In a roundabout way, this post is a thank you note to Alex Woodroe, writer, editor, collector and preserver of Romanian folklore and horror.
On 1 October 2021, I awoke to news that I had sold my first story. Cinnabar Moth had accepted A Door Into Summer for publication in their Literary Collections e-zine (the March 2022 edition, to be precise). I was ecstatic! I will admit to crying, dropping my phone while I tried to call my family. They were thrilled for me, too. I managed to shower and dress, went downstairs and sent a properly worded reply that I’d be happy to have my story published (thanks, Musicks!).
I told everyone I saw that day – I’m sure my neighbors and the mailman thought me quite insane. I treated myself to a great lunch at the A&W, then headed home to check on emails. And there was another one – an email from Alex Woodroe asking if my story, Picture Perfect, was still available because Brigids Gate Press wanted to include it in their anthology being released in January!
Now, Picture Perfect has an odd history, as does my relationship with Alex. I don’t know who the first link in the chain was, but somehow, someone I followed on Twitter had retweeted a submission call from Alex about needing weird horror stories 1 – 3K long for an anthology she was putting together for Tenebrous Press. I happened to have one – Picture Perfect was 1138 words. The story was written/channeled on a road trip back from Indianapolis where I was visiting one of my sisters.
I said it was complicated! So from the beginning, I said goodbye to my beloved best good girl, Miss Picket, in September 2020. My sister told me I needed to get out of the house and invited me down to Indianapolis for a week so I took her up on the offer and spent some lovely days assembling IKEA furniture for her new sewing room. We spoke of writing, and I told her about short stories, submission calls, word counts, etc. Over a meal I read her some of the tweets from writers, and one of those was a submission call for horror flash fiction, 1K words or under. She asked me if I was going to write something for it. I said I wasn’t, because I didn’t read horror, don’t watch horror, and certainly don’t write it!
I was three miles from her house on my way back home when an idea flashed into my head. I dictated it into my phone. Another thought, another note. By the time I made it to Wisconsin, I had 57 voice memos and a complete (and vicious!) little horror story written. I typed it up, sent it off and had it rejected pretty quickly. Lesson learned. I was NOT a horror writer!
Six months later came the tweet from Alex. She needed more short and vicious horror story submissions for the Tenebrous Press anthology she was editing. Surely someone out there had something that fit? I pulled out my little story, reworked the beginning, added more descriptions for the portraits involved, and sent it out.
To my amazement, it made the shortlist! Alex loved the story, particularly the last line. She was going to submit it to the publisher for consideration. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a fit with the rest of the table of contents and they turned it down. However – Alex had another project, another anthology she would be editing. Would I be willing to let her hang onto the story for that book? I was more than happy to let her. I had no other place to send it. So I went back to work on my SF and fantasy stories and pretty much put it out of my mind.
Until I got back from my celebratory lunch from A&W, when there was another email in my inbox. This one was from Alex, saying that Brigids Gate would love to purchase the story and include it in their upcoming anthology, A Quaint And Curious Volume of Gothic Tales. Two sales on the same day! So I called everyone I knew – again – and let them know.
Picture Perfect really did come out of nowhere, last line first. I won’t spoil it for anyone because I think it’s worth reading. The rest of the story started at the beginning as they are wont to do. The only significant change from the original draft to the published version was changing it from third to first person. It was my second story purchased, but the first professional story published, beating A Door Into Summer into print by two months. The reviews were positive: Kirsten Kowalewski’s review for Women in Horror Month in her blog, Musings of the Monster Librarian, called it “…a short, vicious, piece…” and Douglas Weaver of Doug Digs Books called it “outstanding” and “darkly liberating.”
I’ve written more about A Door into Summer in a previous post, but that is also due to Alex. She retweeted the submission call for portal stories from Cinnabar Moth, and I would never have seen it otherwise. Alex also came to my rescue when I accidentally started taking notes for a short story that turned into 12.5K words in three days. She offered to review the story and said it was a good horror tale, but it had the makings of a really good Middle Grade ghost story.
I ran with her idea. THE GHOSTS OF THE BARRING CASCADE, now at 46.5K words, is being queried to agents as we speak. There have been other calls, other anthologies and Alex has always been as honest and professional as any writer could hope.