I struggled with how to categorize women like Ash Arceneaux. You could call her a Fresh Face or a woman Behind the Scenes, but she expresses her passion for horror through a few different mediums. I leaned towards Jill of All Trades, but determined that was too corny and cute (although I sneak it into my interview later!) Arceneaux – also known as A.D. Roland, Ashley Roland, or Adra Steia – is a horror author, artist, cover designer, photographer, and craftsman. Don’t think I’m gonna replace “man” with “woman” just because it’s Women in Horror Month. I love you bitches, but “craftswoman” sounds cumbersome!
Speaking of crafts, I almost forgot about her lit lover’s purses (pictured right) until I came across a photo of one on her deviantART webpage while I was browsing for my favorite cover designs and sketches to feature in this article. She hasn’t been on deviantART in a while, so I’ll find out if you can still purchase those nifty bags and post a link in the comments section.
Ash Arceneaux is a striking moniker to use and one that was burned into my brain after I came across it on the Pretty-Scary message boards (now Planet Fury). But it was her interior sketch art for Lincoln Crisler’s hardcover limited edition of Wild and clever marketing tactics that got me bubbling with excitement over her writing and multitude of other projects. Included with my book was Arceneaux’s business card. The card features a disturbing photo of zombie Ash, a silk ribbon tied to it, at the end of which is a little plastic skull. The back of the card reads, “Email me for a free ebook!”
I’ll be back with a review of the free ebook that started an obsession, Swamp Baby, and Arcenueax has some details about the re-release in my interview as well, so we’ll keep you posted. I can tell you that Ash has some messed up dreams that translate well into written form. Normally, I would suggest medication, but in this case, since I look forward to more disturbed swamp lit from this morbid mind, I say keep dreamin’!
Before we move on to the interview, I want to say that Ash is one of my favorite people on the internet. Outside of all her artistic endeavors, she’s just a blunt, honest, fearless femme that I’ve admired since my brief, but memorable, days on the Pretty-Scary boards. Now that we’re Facebook friends, I get to hear all about the morbid images that haunt her dreams and the often terrifying violence she endures from her cat. We also share an obsession with Richard Laymon (as do many of you!), Jeff Strand (she has a great fangirl story in the interview), and the reality show Intervention.
Read on, dear fiends, for more about Ash Arceneaux, crazy dreamer and Jeff Strand enthusiast!
DT: I first “met” you via the Pretty-Scary forums, even though we never personally interacted. I found out about Pretty-Scary a couple years ago when Heidi Martinuzzi was interviewed by Feedback on Rue Morgue Radio (I think it was even a 3 parter!), which unfortunately just had its final show. Pretty-Scary, now Planet Fury, is women in horror! How long have you been a member on the boards and how has that helped you as a woman in horror, whether through networking, venting your frustrations with the community, or getting sage advice from the other members?
ROLAND: I joined Pretty-Scary waaaaay back in something like ’07, when my first book, Swamp Baby, came out from a doomed e-press. I fell in love immediately with the site, and most definitely with the sparkly-pink-badass Heidi, the owner/creator! It has helped me immensely as a writer, an artist, and as a woman. It’s the ideal community for women in the horror industry. There is no “boys’ club” atmosphere, and there are lots of women working in various fields who need the sort of community, support, and exposure that Pretty-Scary/Planet Fury offers. I know I wouldn’t have had the commitment to continue writing or creating art without friends I met on the boards! It’s a place to share success and failures, professional and personal issues, and make some great contacts in the business of horror!
DT: I ordered a limited edition hard cover of Lincoln Crisler’s WILD and, not knowing you are an artist, was surprised when I saw your name in the credits for the interior art! Despite my brief stint on the boards, I immediately recognized your name and felt a sense of pride to “know” you. Do you and Crisler go way back? How did you get involved with this project?
ROLAND: I honestly don’t recall exactly when or how I met Lincoln! Seems like we’ve known each other forever! I think it was through my book review site, and then mutual friends on Facebook. He saw my art and liked it, so he asked me to do some illustrations for WILD, and eventually the cover when it was published by Damnation Books. I loved the idea behind WILD. It’s definitely been one if my favorite projects from the last couple of years!
ROLAND: About 2007, when e-books were still regarded as highly suspicious and the last act of a desperate writer, I used to be on one of those gossipy romance writing forums (*suppressing the urge to vomit*) and starting talking to another writer who found the forum as ditzy and high-school-girls’-bathroom as I did. She was involved with a small press and did cover art, and I started playing around with it and discovered it was something I really enjoyed.
DT: Is there a cover you’ve done that’s your personal favorite, one
that holds a special place in your heart?
ROLAND: Hmmm…It’s really hard to pick a favorite cover. I think I’ve done some of my best work for Arrow Publishing, Tease Publishing, Damnation Books and Rymfire Publishing. I’ve worked for the “author mill” presses and a good majority of the work I’ve submitted to those I hate…when an author has an idea in his or head and can’t fathom some of the limitations I’ve clearly outlined, they basically get crap. If I have to choose a favorite, I think I’d have to choose either Gemini Rising or E-I-E-I-O.
DT: You’re not just a horror fiend, you enjoy a little romance too. You write reviews for Rites of Romance and after a little break, looks like you’re back up and running! Any plans for the site to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day? Or do you loath the holiday?
ROLAND: I had to put both my reviews sites on a brief hiatus due to my work schedule. We are back up and running, and looking to expand beyond just reviewing books by doing author interviews and promotion gimmicks. I guess I’m going to have to do something on the site for Valentine’s Day, but as of now, I don’t have the foggiest clue! I generally avoid the holiday with utmost prejudice! Any suggestions? Ha ha…
DT: Who are a few romance writers you recommend and what do you like about them? The raunchier the better, please 🙂
ROLAND: This is where you look at me weird and go “Oh, okay…wow.” I actually avoid raunchy romance novels. I’m one of those odd women who are sick of everything being oversexualized. I abhor picking up what looks like a good romance novel and getting two pages in and suddenly somebody is knocking boots to the tune of horrible modern purple prose. I read Christian romance novels (not the super fluffy crap, the stuff that has something of an edge to it!) or some of the newer YA fiction that is coming out. NOT Twilight. Dear heavens above, not anything with “good” vampires or werewolves! I’m a fan of romantic dystopian YA and apocalyptic YA. The writing is getting better and better, and there are a lot of distinctly adult themes in the best stories. Right now, my favorites are Blood Red Road and Delirium. Both are a series, but I tend to stop after the first book because the authors usually feel the need to tie up loose ends that are better left loose!
DT: OK, getting back to horror. You’re a Jack – or should I say Jill?– of all trades. Not only do you create visual art, but you write as well. I got a couple titles from you as a gift for purchasing the HC edition of Crisler’s WILD. I got A YEAR OF YOU and SWAMP BABY, both written under the pen name Adra Steia. The latter immediately caught my eye because the cover has the creepiest baby head poking out of a swamp with blood coating its naked dome! The swamp is a great setting for a good ol’ horror story. How did the story develop?
ROLAND: Oh good grief, don’t remind me of the travesty that is A Year of You. I love the story, but the editing is horrendous and the characters are incredibly melodramatic. I am 100000000% happy I was able to get the rights back to that story! Swamp Baby, on the other hand, is one of my absolute favorite books that I’ve written. It was originally spawned by a dream–be my friend on Facebook, and you’ll get initiated into the wack-fabulous world of my mind-bending dreams. You’d think I did acid or something before bed…anyway, Swamp Baby began as a dream about (evil) shape-shifting panthers and a baby crying in the woods. I live in the middle of the woods in rural Florida, so it wasn’t hard to work those bits of surrealism into a local Native American legend, and throw in some cannibals for good measure. There’s a sequel to Swamp Baby called Spirit-Mother: Devotion, that can be read as a sequel or a standalone novel. Both books are no longer available from a publisher, but I am re-releasing them soon through Kindle!
DT: Your latest release from Damnation Books, WINTERBORN, has a pretty dark premise. Tamsyn suffers the infidelities of her husband’s affair, one that ends with his lover’s suicide. But before this horrific tragedy, she leaves a surprise baby on their doorstep! Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this story?
ROLAND: A dream, of course! Crazy, baby-headed snake with a best friend who is a little boy, evil stepmother, and the obligatory haunted house. I changed the roles of course- the little boy is evil (whodathunkit, right?), the stepmother is mired deep in her own issues, and the dad is clueless. Some of the inspiration came from my life. Maybe I sort of kinda Mary-Sue’ed myself into the book a teensy bit. I also watched a lot of Intervention, The Maury Show, and that show on Nat Geo or TLC about families in haunted houses. It’s a very dark book; Tam needs redemption and hope, and the one person she should be able to turn to for those things has long since disengaged from her emotionally. She has to fight the urge to just give up and figure out how to fight for her sanity. And all the while she’s fighting monsters, drug addiction, and one hell of an evil kid.
DT: You also designed a beautifully grotesque cover for WINTERBORN. Did you have an idea of what emotion you wanted to evoke to entice readers to buy your book?
ROLAND: Winterborn is not entirely bleak book. There’s some humor, some romance, and a bitch with an attitude (but not the romance novel variety-Tam’s the sort of woman you’d walk away from slowly, no sudden movements, no eye contact). I wanted to give the cover a unique look that embodied that the story isn’t just about blood and guts and gore (although there is plenty of it in there!) I used the symbolism of the skeleton and tree- death and life- with the hopes it won’t be classified as just another horror story. Most horror novels have dark covers with dripping blood, weapons, etc, etc, etc, and I really just wanted mine to stand out in the sea of darkness.
DT: You’re an artist, photographer, and writer. Is there a medium you favor more than the others?
ROLAND: I will always identify myself as a writer first. Even though I have made a career out of photography and graphic art, I’ve been a writer since I was child. Writing is who I am, even if I have to scavenge for a few minutes of writing time!
DT: Just days before the start of Women in Horror Month, I came across the Top 20 Greatest Horror Writers of All-Time. There was not one woman included in this list! As a reader, writer, and Woman in Horror, what do you think about lists like this and the casual omission of female horror lit greats?
ROLAND: *pulling up the soapbox*
These lists are always created by the boys’ clubs. Women are overlooked and only begrudgingly acknowledged, and usually only regarded as a novelty at first. (These are just my most recurrent observations over the last eight years or so!) It takes finding a readership, and having them tout your name all over the net to get the listmakers to notice you. Or, a woman has to charm a few key players, and then she suddenly gets noticed. Luckily, with sites like Planet Fury, access to self-publishing platforms like Kindle, and networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s getting easier to promote and find new readers. The one thing I’ve noticed as well is, it doesn’t matter how many books a female writer has sold, how many fans she has, how big her boobs are, when someone is asked who their favorite horror writer is, it’s almost inevitably going to be a male writer. Female horror writers are novelties. Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough, and Alexandra Sokoloff were hot shit respectively for a while. They made big waves, but their times in the spotlight has been short, and now they are relegated to a simple press release when one of their books releases. The successful female writers are always under-appreciated, even though they work tirelessly, steadily, and usually have an awesome readership. Just like with any entertainment/artistic industry other than acting, it’s a tough world for those born with vaginas and boobs!
DT: I think it’s important to educate people who may not even realize they are engaging in invisible sexism, both men and women. Keeping that in mind, how would you approach someone who has the misguided belief that women aren’t as talented in the field of horror literature as their male counterparts?
ROLAND: Well, I bite my tongue first and foremost, and once I’ve chilled, I can calmly produce a list of authors and their books that rival any male’s. I hear the argument, “I bet it’s all romance,” frequently. There’s usually a certain point where I call the person a hopeless cause and walk away.
DT: What’s next for Ash Arceneaux / A.D. Roland / Adra Steia?
ROLAND: Well, Adra Steia was a victim of the swamp cannibals a couple of years ago. Ash has a steady list of book cover and art commissions, notably a werewolf piece for an author’s screenplay festival entry. A.D. is working on a couple of books, a dark fantasy and a post-apocalyptic story. A.D. is also running a portrait studio and working on building a photography portfolio. Ash is hoping to attend a few horror conventions this year!
DT: I found out via Facebook that you are a huge Jeff Strand fan like me! You also mentioned you “fangirled him once at a convention.” Can you elaborate? Please 🙂
ROLAND: It was at the Romantic Times Convention in Orlando a couple of years ago. The signing hadn’t started yet, so I was running around, spastic as usual, trying to find my table and books and promo stuff, which another author had brought in with her stuff from our publisher. I saw him standing in front of his table (his table was a few down from mine –Strand and Steia, the name I was writing under at the time) and my first thought was, “He’s shorter than I thought,” then the fangirl kicked in and I was having this mental (…and physical) spazz that went something like OMGJEFFSTRANDHE’SHEREOMGJEFFSTRANDOMG. So I flipped my hair off my shoulders and sauntered over and was so very cool and collected when I introduced myself and told him I was on the same Florida authors’ yahoo group, and I so admired his work…
Or not. I think I actually babbled his name a couple of times and then blabbered on about the yahoo group and then about how cool it is to actually meet him. And then I tripped as I was walking away.
DT: You are a Richard Laymon fan. As you may have noticed by our website name, Dreadful Tales, we are as well! What are your favorite Laymon titles? Where would you suggest a newbie start? I read THE CELLAR first and wasn’t enamored with Laymon after that, but luckily I gave him another chance and was finally able to see the light!
ROLAND: My favorite Laymon books are Island, Endless Night, Into the Fire, Night in the Lonesome October, In The Dark, and Savage. Honestly, I love nearly every one of his books! The only story of his that I truly did not like and could not finish was The Cellar.
My very first Laymon novel was Island, and I would suggest that one as a “first.” Into the Fire is another one that’s an easy introduction, and so is No Sanctary.
DT: OK, last one. Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and he wants you to pick the other 4 guests. Who do you invite and why?
ROLAND: Hmmm…I’m not sure! Doctor Who, because…well, because he’s the Doctor! Stephen King, because he’d figure out some emotional redemptive revelation that saves us (or damns us…probably better rethink that one…), and Dale and Tucker, the bestest rednecks in the world. If anybody would go to extreme lengths to save me, it would be them. Not that I’d need saving, but ya never know. My choices suck. I’d be the first to die.
Fall in love with Ash on deviantART, her blog Swamp Dweller, Rites of Romance review website, Twitter, and finally Facebook. I told ya’ she was into all kindsa good horror stuffs! Get to know her, she’s awesome!