Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has 20 years of experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently a writer, journalist, editor, publicist, and a consultant, among many other things.
Her collection Breathe. Breathe. has been an Amazon bestselling title, debuting at #2 in Women’s Poetry behind NYT-bestselling poet Rupi Kaur. Erin is featured in the anthology from Unnerving called Hardened Hearts, published in December 2017. Her story “Dandelion Yellow” from Breathe. Breathe. is featured in the My Favorite Story anthology of the Project Entertainment Network. Currently, Erin is working as guest editor of a new anthology of poetry and short stories called Haunted are These Houses, coming from Unnerving this Fall.
Erin’s description of her book Breathe. Breathe.:
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.
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 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.
Did something in the real world inspire Breathe. Breathe.?
Breathe. Breathe. was inspired almost in its entirety by the world around me. That’s not to say there aren’t fantastical, mystical elements to it, but in each, there is also a bit of real-world trauma infused, too. Many of the poems in one section of the poetic half of the collection stem from living with domestic abuse, effects of sexual assault and rape trauma (in other words, #metoo before #metoo even started trending), chronic illness, disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, OCD, and depression. The other section of poetry, though featuring creatures, monsters, and entities from folklore and mythology, also intersperses threads of these issues, weaving together a look at humanity and how we treat each other.
As far as the short stories, yes much of the real world inspired all of them in different ways. “Vahalla Lane” is inspired by my own experience of living with domestic violence. In each of those women, there is a piece of me, yet they go much further with revenge. I suppose it was my way of continuing healing, in a horrifying sort of way! Some of the scenes in it–for instance, how the women were treated–really happened to me. I just channeled some inner Dolores Claiborne to make it a set of domestic horror revenge pieces.
In my short story “The Madness of the Woodpecker,” I infused elements of dealing with OCD, both in people around me and myself. Some of the other real-life elements came from this story being inspired by an actual woodpecker who had decided to stop pecking at our trees (we live in the woods) and begin to hammer the side of the home each morning and afternoon. As beautiful as he is, the bugger got rather bloody annoying.
“Life-giver of the Nile” was based on a reoccurring childhood nightmare of being drowned and gagged repeatedly and my continual need to keep beginning my life again year after year, never really getting any sort of normalcy or routine, and yet in that, becoming a cycle and routine all its own, albeit a toxic one.
“Dandelion Yellow,” one of the fan favorite stories from this collection, is a story written for all those who were affected by child abuse in one form or another or think they might have been. As well, it considers how so many of us in horrid situations create fantasy worlds in our mind or surroundings to mask the true horror. It’s for so many I know, dealing with the after effects of trauma and for all those still living with the trauma.
I think most of my best writing will always have pieces of real life, whether mine, those I know, or real-life issues humanity is facing. There will sometimes not be good endings, but in a majority of my work, people will find tiny rays of hope.
What is your favorite scene in Breathe. Breathe.?
I’d say one of my favorite poems is “Earl Grey Tea,” because I like the setting, the atmosphere, the mystery and suspense. I tried to write it as a very, very mini-Agatha Christie novel, an author who is a great inspiration to me.
What was your writing process like as you wrote the book?
I write in snippets. Firstly, I had already had some pieces stored away that I had just wrote during my healing process, as well as many I had been writing ongoing when inspired or when I felt compelled to write. I was able to see which of these fit into a coherent, flowing theme of “breathing” through trauma, fear, and pain. Then, I was able to write more pieces that adhered in some fashion to the main idea. Thanks to the brain lightbulb from my good friend and Bram Stoker-nominated author Brian Kirk, who also wrote the beautiful foreword for Breathe. Breathe., I divided the poetry into sections and rounded the collection out with the short stories. Unnerving, my publisher, first put out a chapbook with about half the poems and only two short stories and it sold out. A few months later, I wrapped up writing more pieces, and it was published in expanded format in print and e-book as well.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
At the time the book came out, I was also going through one of the worst years of my life. In fact, my entire life was falling and failing around me. It was all I could do to keep myself and my children going in some sort of positive fashion so none of their lives were marred by it. We suddenly had to move rurally. There weren’t many avenues for wi-fi hook-up, which took a huge toll on my business. Even to drive to a nearest spot offering wi-fi was over twenty minutes. That all said, the best thing that happened to me was how all my friends rallied for me and shared my collection. Every time I would be able to get to wi-fi, I would be astounded to see so many pushing and promoting my book for me. It was so heartwarming and humbling, and I am forever grateful to so many. I think it’s the one thing that helped get me mentally through such an awful time. What should have been the most exciting time in my life–publishing this collection that was written from such a deep place inside me–was almost ruined, but my writing pals and clients and even fans lifted me up and kept me going.
What do you have planned next?
I have a poem called “Wrapped in Battle” in a collection called Dark Voices, which came out from Lycan Valley Press in July. The proceeds go to various breast cancer organizations. I wrote it in honor and memory of all my family and friends who’ve fought cancer.
I’m currently almost complete with the first draft of a collection of poetry, featuring everything and anything water. Water is a big inspiration to me. These poems feature lakes, rivers, even backyard pools and bathtubs. It has nostalgia, heartbreak, emotion, murder as well as sea creatures and shipwrecks. I’m seeking a publisher. It would be awesome to publish in 2018, but we’ll see!
I’m also currently in very slow process with my novel featuring beloved poet Emily Dickinson and a young lady that works at the library in Amherst, Massachusetts. The protagonist is in an abusive marriage and Dickinson’s ghost helps plot the revenge.
I’ve got some other ideas I’m plodding along with too, like a novella spin-off from Vahalla Lane and a few of the characters, a short story collection inspired by the art work of Van Gogh, and much more. I’m anxious to write a cult novel with author Duncan Ralston from an idea I have, but we are both finding the time in our busy schedules to work out the details yet.
Breathe. Breathe. is available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2JYKAak and in print at Barnes and Noble and other fine online retailers.
You can e-mail Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at www.hookofabook.wordpress.com. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest where she loves new friends.