Genetic Profile: Terrence Zdunich

“And it’s my job, to steal, and rob…”

Terrence Zdunich (Zuh-doon-itch) is a name that you’ll hear me praising time and again. He’s an accomplished actor, singer, writer and illustrator. Born and raised in California, Zdunich has always known that he’s a bit creepy. He began drawing at an early age, and never stopped.

Influenced by graphic novels and a burning need to create, Zdunich started his career as an actor, but his desire or more brought him (along with co-creator Darren Smith) to write a play/musical hybrid stage show. In fact, you might have heard of it.

Credits

  • Co-creator of REPO! The Genetic Opera stage production. Also acted as Graverobber for the entire run.
  • Starred in a REPO! short film, that sadly won’t be seen due to legalities.
  • Creator/writer/illustrator of The Molting comic book series.
  • Reprised role as Graverobber in the full-length feature REPO! The Genetic Opera.
  • Co-creator/writer/star of The Devil’s Carnival.

The Molting is currently (March, 2012) sitting at 6 issues, approximately half-way through the concept and storyline that Zdunich has envisioned. The series focuses on Trevor and Joseph, brothers growing up in Anaheim, California, and chronicles their journey of survival while living with an apathetic father and psychologically disturbed mother. I got my hands on the first 6 issues at ComiCON in March, and I tore through them in a day.

Chapter 1, Guilty Susie – The series starts off in the 1960s, Susie is but a girl at this point, forced to live with the terrible tricks that life sometimes plays, as well as her aunt and uncle. I loathed the adults, Zdunich created very simple, yet powerfully despicable characters in the short span of this chapter. Susie isn’t completely stripped of innocence, as she has her big brother to protect her…mostly. The artwork has a deliberately orange/brown/purple hue, the tones warm but conveying the “ugly” feeling of the overall story. The climax is both chilling and shocking, and just what the hell is in the attic?

Chapter 2, The Happiest Place On Earth – The story fast-forwards itself to the 1990s and introduces us to Susie’s dysfunctional family: her apathetic husband Abe, and her two teenage sons Trevor and the new main protagonist, Joseph. Each character is given enough introductory depth to become attached to, and Trevor is one good deed away from being a hero.

Chapter 3, Ootheca – The female characters are the focus of this story, as we get a glimpse at just how disturbed Susie has become. Think OCD with a side of bi-polar. We’re also very graphically introduced to Sandra, Trevor’s chola girlfriend. This story builds tension in the family, as Trevor begins a hero, and ends the story a felon. The characters have now become familiar and the reader has had time to choose which member of the Pryzkind family they’re rooting for.

Chapter 4, Lethal Raids – The artwork takes centre stage in this chapter, the illustrations are vivid and far-reaching, necessary illustrations that forward the smaller plot of the story. Joseph must deal with bullying and a struggle that many artists go through. The reader is also exposed to a much larger degree of Susie’s psychosis, which I believe will divide readers between loving and hating her.

Chapter 5, Mother’s Day – The story takes place at Hallowe’en, and while Susie again brings the crazy, I have to believe that the title is a nod to Darren Lynn Bousman. This story focuses on Susie’s continued inability to provide a proper home for her family, as well as revealing more of Sandra’s personality and true intentions. While there isn’t as much violence as previous chapters, the overwhelming sense of despair and loss at the climax is undeniable, and squirm-inducing.

Chapter 6, Allied Forces – Trevor and Joseph band together to commit a crime, and while it’s atypical of brotherly role models to encourage theft, Joseph and Trevor bond together under the unusual circumstances. Zdunich doesn’t allow that to last, as the seeds of separation are planted, and alliances are truly chosen. This is the story that truly champions Joseph as the outcast of the Pryzkind clan.

The Molting series is much more than a comic, it truly is a graphic novel. The horror is unique and not always visual (a definite feather in the storytelling cap of Mr. Zdunich). The artwork is gritty yet refined, the colour palette evokes equal parts sympathy and misery, and most importantly the story feels real. I know I’m halfway through the series, and issue 7 can’t find my mailbox fast enough.

I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Terrence while he was in Toronto this past March, and he very graciously answered my questions about The Molting, as well as The Devil’s Carnival, his influences and other topics.

I personally would like to thank Terrence Zdunich yet again for that opportunity, as well as for putting up with my prior fanboying. For more information on Terrence, please visit his website. To pick up your copies of The Molting, visit the store. To gain admittance into Hell, visit The Devil’s Carnival.

Feature: A Fan’s Perspective – An Interview with Sheri White

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.

The readers.

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.

DT: If you could put together an anthology of your favorite authors, using any theme you want, what would the TOC of your limited edition collectable look like? Who would you want to publish it? Can I have royalties for giving you the idea?
S. White: My antho TOC would look something like this – the author could choose any theme for his or her story; I’d want their creativity to flow.

James Newman
Monica O’Rourke
Ray Garton
Bentley Little
Gord Rollo
Brian Knight
Markus Euringer
Brett McBean
Jeff Strand
Elizabeth Massie
Nick Cato
James Roy Daley

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!

To check out more of what Sheri does, go to SNM Magazine Website, and follow her on Facebook. Trust me, she doesn’t bite… but her dogs do. And make sure you keep an eye out for the Sheri White edited Morpheus Tales issue mentioned above. We’ll make sure to give you the lowdown when it drops. 
C.

Feature: Interview with Creeping Hemlock Press’ Co-Founder & Co-Editor / Writer / Artist Julia Sevin

Photo by Donovan Fannon, http://www.donovanfannon.com

The restraining order hasn’t been lifted, but co-founder / co-editor of Creeping Hemlock Press and Print Is Dead Julia Sevin, felt safe enough to grant me a quick and dirty interview, with bodyguards in tow of course. If you don’t know about Creeping Hemlock Press or Julia Sevin, then my feelings are hurt because that means you didn’t read this. Luckily, I’m a forgiving woman.

Twenty-twelve is going to be huge for Creeping Hemlock Press and their zombie imprint Print Is Dead. You’ll see them everywhere, even haunting your dreams! With the release of the zombie road novella by genre favorite Greg Lamberson just around the corner (April 2012!), a collection of zombie tales from Joe McKinney called Dating in Dead World coming soon, and a hoard of other goodies clawing their way out of the graveyard, this’ll be a book apocalypse you can’t escape. And why would you want to?

So, then why all the fuss about Julia Sevin? Isn’t Creeping Hemlock Press / Print Is Dead a husband-wife venture? Well, yes it is. But Julia is the smarter, sexier half of this beast of a small press. She’s also got the most bitchin’ haircut in the entire horror lit community. There I go again, objectifying women by their hairstyles. But seriously, it’s killer.

Besides having the best hair in the biz, J-Sev (that’s what I call her now) is a writer, editor extraordinaire, and artist. In fact, she is responsible for the beautiful cover you’ll see further on down the page, the cover for the upcoming Print Is Dead book Dating in Dead World by Joe McKinney. It’ll make you wanna fall in love in a post-apocalypse world.

J-Sev is smart and wickedly funny (as you’ll find in our interview).

Find out more about the better half of the smallest small press beyond! If you think you can handle it…

 

DT: On the Creeping Hemlock Press website we read that you (and your husband RJ) “were frustrated with the scarcity of generous-paying, atmospheric and bizarre short story anthologies.” Was there something in particular that prompted this venture or was it a general distaste for the market as you mention on the site?

J. SEVIN: If there was “something in particular”, it was simply a financial windfall that came to us and we decided to do something exciting with it. Some folks have coke and Moet benders in Monaco; we have books. Arguably it was not the best choice we could have made but, god damn, we had fun, and we are awfully proud of the result.

We threw everything in to Corpse Blossoms: every dollar, every minute, every heartbeat, in order to make it the best book it could be. In a way, it saved us in return. Just as we were going into the final stage of production, Hurricane Katrina kicked our asses and the failure of the federal levees turned New Orleans into what felt like a wasteland of disregard and despair. Corpse Blossoms gave us something to focus on. We mailed the final galleys to the authors on the road, a week after evacuation, before the public was permitted back into the city, did our final typesetting and design in a 600 square foot apartment housing five people back in New Orleans, and received the entire run of 500 copies at our FEMA trailer. Without Corpse Blossoms, we might have gone around the bend, and who could blame us?

You can see why our love for that book is fathomless. We continue to be delighted that other people seem to find it just as exceptional as we do.

DT: Could you explain the origins of the name Creeping Hemlock Press? In brainstorming names, did this one pop up immediately or do you have any embarrassing names you can share that didn’t make the cut?

J. SEVIN: We were originally known as “Ghostly Haunting Spooks n’ Monsters Press” but then we found out it was already taken. So then we were going to be “Even Better Than Ghostly Haunting Spooks n’ Monsters Press” but we had trouble fitting in a logo on the spine so we cut it down.

DT: In Joseph Nassise’s introduction to Creeping Hemlock Press’ first release, the anthology “Corpse Blossoms,” he talks about how this book came to fruition and RJ’s initial attempt to solicit the Horror Writers Association via their message board. The first attempt was unsuccessful, but he gave it another shot, this time with you on board. How did he approach you about this project? Were you already collaborating on it together? How did the direction change once you got involved?

J. SEVIN: We were already collaborating on various marital projects, so it was kind of a gimme. I believe I was involved as soon as it became a Big-Ass Anthology instead of just a web-zine. A lot of editors complain about wading through slush but we loved it! Corpse Blossoms did not have a stated theme (other than the admittedly vague “quiet horror”), but a pattern that emerged as we made our selections – and which was not even apparent to us until after publication – was that in almost every case, the bugaboo (whatever that may be, the revenant or the walking fungus or the eerie phenomenon) is not nearly as dangerous or fascinatingly broken as the human characters. The evil we can and do effect upon one another, through action and omission, day in and day out, is much more real and much more horrifying than anything a ghost or a jellyfish-like thing in a shack can do.

DT: “Corpse Blossoms” is subtitled Volume 1. What is the plan for this anthology? An ongoing series, 2 volume set, trilogy? Any target date for when fans can expect to see the release of the next installment?

J. SEVIN: Haha! This is a Sword of Damacles Conan over our heads. Yes, we intended to serialize it, thus the name. The plan hasn’t changed, but the trouble with Corpse Blossoms is that doing it as properly as we want involves a lot of capital and putting everything else on hold, and right now we’ve got a fancy little maelstrom of activity happening. Everyone will know when we’re moving on Volume 2 because, as with Volume 1, we will be seeking to fill the slots with roughly half unknown or emerging writers, so you’ll see us all over the market listings during the open submissions period.

DT: The horror community seems to be split when it comes to zombie fiction these days; one group still has a great enthusiasm for the subgenre and the other gives a roll of the eyes and wave of the hand at the mere mention of zombies. Despite the wild popularity of the zombie subgenre, with The Walking Dead TV series, magnets, t-shirts, and endless rows of books, sometimes it seems like that latter group is the majority (although I am not one of them). So, what, in this environment, motivated you and RJ to launch the zombie fiction imprint Print Is Dead? Were you inspired by a particular story or writer?

J. SEVIN: We’ve had our hearts set on the undead for a long time. In fact, RJ and I first got to know each other at George A. Romero’s message board back in 2000/2001. Because our love for zombies brought us together, naturally, we kept up our interest in the stinkers, watched them go from a niche fixation to a mainstream fixture, and always hoped to find a way to do something with them.

It wasn’t until the 2008 Zombiefest Convention (now Horror Realm) at the Monroeville Mall in Pittsburgh, where Dawn of the Dead was shot, that we lived with zombies on the brain every waking moment, bringing our interest back into sharp relief, causing us to re-examine publishing zombie novels. Permuted Press had demonstrated that there was a considerable demand for zombie books. Around the same time, Ingram launched Lightningsource, which we use for printing all our trade paperbacks now, allowing us to put out way more titles than we could before. After wrestling with whether a series of fun, punchy, gory zombie books would be inappropriate for Creeping Hemlock, which we have thought of as pretty quiet and sophisticated. Once we decided to come up with the imprint — Print Is Dead — everything clicked into place!

DT: Since the start of Creeping Hemlock Press, is there a particular moment where you said to yourself “Ah, THIS is why we do what we do!”?

Photo by Donovan Fannon, http://www.donovanfannon.com

J. SEVIN: When we get money. No, for real, when people like what we do and tell us so, we know we’re on the right track. That’s all.

…and money.

DT: When / How did you first get into horror? Was there a particular book or author that started this obsession? How, if at all, has your taste in genre literature changed over the years?

J. SEVIN: I’ve been attracted to the redder side of life since before I can remember. In kindergarten, we once had an activity in which some sixth-graders came to visit us and wrote out a sentence on a two-foot wide scroll of paper describing what we see in our mind’s eye at that moment. The other girls came up with something about ballerinas or princesses. I came up with “I see a dead skeleton with green slime on it.” My mom couldn’t have been prouder; she kept that paper tacked above our kitchen window until it fell apart. She was a big horror reader, kept a whole room as a library stocked in part with Stephen King, Peter Straub, and other great authors and collections. My dad was the one who got me into horror movies. He showed me Texas Chainsaw Massacre when I was about nine, and I must have responded warmly because he continued with a dozen other totally age-inappropriate horror flicks in the next couple of years. He got me hooked. Regarding taste changing, naturally — but only because I was only really exposed to classic, gothic, and mainstream popcorn horror for the longest time, and it’s only in the past few years that more experimental and genre-bending stuff has come onto my radar. I love not knowing where a book is going.

DT: You’re not only an editor and publisher, but a writer as well. You collaborated with your husband, RJ Sevin, and Bram Stoker Award-winning author Kim Paffenroth on the chapbook “Thin Them Out.” Can you tell us about your contribution to this chapbook?

J. SEVIN: Thin Them Out was the very definition of whirlwind. We decided a mere TWO WEEKS before Zombiefest that we wanted to have something special for that event, and we conceived this with Kim and tag-teamed the writing in about a week and had it printed the following week. The division of labor was kept pretty simple; it was round robin style, with Kim penning the first leg, and his bits all from the perspective of a single zombie who is starting to gain some degree of sentience. RJ’s bits are those centering around Wayne, and my bits are those featuring Sue, a fairly awful lady. I accessed some of my worst tendencies to write her. Sue is an anti-Mary Sue.

DT: In addition to “Thin Them Out,” we can find your work in Keith Gouveia’s “Bits of the Dead,” which is a flash fiction piece “The Shunned.” What else is on the horizon for writer-hat-wearing Julia? Where else can fans find your work?

J. SEVIN: I keep saying I’m going to throw a novel into the Print Is Dead hat but boy, writing is hard! I’m overworked as it is so I don’t have any plans for the IMMEDIATE future. I do have something tentative slated, a collaboration with a name you’ll recognize, but I hate to jinx it by saying too much before we actually get it off the ground. Keep your eyeballs peeled!

DT: Along with editing, publishing, and writing, you also designed the website. Oh, and I saw the flier you created for Slow Burn Burlesque. Is there anything you can’t do!? Can you juggle?

J. SEVIN: I don’t juggle. Not since… the accident. [she looks away, her eyes a churning darkness, betraying a tortured and complex soul who only sells the finest horror literature]

I can’t sing, I can’t sew, I can’t meet deadlines, I can’t lie, and my dancing looks like a marionette who might just be considering suicide. I can paint, I can drive, and I can cook like a motherfucker, though that doesn’t place on most curriculum vitae.

DT: Of all the hats you wear in your professional endeavors, is there one you favor more than the others?

Never before seen, super-duper exclusive peek of the Dating in Dead World cover!

J. SEVIN: Sombrero.

I enjoy doing original art for our book covers more than anything else. I did a piece for our upcoming Joe McKinney collection, Dating in Dead World, that’ll really grab ya. I did it while wearing my sombrero.

DT: You got your day job, Creeping Hemlock Press, Print Is Dead, and you’re a mommy! How do you introduce your son to horror, if at all? As a parent, what do you think is an appropriate age to break out the good stuff? And what, for you, is the good stuff?

J. SEVIN: This is a LONG-simmering debate between RJ and me. The kid has seen tons more already than I ever intended but because Mom and Dad work behind the scenes, he understands acting, understands special effects, and takes most of it in stride. Still — as my argument goes — just because he can handle it doesn’t mean we should fill his brain with it and nothing else. We’re directly or indirectly indoctrinating him with a love of zombies and whatnot, but we encourage him in the stuff he has glommed onto all on his own, most recently Real Steel. He adores that movie, watches it regularly, plays the video game, and has tons of toys. We hope that his own interests balance out the ones we force on him, and that he’s just well-rounded overall. He’s a super sweet, unusually smart, highly creative and somewhat absentminded regular seven-year-old. Who occasionally sculpts zombies. He’s perfect for us. Good job, God and/or genetic lottery!

DT: What’s next for Creeping Hemlock Press and Print Is Dead? What’s coming up that every genre fan should know about?

J. SEVIN: Aside from fiery apocalypse, 2012 will bring more zombie goodness from Print Is Dead: there’s The Crossing, a short novella by Joe McKinney currently available as an ebook, coming shortly to print; Slab City, another adrenaline rush from Nate Southard, author of Scavengers; Tom Piccirilli’s apocalyptic crime novel, Vespers, as well as Pale Preachers, a nasty little novella that sets the walking dead against a backdrop of moonshine and mountain magic; Eric Shapiro, author of It’s Only Temporary and The Devoted (read them both NOW!), is working on something dead sexy for us. We have not set dates for these titles, but April brings Carnage Road, from Gregory Lamberson. Not long thereafter, there’s Dating in Dead World, an epic collection of zombie tales by Joe McKinney. And loads more nudity, of course.

All this plus a few big surprises, and 2012 is going to be an awesome year for us.

If you’re not in love with Julia Sevin by now, you’re dead inside!

Keep up with everything Creeping Hemlock Press is doing on their website, follow them on Twitter, and like them on Facebook. Now you can stalk them like I do!

And don’t forget about the zombie imprint Print Is Dead because they’ll be releasing a hoard of flesh-hungry undead from the barn this year.

Ladies of Sins of the Sirens: Feature & Interview with Maria Alexander

Our Siren of the day, from the Dark Arts Books anthology Sins of the Sirens (which you can purchase here and here), is Maria Alexander. But before we get down to it, please give her a big round of applause for her 2011 Bram Stoker Award Nomination for the poetry collection At Louche Ends: Poetry for the Decadent, the Damned and the Absinthe-Minded (Burning Effigy Press 2011)! On behalf of Dreadful Tales and our readers, we offer our deepest, most heartfelt congratulations for a well-deserved nomination. We are sacrificing baby goats and kittens to the Cthulhu Gods to ensure you claim your tiny castle!

I am completely enamored with Sins of the Sirens and obsessed with the authors included in this collection. Not only do these women possess the greatest siren weapon – “the ability to unveil vulnerability” – they’re also wildly diverse in style. Not just from writer to writer, but within their own stories as well. Although it’s our inclination to tag something as horror, fantasy, sci-fi, or a crossbreed thereof, you really don’t do these stories justice to do so.

Alexander’s back story is a lot like a dark fairytale, filled with downfall and triumph. She’s enjoyed the encouragement and friendship of horror genre icons, notably Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, but, as is often the case in life, suffered great loss as well.

Blessed be the reading community, though, for Alexander turns all the good, bad, and ugly into rich, beautiful text to console the weak and humble the strong.

Alexander keeps the momentum going in Sins set by our opening act, Loren Rhoads. There are no boundaries she can’t cross, nothing to hold her back from telling the story aching to get out.

Alexander begins Sins of the Sirens with “Pinned,” a tale of underground sexual perversions that find Alyssa intoxicated by a man who may be bad for her health and her friendship. Her desire to make BDSM fantasies come true is too strong to resist and Alyssa finds herself pursuing the ex of her best friend. But sexual cravings aren’t so easily fulfilled in an Alexander story and Alyssa gets stuck between a rock and a hard place. Unfortunately, the hard place ain’t the male member. Or a dildo. Neither is the rock.

I would love to share one of the more provocative entries, but instead I’ll just give you a little taste.

From “Pinned:”

He pinched my nipples firmly, tugging until they were hard as oak.

Like I said, not even the tip of the iceberg, but perhaps that lil’ tease will satisfy the browser that keeps ending up at Dreadful Tales in search of “erect nipples!”

Following that is a fever-dream, absinthe-soaked, Lynchian period piece, called “The Dark River in His Flesh,” about a helpless addict Richard, whose drug is the love of the temptress Lillian, and a bit of absinthe too. I say Lynchian because if David Lynch penned a period piece, it might be a lot like this. A mysterious absinthe bar that can only be accessed by ragamuffin linkboys, smoke-filled, the scent of rich wine wafting through the air, houses a “trio of young female musicians” that play “an old French Renaissance tune in the far corner of the establishment.” For some reason, I recalled the strange bar scene from Fire Walk With Me. Like that movie, “The Dark River in His Flesh” is a strange trip, man. Here is one of my favorite excerpts from the story:

Struggling under the bulky nets of insobriety, Richard pushed through the room as 80 proof waves washed against his legs. A thunderclap underscored the trio’s quaint waltz, followed by the hiss of rain against the inky windows.

Alexander closes with the story most categorically horror of the bunch. See, there I go again with my labels! But seriously folks, “The Last Word” is a Twilight Zone of a tale. Albert has an affection for old things and comes across a blank book with Edwardian script that reads “This book belongs to:______________.” The journal starts speaking to Albert through its ghost entries, or is Albert unknowingly speaking to himself!? It starts innocently enough; the journal warns Albert of impending danger, but it quickly becomes a destructive voice coercing him to commit despicable acts. This is a quick psychological romp into a mad world of macabre twists. Here is a peak inside the madness:

He then sat at his desk, staring at the journal, wondering if it was a ghost. Or God.

Although I think everyone absolutely needs a copy of Sins of the Sirens, I must urge you to also pick up her Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection of poems At Louche Ends from Burning Effigy Press. Alexander weaves a melodious prose and whether the subject is a back alley junkie looking for God or an erotic interlude, the poems in At Louche Ends read like a beautiful song.

If you don’t think you’re into poetry, I would still highly recommend Alexander’s work. Just relax and let the music take you away.

Delve into the intoxicating world of Maria Alexander via her website, keep tabs on her through Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Now, I’ll let Maria Alexander speak for herself. On to the interview!

DT: How were you approached to contribute to SINS OF THE SIRENS? Did you know who else would be contributing to the anthology?

ALEXANDER: It was at the 2005 World Horror Convention, I think, that John Everson approached me and shared his vision for SotS, which included Bel, Loren and Christa. I agreed on the spot. In fact, I think my exact words were, “Fuck yeah!”

DT: All 3 stories in this collection are quite different. “Pinned” is a modern, highly erotic voodoo tale; “The Dark River in His Flesh” is a period piece about an intoxicating fatal attraction centering around a mysterious absinthe bar; and “The Last Word,” set in present day (2006) Los Feliz, concerns itself with an old, enigmatic journal that “speaks” to its new owner Albert. Can you tell us about the inspiration for each of these stories? Why did these fit with the theme of SINS OF THE SIRENS?

ALEXANDER: I originally pitched “Pinned” to Jeff Gelb for the Hot Blood series—just a quick idea about a fetish that had intrigued me. He accepted the pitch but then I had Lasik surgery that didn’t go so well. (Can you say “complications”?) A lengthier than anticipated recovery meant I couldn’t turn in the story on time for consideration. SotS came along shortly thereafter. A painting entitled “Cupid as a Link Boy” by Sir Joshua Reynolds inspired “The Dark River in His Flesh.” (How completely wrong is that painting on every level? The answer is: way.) As for “The Last Word,” that came to me one night after I’d spent an especially long time pouring my heart into my mopey goth girl diary. I wondered what the diary would say to me based on the totally biased and miserable version of events I’d just given it. I figured it would recommend the systematic slaughter of humanity.

I can’t answer for John as to why he thought these were the best stories for the anthology. Both men and women transgress in these stories. I suspect he was going for something more meta, like we four writers are the “sirens” and our “sins” are these transgressive tales.

DT: You include the Aristotle quote “…all paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind” in “The Last Word.” How do you combat that degradation and still make a living writing?

ALEXANDER: Aristotle clearly never worked for The Mouse. Writing for Disney has been intellectually challenging and rewarding, and keeps up my wordsmithing chops. The websites I’ve written for have won multiple awards and I sometimes get to work on fantastic projects, such as the online educational kids’ game, Habit Heroes. It ties into the Epcot® exhibit of the same name that just opened. In addition to co-designing the 3D game, I wrote most of the villains that appear on the website, and our super talented creative lead brought them to life in his artwork.

But to Aristotle’s point, corporate work buggers the spirit, if not the mind. I suspect he just wanted more time to lay about and philosophize.

DT: Both “The Dark River in His Flesh” and “The Last Word” deals with an adulteress. Why did you choose to focus the story, and the protagonists’ obsession and madness, on an unfaithful woman? Do you consider that the ultimate sin?

ALEXANDER: Adultery isn’t the world-ender than many people think. Any experienced marriage counselor will tell you that, although the problem is painful and soul-wrenching, most married couples work through it. In these stories, I was absorbed by the idea of otherwise good people becoming involved with nutty people and how the former’s lives go tango uniform as a result. They’re cautionary tales. In the case of “Dark River,” the story is about incorporating your Jungian shadow. It’s the only story I’ve ever written where I didn’t know the ending before I started writing. I beat the monkey in my head with a shoe until it vomited the ending. I showed it to the therapist I was seeing at the time. She said the ending was perfect from a psychological perspective, so the shoe beatings worked!

DT: Another commonality in both the aforementioned stories is inanimate ghosts. We have a ghost bar, Chanceux in “The Dark River in His Flesh,” and a ghostly journal in “The Last Word.” Why did you use these inanimate objects to haunt our protagonist? Or were these objects the medium of a much crueler entity?

ALEXANDER: Haunted houses are cliché. I just can’t do it. But I can haunt the hell out of anything else. What I love about Sarah Langan’s The Keeper is that she manages to haunt an entire town. That’s awesome.

DT: AT LOUCHE ENDS is “poetry for the decadent, the damned, and the absinthe-minded.” The introduction by Jill Tracy expounds on the intrigue of what was once an illegal substance, and much of “The Dark River in His Flesh” is driven by Richard’s absinthe-fueled nights. I have not yet had the opportunity to try absinthe, so I must ask – what is your obsession with absinthe? Do you write when drunk on it? If so, what influence do the intoxicating qualities have on your writing?

ALEXANDER: I’ve always loved the mystique of absinthe, the history and the hoax of its purported hallucinogenic properties. I’ve only ever written one thing while drunk on absinthe and that was “Dark River.” I wanted to be able to articulate exactly what it felt like. A lush friend read it and said, “Yup! You nailed it!” But seriously? Most absinthe tastes like crap. Plus, it’s legal now and that sort of wrecks the allure. Still, if I were back in Antibe, I’d definitely return to the absinthe bar, Balade en Provence, because the atmosphere is amazing. It’s this underground cavern full of period absinthe paraphernalia. Super cool for history and absinthe buffs alike.

DT: I am completely ignorant when it comes to poetry. My experience with poetry is limited to Edgar Allan Poe (because I was such a fan of his horror fiction growing up), Shakespeare (because I loved his tragic plays), and Charles Baudelaire (since it was required reading for a horror fiction class I took in college). Since it is this mostly unknown form of expression for me, I find it terribly intimidating. It reminds me of abstract art. You have an immediate, emotional reaction to what you see, make an assumption of the influence behind it, but often don’t know (until you read about the artist’s inspiration later) if what you understand of that piece is accurate. Simply, you surmise the meaning of it without knowing if that is the artist’s intention. And I feel that way about poetry as well. Any basic hints for new poetry enthusiasts who would like to understand this format better?

ALEXANDER: When you hear a song that sounds pleasing but the words make no sense—Tori Amos, The Cocteau Twins and Kate Bush come to mind—you probably don’t say to yourself, “I don’t understand this song. I’m intimidated by it.” If you like the music, you keep listening, right? Poetry is the same way. If you like the music of the words—the sound, the lilt, the emotions that the images evoke—you don’t have to understand every word. And even if we do understand every word in a song, we often take away different meanings than the composer intended.

But let’s face it…if it’s good poetry, you should be able to understand it. A lot of what I consider bad poetry tosses out some evocative words with shitty imagery and no art to the words. No music. No story. There’s so much of that sort of thing that I’m convinced it’s why people think they don’t like poetry in general. It’s the single most abused literary form in existence.

DT: At the time of this interview, AT LOUCHE ENDS has a preliminary nomination for a 2012 Bram Stoker Award. Congratulations! I just finished reading the collection and despite my inexperience with this format, I found it highly accessible while haunting and cryptic. How did this collection come to be?

ALEXANDER: Thanks, lady! I’m so glad you dug it. One day I was going through my writing and discovered I had a lot of poetry that I’d written since the last collection, Biting Midnight, back in 2001. The title came to me soon thereafter and I knew I had to get it out there. I immediately thought of Jill Tracy for the introduction and Katelan Foisy for the artwork. Fortune rained upon my dark little head when they both agreed to be part of it because I had envisioned it as an overall concept.

DT: Every poem in AT LOUCHE ENDS is emotionally intense and deals with deeply intimate and personal experiences, but I picked two in particular that really made my heart ache. They left a lasting impression on me, one that has ignited a new obsession for poetry I hope to pursue further. Could you tell us about the inspiration for those poems, “Divinity Dust” and “Occult?”

ALEXANDER: That’s so cool. I’m immensely pleased to hear it made you want to read more poetry, not less! I can recommend more poets, like Ann Schwader, Wendy Rathbone, Marge Simon and Denise Dumars (since it’s Women in Horror month).

I guess I’m surprised that so many people are specifically asking about “Divinity Dust,” but I shouldn’t be. Starting in 1994, I experienced a series of extremely powerful synchronistic events that changed my life. When the events subsided and I didn’t land where I’d wanted to in life, I felt abandoned, like Ford Prefect, standing out in a field with my electronic thumb, waiting for a lift back to wherever. I also felt angry. That’s when I wrote “Divinity Dust.” I was in withdrawal from all the metaphysical excitement. These days, I’m relieved to be out of that space and I’ve made my peace with God, the Universe, or whatever you prefer to call it.

As for “Occult,” I had gotten involved in a couple of quasi-relationships that never got off the ground because the men didn’t want people to know we were dating. Why? They were cheating, insecure, whacked in the head…whatever. “Occult” means “hidden,” which is how I felt. Clearly, it sucked and I wasn’t cool with it. And believe me, I let those men know. Oh, did I ever.

DT: “The Little One,” the last poem in this collection, is also accompanied by a French translation. Do you speak fluent French? How did you learn? Did you live there? How have those experiences influenced your writing?

ALEXANDER: The answer is “yes” to most of the above. I was dating a guy for three years who was French and a university professor. He got a one-year gig in France as the Resident Director of the California State University Study Abroad Program. I went with him, but not before we first went to Middlebury College for the summer. He was teaching a graduate course there while I audited the beginner’s seven-week, full-immersion course. I lived on campus and took the world-famous Middlebury Language Pledge: absolutely NO English or any other language other than French for all seven weeks. It ripped my ego to shreds, having to talk like a baby for the first few weeks. I wrote “Petite” around Week #4 of the course, after I’d learned a new verb tense we don’t have in English called the imparfait. By the time I got to France right after that, the French people I met thought I was I was a genius because of how well I could speak and comprehend after only three months. Trust me. I’m not brilliant. It was Middlebury. The program is extraordinary. I’m not “fluent” these days, but I’d be okay if you dropped me back in Paris.

While the relationship didn’t last, living in Aix-en-Provence and love for the language have radically altered me and my perception of the world forever. You begin to appreciate that other people just don’t think like you do or have the same cultural values. That their society functions under a different premise—not a wrong premise or bad premise, just different. It makes for better writing.

While there, I had an epiphany that changed my writing life for good. During one of my many excursions to Paris, I met and studied with Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer Kathleen Spivack, who convinced me that I should be writing a lot more than horror, that humor was my true gift. Not that I didn’t believe her because that’s what my agent was also saying, but I was all, “Hey, I’ve got serious, important stuff to say, man!” Then I saw the movie Molière. The scene moved me where Molière’s wife is on her death bed and she’s begging him to use his humor to tell stories. All these voices echoed in my head—those of Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Carroll, and many others who’d urged me over the years to use my humor. That’s when I decided to follow Molière’s lead.

DT: Your writing undoubtedly has horrific qualities, but they are also tragic dramas about love lost. Do you consider your writing, in particular AT LOUCHE ENDS and the stories in SINS OF THE SIRENS, horror? Or would you prefer to use another classification?

ALEXANDER: I dislike classifying my stories because labels shut the door to some readers. Several years ago I submitted “The King of Shadows” to the Moondance Competition, which was sponsored by Oprah, Coppola and Variety magazine. The story was a finalist. Can you imagine Oprah putting her sticker on a horror novel? Yet “The King of Shadows” first appeared in Gothic.net.

Half of my stories are also crime stories. “The Last Word” is a great example. I think Rue Morgue Magazine called it a mystery. I love that. Even “Dark River” is far more noir than anything else, in spite of the supernatural trappings.

DT: You’ve had at least three (that I know of) stories/collections in the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award. I hope AT LOUCHE ENDS makes it into the final ballot and results in a much deserved little castle for your bookshelf! I’m sure the preliminary nomination was still exciting as hell. What other moments could you pinpoint as an “Ah, THIS is why I write” moment?

ALEXANDER: Thank you! Fingers crossed.

I wouldn’t say, though, that any of my close encounters with the Bram Stoker ballot qualify as the “why I write” moments. Those moments more typically arrive when I get random emails from readers who are moved to tears by one of my stories, who have felt healing from something I wrote, or who simply felt I understood them. Recently one of my humor pieces, “The Sparkle Dick Diaries: The Problem with ‘Jail Bite’ in Twilight and Other Teenage Romances,” got passed around on Facebook. I was able to trace who had “shared” the link and read their comments. To know people were laughing their asses off and sharing my angst was awesome. It’s those communal, unifying experiences that remind me why I write. And laughter is the most healing thing in the world.

DT: Just before Women in Horror Month kicked off, Maniac.com’s Top 20

Greatest Horror Writers of All-Time list came out. I am quite fond of many writers on that list, but there is the glaring omission of any female writers in that list! Not one stinkin’ woman! Not that women stink, but you know what I mean. What do you think of lists that so casually omit the exhaustive efforts of female writers?

ALEXANDER: Wow. That’s kind of a fuckwitted list.

To be fair, I don’t know what criteria Mr. Janson was using to put together this particular list, but in my opinion Daphne du Maurier, for example, blows away half of the authors on that list. You wanna know why Alfred Hitchcock adapted more of her stories than any other writer? Check out The Birds or Rebecca. Joyce Carol Oates? Shirley Jackson? Are you going to tell me with a straight face that every single one of those authors is greater than Shirley Jackson? I don’t think any of the living writers on that list would say that. I’d argue that Edith Wharton was a better ghost story writer than M.R. James. But then, a lot of people don’t know Edith Wharton wrote ghost stories. Neither do they know Daphne du Maurier wrote The Birds.

To exclude such important writers—whether they’re male or female—reveals a narrow view of the genre. And by narrow, I mean fuckwitted.

DT: In an interview with Brad Hodson you said “We need more literary horror.” The best examples of “literary horror,” which I simply call “smart horror,” are from female authors like Lisa Mannetti for example. Who are some of your personal favorites, men or women?

ALEXANDER: Daphne du Maurier. Bel Wilson. Elizabeth Kostova’s book, The Historian, has a gorgeous, highly literary style (but it has no plot, so never mind). Tim Powers, especially with The Stress of Her Regard. Clive Barker—God, how I love him. And Julio Cortázar. I cannot recommend his short story, “The Night Face Up,” highly enough.

DT: What’s next for Maria Alexander?

ALEXANDER: Humor. Lots of it. I’m currently searching for an agent to represent my thriller satire. Think Airplane but for thrillers. And I’m writing a humorous memoir about the events that preceded “Divinity Dust.” Imagine I’m giving you my best and most serious Tenth Doctor look when I say, “Hold on tight.”

Plus, and this is really going to sound nuts, but I have all these science fiction stories piling up in my head. Some based on dreams. Others based on crazy situations in Los Angeles. Even something I saw working at Walt Disney World Resort this last fall. I think they’re really all social satire in science fiction drag, but again, let’s forget classification and just go for kickass funny stories that say something about how we’re living.

DT: OK, last one 🙂
Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and he wants you to pick the other four guests. Who do you pick, dead or alive, and why?

ALEXANDER: Richard Dawkins. If there’s any bullshit, he’ll detect it. He’ll probably annoy the hell out of everyone else and I’ll enjoy watching that.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If I have to explain why I’d pick him, it’ll make the baby Jesus cry.
Hedy Lamarr. Inventor of technology that would be the basis of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Actress. Incredibly brave and resourceful.
Roberta Brown. She was my first sword teacher. She still teaches swordplay for film and stage, is super smart, and has a wonderful sense of humor. Lord knows we’d need all the humor we could get!

Thanks again, Maria Alexander! And best of luck at the Stokers!

Ladies of Sins of the Sirens: Interview with Loren Rhoads

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.

From “Last-Born:”

“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.

Visit Rhoads’ website, stalk her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

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!

 

DT: How were you approached to contribute to SINS OF THE SIRENS? Did you know who else would be contributing to the anthology?

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.

DT: Lorelei is the main seductress in “The Angel’s Lair,” but just

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.

Fresh Face: Feature & Interview with Joan Frances Turner, the New Voice in Zombie Fiction and Beyooooond!

Most authors I’ve discovered, including those featured for Women in Horror Month, were introduced to me by someone else, whether an author or fellow reader urging “you must read this” or praising the talents of a yet unknown (to me) writer of the perverse, weird, scary, and subversive. I’m proud to say that I found today’s featured femme, Joan Frances Turner, all on my own while browsing bookshelves on an book hunting excursion a couple years ago. The cover design of her debut zombie novel Dust immediately caught my eye, so I poked about a little further and discovered that the author lives in my home state of Indiana, which she also chose for the setting of her book.

I was already sold on a zombie story set in Indiana, but it was the opening line that gave me that rush you get when you realize you’ve stumbled upon braaaaaaiins… Ahem, excuse me… I mean, something truly unique and exciting:

My right arm fell off today. Lucky for me, I’m left-handed.

How’s that for an introduction?

I tore into Dust like a newly turned corpse and set off on a weird trip with an even weirder zombie gang, the Fly-by-Nights. Dust is a fresh take on an old trope with a POV from the often neglected zombies. Even though the perspective is unique, Turner stays true to the good ol’ fashioned George Romero zombies. They shuffle, they shamble, they moan and groan, and fall apart. Just like a rotting corpse should.

It wasn’t until the mid-90s when Turner first saw the movie that defined the genre, Night of the Living Dead (1968), so she wasn’t corrupted by the endless incarnations of Romero’s walking dead (horse-riding zombies, talking zombies, the fast rage-virus-zombie that isn’t really a zombie at all but still owes as much to the real thing). Her untainted viewpoint gives the novel a nice innocent remember-when-zombies-just-shuffled-around-eating-brains feel. That’s not to say that diehard zombie aficionados don’t pen great zombie fiction because we all know that’s not the case (think Jonathon Maberry or David Moody). But for this reader it was a refreshing change of pace to read a tale of the undead from less of a fangirl perspective.

I read up on Miss Turner as much as possible after reading Dust and found out about some of her influences, but it was especially gratifying to have the chance to ask the author herself in an interview during our continued celebration of Women in Horror Month at Dreadful Tales.

I found out that we have more in common than just Indiana. She’s also a fan of Tuxedomoon, loves many of the same horror films I do, and her political leanings are in line with my own. Those commonalities don’t influence whether or not I like an author, but I have to admit there is a surge of excitement to know we connect on more than my love for their stories. It’s cool to know that if I meet Turner in person we could talk about more than the Resurgam trilogy. We could swap CDs, talk about our favorite foreign horror films, the best NW Indiana haunts, Richard Dawkins… ok, I’m getting a ahead of myself a bit.

First things first, I had a chance to ask Turner all kindsa questions about the influence for her books, the sequel to Dust, and the final book in the series, Grave, and also what’s next for the author. You’ll find that Turner goes the extra mile in her responses to my sometimes basic questions to give her readers and future fans an intimate glimpse into what makes her tick (Pst, it’s not braaaaaaains!). I hope you enjoy her banter as much as I do!

 

DT: DUST was your first published novel. What were you doing before you decided to start writing seriously and what gave you the kick in the butt to do it? You dedicate DUST to your mother. Was she a big inspiration?

TURNER: Pre-Dust I was (and still am) a lawyer who in her spare time scribbled random bits and pieces of stories but never finished them, or put them together into a coherent whole, or ever tried to get them published–but still talked incessantly about how “someday,” sometime, I “was going to be” a writer.  Around my thirtieth birthday or so my mother finally said to me flat out, “You know, if you’re going to be a writer, you actually have to BE A WRITER!”, and I was sufficiently chastened to focus my energies, scribble down the two pages of notes that ultimately became a 750-page first draft and start the long, stubborn process of rewriting, editing, rewriting again, finding an agent (after about eighty-two attempts) and, ultimately, finding a publisher.  So I really had to dedicate the book to my mother:  Not only was she an inspiration, she was also my starting motor and the person most stubbornly convinced that if I wanted it that badly, I really could do it.

DT: There were three things that initially sold me on DUST that I would like to ask about. First, I loved the cover! The decaying, shimmering, solitary leaf
against the matte charcoal grey immediately caught my eye. Did you
have any input in the cover design?

TURNER: Even well-established writers almost never have any control over their cover design, and I didn’t have any over mine.  I was very fortunate, though:  I liked it a lot too, and felt like it captured the mood of the book particularly well without spelling it all out in the visuals.  (I keep waiting for the “Oh, dear God no, that CAN’T be my book cover!” experience I keep being told all authors suffer through, but thus far I’ve been extremely lucky and liked them all.)

DT: I’m a Hoosier from Indianapolis, so when I discovered DUST was set in the Calumet region of Indiana I was pretty excited. You don’t come across many horror books set in Indiana. Why did you decide on that setting?

TURNER: Not only don’t you come across many horror books set in Indiana, you don’t come across many books at all set in Indiana, and almost none set in this particular part of the state:  Jean Shepherd (whom I love) is about the extent of the Calumet region’s presence on the literary map.  Besides it being near-virgin territory it’s also the part of the world I know best, having grown up here–I don’t believe in writing about places I haven’t actually lived in, if only because I need to be there physically to be able to bring them to life on paper–and has enough geographical variety of city, suburb, farm, factory, mill, forest and beach to make “shooting on location” lively and interesting.  Also, the city of Gary gets such a barrage of contempt from outsiders that I wanted to highlight some of its lesser-known beauties, like the neighborhoods that are part and parcel of the Indiana Dunes (the book’s “Prairie Beach” is a thinly disguised version of the Miller Beach and Marquette Park Beach areas), and give them their own fictionalized life and spirit.

DT: The opening line, “My right arm fell off today. Lucky for me, I’m left-handed.” made me laugh hysterically and all the bookstore browsers gave me concerned looks. You let the reader know right out the gate that you’re going to have a sense of humor about the story. Between the cover (I’m a sucker for a good cover) and the setting, I already knew I had to have this book, but that opening line made me feel really confident about my choice. Was it crucial for you to make sure that first line really grabbed readers? What else did you want to establish for DUST with it?

TURNER: The late comic writer Michael O’Donoghue had a famous National Lampoon spoof, “How To Write Good,” which skewers the typical sort of advice handed out to fledgling authors and is one of my favorite things ever.  One of his narrator’s bits of incompetent advice is that every book or story needs a “grabber,” a first line that compels the reader to keep reading; his examples of exemplary grabbers include “Sylvia lay sick among the silverware” and “Even if I did love you, Alex, my father would never let me marry an alligator.”  I was nervous about exactly how to begin my book, so after much hemming and hawing I thought–purely to amuse myself–“I’m going to write a grabber that would make Michael O’Donoghue proud!”  (Also as I’m left-handed myself, my protagonist was destined to be a southpaw.)  Mostly what I wanted to establish is that this was a book where dramatic bodily alterations happened as a matter of course and the characters were not going to waste time, no pun intended, falling to pieces over it; shit happens, you lose an arm, you keep right on going.  That can be either comic or tragic depending on the context, and in Dust it ends up being both.

DT: DUST follows the young spit-fire zombie, Jessie, along with her gang the Fly-by-Nights. They have many trials and tribulations as shuffling, rotting undead throughout the story, but there is still a fun B-movie sensibility to it. Can you tell us about the second book, FRAIL, and how it is similar to DUST or different?

TURNER: I fondly think of Dust as my “B-movie on paper”–those shout-outs to Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls probably tipped everyone off–so thanks for proving me right.  🙂  Frail picks up several months after the end of Dust, its perspective switching from the undead to living human beings, but the question of what humanity actually is anymore continues to grow more complicated by the minute.  (A reviewer called Frail a “post-zombie” book and while I can’t explain that without giving away Dust’s ending, it’s entirely correct.) Frail’s protagonist, Amy, has done a rather terrible thing which literally and figuratively haunts her throughout the book, and her own personal day of reckoning regarding that ends up being quite important for the future of, well, much of the rest of humanity–if Amy really is the human being she thinks she is.  As noted, that’s open to question.

DT: Your website says you’re currently working on the last book in the “Resurgam Trilogy,” tentatively titled GRAVE. How will this last book differ from the first two in the series? Can you reveal any details about the final entry?

TURNER: Grave will unite several characters from both Dust and Frail–many of whom had been going along happily ignorant of each others’ existences–in an existential crisis of vast and potentially world-altering dimensions.  There’s also someone coming to the most important decision of not only their own life but most of humanity’s collective life, and some very bittersweet goodbyes.  And anything else I might say about it really wouldn’t make any sense at all unless you’ve read both Dust and Frail, so hurry and prepare well in advance.

DT: What drew you to horror, and zombie fiction in particular?

TURNER: I don’t feel drawn to (or away from) either horror in general or zombies in particular; this is just the story I had in my head and really wanted to tell, and this is the means by which I did it. I don’t feel affiliated with (or against) any particular genre, nor do I think it’s productive to go, “Well, I certainly don’t go around writing that sort of thing” because that guarantees you’ll end up surprising yourself.  And also because it makes you sound thoroughly obnoxious.

DT: What are your non-horror influences? What about non-literary influences?

TURNER: Non-horror influences:  Patricia Highsmith, Mary Gaitskill, Joyce Carol Oates, Monika Fagerholm, Colette, Isak Dinesen, Damon Runyon, John Dos Passos, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Russell Hoban, Ralph Ellison, Anthony Powell, Thomas Mann, Hilary Mantel.  Non-literary influences:  The original Night of the Living Dead (as noted), the original Carnival of Souls, the “Thriller” video, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and the music of Comus, Magnet (The Wicker Man house band), Agalloch, Nick Cave, Peter Brotzmann, Tuxedomoon, Pink Floyd and The The.

DT: After the “Resurgam Trilogy,” what’s next for Joan Frances Turner?
Do you already have your next book planned? Will it be horror?

TURNER: After Grave is completed Joan will be retiring to the countryside for a long vacation while she works out a few ideas for her next book, which won’t involve zombies but does seem to promise a protagonist who can walk between life and death and back again whenever they see fit.  Like many good fantasy and horror protagonists Joan also has a literary doppelganger, who roams the writing world under another name and may be trying her own, separate hand at realistic fiction in the future.

DT: It wasn’t until the mid-90s when you first discovered George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead –and we’re so happy you finally did! Any other new discoveries in horror film recently that have inspired you?

TURNER: This is where I have to admit that despite what all that enthusiastically described decomposition might suggest, I’m an extremely squeamish reader and viewer.  Nonetheless, here are some favorites both old and new:

Halloween (the original version).  This was my first horror movie, watched when I was far too young to know what I was getting myself into (though by modern-day horror standards it’s now quite tame), so it has to head the list.

The Shining.  This may not be a very original choice, but it’s still the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen right from the opening credits.  (I also have a huge soft spot for the miniseries version, but having been toned down for network television that one’s suspenseful instead of horrific.)

A Tale of Two Sisters.  The second most frightening movie I’ve ever seen and also so terribly, overpoweringly sad.

Repulsion.  A beautiful young woman falls apart by slow, psychotically hallucinatory degrees and it’s the more frightening because we never really understand why. Black Swan is Repulsion: The Ballet.

Let the Right One In (original version), Habit and The Addiction.  I normally don’t find vampires very interesting but these three movies are strong exceptions.

Man Bites Dog.  Dark satire of a serial killer and the hapless, cannon-fodder film crew documenting and glamorizing all his horrible exploits.  It made me laugh so hard I felt guilty afterward.

Baxter, a French film from the late 1980s about a bull terrier whose succession of owners all seem to have a strange habit of suddenly dying.  If you’re envisioning Cujo this isn’t it, there’s actually no blood and no gore and yet the movie, and its title pet, are somehow that much more frightening because of it.

Hellraiser (the first one).  Honestly it’s a richly satisfying old-fashioned morality tale with some extreme BDSM imagery and refugee Mugwumps from Naked Lunch thrown in, and that’s a good evening out.

Suspiria.  I have to look away at certain key moments (mostly the ones involving that bloodthirsty seeing-eye dog) but this was a huge influence on Dust, by which I mean I saw the infamous attic-full-of-maggots scene and thought immediately, “I want something like that in my book!”, which is why a major character in Dust is literally a walking maggot hatchery.  The soundtrack is also amazing.

The Wicker Man (the original version, not that Nicolas Cage………thing).  It’s one of my favorite fever dreams.

Festen.  This is technically not a horror movie at all, but rather the story of horrific acts inflicted on children and their attempts, as adults, to break through a solid wall of family denial.  No blood, no gore, deeply unsettling and disturbing.

DT: I recently came across a Top 20 Greatest Horror Writer of All-Time list on Mania.com. 20 writers, not one single woman! Not even an honorable mention! As a writer, reader, and woman, what do you think about lists like this that so casually omit female authors?

TURNER: I think that that list is depressingly commensurate with “greatest writers” lists in every genre from science fiction to literary realism to poetry to drama, which more often than not have, at best, one or two grudging mentions of female authors against dozens of men and if anyone objects, the accusations of “You just want a politically correct quota system!” start flying around like trailer homes in a tornado.  On the other hand, anyone who gets their reading list from any random stranger’s pet favorites, mine included, just isn’t trying very hard.  Find your top greatest of all time, and if they happen to be all men–or all women–then that’s how it is, but if you’re automatically excluding “chicks” (or black authors, or gay authors, or any other category) before you start because you think “they can’t/don’t write that stuff,” your list isn’t worth much of anything.

DT: And to counter that list, who are your favorite female horror writers?

TURNER: I’m probably inviting heated debate as to whether they’re “true” horror writers, but: Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter and Joyce Carol Oates.  Gemma Files also writes exceptional stuff.

DT: What are you currently reading?

TURNER: Currently in rotation on the nightstand:

The Lawrenceville Stories, Owen Johnson.  Turn-of-last-century boys’ prep school hijinks and about as far from horror fiction as you can possibly get; the worst that happens is someone getting a backside full of gravel after falling off a roof.

Otherhood: Poems, Reginald Shepherd.  The poems include “Wicker Man Marginalia” and “Hygiene,” a meditation on Jeffrey Dahmer, for any interested horror fans.

Memoirs of an Anti-Semite, Gregor von Rezzori.  Not an actual memoir, but a fictional protagonist meditating on non-supernatural real world horrors.

The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Martha C. Nussbaum.  I don’t have much background in philosophy so this one is slow going, but still very interesting.

La Toile de Charlotte, E.B. White.  I am re-teaching myself the French I forgot after high school and working my way through all the children’s classics as practice.  After this, possibly Le Vent dans les Saules (The Wind in the Willows).
DT: And, last one…

Vincent Price has invited you to the House on Haunted Hill and
wants you to choose the other 4 guests. Who do you pick and why?

TURNER: Keeping in mind that in real life I’d politely tell him there’s some stuff you just don’t do even for the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $10,000:  The current Republican presidential candidates, of whom (as of my writing this) there are conveniently four, because they’d be so busy fighting and backstabbing each other they’d be sitting ducks for the giant vat of acid.  Also, since gay people seem to be among their worst nightmares, I’d scare them so badly just by showing up that I’m good as guaranteed to win.

You can follow Joan Frances Turner at all the usual haunts, Facebook, Twitter, and her author webpage.

The sequel to Dust, Frail, is already out (published appropriately in October 2011) and Turner is hard at work at the final book in the Resurgam trilogy, Grave. I hope to have reviews for both Frail and Grave on Dreadful Tales… sometime! Stay Tuned!

Feature: A Terrifying Beauty – Discussing the Work of Artist Rebekah Joy Plett

One could say virtually anything about a piece of art. The expression of emotion, exploitation of the senses through visual stimuli, the evocation of memory and, more importantly in this situation – fear, have been tinkered with through visual arts since the dawn of time – for lack of a better cliché. People of all standings have opined about it ad nausea:

“A picture is worth a thousand words” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“A picture is a poem without words” – Horace

“All art is but imitation of nature” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

“A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament” – Oscar Wilde

And on and on.

But sometimes art is something more.

Vastly more.

In the case of Rebekah Joy Plett, it might be best for all involved if we *don’t* know what words lay behind these sometimes unsettling images. We can already see the darkness that influences the nature of Plett’s pieces, but to know what influences *the artist* in her pursuit of her creations may be too much for the casual viewer to handle. Her artwork is, in itself, a disturbingly unnatural experience that creeps in just under the skin, but ultimately leaves the viewer thoroughly satisfied.

A beautiful brutality

And as for Wilde’s opinion that unique results are borne of unique temperaments… well… I challenge you to find another artist in this genre with quite the same vision as Plett. There are a few pieces in Plett’s portfolio that don’t demand dissection. The artist’s motivation is readily evidenced, and yet the images retain a mysterious and vague element begging the viewer to delve that little bit deeper into *their own* mind in order to figure out exactly what is going on.

To make a point, we’ll just wait to see how long it takes you to finally see “the whale”.

The Bather

Plett’s output is intricate, harrowing, and oftentimes hits close to home for those of us who remember the innocence of a childhood tinted with the shadow of fearsome fiends.

The mind of a child is one of those places where untold wonders exist completely unhindered by the jaded experience of growing up. It’s there that Plett finds her place, drawing upon the little things that we may not deign to consider as adults.

I envy this artist’s youthful exuberance and appreciation for the finer (and grimier) things in life.

Marjorie Merle and Tex

As was the case in yesterday’s post with Bree Ogden, I came across Plett’s output as a direct result of my love of Crow Toes Quarterly, though it wasn’t until the advent of Underneath The Juniper Tree that I had a chance to fully experience the scope of which Plett’s talent spans.

The first release of UTJT introduced Marjorie Merle and Tex to a readership that combined a healthy mix of middle grade, YA, and grown up readers alike. The stories and art showcased in UTJT speak to all generations of kids on a different level, leaving each person who cracks (or clicks) open an issue, the opportunity to experience it in a different way.

Plett’s involvement as artistic director in the publication brings a different perspective to the process. Her sinister visions drive the eye from one story to the next, and are richly accompanied by the artwork of other talented spirits in the genre, ranging from ghoulish and grotesque to stark and creepy.

Getting back to Plett’s personal portfolio, it’s common to find an commingling of innocent and monstrous images splayed upon the canvas, wood, board, or screen of the artist’s choosing. If you were to take a look at any of Plett’s “works in progress” posts, you’d find that a fair amount of the images go from quietly serene and beautiful to morbid and gruesome, almost as of the natural transition demanded it. In fact, the initial drafts and their finished counterparts are often so close in appearance that any small modification can easily be dismissed. Upon closer inspection, though, the finer details pop up and give credence to the chills the viewer may have experienced but just couldn’t explain away.

My Monster

Plett is a perfect example of the immense grip with which women hold this genre up. Her ability to captivate the viewer and tell an entire story with images is a powerful tool that this genre could not do without. Joining Plett’s pieces with the stories found in UTJT is a sort of wish fulfillment for me. Growing up reading things like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and similar books dedicated to kids like me who dug things darker in fiction, it was disappointing to reach teenage and adulthood and find that feeling drained from horror fiction. Plett and UTJT have resurrected that feeling for me, and will most assuredly bring about the resurgence good quality dark literature to the youth of the genre.

Creative Monster

Plett is a valuable player in the horror genre, in my opinion. It’s her artistic vision that drives UTJT to be the voice of children’s horror fiction, and will ultimately lead the publication towards a bigger audience and the notice it deserves.

You can check out more of Plett’s work at her blog, and at Underneath The Juniper Tree. She’s also on Facebook and Twitter, and can be found haunting other places on the web as well.

C.