On Editing and Writing with Sara Crocoll Smith

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Joe Sullivan: I was interested in Love Letters to Poe when I first heard about it. My difficulty with gothic fiction has always been the length of time spent on description and scene setting, so when I saw you were looking for flash stories, I knew I’d check out the magazine–even just to see how the authors would respond to the task. Poe could write something great in 3000ish words(ie “Berenice”), though I think he was more comfortable at double that length. I’m really curious why you chose flash for your gothic mag? What do you think are the benefits or negative aspects of limiting the stories to 1500 words?

Sara Crocoll Smith: That’s a great question. For me, it comes down to patience and richness. Because you’re completely right—longer lengths of gothic fiction can be rather slowly paced while they bathe deliciously in description and setting. While that does have its time and place, writers like Poe who released shorter gothic works made gothic fiction accessible to more readers.

Many others and I want to enjoy gothic fiction but may not have the time or patience to read something longer. For me personally, I’m at a season in my life where I have a toddler so I may only be able to devote a few minutes here or there to reading. This makes flash very appealing. It also allows exposure to many different writers and styles. I learned so much reading through the nearly 400 stories and poems submitted.

With gothic flash fiction, one doesn’t have to devote ten plus hours to reading a lengthy gothic novel. They can spend fifteen minutes and get a nice, small slice of that mood. Reading something like Dracula is like eating an entire chocolate cake. Someone like Poe offers us just a slice. Both are wonderful, but one is a little easier to digest.

As far as the negative aspects of the 1500-word limit, I challenge the idea that it would be detrimental to the story. In fact, such a constraint has led to some especially beautiful and creative tales in Love Letters to Poe, two of which are now award-nominated for Poe Baltimore’s Saturday ‘Visiter’ Awards.

Now that you’ve put out nearly a dozen issues of Love Letters to Poe and are about to release an anthology: Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe, can you tell us about any future plans for the magazine? What more would you like to do with the publication?

Well, I’ll tell you, it’s been a whirlwind of a first year at this. I’d originally conceived of this early in the pandemic (possibly as a method to procrastinate my own fiction…resistance is a wily beast). I’ve always loved Poe and had been noodling with a story featuring a spirited interpretation of his likeness. I was also frustrated with submitting short stories myself to magazines and saw this not only as a way to choose myself instead of going around to others, but to also give voice to authors and stories I wanted to read more of in gothic fiction.

With this experience under my belt and putting out the first anthology, Love Letters to Poe is going through a transformation. The churn of putting out a weekly story or poem isn’t sustainable nor desirable for my schedule. So Love Letters to Poe is morphing more into a publishing arm rather than a magazine.

I plan to continue publishing anthologies, at least annually. You’ll see that this first anthology has a different theme for each issue and only two issues were heavily Poe-inspired. I’m going to lean more fully into the Poe space and anthologies will have one overall theme drawn from Poe, which my patrons will help me choose.

I’m also going to explore expanding more into Poe fiction and nonfiction. I have my own Poe story as I mentioned above. There is a nonfiction book in the works, but I can’t say much now. I may also consider taking pitches for full-length Poe-related works in the future.

You’re working on another project in the gothic realm, this time as author of a debut novel The Haunting of Orchard Hill, which will be the first in a series of ghost stories under the banner Hopeful Horror. What does Hopeful Horror mean to you?

When I go to the horror well, I find it most satisfying when I’m offered hope. I’m looking for that cathartic experience—facing and overcoming the Big Bad. I enjoy a character who is facing a real-life obstacle, whether internal or external, and the horrific element is a metaphor for that issue. Then, when they overcome the horror, they have changed and now have the skills to do what they need to do in life.

I considered a lot of names for my series but landed on Hopeful Horror because I want the reader to know exactly the story they’re going to get. It’s a pseudo-equivalent to the happily-ever-after (HEA) of romance but not quite. Everyone may not be happy (or alive for that matter) at the end of my stories but they will have hope and they will reach that light at the end of the tunnel.

Daylight horror/scares seem to fly in the face of tried and true gothic story construction. So I commend you for taking on the challenge. What additional themes, story motifs interest you as a writer or editor?

Yes, many if not most of my Hopeful Horror novels with feature daylight horror and heavy doses of nature elements. The Haunting of Orchard Hill takes place at an apple orchard and much of the novel is set in sunny scenes. I’m excited to bring as much of the gothic I can into the light, pun intended.

I’m a newer mother so lately a lot of my writing, including The Haunting of Orchard Hill, examines motherhood. I also like to explore womanhood, isolation, grief, aging, and the impermanence of life.

As for what interests me as an editor, I generally like to see a plot that’s moving along and has a conclusion and character growth. The story or poem needs to be saying something. I know that’s at odds with some concepts of the gothic but it’s what I like to read. I also am drawn to lush, beautiful prose as well as the one-two punch of emotional feels.

Bio:

Sara Crocoll Smith is the author of the ghostly gothic horror series Hopeful Horror. She’s also the publisher and editor-in-chief of Love Letters to Poe, a haven to celebrate the works of Edgar Allan Poe and encourage the creation of gothic fiction tapped from the vein of Poe. 

When she writes, she’s often accompanied by her cranky, old Pomeranian curled at her feet. Sara spends her free time with her husband and son.

For an exclusive morsel of ghosts and daylight horror, visit her website to get the free short story “The Strangle of Ivy.”

For a free copy of issue one, including award-nominated stories “The Heart of Alderman Kane” by Eleanor Sciolistein and “Midnight Rider” by Melanie Cossey, visit Love Letters to Poe.

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