Q: Today I’m sharing my interview with Kristi Petersen Schoonover! I’d love to start things off if you could share a little bit about yourself and what types of stories you enjoy writing? Are there any other genres that you dabble in?
A: Most writers have many interests, and I’m no different. I volunteered at a couple of aquariums doing docent or behind the scenes work, I got halfway through a certificate in archeology, I spent many years volunteering at community theaters both onstage and off, I read tarot cards, and I scrapbook and listen to documentaries when I need to decompress (or I play endless rounds of solitaire with real cards). I’ve been married to my husband, Nathan, for nine years, but we’ve been together for seventeen.
My dad was an English teacher, so reading was key, and I was able to read all the starter books on my shelf by the time I was four. Eventually, he let me read whatever was in his den (but told me not to bring any questions to Mom, because it was books like Jaws and The Word and Raise the Titanic and other things ten year olds should not be reading that had all sorts of references to sex and drugs). As far as writing, the first short story I wrote was when I was five—about a tree that wanted to kill itself because its leaves were turning brown. I had tried my hand at a couple of novels by the time I was in middle school, but in the end, the short stories were my jam.
My stories always seem to have a visceral undercurrent of sorrow. As far as genre, I love to dabble in everything. Everything I write, at its core, is a tragic love story; what makes each story unique is its genre elements. Literary and horror’s subgenres are my favorites, but I have also used elements from soft sci-fi, western, noir, chick-lit, mystery, historical, romance—just about anything. The newest thing I’ve started to play with is cosmic horror (think Lovecraft).
Q: You’ve had quite a few short stories accepted over the past couple of years. Can you share a quick rundown of upcoming anthologies in which we can find your work in?
A: Most recently, “Arbor Day” (set on an island that has strange rituals with the dead and trees) was published in Wicked Women and “Ghosts on the Sand” (a woman learns the scary truth about her son) appeared in Lovecraftian Microfiction Vol 6 last October, and “The Digging Place” (a dead man’s objects haunt his ex) was published in June in Fornever After. Upcoming, “Carving Grace” (about killer ship figureheads) will appear in Wicked Creatures (Oct ’21), “Incubation” (involving Emperor penguin breeders) will appear in Angela’s Recurring Nightmares (Dec ’21), “Nothing to See Here” (takes place between the Challenger and Chernobyl disasters) will appear in Dark Ink Books’ Gen-Xed (Jan ’22), and “No Sweet Bird” (a ghost story with allusions to Rime of the Ancient Mariner) will appear in Crow & Cross Keys (early ’22).
If anyone’s interested, a visit to my website’s “Read My Work” page has links to stories that were published in free online magazines, and the “Store” page has links to where publications can be purchased.
Q: What can you share about your own latest solo release?
A: The Shadows Behind is a collection of pieces about the monsters that live inside us and the monsters we face every day in the real world. In the stories, a hungry volcano demands more and a talking piranha predicts the future. A plastic Easter bunny taunts a struggling husband, ancient Egyptian jars tempt a former convict, and a man-eating tree mocks a bereft mother. Kudzu devours a sleeping town, and seagull bones whisper long-buried secrets. Some of the stories were published long ago but were out of print (I’ve been getting my work published since the late 1980s), some are still available but are scattered across many anthologies, and some are new.
Q: Are there any characters who you’ve previously written that have been whispering to you that you need to write more of their story?
A: Funny you should ask that! Malcolm, from my short story “Wrecking Malcolm,” has been trying to get me to tell the rest of his story—what happens to him at the end of his life, years after the current story’s final line—but it’s not quite formed in my head yet. At one point, I thought I’d write a sequel to Bad Apple—because readers have reached out to me wanting more of Beckitt’s story—but I honestly don’t know if that’ll ever happen. Usually, when I’m done with a story, I’m done. I tend to just keep moving forward, which is why I would probably be awful at writing a multi-book series. I’m in awe of writers who can do that.
Q: What can you tell me about 34 Orchard Literary Journal which you’ve founded?
A: I wanted to create a magazine chock with stories I liked to read—cinematic, fully fleshed-out pieces that speak about the deeper, darker truths in life that are visceral and unforgettable, in that sweet spot between commercial and esoteric. I remember reading short stories when I was younger, and I’d think, ‘oh my gosh—that’s me! I get that! I understand how much pain this character is in—and that means I’m not alone!’ I wanted a magazine that could give other people that same experience. I love to read a short story that changes my perception on something in the world or in my own life. Based on the feedback we’ve been getting from readers, I think we’ve achieved that. I still get letters about “Christmas Chicken,” which we published in Issue 1, for example. People remember that story, and they take it with them. That’s the goal of 34 Orchard.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A: I was born and grew up in New Milford, in western Connecticut, in a house that was perpetually dark and underheated—dark brown rugs, wood-paneled walls, tiny windows, electric heat always set too low; because of my mom’s illness, I was parentified at a young age. All I wanted was to live someplace white and warm year-round and free of responsibility—and so, even though I’d been writing stories since I was about five, I started writing furiously from the age of about twelve. I wanted to be out of New Milford, out of that house, and out from under—and the only way I could do that was on an IBM Selectric. I wouldn’t be the writer I am today had I had a different childhood—and my most prolific period to date was actually during the pandemic, because that desperate need to escape kicked in. I don’t like my life? I go write a new one.
Q: You’re part of the Horror Writers Association, before I dig into your role, can you share a bit about the HWA and the benefit of being a member?
A: Being a member of the HWA honestly has so many benefits it’s hard to list them all, and many don’t know that anyone can join; there are different levels of membership. Beyond being part of a community of other creatives and networking, there are informative newsletters, promotional resource lists as well as free promotional opportunities, market updates and information (as well as some exclusive market access), online resources, mentor and scholarship programs, access to health insurance and the option to join a regional chapter (there are chapters all over the world). In 2022, our largest annual event—StokerCon—will be offered virtually as well as in person, which makes it more accessible for those who can’t travel. On a more intangible level, there’s a communal spirit of support, and it’s being in an international community of people who are experts in their areas of endeavor. If I’ve got some out-there question about something, somebody in that organization knows the answer. The help you need is out there.
Q: Going further down that route, you’re the co-chair of the Horror Writers Association’s Connecticut Chapter. What does that involve?
A: We’re still getting our legs under us, as we’ve only been around a few months, but mostly we’re hopeful we can support each other in this crazy thing called the writing life. We have a feature called The SOUNDing Board, in which a couple of us will present work for feedback each month, and we have plans to attend events as a group. As far as me personally, right now I’m just serving as the gal who makes sure announcements get into the newsletter and I host the Zoom meetings—kind of like a “secretary,” I guess. I also help anyone who needs it with things like submission preparation or promotion.
Q: Outside of the HWA, you were also involved with the Pearlman Writers Group and I’d love to hear more about that experience!
A: Dan Pearlman was an incredible man and a fantastic professor. Several of his short science fiction stories were published in magazines and anthologies for decades, and he had collections and novels published as well. He was an Ezra Pound scholar and was a professor at the University of Rhode Island for twenty-five years, and that’s where we met in 1993, when I registered for his writing workshop.
In 2011, he was running a critique group with a few of his former students, and I was privileged enough to be invited. Once a month, another member and I would make a six-hour round trip to attend (we met at either URI or a restaurant in East Providence). The group’s members were so qualified that the feedback was in-depth and amazing. The greatest thing about Dan was that he didn’t mince words—even though he was soft-spoken, he was very direct in his criticism, and he taught us to do the same with each other, so there was a very special connection there. There was a social element to it, also. We had food and drink and some sharing time.
He passed away in 2013, and the group folded after that. I miss him every day, but I always keep what he taught me close; there are things he said that made such an impact, I can still hear them in my head to this day.
Q: What are your favorite author resources online, from websites to tools?
A: I don’t use many writer’s resources unless it’s for market research and keeping track of submissions—I’m still very much a go-to-the-book-on-the-shelf girl. Aside from all the resources at the HWA, I use Duotrope, The Horror Tree, and various Facebook groups to find places to send my work. As far as tools, I love WordPress for website building, Gmail for email, and Submittable for managing submission calls (I’m not currently using it for the magazine, but plan to in the future, as I’ve loved using it in the past for anthologies I edited).
Q: Can you share the impact on your writing that obtaining your MFA has had? Also, if you don’t mind me asking, where did you receive it from?
A: I went to Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, and I focused on single effect, which improved my work’s richness; I also focused on close analyses of short stories. The biggest take away for me was learning how to read and write things on a deeper level, and also, I ended up as Editor in Chief of the Pitkin Review, which taught me so much about successfully putting together a journal. It was that experience that springboarded the work I’ve done editing anthologies and with 34 Orchard—which probably wouldn’t exist now if I hadn’t been put in that position. It was life changing.
Writers always ask me whether or not they think an MFA is worth it. I did it because I wanted to push myself, to grow and improve my work, to show myself and the world that I was beyond dedicated to writing, and if the opportunity to get a terminal degree in something I loved more than anything in the universe was out there, why not? I grew, and my writing improved exponentially (and this has continued since graduation). In addition, I made deep, lifelong connections with those I studied with. It’s a degree that requires an intense amount of passion; it kicks your ass, it’s expensive, and it’s a lot of work that may not have any financial return. It was an investment in myself—and it was worth every dime. I’d do another one in a heartbeat; I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to school even if you can’t really get a “second MFA” in the same subject. So the real response to “is it worth it?” is that it depends on personal expectations, although I’ve always believed that any kind of education is never a waste. It’s really a question of whether or not you think it’s right for you.
Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
I’m more than happy to talk with anyone about anything writing-related: questions about submissions, the HWA, getting an MFA, critique groups, 34 Orchard, finding resources—whatever; there’s no handbook on “how to be a writer”; a lot of this is learn by doing. Please reach out to me on my contact page and I’ll be glad to help, or at least try to point you in the right direction.
The Shadows Behind is on Amazon at: http://bit.ly/shadowsbehind