Is anyone else watching HBO’s “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”? It’s based on the late Michelle McNamara’s book of the same name, which in turn is about the hunt for the Golden State Killer (one that ended after the book was released). However, the docuseries is also an exploration on McNamara’s obsessive personality, and how that both drove her search and led to her death.
I appreciated the focus on McNamara in this manner. It’s very fair—she is not blamed or made out to be a bad person. But it shines an important light on how people with obsessive, anxious tendencies can overdo it to the point of self-harm.
My own anxiety (which I’ve discussed before) used to come out in obsessive fixations. It was never with true crime, but when I’d find a new interest, a new goal, a new puzzle, etc., I would be determined to be the best at it, to solve it, to excel at it and to meet the expectations I thought everyone had of me. I still see it pop up from time-to-time, but I’m better able to manage it with medication and with better awareness of when it’s happening.
An article from Vulture about the series does an excellent job weaving those mental tendencies with an explanation for why women gravitate towards true crime. It creates a false but motivating sense of hope that we’ll find an answer to why men seem determined to hurt us. It gives us a sense of control over our attackers.
But in cases like McNamara, it can also lead us to self-destruct when we don’t find what we’re looking for—a self-destruction made easier by a culture that expects women to take care of themselves while also taking care of their spouses and their children. As such, no one is there for them, at least not until it’s too late.
I’m pleased to announce that Women of Horror Vol. 2: Graveyard Smash is now available! It features a new short story from me, called “The Clockmaker,” along with 21 (!) other stories from some of the hottest voices in horror.
From Kandisha Press:
Kandisha Press is proud to announce that GRAVEYARD SMASH, the second volume of our WOMEN OF HORROR Anthology series, will be out July 20th 2020 and feature an array of diverse voices from women around the world!
A woman suffering from trypophobia, the fear of holes, descends into madness during a global pandemic.
Due to overpopulation, the dead are forced to share their graves with strangers- and they’re not sure they like it.
On a stormy night, the town’s watchmaker is visited by a mysterious man, who asks him to craft a timepiece from bone.
A young girl has the ability to raise the dead, but she just can’t seem to get it right.
No one believes Dakota’s story of seeing a girl beneath the ice of Lake Asherah. Nevertheless, the girl exists. And she’s starving.
A graverobber has a frightening interaction with an unearthed skeleton, after which she begins a dark and terrible transformation.
After a global outbreak, a woman visits the ruins of Templo Mayor, only to have a horrifying vision of the future beneath the ruins.
These are just some of the stories twenty-two women horror authors from around the globe came up with when asked to present their best graveyard tales. Step inside and experience cemetery raves and widow’s dances, Japanese snow-spirits, Aztec magic, Vengeful ghosts, djinn and vampire hunters, and boneyards from all corners of the earth.
Check out the Table of Contents below:
You can purchase Graveyard Smash at all the following links:
Updated 7.20.2020 with clarifying language from Brian Keene.
I’ve spoken a lot on Twitter about the following, but I wanted to make sure that those who don’t follow me there or may have missed the news heard about what’s been going on in a corner of the horror community.
Last week, Cassie | Let’s Get Galactic, a reviewer and blogger, revealed that she’d received inappropriate, sexual messages from an author last summer. She later revealed the author was Matt Hayward. Other reviewers and authors also came forward to say he’d done the same to them.
There was a flurry of responses. Some apologized for his behavior. Hayward also apologized for his behavior. Many of us, though, were rightfully angry. We spoke up for Cassie and for others he’d harassed.
Yesterday, things took a turn: anonymous Twitter accounts shared purported screen grabs of Cassie harassing an author. I myself received an email claiming I’d “published a harasser” and which also attached the screen grab. They were obviously fake, the accounts were reported on Twitter, and I reported the email as SPAM. You can see it below:
This morning, Brian Keene shared that Matt Hayward admitted he’d made one of the three Twitter accounts that shared the phony screen grabs. I can only assume he also emailed me. Several reviewers, authors, and publishers are rightfully rebuking Matt and doubling down on their support for Cassie and for everyone he harassed.
This whole situation sickens me. As an author, I can’t imagine contacting a reviewer about anything other than my book; and even in cases like with Cassie, where we interact as friends, I would only send messages about food or how adorable their pets are. As a woman, I would be so upset if an author or reviewer I only knew online sent me similar messages, especially if they had my home address. It’s never “just flirting,” and the dynamic here makes it even worse.
Hayward and his apologists tried to temper the response to his actions by saying he was going through a hard time last summer following the death of his best friend. I am sorry for his loss, but, grieving does not justify this kind of behavior. Many of us grieve and don’t harass people. Further, Hayward’s creation of the fake account this past weekend show it wasn’t isolated behavior. He was willing to lie about his harasser to try and discredit her.
I stand with victims and I stand with those who come forward. No one should be harassed, and no one should feel like they need to stay silent so as to protect their harasser, even when—especially when—the harasser is well-liked in a given community. Shame on Matt Hayward, shame on his defenders, and shame on anyone who uses their power to abuse and diminish others. I will not support you.
The book follows Abby Gillman, who has discovered that with growing up, there comes a lot of blood. But nothing prepares her for the trail of blood she sees in the hallway after class – or the ghost she finds crammed inside an abandoned locker.
No one believes Abby, of course. She’s only seeing things. As much as Abby wants to be believed, what she wants more is to know why she can suddenly see the dead. Unfortunately, they won’t tell her. In fact, none of them will speak to her. At all.
Abby leaves for her annual summer visit to her uncle’s house with tons of questions. The visit will give her answers the ghosts won’t – but she may not like what she finds out.
The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Tea Blossom by Sonora Taylor
Carmen walked down the cobblestone streets in the rain, careful to not slip on the rocks. She’d left her umbrella at home, and of course the taxis had all disappeared with the first splat of rain on a windshield.
Carmen ducked under an awning, then saw a wooden sign with a teapot swinging in the wind. Must be new, she thought as she walked through the door.
Warmth wrapped around her body as water dripped from her coat to the floor. An old woman stood behind a counter with an expectant smile. “Hello,” she said in a cracked voice.
Carmen nodded as she walked inside.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” the woman asked.
“Very much, yes.” Carmen sat at the first empty table. She realized when she sat, though, that all the tables were empty.
First, I hope you all are doing well and staying safe during this pandemic. It’s a scary time, one made even scarier without knowing what the next steps will be, since they seem to change every day. All we can do is practice social distancing, watch for our symptoms, and help our neighbors near and far as safely as we can.
I know a lot of people have spent their extra time indoors reading. Unnerving is still releasing their Rewind or Die series, and I recently spoke with one of the series’ authors, Jessica Guess. Read on for our conversation about haunted carnivals, blogging, and more.
Sonora: How long have you been writing?
Jessica: Since middle school. I’ve been telling stories for forever though. They started as lies I’d tell my younger cousin to scare her into doing something for me. I’d tell her there was a witch who ate little girls who ate more than three cookies so she’d give me the rest of hers or something like that. I know, I know. Horrible. Those are the earliest stories I remembered telling. I only started writing things down in middle school after this one girl read a poem she wrote in class. I remember thinking if she could do it, I could too. I’ve been writing ever since.
Sonora: Tell us about Cirque Berserk, your novella in Unnerving’s “Rewind or Die” series. What inspired the story? What was it like writing it? Submitting it? Having it published?
Jessica: I was watching The Strangers Prey at Night and that movie was so colorful towards the end and had a great soundtrack. That night I was in bed and I got this image of a character on roller skates doing something horrible to the tune of Rhythm of the Night. I was so jarring and vivid. I had to write it. Not long after, I saw the Rewind or Die call for queries, and it seemed perfect for my story idea. At the time I hadn’t written anything yet, but I had an outline. I decided to query it and the publisher said he’d like to read it. That was around June or July. I wrote all summer and got the manuscript to him by September and he accepted it. I’m really lucky because the story came out very naturally. It wasn’t exactly easy to write, but it was easier than a lot of other long form things I’ve written. I was super proud of the story, but I was also a little shocked that he accepted it because I don’t think a lot of people get my writing. So far, the reactions have been good though.
Sonora: The carnival, a place of joy and delight, is a popular setting in horror. What do you think draws us, as readers and writers, to the carnival as a place of terror?
Jessica: Carnivals are supposed to be fun, but there’s a natural element of terror that goes along with them. Those rides are fun, but if you look closely at how rusted they are, or how maybe there’s a screw a little loose, or that the operator looks a little drunk, it gets scary. That’s the thing about carnivals. You’re supposed to only pay attention to the surface of things and not think too hard because that’s when it gets terrifying. In a carnival, things aren’t what they seem. We all know that, but we ignore the scary part for the sake of fun. Horror is the place where you don’t have to ignore it. You can look it right in the eye.
Sonora: Cirque Berserk is, among other things, a throwback to ‘80s slashers. What are some of your favorite slasher flicks?
Jessica: A Nightmare on Elm Street will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first slasher I remember watching as a kid. It’s what made me obsessed with horror movies. Urban Legend is probably my favorite from the 90’s, followed closely by Scream. I know everyone hates the 4th and 5thHalloween movies or pretend they don’t exist, but I really like those two. There’s a part in the 4th one where Jaime (Michael Myer’s niece) askes Michael to show her his face and weirdly he does. It’s a sweet moment where you think he might not be so evil but then he freaks out and goes back to being a monster. I liked that. Lastly, I mentioned The Strangers Prey at Night earlier. That has to be one of my recent faves.
Sonora: What are some of the unique strengths of slasher stories? What are some of their weaknesses?
Jessica: One thing I love about slashers is that no one debates whether they’re horror movies or not. Almost every other subgenre is re-imagined by non-horror lovers to be something else if the movie/book is considered commercially good. You see that with movies like Silence of the Lambs or Hereditary. No one does that with slashers because they are so purely horror. I love that about them. I also love that they all follow a formula. Sure, you can tinker with it, but it’s usually going to be some teens or young adults who are paying the price for something. Either for something they did or they’ve inherited some type of primordial debt from their parents or people who came before them. There’s also a visceral bad guy that either is or seems to be supernatural. That all kind of leads to their weaknesses though. When you don’t do something to tweak that formula or make it new, it becomes stale. A lot of slasher tropes are so overused that they become cringe worthy.
Sonora: When writing your own slasher, what did you want to add to the genre that you thought had been missing?
Jessica: I’ve always wanted a slasher with a black girl as the main character. That was the main thing for me with Cirque Berserk. I thought, what would I have loved to read when I was 16? What character would have satisfied teenage Jessica? Rochelle was born from that. I also wanted the story to be fun. Slashers are so fun to me. Right now, there seems to be this push to make horror serious and elevated. Sure, we can have that, but let’s not lose the fun stuff. Please. There’s room for all of it.
Jessica: Honestly, Black Girl’s Guide to Horror started as a way for me to talk in depth about my love for horror movies. I wanted to offer a perspective I wasn’t seeing a lot of or discuss movies I wasn’t seeing people talk much about. I started it right after I finished my MFA program. I was looking for jobs and that was going horribly, so I decided to do something fun and rage about All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. The most successful post was the one I wrote about the importance Rachel True’s character, Rochelle (yes, my character is named after her) in The Craft. There was all this stuff last year about her not being invited to the panels and conventions that the other three actresses were. It’s ridiculous. And racist. BUST magazine reprinted that post with my permission.
Sonora: As you say on your blog, horror is dominated by white protagonists. How can the horror genre improve its treatment and representation of people of color? Of Black people? Of Black women in particular?
Jessica: I feel like people in power need to ask themselves this question more and then act on it. That would be a first step. If you have a publication, or are a literary agent, or an acquiring editor, or have any other position that creates opportunities, look for writers of color. Look for black women writers. We’re out here. It’s really good that some submission calls specify that they are looking for women and writers of color. Unnerving did that with Rewind or Die and that was the only reason I felt confident enough to submit Cirque Berserk. We’ve been left out and pushed to the side for so long that sometimes it’s hard to believe that anyone wants to give us a chance, so specifying that you want to hear from us is good. Also, hire black women as acquiring editors and literary agents. And believe women of color when they tell you something is harmful or damaging.
Sonora: What are some examples of horror stories — be they books, film, TV, anything — that handle diversity well?
Jessica: This is a hard one to answer because I’m not sure how exactly diversity should be handled. It seems that some people think of diversity as these boxes you have to tick off and the more you check, the more diverse you are. Kinda like, do we have a Black person? Check. An Asian person? Check. A gay person? Check. Wow, three checks. Look how diverse we are. But how are you treating those characters? Are they actually doing anything? To me, diversity is giving different types of people the space to tell their stories. Like the movie What Keeps You Alive. That movie had only white women in it, but it was the first horror movie I had ever seen that revolved around a lesbian relationship. Chambers was a show on Netflix that had the first Native American woman in the lead role. It was a great show that revolved around family, Indigenous lore, and cultural appropriation. My Sister the Serial Killer is a great book I read over the summer about a Nigerian woman trying to cover up her sisters string of murders. What I’m trying to say is that those examples didn’t have those characters in there to fulfill some kind of diversity quota, instead it was about creating stories about people we hadn’t had the opportunity to hear a lot from before.
Sonora: What are some cliches about horror’s treatment of people of color that you never want to see again?
Jessica: The only black character dying first. Please just stop doing that. It’s tired. Also, Native American burial grounds. Stop. I cringe every time.
Sonora: What are you working on now?
Jessica: A story about an iguana apocalypse. I know that makes no sense. It’s set in Florida if that helps. We have an iguana infestation that’s pretty bad. I’m also cooking up a gothic werewolf romance. I know that also makes no sense.
Jessica Guess is a writer and English teacher who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She earned her Creative Writing MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2018 and is the founder of the website Black Girl’s Guide to Horror where she examines horror movies in terms of quality and intersectionality. Her creative work has been featured in Luna Station Quarterly and Mused BellaOnline Literary Review. Her debut novella, Cirque Berserk, is for purchase on Amazon.
The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Wash Me by Sonora Taylor
Kayla froze when she approached her car. A message awaited her, scrawled on the front bumper of her number one beauty: WASH ME.
Kayla frowned as she jerked her car keys out from her coat pocket. The nerve. How dare someone touch her beautiful car with their dirty fingers? How could they rub through years worth of desert dust, garden dirt, and human detritus with a swipe of their hand and a flick of their wrist?
Kayla turned and saw a man walking towards her. He held a grocery bag in one hand and held up the other in a motion to stop her. His hand was filthy.
“You forgot this,” he said as he held up the bag.
His fingertips had smudges of dirt. Dirt that had once been on her car.
As Women in Horror Month enters its final week (sniff), here is the final interview in my WIHM interview series. Today, I’m chatting with author Hailey Piper. Read on to get to know this awesome writer!
Sonora: How long have you been writing?
Hailey: I’ve been writing since I was little, telling stories about werewolf weddings and Bigfoot. I don’t think I could ever get away from it, and I wouldn’t want to.
Sonora: Tell us about your novella, The Possession of Natalie Glasgow. What inspired the story?
Hailey: The setup isn’t all that different from The Exorcist in that we have a single mother whose daughter is acting strangely and the doctors seem useless, so she reaches out for spiritual help. The novella starts at that point, where the narrator swerves from the usual, so as not to retread well-explored territory. I wanted to tell a possession story outside the organized religion worldview, where witchcraft isn’t the devil and the evil lies in human hands.
Sonora: Since its initial release, Natalie Glasgow has had a title change and also became available in paperback. Tell us more about the experience of making these updates after the novella was out. What motivated you to do it? Did you notice positive changes afterward? Is there anything you would do differently?
Hailey: I had never planned it to be more than an ebook, and I hadn’t expected anyone to pay much attention to it. I had considered The Exorcism of Natalie Glasgow; Possession hadn’t occurred to me until Steve Stred suggested the title change. Months later, I decided to just do it, at which point Eddie Generous offered new cover art, and then a few cool people (including you, Sonora!) won me over on creating a paperback. Since then, the novella has seen entirely unexpected success, with an explosion of Goodreads ratings/reviews, a featured group review from the Night Worms bloggers, and people sending friendly messages to say they enjoyed it. I think this proves the value of a strong title and cover art, and while I’m happy with the path Natalie Glasgow has taken, I’d definitely try to come out of the gate stronger if I ever self-publish again.
Sonora: Your latest release, Benny Rose: The Cannibal King, is part of Unnerving’s Rewind or Die series. What was it like writing a novella for such a series? Did the idea come to you when you read the call for submissions, or had Benny Rose already introduced himself to you?
Hailey: Benny Rose as a concept has a complicated history. He was a lot of things for me at different times through 2018 as I tried to make his and Desiree’s story work in notes. I had characters, backstory, but there was something wrong. When the call went out for Rewind or Die, everything clicked—the 1980s was the perfect time. I had to cut some elements, but that only made the novella stronger. All the stuff I really cared about stayed.
Sonora: Tell us about Benny Rose. How is it like your previous works? How is it different?
Hailey: Blackwood, Vermont is a small town, its only claim to fame being local folklore ghoul Benny Rose, allegedly based on a serial killer active in the 1950s. On Halloween night, Desiree St. Fleur and her friends decide to play a Benny Rose-themed prank on town newcomer Gabrielle Walker, unaware that they’ll stumble upon the truth behind the legend. As Natalie Glasgow twisted possession tropes, Benny Rose is my stab at slasher tropes, but where Natalie Glasgow focused on family and pride, I hope readers find Benny Rose a harrowing gauntlet of friendship, tragedy, and sacrifice.
Sonora: What have been your experiences in horror as a queer author? As a woman author?
Hailey: Rewarding, if daunting. I had stopped writing for the longest time, and when I bounced back into it, I was unapologetic about letting myself out in the open. I wanted to write queer stories. And I definitely wanted to write feminist stories. I drew back a little at first—I don’t think anyone realized Natalie Glasgow’s protagonist Margaret Willow is gay because I cut almost every reference to that—but I’ve come back from that with a vengeance. I’ve been tremendously fortunate to have the support of publishers and readers alike.
Sonora: Horror is often analyzed as inherently queer. Even stories that don’t explicitly have LGBTQIA+ characters are viewed as queer narratives. What are your thoughts on horror as queer?
Hailey: I think horror is the genre most-suited to telling queer narratives, even without queer characters, but that could be my own queer perspective talking. We’re innocently existing and then someone horrible intrudes. Or, the world doesn’t want us, so we’re monsters to be destroyed.
Sonora: Similarly, horror, like other genres, is often seen as a safe way to present queer narratives to mass audiences, since it’s “disguised” under classic genre tropes. Do you agree with this? Do you think this is still the case, or is explicitly queer horror coming more to the forefront than coded horror stories?
Hailey: I think there’s room for both queer-coded themes and narratives in horror and for queer characters at the forefront to co-exist. A winning story in Pseudopod’s 2019 flash fiction contest that will appear in a future episode presented what felt like a transgender narrative through a speculative lens, and it was brilliant. In the same year, Sarah Fannon’s short story “Consumed” told its horror through a gay woman’s point of view as she searched for companionship, and it was also brilliant. I want both kinds, and lots of them.
Hailey: How can the horror genre be better in its treatment of LGBTQIA+ characters and stories? How can the industry be better?
Hailey: We need more queer creators and decision makers. While there are excellent stories told by allies, there’s only so much that can be understood without firsthand experience. Different perspectives mean different voices which lead to different stories. It’s not enough for allies to tell their stories but with queer characters, wonderful as some of those stories have been. We need to tell them too, share our unique worldview, both lovely and terrifying.
Sonora: Who are some of your favorite authors? What are some of your favorite books?
Hailey: It’s hard to list favorite books when I’m reading so much excellent short fiction that I want to shove in everyone’s faces, but some favorite authors would be Gwendolyn Kiste, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Sara Tantlinger, Caitlin Kiernan, Christa Carmen, and Ray Cluley.
Sonora: What are you working on right now?
Hailey: The dreaded question that outs me as a workaholic! I’m a third into writing a new novella, halfway through a novelette, planning a new novel, revising another, and editing short stories. There’s a lot going on.
About Hailey Piper:
Hailey Piper is the author of horror novellas The Possession of Natalie Glasgow and Benny Rose, the Cannibal King, and her debut dark fantasy/epic horror novel, The Verses of Aeg, will be published by Bronzeville Books in Q4 2020. An active member of the HWA, she enjoys consuming horror, writing it, and sometimes haunting her wife through their apartment. Find her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays or at her website www.haileypiper.com.
The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Bramble by Sonora Taylor
Mimi loved her hair. It grew past her shoulders into long and flowing locks. Those locks, however, loved to tangle; and Mimi’s mother hated having to brush them out.
“You have so many rat’s nests in here, I expect a rodent to come crawling out any minute,” her mother said as she brushed her hair in increased frustration. But Mimi ignored her mother’s anger, instead focusing on the bramble of her hair as it grew outwards and upwards, floating and spilling in all directions over her shoulders.
One morning, Mimi’s mother had had enough. She tugged the brush from another rat’s nest and threw it on the bathroom floor. The thwack against the tiles rang in Mimi’s ears as her mother opened up a drawer.
“Enough!” her mother said. She grabbed the tangles in Mimi’s hair and cut them.