My Bloody Valentine: An Interview with Sonora Taylor

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers! Today, I bring you a special treat to celebrate dark and deadly love, an interview with Sonora Taylor about her newly published novel, Without Condition.

I was a first reader of Without Condition, and I devoured it! The story is incredibly unique, unrelentingly dark, at times, sexy as hell, and just an altogether fun read.

Before we dive into the interview, a little about Without Condition:

Cara Vineyard lives a quiet life in rural North Carolina. She works for an emerging brewery, drives her truck late at night, and lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm. Her mother is proud of her and keeps a wall displaying all of Cara’s accomplishments. Cara isn’t so much proud as she is bored. She’s revitalized when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. Every day they spend together, she falls for him a little more — which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes on her late-night drives, she often picks up men. Those men tend to die. And when Cara comes back to the farm, she brings a memento for her mother to add to her wall of accomplishments. Cara’s mother loves her no matter what. But she doesn’t know if Jackson will feel the same — and she doesn’t want to find out.

Let’s get right to it. What inspired you to write a serial killer coming-of-age love story?

Something that had nothing to do with any of those things, ha ha. I was first inspired when I read an article about Tobias Forge, the lead singer of the band Ghost. Previously, Forge performed under an alias. He said one of the reasons he decided to come forward with his identity was because his mom wouldn’t stop bragging about him to her friends and neighbors. Forge typically performs in full Satanic priest costume, or in full skeleton makeup while wearing a suit. I couldn’t stop laughing at the thought of this man’s proud mother walking around saying, “That’s my son!”

 

From there, I thought about what it’d be like if a mother was like that for a child who was actually doing bad things — nay, criminal things. I’m drawn to extremes, and thus thought about what that’d be like if the child was a killer. I went first to a son, but to change things up, I had the child be a daughter. I started thinking of how this mother-daughter dynamic could play out, but it wasn’t until I came up with the daughter meeting a man that the story really took off in my mind. It became less about the absurdity of one mother’s pride and more about testing the limits of unconditional love.

 

What is your writing process like? Was there anything particularly unique about the process of writing Without Condition (anything that surprised you, was funny, was brutal, etc.)?

 

I try to write once a day, and to carve out a little time each day. I usually do a section a day for a short story, and 1000 words a day for a novel. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more; but having a number to aim for helps give me a goal to meet, and thus makes it easier to complete the task each day.

 

Without Condition was unique in the context of working on this novel versus working on my first novel, Please Give. For the latter, it was very easy for me to sit down and write. I often surpassed my 1000 words a day goal, sometimes writing 2000 or even 3000 words in a sitting. I had lots of ideas and, while writing Please Give had plenty of challenges, sitting down to write it wasn’t one of them.

 

With Without Condition, while I wanted to sit down and write, I found it harder to sit down and do so for long stretches of time. Some scenes would flow like butter in a hot skillet, while others would spread like cold butter on bread — ie, either not at all or else with a lot of torn bread.

 

Still, I found that when I went back and read what I’d written so far in Without Condition, more often than not, I found myself reasonably satisfied with the first attempt. Not satisfied enough to leave it unchanged, of course; but with Please Give, I must’ve revised some passages several times over before I was even close to satisfied. With Without Condition, I always felt like I had something good, even when I knew I could have something better. That was a pleasant surprise I encountered with this one.

 

In my opinion, you’ve written a protagonist who, yes, is a serial killer, but the circumstances surrounding her are much more terrifying than her propensity to kill. You cover a lot of horrifying topics in this book, many that are freakishly mundane and a little too close to home. Tell us a little about the themes of Without Condition (without spoilers, of course!).

 

The biggest theme, as alluded to in the title, is the idea of unconditional love. We often tell our loved ones that we’ll always love them no matter what. But what does that mean when someone is doing something heinous or wrong? Does that still apply? I wanted to explore that, and at a deeper level than the absurdity of that level of unconditional love from an outsider’s perspective. I wanted to look at it from the perspective of a mother’s love and from romantic love, and I found it more gratifying to do so from the point of view of Cara, the subject of both of those types of love.

 

Another theme that cropped up was enabling, especially through inaction. Rather than confront notable problems that Cara displayed, she was often dismissed or ignored. I consider that just as bad as the active antagonism she faced as a child, especially from some of her teachers.

 

One final theme I enjoyed exploring was the inability to let go, be it voluntary or not. I think especially of Cara hearing the insults of her classmates over and over in her mind, and well into adulthood. Some of that is involuntary, but other times, it’s a deliberate undertaking on her part to feel anger — a way to keep herself company that, in turn, ensures she’s often alone. It’s also dangerous company, both for herself and for the people around her.

 

I feel like the setting of Without Condition is very important for both the plot and the characters. Are you drawing from environments that you know well, or did you create the setting purely to support the story?

 

Leslie is a fictional town in North Carolina (as are Pinesboro and Egret’s Bay), but I drew on actual places I lived for inspiration. I lived in North Carolina for eight years. My family lived in Chapel Hill, I went to school in Durham, and I went to college at NC State in Raleigh. While none of the places I lived were as small as Leslie, the towns I lived in were a hop, skip, and a jump from more rural areas. I spent a lot of time visiting places with lots of farmland and forests, and I based the look and feel of Leslie on the time I spent in those places.

 

One tidbit I’d love to share here, if you don’t mind: Leslie was originally a placeholder name for Cara’s hometown. I named the town after Bill Leslie, a reporter in Raleigh who also has a career as a New Age musician. The name stuck as I kept writing. So, thank you, Bill Leslie, for the inspiration!

 

Without giving too much away, I will say that there are some very sexy scenes in this book. To you, what are the most important things to consider when writing sex scenes?

 

To me, sex scenes are at their best when they’re focusing on the sensations and feelings — some feelings of deeper emotion, like if someone’s happy or nervous; but more so feelings of lust and desire. Many romance novels focus on the longing, then end the scene before any sex happens; while a lot of erotica or straight sex scenes focus mostly on the actions. I prefer sex scenes that infuse both. I also like implications as opposed to direct references to certain body parts. Not dorky euphemisms, mind you; but not clinical terms either. It’s not that I mind seeing the word “penis,” it just seems to throw off the sexiness when I’m reading or writing a good sex scene.

 

I’m also not a big fan of sex scenes that refer to a vagina as a pussy. I’d sooner say “entered her” or something like that — I think most readers will know what that means, and can fill it in themselves (heh). But I think focusing on sexual emotions first, and then how the characters act on those feelings and desires directly after, is most important; letting each move and flow in rhythm like … well …

 

I’m definitely getting some Mommy Dearest vibes from this book. Are you a fan? Are there other works that have directly inspired either Without Condition or your writing in general?

 

I am a fan! “Tina! Bring me the axe!” But funny enough, I wasn’t really thinking of Mommy Dearest when I wrote this. I can see where those vibes would come from, though. Both feature overbearing mothers, as well as mothers who scar their children with their own fears and traumas.

 

I’m inspired equally by dark humor and mundane takes on things that are dark. One of my favorite authors is Augusten Burroughs. His humor is so biting, and he talks about some horrific things in his life with both humor and … like, he knows it was awful and traumatizing, but he also presents it as just so, because it was his life (and a large part of his life). He doesn’t hammer his readers over the head with what was shocking, bad, or wrong. He just shows it through talking about it and letting the events speak for themselves. I think that’s a rare gift.

 

In fiction, I’m similarly inspired by Flannery O’Connor. The way she tells a story about murder in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is horrifying because of how casually she tells it. It’s just something that’s happening. I like horror that’s unsettling. It stays in my bones longer than a quick jump scare.

 

If there was a movie poster created for Without Condition, what would its slogan be?

 

She’s hidden the bodies. Hiding her heart is a little bit harder. (I love cheesy taglines)

 

Okay, this is a fun one for horror writers. We write horror, in part, to terrify others, but what are you afraid of?

 

My top 5: enclosed spaces, being bound or trapped, upsetting people (especially people I care about), slipping on ice, and the Extra-Terror-estrial ride at Magic Kingdom (it’s now closed. Good riddance).

 

I love that you published Without Condition so close to Valentine’s Day and during Women in Horror Month! What are your thoughts on being a woman writing in the horror genre – and also, what are your thoughts on Valentine’s Day?

 

I’ve always been drawn to dark fiction and horror in the stories I read and write. While I read a variety of genres, the darker stories hold a soft spot in my heart. My favorites tend to be less about monsters, the supernatural, and gore; and more about the darkness of people and their minds. This is the type of horror I like to write, and also the type of stories I like to write, period; be they straight horror, slice-of-life, romance, or other genres.

 

I like being able to write horror, and I like how much the genre has opened up to women writers over the past several years, especially in the indie scene. There are still barriers, but it’s really great to see women’s contributions to the genre being recognized and appreciated. Like any genre, horror is at its best when we get a variety of voices telling the stories.

 

I actually love Valentine’s Day. Growing up, it was always a friendship and family holiday for me. My parents gave me candy and a card (they still send me a Valentine’s Day package each year), and my friends and classmates gave each other those cartoon cards. As such, I never found it overly mushy, or felt anything against it; even though I was always single on Valentine’s Day until I met my husband. I still like to get cards for my friends, and candy for myself. And yes, I did intentionally release Without Condition close to Valentine’s Day because of its dark romantic nature.

 

Who is your favorite character in Without Condition? What’s your favorite thing they say in the novel (no need for context!)?

 

I like pretty much everyone (except Amanda and Mr. Murphy), but if I had to pick a favorite, it’d probably be Jackson. My favorite thing he says — the gravity of which will make more sense in context — is, “You would?”

 

What is your favorite line in Without Condition?

 

“She couldn’t help but think of Jackson as a small boy feeding a bobcat in his backyard, trusting that this wild animal would always be his pet.”

 

What do you hope readers experience when they read this novel?

 

This is always kind of hard for me to answer, because I don’t want to guide people’s feelings when they read my work (beyond what I establish in things like the book description). That said, I hope people will consider the sources of darkness, of what horrifies them, and what’s unsettling them as they read. I consider the serial killer aspect to be the surface — it’s horrifying, but there are also more dark and terrible things below that surface, some of which we might be uncomfortably more familiar with.

 

What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?

 

Right now, I’m finishing some short stories that I’m including in my next short story collection, currently titled “Little Paranoias: Stories.” It will include my flash fiction, some longer pieces, and a little poetry. Once I send the manuscript to my editor, I’m going to take a crack at my third novel.

 

You can purchase your copy of Without Condition HERE

 

About Sonora:sonora-taylor-26771109472762677651.jpg

Sonora Taylor is the author of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Please Give, and Wither and Other Stories. Her short story, “Hearts are Just ‘Likes,’” was included in Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven, an anthology of stories and poems that put a contemporary twist on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Her work has also been published in The Sirens Call and Mercurial Stories. “The Crow’s Gift” will be featured on the horror podcast “Tales to Terrify” later in 2019. Her second novel, Without Condition, is now available on Amazon. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband.

Find Sonora Online:

Website: https://sonorawrites.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/sonorawrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonorataylor/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/sonorawrites/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17015434.Sonora_Taylor
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Sonora-Taylor/e/B075BR5Q7F/
Blog: sonorawrites.com/blog

Quoth the Raven Author Victoria Weisfeld on Crime Writing, Dark Fiction, and the Timeless Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Victoria

To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.

For my final interview, I’m chatting with Victoria Weisfeld, author of “Tooth and Nail” in Quoth the Raven.

Quoth the Raven celebrates the eerie and influential legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe’s work that speaks to you (perhaps from the grave)?

As a crime writer, I appreciate how he built up characters who could get under your skin. Growing up reading Poe and Dickens, those long loopy sentences still carry me right into the story, though that writing style is definitely out-of-date today. It’s fun going back to it.

Pick three adjectives to describe the story you wrote for Quoth the Raven.

Obsession, compulsion, and (this is a long one) seeing the world through a cracked lens.

Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your story is about. What do you tell him?

“Well, Mr. Poe, it’s about a woman who sees her twin brother as the other half of herself and will stop at nothing to keep him close.”

Okay, I’m continuing with this scenario thing. It’s 1849, and you’re at a gathering of literature lovers, a salon, if you will. Across the room, you spy Edgar Allan Poe, and you simply must go over to him to compliment his work. What is the story or poem of his that you laud to excess? And why?

After gushing shamelessly, and extolling “The Gold Bug” for igniting my interest in cryptography, and “The Purloined Letter” as an example of a police procedural, I’d settle on “The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym,” one of Poe’s longer works, as one of the best adventure stories of all time, especially for an 1849 reader as yet unacquainted with the National Geographic and television nature programs.

As a writer, what do you think are the most important elements of dark fiction?

Atmosphere comes to mind first and characters whose darkness (or by contrast, whose innocence) reveals the danger of their environment. Naturally, dark fiction employs sinister plots, but a plot that just piles on gore without establishing a sense of menace or without developing characters the reader cares about falls short. (A flaw in some modern crime fiction, as well.)

As a reader, why are you attracted to dark fiction? Why do you think we like to read about the things that terrify us?

This is not an original insight, but sometimes reading about—exposing oneself to—supremely terrifying things makes it easier to deal with the fearful events encountered in everyday life. Some experts suggest this accounts for the popularity among women of a certain kind of thriller. Reading about sexual violence helps readers contemplate not just the terror of such an event, but also its survivability. Maybe.

What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. It was the first psychological thriller I’d ever read, so I wasn’t prepared for how far he’d go. Julia Heaberlin’s Paper Ghosts is a 2018 example. A young woman, Grace, embarks on a road trip with a demented elderly man she thinks may have killed her sister a dozen years earlier. The cat-and-mouse game between them, as she tries to figure out how lucid is he, really, is nerve-wracking!

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

I am a Dickens fan, and my last trip to England was to be part of the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of his birth (favorite book: Our Mutual Friend). But since I’m a crime/mystery writer I have many sources of inspiration. I’d love to achieve the comic voice—even occasionally—of Joe Ide; the humanity of James Anderson; the literary power of Hannah Tinti, the suspense-creation of Gin Phillips. And many more!

What are you working on now?

Two novels are complete and appearing on publisher’s desks. One set in Rome, involving Eugenia Clarke, whom I’ve published several short stories about. Genie is a travel writer whose curiosity inevitably lands her in difficulty—deadly difficulty in this case. The other novel is about a New York architect whose mistress is murdered. On the surface, it’s about figuring out why she died and who killed her (and why they are plotting against him), but fundamentally it’s about a man trying to regain his self respect.

Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?

I have an active website—vweisfeld.com—with a page on “My Writing.” You can link directly to many of my short stories there, including the Derringer award-winning “Breadcrumbs.” The website includes book, movie, and theater reviews; covers topics writers fret about; and offers some travel tips, possible fodder for Genie’s next adventures.

About Victoria:

My short stories have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine; Betty Fedora, Big Muddy, and the recent anthologies Busted: Arresting Stories from the Beat, Murder Among Friends, and Bouchercon 2017’s Passport to Murder, as well as Quoth the Raven. I’m a reviewer for U.K. website crimefictionlover.com and Broadway-based theater review site TheFrontRowCenter.com.

Quoth the Raven coverAbout Quoth the Raven:

The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.

In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.

Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.

Read “I’ve Got a Soul to Catch” in Thuggish Itch: Devilish

TI - DEVILISH

I’ve always been fascinated by magic, especially that of the close-up variety. I love watching the seemingly impossible manifest (or disappear!) right before my eyes. I’m definitely the type of girl that would be straight-up charmed by a magician walking up to me and asking if I’d like to see a trick.

But what if that particular magician had devilish intentions?

My latest horror short, “I’ve Got a Soul to Catch,” published in Thuggish Itch: Devilish by Gypsum Sound Tales, features magic tricks, the New York subway, and an unnamed man in black with dark ambition and a pack of playing cards.

Here’s a little taste…

“He slid onto the bench next to his unwitting victim, a girl in her mid-twenties who was listening to music through a pair of purple earbuds, bobbing her head in a consistent rhythm. They were seated near the back of the car in the furthermost corner and, for all intents and purposes, they were quite alone. The closest individual was the snoring man, and he certainly wouldn’t be a problem. The other subway passengers—well, the man in black would ensure they kept to themselves.

He took a deck of playing cards out of his breast pocket and began shuffling and fanning them flamboyantly. The man kept it simple at first, sending the cards flying from one palm to another with perfect accuracy and timing.

The cards slapped. The subway lurched. The man smiled. And the third time he executed the trick, he caught the attention of the girl seated next to him.

The man gave her a devilish grin and flicked the cards into the air. If any human had attempted this stunt, the cards would have spun out of control and fallen to the dirty floor of the subway car. But since the man in black was decidedly inhuman, the cards traveled in a graceful arc a full two feet above their heads, then drifted down to settle in the man’s awaiting palm.

The girl plucked the buds from her ears, her eyes widening. “That was incredible!” She laughed, and a gust of her breath fanned over the man’s face. It smelled of cotton candy, and it took all of the man in black’s restraint to keep from swallowing her whole right there in the back of the J train.

Of course, that wouldn’t do.”

To read the rest, pick up your copy of Devilish HERE!

About Thuggish Itch: Devilish 

Devils, demons and the idea of Hell have always featured prominently in the horror stories that I found myself reading as a teenager or the films I still delve into on a rainy day. I’ve always found it quite amazing how differently the leading man, Satan, is portrayed depending on the creativity and beliefs of the creator. Sometimes he’ll sport a large pair of curved horns and a pointed tail, his skin red, his body smooth and muscular. Other times, he’ll have the head of a goat and a large pair of wings that sprout from between his shoulders like those of a mighty condor. Thuggish Itch’s Devilish collection features, in no particular order, thirteen of our favourite tales, each of which provides a different take on the mythology, the red man himself and all of his minions.

An Interview with Quoth the Raven Poe-etess Tonia Kalouria

To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.

Next, I’m interviewing Tonia Kalouria, author of “Advice is for the Birds” in Quoth the Raven.

Briefly describe the poem you wrote for Quoth the Raven.

A rhyming, ironic sublimation of my disdain for poetry editors who will accept nothing but free verse. “If it rhymes, don’t waste your time!” Note I did not use “our” time, as it takes no enterprise to toss another’s soul in the trash heap.

Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your poem is about. What do you tell him?

I was inspired by the notion that unsolicited, unwanted advice is something that is “for the birds,” as we used to say. And, Hitchcock notwithstanding, menacing, nay-saying birds = Poe’s Raven, of course.

What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?

What work has “creeped me out”?  The Exorcist — book and movie! By reading the book first, I viewed the film not as fiction, but fact. I was considering therapy for almost a week I was so traumatized. And pea soup was definitely off-menu for a very long time.

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

Wordsmiths I admire:  I love the surprise twist endings and Irony of O’Henry.  I admire the light verse of Dorothy Parker and Ogden Nash, and Mother Goose’s rhymes.  I immensely enjoyed reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote.

But I think the “heard word” deserves consideration as well when discussing the outstanding use of language. To wit: The late James Reilley, head writer for NBC’s soap “Passions” cranked out delightful scripts to fill five one-hour shows per week. And said scripts encompassed multi-genres: romance, mystery, fantasy, and especially, humor!

The rock opera, Jesus Christ Super Star with lyrics by Tim Rice is another example of brilliance with the heard word.

And not least, dear radio icon, Paul Harvey. I eagerly awaited his fifteen minute noon newscasts from elementary school days when I would run home for lunch, until his last broadcast as an adult.

What are you currently working on right now?

Utilizing my fondness for irony and memorable endings, I am currently tweaking a flash fiction piece called: “Blind Justice.” As with the five serious poems I wrote for the 5-2 Crime Poetry Weekly Blog, it too,  has a moral, or “message.”

Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?

I can be reached on Linkedin or Facebook.

About Tonia:

Tonia is the mother of two wonderful sons and grandmother of one lovely granddaughter, and a former high school Spanish teacher in Toledo and Elyria, OH. She was also “Dr. Wilson” from 2002-2007 on the NBC soap “Passions.”

Quoth the Raven coverAbout Quoth the Raven:

The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.

In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.

Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.

Dark Tales and Devious Plots with Quoth the Raven Author Donea Lee Weaver

Donea Lee photo

To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.

Next, I’m interviewing Donea Lee Weaver, author of “The Ca(t)sualty” in Quoth the Raven.

Quoth the Raven celebrates the eerie and influential legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe’s work that speaks to you (perhaps from the grave)?

I think what really speaks to me about Poe’s work is the way he delves into the psychology of madness. So many triggers and so many reactions and consequences. It’s fascinating!

Pick three adjectives to describe the story you wrote for Quoth the Raven.

Morally-gray, snarky, accidental.

Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your story is about. What do you tell him?

I’d ask him, “Have you ever been married?…Happily?…If your answer is ‘yes,’ then my story is a cautionary tale of what could happen if you pushed your spouse too far – and liked the cat more than her…”

Okay, I’m continuing with this scenario thing. It’s 1849, and you’re at a gathering of literature lovers, a salon, if you will. Across the room, you spy Edgar Allan Poe, and you simply must go over to him to compliment his work. What is the story or poem of his that you laud to excess? And why?

I’d tell him that the story that has stuck with me from when I first read it in school, is “The Tell-Tale Heart.” The image of the old man’s eye and how the main character tries to convince the reader that he’s not mad…yet, he so clearly is…it’s awesome.

As a writer, what do you think are the most important elements of dark fiction?

They absolutely have to be atmospheric, such a dark and riveting setting that when the madness/terror happens you’re already sucked in. I also think they need to really dig into the inner-dialogue of what drives the main character to do this terrible thing they do.

As a reader, why are you attracted to dark fiction? Why do you think we like to read about the things that terrify us?

For me, it’s always been about the adrenaline rush. When I’m so terrified, I want to cover my eyes and hide away, but I’m still peeking through my fingers, because I just have to know what happens next.

What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?

I’d have to go with Frankenstein. It’s terrifying and heart-breaking at the same time. And the way it plays with ideas of gods and monsters is really quite genius.

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

There are many, but some of the stories that have truly stuck with me – the ones I wish with all my heart were real – those are the most inspiring to me, and they were written by: J.K. Rowling, Roald Dahl, Eva Ibottson, Cornelia Funke, and J.R.R. Tolkien.

What are you currently working on right now?

I’m working on a contemporary, light sci-fi novel that has a creepy explanation about the faces you might see in inanimate objects…

Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?

I had a short novella published in an anthology a while back, but it has since been unpublished, so my story in Quoth the Raven is the only piece of mine you can currently find online. Hopefully, more to come soon. People can always connect with me on Twitter or Instagram: @donealee

About Donea Lee:

Donea Lee Weaver is a perpetual daydreamer who’s been creating and telling stories since her elementary school days. When she’s not writing about the things she loves (all things fantasy, sci-fi, romance and yes, even a little horror) she’s out exploring with her daughter, dog and husband somewhere in northern UT. She also loves to read, travel and play games with her sisters and best friend. She earned a BA in English from Weber State University and is a member of SCBWI, The League of UT Writers and attends the Storymaker’s Writing Conference every year. Feel free to contact her at donealee@gmail.com or find her on Twitter and Instagram: @donealee

Quoth the Raven coverAbout Quoth the Raven:

The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.

In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.

Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.

Chills and Thrills with Quoth the Raven Author Emerian Rich

To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.

Next, I’m interviewing Emerian Rich, author of “My Annabel” in Quoth the Raven.

Quoth the Raven celebrates the eerie and influential legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe’s work that speaks to you (perhaps from the grave)?

He just gets us, you know? His mind created some of the best moments in horror by just understanding how we like to be scared.

Pick a couple adjectives to describe the story you wrote for Quoth the Raven.

Creepy, heartbreaking.

Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your story is about. What do you tell him?

“My Annabel” tells the story of two surgeons caught in a pandemic emergency and their fight to stay alive for one another.

Okay, I’m continuing with this scenario thing. It’s 1849, and you’re at a gathering of literature lovers, a salon, if you will. Across the room, you spy Edgar Allan Poe, and you simply must go over to him to compliment his work. What is the story or poem of his that you laud to excess? And why?

To tell you the truth, I’d probably get too tongue-tied to express myself. Although I can speak in front of crowds and read to hundreds, I would have a hard time addressing someone I held so highly. I’d go into it thinking I would compliment him on “Annabel Lee” but then blurb out some incoherent ramble, ended with apologies and a quick exit!

As a writer, what do you think are the most important elements of dark fiction?

I really just want to scare my readers the way I want to be scared. What I think is creepy and spooky will also get under the skin of my readers. So, it’s getting into the head of a horror reader and pushing them just one step closer to the edge without losing them over the cliff.

As a reader, why are you attracted to dark fiction? Why do you think we like to read about the things that terrify us?

Horror addicts like to be scared in a safe, non-harmful way. Creep me out, test my limits, push me over the edge as long as in reality I am safe in my warm bed, able to switch on the light and see the monsters are just in my head.

What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill is pretty creepy. I read it after watching the movie because I just adored the film. The book is similar, but it’s got this underlying chill that scared me more than the movie. The house (or the bog) seemed almost like a Cthulhu creature, mesmerizing characters into doing strange things, or paralyzing their thought process in a way that seemed insurmountable to overcome.

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

Anne Rice and Andrew Neiderman are my favorite horror writers. I also enjoy Jane Austen and Regency Romance fiction. I try to take what others have done twist it so it becomes something new.

What are you currently working on right now?

My current WIP is a modern YA rewrite of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. You could call it Gossip Girl meets The Shining. This is my favorite of her books and fits me so well because the heroine in the novel is a horror addict like me. In my modern tale, Kat is a goth gal seeking adventure who finds it during a spooky trek to the snow country where a family is haunted by the memories of their deceased mother.

Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?

emzbox.com


About Emerian:

Emerian Rich is the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights, and writes romance under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. Her horror/romance crossover, Artistic License, is about a woman who inherits a house where anything she paints on the walls comes alive. She’s been published in a handful of anthologies by publishers such as Dragon Moon Press, Hidden Thoughts Press, Hazardous Press, and White Wolf Press. She is the podcast Horror Hostess of HorrorAddicts.net and you can connect with her at: emzbox.com.

Quoth the Raven cover

About Quoth the Raven:

The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.

In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.

Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.

Talking Scary Stories and the Silver Screen with Quoth the Raven Author Susan McCauley

Susie's Headshot 2015

To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.

Next, I’m interviewing Susan McCauley, author of “The Cask” in Quoth the Raven.

Quoth the Raven celebrates the eerie and influential legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe’s work that speaks to you (perhaps from the grave)?

There is something haunting about his work. His stories and the way they’re told have a way sticking with you – even years after you’ve read them.

Pick three adjectives to describe the story you wrote for Quoth the Raven.

Dark, twisted, eerie.

Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your story is about. What do you tell him?

Assuming we’re in present day, I’d let him know it’s a modern re-telling of “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, and that the story is about betrayal and revenge. Unlike Poe’s original story, the reader finds out why Montresor has his revenge on Fortunato.

Okay, I’m continuing with this scenario thing. It’s 1849, and you’re at a gathering of literature lovers, a salon, if you will. Across the room, you spy Edgar Allan Poe, and you simply must go over to him to compliment his work. What is the story or poem of his that you laud to excess? And why?

Of course I would have to talk to him about “The Cask of Amontillado.” I love “The Tell-Tale Heart,” too, but “The Cask of Amontillado” has impacted my life in so many ways in both my teaching and writing – especially due to my re-telling of the story and the subsequent short film that was made based on my story. I’d love to know how Poe was inspired to write “The Cask of Amontillado” and what his process was like with writing it.

As a writer, what do you think are the most important elements of dark fiction?

I think that atmosphere and tension are extremely important elements in dark fiction. Certainly all fiction needs tension to pull in a reader and keep them reading, but I think a combination of atmosphere and tension (along with some unexpected and/or disturbing events and images) are vital.

As a reader, why are you attracted to dark fiction? Why do you think we like to read about the things that terrify us?

I honestly don’t know why I’m so drawn to dark fiction. I can only go so far with it – and I don’t like gore. I prefer psychological and supernatural horror. I think why people like things that terrify us is because of our basic survival instincts. For hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years humanoids have had to fight or run to survive. In modern life, we’re much safer and our basic needs are met. So, I think that by going to scary movies, reading scary stories, and going on scary rides, that helps fulfill a part of us that isn’t being used very often – at least not in countries where all of our major survival needs are met. So, I think it’s psychological and biological.

What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?

The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson creeped me out. I first read it in my early twenties and had to sleep with the lights on for several nights. I don’t remember exactly what about the story got to me, but it was psychologically haunting. I’m going to read it again to see what it is about that book that created so much fear in me.

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

I’d say that William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, and Shirley Jackson are some favorites. I have several more modern authors I find inspiring, too. Jonathan Stroud and Mary Downing Hahn are two of the authors I find myself returning to over and over again.

What are you currently working on right now?

Well, I’ve got two feature films (I’m also a screenwriter) in development. One, The Murdering Kind, is being directed by Academy Award winning SFX makeup artist, Barney Burman. For the other, The Lost Children of York, I can’t announce the director just yet because we’re still in the negotiation process. I also have a short story, “The Devil’s Tree,” which you can read for free on WattPad. I’ve turned “The Devil’s Tree” into a novel (it’s currently on submission). I’m also planning to adapt that short story into a short film and direct it myself.

Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?

You can find more of my work and can connect with me online at http://www.sbmccauley.com/ I’d love to hear from you! And, if you’re interested, you can see the short film version of my story of “The Cask” on YouTube: https://youtu.be/55jEBuSdJAg

About Susan:

Susan is a writer / director / producer of horror, supernatural, and fantasy films and fiction for adults, young adults, and middle grade audiences and readers. Susan fell in love with writing, theater, and film when she was eight-years-old. That passion inspired her to receive a B.A. in Radio-Television with a minor in Theater from the University of Houston, a M.F.A. in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California, and a M.A. in Text & Performance from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and King’s College in London. Susan also studied acting at Playhouse West with Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic ParkIndependence Day) in Los Angeles.

While living in Los Angeles, Susan wrote the story for and produced a short film, which later won awards at the Houston International Film Festival and the Seabrook Film Festival. In 2002, Susan moved to London to further explore professional theater. While in London, her stage adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose” was performed at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s George Bernard Shaw Theatre; and, scenes from her play The Prisoner: Princess Elizabeth were performed at HMS Tower of London. She returned home to the U.S. in 2005. In 2007, she was the line producer of the Emmy Award nominated Civil War short film Now & Forever Yours: Letters to an Old Soldier. In 2016, her short story, “The Cask,” was made into an award winning short film that played at film festivals around the U.S.

Quoth the Raven coverAbout Quoth the Raven:

The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.

In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.

Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.

“My Love, In Pieces” Serves Up Edgar Allan Poe-Inspired Body Horror

Quoth the Raven cover

Initially, I didn’t plan to write a story to submit to Quoth the Raven, an anthology of contemporary tales and poems inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I’d seen the call for submissions from Camden Park Press floating around the interwebs, and it sounded like a cool project, but I hadn’t had that lightbulb inspiration moment.

And then, I read a story a friend of mine planned to submit, and as I read her incredible manuscript, I thought, Wow, this is a brilliant retelling…and now I want to be part of this project. (Spoiler alert – my friend’s story, “Marcela,” was accepted for the anthology, because like I said, it’s brilliant! Penny Paling, I owe you, girl!)

So, I did a quick Google search for stories by Edgar Allan Poe, promising myself that I would only invest in writing a new story if I got an idea that melted my face off. That jolt of inspiration came as soon as I read a synopsis and then the full text of “Berenice.”

Here’s a brief description of the story from Wikipedia:

“‘Berenice’ is a short horror story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835. The story follows a man named Egaeus who is preparing to marry his cousin Berenice. He has a tendency to fall into periods of intense focus during which he seems to separate himself from the outside world. Berenice begins to deteriorate from an unnamed disease until the only part of her remaining healthy is her teeth, which become the object of Egaeus’ obsession.”

Now, I didn’t post the full description of the story above, because it contains spoilers for the creepiest, crawliest parts of the narrative, the parts that didn’t jive with readers when Poe first published it. That’s right, folks complained that Poe had gone too far with this particular story. Because of mass public upset, Poe ultimately decided to self-censor the work to make it more palatable to polite society.

So, I’d found a story that had a conclusion so horrific it was censored? Yep, I decided that was the story I wanted to resurrect and give new life.

And it was the right choice, because “My Love, In Pieces,” which you can read in Quoth the Raven (out today!) is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever written.

Here’s a little taste:

“I wasn’t ready to see you like that, broken and bandaged and so very ashen. Your skin, once the color of fresh cream, was the color of dirty snow. Your face was swollen and bruised, a misshapen fruit, thanks to the airbags. Your leg was broken in two places, but it had been reset and shrouded in plaster. The doctor said one of your lungs collapsed and you had a concussion. Your injuries were many. Thus, the medically induced coma. They had you on painkillers and steroids and other medications that had so many syllables, I wondered if the doctor was making them up for my benefit.

The worst part was that wretched plastic tube down your throat, the contraption responsible for your breathing, since you could no longer manage that on your own. I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t see my wife, the shining constant of my life.

My chest grew hot as a branding iron, and I feared I’d spontaneously burst into flame. My flesh would drip from my bones, and then…then, I’d be unrecognizable to you, too. Maybe that would be better.

“She’ll wake up, right?” I managed.

The doctor gave me a kind smile. “In time, yes. We’ll take her off the barbiturates that keep her under as soon as possible, but she has a lot of healing to do. I can’t give you a definite timeframe. Of course, we’ll do everything we can to help in her recovery.”

It wasn’t the answer I wanted. My fists curled and hardened at my sides, ready to fly.

I told the doctor thank you and shook his hand, though my palm was cold and clammy. He left the room, and we were alone. I sunk into a chair, ran my hands through my hair, and listened to the metallic beep of your heart.

It’s cliché, but it all felt like a bad dream.

I thought of that morning, of the time before. You’d surprised me, climbing atop my hips in the gray light of dawn, bringing your finger to your lips while grinning mischievously. You’d bit my shoulder to keep from waking the girls. You smiled at me. You gnashed your teeth in the throes of our lovemaking. You were so warm and alive.

A fine pressure mounted in my chest, and I tucked my head between my knees to alleviate a sudden swoon. As I gulped in sour hospital air, an object on the floor near your bed caught my attention. It was blindingly white, slightly round with distinct grooves, no larger than a fingernail.”

Y’all, you’re so not ready for what happens next! Pick up your copy of Quoth the Raven HERE and see how this creeptastic story unfolds.

A Quiet Place Will Make You Scream

Quiet Place movie poster

When I first saw the teaser trailer for A Quiet Place, I wasn’t all that impressed. Honestly, I thought the concept of a family that has to remain all but silent so they don’t provoke attacks by some audio-motivated “they” seemed like an excuse to make a film full of superficial jump scares and little else. I tucked the upcoming film into the “Meh, maybe on Netflix someday” category in my brain, and that was that.

However, when A Quiet Place became a Rotten Tomatoes darling and word began to circulate that it was actually a great movie, I decided to give it a chance. I left my lukewarm impressions in the dust and met my horror movie partner in crime, Nikki, at an AMC for a weeknight showing. We armed ourselves with root beer, peanut M&Ms, and all the hope in the world that writer, director, and actor John Krasinski wouldn’t let us down.

He didn’t.

Seeing A Quiet Place in a proper movie theater is a ridiculously enjoyable experience. If you like monster movies, go now!

*Before I proceed and fangirl about everything I loved about this movie, here’s your warning. While I hate spoilers and will keep them to an absolute minimum, I really do think you should see A Quiet Place before you read the rest of this…and then we can compare notes and geek out over this horror film together.

Okay, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I loved A Quiet Place so much, and it’s because the movie is such a fun experience. Here’s what made it stand out for me.

This movie has so much heart. You remember how I was afraid this film would feel like a superficial fear bomb? And that jump scares would reign supreme? Okay, there are a few jump scares, but there are quite a few moments and scenes that hit you harder (right in the gut, to be honest) thanks to their emotional resonance. And that is the golden element that drives the plot of A Quiet Place forward and allows viewers to connect with the main characters on a visceral level. This family isn’t perfect or immediately likable or without their flaws. While defending themselves from bloodthirsty creatures that want to feed on their flesh, they’re also struggling to make their family unit work. And you thought Christmas dinner with your family was rough.

Without getting into major plot points, this movie tackles some deep emotion themes, including grief, loss, and guilt, while also keeping you on the edge of your seat, because the threat is real. In A Quiet Place, Krasinski has struck a really brilliant balance between sweet moments, hard-to-watch family interactions, and straight-up survival instinct fear. It doesn’t seem like it while you’re in the theater, but you go through a lot in 95 minutes. And it’s all enjoyable and beautiful and downright scary in equal measure.

The sheer quiet of the film is actually pretty unnerving and cool…if you have a theater of moviegoers who are invested and along for the ride. When Nikki and I arrived, right in time for the lights to dim and the trailers to start, our theater was packed. We were lucky to snag a couple seats on the far end in the second row, and I immediately began to wonder what this experience would be like, what with the theater being so full. Would the silent moments of the movie actually be quite loud, thanks to moviegoers jostling bags of popcorn, slurping sodas, and making comments to their friends?

Surprisingly, no. There was this interesting thing phenomenon that occurred as soon as A Quiet Place began. Our movie theater became a quiet place, too. It was like everyone was collectively holding their breath and trying to make as little noise as possible. And thank goodness, because the silent moments of the film build this incredibly taut ambiance that’s paper thin and relies on, strangely enough, everyone’s participation. I love that this movie was able to evoke that interesting response in the audience, this desire to go along for the ride and to remain quiet, like the characters onscreen. (I will say, if you go to a theater where folks aren’t respectful or bought in, it will probably suck.)

And while much of the movie was intensely quiet, there were many moments that weren’t. And the noise wasn’t just used to provoke monsters. I mean, sure, you need sound as an impetus for the attacks, so crashes and the like were a given, but there’s really great use of music and natural sounds from the environment that build layers of emotion and also help to keep the prolonged silences from feeling stifling and too intense. Silence builds tension; noise brings release…and much-needed opportunity to discreetly reach into your super-loud-and-crinkly bag of M&Ms for a treat.

And don’t get me started about the noises the monsters make. They were a highlight of the film for me, because they were deeply nostalgic. No, not from my nightmares. Funny enough, from Disney World.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’re a horror junkie like me and visited the Magic Kingdom between 1995 and 2002, you likely went on a “ride” called ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter. And it likely scared the shit out of you.

A high-level rundown of the experience: park goers were invited into a theater in the round to witness a teleportation demonstration by a futuristic company called X-S Tech. And yes, we were strapped into harnesses and restraints for the demonstration, because precautions, right? During the demo, something goes horribly wrong, and instead of teleporting a human scientist into the room with us, the scientists of X-S Tech accidentally teleport an alien. Oops.

And that’s when shit gets real. The lights go out. We hear the sound of shattering glass. A security guard comes in to intervene…but he screams, and we hear the alien chomping on his bones. (Bye, Steve.) And then, the alien is lurking among us, looking for its next snack. Thanks to surround sound, water effects, and rumbling chairs, you really felt like the alien was there, breathing down your neck, ready to kill you, which ignited all sorts of delicious adrenaline in your body.

Here’s a more detailed account of the ride, if you never experienced it, or if you’d like to conjure up your own memories.

Disney deemed the attraction “too scary” in the early 2000s, and now it’s a Lilo and Stitch-themed experience, which makes my little horror-loving heart sad…but back to A Quiet Place.

I know it’s a weirdly twisted thing to admit, but when all hell breaks loose and the creatures descend upon the family in A Quiet Place, I found myself grinning. Not because the family was in peril (that part sucked!), but because the noises the monsters made were so damn familiar. They sounded like the noises the “escaped alien” made in ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.

Thanks to the surround sound in our movie theater, I was transported back to Disney World and to one of my favorite theater experiences ever. That nostalgic moment? Just priceless. Thank you, awesome sound effects team.

The movie features a deaf character, and Krasinski pushed to hire a deaf actress to fill the role. And it was the right call, because Millicent Simmonds is simply captivating onscreen. She’s expressive and emotional, and her presence brings a lot of authenticity to the film. I read that she taught the cast and crew American Sign Language during the production of this movie, and I think that’s exceptionally rad. It’s so nice to see a push for inclusion and diversity, not only in storytelling and script writing, but in the casting of actors, too. I really respect Krasinski for finding and hiring Simmonds.

I also can’t wait to see what she stars in next, and I’m gonna have to watch Wonderstruck, too.

Okay, there’s so much more I could say about this movie, but I like to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. That being said, the comments section is fair game. What did you love about A Quiet Place?

Bury ‘Em Deep Unearths More Than Monsters

Unwanted Visitors cover image

Fire-colored leaves crackle beneath my steel-toes as I follow Charlie to the back of his pickup. A gust of wind blows up the corner of the blue tarp coverin’ the body, and I catch a peep of curly black hair out of the corner of my eye. My stomach lurches, and my fingers burn. I wanna sock Charlie in the jaw for askin’ me to help him with this, but I don’t.

I don’t hit him, because I owe him. I owe him big.  

‘Course that don’t mean I gotta like bein’ here. “You got a perfectly good backyard, Charlie. Why couldn’t we bury Rooney there?”

“That ain’t Rooney.” Charlie points at the heap under the tarp. “That thing, it belongs here, not in my backyard.” He releases the latch on the back of the truck, and the tailgate bangs open, makin’ the whole bed jump. Makin’ the body jump. My skin prickles as Charlie gets to untyin’ the tarp with dry, bony fingers.

I look around, tryin’ to understand where “here” is. There’s nothin’ but leaves, old oaks, and a big expanse of grassy terrain. The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air, though there ain’t a soul around to be doin’ the smokin’. If you ask me, it don’t look like anything belongs here, not even a dead dog.

“Who told you ‘bout this place?” I ask.

Charlie whips back the tarp. I stare at the white wisps decoratin’ Rooney’s muzzle. I expect ‘em to move. I expect to see Rooney’s chest suddenly rise and fall. It doesn’t, despite what Charlie’s told me ‘bout the dog’s habit of comin’ back to life now and again.

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Today, my Lovecraft-inspired short story, Bury ‘Em Deep, is published in Inwood Indiana’s Unwanted Visitors issue!

On the surface, this story is about two men burying a dead dog named Rooney that has this crazy habit of coming back to life. But the real horror of the story lies in the broken friendship of the two men and the animosity between them. Sometimes, you simply can’t bury the past.

To check out the full story, get your issue of Unwanted Visitors today!