Interview with Christa Carmen

The Horror Club speaks to Christa Carmen about her debut fiction collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, which will be released on August 21, by Unnerving. Carmen is a writer of dark fiction, and her 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. She has additional work forthcoming from Lycan Valley Press Publications’ all-female horror anthology, Dark Voices.

1) Tell me about Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked?

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 are 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!

2) What was the idea behind the title and how do you feel the cover reflects this?

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is actually the title of one of the flash fiction pieces in the collection, originally published by Fireside Fiction Company and edited by the incomparable Julia Rios. I felt it would be a good name for the collection as a whole because first, there are three different stories—“Red Room,” “Something Borrowed…,” and “All Souls of Eve”—that have to do with the topic of marriage, and second, I took into consideration the traditional Lancashire rhyme that details what a bride should wear at her wedding for good luck:

​“Something old,
​something new,
​something borrowed,
​something blue,
​and a silver sixpence in her shoe.”

The superstition goes that the old item provides continuity (or protection for the baby to come, because of course all brides’ brains will quickly turn to mush thinking of the inevitable baby that will soon be on the way!), something new offers optimism for the future, the item borrowed from another is for good luck, or ‘borrowed happiness,’ the color blue is a sign of purity, love, and fidelity, and the sixpence is a symbol of prosperity, or acts as a ward against evil.

I like this little grab-bag idea of outfitting oneself with trinkets and talismans before stepping into the unknown territory of a marriage, a union that represents commitment, but also change and a future that is largely unknown. I thought that this concept could extend to the experience of reading the collection… at the very least, the reader should bring something with them to ward off evil; any pleasure the characters in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked experience is borrowed happiness at best.

As for the cover, Eddie Generous, publisher, editor, artist, and wearer of whatever other hats Unnerving requires of him, actually thought of using this particular piece after reading “Lady of the Flies,” one of three original stories making its debut in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked. “Lady of the Flies” is about Priscila Teasdale, a haunted house worker whose life has been a series of unfortunate events, and who copes with a last, devastating blow by leaning a bit too heavily on her haunted house persona. The cover represents not only Priscila, Lady of the Flies, but all of the beautiful grotesque I endeavored to showcase via the thirteen stories I chose for this collection.

3) The stories in this collection have been published individually in various magazines. How important did you think it was to go this route first?

The stories in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked were indeed published in places like Fireside Fiction, DarkFuse Magazine (which unfortunately exists no more), Third Flatiron’s Strange Beasties anthology, Unnerving Magazine, Tales to Terrify, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, to name a few. The publisher asked upfront that a certain percentage of the stories in collection submissions be reprints, so once I’d filled that quota, I added two stories that had been published by markets no longer in circulation, changed one story that had appeared on a podcast to the novella version I’d been waiting to unveil, and chose three brand new stories to round everything out.

Ultimately, I am very pleased with the balance that was achieved. I think readers appreciate when they see a collection that includes reprints, especially from magazines and anthologies they may have read previously, and hopefully enjoyed, as well as a handful of new tales that allows them to experience an author’s latest work.

4) There’re 13 stories in the collection, and we all know about the ‘unlucky 13’ superstition. Was that deliberate or a coincidence?

Personally, I find the number thirteen to be perfectly lovely! My wedding—at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO on Halloween 2016—had thirteen guests, I’ve gotten sober (on two different occasions, but ideally for the last time!) on October thirteenth, and this year on the anniversary of my sobriety, my husband and I are going to the Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival and to see Florence and the Machine in concert!

I mentioned how the collection came to include the stories that it did, so the fact that the final installments in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked numbered thirteen was just a coincidence. There may have been a moment while piecing the collection together in which I looked at a single, longer story as opposed to two shorter ones, but the stories that ended up in the collection were always destined to be included.

5) How come you decided to go with a short story collection over a novel?

At this point in my writing career, I have written three novel-length works, a Gothic horror novel called Sequela Manor, 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 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 who pursues them.

I attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in January, where I workshopped the horror/crime thriller, Coming Down Fast, and while I would love to be able to say I’m finished with the novel, there are still a few things I’m tinkering with, though the end is in sight. With that being said, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked just felt more complete than anything else at the time of Unnerving’s submission call for collections, novels, and novellas, more polished and ready to see the light of day, so I knew with which form I had the best chance of an acceptance.

6) I can’t ask you to go through each story, so maybe one or two that stood out for me. The Red Room is one. It was wonderful and so easy to visualise it. What was the idea behind that story?

The idea behind “Red Room” was an interesting one, actually. The story is about a woman who, despite her fiancé’s belief to the contrary, is convinced she should be concerned by the gruesome photos appearing on her phone, and whose fear proves justified in a rather ghastly, albeit unexpected way.

On April 13, 2017, published an article by Emily Asher-Perrin entitled, “The Peril of Being Disbelieved: Horror and the Intuition of Women.” The piece examines one of the most overdone tropes in horror: that of the woman who feels that something is off, but is disbelieved and brushed off by everyone, right up until the moment the chainsaw begins to rev, or zombies break down the door. The article discusses how every woman knows what this feels like, and how “women know that it’s their responsibility to prevent harm from coming to them.”

Not long after reading this article, something unusual happened. I woke up the morning after a wedding to a series of photographs on my phone that I did not take. The photos were of two men in a bar, and they had an eerie, old-fashioned feel that lent them a patina of wrongness as palpable as any Instagram filter. The next day, at a post-wedding brunch, the topic of the inexplicable photos came up. The reaction from several men in the group was that, one way or another, I had to have been the cause of these photos appearing on my phone. “You probably just screenshotted them from a website,” or, “you must have accidentally downloaded them.” I’m not a drinker, so the memory of my activities the night before was as clear as could be. This unwillingness to believe that the photos had appeared through no action of my own collided in my head with the echoes of Asher-Perrin’s article, and “Red Room” was the result.

7) The way the story is told, it almost feels like a short film you’d see on Crypt TV. Have you ever considered turning it into a short film?

Ha! I’d love for “Red Room” to be turned into a short film. Any filmmakers out there, hit me up!

8) Tell me about, “The Girl Who Love Bruce Campbell?”

First, what’s not to love about the King of Groovy? As for the story, I’m a long-time fan of the Evil Dead franchise, and a fun evening of binge-watching the Starz Ash vs. Evil Dead series in December several years back was interrupted by the chilling news that my good friend’s house had been broken into, and several firearms stolen. On the heels of this unfortunate text message exchange, my now-husband cheerily announced, “All right, time for work,” and promptly left me to embark on his normal shift… the night shift.

Alone, over-active imagination whirring, I lay in bed and contemplated how I would go about stopping a band of burglars should they choose to break into my place next. The opioid epidemic had long been gaining traction in the New England region I call home, and I theorized that the individuals breaking into homes to steal pawnable items like jewelry and guns were doing so to fund drug habits. That Christmas concluded with a blazing full moon; I have commenced with many a story from a single strange or striking image, and the image of a trio of heroin addicts setting up their next round of shots on the banks of the brackish water inlet across the street from my apartment, illuminated by the hazy moonlight, seemed as good a starting point as any.

The scenes in which Kartya dismembers, eviscerates, and decapitates the Deadite-like zombies descending upon her home were so much fun to write, that it was thrilling to discover readers seemed to find them equally fun to read. After this story was featured in Corner Bar Magazine (and Bruce Campbell himself retweeted my announcement of publication) and reprinted in Comet Press’ Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Volume 2, the host of Horror Hill, a podcast with the Chilling Tales for Dark Nights / Simply Scary Podcast Network, contacted me via my author website to ask if he could record “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell” for the show.

That experience opened up additional opportunities with Chilling Tales for Dark Nights (check out the Kickstarter campaign) to turn the illustrated horror eBook, print, and audiobook anthology of original, folklore-inspired short scary stories into a trilogy!), so it’s really nice to see that, like Bruce Campbell himself, traveling back from medieval times to fight Evil in Elk Grove and beyond, “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell” has longevity!

9) Without bringing the other stories down, do you have a favourite one?

I recently answered a question similar to this for another review site, although the question was do I have a favorite short story out of all the stories I’ve written, published or not, and I responded that my favorite short story seems to be whichever short story I’ve finished most recently. However, if I strike down the ‘favorite-story-is-the-story-I-just-finished’ phenomenon, and only look at the short stories included within my collection, I’d have to say that 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 Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked.

10) I’m always curious, because it can mean one thing to someone and something else to another. What does horror mean to you?

Ahh, I love this question. I’ve enjoyed horror for as long as I can remember. Counted among my favorite books as a child were Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the Goosebumps and Fear Street Series, the vampire novels of Christopher Pike, the harrowing mysteries and narrow escapes of Caroline Keene’s Nancy Drew, and James Howe’s Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, and Howliday Inn. That love of the unknown, of things that go bump in the night, it only increased as I got older.

I remember lying in bed following my first ever horror film, John Carpenter’s Halloween, certain that Michael Myers was in my backyard, making his way up the trellis to my bedroom window. That there was no trellis alongside my house mattered not; only that beguiling, paralyzing feeling of fear. I can recall darting across my room to retrieve a crucifix from my jewelry box after reading the scene in ‘Salem’s Lot in which Danny Glick floats outside of Mark Petrie’s window, tap-tap-tapping, hoping to be invited in, and I refused to venture into my bathroom at night for weeks after reading Chapter 25, ‘Inside 217,’ of The Shining, certain that Danny Torrence’s vision of the hideous dead woman would become my own.

Today, the horror that interests me most is a different kind of horror than the vampires or ghosts that inducted me into the genre. That’s not to say I don’t still enjoy these types of stories; I love a great creature-horror or supernatural-horror novel, short story, or film as much as the next horror fan. But the terrifying parts of life cannot always be gleaned by staring them in the face, or by watching them on the evening news, and if you give a reader a window into something that truly frightens them—addiction, mental illness, the death of a loved one, marriage, childbirth, the future, dead-end jobs, not being good enough, being forgotten—that window will likely become a mirror. Horror reflects the hideous and the appalling parts of life back at us through a carnivalesque filter that makes the suffering bearable. And that is what I love about it.

Want to know more Christa and her other work? Then check out her website. You can pre-order the the collection now. Don’t wait!

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