Q: Loren Rhoads joins us today to talk about her latest release, which is a memoir and is slightly different from the novels she usually releases. Welcome Loren, if you could give my readers a brief introduction?
A: Thanks so much for having me! I’m Loren Rhoads, the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. I was the editor of Morbid Curiosity magazine, which collected confessional essays, and Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. I’m also the author of five novels that range from space opera to dark paranormal fantasy and a short story collection called Unsafe Words. My newest book is morbid nonfiction.
Q: ‘This Morbid Life’ is your most recent release. What can you share with our readers about this death-positive memoir?
A: This Morbid Life is a collection of 45 essays that span from taking prom pictures in cemeteries to learning to overcome my claustrophobia with a sensory deprivation tank. There are a couple of essays about the days I spent exploring cadavers in a science lab, a bunch of pieces about visiting medical museums, and some about the crazy gallery shows we used to have in San Francisco.
Most of the pieces were written for zines in the Nineties or online magazines in the Aughts. I wrote for Gothic.Net, Jane (a women’s magazine), Unzipped (a gay men’s magazine), and HorrorAddicts.Net, as well as for Cyber-Psychos AOD, Tail Spins, the Azrael Project Newsletter, and Zine World.
Q: What inspired you to write this memoir?
A: It’s a funny story… Artist Lynne Hansen was doing a challenge last October where she created a new book cover every day. One day she made this beautiful collage of a body that looks like it’s been autopsied, but wildflowers and butterflies have sprung up inside the rib cage. I fell in love with the artwork. My hands were shaking when I wrote to ask if it was available. Once it was mine, I had to put together a book that would do the cover art justice.
Q: You aren’t new to non-fiction as you’ve previously written both a planner and travel guides. Of your previous releases, which was the most interesting to put together?
A: Wow, that’s a hard question! Emerian Rich and I put together the Spooky Writers Planner last year. Both of us need a planner to help us track things we submitted, ideas we wanted to explore, social media campaigns, book releases, all the business side of writing…so we made the planner we needed to have. She wanted a paperback copy for her desk and I wanted a printable copy, so I could make extra pages as I needed them. We both got what we wanted. It was really fun to work so closely with someone as creative as Emerian. Her designs are perfectly spooky.
That said, I really enjoyed 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, too. I was approached by Black Dog & Leventhal about doing a full-color hardcover coffee table book about cemeteries. I pitched the title to them and they loved it! I had trouble whittling the list of cemeteries down to fit the book, though. I keep hoping someone will approach me to write 199 More Cemeteries!
Q: Now, you are also well versed in releasing genre fiction, having written in a multitude of genres. Which has been your favorite genre to work in?
A: Every project is challenging in a different way, which is what keeps writing fun. I loved writing space opera because it allowed me to play with time and space. I adore taking the real world and bending it slightly when I write paranormal fantasy. Exploring cemeteries is the work of my life, so I’ve got a couple more of those nonfiction books lined up. Memoir has been the scariest to work in, since I don’t have authorial distance from the subject matter. I’m about halfway through putting together a second volume in the same series as This Morbid Life. It will be called Jet Lag & Other Blessings. It collects my morbid travel essays from places like Travelers Tales, Scoutie Girl, and Gothic.Net. It will have another Lynne Hansen cover.
Q: You’ve released short stories and longer works. How do you feel about writing stories of different lengths?
A: I’m not sure what it would be like to write a book-length nonfiction story. I haven’t done that yet. 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die is an encyclopedia, so I approached it as writing 199 individual entries (each under 500 words). Both Wish You Were Here and This Morbid Life started as collections of essays I’d already published. I wrote new pieces for both books to fill gaps I felt they had. Some of the pieces in This Morbid Life are really short, depending on who they were written for. Because they’re so short, they had to be tightly focused. That was fun to play with.
Q: Outside of writing, you’ve also edited multiple anthologies. How has editing others’ works impacted your own writing?
A: Editing is fascinating. It requires me to look at a piece of writing and figure out what the author’s intentions were, then ask a series of questions to help them achieve those aims. As I see it, the editor mediates between what’s in the author’s head and what got put down on the paper.
Editing has made me think a lot about the magic between creating (or, in the case of a memoir, recording) a story and bringing it to life in a reader’s imagination. I try to write in such a way that the words vanish and the reader feels as if they’re inside the story.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A: I was born in Michigan and grew up on a farm a mile down the road from my grandmother’s farm. I moved to San Francisco in 1988. I don’t expect to ever leave, if I can help it. Being a small-town girl in the big city was a major adjustment, which I talk about in This Morbid Life. San Francisco has always felt more like home to me than the farm ever did.
Q: You’ve done a multitude of live panels in the past. What can you share as advice for those who are preparing to do a panel of their own?
A: If you’re the moderator, contact the panelists ahead of time. Tell them what you think the panel topic means. Give them some sample questions to chew over, if you can. Ask what they’d like to add. If you start the conversation in advance, things will be less awkward when you’re in front of the audience. Once the panel starts, make certain everyone gets equal time to speak — and be prepared to step in and redirect the conversation, if you need to.
If you’re a panelist, spend some time thinking about what the panel’s moderator wants to discuss. What can you add to that conversation? Personally, I am more comfortable if I prepare some notes about books or authors or movies I want to discuss, so I don’t find myself coming up blank when it’s my turn at the mic. You don’t want to spend all your time talking about your own work, but if you talk passionately enough about someone else’s work, readers will track your books down.
Q: If you were to write with any living author, who would it be, why, and what would you want to write about with them?
A: Wow, that’s a hard choice! I’d love to write another Shadow Moon story with Neil Gaiman. He’s such a great character. I really enjoyed the story Gaiman wrote in the volume of Best New Horror that we shared.
Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
A: I send out a monthly newsletter with a morbid adventure, contests, behind-the-scenes peeks, and more. You can subscribe at https://mailchi.mp/aa9545b2ccf4/lorenrhoads
Or follow me on social media:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/LorenRhoadsAuthor/
If you’re a writer, check out the Spooky Writer’s Planner on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/listing/920797923/spooky-writers-planner) or on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3jk3pJt) and start planning for next year!