Well, I didn’t love 2018; but there was a lot to celebrate this past year. As we approach the end of another rotation of Planet Earth, I’m looking back and remembering everything I read and wrote.
This was a great year for reading. I read 73 books this year, much more than I did in 2017. I wanted to get back into my old reading habits, which took a stall when I was in the thick of writing Please Give. Reading, I found, was a way to both relax and to replenish the writing well.
I read many good books, and I met many great authors whose works I enjoyed. I want to give a special shout-out to the following works and their writers:
In between all of the books I read, I also found time to write. I completed my second novel, Without Condition. It was a much different experience than writing Please Give. One would think it’d be easier to sit down and write the second novel, but I found the words a little harder to come by and the doubts flickering in and out even more. There’s something to be said for putting pressure on yourself for what’s next. Still, I’m excited to share the final book with all of you on February 12, 2019. I hope you’ll pick up a copy!
I also completed several short stories, both flash pieces and longer stories. I’ve completed enough to where I plan to release another collection by the end of 2019. Be on the lookout for Little Paranoias: Stories.
Thanks to all of you who’ve read my work, commented on my posts, and joined me on this writing journey. As always, I’m cautiously optimistic about what 2019 holds for my writing. Onward and forward.
It’s October, the time of year when most people dust off their horror novels and horror movies. I, for one, like engaging with dark fiction all year long. But I do feel an extra pull to the darker corners of literature in October. There’s a chill in the air and an excited energy to immerse oneself in the macabre, the shocking, and the unexplained.
While my month is filled with writing projects — including two new releases, some short stories in progress, and making revisions to Without Condition — I’m still reading every day. I have a few dark novels on my “To Read” list, including Destroyer by Victor LaValle and Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott. If you have any recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments!
I also have a few recommendations for you, if you are looking for something new to read this October.
I recently finished Breathe, Breathe by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. It is a short collection of dark poetry and short stories. The short stories were good overall — my favorite was “The Madness of the Woodpecker” — but I was most impressed by the poetry. I have a hard time engaging with collections of poetry because I read too quickly to really absorb the meaning of the verse (my fault, not the fault of any poem or poet). Al-Mehairi’s poems stuck with me and chilled me as I read them. Some tell stories, others describe chaotic emotions, but all are terrifying.
I also recommend Sacrificial Lambs and Others by Sheri White. The collection contains several flash pieces as well as longer short stories. Flash fiction, like poetry, also has a hard time sticking with me because of how fast I read. White’s stories still find themselves in my head, though, even though I read the collection months ago. My personal favorites were “Ashes to Ashes” and “First Day of School.”
You may remember that last month, I interviewed author Loren Rhoads. I was excited to read her memoir, Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. I’ve now read it, and I highly recommend it if you’d like to read some macabre nonfiction — namely, if you’re interested in travel essays (I want to note that Rhoads did not ask me to review the book as part of our interview — I purchased the book, read it, and am now reviewing it all on my own accord). Her writing gives the reader a wonderful sense of place in cemeteries around the globe. I’ve now added several new destinations to my list, including Bela Lugosi’s grave and the skeleton-filled catacombs of Paris.
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.