Tag Archives: Octavia Butler

Women in Horror: Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert

You will notice a theme with many writers on the therapeutic nature of writing. Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert is my guest today and she talks about the healing nature and the joy of writing.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?WiHM11-Scalples-wv

I have been writing poetry since I was quite young. I used to submit to and win poetry contests in my local newspaper. Poetry has always been therapeutic for me, even before I knew what “therapeutic” meant. I’ve always had this need to transform my thoughts and feelings into words.

My earliest influences were probably Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. I don’t recall reading a lot of poetry at school, which is a shame. By junior high I’d discovered The Raven by Poe, which remains my favorite horror poem. Later, I discovered William Blake and liked his work, but wanting to read from women poets, I found Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood. Much of their poetry has speculative elements, which dovetailed nicely with my lifelong love of scifi, fantasy, and horror.

Why do you write poetry?

I have said that poetry saved my life, and that sounds melodramatic even though it’s true. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, and sometimes it felt as though putting my thoughts to paper was the only way to ease the darkness.

Aside from that, I love the way poetry can conjure images and descriptions in a way that other fictions cannot.

The Waiting Room in Purgatory

Chair pads of crushed red velvet,
singed;
stained by unknown liquids
over
countless centuries.

Ornate, carved wood backs darkened
with
age, gleaming from layers
of wax,
gouged by nails and claws
and
teeth
and
desperation.

The air is thick
with fetid breath,
and
smoke
and
dire need.

For eons, my tired eyes
have
traced, ev’ry thread; ev’ry
hole and
stain on the moth-eaten
tapestry that reads:

Neither here nor there.

## (Yet again, the wierdness of WordPress has allowed formatting for the second poem and not this one. The lines beginning with “over,” “of wax” and “hole” should be indented.)

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

One of the more difficult aspects of writing poetry for me are when you have an idea—or a sense or mood you want to convey—and want to describe it poetically. You start writing, and you find that the words coming out are not doing justice to what is in your head. Sometimes that can be overcome. Sometimes it just spills out the way you intended. More often than not, for me, I save what I have and try to go back to it later to “get it right.” But usually I fail. The times I succeed feel amazing!

Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why?

I can’t say my poetry has any particular themes. My work does tend to be speculative and dark. And I’d say that a lot of it reflects a woman’s experience, but certainly not all of it. ReynoldsMy one published poetry collection, Interview with the Faerie (Part One) and Other Poems of Darkness and Light is divided into three sections. The first, “darkness,” has “dark” poetry, including a short poem written from the perspective of a man who is physically abusive to his partner. The middle section, “shades of grey,” has one poem that is not dark or “light,” although it has an ominous tone. The last section, “into the light,” contains a poem about a goblin on his first day of school. It’s one of the few things I’ve written that is suitable for children.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

I believe that horror-themed fiction is attractive to people generally. Horror-themed movies and books are certainly undergoing a resurgence right now.

Dark speculative poetry is appealing because it can describe the unfathomable, the unthinkable, the grotesque, in beautiful and stunning ways. It makes the true horrors of our world digestible. It’s easier for many to read a horror poem than spend ten-plus hours digesting a horror novel. And to others, seeing horror play out on a screen is too visceral.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I’m actively working on two projects: I’m finishing up a horror short story for an anthology call, and I’m in the beginning stages of pulling together a new collection of short stories and poetry. Some of the material will be reprint, but much of it is new. I’ll be looking for a publisher once I have it together.

I also discovered painting last year during a mental health break I took from writing. I’m hoping to explore some darker themes in my painting this year.

That Witch We Dread

       A witch, sometimes,
should be dark. Should wear
a crooked nose,
a frock black like ink;
murky and stale
as the corner of a root cellar floor.

       Some witches exist,
to haunt your thoughts. Dive
gleefully into your mind,
unseat logic;
pulling up shadows
that were well-hidden, placed with reason.

       This witch is not
Wiccan, not Goddess.

       She is horrible.
The pit in your belly,
the earth falling away,
the dread that lives tightly coiled,
dormant; awaiting its moment with
grotesque implausibility.

##

Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?

I’ll say a word about women and traditionally underrepresented voices in horror. The horror that women often write reflects our lived experiences, and too many of us experience horrific things regularly. Women’s voices in the speculative genres are crucial. I feel that often it’s the underrepresented voices that make you really experience the “otherness” that drives so much of speculative fiction. To provide a concrete example, the experiences of Octavia Butler as a poor woman of color allowed her to write about human-ness, other-ness, and gender and sexuality in a way I don’t think a

Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert writes short fiction and poetry in the science fiction, horror, Reynolds bioand dark fantasy genres. Her short stories have appeared in the anthologies The Final Summons, Killing It Softly (Vol.1), and The Deep Dark Woods. Read her poetry in the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. VI, the anthologies Beneath Strange Stars and Wicked Witches, the websites Tales of the Zombie War, Eternal Haunted Summer, and Strong Verse; and in The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature. She published a short collection of poetry, Interview with the Faerie (Part One) and Other Poems of Darkness and Light in 2013.

Suzanne is a freelance content creation expert, editor, and works as a technical services librarian. She writes in between driving her daughter around and meeting the incessant demands of her feline overlords. https://suzannereynoldsalpert.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7394656.Suzanne_Reynolds_Alpert

 

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Writing: Clarion Daze

I’m soon to embark on the second major writing workshop of my career. I attended Clarion West in Seattle lo, these many years ago. Clarion was a six-week workshop with a different instructor per week: five authors, one editor. I still think it was a stellar cast of instructors that year: Ed Bryant, Octavia Butler, Connie Willis, Ursula Le Guin, Tappan King and Samuel Delaney.

There were 21 of us attending from all over the US and three from Vancouver, BC. You arrived with a story written, ready to critique. Each day we would critique three people, then go back to the dorms and write and read stories for the next day. We were supposed to produce a story a week for critiquing.

Ages ranged from fresh out of high school to a couple of people in their forties. People came with all levels of ability though all of us had made the selection process. I knew I had a lot to learn and if we were all standing on a ladder, I was beneath most of the other people. But in the process of that six-week course I climbed a long way up the ladder. There were those above me who climbed maybe only a few inches. There were those who didn’t move at all.

Connie Willis gave us humor, Ed Bryant gave us horror. Tappan gave the realities of publishing and Chip talked about the novel format. Octavia and Ursula were a wealth of insight and information. Of course they all taught the process of writing and story structure as well. I think I was the second most prolific person and did write a story a week, if not more. I also got by on four hours of sleep a night for six weeks and felt like I was close to having spontaneous out of body experiences. I can say that things became jittery and I was drinking Pepsi regularly and I don’t really drink pop.

We did let some of our stress out with a massive water fight that soaked the dorm, with a few people like Gordon Van Gelder being tossed in the shower. After that (or maybe it was the culmination) we had everything from water pistols and weenies to Uzis, and would skulk down the street with a water weapons, laying in wait for our unsuspecting classmates. We curtailed the street attacks when someone pointed out that the police might not take kindly to people lurking about with what looked like weapons.

The slug became our mascot, specifically the banana slug. Somehow it was mentioned in class the first week, and Seattle is prolific with them as is much of the West Coast. I believe we read that there was a slug race going on in one of the nearby cities. We bought some rubber slugs and would leave them outside people’s doors. Then Octavia Butler, in our second week, mentioned how she was phobic of slugs and once had one in her bathroom. By the third week Ursula, who lives in Portland, cemented the image though I can’t remember what she said. So we had Cyril the cyber slug and eventually when I did up T-shirts to commemorate our workshop, it was Cyril, with pierced antennae, mirrorshades, a mohawk and riveted body parts that graced the shirts. Somewhere, I still have one.

The reason some people didn’t write much was that they came to the workshop knowing they could write well. When twenty people critique your story it can be pretty deflating and sometimes ego crushing. There were times when the critique would consists of six or more people saying the same thing, which became irritating. We had meetings so that people would just say ditto if they had nothing new to say. There was one fellow who really only wrote one story the whole workshop and would name drop constantly. That was not his most annoying trait. He had the habit of not reading someone’s story and then sitting halfway around from who was being critiqued (we’d know the night before). Listening to everyone else’s critiques, he would then cobble his critique together. It soon became obvious to us and though we had a meeting where we didn’t address him directly we tried to make sure he knew that we could tell which people didn’t read the stories. He also decided to come to my room one night and give his personal opinion of my writing.

Each weekend there would be a party (coupled with the Clarion reading series) at a host’s house. Some hosts were authors like Greg and Elizabeth Bear and we got to probe their minds in an informal way. Many of us were so burned out after the workshop that I think some people never wrote again. I slept for about a month.

Our year seemed to birth more editors than anything else. Kij Johnson worked for Dark Horse comics and Tor at one point, Gordon Van Gelder worked for St. Martins before taking over F&SF. Michael Stearns still works for Harcourt I believe, in New York now. Kathleen Alcala edited for a publication in Seattle and wrote magic realism. I freelanced copy edited for years and still do, as well as currently editing for Aberrant Dreams (and soon to help with poetry editing for Chizine). I’m not sure where some of the others went or what they did but few published novels came out of our year. To date, I think Kij is the most successful there. Others sold poetry and short fiction. Kij and I recently googled Dean Shomshak, who we knew as the revenant guy (because of his one zombie story) and it seems he became quite successful in writing game books and articles. Kathryn Drennan wrote shows and series in Hollywood.

Did Clarion help my writing? Yes. Did it help it enough? I don’t know. Would I do it again? I don’t know but here I am getting ready for a shorter two-week workshop. There is something about being immersed in a group of your peeps and doing nothing but eating, drinking and spewing writing. If nothing else, you usually come out of it with more ideas and a better path through your story.

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