There is only 3 more days left until Halloween and my question to you is, what is your biggest fear and are you brave enough to tell?
The next author in my Women Thought Leaders in Horror line up is Erin Al-Mehairi. She is a writer, editor, and PR Professional with degrees in English, Journalism, and History. Though she’s been writing for decades, Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving, was her debut collection of dark poetry and short stories and was an Amazon #2 best-selling paid title in women’s poetry, behind NYT best-seller Rupi Kaur, and has hovered in top five in horror short stories several times since its publication. Her work has been called raw, honest, evocative, and beautiful.
Buckle up because you won't get anything as raw as this. And Happy Halloween...
Q: Why horror? What fascinates you about horror and enticed you to write in the genre?
A: I was never allowed to read, watch, or enjoy horror as a kid growing up, but I did grow up in the dark, spooky woods and I did enjoy fairy tales. I was completely scared of the dark, and had a lot of nightmares, but I also was very curious about the thing that made me scared. The only thing I was allowed was anything with cute witches and black cats (like books or costumes for Halloween or my actual real black kitty).
I suppose I secretly began to like horror in the written form when introduced to Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson through school assignments. “The Lottery” is one of my first and favorite dark horror stories. I learned through both of them, as well as many other great writers in other genres, just how awful humanity can be. That to me IS horror and why I believe horror crosses into so many other genres and people don’t even realize it.
Since I couldn’t read it at home, but was an avid reader, I read historical and fantasy books. I especially liked Sue Harrison’s Mother Earth Father Sky and Jane Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear. I enjoyed books like Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. I enjoy, and still do, Kathleen O’Neal and W. Michael Gear’s books. If you think about it, there are many horrifying things in these books that happened in prehistoric times! Humans are not kind to each other, especially when they fear others different from them. I was allowed to read Stephen King if it was fantasy or seemingly non-horror, so I read The Eyes of the Dragon (one of my favorite books to this day), Gunslinger, and Dead Zone. I read the Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews and the rest of the books in that series. Can we say domestic horror much? Certainly! And that book had a huge influence on my own writing.
I am fascinated by the psychology, the psyche, the way humanity operates and why. I like horror because it’s exploring this. I like the deep emotional pull of it. I began writing it, in a way, when I was in my teens and I wrote poetry to help me deal with loss and death. I was horrified by these two things and I had no idea what to do with my thoughts. So, I wrote poems. I had already been writing poems to express my emotion for nature and life in general.
Eventually in college besides journalism I majored in history and English. History is brutal and here I was faced again with it. The Holocaust is a real-life horror story. Again, I was compelled to learn not only why it happened but to see how people processed what was happening to them. I became fixated on Anne Frank and she became a writerly inspiration to me as well. In the English realm, I was entranced by F. Scott Fitzgerald and his presentation of the class structure. I began to see the horror in this and how it extended to all sorts of plots in horror. Many people didn’t think or understand why the film “Parasite” was considered horror. But it’s for this reason. It’s horrifying what the class dynamics ended up causing.
I also began to read more gothic literature and poetry in Hawthorne, Dickinson, as well as works by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates is still one of my favorite short fiction writers. Today, I don’t only see the real life historical and current horrors, but I look at things (from the simple to the complex) and see also what it might be supernaturally. Can a story come from this? Does that tree come alive? Is there a ghost in the corner? Does that object appear in a story about a woman who…? I’ve learned to look BEYOND and use my imagination. I enjoy that so much, the creation, and I think that’s why I will continue to always write horror in some form.
I love horror because it covers such a wide gamut, but it’s always there in some way even if we don’t see it right before our eyes. I enjoy quite a few sub-genres in horror, but I also think horror is a genre we can find more than others crosses into other realms easily. That makes it exciting and never dull.
I also enjoy writing horror for its great healing factor – I can put words on the page to analyze, dissect, comprehend, and grow. When I wrote my collection Breathe. Breathe., or some of the other short stories I’ve published in anthologies, I’ve been able to use words to share my pain and wounds. Horror is emotion in its truest form and I like that it’s real and raw. I also enjoy the ability to enact revenge without going to jail! Ha!
Q: What is your favorite era of horror and why?
A: I know I like gothic, so I’d say literature of the 1800s, whether written then or now. I really enjoy witch stories too – is that an era, or all the eras? Ha! I enjoy the cult phenomena the 80s brought us and its resurgence. And I enjoy the folk horror trend of now.
Q: What are some of your favorite horror films?
A: I like certain types of horror films some of the ones I enjoyed the most would be “The VVitch,” “Gretel and Hansel,” “The Invisible Man,” “Hush,” “The Invitation,” “Bird Box,” “The Others,” “The Village,” “Get Out,” “Doctor Sleep.”
Q: What do you think the genre of horror brings to the world in terms of values, beliefs, impact?
A: As I mentioned briefly above, I think it wraps us up in all the social issues of the day. It takes on, and has always taken on, issues that we are too scared to face in our every day lives. It tackles mental illness, abuse, addiction, vanity, narcissism, abandonment, religion, and any type of fear anyone might have. This either draws people to the genre or it makes them run from it. It isn’t preachy, unless it’s an old fairy tale that might be teaching a lesson, but it’s more giving us a glimpse into psyche. It’s a view into the world so it can teach us, abhor us, embrace us, repel us, scare us. It can change us, mold us, or heal us so its greatest impact lies in that. It addresses the darkest fears, the most deviant minds, the blackness that humanity can be, but it often times also shows the hope.
Q: How do you think your writing of horror reflects you as a person or your life overall?
A: A lot of my writing comes from dealing with emotions and fears over situations. It’s very personal and passionate. It often reflects what has happened to me or other survivors and how we do (or don’t) come out the other side. In other of my works, it reflects my love of mystery and thrills, of gothic and ancient cultures, of an inquisitive mind. It shows I’m curious and I’m deep. An explorer of the mind, Earth, culture, and history. That I’ve had pain and wounds from the treatment of others. That sometimes there is hope and sometimes there is revenge using the page, but that I’m a fighter. For myself and for humanity as a whole.
Q: What do you think lies ahead for the genre?
A: As a whole horror is doing well during these stressful times. There is more mainstream horror than I’ve ever seen being published by traditional publishers, more films, more streaming shows, and a resurgence and love of a genre that they either used to love or never knew they loved before. As well there are more indie publishers and authors, and more wonderful writers self-publishing. I think that there are many stories to tell in horror and our world today, and its upheaval, is giving more people the time and/or courage to tell theirs. As long as publishing holds on and people buy books, I think that horror will continue to sell well and appeal to upcoming generations. Horror can give people an adrenaline rush, stories that take our mind off worries, and hope.
Q: Like many things, women are underrepresented in the horror genre. Why do think this is and why is it critical to have women more represented in horror?
A: I don’t think women are too highly underrepresented in horror overall anymore. Possibly still in anthologies given percentage of men who write short stories and submission numbers, but overall, women horror writers and their support has increased so much even in the ten years since I entered the genre. Until less than five years ago there were only a few women that everyone named, either old or current, when asked for a list. The same ones published. There wasn’t a huge sect of women in horror and there wasn’t many of them who would support or connect with others.
Now there is a whole community of women in horror who are writing and being supported by men and women alike. I especially think that a huge hand needs to go out to the male reviewers who really showcase women and read them and review them. They have done much more in the past couple years than some of the male author clubs that are still hanging around in the genre. And there is the Ladies of Horror Fiction site and social media pages that really help to feature women all year long. They work tirelessly for free to make sure our work and voices get out there loud and clear.
Women bring so much flavor, emotion, and passion to the genre. They defy norms and break boundaries and tear our hearts apart when they write. Not that some males can’t or don’t do that as well, but there is something about the empathy in the writing of some women in horror. We are an important voice not only in society but in the arts as well.
Q: Any tips for new women writers in the horror genre?
A: The guys are very friendly and good at supporting each other, and some of them in supporting women, but make sure as a woman you recommend, support, and talk to your fellow women in horror on social media. Make friends with women, reach out to them, and read their work. Trade interviews or features. But don’t only stick to your circle or clique. Work together for the good of all women in horror.
Don’t back down or shy away. Don’t feel like you over promote. Share your story and your writing and connect with readers. Don’t wait for readers to come to you because there is now way too many books and authors to sift through. Keep your brand, name, and books out front and center and DON’T feel bad about it. Everyone is doing it and you must push for yourself.
However, don’t only talk about your book and writing, be online enough you share about your life, interests, and self too. Engage with others and offer them positive support.
Q: Who are some of your favorite women horror authors to read?
A: Laura Purcell, Gwendolyn Kiste, Sara Tantlinger, Sonora Taylor, Gemma Files, Sarah Read, Kathe Koja, Helen Oyeyemi, Michelle Lane, Kristin Dearborn, Stephanie Wytovich, Christina Sng, Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, Laurel Hightower, Catherine Cavendish, C.J. Tudor, Joyce Carol Oates, Mercedes Yardley, Caroline Kepnes, Alma Katsu, Lee Murray, and many more.
Of past authors I still adore: Daphne Du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Q: For readers who have never read your work, what should they start with and where can they find more information about you?
A: I think Breathe. Breathe., as my debut collection, has a bit of everything. It published three years ago with Unnerving but it’s going out of print at the end of this month (October 2020). Given that, it’s on sale now on Amazon for cheap. I hope to bring it back in another version with a new cover in the next two years. If you’d like this version, I’d definitely get it now! It covers horror, fantasy, crime, fairytale, mystery—it is dark poetry with five short stories too. It is my most personal work to date since it takes on themes of domestic violence, illness, assault, and was a huge endeavor of healing for me as well as a lot of fun to do. But it also let me use my imagination in many other ways as well and tinker in all types of horror and dark fiction.
Here are two blurbs it received -
“At times sinister, definitely dark, atmospheric and heavy with foreboding, this collection of poetry and short stories from Erin Al Mehairi touches our deepest fears. Murder, domestic violence and even an ancient Egyptian goddess all move within these pages where nothing is ever simple or straightforward.” – Catherine Cavendish, author of Wrath of the Ancients
"Breathe. Breathe. is at times haunting, visceral, bittersweet, and tender. Erin Al Mehairi bares her soul and invites readers to devour it whole."
—Hunter Shea, author of We Are Always Watching
To name a few more things you can read -
You can also go HERE on my website to read about a short story I had in a Halloween edition of a magazine last year (it’s horror, not strictly Halloween) and I’m pretty proud of that one. You’ll find a link to the magazine there.
And for some free reads, here is a blog post I put together on my site which features eight of my pieces you can read.
I hope to have two more poetry collections and a short story collection that have mostly been completely written since 2019 out in the next years, re-publish Breathe. Breathe. in the future, and continue to write on a novel. I also am going to start plans to make my move into publishing others as an indie press. Until then, I’m working away full-time as an editor and part-time as a publicist in several genres, including horror.
Where to Find Me?
Anyone can e-mail me at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find me easily at my website/blog. You’ll also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, - under Erin Al-Mehairi - and her Amazon or GoodReads pages.
Breathe. Breathe. Synopsis/Buy Links –
Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.
In Act One, readers are presented with a serial killer in Victorian London, a lighthouse keeper with an eerie legacy, a murderous spouse that seems to have walked right out of a mystery novel, and a treacherous Japanese lady who wants to stay immortal. The heightened fears in the twilight of your minds will seep into the blackest of your nights, where you have to breathe in rhythm to stay alive.
In Act Two, the poetry turns more internal and pierces through the wall of denial and pain, bringing visceral emotions to the surface unleashing traumas such as domestic abuse, violence, and illness.
In the short stories, you’ll meet residents of Valhalla Lane whose lives are on a violent parallel track to collision, a man who is driven mad by the sound of a woodpecker, a teenage girl who wakes up on the beach and can’t find another soul in sight, a woman caught in a time shift pitting her against the Egyptian goddess Anuket, and a little girl whose whole world changes when her favorite dandelion yellow crayon is discontinued.
Amid these pages the haunting themes of oppression, isolation, revenge, and madness unfold through folklore, nightmares, and often times, raw, impulsive passion crafted to sear from the inside out.
With a touching foreword by the Bram Stoker nominated author Brian Kirk, Breathe. Breathe. will at times unsettle you, and at times embrace you. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, a veteran writer and editor of the written word, offers up a mixed set of pieces, identifying her as a strong, new voice in dark fiction that will tear the heart from your chest, all the while reminding you to breathe.
Amazon Link –
Available in e-book and print. On sale October 2020 for .99 cents in e-book and $8 in print as part of domestic violence awareness month.
Also available via Barnes and Noble in print and at other fine online retailers.
Thank you for tuning in.
Have a safe and happy Halloween,
I am Sterp
I am Sterp. I write dark fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. I am the author of The Cult Called Freedom House: Sophia Rey Book One. My short story The Lost Tea Cup is in Issue 26 of The Literary Hatchet. I am also a painter.
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