Ask the Author: A Q&A with Loren Rhoads

Loren Rhoads
“So many cemeteries, so little time!” Author Loren Rhoads.

When I was little, I loved spending time in cemeteries. Not in a macabre way — they were simply places where my mom and I would take walks. There was a cemetery near our apartment in Holyoke with a large, flat-topped stump, and I spent many afternoons climbing onto the stump and jumping off of it. Mom and I also fed squirrels at a cemetery in Leesburg, and because two squirrels always appeared by our bench, I named them Squirrely and Nutkin, and said I was feeding those two each time (even though in all likelihood, they were different squirrels each week).

I met fellow author Loren Rhoads online, and was delighted to find someone else who felt the same pull to visit cemeteries. Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She’s also the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes, a space opera trilogy that’s been described as grimdark. Her latest project is a collection of stories about a monster-hunting witch.

I asked Loren a few questions about her work and her travels. Read on for more information on both, and more!


Sonora: How long have you been writing?

Loren: The first time I felt like a real writer was in 2008, when Dark Arts Books published four of my short stories in the book Sins of the Sirens. It was amazing to see my work appear alongside Maria Alexander, Mehitobel Wilson, and Christa Faust.

Sonora: Have you always written horror? What other genres appeal to you?

Loren: I actually started out writing science fiction, before drifting into horror. Lately, I’ve been writing cheerfully morbid nonfiction. My books have included a space opera trilogy, a succubus/angel urban fantasy, and a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. In fact, 199 Cemeteries was my 11th book. I’m hoping to see another one published before the end of the year. It will combine horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance. I’m still struggling with its final title.

Sonora: I can’t wait to read Wish You Were Here — as I told you, I too have a fondness for visiting cemeteries. What drew you to visit them? What drew you to write about them?

Loren: I started visiting graveyards on vacation by accident, when I got routed unexpectedly to London during the first Gulf War. I discovered a photo book about Highgate Cemetery in the bookshop at Victoria Station and fell in love with the beautiful Victorian sculpture garden.

In the late 90s, I met Thomas Roche, the nonfiction editor at Gothic.Net, at a reading at Borderlands Bookstore. Tom said that he never got enough nonfiction for the site — and they paid real money — so I pitched him a series of essays about visiting cemeteries. That column won me my membership in the Horror Writers Association. The Gothic.Net essays formed the basis of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.

Sonora: Do you have a favorite cemetery you’ve visited? A cemetery that’s on your wish list?

Loren: My favorite cemetery changes. I often pick Highgate, because that was where I fell in love with cemeteries, but Poblenou in Barcelona has one of my favorite pieces of cemetery art, the amazing Kiss of Death. This year, I’ve been researching a new cemetery guide about the pioneer graveyards of the San Francisco Bay Area, so I’ve seen some really charming local places, graveyards with really good stories. One of my favorites is in Oak Hill in San Jose, where Mountain Charlie is buried. Although he got between a mama grizzly and her cubs, he survived being bitten in the head. For years afterward, he wore his hat pulled low over his face to hide his deformity. That kind of wilderness is hard to imagine now, in Silicon Valley.

Wow, are there a lot of cemeteries on my wish list. I add them faster than I can cross them off. I’d love to see the cemeteries of Savannah and the Rockies and the Nevada ghost towns, as well as Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong and Okunoin on Mount Koya in Japan. I’d really love to go to Oaxaca for Dia de los Muertos. I have a big birthday coming up in a couple of years, so I told my husband that I’d like to see the Pyramids finally. So many cemeteries, so little time!

Sonora: Who are some of your favorite writers? What are some of your favorite books?

Loren: One of my favorite writers is Martha Allard, who should be better known. She wrote a rock’n’roll vampire ghost novel called Black Light that is just devastating. Dana Fredsti’s Lilith books, about a demon-hunting stuntwoman, are a lot of fun. And I’m loving Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children books. The second one — Down Among the Sticks and Bones — is set in a Hammer Horror-style of portal world.

My favorite books range from Dracula to Ray Bradbury’s early story collections to Angela Carter’s fairy tales and Dion Fortune’s books on practical magic.

Sonora: Do you have any projects in the works you’d like to tell us about?

Loren: I’ve been putting out a series of chapbooks this year, an ebook collection of three short stories every other month. The chapbooks collect up my stories about Alondra DeCourval, a young witch who travels the world to fight monsters. The stories were originally published in books like Best New Horror #27 and The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One and Sins of the Sirens, as well as online in Wily Writers or in magazines like Not One of Us and New Realm. The third volume just came out in June.

I’m finishing up two novellas to round out the series. One is about a firestorm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which is an uncomfortable coincidence, since fire is raging near Yosemite right now [note: this interview was conducted in late July]. The final one is about the islands 25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, on the edge of the continental shelf, where the naturalists are vanishing. The ghosts are hungry.


You can find Loren Rhoads’ books on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2Aarezj or follow her at https://lorenrhoads.com.

Summer Reading: Memoirs and Whiskey

My manuscript for Without Condition is with Evelyn for editing. I’m writing a short story, doing a final revision on Wither, and outlining ideas for future projects as I wait to get the manuscript back. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading.

This summer, I’ve been most pleasantly surprised by memoirs. I like memoirs, so I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised about liking them; but I was surprised at how much I liked two in particular that I read recently.

The first is Educated by Tara Westover. Westover talks about growing up with her religious family in rural Idaho. She was home-schooled until the age of 17, when she enrolled at Brigham Young; then later went to graduate school to earn her PhD. While her school trajectory is remarkable, what’s most remarkable is that trajectory in the full context of her home life: her family were Mormon extremists, with a patriarch who was convinced that the end of the world was coming and that the government was coming for them.

Westover’s experiences were harrowing. However, she narrates almost every traumatic event with the same calm demeanor as she describes school, being in plays, and spending (less tumultuous) time with her family. I found this remarkable not only in how it still worked to convey horror, but added the extra layer of such horrors being a part of her every day, and thus, narrated as such. It also drives home the idea that it’s harder to talk of such horrors as horrific when they’re normalized by being a part of your family, the first connections you develop and, often, the ones that are hardest to break.

I found a similar narrative voice in another memoir: Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Khakpour reflects on her life leading up to her career as a writer, all in the context of Lyme disease and her struggles with chronic illness. Khakpour leaves nothing out when it comes to doctor’s visits, relapses, hospital stays, emergency room visits, prescriptions, homeopathy, and more. If you were exhausted reading that sentence, imagine what she herself has gone through and continues to go through every day. (Khakpour has a GoFundMe for her treatment, if you’d like to give)

Khakpour creates that connection to her illness with beautiful prose throughout. Sick is an elegant piece, one that weaves her experiences in and out of places she’s lived with ease. Just like Educated, it was hard to put down even with such difficult subject matter.

While memoirs have led the way in my favorite summer reads, I’m also reading a lot of good fiction. I recently finished Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith. It tells the story of a recently-widowed woman, her brother-in-law, and during the time he’s alive, her husband. The story weaves in and out of points in time, and the order in which it reveals key things about each character is exceptional. It’s not easy to do that well, and Cross-Smith does it almost perfectly.

The story itself is also melancholy and sweet, good for an August day in particular. I was immediately drawn into the narrative, and was sad to see it end. I plan to read it again to see how it feels knowing what lies ahead.

What have you been reading this summer?

Your First Idea

Every story is different, and every time I start a story, the process is a little different than it was before. As I write, though, I find that certain truths keep cropping up again and again. One I’ve been reflecting on lately is how you should almost never go with your first idea.

I’m not talking about the whole idea. Usually this first idea introduces characters, locations, a basic conflict, and once you set pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), a rough outline from beginning to end. It’s this first outline that, in my experience, should almost never be kept by the time you’re finished — especially the ending.

There’s the simple reason that stories evolve as they’re written. I often find that I have ideas for what my characters are like, and then they surprise me as I write them. They tell me more about themselves and how their stories will end. More often than not, I’ll be led in the right direction. Trust yourself as an author to know when the story is spiraling and when the story is falling into place. You’ll see it as a reader, just of your own work as opposed to others’ books.

Despite what movies like Stranger Than Fiction imply, though, writing isn’t all magic where the characters come to life and tell you everything you need to know. At the end of the day, you are the writer and you’re exerting control over your narrative. And I highly suggest using this control to steer yourself away from your first idea as you start to see new ideas popping up along the way.

I dwell on this because, more often than not, our first idea is based on something we’ve read before. It’s not necessarily something that’s clichéd (though it very well might be), and sometimes, something we’ve read before can work in a new narrative we’re crafting. But something we’ve read before is very likely something that someone else has read before too. There’s comfort in familiarity, but there’s more reward in being shocked. If you surprise yourself as you write, then chances are, your readers will be surprised too.

As an author, I find great satisfaction when I give a brief synopsis of a story, and someone guesses something entirely different from how it turns out. I get even more satisfaction when they guess my first idea — one that has since been changed. It tells me that they’ll likely experience the same journey I had while writing it, one that I hope is as satisfying for them as it was for me.

I would give examples from my work … but that would spoil the ending.


Another universal truth I’ve found with each story is having to contend with sloppy writing on the first draft. It gets a little better each time, but there are still times I’ll start a draft and end up with sentence fragments, clichéd metaphors, and crappy endings. Never finish with your first idea or your first draft!

A lot of readers for Please Give thought it would end differently — not the same as my first idea, but the same as my second idea and, ultimately, the idea I didn’t go with. See if the same happens to you: the book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Thanks for reading!

Summer Reading and Viewing: Sharp Objects

In between writing and reading, I’ve been watching TV. Most of my shows are off the air until next season. While there are a plethora of things to binge on Netflix, I’m old-fashioned and like watching a series in real time once a week. The only series I’m watching week-to-week right now is Sharp Objects.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
From IMDB.

I saw the preview for the adaptation, and read the book almost immediately after. I enjoyed Gone Girl (both the book and the movie), but hadn’t read anything else by Gillian Flynn since. I thought the book was great. Fast-paced, just dark enough, interesting, and with complex women at its center. Camille isn’t perfect but more importantly, she’s not the stereotype of the flawed heroine. It’s never too much, and it’s always believable. It speaks volumes about the story when the least interesting thing about this tale is who the killer is.

I was curious to see what HBO would do with the book. I think HBO produces a lot of what’s best on television right now. I was conflicted, though, on whether Sharp Objects would be better as a miniseries or a movie. The book is pretty short, and I couldn’t imagine drawing it out for eight hours.

Sharp Objects
Wind Gap might be the most depressing location I’ve encountered in fiction. From IMDB.

I’m three episodes in, and so far, it’s drawing things out at a reasonable pace. The biggest thing I’ve seen so far are more scenes with Det. Willis, namely without Camille. This makes sense and adds to the story, though I hope that future episodes will do the same for Adora. There are pieces of Adora’s past shared only in dialogue in the book, and if the television show isn’t constrained to the people Camille speaks to as she’s speaking to them, then Det. Willis shouldn’t be the only one reaping this benefit.

The show takes the “flash” in “flashback” seriously. It shows brief glimpses of Camille’s past in sudden jolts, similar to Leonard’s jogs of memory in Memento. Sometimes these glimpses are too brief — for instance, I had to tell my husband what it said on Camille’s arm at the end of the first episode — but for the most part, they are used effectively. The show also trusts its viewers to remember things from episodes past, while also repeating glimpses to let the viewer know that context is coming.

The book mostly moved in linear form. If something was remembered, it was remembered in full, right there on the spot. The show, however, breaks up the memories with the present, even when it shows more than a glimpse. This was used to great effect in the third episode, “Fix,” which shows Camille’s stay in a psychiatric facility and her roommate’s suicide during her stay. In episodes one and two, we only saw glimpses from this moment in time — the janitor with Drano, Camille and her roommate listening to music, etc. In episode three, we see more; albeit still broken up. I thought this was used to good effect overall, and a nice way to tell the story in a way unique to film. If Flynn had tried to do this in print, it would’ve been confusing. The show could’ve presented it in a linear form like the book did, but then why bother doing a film adaptation?

I believe in faithfulness to the text to an extent. I don’t think a film, TV, or stage adaptation should be exactly like the book because I already read the book, and if I want to experience the book exactly like it is, I’ll just read the book. I welcome differences, especially when it comes to how the medium conveys the story. Still, there are changes I am curious about. For instance, there is a scene in a slaughterhouse in episode three that is toned down drastically from the book, and in an adaptation that doesn’t seem to be holding back in terms of how raw it is. I’m curious why this change was made.

Overall, though, I’m enjoying Sharp Objects on HBO. Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson are running away with it, as they do in everything they star in; and Chris Messina is a surprise charm as Det. Willis. I plan to keep watching and engaging with this dark tale. I hope you’ll do the same.

Patricia Clarkson in Sharp Objects
Queen. From IMDB.

Sharp Objects airs at 9 p.m. ET on Sundays on HBO.

My Favorite Mistakes

This week, I began my readthrough of Without Condition. It’s my first time engaging with the text since I finished the first draft in June. It’s going well so far, with no glaring errors or passages where I think, “Jesus God, was I drunk when I wrote this?” or “Shut it down, I suck at writing, trying to be a writer is futile” (I prefer to think the latter on down days when I’m worrying about writing instead of actually writing).

I’m definitely seeing pieces that need to be fixed. I’m seeing other pieces I hope that Evelyn, my editor, will help me with. The most interesting pieces, though, are the fixes I need to make in every story I write — my favorite mistakes (OOO-oo!)

My favorite mistakes are the benign little errors that, while ones I or Evelyn catch when revising, are ones that always seem to come up in my first drafts. There are mistakes I’ve made that I make a conscious effort to not do again when I start my next story. But even with that effort, I still go back and see things I know have been noted as errors before. They’re almost comforting in an odd little way, especially since I’m familiar enough with them to see them as the mistakes they are and fix them.

One of my most common ones is to repeat a point in two or three different ways. I can almost see myself typing what came to me, typing another version, and then seeing which one stuck. Trouble was, I forgot to remove the ones that didn’t stick quite as well. It takes some time away to remember that I wrote something a few times over and need to pick the one that got it right (or if none got it right, to delete and try again).

The one that makes me laugh the most is my tendency to lapse into academic or formal writing, especially in narration. I’ll say a character cleansed instead of cleaned. A character who isn’t one for big words will say she humiliated someone instead of embarrassing them. Sometimes a formal word is nice, but usually, it glares up at me and seems so out of place, especially on a reread. I tend to get formal when I write, so it’s an easy mistake to make, and one that can be hard to remember to turn off for fiction writing. It does, however, give me a good chuckle when I’m reading and then stumble on a passage that could double as narration for a documentary.

I like being in a position to both laugh at my mistakes and to recognize them in ways where I don’t fear them. I am a perfectionist, and I tend to circle around revisions because I’m afraid of opening my drafts and being too overwhelmed with errors and rewrites. Seeing my mistakes as part of the process makes them less scary — and makes some of them true favorites of mine, like old friends saying hello. They’re friends that need to move on in final drafts, but it’s still a little comforting to see them.


Old drafts, like my favorite mistakes, can also seem like old friends; even if they simply serve to remind me how far a piece has come.

First drafts also have a tendency to all start the same, at least in their difficulty in coming together.

Still, the readthrough is an important step. Last summer, I was reading through Please Give and hoping for the best. The more things change, the more things remain the same.

Cover: Wither and Other Stories

This fall, I’ll be releasing another small collection of short stories called Wither and Other Stories. While I have some finishing touches to do on the collection itself, I’m thrilled to be able to share the cover with all of you:

Wither and Other Stories
Art by Doug Puller.

The cover features excellent artwork from my frequent collaborator and friend, Doug Puller. He is hard at work illustrating Volume 1 of Wretched Heroes, the graphic novel which I co-wrote with him; and I’m glad he had time to bring his talents to this collection.

The collection will be available in ebook and paperback form. Below is the full cover that will appear on the paperback, minus the description and author bio (two of the pieces that need finishing touches):

Wither and Other Stories
Art by Doug Puller

I anticipate publishing this collection in October, just in time for Halloween. It will feature four short stories: Wither, Nesting, Smoke Circles, and We Really Shouldn’t. It will also have the first chapter of my next book as a bonus. I can’t wait to share all of them with you this fall.

If you just can’t wait that long, I do have another collection of short stories available now: The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, available in ebook and paperback form. If you’ve already purchased or read it, I’d appreciate it if you left an honest review on Amazon — or, if you’d rather write a review on your own blog or website, please send me a link. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Finally, please add Wither and Other Stories to your shelves on Goodreads if you’d like to read it.

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

(Still miss you, Tom)

I finished the first draft of my second book a little over two weeks ago. I’m making myself wait to do my readthrough from beginning to end. It’s been pretty hard. I haven’t felt huge urges to write, but I find myself daydreaming about the story and thinking about whether or not certain passages work. Normal, but I also want a month of a clean break, so I can return to it with the freshest eyes possible.

In the interim, I’ve been occupying myself with other projects. Proving that time is a flat circle, I’m revising the short story that I first wrote during my interim period between drafting and revising Please Give.

I received Wither back from my editor earlier this winter, but left it alone while I worked on Without Condition. I’ve been using the waiting period to go through the revisions a little at a time. The story originally started with a broken timeline, divided by stanzas of a poem and the occasional asterisk. The universal feedback I received, from my editor to my writers group, was that this was confusing as all hell. They liked the plot and saw the story’s potential, but no one knew what was happening or when.

This is why it’s so important to not only get feedback before you publish or submit, but a wide range of feedback. If everyone’s saying the same thing, then it’s a thing that needs to be fixed. So, I’m fixing it — and I’m really pleased with how the story is coming together now. It still amazes me how a story can change for the better with even the smallest of fixes, like a reordered paragraph.

In addition to revising Wither, I’ve been keeping the pump primed by casually writing a new story. I haven’t decided if it will be a short story or a novel, or even if I’ll continue working on it after I’ve sent Without Condition to my editor. It’s a story that crept up on me after a dream I had, one that asked for my attention in place of the short story prompts I’d set aside for this resting period (sorry, other stories — soon, I promise). I’ll see where it takes me. For now, it’s begun where my past two novels began to take shape: when my protagonist meets a man. The working title is Someone to Share My Nightmares.

I’ll be picking up Without Condition in two weeks. Until then, I’ll be waiting — and with a couple new projects under my belt, maybe it won’t be so hard after all.


Last year, I was a little less patient during my waiting period between drafting and revising Please Give. I developed the 5 Stages of Feelings about being done with one’s draft. This mostly still applies, even if I’m calmer about it.

I first mentioned Wither in May of 2017. I also mention We Really Shouldn’t for the first time. Both stories, along with two flash pieces, will be in my next short story collection, Wither and Other Stories.

I also had quite a few coals in the fire around this time last summer. The novel-in-progress I mention there is tabled, and will likely remain that way. There may be life yet, though, for Gods into Demons, even though I haven’t worked on that in months.