In this short story collection of tales that verge almost into the supernatural, my favorite is about a woman who transforms her apartment into art that’s mysterious, macabre, and sometimes just plain weird. Told from the perspective of her boring boyfriend, he makes her seem otherworldly, when she is probably mentally ill or neurodivergent, or maybe merely tired of this world. There’s so much going on in these stories. Swearingen is a fantastic short story artist. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this collection from the publisher New American Press through NetGalley.
Ello. My name is Umair Mirxa. I live and write in Karachi, Pakistan. To be a published author is a dream I have long held and cherished, and it has finally, slowly come true over the past year or so. I have the honour of being published in several international anthologies, but there is much yet to achieve, including my first novel, and hopefully, an epic fantasy series. More recently, I have taken up drawing as a secondary creative outlet. When I am not writing, I spend my time on Netflix, reading, and watching football as an Arsenal FC fan.
Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc.
The greatest and most ever-present inspiration for me is, and forever has been, J.R.R. Tolkien. I read my favourite passages from The Lord of the Rings whenever I’m stuck with my own writing or even generally if and when something has me down. Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Christopher Paolini are just a few of the other authors who have inspired me.
I don’t really work to a strict schedule unless faced with a looming deadline. I do, however, make a point of writing every single day, even if what I produce turns out to be spectacularly ridiculous rubbish. If the muse is singing, I have been known to write for 14-16 hour sessions without food or sleep. There are, of course, plenty of days when even a 100-word drabble seems like the most horrible chore. I write digitally using a desktop PC, sitting at a desk which has a notepad, a pen-holder, an ashtray, several mugs of coffee, and snacks and smokes in a room which contains my bookshelf, a TV, a PS4, plenty of light, and a couple of extremely comfortable leather sofas.
Walk me through your publishing process from final draft to final product, including services hired as a self-published author, and marketing.
While I have been published in nearly three dozen anthologies recently, I have yet to self-publish a book. Once it is ready, and hopefully the day is not too far off, I plan on seeking out a couple of author friends to beta-read the final draft, and then upload the final product to print-on-demand platforms like Amazon and Lulu. I am lucky enough to have professional experience as a graphic designer and a digital marketer, thus eliminating the need for hired services. I hope to create a decent cover myself, and I will definitely be doing my own marketing, at least for a while yet.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.
I feel I have been truly blessed when it comes to having a support system as a writer. My wife does everything possible to facilitate my process and schedule, and has been the greatest, most constant source of motivation and encouragement. My mother, both sisters, brother, mother-in-law, and sisters-in-law and even their husbands have all cheered and spurred me on, and I have the greatest group of friends a guy can ask for in my corner, always. They have supported me, encouraged me, chastised me when necessary, and contributed ideas and advice for my stories.
Lastly, and most certainly not the least, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a rather remarkable group of author and publisher friends online who have beta-read my work with honest feedback, shown me submissions opportunities, encouraged me to write and submit, and given me excellent advice not only for writing but for life as well. They include, and I apologize in advance if I fail to mention someone I should, authors such as Steve Carr, Shawn Klimek, David Bowmore, Bruce Rowe, Mark Kuglin, Patt O’Neil, Mehreen Ahmed, Pavla Chandler, Aditya Deshmukh, Nerisha Kemraj, Ximena Escobar, Kelli J Gavin, Arabella Davis, and Dawn DeBraal, and publishers/editors Grant Hudson, Dean Kershaw, Zoey Xolton, Madeline L. Stout, and Stacey Morrighan McIntosh.
How does life influence your writing and vice versa?
In every way possible, I imagine. For most of my life, reading fantasy stories has been a way of escape, and now I write them myself, more often than not, for the very same reason. Yet no matter how fantastic a landscape I portray or how outlandish my characters, the essence of my own personal experiences permeates all of my writing. My characters, therefore, and much like I do myself, will generally hate racism and discrimination in any form with a vengeance, and they’ll tend to be quiet and introverted, with only a small group of close friends. They will have experienced loss and adversity, will enjoy books and food and travel, music and solitude, and the all the simple pleasures of life.
Simplicity is perhaps the greatest lesson taught to me by the art and practice of writing. Too often, we complicate our lives beyond reason by chasing after material and financial gain at the cost of all that is good and pure in our time on Earth.
What do you love most about your creativity?
The ability to bring to life characters and things and places, and entire worlds which I can visit and explore at leisure. To be able to have conversations with people I would never actually meet, to give them lives and loves, experiences and friendships. To dream of a world which has never been and might never come to be but still be able to envision and set stories within, and then to share them with the world that is.
I love how my creativity means I am never, ever bored and can comfortably be alone for days, even weeks on end if necessary. I enjoy discovering potential stories when I’m out at a restaurant, mall or park, and can create characters of the people I see and meet. More recently, since I have taken up drawing, there is the additional joy of studying light and shadows, form and shape and perspective, and then to try and apply all of it to a blank canvas.
Most importantly perhaps, and I know all authors crave an audience, but I absolutely love when someone tells me they enjoyed reading one of my stories. It is one of the greatest pleasures in life, I believe, when your work is the source of joy for another.
Connect with Umair:
Author Extra: Write a 50-word story right here, right now!
Brynhildr withdrew her sword from the fallen warrior’s chest, swayed, and collapsed herself. Slowly, the dark descended, and she felt herself ascending. Strong arms around her. A gentle caress. The weight, the pain, the fear. All of it, gone.
She opened her eyes, and with a smile walked into Valhalla.
Author Extra Extra: Art Gallery
The stories get better as you go deeper into this collection. The graphic depictions of sex and violence are just enough to give Dear Readers with active imaginations speculative ammo for tremors and terrors. Run, don’t walk, through these stories. Something always goes awry in the everyday worlds of Jack Rollins. A woman seeking sexual release exacts supernatural revenge on the shady service professional she hired for this purpose. An elderly couple become fungi. The ghost ship’s captain shows a very human sense of integrity. A young man cheating on his boyfriend discovers that not all legendary villains are fiction. A family man finds what appears to be evidence of a serial killer in the garage of their newly acquired home. Oh, and the lost god Mammon trips lightly through many of these tales—don’t turn around; keep running. Jack’s work is unique and his style feels personal, almost as though the characters are sharing too much, which works into a creepy crawly feeling under your skin. The only thing that popped me out of his stories is the common description of any man as tall, strong, and muscular. There are no wimps in Jack’s worlds. Despite that niggle, his work is solid and entertaining. I highly recommend this collection; really, anything by him. He’s so open and frank that his introductions to each story are nearly stories themselves; I thought the first one was the story!
Caitlin Cording wants to live in a world where love letters are always handwritten, ice cream vans come round in the winter, and watching funny cat videos online every day is a legal requirement.
From the foot-swelling world of retail, to the back-aching world of call centres, Caitlin has worked a variety of jobs. She began her writing carer by posting her work on Wattpad under a pseudonym. Now having had a number of short stories published within anthologies and literary magazines, as well as securing a first place within an international competition, she is working on her debut novel for young adults.
Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, inspirations, etc.
I write the first two drafts of anything in my voice, then I channel the character whose POV it is, and rewrite it using their voice (far more interesting.) My debut novel is written from the POV of a 15-year-old pickpocket/graffiti artist from south London and, boy am I having fun with it!
In terms of environment, I began writing at a time when my commute to work and back took a total of four hours each day. I’d sit in bus stops in December with trembling hands and numb fingers, jabbing out flash fictions on my Smartphone. Nowadays, I prefer to write indoors (usually while sitting on my sofa sipping coffee.)
As far as inspiration goes, I’m afraid my answer is cliché: books, music and art. There’s just something about appreciating another artist’s work that makes my creative juices spit and sizzle!
Tell me your submission and marketing strategies.
At the moment I’m focusing on my debut novel, so I’ve been a tad neglectful on the marketing front lately, but usually I book blog on Instagram and shout about my new publications on my Facebook page. I also have an email list and make a point of mentioning my publications to everyone I meet, and by mention I mean, I snatch their phone from them, bring up the links and force them to read out loud! 🤣
In terms of submissions, I always make a point of reading the magazine/anthology to determine whether my style/stories are a good fit for the publication. I also double-check the guidelines, find out the name of the editor-in-chief to address the submission to, oh, and make sure I personalize every cover letter.
Talk about your support system online and IRL, especially your biggest cheerleaders.
Oh wow, there are so many!
I love my real life writers group, especially our monthly open mic nights! I’m also a big fan of the Fiction Writing, Writers Helping Writers, and Inner Circle Writers Facebook
Groups—they’re the platforms through which I’ve met some of my greatest beta readers.
I’ve been lucky enough to converse with many best-selling authors online too, but I have to say, author of On a Scale of One to Ten,Ceylan Scott gave me a massive boost of confidence when she gave me a fantastic review of my short story, “The Art of Deception.”
A little while ago, Redixon Photography asked to interview me regarding my short story, “No Regrets,” which was a great honor. http://www.roguesportal.com/caitlin-cording-interview-one-of-those-writersofintagram/
But most of all, I’d say my biggest cheerleaders are my readers, particularly the ones who regularly reviewed my earliest work on Wattpad. They are the people who gave me belief in myself to persue this career.
How does life influence your writing and vice versa?
I suffered a lot of abuse as a child/teenager; I was in foster care and have spent time in psychiatric wards. I now volunteer at a homeless shelter and work with young people in foster care. All that stuff has shaped who I am as a writer. I like to get down and dirty, expose taboos, and be bold when talking about the nitty, gritty subjects.
What do you love most about your creativity?
It’s a great excuse to get crazy and writing is cathartic!
Connect with Caitlin:
Describe your writing process: schedule, environment, and inspirations abstract and material.
My mind takes me where it wants to go. So as a non-linear thinker, process is fleeting and I would rather be free to have useful and stupid thoughts than be a slave to a schedule. As I no longer work for others and I am an insomniac, my work hours often include time between 2am to 5am. I do put in many hours trying to round my ideas into cogent and alluring sentences and paragraphs. I never know where ideas come from. A friend made a joke 30 years ago and I used it as the basis of a chapter of my book and an award-winning short story.
We live in a small but wonderful apartment in Manhattan, thus my work area is more practical and compact than comfortable. We try to keep our library to 400 books, but we are willfully neglect about that number.
Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, and marketing.
I am sorry to disappoint but this will be terribly pedestrian. Almost everyone I know in the arts finds the business side odious. And as I have only completed one novel, my experience is limited. I have had short stories, poems, and photographs published, but that was purely a hit and miss proposition of submissions to selected publications.
But I am already thinking about the marketing for my work in progress, a satire on business, which I believe has commercial potential. I will ultimately want to appeal to an agent or a traditional publisher; thus I have been gathering bits that may help. My current publisher, Creativia, of my novel “Cousins’ Club” believes in free downloads as a means of marketing and 12,000 people have taken advantage. I have written poems for the first time in 45 years and had them published and I have photographs appearing in art magazines. I also participate in select on-line writing boards where the atmosphere is collegial, solicit reviews for my Amazon page, and appear at book events. I think of each as being one inch closer to my goal. Obviously I do not know how many inches will be needed.
Tell me about your support system online and IRL; who are your biggest cheerleaders?
My wife of 47 years is absurdly supportive. She’s an artist and an inveterate reader and we both understand our need to be creative. My friends and family have gone out of their way to help. Many have used their good names on social media to alert others of my work, others organized events, others submit reviews and buy books, and others offer literary advice. I like to think of myself as a curmudgeon and lacking sentimentality, but I have been genuinely moved by the efforts of so many.
How does your life influence your writing and vice versa; how has your life prepared you for writing?
I have always been an independent spirit and thinker, whose benefits and limitations I have long understood and accepted. I approach things with a great ferocity which I think also appears in my work. Cautious people do not change the world. My creativity and my ability to analyze and connect disparate events and facts stood me well in business and in school. But my “I do not care about your arbitrary rules” has not. One boss used to say to me, “You’re not one of us.” To which I replied, “Why would I want to be.” Accordingly, why would I want to write what has been written or photograph what has already been shot.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I apply creativity to every aspect of my life. There are few things I do as routine, for I think how can I do this differently. They call it conventional wisdom because it comes from drunks at conventions.
Writing is problem solving. How can I create characters that are true to their purpose but are still different, vivid, and believable? How do I create dialogue that is witty and distinct, yet propels the story? How do I create events that are new and fresh, yet relevant and germane of the story? How do I create consequences for people’s actions that the reader will accept? As I write satire, how do I amuse a reader for hundreds of pages? I embrace all these challenges and quietly celebrate every victory. But you can never become smug, because the next sentence is just a keystroke away.
Connect with Warren:
Born and raised in Hawaii, Arizona, and Maryland, Brian Barr resides in South Carolina and is the author of the Carolina Daemonic series, the 3 H’s Trilogy, the Nihon Cyberpunk collection (read my reviews of #2, #3, and #4), and the Brutal Bazaar collection. His stories meld fantasy, horror, and science fiction, with themes that range from the occult to the exploration of the human condition, art, music, societal issues and political concerns. As a small press and independent author, he is heavily influenced by DIY and punk culture when it comes to formatting and releasing his work. Brian has written novels, short stories, and comics. He co-created and co-writes the comic book Empress with Chuck Amadori, which features art by Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa, colored by Geraldo Filho. Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa have also collaborated with Brian to provide many of the art for his covers.
Follow Brian on his Amazon Author Page and purchase his works…
Carolina Daemonic: Confederate Shadows: The first novel of Brian Barr’s Carolina Daemonic series released in 2015, Confederate Shadows is an occult urban horror fantasy with steampunk elements set in an alternative dystopian world where the Confederacy rules America. Uncompromising and raw, Confederate Shadows takes us into a world of grotesque monsters, dark magic, and chaos.
Carolina Daemonomaniac I: The First Carolina Daemonic Short Stories Collection: This is the first collection of Carolina Daemonic short stories. Along with the steampunk war comic The Tamed Tiger, Carolina Daemonomaniac includes various tales of Voodoo/Vudon spirituality, necromancy, weird science and the undead.
The 3 H’s Trilogy: A mix of comedic bizzaro romance horror, cosmic horror, and occult dark fantasy, The 3 H’s Trilogy begins when a gardener discovers a disembodied head in her mother’s garden. What starts as an absurd love story turns into a gruesome inter-dimensional nightmare. Consists of The Head, The House, and The Hell.
Brutal Bazaar: A horror collection of short stories, Brutal Bazaar includes The 3 H’s Trilogy, The Bloody Writer’s Trilogy, Badlam Betty, and various other bloodcurdling tales penned by Brian Barr. From slashers to occult horror, these tales include gruesome scenes mixed with dark humor and existential dread.
Nihon Cyberpunk: Nihon Cyberpunk is a collection of science fiction stories set in Japan. Inspired by Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone,Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and various other sources, Nihon Cyberpunk explores the human condition and probes philosophical questions in a dark and dystopian Japan ruled by technology. Includes The Kage Majitsu Trilogy and An American Otaku in Neo-Nihon’s Underbelly as bonus stories.
Empress: Co-created and co-written by Chuck Amadori and Brian Barr, Empress is a comic book series that centers around Zia, a famous Hollywood actress who goes missing in the early 20th century. She returns to America as the embodiment of the chthonic goddess Hekate and ushers in a new age for the same world that oppressed her spirit and legacy.
These stories of young women—a step-daughter with an evil step-brother, a disillusioned intellectual, a literary feminist teen, a misplaced mother, and even a queen—trying to retain their spiritual essence in a patriarchal world are gorgeously written and illustrated. They read as fairytales, with villains and heroines, a defined delineation of good vs. evil, fantastic realms, a bit of magic, and even actual fairies. Fans of the Brothers Grimm, and especially readers of Angela Slatter, will appreciate the unique flavor of Pavlikova. I was fortunate to win this beautiful ebook through a Goodreads giveaway.
The diversity in these stories is impressive, from girls facing internal and external religious challenges, to girls pretending to be something they’re not to make their way in a man’s world. These are tales of young women refusing to be a product of their time, yearning to be free of society’s mores. The authors refrain from a black and white picture, with a young Mormon girl questioning her religion, yet continuing to fight her community’s detractors. Secrets abound, as an orphaned girl lives life as a boy to take care of herself, and a young boy trades his secret of being a transgender with a Hispanic girl putting in tremendous effort to pass as white for Hollywood. One story had magical elements that didn’t seem to contribute to the plot, but as a whole, this book offers up a dozen girls as unintentional heroines who fought against patriarchy, misogyny, and other obstacles they intended to overcome.
I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this wonderful book through NetGalley.
Jorja sent me a friend request last year, and after looking at her page, I accepted. She’s a brilliant storyteller who is always supportive of other writers. She’s mystical and magical in an unseen universe (see what I did there?), and chaotically creative. I’m privileged to have a connection with Jorja and wished to share her stories—about her life and in her fiction. She’s a lovely human.
Tell me about your writing process, including environment, inspirations, schedule, strategies, and muse (if you have one!).
Is there ever a process for anything when you have kids? I try to steal time to write, but I do it every day. I journal, I write ideas when they pop up, and I write poetry. I am an emotional storyteller, because in all honesty, I struggle with my emotions, so in turn I heal. I don’t write from a desk or have an office. I write from my laptop, which is portable, so I can take it places, but mostly I write from my couch. I have been known to write in my car while my son is at football practice, I would say a third of Sisterly was written or edited there. It is for me, really, no different than reading a good book, an escape, but I get to choose the ending. As for a muse, this is the concept that I thought only I experienced. When I write I do feel as though I am channeling many muses. I like to think of them as my writing angels. My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was, in her lifetime, the best storyteller. When I was a child, she would tell us a story that I would visualize so vividly. I would like to think that she is still telling me those stories I loved to listen to as a child. Our stories are very important to generations to come. They learn from our mistakes and gain knowledge to what works. Life is not easy.
I love the story of how you started writing—elaborate upon that and how the relationship with your mother encouraged you in this direction.
My mother wrote for our local paper. She loved to write and would always talk about wanting to write a book. She could come up with stories that conveyed a message about love, friendships, and all the good things life has to offer (Hallmark channel was her favorite). Sadly, I lost my mother this year, February 2018. She unfortunately never published any of her works. She lived that dream through me I suppose. Let me step back and explain,–I talked my Mother into taking a class to teach you how to write a book. At that time I had no interest in writing a book. I just thought it was something we could do to spend time together and possibly help her achieve one of her dreams. I found a love for writing—it was my purpose, and looking back, I was always a writer. My Mother wrote many short stories through our adventure in this class, but my Mother always put her kids first. She became my biggest fan. By the end of the class I had created a book—Chasing Butterflies in the Magical Garden (2013). By the way, I plan to publish her work in the coming year. I see it like this—I have gained another writing angel during her time on earth and in her after life.
What finds its way into your stories and why?
I try to teach lessons or convey wisdom we learn through our lifetime by using every day stories. I love to entertain while doing this, which may be possibly why I add a little magic to my stories (I think I get that from my grandmother). I love to read stories that make you question or wonder, or have a spiritual aspect. I also love surprises. Metaphors are always welcome in my writing as well, and I like to hide them throughout my stories. So why not write what I enjoy reading?
Describe your support system—your team, everyone who works with you or gives you props.
Gosh, I have a lot of support, sometimes so much support, I will never be able to retire from writing. My family supports me with my writing the most. When my mother passed, I have to say, my emotions held me back from taking her writing. They were the first to tell me that they were mine. I got the whole box! There is something very connecting reading someone’s writing. It is the truest form of them. I am truly blessed. I also have a wonderful writing community. We meet once a week to discuss our writing endeavors. We do not critique. We only motivate and challenge our own abilities. That is the best kind of writing community to have. I’ll tell you why—each of us is different, we learn in many ways, and we have different interests. Readers are the same, are they not? Don’t get me wrong; we do at times read each other’s work and give suggestions, which in turn gets our own creative juices flowing. Last is a good editor, but not for typos, because let’s face it, typos happen! During final edit we worry about those. I have been fortunate to have two wonderful and patient editors. I spend most of my time on editing and rewriting. I am not going to tell you it is my weakness. I am just going to say I don’t edit while I write. Editing interferes with my creative process. When most people think of an editor, they think of someone who comes in and cleans it all up. I’m sure there are some editors out there that do that, but that isn’t my case. I have two supportive editing coaches. They show me things I missed or need to elaborate on and we work together to prefect it. It is usually a 4 to 6 time go-over on the story. While this is happening, I send my story with a WARNING to everyday people to read and send me feedback. Usually I have at least 4 to 5 people of different ages and opinions. I have even sent one of my first drafts to my 4th grade English teacher, who is now retired. I can’t express the importance of having many people working with you to produce the best you are capable of producing.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I love creating! I love everything about the process of creating. I’ll admit, with my first book, I wasn’t fond of rewriting and editing, because it was work. Now after 4 books, 2 anthologies, many short stories, and a screenplay, I enjoy the rewriting and editing process as much as I do creating the story. The only thing I do struggle with is the ending to a creative project, the moment it is published. I’m like a lost puppy looking for a new story to write.
Follow Jorja on social media and buy her books here:
Steve Carr’s first collection of short stories is fantastic. His work is intense, reaching into the reader’s head and twisting emotions, shattering logic and reason. The first story Tenderloin is—pun intended—a punch in the gut, as the reader sees the grittiness of the setting and feels the coiled tension in the main character, a veteran of the Iraq War. With journalistic expertise, Carr displays monstrous humanity in a brevity of words, as in The Saguaro Two Step, in which the woman wins the loot in the end, and exposes desperation, as in The Festival of The Cull, wherein Shamina can no longer vote on who is to be terminated. Reality bends as one ventures further into the book, as in the self-explanatory The Girl in a Mason Jar, gets fishy in Strange Water, and disappears in When Wizards Sing, where animals and men blend. The stories are diverse, with main characters of various genders, sexual orientations, ages, cultures, and even species. The book ends with stories of the afterlife on a never-ending train ride for incorrigibles, a man’s struggle for gravity, and the misplaced hope of a senior citizen. Definitely a must-read! Follow Steve on Facebook and Twitter. Purchase Sand at Lulu.com or Amazon.com.