Book Names and Description:
On April 11, 2015, Dark Tales from the Den by Dona Fox, a collection of eighteen very dark stories was released on Kindle. The paper copy was released shortly thereafter, on April 18. “Each tale a twisted nail of horror, some driven, others deftly pushed home, into the coffin lid….” – William Cook, Editor of Fresh Fear and author of Blood Related, from the Introduction to Dark Tales.
(More on these two books after the interview)
You’re one of JEA’s most prolific anthology writers. What inspires you to write these stories? How are you able to write so many stories so fast?
Thank you, Roma. JEA provides an inspiring atmosphere. The anthology calls are interesting and challenging. The other writers feel like family to me and I’m proud of their writing. If I know certain writers are submitting, I want to be in the book with them because I know that will be a popular book with our readers and I want my stories to be read. Also, the editors have always been welcoming and gracious to me. Then, sometimes, I just see the proposed cover and I know I’ve got have a story behind that cover!
What gave you the idea for your books?
As these are collections of horror and ghost stories, there are many messages hidden in the pages. Of course, the message about the horrors we inflict on one another isn’t very deeply hidden. A recurring message, that I noticed after all was written, is about cycles-in man and in nature. Another is the ubiquitous presence of ghosts.
I’ve been pondering the topic of what is real in these stories. There is the standard disclaimer in the front of Dark Tales-nothing is real, after all this is a work of fiction. I’ve used some names, first names, because they are names I’m comfortable with. There are gestures, speech patterns, figures of speech, even a bag of tobacco that have all been pulled from my reality.
Many stories may be built around, or include, the shadows of true places or incidents – for instance, in “The Scent of Dogwood” – that could have been my childhood barn and hayloft–that was very like the freckled red-haired boy from those summers when the he and I battled dinosaurs in the hay loft one day and monsters the next–but I never killed any people–only imaginary Martians. Some stories may go back and forth across the wavy lines of my remembrance and imagination. But I don’t know who the boy was or where he came from. And there’s no one left to ask.
In Dark Tales from the Den, as I said, the lines between remembrance and imagination–reality and horror-are very wavy indeed.
There are many ghosts in Dark Tales; a child who loses a mother as young as I did becomes very familiar with ghosts.
When I was fifteen, I fell off a horse and ended up having many emergency surgeries in a couple of different hospitals. At the final surgery, the doctors came out and told my foster mother I had died. I saw visions during my death. Pieces of that experience have gone into several stories, including “Blackberry Wine,” the alien abduction story in Dark Tales. Would you call those visions real events in my life?
I was born in Portland and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Now I’m not an expert in modern literature, including horror, fantasy, science fiction, or bizzaro. However, and this is just my personal opinion and what I believe to be facts, I could very well be wrong—but I believe that the Pacific Northwest is more inclined to produce a wide variety of genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction and–around the Portland area–bizarro writers.
Patricia Briggs (the Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series) lives in the Pacific Northwest, The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin is set in Portland (1971 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award for best novel), Everville by Clive Barker was set in Oregon, Terry Brooks, Kate Wilhelm–as I said, I haven’t made a study in this area, these are just off the top of my head and I could be wrong, but I don’t think so. Also Bizarro novels have entered the final rounds of the Bram Stoker and Rhysling awards and one of the largest, if not the largest, Bizarro communities is in Portland, where you’ll find Carlton Mellick and Gabino Iglesias–probably within walking distance of the house I grew up in.
So, yes, I believe the Northwest has included a broad range of individual voices and if you look closely, the creative seed that grows in the Northwest doesn’t come from the setting—it comes from the people, and authors who are not afraid to step outside genre, or mix genre, and give us stories where the atmosphere is created by chemistry between the characters and the horror is in how people treat each other, wherever they come from.
What got you into writing horror?
My parents always read to us. I even remember my father reading books to my mother. At night and on long car trips my older sister demanded I tell her stories. She made me believe I had stories to tell. For some reason, my stories have always twisted to the dark side.
When I was about seven or eight, we visited my Aunt Kate in Montana; she lived in a log cabin in the hills where she mined for gold–she also wrote stories. I asked her for a handful of her rejection slips. When I returned home to Oregon, I proudly tacked the rejection slips above my bed, dreaming that someday I would have my own. (You know how that turned out.)
When I was very young, I took a creative writing course at City College. I sent out the few poems and stories I had written for that class for a couple of years in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. Richard Chizmar at Cemetery Dance published one of my poems. He was one of the editors who made me feel like part of the community and he gave me encouragement at that time; I’ve kept several of his typewritten notes. I was only sending him poetry so he had no clue I also wrote stories.
Then I took a job where I spent all day researching and writing long, gruesome, true stories. I only worked there for a year but that job turned me away from writing for 25 years, until a young woman I know said she feared she would never be Joyce Carol Oates. And I thought, “Nor shall I, but I could be Dona Fox.” And I picked up my pen again, so to speak. Now, if I don’t write, I go through withdrawals.
I signed up on Twitter and almost instantly, John F.D. Taff, the wonderfully gregarious and sensitive author, and a Bram Stoker nominee, reached out – He said, “I thought I was the only one still around who’d been published in Eldritch Tales!” In addition, he welcomed me back and I know he’ll always be there.
I was fortunate enough to ask Richard Thomas to edit a couple of my stories when I set out to write this time. Richard doesn’t just put in semi-colons and commas-help that I confess I desperately need-he gets into the heart of your story, he invests himself in your story. I don’t know if anyone will ever read one of my stories as thoroughly as Richard did. Then, while he’s still wrapped in the passion of the depth of his involvement, he tells you what style of writer you are, who your writing resembles, who you should read, and where you should submit. You stumble away from his corrections, critiques, and compliments, as if drunk on new wine. (He’ll also point out your clichés.) I can’t thank Richard enough for launching my confidence and my career this time.
James Ward Kirk Publishing has been the launching pad for me and many other writers. James is not a pushover-he has rejected my first rushed attempt and made me dig deeper. That’s why I say he has trained me with his rejections. He usually doesn’t comment, he just rejects. He gives you credit for knowing what’s wrong with your story.
And, of course, Blaze McRob champions me and each individual in our writing community, through the Internet much as you do. Viktor Aurelius and Jeff Niles also gave me a boost through their radio show-they are always there for authors with new books.
J Ellington Ashton Press (JEA) has provided a place where a community of writers gets together and tosses ideas around. We listen to each other, provide encouragement, and support. Catt Dahman is JEA, ready to listen and swoop in if you need her. Scott Essel Pratt, Jim Goforth, Dawn Cano, Toneye Blakk, Roma Gray, Amanda M. Lyons, and John Ledger (Mr. Enthusiasm), Michael Noe, Michael Fish Fisher, are some of the other editors that have provided support and encouragement to me.
How long have you been a writer?
Once I went to a fortuneteller. At the beginning of the reading she said ask a question or make a wish and I will address it at the end of the reading. Of course, that was probably a standard ploy, but she used it for a reason-I’m sure her methods were time tested and psychologically sound. At the end of the reading, she said you wished to be something that you have always been. Of course, I had wished to be a writer. When she gave me that answer, it was as if a light clicked on in my head. I was already a writer and I knew it.
What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like?
I love to make up stories and I’ve typed for so long words flow from my brain out my fingertips. When I am working on a story, a ten-hour day seems like ten minutes and I walk away from the computer full of joy. The next day I go back and start editing and I mess it all up. The more I edit, the worse it seems to get. The stories that get the most praise seem to be the ones that dropped fairly completely onto the page. That makes me smile.
The hardest part for me is setting up websites, etc. – but I want to do it, I want to connect with people – so I will persevere.
What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why?
There are so many authors that are amazing and a number that I should probably list here in an attempt to be impressive or at least to stay on point about horror, we all know who they are, and I love all of them.
I’m sure I have several hundred literary idols. Here’s a few: Brian Lumley, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, O. Henry, Arthur Conan Doyle, Maya Angelo, Walter Mosley, Harlan Ellison, Michael Connelly, and Elizabeth George.
Here’s some books I remember liking recently: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen; The YaYa Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells; The Help by Kathryn Stockett; The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd; The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver; The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold; A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving; and Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I will never forget my first reading of Practical Magic when the druggist (I think he was) looked up and saw the woman in the red dress walking down the street and the counter bubbled under his palms. It was my first introduction to Magic. Thank you Alice Hoffman!
The next magical book I read was Carolyn Turgeon’s Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story that tells the follow-up story of Cinderella’s fairy godmother-who may, or may not be, a mentally ill New Yorker. Again, magic intruded into the real world. I loved that book.
T.s.Woolard’s Solo Circus is a bold first collection of transgressive fiction that has stirred a lot of interest. T.s. shows a wide range-skillful writing in my favorite story Dear Mr. Burton, and over the top crazy scary in Ashley, a story that will not quit streaming wild images through my brain. I have many book reviews on my blog donafox.com.
What are you doing next?
I’m taking some writing classes from Richard Thomas, the founder of the sensational new magazine Gamut. Right now I’m taking Contemporary Dark Fiction, a sixteen week class, and I’ve already signed up for the follow-up class, Advanced Creative Writing Workshop.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
I will always be an aspiring writer myself, but — Read. Study. Write. Submit. Never stop learning. Everyone has something to teach you.
I was born in Portland, Oregon. I spent my toddler years in Portland near the Sellwood Bridge and an amusement park called Oaks Park where I spent a lot of time being frightened or spun on the rides until I was dizzy. After we left Portland, I lived on small farms with my parents and one sister. We had cows, chickens, geese, and sometimes guinea hens, peacocks, and Shetland ponies. We went to many animal auctions where my mother always had to buy something.
My mother died when I was six or seven. A succession of stepmothers passed through the house-one could tell the future from your palm or your cards, another truly believed she had seen aliens. Our library was an entire room lined with shelves. Shelves filled with books. Classics. All of the classics. My father knew them by heart; the classics were dinner table conversation.
Eventually, my sister and I went into a foster home with a family of nine on a very large cattle farm. After I graduated high school, I went to a religious university near Seattle. I’ve worked for the United States Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, the State Public Defender’s Office, and the State EPA.
More on the author’s Books:
DARK TALES FROM THE DEN was my first collection. Facts blend with fiction so easily in the Dark. Cozy little tales that twist slowly strange and violent-delightfully dark. Here’s some readers have cited as their favorites:
Smoky Martini – “creepy and atmospheric” Bram Stoker Nominated author John Taff. There’s a touch of Lovecraft in this autumn-tinged tale and there’s actually a drink called a smoky martini.
Crawlspace – “claustrophobic and disturbing” John Taff. How far will a mother go to protect her daughter? “Crawl Space” tends to be mentioned as a favorite story by almost everyone who reads Dark Tales. The inspiration for this story came from a dream one of my sons had when he was young. He retold his dream of being pursued through a tunnel by Raggedy Anne so vividly that I never forgot it. In “Crawl Space” the main character believes everything bad that happens to her actually happens to the doll and everything bad that she does is actually done by the doll. It has a very dark ending.
In “Leaf Craft” a girl makes tiny dolls out of grasses, twigs and leaves and paints them with blood. She sells them at the side of the road–much like a lemonade stand. Oh, yes, there are dead bodies. Of course, that’s where the blood came from.
I think that’s all the dolls in Dark Tales, now the carousel –
The carousel is found in “The Grays of Ribbon Ridge.” Grays, as in aliens–from outer space. This is the story of how Bud Skellington showed up out of nowhere one summer and we played Princess Star and The Crimson Hero in the haymow until things got really weird and Bud disappeared, I thought he was gone forever. The old woman who lived up the road was his aunt; she had a carousel with little pale children riding on it that played a sad tinny song. I got that carousel in the mail, years later. Covered in blood. This one’s a real barnburner.
Grace at the End – “devastating” John Taff. What’s this beautiful story doing in a horror collection?
Doubly Dead – The Professor was just hanging around the school grounds.
Pop-a-Death – Made me think of Aldous Huxley, too.
Satan’s Heart – Take a big, bloody bite while you’re sitting on his lap.
The Scent of Dogwood – Your childhood may come gunning for you, will you be ready?
The Darkest Den is … DEATH?
Multi-award winning author Michael J. Major said the collection “has so many wonderful, complex, and creepy stories that dazzle and amaze” some of his favorites, and his comments, are included below, along with Preditor and Editor Best Horror Novel of 2016 winner T.S. Woolard’s favorites and his comments.
Bruised Cardamom – the woman knows she’s about to die, would you hold her hand until it turns cold?
Medusae in Bloom – the two girls are mirror images—on the outside.
The Revenant of Shelby House – what secrets will the house reveal and who, exactly, is the revenant?
Crystal Bones and Gossamer Wings “intricately woven novella” “literary, sad, beautiful, soulful… …gorgeous images.” – reveals the secret of the tiny bones found in the box hidden by the last bridesmaid and so much more.
The Ever Present Conclusion – do the memorials of flowers and candles begin to form before you die, has the spot already been chosen?
And of course — Mama’s Jewels and Daddy’s Eggs is a favorite. That outrageous, surreal story reprinted from the anthology Surreal Nightmares edited by Sebastian Crow and James Ward Kirk won the editor’s choice award from Sebastian Crow.
Available on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, ibooks, etc.
I thank you for selecting Dark Tales and Darker Tales and I hope you are enjoying the read. The tales are all so different from each other; let me know which ones you like best and I will see if there are similar stories waiting to be written for the next book of Tales. After all, the books are for you.