As weird as this sounds, I’ve been a fan of Sheri’s since the first time I saw her posting on a message board and on Facebook. And yeah, I know it’s weird that I’m profiling a reader on this site during Women in Horror Month, but seriously… who makes the star-studded events something that people actually have the good fortune to attend?
People like Sheri.
Without the hundreds and thousands of Sheri White’s out there in the world, there would be no writers to cater to her dark needs.
The genre would not exist without its readers, and not surprisingly, many of them are women.
Therefore, they are the Women in Horror. And honestly, this lady is one of my favourites.
Now, I picked Sheri because she’s got the spirit of a true fan, the know-how in the genre, and the authority of a real reader to back her up. The fact is, this little lady can hold her own in a knock-down, drag-out fight about the works of Laymon, Koontz, Keene and various and sundry other writers, and that just astounds me. It also warms my heart knowing there’s another person out there who shares my excitement and is willing to go the distance for the genre.
I didn’t pick Sheri solely based on the criteria that she’s a woman. My reasoning relies mostly on the fact that she’s so damned unassuming and doesn’t bull into conversations and threads like the rest of us gore-hounds do. (ed – if you don’t admit to pulling a little testosterone-driven “I can one-up you” every once in a while, you’re a liar). Sheri is suave and sweet, loves her dogs with a passion, and lovingly updates folks on the things her kids are doing – all while tearing into killer stories replete with scenes so grotesque it would make the devil blush.
And she does it all with a winning smile on her face.
So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to one of my favourite readers in our dark circle, and one of the only people who would ever actually terrify me if I were an author.
Please welcome: Sheri White.
DT: You mentioned in conversation that an Alfred Hitchcock book of short stories is one of your earliest memories of reading this genre. What book was it and what did you think about it? Are there any more books from your childhood that you would care to share with the younger readers of our site?
S. White: The Alfred Hitchcock book I read (and treasured) as a kid was “Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful.” (Haunted Houseful). I wish I still had it; I would love to share it with my kids. The stories in it were creepy, but not terrifying. I took that book with me on car trips all the time, even if it was just to go to the store.
DT: Were your parents supportive of your darker lean in terms of fiction? Do you recall there being a book or author that they didn’t let you read?
S. White: I started reading when I was four years old; my grandmother was a reading teacher and taught me early. She’s who gave me my love of reading, and I’m so grateful. The only problem with learning so early and reading at high levels at a young age was that The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew got boring by the time I was eight or nine. I was reading stuff I shouldn’t have been like “Jaws” and “The Exorcist.” I hid them from my mom, so she didn’t know. As I got older, she knew I was reading Stephen King, but she never really said anything. She didn’t understand why I loved horror so much, but she didn’t forbid me from it. She still doesn’t understand why I’d rather go see a horror movie rather than a “feel-good” movie!
DT: You’ve shared parts of the horror genre with your children. Which books did you find they were most receptive to, and what would you like to see more of in kid lit? When is a story too much for a child?
S. White: My two older kids have been receptive to Stephen King. Sarah, my oldest who is now 23, met Brian Keene before he was BRIAN KEENE back in 1999 or so when Brian hosted a con of sorts in his home for those of us on his mailing list “Jobs in Hell.” He actually published a short story of hers in Jobs in Hell because there was nowhere to submit it since she was only eleven. She crushed on him for the longest time, and likes his stuff. (She will probably kill me for telling all this.) I let Lauren, my 16-year-old, read “It” when she was about 12 or 13. She really liked it. My youngest, Becca, who just turned 14, has shown more of an interest in horror lately. She loves the Paranormal Activity movies. I’ve offered her “The Amityville Horror” to read, so I hope she takes me up on it. She’s not as much of a reader as the older two.
I have tons of horror books on my shelves, and I don’t really restrict them on what they can take to read, except for the erotic horror books like the “Hot Blood” series. It’s not that I’m one of those moms who doesn’t worry about violence but freaks out about sex; it’s just that those kind of books don’t paint sex in a good way. I don’t want them to get a warped idea of what it’s all about!
I’m not sure when a story is too much for a kid. Mine have always been pretty cool with scary stuff; Lauren watched Jurassic Park for the first time when she was about three. She was so into dinosaurs at that time that I thought she’d get a kick out of it, and she did. She recently watched “The Exorcist” by herself, something I can NOT do. That movie still scares the hell out of me.
DT: You also wrote to me that you started with a lot of the authors that we would deem classic, or big time, these days. King, Koontz, etc. are examples that a lot of people would give as gateway authors into the genre. As a long-term reader of his work, what do you think of King’s early pieces versus his more recent fare?
S. White: I prefer King’s older stuff to his new stuff. “The Dome” was OK, but it seems that his writing changed after his accident. I haven’t read “11/22/63” yet, but I have hopes for it since I’ve heard a lot of good things. I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but I think his writing would get good again if he ate a few brownies, if you know what I mean.
DT: Koontz is another writer that you mentioned reading. I’m well aware of your love of Richard Laymon and his work, as evidenced by your inclusion in Cemetery Dance’s book, IN LAYMON’S TERMS. There have been debates about the commonality between Koontz’s INTENSITY and Laymon’s ENDLESS NIGHT, and even a rumor that they planned to write the same book using their own voices, and it branched out from there. Have you read either of the two? If so, what’s your opinion on the closeness of the plots and structure of the novels?
S. White: I’ve read both “Intensity” and “Endless Night,” but they were both so long ago that I couldn’t begin to compare them.
DT: I’m a huge fan of Richard Laymon, and own almost all of his publications. To say that I’m jealous about your contact with the man prior to his unfortunate passing would be an understatement. He is truly a big example of someone taken before their time. Can you tell us more about your inclusion in IN LAYMON’S TERMS? How did this come about? What is your favorite Richard Laymon memory?
S. White: I honestly don’t remember how I got into “In Laymon’s Terms.” I mean, I submitted and Kelly accepted it, but I don’t remember if she personally invited me or if I heard about it. That was about ten years ago. I got to meet Dick at Brian Keene’s house at the aforementioned con he held. It was a weekend event; we all crashed at Brian’s house or nearby friends’ places. When I was a kid, I remember seeing a book on my dad’s nightstand (before my parents were divorced) called “The Cellar.” My dad wouldn’t let me read it, of course. So when I met Dick, I had a copy of it and he signed it for me after I told him the story. But the coolest thing was that he sent Sarah a copy of one of his YA books written under the name Carl Laymon. The book was called “My Secret Admirer,” and he signed it special for Sarah. The neat part is that I myself read that book as a kid, and when I saw the book when I took it out of the package, I was so excited. I had no idea Dick had written it until he sent it to Sarah. It was one of my favorite books as a kid, and it’s hard to find, so to have a copy signed by him to Sarah is such a treasure. It’s such a treasure that even though it’s officially Sarah’s book, I won’t let her take it out of the house.
DT: Some of your favorite genres or sub-genres in horror are Zombies, Haunted Houses, Bugs, or Animals. Can you give us some examples of the more stellar works out there that you’ve enjoyed, but are limited to the above choices?
S. White: One of my favorite haunted house books is “The House Next Door” by Anne Rivers Siddons. I love “The Amityville Horror,” of course, and I was so disappointed to learn that it was a hoax. My favorite bug/animal stories are “Mandibles” by Jeff Strand (giant ants), “‘Nids” by Ray Garton (giant spiders), and “Clickers” by J.F. Gonzalez (killer giant crabs). As for zombies, I absolutely LOVE The Walking Dead show, and had no idea that it was a graphic novel series first. Now I’m starting to read those, and they are great.
DT: You’ve been reviewing for a while now in the horror genre. Do you have a specific review policy? Are you adverse to writing a negative review?
S. White: The only policy I have in reviewing is to only review the genres I like. I hate fantasy, and sci-fi stuff. Otherwise, I couldn’t give a fair review. I try to find something positive to say in a review, even if the book wasn’t so great. If it’s so bad I can’t even finish the book, I’ll just pull out of the review. I am a real stickler for proper grammar and spelling, so it drives me crazy when I book is riddled with errors. This brings up your Amazon/Smashwords question (ed. see forthcoming question). While I’m not against self-publishing or indie-publishing, there are a lot of authors out there giving those options a bad name. I once read an anthology that was such a complete mess, I thought it was a joke being played on me. Anybody can slap a manuscript on Smashwords and say they are published, but if you can’t take the time to have your book edited, you’re not going to be taken seriously.
DT: What makes a good review? When searching for a book on Amazon or any other site, what do you look for in a review that basically sells you on the purchase of a piece of work?
Sheri: I don’t read a lot of Amazon reviews to choose my horror books. Since I’m friends with or fans of so many horror authors on Facebook, I hear about great books through word of mouth, which has introduced me new authors. You can’t always trust reviews on Amazon; many are written by friends or family of the authors and have nothing but five-star ratings, which is suspect.
I think a good review includes a synopsis of the story, some pointing out of great parts, and then a final opinion of the story. At least, that’s how I do it. If a story is OK, I’ll still review it, but will point out what could have made it better. If a story is so bad I can barely finish it, I won’t even review it. I give honest reviews, but I won’t destroy someone’s soul in the process.
DT: You’ve been published in the small press several times. What made you want to pursue writing, and why did you go to this genre instead of writing something else?
S. White: I’ve been interested in scary stuff for as long as I can remember, back to when I saw The Wizard of Oz when I was two years old. The witch scared the hell out of me. I can remember running to my room when she’d come on, but peek around the corner so I could still see her. I just couldn’t resist the scariness. When I was a little older, my dad would let me get comic books at the 7-11 when he visited my brother and me. I always picked the creepy ones, like Tales from the Crypt. I had a library card, but it was only for the kids section. I went through pretty much everything there in short time. I’d lurk around the adult and teen sections, finding the creepy stuff and reading it there since I couldn’t check it out. It was a sweet day when my mom finally signed the card giving me access to the entire library. I think was about 11.
My grandmother gave me my love of writing as well as reading. She liked writing silly little poems, which sparked creativity in me. One of my favorite Christmas gifts was the year I received a typewriter – it was plastic, and you had to really bang on the keys, but I loved it. I started writing my autobiography, even though I was only about 9 or 10! I also wrote a sequel to The Wizard of Oz (the movie), in which the Yellow Brick Road had been paved over due to progress. I think I still have it somewhere.
DT: You’re the submissions editor for SNM magazine. Can you give us an idea as to what you have to deal with when dredging through the slush pile? What types of stories do you see the most of? What would you like to see more of?
S. White: As submissions editor for SNM, stories are submitted for the theme given, so I can’t really choose what I’d like to see more of. It’s really interesting seeing how different the stories are for the same subject. I’ve been doing this for almost a year, and even though it can be hard and time-consuming, it’s a great opportunity that I’m enjoying.
DT: I’m a writer who has no idea who you are, but I still want to submit a story for your magazine. How do I get your attention in a good way, thus making it one step closer to publication? How do I get your attention in a bad way?
S. White: If you want to get my attention, have the story interesting from the beginning. These are short stories, so those that have lots of words that have no real impact on the story are going to turn me off. I’ve read so much horror that unfortunately it’s more difficult for me to be scared by it – if you can creep me out or give me chills, I’ll be very impressed.
DT: You proofread for authors in the genre. Beyond geeking out with proofing and finding mistakes, what made you want to do something like this? What is the most common mistake you’ve found while undertaking such a job?
S. White: I used to work for a Navy contractor that put together specs for building ships. There was a group of us responsible for typing up the architect’s writings into coherent documents, and we also had to proof them for typos. Since we proofed each other’s stuff, I was always gleeful when I was able to circle errors with my red pen. There’s something about finding mistakes that pleases me. Even before that, I was a bit of a teacher’s pet in elementary school, so I was often given papers to correct for the teacher when she was busy. I guess you could say that was my first editing job. My favorite was correcting spelling tests – I was straight As when it came to spelling, and nothing pleased me more than finding the other kids’ errors. That really does sound a little sadistic.
Errors that drive me crazy are the usual ones – you’re/your, it’s/its, stuff like that. Common spelling errors get to me way too much. Ackward? Opps? Mistakenly-used words as well – loose for lose, weary for wary. Dictionaries and thesauruses are your friends!
DT: You made an interesting comment in our recent correspondence citing The Wizard of Oz as a horror movie. Can you explain that a little more? On top of that, you mentioned feeling uncomfortable with gusts of wind and Tornadoes. What other fears do you have that you can talk about?
S. White: I really do believe The Wizard of Oz is a horror movie, or at least has elements of horror, especially to a little kid. I mean, green Wicked Witches? Trying to set fire to a friend? FLYING MONKEYS??? Yeah, it’s horror. Not to mention Dorothy and her house being sucked up by a tornado. Until I was a pre-teen, you couldn’t even mentioned there had a been a tornado somewhere in the country without freaking me out. I would watch weather forecasts, and cry when I heard the dreaded word, even though we weren’t in a tornado-prone area. I still get a little weirded out during big summer storms when the winds kick up. And just today my area was given a high wind advisory, which doesn’t exactly thrill me.
I do have generalized anxiety, which I need meds for because my brain was being a jerk and never stopped whispering what horrible things could happen to myself or my family. Going to an amusement park? You’re going to die on the roller coaster, you know. Family road trip? You’re all going to die in a horrific car accident. Stuff like that. I also have social anxiety in a big way. If I’m in a situation where I don’t know anybody, I get really stressed. I pretty much need a wingman in all social interactions, even if it’s just dragging one of my kids along with me. I also really get stressed talking on the phone, even to people I know, which is why we’re doing this by email. 🙂 Yes, I’m a complete mess.
DT: You mentioned that you’re proofing an anthology and a new author’s novel. What do you think of the state of horror fiction today? Do you find that there’s a little too much attention being paid to certain subjects? What would you like to see less of?
S. White: I think the state of horror fiction today is pretty good. There are some great new and unknown authors out there. You just really need to check the small presses and horror sites to find them. Facebook is a great place to find horror; so many authors and presses have a presence there. Also, try going to horror conventions that authors attend. You can find amazing books in the dealer rooms. Most authors will be happy to talk about their books and sign them for you.
Zombies are big in the genre right now, which is fine with me. They’re growing on me, especially after getting into The Walking Dead. Vampires, not so much. There seem to be fewer vampire stories right now, though. The Twilight series really turned a lot of people off in the genre, including me, even though I didn’t read them. Which may sound unfair, judging a book without reading it, but previews of the movies showed me all I need to know.
DT: What’s your take on the Amazon/Smashwords Indie revolution currently happening in the genre?
S. White: Amazon and Smashwords can be great opportunities for up-and-coming writers. However, I’ve read far too many books that seemed like they were written in a couple of days and throw up onto the sites. Good books can be found, but you have to go through a bunch of crap to find the diamonds. Again, dictionaries and thesauruses can make a big difference. It seems that hardly anybody uses them anymore.DT: The role of Women in Horror has almost always been a “helpless victim” or “supporting character” to a strong male lead. Why do you think that is? What do you think about stories that use women as fodder for rape and degredation in order to produce more shocks and gore than actualy storytelling substance?
S. White: I think women in horror stories have been mostly portrayed as weak or bitchy because men dominated the field for so long. There are some great female horror writers, but they don’t seem to get as much attention as the men. Which is really par for the course. But women can write some nasty stuff, even nastier than what men can come up with. Recently I learned that Elizabeth Massie’s amazing story “Abed,” which is a zombie story, is getting the indie film treatment. Check that short story out and tell me a man could come up with something like that.
If you have to use rape and torture of women just for the shock value and not adding anything of substance to the story, it’s a copout. It’s the easy way out, and that usually means a bad story. But it does go the other way – if you’re writing about cutting off a man’s penis and torturing him throughout the story as the story, it’s not going to fly.
DT: Do you find that there are stereotypes regarding women in the genre? What do you think of the idea that female readers are stereotyped as reading mostly Vamp. lit and supernatural/paranormal romance?
S. White: There are definitely some stereotypes that ring true when it comes to women reading horror. Vampires are big, especially now with Twilight. I think it’s because vampires have a bit of an erotic, romantic bent. A lot of women like that, especially if they are lacking it. And a lot of people, not just women, don’t know of the small presses and what other kinds of horror can be found. Mainstream readers read what is marketed to them by big publishers, and don’t look beyond what they find at Barnes and Noble. But they’re missing out on a lot.
That’s just a few off the top of my head of authors whose stories I’ve greatly enjoyed. I know I’ve left some authors out, but believe me, there are great ones out there if you just look.
I’d want Cemetery Dance to publish it; they do beautiful and professional work. I’ll split the royalties with you. 🙂
By the way, I was just chosen by Morpheus Tales to edit a special edition of their magazine in a few months – I get to pick the theme, the stories, and proofread and edit it all. I can’t tell you how excited I am!