Today’s Siren, the first included in the Dark Arts Books anthology Sins of the Sirens (which you can buy here or here), is Loren Rhoads, a morbidly curious cemetery dweller who writes a wide range of weird fiction. She created and edited the magazine Morbid Curiosity for 10 years which was dedicated to her strange fascinations. You can find her favorite articles collected in the anthology Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. Oh, and just a heads up, these are not tales of fiction, these are all true stories of the shocking and bizarre from everyday, regular people.
Rhoads’ fiction often crosses genres. As she mentions in her interview, “I don’t see boundaries, really. The novel I just finished is a Hong Kong-style kung-fu revenge space opera with a Hammer Horror villain.” Did you hear that!? A Hong King-style kung-fu revenge space opera! With a Hammer Horror villain!? Ihaveto read this!
Sins of the Sirens offers a nice sampling of her varied style, but it wasn’t until I had a chance to probe the mind of Rhoads that I got a real sense for how many layers there are to peel away. For example, I knew she penned titillating erotic tales, but I had no idea that she’d written gay vampire porn! And then of course, there is the Hong Kong-style kung-fu revenge space opera! My head is still spinning.
On to Sins…
Rhoads kicks the door off the hinges with the opening story for Sins, “The Angel’s Lair.” This story introduces us to the naughty seductress from the depths of hell, Lorelei, who has her sights set on a vulnerable Angel trapped in the mortal world, Azaziel. Consider them the ultimate star-crossed lovers except their love is really a strange sadomasochistic ritual between one representative from the dark underworld and another from the light of God. Despite the religious basis for the story, it is rich with heaving bosom, hot breath, and sexual tension you can slice like a nice piece of apple pie.
She wanted to wash his deep-set green eyes with her tongue. She wanted to kiss him until she tasted bruises.
That’s just a little teaser of what you can expect. If I was held at gunpoint and forced to pick a favorite among Rhoads’ four stories, this would be it. Lorelei is mesmerizing and oozes sex from the pages of Sin. You’ll be addicted to Lorelei as I was. Luckily, you can meet her again in the short story “Never Bargained for You” in the Demon Lovers: A Succubus and Incubus Anthology to get your fix. Pick that up here.
“The Angel’s Lair” is followed by an equally erotic tale, this time grounded in the earthly realm, “Still Life With Broken Glass.” Sherry’s relationship with an elitist grad student may be fizzling out, but an encounter with photographer Lily ignites her sexual flame anew. Will Sherry be repulsed by Lily’s morbid fascinations or will she succumb to them? This story doesn’t tease; Rhoads goes all the way with this one! There is a very graphic girl-on-girl scene that made even this pervert blush!
From “Still Life With Broken Glass:”
The expedition reminded me of the beginning of Blue Velvet.
While I wasn’t sure I wanted to see anything like that in real life, I didn’t have anything better to do.
Rhoads dials down the sexual tension in the next tale “Sound of Impact,” which follows an unfaithful couples’ (presumably) last tryst. Instead of a sexual romp, free from the danger of discovery by their significant others, they wander the Griffith Observatory marveling at the sights, our narrator meditating on her lengthy relationship with David and the changes it’s underwent. I had to go back and re-read this story after Rhoads revealed the influence of it, so I’ll let her do the talking. I would’ve never guessed on the impetus of the story!
Rhoads’ finale, “Last-Born,” takes us back to where we started – supernatural fantasy. I categorize the story as supernatural fantasy for simplicity’s sake, but Rhoads stories really take on a genre-defying life of their own. In “Last-Born,” we meet a sweet witch Alondra, whom Rhoads notes as one of her favorite characters. Alondra faces a deadly battle with the father of her child, the evil and cruel Elijah, while drawn to the warm embrace of another lover, Simon. Alondra will evoke the spirits of the dead to beat Elijah and save herself. This is a really dark, terrifying story. I consider this the closest to horror in the bunch with seriously frightening imagery and buckets o’ blood… or at least a bathtub full.
“What makes you think he’ll do his dirty work in person?”
Alondra pulled the crystal vial up out of the neckline of her nightgown and stretched the chain enough to lay the tiny heart in Marie’s hand. “He’ll want this.”
Rhoads doesn’t ease the reader into Sins of the Sirens. Instead she turns the heat all the way up to an unbearable swelter.
Actually, before you do that, check out the review below!
I was thrilled to learn more about Miss Rhoads. She offers great insight into the influence for her stories, in particular for Sins, and her non-literary interests as well. Enjoy!
RHOADS: During the World Horror Convention in San Francisco, John Everson took me out for a drink in the Tenderloin and asked if I’d be part of a four-woman anthology for Dark Arts. Many years earlier, he’d read “The Angel’s Lair” in the slush pile for Dark Regions and, while he couldn’t sell his bosses on the story then, it always stuck in his mind. In fact, he’d tracked me down at my first World Horror Convention ever — in Denver — to tell me how much he’d liked the story. So my character Lorelei is the reason that John and I got to be friends.
In San Francisco, he honored me by asking me first – of all the women he could have chosen – to be in the book. He tossed out a couple of other names, some of whom didn’t end up in Sirens, but he also mentioned Maria Alexander and Mehitobel Wilson, both of whom I knew from working at Gothic.Net back in the day.
DT: Each story included in this anthology is vastly different from the other. “The Angel’s Lair” is supernatural fantasy; “Sound of Impact” is a realistic tale of clandestine lovers; “Still Life With Broken Glass” is also realistic, a tale of sexual perversions and morbid curiosities; and finally “Last-Born” goes back to the style of your first entry – supernatural fantasy. How did you decide which stories to include? What was the inspiration behind each? And why do these fit with the theme of SINS OF THE SIRENS?
RHOADS: Actually, I gave John a bunch of stories and he made the final selection. He wanted a balance of two that were previously published and two that would be original to the anthology. Of the stories he didn’t choose, one of them was gay vampire porn, initially published in City Slab, and one was lesbian horror that will probably never be published, since it’s too far out there. It’s erotica, but the narrator is very young.
In terms of the stories that made the cut, “The Angel’s Lair” was written as a serial via emails to a friend, who lived in LA and continues to be obsessed by devil girls. I wanted to write about a party girl who walks into something far beyond her ken and knocks the universe on its ass.
“Sound of Impact” spun out of an essay I was writing about the old displays at the Griffith Observatory. I was, shall we say, enhanced during my visit there and was quite shocked by the pictures sent up on the Voyager spacecraft. How would aliens make any sense of our genitals or the image of a human giving live birth? When I converted the essay to fiction, I didn’t know how it would end, but a friend of mine really did joke about planting a bomb in my luggage at the Burbank Airport. Luckily, that was pre-9/11.
“Still Life with Broken Glass” came from my years living in Ann Arbor and roaming around late at night. I worked in the English Department and spent a lot of time amused by the grandiose schemes for getting published and becoming famous that the students and professors engaged in.
I thought the story would never see print. Originally, the characters were male, but I had one magazine tell me that they would publish it only if I made them straight, rather than gay. Eventually, I pitched it to Thomas Roche for the NOIROTICA series with the two female main characters, since he said he never got enough lesbian stories. He accepted it right away, but that book still hasn’t come out. The story won the fiction contest at one of the World Horror Conventions. Eventually, it was published in Cemetery Dance.
“Last-Born” features my favorite character, Alondra DeCourval. Her adventures have appeared in Not One of Us, Wily Writers, and will be coming soon in the next issue of Instant City as well as in THE HAUNTED MANSION PROJECT from Damnation Press. Alondra stories always spin from their setting. In this case, it was New Orleans, where I had some dear friends living at the time. They introduced me to several voodoo practitioners and led me around the Bywater and I got caught in a New Orleans downpour. So the story was born.
recently made a comeback in the DEMON LOVERS anthology, in the short story “Never Bargained for You.” Can you give us some background on Lorelei? How did she come to be, and why were you inspired to bring her back? (we are grateful you did, by the way!)
RHOADS: I’m glad you liked “Never Bargained for You”! I’m really proud of how that story turned out. It was written specifically for the Demon Lovers book after the editor decided she wanted to put together a succubus collection – and I had to be in it. I was so flattered that I had to write something special for her. I’m looking forward to reading it aloud for the first time at the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake in March.
I had a friend in college who was jaw-droppingly beautiful. When she walked into a room, conversation stopped. She also happened to be amazingly fun. She had no sense of where her limits were – or should be – and every moment you spent with her was dangerous and exciting and sexy as hell. Lorelei was inspired by her.
DT: “Sound of Impact” was set in Los Feliz like fellow SINS OF THE SIRENS author Maria Alexander’s “The Last Word.” Did you realize your stories shared that connection? Are you also a California native?
RHOADS: No, having the stories set in the same neighborhood was a complete surprise. I’m originally from Michigan and live in San Francisco, but for several years, I spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, collaborating on a novel inspired by “The Angel’s Lair.” Someday I may even find a publisher for it.
DT: You were the editor for Morbid Curiosity for 10 years. Can you tell us about the non-fiction publication? How did you and the other contributors find these morbid stories? What’s the craziest thing you ever came across?
RHOADS: Morbid Curiosity was designed as a way for me to publish confessions from strangers. A lot of them ended up being friends, and appearing in issue after issue, but that hadn’t been my intent going in.
One of my favorite things about publishing the magazine was hosting the live events, where contributors got up to read their confessions in public. Those often inspired audience members to submit their own experiences.
For a while I hosted open mics, too, inviting people to get up and tell their stories live without notes. That’s how I met Brian Keene, Rain Graves, Maria Alexander, Simon Wood, Mehitobel Wilson, Christa Faust… all sorts of wonderful people.
One of the stories in the magazine (reprinted in MORBID CURIOSITY CURES THE BLUES) was about assisting the suicide of a friend dying of AIDS. It’s clear in the story that the dying man had no chance of recovery, that he was grateful to have his friends end his suffering. Still, assisted suicide is legally murder. Even without a body, and no evidence other than this confession, there’s still no statute of limitations on murder. I called the Hemlock Society for their advice about publishing the original piece; Scribner’s lawyers went over it before the book went to press. I read it one night on the book tour, which was intense.
DT: There are only 10 issues of Morbid Curiosity. Was it always the intention to do a run of just 10 or did other circumstances end the publication?
No, 10 just seemed like a good number to go out on. Each issue took about a year of my life and I wanted to do more of my own writing.
DT: You have an obsession with graveyards and blog about your travels at Cemeterytravel.com. You’re also a member of the association for Gravestone Studies. Can you tell us what fascinates you about cemeteries and how this interest started?
RHOADS: I grew up down the road from the graveyard where my family is buried, so I felt a connection to their stones. During the First Gulf War, I ended up in London by accident. I bought a copy of an amazingly beautiful book of cemetery photos called HIGHGATE CEMETERY: VICTORIAN VALHALLA, which inspired me to poke around this wildly overgrown sculpture garden full of broken angels. That started my obsession.
DT: How many cemeteries / graveyards have you visited over the years?
RHOADS: Literally hundreds. Whenever I travel, I ask around about what local cemeteries are worth visiting. Last November, when I went to Ohio while my dad had heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, I took an afternoon to explore Lake View Cemetery. I’ve been to Hiroshima’s Peace Park and the Bone Chapel at Kutna Hora, graveyards in Rome, Venice, Florence, and Pompeii, cemeteries in Paris and Prague, and – one year – my husband and I rented a car on the East Coast to visit 17 cemeteries in 10 days. There’s still so much more I want to see!
DT: Do you have a favorite? If so, which one (or two) and why?
RHOADS: That’s a hard question. Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts may be the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever visited, but I love Cypress Lawn in Colma, California, too. When they asked me to come talk about cemetery travel this coming April, it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
DT: Back to your fiction. You write in varying styles and the stories in SINS OF THE SIRENS are a good sampling of that diversity. Between erotica, paranormal fantasy, and science fiction, is there a genre in particular you favor most?
RHOADS: I don’t see boundaries, really. The novel I just finished is a Hong Kong-style kung-fu revenge space opera with a Hammer Horror villain. It’s science fiction, because there are spaceships, but there are mad scientists and monsters and lots of sex. I wish other writers would mix it up more.
DT: I noticed on your website that you don’t mention horror as a
genre you write. Of course, I consider “horror” to be a pretty broad term that is often an umbrella for other subgenres. Do you consider some of your writing straight horror? Why or why not?
RHOADS: I think both “Sound of Impact” and “Still Life with Broken Glass” are as close to pure horror as I’ve written. I guess it depends how you define horror. I’m only tangentially interested in the “real world” as a setting, probably because I read so much nonfiction and hang out in so many graveyards. When I read – and write – for pleasure, I want something that takes me away from the mundane. I decided pretty early on that killing someone was a cheap way to add tension to a story.
I’m not sure if that answers your question.
DT: Maniac.com recently posted (I think just before the start of Women in Horror month) a list of the Top 20 Greatest Horror Writers of All-Time, but they didn’t include any female writers. Not even an honorable mention! I’ve been asking all the women I’ve had the opportunity to speak with about their thoughts. What do you think about lists like this that so casually omit female writers?
RHOADS: A lack of imagination.
One of the best times I’ve ever had at a convention was when the Persephone Writers put on a game show. Two contestants volunteered to guess if a piece read by the female members of Persephone had been written by a woman or a man. In cases when the contestants did not know the work, they could not guess. One of the contestants was Gary Braunbeck.
The piece I read was an excerpt from Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds,” which inspired Hitchcock’s movie. It’s harrowing. The contestants guessed Brian Keene had written it.
DT: To counter that, who are your favorite female genre writers currently? Not necessarily straight horror, but even paranormal fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural thrillers, or whatever…
RHOADS: Gemma Files is number one on my list. I adore Marie Rutkoski’s YA trilogy. Maria Alexander’s stories are sexy as hell. Dana Fredsti has a great sense of humor. Lisa Morton’s Castle of Los Angeles is really fun.
DT: What do you have coming up that fans will be excited about?
What’s next for Loren Rhoads?
RHOADS: I’m really looking forward to the publication of THE HAUNTED MANSION PROJECT, which I hope will be available by the end of March. It’s an anthology put together by a gang of horror writers who attended the first writing retreat at a haunted house in Northern California. Yvonne Navarro is in the book, along with Weston Ochse, S. G. Brown, Sephera Giron, Eunice Magill, and a host of others. I’ve got an Alondra story in it, as well as the true story of my encounter with the ghost.
I’m working hard to proofread the manuscript for Wish You Were Here, a collection of my cemetery travel essays that were published on Gothic.Net, Morbid Outlook, Morbid Curiosity, TRAVELERS’ TALES, and a bunch of other places. That book should also be out late next month.
My chapbook Ashes & Rust is now an ebook for the first time. It collects four horror/science fiction stories about sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and apocalypse.
Oh, and I have two novels at my agent’s now. Fingers crossed on those.
People can check up on me at http://www.lorenrhoads.com.
DT: Last one… Vincent Price has just invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and wants you to pick the four other guests. Who do you pick, dead or alive, and why?
I’d want to go with my Haunted Mansion companions. I’ve already survived a weekend in an old, dark house with them – and I know, among that crowd, I’m the Final Girl. It shouldn’t be that hard to talk them into it.