Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author C.M. Saunders

Come in and have a cup of “cofftea” with this week’s “Five Things Friday” author, C.M. Saunders!

“What’s ‘cofftea’,” you may be wondering, but you’ll just have to read on to find all about it, and what sort of “dead things” this author loves to eat!

Willow Croft: Since I’ve been mourning the recent demise of my old VHS tape of Sid & Nancy, I gotta open with a question inspired by your RetViews (Retro Review) series (https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2017/08/06/coming-soon-retviews/). You’ve reviewed a lot of great films on there, but if you were stuck in a weird horror loop in one of those films, which would it be, and why would you choose that particular fate?

C.M. Saunders: I’m so glad you are enjoying my RetViews! I started the series out of pure indulgence, and also as a kind of experiment. I wanted to re-watch some movies that had a profound affect on me as a kid or a teenager, and see how they stand up years later. Plus, there are so many great movies out there that don’t get the attention they deserve. The series has been picking up more attention month-by-month and now it’s probably one of the most popular things I do. Back to your original question. That’s such a tricky one to answer! I’m tempted to say John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) but the arctic would be so cold, and not fun at all. I know horror movies aren’t really supposed to be fun, but I do love a splash of humour with my horror. An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Tucker and Dale Vs Evil (2011) are perfect examples of what floats my boat.

At the end of the day, though, I’m going to have to go with Lost Boys (1987). Coolest. Film. Ever. What could be better than hanging out with the Frog brothers in Santa Carla chasing vampires and Jami Gertz? If I’m going to be doing that forever, it would also be a nice little tie-in with Peter Pan who also never grew up, and where the title came from.

Willow Croft: In your Redrum interview (https://www.redrumreviews.com/post/interview-with-c-m-saunders), you mention wanting to start a “massive open-air splatterpunk festival combining music, literature, performance art, and comedy”. While I would love to hear nothing but Cure covers (they’re my favourite band, and were actually really awesome to meet in person), what bands and performers would you add to your lineup?

C.M. Saunders: Previously, I said Alkaline Trio should be headlining. But I’ve since relegated them to ‘special guest’ spot in favour of The Wildhearts. I don’t know how well-known they are outside the UK but they’re well worth checking out. Their new album is amazing, and they have a song called Splattermania which is destined to be the festival’s unofficial theme song. In a recent interview Ginger (the singer) said he didn’t believe in God but knew something must be going on because it’s the only thing that could explain him still being alive. Brilliant. I’d also find slots for Senses Fail and Silverstein, and I’m a big fan of The Dangerous Summer. Not least because they wrote a song about the music industry called Fuck them All and went indie. That takes balls.

I think the comedy slots would be hardest to fill, because everyone is so easily triggered these days. It’s taken millions of years of evolution for us to arrive at the point where our first reaction is to be triggered, usually on behalf of someone else. We’d probably have to settle for a mime artist making balloon animals.

Willow Croft: Time for the food question! I’ve eaten some terrible food concoctions back when I was young and wannabe punk rock/squatter (for example, one staple was a soup made from ketchup and Taco Bell sauce.). So, have you ever created your own mash-up of unlikely foodstuffs that turned out to be just as terrible—or absolutely delicious? Share your concoction here!

C.M. Saunders: I had the innovative idea once of mixing tea and coffee together and calling it ‘cofftea.’ I was convinced my invention was going to take the world by storm. The only problem was that it was absolutely disgusting.

I used to be a very fussy eater, until I went to live in China in 2007. There, I was struck by how many things are not only edible, but delicious. We waste so much food in the west. We don’t even think about it. For example, most people only eat the prime cuts of an animal. Fatty bits, ew! But in China they eat every single part from the ears to the ass. Fat is a delicacy because there’s less of it on an animal. Chicken feet, which are literally just skin and bones, are insanely popular. One day, a friend came over to my apartment to cook a meal, and brought a bloody pig’s nose with her. I’ve learned not to be squeamish, and in my time there I ate tons of things I wouldn’t have got to try otherwise. Boiled brain, fried bamboo worms, chicken hearts. I lived in a place called Changsha in Hunan province, and they have a specialty there called ‘fried live fish,’ where they cook and gut a fish, and then serve it before it actually dies. That was pretty gross. After I saw that I changed my personal rule from, ‘I’ll eat anything,’ to, ‘I’ll eat anything as long as it’s dead.’

Willow Croft: What I miss most about my travels outside the U.S. was/is the absolutely amazing train travel. So, if there were an intergalactic train trip offered, what places, real or fictional, in the universe would you want to visit, and why?

C.M. Saunders: Does it have to be intergalactic? I’m not a big fan of space. It just seems like a whole lot of nothingness to me. There might be aliens, but I think you’d have to work hard to find them and when you do they might look like sticks of celery or something. You might think I’m boring but I’m quite happy with normal trains. I’m from the UK which isn’t very big. You can take a train from one end to the other and it would only take a few hours. On the other hand, when I lived in China some train journeys would take days. Days! You’d buy a ticket, look at the arrival time, and it would just say “Thursday” and you had to pay extra for a seat, otherwise you’d have to stand up the entire way. Ooh, how about a time travel train? Can I go on one of those? Can I? Hmm? Can I? There are so many places I’d like to visit, like late-seventies New York when the Ramones were taking off, the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 with Jimi Hendrix and The Who, Live Aid in ’85, the list is endless. I think I’d give Woodstock a miss, though. It might be iconic, but it looked like a living nightmare to me.

Willow Croft: One of the things that I’m navigating as I get older is making sure I don’t fall into a life that’s too, I don’t know the words, traditional or conformist—to not fall into a certain state of ennui about how things are. I don’t want to get too comfortable—I want to keep fighting against the pricks—literally and figuratively, and one of the ways I try to do it these days is by picking up the pen. What ways, if any, does that sort of “punk rock”, alternative, or “change the world” mindsets find its way into your writing, and/or any other creative areas you explore? Does horror, as you write it, fit into that aesthetic (how and why)?

C.M. Saunders: Right now it’s a very difficult time to be artistic, or put yourself ‘out there’ in any way. Every time you do so, you set yourself up for a world of shit. Just one misinterpreted line in a story, or a comment or social media post taken out of context, could end your career. Everybody is so eager to be offended. In one of my novels, Sker House, a character complains about being friend-zoned by a girl he liked. A reviewer read it, found the whole ‘friend zoning’ concept offensive, and called me a misogynist, completely missing the point that it was fiction. I wasn’t putting across my personal views, I was speaking through a character, who happened to be a frustrated 18-year old college student. Things like that affect your later work, because frankly, I don’t need the drama. The social climate at the moment is so precarious that whatever anybody says or does, someone somewhere will get pissed about it. I find this confusing. People love to be offended, usually on behalf of someone else, under the pretense of being a ‘good’ person. And then they take great delight in stomping people who don’t share the same views as them into the dirt, which isn’t what good people do.

Find out where C.M. Saunders has put themselves “out there”:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/

https://twitter.com/CMSaunders01

https://www.facebook.com/CMSaunders01

Here’s the RetView posts C.M. Saunders mentions in the interviews:

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2020/08/13/retview-37-the-thing-1982/

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2017/10/13/retview-3-an-american-werewolf-in-london/

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/retview-17-tucker-dale-vs-evil-2010/

https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2017/08/13/the-lost-boys-at-30/

Oh, and just in case you were still hungry (you all know that this longtime vegetarian sure as heck isn’t. Ha!), take a look at “Eating brain”: https://cmsaunders.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/i-want-to-eat-your-brains/

Wildhearts – Splattermania: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu6_0n4rXbY

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author S. Alessandro Martinez

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.

Take a dark draught with S. Alessandro Martinez over at his blog: https://salessandromartinez.com/.

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Suzanne Craig-Whytock

This week’s interview is with spooky-tale-teller (and pretty “dang” funny!) author Suzanne Craig-Whytock!

Willow Croft: Writers tend to have pretty active and wild imaginations, and I think your blog captures how free ranging our minds are. So, I was curious, what kinds of inventions have you filed imaginary patents for in your head? (Inspired by your post about the underground network of nefarious kayak thieves: https://educationalmentorship.com/2021/09/12/rendezvous-with-destiny/.)

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: I don’t think I’ve ever really imagined an actual invention—I’m more of a “MacGyver”, which is to say that I use other people’s inventions to solve problems of my own. I get that from my dad, who was a trained toolmaker, and he could make any tool you could think of with an Allen key and some contact cement. Me, I’m good with SOS pads, pushpins, and paperclips, which you can do just about anything with. Zipper pull on your boot broken? Paper clip. Screen on your hair dryer clogged? Paper clip. Feel like poking a hole in something? Paper clip. Bored at work? Paper clip. I could fashion a chain to keep my kayaks safe from those nefarious kayak thieves with paperclips twisted together, and it would make them crazy trying to undo it. Enough said.

Willow Croft: At risk of upstaging your “theatrical metal chair” *drops voice to a stage whisper*, who would you want to portray you in a stage play of your life?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Yes, I have to keep this on the downlow because I have several melodramatic or obnoxious pieces of furniture in close proximity to my computer. But to be honest, if someone was going to make a stage play about my life, it would be an absurdist play along the lines of Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, and I would want Tina Fey to portray me. I think she understands how to take weird and sometimes awful things and find the humour in them. Also, in any play about my life, I have forklift arms and everyone calls me by my superhero name, Heavy Metal.

Willow Croft: As a teacher/substitute teacher, I know that the classroom environment can be pretty surreal at times. So, what’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened while you were teaching (that you can share)?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: I taught for almost twenty-five years and loved every minute but yes, there were certainly some strange things that happened during that time. Two things come immediately to mind:

I had been studying the Greek play Lysistrata with my senior IB students. I always had my kids perform whatever they were studying, and this group insisted that they stay true to the original when it came to costumes, which of course meant togas and masks, as well as large fake breasts for the female characters (played by the boys) and exaggerated ‘manparts’ for the male characters (played by the girls). I had no problem with this and gleefully helped them use balloons, soccer balls and whatnot to get that ‘authentic’ feel. We were right in the middle of a particular scene where one of the boys was jumping up and down, accompanied by the bouncing of his chest balloons, and the girls were swinging their own balloons around quite proudly, when suddenly my principal came to the door. We looked at each other, me slightly aghast, but she didn’t bat an eye. “I’ll come back later,” she said, and we carried on.

I was also the supervisor of a summer school site for several years, and I’ve had numerous encounters with students under the influence of a variety of things, which I’ve written about on my blog (Weeks 89 and 90, when I was still calling things ‘Weeks’). Some of those encounters are incredibly humorous.

Willow Croft: In all your antiquing/Big Junk Day adventures, have you ever acquired an item that was haunted?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Ooh, what I wouldn’t give to have found something haunted at the side of the road! I did have an issue with a baby monitor once when my daughter was little—I actually used that situation as inspiration for a chapter in my latest novel The Seventh Devil. And I had a Wizard of Oz music box that would randomly start playing, to the point where I buried it in the garden. There was definitely a ghost in my last house, although the current one, despite it having a doctor’s office in it at one time, is remarkably ghost-free, more’s the pity. I guess no one ever died from malpractice here. We did have a few days after my husband and daughter demo’d the front porch of our 1906 house where there were some shenanigans in a back room (doors randomly opening, chandelier flickering), but I told whatever it was to cut it out, very sternly, and we’ve had no problems since. The noises in our attic are all caused by critters. Obviously.

Willow Croft: And, last, but definitely not least, if you were magically transported into one of your Paris paintings, what would you order at your favourite Parisian café? Alternatively, or in addition, what would you be reading?

Suzanne Craig-Whytock: Ah, Paris! I’ve never been there, but I dream of the day, and I live vicariously through my gorgeous, drippy, impressionistic paintings. I imagine myself sitting there along one of those streets—it’s raining lightly but I’m under an awning, sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t know if I’d be reading anything–most likely I’ll be writing–but if I was reading, it would be my favourite poet, T.S. Eliot. And my husband Ken is there too, enjoying a glass of Merlot and taking photographs of the scenery. Maybe one day…

~~~

Haunted by this interview and want to investigate Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s spooky books? Check out this link, here, if you dare! https://canadianauthors.org/national/mbm-book-author/suzanne-craig-whytock/.

Also, explore another dimension of Suzanne Craig-Whytock’s “weirdly wonderful aspects” (her words) at her funny-as-all-get-out blog, “My Dang Blog”: https://educationalmentorship.com/.

Now, go find some haunted antiques. Or just drink wine and pretend you’re in Paris. (I know that’s what I’ll be doing!)

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author Bibiana Krall

For this week’s interview, we’re journeying through the evocative flavours of Bibiana Krall’s “mysterious world”. Enjoy the voyage!

Willow Croft: I read on your website that Tangled Webs (Book Two of your Haunted Series), has autumn-themed recipes and cocktails at the back of the book. So, without giving away any spoilers, what’s your favorite autumn flavor/foodstuffs to include in recipes?

Bibiana Krall: I grew up on a farm in Michigan and the flavor that most represents harvest for me will always be the apple. We had our own fruit trees and pressed apples into cider at the local mill to drink with breakfast and sip on chilly evenings with mulling spices. There is nothing more comforting than a warm slice of homemade, apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. In the bonus pages of Tangled Webs, I included a recipe with a savory twist on a classic. Enjoy!

Willow Croft: I see that you’re a collector of objects. For a twist on the topic, what’s your favorite memory, or story of place, or even a memory of a particular scent, that you’ve collected?

Bibiana Krall: It’s true. I have an oddball collection of art, coins and even a few first-editions. Scent carries my strongest memories. The green-resin of a pine forest snoozing under the snow, the mellow earth after a gentle rain (petrichor) and oh… how I love gardenias. I planted some bushes in my yard, as they remind me of my grandmother. Creamy-white petals with notes of vanilla and exotic spice, what’s not to like?

Willow Croft: How does your writing transform not only your world, and the world of the reader, but the world at large, perhaps in terms of cultural, social, environmental change, and the like?

Bibiana Krall: I’ve been a storyteller ever since I can remember. The world is a mysterious and mystical place that holds a tradition of verbal and written stories that helps humans understand our past, present and future.

My hope is to change the reader’s perception that someone in another culture or a person who looks or lives differently than we do, may understand us more than we’d previously imagined. Heroines are an important part of what I do, as without strong and resilient women in our lives where would any of us be?

I gravitate towards themes of: ‘good versus evil’ ‘haunted houses’ and ‘a stranger comes to town’ to talk about fear of the unknown, overcoming and also to show that often there’s more to something than what you initially notice or believe. The greatest gift in fiction and hopefully in my work as well, is to discover that you aren’t alone in your struggle.

Willow Croft: If you could travel anywhere in the Cosmos you sky-watched as a child (as quoted from your blog), where would travel, and why?

Bibiana Krall: When I was a child, I yearned for a quick trip to Venus or to skateboard across the rings of Saturn. Now my wish is to travel to the Pillars of Creation and watch the EGGs zing across the darkness as they are born. The Eagle Nebula in the Serpens constellation is seven thousand light years away from us. To witness stars being created in real-time would blow the mind, so I included my wonder for the ‘Pillars’ in the mysticism of the Irish Phantom Series.

Willow Croft: If you were reincarnated as one of your literary heroines (or from another author’s works), who would you decide to be?

Bibiana Krall: That’s a tough one! What woman wouldn’t want to be Rebecca before she clashes with the horrible Mrs. Danvers or Jane Eyre living life on her own terms? In my own stories, I admire Ayanna in Prospect Hill for her intelligence, magic and herbal skills and Mary in the Irish Phantom Series for her courage to face terrifying situations and her ability to find happiness, friendship and true love after a breakdown.

Thank you for making space for my creative world. Your insightful questions made me think, smile and dream. Hopefully y’all know me a little bit better now. This was an honor and great fun! – Bibiana

Website: www.bibianakrall.com

Linktree: https://linktr.ee/bibianak

 

Wednesday’s Book Look, and a Wee Pause

Wednesday’s Book Look: Emily in the Wall: Twelve Chilling Tales of Horror and Suspense by Neil Davies (Thanks to Grinning Skull Press for the review copy!) https://grinningskullpress.wordpress.com/

Spoilers lie ahead.

When I was a kid, I had an imaginary friend that lived in our attic. Except that our attic was more like a crawlspace. Still, I would go visit her in her airy-eyrie attic room, via dreams, and we’d hang out all night until I woke up in the morning. Sometimes, we’d go on adventures, and sometimes the adventures would be a little spooky.

But being spooked in dreams is different than being afraid in real life. It’s a fascinating experience to be fearful in a dream, or while you’re reading a book. It takes your mind off the things that cause you fear in the real world.

And I wasn’t alone, because I had my imaginary friend with me, most times. Pretty much my only friend.

Having a pretend sister helped with the isolation, until the day I woke up from the dream where we said goodbye and I knew she was gone.

And so the short story, “Emily in the Wall”, from the collection of the same name, was probably my favourite. I related to so much in the story–the main character Anna Kolton, the “smarmy” therapist, the people in the walls that Anna kept seeing–but in this story, the therapist begins to support her rather than discount her, and she is able to make contact with “imaginary” Emily in a very real way. 

The rest of the stories, while all different in regards to characters and settings, seem to have a similar theme. Or one that I just want to embrace while reading this haunting collection–that we really aren’t alone as we move through our worlds, our families, our social circles–we have company, for better or for worse. 

We have books that give us other lives, other worlds, other adventures.

And we will always have at least one imaginary friend by our side in the darkness, no matter how alone we feel. And Neil Davies’s stories remind me what I sometimes forget–that it’s still possible to move through time and space and into other worlds, or bring those worlds home to us.

I am keen on reading more of Neil Davies’s works.

….

Also, if reading this book (I’d highly recommend Emily in the Wall to chase away the summertime blues) whets your appetite for more great spec fic-ish reads, check out Priscilla Bettis’s one-sentence reviews over at her blog: https://priscillabettisauthor.com/2021/06/30/one-sentence-reviews-my-2nd-quarter-2021-reads/.

And, last but not least, I’m going to taking a wee pause from the blog while I navigate an exciting adventure of my own. I’ll be back within two or three weeks–posting, reading, commenting (speaking of “for better or for worse” *laugh*), and with some real-life tales of my own to tell. Or so I hope! 

Enjoy the rest of July!

Five Things Friday: Mini-Interview with Author, Editor, and Publisher Diane Arrelle

This week’s “Five Things Friday” interviewee appears to be quite the “busy bee” too–Diane Arrelle is an author, book publisher, and editor!

Willow Croft: One of the first stories I read of yours was before we even “met”—in an anthology called Crafty Cat Crimes: 100 Tiny Cat Tale Mysteries. How has your own cat(s) influenced (or hindered!) your writing?

Diane Arrelle: Wow, I grew up very rural on the edge of the NJ [New Jersey] Pine Barrens. We never used the term feral cats, they were just cats that came and lived in our garage, our yard, the woods all around us. I’ve had cats around since I was born and over the years, I always had my special kitties. I have always loved cats and I find them fascinating.
After college I traveled too much to have a pet and then I became the suburban wife and mommy and my husband didn’t want a pet. The cat from Crafty Cat Crimes was the sweetest kitten I found stuck in a tree one day while visiting a friend. We got her down and then I made my friend keep the kitten because we didn’t have pets. But I went over to visit my foster cat often.
One day I got annoyed at my husband so I took my kids to the animal shelter and brought home a six-month-old kitty, who just happened to pick us out. Just like that I became a cat person again. Bonny, who was a male, lived for almost 18 years and influenced many stories, most of them on the dark side. Seriously, where do they disappear to and how do they magically reappear like that?
After Bonny died, I decided to wait before getting another cat. Every time we heard a noise in the house my husband would say, “Cat’s back.” It was funny, but the man who hadn’t wanted a pet told me we needed another cat about two months after Bonny had passed. I immediately dashed out and got a rescue named Tabby, and she is definitely my husband’s cat. She is a very flighty animal with an intense stare that sometimes scares me and she likes to stalk me. I have to say she has inspired several scary stories in the four years we’ve had her. She, as well as Bonny, have hindered my writing in the usual way, sleeping on the keyboard, yowling when I’m writing, just being cats.

Willow Croft: I don’t know about you, but I always get the munchies when I’m writing. What’s your favourite snack(s) or comfort foods when you write?

Diane Arrelle: Oh no, I am the picture of self-control. I never eat and write. Ok, so I’m lying. I don’t eat and write. No, I eat and in between stuffing my face, I write. The year in quarantine changed my pattern completely and I have to have food nearby. On a good day I crunch on carrots and veggies, but mostly I eat about four pieces of sugar-free chocolate and lots of popcorn mixed with nuts. Oh yeah, I always have a Wawa coffee next to me which I reheat all day long. And for those who don’t know about it, it’s an Eastern convenience store that started in the Philly area. Wawa coffee mixed with Wawa cappuccino is just a wonderful, creativity-inspiring beverage.

Willow Croft: As an editor/publisher, you also host calls for anthologies by way of your co-owned publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink. How do you and your co-owner come up with the themes for your anthology calls?
We’re friends and talk a lot on the phone and in person. Just about every conversation one of us will say something offhand and the other will respond. “Wow, that would make a great story.” Sometimes that leads to stories and sometimes one of us will decide it would make a great anthology. Bev loved the idea of a mystery anthology and I fell in love with the term “crypt gnats” when we were talking about cemeteries. We both came up with the newest anthology called Trees while we were at RavenCon in Williamsburg, Virginia and were walking around the Olde Town taking pictures of some really creepy, gnarled trees.

Willow Croft: As one of the founders of the Garden State Horror Writers (as well as a past president), what’s the most terrifying and/or unexplained thing that has happened to you?

Diane Arrelle: Personally, I grew up in a house that had a spirit. It appeared when I was about twelve and stayed until I was about seventeen. I was scared of it and yet, when I was home alone it sort of comforted me. I wasn’t afraid of the other monsters I used to worry about once the spirit came into the house. I used to talk to it but I always begged it to never appear, which it never did. I don’t think I could have handled seeing a ghost.
As president of the GSHW we went on a field trip to a haunted house on the Jersey Shore and we saw bunches of socks on the beach. They inspired me to write a silly horror story that won first place in the Killer Frog annual contest. On another group trip we went to New Hope, Pennsylvania, for a ghost walk that creeped me out and I came home and wrote a story in about an hour. I was so inspired.

Willow Croft: Since you write both mysteries and horror, what’s the oddest or most disturbing thing that you’ve had to research, either online or in a library?

Diane Arrelle: Well, when I first started writing I went to the county library because I wanted to write a novel. Demonic books were popular and I wanted to write a demonic novel but I knew nothing about angels or demons and had never really ever thought about them. I started looking up hell and just went deeper into the mythologies surrounding the underworlds and afterlives until I scared myself and by closing time I quit. I was so frightened walking to my car I kept looking over my shoulder and I constantly checked the review mirror as I drove the ten minutes home. I was spooked for a couple of weeks and since I’d already started the book, I turned it into a comedy about angelic sex aliens landing on a hedonistic earth. It was fun to write and after a few years I threw it away. But I learned not to research something that frightens me too much. I just don’t need to add to all my neurotic list of things that terrify me.

Seek out more about Diane Arrelle at her blog, and check out the publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink, via the links below!

https://www.arrellewrites.com/books

https://www.jerseypinesink.com/

Wednesday’s Book Look: Wild and Wishful and Out of this World

Sometime soon, I’m going to check out a little artsy town here in Kansas called Lucas. I’m still trying to figure out how to decide where I want to spend…well, if not the rest of my life, at least the next few years. Kansas is (relatively) affordable. When compared to places I’ve either looked at or lived in (Portland, OR, Seattle, Florida, New Mexico, Vermont), that is. Anywhere in New England is pricey, too, though I love the idea of living in someplace like Bangor or Salem.

Lately, I’ve just wanted to laze about and read books (anybody else feelin’ this) or *gasp* do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

But a mid-life crisis or whatever’s preoccupying me lately, is no excuse to be slacking off! Right? *laugh*

Still, I did manage to sneak in some reading amidst the moving and relocation planning (on top of work and writing).

And I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Great Plains Nature Center. Well, the center was closed because of the holiday, but it was a wonderfully overcast and drizzly day to walk the nature trails out there. https://gpnc.org/

It was rad to see the efforts to “re-wild” the prairie and such, but also sad. The traffic noise from the nearby highway/street was not only constant but incredibly loud. Can you imagine having hearing way more sensitive than a human’s and having to listen to that all day and all night?

By the by, this week is #BlackBirdersWeek2021, as organized and hosted by Black AF in STEM (https://www.blackafinstem.com/). Check out the events on the Black AF in STEM or on the Twitter page: https://twitter.com/BlackAFinSTEM/.

I’ve got two short stories coming out in environmentally themed anthologies. One is a cli-fi anthology called Terraforming Earth for Aliens (to be released soon), and the other is called Shark Week: An Ocean Anthology which is now available for preorder: https://books2read.com/b/md79dZ.

So, in my dreaming of a better world and a better livespace, I’ve been reading myself into other worlds as well.

In addition to reading a few of Tess Gerritsen’s books for the first time (what could be better than to read about a who-I-might-have-been alter ego, Jane Rizzoli), I’ve escaped into worlds wrapped around horror, around the paranormal, and around science fiction and fantasy.

Quick reads, but no less immersive. And I even got to visit New England, by virtue of one of the spooky tales in the journal, Dream of Shadows (Issue 1, December 2019). https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B07ZTXLC9L

And, until I’m able to move into a haunted house of my very own, I can live vicariously through the ghostly encounters trapped in the bound pages of ParaABnormal Magazine (December 2020 and March 2021). Though, within those pages lie a book whose powers I may not want to channel. https://www.hiraethsffh.com/magazines

While all the stories in Space & Time Magazine (Issue 135, Winter 2019) were wonderfully escapist (and the articles interesting), there was one story that I really cherished. There’s a part of me that never really stops thinking about, and missing, the members of my cat/animal family I’ve lost over the years. But, as the years fly by faster and faster, I feel the presence of my bygone and, hopefully, once again, cats even more strongly. As a result of these feline ghosts swirling around me, I found Jennifer Shelby’s “The Feline, the Witch, and the Universe” especially poignant. https://spaceandtime.net/

Even though I have taken in some (former) feral cat rescues, and they fill the too-quiet spaces of my introvert-bubble of an apartment, I still feel lonely without them. They’ve each filled a special role in my cat family unit, and I hold onto some perhaps unrealistic hope that I’ll see them again.

That we won’t be alone, out there, in one of the universe’s parallel dimensions.

Wednesday’s Book Look: Haunts, “Hard Times”, and…animals, of course!

So, it’s going to be Steampunk Weekend at the Old Cowtown Museum here in Wichita!

The Old Cowtown is a living museum with both historic and recreated buildings that represent the history of Wichita.

And, according to the book I just finished–Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper–there’s plenty of ghosts and paranormal activity at the Cowtown Museum site. Here’s hoping they’ll be in attendance at the steampunk-themed event–better ghosts than a pack of hyped-up-on-sugar feral children running around! I’m gonna bring my copy of Wichita Haunts, and maybe I’ll get a ghostly autograph!

Seems like it will be a good pick-me-up for my case of the Springtime blues, either way! (Mild spoilers ahead. And, links for stuff in the post included at the end.)

Although, from the perspective of Les Egderton’s main character, Amelia Laxault, in his book Hard Times, I ain’t got no business having any kind of blues, seasonal or otherwise.

Amelia Laxault is a girl in rural, 1930s, East Texas.

Need I say any more? I mean, come on, the book’s title, Hard Times, should be a dead-drunk giveaway in itself. (Unless you didn’t have to read Grapes of Wrath in school, that is!)

Okay, okay: yes, it’s going to be just as dark, gritty, and gut-wrenching as you might expect. Put aside the box of tissues and just grab a dang bottle of whisky, already. Trust me, you’ll need it.

Also, there are dogs. You’ve been doubly warned.

As a PBR* chaser to Hard Times, there’s also dogs and cats (and a hamster!) in my short story “The Lights Went On In Georgia” which appears in the latest volume of the EconoClash Review (“Lucky Number Seven”, as editor J.D. Graves says in the introduction).

Poor animals. Even in fiction, their fates always seem to be at the terrible whims of humans. But you know, I was watching two PBS DVDs I got from the local library–A Squirrel’s Guide to Success and Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures–and I couldn’t help but feel a little more optimistic amidst how sad I always feel about animals and nature, stuck on this planet with us.

I started to think how (we) humans have become disconnected from nature by all this technology (speaking of the industrial nature of the 19th century as reflected by Steampunk), and I wondered whether we’d actually dead-ended ourselves into an evolutionary stasis because of the artificially constructed environments we now move through almost primarily. Are we in a vacuum, binge-watching Netflix while nature and plants and animals are busy figuring out biochemical ways to evolve and adapt under our environmental onslaught?

Spec fic writers, get your pencils and paper out!

*PBR = Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you hadn’t figured it out.

Oh, and here’s the links I mentioned earlier. Unless you’re already dead-drunk on that there whisky, and haven’t made it this far in the post.

Steampunk Weekend at Cowtown: https://www.visitwichita.com/event/steampunk-weekend-at-cowtown/33057/ and https://www.oldcowtown.org/

Wichita Haunts by Beth Cooper: https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9780738582870

Les Edgerton’s Hard Times: https://bronzevillebooks.com/portfolio-item/hard-times/

EconoClash Review #7: https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/graves-econoclash-review-7/

The Squirrel’s Guide to Success: https://shop.pbs.org/XC8032DV.html

Animal Misfits: Odd, Bizarre, and Unlikely Creatures: https://shop.pbs.org/WB7702.html

Wednesday’s Book Look–Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction

I’ve been a little off-kilter lately. First the time change, and now temperatures are rising, and it seems winter has left. While I like all things nature-related, winter and autumn are my favourite seasons.

I miss cold, crisp days, and walking in the snow, and eating dinner when it’s actually dark out.

And so it was chillingly comforting when I read Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction.

The characters were like the voices of friends, by virtue of their shared experiences that were revealed in many of the stories.

Yes, the content was dark, but it also felt like some mysterious, imagined presence had appeared, wrapped a blanket around my shoulders, and whispered to me “you are not alone”.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been a little discombobulated lately. Reading this collection of stories was not only a haunting experience, but a visceral one as well.

Sure, I could talk a lot more about this anthology. But it’s proving to be a bit of a challenge, because my readerly experience went deep. And I’d rather listen, anyway. Listen to all the authors’ voices, as they tell their stories. Stories that remind me that I’m not so alone, after all.

Special thanks to Editor Rebecca Rowland for the advance reader’s copy.

You can dig up a copy for yourself when it releases June 1: https://rowlandbooks.com/unburied. Because, admit it, we could all use a little less “alone time” and a little more community, about now.

Am I right, or am I right?