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Christa Carmen Interview

Christa Carmen is an American author whose debut novel, The Daughters of Block Island, has achieved a nomination for Superior Achievement in a First Novel at the 2024 Bram Stoker Awards.

Hi Christa, it’s wonderful to have you with us today. Please tell us about your humble beginnings as an author.

Thank you so very much! I have been writing in one capacity or another for as long as I can remember—painstakingly bound and hilariously illustrated short stories as a child, emo journal entries as an adolescent and when I was in treatment for substance abuse, impassioned nonfiction essays and decidedly weak attempts at memoir—but I didn’t start writing fiction until about 2014. I’ve always loved the Gothic, so my first completed project was a gothic horror novel set in the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Monson, Maine… very Stephen King of me, I know. After that, I wrote predominately short stories for several years, and then returned to writing novels at the start of 2019.

Your story in Orphans of Bliss was phenomenal. Could you tell us more about your writing technique especially in regards to the short-story format?

Thank you so much for your kind words. The catalyst, for me, for writing a piece of short horror fiction used to be anything from an interest in playing with overdone tropes to the desire to write an entire piece around a particularly macabre or striking image. Today, the formula is much simpler: muse on something that scares you and go from there. In 2024, there are no shortage of horrifying headlines from which to pluck, and as a still-new mother, the micro-level fears are just as abundant.

But one topic is able to worm its way into my heart like a maggot into an apple no matter how much time passes, and it was this fear I explored in my contribution to Wicked Run Press’s Orphans of Bliss: Tales of Addiction Horror, edited by Mark Matthews. “Through the Looking Glass and Straight into Hell” doesn’t ask, “What would happen if you relapsed after so much time being clean?” but, “What if everything you think you’ve accomplished since getting clean never happened at all?” It’s probably my most personal story to date, and that it was a Bram Stoker nominee for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction was an absolute dream come true, not so much because it was an honor, which, of course, it was, but because it meant that people had read the story and connected with it on some level, and there’s no greater feat, in my opinion, that a writer can achieve.

As for writing in the short-story format in general, the process has become less black-and-white for me in recent years. For example, the first iteration of The Daughters of Block Island was a short story told in epistolary format; I admit it was strange for me to take an idea conceived as a short piece and expand it. Normally, the medium in which I set out to write is the medium in which I complete the project. I don’t really prefer novels over short stories or vice versa, though that wasn’t always the case.

A few years ago, I felt my strengths lied predominately in short fiction, and didn’t have as much confidence in my novel-writing abilities. That changed with—like anything else—lots of practice, and today, I switch pretty effortlessly between novels, short fiction, nonfiction essays, and children’s picture books, depending on where inspiration strikes. I do still have a soft spot for short fiction, however. I find it’s the medium in which I feel my writing is the most impassioned and organic.

Who are your favorite authors?

Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sarah Helen Whitman, Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley, Sarah Waters, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sidney Sheldon, R.L. Stine, Jennifer McMahon, Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael McDowell, Blake Crouch, Emma Cline, Lauren Groff.

Also, some contemporary women in horror that I love reading are Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Nadia Bulkin, Ania Ahlborn, Jac Jemc, Alma Katsu, Christina Sng, Elizabeth Hand, Nancy Holder, Anya Martin, Erin Sweet Al-Mehari, Renee Miller, Theresa Braun, Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, EV Knight, Laurel Hightower, Belicia Rhea, Marisca Pichette, Damien Angelica Walters, Caroline Kepnes, Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough, K.P. Kulski, Jessica McHugh, Annie Neugebauer, Hailey Piper, Kathe Koja, Claire C. Holland, Laurel Hightower, Victoria Dalpe, Tamika Thompson, Rebecca Allred, Leanna Renee Hieber, Faye Ringel, Mary Robles, H.Y. Hsu, Lee Murray, Gene Flynn, and L.E. Daniels.

How do you find a balance between your day job and your writing?

My writing time has changed more significantly since having my daughter than with regards to my day job, to be honest. I certainly don’t write at the same time each day; I don’t even write daily. To put it simply, I make the time to write when I have an ongoing project I need/want to work on, or if the idea for a new project or short story strikes me. Once I’m working on a project, especially a big one, I’ll get into a routine of hitting a daily page or word count, but I have to take advantage of the time during which I can write whenever it presents itself. That might be for twenty minutes in bed with my daughter while waiting for her to fall asleep or four hours straight on a weekend when my husband is at work and my daughter is with her grandparents or cousins. In a way, it’s more a more productive schedule than the one I had three years ago; I can’t waste time picking out ambient coffee shop sounds on YouTube or reheating endless cups of tea or screwing around on the internet. When I have an hour to write, I HAVE TO WRITE.

Tell us about your upcoming projects.

My second novel with Thomas & Mercer, Beneath the Poet’s House, will be out this December and also takes place in Rhode Island… on Benefit Street in Providence, to be exact, and features just as much gothic gloom and literary influence as The Daughters of Block Island.

Beneath the Poet’s House is based in part on the real-life romance between Sarah Helen Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe and set in the actual house at which Poe first spotted Whitman tending her rose garden under a midnight moon in 1845. The novel sees protagonist Saoirse White navigate both a personal haunting and the lingering ghosts of much-revered public figures, as well as the ramifications of men who treat women as stepping-stones on their way to artistic greatness.

Additionally, I’ll have a short story, “Until the Moss had Reached Our Lips,” in a Weird House Press anthology, 13 Possessions, that’s available now for preorder, and a story entitled, “Guess How Much I Love You?” in Why Didn’t You Just Leave?, edited by Nadia Bulkin and Julia Rios and published by Cursed Morsels Press, out sometime this year. I have a few more short stories poised for publication with different anthologies that I can’t announce quite yet, and I’m hoping to release my first children’s picture book in the very near future as well!

Nisar Sufi
Nisar Sufi
Content Writer, Indie Horror Author, Book Reviewer, Film Critic and Fortune Teller @knowthyfuture
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