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: Matthew C. Woodruff

Meghan: Hi, Matthew. Welcome to my annual Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Matthew C. Woodruff: I’m pretty average, I think. I work, I write, I play with my cats. I’m always dieting, LOL.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Five things? I don’t know if I’m all that mysterious. I worked for several years as the Conductor on the Polar Express. About 25 years ago I travelled by train through Northern Europe, Scandinavia and Russia for six weeks. I owned an ice cream shop for a few years (thus the need to diet). I have a large collection of stuffed animal friends. Well, that’s four. I can’t think of another one.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Finally, an easy question! When I was seven my older brother gave me a Brains Benton mystery and I was forever hooked on reading.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Matthew C. Woodruff: A couple of things, I am re-reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This will be the 18th re-read. Plus I’m reading something by David Weber.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Matthew C. Woodruff: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write?

Matthew C. Woodruff: I had stories I needed to expel from my brain, LOL.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Matthew C. Woodruff: If you promise not to tell – I do most of my writing at work… it’s the only place I can be undisturbed.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Like most writers I think, I have to be careful not to think about my writing unless I am sitting in front of a keyboard, otherwise the whole story pours into my mind and then I forget it all. I wrote one of the stories in my 26 Absurdities on my phone while walking across campus one evening, because I was compelled to.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Mainly just putting the words together so they make sense. I tend to build my sentences backwards for some reason.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Matthew C. Woodruff: My debut collection of short stories 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions was inspired by the illustrations of Edward Gorey, I have always been fascinated with his macabre drawings and am thrilled to have completed this work of dark humor based on his alphabetized poem in The Gashlycrumb Tinies. The fact that it was selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards was also very satisfying.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Certainly Robert Jordan’s style of character development has inspired me.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Matthew C. Woodruff: I think realism is vitally important to a story. I don’t mean to say it can’t be made up Sci-Fi or Fantasy, but the plot and characters need to react and develop in a realistic way. For a negative example, I remember seeing a movie a few years ago where the main character’s girlfriend found out a villain was after him and then went home and took a nap or something. The writer wanted to reveal something to us, but the girlfriend character’s reaction was totally unrealistic. It ruined the whole movie for me. Along with the realism theme of this over-winded answer, research is important. Get the facts right. The internet is a great resource for basic facts.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Matthew C. Woodruff: I believe no one is one thing or the other. People are a mix of good and bad, good decisions and bad decisions, honesty and dishonesty. Characters also should be enigmas to some extent.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Several of the events that my characters experience in 26 Absurdities are taken directly from my childhood. The stories of Hector, James, Titus, Victor, Winnie, Xerxes and Yorick all have elements of my childhood in them. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Matthew C. Woodruff: I consider myself something of a graphic designer as well, so I do create my own covers and I am particularly proud of the cover on my upcoming book Tales from the Aether. This book also has a secret – I have included an illustration for each of the stories.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Muse is a harsh mistress.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Matthew C. Woodruff: There is a slightly romantic theme between a man and a woman in one of my new stories that I found hard to write from the woman’s point of view.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Obviously, they are the best thing ever written! Dark humor and dark fiction/horror can be difficult to combine, but I think I do a pretty good job.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Matthew C. Woodruff: The title is vitally important, as is the cover. A writer has 10 seconds to hook a reader and the cover and title are the bait. The title 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions is a play on words – the book is about the unusual deaths of 26 children, thus the word ‘proportions’ is meant to highlight the fact that it was all little kids involved in the tragedies.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Matthew C. Woodruff: I can only write short stories. I do not have the discipline or the will to become involved in writing something that takes years. I need instant gratification that only writing a short story can give me.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Matthew C. Woodruff: I hate to say it, but some of the dark humor in my stories require some intelligence to understand. People either love them or hate them. In fact, there has been research that shows that people who enjoy dark humor are more intelligent. I’m just lucky I understand any of it, LOL.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Matthew C. Woodruff: That is an interesting question, my stories are complete from the start to finish with very little editing involved. As the stories flood into my mind and I transcribe them, they are complete. “Take away one word, and the sentence fails, take away one sentence and the paragraph fails, take away one paragraph and the whole work fails.” – misquoted Salieri in Amadeus. In other words, I can’t abide removing any part of my story, LOL.

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

Matthew C. Woodruff: My newest collection of short stories, Tales from the Aether, will be out later this year (December 1, 2019). After that, who knows? Depends on my inspiration.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Matthew C. Woodruff: Website ** Facebook ** Twitter

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?

Matthew C. Woodruff: I am an Indie writer by choice. I turned down a publishing offer for 26 Absurdities. I don’t agree with the whole publishing culture of querying (begging) for representation then giving over the bulk of the profits from our work to a bunch of middle-men. Give Indie writers, musicians, artists, etc. a chance. We are better than you may think. And to my newbie writer friends: write for yourself not for the marketing people. If you are moved and inspired by a story you’ve created, so will others be.

Matthew grew up in upstate New York surrounded by books (and snow). After founding what became the most widely distributed alternative arts and entertainment magazine in upstate NY (based in Albany), Matthew moved to Greenville, FL where he accepted a position on staff at the University of Florida.

His first book, 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions, was inspired by his love of the macabre illustrations by artists like Edward Gorey. Selected as a finalist in the American Fiction Awards, 26 Absurdities may be the most unique collection of short stories ever written.

Matthew’s second book, Tales from the Aether, continues in the Dark Humor/Dark Fiction genre and is scheduled to be released November 1, 2019.

Matthew loves to be contacted by fellow authors and readers and can be found on Twitter or Facebook.

26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions: Unusual & Enjoyable Tales

Awarded Finalist Prize in the 2019 American Fiction Awards ‘Short Stories’ Category by American Book Fest. 

An utterly fascinating collection of short tales inspired by Edward Gorey’s alphabetical illustrations in “The Gashlycrumb Tinies.” These tales capture the essence of dark humor and satire with one tale for each child depicted in Gorey’s most famous illustrations. These tales are all about human behavior, characteristics, chance and choice, and life and death. From mystery to sci-fi from drama to fairy tale and from adventure to gothic, this book has something for everyone.

Tales from the Aether: Extraordinary Tales of Dark Fiction, Dark Humor, & Horror

In this extraordinary collection of ‘dark’ short stories, Matthew C. Woodruff explores the timeless questions of Joy, Fear, Love, Loss, Foreboding and Incomprehension. All set around particular holidays, the characters in these twelve stories experience things we can only imagine. These stories will make the reader stop to wonder if anyone ever really knows those closest to them or even the world around them.