Emma Jane Shaw Gibbon, one of my cohorts in the Tuesday Mayhem Society, has just released her first horror collection, Dark Blood Comes From The Feet, from Journalstone.
Here’s a Q & A with Emma. I cannot recommend this collection enough!
How Did You Choose The Title?
It’s a quote from the story “Cellar Door” which is in Dark Blood Comes from the Feet. The character in the story is relaying a memory which is an actual real-life memory of something that happened to me. Many years ago, I went for a reiki session. Now the thing with these things that I am always in two minds about it. On the one hand, I’m a skeptic, but on the other hand I really do want to believe, as Mulder would say. So, I went to the session and the reiki practitioner said at the end of the session she visualized a flood of dark blood coming from my feet, that it poured down and covered the floor. I actually watched her step back to avoid it. She said that it symbolized my old trauma, trauma that I hadn’t dealt with, was still holding onto. I can see a lot of my old hurts in these stories, wounds that I poke at over and over again. I dress them up in monsters and hauntings and the supernatural, but I know where they are. When I’m writing, I don’t realize. It’s only after the fact I can see it.
Who are your favorite authors?
I have a lot and I know I’ll forget some but they include Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier, Donna Tartt, George Saunders, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Chekhov, Mary Rickert, Angela Carter, Mervyn Peake, Stephen Graham Jones, Sarah Monette.
What are you reading now?
Right now, I am having a hard time reading. My focus and concentration is nonexistent. It’s taking me a long time to finish stuff, but it’s in no way a reflection on the books themselves. I’m reading The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook by Daniel Alarcón, which was recommended by Mary Rickert and Sefira and Other Betrayals by John Langan. I’ve read a lot of John’s stories in anthologies and really liked them, and this does not disappoint. I’ve got Books of Blood up next on my Kindle as I’m ashamed to say I have never read them.
What have you learned over the course of putting this collection together?
That I heavily favor first person and I have a tendency of repeating myself, especially when it comes to certain motifs or descriptive words. One of the positive things is that I have enough space between me and these stories now that I like them all. I don’t regret putting any of them in, which is a long road for me, this feeling of acceptance for my little messed-up children.
What do you have coming up next?
I have a short story coming up in Would but Time Await: An Anthology of New England Folk Horror from Haverhill Press and an upcoming poem in Kaleidotrope.
What’s a pet peeve of yours in books (or movies)?
In books, I’m extremely tired of animal abuse, especially dog murder, as shorthand for “this character is evil.” I mean, it’s bluntly effective, but it’s so overdone and it is something that will make me put down a book.
In movies, high heels! I am so, so sick of still seeing women who are otherwise kicking ass tottering around in these things. They are specifically designed for the male gaze. For women, they are uncomfortable, unhealthy and hobbling. They are not what you wear when you are fighting Nazis or running from dinosaurs, to give two examples.
What’s something you love seeing in books or movies?
I like when things take a strange and unexpected turn that totally makes sense. I like unreliable narrators and morally gray characters. I like when the underdogs win. I love a good meta reference. I love stories that I have to work at, that require effort from me as a reader or viewer. I love when all of the pieces—visuals or description, language, tone, all work together to echo one another. I love well-placed foreshadowing that feels really satisfying to look back on. My favorite books and films are the ones where I wonder about the lives and fate of the characters, as if they are people I know, after the story has ended. I often can overlook things that are not perfect in the writing as long as I’m engaged with the ideas or care about what happens to the characters (which is not the same as liking them.)
What do you want to tell new writers?
Write who you are. Write the stories that no one but you can write. You will be much happier. Don’t try to write to market, it will have moved before you have time to publish. Don’t try to write for what you think is the more acceptable or makes the most money or will get you the most accolades. It will feel like you’re wearing someone else’s shoes. I spent way too much time trying to be the writer I thought I wanted to be, instead of the writer I am. Once I let it drop, everything fell into place.
You’re a librarian, which gives you a rather unique insight into the writing world. What do you think writers should know?
You know, I need to gather my thoughts on this because I could probably put together a fairly useful blog post or something. Even though we’re part of the book eco-system, there are definitely areas where librarians and writers look at things differently. I sometimes even see advice given to writers about libraries that is wrong, in my opinion. Of course, I can only speak for myself and the library I work at, but I think it might be useful.
I think the main thing is that the best way to get a book into a library is have someone request it. Cheat a little, get your friends to request it, we won’t know! Library acquisitions are driven by a lot of things—bestsellers, good reviews, word of mouth, but the absolute top of these are patron requests. Depending on the size of the library’s budget, it can mean between one request and ten requests, I would estimate. In our library, which doesn’t have a huge budget, if I see more than two requests, I will probably buy it. Also, if we have more than five holds on a book, I will buy a second copy, and one more for every increment of 5.
Another route you can take is to donate your book. Obviously, you wouldn’t get paid, which is the downside. Also, different libraries have different policies on it. In our library, if an author is “local” (I usually count that as our state) or if I’m familiar with the author or book, I will put it in but with the understanding that it shares the fate of all the other books in the collection. In our library that means that if it doesn’t check out in five years, then it is removed. I know that sounds horrifying to writers, but librarians have to look at the collection as a whole, and as a popular collection with limited space, we have to keep things moving.
A plea from me personally is to please don’t turn up and try to hand sell us your books. It’s awkward, you’re interrupting our regular work, and that’s not how we buy books. We generally buy them from distributors and pay them by invoice. We can’t just hand over cash or write a check. Plus, we’re introverts, please don’t do it to us.
Finally, by all means, contact us if you’d like to do an author talk or signing (email is always best) but don’t take it personally if we say no. Usually it’s because we’re trying to save you from an awful time. We generally know what our community will turn up for. In my town I have the hardest time getting folks to turn up for author events—even big names, but a talk on getting rid of Brown-Tail Moths? Phew, we’re packing them in.
What’s your favorite quote?
I have a fridge magnet that has a Chekhov quote on it. It says:
“Any idiot can face a crisis. It’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”
Which has always been my go-to quote for years but now that I’m in month six of overlapping and back-to-back crises of both in my personal life and the larger world, I’d be glad to get back to that day-to-day living for a while.
My favorite first line is “It was the day my grandmother exploded” by Iain Banks in The Crow Road.
I think ultimately though, my favorite quote, the quote I try to live my life by, is by those esteemed philosophers, Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan — “Be excellent to each other.”
How are you staying sane during all of this?
Hah! I’m really, really not. I’m doing a lot of doom scrolling and the cortisol flooding my brain is doing a real number on me. I had been calling it quarantine brain, but now it’s kind of *gestures around* everything brain.
I’ve been coping by getting through one day at a time. Trying to not be hard on myself if I’m not as productive as I usually am or performing to my previous standards. I’m not good for protesting for health reasons, I would probably be a burden so I’m trying to help in other ways—sharing information, amplifying voices, donating when I can.
What are you working on now?
I’m not! That’s not strictly true. I’m letting my brain burble away in the background. If I leave it long enough, it will usually clue me in to what I should be doing next. There are a few contenders. In the days before Covid, I had started a novel so I may go back to that. I have been noodling around with a poetry collection, but I don’t think I’ve quite got enough material yet, and then I have some short stories and a novella that need a lot of editing and revamping. So, it could be any of these or something else entirely. I’ll see what bubbles up to the top.
Emma J. Gibbon is originally from Yorkshire in the U.K. and now lives in Midcoast Maine. She is a Rhysling-nominated speculative poet, horror writer and librarian. Her stories have appeared in the Toasted Cake podcast, The Muse & The Flame and the New England Horror Writers anthologies, Wicked Haunted and Wicked Weird. She also has a story upcoming in Would but Time Await: An Anthology of New England Folk Horror. Her debut fiction collection, Dark Blood Comes from the Feet, is out in May from Trepidatio Publishing. Her poetry has been published in Strange Horizons, Liminality, Pedestal Magazine and Eye to the Telescope and is upcoming in Kaleidotrope. Emma lives with her husband, Steve, and three exceptional animals: Odin, Mothra and M. Bison (also known as Grim). She is a member of the New England Horror Writers, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, the Angela Carter Society and the Tuesday Mayhem Society.