Reading of a Short Story: Christa Carmen

In Which Two Squirrels Nest in an Abandoned Attic & Amuse Themselves with the Relics of Humanity


Boo-graphy:
Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection, and additional work has been published in places such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Fireside, Not All Monsters, and Behold the Undead of Dracula.

These days when I’m not writing, I keep chickens, read books like Mary, Who Wrote Frankenstein and The Gashlycrumb Tinies to my daughter, forget to pull a daily tarot card, and tinker with a dog food recipe concocted to make my beagle live forever.

Most of my work comes from gazing upon the ghosts of the past or else into the dark corners of nature, those places where whorls of bark become owl eyes and deer step through tunnels of hanging leaves and creeping briars only to disappear.

Something Borrowed, Something Blood Soaked
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.

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Christa Carmen: A Mighty Word

A Mighty Word
By: Joshua Rex

Genre: Horror, Magical Realism, Speculative Fiction

Publisher: Rotary Press
Publication Date: 4.12.2021

Pages: 175

Kevin Heartstone is a past-obsessed tenth grader grieving the loss of his father, an architect and restoration specialist, and struggling with his mother’s new relationship with the owner of a demolition company. While visiting his father’s grave, Kevin encounters Jane Cardinal, a fifteen year old girl who has been dead for over a century and a half. Jane, along with her contemporaries, have recently been re-animated by the by-product of an anti-depressant produced by Still City’s leading employer—Preventative Solutions—which has been illegally dumping the waste into the decaying area neighborhoods and cemeteries. Jane will be Kevin’s link to a time for which he longs, while Kevin himself will become central in his fractured hometown’s survival, and the dilemma of reconciling its past with its present by conciliating the dead with the living.


Halloween is a two-faced entity, characterized both by long-standing traditions and a host of fun, more modern frights. While one can celebrate the night on which the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is thinnest by visiting a cemetery to pay respects to a lost loved one, an equally viable option is to gather a group of costumed friends to shudder before the latest A24 horror film.

Joshua Rex’s A Mighty Word, like Halloween itself, encompasses the best of seemingly competing worlds. It is a celebration of things that have come before as well as an exploration of that which scares us most in the here-and-now. Death. Loss. Change. Oblivion. No longer recognizing the world around you, or your place within it. It is a novel that engages insightfully with the fear that the best of humanity has come and gone.

The story takes place in fictional Still City, a community that is keeping its last grip on life by producing and promoting an antidepressant called Plaiscene, manufactured by Preventative Solutions. When the toxic byproducts of Plaiscene seep into the ground, causing the deceased residents of Treestone and Neil Memorial Cemeteries to rise from their graves, it quickly becomes clear that the dead are far less monstrous than those in Still City intent on keeping Preventative Solutions running smoothly, no matter the fallout.

Too busy navigating an unfamiliar world after his father’s unexpected death to have bought into the Plaiscene hype, Kevin Heartstone is clear-headed (and open-minded in the way that only somewhat-different-and-subsequently-alienated-kids can truly be) when he stumbles upon the reanimated Jane Cardinal, and finds that his old-fashioned view of things aligns him closely with her and the other corpses.

Kevin and Jane’s fight for what is right is not only hard-hitting in today’s politically embittered times, but in the hands of Joshua Rex, it’s rendered hauntingly on the page. During Kevin’s solitary treks through a ghostly, near-abandoned city, he would “search the newly vacant lots for scraps of the recently demolished, finding perhaps a plaster acanthus curl from a Corinthian column, a spandrel or bracket dowel, a pane from a latticed window.” As the dead rise, they contemplate their surroundings, those spots that were once “hallowed,” that once held “rows of handsome oaks and flowerbeds bright as barrelfuls of spilled jewels.” Even death is beautiful here, and when the mayor takes drastic measures to escape culpability in Still City’s demise, his end is marked by “a volcanic spray brilliant as brimming lava… superimposed against the red and orange shell burst of twilight.”

It’s clear that Joshua’s care wasn’t for a single, or even a handful, of elements when it came to penning this novel. Characters are not sacrificed for plot; neither is language for dread-inducing suspense. Horror—sociopolitical, Gothic, and the beautiful macabre—along with captivating discourses on life coexist bewitchingly on the page.

Some of the best horror, the best stories regardless of genre, are those works which are not easily categorizable; A Mighty Word resists being put in a box much in the same way that the wise and dignified corpses who shape its narrative refuse their stuffy coffins. If Halloween is as much for tradition as it is for the newer rituals that continue to shape it, then Joshua Rex’s novel is what you should be reading this October 31st. It’s a delightful trick of horror subgenre, and an overall treat of dark fiction.


Boo-graphy:
Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection, and additional work has been published in places such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Fireside, Not All Monsters, and Behold the Undead of Dracula.

These days when I’m not writing, I keep chickens, read books like Mary, Who Wrote Frankenstein and The Gashlycrumb Tinies to my daughter, forget to pull a daily tarot card, and tinker with a dog food recipe concocted to make my beagle live forever.

Most of my work comes from gazing upon the ghosts of the past or else into the dark corners of nature, those places where whorls of bark become owl eyes and deer step through tunnels of hanging leaves and creeping briars only to disappear.

Something Borrowed, Something Blood Soaked
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.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Joanna Koch

Meghan: Hi, Joanna! Welcome back to my annual Halloween Extravaganza! It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Joanna Koch: Hi Meghan! Thank you for having me back. Since we talked about Doorbells At Dusk last Halloween, I’ve had about a dozen stories published in journals and anthologies. A project I’m especially thrilled to be part of is Not All Monsters, edited by Brahm Stoker award winner Sara Tantlinger! It’s a privilege to work with her. My story “The Revenge of Madeline Usher” will be included along with so many amazing female authors. I’m still a bit speechless. There will be a deluxe hardcover version with gorgeous illustrations by Don Noble (Twitter), and the images I’ve seen released on social media are fierce.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

Joanna Koch: Addicted to privacy, a lover of silence. I work a day job dealing with financial and quality control matters in a hectic environment; lawful evil surrounded by chaotic good. I’m a former counselor. I’m an artist, too, although most of my energy goes into writing now.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Joanna Koch: I try not to think about it. My inner critic is loud enough.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Joanna Koch: You know, it’s a drive to create or make a mark, the same as any other drive. I don’t like perpetuating the myth of talent and gifts and all that. You follow your drive and make something, or you don’t. Instead of a gift or a curse, let’s call it a choice, a way to direct energy.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Joanna Koch: I’ve moved around the US and experimented with a variety of lifestyles. I feel like I’ve lived enough different lives to give me a good pool of material to draw upon, and heard a plethora of stories and secrets as a counselor.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Joanna Koch: How to make compost out of dead bodies in outer space.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Joanna Koch: The middle. Until recently I exclusively wrote short stories without bulk in the middle. Moving on to pieces where I want more character change, I find I need more time to get through the arc while staying true to the character. But it’s challenging to linger. My natural tendency is to get in, stir some shit, and get out quick.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Joanna Koch: I go with something that hooks me. It might be a character, an event, a feeling, an abstract idea, a memory or impression from my life. Or someone else’s. I trust there’s a pattern to what captures my interest, start running with it, and apply logic and orderliness along the way.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Joanna Koch: I try to get to know them better.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Joanna Koch: I sit down and write. I’m too impatient for writer’s block. Besides, I’m getting old. I’ll be dead soon. I don’t have time to waste.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Joanna Koch: There are so many books I want to read! I can’t keep up. Yes, I love reading and always have, even long before I tried to write.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Joanna Koch: I like writing that is both intellectual and shocking, realistic and poetic. beautiful and ugly, that takes me to an unexpected place. I want it all!

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Joanna Koch: They are separate mediums. One cannot replace the other.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Joanna Koch: This is difficult to answer. I’ve been playing with boundaries and ambiguities surrounding identity, existence, and physical integrity lately with my main characters. I have definitely killed villains and libidinal objects. My work is not always wholesome.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Joanna Koch: Not exactly. I’m interested in testing characters and exploring how they fail, because I think we all do that. I’m interested in what we do with suffering and how it changes us. I want to get more into that in the future.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Joanna Koch: My current main character is three characters that will be a single entity by the end of the story. One of their current forms is that of a hemimetabolous insect.

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received?

Joanna Koch: “Readers are smart; you don’t have to tell them everything.” This sounds obvious, but it’s what I needed to hear at the time to move forward.

Meghan: What’s the worst?

Joanna Koch: The critique that a female character who’s my own age is “out of character” or “not believable” if she swears or makes racy remarks. Apparently I’m a badly written human.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Joanna Koch: Do I have fans? That’s a lovely idea. When someone takes the time to let me know they appreciate a story, it means the world to me. It’s not only the ego-gratification; it’s about the way I get attached to a story or the characters in them and want them to have a life of their own outside of my head. Readers give them that life!

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Joanna Koch: Uh-oh, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to steal! I stole Madeline Usher from Poe because I wanted to give her a voice.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Joanna Koch: My first stand alone work – a novella called “The Couvade” – is in the editing phase and will be published soon. I’ve been invited to create a longer serialized piece that I’m working on now with an editor I trust. It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever taken on, and I’m filled with fear that I won’t be able to pull it off. I’ll keep faking confidence and let you know next year if it works out!

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Joanna Koch:

Website ** Twitter ** Amazon

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

Joanna Koch: Thank you, Meghan, for inviting me back; thank you to readers who indulge me while going through this process of becoming a writer. I’ve delved into variations in style and content over the past year that range from fairy tale to splatter. I think I will always be a work in progress and I hope you enjoy the ride!

Author Joanna Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Her short fiction has been published in journals and anthologies such as Synth, Honey & Sulphur, and In Darkness Delight: Masters of Midnight. Look for her novella, The Couvade, coming soon. Consumer her monstrous musings at Horrorsong.

In Darkness Delight: Masters of Midnight

Midnight strikes like an invocation, clock hands joining in prayer to the darkness. After the twelfth chime, there’s no escaping the nightmare.

Fear reigns supreme.

In Darkness, Delight is an original anthology series revealing the many facets of modern horror—shocking and quiet, pulp and literary, cold-hearted and heart-felt, weird tales of spiraling madness alongside full-throttle thrillers. Open these pages and unleash all-new terrors that consume from without and within.

Midnight is here. It’s now time to find . . . In Darkness, Delight.

Featuring stories by:
Josh MalermanOne Thousand Words on a Tombstone – Delores Ray
William MeikleRefuge
Jason ParentViolet
Ryan C. ThomasWho Are You?
Mark MatthewsTattooed All in Black
Evans LightOne Million Hits
Lisa LepovetskyKruze Nite
Israel FinnThe Pipe
Patrick LaceyIn the Ground John McNee: Dogsh*t Gauntlet
Michael BrayLetters
Monique YouzwaRules of Leap Year
Billy ChizmarMirrors
Espi KvltPulsate
Paul MichaelsAngel Wings
Andrew LennonRun Rabbit Run
Joanna KochEvery Lucky Penny is Another Drop of Blood