Flying in on bat wings is this week’s Five Things Friday interviewee, horror and fantasy author S. Alessandro Martinez.
Willow Croft: If you could be any species of bat, which one would you choose, and why?
S. Alessandro Martinez: I love bats! My favorite animal. If I were going to be a bat, I’d either choose a vampire bat, for obvious reasons. Or a Livingstone’s fruit bat, which are adorable, fluffy, and have awesome-looking eyes.
Willow Croft: What with the pandemic, I definitely missed playing board games at the local comic book shop. (I’m still irked with myself for not being able to make it to your Helminth escape room challenge event!) So, what’s your favourite board game, and do board games and/or video games ever inspire your writing?
S. Alessandro Martinez: Our Helminth live online escape room was a ton of fun to put on, but also a ton of work. I’m still glad we did it, though. My favorite board game of all time would be Arkham Horror (2nd Edition). Most people who know me know I’m a huge Lovecraft fan. I have many Lovecraftian board games, but Arkham Horror will always be number one. As for whether they inspire my writing? Definitely. A novel I’m working on at the moment was inspired by a tabletop role-playing game campaign I wrote a few years ago. I enjoyed the story I came up with, and decided to turn it into a novel.
Willow Croft: Helminth got pretty gruesome at times (not that I minded, of course!), so, in real life, what’s the most gruesome thing you’ve ever eaten (or strangest recipe you prepared)?
S. Alessandro Martinez: I don’t know about “gruesome”, but I’ve eaten plenty of things that would be considered weird to Americans like me. For example, I’ve had blood pudding and blood sausage, both good. Sea urchin, which I would not recommend ever. Whale, it was okay. Horse is one of the most delicious meats I’ve ever had. In Iceland I had hákarl, which is Greenland shark that has been fermented and hung to dry for about five months. I probably wouldn’t eat that again, but I would recommend experiencing it.
Willow Croft: As a horror and fantasy writer, your imagination must take you to some spooky, and wonderful, fictional places. In real life, though, what’s the most fantastical/frightening thing that’s happened to you?
S. Alessandro Martinez: When my wife and I visited Canada, we decided to go on a caving tour. During the tour, I somehow ended up in front of everyone as we were crawling through these narrow passageways. From the rear of the group, the guide sent up instructions to go down a certain passage. So I attached myself onto the safety line and went down that way. Well, what we found out later was that the guide had said “DON’T go down that way.” But the message had altered on its way down to me. Turns out the safety line I had attached to wasn’t connected to anything on the other end and there was a pretty significant drop right below where I had gotten to. Thankfully, only my wife and I had gone down before the guide realized what happened. We had to wait for the guide to come and lead us out a safer way.
As for fantastical, when the wife and I were in New Zealand, we got to see many Lord of the Rings filming locations, climb to the top of Edoras, and have a hobbit feast at the Green Dragon. We also went caving (again) to see the glowworms. That was amazing sight! And when we were in Iceland, my wife and I got to swim in a stream that had been recently created through volcanic activity and was being naturally heated. This was a practically a private spot in the middle of nowhere that a guide had taken us to. A truly amazing experience.
Willow Croft: And, lastly, if you could travel to any (presumably) cursed or haunted location in the world for an overnight stay, where would you choose?
S. Alessandro Martinez: It’s a dream of mine to visit Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle) one day. Who wouldn’t, right? I’ve also been wanting to visit the Waverley Hills Sanatorium in Kentucky. That seems like a super creepy place I’d love to explore. I would happily spend a night at either of these locations. Or maybe several nights when it comes to Bran Castle.
Rebecca Rowland: What a fantastic question! The team I have gone to see most often is the Western Mass Destruction (WMDs), and two years ago, I started putting their try-out dates on my calendar. (https://www.pioneervalleyrollerderby.com/teams/western-mass-destruction/) Then, CoVid hit, and well, we all know how that sentence ends. New England has mostly flat-track derby, so it’s a smidge tamer than the derbies in the Midwest or South, but the Northern women still bring it. The sport is a lot like rugby in the sense that it takes a lot of bravery to put your body out there for guaranteed bruises and scrapes, but as I have no desire to jump out of a plane or bungee jump off of…well, anything, I suppose this would be my adrenaline outlet. And my derby name is Rita Slayworth, of course!
Willow Croft: Somewhere in your corner of the virtual world, you mention that you go travelling at times. And that you count Flannery O’Connor as one of your favorite authors/key literary influences. Have you been to the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home Museum (It’s in Savannah, Georgia, and it’s awesome!) or do you have another author/literary historic site that you’ve visited that you enjoyed?
Rebecca Rowland: Yes, I have visited! It’s funny: I traveled to Savannah for the first time during one of the hottest summers up here in New England. I went to Georgia in July and my weather app listed the temperature as “feels like 106.” I know it gets that hot in the Southwest, but I’ve been to Las Vegas in the summer: the heat in the South is a completely different world! It truly felt like I was walking through soup, but everything about the city: the O’Connor museum, the riverfront, the people, the food—it was all so beautiful and interesting that the weather didn’t bother me. And the bonus was, when I returned home, our “heat wave” here felt refreshing! You and I have exchanged our frustrations with being grounded these past months. I love traveling and normally try to venture somewhere a good distance away two or three times a year. Every place I visit, I make it a point to see a famous author’s homestead or museum. I drank a shot of Wild Turkey outside of Hunter S. Thompson’s former Kentucky home (much to the amusement of the neighbor, who told us that he sees quite a few tourists do the same), stood on the second-floor balcony of the courtroom in the To Kill a Mockingbird museum in Alabama and imagined Atticus Finch walking by below, pet the ubiquitous feline residents of Hemingway’s estate in Key West, and wrapped my arms around Poe’s gravestone in Maryland. However, one of the coolest literary places I’ve been, I have to say, is right in my backyard: The House of Seven Gables in Salem is right on the waterfront and it features a hidden staircase that tourists can climb. That architectural detail didn’t appear in Hawthorne’s novel, but it’s a fun experience to wiggle up anyway!
Rebecca Rowland: I have been a vegetarian for almost my entire adult life, so I do have to say, the few times I have eaten meat haven’t been the most…pleasant ones for me. I’m always up to try new things, though, and one experience in particular sticks out. I was in my early twenties and was dating someone who wanted to take me for sushi. I had never tried it, so I ordered the sampler plate. I ate the tuna. I ate the mackerel. I ate the yellowtail. I ate the cucumber roll (and wondered why all sushi couldn’t just taste like that). They all went down fine, and I continued through the plate. The final piece was salmon. I wasn’t loving the experience of eating sushi, but I thought, in for a penny, in for a pound. I’m not sure what it was: the taste, the texture, or the color, but after swallowing the salmon, I nearly projectile vomited. It took everything in my power to keep the food down. Since then, I can barely look at a plate of sushi without feeling a bit queasy. But at least I can say, I tried it.
Willow Croft: When I read through your guest blog posts and interviews, I saw a mention of events and happenings in the real world that you draw from to create your horror—where writing horror acts as a catharsis to those tragic events (https://transmundanepressblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/13/should-writers-write-what-they-know-by-rebecca-rowland/). I know, personally, that writing darker stories is beneficial to coping with things out of one’s control, but that I also have to take a break from it (like, I can’t watch gut-wrenching TV/movie dramas). So how do you take a break from the darkness within, and in the real world? What are some of your favorite non-horror books and TV shows, or other pastimes you take part in?
Rebecca Rowland: I’m a fan of edgy comedies and crime shows. I loved Fleabag, Schitt’s Creek, and Shameless, and right now, I’m catching up on Flack and am excited to start the new season of City on a Hill (because…Boston, Kevin Bacon in a bad porn mustache, and early 1990s hair and fashion: what’s not to love?). But there is one other television staple that is my guilty pleasure: I will not mention which author this is, but a fellow horror writer and I are die-hard fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race. We watch it together every Friday night when a season is airing. The show is beautiful and bright and juicy and creative, and it never fails to take my mind off of anything that might be plaguing me.
Willow Croft: And, lastly, do you have pets [or a beloved plant(s)]? Who are your animal companions, and do they help or hinder your writing?
Rebecca Rowland: (Sigh) This pulls at my heart-strings a bit. I have always had a cat companion; at one time, I had five living with me: all rescues. People would tease me about being a “cat lady” constantly, but now that I’ve had to say goodbye to all but one of them in the past decade, I think, what was missing in those people’s hearts that they thought it was silly or crazy of me to share my life with animals? I can’t say any of my four-legged friends have been particular helpful in my writing, however; even as I write this, my lone survivor has pushed his way onto my lap and is trying to rub the keyboard. However, I think it’s imperative that writers have someone to care for, whether it’s a pet, or a child, or a special partner. Writing, at its bones, is about connecting. We don’t write and shove our stories under the rug; we write and want others to read and feel. Writers who have never truly loved someone or something…their readers can sense it in their work. The stories are missing something. Even if the tale is a gory slasher or a science fiction set in a sterile, metallic world, if the story lacks that ingredient, readers don’t have the essential piece needed to empathize with the characters. Also, I am going to take this moment to climb up on my little soapbox and ask readers to spay and neuter their pets and to adopt shelter pets! Mine have been sources of true joy for me…and so in that sense, I guess they have been a help to me in my writing after all.
Books and short stories that Rebecca Rowland has coming up/out:
The Half That You See (anthology, edited), released March 15 “Thug,” short story premiering in the Australian literary magazine Curiouser, April 10 “The View Master,” short story written with Pieces collaborator Michael Aloisi, releasing on Kindle April 21 Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction (anthology, edited), releasing June 1 Visit RowlandBooks.com for all the info, and follow her on Instagram @Rebecca_Rowland_books for, as she puts it “horror recommendations and random ridiculousness.” https://www.instagram.com/Rebecca_Rowland_Books/
Stay tuned for my “Book Look” of Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction when the ARC gets “unburied” from my to-read pile! “Unburied”–get it? *nerdy laugh*
I was in the middle of writing yesterday’s blog post when I learned of the events that went down.
My post didn’t fit with the tragedy and shock of the day’s events, so I saved it to continue it next week.
This post may not either, but here goes.
I wasn’t really surprised at the turn of events yesterday. The people that have joined forces and voted for/supported Trump are all too terribly, frighteningly familiar to me. I grew up surrounded by them Florida. And the ones there with lots of money and power are the hardest to fight against. I eventually left (and came back and left again and came back and left and…well, you get the picture). I finally left for good back in 2015. I won’t go back, not even for a visit. It’s too heartbreaking, and unsafe for liberal-minded, progressive people like I consider myself to be.
But now their activities have taken center stage on a national…no, an international…level.
And the United States now has to act. Some politicians in the U.S. already are. (I just saw that the first federal charges have been filed.) Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the powers that be fail to act, in the end. (Let’s hope I’m wrong, eh?) I was more surprised with the fact that certain Republicans and other like individuals began jumping off the Trump ship they’d helped keep afloat for so long.
And I was surprised by my own reaction. I was glued to the news sites online (I don’t have basic cable, aka the news channels, because it’s so outrageously expensive) and I kept repeating to myself “Don’t kill anyone, please don’t kill anyone” and I braced myself for the updates of the deaths of the people the rioters may have been planning to target. Because even though I write horror, and have written some pretty gruesome things (which haven’t been published as of yet), I cannot bear it when it happens in real life.
I’m going to be waiting on pins and needles for the full report of the damage and loss on these artifacts, alongside the key breaking news updates.
I don’t agree with Trump or the rioters that supported him. And I’m an activist and protestor myself, though on a very different side then the Trumpers (Coalition of Immokalee Workers Taco Bell march/protests, Free Mumia movement actions, WTO protest organization, working on an initiative to bring a delegation of women from Chiapas to meet with Bernie Sanders, March Against Monsanto protests, protests at greyhound racing tracks, tons of animal rescue work, and participation in guerilla theatre/puppetry performances, among other actions I’ve probably forgotten about.) and, hopefully, utilizing very different (nonviolent and unarmed) tactics.
My life’s been in upheaval itself for the past several years, and the most I can do is pick up a pen right now.
But one bright spot is, and great honour, is that my stories are getting published quite frequently. Still working on getting a full-length book published, but I’m hoping to start work on my next manuscript soon (outlining now).
But the best bright spot of all, in my wee realm? It’s that I won something! (And, no, it’s not the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, or the lottery, or even the HGTV Dream Home Sweepstakes, just FYI! It’s better!).
Courtesy of Horror Addicts, it’s the Spooky Prize Pack! I can’t wait to see all my spook-a-licious surprises!
I love penpals and writing letters and such, so I’d love it if you become my penpal!
If you send me your email, I’ll put you on my mailing list for my (18+ only) newsletter full of delicious nightmares and looming storms…
I also have a limited number of horror-themed snail mail postcards, if that’s not too creepy for you in this day and age…
And, if you send me a photo of your copy of an anthology and/or journal/magazine my short story is in (Click here for list and links, or find me on Goodreads or Amazon), next to your pet(s) or favourite plant/tree, I’ll send you a bonus nightmarish surprise! (I love nature and animals, so I’d thought I’d ask for a twist on the traditional selfie!) You can also share your photo/email with me via Twitter: @WillowCroft16 #NationalPenPalDay.
The Not-So-Fine-Print: If I get my middle-grade manuscript accepted during #PitMad this 4th of June, I’ll eventually have a website that’s kid-friendly. Keep watching for updates on my book for kid (and their supervising parents/guardians) who love horror/suspense! So, let me state again that this particular mailing list is just for grown-ups–18+ grown-ups–and might have content that falls more on the adult side. Please don’t sign up for this newsletter unless you are 18+ years old.]
I had planned to use this shutdown time to write article pitches and submit them to magazines. Good intentions, right?
I began to realize that I wasn’t current enough on what’s trending write articles for some of the places that I’d hoped to draft pitches for. That, in fact, I’d never really been that up-to-date in terms of pop culture and current trends and the like, barring a brief period as an uber-cool (*cough* pretentious little snot) goth in the early 90s. So I was stuck trying to get ahead of a different non-pandemic-related curve.
But I realized was fine with not being trendy. I mean, sure, I spent way too many years trying to be the cool kid in the room, instead of the quiet nerd in the corner who had closet dreams of playing D&D and collecting comic books. And, as an adult, I spent too many years trying to conform so I could just “get a job.”
Not that getting a job isn’t important. I couldn’t write without my day job, even though I still struggle to support myself on that income. But I’ve conformed and worked hard and been outstandingly tenacious in my quest for a decent-paying job, and I still have nothing to show for it.
And, at risk of downplaying the importance of an author platform, or, even more importantly, the amazing and loyal followers that support the author, I realized that I don’t have to be current. There are plenty of talented writers out there that have their finger on the pulse of society, are on top of trends in movies and pop culture and even in writing, and they write it well.
In light of that it’s my responsibility as a writer to find my niche. (Which writing-tips articles galore also cover, of course!) But more than finding a niche is finding yourself. After all, what is writing for but a way to explore all the parts of yourself that aren’t seen in your day-to-day interactions with people.
For a few years after I overcame past conditioning and allowed myself to write (and even now, on some days) I wanted so badly to make up for all the time I lost in the thirty-some years that I didn’t write. And that’s where I could have sank and not swam.
Oddly enough, most of the development I’ve undergone in the past few years has been through a cyclical process of elimination–a whirlpool that gets tighter and cleaner as I get closer to the core. (I wrote a poem about this process, which was also inspired by a recent experience at a local convention. I’m not even sure if the poem is still posted on my blog or not.)
And that it’s perfectly acceptable to like classical music and comedies and outline by hand and write the first draft out by hand and have refillable pens and pencils or even a quill pen and (recycled) paper and get lost in the past and prefer tiny, cozy kitchens in old homes over culinary expanses with gleaming stainless steel appliances.
So, I’m exploring more old-school ideas and approaches to networking and mailings and establishing an author platform which may not even be trending at best, or at worst, be an utter failure, but that’s okay too.
We don’t all have to be trending.
We just have to be successful at ourselves.
And, for me, right now, that’s writing horror.
What’s your “you” right now, during this time of potential reflection and reassessment? Share if you wish to, in the comments.