I’m delighted to be able to welcome Christa Carmen back to Kendall Reviews. After her sensational guest post entitled Ten Short Stories by Women in Horror You Need To Read which you can enjoy here, it’s a great honour to be able to share with you a wonderfully in-depth interview I held with Christa at the end of July 2018 before the release of Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, Christa’s first full-length, single-author publication.
KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?
I am a writer of horror, psychological suspense, and the dark fantastic, and my short stories have appeared in places like Fireside Fiction Company, Unnerving Magazine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, DarkFuse Magazine, and Tales to Terrify, to name a few. I have additional work forthcoming from Lycan Valley Press Publications’ Dark Voices, and my debut fiction collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, will be released in August 2018 by Unnerving.
I live in Westerly, Rhode Island with my husband (we were married on Halloween in 2016 at the historic-and-purportedly-haunted Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado) and our ten-year-old bluetick beagle, Maya. I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, and a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology. I am currently pursuing a Master of Liberal Arts in Creative Writing & Literature from Harvard Extension School. I work at a pharmaceutical company as a Research & Development Packaging Coordinator, and at a local hospital as a mental health clinician.
KR: What do you like to do when not writing?
I am on the Board of Directors for Community Speaks Out (CSO), a non-profit that fosters community support, awareness, and education on addiction and prevention, and walks families through the process of getting addicted family members into treatment through financial and logistical assistance. I am also an administrator for Shine a Light on Heroin (SALOH), a grassroots organization that aims to maximize public awareness and seek solutions to the ever-growing opioid crisis in southern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut. I recently cut back on some of my volunteer endeavors, stepping down from my position as secretary of the Westerly Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, but my passion for substance abuse and mental health advocacy work persists via the public speaking I do for CSO and SALOH.
For fun, when I’m not writing, working, or volunteering, I walk my dog or go for runs (always outside, never in a gym!), do yoga, fantasize about planting a sprawling English garden made up solely of black and other dark-colored perennials, and seek out haunted places in Rhode Island or surrounding New England to visit.
KR: What is your favourite childhood book?
My favorite childhood book was Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows. I read that book over and over and over again, despite crying uncontrollably each time I reached its conclusion and commencing anew my scrutiny of random parks and nature reservations for a beautiful red fern, its long leaves arching over a plot of rich, dark soil, its roots concealing something sacred and not to be shared.
I think Where the Red Fern Grows was the first time I became entirely lost in the details of a story, details that stuck with me so fully that when it came time to find the dog I would share my own life with, a puppy wasn’t a puppy if not in possession of floppy ears, an elongated body, and the other telltale marks of a hound. My beagle, Maya, is the result of that search, and I still have my childhood copy of the book, displayed on my desk along with a sampling of the other novels and short story collections that have shaped me as both a person and a writer between two mirror-image metal bookends, shaped like dogs. To say that Where the Red Fern Grows had an effect on my life would be an understatement.
KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?
Choosing my favorite album is difficult, since there are albums that were my favorite at one time or another, before I tired of them or moved on to a different album or artist. If I could only ever listen to one album for the rest of my life, I’d probably have to say Aerosmith’s live album, A Little South of Sanity, but I’ve also been known to have Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black on a pretty consistent rotation, as well as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ double album, Stadium Arcadium.
I know there are a lot of authors for whom this is not the case, but while music plays a role in my writing—I’ve been inspired by a song, or series of songs, to pursue an idea or write a certain story (see, “Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge,” published in Issue #2 of Outpost 28) and to include a lyrical epitaph at the opening of a novel—I don’t think it plays a huge role. I was perusing the programming for NECON (Northeastern Writers’ Conference) 38 and came across a panel entitled, “When Your Book Has a Soundtrack: The Influence of Music on Your Writing,” in which Matt Bechtel, Doungjai Gam Bepko, Martina Cole, Rachel Autumn Deering, Gary Frank, and Bracken MacLeod will be discussing music that inspires, influences, or informs their art, and I thought, I’d be in way over my head if I ever got placed on a panel like that!
I do find horror film soundtracks to be good background music while writing, if I’m in the right mood for it. And I really do have to be in the right mood, since I have a strange relationship with background noise. If I’m in a crowded coffee shop, I have no problem tuning everything else out but the voices in my head that are instructing my writing. However, if I have something streaming directly into my ears via headphones or even computer speakers, I sometimes find myself getting too distracted. I find that when I’m home writing in my office or on my sun porch, the sound of my fish tank filter humming or the birds outside chirping is background noise enough.
KR: Do you have a favourite horror movie/director?
I grew up on Wes Craven and John Carpenter films, and as part of my English major, took an entire course at the University of Pennsylvania dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock. While these directors will always have a special place in my heart, the first time I saw the original Evil Dead film, I was blown away by what Sam Raimi had managed to accomplish back in 1981. Scream may have been an unmatched parody/ slasher homage at the time of its release in ‘96, but Sam Raimi successfully translated his affection for the Three Stooges, slapstick, and scary movies into a string of films that crafted a whole new genre offshoot. While successors to the sub-genre may expand on a particular concept or trope, no one does horror comedy better than Sam Raimi.
The Evil Dead remake is one of my favorite horror films of all time, despite the fact that Sam Raimi only produced the 2013 installment; Fede Álvarez directed it. I love that film because in addition to existing within the Evil Dead universe, it introduces fans to a completely badass and unequivocally awesome protagonist in Jane Levy’s Mia. When we arrive at the notorious cabin in the woods, we discover that Mia was brought to this remote location by her brother and friends in order to overcome her addiction to heroin. That a Bruce Campbell-worthy Evil Dead heroine travels to the cabin in the woods to detox, and that everything she endures after her arrival is borne while simultaneously going through cold turkey withdrawal, propels this film into territory that far surpasses simple supernatural horror films heavy on the gore.
To me, the film is like a perfectly constructed and utterly decadent chocolate layer cake. The death scenes are memorable, the horror is palpable, and yet, there is an entire sub-plot in which a very real and well-constructed character is struggling to overcome a very real and highly formidable affliction. At a panel at Readercon 29 on Mental Illness in Horror, Nadia Bulkin brought up the Evil Dead remake, and discussed the commendable choice on the part of writer/director Álvarez to have Mia’s struggles with substance abuse and mental health disorders provide the foundation for her strength in fighting off the evil in the woods, the evil that possesses first her, and then her friends.
I’ve always found the final scene to strike such an intensely visceral emotional chord; as the blood-rain pours down, Mia’s evil doppelgänger prophesizes, “You’re gonna die here, you pathetic junkie.” To which Mia responds, like an addict who has hit rock bottom with a resounding thud and is on the verge of change, “I’ve had enough of this shit.”
One last trivia-worthy fun-fact: in the first horror novel I ever wrote, I named the malevolent proprietor of Sequela Manor, Jackson Raimi, in honor of my favorite horror director.
KR: What are you reading now?
A friend of mine just gifted me a copy of The Five Senses of Horror, by Eric J. Guignard, and I’m really enjoying the book’s unique structure and innovative take on exploring the interaction and relationship of the five senses on the horror genre. I also just picked up a copy of She Said Destroy, by Nadia Bulkin at Readercon 29 this past weekend, which includes three stories nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, four included in Year’s Best anthologies, and one original tale. Thus far I’ve gotten through “The Five Stages of Grief,” which originally appeared in Three-Lobed Burning Eye, but I always devour Bulkin’s contributions to publications like 3LBE, Nightmare Magazine and The Dark, and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity I have to sit at the beach or by the pool, and dig further into her socio-political horror stories.
KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?
The list of authors that inspired me to write includes Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Dean Koontz, Frank M. Robinson, Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley, Margaret Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Sidney Sheldon, R.L. Stine, Jennifer McMahon, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Harper Lee, J.K. Rowling, Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen Dobyns, Michael McDowell, Dan Simmons, and Jack Ketchum.
The list of authors that inspire me to continue writing is long, imperfect, and ever-growing, and includes Carmen Maria Machado, Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Jessica McHugh, Nadia Bulkin, Ania Ahlborn, Jac Jemc, Alma Katsu, Christina Sng, Elizabeth Hand, Joyce Carol Oates, Claire C. Holland, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Renee Miller, Theresa Braun, Seanan McGuire, Kelly Link, Damien Angelica Walters, Lauren Groff, Roxane Gay, Annie Hartnett, Caroline Kepnes, Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough, Gillian Flynn, B.A. Paris, Joe Hill, John Palisano, John Langan, Nicholas Kauffman, Grady Hendrix, Paul Tremblay, Dean Kuhta, and Calvin Demmer.
KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
I do a bit of both. I definitely outline for longer works, as the three novels I’ve written thus far each hinge on twists, turns, mistaken identities, and the like, so I would get hopelessly lost if I didn’t utilize an outline for that type of narrative, but for short stories, I pretty much just go with the flow. I do third draft edits on the computer, but all first drafts and second draft rewrites have to be done by hand, or the words don’t flow adequately. With that being said, I can sit down with the concept of a short story mapped out in my head, and get most of it onto the page in a single sitting.
KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I often research as needed while working on a project, and don’t do a ton of investigating prior to beginning something new. Oftentimes, the reasons that compel me to begin a short story or novel are intrinsic and multi-faceted, so knowledge of or interest in a certain topic predicates the actual act of writing a first draft. And ultimately, the best research is reading other writers’ work. Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger was the refresher course in Gothic literature I needed in order to write Sequela Manor. Ania Ahlborn’s smart, sophisticated horror in conjunction with the female-madness-as-ambiguity of Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House inspired 13 Sessions, a body horror novel about a thirty-something year old woman who writes a blog about the pharmaceutical industry and ends up pursuing acupuncture as a personal infertility treatment, with monstrous results. And the true-crime perfection of Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter on the heels of the fast-paced structure of Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall was the best research I could have undertaken for the construction of my third novel, Coming Down Fast.
KR: Describe your usual writing day?
I try to write Monday through Friday from 5 am to 7 am, and then at whatever other odd hours I can scrape together beyond that. On the weekends, it’s not unusual for me to write for a solid eight hours. If I’ve gotten to bed early the night before, I’ll shoot for 5 am to 1 pm, but I’ll start as late as 8 or 9 am when I know I have the rest of the day free.
KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?
A favorite short story I’ve written, published or not… Hmm… it seems that my favorite short story happens to be whichever short story I’ve finished most recently. If that is indeed the case, then my ‘favorite’ short story at present is, “The Rest Will Be in Pieces,” a 7,700-word piece written for Issue #3 of Outpost 28, a Lovecraft-inspired dark fiction magazine to which author and artist Dean Kuhta has invited me to be a regulator contributor (50% of all proceeds of Outpost 28 go to helping the homeless in Richmond, VA, which is a very rewarding thing to be a part of). “The Rest Will Be in Pieces” is a dark fairy tale in which a woman makes a deal with a witch, the Witch of Coywolf Woods, to be specific, and her life is forever affected by that bargain, but not for the reasons one might think.
Striking down the ‘favorite-story-is-the-story-I-just-finished’ phenomenon, I have a special place in my heart for “Flowers from Amaryllis” (my most personal story), “Liquid Handcuffs” (a novelette rewrite of the first short story I ever wrote), “Red Room” (the story that readers seem to enjoy the most), and “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell” (my most oft-published story, including publication in Corner Bar Magazine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, and featured on Horror Hill, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights / The Simply Scary Podcast Network). All four of these stories are included in my debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked.
KR: Do you read your book reviews?
Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is my first full-length, single-author publication, and thus far, I’ve only received a single review, from S.J. Budd, at www.sjbudd.co.uk. I did read Sarah’s review, although I will have to limit myself going forward, because while the good reviews can’t help but be a bit of a self-esteem boost, I imagine the negative ones can only distract me from writing that next short story, novelette/novella, or novel.
KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?
I still feel quite ‘fledgling’ myself, but my best advice would have to be not to lose focus on the actual, daily activity of pumping out new work. I try to hit a certain page minimum or word count each day, but I’m usually satisfied as long as I’ve put some amount of effort into some type of my writing, whether that’s editing a work-in-progress short story, jotting down a new novel idea, or tightening up a guest post for a groovy horror reviewer’s website.
KR: What scares you?
Not much actually scares me in terms of horror films and novels, but that doesn’t mean I don’t exhaust my options trying to feel that twinge of terror or prickle of fear. Sadly, it very rarely works.
I recently took part in a Horror Writing Lock-in at the Westport Library in Westport, CT. The event was hosted by Grady Hendrix, and to be given a glimpse of the boundless energy and unparalleled originality the Bram Stoker award-winning author of Paperbacks From Hell possesses made staying up all night worth it in and of itself. At one point, after Grady provided us with several writing prompts, he asked us to write down what scared us down to our cores, to unearth fears so paralyzing, that he would neither ask to view these lists or their origins, nor elicit elucidation. I’ll give you that list now, but again, without background or explanation:
- Being attacked while defenseless…
- Something terrible happening to my loved ones…
- Being buried alive, stuck under a bed, or confined to any other claustrophobia-inducing, horizontally-situated space…
KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?
All three, with audiobooks thrown in for good measure. As far as getting to enjoy a great book goes, a book is a book is a book. My preference, of course, is a brand-spanking-new brick of a hardcover, the pages of which emit the delicious smell of cellulose and lignin upon being cracked.
KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?
Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked will be released from Unnerving on August 21, 2018. From the description on Amazon: “A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods. In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.”
In putting together this collection, I really strove to include stories that showcased my range, not just as a writer, but as a horror lover, and all the different types of horror stories I have penned to date. Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked includes post-apocalyptic, extreme, slasher, paranormal, supernatural, psychological, zombie, Gothic, magical realism, weird, and creature horror, so I truly hope the phrase, ‘there’s something for everyone,’ will apply!
And if you’re of a mind to see if there’s something for you, the Kindle edition of Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is available for preorder now!
KR: What are you working on now?
Completing interviews, writing guest posts, compiling excerpts and book giveaways, and a handful of additional tasks connected to the release of the collection have taken up a lot of my normal writing time. While I’ve been able to crank out a few short stories during the last few months, I’m really looking forward to the collection’s release date, a milestone I’m going to use as the catalyst to return to my horror/crime thriller, Coming Down Fast, about a female Charles Manson type and her ‘followers,’ the crime they commit, and the first female police chief in Westerly, Rhode Island’s three-hundred fifty year history pursuing them.
KR: ‘Coming Down Fast’ sounds very interesting, I’m looking forward to reading that.
KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with and why?
You can choose…
a) One fictional character from your writing.
b) One fictional character from any other book.
c) One real life person that is not a family member or friend.
For the fictional character from my writing, I’d have to say Kartya, from, “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell.” She’s endlessly resourceful, skilled with a shotgun and a chainsaw, and calm in the face of carnage and disaster. She’d be a good person to team up with in order to survive.
As for a fictional character from any other book, I’d choose Vic, from Joe Hill’s NOS4A2. Similar to Kartya in that she wouldn’t be one to take problems and predicaments lying down, Vic is one of my all-time favorite characters in horror fiction.
A real life person, not a family member or friend, would have to be Carmen Maria Machado. Carmen would turn this deserted island into Themyscira within a matter of days, and she, myself, Kartya, and Vic would be warrior-woman Amazons before the month was out. I can see her now, queen of Themyscira, draped in the red silk she speaks of in her Guernica, “The Trash Heap has Spoken,” article, sitting on her baroque throne, crowned with a “grandiose headdress dripping gemstones that tick tick tick like Yahtzee dice” when she turns her head. Feet resting on snoozing bears. She will lead our foursome into a new era, one in which we strike out from our deserted island only when we desire to do so, as we have everything we’d ever need already.
KR: Thank you very much Christa.
Author Website: www.christacarmen.com
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/christacarmen
A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods.
In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.