Soon…199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die

We’re about a week away from the publication of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.  The book has already been sighted on the shelves at Christopher’s Books in San Francisco. Borderlands Bookstore has the poster in its window.  I’ve got three interviews to do this week — and I did one on Saturday.  And the book tour is about to begin…

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I’m swinging between euphoria and panic.  The book made #1 on Amazon…in the tiny category of New Literary & Religious Travel Books.  Still, I’ve never had a book in the #1 slot before.

This morning, there was an ad for the book from Barnes & Noble on the online paper I read.  I’m not exactly sure how it targeted me, but my heart skipped when I saw it.

199 Cemeteries is my 11th book. Some have been self-published or published online or published through small presses or indy presses.  The Morbid Curiosity book was published by Scribner, which is an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  This is the first time I’ve seen an ad for one that I didn’t place myself.

It all seems kind of unreal, even though I’ve seen the beautifully illustrated hardcover myself. Next week, you can see it too.

If you’re anywhere in California, come say hi at one of my events.  I’m collecting suggestions for volume 2.

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Behind Guardian of the Golden Gate

Strange California coverI’ve been writing stories about Alondra DeCourval for years and years. “Guardian of the Golden Gate,” which just appeared in the Strange California anthology, is the tenth to be published. The others have appeared in the books Best New Horror #27, Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, Sins of the Sirens, The Haunted Mansion Project: Year One, and nEvermore!: Tales of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre, as well as in magazines from Not One of Us to New Realm.

Most of the Alondra stories have been inspired by places I’ve traveled, but “Guardian of the Golden Gate” was directly inspired by a place that I lived. When I first moved to San Francisco in 1988, I lived in a beautiful Victorian house at Divisadero and Castro. It stood in a transitional neighborhood: not the gay Mecca of the Castro, not a remnant of the African-American Lower Haight, not a vestige of the Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury. The house I lived in had survived the 1906 quake, but looked out across the bay into Oakland and beyond. It gave me a sense of living in something alive and growing.

Down the hill from my house was the first Thai restaurant that I ever ate in. When Alondra eats there in the story, she chooses my favorite dish. Almost thirty years later, Phuket is still there, as is Toronado, the bar where Alondra and Clement meet for beers.
One place in the story that hasn’t survived the years is the magic shop where Alondra and Stella work. Curios and Candles was a real place, full of suncatchers and gallon jars of spell ingredients, jewelry, and handcrafts, and lots of books. Curios and Candles was a holdover from the magical days of San Francisco’s past. I’m still sad that it’s gone.

The restaurant where the story ends, All You Knead, is gone, too. A bright room filled with canvases by local artists, it survived for decades in the Upper Haight on the same block as Mendel’s Art Supply. The waitresses had the best tattoos. Like Alondra, I always ordered the black olive calzone. I could never finish it, either.

This story includes other things I love about San Francisco: riding a motorcycle in the fog, walking by the bay in the moonlight, the wildlife, the history. It draws on the darker side of life by the Bay, too. The dove that Alondra sees on the bridge came from real life. I like to walk from the Warming Hut in the Presidio across the Golden Gate Bridge into Sausalito for a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. On one of those hikes, I saw a luminous white bird on the edge of the roadway across the bridge. I faced the same dilemma that Alondra does. Unfortunately, the outcome was the same. I honor the memory of that amazing, otherworldly messenger.

Clement himself was inspired by a character in a story called “Ascalon” by Seth Lindberg.  (You can read an excerpt of the story or order a copy of it here.  I recommend both.) Seth and I spent a couple of years in a writing group called The Paramental Appreciation Society. He borrowed Alondra for an urban fantasy he was writing. With his permission, I borrowed Clement for this story.

My final inspiration for “Guardian of the Golden Gate” was the documentary The Bridge, which explored the pull of the Golden Gate Bridge on people who are suicidal. I understand the call of darkness, but if you need help, please ask for it. We are here in this world for each other. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime: 1-800-273-8255.

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Wings Unseen

20690266_10154863174084607_4793022969558804264_oI met Rebecca Gomez Farrell almost a year ago, when she came to Martuni’s for the Literary Speakeasy. We read together in March when she set up the Broad Universe RFR at FogCon and again in August at the Octopus Literary Salon when her first novel came out. I had some questions – I always have questions – so I invited her to stop by my blog and chat.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell writes all the speculative fiction genres she can conjure up. An associate member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Becca’s shorter works have been published by The Future Fire, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Typehouse Literary Magazine, and Pulp Literature, among other outlets. Her first fantasy novel, Wings Unseen, debuted in August 2017 from Meerkat Press. This year, you can also find several of her short stories in new anthologies: Little Letters on the Skin, Through a Scanner Farkly, and Dark, Luminous Wings (October 2017).

Becca’s food, drink, and travel blog theGourmez.com has garnered multiple accolades. It influences every tasty bite of her fictional world-building. She lives in Oakland, CA, with her tech wizard husband and two trickster cats. Her fiction website is RebeccaGomezFarrell.com. On social media, she’s @theGourmez.

Loren Rhoads: Did something in the real world inspire your book?

Rebecca Gomez Farrell: Does my lifelong desire for a career in fiction writing count as real world inspiration? Joking, joking! My inspirations for the book don’t come from the real world so much as wanting to play with different concepts and going from there. For example, I wrote the book’s beginning relationship between Janto and Serra as overly romantic, as though they’d stepped right out from the pages of a bodice ripper with exaggerated proclamations of love and devotion. I purposely wanted to set them up in readers’ minds as a couple with deep affection for each other…but perhaps not as mature of a relationship as they believe themselves to have. That early scene places their tender love in juxtaposition to the news of Serra’s brother’s murder and her rising emotions of grief and anger. Can it weather such adult tragedy?

I guess you can say romance novels are one real-world inspiration. So is a hatred of mosquitos, social disparity, and the patriarchy.

LR: What is your favorite scene in the book — and why?

RGF: With the caveat that I can never pick a favorite anything without soon changing my mind, I’m picking a scene from Vesperi’s point of view at the very peak of the book’s climax. Which means I’m not going to tell you much about what happens, but I will share why I love it. It’s a final test for Vesperi, a moment of “what if?” for the reader. What if her character journey has been all for naught? What if, in Chapter 57, she’s really the same person she started as in Chapter 1? It’s a scene that makes clear my own thoughts on a fatal flaw within a patriarchal system: underestimating the value of women. Plus, Janto gets a really cool line.

LR: What was your writing process like as you wrote Wings Unseen?

RGF: It was a long and twisted road…by which I mean I began thinking about the book in college, which was fifteen years ago! The first few chapters—the introductions to my three main characters—were clear to me right away. I wrote those out in 2007, if my file properties can be believed. As I wrote, more scenes jumped to mind, so I noted the basics of a scene and filed it away for later, when I needed a prompt to begin. Writing the book in earnest started in 2009. By 2013, it was ready for submission after a third draft and a round of beta readers. I am not a fast writer, needless to say!

I organized my plotting as I went along, coming up with a character tree, glossary, and map as my memory demanded them, and ironing out the timeline after finishing my first draft. But my character arcs and my basic concepts were clear from the get-go. The puzzle of drafting came from figuring out how to fit them all together.

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Becca, Dan Potter, and me at the Octopus Literary Salon in August 2017

LR: What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?

RGF: For me, it is hearing genuine reports from friends and family that they loved it and couldn’t put it down. What a compliment! But I do also appreciate the opportunities to read my work for a crowd. It feeds into my enjoyment of performance in childhood. I dare say I’m a better authorial reader than I ever was an actress, singer, or director!

LR: What do you have planned next?

RGF: After several successful local Bay Area events to promote Wings Unseen over the last couple of weeks, I am going on a book tour to Los Angeles and the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina! I look forward to seeing all my connections in those areas and reading with a great slate of fellow authors. I will also be attending SirensCon in late October and possibly ConVolution soon.

Oh, did you mean writing projects? Well, I’m working on the second draft of a post-apocalyptic romance novel called Natural Disasters. After that, I will turn my attention to a Wings Unseen sequel. In short stories, my fantasy fable “Treasure” will appear in October in the Dark Luminous Wings anthology. I had a humorous science fiction tale and poetic flash horror story released this past summer as well. I am always working on new short stories.

Wings Unseen:

perf6.000x9.000.inddTo end a civil war, Lansera’s King Turyn relinquished a quarter of his kingdom to create Medua, exiling all who would honor greed over valor to this new realm on the other side of the mountains. The Meduans and Lanserim have maintained an uneasy truce for two generations, but their ways of life are as compatible as oil and water.

When Vesperi, a Meduan noblewoman, kills a Lanserim spy with a lick of her silver flame, she hopes the powerful display of magic will convince her father to name her as his heir. She doesn’t know the act will draw the eye of the tyrannical Guj, Medua’s leader, or that the spy was the brother of Serrafina Gavenstone, the fiancèe of Turyn’s grandson, Prince Janto. As Janto sets out for an annual competition on the mysterious island of Braven, Serra accepts an invitation to study with the religious Brotherhood, hoping for somewhere to grieve her brother’s murder in peace. What she finds instead is a horror that threatens both countries, devouring all living things and leaving husks of skin in its wake.

To defeat it, Janto and Serra must learn to work together with the only person who possesses the magic that can: the bedeviling Vesperi, whom no one knows murdered Serra’s brother. An ultimate rejection plunges Vesperi forward toward their shared destiny, with the powerful Guj on her heels and the menacing beating of unseen wings all about.

Links:

 

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4-Question Interview: Loren Rhoads

Tim Prasil was kind enough to interview me about my Alondra stories for his site, The Merry Ghosthunter.

The Merry Ghost Hunter

present-tensionsIn a recent online discussion, I tried to boil down the difference between occult detective fiction and urban fantasy to simple math: “5 vampires per 7 billion humans = occult detective. 1 billion vampires, 1 billion werewolves, 1 billion zombies per 4 billion humans = urban fantasy. There’s an error margin of + or – 17.”

Loren Rhoads is blurring that formula — as well as the division between those genres — with her occult detective fiction. On her website, she explains that she’s written “a series of urban fantasy short stories about Alondra DeCourval, a young American witch who grew up in London. Alondra travels the world, battling monsters.” But the author’s take on urban fantasy doesn’t seem quite so monster-heavy as my formula suggests. She explains this while answering the 4 questions that I’ve asked of many writers keeping the occult detective tradition very much alive today.

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Death Salon Seattle

Death Salon SeattleIt’s taken me all week to decompress from my jam-packed weekend in Seattle. This was the seventh Death Salon (the third I’ve attended) and I met so many amazing, curious — dare I say morbid — people from around the country.  They were social workers and death doulas and librarians and student morticians and one Anglican priest from Canada… academics and artists and all of them fascinating, open, and friendly.  For someone who’s spent the last nine months at home, finishing a book and tending a sick kid, it was mind-blowing.

The weekend began with a tour of Lake View Cemetery, hosted by Seattle’s branch of the Obscura Society.  As I walked up from the bus, I discovered the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery of Seattle.  It made a lovely quiet place to sit for a moment, catch my breath from the march up the hill, and put on some sunscreen.  Later I learned that the GAR Cemetery is one of the most haunted places in Seattle.  To me, it was one of the most peaceful.

IMG_8632Last time I visited Lake View, the cemetery was green with winter’s rains.  This time, it was golden.  The skies overhead were dramatic with pent-up rain and the smoke from surrounding forest fires.  Thanks for Jared Steed, we learned Seattle history, met a pair of the city’s fabled madams and a Native princess, heard a ghost story or two, and ended up at the graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee. The tour was the perfect introduction to the city and the Death Salon.

I wish I’d introduced myself to some of the others on the tour and joined them for dinner, but I’d gotten up at 4:30 and hadn’t been able to check into my hotel room yet.  I planned to stop in to Elliott Bay Books and look for cemetery books, but my directions were garbled.  Eventually I gave up, went back to the hotel, had an amazing solo dinner at Thai Tom, and struck off in search of a bottle of wine.

On my way, I discovered Gargoyle Statuary and the cemetery photography of Dan Westfall.  The owners are incredibly nice people — and should be carrying 199 Cemeteries next month.  Directly after I met them, I went back to my room to collapse.

The Death Salon began in earnest in the morning with Sarah Chavez‘s talk about the history of women’s work with the dead and the future of the Death Positive movement. I couldn’t take notes fast enough! I am fascinated by the idea of women working with death as an act of resistance.

IMG_8706Sarah’s talk, as were all the rest all weekend, was illustrated live by Silent James, who also designed the Death Salon Seattle logo. He is truly amazing.

Lunch took place over at the School of Social Work.  The Death Salon Director, Megan Rosenbloom, had invited me to facilitate a discussion over our delicious box lunches, so I joined a bunch of strangers to talk about cemeteries.

In the afternoon, Taryn Lindhorst discussed the symptoms of oncoming death.  She was followed by Angela Hennessy, who introduced me to a range of contemporary artists whose work examines the intersection of race and death. Her lecture was so engrossing that I hope the recording will be available so I can watch it again. The afternoon ended with Caitlin Doughty, founder of the Order of the Good Death, talking about pet funerals. Her slides were lovely.

img_8705.jpgAfter a quick dinner break, I came back to the School of Social Work to help set up the evening session.  The highlight of the evening was Paul Koudonaris’s lecture “The Unbreakable Bond,” about pet cemeteries and animal memorials. I expected his spectacular photography, but I didn’t expect his speech to be so emotional.  People around me were sharing packs of tissues.

The next morning began with Megan Devine, author of It’s OK that You’re Not OK, talking about grief: both how to survive it and how to support others who are grieving. It was an important subject, one I was surprised hadn’t come up earlier in the weekend.

Another highlight of the day was when Brian Flowers, designer of The Meadow Natural Burial Ground, described new rituals families have developed around green burial.  He was passionate and compelling. Oddly enough, though, his talk made me more convinced that cremation is the way I want to go.  For me, there’s something magical in the purifying flame.

We trekked back to the School of Social Work for a classroom-style discussion over lunch. Part of the discussion ranged over the cultural and classist assumptions inherent in a “good death,” “green burial,” and the way that a lack of memorialization leads to erasure: lots of food for thought.

In the end, the conversations that I had with other attendees were the highlight of the weekend for me.  We are all grappling with death:  our own, our loved ones’, and how to honor those fears and losses. I’m comfortable that the answers must be individual and hard-won.

The next Death Salon will take place at Mount Auburn Cemetery in September 2018. You can find more information here.  Mount Auburn, if you haven’t seen it, is one of the most beautiful places in America.

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