wasn’t old, so what did I care?

In later years I’d discover more subtle synergies between the world of the fantastic and the world of fiction. I think the crowning glory was Robert Jordan’s Rand al Thor, with his wounded palms and side, and his crown of swords(thorns), etc. It would seem that the story of Jesus was an enduring one which will continue to influence life and literature ad infinitum.

As a teen, I was about as reckless as they come. A hedonist of the worst kind. The world and universe had opened to me vast vistas of possibility. I hadn’t discovered Lovecraft yet and didn’t know that the vistas were of empty blackness, populated only by that which is hateful and which hates us. I was closer to 30 before I stumbled upon Lovecraft.

“I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
without knowledge or lustre or name.” (Nemesis, Howard Phillips Lovecraft)

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” (The Call of Cthulhu, Howard Phillips Lovecraft)

The excesses of youth lead to, or exacerbated, mental illness. The black dog of depression gripped me in its lockjaw. Panic and anxiety tore at me until every headache was a stroke. Every rush of pulse was the onset of a heart attack. This fueled the search, to understand existence. To understand death.

In the Quran we’re told:

“And every soul shall taste death.” (Quran 3:78)

“Wheresoever you may be, death will overtake you even if you are in fortresses built up strong and high!” (Quran 4:78)

“And no person can ever die except by Allah’s Leave and at an appointed term. And whoever desires a reward in (this) world, We shall give him of it; and whoever desires a reward in the Hereafter, We shall give him thereof. And We shall reward the grateful.” (Quran 3:145)

These verses took on particular meaning for me. At a time in my life where death was an imminent torment, they provided a singular comfort allowing me to let go of fears and anxieties. Death really was something that I had no control over, so why worry about it?

So what happens when we die? None of us really knows. Do we have a soul? Does it or our consciousness go somewhere else? Empirically all we can determine is that that the body falls lifeless, it rots and decays. For the atheist, death is simply unbeing, or going to sleep, or the next step in the circle of life, where we rot into the earth and nourish new plants to grow. The atheist’s beliefs mirror our observable facts regarding death. But when has reality or existence been constrained to the currently observable?

The great Arab theologian as-Sanusii, spoke of the existence of three kinds of knowledge:

1. what absolutely must be true,

2. what absolutely cannot be true, and

3. what may be true.

It would also seem to me that Death’s Realm—paradise, hell, purgatory, etc—falls neatly into the category of the third, for many people. Something that may be true but as there is no empirical evidence for it, it is dismissed.
The first category of knowledge would fit with the theists and what they believe absolutely must be true as revealed by their religious texts.
It would seem to me that very few people actually believe that it *absolutely cannot be true* that there could be life after death/heaven/hell/reincarnation/what have you. After all, that cannot be empirically quantified.

Where does that leave us? Here, together, in this nexus of what might be possible. A whirling maelstrom of belief and disbelief, gnosticism and agnosticism, hope and fear. A vortex that the human race has been circling within since before recorded history; a hopeful and terrifying place, which is the crucible or background for all of our stories. A place where we might all just rot with the worms into nothingness, or ascend onto a higher plane of existence. Or a lower one, for that matter.

What do I think? I desperately hope that death is not just simply unbeing. I *pray* that it is not.

That, after all, would be a pretty shitty ending to the story.

I hope I’ll catch y’all on the flip-side.

Grey Matter Press are quickly becoming one of my favourite publishers. Tony Rivera and Sharon Lawson are Bram Stoker Award nominated editing team churning out some fucking fantastic fiction from old masters and new blood alike. The theme for this anthology, Savage Beasts, is fantastic and .. frankly.. I wish I’d thought of it myself. It promises to be an awesome collection.

I’ve subbed already.. why haven’t you??

It’s said that music makes the world go around.
But it also soothes the SAVAGE BEASTS within us all.

For our next anthology of horror–working title SAVAGE BEASTS–we’re looking for dark and terrifying tales of fiction that have been scratched into the inside of your skull by the musical earworms to which you listen.

Hundreds of authors report getting their inspiration for their dark tales from music. Whether that musical choice be metal, classic rock, country or the far more horrifying pop tunes that ramble in and out of your head, any source of inspiration will work. Whether a complete song, or a single lyric, as long as your inspiration is musical it will qualify your exceptional piece of dark fiction for consideration into SAVAGE BEASTS.

As with our complete catalog of bestselling anthologies, we do not want to limit your creativity with a narrowly themed collection. Anywhere your mind goes, so long as it’s been taken there by some form of music, will work for your submission. But, as always, be prepared to scare the hell out of us.

See link for submission guidelines.

http://greymatterpress.com/submissions/current-calls/