Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. Her dark poetry collections Love for Slaughter and The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes are published with Strangehouse books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, and an active member of the HWA. Sara’s poetry, flash fiction, and short stories can be found in several publications, including the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. II and V, the Horror Zine, Unnerving, Abyss & Apex, the 2018 Rhysling Anthology, 100 Word Horrors, and the Sunlight Press. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com
#1. Looking back, what’s one fiction book that you feel truly made an impact on your writing? Do you still gravitate towards that author?
#1. There are so many books that have influenced me over the years, but Deathless by Catherynne Valente has had a really strong impact. After reading that book, I remember thinking, “this is the type of book I’d love to write one day.” Valente’s prose and storyline are the perfect combination of beauty and darkness. There’s something about that story I have trouble putting into words, but the gorgeous lines and the growth of the main character changing into the fierce woman she finally becomes are elements I think about often in my writing. Since then I have loved every book of Valente’s prose and poetry that I have read, so yes, I definitely still gravitate toward her work!
#2. How do you feel about the use of sub-genres in the industry? How do you describe your work overall?
#2. I love sub-genres because they give writers new territory and elements to explore in their work. I also think it’s pretty difficult to classify many books as a “pure” genre. Take Frankenstein for example; there are valid arguments putting it into the horror, science fiction, or even the fantasy genre depending on which elements you choose to focus on or argue are the most present. Furthermore, many of the books that are currently popular are hybrid genres. I do think the labeling of sub-genres can help readers find the type of book they’re looking for, but at the same time I hope readers don’t limit themselves too much that way.
Personally, I love the blurring of genre traits because it’s exciting and thought-provoking. Muddling the lines presents an opportunity to push boundaries into unique territory, and I love that challenge. While my own work always has strong horror elements, I love to incorporate the supernatural, mythology, dark fantasy, and historical fiction, too. I think mostly I’d describe my work as a mixture of contemporary Gothic and the macabre.
#3. What about your writing process do you think is unique or quirky? What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
#3. My process seems to change the more I write, but I often will write poetry to help with my prose. Sometimes composing a poem through the viewpoint of my protagonist or antagonist, or even side characters, can help me get into that character’s mindset a little more. It also helps train my mind to get used to making every word count. There’s no room for fluff in poetry, so I like to bring those same sharp descriptions and poetic rhythms to prose when I can.
I feel pretty lucky that most writing advice I have received has been positive and helpful. I can’t think of any terrible advice, but I have gotten comments from people who think poetry is a waste of time or has no purpose – or people who think just because you write in free verse there are no rules. Free verse is certainly more open, but if the rhythm, word choice, imagery, and so forth are weak, then the poem isn’t going to accomplish what it needs to, which is to convey a poignant slice of emotion straight into the reader’s mind and heart.
#4. How does music and media factor into your writing? Do you feel it plays as much an inspirational role as literature?
#4. I really enjoy listening to music while I brainstorm, but when I write drafts and revise I prefer the quiet. Music can be great for generating ideas though or setting a mood. Sometimes I’ll pull words from songs or titles like prompts and make myself write a poem or flash fiction using those words. Since media is all around us constantly, it’s hard not to absorb inspiration from it whether we consciously use it as a muse or if it’s floating somewhere in the back of our minds. So maybe in a way that becomes more of a powerful and contemporary stimulus than literature we haven’t read in a long while, but for me I think revisiting classic works of literature and reading as much contemporary work as I can inspires me more because I want to create something just as strong and interesting as my favorite books.
#5. As an author, how much do you engage in social media? Do you feel it is more for your own entertainment, or for marketing and networking?
#5. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. There are many times when I’d like to do away with it all, but I know I’d miss communicating with other writers and the horror community in general because that is really the biggest reason why I still have and use social media. I’d hate feeling left out of what’s happening in the writing world. I do think social media is important for marketing and networking. You might meet some amazing writers at a conference and not see them again for a year or two in person, but social media creates a way to keep up-to-date with their work and to stay in touch.
Unfortunately, paper magazines and such seem to be a dying artform, so I try to force myself to embrace what aspects of social media I can. I enjoy the platforms for writing and photography, but otherwise, I try to ignore the other aspects of social media because it really can be harmful to keep comparing where you are at in life with how others choose to present themselves. We’re all essentially branding ourselves and putting forth the version we want others to see, so in a way that can help create your author brand, but in another sense, I do kind of hate the dissonance our virtual selves may be creating, if that makes sense. So in a nutshell, yes, social media is important for authors to have and use well, but it’s more important we celebrate our own successes and worth in personal ways outside of social media and do not constantly compare our own merit to the projected achievements of others.
#6. Where do you see the future of horror fiction heading? In turn, what changes would you love to see, either socially or technologically?
#6. I think we will see more stories about independent women in horror who become their own saviors, or at least that’s what I hope! I feel like the definition of horror has expanded and grown to encompass more over the past few years in both written works and film – and I mean that in a good way. Horror is too evocative a genre to only rely on gore and jump scares (not that I have anything against a good bloody moment or jump scare). There is too much to explore in terms of what creates dread and terror to not invite growth into the industry.
I definitely want to read more diversity, and I want to see people embracing that diversity and having conversations with each other about how we can improve those aspects as opposed to socially shaming someone for not doing something “right,” since “right” does not always have a monolithic meaning, particularly in regard to identity.
#7. What can you tell us about any forthcoming projects? What titles would you like to promote now?
#7. I do have some poems and short stories coming this year; I am thrilled to be included in the Twisted Book of Shadows forthcoming from Haverhill House Publishing! http://www.twistedbos.com
My short story, “Pyre for the Almost Dead” was just released in Unnerving Magazine issue #9. https://www.unnervingmagazine.com
Otherwise, I am editing two prose projects that I can’t say too much about right now but keep an eye out! I’d also love to promote my poetry collection The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, which just made the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards!