Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads - Horror, Science Fiction, Dark Fantasy Short Stories - Once you’ve done the most unforgivable thing, what will you do next?
by Loren Rhoads
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction,
Dark Fantasy Short Stories
Publisher: Automatism Press
Date of Publication: September 20, 2020
Number of pages: 174
Word Count: 55K
Cover Artist: Lynne Hansen
Once you’ve done the most unforgivable thing, what will you do next?
In the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
Ghosts, succubi, naiads, vampires, the Wild Hunt, and the worst predator in the woods stalk these pages, alongside human monsters who follow their cravings past sanity or sense.
Interview with Author:
Welcome to JB’s Bookworms with Brandy Mulder, Tell us about your newest book.
Loren Rhoads: Unsafe Words is a collection of short stories. They skate in genre from horror through science fiction into fantasy, with some fairly straight-up literary stories, although they all have a dark edge. Fourteen of the stories were previously published. One is original to the collection.
Writing isn’t easy. What was the most difficult thing you dealt with when writing your newest book?
LR: Picking the new story! I had a couple of choices but I'm happy with the one I chose. It was the story that got me into the Clarion Writing Workshop, but I moved away from writing science fiction for a while, so I'd stopped sending it out. When I was going through everything to decide what to include in this collection, I read "With You By My Side It Should Be Fine" for the first time in a long time and discovered I still loved this story. It makes the perfect ending to this book.
Tell us a little bit about your writing career.
LR: Unsafe Words is my 14th book, but my first full-length collection of short stories. I started out as a publisher in the 1990s, editing two collections of essays for Automatism Press, then developed and ran Morbid Curiosity magazine for 10 years. Morbid Curiosity published confessional first-person essays. I collected some of my favorites of those essays into an anthology called Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues for Scribner, who published it in 2009. Since then, I've written a space opera trilogy, a duology about a succubus who falls in love with an angel, and a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.
They say Hind-sight is 20/20. If you could give advice to the writer you were the first time you sat down to write, what would it be?
LR: Settle in. Get comfortable. This is going to take a while. You learn writing by doing it, so the more you do, the more you'll learn.
What was your most difficult scene to write?
LR: The story "Sound of Impact" was a challenge. It's about a woman deciding to have an affair with an old boyfriend, but it doesn't go well and he gets vindictive. It's one of the literary stories, in that nothing speculative happens in it, but it was emotionally difficult to write. Strangely enough, it was one of the stories that sold the first time I sent it out, so I guess I did something right.
Are themes a big part of your stories, or not so much?
LR: I think all my stories, novels included, are about the way that loving someone else can save us. Sometimes that love is sexual, but other times it's friendship.
What are you working on now?
LR: Once the promotion for Unsafe Words is done, I'm going to start work on another novel. It's about a young witch reclaiming her power. She meets a vampire in New York City and comes with him to San Francisco, so it's a love letter to the city where I live, too. I'm in the mood to write something escapist.
Is there a release date planned?
Who is your favorite character from your own stories, and why?
LR: Alondra DeCourval, the protagonist from The Death of Memory, appears in a whole bunch of my short stories. One of those stories is in Unsafe Words. After the events of the novel (which is kind of an origin story), Alondra spends a year trying to save the life of the wizard who trained her. He has a bad heart. In the story in Unsafe Words, she's decided that Victor needs a new heart and she will get him one.
Alondra is really fun to write. She isn't entirely sure she likes or trusts people, but she is willing to risk everything to protect them from magical creatures -- and vice versa. Her adventures are always about her stepping off into the unknown and building a bridge as she falls.
Most writers were readers as children. What was your favorite book in grade school?
LR: Peter Pan is the book that taught me to write when I was a kid. I loved the adventures Peter got into, the pirates and the mermaids, but Wendy is limited to playing everyone's mother. I wanted to be a character in Neverland, but I didn't want to be rescued. I wanted to have adventures of my own, separate from Peter's. So I told myself stories at bedtime. It took me a while to realize that you could make up stories and write them down.
What are your plans for future projects?
LR: Once The Death of Memory is done, I have rough ideas for a couple more books about Alondra. I'd like to put together a collection of my confessional essays, kind of a memoir. I'm thinking about calling it This Morbid Life. Then who knows? I have a couple of ideas for more cemetery books, if I find the time to write them.
Is there anything you would like to add before we finish?
LR: Thanks so much for interviewing me!
You're welcome. Good luck with Unsafe Words, and thank you for being with us today.
from "Here There Be Monsters" from Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads
Something brushed her leg. Violet kept treading water, legs pedaling below her, but wondered: did the pool have leeches in it? Snapping turtles? Her thoughts darted into paranoia: were there sharks? Piranhas? Anything that might bite?
Not that it mattered. She would stay in this water and be gummed to death by goldfish rather than get out and take her chances with the mountain lion watching her from the side of the pool.
Whatever it was below her tangled in her toes. It felt for all the world like hair. Violet shuddered, losing her rhythm momentarily, but then forced her legs to scissor once more.
She peered down into the murky water. Something below her glowed an icy white color, like moonlight. Like the moon had fallen into the old swimming pool. The temperature of the water around her plummeted. A cramp knotted her left calf. Violet whimpered.
Her head dipped toward the surface of the water. Violet fought to calm herself, to hold herself up by the determined stroking of her arms. She tried to stretch the charley horse from her muscle.
Something very much like a hand touched her thigh.
She shrieked. The sound echoed from the hills surrounding the pool and repeated from the mountain peak on the other side of the valley.
The mountain lion narrowed her eyes and stared at Violet.
Then a girl’s voice said in her ear: “Don’t be afraid.”
Ice flooded her veins and Violet lost the ability to control her limbs. Her head slipped under the surface of the water and she took a breath…and something caught her in its arms and lifted her, coughing, back to the surface. And held her there, safely, until she could breathe again.
Violet’s heart fluttered in her chest, struggling to regain its rhythm. She could see arms around her ribs, holding her up in the water. They were a pale grayish white. Not a natural color. She wondered if it was possible to die of fear.
“Don’t be afraid of me,” the ghost said gently. “I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m afraid to look at you,” Violet whispered. She didn’t trust her own voice, didn’t want to hear the sound of her own terror.
“I’m not horrible,” the ghost promised.
“Did you drown here?”
“A long time ago.”
Violet swallowed hard. Her throat was sore from the water she’d inhaled. She coughed once more, but it didn’t really help. Tentatively, she started to dog paddle.
The ghost released her. Violet turned slowly, to find a girl her own age bobbing alongside her. Her long, long hair was blond, where Violet’s was dark. It was slicked to her skull and green with streaks of pondweed. Her eyes were pale blue, maybe, or green, where Violet’s were brown. The drowned girl wasn’t horrible, even if her skin had gone the color of something kept from sunlight for a long, long time.
“Are you alone here?” Violet asked. The quaver in her voice unnerved her even more, if that were possible. She swallowed again and tried to concentrate on her kicking.
“My boyfriend is here, too,” the ghost said. “He doesn’t like to talk to people.”
“Did you die together?”
“We thought it would be romantic,” the ghost said. “We didn’t realize we’d be trapped here. That’s why I don’t want you to die. You will be trapped here, too.”
“Why are you trapped?”
“A creature roams these woods. A monster. It is hungry for company. It collects us.”
“How many of you are there?” Violet asked, even though she didn’t want to know the answer.
“Lots,” the ghost said sadly. “Lots.”
“I don’t want to be trapped here,” Violet said, “but I don’t know how to get past the mountain lion.”
“There is no mountain lion,” the ghost said. “That’s the monster. It takes many forms.”
About the Author:
Loren Rhoads is the author of the In the Wake of the Templars space opera trilogy, co-author of a succubus/angel duology called As Above, So Below, and editor of Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. She's also the author of a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. Unsafe Words is the first full-length collection of her short stories.
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