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: Femme Fatale Christa Faust

I’ve heard readers say that they can tell if a piece of fiction is by a female author. That’s not necessarily meant to be an insult, and in fact I hear it most often as a compliment to the literary prowess of women. I was never quite sure if I agreed, and not even really sure I understood how women wrote differently, but I finally think I understand why people make that statement. Reading Sins of the Sirens, I couldn’t help thinking that all these short stories were unlike anything I’d read before. There was something utterly powerful about the emotion evoked by them. But I struggle with how to verbalize what precisely makes these stories standout.

John Everson puts it simply and direct in his introduction to Sins; “Women, by virtue of their gender, do have a subtly different take on language, on seduction, on the boundaries of horror, than men.”

Perhaps it’s that subtly that makes it so difficult to pinpoint. But as Loren Rhoads noted in her interview with Dreadful Tales, it’s been proven reader’s can’t necessarily tell the sex of an author so readily when they are unfamiliar with the work. During a game show at a convention, Rhoads read an excerpt from Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” and contestants were to guess if the writer was male or female. They guessed Brian Keene!

Still, there is an undeniable electricity in the Sins stories. The writers are all exceptionally talented and brilliant wordsmiths of course, but I’m starting to wonder if there isn’t something to the theory that women write different, whatever that might mean.

But I digress… and I’m rambling!

We wrap up the four day Ladies of Sins of the Sirens today with the three short story contributions from Christa Faust. These days Faust writes more hardboiled crime fiction than horror, but she still deserves a solid place among the women of horror. And this week’s post would be incomplete without her to close out the Sins anthology.

While Faust may not us nightmares with her fiction lately, she is notably the first and only femme to be published by Hard Case Crime, the best in modern crime nior and vintage pulp. A few titles of note are Money Shot, Choke Hold, and Butch Fatale; Dyke Dick.

You can browse her books and follower the “torrid confessions from the underbelly of the pulp racket” on her website.

Now, onto the Sins stories!

We start with “Love, La Llorona” which finds the beautiful and seductive Maxine browsing the market in the heart of Mexico City. She stumbles onto a woman selling DVDs, literally, after a strange encounter with a wet, dirty woman carrying (what appears to be) dead babies. Frightened, Maxine backs away from the muddy, stinking woman, tripping over a blind street vendor. When she finally collects herself after the embarrassing fall she finds the strange apparition is gone. Helping the blind woman clean up the mess, she forgets about her encounter and becomes preoccupied with the bootleg DVDs for sale, in particular a title called La Llorona. Maxine rushes back with her purchase to the hotel she shares with her math genius boyfriend Simon, pops in the DVD, and is immediately entranced by the bizarre and unsettling imagery. She watches specific scenes over and over, continues to play the DVD on repeat completely unaware of the time that has passed. When she begrudgingly goes out dancing with her boyfriend, La Llorona is all she can think about. Maxine must understand the secret story behind the scenes on the disturbing footage, but the closer she gets the more she unravels. La Llorona takes over her will like a mental sickness. “Love, La Llorona” is stomach-churning. The reader is left with that heavy, nauseous feeling you get from watching mondo films.  Faust’s bite-size fright is not really graphic or particularly goretastic, but the real life horror on tape is reminiscent of that candid stock footage of shock. I remember that apprehensive feeling before watching one of those “real life” carnage videos, but being unable to resist the impulse to watch. You feel that through Maxine in “Love, La Llorona.”

“Firebird,” like “Heavy Hands,” is a Sins of the Sirens exclusive. Our protagonist Ivy is addicted to Nita’s love, drugs, and sex with Nita on drugs. Faust’s science-fiction love story (I know, I said no labels, but I can’t help it!) starts as a dramatic piece dealing with love and loss, life after death, and revenge. But as the story progresses, Faust takes the reader into a future world where the dead can be brought back and you can get your fix through a golden box. Everson called “Firebird” “a novelette tour de force that brings to bear the gritty despair of the addicted with a Bladerunner-dark sci-fi setpiece and a hero worthy of sequelization.” Damn you, Everson! I couldn’t say it better than that. It’s Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and “The Three Stigmata of Eldrich Palmer” grounded in the underbelly of the drug world!

Every book has an end and Sins goes down kicking and screaming, grabbing onto your hair for dear life. Ouch! Faust’s final story leaves a memorable impression, like handcuffs locked just a little tight. But if you’re into that sorta thing, you’ll be enamored with “Tighter.” For a Vegas vixen, Persephone, that’s all she can think about. Persephone wants to struggle, wants to be contained. She likes to be tied up, but it’s never enough, she aches for the ropes to be tighter. One day she finally meets her match. Kevin seems like the perfect fit. He ties a mean, boa constrictor-strength knot, the only man who can successfully restrain her. But whose appetite can’t be satiated? What do you do when “tighter” is never enough? This is an aching story about unrequited desire that has an unpredictable, completely unconventional ending. Then again, Faust’s stories are anything but conventional.

I’m reluctant to call Sins of the Sirens horror, but this is a collection I think horror fans will dig. It was published four years ago, but still stands as the type of book to get the jaded reader excited about fiction again. All the Sirens are on to new, great things, but we will always have Sins to come back to.

-Meli

Ladies of Sins of the Sirens: Featuring Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson, the Woman with Hair of Fire & Snow Leopard Skin

We’re halfway through the Dark Arts Books Sins of the Sirens roundup, but there will be no intermission and no reprieve for the weak. Moving right along into Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson’s world, we are challenged with the most emotional and heartwrenching stories of the lot thus far. Among her four tales, one is more disturbing than sad, and another is an exciting, sexually tense cat-and-mouse game, but there is a common thread of loneliness and isolation in her characters.

Before we get into Mehitobel’s stories, I’d like to share a few tidbits about her career. I feel like a record on repeat, but Mehitobel, like all the other women we’ve featured this month, has an eclectic resume. If she only mentioned her non-writing work, she still has a laundry list of unique experience. She’s had every job from dog groomer to model, cigarette girl to factory worker. I’m not sharing exclusive information here, though. That info is immediately mentioned on the welcome page of her website, but nonetheless it’s still fascinating and worth mention.

In the literary world too, Mehitobel carries impressive credit to her name. Of course, she’s one of four exceptional talents handpicked by John Everson for the hauntingly beautiful collection of short stories, Sins of the Sirens. Just like her cohorts Loren Rhoads, Maria Alexander, and Christa Faust (who will be featured tomorrow), Mehitobel can’t be classified simply as a horror author. Well, I guess you could classify her anyway you want, but it wouldn’t be right because she exhibits skill beyond just the ability to elicit fear. She cuts to the bone, digs in deep for that which we want no one to find; our dirty secrets and haunted desires.

Mehitobel also worked alongside Sirens Loren Rhoads and Maria Wilson at Gothic.net where she acted as editor and book reviewer. Her editing at the webzine garnered a Bram Stoker Award nomination in Superior Achievement in 2000. She also has a non-fiction story in Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues called “Thanksgiving at Bels,” which collected some of Loren Rhoads’ favorite true tales from the Morbid Curiosity magazine’s 10-year run.

Moving onto her fiction you’ll find almost all her work is included in several editions of Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I will have to seek these stories out because now I have an itch that can’t be scratched and it’s name be Mehitobel!

From what I can tell, Mehitobel’s first story, “Heavy Hands,” is a Sins exclusive, so you better pick up a copy here (or here) if you want to read it. The story follows a quirky, isolated young fellow, Jason, who works a tedious day job, enjoys periodic smoke breaks with his only friend Gemma, and contemplates maybe one day having a barbeque. Gemma, an outspoken, cursing sailor of a woman, is the yin to David’s yang (or is she the yang?). Gemma does her best to rip Jason from his shell like a newborn baby from its mother’s womb (Gemma was never one for subtlety), but he’s struggling with more than social awkwardness and a lonely disposition. Jason is accompanied, every so often, by phantom hands. At first, it’s a light caress that wakes him from his slumber, another time a more intrusive squeeze of the shoulder. Until the climax of the story, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But this isn’t a fairy tale and there is no happy ending (actually, there is one, but you’ll have to read “Heavy Hands” to find out what it is). You remember how those Tales from the Crypt shows where our protagonist would discover or acquire something that seemed positive, but it would end up being a terrible curse? That’s “Heavy Hands.” A Tales from the Crypt story, a right gone wrong. Happiness almost within reach only to be thwarted by a darker fate in the end.

Mehitobel’s second entry is a spine-chilling, disturbing lil’ piece called “Close.” We’re introduced to a creepy bastard Thad who has a strange sexual obsession. He’s a voyeur that likes to feel and hear, not necessarily see. He’s addicted to eavesdropping on couples in the hotel room above him, listening to “heavy breaths laced with groans, as if her voice would never breathe silently again.” As the title suggests, Thad can’t get close enough. His obsession overpowers any logical thought as he progresses toward the ultimate satisfaction, the climax. When listening from the room below isn’t enough, he fashions a hiding place to get as close as possible to the couple.

“Then new ideas occurred to him. He brought foam, pillows, and sleeping bags, and he built a little berth beneath the bed, to raise him closer to the box spring. He wrapped it in a black cotton flat sheet, one he’d washed well to remove any sheen, and tucked the matching fitted sheet alongside it, to bag himself, to darken himself, to join with the blackness under the bed.”

This story is like a home invasion movie set to paper. For a reader who travels often, it will have added significance. “Close” is deeply unsettling and will send shivers down your spine.

The third story is the exciting cat-and-mouse game I mentioned earlier, “The Wild.” We meet my hero, “Cath Catheter, the girl with the iron roar, the monster queen of the death metal scene.” But by the time we find Cath she has regressed into a nervous hermit, relegated mostly to her apartment, office, and fast-food joints, wondering “how long it had been since she’d broken a pool cue over an opponent’s head.” Cath makes a concerted effort to break free from this anti-social slump. She ventures out to a gallery, gets dolled up for Kink Night at a bar, even hangs at a hip coffee shop. Still, something keeps her from connecting with the people around her. Almost everyone, that is except for a mysterious and handsome rockabilly dude. Will this rockabilly hottie finally liberate Cath? You’ll have to read to find out! I can tell you this isn’t a love story and there’s an unexpected twist at the end I’m dying to tell you about. It’s requiring a great amount of restraint on my part not to spoil it for you! So please, for my sake, just read it!

“The Wild” is juxtaposed dramatically by Mehitobel’s closing story, the terribly heartbreaking “Parting Jane,” about a young girl who is prisoner of a hospital. The drastically different tone of the preceding story makes Mehitobel’s finale especially jarring to the system. This story is all dark. There is no humorous undertone or flirtatious prose, just institutionalized childhood innocence, pain, anguish, and abandonment. Written in first person narration, “Parting Jane” is told though the diary entries of Jane, who is nine years old when the story opens. Her only outlet, her only freedom is her diary. As the story progresses we find out why Jane is hospitalized and it’s more frightening than any cancer, more horrific than any disease, and just plain sad.

To say much more than that does the story a great injustice. That’s really the case with all the stories in this collection. In fact, I think I’ve said too much already. Like Gemma from “Heavy Hands,” I was never really one for subtly.

Visit Mehitobel “Bel” Wilson’s website and pick up a copy of Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire here or here. Worth every damned penny!

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.