Interview with Alex Woodroe, Editor of Gothic Horror Collection IN SOMNIO

When I saw Alex tweet about this collection of gothic horror stories she was editing I flipped my shit. Went crazy. I threw my money at the Kickstarter and contacted Alex to ask if she’d like to have a chat about it. Happily for me and luckily for you she said yes! We chat about the IN SOMNIO Kickstarter, the themes of gothic horror and about Tenebrous Press, the indie publisher putting out the book. Chatting to Alex was an absolute blast. Enjoy our chat and make sure you back the Kickstarter!

Hi Alex, I’m so excited to chat to you about In Somnio, it’s one of the most exciting Kickstarter projects I’ve seen in ages! But before we get to that, I’d love to ask about the publisher, Tenebrous Press. I love small and independent presses and Tenebrous is a new kid on the block. Can you tell us how you got involved with them and what kind of fiction they’re putting out?

My introduction to Tenebrous is a funny story, actually. When Matt, the owner, was running his submission call for Green Inferno, I was going through a tough moment with my writing. You know, one of those “why am I doing this, I’m clearly not good enough” moments. Someone in my writing group at the time helped me find his call and send a story over, and I got in.

That acceptance meant a lot to me, so when Matt started the Green Inferno Kickstarter, I did everything I could to help. I offered free editing for one of the rewards (and got two forever-clients out of it), ran ads, gave a live interview, did as much promo as I could. 

Matt saw that I was committed to the press and asked me to play a bigger role. What we both really wanted more than anything was to form a little community of weird dark fiction writers, and to make a little room for them in publishing, where it seems there’s never enough. We both want to see more stories at the slipstream of genres, more marginalised authors, more general weirdness and fun. If you have climate fiction mixed with heavy metal mixed with crime noir mixed with anything that ends in punk, Matt is the person to pitch it to. 

So, for Tenebrous’s next anthology, he asked me to come up with the theme and edit it. We wanted to highlight women artists through this book, and that’s how the idea of In Somnio was born; because when I read Shirley Jackson and the other Gothmothers, it was the first time young me felt women had a say in literature at all, let alone in horror. We wanted to take that, but make it *WEIRD*. 

I think I speak for both of us when I say that now, it’s ride or die. Tenebrous isn’t going anywhere, and it’s stuck with me. On top of that, through that submission call, other publishers opened their doors to me: Brigid’s Gate Press and CatStone Books. I told them there were great stories that needed homes, and we’re figuring out how we can arrange for that now. We’ve almost set the lineup for Brigid’s Gate, who will be putting out a collection of cozy fireside Gothics this winter. And CatStone’s might take longer, but it’s going to become a yearly anthology project, for sure. 

All that, from one month of self-doubt. 

Apart from a copy of the book itself, one of my favourite rewards on the Kickstarter is the Social Media Eulogy, where backers can get a personalised gothic eulogy written by yourself and have you “immortalise their mournful farewell on Twitter”. Has this fun little reward been popular?

Extremely! Unexpectedly so. I’ve already started doing them and they always seem to make people happy. I think it’s mostly because horror and humor mix so well, and horror fans are always ready for a morbid laugh. I know I am.

So, let’s dive into the Kickstarter proper! What is In Somnio and why should everyone be backing it?

In Somnio is amazing. It’s like a dreamy merry-go-round of fright where every horse is wildly different and differently wild.  There are nineteen authors, six illustrators, and one brilliant editor writing the foreword (Antonia Rachel Ward  from Ghost Orchid Press). Each story is specifically picked because it reminded us of traditional Gothic Horror, but with something more. Some of them incorporate zany settings or surreal fantasy elements, others toy with form and prose, and others show characters you’ve never inhabited before. You can read a little about all the artists and authors and find their social media links here.

The Kickstarter is going on right now, and it’s a great opportunity for anyone to grab a copy of the paperback, ebook, hardcover, or some awesome art. There’s an ebook bundle with great works from some of our authors, as well as Tenebrous’s first, Green Inferno. There’s a retailer tier, an editorial assistance tier, and of course, the now-infamous social media eulogy add-on. Supporting this project right now not only means you get better prices and access to exclusive merch, but also that your pledge goes toward this book being able to fund itself, guaranteeing more future projects and more exciting horror. You’re literally part of turning the wheel and making more space for more new voices.

There’s a ton of exciting authors involved in the book, including Hailey Piper (Pretend It Doesn’t Get Worse) and M. Lopes da Silva (A House Without Ghosts). Can you give us a taste of the kinds of macabre tales readers can look forward to if the project funds?

I think it’s important to be clear that this book is going to be published whether the kickstarter funds or not. We’d just do it out of pocket. It matters, because we’re not gambling with authors’ and artists’ time and money. There’s no risk involved for anybody other than myself and Matt. Not only that, but the project is already 82% funded as of right now, as well as awarded a “Projects we love” badge from Kickstarter. There’s no longer any chance it won’t get funded! Which is truly a testament to these awesome artists and writers, as their work has been the forefront of our promotional campaign. 

The authors are a fantastic bunch, and you’ll have seen their quote boxes all over our social media. We’ve got a solid mix of newcomers and heavy hitters. Learning about them has been so much fun, which is why this month I’ve read a horror novella entirely comprised of Pushkin sonnets, a feminist retrowave pulp thriller, a gorgeous webcomic world where colour is a luxury, a haunting new literary journal, and many other works I may otherwise never have learned about. I don’t think the authors even know I’ve been rifling through their other projects! And you can definitely expect that level of zany creativity from them on this project, too. You mentioned Hailey Piper; her story is this deep look into transformation and the tension between distrusting your body and distrusting the people around you who should be your guardians. In her own words, “”Pretend It Doesn’t Get Worse” touches on the sense of being trapped in a strange morphing skin, whether that’s literal or a house that’s slowly no longer feeling like home.”

Rachel Unger brought the real world (and even a callback to Tenebrous’s previous eco horror project) into her story. “After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the damaged houses really stayed with me as both the cause and potential expression of grief. So I had the setting and I had a stockpile of nebulous anxiety and dread my brain had been saving while mainlining Gothic fiction; “We Named You After Her” took off from there.”

Barbara A. Barnett’s wry humour is mixed throughout her story. “I intended to write a comedy at first, but the phrase “self storage” got me interested in the idea of storage units as a metaphor for people locking away parts of themselves, the issues they don’t want to deal with.”

You’re also going to see a swathe of debuts in this collection that I’m deeply proud of. Finding a gem of a story is always a rush, but when it’s from someone you’ll be the first to publish? Oh, the pure joy. I cannot wait to show them all to you. We’re regularly uploading interviews with the authors as well as videos of them reading snippets from their stories to the Tenebrous Blog, so that’s a great place to learn more about them!

The artwork and illustrations for the book are lush and some are downright creepy (they’re also available as prints if you back the project). How have you incorporated the art to make sure it works together with the stories and can you tell us about some of the artists who are working on the project?

While I was busy selecting stories to propose to Matt, he was busy scouting potential artists, so we came to our wishlists pretty much at the same time. The artists only started work once they read the stories themselves. We had to make sure they vibed with the imagery and felt like their style was the right fit. 

Even then, each artist only got one assignment, as we wanted to see whether we could afford to commission more through Kickstarter funding. They’re just starting to get their second tasks now, and even so we likely won’t be able to cover all the stories, much as we’d like to. If this all sounds like very clever planning, trust me, it’s all Matt. He’s the comics genius and has the artistic sense. I only cheer them on!

All the artists did stunning work for us. Obviously, I have my own personal soft spots when it comes to illustrations, so I think the piece I was most looking forward to was Echo Echo’s rendition of Briana Una McGuckin’s “After the Apples.” Viviana, a.k.a. Echo Echo Illustrations, is a Portuguese artist who has this magnificent desire for almost overwhelming detail which is right up my alley. I love obscenely intense contrast and could stare at horror vacui pieces for hours. It’s just something that makes my reptile brain happy for some reason.

After The Apples artwork by Viviana – aka Echo Echo Illustrations

I’m a bit of a recent convert to gothic horror, after reading Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. The In Somnio Kickstarter page describes the genre as focusing on themes of madness, personal transformation, phantoms, and the occult. Can you dig deeper into these themes a bit and explain why you think readers are drawn to them?

What if I wake up one morning, and my body is no longer my body? What if my spouse is no longer my spouse? What if I can no longer trust my home? My thoughts? What if someone close to me struggles with something I can barely comprehend? What if I do? 

What if something terrible happens? What if I struggle to process it? What if I end up alone? What if I caused it?

I challenge anyone not to find something deeply familiar in at least some, if not all of those questions. That’s what you’re in for when you read Gothics in general, and In Somnio in particular. 

I believe one of the reasons we’re drawn to horror is to experience certain feelings in a way that’s mostly safe, but still allows us to explore them and become stronger through them. We’re looking for confirmation that the world understands our inner darkness, and that we can survive it. Gothic Horror in particular takes those needs to a more philosophical level, often tackling questions of morality or identity or greater purpose. Asking how one could be drawn to them is like asking how we can enjoy breathing or being human. How can we not? It isn’t a choice.

The project is also about pulling gothic horror into modern times. What do you mean by that and what’s different about the stories in In Somnio that diverges from more traditional gothic tales?

We didn’t know specifically what we were looking for, other than something surprising. Part of what I wanted was to let these authors decide for themselves where they want to take Gothic Horror next, rather than impose my vision. I’m a writer, as well as an editor, so I really wanted to make it a point to keep any writer-me ego out of it. I set the theme, suggested the references, and just let the submissions roll in. 

We picked the strongest, freshest, most fitting stories out of 600, and in that way I hope to give an organic sampling of where these women who grew up on Mary Shelley want to take Gothic Horror next. What ended up happening was this explosive collection of weird settings and characters. 

Have you ever imagined what it’d be like to have a Gothic tale of love and loss sung to you by an animatronic sculpture from a burned-down seafood restaurant? Well, you can have that experience, now. You can visit sharp, modern haunted houses, beachside shacks, storage units, or sprawling waterfront museums. You can feel what it’s like to morph into a Gothic creature of terror through the eyes of a teen, or experience grief through those of animals. 

It did mean I had to leave behind many stunning stories that stayed true to traditional Gothic moods. It was a hard thing to decide, because they were perfect and memorable and deserved publication, but weren’t the wild mixture of genres Tenebrous always aims for. I got lucky and was able to find a different home for them in an (yet unnamed) upcoming collection by Brigid’s Gate Press where we focused on satisfying that classic Gothic Horror itch you get during long winter nights when the fire is low and the wolves are howling. Whereas In Somnio is something you’d read on a balcony overlooking Barcelona’s main Ramblas with a six-pack of energy drinks and pounding music. 

Equally, what are the things you think are important to retain so the core of the genre is preserved?

I don’t necessarily believe in or care about preservation in this sense. The genre, as it was, is preserved in that we can always return to those classic stories. Wherever the new wave of authors want to take it, I’m ready to go. Whatever classic Gothics inspired them to write, that’s the modern Gothic. 

There’s too much gatekeeping going on where “it’s only *genre* if”, like that recent “you can’t set horror in space” debate, but genre is only a construct meant to help readers. A way of saying, “If you enjoyed X, you might enjoy this”. Well, if you enjoyed Gothic Horror and the words “modern” and “wild” don’t scare you off, you will love In Somnio. Other than that, I’m not making any promises! Keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.

Finally, if readers can’t wait for the release of In Somnio to dive into the dark and morbid world of gothic horror, do you have any book recommendations to tide us over?

How much time do you have? These might not all be Gothic, but they’re all works and authors we hold dear.

Inheriting her Ghosts, by S. H. Cooper, just won a LOHF award. And Immortelle, by Catherine McCarthy, is another novella we’re all raving about. These are both authors I would love to edit & publish someday soon.

It’s not specifically Gothic, but shares many traits: Hailey Piper’s Queen of Teeth is absolutely killing, though depending on which format you want, it might not be available yet.

I want to believe nobody could have passed up that description of a horror novella written entirely as Pushkin sonnets, which is The Night Library of Sternendach by Jessica Lévai.

If you’re looking for more collections of works by women in horror, you can also explore the Body Horror genre and preorder Ghost Orchid Press’s Blood and Bone now. 

And, of course, you can show support to Tenebrous Press by picking up a copy of their Eco Horror fiction&comics debut, Green Inferno

Thanks so much for chatting to me about In Somnio Alex, it’s been a pleasure and I wish you every success with this and future projects!

Thank you for listening and for endorsing the project, Jonny! We couldn’t do any of this without the support of the community, and we’re so very grateful to you.

Make sure you go back the IN SOMNIO Kickstarter. It’s running until Thursday 2nd September 2021 and there’s a ton of fantastic rewards available – grab yourself a social media eulogy – and you can nab both a ghoulish copy of the book as well as have that warm fuzzy feeling of ensuring the success of a fantastic small press horror project. Click here or on the image below to go to the Kickstarter page and empty your wallet into it.

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