A conversation between Justin Sanders, editor of The Horror is Us (Mason Jar Press) and dave ring, editor of Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Wouldn’t Die (Neon Hemlock Press).

Justin Sanders is a ghost from Baltimore. His words have appeared most recently on the city’s walls. Find him on Twitter at @ghostmoan.

dave ring is a queer editor and writer of speculative fiction living in Washington, DC. He is the publisher and managing editor of Neon Hemlock Press, as well as editor of the anthology Glitter + Ashes: Queer Tales of a World That Wouldn’t Die. His short fiction has been featured in numerous publications, including Fireside Fiction, The Disconnect, and A Punk Rock Future. Find him at www.dave-ring.com or @slickhop on Twitter.

dave: Justin! It’s been almost a year since we last saw each other at Baltimore Book Festival. What a harrowing and wild bunch of months it’s been. But amidst all that, we did some shit, right? We edited these books! I’m excited to talk about them with you. I think I was actually in the middle of reading open submissions for Glitter + Ashes in November 2019, so it really has been a full year. You did open submissions too, right?

Justin: Thanks for putting this together, dave! I’m super excited to talk with you, buddy. Hell yeah, look at us.

Yup, we did open submissions, too. I think we got 350 stories in, that I picked eight out of. So I wanna say I’m so very sorry to the people at Mason Jar who don’t like reading horror. I really put them through a lot. That said, I think all their hard work generated an incredible anthology. How’d that process go for you, my friend?

Hey, they knew what they were signing up for when they asked you to edit the collection, right? Hopefully there weren’t too many nightmares that came out of it. I had a volunteer helping me for a bit, but I realized that my tastes were a little too specific, so I ended up reading the ~225 submissions myself. I had solicited eight (and two poems) from writers that I knew I wanted in the antho and then picked the other sixteen from the slush.

How much of a theme did you end up having in the anthology? Does it explore a spectrum of the genre, you think, or did you end up specializing a bit?

225 is a hell of a job, man. Kudos. That’s really doin’ some work, brother.

The anthology ended up exploring a range of horror—really everything from campfire tales to monster stories. They’re all social horror stories because they’re about things and have things to say. But whereas I originally conceived the anthology as being more overt commentary than stories, these are stories that gave me a lot to think about. So it really worked out for the best.

Your book has a little bit of everything as I understand, from poetry to fiction and even a roleplaying game as well? Is that accurate? I think that’s incredibly fucking cool, and I’m curious, firstly about the RPG, and then, and this totally may be asking you too much, but the choice to focus on queer joy and hope and beauty in the midst of so much ugliness and cynicism strikes me as so poignant. Could you just speak about that choice to focus on hope and community?

Yeah, we’re a little all over the map, content-wise, but I think it all makes sense when you read it, as far as themes. The RPG is Dream Askew by Avery Alder, one of my favorite game designers (if you haven’t played Monsterhearts you are robbing yourself of the closest experience I can think of to being part of the most trashy and meaningful teen vampire show you never heard of). Dream Askew tells stories right on that knife-edge of joy and disaster, which is what we wanted to explore with the anthology. The timing of the ugliness and disaster we’re seeing in the real world is not what we intended, of course, but I think it does make the sweetness in these stories come through even stronger.

What do you think your anthology is in conversation with, in terms of other similar projects? Or is it starting the conversation? Like, for me, Glitter + Ashes is 100% in conversation with Broken Metropolis: Queer Tales of a City That Never Was (that I edited for Mason Jar) as well as Beyond II: The Queer PostApocalyptic and Urban Fantasy Comic Anthology, but I also feel like it had a bit of a niche that I was digging out, as well.

Oh, that’s awesome. I like that term “digging out a niche.” I’m gonna be using that in the future. I guess I see The Horror is Us more as starting a conversation. One lesson I took from the submissions we got is that horror means a lot of things to a lot of people, and I find that fascinating, ya know. It’s a conversation I want to continue.

For the works you picked, what did they have that made them stand out? I guess I mean that both generally and, if you’re cool with it and we can talk specific stories in the anthology, which ones did you read and immediately know you wanted to accept? What are the moments where you were reading and thought like, Oh shit, they just did THAT, or like, Damn, this author’s got some moves on them?

Ooh, good question. One of the first commissioned stories that I read, “When the Last of the Birds and the Bees Have Gone” by C.L. Clark, was an ode to Jamaica Kincaid that really managed to channel the love and frustration of “Girl” with the themes of the anthology. Another piece, “Champions of Water World” by Elly Bangs, took the aesthetics and ridiculous excess of Mad Max and showed how love and community could break it apart. What about you? Any stories that tore you apart?

Oh man, right off the bat I read and loved “The Heroines Eyes are Enormous and Terrified” by Jan Stinchcomb. That story has so much style and atmosphere to it. It’s spooky and the imagery is haunting and the narrator in it recalls for me some of my favorite more melancholic tone-poem type 80’s horror like Ghost Story or Changeling.

“The Enthusiastic Butcher” is one of those incredible horror stories that’s grotesque and monstrous and gross, and I mean all of that in the most complimentary way. For me it does that thing good horror should do: make me keep looking even when I wanna look away.

I remember I read “Rise” by Abigail Teed and I thought it was just a scary, deeply engrossing, fuckin’ mean little story. Just really crawled into my eyes and I enjoyed reading it.

Any upcoming readings? Cool plans to promote Glitter + Ashes? Regular plans to promote Glitter + Ashes?

We’ve had some cool readings already, but I’m looking forward right now to our joint horror reading in conjunction with Argo Bookshop [held in October]! Jordan Kurella and A.P. Thayer wrote the two creepiest stories in my anthology. I think you’ll like them. And then we’re doing an Instagram Live reading [held in November] with our three Baltimore contributors! Saida Agostini (who also has a poetry chapbook, STUNT, coming out from us), Anthony Moll, and Aun-Juli Riddle. What else have y’all got going on?

Yup, it’ll be super cool to read with you again, bud! Taylor Sykes and Laura Walker will be reading on Halloween for White Whale Books. We’ve got our official release reading on [October] 28th with the Ivy Bookshop. We’ve got one with Greedy Reads coming up in November and Scott Bryan Wilson will be there for that one. Definitely some very cool readings that I’m looking forward to.

Rad. Can’t wait to see you there. Thanks for catching up with me!

It’s been great talking with you, my friend!

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