Telling the Truth as a Radical Act by Loren Rhoads

My dear friend, Loren Rhoads, is an awesome woman all around and she has a new book out! Today, she’s here to talk to us about zines, her new book This Morbid Life, and telling the truth as a radical act!

Rhoads Headshots 9-18 FINAL-1662I discovered zines in the early 1980s, spread across dealers’ tables at my local science fiction conventions. Those were mostly fanfic, but they inspired me to publish my first zine the summer I left high school. Sanity, Ltd. collected stories, essays, and artwork created by my friends. My best friend’s father surreptitiously copied it on the Xerox machine at work. We sold the zines at the local media convention. Sanity, Ltd. only lasted four issues, but it taught me the joy of seeing my hard work in print.

It’s hard now to imagine the massive variety of zines that thrived in the Nineties. Every style of music had its zines, of course, but there were personal zines and thrifting zines and zines about illnesses and bad jobs and traveling… So many unfiltered voices were published all at once. The spectrum was truly inspiring.

In 1994, my husband Mason and I founded Automatism Press. We published two books in the next couple of years. Lend the Eye a Terrible Aspect collected first-person essays and short stories interrogating North America at the end of the 20th century. Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries was originally meant to showcase cemetery photographs by my friend Blair, but as I pursued the project, I discovered that everyone’s life had been touched by at least one graveyard. The book blossomed into a collection of over two dozen essays and more than 200 photographs involving 27 contributors, ranging from confrontationalist Lydia Lunch to many authors who were published for the first time.

After Automatism Press published those books, I started to think about editing a zine again. I decided that what I liked best about putting together Death’s Garden was discovering the deepest thoughts of its contributors. I never had any doubt about the zine’s title. Morbid Curiosity started out in 1996 as one woman with a dream, but ended eleven years later after publishing 310 survivor narratives about encounters with the unsavory, unwise, unorthodox, or unusual: all the dark elements that make life worth living.

I learned a lot about writing—and telling the truth—from my years editing Morbid Curiosity. My newest book is a collection of my own essays—some previously published in a spectrum of zines, online magazines, and blogs, and others written especially for this book—covering everything from taking prom pictures in the cemetery to spending several days in a cadaver lab, from getting high with a friend dying of AIDS to eating bugs in a science museum, from looking for the limits of consciousness to chasing ghosts. It hopscotches from Michigan to San Francisco to La Specola in Florence. Luckily, curiosity does not often kill the cat, especially if she’s light on her feet.


Here’s a sample of This Morbid Life from the essay “Dead Bodies Everywhere”:

ThisMorbidLife-small coverAs our little family stood before the first peeled human on display, I realized that the guy responsible for Body Worlds was a mad scientist, in the finest tradition of the term. Dr. von Hagens took donated human cadavers, dissected them, posed them, then used a special polymer process to preserve their tissues. That meant the exhibit consisted most spectacularly of life-sized (or larger, in the case of figures like The Cyclist, whose muscles had been pulled off his bones to display their interconnections) human “plastinates” in full color. The goal was to reveal to the average person secrets normally seen only by medical professionals.

I found an esthetic purity to a human being stripped down to its muscles. And while I was disturbed in Florence by the wax models at La Specola, the real thing in LA didn’t upset me. These people had donated their bodies to science and art. While they might not have known exactly what they were in for, they’d chosen a sort of immortality.

Most of the Body Worlds figures stood on their own merits without any defense of where the bodies came from or why they’d been posed a certain way. I wandered among them, wondering what had been so controversial: the flayed penises with naked testes hanging down alongside? The belts of flesh bearing nipples and pubes like some twisted bondage harness? Was it that the plastinates—unlike the plastic teaching torsos Americans are accustomed to seeing in museums—had not been neutered by death? Their genitalia made them real to me: people, rather than mannequins. I kept looking around, waiting to be shocked.

Perhaps it’s just me, I thought. I live in San Francisco and my attitudes about sex and death are fairly inclusive (i.e., everybody should have some). Maybe the people around me were reacting differently than I was. I tuned into their conversations, amused by laughing observations that these “slices of life” were “pretty whacked.” The most shocking thing I heard was the trio of nurses identifying the IUD left inside one of the detached wombs and their memories of the bleeding those devices had caused.

On this busy Friday afternoon, most people seemed absorbed, fascinated in the old sense of the word: bewitched. There seemed to be a lot of learning going on. Visitors studied the diseases that had touched their loved ones: ulcers, cancers, Alzheimer’s lesions. Kids were curious about the graphic dangers of smoking: “It really does turn your lungs black!” I pored over a cirrhotic liver like the one that killed my brother.


Loren Rhoads is the author of This Morbid Life, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She was the editor of Morbid Curiosity magazine and the book Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual. Her most recent book is This Morbid Life, a memoir comprised of 45 death-positive essays.

What others have called an obsession with death is really a desperate romance with life. Guided by curiosity, compassion, and a truly strange sense of humor, this particular morbid life is detailed through a death-positive collection of 45 confessional essays. Along the way, author Loren Rhoads takes prom pictures in a cemetery, spends a couple of days in a cadaver lab, eats bugs, survives the AIDS epidemic, chases ghosts, and publishes a little magazine called Morbid Curiosity.

Originally written for zines from Cyber-Psychos AOD to Zine World and online magazines from Gothic.Net to Scoutie Girl, these emotionally charged essays showcase the morbid curiosity and dark humor that transformed Rhoads into a leading voice of the curious and creepy.

“Witty, touching, beautifully written, and haunting — in every sense of the word — This Morbid Life is an absolute must-read for anyone looking for an unusually bright and revealing journey into the darkest of corners. Highly recommended!” — M.Christian, author of Welcome To Weirdsville

New Release: Spooky Writer’s Planner

Are you spooky?

Do you write horror, speculative fiction, dark fantasy, paranormal romance, or fairy tales?

Are you a spooky blogger, macabre non-fiction columnist, or haunt travel vlogger?

Are you ready to stop dreaming and be a writer?

Are you an author who wants to take your career to the next level?

PLANNER INCLUDES

13 months of monthly and weekly spreads

Monthly goal and recap sheets

Weekly check-ins and note pages

Writing challenges, planners, and instructions

Submissions, published works, and contacts trackers

Marketing, newsletter, and blog planners

Check-off sheets for website maintenance, social media profiles, and expenses

Fun sheets to generate writing ideas, track your favorite TV series, or to be read and watched lists.

Authors Loren Rhoads and Emerian Rich share the tricks they’ve learned over the course of a combined 50 years in publishing, from working with traditional New York publishers, small presses, and as indie publishers themselves.

AVAILABLE NOW PRINT or DIGITAL

PRINT: The Spooky Writer’s Planner is perfect-bound with a glossy cover, printed on high-quality 8.5 x 11-inch paper. Everything you need is included in one handy book you can grab and go! Have book, will travel!

DIGITAL: The quick-download version gives you a digital copy so you can print the pages you want, print multiples of those you think you’ll use the most, leave those you won’t use, and create your own Frankenstein’s Monster of a planner! These pages are designed to be printed on 8.5 x 11-inch paper. You can put them in a three-ring binder, bind them with disks, or a spiral, as you choose. You can print different sheets on different colors.

The REAL Women Writers of Speculative Fiction #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Alanna McFall
Genres: Paranormal, stage plays

Favorite story you’ve written and why. The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus. This is my first full-length novel and it meant so much to get to spend such a long period of time exploring this world and getting to know these characters.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? Ava, a time traveler from my short play “Maybe This Time”, which I am currently on commission to expand into a full-length piece. 

She has the ability to send herself back to any previous moment in her life and live it over again, but she has had this power so long that she has become numb to it and detached from everyone around her. She has been great to explore some big existential questions with, and she opens the door for a lot of structural shenanigans with the piece itself.

What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? Working in an outward-facing admin job and being a bit shy, I get a lot of people who think I am very quiet and polite by nature. It’s when you get to know me that you find both a temper and a dirty sense of humor.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, so it’s a bit tricky for me to determine. But something I didn’t know about professional writing until I got deep into it was how much of a relief an editor’s suggestions can be sometimes. They can be very frustrating at times, but those moments where you just know that something wasn’t working and an outside perspective can help put it right? Those are great and take a big weight off your shoulders.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? Probably either action scenes or exposition scenes. I am a sucker for writing character moments of people spending time together and getting to know each other, but scenes that have a concrete amount of information that needs to be worked in organically can be difficult for me.
Did you go to college? What was your major? I went to Smith College, where I was a Theater major with a Playwriting Concentration.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” I had an eye towards being an actor as a child, and was always very dramatic about acting out my stories and make-believe games. But while I will always have a love for being on stage, the story making part of the equation was what ended up being my true passion.

EVENTS

What is the best event you’ve ever been to? In terms of events I have attended, it would have to be the Nine Worlds convention in London in 2015, but that feels like cheating in that I met my fiancée there for the first time.

As for events I have been an active participant in, I would have to say my book release party for The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus, which I hosted at my workplace, Kinetic Arts Center, in June. It was such a wonderful way to celebrate and feel supported by my community.

What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? It was not something intentionally hurtful, but I participated in a play-reading in New York City in 2014 that was so poorly organized, and honestly poorly planned from the get-go, that even participating in it became very uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing. It was truly a project of love, but passion alone cannot put on a show.
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? In all honesty, time and a sense of humor. The event became so bad by the end that it crossed into the absurd, and though it was over five years ago now, my best friend and I still tell the story whenever we get a chance. 
What is something hurtful you’ve witness another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) Again, not something intentional, but seeing a moderator repeatedly mispronounce a guest’s name, despite being corrected, was quite uncomfortable. By the end of the panel, the audience was literally shouting the correct pronunciation every time the mistake was made. It just spoke to a total lack of preparedness and, in a broader sense, of respect.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? I get having a hard to pronounce name (mine was said wrong in my college graduation ceremony). But do not feel shy or embarrassed about correcting people about your name, pronouns, or anything else integral to who you are. This is your mark, and you can stand by it.

ONLINE PRESENCE

What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? I have been growing a fondness for Twitter. You can follow me at @AlannaMcFall and check out my website at alannamcfall.com.
What is the biggest challenge of social media? Making sure that there is some actual conversation and content happening, not just shouting promotions of your own work into the void over and over again.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? Thankfully I have not been.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? I have definitely seen some vile speech going around online and directed at female authors. I tend to just report trolls and move on, as there is not much to be gained by directly engaging with them, unless you can devote concentrated time to changing minds.
What should readers know about your social media presence? That I am a big nerd who will mostly be writing about books I just read or food I just made.

YOUR MESSAGE

What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? I think my message would be that even in the face of strange and surreal and uncomfortable events, there is room for joy, love, healing and connection with other people. For a keyword, I feel like “off-beat” sums my work up pretty well.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Speculative Fiction #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Loren Rhoads

Genres: Horror, urban fantasy, paranormal romance,
science fict
ion, nonfiction, and travel

Favorite story you’ve written and why. “Never Bargained for You” is about a succubus buying Jimmy Page’s soul right before Led Zeppelin hit the big time. It was published in an anthology called Demon Lovers, which is now out of print. I did a bunch of research and I’m really happy with how the story turned out.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? The succubus Lorelei, who’s in that short story, is the star of my novel Lost Angels and its upcoming sequel, Angelus Rose. Lorelei is so passionate and open to exploring that she’s really fun to write.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? People think I’m death-obsessed. Actually, I’m obsessed with life. I hate to let a sunny day go by, because I know how few of them I’ll get.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? That it would take so much work to become famous.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? Battle scenes, where I have to juggle lots of moving characters at once. I can do it, but it’s really hard.
Did you go to college? What was your major? I got a BA at the University of Michigan. My major was Communications, specializing in journalism, with a minor in English.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” I always thought I’d be a writer, but I assumed I would work at a magazine and live in New York City.

EVENTS

What is the best event you’ve ever been to? The book release party of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die at Borderlands Books was the best because so many people I’ve met through cemeteries came. I could see my love of cemeteries echoed in them. It was the first time I could see the impact my work made.
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? I was invited to a four-woman anthology very early in my career. The stories ranged from erotic horror to literary horror to straight-up horror as social commentary. The publisher announced he was hosting a party for the book at one of the World Horror Conventions. Then he announced (without asking any of the contributors) that it would be a pajama party. The expectation that the four of us would show up in our pajamas. I was a brand-new writer, so I didn’t feel like I could refuse to go. The idea of using my body to sell the book was humiliating. 
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? I only had a week to come up with something decent to wear, so I wore a long black dress with a bustier. When people asked where my pajamas were, I said that what I slept in wasn’t appropriate for public and left it to their imaginations why that was. I had to practice delivering the line beforehand, so I wouldn’t blush. To be honest, my comfy stretched-out pjs weren’t anyone else’s business.
What is something hurtful you’ve witnessed another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) I’ve been on panels where the male panelists talk over the women and/or take up more than their share of the panel’s time. I’ve gotten around that by volunteering as a moderator and cutting speakers off when they go on too long. The trick is to ask questions specifically of people who haven’t gotten a turn, to make space for them to speak up.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? Befriend other women writers so you can sanity check anything that makes you uncomfortable. It’s great to know that someone has your back. Keep in mind that you deserve to be heard. Your observations are valid, even if you’re new or not widely published. Speak up, for those who can’t.

ONLINE PRESENCE

What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? Facebook is my favorite because it’s more interactive than the others. I really like hearing from people: https://www.facebook.com/loren.rhoads.5

I’m also on Twitter @morbidloren, mostly to re-tweet things, and Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/morbidloren/

What is the biggest challenge of social media? Setting boundaries so I’m not available and distracted all the time.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? When I was younger, I used to get a lot of creepy DMs from men who wanted to tell me how much they liked my gray hair. That’s better now, since I’ve turned off chat. I also screen people before I accept their friend requests. I also don’t accept requests from doctors or soldiers who are widowed, anyone with two first names, or anyone serving on an oil derrick. I may miss out on some legitimate fans, but most of these guys seem to have the same profile pictures. They are either bots or up to no good.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? Sometimes men in the horror community will whine that women can’t (or don’t) write good horror. They are generally shut down promptly. I don’t think I’ve seen any women singled out, but we talk about it amongst ourselves. We keep lists of idiots whose books we won’t buy.

I also so serve as a mentor for the Horror Writers Association, so new women have someone they feel like they can talk to about their writing and careers.

What should readers know about your social media presence? It’s curated. I don’t write a lot about my personal life, because I don’t want to invite advice. I try to focus on positive things, because I hate reading writers’ Facebook posts when they’re just a catalog of whining. Life is hard on all of us. I try not to add to anyone’s burden by belaboring my own. 

YOUR MESSAGE

What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? Female characters can be as dark, complex, and fascinating as males. They may be even more dangerous.

Check in next time when Alanna McFall
will tell us about her journey.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Romance #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Lea Kirk
Genres: Sci-fi Romance and Paranormal Romance

Favorite story you’ve written and why. You know, this is like asking me, “Which of your kids is your favorite?” Lol. I’ve loved writing all my stories, they each have such different personalities. The best answer I can give you is Collision. It’s the book where I finally felt like I was understanding my own writing style, and it was flowing better.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? Oh boy, this is just as difficult to answer as the last question…for the same reasons! How can I pick just one? All right, I’m going to say…Graig Roble (pronounced Robe-lay), one of my secondary characters. He’s a gruff, ruff, hard-ass alien on the outside, with a gooey inside for his loved ones.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? That I have my poop together. I really don’t.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? That it’d take so dang long to write a book! Honestly, I’m lucky to finish one a year, yet I know authors who can crank out three or more annually. And excellent stories, too! I’m pretty sure this comes back to them having their poop together.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? Sex scenes (says the mother of five). On the positive, the more I write them, the easier they’re coming. Practice, practice, practice!
Did you go to college? What was your major? Yes. My major was Travel and Tourism. You can see how well that worked out.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” An author. And, I wanted to be a mom too. This plan worked out a little better than my major.
EVENTS
What is the best event you’ve ever been to? Oh, this is an easy one. The Literacy Signing at RWA Nationals in Denver last year. It. Was. Amazing!
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? Apparently, I haven’t been to enough events to have a bad experience yet.
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? n/a
What is something hurtful you’ve witness another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) A good friend got trolled by a guy on social media. It was shocking. She’s the sweetest person imaginable, and the guy attacked her. It was nasty. I was one of many who rallied around her, raised her up. Most of us outed the guy on our social media as a warning to others. Turned out at least two of my friends were friends with him. They immediately unfriended, reported, and blocked him. It was an amazing showing of women joining forces against someone who thought one of our own was an easy target.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? She and I did text privately. Without going into details, I made it clear that she is a wonderful person, she is loved, and what happened was in no way her fault. The only thing I’d change about this is to do it in person and accompany it with a hug. Unfortunately, we live a couple thousand miles apart.
ONLINE PRESENCE
What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? Facebook, at the moment. I have a Twitter page, but I’m not very proficient with that platform. I’m trying to figure out MeWe as well, but have a bad feeling it’s not going to last long, which is a shame.
What is the biggest challenge of social media? Facebook. That’s probably not what you meant, though.

The disconnect between people that gives an artificial buffer in which people forget their manners and show zero empathy to the feelings of others. For some, social media is a place to voice their opinions and viciously attack anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? Not exactly. I do purposely avoid politics online as much as possible so I don’t get slammed for my political party, or that I didn’t vote party line last election. I voted for who I thought was the best candidate, which is my right. No one gets to tell me I should’ve voted differently.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? Believe it or not, I haven’t. Unfortunately, I suspect that I will at some point, and probably more than once.
What should readers know about your social media presence? I love promoting other authors in my genre. If I see someone has a new book out, you bet I’ll share their post. (I limit it mostly to SFR and PNR because those are the readers who follow me.)

I also love funny memes, gifs, etc. And if you share my books, I will love you forever!

YOUR MESSAGE
What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? That we’re stronger when we support each other.

The best keyword I can think of is Hope.


Check in next time when Loren Rhoads

will tell us about her journey.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Romance #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: R.L. Merrill, call me Ro
Genres: LGBTQ and Straight Contemporary Romance,
Paranormal Romance, Historical Horror Romance

Favorite story you’ve written and why. My very first book I’ve written that I haven’t published yet, Haven. It’s a supernatural romance about a woman who takes a counseling job working with children who are victims of trauma at a boarding school—sight unseen—and discovers that their experiences have made them into something…more. When a powerful man bent on revenge threatens the school and her students, she’ll work side-by-side with her handsome, yet mysterious boss to protect them—and learn the truth about herself. I’ve tried shopping it around but no luck so far. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do with it, but I’ll always love it because it was the story that let me know I actually could do this. It gave me a purpose and gave me a release during a difficult period in my life. And when I shared with a few people close to me whose opinions I trusted, they loved it and were surprised yet excited for me.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? Danny Black. Reclusive rock god, single father, and ginger bad boy. Lead singer of metal band Blackened. Charming, sensitive, sexy af, and totally head over heels with the woman who comes to help him earn his diploma while he recovers from vocal chord surgery. Danny is everything I love in a book boyfriend. He’s charming, vulnerable, hilarious, and an enthusiastic lover. I could go on…Put it this way. It took me three books to tell their story.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? That I have my shit together. I so don’t. If you saw my house, looked in my carport, hell, even look in the trunk of my car and hold still while I push you in KIDDING…Seriously, I’m a mess, that’s how I can write.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? That I was capable of writing a book that people would actually want to read. Never EVER thought I would do it, never thought I’d even want to. Definitely didn’t ever think something I wrote would help someone going through a hard time.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? The black moment. I never want to hurt my characters.
Did you go to college? What was your major? I went to Graceland University and earned a B.A. in History and Secondary Education. I also have a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from Cal State Hayward (Okay, East Bay. I hate the change.) Never even took a creative writing course haha.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” The Bionic Woman? Wonder Woman? A Solid Gold Dancer? I really had no idea. By high school, I thought I would become a therapist and then in college had great history teachers and thought I’d love to be that teacher that made kids love history. I ended up being both a teacher and counselor in schools.
EVENTS
What is the best event you’ve ever been to? I can’t decide between the RTs and BLC. All have been a blast. Atlanta RT might have been my favorite because I actually sold my first book during that convention, Hurricane Reese to Dreamspinner Press. I was on top of the world.
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? While staffing a table at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference for my local RWA chapter we endured person after person coming up to the table and talking about how they don’t read smut or trash and while they loved rooting through our chocolate bowl, they found ways to put us down, whether on purpose or not, and I found myself becoming even more determined to convince people that romance is a viable, successful, and difficult genre to write.
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? Learned more about the history of the genre and ran for the board for SFA-RWA.
What is something hurtful you’ve witness another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) A judge of the RITA contest tweeted about how she gave a low score to a book because the heroine was a black scientist “and that’s not believable.” I was absolutely flabbergasted that someone would feel that way and think that it was okay to feel that way. It opened my eyes to just how much bias and racism there still is, which was surprising to me as I live in a very diverse community where up until a couple of years ago there were rarely any incidents of overt racism. I had a false sense of security that things were better, and my eyes were opened to the fact that there is still so much more work to be done. The hurt that racism has caused members of our organization saddens and angers me. I don’t ever want another author—or human being for that matter—to feel as if they aren’t good enough or worthy because someone made an ignorant comment.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? This is hard to do. I’ve rewritten this five times and every time it sounds condescending or like lip service. Look, if you want to write, write. You have to know it’s going to be hard, you’re not going to make a million overnight (or maybe ever), and people may write awful reviews BUT know that you’ve created something no one else could create, you’ve achieved a goal many have had and never accomplished, and you’re a freakin’ rock star. No one can take that away from you, no matter what they say or think about your work.
ONLINE PRESENCE
What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? Facebook is where I hang out most (www.facebook.com/rlmerrillauthor) But I’m also a huge fan of Instagram (www.instagram.com/rlmerrillauthor) and I am on Twitter (www.twitter.com/rlmerrillauthor).
What is the biggest challenge of social media? I enjoy interacting with folks and sharing my love of music and books. I haven’t quite mastered ads, however, so my reach is nearly all organic and though I’d love to sell more books, I love it that I frequently receive messages from folks who tell me that my books meant something to them. That means everything to me.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? I’ve had a couple of bad reviews and a few trolls, but I don’t engage. It is incredibly important to me to not engage in drama. I hate when people get hurt, I hate it when it consumes them. And I know there are a lot of people with bad intentions on social media, but it’s not the majority of folks. I speak up when I see people mistreated and I wish others would do the same. I know I’ve lost readers because of the stories I’ve chosen to write, and that’s their choice. I’m not going to be quiet about my beliefs. That may have hurt my sales, but it’s more important to me to be authentic.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? Yes. A friend of mine was attacked online by a cover model. She made a joke on his timeline and he retaliated by calling her names and putting her down in a vicious, misogynistic manner. I was there for her as she vented and I interacted with several men afterward who were friends and lett them know what exactly it was about the comments the model said that were upsetting and why it was important for them to speak out against that kind of behavior. I had a lot of conversations with people.
What should readers know about your social media presence? I’m about positivity, I’m about truth, I will listen and discuss issues with people who have different opinions, but I believe that what some people consider being “political” is actually advocating for human rights, and I will always advocate for human rights.
YOUR MESSAGE
What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? My stories are about hope, love and rock ‘n’ roll. I was drawn to romance because the stories give me hope in humanity, and we could all use some of that right now. Love has the power to heal, and rock ‘n’ roll makes the world go ‘round. If you read my books, hopefully you will come away feeling hopeful, believing in love, and maybe learning a little more about how it might feel to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Check in next time when Lea Kirk
will tell us about her journey.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Speculative Fiction #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Selah Janel
Genres: Dark fantasy, horror, fantasy, speculative

Favorite story you’ve written and why. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite! I have a soft spot for my historical
horror piece Mooner and the vampire stories I have in The Big Bad
anthologies. Olde School, my fantasy novel, isn’t in print anymore but I love the humor and world-building in it.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? I love Clyde from Olde School. He’s a fairy tale talking bird, but is actually
an ancient being of cosmic horror trapped in bird form, but he likes
creature comforts like cable and wine too much to bother taking over the
world. The sheer possibilities with Clyde crack me up. I tend to love
writing personalities that are way different than mine. It’s really freeing
and tons of fun to write him. I also love writing the vampires that are in
the stories in The Big Bad anthologies. They’re messy personalities
clinging to the lives and version of vampirism they’ve carved out for
themselves, and a great opportunity for reflective moments and snark.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? I think people tend to think I’m either really docile or over-the-top
aggressive, and neither is true. I can be assertive and sarcastic, but I’m
also empathetic. I like cute stuff, but I’m not a pushover. I think
somehow along the way certain circles have misunderstood my passion
for a project or desire to stay informed of business or my frustration as
my total personality. At one point I had a person compare me to Tommy
Lee, and I’m pretty sure there are a few big differences there. On the
other hand, I’ve had a lot of people at events underestimate me and
assume I’m doing things for very superficial reasons, which also isn’t
true.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? I don’t think you really know the reality of anything until you’re in it.
That being said, it was surprising how much time social media and
looking for media and marketing opportunities really takes. That balance
between that, writing, my daily life, and other things is still something I
constantly reconfigure. So much of that is on the author, and it takes a
huge chunk of time to do well.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? Large action scenes tend to make me anxious because there’s a lot to
juggle and balance well, yet somehow I end up writing things that end up
going in that direction.
Did you go to college? What was your major? Yep! I have a Bachelor of Science in theater.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” Originally an author, but when I was 9 or 10 a family friend who had
been a writer laid out how hard it was, so I let myself be talked out of it.
Then an actress, which led to my theater degree, and I gained a huge love
of costume construction and design, so that’s where a lot of my work has
been. There were some weeks as a young kid where I changed my life
plan from teacher to astronaut to paleontologist, so I’m sure life was fun
for my parents for a while.
EVENTS
What is the best event you’ve ever been to? A lot of the smaller cons and library events tend to be better for me at
the moment. Evillecon was really warm and the audience was a lot of fun
when I was a guest there and I’ve done some library events in different
states that were super well organized and really went beyond to help me
figure things out. Everything has its hiccups and moments, but they
stepped up to help when different challenges arose.
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? I feel like most women authors and entertainers have a list. I’ve been
talked over on panels and I’ve joked for a while that I’m either the token
girl on genre panels or put on the ‘women in whatever genre’s panels that
usually don’t get as big an audience. When I first started getting
published I was interrupted mid-pitch by a publisher who said that
women only come to cons to meet celebs or cat around (I’m
paraphrasing to be nice). I’ve been followed around by people and dealt
with my share of comments. I’ve come close to making a sale at an event
and had the prospective buyer’s girlfriend come up, rip the book out of
his hand, and get mad at me for talking to him even though he
approached my table and I was just there to sell books.
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? For me, the best thing that I’ve found is to surround myself with a close
group of friends of all genders who are specifically on the lookout for
that kind of thing and will shut it down for each other. It also helps
because I have people I’m comfortable with there and know I have
people to go get dinner with and things like that. But it’s much harder for
that sort of thing to thrive when other people not only see it happen,
but are going to vocally call it out in the moment and then to the event
or on media or to others there, as well.
What is something hurtful you’ve witnessed another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) I was with a group of authors at an event and a person wanted to buy a
(male) author’s book. She tried to push the money at another woman
author and myself and wanted to set up an event with that author
through us – she assumed we were there as his staff even though we very
obviously had our books and were doing our own thing. It was
mortifying because it took a while to get the person to let it go and to
actually do that kind of admin and sale business with the actual author of
the book. They felt he was beyond that and that should be part of why
the other woman author and myself were there.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? I usually give people a space to vent and encourage them to keep going.
It’s a frustrating business in general and even more so when you have to
put up with this kind of thing, but there are so many talented and hardworking women authors who deserve to be known and read. I also
try to spread the word about their work, because that’s just as important
as a pep talk.
ONLINE PRESENCE
What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? I go into different things for different reasons. The book communities
can be great on Twitter if you know what to look for and how to
cultivate who you follow and your feed. There are some facebook groups
that I love. I like to talk so I like blogging and reviewing for different
places as well as my own site. You can catch me at www.selahjanel.com
www.facebook.com/SelahJanel on facebook and @SelahJanel on
Twitter.
What is the biggest challenge of social media? Finding time to do it! The balancing act of that, life, and writing is
something I’m still working on.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? I haven’t been overtly shamed per se, but I’ve had my views and
experiences dismissed in conversation a lot. Usually, I either walk away or
block if it gets too much, but there are other times when there are others
in the conversations who will have my back.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? All the time. I think that’s where having each other’s back and having
friends in the writing community really can help. It won’t stop things but
it helps if you’re not alone.
What should readers know about your social media presence? I’m still figuring it out and balancing it with a lot of different things.
YOUR MESSAGE
What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? I want people to feel like they matter, that their emotions and they
themselves have a place. You can be an outsider or marginalized or a
crumbled cookie and still be a hero or an important component in life. I
also want to draw focus to how magical stories and belief can be, and
how beautiful life is, even when things feel obscured by darkness.

Check in next time when R. L. Merrill
will tell us about her journey.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Speculative Fiction #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Jennifer Rahn
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction

Favorite story you’ve written and why. Dark Corridor, because I’ve finally gotten past writing my own insecurities into my characters and I’m finding that it’s affecting positive change in my day-to-day life.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? Probably Maxal, from The Longevity Thesis. He’s been broken, and his mind warped, yet he accepts it all and what he has become. None of that impacts his moral core, and he doesn’t let the niceties stop him from fighting for the greater good.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? Probably that I’m full Chinese. I’ve had people argue with me that I spell my last name wrong (it’s German, thus Rahn, not Ruan) and tell me that there is no way I can have a child without brown eyes (her eyes are green; I’m an F1 hybrid, and she’s an F2 backcross). I’ve also been told that my Dad can’t translate things into German (he most certainly can).
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? I suppose that would be how much easier planning a plot arc is once you get past the “hump” of the learning curve. It was much more difficult when I first started, and now it just seems obvious.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? I don’t write sex scenes. My life experiences always creep into my writing, and that’s not something I’m willing to share.
Did you go to college? What was your major? Yes. Pharmacology (BSc Hons.), Pharmacology (MSc), and Medical Sciences (PhD).
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” A child psychologist. However, once I realized that running around in a lab coat doing science stuff that most people don’t understand was the closest I’d ever get to becoming a sorcerer, I changed my mind.
EVENTS
What is the best event you’ve ever been to? World Fantasy 2008. I’ve met Barbara Hambly, David Niven, Tad Williams and saw Guy Gavriel Kay from across the room.
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? I had to remove myself from a publisher event, because one of my publishers had broken off a collaboration with the first publisher, and no one knew about it. I didn’t want to take sides, so when I was asked, I had to politely decline.
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? I just carried on, being friendly with both parties and not making a big deal out of it.
What is something hurtful you’ve witnessed another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) I’ve seen a #WomanAuthor come forward about abuse she endured in the workplace. For a long time, she lashed out at everyone around her, and took offense where none was intended. Even when a comment had nothing to do with her, she heard it differently. A lot of people didn’t know what she’d been through and shied away from her, rather than show her compassion and give support. I think the worst part of it was that despite her bravery and the actions taken to remove the individual involved, nothing was really resolved for her internally, and her anger remained.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? I’m not sure I could say anything, not having been in her shoes. The best I could do is listen without judgment, and not take offense if she did lash out.
ONLINE PRESENCE
What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? Right now I’m loving Instagram @jjrahn70. I’m also on Twitter @jennrahn and Facebook @rahnbooks.
What is the biggest challenge of social media? Controlling my reactions and not responding to trolls and haters. I can’t tell the difference between people who truly believe some ridiculous statement they’ve made or are just trying to bait others into fighting.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? Not directly, but one of my books was slammed for containing “casual racism and sexism”. Of course, it did. I put my personal feelings and life experiences into what I write. This person was so intent on scoring points for upholding current views of what should be socially acceptable that s/he didn’t bother to consider *why* I expressed such things. I dealt with it by writing another book and putting whatever I liked into it.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? The whole Amelie Zhao story really upset me. I don’t know her, so no, I couldn’t help.
What should readers know about your social media presence? It’s small, but friendly. That said, I ignore messages from lonely bachelors.
YOUR MESSAGE
What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? I walk between cultures, and it’s a wonderful thing. I was born into such an environment and am still living in it. My keyword is acceptance. Not tolerance but accepting “the other” to the point where it is incorporated into your being. I hate social conventions that put up walls between people.


Check in next time when Selah Janel

will tell us about her journey.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Speculative Fiction #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Nicole Kurtz
Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Weird Westerns

Favorite story you’ve written and why. My favorite short story is “The Trader.” It’s a horror story that’s rooted in the Southwest’s business of trading Native American goods for cash and supplies. It is a weird western, and it has a great twist.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why?
Cybil Lewis is my favorite character because she is true to herself, always. She follows her own moral compass. She’s fearless, and even when she is a bit nervous, she pushes through anyway.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? Everyone thinks that I am younger than I am. It surprises people when I reveal my true age.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? The editing! I didn’t quite understand the value of a good editor and a good copy editor. Over the last 20 years, those two pieces have become invaluable to me as a writer.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? The hardest scene for me to write was in “Belly Speaker.” I was going through a tremendously difficult time in my life, and there was one scene where the heroine must face the thing she’s relied on and abhorred. Tough. Scene. There was lots of crying.
Did you go to college? What was your major? I have a Bachelor of Science in Rhetorical Writing, a Master of Arts in Secondary Education, and a Post Master’s certificate in School Administration.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” I thought I would be a corporate businesswoman, living in Chicago, downtown in an expensive condo.
EVENTS
What is the best event you’ve ever been to? The best event I have ever attended Blacktasticon 2018. It was the absolute best science fiction convention I’ve ever attended—and I attend a lot of them.
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? One of the most hurtful things that I have to endure at events is the perception that because I’m a black woman, that my stories and novels are: 1. Subpar, 2. Only for black people, and 3. Are worthless.

I’ve had people say these things to me, explicitly, over the last 20 years, and it is always hurtful.

How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? One of the things I try to do is present the humanity of each story when I’m talking to someone about my works. For those who are not open to even listening to the pitch because “that’s not for me,” then I have more energy for the next customer/reader.
What is something hurtful you’ve witnessed another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) I have witnessed another woman who was selling books like I was in the Author’s Alley of an event. One of the customers, a man, was berating her about the cost of her book. She wasn’t self-published, and she couldn’t change the price. It was horrible. That customer didn’t react that way to the male authors, who had equally priced books. Again, the idea that she was a woman, her work was somehow thought to be less worthy.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? You are not responsible for the way other people act. Clearly, your publisher priced your book because they believe your book is worth every cent. Screw him. Now, tell me what your book’s about.
ONLINE PRESENCE
What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? I’m old, so Facebook is still my primary social media location.

You can find me at:
http://www.facebooks.com/NGKurtz

I am also on Twitter at @nicolegkurtz

What is the biggest challenge of social media? Visibility. It often feels like I am screaming into a chorus of a 7 billion voices and I can’t be heard.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? I don’t post many pictures of myself on social media. I have not been shamed by others on social media, but I am very self-conscious.

I have been the victim of an ex-boyfriend dumping photos of me on the web that I didn’t give him permission to do. That has been a harrowing experience that involved police, restraining orders, and other not to fun things. I handled with the support of my friends and my fiancé. It still affects me to this day.

Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? When I am moderating panels at conventions, there is at least one time a woman is shamed, either for her opinion, her work, or her participation in the fandom. It’s ridiculous, but often, I offer verbal support, a verbal rebuke of the shaming and moving on to the next discussion point.
What should readers know about your social media presence? My social media presence is mine. It’s who I am. I’m a real person. Despite some celebrities’ social media presences being maintained by a hired hand, it is me on the other end of that message, tweet, or comment.

Me. A living breathing person.

*That is not to say the hired hand isn’t human.*

YOUR MESSAGE
What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? When I write, I try to convey the humanity of protagonists. So often black women and girls, are dehumanized. When I tell stories, I try to give that humanity back, to show the reader that too. So often in popular media, our identity and humanity are erased for entertainment or humor. My goal when I write, is to illustrate the authenticity and humanity of women, black women in particular, and POC overall.

Check in next time when Jennifer Rahn
will tell us about her journey.

Thank you for joining us for
#REALWomenWriters!

The REAL Women Writers of Speculative Fiction #REALWomenWriters

Welcome back to the blog series #REALWomenWriters to explore #REALWomenWriters who toil in the day-to-day, soul-crushing, confidence-demolishing, existence that is the life of a REAL Woman Writer. We hope you enjoy this inside look and if you are a REAL Woman Writer, email us to share your story.

Name: Laurel Anne Hill
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk, and Horror

Favorite story you’ve written and why. The Engine Woman’s Light, the spirits-meet-steampunk heroic journey of a young Latina in an alternate 19th Century California. This novel took me 20 years to write and contains part of my soul.
Favorite character you’ve ever written and why? Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro in The Engine Woman’s Light. 20 years of working together on her story cemented our author-character friendship. Besides, the novel has brought me a total of 13 honors and awards.
What is one thing everyone thinks about you that isn’t true? I came to a total blank on this one. The best I can manage is to state: Some people who don’t know me think I’m younger than I really am, especially in a dimly lit bar.
What is one thing about writing you didn’t know before you started? I had no clue about the concept of a story arc until I’d had seven or eight short stories published.
What is the hardest kind of scene for you to write? Any scene is difficult to write when I haven’t yet connected with my characters. Therefore, scenes in first drafts are the worst.
Did you go to college? What was your major? I graduated from a four-year college, with a major in the biological sciences, concentration in microbiology. I later earned my Master of Science degree, also in the biological sciences.
What did you think you’d be “when you grew up?” As a child, I wanted to train horses or become a full-time author. Instead, I ended up working in the health care industry for 40 years.
EVENTS
What is the best event you’ve ever been to? It’s a tie between the launch of my first novel, “Heroes Arise” (which took less than a year to write) and the launch of my second novel, “The Engine Woman’s Light” (which took 20 years to write). Pure exhilaration fueled me during the launch of “Heroes Arise.” During the launch of “The Engine Woman’s Light,” however, I knew that my husband (viewing my presentation from home via Facetime) would die from cancer before the end of the month. Yet I also knew he was witnessing the completion of our joint effort of many years. Joy surfaced from the well of sorrow.
What is something hurtful you’ve had to endure at an event? I was moderating a panel at a science fiction/fantasy con. The writer guest of honor was one of my panelists. During opening remarks, he stated the official description of the panel was not worthy of discussion. Essentially, he insinuated he would walk out if we didn’t obey his orders to change the focus of the presentation. I didn’t want to start a fight with a guest of honor, so I dropped 75% of the topics of discussion I’d planned and managed the best I could.
How did you recover from experiencing this hurtful thing? The experience reflected his ill manners, not mine. I shrugged it off and likely had an extra glass of wine with my husband at dinner that night. I have no intention of serving on a panel with that individual again.
What is something hurtful you’ve witnessed another #WomanAuthor experience? (No names please.) I’ve witnessed another male panelist put the female moderator in the same sort of uncomfortable predicament I mentioned above. The man, in this case, was not a guest of honor. The moderator politely declined his request to shift the topic of her panel.
If you could give that woman or any other #WomanAuthor a pep talk, what would you say? Evaluate the situation and however you choose to respond, maintain your own dignity. Let your antagonist play the role of the insensitive, self-centered clod.
ONLINE PRESENCE
What is your favorite form of social media? Where can we follow you? I use Facebook more than any other. https://www.facebook.com/LaurelAnneHill/
What is the biggest challenge of social media? Finding the time to use it.
Have you ever been abused or shamed on social media because of your sex, skin color, views, etc..? And how do you deal with that? On a couple of occasions, people I’d friended made some insensitive remarks. I unfriended one of them and ignored the other, which took care of the problem.
Have you ever seen another #WomanAuthor shamed? Were you able to help? Yes, in a Facebook group I belong to. I believe the group’s joint responses provided helpful assistance and moral support.
What should readers know about your social media presence? I can be slow to post or otherwise respond to a post. At this mid-seventies point in my life, even simple demands on my time can pull me in too many directions.
YOUR MESSAGE
What is the message you try to convey with your writing? Is there any keyword you want all of your work to convey? Love, honor, and forgiveness can change one’s life. Unfortunately, so can anger, dishonor and hate. Redemption—or lack of it—serve as keywords for much of my work.

Thank you for joining us for #REALWomenWriters!

Check in next time when Nicole Kurtz
will tell us about her journey.