Ginger Nuts of Horror
As part of Ginger Nuts of Horror's support of the Kickstarter for Tales From The Shadow Booth, we have teamed up with some of the contributors for a series of exclusive interviews. Today Ginger Nuts of Horror welcomes Sarah Read.
Sarah Read is a dark fiction writer and freelance editor recently relocated from the foothills of Colorado to the frozen north of Wisconsin. Her short stories can be found in Gamut, Black Static, and other places, and in various anthologies including Exigencies, Suspended in Dusk, and BEHOLD! Oddities Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders. She also writes numerous articles about crocheting and fountain pens. She is the Editor in Chief at Pantheon Magazine and an active member of the Horror Writer’s Association. When she’s not staring into the abyss, she knits.
Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @Inkwellmonster or keep up with her on Facebook.
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Hello Sarah, Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a writer, mom, editor, librarian, stationery blogger, yarn-thing who lives in a very old house by a river. My walls are full of books and I keep spiders in every window. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a toddler and I’m raising my kids to appreciate the uncanny side of life.
Tell us about your love for fountain pens and crocheting?
I’ve been collecting fountain pens since I was a student. I’ve never enjoyed typing much, so most of my writing is done with a pen and paper. I just think better in ink. Especially pretty ink in a pretty pen. The friction on the page helps me connect, somehow.
I knit and crochet and spin yarn on a spinning wheel while I listen to audiobooks or podcasts. It (mostly) keeps me out of trouble.
You have lived in two of the most breathtaking places in the US, Wisconsin and Colorado, has the landscape and natural beauty of these places ever been an inspiration for your writing?
Absolutely! I’m dreadfully prone to homesickness and I fall in love with places easily. Everywhere I go winds up on the page somehow. And if I get too far from rocks and trees and water, I get odd-in-a-bad-way. It’s been a year since I’ve seen the Rockies, so there’s a strong chance I’ll be spending more time there in fiction, to make up for it.
You are the editor in chief at Pantheon Magazine. How did you become involved with editing?
Matt Garcia is the brains (and the big heart) behind Pantheon. He bought a few of my stories early on, and asked me one day if I’d like to help read slush, since I seemed to have a good idea of what he was looking for. I did that for a while. Then he asked if I’d like to help out as fiction editor. I’d been a magazine editor for a big publisher for about six years, so that seemed perfect. Then, as we got busier and busier, it made more sense for us to split duties more, and he became publisher and I became head editor. Letitia Trent now does our poetry editing and we have an awesome team of first readers. We’re completely reorganizing for next year. It’s going to be exciting.
What’s the biggest misconception about being an editor that you have come across?
Probably that I cackle gleefully as I push the big red button. Okay, I’ve done that maybe two or three times—but it’s super rare and always very well deserved. No, I really hate sending rejections. Most of the time I’m rejecting because a piece isn’t a good fit for the theme or the magazine in general. It’s excruciatingly common that the best story I receive in any given submission period gets rejected because it has nothing to do with that issue’s theme.
Your short stories have appeared in such places as Black Static Magazine and Gamut, these two publications in particular have a certain style and theme when it comes to the fiction that they publish. Do you write specifically with these markets in mind, or do you just write a story and find that it suits places such as these?
I write first and find a market later. I’m a bit of a market stalker—I like to read the magazines for a while and really figure out their style. I submit based on what I think is the best fit for the piece, instead of working my way down a hierarchy of white whales. On the one hand, I feel like the stories find a home more quickly that way. On the other—I have dozens of pieces I’ve never subbed because the right place hasn’t opened up. I will sometimes rewrite a story to fit a specific call, but not very often.
Is there one market that you would love to crack, and do you have a story in mind for it?
I really want to work with Ellen Datlow someday—so I guess my dream market would be one of her anthologies. She’s been one of my idols since I was a teenager. Working with her is on my die happy/bucket list. No story in mind for this dream scenario. I imagine that if the opportunity ever arose, the performance anxiety might be the end of me.
There is a move from the more literary side of the writing world into writing about the weird, traditionally this has been the domain of the lowly genre writer. Why do you think they are doing this?
Maybe they’ve noticed we lowlies are having more fun down here. Or maybe people are noticing that the world is so weird that the weird feels like home. I still experience genre bias pretty often. Mostly from friends and acquaintances who I’m sure don’t even realize they’re doing it—implying that my stories can’t mean something important and also have monsters in them. I usually just give them an odd smile and quietly question their critical reading skills.
One of your stories has been selected to appear in Shadow Booth, how did you come to appear in the anthology?
Dan was kind enough to invite me to submit something for consideration. It was one of those times where I had a story waiting for the right market to appear. When he told me what mood he was going for, I knew which piece I would send him. I’m very excited to be a part of the first issue! Can’t wait to read the whole thing.
Can you tell us about some of the themes of the story?
It’s about a ghost Winnebago and carrion crows and a dead man who has lost a son and a dead-inside man who’s finding the ghost of a son he never had. It’s about winter in the desert and missing people who never existed and having no one to miss you. And how sometimes shooting your own foot off is the best cure for a snakebite.
What has been a major influence on your writing?
Well, life. I imagine a lot of horror writers have had lives full of inspiration. And also reading—I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always loved reading dark things. A lot of that came from my grandmother. She put a lot of lovely gothic novels and myths and mysteries and true crime books into my hands. She’s currently suffering from Alzheimer’s, and it’s a tremendous heartbreak. But she still reads—constantly.
The term horror, especially when applied to fiction always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?
There are so many lovely flavors of horror. And there are bits of horror in so many lovely things. Like there’s a centipede at the center of every lollipop, and yeah—eventually you’re going to start to feel it against your tongue and maybe it’ll ruin things for you. But not before you’ve enjoyed all that sweet candy, first.
Everyone experiences real-world horror at some time in their life—I think learning to navigate those feelings in the safety of fiction is a really healthy thing to do. People have always used fiction to find their way through feelings. I think the misconception comes when people think horror is meant to just punch you in the face and your job is to do your best to ignore it or deny that you’re even in pain at all. No, you’re meant to let yourself feel it and savor it and let it soak in, then master it. I often hear, “there’s already enough horror in the world, why add to it?” I sometimes wonder if there’s too much horror in the world because not enough people have let themselves learn how to process it. They’re just leaving it there like emotional litter. It’s the old “the only way out is through” deal. I think horror fiction can help people find the way through, instead of covering their eyes and humming.
What are the books and films that helped to define you as an author?
My grandmother gave me a lot of classics. Children’s classics are surprisingly full of horror. The Secret Garden is probably the book that sneaks tendrils into a lot of my work. Frankenstein and Dracula and gothic mysteries. As a kid, I read a lot of Anne Rice and Dean Koontz. I didn’t come across Shirley Jackson until later, and now I feel like she’s my biggest influence. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series got me through my teens. As far as films, I saw The Exorcist and Poltergeist when I was seven—probably not a great idea, but I LOVED them. I also loved Ghostbusters and Are You Afraid of the Dark and Unsolved Mysteries. I still love all those things. My current favorite film is Guillermo del Toro’s The Orphanage.
What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice of?
Anyone I might name here inevitably has way more experience writing than I do. But I recently loved Gwendolyn Kiste’s collection. And Julie C. Day has a new collection coming out soon that I can’t wait for. Karen Runge is writing some of the most upsetting, raw stuff out there. And Letitia Trent breaks my heart over and over in her books.
How would you describe your writing style?
My favorite place to play is in a weird, dark world where magical realism and madness get a little blurry.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Making time to sit down and get work done. I’ve recently gone back to work after staying home for a few years with my youngest (who needs a lot of extra care), so between work and kids and the house, and editing for Pantheon—I’m writing two or three sentences here or there throughout the day. It’s not my ideal routine. I need to work out something better.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author?
Nope. I’d never say never. But I might write about something upside down or sideways.
Writing is not a static process, how have you developed as a writer over the years?
Well, I think I’ve only recently found my voice. But I still like to write in a lot of different moods, so there might be some ventriloquism going on with it. I do think I’m less afraid to write from life experiences, now. I think I was afraid of that vulnerability before, or of making people angry. But I don’t care so much now what people think, I just write. I don’t read many reviews unless someone points one out to me. And rejections don’t bother me as much—maybe because I send so many, myself, that I know there’s nothing personal in it.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Fountain pens…? No? I really do think a reliable pen and a pocket notebook are a must. But, also, I would say a community of fellow writers—especially ones who will give you honest feedback and crack the whip when you’re slacking. There are some great places online to gather and workshop and help keep each other motivated.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?
Get back to work. My life is so crazy busy—I use that as an excuse a lot. I have a few friends I can reach out to who won’t let me get away with that shit.
Getting your work noticed is one of the hardest things for a writer to achieve, how have you tried to approach this subject?
Just keep writing, keep finishing things, edit them till you can’t stand it anymore, keep sending them out. Familiarity is something that builds slowly, over time. No one will remember you the first time they read you. Or the second…maybe not even the third. I think this is why we keep hearing about “new” authors who have been publishing for decades. Just keep going. Be stubborn.
To many writers, the characters they write become like children, who is your favourite child, and who is your least favourite to write for and why?
I confess, I’ve never made that kind of bond with a character. I don’t get very attached to or precious about my work. My heart’s in it—but I can disconnect, too. Maybe it’s the editing background. But I do have more fun with some characters than others. My favorite is probably from my story Making Monsters—a woman who makes her living selling photographs of cryptozoological creatures that she’s constructed from roadkill taxidermy.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
Well, my novel manuscript—because I wasn’t sure if I could do a longer piece. But I like it. And I hope I will find a good home for it soon.
As far as short pieces go, my favorite is “Tall Grass, Shallow Water”, which will be out soonish in a place I can’t say yet.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Of course! But if I tell you which ones, you might go looking, and I can’t have that. Just let the dead sleep.
For those who haven’t read any of your stories, which do you think best represents your work and why?
If I had to pick one, I’d say “Endoskeletal” from Black Static #59. It has a lot of the elements I like to play with and it grew from one of my biggest phobias: broken bones.
Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us?
This was my favorite bit to write in “Endoskeletal”:
Her knuckles twisted as the skin pulled tighter. The grooves of her knuckles split, the fissures like small gaping mouths from which erupted bone upon bone. She shrieked at the sting of it and tried to close the split flesh by straightening her fingers, felt the pressure grow, pulsing under her nails—saw the white of bone pale like blisters at the tips of her fingers. She stretched her fingers further and the skin burst, springing back along the protruding shafts of bone, curling back like a blooming flower. Her fingernails scattered around her. Each breath, deep and ragged, felt as though it contained less air than the one before.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
One I recently loved: It’s really hard to choose. There are so many! Horror has been having some excellent years, lately. I’ll say White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.
One that recently disappointed me: The Gunslinger by Stephen King. This is the third time I’ve tried to read it. I tried once in book form and couldn’t get into it, so I tried the graphic novel, and still nope, so this time I tried audio. I think I might have to let this one go. I’ve kept trying because so many of my friends love it. But I guess it isn’t for me.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
“Hello, Sarah, I have this nice fountain pen—would you like it?”
“Why, yes—yes I would, thank you.”