Ask the Author: A Q&A with Jessica Guess

Jessica Guess
Jessica Guess

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 5th Halloween 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.

Sonora: Tell us about your blog, Black Girl’s Guide to Horror. When did you start it? What’s been your experience with it since the launch?

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.

Bio:

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.

WIHM Interview: Hailey Piper

Hailey Piper
Hailey Piper

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.


Check out previous WIHM interviews:

 

WIHM Interview: V. Castro

V. Castro
V. Castro

My Women in Horror Month interview series continues with a conversation with author V. Castro! Read on to hear more from this wonderful writer.


Sonora: How long have you been writing?

V: I have been writing since I was a kid, but I didn’t seriously begin to consider publishing until three years ago. I always thought it would be unavailable to someone like me.

Sonora: You made a welcome splash into the vampire genre with Maria the Wanted and the Legacy of the Keepers. Tell us about this book. What inspired the story? What was it like writing it? Publishing it?

V: Maria works in a maquiladora in Juarez, Mexico to earn enough money to pay a coyote to cross the border. During one of her shifts, she and her co-workers are attacked by vampires. This is the beginning of her journey to becoming a dark enforcer of justice that even Lucifer cannot resist.

This story was inspired by a dream, but it wasn’t about Maria. She emerged while I wrote what is now book 2 of the series. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and what she stood for.

Sonora: When will we see Maria’s next adventure?

V: I have written parts of the sequels already. My hope is to find a publisher to take on the series because it is a pretty big project. I envision at least 2-3 more books.

Sonora: You also wrote another vampire tale, The Erotic Modern Life of Malinalli the Vampire. As the title suggests, it’s very sexy. What draws you to writing erotica?

V: I just love sex. That might sound crass, but it is true. Writing about it is an escape that I find exciting. I have lived a pretty colorful life so some of those experiences make their way onto the page.

Sonora: Sex in horror is interesting. I often find that horror stories treat sex as something that should be shocking, violent, and/or a means of punishment; so it’s refreshing when I see an honest-to-God, sexy, consensual sex scene in a horror novel. What are your experiences reading sex in horror? Is there anything you would suggest authors do to improve the state of sex in horror?

V: I think you hit the nail on the head. We should have normal sex in horror because humans have good consensual sex all the time. Women are not just toys to be degraded for the sake of a plot. If it is part of a back story, handled with respect or if it is written by a survivor, I can understand.

If authors want to improve sex in horror, I suggest they write it in a way they might enjoy it.

Sonora: Tell us about your next novella, Hairspray and Switchblades (out February 22). I can’t wait to read it!

V: Maya is a dancer at a gentleman’s club, but she is also a jaguar shifter. After her parents are murdered, her options are limited  that will allow her to retain custody of her younger sister Magdalena and pay for her education. But there is a predator on the loose and it wants their hide.

Sonora: You’ve also written several short stories, which have appeared in different anthologies. How is the experience of writing a short story different for you than a novel? A novella?

V: In some ways it is more difficult because you have a finite space to create a rich world and developed characters. I love writing short stories because where else can I pursue all my crazy ideas!

I also find that a novel can feel like a slog because 65k and over is a lot of words. Then you have the editing that consumes significant time and energy. When I need a break, short stories help me to break up the monotony of bigger projects.

Sonora: What have been your experiences as a Latinx author? As a woman author?

V: In horror there are so very few Latinx authors and it is discouraging when you only see white men getting all the fanfare in horror. However, the indie horror community has been great to me as a Latina and a woman. With that said, I truly believe you get what you give. Supporting others is important to me.

Sonora: What can the genre do to improve representation of diverse voices? What can the industry do?

V: The industry is off to a good start by stating in their submission calls that they want to see diversity in the author pool. It is not enough for just asking white authors to write diverse stories. Those stories need to come from us.

Editors need to look at their anthologies and try to include stories by authors from marginalized groups.

Reading diversely and reviewing those books goes a long way because word of mouth is crucial.

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

V: Honestly, the indie horror scene is really hot as it becomes more inclusive and women are killing it. I can’t just name a few! Everyone on the hustle deserves a nod.

One book I read last year that has continually inspired me is a non-fiction book by fellow Mexican American author David Bowles. Feathered Serpent Dark Heart of Sky is a book of all the myths of Mexico. It is so lush, and I love it.

Sonora: What are you working on right now?

V: So many things! Working hard on making Latinx Screams the best it can be. I’m curating a Latinx dark fiction book bundle for StoryBundle.


About V. Castro:

V.Castro is a Mexican American writer from San Antonio, Texas, now residing in the UK.

As a full-time mother, she dedicates her time to her family and writing Latinx narratives.

Currently she is co-editing Latinx Screams with Bronzeville Books due out in the fall.

Her titles include:

Maria The Wanted and the Legacy of The Keepers

The Erotic Modern Life of Malinalli the Vampire

Rigor Morbid: Lest Ye Become — “The Latin Queens of Mictlan”

Hairspray and Switchblades — Feb 2020 (Unnerving)

Violet is a reviewer for www.scifiandscary.com  and Latin Horror. She has contributed to Ladies of Horror Fiction, Ginger Nuts of Horror, OctoberPod Podcast, and Burial Ground.

Connect with V via Instagram and Twitter: @vlatinalondon; or www.vvcastro.com


Check out previous WIHM 2020 interviews:

WIHM Interview: Sara Tantlinger

Sara Tantlinger.
Sara Tantlinger.

My Women in Horror Month interview series continues today with an interview with award-winning author Sara Tantlinger! Read on to learn more about this amazing writer and poet.


Sonora: How long have you been writing poetry? Has your poetry always been infused with horror? When did your verses start to gain a sinister or macabre twist?

Sara: I started writing some very angst-filled poetry back in middle school. It was definitely a way for me to cope with the grief I was feeling at that time to try and deal with the sudden loss of my dad. I am not one to talk about my feelings and inner turmoil a lot, so turning to notebooks and writing became my therapy. I think over the years, poetry has become the most organic way for me to deal with extreme emotions like that. It’s a pure and unfiltered way to write whether the poetry is real or fictional, rage-filled or blooming with love.

Like many others, I started reading Poe in school, which of course inspired me to look more into dark poetry. I began writing horror during college when I was an undergraduate. I took an independent study in horror poetry specifically, and my first few poems were published in my university’s literary magazine. From there, the poems have only grown in their darkness!

The Devil's Dreamland
The Devil’s Dreamland

Sonora: Tell us about your Stoker-award winning collection, The Devil’s Dreamland. What inspired you to write H.H. Holmes’ story as a series of poems?

Sara: Happily! If anyone reading is not familiar, The Devil’s Dreamland is a collection of poetry that uses a narrative arc format to tell the story of serial killer H.H. Holmes. The poems are often from his point of view but are also told through the viewpoints of his wives, his victims, the city of Chicago, the 1893 World’s Fair, and more. While the book is heavily based off the research I did, it is of course embedded with my fictionalized version of how I imagined things to transpire.

I never imagined that collection would go on to do everything it has, so I am completely honored and thankful to every single person who has read and supported the book. It continues to mean the world. When I started researching Holmes, I came across a lot of books (historical and fictional) about Holmes or inspired by him, and I knew I wanted to try and do something different. I did not find any poetry about him except an odd one here or there, and I also did not see many women writing about him, so it seemed like a great chance to craft a story in the form of poetry. My hope was that it would attract people who normally do not read a ton of poetry, and from the feedback I have received, that seems to have worked for a few folks! Being able to slightly open the gateway to show others how amazing horror poetry can be has honestly been the greatest reward of writing The Devil’s Dreamland.

Sonora: Do you have a favorite poem in The Devil’s Dreamland? I know it’s like asking to pick your favorite child, but if you had to choose …

Sara: Ha! Oh wow, that is tough. Okay, if I had to choose…there is one toward the end titled “Three Wives Dressed in Black.” The reason it stands out to me is because while I was researching and writing this collection, I tried to remain very cognizant of the fact that real humans suffered at the hands of this man. Women lost their lives. While Holmes did not, however, kill any of his three “wives” (quotations because he was only legally married to one of the women) — this poem was a small chance to kind of give the women a strong voice toward the end of the book. There are other pieces where I wrote from the women’s viewpoints because I wanted them to feel tangible to readers, and “Three Wives Dressed in Black” shows the women uniting to curse Holmes and all he has done. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

“how he tried to keep wives
hidden from one another
like butterflies inside of jars,
but they’ve broken out
shattered the glass
painted themselves in death’s
blood, black veils across
each face, praying
for the mistresses and others
massacred by this madman.

Mourn not for us,
they whisper again
casting the face of each victim
deeper into his mind as the worms
roll loose, melding with his brain
matter, eating through clusters
of nerves, extracting the closest,
botched thing to guilt
they can find”

Sonora: You also write prose fiction. Do you prefer one or the other between poetry and prose? What inspires you to turn an idea into one or the other?

Sara: I really love both, but it takes me a lot longer to plan, draft, organize, and revise a prose project than it does with poetry, but I am aiming to get better at that! Sometimes a poem will inspire a short story, or when I need help getting deeper into a character’s head, I’ll write poetry through their point of view.

To Be Devoured.
To Be Devoured.

Sonora: Your novella, To Be Devoured, follows a woman whose disgusting obsession comes out of her in a multitude of shocking ways. It’s written from her perspective. What was it like putting yourself into such a mindset for the duration of writing it?

Sara: To Be Devoured was my main project that followed The Devil’s Dreamland, so maybe that mindset transpired between projects. By “mindset” I mean locking myself down into a psychopath’s possible thoughts, goals, and desires as closely as I could. For To Be Devoured, specifically, it was one of those glorious moments where a story and a character completely invade your waking hours and demand to be written.

It was certainly interesting to ask myself what Andi, the protagonist, would do in the situations she is in … I really tried to brainstorm what would be logical for someone thinking like she did (obsessed with carrion and understanding the secrets the vultures must be hiding), and while some scenes may have seemed extreme to readers, it was what made sense for Andi’s character and I didn’t want to censor any of that back, no matter how horrifying it was to write.

Sonora: Poetry can sometimes be daunting to people who otherwise love to read. What would you say to someone who wants to read and appreciate more poetry, but isn’t sure where to start? What would you say to that same person if they wanted to write more poetry?

Sara: I believe there is poetry out there for everyone, even the skeptics. Poetry is amazing because you can find poems on almost any topic. For anyone who struggles reading poetry, I might advise to start with some spoken word poetry or watch slam poetry readings — this is a great way to find new voices in poetry, and if you like listening to these types of readings, then you might enjoy reading more from those writers.

For anyone who wants to write poetry but is not sure where to start, I think my advice would be the same to any new writer out there: read. Read as much as you can. Read the classics and read contemporary. Read the poems aloud to yourself and get to know how your words interact on the page. You do not have to study formal poetry to be a strong poet, but I do think having a working knowledge of the basics is a great stepping stone to finding out what works for you as a creator.

Sonora: What have been your experiences in horror as a woman author? In poetry as a woman poet?

Sara: I feel lucky that 98% of the time I have had positive experiences within the horror community. I am very aware that is not the case for every woman or minority in the genre. I try really hard to surround myself with encouraging, honest, and supportive people so that makes a huge difference, but sometimes you never know what someone’s motive could be. I am humbled and lucky by the positivity I have experienced, so I do my best to continually pay that forward however I can.

Sonora: How can the literary fields you’ve worked in and read stories in be better about their treatment of women?

Sara: When posting guidelines and open calls, take an extra minute to write something like “minorities encouraged to submit” — it’s a small line that does not exclude anyone from submitting, but also shows writers that diversity is welcome here. We need diverse voices in all forms of literature and genre work.

I’d also encourage anyone writing in a different voice than their own, to use beta readers and sensitivity readers with those experiences. For example, I have no problem with a male author writing from the perspective of a woman character, but ask women to read your work and get honest feedback.

Not All Monsters
Not All Monsters

Sonora: Who are some of your favorite poets? What are some of your favorite poems? What are some of your favorite poetry collections?

Sara: In regard to classic favorites, I draw a lot of inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe, William Blake, and Sylvia Plath. Some of my favorites in contemporary poetry are Linda Addison, Sierra DeMulder, Richard Siken, Claire C. Holland, Donna Lynch, David Cowen, Christina Sng, and so many more! There are really a lot of amazing poets out there right now.

One of my favorite collections I read recently was The Demeter Diaries by Marge Simon and Bryan Dietrich. What a stunning piece of work.

Two of my all-time favorite poems are Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night” and T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” — I have lines from both poems tattooed on me!

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

Sara: Some of my favorite contemporary writers are Catherynne Valente, Clive Barker, Gillian Flynn, Caroline Kepnes, Gwendolyn Kiste, Sarah Read, Nicholas Day, Christa Carmen, Thomas Harris, Mike Arnzen, Hailey Piper, Brooke Warra, and Paul Tremblay, and about a million more folks I’m sorry I didn’t shout out here (I could go on forever).

Some of my all-time favorite books are Valente’s Deathless, [Bram] Stoker’s Dracula, and [Stephen] King’s Misery.

Sonora: What are you working on right now?

Sara: Currently I am working on Cradleland of Parasites, my next poetry collection that will be out later this year from Strangehouse Books. It draws a lot of inspiration from the Black Death, but I’ve been researching other plagues, viruses, and diseases as well. My internet search history kind of looks like I’m trying to create a virus to wipe out humanity at the moment. But I really love historical horror, and this project has been a huge learning experience about how the Black Death irrevocably affected society, culture, art, literature, and more after it brought down such great tragedy.

I have a few other projects in the oven, including a novella I am co-writing with Matt Corley, which will become a part of his Whispers in the Dark series of investigative RPG horror. It’s such a different kind of project for me to be involved in, and I am thrilled about its potential.

And of course I have to promote that my first edited anthology, Not All Monsters, will be out in the fall from Strangehouse Books and features stories by 21 incredible women in horror!


About Sara Tantlinger:

Sara Tantlinger is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA. Her other books include Love for Slaughter and To Be Devoured. Her poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several magazines and anthologies, including The Twisted Book of Shadows, Sunlight Press, Unnerving, and Abyss & Apex. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com


Check out previous WIHM 2020 interviews:

WIHM Interview: Robyn Citzen

Robyn Citizen.
Robyn Citizen.

February is Women in Horror Month. Every Tuesday this month, I’ll be featuring an interview with an excellent woman in horror!

Today, I’m featuring Robyn Citizen. Robyn works with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and has her PhD in Genre and Race Film Studies; with a special interest in horror and sci-fi. Read on to learn more about this amazing woman and the work she’s done in film and film study.


Sonora: You have your PhD in Genre and Race Film Studies (which sounds amazing). When did you first become interested in film as art? As commentary? As academic study?

Robyn: I became interested in film very young because I come from a family of movie watchers. My dad — history buff — in particular liked to watch older films and go on about the history around their release and how they were received. So I knew who Hitchcock was at an early age and since I was born liking horror and scary things, he was the filmmaker who stuck with me as I watched movies with my parents.

I’ve always had both an analytical and fan approach to films and wrote movie reviews for my high school newspaper, but was a Government major in university because I didn’t know that you could make a living in film outside of film production (turns out you can’t for the most part lol). I worked for a social justice nonprofit after graduating and hemmed and hawed between going to law school or grad school for film. When I got into NYU for Cinema Studies that made my decision for me! I earned my PhD with honours in 2015.

Sonora: As a fellow film studies student, I’m curious about your thoughts on the current state of film academia. What’s lacking in an average film studies program? What do these programs do well?

Robyn: At NYU I always thought it was weird how separate they kept film studies from film production. I wanted to take editing classes and it was discouraged. I had to get internships at production companies and talent agencies to apply what I was learning to the day-to-day workings of the industry. Also, depending on the film studies program they don’t concentrate enough on professionalization and what you can do outside of academia because there are not enough professor positions to justify the number of people with humanities postgrad degrees, unfortunately; so we have to find other places to go! What academia does well is allow you to really specialize and do a deeper dive into your niche of choice. Who else would let me write at length about representations of blackness in japanese cinema?

Sonora: What is a dream course you would teach? Conversely, what have been some of your favorite courses that you have taught? 

Robyn: Asian Horror Cinema was my baby, I proposed it to the Department of Asian Studies at UBC [University of British Columbia] and they approved it. I built the curriculum and screening list on my own. It was my favorite class to teach as a horror fan and as someone who is mainly interested in transnational, cross-cultural encounters in film, but Korean Cinema was a close second. I taught that latter course for the better part of five years so I am beyond thrilled to see what’s happening for Bong Joon-ho since I would teach Memories of Murder in every semester of Korean cinema and gush about how it was a perfect film and how he was The Korean Director of his generation.

Sonora: You say you have a penchant for erotic thrillers from the ‘90s. What do you love about them? What are some of your favorites?

Robyn: And the 80s! Erotic thrillers genuinely have interesting roles for women — not positive roles necessarily but complex, interesting, powerful. They tend to directly confront how sexuality for women is punished or transactional in this society in a way that most rom-coms only address obliquely or accidentally. This definitely has roots in my affection for Lifetime movies and the woman-in-peril TV movie genre which I grew up watching on cable. Also, these films are totally over the top which makes the woman’s punishment seem less egregious somehow because its already bracketed by the unreality of the film. The histrionics draw attention to the films’ own problematic characterizations and plot twists.

I remember seeing Jagged Edge AND Fatal Attraction in the theatre with my parents — I was 5 and 7, so not my parents best parenting choices for sure; but they had a big effect on me. And of course Jeff Bridges is the seducer in Jagged Edge while Glenn Close is the slow-on-the-uptake dupe so that gender flip was very productive for me when I rewatched the film as a tween. I also love The Last Seduction and Basic Instinct as the peak quality works of the subgenre, and Body of Evidence and Sliver as truly dumber, yet hilarious examples of the subgenre.

Sonora: How long have you been interested in horror films? 

Robyn: My whole life! But horror literature came first for me. I’m hyperlexic and was reading at 2, then onto dark fairy tales, then Fear Street and Christopher Pike books, then Stephen King books by 9. One year later I watched Nightmare on Elm Street 3 at a sleepover and it utterly blew. my. mind. I was an anxious kid and still an anxious person and somehow horror’s worst case scenarios are therapeutic for me to watch. It’s a safe space to play out what I would do if the Worst Case came to pass.

Also, Stephen King in particular resonated with me as a black girl growing up in the U.S. because his stories are all about familiar, even friendly things — cars, dogs, drains, cameras, libraries — becoming menacing. It may sound funny because he’s not known for his balanced crafting of characters of colour in The Green Mile and The Shining for example. However, the experience of being a racialized person in Texas was one of doing regular things throughout your day, but being constantly confronted by micro and macro-aggressions as you move through the world. I’d be around people and friends I thought I was cool with and suddenly someone would tell a racist joke or ask a crazy question or I’d be singled out to be followed in a store — people having such a strong reaction to you simply existing in a certain body is a surreal, often horrific and violent experience.

Sonora: Recent films like Get Out and Us have opened up new conversations about Black horror films, but Black horror has been around for much longer than 2017. What are your thoughts on the way Black people and their experiences are treated in horror films? What do you think is done well? What do you think could be done better?

Robyn: I think black characters are not treated as badly in horror films in terms of the popular discourse about us always dying first. However, it’s more relational about how we die and then how are those deaths treated in the text of the film? Do the other characters just move on without registering it or is the death solely to advance the plot? Is it much more gory and focused on facial suffering and abject fear than other deaths? That’s the real issue for me and something that overlaps with non-final girl white women characters in horror films. Horror tells us a lot about who is valued in our culture and what traits are valued in our culture, what is worthy of protection and what is disposable.

Generally, horror films don’t deal directly with black experiences, rather those experiences are allegorized and mapped onto the monsters — the things that make them monstrous and their outsider quality are the traits that racist culture has historically associated with blackness.  Get Out is not the first horror film to use black experiences but it is one of the first mainstream horror films to be so explicit about depicting whiteness — the historical construct and how it is practiced — as something monstrous.

Sonora: You also study Asian cult cinema. What are some of your favorites? How do Asian cult films compare to American cult films? In your experience, how do audience reactions to both compare?

Robyn: Some of my fave Asian cult films are Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter, and Mystics in Bali. It’s hard to say how Asian cult films as a group compares to American cult films because there is such a wide range of what constitutes “cult”. But in my experience sexploitation and sexual violence seems to feature in more Asian cult films (and European ones) than American cult which are often given that designation for transgressive gore, body horror, and cheesiness or kitschy elements related to production value and ironic reception.

Sonora: What have been your experiences as a Black cinema studies professor and doctoral student? What have been your experiences as a woman?

Robyn: I was the only black student in my M.A. and PhD program and while I made some friends in those programs and there was one black tenured prof who was great, it was a very lonely experience. Particularly challenging is when you choose a dissertation topic that is partially based on your identity and only one other person in the program is well-versed in that literature.

My proposal process was a mess. I had to frontload it with all this literature review and arguments that black-Japanese cinematic encounters were an actual thing, and something that could be traced and studied because there weren’t any book-length texts on black-Japanese cinematic encounters in the film studies canon. I incorporated a lot of sociological information and political history in my project and there was resistance to that as well. The professor leading the proposal seminar chose to tell me that my proposal likely would not pass two weeks before it was due. I ended up rewriting everything 3 times before the proposal defense, which I passed.

I really wish that me and the other women in my cohort had been more of a unified group but it was very “every scholar for him or herself” and people were more concerned with networking. The offshoot of this emotionally and professionally alienating experience was that I worked very hard to perfect my dissertation and therefore, my defense was very relaxed and short. My committee mostly spent time complimenting my prose and my project — I couldn’t believe it because it had been such a torturous process! —  before telling me that I passed with distinction.

My grad school experience had a good outcome on paper but was also quite traumatic, and I struggle with imposter syndrome and serious anxiety around writing that did not exist prior to grad school, to this day. My advice to other women of color and white women is to find your people as soon as you can and form writing support groups or even ‘whine and wine venting sessions’ (these exist apparently!) and yes, zero in on mentors that can help you professionalize and understand how your racial, gender identities will affect your career trajectory. Friends that have done these things have come out of their M.A. and PhD programs in a much better place and even find tenure-track appointments faster.

Sonora: What are some of your favorite movies? Who are some of your favorite directors?

Robyn: I have a rotating list of fave movies but the ones that have been most influential to me are: Sex, Lies and Videotape by [Steven] Soderbergh, Blue by Krzysztof Kieslowski, and She’s Gotta Have It by Spike Lee. Probably add Nightmare on Elm Street 3 to that!

Right now my favorite directors are Masaki Kobayashi, Hong Song-soo, Bong Joon-ho, Agnes Varda, Charles Burnett, Mary Harron, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Byun Young-joo, David Cronenberg, and I’m very excited to see more from Nia DeCosta and Carol Nguyen.

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

Robyn: I was in a real Stephen King and Haruki Murakami rut for years because I prefer short stories and horror/weird fiction, both of which can be really bad in the wrong hands; so it was easier to stick to the people who I know do it well. Short stories are a more precise medium in my opinion. But, I became increasingly annoyed with Murakami’s portrayal of women in his later works so I had to branch out. Finally, this year I’ve discovered other writers! I’ve been enjoying Tananarive Due, Eden Royce, Carmen Maria Machado, Charles Yu, Nnedi Okorofor, Ted Chiang, Octavia Butler, Ramsey Campbell, and others. These aren’t new writers but they’re new to me!

Sonora: If you were in charge of making a movie — your perfect movie — what would it be about? What would its style be?  

Robyn: Even though I’m a genre person when I write creatively what comes out are these chamberplay type dramas with surreal elements. It would probably look like a cross between a Hong Sang-soo film, [Ousmane] Sembene’s Black Girl and The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant – very precise framing and blocking.


About Robyn Citizen:

Robyn Citizen, PhD is the International Programmer for Short Cuts at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Her primary programming interests are in representations of race, ethnicity and national identity and the horror/science-fiction genres. She was a lecturer in the departments of Asian Studies and Theatre and Film at the University of British Columbia from 2012-2017, has written critical analyses for edited collections, is board co-chair of Breakthroughs Film Festival, and served on juries for the Philadelphia Film Festival, Reelworld Film Festival, and the Norwegian Short Film Festival.

Read her forthcoming book chapter on Get Out: https://ohiostatepress.org/books/titles/9780814214275.html

Read her just-released chapter on Asian Cult cinema: https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-Companion-to-Cult-Cinema-1st-Edition/Mathijs-Sexton/p/book/9781138950276

Ask the Author: A Q&A with Steve Stred

steve stred
Steve Stred.

I first met author Steve Stred last year, when we followed each other after liking each other’s replies on a friend’s Twitter thread. He offered me an advance copy of of his early 2019 short story collection, The Girl Who Hid in the Trees, in exchange for an honest review. I was immediately struck by how visceral his storytelling was, and how much it scared me. I don’t scare easily in print form, so when I read a story that truly creeped me out, I knew I’d read something special.

I felt the same way when I read an advance copy of The Stranger, Stred’s upcoming release (out June 1, but available for pre-order now). I asked Stred if he’d like to have a virtual chat with me about his writing, and he was kind enough to do so. Read on for why forests are a draw for dark tales, what separates Canadian horror from American horror, and thoughts on triggers and sensitivity in the genre.


Sonora: When did you first start writing? Tell us about your early work versus your more recent pieces. Have there been any major changes? What’s stayed the same?

Steve: I started out writing some short fiction and poetry in high school — so about 20 years ago. Back then it was more of a passing thing. I loved it but I had no real direction and it was more about me following a desire to write.

Fast forward and in 2010 I really got the bug and started to develop my first novel Invisible. I had the basic premise and the ending really locked in place but through a series of events it kept getting delayed and delayed. I kept working on it and really finished it up in 2016.

At that time I found a passion to write and release stuff. So I worked on my first short story “For Balder Walks,” then developed a few more — “The Fence,” “Time Out Noose” and “Edge of the Woods.” Then as life progressed I wrote “Jim and Mr. Tross.” I got to the point where I submitted and contacted different folks and got some great advice.

Now the biggest change, I think at least when I look back is the ability to edit myself, but also have the story flow easily. Working with David Sodergren so much has helped me beyond anything, really. He is ruthless with line/copy editing, so I figure if I can give him less work on his end, I’m being more efficient and a more effective writer.

Sonora: Do you gravitate more towards long or short fiction? Do you know when you sit down to write how long a piece will be?

Steve: It’s an interesting question — because I’ve come to a cross roads with my work. I think it’s more of an enlightenment, truthfully. I’ve had one long read (Invisible) and my second comes out June 1st (The Stranger). I have one more novel planned this year (Piece of Me) which is completely written but I need to go through it one more time, then send off to Sodergren and fix what he finds wrong. But going forward everything will be novella length or collections. It’s just how my writing mind works. I can’t describe it other than thinking about writing a novella makes me happy, whereas trying to force a full length does not.

Sonora: You also wrote a collection of poetry, having been inspired by Erin Al-Mehairi’s Breathe. Breathe. Tell us about that. What was it like writing poetry versus prose?

Steve: Yes! God, I was a pretentious snob before reading that, haha! Erin has been so helpful and always supportive and I really, really like to support those who support me. In this case though, I believe she sent me a copy as a birthday gift! When I read it I was blown away. She just has this gift of absolutely decimating your mind with the way her words jump off the page. I would read a poem and I felt like I’d read a novel. The imagery she created was incredible.

I don’t think I can ever match what she did, not by a long shot, but it kicked me in the butt and made me step back and look at my previous history with writing poetry as well as the joy and impact it’d had on my life. So I gave it a shot!

It was a weird process to go back to writing poetry. I don’t think I have a very large vocabulary so I really had to push myself to not sound like a 75 year old, white male rapper who used the same word to rhyme over and over again, haha! I also worked hard to tell a story without telling a story but implying a story and it was tough. Erin’s collection is a must read.

I wrote Dim the Sun with the goal to also help raise some funds for my buddy Rob Derman, who is an amateur athlete. Right now, while writing this, I’m not sure what his future holds as the sport of Skeleton in Canada is going through a shakeup, with the closing of one of the training tracks.

the stranger by steve stred
The Stranger.

Sonora: Your latest release, The Stranger, is a summer vacation tale with several haunting twists. Tell us what went into writing it.

Steve: Well, surprise twist — I like to write stories set in the woods! I think a big part of my constant theme with Mother Nature, more specifically the woods, is from where I grew up and how much time I spent in the forest and in the mountains. I love the mountains, but I’m also scared to death of them. Too many things lurk that you can’t see. When I go there, I’m in their home. They have the advantage and that scares me.

I wrote it after being inspired on a camping trip and spotted a unique looking smudge mark or burn mark on the cement bin around the camp fire. Coupled with the sights from far above on some plane flights and I just let my imagination go where it wanted!

Sonora: A major theme in The Stranger is the monstrosity of racism. What was it like writing this story? How was it inspired by the current political climate? How was it inspired by your own experiences?

Steve: Oh lord, haha! You write something and then you don’t want to talk about it! For those unaware, I grew up in Canada, in a very small town in BC, which is the farthest west province in our country. My father was from northern BC, my mother from the town I grew up in. There’s a generational thing that casual racism seems to occur and I found that it would pop up time and time again. I don’t believe some of my relatives are straight forward racists but these little comments you’d hear at family gatherings, whether in jokes or whatever just kept getting too me. Even when I was young. In the afterword I mention how I overheard a joke that was very poor and crude and repeated in front of my mom. She was livid.

I just felt I needed to write this book but also early on, by having a Native American creation type tale involved, which I don’t think is a spoiler at all to say that, I needed to tell a bit of the other side of it. The privileged aspect I guess. I really struggled with writing it. I also typically don’t swear a lot in my writing. I did in The Girl Who Hid in the Trees and it just felt odd haha! So I worked really hard to show disdain for a specific group of people but not go the Tarantino route of expletive after expletive.

Our political climate is usually very different from the US stuff, but funnily enough, we had a guy come onboard to run for Premiere of our province who follows a very similar path as the current sitting President down south. Unfortunately he won our election so now we kind of have to hold our breath and wait and see the damage he wants to bring in.

Sonora: In writing about racism as a white, straight, cis-man, you talk about the how and why of what you wanted to accomplish in both the foreword and afterword. This isn’t something I see a lot from other authors, and it was nice to see in your piece. Do you think more authors, especially authors from privileged demographics, should talk about this when they write similar stories?

Steve: I had to write the foreword and afterword. I wanted it there as a warning for readers. In the afterword I did say that with the story coming from me (from my perspective at least) people may just take it with a grain of salt. I hope they don’t, but they might. I myself have no triggers, but that’s me. I usually write dark horror and I didn’t want to surprise anyone who snagged this and who maybe loved Wagon Buddy or YURI and then started reading and had to stop because they weren’t expecting the subject matter. So I wanted to write the foreword to let folks know that there was some difficult themes ahead. I have a whole environmental/human footprint narrative in the story as well, but at the end of the day if someone writes me a 1 star review and says “this guy sucks he wanted me to think about how much garbage I create or I need to recycle,” I’ll smile, because I don’t think you’ll see that. But the racism/bigotry stuff is a tough, tough area and I wanted to make sure I was upfront with it and to make sure people wouldn’t go into the story oblivious to what was about to happen.

The afterword I also felt I needed to do. I just wanted to lay things out there so people knew how I felt and it may sound a bit cowardly, but I wanted to protect myself and let people know I’m no Malcolm (main character in The Stranger). I mention it in the afterword but Kealan Patrick Burke gave me some great advice and I took it to heart. I knew this was a story I needed to write but I knew it was a story that I might have to defend myself about writing a bit and that’s fine, but I wanted to make sure people knew my intentions were genuine and my hope for what readers took from it was purposeful.

As for others doing it — I think it would be fantastic to see it when the subject matter suggests we should. If it’s a creature feature that’s just gore and death, well, I think we know it was written with some fun behind the scenes!

As I side note — I wish more authors would write an afterword. I absolutely love reading about where they got the inspiration for the story. Even if it’s something as mundane as ‘I was playing with my son in his sandbox’ (which was where I got the inspiration for one of my upcoming 2020 releases FYI), I want to read about it!

Sonora: You also hired a sensitivity reader for The Stranger. I’ve seen a lot of arguments for and against sensitivity readers from many different voices. Have you worked with a sensitivity reader before? Do you think hiring sensitivity readers should be common practice?

Steve: Oh man, the sensitive reader thing shows just how out of touch with a lot of things I am! I honestly didn’t know that was a thing, haha! I had written most of the story and messaged KPB. He mentioned I should get a sensitive reader and make sure what I had written was in line and not offside. So I put out a call on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I had two people contact me and I was just not sure. I received a message from J.H. Moncrieff who’s been super helpful as well with my writing and she said that I’d need a sensitive reader and that typically they can be very tough. Then I was contacted by Cassandra [Chaput] and we hit it off. I told her upfront — if I’ve done things wrong, tell me. Please don’t be worried about my feelings and if I’ve done it poorly I’d scrap a bunch of it and start again. And she was fantastic. She gave great feedback and really made all of the negatives she’d found as positives and constructive. Couldn’t have asked for a better beta-reader, let alone a sensitive reader. So my first experience was a good one!

As for others using it — I think it’d be an ideal practice if the story needed it. As an example (purely made up here) but if a story had a significant story line involving sexual assault, I’d think it’d be prudent to maybe find a sensitive reader who works in the care side of that world to help make sure things are written correctly but also in a manner that doesn’t detract from the story.

Sonora: Some readers and writers argue that sensitivity readers (and, related, trigger warnings) are especially unnecessary for horror, as the idea of horror is to disturb you. What is your response to those individuals? And, as someone who wrote a horror story (and in my opinion, a damn good one) and hired a sensitivity reader, what would you share about that experience in terms of how it affected your writing?

Steve: Thank you! That’s a tough question. I think trigger warnings are a good thing, but I personally don’t need them. I hope that doesn’t sound insensitive! Everyone reads things differently and everyone comes from very different backgrounds and what may affect one person may not another. For me, I think if the story contained a lot of animal abuse/deaths and/or infant/toddler abuse/deaths, I’d want to know going in. If it was a specific part of the story and was a key aspect, I’d be fine with it, even though I’d cringe a bunch, but if anything is written specifically for gratuitous reasons or shock value, I’m not on board. I also understand the argument — horror is written to horrify us, to make us pull up our feet and turn on the lights. There’s a difference between being scared and being personally affected and I think that’s a big differentiator for me.

Sonora: The Stranger features scary things happening to a vacationing family at the hands of a vengeful wood spirit. Your last release, The Girl Who Hid in the Trees, also features violent monsters in the woods. What draws you to the forest as a setting for horror?

Steve: As I mentioned earlier, the thing that’s always drawn me into the woods has been the idea that I’m in its territory, its world. Where I grew up the forest came pretty close up to the back of our house. We cleared it out a number of years ago, but having a forest to play in and a mountain as a back drop was always really amazing but also scared me too no end. We had Grizzly bears, brown bears, black bears, cougars, coyotes and a variety of random animals that would trek through the back of our place. We had chickens and fruit trees so there was always something that drew them down from higher up in the mountain.

In the middle of the forest in our back yard was a massive slab of a rock, so that was always our base of operations, our meeting point.

My grandparents lived just down the street from us and my grandpa used to have a trap line and when he was younger he used to go on horseback up the mountains with some of the native population to go hunting. So the mountains and the forest have always been a place I grew up in but also a place that creeped me the hell out!

Additionally I’ve always loved movies set in the woods with creepy characters. I mean two of my favourite movies ever are Predator and Harry and the Henderson’s. While both are at different ends of the spectrum — both are based on creatures in the woods. So it’s always been a big draw for me.

Sonora: What is the creepiest forest you’ve ever visited?

Steve: Easily, the forest behind our house. I’ve never travelled to any of the exotic forests around the world like J.H. Moncrieff has and she’s got some fantastic blog posts regarding her travels, but the forest behind our house where I grew up was both the single greatest place where my imagination went wild, but also the scariest place I visited. The second creepiest would be the stretch of forest between the end of our road through past the garbage dump.

That forest has inspired so many of my stories — “Edge of the Woods,” “The Call,” “Eaten,” and even “The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.” One of my 2020 releases is also inspired by the forest behind our house as well. The number of times we would play in the woods and we’d pretend to be chased by a giant beast of whatever, I mean those moments directly impacted me and it comes out in my writing. Hell, Invisible is 50% a beast chasing a man as he drives on a winding road through a forest!

Sonora: Do you notice any differences between Canadian horror and American horror? Canadian and American audiences?

Steve: I actually do notice one specific difference, but it just may be me looking for it! I find American horror always has a defined place where the story happens. It’ll be “Boston,” or “New York” or a small town somewhere, whereas I find most of the horror writers I read who are Canadian seem to be a bit more elusive as to the exact location things play out. I personally never try to have an exact place. I do it for two reasons — I want it to be more relatable for the individual reading it — they can picture a place near them easier if I don’t specifically say the location, but also so I don’t have to worry about screwing up a specific detail hahaha! I won’t have someone saying “WAIT A MINUTE — THAT STREET DOESN’T EXIST!” Ideally you read that all caps section in Jim Gaffigan’s voice!

Sonora: What inspires your work?

Steve: The people who believe in me. The horror community is a fantastic community. It’s amazing and I’m so blessed to have met so many folks who want to help and support and promote. My family has been so amazing. And of course, my son. I write stories and release them, so that one day (I hope at least) he’ll see our book shelf with my books and be inspired himself.

I had a blog post before where I said I’ll probably never be a best seller and that’s fine. I still stand by that statement, but my sentiment was more about the fact that I’m not writing with the sole purpose of seeing a shiny gold star by my release on Amazon. Don’t get me wrong, that would be amazing — but not getting one isn’t going to stop me from writing and releasing the stories I want to tell.

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

Steve: Is there really someone on this planet who doesn’t know who my favourite author is? Haha!

For those who have somehow missed it — my favourite author is Andrew Pyper. He’s written some truly stunning works, he’s Canadian and he’s been so amazing whenever I’ve messaged him. I’m currently celebrating all things Pyper with PYPER-MAY-NIA and using the hashtag #pypermaynia

I’m also a massive Stephen King fan. Huge Joe Hill, Ania Ahlborn and J.H. Moncrieff fan. As for my other must read authors: David Sodergren, Justin M. Woodward, Andrew Cull, Joseph Sale, Joe Zito, Mason McDonald, Jonathan Janz and Hunter Shea would really round that list out. There’s just so many amazing authors right now!

As for some of my favourite books, well Andrew Pyper really dominates that haha! The Homecoming, The Wildfire Season, The Only Child, The Demonologist, The Damned, and The Lost Girls all are stunning. I’m currently reading The Trade Mission and still have a few more of his on the TBR. Loved Tamer Animals from Woodward, Now Comes the Darkness from Zito, The Forgotten Island and Night Shoot from Sodergren, Bones and Remains from Cull, The Art of Racing in the Rain from Garth Stein, The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave by Moncrieff, Brother and The Devil Crept In by Ahlborn. So much goodness.

Sonora: What are you working on right now?

Steve: Good lord what a question. If you’ve followed along with me at all, you’ll have come across me discussing this. I like to get everything prepped and prepared well in advance.

So currently on the go;

Ritual — Novella, release date Oct 2019. Stage — 60% through final read through, then off to Sodergren for edits.

Piece of Me — Novel, release date Dec 2019. Stage — I need to read through one more time completely, then off to Sodergren. This tale is set in the same world as my short stories “For Balder Walks” and “Poppa?”

Untitled — Novella, release date Feb-ish 2020. Stage — need to read through one more time and tweak the ending, then off for edits.

The One That Knows No Fear — Novella, release date June-ish 2020. Stage — need to read through one more time and adjust a few spots. Then off for edits.

456 Blatchford Drive — Novella/Possible Anthology. Release date Oct 2020. Stage — I need to get my butt in gear and contact a few more folks and see what I can do to get this off the ground or if I’m doing it alone.

Then I’m also prepping a short story collection for 2020/2021 release tentatively still titled The Night Crawls In and a poetry collection hopefully for 2020/2021 release as well.

I am always on the go and always blocking out when and where things will fall, so some of 2020 may change depending on a few things!


 

Steve Stred is an up-and-coming Dark, Bleak Horror author.

Steve is the author of the novel Invisible, the novellas Wagon Buddy, Yuri and Jane: the 816 Chronicles and two collections of short stories; Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery and Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick, the dark poetry collection Dim the Sun and his most recent release was the coming-of-age, urban legend tale The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.

On June 1st, 2019 his second full length novel, The Stranger will be welcomed to the world.

Steve is also a voracious reader, reviewing everything he reads and submitting the majority of his reviews to be featured on Kendall Reviews.

Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog OJ.

Interview and Guest Post Round-Up!

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since Without Condition came out. In addition to promoting the book, I’ve been working on my next short story collection and doing guest posts and interviews with other blogs. I’ve been neglecting this blog a little bit, but now that the dust has settled, I’ll be back on here; especially with some of the exciting news that’s been happening over the past couple weeks.

While I haven’t been on here as much the past couple weeks, I’ve been all over the place online, having conversations with bloggers about Without Condition, my writing, food, travel, you name it. I’ve collected the interviews below:

I’ve also contributed a couple of guest posts to horror blogs. Check them out below:

Thanks for reading!