Q: Welcome! First off, if you could tell a little bit about yourself and what types of stories you enjoy writing as well as which genres you write in?
A: Hi! Thank you so much for having me! I write psychological horror, mostly, though I dabble in monster and cosmic horror here and there. I think writers tend to steer their own work toward what they enjoy reading and watching, and I am a huge fan of quiet/creepy stories with twists at the end. I love Joyce Carol Oates’ The Doll-Master collection: it offers a solid buffet of psychological horror so that the reader gets a sampling of every sub-type, from the slow-burn unsettling tales to the unreliable narrators. I also enjoy Twilight Zone episodes, especially those that pull the rug out from under me in the last five minutes.
I also find that without doing so purposefully, I tend to cast female characters as predators rather than prey. It wasn’t something I was aware of until I had a talk with my father recently. I told him about a story I have in Sinister Smile Press’ upcoming serial killer-themed anthology: my murdering protagonist is a woman. My father said, “There aren’t too many of those, female serial killers.” My response? “That’s only because they don’t get caught as often!” Some of the kindest people I have ever known in my life are women, but I also believe that those of the female persuasion are just as capable of cold-blooded thoughts and unspeakable actions as their male counterparts.
Q: I’d love to share a bit about your most recent work, Unburied: A Collection of Queer Dark Fiction, if you could let our readers know about it?
A: I can’t tell you how excited I was to see this collection come to fruition. I wanted to put out a queer horror anthology for years, but anywhere I pitched it, I was told that there wasn’t enough of a market for it. That surprised me. I was almost ready to give up when my friend, horror writer Louis Stephenson, pushed me to keep trying. He had written and shared with me his story “The Red Candle,” and I loved it immediately and asked if he would consider including it in the collection if I ever found it a home. At the same time, I began corresponding with Felice Picano, who is, really, one of the godfathers of gay fiction and memoir (if you haven’t read his Like People in History, go out and grab it immediately: it is poignantly gorgeous on so many levels), and he encouraged me as well.
The writers who were invited to appear in the anthology were given free rein to write whatever type of dark tale they wished, and the result was this amazing spectrum of every type of creepy fiction around, from dark fantasy and sci-fi terror to psychological and supernatural horror and thriller. All of the stories feature at least one LGBT main character; sometimes the stories explore queer identity, and sometimes the stories feature a protagonist who just happens to be queer. The phrase “burying the gays” refers to the once-rampant practice of writers killing off characters who appeared to be outside of the heterosexual, cis-gender “acceptable norm”: to allow those characters to come up on top, to win, was equated with condoning queerness in a homophobic age, I guess. In Unburied, some of the LGBT characters are killed off, some are the ones doing the killing, but in no case are any of them punished in the end because of their sexuality or gender.
The Poe quotation at the beginning of Unburied is particularly fitting because in that scene from “The Cask of Amontillado,” the two characters are walking through a family crypt, and Fortunato offers a toast “to the buried.” I like to think of the epigraph as a remembrance of those writers—and readers—who were forced to disguise or hide their sexuality or gender identity. It’s a way of saying, we acknowledge what you were forced to do, and at the same time, we celebrate that the times, they are a-changin’. Plus, for anyone familiar with the ending of Poe’s story, Montresor’s response is quite creepy and unnerving in its foreshadowing. It sets the tone for the entire collection!
Q: Is there anything you edited out of your most recent work that you’ve been second-guessing?
A: That’s a great question. Out of my own writing, no, there’s isn’t anything I can recall. When I give a piece to a friend, and s/he gives me honest advice on what is good and bad about the story, I go into that knowing that I asked for help, and we writers can’t always see the forest for the trees when it comes to our own work; we’re too close to it. If a friend tells me something doesn’t work and to fix it, I fix it and don’t second-guess it.
As far as what I may have edited out of other writer’s work in anthologies, I have second-guessed things if the edits caused friction between me and the author. It’s only happened twice, but both incidences stayed with me. As a rule, I try to only do soft-edits, fixing blatant grammar or spelling issues or punctuation that distracts or muddies the sentence, or with stories from writers outside of America, clarifying idioms or vernacular quirks. Sometimes a comma splice is part of an author’s style, and I’m okay with that. As long as the error doesn’t interfere with a reader’s understanding, I try to stay hands-off, and any changes we make are sent to the author for a final okay before the book goes to print. However, there was an incident where I had to adjust one idiomatic phrase for clarity. The writer fought me on the change, insisting that it was a regional syntax. I got a second opinion and that editor told me that yes, I needed to make the change as it wasn’t part of dialogue and did interfere with understanding. I explained to the author that I needed to stay with the change, he told me he understood, but when the book was released, he did not promote it, which made me sad, as ironically, his story was one of my favorites in the collection. I know on the surface that I made the right choice, but I will always question the decision when I look back.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your work?
A: I am originally from Western Massachusetts, which means I have an American news anchor accent: unlike the Boston area residents, we enjoy our “r” sounds on the ends of words just fine, thank you! My mom was a cardiac nurse, and my dad was an HVAC mechanic for the Air Force. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, which means most of my childhood sailed along rather well without cable television, the ability to record or watch movies on demand, or the use of a microwave. I do find that I mine some of my memories for stories. I remember the blizzard of 1978; New England was really walloped by that snowstorm, and I still have a vivid image of my father hand-shoveling a walking path along our driveway. My sister was only two at the time, and when she walked down the path, the snow on either side was so high, she completely disappeared from view. I set the story “Just a Taste” purposefully during the 1970s in Massachusetts so that I could include that visual.
Q: What was your motivation to get into curating anthologies, and do you have any new ones on the horizon you could share?
A: I was in the right place at the right time, to be honest. I had just finished writing a memoir for a client of AM Ink Publishing, and the company was looking to begin releasing horror anthologies and offered me the job. It was, and still is, a great deal more difficult than people imagine. I honestly went in thinking, well, what’s the big deal? Other people write stuff and I throw it together in a book, right? However, there’s so much more involved, both in terms of the concrete tasks, like staying obsessively organized, reading closely, and locating promotional opportunities, and in terms of the more abstract ones, like always treating writers the way I myself want to be treated.
Being a writer who submits her work to open calls on a pretty regular basis helps. I can always tell when I am working with an editor who has never submitted his/her work anywhere outside of his/her own company: a certain level of empathy is almost always lacking. No one wants to receive a group rejection email; it’s a slap in the face. Once, I was one of about twenty writers who received a group email from an editor explaining that we were all in the “maybe” pile but that we all needed to buy grammar textbooks and study them. I thought to myself, I don’t want to be a part of this project anymore, and I submitted the piece elsewhere. She returned my story with three errors highlighted, but that wasn’t the point. Everyone has errors in their stories—it’s why we shouldn’t edit our own work—but no one should be spoken to in such a disrespectful way, and certainly not in a public arena like writers are schoolchildren in a weirdly sadistic middle school class. Most of the editors I encounter are wonderful: they are patient and respect their authors, and some of the nicest response emails I’ve received have been rejections, but like any profession, there are bound to be a handful of people who want to be in a position of power just to be able to make other people feel bad.
Dark Ink’s anthologies have really grown since that first one, and we often receive hundreds of submissions. Right now, we are in the middle of our call for Generation X-ed, set to release in January. I’m proud of the fact that I make it a point to read each and every story as if it is something I submitted. I take my time, and I make notes for myself on what I liked and what maybe doesn’t work for the call, and I always write an individual decision email back. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m always mindful that the writers who submit are real people who spent hours, sometimes days or weeks, crafting their submission. To treat another writer with anything less than respect should never be an option, no matter how much power you wield.
Q: You’ve released a lot of amazing short fiction, which is your favorite work so far?
A: For short fiction? That’s a tough one. There are a few that are really personal to me, and a few that I just had a lot of fun writing. I’m always partial to “Bent” in The Horrors Hiding in Plain Sight, and I have another short fiction collection coming out in 2022 that has some new stuff, including a story titled “Fear No Drowning.” It’s about a single father whose teenaged son develops a (real) rare nervous disorder that affects his mobility and the anxiety and need for cosmic explanation experienced by anyone who has, or takes care of someone with, a progressive illness. I always wanted to write a story featuring the sea monster, the siren, and I was able to do that with “Fear.” I also set it on the southern Maine shore, one of my favorite places to visit.
Q: I first ran into your work on Horror Tree for Women in Horror Month where you’ve done a few posts, can you share your thoughts on what Women in Horror Month means to you?
A: My favorite part of Women in Horror Month are the anthologies that come out each year at that time. I have been fortunate enough to have stories in two such collections, and I loved reading the other stories: the range of styles and themes and sub-genres in WiHM collections is deliciously broad; there are so many of us, female-identifying writers, and yet, we all interpret horror in a different way. It that sense, the anthologies themselves serve as metaphors of what it means to be a woman.
Q: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
A: I have written under a pseudonym before; most recently, I used one for some erotic fiction I experimented with for that genre’s calls. It was challenging, writing a type of fiction that is the polar opposite of the one I know, but I was trying to push myself and not get too comfortable in one space. Sometimes readers will roll their eyes at genre fiction—it’s not “literary” enough, according to them—but I don’t think those people appreciate how difficult it is to write, whether it’s horror, science fiction, fantasy, or romance. It was an experience, crafting stories where no one was plotting to murder someone or collapsing into madness. I will never take erotic fiction writers for granted: they have to build the same degree of verisimilitude in their tales as any other fiction writer. However, I don’t think I’m cut out for fiction where people are happy, as bizarre as that seems, so back to dark fiction I go!
Q: We’ve all heard of writer’s block, but have you ever gotten reader’s block?
A: It’s happened. Any high school or college English teacher will tell you: when you sit down to correct a pile of essays or lengthy papers, you really need to pace yourself and limit how many you read in one sitting. If you don’t, you become worn out and don’t give the latter pieces the same degree of patience and attention. For anthology calls, I try to limit my submission reading to five in one sitting. I might go back to the pile later on that day, but I force myself to take a break so that I stay fair and open-minded. When I review novellas and anthologies for Ginger Nuts of Horror, I employ the same tactic: I’ll read half the novella or two to three stories of a collection, making notes as I go, then take a break before finishing.
Q: Thanks again, do you have any teases of what you’re working on next that you could hint at?
A: I have stories appearing in a handful of super cool anthologies this summer and fall, including the previously mentioned A Pile of Bodies, A Pile of Heads: Let the Bodies Hit the Floor, Totally Tubular Terrors (an 80s-themed collection where all proceeds will be going to charity), and Last Suppers, a horror fiction-cookbook hybrid. And, in 2022, my second short dark fiction collection, White Trash and Recycled Nightmares, and my first novella, Optic Nerve, will be released. (I guess those were more than hints?)
Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
I’m (hesitantly) proud of my author website and don’t track visitors in that creepy, I’m-going-to-spam-you kind of way, so I’d love it if people would check it out, but please be forgiving: My first computer was a Commodore 64, and to be honest, I really only used it to play Jungle Hunt and Radar Rat Race (if any readers recall that latter game and now have the theme song stuck in their heads…you’re welcome) and haven’t gotten much more technologically savvy since. Therefore, the layout and features are pretty basic. However, I have links to all of my recent work there, including reviews of other horror releases and information on all of the sixteen fantastic authors in Unburied, including their other projects. Now that the pandemic is clearing, appearances and conventions are back on, and I’m booking things again slowly but steadily, and those dates appear there, too. Please, come visit and sit a spell! www.RowlandBooks.com